…about what happens when you’re disrespectful of a person’s house rules!!!
I have a friend whom I’ve known for years and years. She visits me regularly and every time it’s the same old story… See, we have a sign on our door that says :
“We’d like to ask all of our guests to come in without greeting our dogs! If you’d like to greet them we’ll let you know when it’s okay. This applies to EVERYONE who comes here, even those of you who “know” the dogs. It is really important that you respect our rules, for our, their, and other visitors sake. THANK YOU! “
And here it is (we haven’t updated it since we got Mafaldah, hence her not being featured in the collage . Oh, and that says there are 8 dogs living here, save them in case of danger).
Although it’s getting better, I’d say roughly 7 out of 10 guests couldn’t care less about the sign. They don’t care!!! They read it thoroughly, I open the door, and then most people burst into a freakin’ musical! They yell, sing, dance, wave and pet, all at once. The dogs get over-excited, and I get annoyed. I remind them of the sign, they ignore me, I repeat myself in a stern voice, and they tell me it’s ridiculous and keep at it. We get into a discussion about why I have the sign and what it means, and since they don’t get it I have to remind them that they’re in my home and must follow the rules. But why, dear god, must this happen e-v-e-r-y time?!?! Why is it so hard to ignore the dogs?!
Oh, nevermind. I know the answer(s) to that, I get it all the time. “But they want to say hello! I can’t just ignore them, they’ll get upset!!”, or “But it’s better to get it out of the way, then they’ll calm down”. Or, my favorite; “Oh, but look at them! They’re so CUTE!!!”. And all I wanna do, is lie down on the floor and kick and scream like a kid in the toy store who won’t get that LEGO piece. But I don’t. I sigh and repeat myself over and over and over and over…hoping some day they might just get it.
That day had not come when I had my friend over about a month ago. I saw her through the peep-hole, reading the sign, word by word. When I opened the door, Alfie did what he always do, or at least used to do; he stuck out his head and started smelling her. He does this to check the person out. If he’s left alone, again – like the sign says – he’s done in a few seconds and gets back in. However, if you take it as a sign that he wants you to start yelling “Hello, big guy!” in an annoyingly loud and baby-ish voice, while throwing out your hand – preferably towards his face while staring him in the eyes – he will most likely start barking at you. How threatening he will be depends on how threatening you are to him. In these cases I will correct him, get him inside, and then explain to you that you should have practiced “no touch, no talk, no eye contact”, like it says on the sign. The thing is, when Alfie has made his mind up about someone, he rarely changes it. This might stem from that person being forever scared of him, thus always projecting an unstable energy when he’s around, which he reacts to. Or he just doesn’t like you from now on.
My friend did exactly everything she shouldn’t have done. Just as Alfie had accepted her and was about to go inside, she did the annoying tidbit I told you about. He went wild and started barking at her, while jumping at her. I got him in, corrected him, and, well, you know the rest. She was here for about an hour and Alfie was asleep the whole time. When she was leaving I walked in front of her to the door, not knowing she had stopped behind me to pet Alfie again… Let me remind you, this is a true story, my friend is a smart grown woman in her late 40′s, and…yeah, I’m not lying!
I heard a noise, turned around, and saw her pulling back her hand. Alfie jumped up, barked like crazy, and ultimately made a jump straight for her face… She turned around, ducked down, and fell to the floor. It all happened so fast! The other dogs started barking, going after each other in attempts to correct one another for misbehaving and I had to figure out as quickly as I could where to begin breaking it up. I corrected Alfie, who immediately stopped. Then I dealt with the others, before finally turning to her. She was standing up, Iphone in hand, checking her email. “Wow, that was loud!”, she said, quite calmly. “Yeah, that’s why I don’t want people giving them attention unless I say it’s okay, ’cause it easily gets out of hand if I’m not there to control it” I muttered. She said she was okay and then she left, saying she’d come back to see me soon. Well, the next day her boyfriend told me she had been bitten. Apparently Alfie got hold of her shirt when she turned around and he’d grabbed her by it in the back, scraping her with his teeth. She’d been too shocked to notice at first, hence the surprising email-checking right after. It took me a while to get it, I mean, I never saw that happening and she didn’t tell me! I know he didn’t bite her – ’cause then she’d have a hole in her back - but he did nip her to scare her, and that’s far enough.
I thought a lot about this. I can’t tell you how many times I went over it in my head, trying to find answers to my questions. Alfie is a Sarplaninac, so this type of behavior is to be expected. But accepted? Not the same thing. Our dogs are not allowed to bite anyone, unless we’re in real danger. But what is real danger to him? And, as I’ve said before, am I setting him up to fail when I expose him to a situation like this, that is completely abnormal to him? In other words, what can I rightfully demand of him, while in this situation? Obviously, I can’t even expect my visitors to respect the rules, so when they cross the line, what can I demand of him? Little did I know I’d get the answers I was looking for, from Cesar Millan himself.
Two days after the incident, we met Cesar. This is exactly what I asked him, after telling him all that had happened. He didn’t know the breed, but understood the type when I compared it to the Caucasian Ovcharka. He reacted with surprise, and then he was impressed. “Wow”, he said, while nodding his head slowly. “You have one of those? That’s a tough breed!”. I told him we had wanted the most difficult breed we could think of, and the reason is we thought that if we can handle that, we can handle anything. Since we want to work with dogs, it’s important we have experience with extremely difficult cases. Cesar agreed and said we sure picked a good one! I bet he ran upstairs to google the breed afterwards…
Anyway, Cesar said that we’d never be able to take away his protectiveness, it’s Alfie’s DNA, so he is what he is. And I’ll never be able to predict people’s actions, so that will always be an uncertainty that can result in an accident. Therefore, he recommended that I teach Alfie to stay in the social zone when we get company, meaning some meters away. That way I’d be asking something rational of him, buying myself the time to do the same of my visitors, and more importantly, the space to be able to stop a potential faux pas. He confirmed my thoughts on exposing Alfie to something very unnatural, but concluded that asking him for space while guests come in isn’t too much to ask, and should be something I could get him to do. He said that Alfie is still young, that he will get more protective with time, so I need to be able to control him. Even if you can’t curb his instincts, you can come up with a strategy to work around it, so he’ll still be able to do his job while at a safe distance. Something like that .
It was just what I needed to hear. I wasn’t completely off track here, but I needed some new ideas! Remember the toy I tried distracting him with? Worked for about 2 days. Since then I’ve been at a loss, but Cesar gave me my motivation back. I was so inspired, and instantly felt an urge to go home and make it happen! Cesar also advised us to send Alfie to the back of the pack (hierarchy-wise) , because I told him that he has no difficulties controlling the whole thing! I told him about when the dogs stopped drinking one day. After a few days Mike and I started worrying, but when we noticed that Alfie was the only one drinking we kinda got the picture! The little bastard took possession of the water bowl! And that’s not it! When he had figured out that we were on to him, he wouldn’t stand in front of it anymore, but when the others still wouldn’t drink we saw that he was controlling it from afar! He could lay across the room and give a pack mate a certain look when they approached the bowl, and they would back off in submission – without so much as a sip! So much for thinking the pack would help us raise him! The thing is Alfie might be running the pack, but he does a damn good job at it. He keeps them in line and actually helps me out. But that’s not the problem. The problem is when I need to keep him in line, then I’ve got no help from the others! I guess it’s a matter of balance; not too much, nor too little. If I’m good enough I’ll be able to see the difference, and I’m getting there.
The first visitor I had after talking to Cesar was 4 days later, and it just so happens it was my friend’s daughter. Naturally, she knew about what had happened, but she was cool as a breeze when she walked in. She wasn’t tense at all, and I’m flattered that she trusts me that much. Before I opened the door I asked Alfie to sit about 12 meters away from the door. He obeyed me without a single protest. I had no trouble getting her inside, and just to practice, we spent 3 hours in another room. He didn’t make a sound, which has never happened before. Alfie wants to stay close when we have company, so he can keep an eye on things, but this time he knew I had it covered and he wasn’t needed. When I opened the door 3 hours later, he was still sitting in the same spot, waiting for me to tell him otherwise!! My guest was impressed, but not as much as me. I was thrilled!! I had proof that it worked, that I could do it, and I’ve been doing it ever since. Some folks, like tall men for instance, is a little bit trickier getting inside without Alfie reacting. But by now he knows he can let off one bark, and then it’s enough. And he has to stay put, which he does. Everyone is complimenting him on how good he is, and how impressed they are with him. They certainly notice the difference!
The ultimate test came last Friday, when I had my friend back over. I had avoided talking to her before this, so that my instructions wouldn’t scare her. I relied on the fact that Alfie had taught her the seriousness of the matter, and I didn’t think I needed to emphasise it even more. I was right! She was calm and collected, and didn’t pay attention to Alfie. I could sense it was fake, though, of course she was attentive and well-prepared, but at least she knew how to “fake it ’til you make it”! Alfie passed with flying colors, and I was so proud. I let him into the room after a while and he fell sound asleep in a jiffy. My friend and I talked it over and although I’m sorry to say that she completely failed to see her part in what happened, she now knows better than to disrespect the house rules!!! She feels like Alfie was mean to her when all she wanted to do was pet him. When he looked at her she said he was thinking that he was sorry for being mean… What can I say? I told her she made a mistake for not listening, and then not respecting his space when he clearly showed her he wasn’t interested in communicating. And I made a mistake for letting him think it was his job to be our bouncer. But Alfie did nothing wrong! He acted according to the signals we gave him, which is our fault. She might not be ready to accept that yet, but maybe the next dog she unfortunately pushes the limits with will give her the lesson she needs. It’s just sad that some people need to get hurt to get the message, and some dogs need to get blamed to get it through to them…
My thanks goes out to my mentor, although he doesn’t know he’s it. It’s incredible that he came to the rescue when I needed him the most. And Alfie’s now doing better than ever .