S a m a n t i c shttp://www.potomacvalleysams.com/Samantics.html



by Patricia Rasmussen © 2013

With PVSC gaining so many new members, and offering so many activities at which members and their dogs can mix and mingle, I had the following thoughts that I decided to put down on “paper”.  Or in pixels. Whatever.

How should our dogs behave in public?  What constitutes public?  Why do I care?

All good questions – let’s begin with the last one.  I care because: a) I’m an old timer who started with Obedience dogs, and I have very strong convictions about how dogs should behave (anywhere).  b) I love our breed, and I would prefer that the general public never see them doing anything but being perfect angels (yeah, okay, not likely, but work with me here!) and  c) as someone who has had to deal with dogs in public pretty regularly for many years (at obedience classes, club meetings, club activities (like the parade), dog shows where I’m working, showing, or spectating, etc), the fewer ill-behaved ones I have to worry about, the better.

I got into Obedience because when I took my very first Sam to my very first match, he was very dog-aggressive and I was surprised and mortified (even though we won our class – yay!).  Off we went to a basic obedience class, and I’ve never looked back.  When my husband and I had two young dogs on our hands a couple of years later, we knew to get them into a basic class right away (at that time, there were no puppy kindergarten classes, so you had to wait until the dog was six months old).  It’s ever so much easier to teach good manners right from the get go, than it is to try to break bad habits.  Fortunately for people buying puppies now, it’s very easy to find classes designed for puppies and young dogs where they can learn to socialize properly and also learn the rudiments of normal commands. (Some of those classes are better than others, but the socialization is a plus no matter how much of a dolt the instructor may be)

You’ll be amazed at how young you can begin teaching a puppy things – even if he/she doesn’t seem to get “sit” or “down” or “stay” at the time (or, more likely, have the self-discipline and attention span to do it), a month or so later you may be surprised to discover that he remembers everything he “learned” in his puppy class and is now old enough to do.

Anyway – off topic a bit.  Sorry.  Back in the day, when Obedience was all people had in the way of show-related performance events (no Agility or Rally yet) and the entries were much larger than what we see now, the Obedience rings were often set up far away from the conformation rings.  People would smile sympathetically at us and say “Oh, that must be terrible to be so far away from everything.”  Uh, yeah... no, actually... but thanks for caring. ;-)

We were quite happy to be far away from all those ill-mannered dogs in the “beauty contest” part of the show.  Off in our little corner of the world it was quiet (no barking dogs), clean (didn’t have to watch where you stepped – if a dog did do something in an inappropriate place, his embarrassed handler cleaned it up), safe (no aggressive dogs) and full of people who were all wishing you well, even if it might mean you got a ribbon and they didn’t.

There were certain “rules”, some AKC’s, some just understood to be common courtesy, that everyone followed.  You didn’t bring a bitch in season into the ring (AKC), you didn’t bring a bitch in season around the rings (common courtesy) you didn’t bring a dog that was likely to be disruptive or aggressive to the ring area (more common courtesy), you didn’t bring treats in the ring (AKC), you didn’t train on the show grounds (AKC) and so on.  We felt quite superior to those “other exhibitors” whose dogs pooped everywhere, snarled and barked and were thought to be generally obnoxious.

Which doesn’t mean, at all, that it was always like that around the “other” rings – but it was true enough that we were perfectly happy to be far away.  In reality, of course, there were and are “rules” or expected behaviors in and around the conformation ring too.

Exhibitors as a whole have become much better about cleaning up after their dogs and/or seeing to it that they use the doggie restrooms set up for that purpose.  However, you’ll still see dogs pooping in the ring occasionally, or lifting their legs on inappropriate things (the person standing next to them or their own handler is a crowd favorite).  At least nowadays, the handler is apologetic and embarrassed, rather than shrugging it off.  A dog that poops in or on the way to the ring is usually one that hasn’t been exercised enough before being brought to the ring. Handler error, and everyone knows it.  One that lifts his leg (or squats, in the case of a female) has either also not been walked enough, or has not been corrected for peeing on inappropriate objects.  Again, handler error.

The conformation ring area actually requires more in the way of manners from the dogs there rather than less, because at any show, but especially at indoor shows, quarters are close.  Dogs waiting to go into the ring will be standing cheek-to-jowl with other dogs waiting to go in.  They must be well-mannered.  Adult males may not want to be polite and non-aggressive, but hey, life’s a bitch and then you die, you know?  When we taught basic Obedience years ago, we had a message for anyone who wanted to make excuses for their dog that involved the dog’s breed or nature.

It was simply this: Can your dog (or our teaching) change his natural inclination to be suspicious of strange people or dogs? (To the point that he lunges at or tries to bite them?) No, probably not.  We’re not going to turn your Chow or Mastiff into a tail-wagging, face-licking Golden Retriever.  Nor should we try.  However, what we can do, is teach him to tolerate other dogs and people when the situation warrants it and to have self-control and good manners at all times.

Basic good doggie behavior is not limited to specific breeds.  AKC requirements for getting a CD (Companion Dog degree) don’t say “except if you have a _____, then you don’t have to do this exercise”. Basic good manners – walk quietly on a leash without pulling or lagging; sit, lie down, and stand when asked to; stay in those positions for a short amount of time; come when you’re called; do these things in the presence of other dogs and strange people without making a nuisance of yourself – are the same no matter what breed you have or how full of him/herself your dog may be.

We had several people who regularly came out to our basic classes years ago – one of whom was a Chow breeder and another had Basenjis and Mastiffs (she’s well known as a handler and long time dog person). They all brought their young dogs to basic class, not because they intended to do Obedience showing with them, but because they wanted them to be well-mannered around other dogs and people before they took them into the conformation ring.  They needed the classes because they had dogs that were, by nature, aggressive or stand-offish in certain situations.  The dogs needed to learn that a show situation was not the appropriate place for that behavior, nor was the judge someone you were allowed to bite when he touched you.

Now, obviously aggression toward people is not something we expect to see in a Sam. (And if we do – get thee to the doggie ophthalmologist immediately.  It’s probably an eye problem causing him to be defensive because he can’t see well.)  However, dog aggression is something we see in both dogs and, less often, bitches. (Although, it is obviously more common in adult males.)  I often say that given their druthers, all Sams would be chiefs.  There are no Indians born in Sammy litters.  So, that over-abundance of self-confidence (or inflated sense of their place in the world), can present itself as dog aggression of one sort or another.

Fine, Chief, if that’s what you think you are (alpha to the world), good for you.  But quess what? You’re still going to have to act like a polite dog – whether you like it or not.  Which means you do not get to growl or posture at the other dogs while in or around the ring.  If you’re obnoxious in your crate, somebody’s going to cover it up so you can’t watch the world go by.  If you try to pee on everything in sight, you’re going to be corrected – every time.  And if you want to stand outside the ring and bark at everyone in there, you’re going to be taken far enough away that you cannot annoy or distract the dogs and handlers in the ring.  (Not to mention the judge, who isn’t likely to be real happy about your making his job harder by causing the other dogs to look at you while they should be minding their business.)

These same “rules” apply at any doggie activity.  A well-behaved dog is one that ignores or is friendly with the other dogs present.  Going back to the aggressive dogs in our obedience classes, they didn’t have to be friendly if that wasn’t their nature.  Ignoring was fine. But unprovoked growling, snarling, lunging is unacceptable.  Always has been, always will be.  If you know your dog is likely to behave like that, you have some important responsibilities when you take him or her out in public.

First, and most importantly, you must have your dog under control at all times.  (No flexi-leads! A pox upon them!)  That means you have the proper equipment (probably a training – “choke” – collar and a good, not too long, easy to handle leash) and that you know how to use those things properly.  It makes a huge difference in how much control you have of a lunging dog if you are holding the leash correctly. Seriously.  It does.

Secondly, you have to be aware of both your dog and your surroundings at all times.  Not only do you want to be keeping your eye on your own dog so that you can give him or her a reminder if you feel a growl coming up the leash to you or if you can see by his posture that he is glaring at something, but you need to be aware of the people and dogs around you.  Because, as good a job as you are doing keeping your dog under control, there may well be people around you who are not being as careful, and they may well decide to let their lovely “Fluffy” get right up in your dog’s face.  Feel free to tell them to please keep their dog away, and if they insist that Fluffy “just wants to play” emphasize that your dog does not.  You may have to move away to somewhere more isolated.  That’s not fun, but it’s part of being responsible and realistic about what your dog can and cannot handle.  It’s not fair to put him in a position where he is going to be provoked (even though you are not going to permit him to respond to that provocation – tempting as that may be from time to time....).

Pretty much all of the other things mentioned above about dog shows also apply when you are at any other sort of multi-dog activity.  Do your best to see that your dog is not being a distraction for the other dogs working there, that he or she is not dirtying up the area by peeing or pooping in inappropriate spots (or on someone’s belongings...) and that he or she is under control at all times.  Dogs that get along together well, or that are well-trained enough to lie down quietly in the presence of even dogs they don’t like, can be part of any gathering their owners attend.  Dogs that don’t behave well will not be welcome anywhere.

So, to finish up – what constitutes public is pretty much anything that isn’t your own house.  If it’s someone else’s house, it’s public.  And if your dog is to be welcome there, he needs to be well-behaved and well-supervised.  And if he isn’t, then he needs to go back to the car.  Keep that in mind on warm days....

Let’s do what we can to see that our beautiful dogs continue to be known for their lovely temperaments and behavior as well as for their pretty faces and fluffy hair.

Old Town School for Dogs (Alexandria - Jan’s rec)http://www.otsfd.com/
A Tail Above (Maryland - Lidiya’s rec)http://www.atailabove.com/
Lake Accotink “Bark in the Park” (Fairfax County)http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/accotink/bark.htm
Your Dog’s Friend (Montgomery County - Karla’s rec)http://www.yourdogsfriend.info/
Mt. Vernon Dog Training Club (Virginia - Patti’s rec)http://mountvernondogtrainingclub.com/home.cfm
Capital Dog Training (Maryland)http://www.cdtc.org/
Canine Training Assoc. (Maryland-Cynthia’s rec)http://www.caninetrainingassociation.org/
Dulles Gateway Obedience Training Club (Virginia)http://www.dgotc.org/

Training & Behavior Links

This behavior is less cute when the dog weighs 45-65 lbs