We recently added "Risa's Revisions" to our application process for prospective buyers. The process was thorough before but, with a few additions, it will help make the transition for both the puppy and the puppy's new owner smoother, more successful, and rewarding. It will help the pug and the pug's owner(s) thrive -- not just survive -- for the pug's entire life and prevent many surprises and frustrations.
If you're interested, you can see the entire application process on this webpage, as well as learn about Risa and her horrible experiences during the first year of her life. One of Risa's "revisions" involves some required reading for prospective owners. One of these amazing books, "Raising the Worst Dog Ever: A Survival Guide, Memoir and Dog Training Manual" by Dale Ward, should be in any dog owner's library and the new owners need to absorb the invaluable information prior to bringing the puppy home. Stocking up on these refresher courses in advance allows the new owners to focus all of their attention and devote all of their time to the puppy, avoid mistakes and frustrations from the start, and not waste valuable puppy play time scouring through books. The entire book is amazing, and even gives great advice on equipment to gather prior to bringing a puppy home, but a particularly helpful chapter addresses reading a dog's body language.
Canine Body Language
On page 124 of Dale Ward's award-winning book, "Raising the Worst Dog Ever: A Survival Guide, Memoir and Dog Training Manual", she addresses Canine Body Language. (If you don't own this book, here is the link to add it to your permanent library.)
Ward summarizes what you should be looking for in your dog's demeanor that will let you know that they are fearful, anxious, or stressed. Ward explains,
"Why is this important? Dogs, if pushed beyond what they can handle, may resort to biting to make the scary thing go away. You really want to avoid pushing your dog, or any dog for that matter, beyond what they can handle. You can think of this as going past the tipping point, or in dog training jargon, going over "threshold." Think of it as a glass of water. Each stress event, no matter how small, adds water to the glass. Eventually, too many stressful events will make that glass overflow. So the tipping point is not some abstract point in time, it's the culmination of stress that finally makes your dog go over threshold. The term "threshold," according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is defined as "the point at which a physiological or psychological effect begins to be produced." When your dog is anxious about a specific situation or the presence of a certain person, there is a point at which they may tip over into the fearful zone. They may go "over threshold." We always want to try to help our dogs cope before things go that far. If you know what to look for, you can mitigate the situation and help get your dog through it."
In an article by Jane Messineo Lindquist, the creator of Puppy Culture, and author of another incredible book, "When Pigs Fly", she explains the importance of avoiding stacking stressors with young puppies. "It's important to allow the puppy to come back to emotional baseline before doing another big emotional experience. As a rule of thumb, we allow 24 hours in between really challenging socialization experiences for puppies under 10 weeks of age." Lindquist recommends this video by Donna Hill as explaining why we should avoid stacking stressors.
Lindquist continues, "Our puppies normally don't need that much recovery time as they approach 12-14 weeks of age, but we do get them out a lot and our breed (bull terrier) is very adaptable and resilient breed. The only thing you really need to know is, if you see an emotional fallout reaction at ANY age, give your puppy or dog at least 24 hours to come back to baseline."
On the website Fear Free Happy Homes for Pets, they explain that "Animals speak all the time, as spoken through their body language, but many times their messages are misunderstood or go unheard. As a result, a dog may be placed in a situation or interaction where they're comfortable, but if polite requests for help or requests for space go unheard, their body language and behavior may escalate to a louder shout (think: lunge or growl) to get others to listen. Attending to the early signs of fear, anxiety, and stress, as well as understanding the signs of a content and happy pet, is essential for deepened relationships, safer living with dogs, and helping dogs live happier, healthier, fuller lives. In this video, you'll learn the key communication signs to attend to for better, safer interactions with dogs, including the subtle whispers of the pet's underlying emotional state that you can't afford to miss."
Getting back to Dale Ward's book, she states that "You may or may not see all of these signs in your dog. However, your dog will most likely show at least some of these signals if they are feeling anxious and uncomfortable. It is always important to take note of the context in which these behaviors occur. If your dog just wakes up from a nap and yawns, it is not likely due to stress. If your dog licks his nose right after eating peanut butter, it is not likely due to anxiety. You get my point. Context is important."
Signs that your dog is NOT having a good time:
1. Furrowed Brow: Dogs will get a "worried look", just like people do, when they are feeling uncertain or scared. They will tense their brow (forehead), and small wrinkles will temporarily appear."
2. Ears Flattened: Dogs have a variety of ear shapes, from long and floppy to sharp and pointy. When dogs are scared or uncomfortable, their ears move down and back, regardless of shape. The floppy-eared dogs will flatten their ears back and against their head. The pointy-eared dogs will move their ears backwards, and the tips might fold back, too."
3. Tail Carriage: The tail talks! Tails tell us a lot about what a dog is feeling, so learning what they are communicating through their tails helps us better understand them. Some dogs have very short tails and are limited in what they can 'say' with them. Keep this in mind if you have a dog with a docked tail. You must read the other signs more closely to know how your dog is feeling in that moment.When a dog is happy and comfortable, their tail is carried in a neutral position (roughly parallel to the ground), and it wags from side to side. If they are really happy or excited, that wagging speeds up and can involve their whole body. Their tail may even start to whip around in a circle, what we call a "helicopter tail". They look loose and wiggly when they are happy. When a dog is uncomfortable or scared, the wagging slows down or stops, and their tail lowers and gets tucked between their back legs. When a dog gets really angry or on guard, that tail can change into one that is held high and stiff, like a flag, sometimes with the end wagging back and forth quite rapidly. That high, tense tail carriage is a sign of extreme tension and says, "Back off now!" A dog that is posturing like this is set to go on the offensive, so be very careful. Back away from the dog!"
4. Hunched Posture: Dogs that are uncertain, shy, or afraid will arch their backs, almost like a cat. This has the effect of lowering their head closer to the ground. A tucked tail often accompanies this hunched posture."
5.Lip Lick/Tongue Flick: These terms are often used interchangeably. You will see uncomfortable dogs stick their tongues out, sometimes almost imperceptibly. These licks and flicks may be more pronounced and reach all the way up to their nose. With these types of stress licks, the tongue usually comes out of the front of the mouth, not the sides. These licks or flicks are also generally very fast."
6. Repetitive Yawning: When a dog yawns because they are tired or just woke up from a nap, their mouth opens wide, and the tongue usually comes all the way out and curls inward. When a dog stress yawns, the mouth opens wide, but the tongue usually stays inside the mouth, back and down against the floor of the mouth, or is only partially extended. A dog may repeat these stress yawns several times."
7. Pilorection (sometimes called raised hackles or fur standing up on their back): Pilorection refers to the raised hairs on the dog's shoulders, and along the back and (sometimes) the tail. This is an involuntary reaction, sometimes referred to as bristling, and is similar to how we humans get goosebumps. It is usually similar to how we as humans get goosbumps. It is usually a sign that the dog is excited or aroused in some way. It is not always, but may be, associated with anxiety and fear. Context is important here. This bristling can also happen during play when a dog becomes over-aroused."
8. Adrenaline Shake Off: This looks like a dog that is shaking off water, but they are not wet. It's a whole body shake off. You will often see this happen when two dogs meet, they sniff each other's rear ends, then part ways; a shake off will often follow. It's a stress reliever. We humans even have a saying that is similar. When we say, "shake it off," it means to get over it and move on. That's what your dog is trying to do!"
9. Pacing. Dogs will pace back and forth or in circles when they are feeling anxious or stressed. This is sometimes accompanied by a tucked tail, excessive panting, and hypervigilance."
10. Panting: Dogs that are anxious will pant even though they are not hot or out of breath. When dogs pant to cool themselves, their tongue lolls outside the mouth, fully extended with a flat tip shaped like a spatula. If a dog is stress panting, the panting will be rapid, and the tongue will usually be kept inside the mouth or only partially extended. You will not see the spatula tongue in a stress pant."
11. Hypervigilance: The Merriam-Webster definition is: "the state of being highly or abnormally alert to potential danger or threat." When a dog is hypervigilant, you will see them standing with their head held high, looking around from place to place, air scenting, nervous. They constantly look behind them, as if to ensure nothing or no one sneaks up on them. They are hyperalert to any potential danger that may arise in their immediate environment."
12. Shaking: Some dogs will tremble. This is an involuntary reaction often seen in small dogs, but large dogs will also tremble in fear. Humans do it, too."
13. Slow Motion Movement, Paw Lift: Dogs will sometimes walk very slowly, almost as if they don't want you to notice that they are moving away. They may stop and lift a front paw and let it dangle in the air. I like to think they are saying, "okay, I'll just move over this way for a second, okay? Nothing to look at here. Move along, please."
14. Turning Head Away, Moving Away: A dog that is uncomfortable with the situation will turn their head away from it. We often see this when people hug dogs. If the dog could, they would walk completely away in an attempt to remove themselves from the stressful situation. Leaving the stressful environment is a good strategy for a dog. They just move away from what is bothering them. It's simple and efficient! However, problems occur when the humans follow them and continue the unwanted interaction or when the dog is on a leash and can't move away."
15. Refusing Food: The majority of dogs will eat tasty morsels of food most of the time. Bits of chicken, liver, or steak are irresistible to most dogs.When dogs are too stressed, they won't eat. They simply can't. A dog's "seek" pathway (their olfactory system - scenting, eating, sniffing) and their fear pathway in the brain are mutually exclusive. When one is turned on, the other is turned off. Like a switch. So, when a dog is fearful, they won't eat. As fear lessons, the dog will begin to take the food, sometimes more rapidly and roughly than usual. When fear subsides, the dog will eat normally. This can be an extremely useful guidepost in determining your dog's stress level."
16. Whale Eye and Dilated Pupils: Stressed or fearful dogs will show the whites of their eyes, called the sclera. They will turn their head away but keep their eyes fixated on the threat, thus showing some of the sclera at the side of their eye. A "whale eye" is often accompanied by a "freeze". Also, a frightened dog may have dilated pupils, an involuntary stress response that happens in humans, too."
17. Freeze: The dog's body goes completely still, their jaw closes tightly, and they seem to hold their breath. The "freeze" is a clear warning to stop what you are doing."
18. Lip Lift, Baring Teeth: Often accompanied by a growl, a dog will retract the corners of tehri mouth. The corners of a dog's mouth are called the commissures.The mouth will usualy be open, and the commissures become tightly stretched towards the back of the head when the dog is fearful. The commisures will be pushed forward if the dog is taking a confident, offensive posture. Either way, its not good. Stop what you are doing and slowly back away from the dog. The commissures may also pucker, exposing the teeth."
19. Growl: This is a low, guttural vocalization that sounds like a rumble. Growling is a clear mode of communication that is telling you to stop immediately and asses the situation. Never punish a dog for growling.
20. Air Snap: The dog snaps its teeth close to the victim but makes no contact. Many people think that the dog actually tried to bite them but missed. If a dog wants to bite a person, they don't miss. Dogs are incredibly fast and accurate. An air snap is another warning to back off. If these final warnings are ignored, a bite will ensue if whatever is happening at that moment does not stop."
21. Bite: This level of stress is to be mitigated and avoided at all costs. When a dog has tried to communicate its discomfort and all signals have been ignored, they may resort to biting. Bites are classified using a scale of severity from level 1 to 6 as developed by Dr. Ian Dunbar. It is important to note that all dog bites that fall into the first two levels and are not considered severe, must be addressed to prevent escalation.
Dale Ward continues, on page 132 of Raising the Worst Dog Ever, "So much communication! We humans miss so many clues that our dogs give us to let us know that they are not feeling comfortable. Learn to watch your dog. Watch other dogs. Leave your dog at home and go to a dog park. Watch the body language to see how many signals you can identify. You will be surprised. And once you learn to see what dogs are telling us, you can't unsee it. You will see at least some of these signals anywhere there are dogs."
"So what should you do when you notice that your dog is not comfortable? Help them through it. You can give them some space by moving away from what is scaring them. Crouch or sit down with them, pet them, reassure them. No, you will NOT reinforce their fear. Fear is an emotion, not a behavior. If a child was afraid, we would certainly comfort them. A dog is no different in this respect. Once you have identified something that your dog needs help to cope with, use the principles of desensitization and counter conditioning."
Lastly, I'd like to address 2 more thoughts.
Did you know that dogs can recognize a bad person?
Dogs have superpowers! Scientists Confirm Dogs Can Recognize a Bad Person
There is scientific evidence to prove that our pets are the smartest and most perceptive and can even help single out bad people! Dogs can sense fear, read body language, and even smell cancer to find it at an early stage and warn of upcoming epileptic seizures and diabetic shock. Guess what else? Dogs can recognize a bad person. They feel how other people treat their owners, and they can read our body language and emotions.
If you treat fire with fire, you will get burned. Positive vs. Punitive Training."
To quote Victoria Stillwell, Editor-In-Chief of the Positively.com website, the founder and president of the Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, the CEO of the Victoria Stillwell Positively Dog Training (VSPDT),
"This concept is not rocket science, but it is still science. A study published in the Journal of Applied Animal Behavior concluded that confrontational training methods such as hitting dogs, intimidating them with punitive force and using techniques of restraint like the 'alpha roll' actually do very little to correct dogs' behavior and in fact increase the likelihood that they will be fearful and aggressive."
"Behavior is closely linked to and influenced by emotions, so punishing a dog for unwanted behavior while not understanding why the behavior is happening or its emotional effect on the dog only serves to make things worse. Punishments such as leash jerks and collar corrections, hitting, poking, 'nudging,' kicking, hanging by the collar, or using electric shock or spray collars may be effective in suppressing behavior at that moment, but these tools and techniques do little to solve the problem in the long term and can make a dog’s behavior much worse in the future."
"The tragedy of punishment-based training techniques is that people are being taught these methods without realizing they are making their dogs more unpredictable and dangerous. Although punishment may bring temporary relief for a frustrated dog owner’s anger, it damages the human-animal bond and leads to mistrust, pain, fear, agitation, and increasing anger as the dog develops a strong negative association with the punisher. Far from treating the underlying motivation of the behavior, punishment almost always actually makes the dog’s insecurity even worse while decreasing the dog’s ability to learn.
Think about the way you learn. When you are emotional, it is difficult to think rationally and clearly, because your 'thinking' brain shuts down. Once you have calmed down, your body allows you to activate the 'thinking' part of your brain again so that you can listen, digest, and learn, which in turn deactivates your emotional brain. The same principles are in play with our dogs. When we treat an aggressive dog with more aggression, not only do we compromise that dog’s ability to learn, but the lasting results from our punitive treatment can range from disappointing to disastrous."
Punishment via Dominance
'Dominance' has become the go-to diagnosis for all kinds of problem behaviors, such as pulling on the leash, jumping up, running through the door first, inappropriate elimination, destruction, barking, attention seeking, resource guarding, failure to respond to a command, and aggression toward animals, other dogs, family members, guests, and strangers.
To curb these behaviors, people are often told by punitive trainers to:
"Every one of the above techniques are prime examples of the least effective, most dangerous methods you could possibly employ when working with dogs – especially those exhibiting aggression or anxious behavior. The vast majority of owners and trainers that employ these techniques do so based on the incorrect assumption that the dog is attempting to be 'dominant' – a term that is wildly misunderstood."
"Most aggression cases (including so-called 'red-zone' dogs) are not dominance-based issues, but rather stem from insecurity and fear. Therefore, positive training is truly the most effective, safest and most powerful way to change the way a dog feels rather than causing it to 'shut down' due to fear and intimidation."
"Since the renaissance of dominance-based punishment techniques in the dog training world over the past decade, too many dogs that have been subjected to a 'professional' rough hand and are now suffering behavioral issues as a result."
"No one is saying that punitive training techniques will not stop a dog’s negative behavior at that moment. They often do, and the results can sometimes be achieved very quickly. But at what cost to your dog? At what cost to your relationship? And how long will those results last? Anyone can make a dog do anything through force and claim the 'successful' result as an impressive achievement, but there is nothing heroic, commendable, or reliable about physically or emotionally dominating any animal into compliance."
"The beauty of positive training is that you can build a strong bond with your dog and teach harmonious compliance at the same time: the perfect recipe for a successful and fulfilling relationship."
Bottom Line: Ultimately, punishment-based techniques emphasize WHAT NOT TO DO while positive training helps dogs learn and understand WHAT TO DO."
The case against dominance/pack theory explained by scientists:
If only Risa's first owner had not tried to dominate her and crush her with harsh punishment. To quote one of his last messages he sent us (before he stopped sending any updates at all or responding to emails, approximately around the time Risa hit adolescence), he stated that "we scolded her .... we put her in her place ..." He wondered why she would stare off into space. There were so many things he didn't understand, yet he felt he knew everything already since he had owned pugs all of his life. (Or so he said). It is tragic to see grey hairs on a pug that is just barely a year old.
On the other hand, this horror story has a happy ending thanks to Risa's (she now has a new name) amazing new owner. Risa can now live the life she was meant to live. She loves everyone she meets ... dog or human ... and she has never met a stranger. She is a happy, jolly, funny pug and we pray she has many more years full of joy and love .... a long, full life to make up for her first horrid year of life. We hope she will forgive us for placing her with this horrible first owner whom we totally misjudged. We hope she remembers that we loved her, love her still, and will always love her, until we meet again at the rainbow bridge.
So, hopefully, "Risa's Revisions" will help prevent future puppies from suffering the same fate Risa the pug endured. Hopefully, these revisions will provide future puppy owners with the resources to prevent them feeling the need to surrender a healthy, loving, purposefully bred, puppy culture raised, amazing 10 month old puppy to a kill shelter. This is why we have the following clause in our contract, to help the owner: "Buyer agrees that if they are unwilling or unable to keep the pug involved in this contract at any time during the life of this pug, the Buyer will return the pug to the Sellers. [Jeff and Amy would come get the pug]. This means that, for the life of this pug, the Buyer agrees not to sell the pug to any buyer, nor to give the pug away to another owner other than the Sellers without the Sellers’ consent. Buyer agrees to never surrender this Pug to a shelter or rescue group."
As we recently stated in a post in our Pickwick Owners' Private Facebook Group:
"If you are ever in doubt that you can no longer care for your pug, for whatever reason, please honor your contracts and let us help you. We will come get your pug … no judgement, no regrets, just moving forward. We know life happens. Please do not ever surrender your pug to rescue or a shelter. It is not necessary."
Risa was almost euthanized when she was not even a year old. She is an absolutely amazing pug. If only her owner had reached out to us, or any of his amazing Pickwick family.
The Pickwick family is filled with marvelous humans (and pugs!). It's also a fabulous resource, not to mention the pug family at large. Don't despair. We are always here for you throughout your pug's lifetime if you ever have any questions. If we don't know the answers, we can find someone who does.
Amy - Concert pianist, composer, lecturer, teacher, adjudicator, pug lover, dog trainer, soap and candle maker, owner Unique Boutique for Pet Owners, and co-owner Pickwick Pugs along with her husband, Dr. Jeff McLelland, concert organist, music director, and awesome care giver of the grumble.