Friday, December 06, 2013

Training the Neighbors' Guard Dogs

All day--every day--Paisley and I talk about one thing: dogs.

Since we left the United States, there have always been a lot of dogs around: both in Panama and Uruguay there have been a ton of dogs. 

In Panama the dogs were randomly very relaxed.  They did not bark or chase cars, but they were quietly relaxing everywhere.  I remember the first time I came across a dog in the middle of the road.  I started to feel sad, but then as our car got closer, maybe 30 feet away, it got up and moved out of the way.  No big deal!  Just relaxing in the middle of the road!  That happened a few times. 

In Uruguay the dogs also everywhere, but they are uptight and noisy.  They don't wander around in public as much as the dogs in Panama, they are usually with people or guarding houses.  For our first month in Uruguay there was a dog out on a balcony diagonal from our apartment, and he barked cooonnnnstantly.  It about drove me crazy.  I would just about have Paisley asleep and he would bark some more and Paisley would sit up in bed, totally alert, and say "Dog?!  Woof woof?  Dog!  Dog!"

Now we are in a neighborhood and almost all of the neighbors have a guard dog (or five).  Paisley's vocabulary has also grown, so a couple months ago we started to have this conversation several times each day, whenever we hear (or walk past) a dog:

 Paisley: "DOG?!  Bark!  Woof woof!  Tail.  Wag.  Dog.  TOUCH!  TOUCH!"  (She wants to touch every dog.) 
Me: "Nope, we can't touch it."
Paisley: "LOOK.  See it.  Look.  Look.  Pass.  Dog."

After a while of her asking to touch every dog, about a month ago I explained to her why we couldn't touch all of the guard dogs, at a simplified level that I hoped she would understand.  I explained that the dogs are mad.  The dogs bark because they are protecting their house and if we try to touch them they could bite us.  We need to ask the owners before we touch dogs.  So that is why even though we pass a lot of dogs we usually cannot touch them.

She did understand. 

After that, we still talked about dogs a ton.  She still asked to touch them.  Something changed, though.  Now when we pass by dogs, she doesn't run to try to touch them.  Instead, she wants to be held instead of walking, and she clings close to me, curled up tightly into me.  She shudders when they bark.  Now, when she talks to me about dogs our conversations are different.

"DOG!  Bark!  Mad.  Bite.  Scared!  Afraid!  See it.  Touch.  Mad."

She begs to go see dogs, but once we get to them she is afraid!

It's kind of sad to me.

But it had to happen eventually, right?  She had to know eventually that it is not safe to touch every dog, because it can be dangerous. 

Even when she sees friendly, happy dogs she says "DOG!  Mad.  Bite."  So I started telling her that some dogs are HAPPY!  Some dogs are FRIENDLY!  Not all dogs are mad, and most dogs are only mad sometimes.  And they're behind gates, so we're safe.

Pais doesn't really get it, though.  And every day several dogs bark at us viciously as we walk past, so that doesn't help her to be less afraid.  We can't not walk past, so that is just how it is.

Then I had an idea...

I remembered that goat kids become friendly if you feed them raisins when you interact with them.  I remembered that when we had Chalcy she was very trainable.

I wondered, what if we bought some dog treats (even though we don't have a dog) and carried some with us so that whenever we pass a scary dog we can toss a treat at the dog and it will disrupt the barking and make the dog like us. 

I wasn't sure if it was ethical or not, because if I had a scary guard dog I wouldn't want a lady and her baby to make it not a scary dog.  And, I have very strong feelings about what I consume and what people feed to Paisley, and some people might object to me feeding their dogs anything.

I decided to do it though, because:
1) The dogs don't just bark if we are threatening their territory.  If a dog were only barking if we stopped outside their house, or trespassed, that would be one thing--and some dogs are that way--but that is not the case with most dogs.
2) The value of having dogs on full alert for us is not worth the cost of my baby really believing that all dogs are mad, and that is what is being reinforced when they are so vicious. 
3) We do not actually pose a threat to the houses--whether or not the owners know that--so if dogs are friendly to us it does not raise the risk of burglary or harm to the people.
4) We are feeding very generic dog biscuits, in small quantities, so it is unlikely to make anybody's dog fat or have some kind of dietary problem.
5) If the owners ask us not to, we will stop.

So I bought a bag of dog biscuits, and started to toss half a dog biscuit to any dog that barks at us.

The first few times I threw dog biscuits it took everybody by surprise.  The dogs abruptly stopped barking to look for treats.  Paisley was surprised by the unexpected change, too, and she laughed and laughed!

We've been doing that for about a week and a half, just whenever we see the dogs. 

It's working!

We've seen the most improvement with the very scary, extremely barky dogs that live two doors away from us.  They still run across the yard to meet us when they see us, but they don't bark at all.  Instead, they wag their tails and wait patiently on the other side of the gate, hoping that I will toss treats in.  And I do.


MamaErin said...

Genius, Emily!!!!

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