Ask A Trainer: My Boyfriend or My Dog?
Posted: Mar 05 2009
Originally published February 28th, 2007
Question: I recently started dating a guy I like very much. We both have dogs. I have a six year old female German Shepherd, and my boyfriend has a Tibetan Terrier. The first few times we had the dogs together they got along fine. The next time they were together my dog pinned his dog to the floor several times.
After this happened, things got really cold between us. My boyfriend doesn’t want the dogs to be anywhere near each other, but my dog trainer thinks that there was “pack confusion” and that my dog was correcting his. What do you think?
- Vivian, via email. By the way, the boyfriend is out if he doesn’t try to address this issue. My dog stays!
Answer: This is a very delicate situation, indeed. Thanks for asking such a great question, Vivian. Your commitment to your dog is admirable! To begin, I would recommend limiting the contact between your dog and your boyfriends dog. Only allow them to interact under supervised, training situations.
Clearly there is some miscommunication going on between the two dogs. Even if your dog was correcting your boyfriend’s dog, you don’t want things to escalate any further. Your dog may simply be overwhelmed by the newness of the situation (having to deal with a new dog, your new boyfriend, a new space etc.) This can lead to a higher level of stress, which in turn, can lead to a perceived need for a higher level of self-defense.
Consider implementing a technique developed by Norwegian dog trainer, Turid Rugaas, called Parallel Walking. You can do this with your boyfriend and other friends and their dogs. Go to the park or a yard where you’ll have plenty of space. Have everyone line up (with their dogs on leash) about 8-10 feet apart. In unison, begin walking toward the other side of the yard. As the dogs become more comfortable, close the space between you and the person/dog on either side. Conversely, if one of the dogs appears uncomfortable create more distance.
Observing your dog’s reaction to this exercise will help you evaluate her stress level, and your boyfriend will be able to do the same with his dog. When you understand how the environment (i.e. dogs, people, noise, etc.) influences your dog you can utilize techniques that will help you more effectively communicate with her.
Your ultimate goal is to create a space in which your dog and your boyfriend’s dog exist harmoniously. In order to achieve that goal, you’ll need to look critically at the situation, determine what your dog is “saying” through her behavior and address the underlying reasons for that behavior.
In addition to working with your dog trainer, I highly recommend the book, On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas. You may be surprised by all of the things your dog is telling you through her body language. I am confident that with a little observation and training you and your boyfriend will be able to facilitate a better relationship between your two dogs!