Monday, March 05, 2007

Rufus Gets Whacked

Rufus is now a 15 month old intact male, and is predictably starting get a bit more assertive toward other dogs. This takes the form of humping. I generally monitor this to see if the other dog is ok with it, and to insure that Rufus does not become too persistent. I'm ok if Rufus gets "whacked" as long as the other dog stays in control. However, on Friday Rufus went to "put a leg over" a 2-year old Rotty mix, and the other dog spun on Rufus and went after him. There was a lot of noise and scuffling, and Rufus came out on the short end of the stick (Rufus is generally a beta male, and to date has never been in a true fight). Had no blood been drawn, I would have been ok with this. I think dogs are the best teachers of canine manners, and Rufus benefits by correction by other dogs. However, Rufus ended up with two 1cm slashes on the inside of his eyelid, necessitating a trip to the vet.

No stitches, but he had to wear "the lampshade" all weekend and his eye is still red and puffy. Rufus has not been a happy puppy the last few days...

In a subsequent email conversation with the other dog's owner and a friend of his, I started to feel like a negligent doggy daddy. By allowing free rein to Rufus's adolescent urges, had I inadvertently created a situation in which he was set up to get hurt? Was I the irresponsible parent who allowed his child to play in traffic? I sought the counsel of Christine Dahl, owner of Seattle Dogworks, whose opinion on training I respect and trust. My question was how to best to help Rufus safely get through his adolescence as an intact male. It seems that humping is seldom welcome behavior on the part of the "humpee". I just hope he will start to figure this out such that we don't have to make any more trips to the vet along the way...

Her answer follows:

Hi Martin,

Thank you so much for all your support! It's wonderful to hear from you and to hear a Rufus update--even if it is for humping! I am so, so, sorry he got roughed up.

First, it's best to bail on the "dominance" explanation. That's the old information doled out by those in the field who were forced to make up their own interpretations of dog language and it just gums up the equation. We now know, via science of course, that dominance is greatly useless in reading or modifying behavior. It exists, but for our purposes if we're going to change it, we gotta throw it out. It is highly likely that the humping has nothing to do with his attempts at dominance.

Humping is a very normal behavior, as I know you know, and unless an intact male is mounting a female in heat, all he's doing is practicing. have an adolescent male in the home. Interestingly, it is much more likely that the dog on the receiving end of Rufus' moves is actually the one with a behavior problem with intact males. It's very common for dogs to overreact, especially other males, when being in the vicinity of an intact male (even just walking a half a block near one can set him off) let alone being mounted by one. It sounds like you're already on board with understanding the problem being in the Rotty, but just in case, rest assured it is very unlikely that Rufus did anything in appropriate other than hump a male who was predisposed to reacting to him. Interestingly, sometimes these dogs react as a result of being punished for "allowing themselves to be humped." Homophobia or what!

I would proceed just as you have but with the new knowledge that some dogs, especially other males, are hypersensitive to intact males. You're correct that it's usually wisest to allow dogs to work out their problems on their own, but that's with the assumption that they are as well-raised as Rufus is. If that was the case, I'd be out of a job! Around dogs he knows, you may want to feel free to allow him more freedom, but pull him away (before he humps, ideally) from those you don't know as well.

Does that help?

Cristine Dahl, CTC
Seattle Dogworks Training & Education Studio (formerly SeattleDogs)
1417 10th Ave, #2
Seattle, WA 98122

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