Mark Cotter is one of my firefighter gurus. Here he talks about his experiences on a combined (career and volunteer) department.
For a longer (and nerdier!) interview with Mark on Modern Fire Attack go here: https://youtu.be/7ydeqaZv_0U
There comes the point where a home goes to the dogs. . . Literally. This just happened to us after we recently adopted our third dog — a rescue — named Maisie Rose Thunderbolt. Before Maisie came along, we had an orderly home with a routine. Importantly, the humans out-numbered the dogs. Now, it’s even-steven, and the balance of power has shifted.
This is all because of a small, white mix-breed puppy. Maisie came to us via a circuitous route that included a cage at a flea market, lost on the streets of Albuquerque, given up by her owner, taken in by our daughter and finally finding her permanent home with us and her new dog family, Nellie and Tank.
As I write this, she is lounging in a shaft of sunlight on our kitchen floor.
She, like all dogs, is an excellent lounger. But she has moments where she’ll go into hyperactivity, attacking toys, leaping from chair to couch and sprinting down our hallway. At barely ten pounds, she can jump over chairs, sleeping Bernese Mountain Dogs, and onto beds. Thus the name “Thunderbolt.”
Our other dogs, Nellie and Tank, are Swiss. They believe in and keep a rigid schedule of meals, outside time, walks and most importantly sleeping. Maisie is akin to being visited by your eccentric cousin who does everything the opposite way.
We are a bit in awe of Maisie’s energy, and we also have some concerns. Maisie startles easily. She can be overly submissive — rolling on to her back if you approach her — and she’s a flight risk. She is not yet attached to us or our home, so we worry she might bolt on a walk or sneak out of our house or yard. She is like the infamous Velociraptors in the first Jurassic Park, always testing the fences and gate. (“Clever girl!”)
I was worried enough that I decided to talk to an expert. I called Emily Burlingame, the Co-director of the Behavior and Training Department at the Santa Fe Humane Society and Animal Shelter.
Here is what I learned from Emily.
First, for dogs, socialization takes place in weeks 3-16. That is when puppies learn attachment (to other dogs or people). That is also when fear or anxiety can be learned. It doesn’t mean that a shy or fearful older dog can’t learn attachment, it just takes more time, skill and patience. We think Maisie is about a year old, and we suspect she had a chaotic puppyhood, so we know we have work to do.
Emily said dogs like Maisie need to know that they have choices — that they aren’t going to be forced into doing things, like meeting strangers, or other dogs. They need to go at their own pace. Forcing a dog to be pet by strangers, for example, can be akin to making a human with a fear of heights to take an elevator up the Space Needle: trauma-inducing.
Shy dogs need predictability; when they are fed, walked, pet and who takes care of them. At this Tank started nodding. I think he meant to say, “Told you so! Swiss dogs rule!”
In Emily’s words, the goal is to re-build a good history for the dog where they feel safe and in control of their choices. That is how trust is established — but it takes time.
Emily also had some practical advice for us. First was to have a good picture of Maisie. This was because if Maisie bolted or escaped, posters with pictures are much more effective than posters without pictures. Second, make sure that she was chipped and registered (she is). Next, she advised us to use at least a 6′ leash when walking her. This would allow more control and more time to react if Maisie bolted (and to make sure that her harness fit so that she couldn’t slip out of it.)
Finally, we talked about training. For a shy or unattached dog training is vital. This is not just because trained dogs are much easier to live with, but also because the ongoing process of training strengthens the relationship and builds the dog’s confidence.
It seems like a lot of attention and care is needed, but it pays such large dividends to know that you’ve rescued a dog. Emily finished our conversation with a quote that I’ll end with, “When you adopt a dog with behavioral needs, you get something back that you never knew you needed.”
Well, today you are in luck. Recently I heard that Sweden was a serious dog-loving country, and as your intrepid columnist on all things Dog, I thought I should investigate.
First off, my wife Laurie — controller of all budgets — laughed when I mentioned that I should fly to Sweden to see first-hand their dog culture. That was how determined I was to bring you this story. But, chastened, I fell back on plan B. Instead, I interviewed Tobias Gustavsson, the Manager of Scandinavian Working Dogs in Stockholm. Tobias works all over Europe, Canada, and the United States training working dogs.
A quick note about Sweden: It’s about the size of California, but with a third of the population. (Ten million vs. thirty-five million).
And, a spoiler alert: It’s good to be a Hund (Swedish for Dog).
According to Tobias, for hundreds of years, Swedes have had a close relationship with their dogs. Of course, we, like most dog lovers, have a close relationship with our three dogs. But the difference is that dogs in Sweden are trained. Tobias pointed out that having untrained dogs or dogs that just live in the house or the yard seems just weird to Swedes. I imagined him sitting there with his three German Shepherd mixes calmly sitting at his feet, while our two Berners and our rescue dog, Maisie were going crazy barking at the UPS guy.
Swedes take their dogs everywhere, although like in the US, Swedish dogs are not allowed in cafés or shops because of dog allergies, although that seems to be changing.
In Sweden, there are working dog clubs in every little town. This tradition goes back almost one hundred years. It’s a rarity in Sweden to have a working dog that is not part of a club. It is, and Tobias stressed this, very organized. The average dog owner knows a lot about dogs. They train and work with their dogs on a regular basis.
The Swedes also seem to be crazy about dog obedience and agility games. The waiting lists are long, and it takes a lot of work and time to be accepted into the competitions.
Almost every dog, if they are part of a club or their humans want to breed them, are required to take an intelligence and personality test at seventeen months. Since 1971, all those results have been stored on a national Data Base to help individuals choose puppies.
A note: Our free-wheeling American dogs, Nellie, Tank and Maisie, would not do well with any test. They just wanted me to tell you that. No tests!
But what did intrigue our dogs was the amount of walking they do in Sweden. It is a dog walking paradise. In Sweden, most land is open to walk on, even “private” farmland. It’s a Scandinavian tradition called “freedom to roam.” (Quit grumbling, you private property folks, it works for them!) Everyone walks their dogs — Tobias walks and runs with his dogs up to 9 miles a day. (This led me to think, no wonder their dogs are so obedient, they’re exhausted!)
Finally, I asked Tobias how Sweden deals with stray and abandoned dogs. In the US it’s estimated that over seven million animals enter shelters yearly. He said that it is simply not a problem they have. There is only one government-funded shelter in Stockholm that receives strays and prepares them for adoption.
If this was the case, I thought, Sweden must spay and neuter most of their dogs. But Tobias told me that neutering is not a routine procedure. When a male dog becomes stressed by other dogs in heat is the only time they will turn to neutering. To help tamp down aggressive behavior, they focus on training. The belief in Sweden is aggression is learned behavior, and it is the dog’s owner who is responsible.
What struck me by the end of the interview was a cultural commitment to close companionship. Tobias emphasized that keeping dogs physically and mentally stimulated was thought of as a daily responsibility for dog partners in Sweden.
By the time I was done writing this column, our dogs had their bags packed and Swedish flags festooned their collars. They were ready to go. I told them to settle down; they couldn’t handle nine miles a day!