Respect. What?

Periodically, this question drives me crazy.

What is respect?  In particular, what constitutes the kind of respect dogs are supposed to have for humans?

About 95% of the time someone tells me their dog respects them, or points out a dog who respects people, the dog is visibly afraid of the person.  Is that respect? If that’s what it is, I am not interested, and it’s a very easy discussion for me.

I’ve had herding instructors tell me, “your dog does not respect you.”  Does that mean my dog does not fear me?  If I ask, the answer is something like, “respect means she does what you ask right away” or “does not pull on the  leash” (*oh shit*), or something like that.  But when I ask, “how do you teach that,” they tend to wiggle a bit and not have a concrete answer.  And I’m pretty sure that when they teach if to their dogs, it involves at least partly instilling an element of fear; of “or else.”

Can respect be earned by humans without using fear?  If so, how?  I’m pretty sure I’ve done all those things — controlling resources, being fair, teaching the skills so my dog understands, etc., with Mellie, but it’s also still pretty clear that there are times she’s just going to do what she wants and is “blowing me off.”  For example, leash walking.  Or thinks I’m a raging incompetent (“if you wanted me to go over that jump you should have told me in time”).  is that a failure of respect?

I’m truly at a loss with this.  I know people I respect, so I’ve asked myself “what is it about those people that makes me respect them?”  The answer is usually that they are fair, fairer than usual; or stronger than most people (especially myself) would be in a similar situation.  I have enormous respect for some of the young single moms I’ve met who are also going to school and working one or more jobs.  I’m pretty sure I couldn’t ever have done that; it’s enormous.  Just an example.  And this really does not translate well to “dog respecting a person,” because it requires all sorts of theory of mind and abstract thinking which dogs don’t appear to do.

I welcome comments.  I’d really like to hear what people mean by this, and how they teach it.

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The new guy

In the spring of 2013, I said goodbye to my beloved Aussie, Cedi. This left me with three dogs. Cedi was the one most stressed by dog visitors, so once things had settled, I was more comfortable taking in a behavioral observation foster from Multnomah County Animal Services.

Marley was listed as a Border Collie cross. MCAS requested observation because he’d bitten the Assess-A-Hand during the food guarding test. However, he’d originally been an owner surrender, and the owners had not reported any guarding at all. The inconsistency made the staff want more solid information.

I took Marley out to my car. Although he looked extremely like a BC, he was a big dog, bigger than almost all male BCs I’ve ever seen. He didn’t want to jump into my crate in the back of my car. I tried to lift him and he “bit” me — he swung his head at me and made contact, gently. I ended up transporting him loose in the backseat. When I got him home, my roommate, a groomer, took one look at him and told me he was a Great Pyrenees cross. She’d been in class with a BC/Pyr cross and he looked just like Marley. And they both had double rear dew claws, a distinctive Pyr breed trait. I immediately contacted Pyr rescue and Marley was transferred to the rescue’s ownership.

He turned out to be a little skittish, affectionate, and easily stressed. He started bonding to me, and I was enjoying him. I saw zero sign of resource guarding. About two weeks after I got him home, he started getting very agitated one Sunday morning when I was trying to leave for my long teaching day. I tried giving him a bone to chew, but Nano grabbed the bone and ran outside better to hoard it. (Epic management fail!) Now I was late. I ran out, retrieved Nano and the bone, got my little dogs into the car, and tried giving the bone to Marley. He was half-frantic, but I had to leave, so I did. My roommate was here, but he would not respond to her, pacing from door to window, stress panting and whining. Eventually he pawed the doorframe loose around my front door. (Fortunately, it was an easy repair.) By Wednesday, I had him at the vet to talk about medication for separation anxiety.

Marley is a dog who stacks triggers. He has a fair number of low-level triggers. He is possessive (mainly against other dogs); he does not like being fondled by people he does not know; some strange dogs can make him nervous, especially if he is on leash (he was tied to a tree for a couple of months as a puppy); some noises worry him; he shows Livestock Guardian Breed-normal guarding traits around the house and yard, etc. If they pile up or go on too long, he will start behaving defensively. He’s bitten me and a couple of other people since I’ve had him, mostly not making contact. On the two or three occasions he’s made contact, he left a little spit — it was the barest contact. In other words, he has terrific bite inhibition. He really is not a resource guarder toward people, but in the situation of a stressful temperament assessment at the shelter, with lots of people “in his space” and the weirdness of the Assess-A-Hand and so on, he lost it.

But the big deal, the hidden deal, was the separation anxiety. It’s not as severe as some cases I’ve worked with, but it was enough to qualify clinically. This makes a dog very hard to place. He had a few meet-and-greets early on, but the potential adopters were all over him and pushed him into defensiveness. One attempted adoption failed because of his perimeter guarding behavior. Another failed because upon meeting him, one of the new owners demonstrated a skill level too low for this lovely, sweet, but complicated dog.

Finally, in July 2014, I decided to keep him. He and Nano do not love each other, but seem to have moved past the stage of getting into outright fights. Marley is now officially Barley… though, let’s face it, I still call him “Marley” at times. Everyone who’s met him has loved him: My vet, my roommates (the groomer, who moved out, and the new one, as well), the vet behaviorist and his entire staff, and many others. He’s affectionate, goofy, happy, a little anxious and eager for approval. We’re taking some agility classes. He’s now over two years old and I can see the Pyrenees mellowness slowly taking over. I figure we’ve got a year or two to do some competing before he decides that really, he’s fine in a down on a table and doesn’t want to get up and run again. (Actually, he has a lot of toy drive and will tug vigorously, and he really enjoys training. But his goofy big-dog floppiness cracks me up.)

This throws a wrench into my plans. I was planning on finding a working Border Collie pup to seriously learn herding with. I can’t bring another youngster home any time too soon, so I have to put that off.

So, welcome Barley, my tall, dark and handsome boyfriend, daily snuggler, and devoted friend.