The Old Trainer: Dog’s lazy eating not a problem

September 20, 2013 

D ear Old Trainer: Zia, my 9-month-old Sheltie, lies down while she eats. She stands up until I put the dish down, then lies down and eats it. Is this a problem, and, if so, should I try to get her to stand up for her meals?

– Linda, Salt Lake City

Dear Linda: Don’t worry about Zia. She just has fond memories for the old days when she and the puppy pack gathered around mom and had lunch lying down. All dogs begin life eating that way. Most outgrow it, and I expect Zia will too. If it bothers you, just pick her up and set her on her feet when you serve the food, then pat her on the head and brag on her.

I enjoy it when one of my dogs does it. Joker, my youngest border collie, is almost 2 now and still lies down when I serve dinner. That’s fine with me.

Dear Old Trainer: We have four mixed-breed dogs. They get along fine and never have a problem except when they get excited and start running around barking. When that happens, Seely, one of the two females, jumps on the other dogs trying to get them to stop. She doesn’t exactly bite them, but she barks at them and touches them like she is biting. Is this something I should worry about?

– Tony, Atwater

Dear Tony: No.

This behavior is found in every pack. All dogs desire order in the pack, and some, like Seely, have a greater sense of decorum than others. She is trying to restore order, not attack the pack.

Dogs willingly suspend pack order when they are excited and playing games. As long as they are all playing, every member of the pack is allowed to run and play at will, but they want order restored as soon as the game is over. Every dog is unhappy if one dog is behaving outside the norms of the pack. When that happens, all the dogs do whatever is necessary to force the problem child to behave.

They do the same thing when a human in their pack is out of control. They try to distract the person and restore calm.

You see a manifestation of this same instinct at the dog park when one dog acts up and the other dogs respond by forcing the dog to behave. Dogs feel the urge to protect humans from out-of-control dogs and move in concert to put a stop to it.

Seely may just dislike the uproar or may think the rest of the pack is disobeying you, but there is nothing to worry about. She is like the serious kid in grade school who tries to get everyone to behave and pay attention.

And that “touch” when she acts like she is biting them? That’s the same device a trainer uses and it has the same purpose – to interrupt the train of thought and force the dogs to focus on what she wants them to do. Trainers adopted the “touch” after seeing how well it works when dogs use it on each other.

Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained, and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.

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