DEAR OLD TRAINER: I work late, so I walk Layla, my Belgian shepherd, at midnight in a nearby park. We don’t usually see anyone and, if we do, Layla ignores them, but the other night a guy was walking toward us and Layla got between me and the guy and gave a long, mean growl with the hair on her back standing up and her fangs showing. I apologized, then scolded Layla, but she just kept snarling at the guy until he left. How do I train her not to growl?
Gina, Denver, Colo.
DEAR GINA: You don’t. You pet her and say, “good girl.”
Layla is there to protect you, not be friendly with strangers at night, and she did a perfect job – warned the man she had bad intentions if he took one step toward you, but didn’t attack as long as he kept his distance.
Never – and this goes for everyone – scold your dog for protecting you from what she believes is a threat.
Dogs are better judges of people, especially strangers you encounter at night, than humans, and it’s not even close. Layla is not distracted by political correctness or smooth talk. Her entire focus is on protecting you.
Layla watched the guy’s body language, listened to his breathing, and evaluated his scent. She sensed something she didn’t like and let the guy know it. When that happens, trust Layla. She’s serious about her job, she’s good at it, so let her do it.
And don’t apologize when she warns someone to back off.
Parks are a dangerous place late at night, especially if you are perceived as a victim. You never know what a stranger has in mind, but with Layla at your side no one is going to mistake you for a victim.
That’s why you don’t apologize. You don’t owe a stranger a thing because your dog did her job. If you feel you have to say something, tell them Layla is trained and won’t attack if they keep their distance.
The next time it happens, pet Layla, let her know you love her for protecting you, and tell her, “Good girl, don’t attack.”
Let the men of the night draw their own conclusions.
DEAR OLD TRAINER: We tried your idea of indirect training with Max and Murph, our little Shih Tzu/Maltese mixed breeds. We said “turn around” during our walk and walked the other way, but did no other training. Now it is hilarious to see them turn and race the other way as soon as we say it. How about another good trick?
Dee, San Jose
DEAR DEE: Indirect training, for those unfamiliar with the term, is giving a command as part of your daily routine and letting the dogs figure it out. It works like magic.
Here is one you, Max and Murph will love.
When you are ready for your walk snap your fingers, then give whatever command you use to tell them it’s time to go. Soon they will jump up wagging their tails as soon as you snap your fingers.
Then you can replace the verbal command with the snap if you want. Max and Murph don’t care which method you use, they just want to go.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to email@example.com.