A Dog's Eye View: What you don't know can hurt you

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Laura Tyler

Dog's Eye View

This weekly column about dog training publishes on Fridays in the Steamboat Today. Read more columns here.

A few years ago I heard a story about a guy who had a beautiful Siberian husky. He lived on the edge of town on a few acres that were not fenced. Every day he let the dog out right before he left for work. Every evening when he got home, his dog was on the porch waiting for him.  

This man thought his dog never left his property. His neighbors knew otherwise. A neighbor told him he thought he saw this dog running in a field down the road. No, he said, that couldn’t be his dog. He was always there when he got home from work.

One day the rancher from the adjacent property told him he had seen a husky-type dog attack one of his lambs. Well, this guy wasn’t worried. His dog never left his property — or so he thought. Besides, he never thought his dog would get into trouble. His dog loved and enjoyed just hanging out with his family when they were home.

Well, you guessed it. The man arrived home from work one evening, and his dog wasn’t there. He got back in his car and began to drive around looking for his dog. As he drove by the neighboring rancher’s property, he saw a horrible sight. There were three dead lambs in the field, and his dog was there, too. The rancher caught this dog killing his sheep and shot him. The dog’s owner was devastated. How could this be? He thought his dog never left his property.  

The moral of this story: Our dogs should be confined to their own yard when unsupervised. Dogs, left to their own devises, will be dogs. And all dogs are predators.

The predatory sequence includes: orient, eye, stalk, chase, grab/bite, kill, dissect and consume. Through selective breeding, humans have been able to manipulate this sequence to a certain extent to create our different purebred dogs. Some breeds maintain a higher prey instinct than others. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not in there somewhere in all breeds of dogs.  

Not all herding dogs love to herd, nor do all sporting dogs love to hunt. Their characteristics can vary from animal to animal. Once this instinct has been awakened, that behavior becomes self-reinforcing and habitual — just like the joy long-distance runners or exercise enthusiasts experience. It makes you feel good, so you keep doing it.

My little rat terrier has never killed a rat. But she can dissect a stuffed toy in record time. Lots of herding dog puppies spend a good deal of time chasing and nipping at the ankles of the children who live with them. We have to teach these puppies to have fun doing something that doesn’t hurt us so much, like fetch or “find it” games.

We have to manage our dogs’ behavior. It’s up to us to teach them how to live in our human world. Are you rolling the dice every time you let your dog loose in the neighborhood? Probably.

Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with 25 years of experience and has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She owns Total Teamwork Training LLC in Northwest Colorado.

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