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Dealing With The Sidewalk Bully

Your Dog’s Friend and Humane Society present free educational sessions for dog owners.

The evening’s challenge was set for Ann Roseberry Lincoln’s black-and-white border collie, Sage. With her eyes locked on a tennis ball at Roseberry Lincoln’s feet, could Sage resist the temptation the ball posed and stay on a “down command” from Roseberry Lincoln? It was not easy; Sage is a herding dog.

Roseberry Lincoln, a Potomac resident and experienced dog handler, offered her expertise to about 30 attentive dog owners who showed up last Wednesday at the Potomac Community Center to learn how to live more peacefully with the family pet. Sponsored by Your Dog’s Friend, a local nonprofit organization offering support to dog owners, along with the Montgomery County Humane Society, the event was part of a series of free educational sessions on dogs offered throughout the year. The evening’s session was evocatively called “The Reactive Dog: When Your Dog Acts Like the Neighborhood Bully.” It was a session many could not resist attending.

SOMETIMES USING Sage to show the value of treats, Roseberry Lincoln, an instructor certified by the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, Calif., and a member of APDT (Association of Pet Dog Trainers), explained how the group should reward or not reward a dog for its actions. Displaying an outline of steps projected on the wall behind her, she explained each and gave examples citing her experiences with her own dogs. She competes in herding trials with Sage.

In demonstrating how to interpret a dog’s behavior, body language and facial expressions, she explained the signs of fear vs. aggression. She asked members of the group if the hair (dog’s hackles) on their dogs’ backs usually rose just on the shoulders or along the entire back. Almost all responded to the “entire back” query. “That is a sign of fear,” said Roseberry Lincoln. Most thought it signaled aggression. Learning your individual dog’s body language is one of the most important lessons in dealing with reactive dogs, Roseberry Lincoln said.

NEDRA BASILE, who volunteers for Potomac’s PetConnect, a dog and cat rescue organization, attended the discussion because of her dog’s barking. “I discovered that my dog isn’t angry,” she said, after learning how to interpret a dog’s posturing. “I am less concerned now because I see that she just wants to play.”

Some of the important issues covered in the session dealt with the causes of aggression:

* Untreated medical problems such as the thyroid or a tumor

* Leash aggression caused by the human on the other end transmitting tension to the dog

* Possessive-aggression over a desired object — try to eliminate it and seek help

* Growling — never say “No!” to a growl, it is good information so try to understand it

* Conflict — to prevent or avoid it try to remove the cause. When out walking, cross the street at the sight of another dog. It is the owner’s job to prevent, not the dog’s

* Keep a journal of the dog’s body language, positions (bowing means: play with me), note it expressions, ear and tail carriage and hackles. “Know your individual pet,” Roseberry Lincoln said.

MEG PASSAIC of Potomac, who attended the discussion hoping to get a look at her dog from its point of view, added, “Now I have some tools to work with.”