Posted : 8/25/2009 7:42:28 PM
By nature a calm state of mind can last longer that a stressful state of mind and therefore the dog can not last as long as you, they get tired mentally and just stop, the good thing is that they alsio realize that you are actually doing anything to them and there is no reason to guard.
As usual, my hare casts doubt on that assertion. I can tell you, we are coming up to 5 years together and he has taught me to be an absolute master at appearing calm. Make myself small, still, don't look at him, lean away from him if he's still, slow, steady breathing, relax the shoulders... some days it works and some days it doesn't. Sometimes just being there is too much and the longer he is feeling stressed the more stressed he becomes. I have sat there calmly watching him go from hopping over to take treats from me to shooting all over his cage banging into things. I think I even have it on video. You have to know when to cut your losses before you actually reinforce the stressful mindset just by being there.
I think that to a degree, you can defuse (thank you espencer for spelling that correctly!) a tense situation with a "correction" if you do so in the warning phase. It doesn't necessarily have to be a correction, though. All you need to do is distract them. If your dog knows what "look here" means, you can use that instead. Provided it's got a very good reinforcement history. Or any other incompatible behaviour.
I disagree, though, that correcting the growl somehow tells the dog not only to not growl but to not feel aggressive. This is a point we will have to agree to disagree on, because my reason for disagreeing is yet to be proven. I just don't think growls and aggression are so firmly linked in a dog's brain. I do think they are somewhat linked, but not that linked. If I interrupted Penny when she started to growl or gave Kivi one of those "I will so bite you" looks, I could prevent her from snapping at Kivi provided I was able to hold her attention. But most of the time I was not close enough, and then she became deaf anyway, and if I wasn't looking when she was in the warning phase then she would do what she pleased.
I think that if you punish a dog for growling you are just punishing the growling, not the whole chain. But, if you can get your dog to act calm and reward that, with time your dog might feel calm. So it follows that if you punish a dog for growling and they stop growling, over time they might feel less need to growl. On the other hand, growling is a good deal more complex than being calm, and there are a lot of other ways a dog can communicate that they don't like something without growling. The problem is, they are all more subtle than a growl.
My partner's parents were here with their dog recently. They would put poor little Alex close to Kivi so that Alex would feel a need to growl, then smack him. It's this misuse of punishment that is so common and quite upsetting. It makes sense to people, but it doesn't make sense to their dog. Alex stopped growling at Kivi and just took to trying to bite his face off instead. Alex was tiny, though, and Kivi has very thick fur, so Kivi found this more rewarding than punishing. Alex stopped doing it and instead just patiently put up with Kivi's sneak licking attacks, having learnt that they were not terribly threatening.
Anyway, so yes, ignoring the growling so that the animal learns it is ineffectual does work, but what really calmed Alex down in the end was learning that Kivi was not going to hurt him. Once he had figured that he didn't need to growl or bite anyone. In Penny's younger days she gave warnings a mile long. It was great. It gave you so much time to judge how annoyed she was and do something about it before it got worse. I would hate to jeopardise long warnings by cracking down on the most obvious of them. I've never actually seen Kivi growl, but if he ever did I would damn well take notice and I'd be quite happy he was being so obvious about it instead of lying down helplessly.