The free-roaming world is not all rainbows and butterflies. No big deal.

This is the long version of my video description to go with today’s Free Roamer video. Subscribe to the channel here to not miss videos I don’t share on my blog. I also love comments, and am happy to discuss, clarify, and go into detail on Youtube.

Stand-offs with free-roamers

What you are going to see is two dogs in a stand-off. They don’t know each other. This is Game’s home range, but we don’t go here often. I don’t know if the other dog is in their home range or core area. First, Game is ready to curve politely. The other dog approaches frontally instead. As a result, the meeting itself starts off tensely: the free-roamer is tense, and Game responds with tenseness herself. They are in a stand-off: both stiff. Neither one giving an inch. I know it’s going to erupt.

I happen to have someone who’s taking video for me (thank you, Rodrigo!), which is rare – that’s the reason I do not interfere or manage when I see the other dog is tense rather than loose-bodied. I want you to see what happens in a situation like this: not a whole lot.

Free-roaming dogs are usually excellent communicators. That is to say, they may have attitudes and opinions; they may even be snarky and barky, feisty and mean. But they do not harm each other. Fights are loud, and then everyone walks away, shakes off, and continues with their day. Think Lucha Libre or Capoeira (it’s ritualized like a dance; it may be about winning, but it’s not meant to harm the opponent), not Krav Maga (few or no rules, and the aim is to knock out, eliminate or even kill your opponent quickly and efficiently).

Let’s define “usually” …

Let’s define “usually excellent communicators”: I have lived in free-roaming worlds (Thailand, Guatemala, Mexico) with my dog(s) for the last five years. In these five years, we’ve met multiple ree-roaming dogs every single day. Let’s say on average, I will meet 5 a day (that is a conservative estaimate). Only twice have we met a free-roaming dog who did not have great communication skills – it happens so rarely that I remember. So “usually,” in the sense I’m using it here, means close to 100% of the free-roaming dogs Game and I meet.)

Game is an excellent communicator as well. She is usually friendly, but can be a jerk, like any living being. Even when she’s being a jerk, she will not draw blood. This is why I am not worried even though I know the situation is going to erupt in this situation.

What if I didn’t want the situation to erupt? I’d manage or interfere the moment I saw a stiff-bodied free-roamer.

What options do I have to manage/interfere?

1. Space permitting, I could curve my leashed dog around the other dog in a wide half-circle, giving that dog space. I can’t cross the street here because there’s a fence separating the two lanes; if I could, I would just cross the road

2. I could do a u-turn with my dog. (I don’t usually do this because Game is a very stable dog, so it’s not necessary. I would do it with a puppy, a dog-aggressive dog, or a fear-reactive dog.)

3. I could tell my dog to stay next to/behind me and throw treats at the other dog.

4. I could tell my dog to stay next to/behind me, and threaten the other dog (free-roamers mostly respect humans and keep their distance).
Levels of threat I can use:
I Facing them frontally.
II Direct evil stare into their eyes.
III Throwing invisible stones.
IV Walking towards/into them while doing I and II.
V Kicking the dog if none of the above do the trick, while still having my own dog stand back. (Game knows if I am taking charge of a situation or if I am letting her take charge.)

5. I could tell my dog to come into “middle” position (see this video), and, if necessary, keep the other dog at bay with any of the methods mentioned in points 3 and 4.

When do I know it’ll erupt?

The moment I am sure it is going to erupt is when their stand-off starts. At this point, I know that the situation can only be resolved by an eruption – but who will give in and who will go forward is not yet clear.

It’s like arm-wrestling: while they are both stiff and staring at each other, it’s like both wrestlers are equally strong; their arms are vertical. They are holding this position for several seconds, and then one of the wrestlers will start losing ground.

The same happens between two dogs in a stand-off like this. One of them will give in. In this case, it’s the other dog. In an arm-wrestling match, this will most of the time result in the winner smashing their opponent’s arm down.

Things were standing still or moving in slow motion until that moment. Because the other dog gives in by retreating a step, Game goes forward (smashes the other one’s arm onto the table).

Loose leash

Notice that I’ve made sure to keep my leash loose the entire time. I can’t tell my leashed dog that she gets to handle a situation, and then keep her from freely communicating by tightening the leash. It would not be fair Tight leashes are only an option if I am going to handle the situation myself, and my dog is not expected to do anything.

However, I’m not going to let her tie herself and the other dog up in the leash, so I just stay where I’m standing. Situation over; you won, Game. She’s already defeated the opponent; it’s over as soon as Game reaches the end of her leash and the other one gets out of dodge (out of Game’s leash radius). And we continue on. All is well.

What if there was no leash?

You may ask yourself what would have happened if Game was off leash. Would she have ended up in the same stand-off? Yes, if I hadn’t managed or interfered, she’d probably have ended up in the exact same stand-off.

What would have happened if I had chosen to not interfere? I would have continued walking because I am a magnet for my dog. I don’t want to increase her power by staying close, but pull her with me by keeping moving. I would have walked past them, and then watched from a distance. Game would have had to finish her stand-off before catching up with me (otherwise, she would have become the one taking a step back, and the other dog would win and smash her metaphorical arm on the table).

Things would likely have ended in the same way: the other one would have given in, and Game would have responded by going forwards (smashing their arm onto the table). Because in this situation, there is no leash stopping her, the “fight” (remember: Lucha Libre or Capoeira, not Krav Maga: sparring for show, not to do harm) would have lasted a little longer. Maybe 30 seconds. Then, everyone would have moved on with their day; no blood, no harm – except maybe for that other dog’s ego.

Why am I telling you all of this?

Because people tend to be afraid that when dogs get into fights, blood is going to flow. This is really rare among dogs who grow up free-roaming. It is not so rare among pet or sports or working dogs. If you live in a world mostly populated by the latter, it makes perfect sense that dogs getting into fights is something you are worried about. Free-roaming dogs are different in that their social skills are on a different level.

Why is Game good at this stuff?

Game has been hurt (bitten to the point of blood being drawn) by my own previous dog (who was severely dog aggressive), and she has been hurt by a pet dog who was with their owner. She has never drawn blood herself, even though she has been a jerk on occasion. Why is that? Take a minute and think about your answer before you scroll down and keep reading!

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No, it’s not because I’m the world’s greatest dog trainer and turned a blank-slate puppy into the best version of a Malinois. It’s because Game is genetically an extremely stable dog. I would not blame her if she had developed aggression after living with my previous dog. But Game did not develop aggression. She has two personality traits that keep her from it: high confidence, and high sociability. The combination of these two allows her to assume that other dogs she meets are not going to be psychopaths despite her own bad experiences. She acts like a dog who has never had a bad experience, and is simply confident (will not submit if challenged) and sociable (will usually be friendly). So do most free-roamers we meet. Not bad at all, this part of the world, is it?

Body language in free-roaming dogs, or: meet the dog in front of you!

This is the full version of the description that goes with today’s Youtube video on the Free Ranging Dogs channel. If you’ve read the first part of the description already, pick back up under the heading “Dog #4”! If you haven’t – here’s the video description from the beginning:

Game is happy to be allowed to run off leash again (nothing to worry about – the surgery I mention in the video was minor and all is well, but she’s only been out on leash for the last 2 weeks).

This video shows how, in just 3 minutes, Game meets 5 different owned free-roamers. Just like pet dogs differ, so do the personalities, looks and behaviors of these dogs.

All 5 free-roamers in this video are owned dogs. That is to say, they live in the respective yards they come out of. Their gates are always open. This street is part of Game’s home range and part of the other dogs’ core area. Only dog #4, the Doberman/Lab (this is not a Doberman; I’m just picking look-alike breeds for you to distinguish them) is not inside their own yard – the person working on the car is probably their human, and the dog is out here with them.

Dog #1: the Husky

Game sees the Husky before I do. At 00:29, she greets them with a friendly wag and moves on. What you see at 00:29 is a behavior that lets me know there is a dog to her right.

00:36 The Husky comes out – hackles up at first, but Game has already moved on, so the Husky doesn’t care. Instead, they show curiosity/interest in me, and their hackles come down all the way.

Dog #2: the big black-and-white pup

00:54 This one looks pretty young to me – but I can’t say for sure; he may just look that way because of a recent hair cut. He, too, comes out of his territory. Unlike the Husky, the pup is interested in Game: friendly, waggy and playful.

01:02 Game responds to the friendly interest the pup is showing. She may be in the mood to run together. That’s because she’s been deprived of exercise for the last 2 weeks, and I’ve also mostly kept her away from from other dogs. When that happens, she tends to act more playfully until she’s back to baseline in terms of exercise and intraspecific social interaction. It usually takes her a few days to get back to baseline.

01:16 Game would have pooped here, but because the pup is still there and being playful/friendly, she forgets about pooping and reciprocates the playfulness.

01:19 Btw, the ear position you see here in Game – ears up and turned back – is what she’ll usually show when we’re out and about. This is not a sign of insecurity, submission or fear. (Game can do a whole bunch of things with her ears; this is just one of her many expressions.) She’ll usually have her ears up and back like this when she’s ahead of me. She watches what’s up ahead, and keeps an ear on me at the same time.

Here, she’s running towards me, and her ears are up and back to keep an ear on the pup who she’s allowing to chase her. Ears up and back are a sign of split attention in Game: eyes in one direction, ears in the other one.

01:24 … and running back the other way, in exactly the kind of speed that is right for the pup (who seems to have a hurt paw/leg and is not super fast). Game enjoys both being the chaser and being the chasee.

01:25 And yes, I say in this video that she’s been on limited activity for a long time. For me (and for Game, but really, mostly for me), 2 weeks are a fucking long time! Walking is my thing. And without a dog, it isn’t fun.

Dog #3: the Chihuahua

01:42 The Chihuahua has just come out of their yard, and wants to see what’s going on out here! Since the 5 dogs (the free-roamers) are all neighbors, the Chihuahua isn’t interested in the pup, but in Game.

01:45-01:48 The Chihuahua displays their interest by sniffing. They are confident and curious, and the fact that Game ignores them (“Too small; whatever; also I’m done playing”) likely raises the Chihuahua’s confidence to the bouncy, chasey level you see here.

The Chihuahua and Game aren’t playing – the Chihuahua is sniffing while chasing Game, who ignores them because she’s already on her way.

Game is aware of size differences and is much more likely to ignore a small dog than a large dog. The Chihuahua isn’t unfriendly, but not exactly friendly either.

01:49 Game may just have left the little one’s core area, making her less interesting and me (I am still in the core area) more interesting. The Chihuahua folds the ears back and wags at me in a friendly-submissive greeting gesture.

Dog #4: the Doberman/Lab

01:52 To your right, where the cars are parked, you’re about to see the Doberman/Lab. This dog is insecure and barky. They are in their core area (this is one of the neighborhood dogs here), but not in their own yard. They are likely out here with their human.

You’ll see the insecurity in the retreat and the continued barking:

02:01 Retreat.

02:04 Now that Game has passed, the dog is coming forward again: when one dog turns their back on another one, the other one will feel safer. Game just passed and ignored the Doberman/Lab.

02:06 … which is why the Doberman/Lab can now come forwards again and bark – this time at me.

02:12 The response to me is barky, but not fearful. There was only a fear response when Game was walking towards and past the parking lot – so this dog’s insecurity is dog-specific.

02:14 It’s hard to say whether the Doberman/Lab is in their territory or in their core area. In any case, the person at the car is probably their person.

It is entirely possible that the dog’s response to Game and I would be different if there was no other human present. Being with their human generally gives dogs greater confidence/perceived strength.

Dog #5: the second fluffy big one

02:19 This dog was probably alerted to Game’s presence by the barking of the Doberman/Lab. Like the Chihuahua, he wants to see what’s going on! He is not interested in me and runs out of his territory (yard) and right past me to check out Game. The barking you keep hearing in the background is still the Doberman/Lab, not dog #5.

02:28 Game is done socializing for this outing, which is why she isn’t giving dog #5 any attention. Dog #5 is just curious about her – no strong feelings in any direction. Having caught up with her, he sniffs where she sniffed, and later, he’ll pee on the corner of the wall.

This dog is confident, has no ill intentions, and is an adult. Among confident adults with good social skills, if dog A ignores dog B, dog B will also politely leave dog A alone. (There are exceptions. Sometimes two adult dogs – just like humans – dislike each other at first sight. But that would be an exception for socially confident good communicaters. Politeness is the rule: live and let live.)

02:39 You can see dog #5 pee and look around (for example at me) with loose body language. He has gotten a good look at Game, had the chance to sniff where she sniffed and where she stood to collect information – that’s all he needs.

02:46 Dog #5 is done; ready to head back home. He has learned all he needed/wanted to learn about Game.

02:56 Even when Game is back outside the forest, dog #5 is still good: he has satisfied his curiosity and is ready to return to whatever he was doing. (Probably snoozing outside his house.)

The free-roaming dogs of Mexico

I started a Youtube channel on the free roaming dogs I encounter on my own free meanderings. Every Sunday at 5pm CT, you’ll get a little glimpse in their lives and encounters. Make sure to read the video descriptions for more information and context.

Today, I released the third episode – here are the first three to give you an example of the kind of content I’m going to feature. To stay up to date, subscribe to the channel.Feel free to videos that interest you with your friends! I love sharing “my” free-roamers with you all!

Game chooses to stay close to me so I’ll keep her safe

Video description

Game is good with dogs. She’s got excellent social skills, and she’s a confident girl. However, this is the morning after a night of fireworks that made her quite uncomfortable. She’s not up for dealing with other dogs today, and chooses to stay near me. We have a system of communication, and within our shared language, this means that she is asking me to deal with the dogs for her. So I do. All is well.

Game meets a playful free roaming puppy

Video description

Before I got the camera out, the puppy approached us, ran towards and play-bowed at Game. By the time I start filming, the roles are reversing and Game is finding out if she, too, will get to be the chaser.

We walk here a lot, but haven’t seen this puppy before. She does not behave like a typical free-roaming homed puppy. That and the fact that there is a busy street nearby is why I joke about her wanting to be my dog – that’s not a thought that usually crosses my mind. If she were either an obviously homed free-roaming puppy or this was a pedestrian area (one or both are the case for almost all – let’s say 98% – of dogs I see in Guanajuato), I would keep my distance. This is not the case for this puppy, which tempts me to interact more with her than I would with a typical free-roamer whose life I feel I shouldn’t interfere in much. I would usually offer neither food nor pets, and keep my distance, just observing.

Passing a shy free-roaming dog on leash

A typical encounter. As it turned out, the dog was in his core area – the little store likely belongs to his folks.

Happy training, observing and learning, everyone!

The Puzzle Week, Part 26: Resource Guarding

I generally have a few toys out – if I haven’t, Game will turn my shoes into toys.

Resource guarding incident #1: toys


On day #1 or #2 of the Puzzle week, I observed a resource guarding moment in Puzzle: she was guarding a toy from Game. In such a young puppy (supposedly 8 weeks; maybe a little bit younger), this is a red flag behavior for me. I happened to catch it on video. Let’s look:

… and analyze! Btw, I’m pretty sure what’s running in the background is a recording of Jennifer Summerfield‘s excellent webinar on behavioral medication for dogs.

01:02 Puzzle, who hasn’t played with toys before, shows interest in the Hucker as soon as Game leaves it alone to go for the red ball on a rope. Okay – nothing wrong with this. (Stimulus enhancement causes her interest.)

01:17 Now Puzzle has the Hucker, but Game and I are interacting with the other toy, which makes that one more enticing.

01:37 Game has dropped the ball, and Puzzle comes over to take a closer look at it. (Stimulus enhancement!)

01:44 “Okay,” says Game, “Let’s see what you’re up to, little puppy!”

01:48 Game likes tugging with other dogs, so when Puzzle takes the rope, she picks up the ball …

01:49/50 It’s not entirely clear what is happening from this angle. Puzzle certainly stiffens and stares at Game, and Game lets go of the ball. (Is it because of Puzzle’s stiffening/stare, or was she going to do it anyways? We can’t know for sure.)

01:51 Game decides to get the Hucker instead – it’s currently not being used by Puzzle, so why not pick it up (and maybe bring it over to me)?

01:51/52 The moment Puzzle realizes Game is going for the Hucker, she lunges at her.

01:55/56 Game is unsure of how to handle the situation – she’s a puppy, after all. In her world, puppies have more leeway than adult dogs. You can see her do a lip lick (my interpretation: dilemma/self-consciousness/self-soothing).

02:01 Game stays calm and relaxed and gives Puzzle time to calm down as well.

02:03/04 Another lip lick. Puzzle is still feeling a bit guardy.

02:20 Game yawns … she’s not entirely sure how to handle the situation. Yawns can be like looking at your cellphone in order to let someone else in an elevator know that you’re neither creepy nor particularly interested in standing close to them.

Game is not afraid of Puzzle. If Puzzle were an adult, she would not put up with resource guarding – but she’s a puppy, and in Game’s world, that is different.

Because I know Game and can read her well, I keep filming rather than intervening. I knew nothing bad would happen despite their size difference. (This post is NOT a recommendation of how to handle resource guarding among the dogs in your own household!)

02:24 Enough time has passed, and Puzzle is now on the other side of the crate door. Game picks up the Hucker again to go about her day. (Good girl, Game! You’re awesome.)

Let’s pull out one detail I find particularly interesting in this video: Puzzle’s mixed feelings about the situation she’s getting herself into. Puzzle is experimenting with the resource guarding behavior rather than doing it out of habit. Let’s watch a stretch in slow motion:

Watch the slow-motion video a second time, and then go back to the first (real time) video. Can you make out all the body language details from the slow-mo video in real time?

How do behaviors like resource guarding develop?

We know that most behaviors have heritable components – heritability being the differences of a trait within the individuals of a population that depends on genetics. So we have both a genetic component and an environmental component that will determine the final behavioral phenotype (the individual’s observable behavior).

Let’s assume (for argument’s sake, not because this is necessarily the case) that Puzzle has never tried resource guarding before. But she’s got a combination of genes that inspire her to give it a try – even though she doesn’t exactly know what she’s doing. There’s an environmental trigger (Game wanting the Hucker Puzzle had before) that pushes Puzzle into the behavior.

Several things can happen at this point, depending on the other dog’s reaction:

  • If the other dog gives up the toy, the guarding behavior will be reinforced (that’s the operant, environmental part of the equation: behaviors that are being reinforced will happen more frequently in the future).
  • If the behavior doesn’t work (it has no meaningful consequences), it may be tried again in the future – maybe slightly differently, maybe in somewhat different circumstances.
  • Or it may not be tried again in the future; maybe it was just a haphazard one-time attempt: the behavior extinguishes.
  • If the behavior is punished by the other dog (if Game reprimanded Puzzle), it should decrease or disappear in the future.

Puzzle is very young, so at the point that I took this video, I’d have predicted that she’d need several extinction or punishment experiences before the synapses necessary to keep the behavior in her repertoire would be pruned.

Fast learning

You can see how fast learning happens in real time in this very video: the first hard stare Puzzle gives Game at 01:49 (first, original speed video)/00:09 (second, slow-motion video) works: Puzzle’s hard stare is being negatively reinforced by means of Game moving away. Puzzle quickly tries the hard stare again at 01:59 (first video at original speed)/03:02 (second, slow-motion video)! When it doesn’t work, she escalates to snapping. (If this had been reinforced more than just once before before, we’d call it an extinction burst.)

Resource guarding incident #2: Chrissi

Apart from this moment with the toy, there was only one other resource guarding incident Puzzle displayed (which surprised me; after this one reaction, I expected her to be quite guardy in general). The second incident happened also on the first or second day Puzzle stayed with us. She was curled up on my lap while I was working on my laptop. Game came over to see what was up, and Puzzle snapped at her. Again, Game stayed perfectly calm. (“Eyeroll. Puppies.” Also, Game rocks!)

For me as a dog trainer who has seen owners struggle with resource guarding, both these behaviors are red flags when they show up in young puppies. I thought to myself, “Good thing I’m not going to keep Puzzle.” But – and here’s the really interesting thing! – after these two incidents, NO more resource guarding happened the entire time Puzzle stayed with us, or afterwards, when I had returned her to her family, but picked her up to let her spend a few hours at my place several times a week. I conclude that my initial assessment (resource guarding in young puppies is usually a bad sign for multi-dog households) was not the case for Puzzle.

If I were to anthropomorphize (okay, let’s stop kidding ourselves; this is me full-on anthropomorphizing): as soon as Puzzle learned that she could trust Game, she had no reason to guard resources from her – neither me nor toys nor food.

Trust

What a can of worms! How can we even operationalize “trust”?

Let’s start by operationalizing a behavior that is not trust-based (because that’s easier to define): Resource guarding is a behavior resulting from the belief that if you share something, you will lose something. (In the case of dogs, the thing they are unwilling to share is the same things they are expecting to lose. In humans, the thing they are unwilling to share could be a secret, and the thing they are afraid of losing could be a connection (a friendship, a marriage, a fight).

Trust, then, is the belief that sharing something will not result in its loss. Trusting behavior results from the belief that sharing something (a toy, food, a secret) will not result in a loss (of toys, food, or connections).

A dog who lets no one near their food is resource guarding. So is the human who leaves out the fact that they have kids or are divorced on their Tinder profile. Only once trust has been built (either systematically or organically) can the food or facts be shared.

To work or not to work on resource guarding

If I had planned to keep Puzzle, I would have prioritized resource guarding and systematically worked on it. Since I was not going to keep her, I didn’t worry about it, and worked on other behaviors I wanted to video instead. The fascinating thing: the resource guarding completely disappeared all by itself. Except for the two instances on days #1 or #2, there was no more guarding – ever. Puzzle’s confidence around and trust in Game grew (anthropomorphizing again, I know). In the video below – which is from the last full day she stayed with us – Game steals her tennis ball, and it’s all good anyways. (I’m not saying you shouldn’t work on resource guarding with your own puppy. You absolutely should! I’m just sharing the Puzzle Week story.) After a week with Game and I, Puzzle had become a relaxed house dog who was able to roll around the floor, mostly peed outside, slept through the night, and shared toys with Game.

Resource guarding in free-roaming dogs

Maybe a slight tendency to guard is a selective advantage for free-roaming dogs such as Puzzle and her parents. I’m saying this because I’ve seen it in several free-roamers-turned-pets-as-adults I’ve worked with as a trainer in Guatemala, and because I’ve seen it in free-roamers I’ve observed in the streets. Not in all of them – but definitely in a larger percentage than I’d expect to see in the pet dog population.

Here’s an example of an adolescent Husky mix displaying resource guarding behavior over food:


Wheee, that was a novel! Two more Puzzle posts to come (unless I think of more). Until then: happy training, y’all!

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For more dog training tips and videos, join Chrissi’s April class at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy: Out and About. Registration is open now, and class starts on April 1st. We’re sold out at the Gold level, but there are still Silver and Bronze spots available! Come join us – it’s going to be fun!

The Puzzle Week – Part 22: Dog/dog socialization in practice: the good, the cute, and the messy.

Yes, FINALLY, this is the one with the cute puppy videos!

I promised you a gameshowesque extravaganza. Well, here you go. If I had all the time in the world (and more patience with technology), I would do this Hannah Whitton style. Alas, I am neither particularly patient with technology nor do I have the time. So for now, I give you amateur-style fun with a – drumroll! – puppy video analysis game!

Puzzle’s confidence around dogs has been growing steadily. The videos you’re about to see are not chronological though because I downloaded and edited them at different times, and don’t remember what happened when. I tried going from least confident to most confident in this post.

Video 1:

We don’t see this dude a ton, but we do see him now and then. He and Game know each other; Puzzle has never seen him.

What do you see? Social facilitation? Social learning? All, none, or some of the above? Go, and share your answers in the comments of the blog post!

Video 2:

Meeting Toby (He carries his tail strangely because he can’t raise it. Maybe he broke it at some point.) Toby lives in this street, and Game and I see him a lot. How do you code the interaction(s) of Toby, Game and Puzzle? Go!

Video 3:

Game greets a disinterested and somewhat stiff bully-breed mix. He’s only a rare visitor around here – it’s more Game’s home turf than it is his. Puzzle watches from a safe distance.

Watch the video, and decide: is this social learning? Is it social facilitation? Is it imitation? Is it none of the above, all of the above, or something else entirely? Let’s see your analysis, and your reasons for it, in the comments!

Video 4:

The Mal mix is a friend of mine and Game’s. He’s a resident of the area, and Game and I meet him a lot. How do you code the interactions in this video?

The cute and the messy! Because life. And because the trainer and human I strive to be is authentic rather than giving you a polished version of our sessions.

The handler as a safe space

Video 5:

The video below shows Game and Puzzle; an adolescent Husky (Game knows him), and a little female mix (another one of Game’s acquaintances). This is approximately the third time that Puzzle has seen the two dogs. You’ll see me using proximity to my body as a safe space for Puzzle, and how this helps her handle the situation. Due to the video angle, you can’t see this, but I’m making sure the two dogs can’t touch or sniff Puzzle. She feels safe sitting and observing next to me (around 00:30).

Free-roamers tend not to be pushy around people, which makes it easy to keep the Husky and the little female out of Puzzle’s personal space. A little over a minute in, the two dogs have lost interest, and I’m getting up to give Puzzle more agency again.

Also, yes, the flowy red scarf you see me wearing is poop bags. I’ve always had a knack for fashion. Thank you for noticing!

About two minutes in: how cute can a puppy possibly be? doG, isn’t she the funniest, bounciest, silliest little thing?

02:10 Here, Game notices the zooming puppy and wants to chase her. This is too much for Puzzle: while she trusts Game, there’s still a big difference in size, speed, and general Malinoisness. Game can be overwhelming. When this happens, I interrupt, and keep Game out of Puzzle’s personal space. Puzzle knows this – at 02:15, you’ll see her ask for my support. I’ll calm them both down, and send Game on her way to find someone her own size to malinois with.

Puzzle is no worse for wear: as soon as Game takes off running at 02:30, she chases after her! Chasing is fun! Being chased … not yet. Gotta grow up a little more first! If Puzzle stayed with me, this should cease to be a problem in a few weeks, once Puzzle was a little older, faster, and bigger.

Around 02:55, I can’t resist Puzzle’s playfulness, and just have to join the fun! Puppies are easy to play with. Just watch what they do naturally, and follow their lead! In this case, we’re running around together. (Social play would be the technical term for playing without food or toys; in FDSA land, the term we use is personal play.)

03:01 Game, of course, wants to join the fun! She LOVES social play. Around 3:28, I start bringing down Game’s energy a little. I like roughhousing with her, but this is not the right context. Look at how Puzzle is trying to join the fun by jumping up on Game!

04:02 Game’s arousal is still higher than I’d like it to be in this situation (as evidenced by her barking). Letting her come into middle position and massaging her ears helps turn things down a notch. As for Puzzle? Well, let her bounce and jump all over us. Game doesn’t have to be jealous – right now, all my attention is on her. So we both let Puzzle be her happy, bouncy, silly self. She’s the least bitey puppy I’ve ever had, by the way. She has never hurt me when trying to play. Which is fascinating. I guess that’s the puppy raising experience of non-working-dog folks? Something about it feels almost wrong.

Alright – take a stab at analyzing the video below! What do you see in terms of social learning, imitation, facilitation etc? Go!

Risks, rewards, and ways of life

Video 6:

Below is a long video filled with interesting interactions: bouncy play with another puppy (starts out with Puzzle being a bit too forward!), interaction with an adult male (the other pup’s dad?), and Puzzle feeling overwhelmed when Game would like to chase her. Long, but worth watching – there’s a lot going on in this clip! The second puppy is a little younger than Puzzle, which is why they are less well coordinated. I don’t interrupt because the other pup’s dad (he might also be the mom’s alloparenting housemate rather than the sire) is handling the situation much better than I, a human, ever could.

I’m not advising you to try this with your own puppy. If I was sure Puzzle was going to a pet home in a different part of the world, I might avoid these kinds of interactions altogether. Since pets won’t have these interactions as adults, there is no reason to store them in the “safe and satisfying” folder in their growing puppy brain right now. Depending on how risk-averse or -tolerant you, the human, are, the risks (however small) might outweigh the rewards.

As a free-roamer, Puzzle will absolutely have these kinds of interactions, and she will need to be able to manage them well. If she were to grow up to be my own dog (a take-everywhere dog), living in this part of the world, she’d need these skills as well. She has a dog and a human looking out for her here. For her, the rewards of these experiences outweigh the risks by far. This is the puppy I am raising: one that can deal with dogs of all sizes and dispositions in a free-roaming world. At the same time, I’m making sure the synapses she’d benefit from as a pet dog won’t get pruned, either: being confined, walking on a leash, being inside buildings, housebreaking, traffic, city life. We’ll take a look at some of those in my next post.

Video 7:

Below is another long clip, interesting to watch in terms of body language. Puzzle tries to play with the little adult female. She just got woken up by Puzzle, and says, “No!” Puzzle keeps trying to engage her.

I do not intervene here, but would if this were going on longer. It’s not okay to let your puppy harass another dog who doesn’t defend themselves, but is uncomfortable. However, it doesn’t come to that: the little female’s pandilla comes to help her: the Mal mix and the adolescent Husky (both male) either live with her or are her neighbors. The three of them always stick together. They happen to be interested in playing, but Puzzle is intimidated by their size. You’ll see me take a hands-off approach again. (Let me repeat: I do not recommend this unless you are well-versed in canine body language.) Puzzle is clearly not comfortable when the two big ones start chasing her. There’s a few reasons that I let them work it out themselves: I know the two bigger dogs. They try and play nicely; I know that when they realize they are scaring Puzzle, they will slow down. Indeed, at 01:11, the Mal mix lies down (self-handicapping), and at 01:17, the Husky shows a play bow without pushing into Puzzle’s personal space. I also know that Puzzle has learned that I’m a safe space for her. If she comes to hide behind my body or stand/sit between my legs, I will keep all other dogs away. She chooses this option at 01:28. From that moment onwards, I will not allow the other dogs to have direct contact with her. When they continue trying to engage her in play, I’ll pick her up. She has learned this is safe, and will immediately relax in my arms.

Another reason I am pretty relaxed around Puzzle’s interactions with other dogs is that she may grow up to be a free-roamer herself. This means she’ll have to be able to resolve these situations on her own, and she’ll have to learn to respect bigger dogs: in most of her future dog encounters, there will be no human to help her. The rules of engagement (who gets the pop culture reference?) are different for free-roamers than they are for Western-style pets. I want Puzzle to have both sets of rules in her playbook: freely interacting with other dogs, and disinterestedly passing dogs on a leash.

Coming up next: human socialization and urban spaces for Puzzle! I’ve got material for two more content/video-heavy Puzzle posts before I will get philosophical, and share the end of the Puzzle Week series with you. Tiem flies, my friends. Time flies.