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).
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!
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?