Tuesday Topics #40 - Barking at Puppies

two groupings of dogs, including two aussies, a portugese water dog, springer spaniel, and two puppies, all running toward cabana, who is off by herself a few feet and running toward the cameraLately, our park has had an influx of puppies. I love it, because what's cuter than watching puppies play?!

close up of yellowish tan puppy with black nose and dark brown eyes, floppy ears that stand up, looking straight at the cameraThe photo above is 4-month old Chloe, half lab, half pit bull. That face makes my heart melt.

standing pose of golden puppy, with her long fur slightly damp, she has a doleful expression on her faceHere's 4-month old golden retriever, Lulu. She is an absolute sweetheart.

a white akita with brown spots and a masked face like a raccoon, standing head to head with cabana, as two aussies look on and run toward them from opposite sides of the photoAnd this is 6-month old Akita-Lab mix, Kia. She's a very large puppy, extremely rambunctious, high energy, and has a lot to learn in her manners. Doesn't she remind you of a raccoon with that mask on her face?

cabana standing on the grass, amidst the akita, three spaniels, and the lab/pitbull puppyWhile I love having new puppies at the park, I sometimes wonder if Cabana shares my views. She seems to gravitate toward certain pals she's had for a long time, namely her spaniel friends. I've always been very confident of Cabana's ability to read other dogs' social cues and to act appropriately. But lately I've been questioning her behavior because she barks A LOT at puppies.

cabana and kia the akita running side by side and engaged in playI first noticed the barking when Cabana would play with Kia, the Akita mix. Kia adores Cabana and seems to make a beeline for her when she arrives at the park. I thought maybe Cabana didn't appreciate Kia's roughshod attention and was telling her to bugger off.

cabana and golden puppy lulu sniffing the grass togetherBut then Cabana did the same thing to sweet Lulu and then to tiny Chloe when they started coming to the park last week. I don't worry that Cabana will hurt any of the puppies--I know she won't. She never growls or acts aggressively toward them--she just barks. The interesting thing is that no matter how much Cabana barks, none of the puppies run away from her. In fact, they still won't leave her alone! They do tend to act submissively, though, either rolling onto their backs or licking her face or making little whimpery noises.

lab/pit puppy chloe sitting on the grass with her ears back on her head, while cabana stands and looks onI have wondered if I should pull Cabana away and tell her to stop barking. But then, I think maybe Cabana is helping the puppies. Maybe she's teaching them to calm down or to read other dogs' social cues? So I haven't wanted to interfere in their doggy interactions. I did, however, check with the puppies' owners and make sure they are okay with Cabana's barking, telling them that if any of them are uncomfortable with Cabana's behavior, I would be happy to intercede.

So should I allow Cabana to "do her job" as a stable and mature adult dog? Or have I actually been allowing Cabana to be obnoxious and bossy, and should I stop her from forming this bad habit of barking at poor little puppies? I'd hate to be like a naive parent who thinks Junior is perfect and can do no harm, while he terrorizes all the neighborhood kids!

Kari in Vegas  – (October 18, 2011 at 10:53 AM)  

Baily seems to think she always has to keep puppies in line

Wait, Baily thinks she has to keep EVERYONE in line

Stop of by for a visit!

Tessa99999  – (October 18, 2011 at 1:48 PM)  

Cabana? Terrorize? That's a laugh!! I honestly don't know what the best option would be. I have a similar debate with Addie. She's very nippy (being a German Shepherd it's understandable) and will correct dogs when they need it, but not all owners appreciate it. She also nips a lot when she plays and some dogs don't like that so they tell her off. Other owners start profusely apologizing, and it is always a bit weird to say "No, mine started it." So yea, I'm not sure what you should do, but I can sympathize.

Unknown  – (October 18, 2011 at 8:48 PM)  

Mimi, I think you're doing the right thing. You're checking with the owners to make sure they're comfortable. And you're letting Cabana do her job. There's something she's communicating that needs to happen. She's such a stable dog, I know she's doing the right thing. The puppies respond with perfect submissive puppy behavior in the presence of an adult. In that one picture, you can even see one of the pups sitting, side turned to Cabana, head lowered - very nice greeting, calming behavior for dogs. I wouldn't intervene unless you see one of the pups getting menaced or bullied. But you could always call Cabana out of the mix every so often, just to let her know that she may be doing her dog-job, but ultimately, you're in control of the situation and won't let those puppies do anything to her. I LOVE DOGS SO MUCH. They teach each other and us all at the same time. Usually, we're slow to pick up on their subtleties.
I recommend a book by Turid Rugass, On Talking Terms with Dogs: Calming Signals. It's short and very informative. It changed the way I observed dog behavior at dog parks!

Mango  – (October 19, 2011 at 4:17 AM)  

Wowee! Check out that Tula Monsta akita! Good times.


Anonymous –   – (October 19, 2011 at 5:49 AM)  

I don't do dog parks, but I have watched a lot of supervised play groups at training facilities and shelters. One of my favorite trainers says that he prefers when dogs play vocally to when they play silently, because there is so much info available in the noises they make My Chick always talks a lot when he's playing, but never in other areas of his life. That's just the way he rolls. Keep watching for stiffness, avoidance, or other signs of stress. If you don't see them, I think this is fine.

Raiser Erin  – (October 19, 2011 at 9:40 AM)  

I don't think there's much of a problem. My Arwen barks at puppies all the time and it's either "Leave the old girl alone" or "really guys!? Behave a little." If she's not showing any aggressive behaviour then I wouldn't worry about it. Sometimes a bark is just a bark. :)

jeanne  – (October 24, 2011 at 3:53 PM)  

How thoughtful and wise you are to check in with the owners! I'd also look at the whole picture: what does the rest of Cabana's body language say? Is it a play bark? Is she rigid, tail high and ears back? Is it a sharp, warning bark?Or are her face and body soft, maybe even in a play bow, or modified bow? Barks can mean lots of things, and we can't interpret dog signals in a vacuum. Check out her whole body language, and see what you think. Turgid's book is great, as in some of Sarah Kalnajs' stuff.

Aren't these pups just amazing creatures?
Jeanne, typing for Rex The Golden (who lack opposable thumbs)

Mimi and CC Cabana  – (October 24, 2011 at 4:30 PM)  

I have read Turid Rugass' Calming Signals and have even shared it with others at the dog park. It is very informative and fascinating.

Jeanne, I'd say Cabana's body language is a combination of playful and maybe a bit bossy. She doesn't seem uncomfortable or rigid. It's a good suggestion for me to look at her whole body.

Cabana reminds me of the older sister that gets left with younger siblings as the babysitter for the first time--a little overzealous maybe in trying to make the younger ones recognize her authority.

jeanne  – (October 26, 2011 at 12:00 PM)  

Hi Mimi,

Sounds like you are doing all the right things. Hooray for good dog people like you!

Jeanne, for the thumb-challenged Rex

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