Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday morning Sheba and/or Nina picture

Nope, no tennis balls in here. . . .

A question for the dog-owning subset of the hive mind:

On a typical evening here, the husband and I eat dinner while watching TV.1 When we're done, Sheba joins us on the couch, and generally falls asleep. At the end of an hour of TV-watching, the husband gets up to get something for dessert, and Sheba wakes up. Then he returns, and Sheba goes back to sleep for another 20 minutes to two hours, depending on how much TV we end up watching.

Lately, during the dessert intermission, Sheba has a few times tried to snap at me when I reached out to pet her. This is something she hadn't done before the last couple months. She also only does it with me, not with the husband, and only during the dessert intermission, not at other times of the day. I'm uncertain how serious about it she is -- she has made tooth-to-hand contact before, but generally doesn't, and I sort of have the impression that the one time she did, doing so was not her actual objective, 'cause she's not closing her mouth on my hand.

So far, we've been dealing with this by making her get off the couch when it happens and not letting her re-join us until some substantial period of time has passed (like 15-20 minutes?).

I looked on-line for something about this, and found a number of places saying, basically, not to get in a dog's face after it's been asleep 'cause they wake up cranky as much as people do, which works as far as suggesting what not to do in the future, but doesn't explain why she started doing this in the first place. The only thing I've noticed is that it seems to happen more on nights when we've given her bread.2 Which, I mean, she can't be thinking I'm going to take the bread from her, since she's already eaten it, but that's sort of what she's acting like.

So my questions are basically:

What's going on with her?
What should we be doing about it?
Is it possible that it's related to the bread, as it seems to be? How? If so, should we stop giving her bread, or is there another way to deal with it?


1 Recently we've been watching Friday Night Lights.
I am unable to come up with a less-interesting sounding premise (football coach in a small Texas town leads his team to the state championship, drama ensues), but I'm pretty certain it's #2 on my Most Beloved Shows of All-Time list,a largely because the relationship between Eric and Tami Taylor is the most realistic portrayal of a good marriage I've ever seen on television. Most shows would try to split them up, for the sake of creating drama, but FNL doesn't. I can't get enough of them. I could seriously watch hours of the Taylors doing their taxes or going grocery-shopping or whatever. This is totally not the point of the post, but I love, love, love the show and have been waiting for a moment to shoehorn a plug for it into the blog somewhere, so now I've done that and can finally relax.
     a The top ten is something like:
1. The Wire
2. Friday Night Lights
3. Angel / Buffy the Vampire Slayer (but only if I disregard the last two seasons of Buffy) (tie)
5. Breaking Bad (have only seen the first three seasons)
6. Firefly
7. Misfits
8. Dead Like Me
9. Louie
10. My So-Called Life (though it is critical to skip the Christmas episode)
2 Sheba looooooves bread, and is terrible about begging for it while we eat. She also doesn't like to eat it near us -- if we give in and give her a piece, she won't just flop down and eat it where she is: she'll pick it up and search for a place where she can't see us, and then she'll eat it there. She does this a little bit with other foods, but it's very pointed with the bread.
I can't be sure that she's only snapping at me on bread days; it didn't occur to me to make a connection until the last time or two, but since I came up with the theory, I can say for certain that she hasn't done it on days when she didn't get bread.


Ginny Burton said...

Could it be some kind of allergic reaction? I'm a cat person and know nothing about dogs, but wheat can be an allergy trigger for lots of people, so why not dogs?

Anonymous said...

Karen Pryor's wonderful book _Don't Shoot the Dog_ is an extraordinary resource, and not just for training dogs.

El Gaucho said...

It's possible that she's thinking that she's getting a treat when he comes back to the couch in which case she's guarding the potential resource (the treat) from you potentially eating it instead of her. Would the same thing happen if YOU get up to go get dessert, would she snap at the person who stays on the couch and tries to per her? It's possible that because she's already gotten some bread (a super high value treat in her eyes) she's on heightened resource guarding mode 'cause she thinks she might be getting more bread, which to her is the greatest thing in the world and worth snapping at you over, even if there are consequences.

I think you're doing the right hing by immediately making her get off the couch from snuggling with you (a punishment) when she snaps.

I have 3 deaf dogs which (if you believe the myths) are prone to being "startled" awake. This couldn't be further from the truth and I just don't place much credence in the "startled awake" theory. 2 of the dogs just immediately start wagging their tails, smack their lips, and give a sleepy dog look, even when awakened rudely from a deep sleep. One of the dogs does startle when you wake him, but it's really due more to his personality (jumpy, anxious, nervous, twitchy, OCD tendencies) and breed (terrier/chihuahua which = jumpy, anxious, nervous, twitchy).

We have worked with all three dogs to condition them to expect to be woken up and how to wake up nicely. I can stick my face six inches from our deaf pit bull (which if you believe the lies about both deaf dogs AND pit bulls is akin to sticking your head in a lions mouth) and wake her from a deep sleep, and I've never gotten anything but the most passive, sleepy dog response.

Liza said...

To be fair to Sheba, your hand does look delicious.

I love Louie CK! He's hilarious.

Lea's Menagerie said...

Are you the one who gives her the bread? Dogs have such a keen sense of smell, maybe the bread smell is still on your hand or sleeves. She's half-asleep and she smells bread - oh boy, a treat! (Or maybe she smells the food you have been eating). She reacts before she realizes there's no bread. I suggest you use hand lotion before reaching out to pet her. It might solve the problem and be good for your skin, too!
We'll be looking for a post of 'problem solved'
Lea's Menagerie

Dennis said...

Could it just be that your hands smell like food after dinner? [As for "why now?" I've been asking my dog that question since day one.]
Do an experiment where you wash your hands thoroughly after dinner, and see whether the behavior frequency decreases.

Anonymous said...

It's likely a dominance thing, her trying to one you up vs. the husband. My girl dogs do that apparently randomly, mostly with each other, but occasionally one (the Aussie Shepherd/Catahoula mix) will decide to get a "tone" with me when cozying w/my bf (he is technically the master of all 3 dogs) watching TV/movies. However, she has never made tooth contact w/my skin at all.

I'm far less delicate than you, though. I'll "bark" back by shouting and bounce her from the futon and refuse to let her back on. A very lasting, firm message usually resolves the problem for a few months. No need to be nasty, just unyielding.

Dogs are creatures of will and if you don't prove yours is stronger when challenged, most will try to exploit it.

FYI, my other 2 dogs are pit bulls and they are marvelously behaved.

orchideya said...

If hands smell like food(bread), dog wouldn't snap at them, more likely she would sniff first and then lick them if she liked the smell.
Maybe she didn't want to be pet at that moment on that place. Did you check the skin in the place where you pet her, usually dogs snap if something hurts where you touch.
About snapping just at you:
As sweet and cute as they are - dogs are pack animals and very aware of the hierarchy in the pack. The fact that she only snaps at you could mean that she recognized husband as a pack leader and probably thinks that you and her are equal - therefore she is allowed to snap, growl at you or occasionally not listen to your commands. Most likely she would never actually bite you. You need to be very firm, so that she learns that you are the boss.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dennis – Sheba’s claiming the husband as hers. Dogs have a dominance order and if you want to achieve or maintain your alpha (or even beta) position, then you have to behave dominant. During the day take 15 – 20 minutes to work with her, pick her up (this shows you are strong), teach her to sit, lie down, put her on the leash and go for a walk (you make all the decisions, including to not let her sniff any and every time she wants). Do this everyday or at least several times a week, for a while.

Aside from behavior, grains are not healthy for mammals. Here’s a website that will give you some healthier ideas for feeding Sheba. It also has ideas for what to feed (and to not feed) yourselves.

Anonymous said...

Hello Mr.

I'm no dog pro, but I've had dogs with behaviour problems, so let me share my thoughts.

Fistly my thought on the "What's going on with her": When a dog suddenly changes its behaviour for no apparent reason, or starts doing things it has never done before, there may be a something wrong with the dog physically. Can the dog be ill, or in pain of some sort? Check its claws, maybe it has got a tooth ache, if its an old dog they can get pain and stiffness in the back and/or joints. Pain can make a dog aggressive.

I can't remember having read how old your dog is, but bitches can change their behaviour and get more cranky when they get older, 7-9 years maybe. They can have less or no tolerance with puppies, when they don't want to be touched they can growl. Don't know why this is, but i've seen it in several dogs.

"Is it the bread..." It could be, dogs are strange creatures. Test it out systematically by giving her bread one week, not the next.

"What to do about it?": Well, if it's the bread, stop giving her bread is an option. Bread isn't the best thing you can feed a dog. Its better to give her a raw potato once in a while, even tho it got starch in it, or even better a carrot or a piece of swede (don't know if you eat swedes in USA, and I mean the vegetable swede, not a swedish person. Never feed your dog swedish people.) If it's not the bread, and you suspect there might be something physically wrong with the dog, go see a vet. If she's not ill, and it's not the bread, or it is the bread but you want to keep giving her bread, you've got basically 2 options. 1: The dominant way, train the dog to not do the thing you don't want her to do. Get mad at her when she snaps at you, send her away, be firm. It's important you do it, not your husband, make your husband totally ignore the dog. 2: The positive reinforcement way (the one I prefer), train the dog to replace the behaviour you don't want with behaviour you do want. Everytime you pet her in the intermission, and she doesn't snap at you, praise her in a way more enthusiastically then you normally do, so she understand she really has done something right. Cause this is the behaviour (lying still, letting you pet her) you DO want, make her understand it. Maybe give her a treat. You say she wants to be alone when she eats the bread, so she's a little protective about it, if this goes for all food, or treats, maybe just praise here verbally, pet her chest and side of her mouth/lips. Again, you do all this, make your husband ignore her. When she does snap at you, say "no", but don't yell at her, get out the couch, tell her to follow you, and show her a place you want her to lay down. When she's calm, not paying attention to you, you invite her back into the couch, and repeat what triggered the snapping: Your husband leaves for the kitchen, when he comes back, try to pet her again. If she snaps at you, repeat it. This method can't hurt other than you eating too many desserts.

cave76 said...

I'll agree with the Anon who said--- look for anything that might be physically wrong with her.

We had a dog that had Lyme disease and that can affect dogs as well as it does people---besides the physical problems (which can be minor sometimes) it affects some neurologically. All of a sudden he started the same thing for absolutely no discernible reason and it often happened while being petted by husband while watching TV.

I hope it isn't that, but.....
But that doesn't address the fact that it only happens on 'bread days'.

I think you're doing the right thing by making her get off the couch. "Getting in her face" is probably not the best thing to do.

Eryn said...

I agree that it's a dominance thing.

We noticed this with our dog & our son. My husband is the end all be all to our dog. We put our son in charge of all feedings & taught him that he needs to be LOUD with the dog when he acts like that & to be fast & consistent about it.

As to it developing suddenly, at some point, she decided she outranked you. Excluding some new health issue as other comments brought up, you need to re-establish your dominance. Remember dpgs communicate differently than we do & use that. Being quick, LOUD, & holding her head down (since you can't take her nape in your mouth...) will go a long way & you never have to hurt her. Your husband also plays a key role in this.

Good luck! Mostly I'm commenting to tell you that I stumbled in here after wanting to ID an interesting plant we saw in Florida (a huge pandanus) & have fallen in love with your blog. Please keep writing!