I posted an interesting video on Facebook yesterday about cats who are Monty Python fans (None shall pass). According to the comments I read on Facebook and elsewhere, most people think this footage says a lot about cats.
I think it says even more about dogs. And what dogs consider a danger zone. There’s information in this video that can help every dog person manage interactions between their dogs or their dog and visiting dogs.
Take a look. And if it’s too long, after you get the gist of what’s happening, move forward to see what happens in the last thirty seconds.
Did you notice anything interesting?
In every situation, cats were guarding a door, hallway, or staircase. The cats positioned themselves so the dogs had to pass closely. And narrow transition areas are a danger zone for dogs.
Let me explain what I mean.
You Can’t Run in the Danger Zone
Dogs don’t like to feel trapped.
Actually that’s true for a lot of animals. But I get to watch dog behavior every day. I haven’t seen a cheetah around the house in months.
The fewer options a dog feels she has, the higher her stress level. And the higher her stress level, the more likely she’s going to get in a fight.
Here are some of the danger zones I always look out for when I’m around a group of dogs:
- tops of staircases
- rooms crowded with furniture
- the entrance to the dog park
- narrow sidewalks with shrubbery on both side when we’re walking on leash
The only time I ever saw Honey snark at a foster dog was when I tried putting on leashes in the doorway near the closet where we keep them.
Now I move out into the empty foyer to put on leashes and make sure my body is between the dog getting leashed and the other dog or dogs waiting.
Characteristics of a Danger Zone
My list might not include areas that are danger zones for your dog when he’s around another dogs (or cats). These are the characteristics of a dog danger zone:
The space is confined – any time a dog can’t get away from another dog without brushing close to him, you’re creating a danger zone in stressful situations. When a foster dog first arrives at our house, if I see activity happening behind the couch I immediately step in and herd the dogs into a more open area.
The area contains something desirable to the dogs – outside doorways are double trouble—the area is constricted and everyone usually wants to go outside. But it can also be a favorite couch, bed, or feeding area. Not only will the dogs be wanting the same desirable thing, but one dog deferring to the other won’t have room to express his deference by moving out of the way.
The dog is constrained even if the area is open – this is the reason many people prefer off-leash to on-leash greetings. If there’s tension between the two dogs, they have more freedom to work it out if their motions aren’t prevented by the leashes.
I’m always looking for danger zones when I bring a new dog into the house.
Managing Danger Zones
Honey is a placid dog. I don’t lie awake at night worrying about how I’m going to keep her from getting into scraps with other dogs.
But we do bring foster dogs and guest dogs into the house on a fairly regular basis. So I have a plan for managing danger zones. Or rather, for keeping them from happening at all.
- Introduce the dogs outside in the open area in front of the house. If that goes well, we bring both dogs into the back yard and move well away from the house and the gate before letting them off leash and allowing them to approach each other.
- When we come in the house, we move quickly and with purpose through the door to avoid hanging out in a confined area.
- Before bringing a new dog into the house, I remove all toys and allow only supervised play until I’ve witnessed several episodes of toy-stealing that doesn’t result in problems.
- If a dog likes hanging out at the top of the steps (one recent foster did just this), I coax him to a new spot so everyone can move freely without tripping over him.
- At the dog park, we don’t enter until there are no dogs hanging around the entrance (people who say long goodbyes piss me off to no end). And once we enter, we immediately move away from the entrance so other dogs can enter without being rushed.
Am I making too big a deal about the danger zone?
Maybe. Or we could just ask those dogs in the video trying to avoid the cats.
Disclaimer: I am not a trainer or a behaviorist. I’m just sharing what I’ve observed. And part of what I’ve observed is that although behaviorists and trainers don’t talk much about danger zones (or transition areas), they instinctively break up dog activity in these areas. If you have problems with dogs fighting in your home, contact a qualified, science-based, trainer who will teach you force-free ways to manage your dogs’ interactions.
Your Turn: Have you observed stress in your dogs around “danger zones?” Does your cat torment our dog? If so, where do the biggest problems happen?