BONNERS FERRY — For many people, dogs are more than just pets ... they are members of the family. People often spend countless hours working to train their dogs to understand our language, but sometimes do not consider that dogs possess their own language, and they need to practice that conversation with other dogs.
“They need to practice with each other,” explained local dog trainer Karen Schumacher. “If they don’t get to practice that, they kind of lose it, and then when they are around other dogs, sometimes the way they act, or speak, isn’t effective to the other dogs, so the response may not be good.”
Schumacher has been a dog trainer for 22 years and offers private training through her business, A Family Dog. She also runs a Facebook group called Boundary County Dog Play, which encourages people to come together with their dogs for positive socialization events.
The most recent event took place on Friday, Oct. 5, on Westside Road and was hosted by Judy Chen. The dogs and their owners gathered in a very large fenced yard, with Schumacher there to facilitate and train the owners on the best ways to introduce the dogs together and monitor their behavior.
Chen provided snacks for the owners, while the owners came prepared with treats for the dogs and armed with poop bags to clean up after their canine friends.
Schumacher welcomed questions from the owners, as well as explained the behaviors that each dog exhibited, explaining whether is was something to not interfere with, or an action that required human intervention before it escalated.
“He is marking his territory, saying ‘I am the man’,” explained Schumacher as eight year old English Bull Terrier, Bowser, first entered the play area and began lifting his leg on objects.
One of the most important rules came into play as soon as an owner entered with their dog. The leash was dropped or removed immediately and the owner stepped aside, allowing the dogs to greet each other in a natural way.
An example was discussed about a person pulling on the leash of his dog when it approached another dog.
“What he is telling his dog is that this is scary,” said Schumacher. “This is scary and it may be trouble ahead so ‘Beware, beware!’ He is raising his dog’s anxiety. That is why when we come here, leashes are dropped or off, so everybody can just use their body to communicate.”
Another lesson that the owners discovered was that a certain amount of what a person may perceive as a aggression is actually just a form of communication. A quick snarl from a dog may just be their way of telling a persistent dog that their advances are unwelcome. On the other hand, mounting behavior was discouraged, as that is often a sign of dominance.
Bowser the bull terrier’s owner Sheryl Russell had recently moved here from Colorado.
“He used to play with my daughter’s dog all the time, and he has been lonely,” said Russell about why she brought Bowser to the play day.
Deborah Griffin brought her 10-year-old Bichon Frise, Annie.
“It’s good for her to socialize and see other dogs, especially dogs she hasn’t met before,” said Griffin. “I just like to make sure that she stays friendly.”
With such different breeds together — the group included a Great Pyrenees, German shepherd and more — it brought up the question of communication. Schumacher explained the dog language is fairly universal, but their play styles can vary from breed to breed.
“When playing and approaching, they tend to bounce and move in with their heads,” she said about the Bull Terrier, while she noted that German Shepherds can be very relentless and target objects or other animals, which can be intimidating for more submissive dogs.
“Knowing that is good,” explained Schumacher. “But just know what your dog is doing. If your dog is being obnoxious, pull it out.”
The class brought happy dogs together, stimulated them mentally and allowed them to run and play with newfound friends. For Chen, the decision to host the event was an easy one.
“Because we have the space, and we have it fenced, and because I would love to have our dogs socialized more,” said Chen. “It’s fun. I love animals and I love to watch them play.”
Schumacher said she is happy to facilitate the Dog Play groups whenever she is available, but her ultimate goal is for people in the group to learn enough that they can recognize the appropriate behaviors as well as the warning signs, so they can host their own play groups.
For people interested in joining or starting a Dog Play group, they are welcome to visit the Facebook page: Boundary County Dog Play.