Alfie, a Jack Russell Beagle mix is now in his fourth home and he’s only three years old.
This home will, I’m absolutely certain, be his last home. The young couple who adopted him three months ago are doing brilliantly with him. I was called because of his behaviour towards other dogs which is more controlling than anything else. He may jump on them and pin them down – but not all dogs. Nothing too unusual about this.
Having had three other homes you would expect some fallout. If life had been perfect, he wouldn’t have been abandoned.
One thing though is particularly unusual.
Alfie is frightened of his own poo.
He won’t toilet, pee or poo, in the garden either. Absolutely not. He can hold on for an incredibly long time and sometimes has to do so because he’s frightened of rain as well.
They have to take him for toilet walks.
As soon as he has performed he backs away from what he has done. On his lead, he digs into the ground with his front feet, desperate to back away from it.
His young owners now drop the lead so he can escape. He sits a few feet away and they tell him to wait while they pick up, which he does bless him.
How on earth could this have happened? One can only guess, but a couple of times I have seen hints of something similar where the owner has been insistent their dog only goes in an allocated place. I have also seen anxiety in dogs not allowed to go on lawns where the family children play which is fair enough.
Punishment has fallout.
Some people somehow expect the dog to understand that the location of his toileting is important. This without sufficient training and positive reinforcement for getting it right. Punishment for getting it wrong is dreadful.
I know this is only conjecture, but I bet that I am right about Alfie and a punishment scenario.
What form could this punishment have taken? One can only guess something like a shock collar, pain that comes from nowhere and without warning either during or just after he has done his job in the ‘wrong place’.
The trouble with positive punishment is it can contaminate other things at the same time. It easily generalises. In Alfie’s case, being so frightened has not only contaminated the garden location but the faeces itself. It may have contaminated rain. It means that he doesn’t feel safe enough to toilet in his garden and would probably hang on till he nearly explodes.
Another thing about punishment is that it need happen only once to do terrible damage. Perhaps it had been raining at the time.
‘Unringing the bell’
Annie Phenix has a chapter in her brilliant book The Midnight Dog Walkers called ‘Unringing the bell’ which is what counter-conditioning is all about. Pavlov and all that.
They need to take this very slowly in tiny increments.They must be very careful that he’s in no way frightened.
When he has finished his business as usual, they will let him go as they do already but throw a piece of food to him as well. Fortunately he is very food motivated.
After a few days, instead of throwing him the food, the can drop several bits of food but on the grass between him and the poo – not too near it. Gradually they will see if they can get him to fetch the food a bit nearer. He has choice.
Next, as soon as he has finished his business, they can drop the food around it and at the same time add a soft cue word (‘Go Poo’?).
Gradually, whenever he does his business, the cue word can be quietly and gently added while he performs and food dropped or sprinkled around it as soon as he’s finished.
Finally, they can say the cue word in advance and, bingo, so long as he wants to go anyway, he has gone on cue!
It’s not too much stretch of the imagination to hope he will then, in time, on cue and for food, go in the garden.
Frightened of rain too.
They can unring the bell where rain is concerned also – whatever it was that has caused him to be frightened of it. They can, unseen by Alfie, start by sprinkling food in the garden for him. The rainy environment will be laced and will offer the good stuff, starting with fine drizzle of rain and so on (see SprinklesTM).
Dear little Alfie is a wonderful, friendly and bright dog. With the continuing help of his lovely young owners I’m sure he will learn that other dogs aren’t out to get him unless he deals with them first.
He may even be toileting in his own garden in a few months time – in the rain. They will take their time.