The lady I have just visited feels her latest dog is a challenge. Doberman Maddie’s owner has had several Dobermans but never one quite like two-year-old Maddie.
I think she must have been very lucky with her previous dogs if Maddie is the worst. She is gorgeous. Although with certain issues, she is no big problem – yet. The main worry is her increasing reactivity to other dogs when out when she’s on lead and her wariness of new people. Very sensibly the lady wants to nip things in the bud before they get any worse because her other Doberman, Tia, is now copying her.
Tia is five. She barks at dogs on TV and she is a big hunter when out and off lead but generally a lot calmer. The TV problem can be resolved fairly easily with patience, desensitisation and counter-conditioning. The running off after pheasants and not coming back for an hour and a half isn’t so easily or quickly solved!
This story is all about preventing things from developing and making walks more enjoyable for the lady – and for the dogs.
Like most people who have difficulties with their dogs when they are out, the roots of these problems can be somewhere else. Simply going out on walks and encountering other dogs and doing training doesn’t resolve the complete issue. Because we are dealing with the emotions that cause the dog to behave in a certain way when out, the home end of things can be very important also.
If the dog can’t give the owner her full attention when required indoors, then it won’t happen when out. If the dog is stressed at home, then she will be stressed when out. If the dog is either pulling down the road or the lead is at all tight at the start of the walk, then the stress levels will be rising. If the dog is physically and uncomfortably prevented from pulling with a gadget such as a head collar – then the walk could be doomed from the start because of how the dog will already be feeling.
In Maddie’s case there is a strong element of the stress that builds up over the days due to other things that are happening. Stress isn’t only bad stuff – with a sensitive dog it can be too much excitement, play or noise.
The lovely Maddie works very hard at keeping herself calm. She spends a lot of time chewing or suckling a cuddly toy.
Her reactivity is variable. Some days she can encounter a dog when she is on lead with no fuss at all and on other days she will react to the very same dog. This must be due to her own state of mind at the time, along with that of her human on the end of the lead who may be having a bad day or be more anxious. It could be that she has simply encountered one dog too many on that walk and can’t manage another.
There are quite a number of small things that can be done to ease Maddie’s stress levels in general. Her food could be better – this can make a huge difference.
With a calmer dog and with comfortable equipment, with calm loose-lead walking techniques used from the start of the walk along with a walk where she can sniff rather than a march forward, things will start to improve I’m sure. The lady will now have ways of keeping and holding her dogs’ attention and she will give them plenty of space from other dogs when needed, taking her cue from Maddie. Anything Maddie’s uneasy about can be worked on with positive associations at a distance where she feels safe.
Recall work starts at home too. A big part of ‘coming when called’ is to do with the relevance of the person calling the dog – their relationship. Repeatedly calling or whistling at home in return for small high-value food gradually ‘charges the battery’ and then can be reinforced when out by the lady repeatedly calling them when knows they will come and simply not giving them freedom when she fears they won’t. (Each time she calls and they ignore her, the ‘battery’ is discharged a little).
Having just one dog off lead at a time can be an extra incentive for the other dog to come back too.
The lady will watch Tia closely for taking off after a pheasant or a jogger and preempt her. In addition to very high value food she can also redirect the drive to chase onto either a ball or even onto herself, making herself fun, making silly noises perhaps and running away! If these things don’t work, then I fear it will be a few months work on a long line for Tia.
These are fantastic dogs with a fantastic owner who is lucky to have a friend who walks the dogs everyday with her own dogs, who sat in on our meeting and will do her bit too. These dogs have a very good life!