Sascha is a beautiful two-year-old German Shepherd who lives with GSDs black Tango (10) and Annie (4).
The couple who own them run a rabbit rescue and these dogs are incredible. Rabbits are free in parts of the house and run around the dogs who are completely chilled with them.
This visit was a good example of how people who are living in the middle of their situation can’t see it clearly, and how under the general pressures of life things have gradually slipped until, to quote the lady, their dogs were no longer a pleasure but an inconvenience to put up with.
Sascha is generally quite pushy but also more nervous; she hackles and barks when people come to the house. In no time at all after I arrived she was happy and friendly, as were the other two. All the time I was encouraging the lady to keep quiet, not to scold the dogs, not tell them to go away and not to use the word ‘no’. To relax. They are dogs after all. It’s natural for them to gently sniff a stranger.
These dogs get nearly all their attention when they are doing something unwanted – Sascha in particular, and mostly in the form of ‘no’ and scolding. They get no attention or reward for being good.
Sascha opens doors and child gates, she toilets on the floor immediately after she has been taken outside. She bullies poor Annie who spends much of her time hiding in the kitchen. The couple would leave them to get on with it – to sort it out for themselves. I ask people in this sort of situation, ‘what would you do if you had a child bullying her sister?’. Would you leave her to get on with it? Would you not kindly teach her a better way of behaving and protect the victim? Sascha is a very brainy dog who needs more stimulation. We did a bit of very simple clicker training and it was marvellous to see how focused and eager to please she became with something that is reward-based. We wouldn’t want to work for nothing and it’s the same for dogs, whether it’s food reward, play or merely praise.
Reinforcement drives behaviour.
Soon this lovely young couple should be bonding with their beautiful dogs, and enjoying them once more like they used to.