She is a super-fit Whippet Saluki mix who loves to chase a ball on walks. She runs beside the man’s bike.
They used to live in London. She was accustomed to all the city noise, lots of people and plenty of other dogs.
They then moved to a small, quiet town near myself. She encounters far fewer people or dogs and is gradually becoming reactive to other dogs.
On lead, she may now growl, lunge or snap at them if they come too close. When off lead she’s fine. She merely puts a comfortable distance between them. She’s not trapped. If she wishes, she runs.
As much as anything, her lead reactivity is about trust. The young owners’ ‘Trust Account’ is in the red on walks.
All the time Suki is with them, she associates them with everything that happens – good or bad. Each time she has a scary experience the account is debited. Each time they turn a bad experience into a good experience, it’s a credit.
Six-year-old Suki is a very alert, sensitive and somewhat anxious dog. The couple has the belief that the more exercise she has, the more she runs, the happier and less reactive she will be.
I believe the opposite is the case. Worshipping the god of exercise walks
Instead of exploring the countryside, she repeatedly runs after a ball. To tire her out, the man runs her beside his bike.
I believe this is contributing to her increasing reactivity to things. She runs on adrenaline.
Another issue is a supposed allergy to something. Tests have been unable to discover what. She scratches. I noticed that she scratched herself when she was showing other signs of uneasiness.
Immediately after every meal she compulsively rubs her mouth violently, either on her front paws or on the bed. The vet has found no medical cause for this.
Anything constantly repeated will also become a habit. Let’s try to break it.
They will now feed her by sprinkling her food all over the grass. This way there will be no ‘end’ to the meal; the exercise of hunting for her food in itself is rewarding and calming. They will put some of her food in a Kong.
It will be very interesting to see whether lowering her excitement/stress/adrenaline levels by cutting out the long runs reduces the scratching. Along with getting her to work for her food.
They will change the emphasis in Suki’s life from extreme exercise to more mental enrichment. She needs moderate exercise for fitness but doesn’t need to be an athlete! I feel they may be a bit doubtful about this, but I am confident the positive effects will very soon prove me right.
Lurchers and Sighthounds tend to run very fast and in short bursts. They are not built for endurance like Huskies.
Tension and stress builds up in her over the day and she may not have enough ways to release it. Hence, I believe, a possible reason for the scratching.
What is the walk?
It should be as near as possible to what she would be doing if she were on her own. A bit of running in short bursts maybe, and then lots of sniffing, exploring and doing her own thing.
I would also make some of their walks simply going into the town and walking about amongst people, traffic and maybe some dogs. In London she was a whole lot more bomb-proof and maybe they can recapture some of that.
At present Suki is very likely addicted to exercise and ball-chasing, so they should cut down gradually on the time she runs and the length of ball play.
The environment surely is a lot more naturally enriching for her than running after something a human throws for her or keeping up with a bike.
Suki should be comfortable when she sees another dog. Using a harness rather than a collar is vital. Otherwise she may receive painful negative associations to her thin, delicate neck should another dog be too close and she lunges.
With other dogs always associated with good things, at a distance Suki is comfortable, her confidence should grow.
Over time this comfortable distance will decrease.
Their job is to be her ‘rocks’ so that she feels safe.
Lastly, a bit of fun really. The young couple are professional singers. They would like to take Suki to their studio but they can’t. She HOWLS! As soon as they begin to sing,
What they need isn’t to remove her howling. It’s to create quiet. We made a start. The lady sang softly and I clicked (and fed) Suki for quiet. I clicked before she began to howl and I clicked when she took a break.
If they persist, she will learn. They can then put Quiet on cue. They may even then put Howl on cue also!