Wild Behaviour is Unwittingly Fuelled

Wild behaviour from a dog the size of the adolescent Newfoundland can be scary.

When Beau leaped at the kitchen table she knocked the coffee mugs flying!

Taking a break from wild behaviour

Seven-month-old Beau was chosen from the litter as the most bold and pushy puppy. She organised the others, I am told, by barging them and stirring up trouble – and then sitting back to enjoy the results!

She was a mouthy, nippy puppy. This wasn’t countered immediately or correctly. Hand games and chasing her for things she stole added fuel to her wild behaviour.

As she got bigger and things became more painful, they have had to use more physical force to push her off them, to remove her away from things and to extract things from her mouth. She will do nothing when simply asked.

They can’t have her in the lounge with them for more than a few minutes before she goes wild and has to be put in the kitchen. Her worst wild episodes as so often is the case happen where she has more space – out in the garden. There have been a couple of occasions when the little girl hasn’t been safe.

In the belief that the more exercise and interaction she has, the better behaved she will be, each day starts off with too much stimulation – a prolonged welcome fuss before breakfast followed by ball play in the garden, excitement before getting in the car to take the child to school and then a walk which is probably too long for a pup of seven months.

Anyway, as she got older puppy Beau became defiant when she didn’t get her own way.

The young dog may get angry when thwarted. Several times now she has snarled, showed her teeth and lunged. Her eyes ‘looked funny’.

This is the consequence of using methods of force on a determined and strong dog. How frustrating it is for a dog not to know what she should be doing. (Please take a look at my favourite video showing the power of Yes versus No).

I showed them how we would create a willing and happy dog exercising self-control by using the power of Yes, by keeping Beau as calm as possible, by giving her suitable mental stimulation and by removing opportunities for rehearsing the wild behaviour.

By motivating her.

Almost immediately Beau began to respond to reinforcement for the right behaviour. She was becoming a lot calmer than she had been for a long time, particularly with the little girl present.

This is a typical case of owners getting through the days by fielding everything the dog throws at them so it becomes No No NO Stop, push away, drag off, shut away … and so on, and ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’ when the dog is quiet.

Look at this wonderful face!

It’s just amazing just how quickly a dog responds to Yes Yes Yes and being ‘bigged up’ for each good thing she does so she knows what is required.

Each time the wild behaviour kicked off again we dealt with it by giving the big adolescent other, incompatible things to do instead, making it clear to her what we did want of her.

We soon had Beau coming to us, offering us certain behaviours with little prompting. We had her walking from one of the four of us to another when called gently. We had her responding to understandable instructions and she was loving it.

We used the clicker. The little girl also clicked Beau for sitting – with perfect timing.

Action should be immediate.

It’s no good allowing the dog to rehearse jumping and biting by letting it happen even twice before reacting. It needs to be wiped out completely.

Immediately she jumps she must lose all communication with that person. Immediately she jumps at the table someone must get up, call her off, reward what she should be doing instead and move her onto a different behaviour that is incompatible with jumping at the table.

It takes a huge amount of effort.

Pre-empting and dealing with things before they happen is best of all.

Boosting her for every desirable thing she does must also be immediate – when she sits voluntarily, when she lies down, when she sighs and relaxes. A couple of times she looked at the table which had my smelly treats on it and resisted jumping up. A first! That deserved a jackpot but it must be immediate.

It could help greatly if the little girl didn’t arouse the dog quite so much as the wild behaviour is always far worse when the child is about. She could touch her less, try not to run into the room waving arms, dance around her or do handstands in Beau’s presence. These things quickly send the dog wild.

But this is like asking the little girl not to be a little girl!

Even if the child can cut back a little on these things it will help and she will be clicker trained too! They will use the word ‘Good’ and she can collect stars. She will now ask her mum to call Beau inside before going out into the garden – and she will make a poster for the door to remind herself

The next morning I received a lovely message from the lady which is proof if any is needed of the powers of positive reinforcement and calmness:

“I am so excited to tell you that we have had the most relaxed morning since we have got Beau. Last night she came into the lounge and not once did she bite. She tried to get on the sofa once but with a little distraction she came away and lay down. 

This morning has been the shocker for me. She has been like a different dog. We have made an extra effort to be calm and relaxed and Beau has been the same. She hasn’t bitten, jumped up, barked…nothing! ……She is now laying peacefully….I know she may relapse and I’m prepared for it but she’s shown me this morning that she is more than capable of being the loving Newfoundland that she should be……I knew she had it in her but to see it is another thing. I am so happy!”

Message received three weeks later: ‘I am so happy to tell you that we have a considerably well behaved dog. She has not had an “aggressive moment” since the clicker incident on the first week. There have been times where I have stopped stroking her and she goes to mouth my hand and then realises and stops before her mouth touches me, which I reward….. I can honestly say, I can’t remember the last time she jumped up! She’s learnt to play with her toys by herself and doesn’t ram them in my hand followed by a bite like before. Overall I am delighted with the way things are going. I am still prepared for her to slip back to her old ways but she is surprisingly proving me wrong. I actually think she listens to me now!’
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Beau and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression or fearfulness is concerned and most especially when it involves children. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Never Goes Out Beyond the Garden

Benji is just seven months old and never goes out beyond their garden.

The dog never goes out beyond the gardenThe German Shepherd, Standard Poodle mix lived in a barn on the farm where he was born until he was four months old when he went to the young couple.

He had never encountered the real world of cars, noises, lots of people or other dogs beside the farm dogs and so on. He’d not been walked on lead.

As might be expected from a pup that had not being in a house until four months of age, he still has toilet accidents indoors.

He is scolded for this. They have a cat which he may want to chase but generally he is good with, and again he is scolded for going near it. He may steal socks or other clothes and chew them, which makes the young man angry with him.

A lot is expected of him.

His lifestyle isn’t ideal for a large, clever and active young dog but he is surprisingly good-natured. He greeted me with friendly interest.

At seven months he should be seeing sights and sounds outside and, most of all, he needs the exercise. He would love to play with another dog I am sure.

I suggested to the young man that Benji was probably going out of his mind with boredom and it’s surprising that the worst he does is to occasionally chew up clothes. Can he imagine being shut in all day with no TV or mobile phone and with nobody to talk to who understands him?

Even while Benji never goes out they can do a bit more about fulfilling his needs with appropriate activities and things to chew and do. The house is small and the garden isn’t big either, but they can feed him in a treat ball and sprinkle it all over the grass so that even meals can be used to give him some release.

It’s probably the lack of stimulation for Benji and the resulting stress that leads to some slightly worrying behaviours.

Besides drinking a lot he gets very excited around his water bowl, which is odd. If after a couple of weeks when his general stress levels should be lower this doesn’t change, then they will need to somehow get him to the vet. This is hard while he never goes out.

He pants, he scratches and nibbles himself and he sometimes chases his tail. He has some Punter3patches of skin showing.

The only way the man has managed to get him out at all has been to drag him by collar and lead, but he doesn’t want to do that again. He did once take him out with no lead at all – very risky.

Like all people who call me, they do it for love of their dog and wanting to do their best, and it’s a question of pointing them in the right direction.

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Benji simply refuses to go outside the front door or garden gate.

They will now use comfortable equipment – a harness and a longer lead. The first step is to acclimatise him to the equipment around the house, associating with good things and food.

We have a plan of tiny increments involving, over the days and maybe weeks, holding the lead inside the door and then dropping it, touching the door handle, opening the door and standing in the doorway, letting him listen and look – and eat. Then stepping out. Then at the garden gate and so on – always leaving the front door open so he can bolt back if necessary.

From now onwards he must be allowed to make his own choice about going out – no more force. This is the only way to change a dog who never goes out into a dog who loves his walks.

When he’s no longer a pup that never goes out but a dog that can happily walk down the road and run around the fields, his life and general health should be transformed, but it could well take time. How will he be with other dogs after all this time? How will he be with traffic?

Most importantly, they can now see the benefits of reinforcing Benji with food for doing what they want instead of scolding The young man saw for himself how he himself can cause the dog’s behaviour. He stared at Benji in a ‘warning’ sort of way and the dog immediately ran to find the cat!

I could sum it up my advice in a few words: kindness works best.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Benji and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)
Benjie and Bella sitting still at last

Springer Siblings Like a Hurricane

Having two young dogs can be a challenge. Having litter mates can be a challenge. Having young working Springer Spaniels without a job to do can be the biggest challenge of all.

The lady admits that when they picked up the two bundles of fluff they had no idea that later they would be driven to the brink of despair when they became adolescents.

Eight month old brother and sister Benjie and Bella are absolutely beautiful both in nature and to look at, but they are certainly hard work! One reason the are such hard work is because insufficient work is done with them.

Benjie is a big barker for attention. Bella is a guarder – she guards resources from Benjie so, following some fights where the lady has been bitten when splitting them up, they can’t be left with toys or chews any more. They are bored. Both dogs fly all over people and they treat the sofas and coffee table like an assault course.

The lady had been advised by the breeder (my heart often sinks when I hear this because breeders are seldom qualified in behavour or training) who said to use a shaker bottle when they are naughty. Not only is scarinBenjie and Bella playingg dogs not good for our relationship with them, they soon get immune to that and you have to try something even more scary. Worst of all, it doesn’t give the dogs a clue as to what IS required of them so can simply hype them up further.

The whole family including three children were very involved which I love.

Instead of shouting NO at the dogs, I showed them how to used food rewards and praise. It took a long time before we could really start to talk, but eventually it was beautiful to see them eagerly sitting. I then taught them to lie down (clever dogs crying out for healthy stimulation), and then even got them to sit and stay for a short while which required a huge amount of self-control from them.

The dogs spend too much of the day together in a crate, with just a visit at lunch time, and walks aren’t as fulfilling as they could be because of the terrible pulling. When people are home and the dogs become too much, they end up back in the crate. The younger daughter wrote a list of suggestions of things they could do with the dogs, individually, to give their lives more interest. They will gate their kitchen door so Bella and Benjie can sometimes be kept apart, and then each dog can have their own box of goodies – things to chew and play with – which must be lifted before they are back together again.

To get them walking nicely they will have to be walked separately to start with. For exercise they will need to be popped in the car to go to an open space. When there, they can only be let off lead one at a time and recall needs some serious work.

The more hours these two dogs are left alone, unoccupied, the more mileage they will get out of any action that is happening when people are home – and if nothing is happening they will make it happen! So, the priority is to reduce stress levels and only do things for the dogs when they are calmer and quieter whilst filling their time more productively. They will get the message if people are patient and consistent. The second important thing which is connected with the stress is to remove any opportunity for Bella to practise her growling at Benjie when she has a resource of some sort. Finally, they need to get to grips with the walking so the Springer Spaniels can sniff and run and chase, what Springers are bred for.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Benjie and Bella, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Cocker Spaniel a Naughty Dog?

Yesterday I visited a 9-month-old Cocker Spaniel called Willow.  Wonderful!  My own irrepressible Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, has given me some good practice.

Here is a list of things Willow does: Jumping up on people, excessive licking of people’s faces, jumping at the table and sides, barking (answering) back when told off, too much noise generally, steaCocker Spaniel Willow's white tailling any items she can get hold of and running off with them, leading the lady a merry dance and getting cross when cornered, humping people, fixating and barking at certain objects, jumping over people and furniture, racing at speed round and round the room and growling when eventually caught and restrained, shoving toys at her people to make them play with her, pulling on lead and, finally, chasing the cat. Oh – and running back to the car on walks.

All this may sound amusing to read, but it can be exasperating and has reduced the poor lady to tears and it’s no wonder she thinks Willow is just a naughty dog.Bored Cocker Willow does everything she can think of to get attention

Willow really is adorable as you can see – and see the white tail? She is a soft, affectionate little girl, However, two or three walks where she’s encouraged to keep moving and not sniff too much, just isn’t sufficient for her. She is not a naughty dog. She is a BORED dog.

The family is on the back foot, trying to ‘field’ the things that Willow throws at them rather than themselves being proactive. She is a clever, working dog with insufficient appropriate stimulation so she is constantly finding ways to fulfil herself. She spends quite bit of time in the ‘naughty’ room.

‘No’ is a much used word.  In the three hours I was there we consistently looked for ways of saying ‘Yes’, and rewarding her with food. The lady was becoming really good at looking for the good rather than the bad and Willow was getting the message, becoming really focussed.

It is only fair on a dog to let her know what you don’t want in a language she really understands. ‘No’ and ‘Get Down’ or pushing are very confusing messages when the dog wants attention, because they ARE attention.

If a dog is jumping all over me I consider how another dog would make his feeling clear to a bouncy adolescent. Would not a stable dog look away, turn away, maybe tip her off and walk away? The other dog would probably signal when he saw her coming, making his feelings clear from the start. Showing the behaviour isn’t wanted is only part of the exercise. Just as importantly we then need to follow-up by showing her just what we do want. If it’s ‘feet on the floor’ we want, then that is when she gets the attention.

Giving Willow a more fulfilled life requires being creative and offering alternative incompatible behaviours instead of scolding or ‘no’, and constantly reinforcing the desired behaviours. They will need to go cold turkey on the barking for attention whilst scheduling into the day the sort of activities that satisfy her canine Spaniel instincts – mostly nose-based. She needs plenty to keep her busy. When the family want to watch TV in peace, they need to instigate short bursts of activity themselves – during the advert breaks perhaps. She could have a hunting game, training games, a short ‘sniff’ walk around the block or a toy or chew kept aside especially.

Gradually, over time and with the help of food rewards, Willow will be looking for ways to get attention by pleasing them.  A different mindset for owners – looking for the good instead of the bad – can really help.

It’s the next day and I have just received this email: ‘We found all you said made absolute sense and we are now looking at interacting with Willow with fresh eyes.  Some things are so obvious it is almost embarrassing to have not realised it! Today we went for a couple of walks and it was so much more relaxed letting Willow do as much sniffing as she wanted rather than thinking she shouldn’t be doing it and trying to get her to walk on.  Also, I did as advised re meal times and she ate the meals!  Amazing! We have bought her a Stagbar and some other toys for playing with in the evening.  At the moment she is lying quieting asleep – perhaps dreaming of the fun day she’s had today! There is obviously a lot of work to do and reinforce but I feel much more confident and relaxed’!
And four weeks after my visit: ‘The advice you gave us has been invaluable and has changed so many things we were doing with Willow and have already seen some good improvement’.
Here is a message eighteen months after I met Willow: I now know we go for ‘smells’ rather than ‘walks’! What I have discovered in the last two years, is what an amazingly intelligent and quick learner she is! She is still challenging sometimes, but we try to preempt her e.g. Making sure we don’t leave dining chairs pulled out otherwise she gets up on the dining table too! Willow and I are still ‘learning’ but it’s been so much fun!
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Willow, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Adolescent Flat Coated Retriever

Flatcoat Barney is simply creating his own fun and ways of getting attentionBarney is a wonderful 7-month-old Flat Coated Retriever. His family are first-time dog owners and like many inexperienced people getting a puppy they make assumptions regarding their puppy’s needs based on their own human perceptions of what a person might need.

Comparing the dog to a young child would be better. One wouldn’t give a little child too much freedom indoors or outside; one wouldn’t leave food available to a small child like a running buffet; we would keep a young child out of trouble by removing everything that might be dangerous or damaged; If the child was bored, we would be giving him things to do.

Because Barney has free run of the downstairs, when he’s bored or not getting attention he steals spectacles, pens, garments and so on – or he wrecks his blanket. When someone comes in the front door he is there. He jumps all over them and sometimes runs out. His food is left down for him to eat when he feels like it. He hasn’t been shown from the start that grabbing and biting hands and clothes simply isn’t fun. He has been running off lead since he was little. Puppies stay close and come when called – adolescents don’t!  During the evening Barney continually asks to go outside and they will be up and down doing his bidding – something they would never do for a child!

When the children’s friends come to the house things are very difficult. Barney is extremely excited and jumps all over them if they sit on the settee. One child in particular is too scared to come any more. It would have been easiest if they had taught Barney right from the start that he gets up on sofas by invitation only but now they should teach him to stay on the floor.

It’s Christmas in three days’ time! Lots of people including children will be there. I have suggested dog gates in a couple of doorways so they can have him under some sort of physical control without banishing him altogether. After Christmas that they will have time to do some real work with him.

Barney is simply creating his own fun and ways of getting attention and his people are ‘fielding’ his attempts to get them to do what he wants, rather than being proactive. He is a working breed. He needs more to do – to stimulate his brain, but in shorter doses because he is very easily over-excited which triggers the very behaviour that they don’t want. A long over-stimulating run for a dog of this age while the man jogs would be much better replaced with two or three shorter walks. At home he can be kept busy with things to chew, hunting for food, being taught to bring things back and let them go and so on.

I found he learnt very quickly that jumping up at me was no fun at all but that listening carefully to me and watching me brought satisfaction (and food). It is much easier for me because I have so much experience and it comes naturally, but people can copy me when I show them.

Barney is a really cracking, beautiful dog. Gates, removing things and wearing ‘sensible’ clothes that don’t temptingly flap about won’t be necessary for ever. The more consistent they all are now the faster they will be able to ditch these things. He has the perfect home, and he will be the perfect family dog.

Very Excited Around People. Adolescent Labradoodle

very excited around peopleWhat a character Labradoodle Poppy is! Here she is chewing something in our attempt to keep her calm (it didn’t last for long).

A very excited adolescent

Poppy is a sixteen months old adolescent and she has a wonderful temperament. She is a very stable dog in the main with few of the usual problems I go to.

She can be happily left alone for several hours a day in her crate. She’s extremely friendly. She has never shown any signs of aggression. She’s good if over-boisterous with other dogs. She’s not much of a barker.

It’s her over-excitement that is causing problems. She is very excited and hyped up around people, especially unfamiliar ones.

Her excitement and restlessness her seemed out of sync with her other traits and it was a bit puzzling.

Poppy lives with a single lady but is not over-indulged or spoilt; the atmosphere is calm although the lady does a lot with her. As an intelligent young dog, she may need more mental stimulation than she’s getting.

She may need to see more people to make them less exciting. It’s Catch 22, because due to her very excited behaviour, they avoid people.

If a human were this manic and excitable when I first met them, I would imagine them to be anxious and not really very confident. I think, under the bluster, it’s thus with Poppy. She sent subtle body language signals that backed up this theory.

Self-control and de-stressing

Poppy continued to pace and demand attention for a long time – until she was put in her crate. She instantly settled down, like she was relieved. It seems she goes to pieces unless she is externally controlled with commands. She has no self-control.

So, self-control and de-stressing are the angles we are working on.

On walks, despite wearing a Gentle Leader which she keeps trying to remove, Poppy pulls. She is so very excited when she sees a person that she has pulled the lady over a couple of times, resulting in injury. When she sees someone, if they take any notice of her at all she lunges, spins around and jumps about. She seems overjoyed.

She can’t be let off-lead because she would overwhelm people and other dogs with her excitement and jumping about.

Walks need to be done entirely differently, ‘self-control’ starting before leaving the house. I suggest the forget heel work for now and concentrate on walking on a loose lead, focusing on the lady and not other people.

This will take time, but we have a plan!

Poppy has been to lots of training classes. ‘Heel’ to Poppy means come back, receive a treat and then start to pull again! She’s not silly!

There is a saying – to alter the behaviour we need to alter the emotion. I did also wonder whether a change in diet might make a difference so the lady will try that too.

Boisterous Golden Retriever Lacks

Alfie tolerates Fynn's exuberant behaviourGoldie Fynn is one year old. He is boisterous and confident. He lives with three-year-old black Labrador, Alfie.

His exuberance has been causing problems. A few weeks ago he bowled his lady owner over and she broke her ankle, so the gentleman has a lot to do just now.

Fynn feels it is his job to control both his humans and Alfie. He finds all sorts of ways to gain their attention and has learnt that if he persists with something annoying for long enough he will always get a reaction of some sort! When he is especially stirred up, like if someone comes to the house or they are released from their leads into an open space, Alfie will redirect his pent up stress and excitement onto poor Alfie, who gets ‘hounded’ and jumped upon. One day Alfie may begin to stand up for himself.

Fynn’s attitude has now spilled out onto walks where other dogs are concerned – when he’s on lead. He’s fine when he’s free, but on lead he reacts with barking and lunging and sounding rather aggressive. This is not helped because his anxious humans, the minute they see a dog and irrespective of whether Fynn reacts or not, they anxiously reel him in and maybe talk to him, believing it to be soothing. All they are doing is conveying their anxiety..’uh-oh, a dog…trouble!’. The previously sociable Alfie now joins in.

Between times Fynn is a wonderful pet. He is adolescent and will grow out of a lot of this so long as he’s given firm and consistent messages about who controls whom and who makes the decisions – whether at home or out on walks, and learns that nothing happens until he is in a calm state. This will take considerable patience and time – his humans just waiting quietly for him to be ready and calm before they walk him, let him in with visitors, feed him, and so on. Fynn will learn!

A month later: “Fynn is now a treat to walk on the lead. I am so pleased. Alfie is also much better”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Extensively ‘Trained’, Lacks Self-Control

Chocolate Labrador Oscar chooses to ignore commands  Beautiful eighteen month old Chocolate Labrador Oscar was a difficult puppy. They admit they spoilt him and by the time he was four months old they found him hard to cope with – stealing, grabbing, nipping and so on, so they took him to puppy classes. Oscar has been going to dog training classes (of the ‘old-fashioned’ kind) ever since. They have worked very hard and conscientiously with him and continue to do so, especially the teenage daughter whose dog he is, and she has done brilliantly.

Understanding lots of commands and training exercises is not much use if a dog chooses to ignore them when they are most needed, and Oscar is adolescent! I am certain that with a much more positive approach with reinforcement for good behaviour rather than commands and corrections for the bad behaviour, Oscar would by now be no trouble at all. In fact, if they had applied these methods from the start when he was a puppy, things would be very different.

As it is, he is desperately attention seeking and controlling, and carries on until he gets attention of some sort, whether it’s through stealing socks or spectacles, jumping on people, licking faces or chewing furniture. Commands are attention. Pushing him is attention. Even looking at him is attention. It can be relentless. I imagine the words No, and Leave It and Off are used so frequently they are now background noise to Oscar! Even feeding is a process where he has to jump through several hoops, so to speak, meaningless to a dog, before he’ s allowed to eat his food.

He doesn’t get a chance to work things out for himself and to make his own good decisions. External over-controlling removes opportunities for him to learn self-control. He is required to do so many things that aren’t particularly necessary or relevant, when I feel it would be best to concentrate on the very few important things like not getting any feedback whatsoever for jumping up, for learning that ‘uh-uh’ before he does something is a warning and gives him a chance to make the right decision (with reward and praise when he does so). No dog is happier than when he has to use his own brain to work for us while we quietly give him the time and space to do so – working out for himself what is required and then being rewarded.

I am a little worried about the compatibility between the sort of ‘dog training’ which they want to continue and my behavioural approach to training.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.
 

Owner Control Versus Self-Control

Ben, a magnificent Northern Inuit age 15 monthsThis is Ben, a magnificent Northern Inuit age 15 months. He lives with another Inuit and two elderly black Labradors.

Ben is a typical adolescent and he is pushing boundaries. Like a teenager, he sometimes resists being told what to do – especially by the lady. There is some conflict in the way the dogs are ‘brought up’. The male owner is a strict disciplinarian and his rules are obeyed. The lady is softer.

It was a treat to be in the house with such well-mannered dogs. They are very well trained where commands are concerned, I would say possibly somewhat over-regulated. They have to jump through what I consider are unnecessary hoops before they get their food, for instance. A dog given too many commands doesn’t have a chance to work out for himself what he should be doing. There may be too much reliance upon the owners controlling the dogs,  and not the dogs controlling themselves.

A difficulty with this is that the dog learns to respect the firm disciplinarian at the expense of the weaker person, so when she the tries to control the adolescent Ben he revolts. And then what can she do?

I was called out because Ben had freaked out a training class with the lady. He was obviously severely stressed already by various things happening in the class and decided that he wasn’t going to do what she wanted. He jumped at her quite aggressively and grabbed her arms, bruising her. She was devastated and in tears. The trainer resorted to putting a choke chain on him. The reason for his going to class in the first place was to socialise him with other dogs, but being told ‘Leave It’  harshly whenever he went to sniff another dog will not have been helping him to learn natural, calm ways of encountering other dogs.

I suggested they abandon the class altogether. It is simply too stressful and counterproductive, and is damaging Ben’s relationship with the lady. He knows all the commands he could ever need. I don’t say this of all classes but they need to be chosen carefully, and any advocating choke chains (pain) I would run a mile from.

The gentleman could quite happily carry on with the dogs as he is, but not the lady, so they will both need to do things a bit differently so that the dogs don’t get mixed messages. They need the chance to learn self-control.

Ben can learn to approach other dogs without fear or aggression if given time and support to work it out for himself, rather than being shouted at – ‘No’ and ‘Leave It’, forced into situations for which he’s not ready, or distracted with treats which teaches him nothing. Rewarding him with treats for being calm when looking at another dog is a different matter.

Training is one thing; in many ways Leadership is another. To behave like a ‘dog’ leader doesn’t require commands. Dogs don’t talk, after all.

Five weeks after my visit, this email: “Last night there were no dogs around so I let him off for a while. Then out of the woods comes a White Labrador and Ben races over to him. Oh god I think here we go especially when i realised it was a male showing dominance but no they greeted each other nicely, no growling, no noise, no squaring up……..They played!!!! They played really nicely… Ben didnt even react when the lab tried to hump his head. I can’t tell you what joy that gave me. I know we’ve got a long way to go but it was wonderful to see him let down his guard and be a young dog for a while. I recognise that it will probably take months to get Ben to the point I want him to be at; I would like to be able to walk down the road and pass a dog on the other side without incident – that will be a major milestone for me. It’ll be a while yet but we feel we’re on the right path”.
We’re both using the whistle and cheese which works brilliantly. Yesterday I couldn’t see him, looking round I realised it was because he was walking with his nose right at the back of my knee – that made me happy. I’m certainly more confident and I’m discovering more about Ben’s triggers.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Young Labrador ‘Won’t Listen’.

Two Golden Labradors lying togetherTwo beautiful Golden Labradors. Roxy nearly six months old and Lola is four.

As a puppy, Lola was taken to puppy classes so is the better ‘trained’ of the two, but she is nervous. Roxy is a lot more confident and is already trying to dominate Lola. She can be pushy, jump up and be generally annoying as a puppy entering adolescence can be! They may tell her to stop jumping up, to sit, to go away when they are eating, or to come back when she is off lead, but she won’t ‘listen’.

The real problems are out on walks. Both dogs pull – Roxy especially. Her recall is very unreliable as is that of many a pup and possibly they are expecting too much here. Whilst some dogs come back willingly from the word go, with many dogs recall has to be worked on for a long time before the dog can be reliably trusted to come back if there is something else she would rather be doing, like chasing cats or going after other dogs.

What is bringing matters to a head is Roxy’s behaviour when she sees other dogs.  She will run up to them barking, backed up by Lola who has begun to snap and growl at them – something she never used to do before Roxy came. It seems to be getting worse. I am wondering whether Roxy thinks she is protecting Lola, while Lola thinks she is protecting Roxy! Either way, the person with them is not relevant as decision-maker and protector.

Whilst Roxy and Lola get on very well, it seems that having Roxy hasn’t been altogether easy for Lola. Already sensitive, she now has become protective of her. For her to try to keep Roxy in check is an impossible task. I am worried that as Roxy grows older, more determined and dominant, and that if the owners don’t give stronger leadership, there could be trouble between the two dogs.

Walking needs to be brought back to basics. The dogs need to be walking calmly on loose leads without the need for checking – which often simply isn’t achieved by traditional training methods – Lola is proof of that.  When they encounter other dogs, they need to keep calm and rely on the person walking them to make the decisions.  When off lead, the owners may feel that the dogs should come back when they are called, but in these situations they simply are not sufficiently relevant. We lack relevance when we are at our dogs’ beck and call and touch them every time they come near us. If our time and attention is readily on tap and never has to be earned, it lacks value.

The humans need to earn that relevance throughout all aspects of their life with their dogs – and then the dogs, Roxy in particular, will start to ‘listen’.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.