Freedom and Who Pays the Price

They love to see their dog running free, charging about and having fun.

Freedom may come at a price.

They adopted Boxer Bella sixteen months ago and she is having a wonderful life. Being with her for three hours it was hard to imagine her to be anything other than a sweet, soft and gentle dog.

For me she showed none of her usual over-excitement when people visit.

I tend to get back what I give. Calm confidence attracts calm confidence (just as excitement attracts excitement).

There is a price to be paid for all Bella’s freedom however

She has too much freedomAnd it’s not always Bella who pays it.

She lives with a family where, again, the men like to get her excited. When the man gets up in the morning she immediately bounces about. She rushes downstairs to get a toy. Man and dog, they chase around the house and then around the garden.

She loves it, but are the adrenalin highs that good a way to start the day?

Their perceived problem is out on walks where Bella is becoming increasingly aggressive to other dogs. This is both when off lead as well as on lead.

The gentleman, who is the main walker, needs to be able to have her under better control, so their own relationship needs to be a bit more regulated in general.

He can slowly tone down the manic mornings a bit at a time so it’s that not too much of a shock to either of them. He can introduce brain games and things that require some self-control. Stirring her up from the beginning isn’t the best way to start a day, particularly if you want a dog to react to things calmly later on.

They live just a few minutes’ walk from where she’s let off lead. She pulls madly to get there.

Then, off lead, she’s away.

Freedom!

She may run around madly, carry huge logs or disappear, sometimes for several minutes at a time. It’s all high activity stuff where learning to sniff and ‘shoot the breeze’ on a long line may do her just as much good if not more.

She’s stone deaf to being called when on a mission.

Once a dog is used to freelancing, there is little one can do to get her back until she’s finished what she’s doing.

Bella herself paid a price for her freedom a while ago.

The man heard screaming and ran over to find some young girls with a couple of Staffordshire Bull Terriers both on top of Bella. Bella will have been the instigator, she ran over to them after all and they were on leads minding their own business. It was a bad experience for the girls, the Staffies and for Bella who had injuries.

Things have gone downhill since then but still her freedoms haven’t been curbed. They feel their fit and lean Boxer needs the exercise and understandably they love the joy freedom gives her

Anything could happen. The price paid so far is bad, but it could become a lot worse. According to the recent change in the dog law, someone may only need to feel threatened by a dog now for the owner to be prosecuted. This could end up with Bella permanently on lead and wearing a muzzle.

The catalyst for calling me was recently, again out of sight of the man, Bella went for a small dog. The owner was extremely upset and scared as was the little dog.

Dog-to-dog reactivity is like a disease that spreads.

Now it’s likely the little dog may cause trouble with other dogs, particularly larger dogs, due to its own fear.

With each thing that happens, it simply gets worse, but still Bella is being given her freedom. She freelances.

It’s sometimes hard to convince people who want the very best for their dog, as they certainly do, that the only answer is for her to lose her freedom.

For now I strongly advise Bella to be kept on a long line, dropped perhaps so she can play with familiar dogs. Recall needs to be blitzed for several months at least.

When encountering other dogs the gentleman will himself take responsibility for what happens next. When, on the long line, they see a dog, he will call her and reward her. Maybe this would be a good opportunity for one of his fun chasing games, keeping it short?  She may now associate the other dog with fun times.

Whether on walking lead or long line, he will maintain a comfortable distance between Bella and other dogs and work on her. He will no longer keep walking on towards the other dog, holding her tight as she tries to lunge, hackles up and barking,

Bella’s ideal default over time should be to check in with the man every time she sees another dog. She must learn to keep within a certain distance from him and never go out of sight.

Dog walks would be better for everyone if all owners restricted their dogs’ freedom, if all dogs automatically checked in when they saw another dog and if recall really did mean ‘come’. See this nice little video about recall from Steve Mann.

It is so much harder to reverse a situation like this than not to have let it happen in the first place. I would say a new dog or puppy has no freedom initially and is granted it gradually in a controlled fashion when ready.

Recall is as much about the kind of relationship the dog has with the owner as anything else. This needs working on in all areas of the Bella’s life.

We get what we give.

If we want calm and attentiveness, we act calm and give our full attention.  Encouraging calm and attentiveness, we have better control.

In curbing freedom the dog doesn’t have to feel trapped like a prisoner. We make ourselves relevant so that being near us is just where our dog wants to be. It can take a lot of effort.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bella and I’ve not gone into exact precise 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, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

 

 

Bred for Pulling – and for Sociability

Bred to do a job

Nowadays too many dogs are effectively square pegs in round holes.

When I was young (years and years ago) many women didn’t work. Dogs weren’t left alone for long. There was little traffic outside the bigger towns so dogs had a lot more freedom. Few were bred for anything in particular. As I remember it, there were many more cross-breeds (mongrels).

Bred to pull and for sociabilityToday people choose their pedigree dog too often purely based on what the dog looks like and fashion. Many of these dogs are bred to do a job. Both men and women go out to work. What do we have?

We have a dog – in this case a Malamute – who due to the couple’s change in work circumstances is now left alone for eleven hours a day. However much they try to compensate when they get home, this is simply too much time for a dog, bred to be a sociable creature, to be all by herself.

Husky-type dogs are in fashion at the moment and visually you can see why. Stunning to look at.

Siberian Huskies and Malamutes are bred for pulling heavy things and for endurance.

Another thing that attracts people to Malamutes is that they are noted for being friendly.

So with the dog I went to yesterday we have dog that is bred for being friendly that is left alone for eleven hours a day; a dog that is bred to work with humans for hours, pulling things over many miles, taken for two lead walks a day.

Two-year-old Evie is absolutely delightful. She is also like a fluffly ball of built-up frustration and excitement that bursts out from time to time.

The couple do their very best. Things don’t always turn out as expected, do they. There are many Husky type dogs now in shelters because people just haven’t done the research into what they have taken on. The really lucky ones, to quote Wikipeadia, are used in sledding, also known as mushing, as well as for skijoring, bikejoring, carting, and canicross

Beautiful Evie is walked for an hour at 5.30 am before work (which is testament to how they are doing their very best) and has another walk in the evening when the lady gets home. After a long and busy day, Evie’s young humans are tired.

About a week ago, instead of simply being over-excited when she saw another dog on a walk, her hackles went up and she snarled at it. In quick succession this past week there have been four further incidents which were all noise and show, nothing else. Then a couple of days ago, with terrible timing, an off-lead Staffie they met in an alleyway went for Evie.

Evie retaliated and a fight ensued. The man kicked both dogs.

The young lady was extremely distressed as you can imagine. To make matters worse and as is so often the way, the owner of the out-of-control off-lead dog shouted abuse at the person whose dog was on lead!

BriceEvie2Why did Evie’s behaviour suddenly change a week ago? At my suggestion they have had her checked at the vet and she seems to be 100% healthy. The trigger may be that the young lady was particularly stressed at the time. Evie may well have picked up on her owner’s mood.

They will be looking for a daily dog walker to break up the time that Evie spends alone. They now know how to work on her behaviour with other dogs.  Fortunately it’s only been happening for a week so won’t be too much of a habit yet.

How frustrating must a walk always on lead be, particularly on a Flexilead where there is constant tension, to a dog that has so little ‘happening’? They will now use a loose long line so she can at least feel some freedom. They will work very hard at her recall so perhaps, one day, she will be trusted off lead.

They now have a list of activities to choose from that will give Evie stimulation and a chance to unwind during the evening – things for her to chew and do – training activities including some clicker training. (The young lady who had never used a clicker before was a natural. She totally got it). Clicker will help Evie to use her good brain.

A big thing they will now do their best to stop – is saying NO. I suggested a ‘swear box’, a pound every ‘No’. Poor Evie is constantly being corrected. Now they will be getting her to earn some of her food – giving it to her whenever she does something ‘good’ like watching their cat and before she starts to chase it, like when a dog comes on TV and before she begins to bark at it or if she settles.

Food will mean YES.

Although they will never be able to fully give Evie what she was bred for, they will be able to give her a much more fulfilling life. She will be less frustrated and have more self-control which will inevitability affect her general behaviour with other dogs.

 

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 Evie and I’ve not gone into exact precise 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 issues of any kind are concerned. 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 Help page)

To Trust Their Dog Around Other Dogs

Viszla lying on his bedIt’s sad when a dog that has been so conscientiously reared from a puppy, well-trained and socialised, starts to develop antagonistic behaviour towards other dogs. What could have gone wrong? I feel really sorry for the young couple with beautiful Hungarian Vizsla Mac.

They took him to classes and training for nine months. They have invested time and money into not only training him but researching the very best food for him – he’s fed raw. They have mixed him with people and other dogs and he was extremely well socialised. The first hint of trouble was about six months ago – when he was around one year old.

Over time they have relaxed and he has gradually been allowed more and more leeway to do his own thing when off-lead. As the situation with other dogs has crept up on them the young lady’s confidence when out with him has been dropping.

He was always a ‘pushy’ player and this, unfortunately, went unchecked. It’s hard for people to know what’s appropriate play and where to draw the line. Not all dogs like being jumped on and he was told off by a couple of dogs. Soon, he was reacting badly when other dogs, behaving just as he himself does, rushed into his own space. It was still just noise and snapping. Now humping other dogs is added to his repertoire but he gets cross if they go round behind him to sniff him.

What I’m sure is happening is a build up of stress, excitement – call it what you will. Each dog he meets pushes him a little nearer the edge. This was well illustrated the other day when a dog, on a flexilead, coming to ‘say hello’ while Mac was sitting outside a pub with the couple – and this time Mac actually went for him. What backs up the build-up of stress theory is that this was at the end of a walk, outside the pub he already had some boisterous play with a spaniel and probably being approached by the last dog was the final straw. He went for it – and was fortunately dragged off before any harm was done. The spaniel then returned and he went for him also.

Mac is a determined young dog and they have taken their eye off the ball. There has been no damage done so far, but it’s going in the wrong direction. Once things start to go downhill, without intervention they usually gradually get worse as it becomes a learned behaviour. Mac now needs to learn instead to clock in with his owners every time he sees a dog, even if it’s one of his friends. They will be working on techniques to achieve this. It’s then up to them to decide what happens next, not Mac, and whether or not he meets up with the other dog. They need to police the level of any play.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mac, 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).

Was the Change Due to Hormones?

Rhodesian Ridgeback lies in her bedThe lady is looking after her daughter’s gorgeous young Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mara, while the daughter is settling the other side of the world. Mara will follow in a few month’s time.

She has looked after Mara on and off for the past year and she has been working very hard to give the dog the very best life possible whilst in her care, giving her plenty of exercise, the very best food and other behaviour/training help.

Sadly, the very well-socialised and friendly dog suddenly changed about three month’s ago. After her third season she had a false pregnancy. Almost immediately she changed. She become intolerant of certain other dogs. I wouldn’t call it aggression – more a matter of ‘attitude’. If the dog has a ball then that could be an issue. If they get close to another dog and there isn’t sufficient space she could react. She doesn’t like pushy dogs running up to her anymore. She may pin them down but she has never done any damage and their owners haven’t been concerned, but it’s a shock for the lady who now is on edge when meeting other dogs and wary of letting Mara off lead.

She has been given advice to keep Mara away from all dogs and on lead only for several months. I personally feel that as Mara is not significantly fearful or reactive to other dogs in general, this is too extreme. I fear that if she is away for too long from her usual interactions and play with her canine friends along with missing the social dog walks that she used to go on, it could create a far greater problem in the end.

Life for Mara is now very different in other ways too. Where before, when she lived with the daughter, they had a busy social life with people coming and going, noise and action, life now is quiet and peaceful. Against this calm backdrop sounds can be alarmingly out of proportion, encouraging her to be more territorial and protective.

Hormones could have a lot to answer for! Mara has now just been spayed so any hormonal aspect should be dying away, but the behaviour has been rehearsed and may remain or get worse if something isn’t done about it. Rather than avoiding dogs, the lady’s best approach is to have a lot more control over Mara. To make sure that at home she is relevant so Mara takes notice of her (she currently may ignore her), comes to her immediately when called and looks into her eyes when asked ‘watch me’. Established at home, these techniques can then be used outside.Ridgeback is sitting on her tail

I suggest meanwhile that the lady deliberately seeks out the safe old doggy friends so that Mara can continue to play, even if she’s on a long line so the lady has more confidence, and also that she goes back on the social walks, maybe only staying for a while if Mara shows any signs of stress. In confined places the lady can use her new attention-getting skills along with food and in open spaces Mara’s favourite thing – a ball.

With all the conflicting advice, it’s hard for someone to know what is best . Other instructions she has been given and that I don’t agree with is to totally ignore an already calm and polite dog when coming home or to rebuff a friendly dog that comes over and lovingly places her head on your lap or leans against you – labelling this as ‘dominant’. This to me is nonsense from the dinosaur days of old-fashioned dog training and the lady can relax and follow her instincts.

I am sure she will have preserved Mara’s lovely nature and regained her sociability for the time when, in a few months, she is ready to join her young owner the other side of the world.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mara, 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).

Walking Nicely

Having lived in a barn till 5 months old, Duke lacked socialisation

Duke

Previously the GSD had been beaten for destroying things when left alone all day

Princess

The last of German Shepherd Princess’ eight puppies went to a carefully checked home a couple of weeks ago and she has now been spayed.

Duke on he right (the puppies’ father) and Princess, both three years old, had the wrong start in life. Duke was in a barn and then not taken out until five months old which left a big gap in his vital socialisation, and Princess  had been left alone for hours and was beaten for destroying things.

The family have made huge headway with both dogs. Unsurprisingly, their main hurdle is socialisation and reactivity to other dogs when out, particularly Duke.

There are five family members who are all involved and adore the dogs, but they have been missing the vital ingredient to real success – positive reinforcement, particularly food.

Although their sole aim in asking for my help is to be able to enjoy walks, this is where I take a holistic approach.

A dog walking nicely is about much more than ‘dog training’.

The relationship with the human is particularly important when a dog is ‘trapped’ on lead. Firstly, the dog needs to find them relevant so that they can get and hold his attention. Secondly, the dog need to trust the human to whom he’s attached not only protect him and themselves, but also to make the decisions when out. If off lead, this also involves coming straight away when called rather than putting the owner somewhere lower on his list of priorities!

In order for the human to be trusted, they must be confident and this is one big problem here in this case.

Ever since Prince had been attacked by another dog, the lady who does much of the walking has been extremely anxious whenever they see one and admits that her reactions could well be part of the problem. Even discussing it made her tense up.

The business of decision-making, trust in the owner or walker and their being ‘relevant’ in order to get and hold a dog’s attention begins at home. If these things are not in place within the safe and distraction-free home environment, seeing the person on the end of the lead as ‘decision-maker and protector’ will not happen when out in the big world in the face of potential threats.

This is why a holistic approach works best. The process isn’t just about walks and other dogs alone.

Princess and Duke will be learning to respond to a whistle which will be throughly ‘charged’ at home – using food.  To teach them to really listen, they will learn to do their usual training tricks for one quiet request – and food. They will learn to give their humans eye contact and hold it upon request, they will learn to come immediately when called at home and they will learn that although they are the alarm system, their humans are ultimately in charge of protection duty.

Associating other dogs with nice stuff (food) will be part of the solution. Perhaps the lady would like to take a bag of her favourite sweets out on walks also and to pop one into her own mouth instead of reacting in panic!

This all takes time of course, but with these basics in place and calm loose lead walking established, these dogs will eventually be in a very different state of mind when meeting other dogs than they are now – as should their lady owner.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Princess and Duke, which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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).

Two Dogs Called Bracken

Japanese Akita now lives the good life

Bracken

This week I visited two dogs called Bracken. Both were gorgeous and they were completely different. The first was a beautiful Japanese Akita. He did not have a good start in life.  As a puppy his first family lost interest in him and he was shut outside in the garden by himself for hours on end until they got rid of him. He then went to live with a man who was unwell, and ended up shut in the bathroom day and night. He is now in his third home living with a lovely couple who are determined to give him a good life. Unsurprisingly he has separation anxiety (barking and howling when left alone in home) and due to lack of contact with other dogs, he is fearful and aggressive to dogs when on a walk . In addition to this, children worry him. Bracken will now be learning that his humans are there to look after him and not visa versa, that if they go away they will always come back, and that as leaders they make all the important decisions.

Bracken

The second Bracken I went to help is a ‘Red’ Labrador, and only seven months old – almost the same age to the day as my Cocker Spaniel puppy, Pickle.  Bracken is becoming a teenager and has started to bully his lady owner. He had always been a bit of a nipper and grabber. The fact he left his litter early did not help, because his siblings would have taught him that if he hurt them they would squeal and stop playing. It is difficult to imagine how upsetting it must be to be scared of your own young dog, the puppy you have fed, walked and loved.  Some dogs more than others need positive leadership and direction, and Bracken is one of them. With my own puppy Pickle I started off the right way by not spoiling him and by giving him fair rules and boundaries in terms that he understands right from the beginning.

Three days have gone by and I have just had a phone call from Bracken’s lady owner. He hasn’t jumped on her, barked at her or bullied her since I went! She says he is a thousand times better, and this is because they now know what to do. Bracken is calmer. It must be a relief for him too not to be in control.

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