Boundaries and Out of Control

6-month old Chocolate Labrador Chocky is nervous and now copying the terriers' reactivity on walks

Chocky

The two Terriers have killed a couple of their free-range chickens and although they have boundary wire, the little monkeys can dig underneath.

The people really only want two things at the end of the day. One is for the their dogs to be able to run freely in the garden. How can they do this when the boundaries aren’t secure?

My new clients have three young dogs – two Lakelend/Jack Russell mixes of one year old (brother and sister) who we will call Mac and Mabel, and a 6-month old Chocolate Labrador – Chocky.

They are a very busy family with insufficient time to put in all the work really needed, so this is a challenge of breaking things down into essentials, choosing priorities and creating a plan whereby it’s less a question of spending extra time but more of doing different things in the time already allocated.

One of the Lakeland/Jack Russell Terriers

Mac or Mabel

Their other aim is for the dogs to come back reliably when called. The Terriers are highly reactive to any person or animal they meet and respond aggressively, becoming hard to control physically. Now Chocky, an unusually nervous dog for a 6-month-old Labrador, is joining in. They want their dogs running off lead but have to be able to get them back when another dog, a horse or a person appears.

Unfortunately these people simply don’t have the time to work properly on the root of the problem – under-socialisation and the fear and reactivity itself, though they agree they need to do something with Chocky’s walking before he gets much older and bigger. He is seldom walked on lead. They live in such a quiet area that they can often go out and meet nobody at all.

As they simply don’t have time for all the training work involved, the first issues would be best addressed by getting better fencing so the dogs simply can’t escape from the garden, along with a pen for the chickens.

The second issue – that of recall – is more difficult.  Firstly, they need to stop leaving food down all the time (Chocky is an unusual Labrador in that he doesn’t devour the whole lot as soon as it goes down) so that food has some value – why should a dog come for no reward when called if it’s not worthwhile, particularly if there is something more pressing to do? The children can do whistle recall games around the house and garden so that the dogs begin to become conditioned. Whistle = come quickly = high value reward.

I have tried to break things down into small tasks so that hopefully, at the end of the day, everything will start to come together and they will be able to see their lovely dogs running free without constantly worrying about who or what they might encounter next.

Three months later: ‘We are continuing with the programme. Bella does’nt get so hysterical when she sees me now and I see I was causing this. We are having quality time together which I love. She really responds now to “Yes!”. The “abort the walk” thing has helped so much, I used to get so stressed if she would’nt walk, carrying her to the garden etc, but if she’s not bothered, then I’m not. As you say, its for life, and we are really committed to making her life happy.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mac, Mabel and Chocky, 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).