Come. Won’t Come When Called. Runs Off. No Recall

Layla really is the near-perfect little dog for her lady owner, particularly at home. She stable, confident and can be taken anywhere.

When off lead, Layla won’t come when called.

The one and only area where she is less than perfect is that, once she’s free, she may run off and she won’t come back.

Layla has been chased along beaches and chased down busy roads. She is not let off lead at all nowWon't come when called.

The three-year-old Bichon Frise is an independent little thing. She’s not demanding. She may do her own thing but that’s no problem – not most of the time anyway.

To come when called isn’t really about training. Layla knows what ‘Come’ means, I’m sure. She just doesn’t see a sufficiently good reason to do so.

This is about two things: motivation and building up a conditioned response – so that when she hears the word ‘Come’ she reacts more or less automatically.

Motivation.

Where motivation is concerned, the lady needs to make herself as compelling and relevant (to Layla) as possible. Mutual love isn’t quite enough. When out, the lady is competing with the environment of wonderful smells, other dogs, birds and so on.

What can she do?

She can work on getting and holding Layla’s attention at home to begin with. To make herself motivating she can get Layla to work for some of her food – Layla loves her food fortunately.

The lady could also use fun if she could find something they mutually enjoyed. Although it may not be appropriate in this case, here is a nice video showing how play can be used to make the person really desirable to be with and to come back to.

Over the past two years at least, Layla has learnt that ‘Come’ is optional. She comes back when she wants. She has also learnt that the word come will probably be repeated many times “Layla, Layla, Come, Come, Come…”.

This selective hearing now has to be replaced with a new, automatic, response to the word ‘Come’.

There is no quick fix for a dog that ignores being called. The only way to achieve good recall, particularly if one is unable to run about oneself, is through lots of repetition where the dog is only set up to succeed.

When someone says ‘Catch’ we put your hands out without thinking. When the lady says ‘Layla – Come’, Layla needs to run to her almost without thinking.

Frequent short sessions, stopping while it’s still fun.

‘Come’ meaning ‘come’ will be best absorbed by Layla if done in graded steps, over a period of time. It will be a good while before ‘off lead’ is reached.

So, I have created a plan where they start in the house with frequent sessions of walking around. Copying what I did, the lady walks away from her calling “Layla – Come!”. Layla catches up and is rewarded. The lady can then call her from room to room. She can then call her when she’s out of sight. Eventually they can graduate to having Layla on a 30-foot long line, outside where there are more distractions, tied to something like a tree.

Bit by bit you they will be building up an automatic response.

The lady will be motivating Layla: ‘I’ve been called, I will come right away. It will be worth it!”.

She can also reinforce ‘Come’ by calling Layla for anything she likes, like meals, putting her lead on for a walk or going to the car.

When Layla is running on the beach on her long line, the lady should only call “Layla – Come” when she is coming anyway. The competition from the environment makes it too likely that ‘Come’ will be ignored and devalued.

How long will it take? Who knows. It will depend upon how patient the lady is and how many short sessions she can manage – sufficiently short that Layla remains motivated and doesn’t become bored.

Two or more years of freelancing won’t be overturned in just a few weeks.

 

Chasing Shadows and Lights

Bichon Frise looking for shadows

Looking at the wall for shadows

It’s really strange how it all started.  They have had the little Bichon Frise for just a few weeks – he came over from Ireland with an unknown past – and the young lady quite unwittingly bought him a laser light thinking that he would enjoy chasing it.

Just a few minutes triggered something in the adorable and affectionate Buddy that has been unstoppable since.

The slightest shadow or reflection starts him off, as even do flying birds. On a walk recently some swallows swooping about overhead had him leaping about and barking frantically.

The behaviour seems to be triggered by stress and excitement as well as any actual shadow or light. When I was there, someone coming back into the room was enough to start him off again. If there is no shadow to see, the young dog will look for it.

It follows a three-stage sequence which starts with Buddy prowling about, his eyes up at the walls. Next he becomes more agitated, to the extent that by now he is deaf to any calling or distractions. Finally he erupts into a wild fit of barking, charging about from room to room and now it’s hard to catch him.

They have tried everything they can think of including putting him in another room which seems to settle him.

This is particularly hard to deal with, mainly because with most behaviours that we want to eliminate we arrange the environment so the dog has less opportunity to rehearse them. In this case the shadows may not actually exist in order for him to start fixating.

It was evident early in our meeting, by listening to the lovely family and watching the little dog, that he spends much of his life far too aroused. They feel that he was probably neglected in the past and bless them they are doing all they can to compensate for this now. They feel guilty when they leave him alone so make a big issue of their comings and goings. He has more or less constant attention. He may have four walks a day, one possibly for as long as an hour and a half.

When he gets home from walks he can be in a hyper state which tells me that the walk hasn’t really done what it’s meant to do. Over-exercise and stimulation is possibly little better than too little.

They have had him for three months now and want to make his life as fun as possible, so, like many people, they stir their dog up intentionally in the belief that exciting him is the way to make him happy.

I suspect that everything is simply too much. Probably the contrast with his former life is also simply too much also.

Our approach is to tone down everything. Lower, softer voices, gentler petting, no deliberately exciting him before going out, short and calmer walks where he can do a lot of sniffing.

Play should be careful. At present it’s far too exciting. He grabs something and ‘loves to be chased about’. Toys and balls are thrown for him to run after which can simply be fuelling his fixation with moving things. We looked at calm games that will exercise his mind like hunting and foraging.

We did some gentle clicker training, the aim being to get him to touch a hand – a way of calling him away from shadows before he gets stuck in. Using a clicker, we also marked and rewarded him each time he chose to take a break from looking about, before he got too carried away. There may be other things he can be taught to do that are incompatible with chasing shadows – like settling somewhere or looking away at something else instead.

The environment needs to be made as helpful as possible. If doors are shut he can do less charging about when he’s in a frenzy. If he’s less stimulated by letters coming through the door and so on, there will be fewer triggers.

Finally they need to step in a lot sooner than they have when taking him out of the situation to calm down. The ‘quiet room’ is a room where he’s happy to be alone – a spare bedroom. It can be dark, with soft music especially produced for calming dogs.

It’s sad when everything has been done to give him a great life by his new family that it’s backfired on them so badly. Over-exciting him hadn’t occurred to them as part of the problem.

It’s very possible that the laser light merely woke a latent behaviour in him that he had done in his previous life. We will never know. I am convinced the key is to get him calmer and more relaxed on all counts which means that his humans must be calmer and quieter around him too.

Each shadow-chasing dog does it his own way, so I don’t go into complete detail here as to our approach. Anyone with a dog who fixates needs professional help. A clicker isn’t a magic tool, it’s just a bit of plastic. It’s worse than useless unless used properly.

It would be a good idea if these laser lights sold in pet shops for cats, came with a written health warning.

Puppy Parenting Little Bichon Frise

Bichon Frise puppy under coffee tableEven the little black pads on fourteen-week-old Scooby’s feet are cute!

I love doing Puppy Parenting consultations, particularly as I am likely to keep in touch for many months – seeing them through adolescence to adulthood.

There is a lot to cover – all the usual things like toilet training and jumping up, the best sort of nutrition for the puppy and walking happily on a loose lead, but also preempting future possible problems from ever developing like guarding behaviours, fear of other dogs and running off.

Scooby has already been taught to sit and I showed them how to teach him to lie down. The next step is to work on ‘stay’.

fourteen week old Bichon Frise

Scooby with a favourite ‘toy’

Most importantly he needs to respond when he hears his name and come to them when he is called. They have a large open-plan house and very large enclosed garden and the lady worries that he might get into some sort of trouble when he is out of sight.

People often don’t realise that in order to get a puppy to come immediately they must not only sound exciting but also have something very rewarding to come to – food or fun. This needs a lot of repetition until coming when called becomes automatic – it can be made into a game as the puppy is called from one person to the other around the room and then house and garden. The man finds the ‘exciting voice’ impossible so I suggest he uses a whistle instead!

Scooby has been to two puppy classes where walking involves the puppy choking on his thin collar as he is ‘corrected’ and forced to walk to heel. That will now change.

He walked around the house beside me like a dream with no lead at all, with encouragement and rewards (placed on the floor where I want him to be). The next step is to simply clip his lead onto his harness and continue with the walking beside them – they will need a normal lead that hangs loose and not the retractable. Once good indoors it can be taken to the garden and then outside. There is absolutely no need at all for ‘correction’ of any sort if this is introduced correctly.

I look forward to my next Puppy Parenting visit.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have planned for Scooby, which is why I don’t go into exact detail details here of Scooby’s puppy plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own puppy may be inappropriate. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with the parenting of your own puppy (see my Get Help page).

A Puppy Needs Active Toilet Training

Bichone Frise Lucky Bichon Frise in crateBichon Frise Lola is now nearly 5 months old and an exceptionally easy puppy. Isn’t she delightful!

She never nips and she’s not demanding. This is fortunate because the family has five young children.

They have another dog also, a gorgeous and rather reserved fifteen-month-old Goldendoodle called Sam. Both dogs get on famously when they are together.

Lola spends long periods of time in her crate in the dining room, mainly because she may otherwise toilet all over the place but also because she may run around the house and they don’t want the dogs loose anywhere but in the utility room.

Toilet training doesn’t work like that.

With the five little children life is a bit of a juggling act.

It is Lola’s toileting training regime I was asked to help address, but this leads on to other things. Unfortunately, this toilet training can’t be done without changing her entire lifestyle. At the moment she is seldom taken outside so has, in effect, been taught that the puppy pad in her crate is the place to go.

She is always carried, so would not have learnt that if she wants to go to the toilet, it starts with walking towards and then out of the garden door.

It is a little concerning also that, because she doesn’t go out to meet new people and dogs, the window for effective socialisation and getting her exposed to things that may later frighten her is now closing. As she’s such an easy-going character, they may still have time.

Another thing is that she doesn’t seem to understand coming when called, which is unusual for a puppy. This will be because she is pulled, not called, out of her crate and then carried everywhere (to discourage the toileting or running off into other parts of the house).

I have suggested an intensive fortnight of working with Lola’s recall and toilet training, and then I shall go and see them again. No more carrying her about all the time!

At present she is crated from 7pm to 7am without a break as well as for much of the day. I have suggested a smaller crate – no bigger than her bed – which she should only be shut in at night-time or when they are out and at other times she can be in the utility room with Sam. It would, however, not be fair to put her in a bed-sized crate without giving her plenty of opportunities to toilet outside so she isn’t forced to mess her bed.

Last thing at night before being shut in her new little crate she needs to be walked outside (not carried). She needs to be accompanied (even in the cold and rain) and rewarded when she performs.  First thing in the morning, instead of leaving her in the crate until they have done some other jobs, they need to take her outside the moment they come downstairs.

I suggest the family draws up a rota so that Lola is taken out every half hour she is awake, immediately she has woken up, immediately they come home and any time she starts to sniff and prowl. She needs to go out after each meal. She needs praise and reward for going outside, whereas accidents indoors should get no reaction at all.

Using food they can teach her to follow them into the garden; they can teach her to come in again without having to chase her, they can teach her to go in and out of her crate without any man-handling.

I hope they have made some good progress in a fortnight’s time, because then I shall be teaching one of the children how to clicker train her puppy to sit, and also how to walk nicely beside them.

Giving Lola more attention and freedom may ‘unleash the puppy’ within her to the extent that she may become more lively and ‘naughty’, but that is what puppyhood should all be about, isn’t it.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lola whose situation is fairly unique, 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 puppy 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 parenting strategies specific to your own puppy (see my Get Help page).

 

Beautiful Little Dog With Horrible Habit

They have had the Bichon Frise Poodle cross for two weeks

Maisy

whitedogsThey have had adorable nine-month-old Bichon Poodle cross Maisy for a couple of weeks now. I was called because there a few problems – nothing major – and they want to pre-empt things before they get worse.

One concern is that she pesters their other patient Bichon Frise, Candy,  by jumping on her and annoying her until she gets cross. Another is that she runs off with the baby’s toys and wrecks them, she is reluctant to give things up, she jumps onto things and surfs the tables for crumbs and cups to lick and she won’t come to them when she’s called.  All fairly usual stuff for a teenage dog!

However, the thing that upsets them most is the things she eats and worst of all is that she eats dog poo, both her own and Candy’s.

It seems that more than half of all dogs have eaten dog poo, called coprophagia, at some stage during their lives. The reasons may be varied, from lack of nutrition in the diet or hunger, so they are ‘topping up’ or ‘recycling’, to disease like pancreatitis which affects the absorption of nutrients, to learned or copied behaviour. Until he was twelve weeks old, one dog I know who did this was in a kennel in a breeder’s barn where his food was scattered on the floor amongst his mess and as he wasn’t ‘housetrained’ having never been in a house, so it wasn’t surprising. In the case of Maisy, I suspect it is ‘puppy see, puppy do’. If in their young lives their mother had the same habit, the puppies may have copied her.

The million dollar question though is what can you do about it. The most obvious thing, to yell and quickly pounce, is the worst thing. The dog will think ‘hey – you want it too? It’s valuable?’ and will grab it before you can get to it! You make her furtive. Scolding will only mean you have a job for life (sorry). If she thinks she might get into trouble, a copraphagic dog can become very sneaky and will remember for later if there is some still out there that you have missed!

Some suggest adding pineapple or courgette in the dog’s food, but I have never found evidence that it makes any difference at all.  It’s impossible if it involves other dogs also. There are two approaches that I believe will work with this particular little dog, but it means being vigilant. The first thing is to work on a really solid recall around the house and garden, so your dog comes running to you straight away for a reward. The reward needs to be worth the effort, so make it tasty and make it fun. You are in competition with something very attractive to the dog – poo!! Soon she will be running to you for a treat as soon as she or the other dog has finished.

The other plan works best with dogs who like to chase things. Have in you pocket some of those treats that look like little sausage rolls. As you call the dog, roll it in the opposite direction. This combines food with a game. She will run after the food and you can then pick up. Soon the toileting will be the trigger for him to look at you, waiting for the treat to roll. She is being conditioned to run away from poo.

This only works when you are about of course. The likelihood is, by removing the opportunity for long enough so she doesn’t continue to practise the habit – even if it means, when out, keeping the dog on a long line or even wearing a basket muzzle if off lead – and consistently keeping up the training process, that she will grow out of it.

To the dog it’s not revolting of course – it’s food.

Charlie Doesn’t Feel Safe

From her owners’ perspective, adorable Bichon-Maltese mix Charlie is given everything a dog could possibly want for a happy life. They always thought the moBichon Charlie is yawning because he feels uneasyre excited she is the more joyful she feels. From Charlie’s perspective she is living a life punctuated by extreme stress and chronic anxiety.

Deservedly, Charlie is adored by the family – a lady, her daughter and her two granddaughters. By the end of my visit they began to see things in a different light. See the yawn? She is showing unease at being looked at while I took the photo.

When they greet Charlie she is ‘beyond excited’ and they fire her up with vigorous attention – so much so that she may pee. They believe just because she’s so excited that it’s good for her. The lady always thought that Charlie loved to go out in the car. Charlie’s excited and jumps in willingly, but then she is barking at people, dogs and traffic. She is left in the car when the lady shops because ‘she loves it’ even though she’s quite happy left at home. The entire time she is barking at anything she sees that moves. Beautiful Bichon Frise

Walks are horrendous. She pulls and barks at people, dogs and cars. It’s constant. They take her into the town where she is a ‘nightmare’, going for people’s legs; Mostly she is taken by car (barking all the way) to the park where she and her nervous owner are all the time looking about in near panic should a person or dog appear and if she’s off lead she will run back to the car or even try to find her way home.

Despite all this and like many other people – the lady feels that as a good and loving dog owner she must make Charlie go through this nightmare every day, and feels guilty if walks are missed. I would argue that Charlie’s mental and psychological health is more important than walks. Working on her confidence when out of the house will take a lot of time and patience.

I have recently watched a new DVD by famous trainer/behaviourist Suzanne Clothier called ‘Arousal, Anxiety and Fear’. She says she always mentally asks the dog, ‘How is this for you?’ She says ‘Make your dog feel safe’.

We put our dogs in situations where we think they are safe – but does the dog feel safe?

Loving their dogs as they do, why do so few people not consider, ‘How is this for you’ and help them out?

Westie/Bichon Frise Puppy is over-excited

West Bichon Frise Sally stand by the back doorPuppy's coat looks like fluffy dandelion seedWhat a lovely time I had today! Sally is a five-month-old Bichon Frise/Westie mix, and as her lady owner says, her coat looks like a fluffy dandelion seed head. She is a well-adjusted, independent little dog, with puppy exuberance and sometimes, naturally, pushing her luck!

Sally tends to get over-excited when people come to the house, jumping all over them and perhaps making a puddle, but this isn’t her fault. Because she is so cute everyone makes so much fuss of her in such an exciting way, she is thorougly wound up. It’s hardly fair, because then her lady owner tells her to get down and gives commands and gets cross in an effort to make her behave, which stirs up even more.

In order for a dog to calm down and not jump all over people, the humans need to approach her differently. The more noisy and excitable people are, the more noisy and excitable the dog will be.  People need to give her a break and take no notice of her for a little while to give her time to calm down. Then when they do say hello, not to make it so exciting that it hypes her up again.

Without a single word from me, and with no more than my looking away, turning away, gently tipping her off and giving gentle hand gestures for a while, Sally very soon got the message that she wasn’t to jump all over me, and you could see she was a happy relaxed little dog for it. I could then give her some gentle quality attention.

Sally still sometimes messes and wees in the house. Some puppies simply take longer to get the message than others, and it’s possible that although she knows toileting outside is good, she doesn’t understand that this doesn’t apply to inside as well. She is never scolded, fortunately. I have often found that the more important the messing indoors is to the owner (often due to worry about damage to the flooring), the slower the puppy will be in become completely house trained.

With fewer commands and a casual and calm approach, Sally will be able to work out for herself what she should do and it will take the pressure off her. I am sure the toileting will soon become more reliable with a few new strategies in place.

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

Spoiling Dogs isn’t Really Kind

Poodle Bichon mix and a PoochonHere are Frazer and Spencer. Frazer (the nearer one) is a Poodle/Bichon Frise mix – a Poochon! Spencer is a Bichon Frise.

It’s easy to see why little curly haired white dogs are spoilt. Their mannerisms are so endearing and they just look and feel so irresistable.

These two little boys rule the roost. Their every wish is obeyed. They decide what they are going to eat and when, with all sorts of goodies offered to entice them, and they help themselves from plates while people are eating. They have attention and fuss and play all under their own terms, they have few physical boundaries and urine mark freely in the house, and they are barkers. Being ‘in charge’ means they feel that it’s their job to protect the family and the territory.

They also believe they are responsible for all comings and goings into the house, and even out of the sitting room. There is major excitement when the family come in, and prolonged stressed and fearful barking at other people who come in the house. When a family member wants to go out of the room, the dogs will block the doorway and Spencer has even bitten. Family members understandably are either hesitant at the door or running the gauntlet, which of course make matters worse.

All this is very stressful for two little dogs who should be able to chill knowing they are looked after by the humans not the other way around, and that the burden of decision-making isn’t theirs.

Like many owners they do see that the constant attention and ‘homage’ isn’t making the dogs happy, but they don’t know what else to do.  It is a classic case of people with a lot of love to give, who either don’t have children or whose children have now grown up, treating their dogs as their ‘babies’. The owners are willing to make the few sacrifices and changes necessary to take control for the sake of their cherished dogs.

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