Eating Rubbish

Red and White King Charles Spaniel who likes eating rubbishLittle Chutney, an adorable six-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, at twelve weeks of age became very ill. What was probably kennel cough quickly developed into pneumonia and he ended up in veterinary hospital and was on various drugs for a couple of months. He nearly died. Normal puppyhood was suspended.

He is now catching up.

Understandably his owners are inclined to mollycoddle him and panic, particularly when he picks something up like a twig or a piece of paper. They had initially wrongly believed his illness had been due to inhaling something, and their understandable reaction to his running off with a twig for example – chasing him, enticing him, bribing him then maybe forcing the item off him – is now actually making his ‘scavenging’ for things like twigs, leaves and bits of paper and eating rubbish a lot worse.

The chase that ensues will be stimulating and maybe even a little scary and he is responding with the beginnings of resource guarding behaviour.

I’ve not myself come across a dog that has suffered though swallowing a small piece of paper or tissue though there may be isolated cases, unless the dog has a serious pica disorder. Usually if a tiny twig is swallowed it’s chewed up first and passes through – though certainly could harm if swallowed whole. If chewing twigs, paper and non-poisonous leaves regularly killed puppies, there would be a lot of dead puppies.

Chutney’s owners will need to relax if he’s to change because the longer he rehearses the ‘scavenge/chase/retrieve the item’ cycle the more entrenched it becomes. Management is the first thing. Already they are taking him outside to toilet on lead. They could introduce him to a tiny basket muzzle for the garden – he can drink and pant but not pick things up. They probably have already checked their garden for any poisonous plants or leaves.

Indoors they should no longer give him free run. For now he should be in the same room as themselves or shut in his crate where he is perfectly happy, with something to do. Anything obviously worrying should be lifted (as it is already).Chutney2

The next and most difficult thing for this lovely couple is to make an assessment as to whether the object could really harm Chutney and if not to ignore it. If it’s a tissue, so be it. He may well intensify his efforts when he no longer gets the predicted result so they could try walking out on him and shutting the door briefly rather than reacting.

Because he is still a puppy and at last feeling well enough to make up for lost time, they should give him plenty of things that he can chew and not just commercial items. He can have milk cartons, toilet roll tubes and plastic water bottles with kibble in, for instance. If they are not left down they will have some novelty value.

The last challenge is how to get things off him that may be dangerous. The more he knows they want the item, the more valuable it becomes to him and the more likely he is to swallow it to make sure that they don’t get it! Scattering food on the floor works well – it may need to be strong-smelling – so that he drops the item to get the food giving time to lift the item with no fuss.

Running off with things needs to be replaced with exchanging them. I do this from the start with my own dogs. When puppy has a toy in his mouth I say Give and feed him in return. I will admire the toy and then give it back to him. My dogs love giving me things! The secret, when taking something away, is to offer the dog something of higher value to him until ‘Give’ is firmly established.

If one of my dogs has something that I want in his or her mouth, they will always drop the item into my hand when I ask for it and I always, without fail, say thank you with a piece of kibble I have in my pocket (though I understand not everybody is like me, carrying dog food around all the time!).

They can set him up with a game that has several items in order of value to him, then offer the lowest and exchange for the next one up and so on, allowing him to keep the last, most valuable one – probably a food item. Tug of war is a great game for playing Take’ and ‘Give’. ‘Leave it’ is useful too when you happen to see the dog about to pick something up.

The other challenge with Chutney is that he may ignore them when they call him.

Eventually and with some hard work on his recall and ‘Give’, when Chutney has something inappropriate in his mouth they will be able to call him to them. He will come straight away and give it up willingly, being rewarded for doing so.

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 Chutney. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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).

Terrified Outside Their Home

Two cavalier king charles spaniels

Ben and Evan

The two five-year-old Cavs had been left in a garden in London and not taken outside for a long time, if at all. They were picked up in an unkempt condition and with very long nails.

Amazingly, they are very friendly with all people and dogs so long as it’s in their own home and garden where they feel safe, but once a lead goes on them and they know they are going out of the gate, they become different dogs. Excitement doesn’t necessarily mean happiness, which is something dog owners don’t always realise. The two are walked down the road together, squealing and yapping, and to quote the lady, all hell breaks loose if they see another dog.

Their new humans, wanting to do all they can for the little dogs, have cast about to find ways to solve the problem. The first thing people often try is dog training and they have been going to classes but find that ‘training’ doesn’t help at all. At their wits’ end, they have tried anti-bark collars to make them quiet. Nothing works.

Nothing is working because they have not been addressing the cause, the root, of the problem. Terror. They are just trying to eradicate the symptom – the noise. Like many people, they simply hadn’t correctly interpreted from the dogs’ body language and stress signals just how scared they were feeling.

Although happy little dogs in the house, because they are so terrified outside the daily build-up of stress generated by walks is spilling over into other habits, things they do in order to relieve their stress such as licking and sucking themselves until they are raw.

One at a time we put a comfortable harness on each little dog (with the short leads on thin collars, when they do lunge at anything that scares them it will be hurting their little necks). We first took Lenny outside into the garden so I could show the lady how to walk him on a loose, longer lead giving him the feeling of more freedom. Being less ‘trapped’ should eventually allow him to feel less unsafe..

Before even leaving the garden Lenny was panting and agitated, frequently shaking himself and scratching as a displacement activity to help himself cope. He did calm down sufficiently to follow the lady around on the loose lead and for us to open the gate and walk him out into the garage area.

We got to the opening and then he saw a cat. He exploded. It sounded like he was being murdered. It was perfectly clear to me that even just past the garage we had pushed too far too fast, but now I had seen and heard for myself just what happened and we had established the ‘threshold’ at which we should have stopped – the area behind which the real work would now need to start.

Little Evan was even worse. As soon as the lead went on in the garden he was nervous wreck. He screamed. He bit at the lead. To try to stop these things they tug back at the lead and scold him but he’s so agitated he really can’t help himself. I showed them how to stand still and calm and to reinforce not screaming and not biting the lead. He quietened down a bit and walked around the garden a few times, but we never even got out of the gate.

Evan ended up by sitting down, refusing to move and shaking, so we took the lead off and went in.

The poor little dog is in this state before a walk even starts, so no wonder he is hyper-vigilant and reactive once out. A dog with this level of stress is incapable of learning anything – it does things to the brain. See this.

The cornerstone to their success will be to give their little dogs choice and a way out – an escape. If the dog doesn’t want to move, then the walk should be abandoned.

The lady’s day starts with about half an hour of mayhem as she walks the dogs together before going to work. It’s a nightmare for her too, but she does it as a caring dog owner believing that she’s doing her best for them. She hadn’t seen that where they are concerned this sort of walk is doing more harm than good. A walk should leave a dog happy, relaxed and satisfied, not a nervous wreck needing frantic activity afterwards in order to unwind.

Plenty of happy, short five-minutes sessions is what these little dogs need for now. With lots of repetition and keeping well within the threshold where they feel safe, they can slowly  become acclimatised to the outside world at their own pace. It will be great when they at last feel sufficiently safe to start sniffing as dogs should do. They should always feel they have an escape route. So far they have in effect been ‘flooded’ – with the best of intentions forced into a situation they can’t cope with.

We can’t undo five years in five weeks or probably even five months. It will take time.

Our little experiment with each dog showed the people just how slowly they will have to take things and in what tiny increments, but it’s encouraging, too, because at last they have a plan to work on that makes sense and is kind.

It will all now need some really careful planning. They will have a routine for getting the dogs out one at a time with as little stress as possible. Although walks are an ordeal, neither dog wants to be left behind. I feel they should always go out in the same order so they learn just what to expect and the second one out always knows his turn will come.

There is one big positive. This is that they Lenny and Evan are fine when other dogs have come to their house, proving they are not scared of dogs per se but only when they are feeling unsafe in the scary outside world and trapped on the end of a lead.

Feedback nearly three weeks later: I feel that the boys have made sooooo much progress already, I know its a slow progress and I have all the patience in the world….but to date, I am very happy. We have been able to move to full round the block walks with both of them quiet and they are indications that they are enjoying it too. They are starting to sniff a lot. Alfie sniffs more than bert, bert is watches me.
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 these two. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

No Motivation, No Training

Tricolour Cavalier KC on sofa

Jack

In an interview Jean Donaldson says, ‘no motivation, no training’.

The family I went to yesterday describe their seven-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Jack, as stubborn. I would call him unmotivated. That little face says it al!

Motivation really is just the drive that makes him want to do something. It can be inspired by gaining something rewarding, like fun, food or appreciation – or by avoiding something he doesn’t like.

So far as our relationship with our dogs is concerned, the choice is a no-brainer. Reward not fear.

When the lady wants him to go to his bed, she has to lay a trail of treats to bribe him because otherwise he takes no notice of her (the little monkey will go to bed for the four-year-old daughter!). He likes to pinch the children’s toys and then, when the lady tries to take them off him, he growls and may snap. I noticed that if she calls him he ignores her unless she tries very hard. However, when the man tells him to do something he does it straight away and he simply takes things out of Jack’s mouth with no trouble at all.

I suspect that Jack is just a little wary of disobeying the man but knows the lady is powerless to make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. Refusing is fun as it gains him so much attention.

If he takes a child’s toy, it leads to a somewhat scary game where he will ‘treasure’ the item and if he could speak he would be saying, ‘I dare you to come and take this’. What’s in it for Jack to give the item up straight away or, more importantly, not to take it in the first place?

Blenheim Cavalier King Charles

Charlie

So far as going to his bed or coming in from the garden is concerned, what’s in it for him, after all? Not complying gets the best results.

It is really so easy to get our dogs to cooperate if we motivate them with plenty of positive reinforcement and appreciation for doing what we want. It’s so important to show them what it is we do want. Different things motivate different dogs so we can experiment. Rewarding is a lot different to bribing. Calling him to his bed and rewarding him when he gets there is a lot different to throwing treats into his bed and luring him there.

Jack is a plump little dog and probably seldom really hungry, so I say he should be fed a lot less and earn some of his food. He can earn special stuff for special things like exchanging or dropping something he has nicked. If this is approached with a sense of humour and all confrontation is avoided, the problem should disappear. Jack never damages the item so they can safely ignore it. At the moment it’s a bit dangerous as the young children may try to take one of their toys off him and the parents are constantly on edge.

The family can do plenty of exchange games – always exchanging for something better (to him) than the item he’s got – the rule being nobody, ever, should force anything off him. He will then find the ‘pinching and treasuring’ game not worth playing anymore. They can teach him that if he picks something up, it’s a far better game to bring it to them instead of ‘possessing’ it.

For the lady’s attention to have value to Jack, attention shouldn’t be constantly available on tap – whenever he demands it. He needs to be taught to earn her attention whilst giving her his full attention when asked. For food to be of value there should be less of it and rewards a little more tasty.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Jack, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet 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).

Puppy Parenting. Avoiding Future Problems

When I go to a family who simply want to bring their puppies up right with my Puppy Parenting programme, I feel truly blessed in my job.Benfield

Four month old brothers Ronnie and Teddy are a delightful mix of Bichon Frise and Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (Cavachon).

The only problem that impacts on their family at the moment is that the puppies haven’t learnt that outside is the place to toilet. Their chosen place to wee is inside the back door and their chosen place to poo is by the front door. The gentleman made the mistake of telling them off for doing it by the front door so they now do it on the carpet at the bottom of the stairs – perhaps, if they understood anything about it at all, thinking the scolding was about the location, not the act.

What is lacking is sufficient teaching of where they should be going. They aren’t using rewards. If the back door is open it is assumed the dogs will take themselves out. There are things to consider like why, after being accompanied out into the garden, they come straight back in and toilet indoors. When examined there are three very likely reasons. One is that they simply have learnt to go indoors. Another is that they are not rewarded going outside. If the grass is where they should go, then immediately they have been a food reward should be given on the grass. Another possibility is that the puppies will love being outside with their humans so if the job, once completed, results in their humans immediately going straight back indoors, fun finished, then isn’t this another reason for not toileting outside?

I’m sure a couple of weeks of hard work from the whole family will conquer the house training problem, as they take them out very regularly and cut down the puppies’ territory to the kitchen only unless carefully watched.

There are the seeds of a couple of future problems which should be addressed straight away. The puppies are starting to play a little too roughly resulting in recent minor injuries. As the siblings grow older we don’t want them to fight, so rough play needs to be discouraged right now. Little Teddy is already reactive and barking at other dogs on walks, so this needs working on so that he is happy to see another dog and not fearful.

Next time I go, as part of the ‘Puppy Parenting’ programme, we will be looking at more puppy training and teaching them to do a few more useful things, using either luring or clicker training or a mix of both – and rewards of course.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ronnie and Teddy, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own puppies 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).