Wary of People in Their Home

Two dogs who were picked up as strays

Basil and Rosie

The two stunning dogs of mixed breed, Basil and Rosie, recently came back to the UK with the couple who adopted them in Hong Kong where they had been picked up as strays or possibly street dogs. It’s a pity I didn’t get a better photo of them together.

As you can see, although they were now not barking or backing off anymore, both were looking away as I pointed my phone at them which I was trying to do whilst looking the other way.

As I entered the house, the gentleman was trying to corral the dogs down the passageway into the sitting room whilst also trying to keep them quiet – living in a flat they are conscious of their neighbours. I gave my rather large bag to the lady to carry as carrying a bag (like wearing a hat) can contribute to upsetting some dogs.

The barking stopped very quickly as I sat down, but they were both extremely wary. For a short while Basil was ready to bark again at me whilst Rosie backed away. I won them round with food and by making no effort to touch them when they did, soon, come to me.

The owners are particularly concerned because their dogs’ aggressive-sounding barking means that several friends simply won’t visit anymore. There is one close male friend in particular that the dogs don’t like. Apparently he always wears a baseball cap and he’s very tall which apart from the fact that dogs can be more scared of men anyway could perhaps contribute to their unease.

I suggested they had ‘people-food’ ready-prepared, small and tasty bits of food that they only use for when people come to the flat so the only way the dogs get access to this special treat is when people come in or move about.

By trying various different things we worked on a technique whereby I could walk about the room and the dogs would remain relaxed. They can then now do the same things when the friend comes this evening.

This involves, before the person starts to move, one of the owners maintaining their dogs’ attention by calling them over, asking them to sit in front of them and then gently holding onto them whilst feeding them ‘people-food’. By facing their owner the dogs would be turning their backs to the other person. Now the person can move freely about.

I found that once I was up and walking around the room the owner could release the dogs after a second or two and they were fine. This same technique would need to be used for a few seconds each time the person, having been sitting down, moved.

Fortunately these two dogs were not nearly as wary of people in their home as many dogs I go to and this wouldn’t work in more severe cases. It just suited these two. Every case and situation is a bit different.

brown dog

Basil

As always, the guests need training too. They should be asked to move slowly and casually, to give no eye contact to the dogs and when they arrive not to walk too directly or deliberately towards them or the owner. Instead, the owner should turn around and take the dogs with him so that the person follows. Until the dogs get comfortable with someone, they should try not to move too suddenly and to give warning before they stand up. The guest can drop or roll pieces of food.

In a very short while both dogs were actually eating out of my hand.

The barking and anxiety starts with the intercom bell. This is something they can work on easily. Repeatedly one of them can go downstairs and ring the bell while, as soon as the dogs hear it, they get food from the other person. Every time one of the owners either goes out or comes in, they can ring the bell. Because the bell will then only very occasionally mean someone is visiting it will no longer be a trigger, so when a caller is let in the door the dogs aren’t already pre-aroused.

Like everything to do with desensitising and counter-conditioning it takes a lot of repetitions and work. Unless they have a regular run of callers to get the dogs thoroughly at home with people coming and going, it may always need working on to some extent.

Their second issue which I shan’t discuss in much detail now is that Basil, in particular, ignores all calls to come back when he’s on a hunt. The other day he nearly got killed when a chase after a muntjac deer took him across a busy road, followed by Rosie. As a stray who probably had to rely upon hunting for food he will most likely have the chase in his blood.

They have only two safe options really which is hard because dog walks to many people are something where the dogs run free, getting plenty of exercise and doing their own thing. Now they should only ever let Basil off lead in places where there is no escape. If they want him to come back when called, they will need to put in months and months of recall work with Basil. What, after all, is in it for Jack to come back before he’s finished what he is doing? The man’s tone of voice wasn’t such that I, if I were a dog, would find sufficiently inspiring to tempt me to come back! I may not even hear him.

Recall is about much more than just training; it’s also about the dog’s relationship with the person who wants him to come back. To a dog with a high prey drive, it’s quite a challenge for someone to be more relevant, exciting and rewarding than a running muntjac or rabbit!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an aspect. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be very different to the approach I have worked out for Basil and Rosie. 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).

 

Changed From Pulling on Lead to Walking Nicely

pulling on lead to walking nicelyI don’t remember, out of all the Labradoodles I have been to, going to a black one. Audrey is gorgeous (the lady joked on the phone that the name was so that her husband would have to call ‘Audrey’ on walks!).

Funnily enough, not coming when called until she feels like it is one of the problems I was called out for and I don’t think a different name would help much! The other day she chased after a deer, and no amount of shouting could get her back.

Over-excitement

The other issue is over-excitement when meeting people, either visitors to the house or when out on walks. Being mugged by an over-excited big dog, however lovely, isn’t so nice when she has just been in the river.

Audrey really is a fantastic dog – a wonderful, gentle family pet for the children, and in all other respects she’s very biddable. However, more could be done with her if she understood that unwanted behaviours get her nothing, and, even more importantly, that desired behaviours get her rewarding reinforcement. If how they currently deal with the mugging of people worked, she wouldn’t still be doing it after three years.

On walks she won’t come back until she’s ready when she sees a person or dog. If she gets the scent of a rabbit or deer she goes deaf. In fact, a dog fired up on a chase just won’t hear our call. We have left it too late. We must keep our eye on the ball. We have a plan, but it will take time to condition Audrey.

Pulling on lead

Pulling on lead, the other problem – magic! It was so satisfying just how quickly she changed from a dog that pulls on lead despite constant correction and being told ‘Heel’, to a dog walking beautifully beside them on a loose lead with encouragement only. Both dog and humans caught on immediately.

It is all about having a different mind-set.

Audrey had been expected to work for nothing – not even encouragement. They were trying to make her do what they wanted. Now they were making her WANT to do what they want. Using reward and encouragement results in a willing dog enjoying herself.  She has to eat anyway, so why not earn some of it?

On a first visit I usually don’t get much further than walking around the garden, but the lady and Audrey then progressed to the front door and, after a false start, down the steps. No pulling. On a loose lead she walked beside the lady across the road.  Beautiful. The lady, who had been used to the pulling, agreed that it felt wonderful.

It is all about having the right technique, the right equipment – and most of all, the right mental approach.

Encouragement, feedback for doing it right and reward, in place of correction and impatience.