Force, choke chain and control

force and choke chain unnecessaryForce and control may keep other dogs safe, but it doesn’t improve how beautiful Milo feels about them. The opposite in fact.

It’s always a treat for me, in my job, to meet a German Shepherd that welcomes me into his house! Milo is great with people.

The seven-year-old dog is the most gorgeous, friendly dog. They have come a long way in many respects having worked hard with his ‘manners’ and training since they adopted him four years ago.

However, there is one thing that simply doesn’t improve. That is his attitude towards other dogs when out on walks.

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Never Goes Out Beyond the Garden

Benji is just seven months old and never goes out beyond their garden.

The dog never goes out beyond the gardenThe German Shepherd, Standard Poodle mix lived in a barn on the farm where he was born until he was four months old when he went to the young couple.

He had never encountered the real world of cars, noises, lots of people or other dogs beside the farm dogs and so on. He’d not been walked on lead.

As might be expected from a pup that had not being in a house until four months of age, he still has toilet accidents indoors.

He is scolded for this. They have a cat which he may want to chase but generally he is good with, and again he is scolded for going near it. He may steal socks or other clothes and chew them, which makes the young man angry with him.

A lot is expected of him.

His lifestyle isn’t ideal for a large, clever and active young dog but he is surprisingly good-natured. He greeted me with friendly interest.

At seven months he should be seeing sights and sounds outside and, most of all, he needs the exercise. He would love to play with another dog I am sure.

I suggested to the young man that Benji was probably going out of his mind with boredom and it’s surprising that the worst he does is to occasionally chew up clothes. Can he imagine being shut in all day with no TV or mobile phone and with nobody to talk to who understands him?

Even while Benji never goes out they can do a bit more about fulfilling his needs with appropriate activities and things to chew and do. The house is small and the garden isn’t big either, but they can feed him in a treat ball and sprinkle it all over the grass so that even meals can be used to give him some release.

It’s probably the lack of stimulation for Benji and the resulting stress that leads to some slightly worrying behaviours.

Besides drinking a lot he gets very excited around his water bowl, which is odd. If after a couple of weeks when his general stress levels should be lower this doesn’t change, then they will need to somehow get him to the vet. This is hard while he never goes out.

He pants, he scratches and nibbles himself and he sometimes chases his tail. He has some Punter3patches of skin showing.

The only way the man has managed to get him out at all has been to drag him by collar and lead, but he doesn’t want to do that again. He did once take him out with no lead at all – very risky.

Like all people who call me, they do it for love of their dog and wanting to do their best, and it’s a question of pointing them in the right direction.

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Benji simply refuses to go outside the front door or garden gate.

They will now use comfortable equipment – a harness and a longer lead. The first step is to acclimatise him to the equipment around the house, associating with good things and food.

We have a plan of tiny increments involving, over the days and maybe weeks, holding the lead inside the door and then dropping it, touching the door handle, opening the door and standing in the doorway, letting him listen and look – and eat. Then stepping out. Then at the garden gate and so on – always leaving the front door open so he can bolt back if necessary.

From now onwards he must be allowed to make his own choice about going out – no more force. This is the only way to change a dog who never goes out into a dog who loves his walks.

When he’s no longer a pup that never goes out but a dog that can happily walk down the road and run around the fields, his life and general health should be transformed, but it could well take time. How will he be with other dogs after all this time? How will he be with traffic?

Most importantly, they can now see the benefits of reinforcing Benji with food for doing what they want instead of scolding The young man saw for himself how he himself can cause the dog’s behaviour. He stared at Benji in a ‘warning’ sort of way and the dog immediately ran to find the cat!

I could sum it up my advice in a few words: kindness works best.

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 Benji and I’ve not gone into exact 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. 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)

Owner Control Versus Self-Control

Ben, a magnificent Northern Inuit age 15 monthsThis is Ben, a magnificent Northern Inuit age 15 months. He lives with another Inuit and two elderly black Labradors.

Ben is a typical adolescent and he is pushing boundaries. Like a teenager, he sometimes resists being told what to do – especially by the lady. There is some conflict in the way the dogs are ‘brought up’. The male owner is a strict disciplinarian and his rules are obeyed. The lady is softer.

It was a treat to be in the house with such well-mannered dogs. They are very well trained where commands are concerned, I would say possibly somewhat over-regulated. They have to jump through what I consider are unnecessary hoops before they get their food, for instance. A dog given too many commands doesn’t have a chance to work out for himself what he should be doing. There may be too much reliance upon the owners controlling the dogs,  and not the dogs controlling themselves.

A difficulty with this is that the dog learns to respect the firm disciplinarian at the expense of the weaker person, so when she the tries to control the adolescent Ben he revolts. And then what can she do?

I was called out because Ben had freaked out a training class with the lady. He was obviously severely stressed already by various things happening in the class and decided that he wasn’t going to do what she wanted. He jumped at her quite aggressively and grabbed her arms, bruising her. She was devastated and in tears. The trainer resorted to putting a choke chain on him. The reason for his going to class in the first place was to socialise him with other dogs, but being told ‘Leave It’  harshly whenever he went to sniff another dog will not have been helping him to learn natural, calm ways of encountering other dogs.

I suggested they abandon the class altogether. It is simply too stressful and counterproductive, and is damaging Ben’s relationship with the lady. He knows all the commands he could ever need. I don’t say this of all classes but they need to be chosen carefully, and any advocating choke chains (pain) I would run a mile from.

The gentleman could quite happily carry on with the dogs as he is, but not the lady, so they will both need to do things a bit differently so that the dogs don’t get mixed messages. They need the chance to learn self-control.

Ben can learn to approach other dogs without fear or aggression if given time and support to work it out for himself, rather than being shouted at – ‘No’ and ‘Leave It’, forced into situations for which he’s not ready, or distracted with treats which teaches him nothing. Rewarding him with treats for being calm when looking at another dog is a different matter.

Training is one thing; in many ways Leadership is another. To behave like a ‘dog’ leader doesn’t require commands. Dogs don’t talk, after all.

Five weeks after my visit, this email: “Last night there were no dogs around so I let him off for a while. Then out of the woods comes a White Labrador and Ben races over to him. Oh god I think here we go especially when i realised it was a male showing dominance but no they greeted each other nicely, no growling, no noise, no squaring up……..They played!!!! They played really nicely… Ben didnt even react when the lab tried to hump his head. I can’t tell you what joy that gave me. I know we’ve got a long way to go but it was wonderful to see him let down his guard and be a young dog for a while. I recognise that it will probably take months to get Ben to the point I want him to be at; I would like to be able to walk down the road and pass a dog on the other side without incident – that will be a major milestone for me. It’ll be a while yet but we feel we’re on the right path”.
We’re both using the whistle and cheese which works brilliantly. Yesterday I couldn’t see him, looking round I realised it was because he was walking with his nose right at the back of my knee – that made me happy. I’m certainly more confident and I’m discovering more about Ben’s triggers.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Jumping Up and Pulling on Lead

Givvy and Angus are beautiful chunky Black Labradors, four year old brother and sister. They do what a lot of Labs (and other dogs) do – jump up and pull on lead.

Black Labrador brother and sister lying togetherImagine how a dog would feel, already very excited before leaving the house, pulling madly down the road, being corrected painfully with perhaps a choke chain while a stressed owner shouts ‘Heel’…..and then a person with a dog appears in front of him. More discomfort as the anxious owner immediately yanks the lead and holds on tight. The dog is more or less set up to be reactive – to lunge and bark.

How often do we see dogs walking on loose leads, being allowed to stop and sniff and do what dogs like to do, walking like there is no lead at all, barking and lunging at another dog?

I rest my case!

A family member is now pregnant, so the jumping up has to stop. ‘Dog training’ methods have been used for four years of their lives – one dog has a choke chain. They are corrected, the lead is jerked and they are told ‘heel’. They pull so badly, especially when they see another dog or a person, that they can’t be walked together and even the young man is too anxious to walk them down their own lane.

Have four years of correction, ‘heel’ and tight leads worked? No. Have four years of being told ‘Off’ or being pushed down when they jump up worked?  No.

It stands to reason that a different approach is needed.

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

Leonberger Born to be King

leonberger Leo wearing muzzle and standing over the other dogHere is Leonberger Leo, making sure even larger Irish Wolfhound Pluto knows his place – beneath him!

Leo is another example of people who chose the bravest and pushiest puppy in the litter now finding him hard work. At two years of age he has grown into his early promise – a very kingly dog, making use of all the doggy dominance tricks. As with a King, it’s unwise for someone to approach or touch him uninvited, particularly if they lean over him.  He has bitten non-family members a couple of times, and together with the much more docile Pluto, he is kept well out of the way when people come to their house. When in doubt, he is muzzled.

First Pluto joined us and when he had calmed down, Leo was brought in on lead, muzzled just in case. I myself wasn’t worried as I knew with the signals I give out, not taking any notice of him and avoiding eye contact in particular, that I would not be bitten, but it helped the family not to be tense which is key. The lady dropped the lead. Very soon both dogs were lying down and the family relaxed.

I am sure that Leo would make an excellent leader of a pack of wild dogs, but in the human environment it is an impossible task for him. He simply cannot do the job. Just imagine yourself being employed to do life-or-death job where you had no freedom nor the required tools to fulfill the role. The kingly role Leo has been born into, subsequently reinforced by humans, involves protecting his pack, being in charge of all resources including food, areas like doorways, people and Pluto, leading when out and decision-making.  Poor Leo is thwarted on all counts. Imagine his frustration. It is actually surprising his behaviour isn’t a lot worse.

They have tried choke chain and the ‘police dog training’ type of approach and it’s simply not worked. It is neither appropriate nor possible for a dog looked after mainly by a slightly built lady and her two teenage daughters. Having just the man of the family treating Leo in this fashion can make the dog respect the others even less. Moreover, it is not the human equivalent to the way a stable dog leader would behave towards other dogs.

This is going to be hard work. In essence, Leo has to be kindly and patiently deposed, his crown removed, so that over time he is relieved of the burden of responsibility. He will then become more tolerant of being touched, wanting less to do such things as kill passing cars and chase off joggers. He will stop his pacing, cease his bouts of destruction, humping and weeing on poor Pluto and so on, and RELAX!

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

Stunning German Shepherd

A very handsome German ShepherdMy photo doesn’t do justice to Caesar at all. He is a 16-month old GSD with a wonderful temperament. He is a good example of a dog that is well-trained, he knows and obeys many commands and hand signals, but when it comes to something  important like not jumping onto people, not pulling on lead and barking at horses (the rider could be thrown) he chooses to do his own thing! A typical teenager in fact.

The walk experience is not as relaxed and pleasant as it should be. Imagine a dog’s discomfort when pulling against a choke chain collar (‘choke’ being the operative word), being held on a tight lead and constantly corrected, when with a bit of work he could be walking beside his owner like there was no lead at all through his own choice. Advice from ex-police type trainers usually advocates the use of choke chains and dominance because those dogs are being trained for something that isn’t being simply a family pet and companion. I was in time to stop the owners buying a pinch (prong) collar – that was their next step in trying to stop their big dog pulling. These gadgets are about humans forcing their will upon the dog, not about the dog happily complying because he wants to. Do we really want to do this sort of thing to a wonderful, gentle natured dog – or to any dog in fact?

Walks don’t start outside the door. They start at home with general leadership skills so that the dog is calm and predisposed to cooperate. In a way it’s a lot more effort as gadgets can seem like a quick fix, but people I go to call me out because they love their dogs, and putting in some time and work is not an issue. They just need to be shown what to do. An owner may feel it’s OK being jumped on and obeying the dog’s demands in the house, but it’s not really good for the dog’s ‘upbringing’ if he’s to mature into a respectful, trustworthy adult that can be taken anywhere. Along with his being given the notion that he is the decision-maker come responsibilities of leadership – including leading the way when out on a walk.

By some simple modifications in the behaviour of the humans, the behaviour of the dog can change radically over a period of time.

The bottom line is, if we want the behaviour of our dog to change, then we need to change our own behaviour. ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always gotten’ (anon).

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