Old-School Training Classes Making Border Collie Worse

This photo doesn’t do justice to beautiful 15-month-old Border Collie Barney.taken to old-school dog training classes

Barney was re-homed by my lady client just two months ago and is becoming increasingly reactive to other dogs when out. When they first had him he was playing with them. He also has started to bark at people.

Dog training classes

The lady has been taking him to traditional dog training classes – old school dog training classes. I can only wonder whether being physically controlled around dogs, isn’t actually making him worse. He’s being told to ‘Leave’ them rather than politely allowed to sniff and say hello which is a lot more natural. He’s being ‘corrected’ to stop him pulling on lead rather than being taught to walk like there is no lead at all – through choice.

For many years I did traditional, old-school dog training. I know all about it.

Barney is playful and extremely biddable. The lady herself is serene and gentle, and having met many of the Border Collies of his age, I am sure he would be a lot more excitable and hyped up had he gone somewhere else. My modern, gentle, non-coercive methods will suit her down to the ground.

Barney, like many Border Collies, will also lunge at traffic. It seems he had a very sheltered life previously with little enrichment. The lady has, very sensibly, got him a harness so he doesn’t hurt his neck, but he rears up and he is strong. I have recommended a better kind of harness, one where the lead is attached to the chest, along with a simple procedure to follow each and  every time he looks like reacting to a vehicle. He needs to know that his lady is in control of the situation.

For now she should avoid walking beside a busy road. Then, over time but only within his comfort threshold, his exposure to traffic needs gradually be increased so that he is habituated.

Walking nicely

It is a shame that old-fashioned training classes make walking the dog seem like a battle. He must be to heel or else he will be ‘corrected’. But, if the lead isn’t too short and is he doesn’t pull, why should he be stuck to the walker’s left leg? Does it matter if he is sometimes ahead so long as the lead is loose? Why shouldn’t he stop to sniff and explore? It is a dog walk, after all.

Reacting to traffic, people and other dogs can be treated with understanding of just how the dog is feeling and the emotion which is driving the behaviour is addressed. It may take a bit longer than using force, but it will be permanent and not a temporary fix that is dependent upon his being ‘dominated’ by a bullying handler (which fortunately this gentle lady just cannot be).

I have yet to discover modern, reward-based classes in my region, classes with small numbers that will use clicker, luring and reward to teach the dogs. (This was written back in 2013. There are several I can ow recommend).

Staffie May Redirect onto Whippet

Staffie Maddie has extremely high stress levels

Maddie

Over the months the stress both in and between these two 9-year-old dogs has been building up.

Staffie Maddie is almost impossibly noisy, pushy, barking and jumping up when the lady owner has guests – if she is allowed to join them at all – and little Misty, a Terrier Whippet cross, is also very vocal but with more obvious fear. People can’t hear themselves speak. The way they try to calm Maddie is to do as she demands and keep stroking her as she lies beside them. Not only is it giving her a very good reason to behave like this, but also, even while she is being given the attention she’s demanding, she is getting more and more worked up!

When I initially arrived Misty came through alone and she was quiet, relaxed and sniffing. It was only when Maddie rushed in that she, too, started to bark at me. Once little Misty has stopped barking, she watches Maddie. Sometimes she shakes. Maddie intimidates her when she’s like this. See how anxious she looks.

Misty is intimidated by Maddie

Misty

Maddie’s stress levels are extreme much of the time. Small things set her off. This is now increasingly being redirected onto Misty and there have been a couple of incidents, one resulting in blood.

Ten days ago I went on a fascinating weekend seminar by Dr. Susan Freidman about behaviour, consequences and reinforcement. It was like she was sitting on my shoulder. The more noise Maddie makes, the more attention she gets – sometimes scolding sometimes petting – but reinforcement either way. The more anxious Misty becomes, the more attention and fussing that earns also.

As soon as the lady comes downstairs in the morning, Maddie starts the day by rushing at the gate separating her from Misty and giving her a loud, warning bark. When she comes in from the garden, she noisily demands her breakfast – which she gets. Quite simply, barking works.

Maddie excelled at dog training classes. This is another example where traditional dog training is largely irrelevant, especially if it doesn’t take into consideration the home dynamics. Commands don’t reduce stress. In fact, ‘silence is golden’. Both dogs get a lot of excercise with lovely long country walks.

Whilst I was there Maddie was learning very quickly that the only attention she got from me was when she was still and quiet. She tried so very hard, bless her. She was distracting herself with a bit of displacement scratching and chewing in her efforts to keep calm while she was beginning to understand what was required. I, too, was learning just what level of gentle attention was enough not to break through that fine line and fired her up again. She is so eager to please and only needs to understand what is required, and then for all the humands to be consistent.

It can be so hard for us humans to break our own old habits.

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

Giant Schnauzer Aggressive Around Food

Handsome Giant Schnauzer Ollie lying on the rugOllie the Giant Schnauzer is a wonderful dog to look at. He is also a wonderful dog temperamentally, friendly and confident – whilst being an adolescent who has been gradually becoming a bit big for his hairy boots!

They did choose the breed to be guard dog, but they want a family pet also, and the two don’t go well together.

Ollie’s big problem is extreme guarding around his food. He is now 19 months old, and about nine month ago he started to growl when anyone approached him while he was eating. Initially the gentleman (who does most of Ollie’s feeding) found that Ollie was OK so long as he held his food bowl for him while he ate (like his private butler!). Over the months they have tried scolding, punishment, encouraging him, spraying him with a pet ‘Corrector’, taking his food away, not taking his food away – basically everything that well-meaning friends and family, the dog trainer they go to or the Internet tells them to do. Dominance techniques are dangerous. Ollie is merely getting worse.

The growling has now developed to barking and snarling and they fear he would bite if they got too close. So they wisely leave him alone while he is eating, but now he comes looking for trouble! He will stand over his bowl and bark and then run in to them and bark before running back out to defend his food again!

It seems like he wants to goad the gentleman into a contest over who owns his food. It seems clear to me that they must not play his game which involves confrontation, whilst at the same time working from a psychological approach covering all aspects of their relationship with Ollie. Just shutting Ollie away to get on with his meal may be playing safe, but doesn’t resolve anything. The strategy involves working a bit at a time, probably over several weeks at least, showing that they are in control of all food (and everything else in Ollie’s life also), and that they are the providers and ‘givers’. Never ‘takers’. Oh why do some people advocate taking food away or interfering with a dog’s food while he is eating! Anyway, now he will get his food when, where and how the gentleman chooses, and a humans presence will be accompanied by good stuff – adding to his bowl.

He has another problem that needs ironing out, and that is pulling on lead. He has been going to dog training classes for many months, and if these particular training methods taught were working for Ollie, by now he would be walking nicely without constant correction and being commanded to heel! It amazes me that people are willing to put up with week after week of no progress outside of their training class, but they keep going (and then it’s quite common for people to expect my ‘be a joy to walk with so you have a cooperative and willing dog’ approach to be instant)! Everything takes a certain amount of time and work, but how much better for everyone to appeal to the dog’s psychology than to use force and correction. Especially with a dog of this size, loose lead walking is a must.

Ollie is very ready to be defiant, and the methods used have been mostly to do with ‘training’ and commands mixed with indulgence, rather than allowing him to work out for himself how to make good things happen by rewards for the right behaviours. I also found he was very willing to be cooperative if treated a certain way. The family have a very good sense of humour and can see the humorous side to Ollie, and I am sure will find intuitive and inventive ways of gaining the upper hand by earning his respect and sometimes even outwitting him, whilst actually finding it quite fun!

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