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.

Continue reading…

Wild Behaviour is Unwittingly Fuelled

Wild behaviour from a dog the size of the adolescent Newfoundland can be scary.

When Beau leaped at the kitchen table she knocked the coffee mugs flying!

Taking a break from wild behaviour

Seven-month-old Beau was chosen from the litter as the most bold and pushy puppy. She organised the others, I am told, by barging them and stirring up trouble – and then sitting back to enjoy the results!

She was a mouthy, nippy puppy. This wasn’t countered immediately or correctly. Hand games and chasing her for things she stole added fuel to her wild behaviour.

As she got bigger and things became more painful, they have had to use more physical force to push her off them, to remove her away from things and to extract things from her mouth. She will do nothing when simply asked.

They can’t have her in the lounge with them for more than a few minutes before she goes wild and has to be put in the kitchen. Her worst wild episodes as so often is the case happen where she has more space – out in the garden. There have been a couple of occasions when the little girl hasn’t been safe.

In the belief that the more exercise and interaction she has, the better behaved she will be, each day starts off with too much stimulation – a prolonged welcome fuss before breakfast followed by ball play in the garden, excitement before getting in the car to take the child to school and then a walk which is probably too long for a pup of seven months.

Anyway, as she got older puppy Beau became defiant when she didn’t get her own way.

The young dog may get angry when thwarted. Several times now she has snarled, showed her teeth and lunged. Her eyes ‘looked funny’.

This is the consequence of using methods of force on a determined and strong dog. How frustrating it is for a dog not to know what she should be doing. (Please take a look at my favourite video showing the power of Yes versus No).

I showed them how we would create a willing and happy dog exercising self-control by using the power of Yes, by keeping Beau as calm as possible, by giving her suitable mental stimulation and by removing opportunities for rehearsing the wild behaviour.

By motivating her.

Almost immediately Beau began to respond to reinforcement for the right behaviour. She was becoming a lot calmer than she had been for a long time, particularly with the little girl present.

This is a typical case of owners getting through the days by fielding everything the dog throws at them so it becomes No No NO Stop, push away, drag off, shut away … and so on, and ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’ when the dog is quiet.

Look at this wonderful face!

It’s just amazing just how quickly a dog responds to Yes Yes Yes and being ‘bigged up’ for each good thing she does so she knows what is required.

Each time the wild behaviour kicked off again we dealt with it by giving the big adolescent other, incompatible things to do instead, making it clear to her what we did want of her.

We soon had Beau coming to us, offering us certain behaviours with little prompting. We had her walking from one of the four of us to another when called gently. We had her responding to understandable instructions and she was loving it.

We used the clicker. The little girl also clicked Beau for sitting – with perfect timing.

Action should be immediate.

It’s no good allowing the dog to rehearse jumping and biting by letting it happen even twice before reacting. It needs to be wiped out completely.

Immediately she jumps she must lose all communication with that person. Immediately she jumps at the table someone must get up, call her off, reward what she should be doing instead and move her onto a different behaviour that is incompatible with jumping at the table.

It takes a huge amount of effort.

Pre-empting and dealing with things before they happen is best of all.

Boosting her for every desirable thing she does must also be immediate – when she sits voluntarily, when she lies down, when she sighs and relaxes. A couple of times she looked at the table which had my smelly treats on it and resisted jumping up. A first! That deserved a jackpot but it must be immediate.

It could help greatly if the little girl didn’t arouse the dog quite so much as the wild behaviour is always far worse when the child is about. She could touch her less, try not to run into the room waving arms, dance around her or do handstands in Beau’s presence. These things quickly send the dog wild.

But this is like asking the little girl not to be a little girl!

Even if the child can cut back a little on these things it will help and she will be clicker trained too! They will use the word ‘Good’ and she can collect stars. She will now ask her mum to call Beau inside before going out into the garden – and she will make a poster for the door to remind herself

The next morning I received a lovely message from the lady which is proof if any is needed of the powers of positive reinforcement and calmness:

“I am so excited to tell you that we have had the most relaxed morning since we have got Beau. Last night she came into the lounge and not once did she bite. She tried to get on the sofa once but with a little distraction she came away and lay down. 

This morning has been the shocker for me. She has been like a different dog. We have made an extra effort to be calm and relaxed and Beau has been the same. She hasn’t bitten, jumped up, barked…nothing! ……She is now laying peacefully….I know she may relapse and I’m prepared for it but she’s shown me this morning that she is more than capable of being the loving Newfoundland that she should be……I knew she had it in her but to see it is another thing. I am so happy!”

Message received three weeks later: ‘I am so happy to tell you that we have a considerably well behaved dog. She has not had an “aggressive moment” since the clicker incident on the first week. There have been times where I have stopped stroking her and she goes to mouth my hand and then realises and stops before her mouth touches me, which I reward….. I can honestly say, I can’t remember the last time she jumped up! She’s learnt to play with her toys by herself and doesn’t ram them in my hand followed by a bite like before. Overall I am delighted with the way things are going. I am still prepared for her to slip back to her old ways but she is surprisingly proving me wrong. I actually think she listens to me now!’
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 Beau 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, particularly where aggression or fearfulness is concerned and most especially when it involves children. 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)

Guarding Food. Guarding Resources.

“We must show the dog who’s boss”.

Rex guards his food.

Guarding food and resources can be a contentious issue where human response is concerned.

Many conscientious dog owners, doing what they believe is best, follow dangerous, outdated notions.

These techniques can involve, right from the start as routine training, interfering with a puppy’s food while he’s eating and forcing objects out of his mouth. An easy-going puppy may simply tolerate it. Another may not. Instead of making the puppy back away from something he values, it can teach him to run off with the item and then, cornered, defend both the item and himself. I’ve seen this many times.

How might we ourselves react if someone tried to take bits of food off our plate or mugged us for something we had picked up?

There is that infamous clip of Cesar Millan ‘dominating’ a Labrador guarding food and his bowl. Guess what happened? Yes, the poor dog ultimately had no choice other than to bite after all his warning signals had been ignored. As a result of the uproar about this, he was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh which is interesting to watch.

Guarding food when someone is closeSomehow this ‘being the Alpha’ with our dog thing had became popular culture, but it’s been totally debunked over recent years. Not only was it based on false assumptions regarding wolf packs (and domestic dogs aren’t wild wolves), but that using force is the only way to create an obedient dog.

Even this word ‘obedience’ suggests dominance and forced compliance.

Just one problem with this approach to resource guarding is that a strong-minded and confident dog is likely to stand up for himself – eventually. Some dogs genetically are more wired to guard.

If a ‘dominated’ dog backs off due to being overpowered by a particular human, what happens when someone else tries it?

“Why should I want your food anyway”?

How much better and simpler in every way it is to teach the dog that you’re no threat to his food; if nobody wants his food, what’s the point of guarding food after all?

Giant Schnauzer Rex is a very intelligent and energetic adolescent dog. He’s on the go most of the time when people are about, back and forth looking for trouble. This includes nicking anything he can that may be of value to his humans. It triggers a chain of reactions.

He’s probably under-stimulated where appropriate enrichment is concerned, so he orchestrates his own action.

It’s only natural for us to try to control over-excited and aroused behaviour by trying to stop it. Unfortunately scolding and warnings, Uh-Uh and NO, introduce conflict and confrontation. Even conflict can be rewarding and reinforcing in a way (else why do humans enjoy certain sports so much?).

Rex’ owners will now be on the lookout for every little good or desired behaviour to reinforce instead.

It’s proven beyond doubt that removing reinforcement from unwanted behaviours and adding reinforcement to behaviours we DO want leads to success.

Interfering with Rex’ food while he’s eating.

Using the ‘interfering with his food’ technique seemed to work when Rex was a young puppy. Unfortunately, guarding and growling re-appeared big time when he started to be fed something that was, to him, of much higher value.

Instead of leaving him to eat in peace, various suggestions had been given including hand-feeding him, touching him while he was eating and taking his bowl away. Instead of feeding him somewhere out of the way, the bowl is deliberately put where people regularly have to pass by him.

He freezes. He growls. They reprimand him. This can only go in one direction.

He simply needs to know that nobody is interested in his food anymore. He will be fed somewhere out of the way.

After some weeks of this they may from time to time walk past him at a distance, not looking at him, and just chuck in the direction of his bowl something particularly tasty – maybe a leftover from their own meat dinner. The food must be something of higher value to him than his own food. They shouldn’t hover or speak to him.

‘I happen to be passing anyway so here’s something nice’.

Over time they can get a little closer. If he growls, they have got too close or maybe stood still, and will need to leave it for a few days and do it from further away the next time. Any approaching person will deliver something better than what he has.

This really is in case of emergency should later someone, without thinking, get too close to him. They should only do this from time to time – a random and casual thing.

Back in the day people would have said, ‘Leave the dog alone while he’s eating’. We expect a lot from our dogs today.

We may need to do some serious, systematic work on general resource guarding.

‘Operation Calm’ is the first priority.

Rex’ high arousal levels and restlessness make work on his guarding food and other items more difficult.

This is a huge challenge because it’s hard for us humans, like old dogs, to learn new tricks. It also means that Rex will initially become very frustrated when his usual attention-seeking tactics no longer work. He will try harder. They will hold their nerve and add as much appropriate enrichment to his life as possible, activities that don’t depend upon their ‘fielding’ the behaviour he throws at them but instead are initiated by themselves.

I suggest very regular short bursts of activity including mental enrichment, hunting, foraging and sniffing, particularly in the evenings when they sit down and he’s the most trouble. He then won’t need to be pestering for attention.

Guarding food becomes unnecessary.

If he feels it’s not under threat, Rex won’t need to be guarding food. If he has plenty of attention offered, he won’t need so desperately to indulge in the attention-seeking ploys that he knows get the most reaction.

Getting Rex calmer involves most aspects of his life and will be a gradual thing.

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 Rex because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Puppy Parenting 10-Week Akita

This ten-week-old puppy has a big name to live up to. Thor, the God of Thunder. Fortunately he doesn’t yet seem to be to suited to his name! As the day Thursday is named after Thor, perhaps it was appropriate that the day I met him yesterday it was a Thursday.

I soon found that, despite Thor being only ten weeks old, in their determination to get things right the first time puppy owners had taken him to a puppy class where they were instructed to use a ‘firm voice’ when they wanted him to do something. He came home with a scratch on his nose. This trainer was their only role-model so far.

Thinking on down this route, where could using the ‘firm voice’ technique ultimately lead? If the dog doesn’t obey then no doubt the voice becomes firmer still and the command repeated. Soon the dog is being shouted at. What then?

We all know if something happens too much we become accustomed to it or we learn to switch off and it will be no different for dogs. Quiet people have other people listening to them! Do we ultimately then have to move on to some sort of physical force or intimidation to get the dog to comply? What choices then does the dog then have? A confrontational approach with an adolescent dog could possibly result in defiance leading to aggression, or instead in intimidation and submission. Either way this is not a healthy relationship to have with our dog.

Fortunately these things won’t happen with Thor. The lady in just a few days had already, with great patience and kindness, taught little Thor to sit in an open doorway and not follow through it which demonstrates just how teachable he is. The gentleman was already teaching him to walk nicely beside him around the house.

For first-time dog owners they had started off brilliantly, so it was unfortunate they temporarily got themselves ‘tarnished’ by this dog trainer’s archaic methods. With the right approach and the family’s level of commitment I reckon they will be quickly back on track, so long as each family member ‘drinks out of the same water bowl’ so to speak.

My first and most important task was to win them around to the basic principles of good puppy parenting using the modern, reward-based approach. It didn’t take many minutes to demonstrate with the wonderfully biddable puppy how I could get him to come to me immediately by just saying ‘Thor – COME’, once, in a kind voice. I asked him to sit, speaking gently (they had taught him this already but with a firm ‘command’ and by pushing his bum down). I waited. Thor sat – reward. I then showed them how to teach him to lie down voluntarily with no repeated commands or firm voice – or pushing him, and then how to take food gently from my hand.

It is so good to be able to demonstrate the power of gentle words and motivation. Anyone who is still in the dark ages and ‘doesn’t believe in food rewards’ is suggesting they regard a dog as some sort of slave.

The teenage son will be alone with Thor during the day for the next couple of months until he goes off to uni and while the parents are at work. A big responsibility rests on his shoulders because how he behaves with the puppy could shape the Akita’s future. No more ‘firm’ commands. No more rough play involving Thor using his mouth because the puppy then understandably thinks it’s okay to be rough with the young daughter also and she gets scared.

They should bear in mind that Thor will grow up to be a large dog!

Using force-free methods doesn’t mean the puppy has no discipline or boundaries. In fact it’s the opposite. Thor’s environment needs more boundaries. He needs to learn that it’s fine to be left alone for short periods of time. There should be rules around food and rules around the front door.

I shall be reminding them all the time to think in terms of teaching their adorable puppy those things they do want him to do, replacing ‘correcting’ those puppy behaviours that they don’t want – and to make these alternatives so rewarding that he wants to keep doing them.

NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Thor. 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 of Bangs and Gunshots

CockerpooRubyIt all started with a BANG – either a gunshot or a bird scarer.

Little Cockerpoo Ruby is becoming increasingly scared outside on walks. She is no longer eager to go out.

Bit by bit bangs have infected all the places where they walk her. The only way they can get the ‘old happy Ruby’ back is by taking her to somewhere completely new, and even the new place is now contaminated by a bang.

Her general fearfulness is spilling over into other things now.

I have been to several dogs who are terrified of bangs and it’s incredibly hard for their loving owners to know what to do. A big problem is if the bangs are near to home, they are relentless. It’s a slippery slope unless the people themselves treat it differently.

Many people believe that to give their dog confidence in them they should behave as ‘the boss’ which can involve forcing the dog to do something she feels very uncomfortable with because ‘giving in’ would show weakness and the dog would no longer trust a weak owner.

In fact I would say it is the very opposite. The dog may perceive the bangs as life-threatening. Would a wise parent force his family danger? In this case, the lady herself said she wasn’t feeling happy by not ‘giving in’ to Ruby and removing her when she was scared, and she is now relieved that she can follow her own better instincts. CockerpooRuby2

If our dog growls for instance, instead of scolding we should be asking, WHY is she telling us she is uncomfortable. We need to get to the reason and deal with that.  If our dog has to be dragged somewhere, we need to ask ourselves why – and deal with that. Forcing Ruby into what she perceives as a danger zone in the name of exercise is counter-productive. The bangs keep happening and she simply loses faith in the people who are allowing her no escape, the very people she should be able to trust the most.

They will start by desensitising her in the house with small taps and then bangs, increasing the volume, distance and unpredictability of them, using a sound CD to help them also, and counter-conditioning her so she associates a bang with something nice. We have a plan of building it up in small increments, making sure always to keep within her comfort threshold.

Walks in ‘danger’ zones will not be taking place now until she can cope. She will be walked near home and as soon as any bang is heard they will go to work on her – which certainly doesn’t mean forcing her onwards.

With the other day-to-day stuff they will be doing that should back up their efforts, Ruby could suddenly get over her fears but, more likely, it could take weeks.

Her general confidence should improve too.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ruby, 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 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Rottie taught Dominance and Aggression

16 month old Rottweiler in his third home alreadyBaxter is a 16 months old Rottie and onto his third home already. His new owners have had him for just five days, and are determined to turn his life around.

It is evident that Baxter has been abused in the past by humans using force and dominance to control him. Because of this, aggressive human control is the only ‘language’ he really understands. It has to be increasingly forceful for him to even take notice.

Unfortunately, if you continue down that route (domination, force, pinning down and so on) where does it end?  Shock collars? Beatings? The situation escalates and will almost certainly get out of hand – to the point where Baxter wins through sheer strength and determination, eventually doing someone serious damage.

That would be the end of Baxter.

Baxter’s new lady owner is covered in bruises from nips and grabs. He’s not aggressive as such. He is a big teenage bully –  like a human adolescent who has grown up in a violent family. Like most bullies, he is also a coward and is easily spooked.

The lady is up for it, and I shall be working closely with her while she starts to show Baxter by her own behaviour that she is to be respected. Leadership has to be earned, and requires calm confidence. Baxter needs to learn straight away the behaviours that are unacceptable. At present he starts to lick, then mouth, then grab, then nip and there is a sequence. It is allowed to continue until it hurts and becomes a battle of wills and strength. They must react immediately, but calmly. Zero tolerance.  Otherwise how can Baxter learn?

He loses control of himself very quickly, so they must watch for signs of stress and immediately stop what they are doing, whether it’s going straight back home having been out for just a couple of minutes, coming in from the garden even if in the middle of doing something, or walking out of the room even if they are in the middle of a good TV programme.

Punishment, shouting ‘NO’, pushing him away, pinning him down are all ways of giving him attention under his own terms, in a ‘language’ he is already good at and gets better at all the time, and simply reinforces his bad behaviour.

But what can they do instead? That is what we are working on together.

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