Punishment and Deprivation v. Reward and Enrichment

Punishment and deprivation? Is this the way to get compliance?

It’s hard picking up the pieces when a conscientious and well-meaning dog owner has been following old-fashioned, dominance-based advice using punishment and intimidation through ignorance, believing someone who sets himself up as an authority saying it’s the way to do things.

It’s also extremely upsetting for the owner when their eyes are opened. Fortunately, things can only get better now.

A short while ago German Shepherd Banjo returned from a £2,000 four weeks at a board-and-train establishment.

He returned obedient – and cowed.

Bit by bit he’s returning to his former ways and their punitive methods, necessarily intensified for ongoing effectiveness, are now ceasing to work as he grows immune to them.

The young lady took on a painfully thin one-year-old a couple of years ago, his third home.

For the first few weeks things went well. He would walk past people, dogs and traffic as though they weren’t there.

Bit by bit he became more reactive.

The history of the next couple of years after this is complicated and Banjo’s behaviour to people he didn’t know in particular worsened. The lady then had to move house.

To save Banjo from the upheaval of the move whilst also doing something about his aggression to people and other difficult behaviours, he was sent to to the board and train establishment.

What a great idea, one might think.

The lady brought Banjo home with a list of instructions.

All toys must be removed.

He must be given no chews of bones.

When walking he should not be allowed to stop and sniff.

Any stepping out of line had to result in punishment.

She must use a slip lead and yank him back if he stepped in front of her.

She should spray him with water and shout if he barked at anything.

He no longer could have breakfast – one meal a day only.

He must not be be given food rewards. No extras apart from this one meal.

She may not play with him.

Within a couple of weeks, having yanked him with the slip lead to the point where he nearly passed out, the lady ditched it and got a harness. She started to allow him to sniff once more on walks. Walks being Banjo’s only ‘allowed’ activity, she takes him out as much as she can despite the problems.

Any reactive encounter with a dog or a person would however still result in punishment by means of water being sprayed in his face.

She has been following advice, believing it to be the only way to help him. She cares for him deeply.

The level of punishment is no longer sufficient.

Because they couldn’t stop his barking at people passing the window, the response of the trainer when contacted was to get a Pet Corrector can of compressed air – ‘that would fix him’.

It did to begin with. Then it stopped working. It made him worse. Is that surprising?

It’s so distressing to see conscientious, responsible dog owners being led to believe by a so-called ‘expert’, totally ignorant of behavioural science, that this is the thing to do. The lady thought she had researched the best help possible.

Banjo operates on ‘bite first, think later’. He charged into the room, muzzled, and launched himself at my arm. Had I not been prepared I would have received multiple serious bites.

Working at a distance from the lady who had the muzzled Banjo on lead and by her feeding him through the muzzle each time he looked at me from across the room, Banjo was soon lying down relaxing which was a big surprise to them.

In behaviour work we look at what ‘function’ a Punishment isn't gong to make Blade like humans any betterbehaviour serves the dog. Why does it work for him? The function served here is obvious. Lunging to bite drives the person away. They will recoil. That’s just what he wants.

He doesn’t have good associations with people he doesn’t know. This will doubtless have started when he was a tiny puppy, under-socialised or else not socialised kindly.

Add to this the sort of experience and punishment to ‘train’ him that he will have suffered at the hands of this trainer, it’s little wonder he simply wants to get people out of his space asap.

Off with the old and on with the new.

To make any real difference we need to get Banjo to feel differently about people. Punishment for reacting can only make it worse.

When he’s at his most upset, the very humans he should be able to trust for some reason turn on him.

They will now reverse everything that trainer imposed, ditching punishment, water bottles, compressed air cans and slip leads, and adding plenty of positive stuff.

They will use food in training. Why should I use food in training?

Now they will either give Banjo two meals a day or use some of his food for brain work and reward – making him work for it.

Instead of trying to intimidate him when he barks at people walking past, rehearsing his aggressive reactions to them, they will address the root cause.

They will bring out all his toys again. When he’s shut away they will give him things to chew and do like stuffed Kongs. They will play ‘find it’ games and he can forage for some of his dry food. They will find ways of enriching his life.

He will now have a comfortable harness and a longer lead to experience some freedom.

Muzzled for everyone’s safety, all encounters with people will be dealt with in an encouraging and positive fashion at a comfortable distance. He will get help with his reactivity to traffic, not punishment.

Now Banjo’s owners can relax and treat the beautiful, intelligent, affectionate three-year-old German Shepherd as a family member with the right to make some of his own choices in a life which offers some enrichment, not as a slave.

Punishment and deprivation are ways of forcing slaves to comply.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Banjo and I’ve not gone into exact precise 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, particularly where 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)

Impulse Control Comes First

She may ignore her humans and lacks impulse control.

Eighteen-month-old German Shepherd Diva is a great personality. She is friendly, confident and fearless.

She is also very demanding. They have had several German Shepherds in the past, but never one like Diva.

Juno lacks impulse controlShe has become increasingly hostile to other dogs. In order to achieve their end goal of Diva becoming less reactive and coming back when called (she will, but when she feels like it), these matters of impulse control and paying attention need first to be addressed at home.

I saw a Diva who was actually more aroused and lacking in self control than she usually is. That was my own doing.

I had prevented people from giving in to her. She became increasingly frustrated by not getting what she wanted – attention under her own terms. Her methods, not addressed when she was a puppy and now harder to undo, are jumping on people – she’s very big – leaping onto their chair behind them, mouthing, nipping and grabbing – and then yipping and barking endlessly when the other tactics don’t work, until put out of the room.

She now will be given as little opportunity as possible to rehearse these behaviours (I don’t go into detail here because what works with one dog may not work with another).

I was called in for what seemed a relatively straightforward if time-consuming problem – that of halting Diva’s increasing antipathy towards other dogs like they shouldn’t be in her vicinity. The issue is actually far more complex.

Matters came to a head the other day when she ran after a very small dog she had spied in the distance, possibly thinking it was prey because she ignored a larger dog. Sadly, it resulted in the little dog needing veterinary treatment for its injuries.

As soon as Diva spotted the dog, her human called her. She halted, looked back as though to consider whether to obey or not, and decided no.

When I was there the lady called Diva, the dog looked her in the eye and then turned around and walked away. If she does this at home, what is likely to happen when, off lead, she sees another dog.

This highlights the two main underlying issues which are allowing the behaviour. Firstly, her humans are not sufficiently relevant to her so she’s insufficiently motivated to do as they ask. What’s in it for her? After all, they always do just what she wants if she is sufficiently pushy, so why should she do what they want?

Secondly, she acts on impulse at home so she is unlikely to have impulse control when out where the stakes are far greater.

Another important contributor to her behaviour is the dog next door.

From the start Diva has been confident and a bit bossy with other dogs. She then had her first season and she became more assertive. How much this has to do with the dog next door, both dogs barking and snarling at one another as they tear up and down their own sides of the fence, I don’t know. One sure thing is she’s daily been rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want – aggression towards another dog.

As I drove home I tried to work out the best place to start.

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Changing too much at once could well make her even more stressed so would be self-defeating.

The first couple of weeks should be dedicated to showing her that she only gets things she wants when she is calm and to reducing her stress/arousal levels in every way possible. Her humans owe it to her not to stir her up unecessarily.

Humans and dog wOrchardJuno2ill need to go cold turkey!

Before the lead goes on she should be calm. Before the door is opened she should be calm. She can get no greetings until she isn’t jumping up and nipping. Training her the necessary alternative incompatible behaviours will be taught in the next stage.

Basically, Diva will learn that her pushy behaviour isn’t going to get results.

She will learn the behaviours that will work for her.

Bit by bit, against a calmer background, they can introduce impulse control exercises, training that requires patience like Stay and lots of coming when called or whistled around the house and garden. Here is a nice little video from Tony Cruse with an impulse control game.

They will also do their best to prevent any further rehearsal with the dog next door and in fact use it to their advantage. They will begin teaching her that good things happen when she ignores it and gives them her attention instead. Meanwhile she simply must not be off lead alone in the garden when the dog is likely to be out there. It’s a nuisance, but not impossible.

Out on walks Diva should no longer have complete freedom until she can be trusted to come back. She will need to be kept on a long line.

This case is such a good example of the benefits of taking a holistic type of approach. If we had gone straight in to the ‘stop her reactivity towards other dogs’ without dealing with her lack of impulse control, basic training manners and the relationship she has with her humans, I don’t think she would ever be able to go off lead again and they would never again be able to walk calmly past other dogs.

When they have got through the first few difficult days with Diva very likely becoming increasingly frustrated when her wild attempts for attention no longer bring results, they will then have a firm basis to build upon in order to achieve the original goals, that of enjoying their walks with their stunning Shepherd and being able to trust her.

 

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 Juno 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 of any kind is concerned. 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)

Manners Maketh Dog!

The stunning German Shepherd lacks manners

Prince is aptly named.

He is treated like a prince and he behaves like a prince!  He lacks what I can only call manners.

About eighteen months ago I regularly saw a lady walking her German Shepherd puppy down my road. Soon, as he grew a bit bigger, she was walking him on a Halti.

I would watch as the pup repeatedly tried to scrape the thing off on the ground or with his paw.

One day, thinkingStunning German Shepherd lacks manners how frustrated and uncomfortable he must be feeling, I stopped to talk to the lady. I told her about a harness with the ring on the front, the Perfect Fit, and that if she wished I would pop in to show her.

The other day, over a year later, she phoned me. She is at her wits’ end with a dog that pulls despite the Halti. The other day he jumped up at the postman and he wasn’t being friendly.

Although I went to help the lady with walks, it was soon apparent that I wouldn’t get far if Prince isn’t treated a bit differently at home by the man in particular, learning some manners. Prince rules the couple’s life.

The retired man, who chose to have a German Shepherd, is unable to walk him due to health reasons so the much slighter lady has the job.

We need to be in control of a powerful dog. In this case Prince is mostly in control of his humans.

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It’s like the man is the dog’s – not the dog the man’s!

It’s common for a dog to follow a person about. In this case, if Prince is out of sight for a minute the man gets up to check on him.

The dog jumps all over him, he grabs his arm with his teeth. The man will stir up an already excited dog and, to quote, Prince goes ‘berserk’ when his son calls. He finds it amusing but I find it unacceptable, dangerous even.

The man is at home all day and he and Prince are inseparable. He obeys every whim of the dog but if Prince is asked to do something he’s likely to ignore it. The constant attention and fuss make Prince what he is and it seems the man can’t help himself. He insists his dog is the softest dog who would never really hurt anyone.

We were adjusting his harness when Prince air snapped at me. A warning (which I heeded!).

Oh dear.

It’s so hard for the lady to walk a large dog that takes little notice of her. It’s not only about equipment but also the relationship between human and dog.

She walked Prince around the garden beautifully on the new harness. For the next three days she will be going out several times a day for five or ten minutes instead of one hour-long walk, loose-lead walking outside the house.

Then I shall be going back. We will extend the walk a bit further and look at what to do when passing barking dogs behind garden gates and what to do if something suddenly appears.

I must confess I am worried about this one. Prince’s genetics aren’t great. His mother was so aggressive they couldn’t see her. His father was a police dog. Several of the eleven siblings were returned due to aggression problems – having said which, the couple’s kindness instead of using ‘dominance’ tactics may well have saved him from the same fate.

I really hope the man now realises how important it is for them to control Prince (I don’t mean to dominate the dog but to teach him manners and training in a positive way). He really needs some serious training and brain-work. Internet advice may tell them to be ‘Alpha’. Prince would have none of that! Try dominating him or making him do something he doesn’t want to do and it can only go one way – down the slippery slope to anger.

Unless I am taken seriously I can see somebody getting bitten. I worry for the grandchildren. The gentleman knows the new dog law means someone need only to feel threatened for him to be prosecuted. They were lucky with the jumped-upon postman. Next time they may not be so lucky. I feel he’s in denial.

From our bantering and friendly conversation I know the very genial man won’t mind me saying that he doesn’t really take the matter, or me, very seriously.

The lady does, however.

 

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 prince. I don’t go into detail. 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 is concerned. 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 My Help page)

The Puppies are Littermates

White German Shepherd puppy

Buster

They brought their two beautiful cream-coloured German Shepherd brothers home a couple of months ago at eight weeks old, believing they would be great company for one another thus making life easier and not realising it could actually be a lot more work.

They soon were given information that littermates could well become overly reliant upon one another, even to the extent of not bonding as fully with their humans as they might. One puppy can become overshadowed by the other and not reach his full potential. Puppy play can, as the pups mature, turn into full-blown fighting. This isn’t inevitable – I have been to siblings who are the best of friends – but it is possible that things could turn out not so well unless fairly special measures are taken. They called me in for professional guidance.

Already they have Samson and Buster, now sixteen weeks old, sleeping in separate crates. They walk them separately and they feed them separately. They will need individual training sessions. They have been having more one-on-one time with their humans than they have with each other which is perfect.

When I was there and for my benefit the two puppies were together more than they usually would be. We were in the conservatory watching them playing in the garden. It wasn’t long before play became unequal – even at four months old. Samson was becoming a bit too rough and Buster was getting scared. Their relative personalities are already very clear with Samson more nervous, more excitable and more bossy.

six month old white German Shepherd puppy

Samson

I was quite amazed actually at just how well-behaved the two dogs were for such young puppies and the hard work is paying off already. They are fully house trained and they don’t do chewing damage anywhere. There is a bit of jumping up from just Samson and they have already discovered that ‘get down’ doesn’t work. Their owners have, from the start, gradually weaned the two puppies into being left apart and all alone for reasonable periods of time.

There are a couple of ‘flags’ I feel they need to be aware of that could develop into problems. Prevention is a lot better than cure. Already Samson is barking in a scared fashion at people and other dogs when out, and Buster barks at dogs. Possibly, because they are currently held tight on short leads to try to stop them pulling, they feel trapped and uncomfortable.

The two dogs need as much socialising as possible. I know from personal experience that too many German Shepherds can be reactive and aggressive towards callers to their homes if the don’t regularly meet people from an early age. Plenty of people coming through the door would be good if they can find volunteers, and they should be associated with food or play.

With one dog at a time and the other shut away, we did very successful loose lead walking around the garden and the front of the house. We used a longer lead and using my technique the puppy simply walks around beside or following the person holding the lead. One of the puppies even had a pee when on lead, something they never do, and I suggest this is because he felt sufficiently comfortable and relaxed.

Samson likes to play tug of war with the lead, but reacting with reward when he stops rather than reacting with scolding or tension while he’s tugging will soon cure this.

The play between the two dogs needs careful monitoring, and terminating as soon as it ‘turns’.

With two soon-to-be large dogs, the owners need some sort of ‘remote control’, particularly in public, so the dogs will learn to respond instantly to their own names, to ‘come’ and to other cues like ‘sit’, ‘down’ and ‘stay’ requested gently and just the once. Over the next few weeks and months we will have a lot of fun!

My advice to them is to treat their puppies like one lives next door – for the forseeable future. They can meet frequently and be friends, but ‘live’ apart. Fortunately the couple has a good-sized house and the gentleman works from home, so logistically it’s possible. The couple have already researched and are well prepared to do whatever it takes.

The Young Dog Chases Traffic

German Shepherd with ballWe understand roads, but do our dogs? A roaring, smelly monster either approaches him head-on or bears down on him from behind. How can the dog know that the vehicle won’t plough into him and his human?

With each car that passes he becomes more highly aroused. Each vehicle could annihilate him and so he has to chase it off. He is successful this time, but the next one that comes along – will he manage to get rid of that one also?

A vehicle approaches and the dog lunges and barks, so what happens next? The vehicle goes away. I’m sure he feels the vehicle’s departure is the direct consequence of his barking and lunging. To make matters worse, the person on the other end of the lead who he should be able to trust doesn’t help him, but traps him and may even join in the ‘car rage’.

No wonder Harry dreads walks

German Shepherd avoiding coming inThe German Shepherd is now nine months old and he lives an otherwise wonderful life in a rural area. Down the lane cars are sudden happenings.

I was called because of traffic chasing but that isn’t the actual problem. Anyone using enough force could physically prevent a dog from chasing a vehicle. The real problem, the cause of the behaviour, is fear, and this is what Harry’s humans need to deal with.

Harry is now so worried about leaving the safety of his house and garden that they only have to call him in from outside and he becomes suspicious that they may want to put his harness on – and that would mean having to confront cars. Top left is happy Harry as he usually is. On the right he has his harness on and is suspicious we may want to put his lead on also, so he’s not coming in.

Getting Harry to be chilled around traffic will need to be taken in tiny steps with work, patience and persistence which I know his owners have. They have had several German Shepherds over the years but none of the things they have tried have cracked the problem of a dog that chases traffic, so they need a different approach.

Step one, before they can do anything else, is for Harry to come happily to have his harness and lead put on. The only way to do that will be for the equipment to not be a precursor of going out and to be associated with food and fun at home.

As soon as they step out through the door Harry is pulling and barking should any car dare pass by the end of their long drive. Going out through the door itself must be conquered for starters until they achieve a happy and relaxed dog within just a few feet of the house.

There should be no more close encounters at all with cars for now while they work on him. Fortunately Harry is fine when inside a car so he will be taken to traffic-free places for his outings whilst the intensive desensitisation work is done near home and in places where moving vehicles are at a ‘safe’ distance.

I have shown them an emergency procedure should an unexpected vehicle appear, whereby Harry’s humans will take decisive and logical (to Harry) action and he will see the monster disappear into the distance without his having chased it away.

NB. The best approach to use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Harry, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here. One size does not fit all. For help with your own dog, I suggest you find an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).

 

Reactive on lead to other dogs

German Shepherd with Pointer mixYesterday I went to another German Shepherd who greeted me like a long-lost friend – the lively twenty-two month-old Gordon. Such a change from the many fearful Shepherds I so often meet. Gordon lives with Lulu, a very attractive older Pointer mix.

The problem is that Gordon is reactive on lead to other dogs. He is absolutely fine with dogs when he’s off lead, if perhaps a little excitable, but becomes very stressed the nearer they get to other dogs when he’s restrained.

The couple have worked hard on training their dogs. In the training environment Gordon’s reactivity to dogs can be controlled. These solutions, however, are hard to translate into the real world when out on walks and where dogs may appear unpredictably or the environment doesn’t give them the flexibility. So, despite their hard work and effort, the problem continues.

Reactivity on lead, along with coming when called, can be as much about a dog’s relationship with the human holding the lead or wanting him to come when called as it is about actual training. A lot of trust is involved. If the human has the dog, effectively, captive on the end of a leash then he/she must be trusted when they encounter a potential hazard like another dog, and he/she must be sufficiently motivating to hold their dog’s attention.

The dog needs to feel he has choice too. Formal training seldom allows choice. Walking on a longish loose lead without any feeling of restriction gives the dog more feeling of choice. If the dog signals that he needs more distance from the other dog, then that, too, is his choice and the human should comply. The more trusting he gets, the nearer to the other dog he will get before he reacts. That reaction point is his threshold, and that is where the best work happens.

It’s not always as easy as it sounds because of life’s unpredictability and because the dog himself can be in a different mental state from day-to-day, depending upon stress levels affected by a build-up of totally different things. We can but chip away at it, building up trust and confidence, teaching the dog coping strategies.

Where also most conventional training falls short is that there are things that need addressing in the home, things that, when put in place, will help build this relationship of trust.

If a dog is rushing off to the fence to bark at passing dogs and people, then he is practising the very skills they don’t want. Away-from-home training won’t be dealing with that. The humans in the family can show their dogs, in a way they understand, that they are responsible for people coming to the house, and when they bark at perceived danger they can reinforce their roles as protectors – the training environment won’t deal with that either. Most subtle communication issues can’t be spotted away from the home either, particularly as they may involve all the family members.

If people work on getting their dogs’ full attention at home, away from distractions, then there is a much better chance they will keep their attention on walks when faced with other dogs. If their dogs are taught to come instantly when called in the home environment, without hesitation, there is a much higher chance that recall work out in the fields will be successful.

Gordon’s family is really switched on, and it will happen, I’m sure.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Gordon, 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).

Relaxed Indoors, Reactive Outside

Relaxed German ShepherdAfter a run of German Shepherds I have been to recently who barked frantically when they heard me at the door and continued to bark at me when I entered the house, I was really surprised to ring the doorbell and to hear nothing.

Tia, a very youthful nine-year-old, stood calm and friendly beside the lady as she opened the door, and followed us into the sitting room.

I knew already that the lady would be telling me her problem was her dog’s behaviour when out of the house and on lead, but I wanted to take a holistic approach and get some knowledge of Tia against the background of home life before exploring what was happening outside, why it was happening and what we could do about it.

Tia is the lady’s first dog, and she got her when looking for a puppy some six years ago. Tia was the mother dog and the breeder more or less said she ran a business and Tia was merely a puppy-making machine to her and now expendable. So the lady took her home.

The bond between the two is incredibly close and the lady describes herself as devoted to her. It is just the two of them. I noticed how the dog spent much of the time gazing at the lady, or asking her to do something like fuss her or throw a ball – and she was never disappointed. There are all sorts of human emotions here that the dog will be picking up including adoration and also some guilt that she can never do quite enough for her beloved dog. On balance this must be working very well as Tia is the perfect dog indoors with everyone – visiting young children included.

However…. when she steps out through the front door and anything moves, Tia morphs into a lunging monster! She is ready to have a go at anything and the lady, slight in build, has trouble holding her back. She has been pulled over at least two times. I saw Tia’s transformation for myself. It was amazing to see how a dog who is so relaxed and friendly in the house could change to being so reactive outside, only a few feet from the front door.

The only time Tia does go out of the front door is to go for a walk, so the whole walk process needs looking at. There is a lot of excitement from the moment the lady starts to get ready. She may then run the gauntlet of getting Tia to the car in order to take her to a playing field where the dog can be let off lead. There is no evidence that Tia is anything but friendly when running free.

It seems that, as the behaviour starts immediately outside the house, to Tia this is where her territorial protection duty begins. She is pulling, lunging and barking at anything that may move whether it’s a bird, person, cat or dog. She’s fine with dogs elsewhere and they have a cat themselves. She welcomes people in the house – but not outside when she is on lead.

The lady needs to show Tia, starting at home, that she can look after herself and make her own decisions. She herself describes Tia’s following her about as ‘ushering’ her and that probably says it all.

The desensitisation process needs to be taken step by step, little by little. Every single element is to be worked on individually: The lady picking up her coat.  Lifting the lead. Picking up her keys. Attaching the lead.  She can vary the routine by putting on her outside clothes in different places and attaching the lead first. Next she’s to wait for calm at the door. Open the door – wait for calm again.Take a step out and wait for calm. Stand and look about, then go back in again. No longer will going out of the front door necessarily be a precursor to a walk.

Advancing a step at a time, in very short sessions (whilst being ready to take action as specifically planned as soon as there is any reactivity from Tia) the next goal will be for her to see something a bit distant that is moving without instantly reacting so that the desensitisation/conter-conditioning process can begin.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tia, 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).

First Season and Driven by Hormones

PartonCleoWhen I knocked on the door there was no barking and I wondered whether I had arrived at to the wrong house!

I was greeted by two very friendly and curious German Shepherds, one of which was jumping up at me while the lady was trying hard to restrain herself from grabbing or scolding her because I had asked her not to.

We sat down at the kitchen table and for a while I didn’t quite know where to start. The situation was worse than usual because six-month-old Cleo, on the right, is coming into her first season and eleven-year-old (castrated) Leo can’t leave her alone. When he does eventually lie down, Cleo then pesters him. The house is small for the family and two large dogs.

At one stage the fire alarm went off and both dogs erupted into frantic barking, followed by a slightly aggressive episode between the two dogs. Cleo has now begun to show her teeth at two of the daughters, once when being over-fussed on the sofa and the PartonLeoother time when being pulled off the sofa.

The lady felt she needed to be on their case all the time with ‘no’ and ‘uh-uh’ etc. She works as a carer and I asked her how she spoke to her elderly people to get them to cooperate. She was brilliant after that! I wanted to start working with rewards. While both dogs are currently driven by their hormones, there was little we could do with both together, so we put Leo into the other room where he cried on and off to come back in.

The plan for the first couple of weeks is to ‘prepare the ground’ so to speak, for the family to work hard on cutting down on scolding, cutting down on too much excitement and on introducing praise and rewards. They will get a gate to go between kitchen and sitting room in order to make separating the dogs easier. They will, hopefully, cut out rough play and look for constructive games along with finding things for Cleo to chew to help calm her and occupy her.

There are problems with walking the dogs which we will need to address when Cleo has finished her first season as she badly needs exercise and stimulation, spending many hours a day in her crate which is the only place she can be trusted not to chew walls and cables. Currently most interaction with their humans is in the form of either fussing, excitement or else being told off. They must have got a lot of things right though – the dogs are so friendly, and each dog when apart from the other becomes biddable and attentive when approached in the right way.

Against a calmer background we can then get down to work properly. What Cleo in particular most needs is basic training presented in such a way that she has something fun and rewarding to work for. Both dogs badly need some rules, boundaries and self-control. It is going to be a fairly long road.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Cleo and Leo, which is why I don’t go into 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Sent Away For Dog Training

GSD had been sent away to boot camp but  came back worseTwo-year-old German Shepherd Fonz is a beautiful, friendly German Shepherd. His lady owner has worked very hard with him and is very much on his wavelength – that is until other dogs enter the equation.

He left his litter and mother too young – at six weeks old, and had a couple of early bad encounters with other dogs that was not a good start. Before he was a year old the lady had a one-to-one trainer in to help her with walking him around other dogs. No improvement.

Then, last summer, he was sent away for dog training for three whole weeks. They advocated a choke chain and old-fashioned training methods. All was OK while he was there – he had no choice – but when he came home and his lady walked him, there was no improvement at all – in fact, if anything, his recall was worse.

This is proof to me that it’s not to do with the dog, it’s to do with the humans. What has been lacking all along has been an understanding of why he reacts so hysterically and violently to other dogs, and instead of forcing him to comply, looking at it from his point of view.

He is scared. He is certainly not a naturally aggressive or territorial dog that wants to dominate. When there is a dog about he experiences discomfort as the collar is tightened around his neck, anxious vibes from the lady zip down the lead as she beats a hasty retreat, and loud scolding and jerking as he lunges if this is left too late.

Surely the only way to conquer the fearful behaviour is to conquer his fears, and this has to be done slowly. It’s far too late for ‘socialising’. He needs to feel comfortable with the equipment used. The situation needs working at from whatever distance necessary for him not to feel threatened; his human, his owner, like a good parent or guide should be the one who teaches him confidence without pushing him beyond his threshold, without bullying, and to behave like the leader/parent she is with him in other respects. Avoiding dogs altogether for ever contains the situation but doesn’t advance it.

‘Training’ of various kinds hasn’t worked so there really is no choice but to have a totally different approach if Fonz is ever to be relaxed in the vicinity of other dogs. It will be a slow business requiring considerable patience and sensitivity which I know this lady has. Being sent away for dog training can make little difference when it’s the humans who need most of the training.

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

 

Walking Nicely

Having lived in a barn till 5 months old, Duke lacked socialisation

Duke

Previously the GSD had been beaten for destroying things when left alone all day

Princess

The last of German Shepherd Princess’ eight puppies went to a carefully checked home a couple of weeks ago and she has now been spayed.

Duke on he right (the puppies’ father) and Princess, both three years old, had the wrong start in life. Duke was in a barn and then not taken out until five months old which left a big gap in his vital socialisation, and Princess  had been left alone for hours and was beaten for destroying things.

The family have made huge headway with both dogs. Unsurprisingly, their main hurdle is socialisation and reactivity to other dogs when out, particularly Duke.

There are five family members who are all involved and adore the dogs, but they have been missing the vital ingredient to real success – positive reinforcement, particularly food.

Although their sole aim in asking for my help is to be able to enjoy walks, this is where I take a holistic approach.

A dog walking nicely is about much more than ‘dog training’.

The relationship with the human is particularly important when a dog is ‘trapped’ on lead. Firstly, the dog needs to find them relevant so that they can get and hold his attention. Secondly, the dog need to trust the human to whom he’s attached not only protect him and themselves, but also to make the decisions when out. If off lead, this also involves coming straight away when called rather than putting the owner somewhere lower on his list of priorities!

In order for the human to be trusted, they must be confident and this is one big problem here in this case.

Ever since Prince had been attacked by another dog, the lady who does much of the walking has been extremely anxious whenever they see one and admits that her reactions could well be part of the problem. Even discussing it made her tense up.

The business of decision-making, trust in the owner or walker and their being ‘relevant’ in order to get and hold a dog’s attention begins at home. If these things are not in place within the safe and distraction-free home environment, seeing the person on the end of the lead as ‘decision-maker and protector’ will not happen when out in the big world in the face of potential threats.

This is why a holistic approach works best. The process isn’t just about walks and other dogs alone.

Princess and Duke will be learning to respond to a whistle which will be throughly ‘charged’ at home – using food.  To teach them to really listen, they will learn to do their usual training tricks for one quiet request – and food. They will learn to give their humans eye contact and hold it upon request, they will learn to come immediately when called at home and they will learn that although they are the alarm system, their humans are ultimately in charge of protection duty.

Associating other dogs with nice stuff (food) will be part of the solution. Perhaps the lady would like to take a bag of her favourite sweets out on walks also and to pop one into her own mouth instead of reacting in panic!

This all takes time of course, but with these basics in place and calm loose lead walking established, these dogs will eventually be in a very different state of mind when meeting other dogs than they are now – as should their lady owner.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Princess and Duke, which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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 dog (see my Get Help page).