Enjoyable Walks Begin at Home

Enjoyable walks with Izzy can be better if she’s calmer before leaving

Enjoyable walks with Old English Izzy Izzy, a stunning 14-month Old English Sheepdog, is extremely friendly, very bouncy and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the all the attention she gets.

When I arrived she came to the door and gave one Woof. Thinking she may have been uneasy because I was taking no notice of her (something she wasn’t used to) I said hello. This stressed her sufficiently to make her do a small tiddle on the floor.

She very quickly relaxed however. There was a bit of jumping up but she was so friendly and biddable. A delight.

 

Izzy is treated like she’s the centre of their world (which she probably is!)

Izzy is adored by four ladies and other family members including young children. Whenever she wants attention she gets loads of it. To look at her you can see how hard she must be to resist. However, it does leave her with little incentive to give them her attention when they want it.

She has constant access to food, so food isn’t a sufficiently valuable currency for rewarding and paying her for doing as asked. She could instead be working for some of her food.

What prevents enjoyable walks is Izzy’s pulling like a train on lead and going ‘deaf’ when called if she’s engaged in something she would prefer to be doing, like running off to play with another dog.

She is wild with excitement before the walk even starts.

The lady, having been pulled over by her, will no longer walk her alone, so one of her three adult daughters will come after work and accompany her.

There is a massively exciting greeting at the door when the daughters arrive, possibly with grandchildren too, to the extent that Izzy will pee on the floor. In the normal way of things it would take quite a while for the effects of this degree of excitement to subside and they immediately go out for the walk.

Soon Izzy will learn that ‘good things come to a calm dog’ while they give her time before leaving, doing their best not to wind her up in the first place. Enjoyable walks should then be a lot easier.

Walking equipment needs to be changed away from that which depends upon physically restraining the dog to equipment that encourages her to walk comfortably and willingly beside them. I use a good harness with D-ring at the chest (Perfect Fit) and a loose training lead. Equally important is that they all practise the correct walking technique.

I demonstrated with the lead on Izzy’s collar. She was excited when I picked up my lead so I sat down and waited. Then I called her to me (reward) and asked her to sit quietly – once. After a moment she did so and I attached the lead to the collar so that it hung from the front under her chin. I then walked around the house with her following me on a loose lead.

To make my point I now turned the collar so the lead attachment on top of her neck. Izzy immediately pulled due to the ‘opposition reflex‘.

I rested my case.

‘Coming back when called’ also begins at home. If she won’t come in from the garden until she is ready she certainly won’t when there is something exciting to run off after on a walk.

So, with a mix of a calm start, better equipment, a technique where she walks nicely because she wants to, being conditioned until coming when called is a habit along with a slightly different overall relationship with her humans at home, enjoyable walks should be achieved before too long.

 

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 Izzy. 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)

Tension Between the Dogs

Jack Russell Bella is a very hyped up and stressed little dog

Bella

I could hear the three little dogs as I got out of my car down the road!

With the exception of a German Shepherd, I have recently been to a run of little dogs, and one thing many of them have in common is excessive barking! The problem with all this tension between dogs is that it can then lead to conflict.

Two of yesterday’s three little terriers were particularly hyped up, especially Bella (left). Not only do they bark at sounds and people arriving, they bark with excited anticipation whenever anyone moves. Car journeys are a nightmare.

I took Bella’s picture after we had worked with her for a couple of hours, keeping the atmosphere as calm as possible, moving quietly and slowly, and rewarding her when she stopped pawing and scratching for attention. She became calm, undemanding and happy. It’s like at last she had a clue what was required of her.

The barking understandably drives the two ladies with whom they live to distraction. There is quite a lot of shouting! The more worked up the humans become, the more worked up the dogs get too. It’s a vicious circle.

Attempts at some ‘firm’ discipline have led Bella to showing her teeth and she has in fact bitten one of the ladies. A confrontational approach can so often end with the dog standing up for itself. Fights can break out Between Bella and one of the other dogs

In the stress-charged atmosphere, Bella and one of the others may break into a fight. Bella can become fixated with her tail, then spins, growls and chews it. She may chew at her feet.

It was wonderful to see the little dog calm down and to demonstrate to the ladies what is possible if positive methods are used. There are kind methods of stopping a dog barking at the gate, of breaking up potential trouble between dogs and of getting a dog off the sofa. These methods require patience but the big difference is that they work, and not just in the moment.

Many humans feel it’s the right thing to do to play wildly exciting games (‘but the dogs love it’) or give manic greetings to dogs, not understanding that they may be pumping them up to a degree that something eventually will have to give. It’s hard to convince people that it’s kinder to wait and respond to the dogs only when they are reasonably calm.

The main aim for now is to reduce the tension between dogs and arousal in the household. Having calmer dogs will help their humans – and calmer humans will help the dogs.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bella and the other little dogs, 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).

Over-Enthusiastic Puppy Greetings

CavapooIf our puppy is given rapturous welcomes by all who come to the house – being picked up and encouraged to jump at them rather than (along with those guests!) taught some restraint – isn’t it likely she may think this is the way to greet all people she meets?

Looking at 19 week old Cavapoo Molly, you can see that she is absolutely irresistible.

Another concern of the couple is that she may be getting a little fearful of larger dogs. She tries to greet them in the same exuberant way, by jumping all over them, and recently has encountered a dog that was not so friendly.

She really is the sweetest, friendliest little dog and very gentle for a puppy.CaverpooMolly

I do sometimes wonder whether extreme excitement upon meeting people and dogs doesn’t actually mask a touch of anxiety. If a human were to greet someone at the door in this rather frantic and over-enthusiastic manner, would it be pure happiness? May it not betray some unease?

I picked her up briefly myself and did sense she wasn’t really enjoying it. Immediately I put her down she started scratching herself which I suspect she uses as a displacement activity when things are getting just a little bit too much for her. I suggest that Molly isn’t picked up unless really necessary.

I also suggest she learns that hellos at home don’t happen until she has calmed down a bit – and this is so hard to explain to callers who instantly fall in love with the delightful puppy.

Out on walks her ‘parents’ now need to take charge of who she interacts with, just as they would a toddler, and restrain her gently, only allowing her to greet those people and dogs they know feel the same way about her. Later when she’s a little older and no longer quite so aroused, she can be taught to sit, give owners her attention or to walk on.

It would be a great shame if, at this sensitive time in her development, she were to meet an adult dog that showed aggression towards her. Her encounters should as far as is possible all be positive. If there is any doubt, more distance should be put between her and the possible ‘threat’.

Two important rules are: don’t give puppies too much freedom to soon. Start with restricting them in small areas at home (which also aids toilet training) and keep them nearby on a long lead when out. Gradually, as one would a child, expand the available space as they learn to handle it, without giving complete freedom for several months at least.

The second rule is to work constantly on recall using tiny bits of something tasty as a reward or play, both at home and out, thousands of times over the days, weeks and months, until when the dog is called it is a conditioned response to come.

Coming when called is the key to managing much unwanted behaviour. If the puppy is doing something like chewing a chair or chewing stones as Molly does, all one needs to do is to call her and she will come running over (dropping the stone). Then she can be rewarded for coming away and given an acceptable alternative.

A bomb-proof recall will keep her safe on walks. It should override the instinct to chase or desire to play if caught in time – before she’s in another zone altogether when she may become so focussed that nothing will get through.

About 6 weeks later: ‘We are still enjoying Molly I can’t believe she is now 6 months old, she is getting much better at entertaining herself and as I write is quietly sitting with me amusing herself. She seems very happy so we must be doing ok! 

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