Working dog with no employment.

Bonnie is a working dog without a job.

She is a thirteen-month-old beautiful fox red Labrador.

I always ask my clients what their aim in having me would be if I had a magic wand. Which of course I don’t!

Bonnie’s owners said simply, ‘Happy walks with a happy dog’.

Working dog gun dogOne would think that Bonnie had everything in life a dog could ask for. However, the most important thing, apart from food and keeping safe, is missing.

A job. Continue reading…

Gun dog. Easing off the training, giving him choices.

Gun dog Black Lab Bentley is extremely well-behaved and polite, an absolute delight.

The young dog seems, however, careful. He follows anyone who gets up to walk about, looking worried. He can be jumpy.

Gun dog training

gun dogHis young lady owner is very conscientious indeed. She is keen to make a good gun dog out of him and is very disciplined with the training. Each family member helps her by walking him and they are well-trained too – very keen to help. All walks include training sessions.

The girl voiced concern that if she follows my behaviour route, Bentley’s training may go downhill.  I suspect that easing right back on the gun dog training and giving Bentley more choice will instead enhance their training sessions.

Continue reading…

Second Fear Period Maybe

Second fear period and bad timing could be involved.

The couple have two beautiful Labradors – black William and golden Sam.

Possibly Samson's behaviour changed due to second fear period

Sam

They can’t understand how the two dogs have turned out so differently when they both came from the same breeder. They say they have treated them both the same.

But have they?

William is now two-and-a-half years old and Sam fourteen months.

They had taken William to puppy classes. They carried him around shops before he could be safely put down. He went most places with them so was well habituated to daily life; all his experiences with other dogs had been good ones.

William is also a placid character which is just as well because soon after they got Sam at eight weeks old, all the boisterous play brought his elbow problems to light and he had an operation on each, resulting in restricted exercise for many weeks.

When Sam became too rough he never told him off. In fact, if he became impatient it was he who was scolded. They realise now that they should have instead have been teaching Sam to play nicely and when enough was enough.

Sam, totally different to William, is scared of anything new. This fear of new things applies particularly to new dogs. Because of the circumstances, Sam not been habituated and socialised at an early age in the way William had.

William

William

Up until eight or nine months of age he had been fine. Then, suddenly, he became reactive. Why should he have changed so quickly?

He had never been like this before apart from, perhaps, the over-boisterous play with William at home. He hadn’t been like this before going to classes. Was it coincidence? Had the first classes coincided with his second fear period?

There he was with a number of dogs he’d not met before in a situation which he could have found very stressful for several reasons.

The dog trainer eventually suggested removing him from the class due to his being too pushy, excitable and noisy.

It was traditional gun dog training and so the methods may well anyway have been stressful to sensitive a dog, particularly if coinciding with that short second fear period. One example of this now outdated training method is a jerk on the slip lead to make the dog walk to heel. Basically, he has to walk to heel to avoid pain, rather than being taught to walk to heel for reward and encouragement.

If the first scary training occasions indeed happened to have coincided with Sam’s short second fear period, a two to three-week period in adolescence, it could have had a huge effect on his future feelings towards new dogs.

It is pure conjecture of course and can never be proved.

So, the couple need help with Sam’s over-excitability when seeing another dog, particularly a dog he doesn’t know. He can be very pushy and intimidating but nothing worse until a couple of weeks ago. He pinned a young Cocker Spaniel down, terrifying it. There was a lot of noise but fortunately no damage. One just has to hope that this wasn’t during the smaller dog’s second fear period also.

Then there was another incident a few days ago. It’s getting worse – as things do.

The wagging tail and excitability he displays upon seeing another dog doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. It’s arousal of some sort. A human equivalent might be someone who is all over a person they have met for the first time, wild with excitement and hugs and forcing them to have a cup of tea even if they don’t want one. I wouldn’t call this friendliness myself, I would call it being over-anxious and trying to get some control over the situation.

Changing things around for Sam.

The slip lead causes discomfort when he pulls. Because of the slip lead, when he strains towards another dog he will be feeling some degree of pain. Is pain something we want him to associate with dogs he doesn’t know? No – the very opposite in fact.

From now, in a controlled way, he will associate something especially good with seeing another dog that he doesn’t know. It will be something so special that Sam won’t get it any other time. (What the special thing is has been chosen specifically to suit Sam).

He will learn to walk on a loose lead with a little freedom away from the human’s left leg! Goodbye slip lead strangulation and Hello suitable harness with a longer training lead hooked at the chest.

Instead of charging up to any dog he sees when off lead, playing if the dog is familiar and overwhelming or intimidating it if it not, he will now always touch base with his human first. He needs to be taught to do this through constant repetition. His otherwise good recall has to be even better. They will call him back at random throughout walks and make it very worthwhile to do so in terms of food or fun. The lead will be put on at random throughout the walk so not associated with the appearance of another dog or with the end of the walk.

Currently when he’s on lead and another dog appears, they continue to walk Sam towards it, slip lead tight, perhaps making him sit, and taking physical control of him. He must feel trapped.

In future when another dog appears they will do their best to make choices based on Sam’s own body language. They will increase distance until he shows that he is comfortable. At that comfortable distance they will start to show him that the presence of a dog he doesn’t know BRINGS ON THE GOOD STUFF.

Whether or not his fears are connected to an unpleasant experience around unfamiliar dogs during the sensitive second fear period, they can now start to reverse this.

Sadly it takes a lot longer to undo damage than it does to cause it.

Feedback five months later: We’ve been diligently working on building his confidence and focus on us with the steps you helped us put in place. Unfortunately last week he injured himself and needed stitches. On 2 visits to the vets for stitches and and dressing change, he has remained focused on me despite being alert to another dog in the waiting room on our way in. Obviously still appearing worried but no lunging, growling or barking. I know this doesn’t mean he’s cured, but it was such welcome relief and huge positive step forward. I’m delighted.

 

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 Sam 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are 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 Help page)

People Walking Away, the Dog Attacks

People walking away from him causes Barney to lose it.

Barney’s lady owner had been so sure that due to his odd behaviour he had something either wrong with his brain or a chemical imbalance in his body, that he has undergone extensive tests including an MRI scan. All is clear.

People walking away from him cause Harvey to attack them

Harvey

His behaviour however is troubling. I suspect this is because he himself is troubled – an upsetting thought for his dedicated lady owner.

Six-year-old Hungarian Vizsla Barney is very well-trained as a gun dog, but training alone doesn’t make a well-adjusted and happy dog. In fact, I have been to dogs where the opposite is the case. Sometimes the owners just try too hard.

The lady is an exceptionally conscientious dog owner and has structured her life around Barney. They have been more or less inseparable for the past four years. He has always been panicked by his people walking away so she has avoided it as much as she can.

People walking away from Barney triggers an attack. One can safely assume this is in an effort to prevent them from leaving.

When they shut the boot of the car and walk away, even if only to go to the driver’s door, Barney goes wild with barking and panic. The whole car rocks.

Recently the lady has gone back to work full time and Barney is getting worse.

He does other odd things. Each evening he will have a lengthy bout of staring and fixating at the garden window, drooling. He will then do the same to his humans. They don’t let him out, they ignore it believing it to be the right thing to do. It’s almost like a contest where he must not win.

If a child were behaving in this troubled fashion, the parents would help him out. If they don’t want the dog to rush out barking at pigeons or trying to kill a hedgehog (he has come back in covered in blood), they can call him away and do something else with him. Currently he’s so fixated he may not even be aware of them calling, but fortunately he’s food driven and we found when I was there that it was easy to get his attention with food.

Having called him away, they can give him something else to do, incompatible with his obsessing. They will cover the lower part of the windows.

The ordeal of going out

At present when they need to go out they have a ritual. Amazingly, having watched the picking up of keys and all the other signals that they are about to go and when the front door is opened, Barney has been successfully taught to go to his bed in the sitting room. They then go back and give him a carrot (the one time when food is used to motivate him) and rush out of the room and out of the front door.

However, if he finishes the carrot before they are out of the door they have to try again.

For now the problem can be temporarily managed by the use of a gate in the sitting room doorway. They can also make the carrot-eating slower by stuffing it into a Kong.

For Barney’s mental health and general stress levels the panic and emotions that drive him to behave like this need to be worked on, slowly and gradually, desensitising and counter-conditioning until he accepts and ultimately even enjoys people walking away.

They believe he is fine once they have gone, but I’m not convinced and have asked them to video the first fifteen minutes or so. A dog walker calls daily and he’s the same with her when she goes.

‘Operation Calm’

Life must be a bit confusing for the highly-strung dog. He is ruled by commands whilst at the same time being worshipped. I would reverse both. I would work on motivating him by using food so he makes more of his own choices with fewer commands, and I would advise worshipping him less!

Humans relax. Stop watching and worrying over him.

He was beside me staring out of the window. He lay down, still staring. Then his head dropped onto his bed. I silently fed him. Each time he relaxed I did this. He now needs positive guidance into how to relax.

I’m sure the very caring lady will herself also feel a big sense of release and relief if she can let go a bit and stop worrying so much. Instead of stressing because Barney is stressing, they can work on Operation Calm, silently feeding when he relaxes and settles. They will give him activities that will help him to calm himself down including chewing and foraging. He has three walks a day – could this actually be too much?

I am sure that if they now use motivation and food and work hard at teaching him that people walking away from him results in him getting something nice – and that they always come back – they won’t need that gate in the doorway for ever. Here is a great little video about motivation.

One strong influence is the lady’s following of breed-specific Facebook groups which has coloured her life with Barney. These groups spread the idea that a Vizsla isn’t the same as other dogs, like it’s a different species. Individuals in these groups can give mis-information and outdated training advice still unfortunately prevalent in the gun dog world.

Primarily Barney is an animal. Secondarily he’s a dog. The fact he’s a Vizsla and a gun dog doesn’t affect the basic principals of behaviour, that positive reinforcement teaches a dog what we want in a way that is most successful both in terms of him understanding what is wanted and in his feeling of fulfillment.

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 Barney 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are 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 Help page)

Gun Dog Training or Force-Free?

Whilst harsh training methods may well Rufuswork in the moment, there is usually future fallout of some sort.

I may well get some people’s backs up, but here goes!

Dogs that are specifically trained and used as gun dogs are to my mind, a commodity. These dogs are trained specifically to do a job, they are often kept alone out in kennels and some have never seen the inside of a house. Usually they are very ‘obedient’ – possibly they dare not be otherwise.

(Please note that there are becoming more and more exceptions to this sweeping statement as gradually some gun dog breeders and schools are beginning to catch up with modern training methods).

There is no argument that many working dogs are a lot more fulfilled than those family pets who may be either left alone all day or over-spoilt. Many working dogs are trained positively and are treated as valued members of a family or at least have a close relationship with their handler. Assistance dogs and sniffer dogs come to mind in particular.

I have a gun dog breeding and training business near to me with probably around twenty dogs and in fact I got my cocker spaniel from there (that’s another story).  I saw first hand the dogs’ environment. Most of the dogs seemed submissive in general and a bit fearful of me when I stood by their caged areas. There were no bouncy, friendly welcomes that one might have expected from Labradors and Spaniels.

I was given a demo of the skills of three 4-6 month old dogs and they were certainly very obedient and were 100% focussed on the man even at that age. To be fair, they seemed to enjoy what they were doing but I guess their life didn’t hold a lot else by way of interaction with humans.

In saying their dogs are used as a commodity, I absolutely don’t include people who have family dogs that happen to take them to gun dog training classes because of their breed, like the owners of Rufus and of Bramble who I went to a few months ago. These conscientious dog owners do so because they believe it is the best for their dog on account of what he’s bred for.

A couple of years ago at Crufts there was a gun dog display of dogs trained to do gun dog things using positive reinforcement and it was a joy to watch these enthusiastic dogs – dogs that weren’t afraid of making mistakes. It proved it’s possible.

Rufus began with normal puppy classes. He met lots of people and lots of dogs – and became a happy and confident adolescent.  He then went to gun dog training for a year.

I don’t believe it’s purely coincidence that now, over a year since they stopped the classes, Rufus has become an increasingly nervous dog. The family members who attended the classes with him try to maintain the ‘firm’ approach and the other person lacks the same sort consistency and discipline, resulting in confusing mixed messages for the dog.

It’s like Rufus is waiting to be told what to do – external control. He doesn’t have much self-control.

Dogs that are trained to think for themselves using clicker or other positive reinforcement methods aren’t afraid to make mistakes. They become inventive and try different ways of getting their rewards and making us happy because they know they won’t be scolded or punished if they happen to get it wrong. The key to teaching a dog is not about making them do what we want, but making them WANT to do what we want.

It’s a big step for Rufus, now nearly four years old, to start thinking for himself. With clicker a ‘formally’ trained dog can take a long time to ‘get it’ before experiencing the fun of experimenting with what will bring results and what will not. If Rufus’ family persist they will eventually get a breakthrough. Then the possiblities of what he can learn for himself are boundless.

Gone now is the punishing and uncomfortable slip lead – like a choke chain, what can possibly be the purpose of this as opposed to a normal collar and lead, or a harness, apart from causing discomfort if a dog pulls?

We took turns to walk Rufus around outside on a harness with long lead clipped to the chest and he walked beside us like a different dog, round in circles, back and forth – a dream. If he wanted to stop for a sniff, why not?

In this comfortable state of mind, he is much more likely to be chilled when encountering unknown dogs or if a moped buzzes past.

Rufus is at the dawn of a new life, and his family will now work in unison to give him back his old confidence.

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

Why Not Positive Training Methods, Using Praise and Rewards, for Gundogs?

Lakeland Whisky is giving the Labrador 'that look'Little Lakeland Terrier Whisky is seriously reactive to other dogs. As soon as she sees a dog she begins to scream, and if she can get to it she will attack, grabbing its neck and holding on.

She lives with a lovely 2 year old Labrador, training to be a gun dog. Bramble also has felt those teeth. They are getting on reasonably well now because Bramble has learnt that, when Whisky gives her ‘that look’ (see picture on the left), she’s to back off!

I have certain issues with the training methods used with Bramble and which are also now applied to Whisky. Bramble is taken to gun dog training classes. There is a lot of ‘correction’ and negative stuff like ‘Leave’, ‘Down’, ‘Off’ and ‘No’ rather than positives – what they should be doing along with praise and reward. In fact their trainer says don’t use food rewards at all.  Would you happily work for nothing? Here is just a small example of how it goes – the lady ‘commanded’ Whisky to sit several times and eventually had to touch her back to get her to do so. I later asked her to sit, quietly, just the once, and waited. And waited. Whisky sat. Then I rewarded her. After that she was totally focused on me. If she were my dog and I built on that bond and relationship, I am sure I could make progress when out where Whisky and other dogs are concerned, because she would be focusing on me and trusting me.

Whisky lying on her bed

Whisky

I don’t know if it’s a gun dog thing, but commands like ‘Sit’ are also accompanied by peeps on the whistle – like Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music getting his family into line.

They also have problems with both dogs’ recall – especially when there is another dog about. Bramble wants to play, Whisky is scared stiff, screaming and ready to attack. If I were a dog I would be much more likely to come back when called if I were called in an inviting voice rather than  ‘ordered’ and if I knew that there was something in it for me.

Behavioural theory has proved beyond any doubt that positive and reward-based training is more effective – and it works just as well for gun dogs, traditionally trained in the old-fashioned way using a degree of force and even aversives. Positive methods help to form a healthy and trusting bond between human and dog.

‘Possessing’ Objects and Growling

Jack is a good natured, affectionate and very energetic young Cocker Spaniel Fourteen-month-old Jack is a good natured, affectionate and very energetic young Cocker Spaniel (and I know what that’s like with my own Working Cocker, Pickle!). However Jack does have a problem and it is getting worse. He steals things and runs off with them, then hides under the kitchen table guarding them and growling. He will do the same with bones and toys. He may growl if someone simply walks past when he is possessing something.

Without realising it, the owners have unintentionally encouraged this. In addition to giving Jack a great deal of attention for it, the gentleman held the view that if he was going to be the ‘Alpha male’ then Jack had to give up the item. Consequently, he will corner him under the table and forcibly open Jack’s mouth to remove the object. All the time Jack is growling.

A dog can’t talk, so he growls. The danger is that if the growling is ignored Jack will soon feel it’s pointless giving this warning and move on to the next step – which is to snap. He has already done this to a lady who wanted to touch him when he was tied up outside a shop. In general, when Jack is approached and loomed over he will go over onto his back, an indication that he finds it a little threatening – as do many dogs.

When I was there Jack was given a new chew toy. The gentleman found it very hard to totally ignore Jack as he paraded it about! Jack’s antics have no power if the humans refuse to play his game – and ignore the whole thing.

Meanwhile, work needs to be done on getting Jack to willingly exchange things. They should never be simply wrenched off him. If the item’s not important, then they should deny him any pleasure in the form of attention and totally ignore it – maybe even walking out of the room. I suggest for now his guarding spot under the kitchen table is blocked, and that all his toys are lifted. They can be issued to him one at a time – and used for a ‘Give’ game before finally being handed over to him.  He has already been trained, as a gun dog, to ‘Give’ the dummy, so this shouldn’t be too hard.

The regular gun dog training Jack has had isn’t sufficiently reward-based for my liking. He is being told ‘No’ without being shown they do want from him. It’s much fairer if he can be called away from things and rewarded or given alternative behaviours that are incompatible with what he is doing. He quite vigorously humped me when I arrived (not helped perhaps by my own dog Zara currently being in season), but being told No and Down and being dragged off only prolongs the situation. If he is given an alternative like ‘Sit’, he can’t hump and sit at the same time!

He’s a cracking dog and with consistent rules and boundaries, with his humans ditching ‘dominance’ techniques and using a bit of psychology, with less use of the word ‘No’ and more rewarding in terms of attention for the desired behaviour, I feel sure Jack will mature into a trustworthy and well-mannered adult.