It must be very hurtful when your dog picks on you – the dog that you love. This is the case with Cocker Spaniel mix, Freddie and his gentleman owner.
When the man approaches his space to touch him, he bites him.
The man however won’t stop trying.
It must be very hurtful when your dog picks on you – the dog that you love. This is the case with Cocker Spaniel mix, Freddie and his gentleman owner.
When the man approaches his space to touch him, he bites him.
The man however won’t stop trying.
The word here is Won’t. Lily hears. Lily understands. Lily decides not to.
She has been taken to special recall classes and was a star pupil in that environment.
Eighteen month old cream German Shepherd Lily and was a joy to meet. She had the ideal start in life. Her mother and father were both friendly family pets so she has inherited great genes temperamentally.
I don’t see a fair example of dogs, particularly German Shepherds, because I go to help sort out problems. It’s was real treat to be welcomed so happily.
The problem with Lily is that she won’t come when called.
Lily has got out of the front door. She then ran from garden to garden as the lady called her frantically. She sat in the middle of the road and just looked at her. Eventually a neighbour caught her.
What brought this to a head is that recently Lily got into a field full of cows and was chasing and barking at them. What a nightmare! She had run off, out of the field they were in and into a cow field. The lady, uselessly, was running after her, shouting for her to come back.
The lady loves to see her beautiful young dog running freely but that can no longer be possible if she won’t come when called. People with children can be intimidated as can someone with a small or nervous dog when a large dog runs up to them, barking.
So long as she’s off lead she loves other dogs. On lead, she will lunge and bark.
The fact Lily won’t come when called on walks will be part of a bigger picture. I did a bit of digging (something Lily likes to do but that’s another story!).
When out in the garden, particularly at bed time, young Lily won’t come in until she is ready. She may even enjoy refusing – playing games, teasing.
If she won’t come in from the garden when called, then there is little hope that she will come away from a rabbit running towards a road when they are out.
That Lily often won’t come when called isn’t due to lack of ‘training’. Good recall is about motivation and habit. Lily is constantly rehearsing not coming when called. She understands what is wanted and then decides to comply when she is ready.
When off lead, Lily may sometimes chase off people on bikes, people with dogs on lead or children – or cows. She is rehearsing this same behaviour at home by barking at people passing her garden fence. It works and the people go.
Despite training classes, Lily is such a puller that the lady can’t cope without using a Gentle Leader head halter.
She showed me what Lily does when she picks it up. The dog runs away from it. She hates it. This in itself is an eye-opener. It’s like she is being called for punishment.
She walks down the street, restrained by something that is uncomfortable and makes her feel trapped. Stress builds in both her and the lady. Now she may react to a dog, something she never does if off lead and the dog is free too. She is held tight by the nose. More stress.
Then….off lead at last…she has freedom!
She runs. She plays with other dogs.
Then lady calls her. She won’t come back.
If I were Lily I wouldn’t want to come back to have the leash attached to that head halter again.
Lily will be introduced to a Perfect Fit harness and learn to walk nicely on a loose and longish lead – in total comfort. With a little work, both will enjoy walks a lot more.
At home Lily must lose her freedom in the garden. No more rehearsing the unwanted behaviour. She can be out on a long line (or retractable lead to avoid tangling) so recall is no longer optional. The lady will call her in immediately each time she barks.
Lily will be paid for coming. She will always be rewarded with food as she steps over the threshold.
Lily simply must lose opportunity to rehearse chasing dogs away and ignoring being called in – for a some time.
Indoors the lady has work to do too. She will repeatedly call Lily and reward her, ‘Lily Come’. Lily can earn some of her food. She can be ‘programmed’ to come to a whistle which hasn’t a history of being ignored, with constant repetition and reward.
In open spaces the long line will be attached to the harness so she can have partial freedom. Now the recall work can really begin – building on what they are already doing at home. Lots of repetition and lots of reinforcement.
Being called should never herald ‘time to go home’, or ‘I see another dog’. It must be random as can the reward. It need not always be food.
Lily will lose the option to decide ‘no, I won’t come when called’, because she will be on the line.
Importantly, her brain and her life will be enriched in every way possible with stimulating activities to compensate for what she lacks in off-lead freedom.
Dogs that freelance can cause real problems for other people, dogs, and other animals. We do things the wrong way around. We give our puppies freedom (puppies tend to stay close), and as they become teenagers, too late we then try to rein them in!
It’s so much better to give puppy very little freedom and gradually introduce more distance in a controlled way, reinforcing recall constantly. We are prepared for some teenage rebellion and having to reintroduce temporary restrictions! Lily is still an adolescent too.
Recall is recall. Recall is not ‘come when you are ready’.
Reliable recall is the key to freedom.
When someone new comes to the door, the two Dalmatians are shut away behind a gate and will be barking loudly as the person enters the house.
Lincoln is barking with excitement. Lucas’ excitement quickly spills over into redirecting onto poor Lincoln, attacking him.
I witnessed this for myself.
Fortunately Lincoln is very easygoing and has not retaliated – yet.
They settled quickly and were both fine when let out to greet me.
Things weren’t so good a few days ago when someone they didn’t know came to the house. While the dogs were still barking she put her hand over the gate. A mistake.
The two brothers are now sixteen months old. Everything they do has been together. They are the best of buddies most of the time.
Their humans will now be working at two things in particular. They will be doing their best to lower both dogs’ arousal and stress levels in every way they can. They will be building up their own relationship with each individual dog rather than treating them as a pair.
Keeping arousal levels as low as possible is key. Stress builds up over days until the dog will be ‘ready to go’ and much more reactive than when calmer. Like a volcano, he will ultimately blow. See this video on ‘trigger stacking‘.
Lucas’ way of erupting is to take it out on poor good-natured Lincoln.
It’s a busy household. The two males like to stir the dogs up with rough play. The dogs also get over aroused when there is push and shove between the humans. All this results in Lucas redirecting either his own uncontrolled excitement onto Lincoln by going for him, or by reacting to Lincoln’s excitement in similar fashion.
As is often the case with two dogs, particularly siblings, it’s hard to leave them with toys or Kongs because it can either cause trouble between the dogs. This is a shame because chewing is one of the best ways they can self-calm.
Separating them one each side of a gate for short periods will mean they can chew without actually being separated. Instead of taking his feelings out on Lincoln, Lucas can take them out on a bone, Kong or Stagbar!
The redirecting happens on walks too and got so bad they muzzled Lucas. Once the dogs, always off-lead, are let out of the car and having built up a head of steam, Lucas goes for Lincoln, redirecting all his uncontrolled, built-up excitement onto the other dog. They have now recently started walking the two dogs separately.
Walks will be overhauled, starting with the right equipment (Perfect Fit harnesses recommended), loose lead walking and controlled exits from both house and car with plenty of recall work and the use of rewards. By not using food in training and for getting their dogs’ attention, they are missing their most valuable tool.
They will do everything they can to take away all opportunities for Lucas to rehearse redirecting his arousal, whether it’s fear, excitement or both, onto Lincoln. The less practice he gets, the less it will happen. With lower stress levels, the aggressive redirecting should lose its fuel so to speak; he simply won’t need to do it.
People asking for help usually ask for help with the behaviour itself – the symptom. It’s actually the emotion, the stress and excitement which is the cause of the behaviour that needs to be dealt with.
The two Dalmations will now learn to be calm before getting the things they want whether it’s attention, a welcome, to be let out form behind their gate or out of the car, before getting their food and so on.
At present hyper behaviour is being rewarded and unwittingly compounded by receiving all the attention.
We ourselves need to be what we want our dogs to be. If we want them to be happy, we can be happy ourselves. If we want them to be calm, we need to behave as calmly as possible ourselves.
The lady was, to quote her email, at ‘such a low ebb’ as she described what was happening with her two recently adopted puppy farm dogs.
Considering the mental condition of the dogs she has taken on, she has already worked miracles. However, without support, she can’t herself see the progress that has really been made or just what to do next.
All these two little dogs have known is confinement in a dark puppy farm building. They probably had never seen the sky, never walked on grass. They may have been forced to mate. Their contact with humans will not have been tactile, loving or friendly.
They were taken to a shelter. They were handled by staff and a vet. They were neutered. They were ‘ready for adoption’.
Their existence may have been terrible but it was the only life they knew and probably the only life their parents had known also.
The grim buildings would have been their security.
It’s hard to imagine how it must be when every little thing in their lives is new, from obvious things like a vacuum cleaner or traffic to birds flying free or music playing.
Four months ago the lady took on Maggie, a Jack Russell age about four. For the first four weeks the little dog seldom moved from the corner of the settee. She was frozen. Because she was so miserable, the rescue encouraged the lady also to take puppy farm breeding dog Marty, a Cocker Spaniel, about seven years old.
When Marty arrived the real nightmare started. The moment Maggie met him it was as if a cork had been pulled from a bottle of fizz. She was bouncing off the walls and this went on for weeks.
Marty on the other hand was totally shut down – too terrified to go outside at all and when a bit later he dared, would cower and run back indoors at the slightest thing. He has cataracts, his hearing is defective and he has a heart murmer. He came covered all over in fleas. Total neglect. Why hadn’t she been told these things first?
The main problem that has been driving the lady to despair is the marking and urinating everywhere, on furniture, up curtains, on the seat and back of the sofa. She is constantly cleaning. The marking intensifies when there is any change or stress.
She was at her wits’ end. She has large incontinence pads all over the floor and all over the chairs.
Over the three months that she has had Marty, the lady has gradually encouraged him into the garden to toilet. I watched her. He follows as she drops food and she always goes to the same place. She is extremely perceptive and patient. Her environment is perfect because the dogs have a room that with an open door or gate which means they lie in a chair together and can see into the kitchen and the garden without fear of being approached by anyone apart from the lady whose body language is perfect (she lives alone).
….meaning grab the dog, force him outside or force the harness on him. If she did that she would blow it all. She is slowly building the trust of both dogs.
She had been looking for guidance on the internet and in books, and came across Lisa Tenzin Dolma’s book Charlie, the Dog Who Cam in from the Wild. This was exactly the kind approach she wanted and through Lisa’s books she found me.
As I discovered when I was with them the other day, the indoor marking was already beginning to reduce and now for regular toileting Marty is taking himself outside. The lady has just told me that he has now had a dry, marking-free day! This is huge progress. Imagine seven years most likely in an enclosure with other male dogs, making claim to his space with marking. After all this time it will be a strong habit to simply empty himself wherever he is, so you could say it’s not much short of miraculous that he’s now learning to go outside.
The lady’s slowly slowly approach is paying off. The two little dogs will lie beside her on the sofa in their ‘garden room’. Maggie even likes her tummy tickled but Marty, who now likes to lie close to her, immediately moves away if even her finger touches him.
She now feels that she has reached a standstill which is why she contacted me and with my help we will slowly advance things with them all.
It brings a lump to my throat. Marty is at last beginning to feel safer in his immediate world, safe enough to play.
Any small change has to be handled very slowly and carefully or he simply regresses into urinating and looking scared. Maggie then also regresses to bouncing off the walls.
The areas we are now starting on is Marty’s stressing when the lady leaves the dogs – the downside of developing an attachment. We are working on his fear of any human touch, even the lady’s. She will slowly be teaching Marty to go over to her and touch her outstretched hand whilst trusting her not to try to touch him back. It will be entirely his own choice.
She will need to hold back because where her human instinct is to reach out to him physically, to love and reassure, for him this would amount to punishment.
She can’t of course take the dogs out at all – she’s unable get a collar, harness or lead anywhere near Marty in particular. Walks themselves aren’t important though a visit to the vet might be. These two dogs have never had a walk so even the smallish garden is a new world of smells and adventure to them and more than sufficient for now.
Sometimes when we so deeply want to help and encourage a fearful dog it’s hard not to actually put on pressure. It’s a delicate balance. Perhaps now that huge strides have been made the lady can relax a little and try a little less hard. I did suggest she no longer rushed to clean up those yellow patches on the pads but to wait a while – best of all do it while Marty is out in the garden. To strictly leave him be when he lies next to her and not to be tempted to put out even a finger towards him.
Everything that we normally take for granted is a challenge for these two ex puppy farm dogs, Marty in particular – and a great challenge for the lady too. She is feeling happier now that I have proved to her why her instinct not to push things, to give the dogs time against the pressure of ‘other people’, is the way to get results in the long-term.
Sally and Pepper are two adorable and friendly Shih Tzus, ages five and eighteen months respectively.
They came from different breeders and this is reflected in their general confidence and sociability to other dogs. Sally is quite happy carrying her ball and playing games when out. Pepper, on the other hand, is on permanent alert to sounds….and to dogs.
Pepper left his mother and litter a bit early and hadn’t been well cared for, very different to Sally’s start in life.
Walks can be difficult for the young lady in particular. She’s actually scared now when walking little Pepper. When held back from attacking another dog, he has redirected his frustration onto her three times now, resulting in bites.
It’s easy to assume that this is just something to do with ‘training’ out on walks.
I see it as part of a much bigger picture that if they first get all the groundwork in place at home and understand how to approach the ‘other dog’ problem by seeing things through Pepper’s eyes, things should dramatically improve.
Pepper will then have no need for frustration.
There are two dogs living next door with just a wall between the houses, one dog in particular is very noisy.
Their barking is heard intermittently throughout the day, upon which the younger Shih Tzu, Pepper, will immediately react and run around the house barking ineffectually, trying to get to the barking dog the other side of the wall.
Imagine his frustration at failing every time. This may happen many times a day.
Cheeky Sally, too, may give one bark to set him off!
Worse, a while ago these two male dogs would regularly ‘fence-fight’ the Shih Tzus with much snarling and leaping at the fence from both sides. The larger dog had knocked down the old fence and his leaping at the new fence has already exposed gaps at the bottom.
Whenever Pepper is out in his garden he’s on high alert. Even from the kitchen French window he can hear the dogs the other side of the fence; this is the room is where they leave Sally and Pepper when they go out.
Bouts of frustration will be recurring throughout the day.
So, it’s against this background at home that makes Pepper’s behaviour out on walks all the more understandable.
Helping him needs to be approached from three angles.
The first is management in order to make Pepper’s environment as helpful as possible – like gating him away from the back window and only letting him out on a lead.
The second is to get Pepper to feel differently so that he no longer feels he needs to bark through the wall and protect himself outside in his garden. This can only be done by desensitising and counter-conditioning.
We made a start, as you can see from the picture. I took the photo when both dogs were sitting in front of me while barking went on from next door.
Changing the emotions that drive him to being so reactive to other dogs also involves reducing Pepper’s stress levels in general so that he becomes a calmer dog.
When he’s no longer reacting to the barking through the wall, they can move on to working in the garden. With time and effort they should have him ignoring the dog behind the fence. Without Pepper retaliating, the next door dog will be quieter.
How his humans behave when out on walks and another dog appears is crucial.
At present they hold Pepper tight as they advance on the dog – they may pick him up – and all he wants to do is to get at it. He lunges, snarls and, to quote, ‘barks ballistically’.
At proximity he will never learn to feel differently. It’s how he’s feeling that is driving how he’s behaving.
Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere, though I do suggest a couple of dog-free weeks to build upon. Why?
Then, as with the dogs next door, it’s slow, patient work that is required so he is never pushed beyond his comfort threshold and eventually comes to feel differently about them.
Thirdly, after management and working on changing how Pepper feels, comes teaching him actions that are incompatible with the unwanted behaviour (like ‘sit’, ‘come’, ‘stay’ and so on) or removing himself from trouble if the neighbour’s dog is in their garden.
Within a few minutes yesterday, using appropriate harness and lead, they were walking a much calmer dog on a loose lead down the road. Pulling against a tight lead causing discomfort to the neck from a collar is not conducive of a relaxed walk. When he lunges at a dog it will hurt his delicate little neck.
He will be taken to what he considers is a safe distance. If they watch him he, he will let them know where this distance is.
At this distance the work they will have been doing with the dog next door can be replicated out on the walk.
In all areas of Pepper’s life they will do their best to keep his arousal levels down. Stress and frustration go hand in hand. Being on constant alert also means he could well be sleep-deprived, which will not be helping his stress levels either.
The ‘stress circle’: barking creates stress and stress creates barking! Stress creates more reactivity to other dogs and reactivity to other dogs creates more stress…. and so on.
I went to a delightful elderly Staffie yesterday, twelve-year-old Barney. I was told that his jumping up was a big problem, particularly for the little grandchildren, and that his pulling on lead was so bad he’d not been walked for nearly two years and that he had now started to destroy the house when they were out.
Prepared, I left my equipment bag in the hallway, safely away from being raided, just bringing with me my notes, treats, pen and mobile. I need not have worried.
Barney was in the living room, sitting at the man’s feet. He hadn’t heard me! So – obviously he’s a bit deaf.
When he did notice me he came over, very friendly, but no jumping up. The elderly dog was more interested in sniffing a day in the life of my own dogs on my clothes.
As so often happens, he had been particularly good in the days since they had booked their appointment. It’s like he knew! I believe that owners, perhaps subconsciously, examine their own behaviour a bit more carefully in preparation for a visit and without having received any advice, the behaviour work is already beginning to take effect!
The two little children and the elderly dog get on beautifully once he has calmed down.
There is a history of family members coming in and making a huge fuss of Barney. One young man particularly fires him up with fuss and play. To quote the lady, ‘Barney doesn’t know when to stop’.
Of course he doesn’t. If this were a child he would be in tears by now or else in hysterics or having a tantrum. It will probably take him hours to properly calm down. I know I am a spoilsport but this has to stop if they want to achieve their goals.
If Barney jumps up on adults, family and visitors, then he will jump around the little children too.
Telling him to get down and pushing him whilst at other times playing or fussing him when his feet are on them, teaches him exactly what they don’t want. He will now learning that that feet on the floor works best.
This is the first ‘old trick’ that elderly dog Barney can unlearn. He has, in effect, been taught to jump up.
Everything became harder for Barney when their other elderly dog, another Staff, died a couple of years ago.
He used to get uncontrollably excited even when the drawer containing lead and harness was opened. By the time he was launching himself out of the front door he was so aroused that he was beside himself. His pulling was so severe that the lady said it simply hurt her and with his lunging at any dog he saw, walks became a nightmare. They gave up.
They had taught him the ‘old trick’ of getting excited when going to the drawer by letting him know that a walk would follow. He may even have believed that his manic behaviour was causing the walk. Now they will open and shut the drawer countless times until it’s no big deal. The same process will be used for lifting the lead and harness and then putting them on.
Having not been out on a walk for eighteen months they can have a fresh start.
Barney walked beautifully on a loose lead around the house with me and then with the lady. He needs the right equipment so that he has nothing to pull against and he needs encouragement and praise.
In the past pulling has still resulted in forward-progress, so this is another old trick that can be learnt even by an elderly dog.
When Barney does eventually get to go out, in his new state of mind he will be able to cope a lot better with the appearance of another dog. No longer will the man force him forward, holding him tight – maybe even picking him up. They will increase distance and start to get him feeling good about dogs so long as they are not too close for comfort. Each dog is an individual and Barney has his own things that will help with this which I shan’t share here.
With help he can ‘unlearn’ reactivity to other dogs also. Knowing that he’s not expected to make friends or get too close to them if he doesn’t want to even if they have to go another route, the elderly dog can relax and they can all start to enjoy walks together.
They will change his diet away from Bakers Complete – known to have an adverse effect on the behaviour of dogs.
At home they will train him to the whistle in order to compensate for his reduced hearing. Eventually the elderly dog may even be able to go off lead – or at least on a very long line – and enjoy some freedom to sniff, relax and do doggy things.
The lovely family’s elderly dog will have a new lease of life!
The dog was shaking with fear just because I had walked into the room where he lay.
Usually he runs out of the room and hides. Possibly my asking the man to walk into the room ahead of me may have helped just a little as did the fact I didn’t even let him see me look at him. I moved slowly and I left him be.
The couple doesn’t know the eight-year-old Adi’s history, apart from his being a Romanian rescue. They have had him for a year now. It took him some weeks to get used to them and they are still the only people he feels comfortable with. He didn’t move the whole time I was there – nearly three hours, and he was shaking on and off.
During this year Adi hasn’t been anywhere at all but their bungalow and small garden. They did try but it freaked him out.
He has never even been to the vet (who I shall be phoning).
A while ago they did manage to get a collar onto him. It shows how far they have come with their caring and understanding treatment that he had began to allow the man to groom him. Unfortunately, he then tried to attach a lead while he was brushing which sent Adi running and that now has now ‘infected’ the grooming with fear.
Their aim in calling me is simply to be able to take a willing and happy Adi out. It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it They had reckoned with how long this may take.
It’s a strange relationship they have with their dog. They do all they know to help him but they get little back. They feed him on the very best food available. As you can see he has luxuriously comfortable bed. Apart from wandering around the garden and eating his meals he does nothing much. He lies around. He’s not interested in playing though will come over from time to time for a short fuss. He has a little burst of energy first thing in the morning when he runs from room to room, probably when he has had the night to de-stress, but that is all.
How can they spice up his life a little without stressing or scaring him?
They dearly want to take him out and about with them as they did their other dogs.
Something needs to be done about his extreme fear of people. He is a very quiet dog. I suspect he doesn’t dare to bark and his way of keeping safe is to lie low.
The man erected a strip of trellis in the garden for him hoping he would want to see through to the world outside. They can accompany him to the trellis at busier times of day and associate everything that happens beyond it with food, to actively de-sensitise him and acclimatise him so he can eventually, when he has accepted harness and lead, pass through the trellis.
Each time, at the trellis, he sees a passing car they will give him food; any person walking past – give him food; hearing a dog bark – give him food; a slamming door – food. Perhaps sprinkle it on the ground. They may later be able to move the trellis forward and continue the work nearer to the road.
Meanwhile, they need a harness because they must keep away from his neck. The collar has already been ‘infected’ when the lead was attached and very likely he was originally caught with a catch-pole accounting for his terror of humans. A soft and comfortable Perfect Fit harness is the answer. They then have the option of attaching the lead to the top of his back or at his chest – or both – and well away from his neck.
Adi won’t know what the harness is so they will build on that. I have broken the process down into tiny increments and devised a step-by-step plan where they spend several days on each step, beginning by leaving the harness in various corners of the house with food hidden in it for him to discover. Nobody should be seen to hold it so he gets no suspicion that it might be a trap.
Through various other steps the harness can eventually be put down with his food while he eats. This will lead, through more stages, to when he comes for a fuss, touching or stroking him with the harness whilst treating him. Bit by bit the harness can be rested briefly on top of him, then just his nose through it for food.
In case he doesn’t like the sound of the clips, they can be repeatedly done up and undone again, initially at a distance, while the other person gives him food.
It is a long-winded confidence-building process. We may use a clicker at later date but he was far too scared of me and all he felt safe doing was to lie still.
Once the harness is on, the process needs to be repeated with the lead.
I hope that after a couple of months of hard work Adi will be wearing the harness and accepting the lead. It could take a lot longer. He may also be relaxed with things just immediately outside his gate.
Getting to this point will be a big achievement. We can then walk him on lead around the house and the garden. Then take a step through the trellis, stand still and see what happens, giving him full length of the lead and the option to run back in.
Now the outside world!
Apart from knowing he’s terrified of people to the extent that he shakes, they don’t know how he is with day-to-day things like other dogs, wheelie bins, bikes, traffic….and cats.
There will be no normal ‘going for a walk’ for a long while, I fear.
These two dogs large dogs were adopted by a couple in South America and just a month ago flown back with them to the UK.
Enzo is obviously a Labrador mixed with probably several other things and he looks just like a massive chunky Lab. Until six months ago the three-year-old had a life roaming free, doing his own good-natured thing and probably siring lots of puppies. Everyone in the area knew him. Now he’s been castrated and has adjusted amazingly well to life confined in a small house with nearly all his outings necessarily on the end of a lead. He’s very independent, self-contained but not unfriendly.
18-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Timber, is also enormous – more the size of a large Great Dane. The couple have worked hard on his training. Unlike Enzo, when people are about he is wary and watchful. He will bark at someone entering the house and though he didn’t bark at me, he spent much of the time with his back to me, blocking me out.
When out on walks, both dogs are not at ease near other dogs, particularly if those dogs are loose. Neither Enzo or Timber are used to being constrained by a short piece of webbing attached to a human, with no freedom for avoidance or escape.
Humans tend to react to things a dog may find threatening in precisely the opposite way to how the dog himself might naturally want to react. Humans tend to keep on approaching, not ‘showing weakness’. A dog is much more likely to avoid, either by making a large arc or turning away.
This illustrates clearly the importance to achieving happy walks of the behaviour of the humans to whom the dogs are physically tied. It also demonstrates how important it is that the dogs should feel as comfortable and as free as possible whilst necessarily being constrained.
Suitable equipment is essential. If a short lead is attached to a collar this will undoubtedly cause discomfort, pain even, should the dog suddenly feel the need to lunge. If a head halter, this may give the human more control but it takes even more control and freedom away from the dog. Imagine the harm a sudden jerk might do to his neck. A normal harness can turn the dog into a kind of carthorse, dragging his human along. There is only one kind of equipment I would use in order to achieve happy walks, particularly in the case of large, strong dogs, and this is a longish training lead attached at the front of a really good harness – maybe clipped to the back also for extra security.
Now the dog will feel comfortable, less restricted; the human has better control in emergency. With this equipment it’s a whole lot easier to teach a dog to walk nicely without using constant corrections.
Even though these two large and lovely dogs understandably can’t be trusted off lead as they have grown up with freedom, they can still surely have about 15 metres of freedom at the end of a long line.
In ‘training’ dogs to behave, the old-fashioned and still widely used methods despite all the scientific evidence, are about stopping the dog from doing things – stopping pulling, stopping lunging at other dogs and so on, using correction techniques or noises. As the gentleman says, ‘it works’. So, often, it does. Just because something works doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to achieve something though. One downside of correction methods is that they may only work in the presence of the person who has applied this particular training. Has the dog actually changed or is he merely ‘under control’? Does it address the root cause of the dog’s behaviour?
Changing to a more positive ‘do this instead’ along with making sure the dog isn’t trapped by us in too close proximity to the things to which he’s reacting whilst we change how he feels about these things will have much more permanent effect in the long run.
One final point. A thing that really does encourage pulling is when two people walk together with one dog each. This will inevitably lead to one dog trying to overtake the other. I suggest the man with Enzo has a head start and goes out first and that the couple meet up on the nearby green. Once there, they can put the long lines on the dogs and give them some freedom before setting off separately again with the shorter leads to do some loose lead walking practice.
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).
I watched her shaking, regularly lifting her paw and licking her lips like she was taking a bite of air.
I was called because they no longer take her for walks due to her ‘aggression’ towards other dogs. This I’m sure is due to terror, and she nearly strangles herself lunging at them.
Mitzy is in a state before she even leaves the house. She shakes when her harness is put on. She pulls down the road, already highly stressed, and that’s before she even sees a dog. Even though she has never actually harmed a dog on a walk, they were so worried that they had been muzzling her which would have increased her feeling of helplessness.
We have listed all the things that stress poor Mitzy and these need working on. Reducing her anxiety at home must be a start, because if she is permanently aroused she’s in no a fit state to face the scary outside world.
The lady and her two daughters are going to go back to basics with the walking and break it down into tiny steps. Any walking at all – even five minutes two or three times a day – is a lot better than she’s getting now.
First she needs a comfortable harness. Nothing more should happen until she is happy having it put on and wearing it – no shaking. – so she may need it left on for a few days. Then they need to walk her in the garden where she feels relatively safe, teaching her how pleasant it is when the lead is loose, treats and encouragement are used and they themselves are relaxed. This could take weeks! Next step is to venture through the gate. Only when she can do that calmly should they try walking outside. She won’t be ready for ‘other dogs’ yet! I myself sometimes use a ‘stooge’ dog – a realistic stuffed boxer I call Daisy that I can place at a distance. This can be done with real distant dogs, but Daisy is predictable and stands still! The people can then remain relaxed whilst rehearsing their procedure for meeting dogs. They need to manage the environment and choose quiet times. Having an unscheduled close encounter would set things back at this stage.
The lady and her two teenage daughters are very committed to helping Mitzy and I”m sure they will give it as long as it takes which could be many months. Mitzy will start to enjoy walks. There is no reason why, after she can negotiate going out as far as the car calmly and happily, they should not drive her to somewhere open and dog-free, put her on a long line, no muzzle, and give her some freedom.