To Trust Their Dog Around Other Dogs

Viszla lying on his bedIt’s sad when a dog that has been so conscientiously reared from a puppy, well-trained and socialised, starts to develop antagonistic behaviour towards other dogs. What could have gone wrong? I feel really sorry for the young couple with beautiful Hungarian Vizsla Mac.

They took him to classes and training for nine months. They have invested time and money into not only training him but researching the very best food for him – he’s fed raw. They have mixed him with people and other dogs and he was extremely well socialised. The first hint of trouble was about six months ago – when he was around one year old.

Over time they have relaxed and he has gradually been allowed more and more leeway to do his own thing when off-lead. As the situation with other dogs has crept up on them the young lady’s confidence when out with him has been dropping.

He was always a ‘pushy’ player and this, unfortunately, went unchecked. It’s hard for people to know what’s appropriate play and where to draw the line. Not all dogs like being jumped on and he was told off by a couple of dogs. Soon, he was reacting badly when other dogs, behaving just as he himself does, rushed into his own space. It was still just noise and snapping. Now humping other dogs is added to his repertoire but he gets cross if they go round behind him to sniff him.

What I’m sure is happening is a build up of stress, excitement – call it what you will. Each dog he meets pushes him a little nearer the edge. This was well illustrated the other day when a dog, on a flexilead, coming to ‘say hello’ while Mac was sitting outside a pub with the couple – and this time Mac actually went for him. What backs up the build-up of stress theory is that this was at the end of a walk, outside the pub he already had some boisterous play with a spaniel and probably being approached by the last dog was the final straw. He went for it – and was fortunately dragged off before any harm was done. The spaniel then returned and he went for him also.

Mac is a determined young dog and they have taken their eye off the ball. There has been no damage done so far, but it’s going in the wrong direction. Once things start to go downhill, without intervention they usually gradually get worse as it becomes a learned behaviour. Mac now needs to learn instead to clock in with his owners every time he sees a dog, even if it’s one of his friends. They will be working on techniques to achieve this. It’s then up to them to decide what happens next, not Mac, and whether or not he meets up with the other dog. They need to police the level of any play.

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

Jumping, Mouthing and Grabbing

Staffie/Hungarian Viszla mix Alfie lying peacefullyWhen people call me about their dog, they nearly always, feeling disloyal, first list their dog’s good points. They tell me that their dog is ‘perfect dog in the house’, or a ‘very loving dog’…..BUT…..and then they tell me about the difficulties they are having and the distress it is causing them.

Alfie, the Staffie/Hungarian Viszla mix I went to yesterday evening, really is a ‘very good dog’. He’s affectionate, biddable and gets on with all people and other dogs…..with just a couple of BUTS. He is 11 months old.

One BUT is that from the start he has jumped up, mouthed or grabbed arms and clothing, and this intensifies the more excited he is. Recently he actually left tooth marks on a friend’s arm, and his lady owner realised that her efforts to stop the behaviour simply weren’t working. Without realising it, she has been reinforcing the behaviour. Dogs (and people) only choose to do things because they get something out of it. We unintentionally reinforce unwanted behaviour. It can take an outsider to see clearly just what is happening.

Approaching with his mouth open is almost a default mode for Alfie when he’s not calm. It is endured initially – and when it gets too much it has been dealt with by giving him the attention he has been seeking – in terms of ‘Down’, No’,’Ouch’ and so on. In fact, the excited tone in which the lady calls him to her and greets him unwittingly invites the behaviour. Then her hands are all over him and near his face, and as she moves them to avoid being mouthed they become something to chase.

Simply ignoring Alfie is waiting to be told to get off the chairAlfie doesn’t give him a clear enough message. At the very moment his mouth engages, the hand or limb should be withdrawn in a deliberate fashion and the person break all contact with Alfie – turning away from him. If he is actually grabbing then she must freeze until he stops and a little longer The attention then comes when he’s not grabbing. If done every single time it should become absolutely clear to him exactly what he should not be doing. Even an accidental touch with his teeth during play should result in instant withdrawal.

Of course this is only one half of the process. He also needs to be taught better things to do – things incompatible with jumping up, mouthing and grabbing.

For the lady to cut down on physical contact and excitable interaction with Alfie will leave her in a sort of vacuum where interacting with her beloved dog is concerned, so we need to fill it with useful stuff. Clicker training will be ideal for both of them as Alfie learns that he can have the best control over both himself and his environment without using his mouth and she can give him as much attention as she likes without it resulting in mouthing.

I just had to take the picture on the left. Alfie had hopped into the lady’s chair and she had returned. He’s waiting to be asked to get off!

Re-Visit to Hungarian Viszla Puppy

ViszlaZoliZoli, the Hungarian Viszla puppy I first went to when he was ten weeks old, is now seven months! What a handsome boy! This is him at ten weeks old:

His people have followed a lot of my advice and he is becoming a well-mannered dog with great progress in most respects. It is so much easier if you start off correctly, and he was certainly a handful at ten weeks!

There are two areas where he’s not doing so well. One is jumping up – but that is due to lack of consistency on behalf of the family. If it gets him a result just one time in ten, it’s worth doing! That’s why people play slot machines after all.

The other area is one where they have unfortunately abandoned my advice – walking. He is on a short lead and collar, very excited and pulling down the road, constantly being corrected or held beside them through their strength. All this teaches Zoli that pulling works – because he gets there in the end.

By now, if they had stuck to the plan and used the right equipment, he should be walking on a loose lead like there is no lead at all. People get confused between ‘heel’ walking and ‘loose lead’ walking. Apart from in the show ring and maybe busy streets, I myself can’t see any benefit at all in walking strictly to heel. The dog should walk near to the person because he wants to, not because he’s being forced to. It is all part of the bond of trust and respect that should be growing between them.

I demonstrated the method in the kitchen – admittedly there were none of the distractions of the outside world. He walked around with me like a lamb.

Walks need to start off right – calmly – with walking around house and garden and shouldn’t progress until the lead is loose. It really is a case of ‘a stitch in time saves nine’. They will need to abandon their current ideas about walks for a few days or even weeks, but the work is so well worth it in the end – a dog that doesn’t mug people or refuse to come back unless he feels like it. As adolescence takes hold – it won’t be going in the right direction unless his people take control of his freedom – and it’s granted in a controlled way rather encouraging him to freelance.

Hungarian Viszla – Another Puppy Off to a Good Start

Viszla2 Viszla puppy taking a breakFrom my iPhone photo you really get no sense of the silky smoothness of Zoli’s coat and the loose skin waiting to be grown into! He is a ten-week-old Hungarian Viszla who now lives with people who’ve not had a dog before.

This is the message I received last week: ‘I really just want to start off on the right foot with him. He is biting, which I know puppies do but I would like to know an effective way to stop this. There are so many things and I think I am getting anxious and possibly making him the same? I would really appreciate some sensible help and advice’.

This is perfect. It is so much easier to teach a puppy from the start not to jump up, not to fly all over chairs, not to mouth and nip and to walk nicely on lead, than it is to convince an adolescent dog who has become out of control. They need to know things like just what to do when they have people for dinner, as they did last week, and Zoli flies all over them, nipping and getting out of control excited, and then creates a noisy fuss when put out of the way into his pen!

Rescue centres are full of misunderstood six to nine-month-old dogs. Humans, being human, think that being ‘firm’ and saying ‘no’ and ‘scolding’ is effective training and discipline, but that’s simply not the case. Imposing control rarely works and invites defiance later on and even sometimes aggression. A dog with self-control is happy and trustworthy.

It is important not to over-burden him with commands, play and especially exercise. A puppy needs plenty of rest and walks should be very short to allow his soft bones and joints to strengthen and grow healthily.

I shall now be here for them with help and practical advice for Zola until adulthood and beyond.

About three weeks later – things going well. “Thanks for the great advice so far it really does work but as you say it’s consistency. We had a lovely weekend with him. We had a trip up to the woods, just around the corner from here and he loved that…..He has ‘naughty’ days but he is only a baby and as I say on the whole he is very good. We love him to bits and want the best for him without him taking over. I think we are getting there definitely, thanks to you”.
Nearly two months after my visit – now 5 months old: “Yes things are going really well.  I have met a group of people out on our walks and all the dogs get along great so I let Zoli off his lead around them and practice recall, which he is doing so well with, in fact I have had positive comments from other owners. He is still young and easily distracted obviously but considering this he is doing brilliantly.  I am careful still around dogs he doesn’t know, keeping him on lead but he seems to be getting less over-excited with the whole thing.  I take him out and try and expose him to all sorts of experiences just to de-sensitise him to the world in general…..”
 I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.