Adolescent Unemployed Working Dog

Working dog chewing a bone

Anchored beside us chewing a bone

Young working dog without a job.

I have just met Sam who is seven months of age. Sam is so very like my own Working Cocker Spaniel, Pickle.

I have had over five years with Pickle, learning how to give my alert and energetic working dog a sufficiently fulfilled life so that he’s not bored, naughty or too noisy without actually working him. Despite all my own training and practical experience, Pickle has been a challenge for me – and I adore him.

One thing is certain, the more stern people become with a dog like Pickle and Sam, the worse the dog will get. Admittedly, with sufficient force and punishment a more timid dog could be cowed into submission as demonstrated by Cesar Millan. A confident, ‘up-for-anything’ dog like Sam will surely eventually respond to ‘firm discipline’ with defiance.

That can only go one way – it’s the slippery slope towards frustration, anger and aggression. The man gets most of the defiance because he is more firm.

But how else other than through ‘discipline’ will they stop Sam leaping onto the table, stealing food from their hands while they eat, jumping up at small children, flying over the furniture, repeatedly barking for things he wants, tearing things up, raiding the fire grate, and so on?

Food and constant ‘payment’ and rewarding the dog for doing what you want him to do is the answer, and it’s best started as soon as a puppy is old enough to respond.

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Are they the right home for a young working dog?

This is the question Sam’s owners are asking themselves. They would be heartbroken to lose him, but because they love him they want the best for him.

My reply is that few pet dogs are really fulfilling what they have been bred for and people are finding other ways. Sam’s situation is as good if not a not better than many. It would be hard to find somewhere ‘ideal’ as that would be a life of working either sniffing drugs or explosives or being trained to retrieve birds for a hunter. Few dogs today actually live these lives. Too many gun-dog trainers still use the kind of harsh training methods that other modern trainers would never inflict upon dogs today.

It’s important for me to add that Sam’s owners have never been harsh or unkind with him. They are simply normal, loving dog owners doing what they perceive to be the best in order to curb some of Sam’s ‘wildness’ and impose some rules.

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There are ways of fulfilling the dog’s breed requirements.

My Pickle at the same age

There are also ways of teaching what we DO want without force.

‘Discipline’ implies being heavy-handed (something these people are not) but surely it really means having certain rules that are consistently adhered to. The method of applying these rules is to teach the dog using positively reinforcing methods just what we do want, as we would a young child.

Clever Sam was deliciously responsive to finding ways to please us for reward!

With a dog like Sam (and my Pickle) management is vital. He needs to be physically unable to do certain things. It’s pointless giving him access to the dining table, for example, just for him to keep jumping onto it when clearly telling him to get off or even pulling him off doesn’t teach him anything and just gets him and his humans increasingly cross.

I eventually put a harness on him to which I attached a longish lead and then hooked him onto the banister rail beside me with something to chew. Without this I could have spent the entire two-and-a-half hours working on his table-jumping, pen-stealing, counter-surfing tricks!

Using barriers, gates, anchor points and even attaching the lead to one’s waist as we walk about removes opportunities to do many of the undesired things.

We look at what the dog is bred for. With a Spaniel, scenting is a big part of it. Hunting and foraging games can help to offer him fulfillment. He can expend his daily bouts of manic energy onto a carton filled with junk rather than shredding important paperwork and eating socks.

Chewing is vital to help him to calm himself, so he can have bones, Kongs etc.

Over time he needs to learn to settle peacefully. He needs to learn to sit quietly behind a gate before it’s opened. He attends classes but what he learns there isn’t translating much to home life. With Sam, it works a lot better just to wait for the behaviour you want with no more than one gentle reminder rather than to bombard him with commands.

Every time Sam does something good like sitting and looking into their eyes, he gets a reward of some sort – attention or food – depending upon what is likely to be most valuable to him at that moment.

This way he uses his brain and while we are thinking ‘what a clever boy’, Sam is basking in approval.

When their dog is peaceful people tend to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and leave him be. It takes a lot of effort, but it’s better to teach him that being calm and quiet is what earns him attention and not unruly and demanding behaviour.

Looking for the good and rewarding calm and manners whilst preventing through management the ‘bad’ – or ignoring it where possible – is the way to go.

This is going to be hard work for Sam’s people, but oh so rewarding. He is a clever, affectionate and wonderful dog whose good points far outweigh any bad points.

Here is the story of a very similar Cocker Spaniel I went to eighteen months ago called Willow. On reading about Sam, his owner message me: Reminds me so much of Willow! I now know we go for ‘smells’ rather than ‘walks’! What I have discovered in the last two years, is what an amazingly intelligent and quick learner she is! She is still challenging sometimes, but we try to preempt her e.g. Making sure we don’t leave dining chairs pulled out otherwise she gets up on the dining table too! Willow and I are still ‘learning’ but it’s been so much fun!

Wary of People in Their Home

Two dogs who were picked up as strays

Basil and Rosie

The two stunning dogs of mixed breed, Basil and Rosie, recently came back to the UK with the couple who adopted them in Hong Kong where they had been picked up as strays or possibly street dogs. It’s a pity I didn’t get a better photo of them together.

As you can see, although they were now not barking or backing off anymore, both were looking away as I pointed my phone at them which I was trying to do whilst looking the other way.

As I entered the house, the gentleman was trying to corral the dogs down the passageway into the sitting room whilst also trying to keep them quiet – living in a flat they are conscious of their neighbours. I gave my rather large bag to the lady to carry as carrying a bag (like wearing a hat) can contribute to upsetting some dogs.

The barking stopped very quickly as I sat down, but they were both extremely wary. For a short while Basil was ready to bark again at me whilst Rosie backed away. I won them round with food and by making no effort to touch them when they did, soon, come to me.

The owners are particularly concerned because their dogs’ aggressive-sounding barking means that several friends simply won’t visit anymore. There is one close male friend in particular that the dogs don’t like. Apparently he always wears a baseball cap and he’s very tall which apart from the fact that dogs can be more scared of men anyway could perhaps contribute to their unease.

I suggested they had ‘people-food’ ready-prepared, small and tasty bits of food that they only use for when people come to the flat so the only way the dogs get access to this special treat is when people come in or move about.

By trying various different things we worked on a technique whereby I could walk about the room and the dogs would remain relaxed. They can then now do the same things when the friend comes this evening.

This involves, before the person starts to move, one of the owners maintaining their dogs’ attention by calling them over, asking them to sit in front of them and then gently holding onto them whilst feeding them ‘people-food’. By facing their owner the dogs would be turning their backs to the other person. Now the person can move freely about.

I found that once I was up and walking around the room the owner could release the dogs after a second or two and they were fine. This same technique would need to be used for a few seconds each time the person, having been sitting down, moved.

Fortunately these two dogs were not nearly as wary of people in their home as many dogs I go to and this wouldn’t work in more severe cases. It just suited these two. Every case and situation is a bit different.

brown dog

Basil

As always, the guests need training too. They should be asked to move slowly and casually, to give no eye contact to the dogs and when they arrive not to walk too directly or deliberately towards them or the owner. Instead, the owner should turn around and take the dogs with him so that the person follows. Until the dogs get comfortable with someone, they should try not to move too suddenly and to give warning before they stand up. The guest can drop or roll pieces of food.

In a very short while both dogs were actually eating out of my hand.

The barking and anxiety starts with the intercom bell. This is something they can work on easily. Repeatedly one of them can go downstairs and ring the bell while, as soon as the dogs hear it, they get food from the other person. Every time one of the owners either goes out or comes in, they can ring the bell. Because the bell will then only very occasionally mean someone is visiting it will no longer be a trigger, so when a caller is let in the door the dogs aren’t already pre-aroused.

Like everything to do with desensitising and counter-conditioning it takes a lot of repetitions and work. Unless they have a regular run of callers to get the dogs thoroughly at home with people coming and going, it may always need working on to some extent.

Their second issue which I shan’t discuss in much detail now is that Basil, in particular, ignores all calls to come back when he’s on a hunt. The other day he nearly got killed when a chase after a muntjac deer took him across a busy road, followed by Rosie. As a stray who probably had to rely upon hunting for food he will most likely have the chase in his blood.

They have only two safe options really which is hard because dog walks to many people are something where the dogs run free, getting plenty of exercise and doing their own thing. Now they should only ever let Basil off lead in places where there is no escape. If they want him to come back when called, they will need to put in months and months of recall work with Basil. What, after all, is in it for Jack to come back before he’s finished what he is doing? The man’s tone of voice wasn’t such that I, if I were a dog, would find sufficiently inspiring to tempt me to come back! I may not even hear him.

Recall is about much more than just training; it’s also about the dog’s relationship with the person who wants him to come back. To a dog with a high prey drive, it’s quite a challenge for someone to be more relevant, exciting and rewarding than a running muntjac or rabbit!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an aspect. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be very different to the approach I have worked out for Basil and Rosie. 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

 

A Wirehaired Vizsla and a Weimeraner

Wemerana Lulu and teritorial barking

Lulu

Viszla

Hugo

What a wonderful looking pair.

There are a few minor issues to fix, but the main aims of my visit are to control Weimaraner Lulu’s territorial barking and hunting – for her to have reliable recall.

At present the dogs run freely off lead a lot of the time, so the price the owners would need to pay in terms of training and restricting Lulu’s freedom is probably not worth the gain in their eyes, and they may need to settle for the compromise of ‘much better recall’, or on lead only if unsafe! When she sights a deer or a hare, without intensive long line work over a long period of time, they don’t stand a hope of getting her back. She has practised freelancing and hunting for a long time and has an extremely strong Weimaraner prey drive.

They live in a lovely house overlooking fields – ideal for Lulu’s sharp eyesight and keen hearing to spot animals or people in the distance resulting in a lot of barking. She has leapt the fence in the past. Some management solutions will help to a degree – including enclosing part of the garden.

Both dogs have been to obedience classes but obedience training doesn’t necessarily mean an obedient dog, or that the dog won’t choose to disobey a command!

The owners believed that Lulu ran the roost, but I saw it a little differently. In his quiet way Viszla Hugo shares the job. He mainly lets Lulu take responsibility for territorial stuff, but he has other tricks. He is protective of his personal space whilst not particularly respecting that of others. He plays games over food – controlling Lulu. He uses his ball to get people to repeatedly jump to his bidding and throw it whilst not letting them touch him. Because Lulu is more hyper, this disturbs him; he may try to control her by humping her, or he may get very worried if her stress levels get out of hand or cause the owners to get cross with her. Their toddler is a bit vulnerable when Lulu jumps over him or pushes past him to frantically chase or bark at something.

So once again it is a leadership issue. From early morning Lulu whines to get them up – and in order to stop her they go to her for fear of waking the baby – proving to her that whining works. She makes it very hard to get her collar and lead on before walks. As I said, a mix of more minor issues, but they all contribute to the overall situation where Lulu in particular ignores what she is being asked to do, her noisy territorial behaviour is causing them problems, she is stressed, and calmer Hugo is a worrier.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Change of Personality Outside

Cleo looks like a long legged StaffirThe photo doesn’t show how beautiful Cleo is, with her expressive ears and shiny brown coat. She is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier/Labrador cross – but looks like a leggy Staffie.

Cleo has lived with her new owners for just three weeks and they are at least her third home. She is eight years old. At home she is the model dog. They are out all day at work and Cleo takes this in her stride. She is polite around food, she doesn’t bark excessively. She is friendly and confident, maybe a little aloof and independent. Possibly the whole of her real character hasn’t yet had time to surface.

Before walks she is calm and cooperative.

But, once the door opens and she is outside, she is almost uncontrollable. She becomes a law unto herself.

Previously Cleo had been a stray. Clearly she had to find her own food by hunting and scavenging.  She has a strong prey drive. She became very self-sufficient. As a stray she could go where she liked, she could chase what she liked and she could stop to rest when she liked. She had to look out for trouble in order to protect herself.

This then is the dog that Cleo becomes as soon as she is out of the house. It is no surprise that she freelances. She pulls and she puts the brakes on, she jumps up at walls and gates and would leap over if she could, she wants to run to other dogs. It is as though her owners don’t exist apart from their being dead-weight on the end of her lead that she has to drag along behind her.

She is a strong dog and her pulling on lead is such a problem that they have resorted to a Halti so they can physically prevent poor Cleo from pulling so much, but it is like putting a plaster on a dirty wound. It doesn’t address the problem itself.

And then there are CATS! If Cleo sees a cat she trembles and probably wants to kill it. I’m not sure whether this is because she sees cats as a threat or prey, or both. Around Cleo’s new home there are a lot of cats!

So we are working at all aspects of Cleo’s life so that her new owners become more relevant to her so that she sees them as the decision makers, so that eventually she walks nicely beside them because she wants to, not because she is forced to – and to learn that cats are not her responsibility to deal with for whatever reason!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Black Labrador Bramble

BlackLabradorI have just been to see a Bramble, a black labrador – very much like my own Monty the Mont.

On the whole Bramble is very well behaved, though in some respect just the very fact he a dog being a dog is causing a litle bit of trouble. He likes to sniff.  With a dog’s nose being his number one sense for taking in information – immeasurably better than our own sense of smell – he can tell a lot about a visitor by sniffing them. I always smell very interesting and doggy, and I welcome a dog’s interest in me!

Owners feel, probably quite rightly, that some people don’t like being sniffed but it’s a big thing to ask of a dog not to investigate someone new coming into his house. In fact, a shy dog or a fearful dog won’t casually sniff someone – so a polite olfactory investigation indicates the dog is confident and friendly.

Bramble’s main problem is the usual – pulling on lead – along with too much sniffing and leg-lifting for the liking of his owners!

What is a walk to a dog? It has certainly nothing to do with exercise for its own sake or keeping fit, I’m sure. You would never see the wolves in Yellowstone Park running around for no other reason than to keep fit.  A walk to a dog is about sniffing, marking to exchange messages with other dogs, exploring and hunting. Getting a dog to forego all this to walk beside us is quite a big ask, which most dogs accept. I believe there is a compromise. Let’s make the walk as rewarding for the dog as possible whilst having him walking beside us and not weeing in antisocial places.

This means walking beside us like there is no lead at all.  This can’t be done on a heavy chain lead, but requires a lightweight longish loose lead, allowing him to hang back or go a bit forward or to the side for a sniff.  It means the owners compromise on their goal of getting to a pre-planned desination at a pre-set time and go for a wander. Be more relaxed about it.

We say ‘I’m taking the dog for a walk’.  A dog walk. What we often do is to force the dog to go on a human walk.  A no-sniffing, no-exploring route march. If his head is a couple of  inches in front of our left knee we jerk him back with the lead and ‘correct’ him.  This results in us sending our impatient emotions down the lead.  This results in discomfort around the dog’s neck. This results in some stress and tension – not a good state of mind for him to be in if another dog appears. Any dog would understandably think he’d like to get away from this discomfort. So he pulls. Other contributing factors to pulling are taking a predictable route and not giving proper leadership generally.

By going on a ‘magical mystery tour’ all over the place rather than on a set route, and by being allowed to do doggy things, Bramble should eventually enjoy walking on a loose lead now that his owners can see things from his point of view.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

 

Black Labrador Ozzy

Ozzy's eyes glowing greenI met Ozzy today, a beautiful one year old black labrador of gun dog pedigree.

I should not have used my flash because Ozzy looks like a ghost! Humans get “red-eye” from the reflection off of our blood vessels in the retina. Dogs have a special layer of cells at the back of the eye that reflect light back to the retina in order to help them see in low light, so that’s why Ozzy looks spooky.  This helps animals to hunt at dusk – and hunting is something that Ozzy loves! The problem is that when he is on a hunt, he totally ignores his owners calling him back, it is as though they don’t exist, and this could lead him into trouble. A farmer recently threatened to shoot him when he was creating havoc where pheasants were being reared.

At home Ozzy is a very well-behaved and calm dog for a year-old adolescent. He has been to dog training classes and excelled. However, once outside he pulls madly on lead and he has selective hearing when he is off lead. As well as hunting, he is over-boisterous and playful with other dogs he meets irrespective of whether they welcome it. He has been put in his place several times.

His lady owner is tense and worried on walks, holds him tight and no longer lets him off lead. His gentleman owner is the opposite and is prepared to take what comes. He allows himself to be pulled down the road, lets Ozzy off lead at the earliest opportunity and may well spend fifteen minutes trying to catch him when he wants to go home.

The more Ozzy is allowed to freelance, the better he gets at it, so for his own safety he needs to learn that freedom is something granted and not something that is his by right. His recall needs to be worked on for as long as it takes for him to be trusted to come back, even in the presence of other dogs – and pheasants!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

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