Tension on Lead Can Result in Pulling.

A short story about two nine-month-old Labrador sisters. They are bouncy, enthusiastic and friendly, perfect given their breed and their age.

Tension off leads for happy walksThe main problems are jumping up at people and pulling on lead. Walks are causing the gentleman considerable stress. For reasons not relevant here, he only took over walking them a week or so ago. Continue reading…

From Street Dog to House Dog. Outside World Overstimulating

Sasha finds the outside world overstimulating.

A street dog by birth, eighteen-month-old Sasha has adapted amazingly well to life in a house. This is a tribute to both her basic temperament and to her new family’s own efforts.

She finds the outside world overstimulating

She started life on the streets in India. They think she has Pointer in her. I see possibly Labrador and German Shepherd. A beautiful mix, she doesn’t look like the typical street dog.

At five months old, along with her brother, she was caught and placed in a pound where she stayed for another seven months until the couple adopted her six months ago. Continue reading…

Head Halter. Restricted. Uncomfortable.

Beautiful Golden Retriever, Monty, really is the perfect family pet despite having a sad start to life. He’s now five.

reactive to dogs when on lead with head halterMy visit was triggered by his attacking another dog on a walk a short while ago.

It was so uncharacteristic that, from hearing all the circumstances before and during the event, I come to the conclusion that it was due to a build up of arousal – including excitement.

Trigger stacking‘.

Without going into the exact circumstances, things probably came to a head and a fairly minor thing was the last straw. This resulted in Monty attacking a dog and injuring his ear. They want to make sure this never happens again, so they contacted me.

Head halter. Restricted and uncomfortable.

Monty is absolutely fine with all other dogs when he is off lead, which is much of the time.

When he’s on lead however it can be a different matter. He wears a head halter which he hates but he’s a big dog and he pulls. The lead is held tight, especially when they approach another dog.

He feels uncomfortable, trapped and understandably on the defensive when another dog barks at him.

Off lead he’s fine, free to avoid anything that worries him.

Actually he’s fine with most dogs even when on lead. The dogs he reacts to with lunging and barking are those who themselves are reactive.

Many walks start with Monty having to run the gauntlet of two or three barking dogs behind gates. He is held tight and walked on, experiencing discomfort from the head halter.

His stress levels will already be rising.

Added to this, at home he can hear a couple of these same dogs from his garden and will bark at them.

This reactivity is undoubtedly due to fear or at least his feeling acutely uncomfortable and vulnerable with proximity to certain dogs.

From now on Monty should have no more opportunity to rehearse barking at dogs he hears, so garden access will be controlled while they work on it. Dogs he’s uncomfortable with will now be associated with good stuff at a distance he can cope with.

Walking comfortably on loose lead from a harness rather than head halter means that Monty will feel less restricted. Already he should feel a lot more confident when encountering those other dogs.

Starting at home where there are few distractions.

We all walked him around the garden on a Perfect Fit harness, loose lead hanging from the front. The idea is for him to learn to walk near them wherever they want to go, like there is no lead at all.

Loose lead walking work will start in the house and garden where there are few distractions.

Soon Monty will get back to walking down the road, but on a loose lead. There should be no more walking past the barking dogs behind gates until he is ready. A comfortable distance from them can always be achieved even if they have to turn around and go back the way they came.

It may be necessary to pop him in the car for now for the five minute walk to where he can be let off lead.

The problem seems fairly straightforward. They will give Monty the feeling of freedom and not force him out of his comfort threshold where proximity to other dogs is concerned.

At this distance they will work hard at getting him to feel differently about those reactive dogs that may be barking and upsetting him. They will teach him what to do, rather than what not to do.

I hate to see frustrated and uncomfortable dogs trying to rub a head halter off on the ground. Without the need for one anymore, I’m sure walks will be transformed for the otherwise perfect Monty, and for anyone walking him.

 

Fear of Harness. Fear of Lead

Fear of harness is overshadowing his otherwise perfect life.

Little Reggie is a delightful, friendly little Border Terrier, ten months of age.

fear of harness is overshadowing his life

He has a lovely life in every way bar one. In order to go out for walks he has to have his harness and lead put on.

As soon as they are brought out he runs away.

They then go and pick him up to put the harness on and he shakes.

He was scared of his lead from the very start as a little puppy. They have tried various harnesses but it makes no difference.

Once on, his fear of harness is such that he tries to escape from it. With lead attached he leans sideways.

Out on the road he may pull. This could well be eagerness to get to the nearby park or field where, off lead, he is rid of the restriction.

A strange thing is that, if not pulling, he is constantly marking. I wonder whether this is some sort of displacement behavour to take his mind off his fear of harness and lead.

They try to keep him walking. I say, let him sniff and mark as much as he needs.

Reggie loves his food.

We can use this to our advantage. I carry with me Ziwipeak which most dogs adore. It’s dry and it’s smelly! Reggie certainly loved it.

For now they will reserve Ziwipeak for when the harness and lead are brought out.

Reggie has a Perfect Fit harness and for now they will attach the lead to the front only – it has a D-ring on the chest as well as the back. He should feel less restricted that way.

I thought I would demonstrate how well a dog walks on a loose lead if it hangs loosely from the chest by clipping it to his collar with the ring under Reggie’s chin.

I was expecting some sort of reaction. I called him to me and gave him Ziwipeak.

I let him sniff the lead. Ziwipeak. No reaction.

I took his collar. Ziwipeak. No reaction.

I hooked the lead to the collar. Ziwipeak. No reaction.

Soon I was walking around the room with the little dog on a loose lead, regularly putting bits of food on the floor beside my foot. Then the lady took over.

They couldn’t believe it.

Such is the power of food to reduce fear.

If the dog refuses to eat, then his fear is too great and they need to start things at a level or distance where the dog can cope.

Reggie was coping!

They will change their routine now and put the harness on in a different room. They will use the same technique as I used with the lead, feeding with every movement or click of fastenings.

I suggest they leave his harness on all day for now. They may remove it and put it on again several times during the day – plenty of practice using food. The only time she gets Ziwipeak will be in association with harness and lead.

The next step is to attach the lead and walk around the house and garden. Then in and out of the gate and finally down the road.

If he wants to mark and they make no progress, they should just let him do so. Assuming that he’s scared by the feeling of restriction, choice is important.

They can pop him in the car for a few days for his off-lead walks.

I am sure by associating the harness with food and disconnecting it from the walking routine, his fear of harness and lead will disappear. They can put it on earlier and they will only do so while Reggie is willing and happy about it.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Reggie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear issues are concerned. Everything depends upon context. 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)

 

 

Jumps Up and Mouths. ‘No’ and ‘Down’ Fail.

She jumps up and she mouths.

Golden Retriever Tilly, at ten months old, has had a good eight months honing her jumping up skills!

Golden jumps up at peopleShe grabs clothes too when really aroused. She was a challenging puppy from the start and they have come a long way with her.

Stopping her excited jumping up at everyone she meets and gaining some self-control are the two things they still need.

Tilly jumps up at her family, but most of all she jumps up at people she’s not met before or friends.

Her family consists of a couple with their three adult sons.

That’s five humans to confuse her!

She jumps up to say hello in the morning and is fussed. She is given attention when she jumps up at the gate.

When someone comes to the house she will be at the door. She jumps up. Then she is told to get down and may even be shouted at, ‘No!’. They may hang onto her collar.

She likes to jump on sitting people also, so if its visitors her people will be nagging her all the time while at other times letting her have her feet on themselves. I had asked them just to leave her to to do her worst when I came because I can deal with it and they can watch. They found that hard.

Dogs greet face to face.

It’s natural for Tilly to want to get higher, so one way they could reward her for keeping her feet on the floor would be to lower themselves.

They consulted a trainer who said to put an electric collar on her and zap her immediately she jumps up. This is no different to shouting ‘No!’ and with pain added (fortunately they didn’t do this).

As the lady said to me, they want a friendly dog that likes people but they just don’t want her jumping up at them. If Tilly’s efforts to be friendly are associated with pain, it wouldn’t take long for her friendly feelings to turn to fear or even aggression.

Walks with a dog that jumps up at everyone can be difficult. Tilly sees a person approaching and, if on lead, she suddenly jumps up at them as they pass. Off lead she goes deaf to recall if she sees a person. She’s a lot more chilled with dogs than with people.

The people they meet themselves don’t help of course! Most simply can’t resist a beautiful, young Golden Retriever.

I sense that although she is very friendly, this may also mask a bit of anxiety. A stranger approaching can’t surely be solely a matter for joy. Possibly she wants to check them out too.

‘Surely I should expect obedience simply because I’m the boss.’

Having taken old-school advice, this is what the gentleman has believed.

Throughout the time I was there I continually showed Tilly what I did want. I didn’t do it by behaving like a ‘boss’.  I got the people to refrain from any commands and scolding and dealt with the jumping by looking away and waiting, folding my arms because of the mouthing also.

Then I concentrated on reinforcing the behaviour I wanted. Feet on the floor. I gave her the attention she wanted. She chose to sit, I clicked and rewarded her.

They want her to be generally more biddable but are so far missing their trump card – FOOD. What’s wrong with her earning some of her daily food quota?

Not using positive reinforcement is like being expected to work without payment. ‘Will I need to keep feeding her always?’, the man asked. My reply is, yes, most of the time. ‘Because you yourself are good at your job, should your boss now stop paying you?’.

When a dog jumps up, most people do the very opposite of what they should do. They look at her, they tell her to get down and they push her away. Bingo. She gets their full attention. Okay, she may get down, but she for sure will use the same trick for getting attention next time.

NOT jumping up simply needs to be the most rewarding thing.

The dog needs to realise that NOT jumping up is what’s required. I’m sure that few jumpers have been properly shown this.

General excitement is driving the behaviour. There are many ways in which they can reduce her stress levels that will help. One is changing her diet. Another is walking on a loose lead. She would then be a lot calmer when encountering a person when out.

I had her walking around the house beside me with no lead. That’s how it should feel when the lead is loose. It’s not a restraint – it’s merely there for safety. It was easy for me because, unlike them, I used rewards for the behaviour I wanted. I had already built a relationship with her, based on understanding, from the moment I walked in the door.

When Tilly now meets someone on a walk, so long as my strategies are adhered to consistently and by everyone, she will get out of the habit of jumping up at everyone.

Scolding and commands can only add to her frustration and stress. This leads to the mouthing and grabbing clothes. Praise and being shown what to do instead should result in a much better-mannered dog.

With no reinforcement or acknowledgement when she jumps up, she needs the ‘attention vacuum’ filled with more useful activities like brain work, hunting and training games.

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tilly. 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. 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 do.

Stubborn or Simply Unmotivated?

They would like their two dogs to be more cooperative, to be less demanding for attention and for English Bulldog Winston, age 3, to stop toileting in the kitchen at night time.

Winston is stubborn

Stubborn English Bulldog

Winston

Or so they feel. For the purpose of my story I will concentrate on Winston as apart from being too excitable, their other dog Dylan, an adorable one year old Pug Jack Russell mix, tends to take his lead from Winston. We can probably make a significant change to Dylan’s excitability by changing away from Bakers Complete dog food. (It’s tasty of course, but who would feed this stuff if they knew what it contains)?

Winston’s taxing behaviours are symptoms of the same thing. I would call it mainly lack of motivation. He’s not being stubborn for the sake of it.

Acting ‘stubborn’ gets results. He is under-stimulated both mentally and physically.

He dislikes his harness being put on. Possibly he’s a little intimidated by how it’s used. Possibly he likes the effort his humans have to make in order to get it on him!

Once the harness is on, he may refuse to go to the door whereupon he is dragged, half-carried by the harness. He is put on a flexilead. Once outside, he may not walk. He will simply stop. Once again he is dragged/carried forward in the hope that he toilets before bedtime.

Why does he do this?

I immediately noticed that the dogs took little notice if they were spoken to or called.

When they call Winston or want him to come or to sit, they repeat it over and over and even then he may ignore them.

How can they motivate Winston to be cooperative?

Food!

I gave him a small bit of food so he knew I might be worth listening to, and then a started to call him over to me. Even when he was lying down he would get up and come to me after just one call. I asked him to sit, once, and waited (trying to stop the family repeating the cue because he wasn’t yet doing anything). He had heard me. Half a minute later Winston sat. I rewarded him.

It was mid evening and already dark. I suggested we rehearsed the bedtime outing to see how stubborn Winston really is.

Because he immediately walks away and lies down when he see the harness, we started there. For now they will still need to approach him, but soon, when he realises that having the harness put on is nice, he will come over when asked I’m sure.

We used grated cheese: the man took harness to him-cheese, put it over his back-cheese, did up one clip-cheese, did up the other clip-cheese.

Now comes the crafty bit! Winston will now expect the whole ritual of trying to get him out to start but we walked away and left him.

We need to abandon that flexilead. This will always make him feel restricted as it has a spring and it’s vital he feels that he has a choice, that he’s free. My lead is 8 feet long. We walked to the door calling him as we passed. He got up and followed us. No stubborn dog yet!

We popped the lead on and walked down the path to the village green opposite. As we walked Winston had praise and, at the man’s side, food.  We walked across the green in the dark. the lead went tight and the man stopped. He patted his leg and called Winston to him. Winston came. Reward.

It’s so important to engage with the dog.

The man asked ‘what do I do if I want to turn around?’. I took the lead, walked away from Winston to the end of the eight feet but keeping it loose still and then called him, sounding exciting. I fed him and praised him and made it fun to be with me. Simple!

We had a lovely short walk. If walks are like this every time, Winston won’t be stubborn for long!

What should the man do if Winston still goes on strike and refuses to move? Call his bluff. If one invitation to move is refused, turn around and go home. No walk for now. Try again later.

One reason the evening walk in particular is so important is Winston’s frequent toileting in the kitchen, both pee and poo. They leave a pad on the floor and he always aims for that which makes me feel he’s not marking and that he simply needs to go. There is no evidence of anxiety of any sort.

I know he is a Bulldog with a Bulldog’s body, but to my mind (and looking at Winston’s ‘waist’), I feel he is fed too much. They will cut down, bearing in mind the rewards he now will be eating. They will also try him on another food. The better the food, the less waste will pass through the dog.

Dylan lying at my feet

Dylan lying at my feet

He may refuse to walk, but he constantly demands attention in various infuriating ways, mostly when the lady has her attention on the baby! He is a bored dog. He’s also a clever dog. They do their best, having a dog walker twice a day but because of his being ‘stubborn’ he is usually left at home and Dylan is taken by himself.

The only exercise Winston gets apart from irregular walks that start by car and which he loves, is spasmodic high-energy football out in the garden with the son which isn’t the right sort of thing for a Bulldog at all.

He needs more brain work, more sniffing, more exploring – and motivation.

I’m sure he will soon be joining Dylan for the two daily walks with the dog walker. The family will do less over-arousing stuff and give him more breed appropriate activities and brain stimulation. They will be working hard on teaching him to come immediately when he’s called.

Life should be a lot better for everyone, particularly the lady who, trying to care for a young baby, has found herself spending time upstairs during the day in order to escape from two demanding dogs.

At the end of our three months together: “Both dogs are much better and we’ve come a long way in our ability to train and work with them. We’ve not had a single kitchen accident from Winston since seeing you, the walking is much better and so is the barking. Evenings are also quieter.”
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Winston and Dylan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Enjoyable Walks Begin at Home

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

She is wild with excitement before the walk even starts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I rested my case.

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

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

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Izzy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Family Dog, Consistency is Key

The importance of consistency.

I sat with the family – parents with late-teens son and daughter – and their dear little Tibetan Terrier, Archie.

Tibetan Terrier in need of consistency

My first question was, as always, ‘What would you like to achieve from my help?’  The answer was for Archie to be more relaxed around other dogs and to be trusted to come back when called.

Exactly the same aim as so many people I go to.

This sounds simple and straightforward but it isn’t. It’s unlikely to be just a question of going out on a few walks with someone. For a dog to be relaxed around other dogs he must feel safe and this has a lot to do with his relationship with his humans.

Poor Archie was attacked by two dogs a couple of months which has not only upset Archie but it’s really shaken the lady who had him at the time.

In order to feel safe the dog should not feel trapped and helpless on the end of a tight lead, particularly one attached uncomfortably to a collar, held by someone he may not completely trust to keep him safe (in his mind). In order not to feel trapped he should learn to walk in a more relaxed fashion on a loose lead. In order to walk on a loose lead he should no longer expect to make progress when the lead is tight; in order to walk on a loose lead he shouldn’t be too excited before starting out. In order to trust his humans when out, they themselves need to be confident; they need to show him who protects him and motivates him back at home.

In order for him to come when called when off lead, he must take notice of them at home and reliably come when called around the house and in from the garden etc. etc. Each family member must be consistent.

It’s anything but simple.

It’s great to go to a family where all four members pull together with a walking rota. Archie gets two walks a day.

For a plan to work, each walker must have the same walking system. Each needs to wait for calm before leaving. Each needs to use the same technique for teaching loose lead walking. Each needs to react in exactly the same way when Archie sees a dog – he alerts, he may pull and then he drops down flat. It’s vital none of them use force.

Each should carry food on walks.

Each should give Archie their full attention for that twenty minutes and not be occupied with something else like a phone.

 

A ‘walk’ now mean something different.

Walks will occupy the same amount of time as before but no longer go from A to B. It will be about the journey, not the destination. So what if the dog wants to sniff for five minutes? Whose walk is it? A dog that is pulling with a walker who is in a rush is bound to be reactive to things. A dog having a relaxed sniff walk on a loose lead with someone who is relaxed is much more likely to walk past other dogs without a reaction.

It was fun to see the family begin to see why Archie actually does things – what functions his actions have for him. Why does he jump up? It gets him the attention he wants. Why does he run off with a sock? It starts a game. Why does he pull on lead? It gets him somewhere. Why does he bark at people who walk past? It chases them away. Why does he keep scratching at the door? It makes someone get up.

He can learn that something they prefer will give him the same result. Sitting and not jumping will get attention. Stealing a sock gets ignored but a toy may start a game. Pulling on lead will get him nowhere, but a loose lead will. Scratching the door doesn’t get him let out, but sitting politely may and so on.

Why does Archie sometimes get cross when made to go out at night? Because gentle force is used and there is nothing in it for him. He will happily do as asked when they work on his ‘coming when called’ routine at home, using food.

Getting him to earn some of some of his food (and that doesn’t mean commercial rubbish treats or anything large that fills him up, but tiny bits of real food) is a recipe for a motivated and happy dog.

This brings us back to his mild reactivity to some dogs when out on walks. Whatever he is doing, whether it is dropping down, pulling to the dog or barking at it, he does it because it has a function for him, probably that of keeping the dog at a greater distance – or giving himself some control at the very least, particularly if he’s being held close on a tight lead.

What if he was given something more acceptable to do that provided the same function? Turning to look at the handler for instance? Or perhaps standing still and not lying down? Or looking away from the other dog and down at the ground to forage for food? The handler should be sufficiently on the ball to sense the distance t which Archie has clocked the dog but isn’t yet reacting.

Archie would learn that the alternative behaviour would be grant him his wish, that of increasing distance, whilst associating the other dog with something positive and nice.

Another reason they should be alert is that sometimes Archie, depending upon his mood and upon the dog, may ignore it and walk past. Other times he may want to play. The response has to be appropriate to the occasion and well-timed, and this takes practice.

I would err on the safe side in favour of too much distance rather than too little.

Sadly, when your dog has been attacked and injured by another dog that has just appeared, off-lead, out of the blue, walks may never be quite so enjoyable again.

Condemned to Death – For What?

Sharpei

Bobbie with her head on my leg

The vet said ‘bring her in tomorrow at 11am to be put down’. Condemned to death solely based on the behaviour in the vet’s room of a terrified dog who hates being touched by strangers. She was so frantic she managed to tear off the muzzle.

I was initially a little wary of the two-year-old Bobbie, but only based on what I had been told. It’s hard to read the face or tail of a Shar-Pei. She didn’t bark when I arrived and was simply interested in sniffing me. I could see no hint of a dangerous dog. I knew that she doesn’t like to be touched by strangers and why should she? Do we? It could be that she lacks some peripheral vision due to the wrinkles and gets no warning of an approaching hand.

Bobbie (name and details altered) hasn’t actually bitten anyone!

Her behaviour had changed dramatically over the past three months, coinciding with changes in other circumstances and with a male friend now coming in daily to take the dog out for walks. He may over-excite her and thinks teasing is a game. There had been few unpredictable happenings to badly scare her.

At about the same time Bobbie began to change towards the 14-year-old daughter also. From being an affectionate dog he started grumbling at her, walking away when she approached. It came to a head when the girl touched Bobbie while he was lying between her and her mum. The lady had been petting Bobbie. The dog jumped on the girl, pinning her, snarling into her face.

The fact she didn’t bite when she could have done in fact shows considerable inhibition. What suddenly made her feel so angry? Was it pain? A vet check is very difficult at the moment. Was it jealousy – “go away, she’s mine”? Her hand may have been moving over the dog towards the lady – was it protectiveness? My own feelings are that because of the heightened, stressed and confused state Bobbie has been in for the past three months, it would only need something very small to finally tip her over the edge.

The lady has done a lot of great work training Bobbie. She is very perceptive where her beloved dog is concerned so it’s surprising that, when out on the walk which she fits in at the start of her very busy day, she gives Bobbie little opportunity to make her own choices or relax on a longer, looser lead, controlling even her toileting which must be in a chosen place and on command. She is under tight control and the lady has a strict routine. The man on the other hand doesn’t try to control her at all but may be erratic and inconsistent.

They need to put things back to where they were three months ago before all this started. The lady is happy for the man not to call in any more to walk the dog when she is at work so that things can be more calm and consistent.

She will try to relax a little where walks are concerned and let go of her tight schedule a little, bearing in mind that a dog walk should be fulfilling the dog’s needs. So long as she spends the same length of time out, how this time is filled can be more flexible. Poor Bobbie can be a bit obsessive about things and wants to constantly mark when out. The fact she is forcibly prevented from doing so could well make her need to do so all the greater.

This is not an easy start to the day for a dog and it may be more of a coincidence that the incident with the daughter took place in the morning, after Bobbie’s walk.

The lady wrote me a long list of things that stress, over-excite or scare Bobbie and dealing with these is our starting point. Giving Bobbie self-calming things to do will also help. Her dislike of being approached directly and touched by people she doesn’t know well should be respected. Work now needs to be done in a calm and consistent way where her reactivity to other dogs is concerned and she needs to trust the person on the other end of the lead. Trust is so important.

Gradually Bobbie should start to relax back to her old self. It has been heartbreaking for the lady who has read and researched in order to do her best. It can be hard to see things objectively that you live in the middle of.

AND – they will change vet! Bobbie can be walked into the waiting room many times over the next few weeks and there she can be given treats. The lady, who has done so much great training with her dog, can work on weaning her into happily wearing the muzzle. A good vet will take his or her time to help Bobbie relax before touching her.

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 Bobbie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Walking Two Dogs Together

Two young black dogsYesterday I went to two beautiful young dogs. Wilson is a three-year-old Flatcoat-German Shepherd mix and Springer-Labrador Cooper is twenty months of age. They get on great with one another.

They live near open spaces and until recently the dogs ran free, seldom on lead. Circumstances have changed for their young lady and she has not the confidence let them run off lead now, mainly because she fears Cooper won’t come back to her.

She needs to be able to walk them on lead now without Cooper pulling like mad unless restrained with a head halter which he hates, or Wilson, who has had puppy training and does walk nicely on lead, lunging and rushing at cats or joggers.

For the lady to control them both together through her own physical strength alone would be impossible.

A common problem with walking two excitable dogs together who have not been taught to walk nicely individually is that each one may want to get ahead of the other.

An additional snag here is that the dogs don’t like to be separated. The young lady had been walking them individually in order to work on Cooper’s pulling and Wilson’s cat-chasing, but the thing that sapped her confidence to the extent that she feels she can’t walk them at al now was that on her last walk with Cooper, Wilson suddenly appeared. Instead of just crying as he watched Cooper and the lady walk off down the road from an upstairs window, he leapt out of it. The vet thought it was a miracle he wasn’t seriously injured.

Since then she hasn’t dared to take one out without the other, so has done her best to give them exercise by way of games and training at home and in her garden. She is extremely dedicated.

This is one of those cases where people sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees. Apart from adding a few things to her home schedule that encourages Cooper in particular to find her relevant and take notice of her, there are things she can do to make the environment itself easier. For a start, when she goes out with one dog, she can shut the other well away from any windows where he can see them disappear down the road.

The issue of the dogs being so unhappy when parted merely adds stress to an already difficult situation, so, before she does anything else, she should punctuate her day by putting the lead on one dog as though for a walk, then just walk him out of one door and straight round and back in another (she has three doors to choose from so she can make it fairly random). She can drop food as she leaves to encourage the dog to associate their departure with something good. Then she can change dogs – or not – maybe repeat with the same dog. When the dogs are thoroughly used to this, probably after several days, bit by bit she can then make her absences a bit longer and start loose lead walking work.

We did some lead work in the garden, using the principal of having a longish lead, hanging loose from the front which encourages the dog to follow, rather than the current short lead attached to a collar that merely facilitates pulling. We aim for walking within the length of the six-foot lead and the only criteria is that it’s loose – the dog can be either in front, to the side or behind. ‘Heel’ can be used as a separate cue when necessary, near a road for instance.

And….. the young lady can stop feeling guilty about her dogs getting so little exercise and outside stimulation! While she is doing the short walking training sessions in and out of the doors and near to home, there is no reason why she shouldn’t go back to their old country walks so long as she keeps Cooper on a long line – at least ten to fifteen meters in length. She can work hard on his recall, and when she eventually does let him off briefly she should make sure Wilson is already on lead. When she calls Cooper, if she also turns away and takes Wilson with her, Cooper will undoubtedly come.

There are some other pieces of the ‘jigsaw’ that makes up the complete picture of her dogs’ lives that she can work on at home and which will enable her to get each to focus on her when necessary. On big advantage is that neither dog is particularly reactive to other dogs. With her dedication and given time, she will for sure ultimately be walking her beautiful dogs together down the road on loose leads.

Here is an email just over one month after my first visit:
Well what a difference a week makes (since my second visit). Since I last e-mailed I’ve took the boys to the beach and walked them in the field every day.
I took your advice and started driving the short distance to the field. It means I can get them off the lead quickly, let them get their beans out of their system and then (wait for it) watch them calmly walk on the lead back to the car!! As the week has progressed they’ve even started walking by my side off the lead, never going ahead but mooching around the verges!!
The beach was very interesting. As you know, this was my ultimate objective and I’ve achieved it. What was brilliant was how revealing it was. They ran around off the lead for nearly two hours, and in that time Wilson would usually stroll by my side and Cooper looked like he was on an invisible bit of 50 ft string, running ahead but coming back to check in. Once, he ran quite far and I deployed the ‘running in the opposite direction’ which worked instantly. Again, both trotted back to the car on the lead really nicely.
Overall, things are so much calmer and the boys seem a lot happier. My confidence is growing everyday. I’ve still a lot to do, and I realise this can only be maintained by keeping up with the training, but I’m in a much, much better place to do this.
I think really you’ve helped me to gain my confidence, and my life back!  I’ll keep you posted, but I hope you’re as pleased as I am.
NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Wilson and Cooper. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly ones that involve punishment. 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).