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.

 

Enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel, Jumping Up, Pulling on Lead

enthusiastic cocker spanielUnlike so many of the dogs I go to, enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel Rudi has no reactivity problems at all towards other dogs.

He’s adorable and he is adored!

Rudi, 7, and has lived with the couple in their cottage in the country for eighteen months. What a lovely life he now has, with a big garden and the little two-year-old nephew the lady looks after. The two are inseparable.

Far too many dogs, like the little dog whose story I posted yesterday evening, are scared and reactive to other dogs. The fact my post has already received 418 views in half a day shows how big an issue this is.

Some dogs do seem to attract trouble from other dogs.

Those dogs already wary undoubtedly will have ‘victim’ somehow written on them for other dogs to read. Some dogs may just be ‘different’ in some way. In human terms we often hear of people who are a bit different being victimised or bullied. It could be to do with signals the walker is giving out also.

Enthusiastic Cocker Rudi is completely confident. He gets on well with all dogs. If a dog shows aggression towards him he ignores it, continuing to do his own thing which is being busy, spaniel-style. Nothing fazes him.

Where they do have trouble however is with his constant restlessness. At home he jumps up and may send a cup of tea flying. He pulls so much on lead that the lady can’t walk him.

A while ago someone advised a Gencon head halter, so he’s now walked on a shortish lead with pulling almost impossible. He hates it. They were even advised to tire him out with ball play in the garden before setting off. All this does is to fire him up further. Neither of these things address the actual problem. Frustration.

The enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel is insufficiently fulfilled.

He’s seldom able to be let off lead because when he sees a pheasant or Muntjack, there are lots where he lives, he’s off.

Just imagine how frustrated this busy dog must feel, walking in the open countryside on an uncomfortable head halter and short lead. He just can’t get to all those things his instinct is screaming at him to do. He has a strong need to run around and sniff when he’s out – he’s a Spaniel! He also has a need to chase and fetch things – he’s run run back with a live crow in the past.

They will get him a Perfect Fit harness and teach him loose leash walking. The lead doesn’t have to be short unless they are near the road. Why not a long line – 30 or 40 foot long – on the back of his new harness? His walker can soon learn not to become tangled up and to be a human flexilead.

The enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel can now have comfort on walks. He can have a degree of freedom to do Spaniel things. On the long line for safety, he can be taught to ‘chase’ a ball or food in the opposite direction to the pheasant or Muntjack. This can redirect his drive to chase onto something acceptable rather than suppress it. They can work hard at his recall.

I am sure that with this frustration out of the equation Rudi will be able to settle a bit more easily. He should be a little less excited at the prospect of action – any action (something wired into Cockers as I know from my own working Cocker Spaniel, Pickle!). With some work to teach him a better alternative, his jumping-up should be much more easily addressed.

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.

 

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)

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).