Enrichment. Brain Work. Self-Control

Yesterday I met Max, a twenty-one-month-old German Shepherd who was very pleased to see me. It’s a treat for me to go to a friendly GSD that shows neither aggression nor fear.

Enrichment for a working dogWith the family having a couple of teenage sons, he has no doubt been used to plenty of comings and goings, probably why he’s so well socialised.

Recent problems however are arising when he encounters other dogs on walks. Continue reading…

Dog Behind the Fence. Barking Dog. Lunges

I have just been to a couple of Labradoodles, Sol and Cristal. What the owners would like to achieve is much less barking at home and, from Sol, on walks also. He may bark and lunge at other dogs but only when he’s on lead and when they get too close.

A big problem is a dog barking behind the fence on the corner of their road.

They have worked hard training their lovely dogs. The problems they are facing are, to my mind, less about training than about the emotions that drive the behaviour.

Emotions not obedience.

The older training methods don’t take account of the dogs’ emotional state but are more about ‘obedience’. Commands don’t really alter the feelings that drive the behaviour.

Labradoodle barks at dog behind the fence

Sol at the back, with Celeste

The ‘behaviour’ approach is holistic – covering all aspects of the dogs’ lives, because everything is connected like a jigsaw puzzle. The dogs now will be helped to make their own correct decisions without commands or correction. This is done by emphasising what they are doing right. Also by giving them choice, on walks in particular.

Anyway, in this story I am just picking one aspect of what we are working on. This is Sol barking and lunging at the dog behind the fence on the corner.

Sol and Crystal have lovely runs in the park with their doggy friends, but to get there they have to pass a house with a terrier that barks like mad from behind the fence. This dog had attacked the, now much bigger, Sol when he was a puppy.

Sol alerts well before he gets there, even when the dog isn’t out and behind the fence.

How can they get past without Sol barking and lunging? Commands and physical control aren’t helping at all. (The strategy for Sol isn’t the only way to work on this kind of thing, but having met Sol and his owners it seems the best fit).

First the two dogs should be walked separately for a while – the lady can for now make the journey to the park by car.

For working with Sol and the dog behind the fence she will take a clicker because I would prefer she doesn’t talk. Let Sol work things out for himself. (See here for an intro into what clicker is about).

The enemy behind the fence: ‘Engage’.

This is the game stage one:

They will start out calmly, letting Sol sniff and walk about a bit on a loose lead before heading towards the terrier’s garden.

As soon as Sol looks in that direction, engages, the lady will click and drop some food. This food is dropped rather than fed for two reasons. One, that the food should be associated with the terrier and not the lady. Secondly, dropping the food means Sol looks away and down at the ground, ready to look back up again and earn another click.

Slowly they can advance – clicking each time he looks in the direction of what may be the dog behind the fence, dropping food. If the terrier comes out it will bark and they will have to quickly retreat and start this game from a lot further back.

They will gradually work their way nearer the house on the corner. At some stage Sol will start to react as he looks for his enemy behind the fence. He will go stiff, stare, ‘get big’ with ears and tail rising.

He is now about to go over threshold. He’s too close.

They should back off a little to where Sol is comfortable again, and continue with the game. Bit by bit he will get closer.

This game should be played daily for five or ten minutes at a time – the more sessions the better. The main rule is not to push him over threshold – get too close. If they do, they are back to square one – a bit like going down a snake in snakes and ladders!  Listen to this very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long.

‘Disengage’.

Now for stage two.

Sol, after a two or three weeks of hard work, should now have the hang of the ‘engage’ game, even when the little dog is out and barking behind the fence if from sufficient distance .

They will stand still as before. Sol will look in the direction of the dog’s garden. Is his enemy behind the fence? But now the lady won’t click.

If Sol is ready for stage two in the game of ignoring the dog behind the fence, he will now look round, “Where’s my click and food?”.

Now the lady will click eye contact instead.

Stage two teaches Sol to look away from the dog behind the fence, even if he’s out and barking.

With patience they should soon be walking past that garden, the other side of the road is sensible. They will need to do some work with Celeste before walking them both together to the park to play, past the house with the dog barking behind the fence.

Sol may in the future regress, so they must top up again with a couple of days of the ‘engage/disengage’ game.

2 months later: We just got back from Cornwall and tho we had a few hiccups everyone noticed a big difference in their behaviour. No barking in apartment , no jumping up people, only a little barking from crystal on beach if someone passed unexpectedly which I feel to be expected. She was fabulous with marks nephews. Normally she would be barking at their every mood. She was playing with them and they were enjoying her playfulness without over doing things. We are learning how to keep her calmer which really has paid off. We even managed to walk them to beach together, was a pleasure to be around them.. Thank you for your help and support over the six week period.
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 Sol. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any form of fear or aggression is concerned. 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).

 

 

 

A Good Role Model for the New Puppy

Ollie with new puppy MaiseyTwo days ago I visited Ollie, a black Labrador, who is three years old. From the moment he went to live with his family as a puppy he attached himself to their older Labrador, Zac, in preference to the humans. Zac was a confident dog and Ollie was very reliant upon him. Zac was confident with other dogs out on walks and Ollie felt protected.

Sadly, a couple of months ago Zac died. Only then did it become apparent just how reliant on him Ollie had been. His confidence collapsed. He developed separation problems, crying and howling when left alone.  On walks without Zac’s calming influence he now lunges and yelps when he sees another dog.

Quite naturally the family have been compensating for his distress which has encouraged other unwanted behaviours like barking for attention and over-attachment.

Now they have a Black Labrador Ollie lying on his backnew puppy, Maisie, who is a Labradoodle – cross between a miniature Poodle and a Labrador (guess which the mother had to be!).

Maisie is a calm and stable puppy which is fortunate. Having now got used to her, Ollie feels he owns her. He won’t let her out of his sight without stressing – just like he does his lady owner.  When Maisie has been taken out Ollie seems to almost panic, and when she is brought back he barks at her – scolding her like one might a child who had wandered off in a supermarket. Since Zac died he has taken on on guard duty, with a lot of barking at passing people and noises. The family fear that he will soon start to influence Maisie’s behaviour also.

Poor Ollie, with a completely different temperament to Zac, simply can’t cope with taking over his role. This is a job for his humans. They are going to tighten up with the rules and boundaries which will make him feel more secure. They will cut down his opportunities to be on lookout duty. They will gain control over food. They will relieve him of so much decision-making. They will make walks more enjoyable for Ollie and for themselves by approaching walking and meeting dogs in a different way.

Ollie is a beautiful dog with a sensitive nature who needs to be given confidence. This is not done by spoiling him. He is now getting calm, consistent and confident leadership from his family members and they are seeing a change already.

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