Obedient? No, not disobedient. Unmotivated.

obedient

I always ask what people want of their dog when I first arrive. The gentleman said ‘an obedient dog’ and the lady said a dog that she could walk.

The two are part of the same thing. In my own words what they want is a fulfilled, happy and motivated dog.

The less compliant and obedient a dog is, the more a frustrated owner may intensify his or her approach. They repeat commands with a crescendo until they are shouting. This may intimidate some dogs into being obedient.

With adolescence came attitude

Continue reading…

Dominance fallout – aggression, fear or both.

dominance not workingI’m starting Johnny’s story with a little rant on dominance from my soap box.

As a force-free, modern trainer/behaviourist I don’t need to dominate a dog to get compliance.

I won’t say that dominance – being very firm and overpowering – doesn’t work. It can and it does. Sometimes.

In the old days I’m ashamed to say I didn’t know better and that is what I did until I learnt how inefficient it was. I have been there. I know what I’m talking about. Being kind and allowing the dog choices does not mean being permissive. I apply rules also. I don’t use force.

Many people still believe that being what they erroneously think is ‘being the Alpha’ is the right way to train and control their dog. It’s not helped by certain TV trainers who make a lot of money using old-fashioned techniques that look like quick fixes.

Unsuitable for ‘Alphadom’

Few dog owners psychologically would make effective ‘Alphas’ anyway. Continue reading…

Insufficiently motivated. Why not work for his food?

I’ve just visited Jake, a delightful, friendly and clever young Cockerpoo. A real character.

What cheerful Jake lacks is self-control. They have given him basic training, but self-control is not about people controlling him or doing tricks. He’s simply not sufficiently motivated.

not motivated to be goodHe eats well, so taking food from his daily quota will do.

The clever dog needs a lot of stimulation in order to receive the fulfilment his breed needs. Working Cocker mixed with Poodle. He generates his own attention and fun with his excited behaviour and demand barking. Continue reading…

Reinforcing Unwanted Behaviour. Rewarding Barking.

They do what they can to stop young Basset Hound Bentley doing unwanted things like jumping at the table and barking for attention.

In fact, they are instead reinforcing these very things.

Whilst reinforcing the unwanted behaviour by ultimately giving Bentley what he’s asking for, they also try discipline – ‘NO’.

Confused, Bentley can get cross.

Continue reading…

Goes Deaf When Called. Takes No Notice.

The young couple adopted mix breed Buddy at five months old. He is now nearly two. They were told he had Beagle in him, though it’s hard to tell.

There really is nothing wrong with the young dog that a bit of motivation and consistency won’t solve – along with some systematic training exercises to get him to pay attention to them.

Buddy goes deaf when they call him.

Continue reading…

Ignores Them. Won’t Come When Called. Unmotivated.

Not only does 9-month-old German Shepherd Max look beautiful, he has a wonderful personality. Like many teenagers he’s full of himself and this is a lot better than being the opposite –fearful. He’s confident and friendly.

Max ignores them!

Max also is a law unto himself! Continue reading…

Inconsistency. Biting Leash. Grabbing Lead. Scratching for Attention

Miniature Schnauzer Pepper is now six months old. She lives in a family of five and gets a lot of input. This leads to inconsistency.

She has a lovely nature; a non-aggressive, friendly and confident little dog. Perfect really. The things she does that they would like to stop are all normal puppy things – but not perhaps by the time puppy is six months old.

They are first-time dog owners, enthusiastic to do their best.

Inconsistency is a problem.

inconsistency makes training hardThey all need to want the same things and decide just what they are. They then all need to stick to the protocols.

There is a little list of specifics they would like to change. Most are due to excitement and lack of direction in a way that she understands.

The list includes jumping up at them when they sit down and if ignored flying at them. If pushed away crossly, she may nip. It’s a battle to put her lead on and her teeth are used. She attacks and grabs the lead when they walk. One family member doesn’t want her upstairs.

She jumps at them when they are sitting down and if ignored, scratches and scrabbles with her feet. Her nails make this uncomfortable.

They are happy with the jumping on them if she is gentle. It’s okay while they sit at the kitchen table but not when they sit on the sofa. The inconsistency will be confusing. If they decide that her little soft paws gently on them is okay, I feel this has to go for wherever they are sitting.

They may decide no feet on them at all is what they want. But then, they like being jumped up on when they arrive home.

Picking their battles.

I suggested they pick their battles, come to an agreement as a family and then each one stick to the plan. (I myself would start by choosing to allow gentle paws wherever they are sitting or standing. Not rough scrabbling).

So far the emphasis has always been on stopping her doing things and it can in fact make her worse. Particularly when there is inconsistency. They may scold or physically prevent her from doing something in the moment, but that doesn’t teach her for another time. It can wind her up more, to the point where she nips.

The emphasis now will be in showing Pepper what they do want.

Teaching her the desired behaviour may not work in the moment so quickly. The result, however, if they all do the same thing and keep it up, should be permanent.

It complicates things if there is one rule for the kitchen and one for the sitting room. I would decide whether soft feet are allowed in both places when they are sitting, or whether no feet at all is what they want. Whether soft feet are allowed, but not nails.

When they have decided what they want they will stick to it.

How?

Using their body language to remove attention and by reinforcing the behaviour they want. We used a clicker and the word Yes. We also reinforced just sitting looking at us and especially lying down peacefully.

While scrabbling gets maximum attention she will continue doing it. What’s in it for Pepper to lie down peacefully or to sit calmly beside us when jumping and scrabbling gets a lot of reaction?

There is even inconsistency in this. Sometimes she is fussed and cuddled. Sometimes she is pushed down and told No.

Lead biting is infuriating! They will, rather than using a water spray or impatience to stop her, now reinforce the behaviour they do want. When the lead is in her mouth they resist what is, to Pepper, a tug game. They freeze. As soon as she drops the lead, they drop food and they start moving again.

Motivation

If they concentrate on getting Pepper to use her brain, her stress levels will come down and life will be easier. We saw how well that worked while I was there.

I gently asked her to do something only once – and waited. She did it. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all and just wait for the behaviour they want. Then they can say ‘Yes’ or click and reward with food.

At present she simply isn’t motivated to do what they ask. If they say ‘Come’, she understands but mostly decides to ignore it. At this stage they should use food liberally.

There are a number of things in our plan that, individually, would make little difference. Some things are pure management like blocking off the stairs. However, when they add the individual things together, avoiding inconsistency, they will see some good progress after the first few days I’m sure.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Fighting Brother and Sister. Older Dogs

It’s a sad situation.

Fighting with his sister

Hugo

The Irish Terrier brother and sister, now ten years old, have had the occasional spat in the past.

Lottie was always the most confident one. Hugo is more fearful and has been very reliant upon Lottie. He loves his walks, but won’t go without her. It sounds like Lottie has controlled Hugo for years, but now the roles have reversed.

Lottie’s pre-existing heart problem has developed into full-blown heart disease. The fighting has escalated. Probably the two things are connected.

Hugo attacks her.

Their humans desperately need to be able to relax, knowing that there will be no fighting while their backs are turned.

Questions unearthed a pattern that fits most of the incidents.

It seems that it’s access to an area that Hugo controls from Lottie. He places himself where he can see the most important places at the same time – the kitchen doorway access to the sitting room, the pantry door where the dog food is kept, his own eating area and where he can see the lady working in the kitchen. One of his humans is always nearby.

Lottie will be across the kitchen in her favourite place lying by the open back door.

I went to where Hugo chooses to lie and lowered myself so I could see what he sees. He and Lottie could be staring at each other unnoticed – through the table legs.

I wonder what subtle messages pass from Lottie to Hugo? It’s just possible that she’s not a totally innocent party. Possibly she is still pulling his strings and he gets all the flack.

Anyway, what usually happens is that Lottie gets up and starts to walk towards Hugo (and the lady and the sitting room door and the pantry and his food station).

Hugo flies at her.

Lottie retaliates but due to her weakness comes off the worst.

Fighting is becoming more frequent.

The human response isn’t achieving a halt to the fighting. It’s getting worse. They throw water at the dogs which usually gives them a chance to forcibly pull them apart. Like most people would, they then add shouting and scolding.

I suggest they resist their instinctive reaction to shout unless that’s needed to break the dogs up as it simply adds fuel to the fire. From the dogs’ perspective they are probably joining in with yet more anger and noise. The people should be as calm and quiet as they can be. Separate the dogs with as little fuss as possible and ignore them for a while. Afterwards behave like nothing has happened – most dogs do, after all.

Often siblings who have always lived together rely upon one another; and the owners rely upon their dogs having each other for company.

I feel that Hugo now needs to be more focussed on his humans (and not just for attention under his own terms). For this there is no better way than to constantly reinforce, pay, the dog with food for everything he’s asked to do. They need to be able to instantly get his attention if necessary.

Almost immediately I found an unresponsive Hugo running to me when he realised I had food for him. This then puts the dog on remote control. His focus will be on them – not on Lottie.

Due to the fighting, the couple have been reluctant to use food. However, no fights have actually happened around treats or food when not a valuable resource like a bone. They will be careful.

What to do?

If they sense or see stillness or eyeballing, or if they simply feel uneasy, they will call that dog – Hugo probably. They will reward him. If Lottie comes too, they can feed her also. They can tell them both that they are good dogs. Remain upbeat. This works a whole lot better than any ‘Uh-Uh’, warning or scolding.

Motivating Hugo to focus on themselves rather than on Lottie, by using food, will be the best antidote.

So the couple can feel secure that no fighting can happen, management must be in place. Hugo’s ‘guarding’ area should be blocked, perhaps with a dining chair. The dogs can be separated by the closed gate at times – but not always on the same side. We don’t want Hugo’s ‘space guarding’ to take over one of the rooms.

Hugo can be weaned into liking a muzzle.

Then everyone can relax, knowing that poor Lottie is safe. No more living on tenterhooks and human tension being transferred to the dogs.

Being relaxed and calm may even extend Lottie’s life.

 

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 Hugo and Lottie and 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. As can advice advocating punishment, as seen here. 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)