Happy Walks on Loose Leashes

A large labrador mix

Enzo

These two dogs large dogs were adopted by a couple in South America and just a month ago flown back with them to the UK.

Enzo is obviously a Labrador mixed with probably several other things and he looks just like a massive chunky Lab. Until six months ago the three-year-old had a life roaming free, doing his own good-natured thing and probably siring lots of puppies. Everyone in the area knew him. Now he’s been castrated and has adjusted amazingly well to life confined in a small house with nearly all his outings necessarily on the end of a lead. He’s very independent, self-contained but not unfriendly.

18-month-old Rhodesian Ridgeback, Timber, is also enormous – more the size of a large Great Dane. The couple have worked hard on his training. Unlike Enzo, when people are about he is wary and watchful. He will bark at someone entering the house and though he didn’t bark at me, he spent much of the time with his back to me, blocking me out.

Rhodesian Ridgeback hiding from me

Timber

When out on walks, both dogs are not at ease near other dogs, particularly if those dogs are loose. Neither Enzo or Timber are used to being constrained by a short piece of webbing attached to a human, with no freedom for avoidance or escape.

Humans tend to react to things a dog may find threatening in precisely the opposite way to how the dog himself might naturally want to react. Humans tend to keep on approaching, not ‘showing weakness’.  A dog is much more likely to avoid, either by making a large arc or turning away.

This illustrates clearly the importance to achieving happy walks of the behaviour of the humans to whom the dogs are physically tied. It also demonstrates how important it is that the dogs should feel as comfortable and as free as possible whilst necessarily being constrained.

Suitable equipment is essential. If a short lead is attached to a collar this will undoubtedly cause discomfort, pain even, should the dog suddenly feel the need to lunge. If a head halter, this may give the human more control but it takes even more control and freedom away from the dog. Imagine the harm a sudden jerk might do to his neck. A normal harness can turn the dog into a kind of carthorse, dragging his human along. There is only one kind of equipment I would use in order to achieve happy walks, particularly in the case of large, strong dogs, and this is a longish training lead attached at the front of a really good harness – maybe clipped to the back also for extra security.

Now the dog will feel comfortable, less restricted; the human has better control in emergency. With this equipment it’s a whole lot easier to teach a dog to walk nicely without using constant corrections.

Even though these two large and lovely dogs understandably can’t be trusted off lead as they have grown up with freedom, they can still surely have about 15 metres of freedom at the end of a long line.

In ‘training’ dogs to behave, the old-fashioned and still widely used methods despite all the scientific evidence, are about stopping the dog from doing things – stopping pulling, stopping lunging at other dogs and so on, using correction techniques or noises. As the gentleman says, ‘it works’. So, often, it does. Just because something works doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to achieve something though. One downside of correction methods is that they may only work in the presence of the person who has applied this particular training. Has the dog actually changed or is he merely ‘under control’? Does it address the root cause of the dog’s behaviour?

Changing to a more positive ‘do this instead’ along with making sure the dog isn’t trapped by us in too close proximity to the things to which he’s reacting whilst we change how he feels about these things will have much more permanent effect in the long run.

One final point. A thing that really does encourage pulling is when two people walk together with one dog each. This will inevitably lead to one dog trying to overtake the other. I suggest the man with Enzo has a head start and goes out first and that the couple meet up on the nearby green. Once there, they can put the long lines on the dogs and give them some freedom before setting off separately again with the shorter leads to do some loose lead walking practice.

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 Timber and Enzo (not their real names). 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).

Walking the Two Dogs Together

Akita mix

Raven

The young lady came back from overseas just a couple of weeks ago with her two wonderful dogs. She is seven months pregnant. They are now settling in their new home.

I will give you a little of her story which I find quite moving. Back in Greece they had adopted Macey, a Springer cross, who is now eleven months old. Soon after that they saw a litter of beautiful little white Akita mix puppies, only a few weeks old, wandering in the middle of a road. They tracked down the owner whose attitude was that if they were run over then it would be one less problem for her.

The girl and her husband took all five puppies home and fed them for the next three weeks until they were ready to be homed. They managed to find good homes for them all apart from Raven, whom they chose to keep.

Springer mix lying down

Macey

Because her two young dogs would need to be crated in order to fly them back to the UK, she had for two months acclimatised them to the crates they would be flown in. She did such a good job that apparently they were the most relaxed dogs the transport people had handled. They stepped out of their crates like nothing had happened.

The girl is also preparing her dogs for the baby. Already gates are up to accustom them to the restrictions they will necessarily have;  From the start she has made sure the pups are very comfortable and happy being touched anywhere and gently pulled about.

They have spent a lot of loving effort training and socialising the two – in very much the same way as I would have advised. Consequently, they now have two adolescent dogs that are friendly and relaxed with people and amazingly chilled.

Unfortunately there two new problems she hadn’t anticipated.

Against a quieter backdrop now, any sounds or people passing outside are more noticeable to the dogs, and Macey in particular is having fits of barking.

What worries her most of all is that at times Macey barks during the night and she fears she will get complaints, even being forced to give up her beloved dogs. I can’t see that happening at all. I hope I convinced her that the barking is nowhere near that excessive and that by both limiting their access to ‘guard duty’ places and also by how she reacts when they do bark, the problem will be under control and Macey happier for it.

She has worked so hard in preparing them for their new life that it’s understandable she’s now feeling overwhelmed by coping with the new unforseen problems by herself.

The second issue is that walking the two dogs together is now impossible, due to the fact that at seven months pregnant she is unable to hang onto Raven who is a puller. Previously they didn’t spend much time on lead and are so used to freely playing with other dogs that when they see a dog they can become frantic with excitement to get to it.

The girl can’t walk them separately either. These two dogs have never been apart. Raven was already with Macey before his siblings had left and he goes into meltdown if she is out of sight. Human company is no substitute.

They have a dog walker who takes them for a good run with other dogs three times a week and sometimes days the lady walks with a friend, one dog each. Her husband works abroad so can only help when he’s home.

She is unduly worried that her dogs are suffering due to the lack of regular exercise but to me they show absolutely no signs of dogs that are lacking anything in their lives. When they can’t be walked the young lady gives them sensibly stimulating things to do and balls to chase.

She can now put her excellent dog skills into gradually getting Raven used to being away from Macey – in a very similar fashion to the two dogs I met a few days ago – Wilson and Cooper.

In principle she should pop one dog behind the gate or in her crate, pop the lead on the other dog and walk around the same room and then into next room – out of sight for one second before walking back in again – and then swapping over the dogs. I would introduce scattering food for the dog left behind when I got to the stage of walking out of the back door. When the absences become longer – and this could actually take weeks – I would leave the crated dog something like a bone. The act of chewing helps a dog to self-calm and will also help her to associate the departure of the other dog with good stuff.

Where the two dogs’ excitement at seeing another dog is concerned, she will be teaching them to focus on her early, before things get out of hand whilst making herself as exciting and rewarding as that other dog!

The young lady has a lot to cope with at the moment, but being one hundred percent dedicated to her gorgeous dogs she will be just as successful with the barking issue, with getting Raven to walk nicely and with both dogs showing some self-control when encountering another dog as she has with everything else she has done with them to date.

Dog Feels Unsafe out on Walks

British Bulldog sitting like a humanWhen I arrived British Bulldog Bentley was very interested in sniffing me as most dogs are – they probably know all about my own four dogs within a few seconds!

He didn’t seem nervous of me initially and was happy with me tickling his chest as he sat on his bed beside me, but when later I asked him to come to me he withdrew and watched me from a distance (as you can see from the photos). He is wildly excited when people he knows come to the house, but is wary of anyone new.

Because he was so quiet I never saw the real dog – who has a full repertoire of gimmicks to get attention! You’d think butter wouldn’t melt to look at him! He will scratch persistently at the door to have it opened but may not then go through, he has a sequence starting with grunts that lead up to barking at the man to get the attention he wants, he won’t let the lady talk on her mobile and he steals then runs off with things – all for the chase, then won’t give them up.

He is quite comical in a way – look at how he sits!

Bentley is two years old, and until the end of last year had the ‘back up’ of an older dog who has now died. His British Bulldogproblems, mostly to do with feeling unsafe, particularly outside the house, seem to have become a lot worse since then.

He is ambiguous about walks. When the harness is produced he runs away to his bed, but once it’s on he seems happy to go out. The further they walk away from the quiet area in which they live however the more anxious he gets, pulling and panting, and getting very noisy when he sees another dog.

They usually route leads beside busy roads or to a local park, which is very popular and noisy with children, people and dogs. Only when they get back near to home again does Bentley calm down a bit.

Both humans and dog arrive back home more stressed than when they started out – certainly not what walks are designed for.

Added to all that, even in the park, fields or woods he is still held on the shortish lead which must be very frustrating for him. They dare not let him off as sometimes it is hard to read his intentions towards other dogs. Because he has a tiny, twisty tail that doesn’t give out the usual signals and a face that whilst looking amazingly cute to us, maybe be difficult for another dog to decipher, he himself may be unwittingly inviting negative responses.

Just as with the two black dogs I went to last week, we will separate the currently stressful pavement walking from the countryside walking so that he can slowly be desensitised to traffic whilst also getting healthy stimulation and exercise. They can pop him in the car and take him to the fields.

So far as ‘normal’ walks are concerned, the bottom line is that he doesn’t feel safe at the moment, and that has to change.

Bit by bit, starting in the garden and then out in the road near their house where Bentley is still reasonably comfortable, they will work on his walking on a longish loose lead. The walk is about the journey, not the destination. Several short sessions on a loose lead with encouragement and food rewards will do much more good than one long session.

They will very gradually go a little further from home., a few yards at a time. As soon as he starts to be even slightly agitated, they should take a few steps back into his comfort zone and then ‘lace the environment’ – sprinkle food about on the ground. He needs to learn that the environment with other dogs, traffic and people at an acceptable (to him) distance is a good place. If he won’t eat, then they need to increase the distance further.

If they take this sufficiently slowly Bentley should gradually be able to get further from home before he starts to get agitated, until the time comes when then can walk instead of drive to the nearest off-road open area. It will take considerably longer to desensitise him and build up his confidence sufficiently to get back to their former route beside the busier roads.

It’s essential that in order to feel safe Bentley trusts the person who is holding the lead to look after him. This requires general relationship building which starts at home. He is a much-loved dog with people who just need pointing in the right direction.

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 Bentley. 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).

 

 

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).

 

She Was Attacked by Another Dog

Attacked by another dog Staffie back viewNothing is more important on a walk than for a dog than to feel safe.

A few months ago the young Staffie Boxer mix was attacked by another dog. She was sitting beside the gentleman minding her own business, and off-lead dogs ran up to them. It ended in a fight, followed by angry shouting from the owner of the off lead dogs – which is so often the case!

Attacked by another dog

Shortly afterwards, Roxy was attacked by another dog and she was ready this time – she fought back.

People with uncontrolled, off-lead dogs have so much to answer for. What can conscientious dog owners do to protect their dogs? They have to avoid certain places and times, which is unfair.

The couple have only had Roxy for nine months. She had been picked up as a stray. To start with she mixed well with dogs and there were no problems on walks apart from the pulling on lead.

No longer feels safe

Roxy no longer feels safe, though it may not be as bad as her owners think because they now keep their distance. Although she has several doggie friends that she plays with, they very understandably feel wary themselves now. As soon as they see a dog, even if Roxy isn’t reacting at all, the lead tightens on the Halti as they make their escape. What message is this giving her? That all dogs she doesn’t know are potential trouble.

Along with her humans, Roxy needs to learn that just because two dogs have been bad news, both with a reputation locally, most dogs are fine.

They had been advised to food reward Roxy when she’s stopped barking. Fair enough, but I prefer to feed before she gets to the barking stage, when she is aware of the other dog but at a ‘safe’ distance. This then eases the emotion of anxiety and associates other dogs with good stuff. If food-motivated Roxy won’t take chicken, then they are too close. She is ‘over threshold’.

Whilst avoiding other dogs altogether gets them nowhere, pushing her too close too soon will only make things worse. By ‘reading’ Roxy’s signals and reacting in response to how she is feeling and not preempting, they may even now possibly pass near many dogs with no reaction at all.

Accumulated stress

The tricky thing is that Roxy may react differently at different times. One day she could get quite near to a dog before reacting and the next day she may bark when she sees the same dog at a distance. The main variable will be the level of her accumulated stress levels at the time and all sorts of things can contribute to this.

So – the groundwork is to reduce stress in all areas of Roxy’s life, to make sure the equipment they use causes her no discomfort and the lead should be loose – change the Halti for a comfortable harness with two contact points. This can take time.

The end aim is for Roxy to clock in with her human when she sees another dog and then trust him/her to make the best decision. Even if sometimes ‘life happens’ and things go wrong, both dog and humans should have sufficient bounce-back to dust themselves off so to speak and carry on. Being attacked by another dog can have a devastating effect, but even in times of war a good leader keeps going, is trusted and keeps calm.

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, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Bored Dog Looking For Trouble!

Sometimes encouraged to jump up, sometimes scolded for jumping upPointer spends a lot of time looking for troubleOne-year-old Pointer, Chase, is a working dog without sufficient outlets to exercise his brain! With a dog like this, a daily walk simply isn’t enough. By getting attention in any way that he can, bored dog Chase is giving himself work to do.

He must also be very confused. For instance, he jumps up at people. Sometimes it’s ignored, sometimes it is actively encouraged and sometimes he is scolded, ‘No – Get Down’.

Whenever the lady wants some peace, Chase is ‘winding her up’, so he will end up in his crate.

After I had shown her what to do, the lady clicked (with clicker) or said ‘Yes’ every time Chase did something good. No more ‘No’. If he had his feet on the side, she clicked when they were back on the floor and he came for his reward. Each time he jumped on anyone, they ignored it and turned away, and the lady clicked as soon as he was back on the floor.

Now this is exactly the sort of brain work Chase needs. He is a gorgeous, good-natured and friendly dog – but a bored dog looks for things to do. His evenings now need to be punctuated by regular short human-instigated occupations.

The greatest problem – the problem I was called out for is his pulling on lead. Before that can be resolved, his extreme, uncontrolled behaviour before he even sets out on a walk has to be dealt with.

As soon as the lead comes out he runs and hides – not because he doesn’t like it but because it instigates a chase game.

Once the lead is on, Chase is leaping about grabbing, wrestling and pulling it – instigating his own tug game! He has eaten his way through several leads.

Again, I showed them how to concentrate on what they DO want and not what they don’t want. Soon I had my long loose lead on him. I simply waited and waited until he was still and calm, and then asked him gently to sit. He doesn’t need to be ‘commanded’ – just reminded.

I popped the lead on and the manic jumping, grabbing game commenced.

What was the behaviour I wanted? I wanted him to release the lead from his mouth! When he grabs it, the human is holding it tight and the opposition reflex kicks in. Both are pulling and it’s a good tug game. He grabbed the lead, I approached him which loosened it. I kept doing this. No game. As soon as he let go I said Yes and rewarded him with something a bit special. We carried on like this for a few minutes and soon he was walking around the house calmly on a loose lead.

He had been taught what I did want, and he was finding it rewarding.

The next door neighbour comes each day to take Chase for a walk, and thankfully he was at our meeting. The walks may be a bit shorter to start with because they will be late starting out. When the man arrives Chase is usually leaping all over him and getting a fuss for doing so. That now has all to change. The man will wait for as long as it takes for Chase to calm down and stop jumping up. Then he will take the lead to the door and once more wait until Chase comes voluntarily, and sits calmly to have the lead on. Then there will probably be some pantomime of lead grabbing and jumping about. This will take some more time while he reminds Chase that NOT grabbing the lead is what is wanted.

Only then will they be ready to start out on their walk.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chase, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs 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).

Say Cheese! Positive Reinforcement

SalukiFour years ago, at only about eight weeks of age, Saluki Tilly was found abandoned – tied up in the Dubai desert. She was rescued by an English family who have just recently just moved back home.

They have overcome various problems including separation issues, and Tilly is the perfect gentle family dog. However, she is giving them a new challenge now, that of reacting fearfully to other dogs (the good news is that there are some dogs she happily plays with, so it’s not all dogs).

As owners try more and more things in an endeavour to ‘stop’ their dog barking and lunging at other dogs it so often actually escalates things. Their attempted solutions are usually aversive to some extent. Gradually she will be associating other dogs with unpleasant things – in this case a tight lead on an uncomfortable head halter or collar with owner tension running down it like electricity resulting in discomfort and possibly pain when she lunges, along with a water bottle that scares her.

The way to start changing her reactivity is not by trying to force her into a different behaviour but by addressing the emotion that causes the behaviour – fear, along with plenty of positive reinforcement.

Other dogs should now only be associated with nice things – comfortable equipment, a loose lead and a happy, relaxed human – and CHEESE. Tilly adores cheese, so cheese could be reserved solely for associating with other dogs until eventually she will beSalukithinking ‘oh good, a dog, where’s the cheese?’! There are various ways of actually achieving this which we discussed (cheese would be unsuitable for a dog that’s lactose intolerant).

Before they are ready again for any doggy encounters at all there is some groundwork to be done. First, she should be walking comfortably on a loose lead instead of the usual pulling – something she was soon doing beautifully this afternoon on just collar and lead with the lady.

Secondly, in order for her humans to be trusted to deal with danger when out, they must be trusted to deal with it at home.  Thirdly, for the dog to give them her full attention when other dogs appear, she needs to do so at home. If the people are unable to get the dog’s attention because they are at her beck and call, then they won’t do so when out. Finally, for food to work on walks they need control over the food at home. A grazing dog is less likely to be sufficiently food motivated when in the distractions of the outside world.

Where the walk itself is concerned, she needs to be as relaxed as possible from the start. Loose lead walks should include all the sniffing she wants. Each dog ‘incident’ on a walk is cumulative. First time she may be only slightly concerned and walk past with no trouble. The second dog she meets she may be more reactive to and by now she is in a mental state ready to have a real pop at the third one. The people need to call it a day sooner. One successful encounter, even from a distance, is enough to start with.  Add to this her fear of loud vehicles. If she has been thoroughly frightened by a lorry at the beginning of the walk they might just as well come home. Her stress and tolerance levels will be far too high for any other challenges today.

Patience along with positive reinforcement pays off in the end.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tilly, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs 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).

Cocker Spaniel a Naughty Dog?

Yesterday I visited a 9-month-old Cocker Spaniel called Willow.  Wonderful!  My own irrepressible Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, has given me some good practice.

Here is a list of things Willow does: Jumping up on people, excessive licking of people’s faces, jumping at the table and sides, barking (answering) back when told off, too much noise generally, steaCocker Spaniel Willow's white tailling any items she can get hold of and running off with them, leading the lady a merry dance and getting cross when cornered, humping people, fixating and barking at certain objects, jumping over people and furniture, racing at speed round and round the room and growling when eventually caught and restrained, shoving toys at her people to make them play with her, pulling on lead and, finally, chasing the cat. Oh – and running back to the car on walks.

All this may sound amusing to read, but it can be exasperating and has reduced the poor lady to tears and it’s no wonder she thinks Willow is just a naughty dog.Bored Cocker Willow does everything she can think of to get attention

Willow really is adorable as you can see – and see the white tail? She is a soft, affectionate little girl, However, two or three walks where she’s encouraged to keep moving and not sniff too much, just isn’t sufficient for her. She is not a naughty dog. She is a BORED dog.

The family is on the back foot, trying to ‘field’ the things that Willow throws at them rather than themselves being proactive. She is a clever, working dog with insufficient appropriate stimulation so she is constantly finding ways to fulfil herself. She spends quite bit of time in the ‘naughty’ room.

‘No’ is a much used word.  In the three hours I was there we consistently looked for ways of saying ‘Yes’, and rewarding her with food. The lady was becoming really good at looking for the good rather than the bad and Willow was getting the message, becoming really focussed.

It is only fair on a dog to let her know what you don’t want in a language she really understands. ‘No’ and ‘Get Down’ or pushing are very confusing messages when the dog wants attention, because they ARE attention.

If a dog is jumping all over me I consider how another dog would make his feeling clear to a bouncy adolescent. Would not a stable dog look away, turn away, maybe tip her off and walk away? The other dog would probably signal when he saw her coming, making his feelings clear from the start. Showing the behaviour isn’t wanted is only part of the exercise. Just as importantly we then need to follow-up by showing her just what we do want. If it’s ‘feet on the floor’ we want, then that is when she gets the attention.

Giving Willow a more fulfilled life requires being creative and offering alternative incompatible behaviours instead of scolding or ‘no’, and constantly reinforcing the desired behaviours. They will need to go cold turkey on the barking for attention whilst scheduling into the day the sort of activities that satisfy her canine Spaniel instincts – mostly nose-based. She needs plenty to keep her busy. When the family want to watch TV in peace, they need to instigate short bursts of activity themselves – during the advert breaks perhaps. She could have a hunting game, training games, a short ‘sniff’ walk around the block or a toy or chew kept aside especially.

Gradually, over time and with the help of food rewards, Willow will be looking for ways to get attention by pleasing them.  A different mindset for owners – looking for the good instead of the bad – can really help.

It’s the next day and I have just received this email: ‘We found all you said made absolute sense and we are now looking at interacting with Willow with fresh eyes.  Some things are so obvious it is almost embarrassing to have not realised it! Today we went for a couple of walks and it was so much more relaxed letting Willow do as much sniffing as she wanted rather than thinking she shouldn’t be doing it and trying to get her to walk on.  Also, I did as advised re meal times and she ate the meals!  Amazing! We have bought her a Stagbar and some other toys for playing with in the evening.  At the moment she is lying quieting asleep – perhaps dreaming of the fun day she’s had today! There is obviously a lot of work to do and reinforce but I feel much more confident and relaxed’!
And four weeks after my visit: ‘The advice you gave us has been invaluable and has changed so many things we were doing with Willow and have already seen some good improvement’.
Here is a message eighteen months after I met 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!
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Willow, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs 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).

Rescue Dog Settling In

VinnieI suggested they start all over again just as though Vinnie had never been walked before!

They have had the young Jack Russell for just over one week now and he is a rescue dog slowly finding his feet.

It’s very likely that he had seldom been outside his home and garden during the 2 1/2 years of his life which was apparently with a terminally ill person. He is another dog that reacts badly when seeing other dogs and where the groundwork needs to be put in at home first.

Each day he becomes more relaxed with them and although he’s an independent little dog he now will enjoy a cuddle.

He has a couple of strange little quirks.  He is completely quiet when anyone comes up the front path, rings on the doorbell, delivers a package or comes in the front door. However, when there is any noise from out the back – a dog barking or a car door slamming, he will rush out barking.

He’s very reactive to anything sudden, even someone coughing (they will gradually desensitise him to that in very small stages and using food). I do wonder whether the general background noise in his previous home may have been higher. One can only speculate. Now he lives with quiet people in a quiet area and against this background most sounds may well seem sudden.

The other strange thing is that from time to time he stands still, almost trance-like with his eyes closing. I did wonder whether it was because he was anxious, but there were no other indications such as lip licking or yawning. I took a video. On advice, I have suggested they get this checked out with their vet.

They will first start walking Vinnie in the garden until both humans and dog have the technique and a loose lead. As they go along they will work on getting and keeping his attention.

Only then they will venture out of the gate – but they won’t be going very far!

Bit by bit they will build on this until he is walking happily down the road on a loose lead. Only now will they be ready to work on dogs and Vinnie should be a lot more confident. They must do their best to keep at a distance where Vinnie isn’t too uncomfortable to take food or to give his humans his attention.

The secret to success, particularly with a rescue dog, is being prepared to put in the necessary effort and put in the necessary time – as I know Vinnie’s people are (see my ‘Reality Check’ page).

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Vinnie which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs 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).

Moving In Together

StaffieSasha

Sasha

She has four children, he has two dogs and they are moving in together.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier Suzie is on the left and Ben below  They are beautiful, friendly dogs but too excitable and not a little unruly!

Both dogs jump all over the sofas and all over people. Ben jumps up at the children and can knock the younger ones over.

The 3-year-old child has to be watched because she wants to hug the dogs and they don’t like it.

What worries their mother most is Suzie’s way of snatching food. She is rightly concerned that if a child is walking around with a biscuit for example, that it could unintentionally be bitten.

When I held a tiny treat in my fist, Suzie was absolutely frantic to get it.  It’s like she’s starving hungry. I have seldom seen anything quite like it.

Ben

I’m sure there is more to this although a vet has previously said she’s okay.

Although Suzie eats just the same amount as solid Buster, she is extremely thin. They have much more to pick up after her in the garden than from Ben, so food must be passing through her. She is given very little exercise so she shouldn’t really be so skinny. If a change in diet doesn’t work quickly, then another visit to the vet is called for.

Dog walks have become more and more infrequent for various reasons. These two dogs will be a lot more settled with regular exercise and healthy stimulation to compensate for the hours they spend alone during the day.

I showed the couple how to start a walk without the dog charging out of the door and pulling frantically down the passage. Suzie caught on really fast. This is not easy when a walk has become an exciting rarity. The couple will make themselves a do-able schedule of ‘little and often’ for the dogs involving walks and basic training.

The children also have their own things to learn. The youngest needs to be taught not to hug dogs. Safety first, a gate should be between kitchen and sitting room so that dogs and children can be separated either when any food is about or when an adult hasn’t their eye on them.

With work, I’m sure that these lovely dogs will then calm down and learn some self-control. It’s all up to their humans. It’s great that they love the children.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sasha and Ben, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, most particularly where children are involved also. 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).