The young owner and her dog have a special partnership. Her aim is for the 21-month-old Beagle, Lulu, to become her trained assistance dog, particularly giving her confidence where meeting people when out is concerned.
A Beagle for an Assistance Dog?
Beagles are renowned for being friendly, gentle and affectionate. They aren’t however renowned for great recall – genetically bred to hunt. However, over the past few months Lulu’s young owner has been studying dog behaviour and is already very switched-on. She has been working very hard. Lulu’s recall is great.
Where Lulu may not be so typically Beagle is where her wariness of people is concerned. This is something that will need to be resolved if she’s to make a good assistance dog. The young owner has already made great progress with people approaching directly or coming too close, but there is a way to go.
Most of us know how difficult it is to stop a determined ‘dog lover’ from coming up to our dog, looming over and putting a hand out to touch her. She will need to become accepting of this. A ‘Dog in Training’ vest should help.
Her role as assistance dog will also require Lulu to be fairly bomb proof to sudden noises and appearances. It will require that she is much more chilled about people coming into her home.
My job as a general behaviourist is to help the young owner to build up Lulu’s confidence. From there they will get more specialised help from someone who works specifically with this kind of assistance dog.
Recently the young owner moved back home where Lulu joins two other dogs, Nettie, a Labrador Staffie mix, and a little terrier.
With three dogs and five people in the household, there is a lot more excitement.
Callers coming to the house are posing a problem at the moment, with both dogs barking initially and again if the person gets up and moves about. Strangely, Nettie didn’t do this before Lulu came to live with them. Now Nettie starts it off!
When the two dogs regularly bark at passing people and other dogs from the window or the garden, they are, to their minds, chasing people and dogs away. It works. Where Lulu reacts to people, Nettie reacts to other dogs.They are rehearsing the very behaviour that’s unwanted when they are out.
Underpinning everything is for all three dogs to be a lot calmer. This can only happen if the humans themselves are calmer with them.
Reducing barking is a large part of the calming down process. Family members can help too by not playing hands-on vigorous games, along with not getting the dogs excited when they return home. It’s not necessary. We humans don’t greet one another in that way after a few hours apart, do we.
Out on walks
Lulu’s assistance dog role will be needed most when they go out.
Both dogs pull on lead and are usually walked separately. When she has calmed down, however, Lulu can walk nicely – I have seen videos.
The road walks will begin with just hanging around near to the house and waiting for calm. Now Lulu needs two things. She needs to learn to walk nicely beside the girl when ‘on duty’. She also needs ‘Lulu time’.
I suggest more frequent very short walks to work on technique, with a Perfect Fit harness (D-rings on both back and chest) and double-ended training lead. Lulu can learn to feel the difference between how the harness is used when being asked to walk nicely and when she can have a bit of freedom – ‘off duty’.
Walking nicely beside the girl can be prompted by attaching the lead both to the front and chest. After a few minutes of this, one end of the lead can be unclipped and left on either front or back only. Lulu can now be given full length and the girl can allow Lulu to lead her where she wants (within reason). Lulu can choose.
Because her recall is so good, Lulu can then be taken to somewhere open where she can be free to let off steam, run around and sniff.
Where encountering people is concerned, they will continue to work with Lulu’s wariness of approaching people using the ‘Engage/Disengage Game‘ which involves keeping as much distance as is required.
So, it’s ‘Operation Calm’ to start with, to establish firm foundations.
Both the girl and her lovely Beagle can help one another by sending currents of confidence up and down the lead when approached by someone, rather than tingles of anxiety
Lulu may soon be in training to become a proper Assistance Dog; the girl is already Lulu’s Assistance Human!
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 Lulu and the other dogs and because 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 more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where 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)