Her Latest Dog is a Challenge

AshcroftDogs1

The lady I have just visited feels her latest dog is a challenge. Doberman Maddie’s owner has had several Dobermans but never one quite like two-year-old Maddie.

I think she must have been very lucky with her previous dogs if Maddie is the worst. She is gorgeous. Although with certain issues, she is no big problem – yet. The main worry is her increasing reactivity to other dogs when out when she’s on lead and her wariness of new people. Very sensibly the lady wants to nip things in the bud before they get any worse because her other Doberman, Tia, is now copying her.

Tia is five. She barks at dogs on TV and she is a big hunter when out and off lead but generally a lot calmer. The TV problem can be resolved fairly easily with patience, desensitisation and counter-conditioning. The running off after pheasants and not coming back for an hour and a half isn’t so easily or quickly solved!

This story is all about preventing things from developing and making walks more enjoyable for the lady – and for the dogs.

Like most people who have difficulties with their dogs when they are out, the roots of these problems can be somewhere else. Simply going out on walks and encountering other dogs and doing training doesn’t resolve the complete issue. Because we are dealing with the emotions that cause the dog to behave in a certain way when out, the home end of things can be very important also.

If the dog can’t give the owner her full attention when required indoors, then it won’t happen when out. If the dog is stressed at home, then she will be stressed when out. If the dog is either pulling down the road or the lead is at all tight at the start of the walk, then the stress levels will be rising. If the dog is physically and uncomfortably prevented from pulling with a gadget such as a head collar – then the walk could be doomed from the start because of how the dog will already be feeling.

Domberman sucking a toy

Maddie sucking her toy

In Maddie’s case there is a strong element of the stress that builds up over the days due to other things that are happening. Stress isn’t only bad stuff – with a sensitive dog it can be too much excitement, play or noise.

The lovely Maddie works very hard at keeping herself calm. She spends a lot of time chewing or suckling a cuddly toy.

Her reactivity is variable. Some days she can encounter a dog when she is on lead with no fuss at all and on other days she will react to the very same dog. This must be due to her own state of mind at the time, along with that of her human on the end of the lead who may be having a bad day or be more anxious. It could be that she has simply encountered one dog too many on that walk and can’t manage another.

There are quite a number of small things that can be done to ease Maddie’s stress levels in general. Her food could be better – this can make a huge difference.

With a calmer dog and with comfortable equipment, with calm loose-lead walking techniques used from the start of the walk along with a walk where she can sniff rather than a march forward, things will start to improve I’m sure. The lady will now have ways of keeping and holding her dogs’ attention and she will give them plenty of space from other dogs when needed, taking her cue from Maddie. Anything Maddie’s uneasy about can be worked on with positive associations at a distance where she feels safe.

Tia doesn't like having her photo taken

Tia doesn’t like having her photo taken

Recall work starts at home too. A big part of ‘coming when called’ is to do with the relevance of the person calling the dog – their relationship. Repeatedly calling or whistling at home in return for small high-value food gradually ‘charges the battery’ and then can be reinforced when out by the lady repeatedly calling them when knows they will come and simply not giving them freedom when she fears they won’t. (Each time she calls and they ignore her, the ‘battery’ is discharged a little).

Having just one dog off lead at a time can be an extra incentive for the other dog to come back too.

The lady will watch Tia closely for taking off after a pheasant or a jogger and preempt her. In addition to very high value food she can also redirect the drive to chase onto either a ball or even onto herself, making herself fun, making silly noises perhaps and running away! If these things don’t work, then I fear it will be a few months work on a long line for Tia.

These are fantastic dogs with a fantastic owner who is lucky to have a friend who walks the dogs everyday with her own dogs, who sat in on our meeting and will do her bit too. These dogs have a very good life!

Poppy Doesn’t Like Being Touched

Border Collie with German Shepherd EarsPoppy is a Border Collie with German Shepherd ears. Look at them – and at that face!

Just as not all of us like too much fussing, pulling about and excitement, Poppy is a sensitive and somewhat fearful dog who isn’t keen on being touched unless she so chooses (to many of my friends a weekend of being pampered and massaged at Champneys would be heaven but to me it would be hell. I, unlike Poppy, have free will and can refuse).

There have been several biting incidents, on family members, and all have involved her being touched in some way when she doesn’t want to be touched – having touching forced upon her. All bites have also involved her already being in a highly aroused and stressed state.

She belongs to a couple with the man’s mum, a warm, effervescent and tactile lady who plays a big part in Poppy’s life, living just down the road. Unhappily, she is the receiver of the worst bites and understandably it upsets her greatly. Her manner is simply ‘too much’ for Poppy who probably feels overwhelmed.

Each incident has taken place when Poppy was already stirred up by something. She has undoubtedly given plenty of warnings over her three years which have been unheeded or punished. Sadly they have been watching the popular TV trainer who advocates dominance and pinning down and they are suffering the fallout.

The final and worst incident is an absolutely perfect example of how one thing leads to another as fuel is added to the fire, until some sort of explosion is inevitable.

Every day at lunch time the mother comes to the couple’s house to walk Poppy. Poppy may initially stay up the stairs growling at her. The lady does everything she can to get her to coax her down – and then the drama starts.

She takes Poppy out for a walk while the couple are at work. It is always the same ritual and route. The dog bolts out of the gate to the car. She is so wild in the car that in order to stop her redirecting her stress onto chewing the upholstery the lady muzzles her. At the field, she removes the muzzle and immediately throws Poppy a stick, otherwise she will attack the car tyres.

On this particular occasion she had her two grandchildren with her (8 and 10 – she never growls at them) who will, being children, have been playful and talkative – just as the lady is herself! They reached the river to find some excitable kids in a boat on the usually quiet river. Then a bird-scare gun went off. Poppy dropped to the ground. The lady bent over her to comfort her and she grumbled, but that was all. Then there was a second bang, the lady cuddled Poppy who immediately bit her on the hand which is now black and bruised. The dog then lay there and shook.

The lady, though scared by now, pinned Poppy to the ground – because she, like so many others taken in by the showmanship of this TV man, believed it was the right and only thing to do in the circumstances.

When she let go of her, Poppy bit her other arm.

A totally different approach is needed.

So today I was on the end of the phone with the lady and we did lunchtime differently. The emphasis was on quiet and calm with no pressure whatsoever being put on Poppy. She came in the front door and ignored Poppy grumbling up the stairs. No jolly, excited hellos or trying to entice her down – just ‘Hi, Poppy’ and walking on into the kitchen.

We had played a ‘Come when Called’ game yesterday and the lady did this from the kitchen with exactly the same words and tone of voice as we had used. Poppy came willingly for her – a first. She was learning that she was rewarded with a tiny bit of food instead of noisy enthusiasm and touching (which to her, because it seems to intimidate her, amounts to punishment not reward). Already she was choosing to come to the lady and be with her rather than lurking, grumbling upstairs.

As Poppy gets two other walks during the day, we have decided it’s best for the lady not to walk her for now, so we have thought up some calm home activities for lunchtimes with some mental stimulation but no excess excitement.

What if Poppy were a deer not a dog?. The lady would move slowly, speak quietly and not try to touch it because if she did the deer would run off.

She is feeling happy because already their relationship, based on better understanding, is improving.

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 Poppy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Won’t Come When Called

Lhasa Apso mix Sophie is a teenager.

She is friendly and fearless and a perfect companion for the widowed lady apart from the two things I was called out for.

The gorgeous little Lhasa Apso mix is eight months old. Where on walks she never goes far when off lead and willingly comes back when called, on the few occasions when she has managed to get out of either the front door or the garden gate she has run off down the road, totally deaf to any calls to come back. It is only by luck that she’s not ended up under a car.

When the lady has people to stay, they are not always careful or quick enough to shut the front door and Sophie squeezes out. She has also climbed over the garden gate which is now fixed.

I suggested that she shouldn’t rely totally on the training and when she has people staying with her that she puts a child gate in the inner porch doorway, to make doubly sure that people are reminded to be careful about not letting Sophie through. Already she has learnt to hang back in the hall when the lady opens the door to someone and she will build on that. As with everything, playing safe is always best.

We took a whistle out into the fairly large garden having already taught Sophie indoors that one blow on the whistle means she gets something tasty. The lady smiled to see how, when she whistled, the little dog turned immediately and came racing back to her – ears flapping and tail wagging!

It’s important for now that Sophie is only whistled when it’s certain she will come until an automatic response is established and that it’s not over-used so she becomes immune to it.

We also called ‘Sophie – Come’ from one to another of us in the house, and she ran back and forth for a reward. (The lady was another person who didn’t realise that the tone of her call was nowhere near sufficiently bright and interesting to penetrate a dog’s mind if she’s busy doing something else).

The other issue is that neighbouring cats use her garden as a toilet and like many dogs Sophie finds what cats produce irresistible. The lady will chase Sophie around the garden to take it off her – a losing battle! In a way this is part of the same problem – ignoring being called.

In the garden we also rehearsed a cat-poo exercise. First thing in the morning when most of it is about, the lady will put Sophie on a retractable lead to go on ‘cat poo patrol’ armed with whistle and poo bags. Sophie can find it for her! This is made easier by the little dog having a ritual whereby when she finds some she will first roll on the ground nearby. The lady can whistle her and as soon as she comes back, feed her something extra special. If she doesn’t come immediately, then she can be reeled in. The lead handle can then be hooked over something while she collects the mess or she drops another piece of food on the ground while she picks it up with a poo bag.

Each time the dog hasn’t been outside for a while the lady can repeat this exercise. It may be a nuisance but not so bad as trying to retrieve the unmentionable from a little dog who is running off with her treasure! Eventually she shouldn’t need the lead anymore and will learn just to come away – though unless she grows out of it, it may be too much to expect her to resist if out there alone!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, 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 Sophie. 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).

 

To Reliably Come When Called

Cockerpoo Lacey is a very, very busy pup! She is eight months old and so like my Cocker Spaniel Pickle at that age – on the go all the time looking for ‘mischief’ which really is finding ways to employ her clever brain, get rid of her abundant energy – and to be rewarded with attention in the process. Everything Lacey does, she does a bit too much of!

Goldendoodle with Cockerpoo pup on the sofaLacey lives with Goldendoodle Henry, two. It’s wonderful to watch the two of them tearing around the garden.

The end aim of having me out to see them is for both dogs to be trusted to come when called when out on walks. Being kept on lead is particularly frustrating for Lacey who needs freedom to run and sniff and do Spaniel things. Still a puppy, she doesn’t go far, but they can see this getting worse now she’s adolescent. If Henry sees a dog in the distance, he’s off.

The lady dreams of going for walks through the fields with her lovely dogs happily walking along off lead beside her.

I remember reading a quote which said ‘Recalls are all about Relationship’.  Most dogs that won’t come back fully understand what it is wanted of them but decide they have something better to do first. They hear their humans call, but don’t consider them sufficiently important, relevant, rewarding or fun to come running back to.

This ‘relationship’ can be worked on at home by not always obeying the dogs’ every whim whilst also initiating activities frequently – interesting and fulfilling things that make you rewarding to do things with – by having a bit more influence over the dogs’ actions. In the house the humans should be able to get the dog’s attention when they say his or her name – straight away. The dog should come willingly from the other side of the room when asked. Playing recall games around the house is a great way to build an automatic response to being called.

Out on walks this can be continued with one dog on a long line and the other on the normal lead, alternating dogs, walking the other way as they call so the dog thinks they are leaving and not hanging about. How can the people be more salient than a pheasant, a rabbit or a dog the other side of the field? That is the million dollar question! We need to be challenging and exciting with a mix of play, games the particular dog likes best and high quality food rewards – a variety to keep the dog guessing. With sufficient work over time, coming back when called will become the default.

Anything that is rehearsed a sufficient number of times, good or bad, will eventually become engrained. We are looking at one thousand successful recalls – at least – at home and in environments where the dog is set up to succeed before expecting ‘coming when called’ to work reliably in distracting environments when out.

When the lady’s dreams of walking her off-lead dogs eventually come true, she still can’t relax unfortunately. We can’t escape those irresponsible people who let their aggressive or unruly dogs run unchecked. What a great world it would be for dog walkers if every dog was properly taught to come when called!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Lacey, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here of the strategies we will be using. Finding instructions on the internet 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 tailored to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

 

Won’t Come Back When Called

Labrador Marley doesn't come back when calledWhen they opened the door for me to go, Marley simply walked out and down the road, coming back home about fifteen minutes later. We may have done some loose-lead walking but he didn’t consider that to be his morning walk, so he went by himself.

The previous dog I went to, a mixed breed called Milly (see previous story), looked like a Labrador but wasn’t – Marley is the real thing.

Needless to say, one of the two problems I was called to help with is the fact he just won’t come back when called. I had seen it for myself. As we all called him, he looked round at us, grinned, and ran around a corner leading to the field.

The other issue is pulling on lead. They want walks to be enjoyable and have tried ‘traditional’ training which involves correction and holding the lead tight, with no success at all.  With a different mental approach and different equipment, we walked Marley about the front of the property on a loose lead.

Just like Milly, Marley is two and a half. They have had him for six months before which he lived on a farm and one can guess he had a fair amount of freedom. Another thing he has in common with Milly is that his only problems occur outside.

Marley has come a long way in the past six months. They have resolved many issues including begging for food and jumping up on people. Like many Labradors he is simply full of life and enthusiasm. He needs a good run and chase which he can’t do anymore due to his running off and ignoring them.

Working on the recall will be a lot longer process because things have happened the wrong way around. My feelings are that puppies should have very restricted physical boundaries and freedom should be introduced gradually (with a bit of reining in again when the dog becomes adolescent) so that ‘not coming back when called’ simply never becomes an option. In Marley’s past life, due to the freedom he very likely had, he expects to freelance. The only way to deal with this is for him to lose freedom for as long as it takes while they work on it, using a very long line, so he has no option of escaping.  At present he’s on a retractable lead which by definition is never slack. We can’t do proper work on recall if the dog doesn’t feel free.

At the moment calling Marley in the usual way is a waste of energy. To him whether he comes or not is optional.  They will now use a whistle – first charging it like battery so running to them immediately for something especially tasty becomes an automatic response when he hears it.  For the forseeable future they will not use it unless they are sure he will come or unless he’s on the long line and has no choice.

The loose lead walking is more of a technique to teach a dog to do something that doesn’t come naturally – to walk at a human pace when he is eager to get somewhere or play with another dog, and to walk near his humans because he wants to and not because he is forced to.

I predict that it will be months before they dare let him off, even briefly. If meanwhile he gets the opportunity to run off again they will set things right back.

This isn’t merely a matter of training though. Marley already has ‘learnt’ what coming when called means. He simply doesn’t do it.

Why would that be? Because what he wants to do is far more relevant and exciting to him than coming back to his humans. In general he gets their attention whenever he asks for it, rather than the other way around – his humans getting HIS attention when they ask for it.  In order of relevance to Marley when he is out, his humans come way down the list.  With people to greet, smells to explore and dogs to play with, it’s a no-brainer to Marley!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Marley, 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).

Neighbours’ Complaints About Barking

Freda barks all day when left

Freda

Access to the garden all day makes the Jack Russell's barking worse

Chester

People often feel, if they are out all day, that their dogs need a lot of space along with access to the garden.

I frequently go to dogs that spend a lot of the long day barking, and often this results in complaints about barking from neighbours as is the case with the two little dogs I went to yesterday. Even though it’s probably only in fits and starts, it can seem continuous if you live next door.

Parsons Jack Russell Freda on the left is now eight years old, and Jack Russell Chester two. Although Chester is the more nervous of the two, Freda is the bigger barker, and suffers more when left.

When left all alone it is most likely that the two dogs eventually settle, but they will be vulnerable to all the sounds from outside which will keep starting them off again. Whenever they hear the neighbours feet crunch on her gravel path or a car slowing down outside, the dogs bark. They go quite frantic when someone comes up the path to put something through the letterbox and they can see out through a front window.

Giving the dogs access to the garden will be making things a lot worse in my opinion.  It’s no wonder they feel insecure, left all alone all day with run of the house and garden, having to deal with such a lot of guard duty. Instead of settling the will be alert to every sound, charging in and out of the dog flap barking and getting themselves into a state, with no owners about to reassure them that all is well.

Shutting the dogs comfortably in the large kitchen should be a lot easier on them, although to start with they may be frustrated – barking to get outside through the dog flap because this is what they have been accustomed to. The people can rig up a camera and have a word with the neighbour.

When family members come home it is to give the dogs a huge fuss. I’m sure if they tone down their greetings to make their coming and goings less of a major event, and if the lady can pop home at lunch time for half an hour, these little dogs will soon quieten down when left alone.

The second issue is about both dogs, Freda in particular, ignoring their humans when called out on walks. There are five family members and the dogs get everything they want upon demand by way of attention. While this is the case and while food isn’t used for rewards but given for doing nothing, the humans don’t have much leverage! They need to be more relevant in terms of getting and holding their dogs’ attention and work on this at home before expecting the dogs to give them attention out on walks – particularly ‘coming when called’ when there is something far more exciting to do like chasing a rabbit!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freda and Chester, 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).

 

Recall Could Save his Life

RockyCh1If a dog won’t come to you from the other side of the room when called, he’s unlikely to do so when out and chasing off after another dog!

They call him and little Chihuahua Rocky may just stand and look. If he does come he will stop short by several feet and then they will go over to him. Mind you – his humans give him attention whenever he chooses so in a way they are teaching him that he doesn’t need to do things when they choose.

What a great little character Rocky is.

The other day he ran out the front, and ignoring their calls was nearly run over. This prompted them to get in touch with me.

His ‘not coming when called unless he feels like it’ is also a problem out on walks. He is very reactive to other dogs (scared but brave) and will chase after them barking.

WRockyChhat’s the secret? Food! There must be something ‘in it’ for him if they want him to come back.

The tone in which he’s called has to be clear and encouraging too but not repeated over and over. Being given several chances looked like he was being begged to come – and Rocky just turned and walked away!

Whilst he’s fine and friendly meeting new people when out, Rocky is barky and wary when they come into his house.  Although he quickly accepted me, he started barking again when I walked towards the lady. He alerted to every sound outside and does a lot of barking in general.

We worked on rewarding not barking with food – particularly when he alerted having heard something, catching it immediately before the barking started with an ‘okay’ and food.

Where reliable recall is concerned I introduced a little game. The process needs to be done over and over (I usually say a thousand times) before it becomes sufficiently engrained to be a conditioned response which can be relied upon to work when really needed.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rocky, 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).

Doesn’t Come When Called

LabMontyIn the distance, the other side of a road, Monty saw a dog. Ignoring all calls to come back, he ran off after it. He could so easily have been knocked down by a car.

They don’t let 18-month-old Black Labrador Monty off lead now because they can’t trust him to come back when called – particularly if he sees another dog. He wants to play.

Poor Monty is now unable to have any freedom to run about, sniff, explore, chase and do doggy things.

You would think that coming when called was a simple, single issue. One of ‘dog training’ – learning to come when called.

Good recall can be a matter of life and death. If coming whenever called is worked on continually from puppyhood (using food), this never becomes an issue.

There is much more to recall than simply ‘training’. Most dogs understand what we want, but many decide to ignore us when there is something they would rather do.

This is more a relationship and motivation issue than lack of ‘training’ as such.

LabMonty2Monty really is a very good dog – particularly for an adolescent. The family has worked hard with him. However, I did notice that he was allowed to over-ride things he was asked to do. Did he want to go out at night? No? Okay. Did he want to come downstairs in the morning? No? Okay. It’s not a big leap to suppose that he would consider coming when called as optional also.

It’s sometimes hard to get Monty’s attention at home, so home is where it has to start. If the family members aren’t sufficiently relevant at home where there are few distractions, they are much less likely to be relevant surrounded by all the distractions of the outside world.

Monty’s humans are not using their main incentive – food!

We work best for money and for appreciation. So it is with dogs. Food is the best currency for most dogs.

When a dog has learnt to be selective whether he comes or not when called, it can be good to start all over again with a whistle. Home work needs to be put in first – lots of it. After a thousand toots of the whistle over a couple of weeks, each time followed by a tiny piece of something tasty (it can be a great family game whistling a dog from room to room), we should be well on the way to creating a conditioned response.

It still won’t be not strong enough to rely upon in the face of the major distraction – other dogs, so the work then needs to be taken onto walks, with Monty on a very long line.

The humans need also to look to themselves. Are they sufficiently relevant and exciting? Can they compete with another dog? Is a walk comfortable for Monty – in other words, are the people great to be with? If the dog is pulling on a collar or Halti, why would he want to come back to that discomfort and stress?

They must convince Monty that they are the very best, most exciting and rewarding option in the world!

So, what looks like a simple issue of not coming when called and a bit of ‘recall training’ out on walks, is actually quite a lot more.

Gaining control of food, requiring the dog to pay attention before he gets something he wants, not negotiating if we ask the dog to do something, teaching instant recall in the home, comfortable loose lead walking and so on, are all part of the picture.

Ultimately when they call him there will be nothing else in the environment that can compete with the importance of his family.

Then he will be conditioned to return when he hears the whistle.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Monty, 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 often 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Rushes Over to Other Dogs

MillyYorkeNot all dogs like a little dog to rush up to them and jump all over them. So far Milly has come to no harm.

Three-year-old Yorkie/Terrier cross Milly is an absolute delight – a little bundle of friendliness and joy. Many of the people I go to would love to have a dog whose problem is being too friendly with other dogs, rather than being fearful, barking and reactive.

Milly runs up and play bows, jumps about and invites them for a game.  She’s not deterred if they don’t want to know.

Understandably,  the lady wants Milly to come back to her more readily when other dogs are about, and not to pull towards them so enthusiastically when she’s on lead.

If it were not for this uncontrolled excitement when she sees another dog (which may just also be her way of dealing with slight anxiety) , life with Milly would be perfect.

The lady may now get her dog’s attention more easily if she uses a whistle when Milly’s off lead and sees a dog. She needs first to pair the whistle with extra-special tasty rewards and to practise over and over at home and also when out but only when she knows that Milly will come, before she uses it for real to call her back from running eagerly over to a dog.

Milly is currently kept on quite a short lead and she pulls. She would like to sniff more than she’s allowed. When they see a dog she’s held back and made to walk at the lady’s pace towards it.

Now the lady will be using a longer lead and giving Milly some slack – and time to sniff. I recently discovered the notion of ‘Smell Walks‘ which I think are a great idea. She should then be more relaxed.

When a dog approaches the lady will bend over and gently restrain her by her harness, and just as with the puppy in my previous post, teach her some self-control, being calmly encouraging. The lady will check first to see if the other dog is going to welcome Milly’s attentions, and only then will she release Milly and give her the length of the lead when the dog is close enough.  If the dog isn’t interested, then they can wait until it’s passed before carrying on with their walk.

This will take a while, but isn’t it great to have a dog whose only problem is being too friendly!

At the end of their month: ‘We are constantly going forward with our work, Milly’s recall is so much better now and she comes instantly. Her constant barking has now stopped, she has got the message at last. The barking at the tv is subsiding. She will bark at the tv and then automatically look at me then she puts herself to bed. I haven’t sent her to bed for barking at the tv since we began with you. If I have any problems, I will be in touch. Thank you for your help.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Milly, 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. 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).