Over-Enthusiastic Puppy Greetings

CavapooIf our puppy is given rapturous welcomes by all who come to the house – being picked up and encouraged to jump at them rather than (along with those guests!) taught some restraint – isn’t it likely she may think this is the way to greet all people she meets?

Looking at 19 week old Cavapoo Molly, you can see that she is absolutely irresistible.

Another concern of the couple is that she may be getting a little fearful of larger dogs. She tries to greet them in the same exuberant way, by jumping all over them, and recently has encountered a dog that was not so friendly.

She really is the sweetest, friendliest little dog and very gentle for a puppy.CaverpooMolly

I do sometimes wonder whether extreme excitement upon meeting people and dogs doesn’t actually mask a touch of anxiety. If a human were to greet someone at the door in this rather frantic and over-enthusiastic manner, would it be pure happiness? May it not betray some unease?

I picked her up briefly myself and did sense she wasn’t really enjoying it. Immediately I put her down she started scratching herself which I suspect she uses as a displacement activity when things are getting just a little bit too much for her. I suggest that Molly isn’t picked up unless really necessary.

I also suggest she learns that hellos at home don’t happen until she has calmed down a bit – and this is so hard to explain to callers who instantly fall in love with the delightful puppy.

Out on walks her ‘parents’ now need to take charge of who she interacts with, just as they would a toddler, and restrain her gently, only allowing her to greet those people and dogs they know feel the same way about her. Later when she’s a little older and no longer quite so aroused, she can be taught to sit, give owners her attention or to walk on.

It would be a great shame if, at this sensitive time in her development, she were to meet an adult dog that showed aggression towards her. Her encounters should as far as is possible all be positive. If there is any doubt, more distance should be put between her and the possible ‘threat’.

Two important rules are: don’t give puppies too much freedom to soon. Start with restricting them in small areas at home (which also aids toilet training) and keep them nearby on a long lead when out. Gradually, as one would a child, expand the available space as they learn to handle it, without giving complete freedom for several months at least.

The second rule is to work constantly on recall using tiny bits of something tasty as a reward or play, both at home and out, thousands of times over the days, weeks and months, until when the dog is called it is a conditioned response to come.

Coming when called is the key to managing much unwanted behaviour. If the puppy is doing something like chewing a chair or chewing stones as Molly does, all one needs to do is to call her and she will come running over (dropping the stone). Then she can be rewarded for coming away and given an acceptable alternative.

A bomb-proof recall will keep her safe on walks. It should override the instinct to chase or desire to play if caught in time – before she’s in another zone altogether when she may become so focussed that nothing will get through.

About 6 weeks later: ‘We are still enjoying Molly I can’t believe she is now 6 months old, she is getting much better at entertaining herself and as I write is quietly sitting with me amusing herself. She seems very happy so we must be doing ok! 

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

Roaming Free, Now on Lead

Elderly rescue dog

Charlie

Two little dogs were strays on the streets in Romania

Bonnie and Elma

Two of these little dogs had been fending for themselves on the streets of Romania.

The two girls, black and white Bonnie with little terrier Elma (both on the right) were probably abandoned pets.

The lady is an experienced dog owner – particularly with rescue dogs. She took on much older Charlie, left, seven months ago and the other two only three months later.

The three are extraordinarily well-adjusted in the circumstances. The lady has worked hard.

Sometimes it’s hard to see one’s own situation clearly and she needs some help to take things to the next stage.

Bonnie is very reactive to other dogs. With her history of roaming free on the streets and considering how quickly she fitted in with the other two dogs, I strongly suspect her reactivity has been getting worse because she is on lead.

She’s not free any more.

Nor can she be let off lead. Shortly after she arrived she disappeared for two hours.

The solution to this is largely about groundwork. The work doesn’t simply start when out on walks and they meet a dog. Fundamental is getting her full attention at home at the sound of her name along with getting instant recall when she is called around house and garden. These things need to become an automatic response.

She needs to learn how to walk nicely. Only then will the lady be ready to work on other dogs, finding the threshold distance where she still feels safe – and building up her confidence. She can help Bonnie to feel more free by making sure the lead is always slack. This is a time-consuming business and has to be taken slowly.

Over time Bonnie should begin to associate other dogs with nice stuff, instead of fear and feeling trapped on lead with a tense human holding it tight with resulting discomfort to her neck.

Fortunately neither of the other two dogs has these problems, so the lady will work on Bonnie by herself until gradually doubling her up with one of the others and then all three together.

Recall will be worked at for as long as it takes before Bonnie is ever let off lead again.

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

Boundaries and Out of Control

6-month old Chocolate Labrador Chocky is nervous and now copying the terriers' reactivity on walks

Chocky

The two Terriers have killed a couple of their free-range chickens and although they have boundary wire, the little monkeys can dig underneath.

The people really only want two things at the end of the day. One is for the their dogs to be able to run freely in the garden. How can they do this when the boundaries aren’t secure?

My new clients have three young dogs – two Lakelend/Jack Russell mixes of one year old (brother and sister) who we will call Mac and Mabel, and a 6-month old Chocolate Labrador – Chocky.

They are a very busy family with insufficient time to put in all the work really needed, so this is a challenge of breaking things down into essentials, choosing priorities and creating a plan whereby it’s less a question of spending extra time but more of doing different things in the time already allocated.

One of the Lakeland/Jack Russell Terriers

Mac or Mabel

Their other aim is for the dogs to come back reliably when called. The Terriers are highly reactive to any person or animal they meet and respond aggressively, becoming hard to control physically. Now Chocky, an unusually nervous dog for a 6-month-old Labrador, is joining in. They want their dogs running off lead but have to be able to get them back when another dog, a horse or a person appears.

Unfortunately these people simply don’t have the time to work properly on the root of the problem – under-socialisation and the fear and reactivity itself, though they agree they need to do something with Chocky’s walking before he gets much older and bigger. He is seldom walked on lead. They live in such a quiet area that they can often go out and meet nobody at all.

As they simply don’t have time for all the training work involved, the first issues would be best addressed by getting better fencing so the dogs simply can’t escape from the garden, along with a pen for the chickens.

The second issue – that of recall – is more difficult.  Firstly, they need to stop leaving food down all the time (Chocky is an unusual Labrador in that he doesn’t devour the whole lot as soon as it goes down) so that food has some value – why should a dog come for no reward when called if it’s not worthwhile, particularly if there is something more pressing to do? The children can do whistle recall games around the house and garden so that the dogs begin to become conditioned. Whistle = come quickly = high value reward.

I have tried to break things down into small tasks so that hopefully, at the end of the day, everything will start to come together and they will be able to see their lovely dogs running free without constantly worrying about who or what they might encounter next.

Three months later: ‘We are continuing with the programme. Bella does’nt get so hysterical when she sees me now and I see I was causing this. We are having quality time together which I love. She really responds now to “Yes!”. The “abort the walk” thing has helped so much, I used to get so stressed if she would’nt walk, carrying her to the garden etc, but if she’s not bothered, then I’m not. As you say, its for life, and we are really committed to making her life happy.

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

Frail Lady with Large Labrador

LilyThe elderly lady isn’t strong enough to walk a pulling dog.

Six months ago she took on Lily, a strong and active four-year-old Chocolate Labrador.

So long as she’s not stirred up, Lily is remarkably calm seeing as she has little in the way of stimulation or interest.

The lady is however having some predictable problems when out. She is unable to walk Lily on lead at all – fortunately she has fields at the end of her garden so Lily can run off lead but she can go nowhere else. The second predictable problem is that Lily doesn’t come when called – or at least not until she is ready.

When I arrived the lady was trying to hang onto Lily at the front door, afraid she might run out. She is small and  unsteady, and Lily is quite big!

I shall be visiting her weekly for a while and we are starting off slowly, a bit at a time.  She will, I hope, remember to reward Lily for doing what she’s asked as that should make her more manageable. Being a Labrador, Lily fortunately is very food orientated. She will shut Lily away from the front door before opening it.  I showed the lady how to ‘charge’ a whistle for recall use and how to use it around the house and garden only for this week so that Lily comes to realise that the whistle means something special by way of food reward. I showed her how to walk the dog around her nice garden on a long loose lead – and although she was very slow she we managed, my arm through hers, before she did it by herself – and Lily was a star.

Apart from physical frailty, the lady is forgetful and a bit confused so grasping and remembering my instructions is a challenge. Fortunately she lives very near to me so I will do everything I can to help her to keep her beautiful, happy dog without which she would be very lonely. She has never been without a dog.

Next week, if she has mastered lead walking out in the garden we will take walking out the front of the house. We will also do more with whistle recall.  I feel she will soon need a dog walker if she can afford one.

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

Won’t Come When Called

Adolexcent Springer Monty, finding it so hard to sit still

Monty

Monty goes hunting. He comes back when he is ready.

On the left is eight month old Springer Monty, finding it so hard to sit still while I took his photo! He lives with elderly Cocker, Millie.

The main and ultimate thing they want just now is for young Monty to come when he is called. He will do so, when he is ready and if there is nothing he would rather do.

Elderly Cocker Spaniel

Millie

Monty is a teenager after all.  I myself remember the trouble I got into when I was told to be home by ten and didn’t get in until eleven! I was even willing to endure my parents’ anger and do it again next time.

Sometimes ‘recall’ is a straightforward training procedure and classes will fix it, but this isn’t always the case.

Reliable recall starts at home.

If our dog doesn’t find us sufficiently relevant so doesn’t listen to us at home, if he is selective about how quickly he does as we ask at home – even simple things like sitting, and if he only comes when he wants to when we call him from across the room, then it’s not reasonable to expect him to come to us in a field full of smells and little animals to chase.

Reliable recall begins when he listens to simple things we ask him to do for us at home. We can make a game of recall around the house so that he is conditioned to come when called. Most importantly, he has to have reason to do our bidding. Is there something ‘in it’ for him? These things should be established inside before he is granted freedom outside again. Meanwhile they can give Monty exercise on a long line and work, work, work on a reliable recall in the face of distractions.

We tend to do things back to front. Because a puppy normally sticks with us, we give him freedom. Then, when adolescence strikes we may try to take that freedom away. Far better the other way around, to limit freedom initially and gradually grant it. Everything is much harder when the dog has already got used to freelancing.

One last thing about recall is that out in the fields we are competing with exciting stuff, so we need to make ourselves motivational, and the reward, whether it’s food or play, needs to be worth coming for.  Just as my angry parents didn’t stop me going awol in the evening, being grumpy with a dog that returns late won’t help at all. Little did my parents realise that extra pocket money for coming home on time would probably have worked a lot better with me!

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

Changed From Pulling on Lead to Walking Nicely

pulling on lead to walking nicelyI don’t remember, out of all the Labradoodles I have been to, going to a black one. Audrey is gorgeous (the lady joked on the phone that the name was so that her husband would have to call ‘Audrey’ on walks!).

Funnily enough, not coming when called until she feels like it is one of the problems I was called out for and I don’t think a different name would help much! The other day she chased after a deer, and no amount of shouting could get her back.

Over-excitement

The other issue is over-excitement when meeting people, either visitors to the house or when out on walks. Being mugged by an over-excited big dog, however lovely, isn’t so nice when she has just been in the river.

Audrey really is a fantastic dog – a wonderful, gentle family pet for the children, and in all other respects she’s very biddable. However, more could be done with her if she understood that unwanted behaviours get her nothing, and, even more importantly, that desired behaviours get her rewarding reinforcement. If how they currently deal with the mugging of people worked, she wouldn’t still be doing it after three years.

On walks she won’t come back until she’s ready when she sees a person or dog. If she gets the scent of a rabbit or deer she goes deaf. In fact, a dog fired up on a chase just won’t hear our call. We have left it too late. We must keep our eye on the ball. We have a plan, but it will take time to condition Audrey.

Pulling on lead

Pulling on lead, the other problem – magic! It was so satisfying just how quickly she changed from a dog that pulls on lead despite constant correction and being told ‘Heel’, to a dog walking beautifully beside them on a loose lead with encouragement only. Both dog and humans caught on immediately.

It is all about having a different mind-set.

Audrey had been expected to work for nothing – not even encouragement. They were trying to make her do what they wanted. Now they were making her WANT to do what they want. Using reward and encouragement results in a willing dog enjoying herself.  She has to eat anyway, so why not earn some of it?

On a first visit I usually don’t get much further than walking around the garden, but the lady and Audrey then progressed to the front door and, after a false start, down the steps. No pulling. On a loose lead she walked beside the lady across the road.  Beautiful. The lady, who had been used to the pulling, agreed that it felt wonderful.

It is all about having the right technique, the right equipment – and most of all, the right mental approach.

Encouragement, feedback for doing it right and reward, in place of correction and impatience.

Loves People, Not So Good With Other Dogs

Milo is good with people but not good with other dogsMilo is quite unusual – a Dalmation Collie cross (called, I think, a Dolly!). Here he is in my demo harness which fitted him so well I left it behind.

His lady owner works from home with people calling frequently; Milo is polite and extremely well socialised. He loves people. If he had frequently met as many dogs from his early months as he had people, then I’m sure everything would be fine with them also.

Milo’s problems are other dogs on walks.

He pulls his owners down the road despite a tight lead and constant correction. If he sees other dogs he lunges and barks. He is then restrained and forced onwards towards or past the dog. Any apprehension he may have when encountering a dog will be intensified by his humans’ reactions.

He currently has either a short lead or a retractable lead. A loose longer lead attached to his chest will give him an entirely different sensation. No more being pulled back. If the lead goes tight, they won’t follow. They will encourage him to walk beside them through choice not force using reward and encouragement rather than force or scolding, and when they see other dogs they will react in such a way that he learns to have confidence in them (and they in him).

There was a very unfortunate incident the other day when, off lead, he met a dog coming round a corner and attacked it, injuring it badly, hence my visit. This must simply never happen again. Recall work is a priority for however long it takes, and Milo will lose his freedom meanwhile – limited by a ten metre long line.

Controlled and comfortable walks

Calling MILO COME is useless because he has learnt to ignore it until he is ready, so they will be using a whistle now. Seeing other dogs must now mean clock in with his humans.

Repeatedly using a whistle for recall games at home, rewarding him with something small but very tasty, they should eventually make running to them at the sound of the whistle an automatic reaction. That is how it has become with my own dogs. I now use it sparingly and I always make it worth their while to come straight away whatever they are doing.

It is hard to believe that the dog I met, and the dog you see in the picture, could behave in such an aggressive manner. Those dogs he has met in a controlled way and knows he’s fine with; otherwise I believe he thinks, ‘I will get them before they get me’.

Come When Called. Ignores. Henry is a Scream

won't come when calledHenry is a wonderful two-year-old Springer with a mind of his own.

Catch me if you can

If the call him in from the garden, he knows when it’s important and when it’s not.

If they need to go to work or if it’s bedtime, He won’t come when called. He stands just out of reach and stares – catch me if you can!

They can’t leave him out barking in the garden at night, so they now entice him, bribe him or chase him.

Henry is just the same on walks. He simply won’t come when called.

The aim of my visit seemed simple. They need Henry to come when called straight away – but it’s really a lot more complicated.

Ignoring them gives Henry fun

The real problem is one of Henry finding his owners insufficiently relevant. The fun he gets out of winding them up is a lot more rewarding than anything else they have to offer.

They’ve not taught him to be respectful. He jumps all over his people like they are stepping stones to somewhere else. Everything lavished on Henry and their other Springer Eddie is unearned, so it’s not surprising that when they want something from him he just gives them ‘that look’! See the picture on the left.

On walks Henry can accurately judge the place where they will want to put him on lead, even when they think they are varying it. He’s always one step ahead.

Walks are ruined by his non-stop barking for the ball (which of course he gets to keep him quiet). He is obsessed with all plastic ball chuckers. No other dog owner playing ball with their dog is safe from his attentions! He will leap around to grab their ball-thrower.

Last weekend on the beach, with lots of dogs, balls and ball-throwers, was the final straw. He barked non-stop. His arousal levels were out of control. They called me.

Getting Henry’s attention

I demonstrated in a few minutes how I could get his full attention on me, and get him to do anything I asked straight away – including coming in from outside.

This isn’t about training as such – he knows basic commands. It’s psychology. I started by rationing my attention, by only giving it when his feet were on the ground and when he was polite so that he would respect me. I ignored some (not all) of his friendly advances.  Anything too freely available loses it’s value and the same applies to attention.

I also used tiny treats to thank him when he did as I asked. I first called the other dog Eddie and rewarded him for coming. I ignored Henry (who of course then came straight away).

Henry will come when called

Then I called Henry. Of course he came! Speaking quietly and giving commands just once, I put him through all the ‘tricks’ he’d been taught. He really enjoyed working for me. He needs some brain work not created by himself.

I predict that Henry will up his game now that his current ploys are thwarted – and he’ll think up other things!

He will probably become frustrated and try harder, so they will need to work patiently through this and keep on their toes. For now, if they need him in from the garden promptly, he should only go out on a long lead.

On walks it’s the same. He should have no opportunity to play them up so they will keep him on a long line – working on recall – using rewards.

At the end of the walk, when they put his short lead back on again, his reward can be the ball to carry. That way a ball now will be associated only with coming home.

Three weeks later: I am enjoying seeing Henry pogress and taking the dogs out has become really enjoyable again.

Why Not Positive Training Methods, Using Praise and Rewards, for Gundogs?

Lakeland Whisky is giving the Labrador 'that look'Little Lakeland Terrier Whisky is seriously reactive to other dogs. As soon as she sees a dog she begins to scream, and if she can get to it she will attack, grabbing its neck and holding on.

She lives with a lovely 2 year old Labrador, training to be a gun dog. Bramble also has felt those teeth. They are getting on reasonably well now because Bramble has learnt that, when Whisky gives her ‘that look’ (see picture on the left), she’s to back off!

I have certain issues with the training methods used with Bramble and which are also now applied to Whisky. Bramble is taken to gun dog training classes. There is a lot of ‘correction’ and negative stuff like ‘Leave’, ‘Down’, ‘Off’ and ‘No’ rather than positives – what they should be doing along with praise and reward. In fact their trainer says don’t use food rewards at all.  Would you happily work for nothing? Here is just a small example of how it goes – the lady ‘commanded’ Whisky to sit several times and eventually had to touch her back to get her to do so. I later asked her to sit, quietly, just the once, and waited. And waited. Whisky sat. Then I rewarded her. After that she was totally focused on me. If she were my dog and I built on that bond and relationship, I am sure I could make progress when out where Whisky and other dogs are concerned, because she would be focusing on me and trusting me.

Whisky lying on her bed

Whisky

I don’t know if it’s a gun dog thing, but commands like ‘Sit’ are also accompanied by peeps on the whistle – like Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music getting his family into line.

They also have problems with both dogs’ recall – especially when there is another dog about. Bramble wants to play, Whisky is scared stiff, screaming and ready to attack. If I were a dog I would be much more likely to come back when called if I were called in an inviting voice rather than  ‘ordered’ and if I knew that there was something in it for me.

Behavioural theory has proved beyond any doubt that positive and reward-based training is more effective – and it works just as well for gun dogs, traditionally trained in the old-fashioned way using a degree of force and even aversives. Positive methods help to form a healthy and trusting bond between human and dog.

Adolescent Cockerpoo Knows Her People Have a Breaking Point!

cockerpooIzzyLittle fourteen-month-old Cockerpoo Izzy (on the left) knows if she barks for long enough she will eventually find her people’s breaking point and get the attention she wants, that if she scratches at the back door someone will open it immediately each time, if she jumps up at people it guarantees attention of some sort – every time. It’s important she stops jumping up, because the people have lots of children coming to their house.

She is a gorgeous little dog with a wonderful personality, and plenty of it! I have had special training in this line of behaviour from my own Cocker Spaniel, Pickle. No amount of book-learning or education can teach how to deal with this sort of thing as well as hands on experience with ones own dog. I call it ‘Pickling’ – constantly looking for something to do and noisily pestering to get what he wants – given a chance. One thing that is a complete waste of time is to get cross! Pickle has now mostly learnt that good behaviour along with plenty to keep him busy gets the best results, but it has been quite a learning curve for me and I appreciate how difficult it is getting other people on board so they don’t sabotage my efforts!

Just like Pickle, Izzy is loving, soft and gentle – an absolute darling.

I put my experience to good use and soon had Izzy like putty in my hands! She was really focused on me. Never had they had such a calm and quiet evening. We showed her why it was far nicer to have her feet on the floor. It was like a little dance. She put her feet on me – I gently tipped her off and looked away – her feet went back on the floor – I tickled her chest gently. Clever little dog then worked it out that she still was rewarded for jumping up, but it was part of a chain  – she still got her attention in the end so I didn’t reward her each time. Then I started to ignore her and wait for her to work it out and get down by herself. She sat down. BINGO.  Soon you could see she was thinking about putting her feet up on me but not doing it, and sitting down instead! Food Reward!

Intermittently she went back to pestering to be let out, which we ignored. When she gave up I opened the door.  As I suspected, she didn’t want to go outside – just someone to jump up at her bidding – especially when they are busy doing something else, like eating, talking, watching TV or on the phone. I know all the tricks – Pickle has taught me!

The most exasperating problem of all is that Izzy barks persistently until she gets what she wants, and although she didn’t do this when I was there directing operations, she has to learn that barking, also, doesn’t get results. Never. Dogs do what works, even if it only works sometimes. They may even have to walk out on her and shut the door when she starts. Barking that never gets results is a waste of time. The important flip-side to this is they must instigate attention and fun things more regularly themselves – when she’s quiet.

She needs lots of praise for doing the right things, but not so much that it fires her up again. A benefit that will filter down from her gentleman owner being less of a pushover at home is she will take more notice of him when they are out and he wants to call her back to him.