Two Sighthounds and an Elderly Springer

The two sighthounds barely lifted their heads from the sofa when I entered the room.

sighthounds with Springer Spaniel

Rosie, Eamonn and their elderly Springer

I could hardly believe it when I rang the doorbell and from a house with three dogs there was no barking at all – not even from their elderly Springer but she may be a bit deaf.

When I entered the room both sighthounds were on the sofa. I don’t know if Rosie even opened her eyes.

Eamonn, curious, got down from the chair, stretched his long body in the way that sighthounds do and calmly came over to investigate me. His long, intrusive greyhound-like nose explored my work bag.

Rosie, a stunning Saluki mix, seemed unusually quiet and motionless. They say she is aloof and it’s hard to decide if this is all or whether she is also keeping her head down so to speak. She lives with the very polite and calm Eamonn, a Sloughi mix from Ireland (no, I hadn’t heard of a Sloughi either – a North African breed of Sighthounds found mainly in Morocco).

Both dogs are failed fosters – and I well understand why. They are sensational.

The people are experienced dog owners and fosterers of sighthounds in particular. They have watched many of Victoria Stilwell’s videos and because I am one of her UK VSPDT trainers I have the privilege of working with them. Sometimes it is necessary to get objective and experienced outside input.

The family has had the two sighthounds for around a year. Rosie, now five, had been used as a puppy-making machine in Wales and then dumped by the roadside when she was no more use to them and Eamonn, now about two, had been in another sad situation. Seeing both dogs now it’s hard to believe either had known anything but love.

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Some months later they fostered another dog.

All was well with both sighthounds until another foster, a female, came to live with them for about five months.

With this particular foster dog in her home, Rosie became increasingly tense and unhappy. The dog was needy and attention-seeking and this instability upset Rosie.

Unfortunately her aggressive attitude then spread to antipathy to other dogs that they met when out and Eamonn was sucked in also. They feed off one another.

Before the other dog came, both sighthounds were mostly fine with other dogs. Now they are walked with muzzles.

Rosie

Rosie

Rosie is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. When she is let off lead with Eamonn this quiet and poised dog can totally change. She goes crazy – charging around in circles, stirring herself up into such a high that she then redirects aggressively onto Eamonn who becomes quite scared and hides.

Why is she suddenly so aroused? Where has all that stress come from? It’s like she erupts. To me it suggest that though otherwise so quiet and undemanding, there must be more going on inside her. The regular encounters with other dogs when out, although already being worked on to some extent, may be contributing to well-hidden stress levels.

The foster dog has now moved on and Rosie is altogether much happier again in her own, introverted sort of way. They say they would like her to play but I suspect she’s not psychologically able to abandon herself to proper play.

The two main issues we are dealing with are Rosie and her reactivity to other dogs (Eamonn is fine without Rosie there) and Eamonn’s running off, maybe for a couple of hours, if he spots something to chase.

Eamonn

Eamonn

They will only walk the two dogs separately for now in order to concentrate on Rosie’s over-arousal of which there is no sign at home and her reactivity to other dogs, and on Eamonn’s recall.

In a way both Rosie’s attitude towards dogs (with a barking neighbouring dog to bark back at) and Eamonn’s prey drive (pigeons in the garden to wind him up) are behaviours being rehearsed at home.

They can take advantage of both these ‘problem’ situations by using them to create new strategies to use when out.

Sighthounds can spot potential prey from a great distance. The only way to prevent them running after something apart from having them restrained on a long line is first to train an immediate alternative reaction that redirects their instinct to chase onto something else. Once the focusing on the prey has broken into the chase stage it may be too late.

They will take it slowly with Rosie, doing their very best to make sure she doesn’t get closer to another dog than she feels comfortable whilst working hard to gradually decrease that distance by giving her choice and creating positive associations. It’s important meanwhile that there are no unexpected and uncontrolled encounters. Here is why.

Last year they took their two beautiful sighthounds on holiday where there were lots of other on lead dogs and they want to go again later this year. With hard work they will hopefully get Rosie back to her old self in time so they can all walk down the streets together as before.

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).

Lurcher Bows, Stretches and Yawns. Dog Body Language.

Lucy watches from her box

Lucy

interesting dog body language

Maggie

Here are three beautiful Lurchers, all rescues left behind by travellers. 16-month-old Maggie, the one I was called out for, is the dog on the left, stretching. I was told that she was very withdrawn, does not interact with her human couple but loves the other two dogs.

Yesterday was an instance of how what I see through my own eyes can be something completely different.

All three dogs, including Maggie, came over and sniffed me politely when I arrived (I smell good of my own five dogs).

Dog body language

Knowing she was hand shy, I didn’t try to touch Maggie, but soon she was making overtures of wary friendship. It was interesting dog body language. She was frequently bowing whilst yawning at the same time – which her people thought was simply stretching rather than trying to communicate. She had her body towards me but her head turned away as you can see. (When my own confident Lurcher Pip wants to initiate communication with play bows, his head will be up and he will be looking in my eyes).

Maggie is trying to ask for something – but the ‘look-aways’ and the yawning suggest it’s not the response she’s getting. People reach out. Maggie backs away from them. It’s like she is speaking a different language.

Lurcher Saluki mix

Curtis

She obviously wants contact but not the kind of contact she is offered. She gets stroked and patted on top of her head and body. It’s clear she is a lot more comfortable being touched very gently on her front and around her ears.

Actually, I don’t think she is asking to be touched at all. Mirroring her own body language back to her is like replying. She’s seems happy with that – or a few gentle words.

There is another element to her behaviour. The older Lurcher Lucy, in the white box, is watching her all the time. Subtly controlling Maggie perhaps. I suspect this is inhibiting her. I watched her body language also.

I suggest Maggie is not touched at all for a while. At the same time, they can work on teaching her to come to them and ‘touch’ their hands with her nose upon request, secure in the knowledge that the hand won’t then reach out to her. She can also be taught to give and hold eye contact.

At present  she is ‘one of the pack’ and largely left to relate to the dogs. She needs to be singled out and her dog-to-human communication skills worked on, to help to build up a bond with her humans.

Maggie is making some sweet overtures that are misunderstood.