Under Control, Self-Control and Being Relevant

under control

Obi and Leia

I was greeted by nine-month-old Cocker Spaniel, Leia, flying all over me in delight. It was largely my fault the two young dogs weren’t under control. Both Leia and fifteen-month-old Obi had been trained to go to their ‘place’ when someone comes in. Quite impressive for such excitable dogs. I had interrupted that.

They don’t, however, stay on their place for more than a second unless continually returned to it.

When not under control they have little self-control.

The two dogs have been going to training classes. They have also started gun dog training which should help to satisfy some of Obi’s unfulfilled instincts. Both dogs have a good vocab of ‘commands’ and enjoy training games.

‘Commands’ learnt in traditional training classes don’t always transfer to real life. One reason for this is arousal and another is distraction. It’s hard to keep a young dog like Leia sitting still somewhere, under control, when with her whole being she wants to fly all over the place in wild excitement!

Self-control is acquired by the dog working out what works by only reinforcing the wanted behaviour. She then understands what is required without having to be told. Modern classes now use clicker training, shaping etc. so dogs learn for themselves.

This wasn’t the actual purpose of my visit. The family would like to trust Obi around other dogs and also to come back when called.

He has become increasingly grumpy when approached by certain dogs though will never make the first move. He is fine if they leave him alone. It seems that it’s young dogs and puppies that are the problem.

The other day he pinned down and bit a young puppy.

There are two problems for Obi that I see.

One is that he is highly aroused and on a near-obsessive sniff and hunt all the time he’s out. Everything else is shut out including the person walking him. The other is that while he’s working hard at hunting and sniffing he doesn’t want to be interrupted, particularly by a young and bouncy dog.

Lost in his own world, Obi will totally ignore, probably doesn’t even hear, being called.

Since he began to be grumpy with other dogs about six months ago, Obi is mostly kept under control on lead. He strains against it, deprived of his sniffing ‘fix’.

Working to improve walks, the young man will be:

Getting and holding Obi’s attention by being relevant and motivating.

Changing the way walks with Obi are done.

Changing the way walks are done

If Obi were more engaged with his walker, the young man, he would be less fixated on his own activities all the time. It stands to reason that other dogs interfering with what he’s doing would be likely to worry him less.

It will be hard work because this ‘Spaniel’ sniffing is giving Obi’s brain something he really needs. It can’t be simply prevented. It needs to be controlled or replaced.

Walks now will be something altogether different from the time they leave the house. Instead of trying to control an Obi who is pulling him down the road from one sniff to another, the young man can work at making pavement walks something a bit unpredictable and more fun (I call them drunken walks!). He needs to make himself even more relevant (he already puts in a lot of effort with the training and a bit of added psychology should now help).

In open spaces Obi can no longer be trusted off lead. Like the off-lead dogs that run up to him ought to be, he is kept under control. On a long line he has a degree of freedom and they can work on recall.

Here is a very good link for people wanting to teach a busy spaniel to stay near them – quartering.

Just a change of tactic can make a big difference.

I’m sure the young man won’t mind my quoting the email he just sent me the following day, having tried really engaging with Obi on the morning walk. You can see that the lad is a star!

‘I took him for a drunken road walk this morning. And as if by magic! I think he started (pulling and sniffing) twice for about 10 seconds and I was able to get him back on attention. I felt a fool doing it but the way he looked at me on the walk made me forget about it. I wasn’t sure if he was looking at me as though I’d invented sliced bread or whether he thought I was so nuts that he felt he had to keep on eye on me. But, he didn’t pull, not once. We stopped halfway and went on the long line to do some smelling games on a small field, played some fetch and with the long line managed to get him bringing the ball back and dropping it, as his attention started to dwindle we called it a day and moved on. Next time I will move on before it starts to dwindle. I let him hold onto the ball during the walk and like you said, he was more interested in holding the ball than smelling. He was walking, but not like a spaniel, his head was up for most of the walk and flitting between looking at me and looking ahead. He was rarely ahead of me.’

Self control – not ‘under control’.

A good start.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Obi. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

 

Reading the Dog Correctly. Responding Appropriately.

Reading the dog correctly is a skillReading the dog incorrectly can cause us to do the very opposite of what is needed.

Angus is a gorgeous miniature wire haired dachshund. He greeted me in a very friendly fashion and sniffed me (getting information about my own four dogs I’m sure).

He then rolled over onto his back, still looking very friendly, tail wagging.

His young owner said he wanted a tummy rub.

I wasn’t so sure. This needs to be taken in context and I am an unfamiliar person to him. There is a good chance it was a gesture of appeasement.

I didn’t touch him but just talked to him.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when your dog does something like rolling onto his back.

As I found out more about Angus I feel I made the right decision. When he was a bit younger – he’s now seventeen months – he would do this with anyone new and may pee at the same time. He still may do so if greeted too excitedly even by someone he knows.

This would indicate too much pressure of some sort. Stress.

Reading the dog incorrectly can lead to other misunderstandings.

Angus may shake before going out on a walk. They assume it’s fear and possibly it is. It may also be in anticipation or a mix of the two. Walks may well be a bit daunting to Angus, particularly if he’s already slightly stressed.

They may encounter people who, because he’s so extremely cute, will want to touch him. He rolls over. For a belly rub? Surely not. He doesn’t even know them.

He is wary of many other dogs and his young owner has taken advice. She has worked very hard. She has been using a recognised system that works really well if the environment can be properly controlled. On normal walks however where dogs may just appear, it’s meant she’s not responding soon enough.

Some days Angus may just want to sniff and mark to the exclusion of all else. The lady will have trouble persuading him to move on and it worries her that if they don’t cover sufficient ground he won’t get enough exercise.

His walks will now be a bit different. They will be ‘Angus’ walks. 

Could the constant marking be some sort of displacement activity?

Is he avoiding facing possible encounters by doing something safe that he can control and that fully occupies him?

Reading the dog, in this instance, as attempting to avoid trouble rather than trying to mark territory will determine the appropriate course of action.

His walks usually take half an hour. Now they won’t have a set destination. If Angus wants to sniff, he can sniff all he likes. The lady will only move on when and if he relaxes from marking and sniffing. At present she lures him forward with food in front of his nose which means he stops to eat. Now she will drop bits of food on the ground in front of him as he goes to encourage forward movement, not stopping.

Then, instead of carrying on walking, she can stop him and invite him to sniff and mark again. No pressure. Understanding why he could be doing it will give her an insight into what needs to be done to avoid him feeling anxious.

She will now make sure anyone they meet hangs back and invites Angus over. If he doesn’t go to them, then he’s not to be touched.

I tried this as I was leaving. When, standing, I invited him to me he hung back – and he knew I had food too. Instead of moving over him to touch him which would undoubtedly have made him roll onto his back, I backed off. It looks like for all his friendliness he’s slightly intimidated by people when they are standing up which is understandable. He’s tiny.

Reading the dog correctly influences the appropriate response.

When in doubt, the best thing with Angus is to do nothing.

If I’m wrong about his reason for rolling onto his back, it’s better to do nothing than tickle when it’s not what he’s asking for.

If I’m wrong about the marking and sniffing being largely a displacement behaviour, it’s better to do nothing and leave him to get on with it if he likes it.

A couple of months later: I think he may just be beginning to trust me! Yesterday a man came towards us which we have met before. Angus moved forwards towards the man and then changed his mind and walked back towards me and sat next to me. It sort of felt like he was coming back to me for reassurance. As long as the dog is the same distance as being across the road Angus is quite happy. We have seen a few very unhappy dogs across the road who have quite angrily barked at us! And fortunately because Angus is happy at that distance he was not at all bothered. I think this process has probably been more about me having more realistic expectations.

Quick Fix Not Long-Term

Cocker Spaniel gets very excited and reactive to dogs on walksCocker Spaniel Henry is a gentle and friendly dog, well-trained and not overly demanding nor too excitable……..at home.

Outside he’s on a mission. A joint mission of sniffing and looking out for other dogs.

If he picks up the trail of dogs that have recently passed his way, particularly dogs he doesn’t like (and he has a very good memory), he will hop, jump and lunge all over the place, very fired up. He barks on the way to the car and he barks when he gets out.

There are dogs that he likes and dogs that he doesn’t like, particularly when he’s on lead.

I watched the lady leave the house with him. Well trained, he sat nicely at the door. Then, as soon as the door opened the dog launched himself out, towing the lady behind him. He dragged her to the nearest bit of grass.

It’s strange how his indoor persona is so different to how he is outside. This must be because at home he feels safe.

The lady enriches his life in many ways, with plenty of scenting and hunting games both before she goes to work and when she gets home. She dedicates time each day to his training and play.

However, she can do nothing about his noisy reactivity to other dogs when they are out apart from resorting to an aversive gadget to shut him down.

Henry does have plenty of doggy friends, but he also has his enemies. Historically not all his interactions with other dogs have been good ones.

He was taken to training classes for a while. In my mind and, from personal experience before I knew better, ‘traditional’ puppy classes can be where many dogs are introduced to the notion that not all other dogs are friendly. These classes can be noisy with too many dogs in an enclosed place.  If a dog barks or ‘misbehaves’, always due to stress, he may be sprayed with water or intimidated in some other way.

One of the worst exercises is, dog on lead, to weave in and out of other owners and dogs and each time two dogs so much as look at each other or touch noses, both owners shout LEAVE IT.  What sort of negative associations does that give to the dogs? In modern dog training the dogs would be praised and rewarded when near another dog.

It’s not a big leap from this to using ‘quick fix’ devices like a citronella anti-bark collar (a smell dogs hate) to stop a dog barking at other dogs.

The big attraction of this is that, in the moment, it works. The dog stops barking.

However, the fear or frustration that will be causing the dog to bark at other dogs isn’t addressed at all. The very opposite in fact. The emotion will be getting worse every time the dog associates the other dog with an extremely unpleasant aversive.

Because Henry is fine with certain dogs, the lady will need to vary her own responses according to Henry’s own reactions.  If he shows little reactivity she need do nothing apart from calmly feeding him to reinforce him feeling good near a dog.

If he looks like reacting, then she needs to put more distance between them – quickly.  Eventually, Henry should see another dog and look immediately at the lady, thinking ‘A Dog? Good. Food!’. To get Henry to this stage will take a long time and hundreds of ‘safe’ encounters backed up with positive reinforcement, and the previous damage needs to be undone.  At the end of the day Henry will have positive emotions around other dogs. He won’t feel the need to react.  This, unlike suppression, is a real result.

Henry is very much worse on lead, so a longer loose lead on a comfortable harness is essential so he has more of a feeling of freedom.

The people who do best with their dog-reactive dogs are those who take things slowly and over time teach their dogs to associate other dogs with good stuff.  Allowing uncontrolled encounters meanwhile will merely set things back.

Four weeks later: ‘Thank you so much for your help and support. I really feel that we are making some headway now in this short time and I’m more confident. Henry’s dog walker has seen an improvement too, so that is also encouraging!’

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

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).

Black Labrador Bramble

BlackLabradorI have just been to see a Bramble, a black labrador – very much like my own Monty the Mont.

On the whole Bramble is very well behaved, though in some respect just the very fact he a dog being a dog is causing a litle bit of trouble. He likes to sniff.  With a dog’s nose being his number one sense for taking in information – immeasurably better than our own sense of smell – he can tell a lot about a visitor by sniffing them. I always smell very interesting and doggy, and I welcome a dog’s interest in me!

Owners feel, probably quite rightly, that some people don’t like being sniffed but it’s a big thing to ask of a dog not to investigate someone new coming into his house. In fact, a shy dog or a fearful dog won’t casually sniff someone – so a polite olfactory investigation indicates the dog is confident and friendly.

Bramble’s main problem is the usual – pulling on lead – along with too much sniffing and leg-lifting for the liking of his owners!

What is a walk to a dog? It has certainly nothing to do with exercise for its own sake or keeping fit, I’m sure. You would never see the wolves in Yellowstone Park running around for no other reason than to keep fit.  A walk to a dog is about sniffing, marking to exchange messages with other dogs, exploring and hunting. Getting a dog to forego all this to walk beside us is quite a big ask, which most dogs accept. I believe there is a compromise. Let’s make the walk as rewarding for the dog as possible whilst having him walking beside us and not weeing in antisocial places.

This means walking beside us like there is no lead at all.  This can’t be done on a heavy chain lead, but requires a lightweight longish loose lead, allowing him to hang back or go a bit forward or to the side for a sniff.  It means the owners compromise on their goal of getting to a pre-planned desination at a pre-set time and go for a wander. Be more relaxed about it.

We say ‘I’m taking the dog for a walk’.  A dog walk. What we often do is to force the dog to go on a human walk.  A no-sniffing, no-exploring route march. If his head is a couple of  inches in front of our left knee we jerk him back with the lead and ‘correct’ him.  This results in us sending our impatient emotions down the lead.  This results in discomfort around the dog’s neck. This results in some stress and tension – not a good state of mind for him to be in if another dog appears. Any dog would understandably think he’d like to get away from this discomfort. So he pulls. Other contributing factors to pulling are taking a predictable route and not giving proper leadership generally.

By going on a ‘magical mystery tour’ all over the place rather than on a set route, and by being allowed to do doggy things, Bramble should eventually enjoy walking on a loose lead now that his owners can see things from his point of view.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.