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).

 

Marking or Housetraining?

When the couple go out, they usually come back to small amounts of yellow pee in various parts of the kitchen.

marking in the house

Buddy – with Marley peeping in the background

Recently this had begun to happen at night too.

So they had gone back to ‘housetraining’ the little terrier with frequent visits to the garden. Adorable Buddy is now two years old.

The only thing that has so far made any difference has been putting him back in his crate at night where he used to sleep when he was younger.

Buddy crated – no urine.

The peeing never happens in the day if people are at home. However, if they go out and leave the two dogs alone for just a short while they come back to urine.  They will be videoing them to see exactly what happens during the day when they are out. Now that Buddy is in his crate during the night there is no urine – so we can be sure the marking is not Marley.

This is not actually a housetraining problem as it never happens when the dogs have access to their humans. The cause of the marking has to be Buddy’s feelings when left.

To compound the problem, it’s only recently that the dogs have been left alone, downstairs in the kitchen, at night time.

It’s not just peeing to empty his bladder. It’s marking.

The other dog, also two years old, is a beautiful Sprocker called Marley. Now left in the kitchen with Buddy at bedtime, he too is very stressed. He cries all night and scratches at the door. He wants to sleep upstairs on their bed like he used to.

The young lady has recently moved into her boyfriend’s house and they have decided that from now on the dogs will sleep downstairs. Previously they had slept on her bed with her – both where she lived previously and upstairs in this house. Now they are shut in the kitchen.

She has left Marley to cry for a couple of nights. This obviously is upsetting and tiring for her but imagine what state the sensitive Marley will be in after a whole night of crying.

Separation is the real problem. Marking is a symptom.

They may, understandably, be cross with Buddy when they come home which can only add to anxiety which is the cause of the whole problem. Because by definition ‘marking’ is about being noticed, in case he does see any connection with their crossness and the marking which is doubtful, they should ignore it and clear up when the dogs are both outside.

Because he has always marked when left alone there is also bound to be an element of habit to it which can now be broken.

Some days the dogs are left home alone in the kitchen for nine hours. Add to this their no longer being allowed in the bedroom for the night, it does mean a lot of time apart from the couple who adore the dogs and want them to be happy.

What can they do?

Buddy and Marley

They will need somehow to make sure the long days are broken up with someone coming in the middle of the day.

Some days the young man has been working from home. He says he will now take them to work in his office when he can. They have friends who may be able to help out on other days.

Left for shorter periods, they can perhaps keep alternating crating Buddy with leaving him free in the kitchen with Marley. When he’s in the crate he won’t pee. Both dogs can be left with a stuffed Kong to work on – something not wise if both are loose together just in case there are arguments over the food. (Take a look at this: Ode to a Kong).

They can also leave toys and other things for them to do. Background music especially created for dogs could help keep them calm.

They can gate the stairs so from now onwards both dogs no longer expect to go upstairs ever again. At present they can still be upstairs in the bedroom with the couple during the day and evening but have to go to the kitchen at night.

There are some other problems we are addressing. Sprocker Marley is constantly active, running about, leaping over things, sniffing and being busy and no doubt needs more to do. The little terrier is noisy, reactive and prone to obsessing over moving shadows and reflections. They have two kittens which over-excite Buddy. General strategies to lower their stress levels along with appropriate healthy stimulation will undoubtedly help with everything.

When people work hard with only so many hours in the day, something somewhere has to give. In this case with the young man is really on board with helping his girlfriend’s dogs and I am sure they will make the changes necessary to give them more healthy mental stimulation, less arousal and less time alone.

 

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 approach I have worked out for Buddy and Marley and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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 fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Unruly Two Sprocker Pups. Crated d

Benjie spends most of the day in the crate with his brother

Benjie

5-month-old Sprocker brothers Ollie and Benjie live in the kitchen, along with 10-year-old Springer Flossie.

The room was crowded with a large table, a small sofa and two crates, three young children, the couple and their adult son.

Spending hours on end in their crates

Because of the family’s work schedules, the young dogs spend hours each day in their crates. They have already been shut in crates for about nine hours at night.

The family member who had joint responsibility, who had initiated getting the two youngsters, had left without warning.

Sometimes a problem can be so overwhelming it’s hard to know where to start. It’s impossible for the puppies not to be unruly when they get some freedom.

Things were understandably a bit more chaotic than usual because of my arrival. It also was nearly bedtime for the three young children which was noisy. I saw the young dogs at their worst and most unruly which is probably a good thing.

unruly puppies

Ollie

When they are let out of their crates the unruly puppies are completely out of control. They leap all over people, up at the table and sides. They nick anything they can reach and toilet anywhere. This is due both to excitement and the fact nobody thinks to put them outside regularly enough.

For this reason, even when the family is in the kitchen, the young dogs are crated or outside.

Unruly because their needs are not met

The people don’t let them out of their crates separately, feeling it’s unfair. However, I found having them out together impossible so we shut one away at a time. I lent the crated one my Stagbar to chew which he loved.

Then, while we talked and after the children had gone to bed, I worked on the other dog. I showed the people how their own reactions to the jumping up is giving the dogs the only real attention they get. I showed them how we could give the pups even better attention when they were behaving well.

We worked mostly on their jumping at the table and sides.

This will be a big challenge, taking time, patience and consistency from the three adults. These puppies need a lot more time spent on them.

In the short time I was there I had taught both dogs to sit and one of them to lie down upon request. I used rewards, something they are not used to.

Ollie was doing all he could to be good. He was like a sponge. Sitting deliberately instead of jumping up. Bless him. He managed to sit still for long enough for me to take a photo of him (above).

Motivating them

From now on the dogs should be earning some of their food – being rewarded all the time they behave well. This will be very difficult in the bustle and noise when young children are about, but one dog at a time can be free. The other given something satisfying to do or to chew in the crate.

Because of the unruly situation, unsurprisingly the two dogs sometimes fight. Unchecked, this will probably get worse as they get older. Poor older Flossie is terrorised.

The pups fly all over children on the sofa and I am concerned a child may get hurt unless just one is out at a time.

The dogs have just one short outing each day – you can’t really call it a walk. The front door is opened and the unruly puppies simply fly out to the adjacent park, off lead, doing their own thing. They are puppies but already barking at people and other dogs.

There was one surprisingly good thing – showing what these dogs are capable of when given time and trouble.  I watched the adult son preparing their food. They sat calmly and waited!

Is this the right home for them?

This is not a situation the family had envisaged when they got the puppies. If they can’t find a lot more quality time for their dogs then they would be better with just one pup – or maybe even re-homing them both.

This would both give the dogs the lives they deserve and it would give the family their lives back.

Sprocker Jumps Up, Nips, Steals

Sprocker Milo is a very good natured and friendly dog - but he is a handfulMilo is a beautiful 14 month old Cocker-Springer mix. His family adopted him from Wood Green three months ago at eleven months of age. It became obvious very soon just why his previous owners had given up on him, but fortunately the members of his new family are giving it all they can and have already made progress.

Milo didn’t have a good start in life because his mother died when he was born and consequently he was hand-reared. It is almost impossible for a human to replace the lessons taught by his mother. From his behaviour it also seems likely that he didn’t have the rough and tumble, give and take and bite inhibition lessons learnt from being reared with siblings.

He’s a very good natured and friendly dog – but he is a handful! His ‘crimes’ include jumping up, mouthing and nipping; stealing things for the attention and the chase; nip-biting when examined or groomed, and grabbing a hand that takes his collar; jumping up at work tops to steal food; he jumps all over visitors and they are afraid to have their young nephews and neices visit them. At the start of walks he is flying about, leaping up and grabbing the lead, nipping arms and maybe humping the person holding it. Basically he lacks self control or any form of impulse control.

His is a perfect example of reinforcement driving behaviour.  Attention of any sort will do! When looked at like that the solutions become clearer. We unintentionally reinforce unwanted behaviour so need to reinforce with attention desired behaviour only. This may be easier said than done – which is where I come in with strategies.

Milo has some very good traits. He is affectionate. He never barks for attention and is peaceful in his crate – very necessary when they aren’t about to watch him! Neither is he a big barker generally. The things that most stimulate him need reducing so that he can calm down. It’s not a good idea to play tug games or chase games with a dog that mouths, nips and grabs, or who steals things and runs off with them – winding you up for a chase.

He needs rules and boundaries in terms that he understands – provided more by the actions of his humans than by words and commands. Good self-controlled behaviour needs to become more rewarding than bad behaviour.

About 5 weeks later – some good progress with lead walking: ‘We see lots of progress compared to where we were and are confident your plan is working.  One proud moment yesterday was when we watched our son taking Milo out for a short walk. The whole process was a result of the training plan – Milo allowed him to fit the harness without any fuss, he sat and waiting while the lead was attached.  He remained calm, and followed my son out of the door with a slack lead, we watched them go off down the driveway, Milo walking at his side, lead slack and a general confident look.  Matt had a treat for him and he certainly deserved it!.