Training Classes, a Reactive Dog. Compatible?

Bay loves training classes

Ben

I have just come home from seeing three wonderful Border Collies.

They are all rescues and like so many, two are from Ireland.

So often Border Collies I visit, beloved family pets, also live a life of frustration, unable to use their clever brains or fulfill their instinct to herd. The loving hard work the couple has done has paid big dividends. The dogs are given plenty of enrichment in their lives including being regularly taken to training classes. Two of them do agility also.

Their main reason for my visit is for both Ben and Timmy to be less reactive to other dogs – most particularly Ben who will react as soon as he sees another dog in the distance.

Is dog training doing anything for Ben’s reactivity to other dogs?

Ben will soon be nine and has some Australian Shepherd in the Collie mix.

He adores the training itself but takes a while to get used to the other dogs in the class, even those he sees week after week.

Timmy

How can they mix training classes with changing Ben’s reactivity to other dogs?

It’s proven that the way to help a dog with reactivity to other dogs is to work with sufficient distance between them that the dog feels safe and relaxed.

Here is an excerpt from an excellent article by Tobin Foster PhD: ‘Letting another dog approach and greet a fearful (or reactive) dog is too intense!  Quick retreats at the first sight of an approaching dog is too brief!   Letting your dog watch another dog from a distance and for a long time (until he loses interest is best!) will produce the most effective results in most cases.’. Tobin Foster, PhD

Bearing this in mind, how then can Ben manage the classes?

We looked at ways of turning his training classes into a positive.

The lady will see if Ben can now join the final class. He then no longer has to run the gauntlet of other dogs waiting to come in to the next class as he leaves by the only door.

They can arrive very early, watching the other dogs arrive one or two at a time from a distance. Ben can also watch the dogs from the previous class leave – from a distance. The lady can be ready to retreat, putting more distance between them, if he gets agitated.

She can then work at pairing the sight of sufficiently distant dogs with food and happiness.

She can even point them out: ‘Look at that!’.

Now I suggest the lady experiments with walking towards and into the hall, lead loose, being ready to walk out again if Ben ‘tells’ her with his body language that he’s not happy – before he starts to bark if possible.

Fortunately the lady believes that her good, switched-on trainer will be up for this.

Timmy, too, barks at other dogs.

He barks at some dogs, not always and only when they get really close. It’s probable he has caught some of this reactivity from Ben.

Timmy is the most recent to join them and is also two years old.

He adores agility, but gets so fired up that he has nipped several people and gone for another dog. He now has solo lessons.

Just as it’s hard to make indoor training classes compatible with keeping sufficient distance, it’s hard to make agility, particularly when competitive, compatible with lowering arousal levels. Agility requires a dog to become fired up; lower arousal levels are necessary to stop him being so stirred up that he nips. Catch 22.

Tom fixates on the cat, waiting to herd her if she moves.

Tom staring at the cat

Tom staring at the cat

The third dog, Tom, is two years old and is a dream. He is however prone to fixate on the elderly cat, waiting to herd her whenever she moves.

They currently send him to his bed. I prefer to deal with the emotions behind the behaviour rather than simply controlling the behaviour. He goes to his bed willingly enough when asked but doesn’t stay there for long before he’s back staring at the cat.

Instead of simply sending him to his bed with the urge to herd or chase unfulfilled, our plan should help diffuse frustration a little.

They will also interrupt the staring a lot sooner to try to break the habit and before it gets to the stalking stage.

Going back to Ben, he loves his training classes once he’s been there for a while and has stopped barking at the other dogs. They are very keen for him to continue and, being a Border Collie, activity is especially necessary for his brain and breed.

Stopping the training classes and agility for now would be the easy way to work on resolving reactivity and over-arousal problems.

But at what price?

 

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 these three dogs. 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. 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)

Second Fear Period Maybe

Second fear period and bad timing could be involved.

The couple have two beautiful Labradors – black William and golden Sam.

Possibly Samson's behaviour changed due to second fear period

Sam

They can’t understand how the two dogs have turned out so differently when they both came from the same breeder. They say they have treated them both the same.

But have they?

William is now two-and-a-half years old and Sam fourteen months.

They had taken William to puppy classes. They carried him around shops before he could be safely put down. He went most places with them so was well habituated to daily life; all his experiences with other dogs had been good ones.

William is also a placid character which is just as well because soon after they got Sam at eight weeks old, all the boisterous play brought his elbow problems to light and he had an operation on each, resulting in restricted exercise for many weeks.

When Sam became too rough he never told him off. In fact, if he became impatient it was he who was scolded. They realise now that they should have instead have been teaching Sam to play nicely and when enough was enough.

Sam, totally different to William, is scared of anything new. This fear of new things applies particularly to new dogs. Because of the circumstances, Sam not been habituated and socialised at an early age in the way William had.

William

William

Up until eight or nine months of age he had been fine. Then, suddenly, he became reactive. Why should he have changed so quickly?

He had never been like this before apart from, perhaps, the over-boisterous play with William at home. He hadn’t been like this before going to classes. Was it coincidence? Had the first classes coincided with his second fear period?

There he was with a number of dogs he’d not met before in a situation which he could have found very stressful for several reasons.

The dog trainer eventually suggested removing him from the class due to his being too pushy, excitable and noisy.

It was traditional gun dog training and so the methods may well anyway have been stressful to sensitive a dog, particularly if coinciding with that short second fear period. One example of this now outdated training method is a jerk on the slip lead to make the dog walk to heel. Basically, he has to walk to heel to avoid pain, rather than being taught to walk to heel for reward and encouragement.

If the first scary training occasions indeed happened to have coincided with Sam’s short second fear period, a two to three-week period in adolescence, it could have had a huge effect on his future feelings towards new dogs.

It is pure conjecture of course and can never be proved.

So, the couple need help with Sam’s over-excitability when seeing another dog, particularly a dog he doesn’t know. He can be very pushy and intimidating but nothing worse until a couple of weeks ago. He pinned a young Cocker Spaniel down, terrifying it. There was a lot of noise but fortunately no damage. One just has to hope that this wasn’t during the smaller dog’s second fear period also.

Then there was another incident a few days ago. It’s getting worse – as things do.

The wagging tail and excitability he displays upon seeing another dog doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. It’s arousal of some sort. A human equivalent might be someone who is all over a person they have met for the first time, wild with excitement and hugs and forcing them to have a cup of tea even if they don’t want one. I wouldn’t call this friendliness myself, I would call it being over-anxious and trying to get some control over the situation.

Changing things around for Sam.

The slip lead causes discomfort when he pulls. Because of the slip lead, when he strains towards another dog he will be feeling some degree of pain. Is pain something we want him to associate with dogs he doesn’t know? No – the very opposite in fact.

From now, in a controlled way, he will associate something especially good with seeing another dog that he doesn’t know. It will be something so special that Sam won’t get it any other time. (What the special thing is has been chosen specifically to suit Sam).

He will learn to walk on a loose lead with a little freedom away from the human’s left leg! Goodbye slip lead strangulation and Hello suitable harness with a longer training lead hooked at the chest.

Instead of charging up to any dog he sees when off lead, playing if the dog is familiar and overwhelming or intimidating it if it not, he will now always touch base with his human first. He needs to be taught to do this through constant repetition. His otherwise good recall has to be even better. They will call him back at random throughout walks and make it very worthwhile to do so in terms of food or fun. The lead will be put on at random throughout the walk so not associated with the appearance of another dog or with the end of the walk.

Currently when he’s on lead and another dog appears, they continue to walk Sam towards it, slip lead tight, perhaps making him sit, and taking physical control of him. He must feel trapped.

In future when another dog appears they will do their best to make choices based on Sam’s own body language. They will increase distance until he shows that he is comfortable. At that comfortable distance they will start to show him that the presence of a dog he doesn’t know BRINGS ON THE GOOD STUFF.

Whether or not his fears are connected to an unpleasant experience around unfamiliar dogs during the sensitive second fear period, they can now start to reverse this.

Sadly it takes a lot longer to undo damage than it does to cause it.

Feedback five months later: We’ve been diligently working on building his confidence and focus on us with the steps you helped us put in place. Unfortunately last week he injured himself and needed stitches. On 2 visits to the vets for stitches and and dressing change, he has remained focused on me despite being alert to another dog in the waiting room on our way in. Obviously still appearing worried but no lunging, growling or barking. I know this doesn’t mean he’s cured, but it was such welcome relief and huge positive step forward. I’m delighted.

 

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 Sam 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. 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)

Old-School Training Classes Making Border Collie Worse

This photo doesn’t do justice to beautiful 15-month-old Border Collie Barney.taken to old-school dog training classes

Barney was re-homed by my lady client just two months ago and is becoming increasingly reactive to other dogs when out. When they first had him he was playing with them. He also has started to bark at people.

Dog training classes

The lady has been taking him to traditional dog training classes – old school dog training classes. I can only wonder whether being physically controlled around dogs, isn’t actually making him worse. He’s being told to ‘Leave’ them rather than politely allowed to sniff and say hello which is a lot more natural. He’s being ‘corrected’ to stop him pulling on lead rather than being taught to walk like there is no lead at all – through choice.

For many years I did traditional, old-school dog training. I know all about it.

Barney is playful and extremely biddable. The lady herself is serene and gentle, and having met many of the Border Collies of his age, I am sure he would be a lot more excitable and hyped up had he gone somewhere else. My modern, gentle, non-coercive methods will suit her down to the ground.

Barney, like many Border Collies, will also lunge at traffic. It seems he had a very sheltered life previously with little enrichment. The lady has, very sensibly, got him a harness so he doesn’t hurt his neck, but he rears up and he is strong. I have recommended a better kind of harness, one where the lead is attached to the chest, along with a simple procedure to follow each and  every time he looks like reacting to a vehicle. He needs to know that his lady is in control of the situation.

For now she should avoid walking beside a busy road. Then, over time but only within his comfort threshold, his exposure to traffic needs gradually be increased so that he is habituated.

Walking nicely

It is a shame that old-fashioned training classes make walking the dog seem like a battle. He must be to heel or else he will be ‘corrected’. But, if the lead isn’t too short and is he doesn’t pull, why should he be stuck to the walker’s left leg? Does it matter if he is sometimes ahead so long as the lead is loose? Why shouldn’t he stop to sniff and explore? It is a dog walk, after all.

Reacting to traffic, people and other dogs can be treated with understanding of just how the dog is feeling and the emotion which is driving the behaviour is addressed. It may take a bit longer than using force, but it will be permanent and not a temporary fix that is dependent upon his being ‘dominated’ by a bullying handler (which fortunately this gentle lady just cannot be).

I have yet to discover modern, reward-based classes in my region, classes with small numbers that will use clicker, luring and reward to teach the dogs. (This was written back in 2013. There are several I can ow recommend).

Extensively ‘Trained’, Lacks Self-Control

Chocolate Labrador Oscar chooses to ignore commands  Beautiful eighteen month old Chocolate Labrador Oscar was a difficult puppy. They admit they spoilt him and by the time he was four months old they found him hard to cope with – stealing, grabbing, nipping and so on, so they took him to puppy classes. Oscar has been going to dog training classes (of the ‘old-fashioned’ kind) ever since. They have worked very hard and conscientiously with him and continue to do so, especially the teenage daughter whose dog he is, and she has done brilliantly.

Understanding lots of commands and training exercises is not much use if a dog chooses to ignore them when they are most needed, and Oscar is adolescent! I am certain that with a much more positive approach with reinforcement for good behaviour rather than commands and corrections for the bad behaviour, Oscar would by now be no trouble at all. In fact, if they had applied these methods from the start when he was a puppy, things would be very different.

As it is, he is desperately attention seeking and controlling, and carries on until he gets attention of some sort, whether it’s through stealing socks or spectacles, jumping on people, licking faces or chewing furniture. Commands are attention. Pushing him is attention. Even looking at him is attention. It can be relentless. I imagine the words No, and Leave It and Off are used so frequently they are now background noise to Oscar! Even feeding is a process where he has to jump through several hoops, so to speak, meaningless to a dog, before he’ s allowed to eat his food.

He doesn’t get a chance to work things out for himself and to make his own good decisions. External over-controlling removes opportunities for him to learn self-control. He is required to do so many things that aren’t particularly necessary or relevant, when I feel it would be best to concentrate on the very few important things like not getting any feedback whatsoever for jumping up, for learning that ‘uh-uh’ before he does something is a warning and gives him a chance to make the right decision (with reward and praise when he does so). No dog is happier than when he has to use his own brain to work for us while we quietly give him the time and space to do so – working out for himself what is required and then being rewarded.

I am a little worried about the compatibility between the sort of ‘dog training’ which they want to continue and my behavioural approach to training.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.
 

How Can People Do This to a Puppy?

Rescue from Ireland isrelaxed and happyHeidi is yet another rescue dog from Ireland. A mixed breed with  some collie in her, she is around one year old and has been in her new home since last March. The poor puppy had been found with wire tied around her muzzle – there are the scars – with stones being thrown at her.

In the circumstances she is amazing. She is lovely – affectionate an obedient. Look at her! The lady, an experienced dog owner, has worked very hard with her. She has been to training classes and did exactly what was required of her, but all the time looking totally miserable. They admit to having over-compensated for her start by giving her a great amount of freedom because she ‘loves to run’.This is often out of sight. She is seldom on lead for long, even when leaving the house – which poses a risk. She has upset a neighbour with her behaviour.

The problem that just won’t go away is Heidi’s rushing aggressively at people, and dropping down and stalking dogs, then charging, hackles up, as though to attack. She makes contact but so far has not actually bitten. She is desperate to make them go away. It’s not every person and it isn’t every dog. It will also depend upon her state of mind. Considering her beginning it is not surprising. Normally her recall is excellent, but if they get the timing wrong it is to late.

We had a good look at the world through Heidi’s eyes, along with why dog training as such does not help in times like this. She needs to be rescued from the fear she feels, and only her humans can do that for her by how they behave. A natural reaction is to be cross out of embarrassment if nothing else, but this will only add further stress to the situation by her associating people and dogs with unpleasant stuff.

For starters Heidi needs to be saved from herself. It needs to be made absolutely impossible for her to do this again, and this means an end to all this off-lead freedom for now.  It will do her no harm at all and in fact may make her feel more secure to have owners who take over the role of decision-making.

How would Heidi expect a leader to behave in the face of perceived danger?

I received this email about seven weeks later: “I am really still so pleased and suprised how much Heidi has changed, the main improvement with her is the calmness that she shows now all the time.  This shows in her behaviour around the home as well as outside and because she is spending more time on the lead, when I do let her off she does not now go far away from me and constantly comes back to check with me besides being very good on her recall.   She only does an initial bark at anyone coming to the door and then looks for me to come and thank her and follows me inside.  She is far more relaxed and I feel that there is a much stronger bond between us now and that she looks to me much more now. We still have good days and bad days with other dogs we meet but there is definite improvement and I do realise that this is going to be the problem that will take the longest but there is definetly a huge improvement and there are instances when she will pass another dog and almost ignore them which never happened before so baby steps but they are going forward”.
I can’t thank you enough for showing me where we were going wrong with Heidi and to be honest I feel so much more relaxed now and have no worries about walking Heidi anywhere and she is sooo worth it. and such an affection little girl and she appears to be far more confident now”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Wound Up English Bull Terrier

Reggie2Reggie is seven months old, but to look at him you would never think he was little more than a puppy.

He has been hard work from when he arrived at eight weeks old. He is one of the most frantically hyped-up and restless dogs I have seen for a while.

Adolescent Reggie is on the go non-stop. Jumping up, roughly grabbing clothes and barking, digging the carpet, panting, drinking excessively, barking in their faces and constantly looking for mischief. His gentleman owner has some control because he is confident and gets angry, but the lady who is less assertive is being bullied by him. They have a little girl who needs protecting from the charging about and leaping all over people and furniture, so he is in his crate a lot of the time, because there simply is nothing else they feel they can do with him.

Reggie’s personality and genetics must be contributing to this, because the family have neither overly indulged him nor over-disciplined him. He has been carefully checked over by the vet. They have done everything they can. They have read books and taken him to classes, but as he gets older he gets worse.

Having someone with experience to actually come and see what is happening and to offer solutions geared specifically to their dog in his own environment is sometimes the only way. It is often impossible to apply what your read – and besides no two sources say the same thing.

We spent the evening working on his behaviour whilst looking into ways of calming him down in general. Training classes failed big time because he was so hyped up that he spent the time barking, jumping up and grabbing the lady – he even bit her leg, grabbing the lead, and chasing and nipping other dogs.  He is already a very strong and large dog for the breed.

Using a psychological behavioural approach throughout the evening I showed him that jumping and grabbing me was not rewarding in any way. Bit by bit you could see him actually choosing the desired behaviour for himself. At the end of a tiring evening, instead of being shut away in his crate to bark and cry as usual, or jumping at me whenever I moved, he was lying spark out in the middle of the floor – even ignoring us walking around him – see the picture. .

It’s like he was completely exhausted and finally relaxed because patiently and kindly we had been giving him boundaries in a way that he understood and he actually wanted to please.

A big burden had been lifted from him yesterday evening. Bit by bit over the next few weeks he should become a different dog if they are consistent and patient.

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

Black Labrador Ozzy

Ozzy's eyes glowing greenI met Ozzy today, a beautiful one year old black labrador of gun dog pedigree.

I should not have used my flash because Ozzy looks like a ghost! Humans get “red-eye” from the reflection off of our blood vessels in the retina. Dogs have a special layer of cells at the back of the eye that reflect light back to the retina in order to help them see in low light, so that’s why Ozzy looks spooky.  This helps animals to hunt at dusk – and hunting is something that Ozzy loves! The problem is that when he is on a hunt, he totally ignores his owners calling him back, it is as though they don’t exist, and this could lead him into trouble. A farmer recently threatened to shoot him when he was creating havoc where pheasants were being reared.

At home Ozzy is a very well-behaved and calm dog for a year-old adolescent. He has been to dog training classes and excelled. However, once outside he pulls madly on lead and he has selective hearing when he is off lead. As well as hunting, he is over-boisterous and playful with other dogs he meets irrespective of whether they welcome it. He has been put in his place several times.

His lady owner is tense and worried on walks, holds him tight and no longer lets him off lead. His gentleman owner is the opposite and is prepared to take what comes. He allows himself to be pulled down the road, lets Ozzy off lead at the earliest opportunity and may well spend fifteen minutes trying to catch him when he wants to go home.

The more Ozzy is allowed to freelance, the better he gets at it, so for his own safety he needs to learn that freedom is something granted and not something that is his by right. His recall needs to be worked on for as long as it takes for him to be trusted to come back, even in the presence of other dogs – and pheasants!

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

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