Stressful Walks. Other Dogs. Polite Happy Dog at Home.

Stressful walksIt’s hard to imagine they could have stressful walks or any trouble at all with Badger.

The two-year-old Border Collie quietly watched me walk towards his house through the glass door. He greeted me with polite interest.

A Border Collie could be a challenge for a first dog and the family have done brilliantly. He is happy, well-trained and biddable.

Unfortunately Badger is becoming ‘difficult’ when they are out and meeting other dogs. It’s not all dogs and he walks with doggy friends. He seems to have been targeted by a few dogs and yapping smaller dogs increasingly upset him.

Recently a couple of off-lead German Shepherds went for him and, according to the man, he ‘gave as good as he got’. Rehearsing this kind of thing isn’t good at all.

Out of the blue?

A short while ago the stressful walks came to a head when he saw a smaller dog appear and ‘suddenly’ charged at it. This wasn’t really so sudden. It was against a background of the young man having come home after two weeks away and great excitement. He had the ball thrower and he was repeatedly throwing the ball.

All this will have increasingly wound Badger up.

Then, in full ‘chase’ mode, the little dog appeared. He charged after that instead. He did no damage, but the dog and owner were upset. Badger, whose recall is fine normally, won’t have even heard their calls.

This wasn’t actually out of the blue at all. It will have been the direct result of ‘trigger stacking‘.

Home work

There are a few things they can do at home. Badger should be in the best state of mind possible for being self-controlled and calm around other dogs when they are out. The more stable and unstressed Badger is in general, the better he can cope with the arousal caused by the proximity of another dog.

Like many Border Collies, he loves the movement of a ball. He continually drops it at their feet and those of anyone who comes to see them. Anything quite so repetitive over such a period of time isn’t natural. Anything that’s not natural will fire him up.

They will now save balls for when they see another dog, to gain his attention and to associate the other dog with something he loves. (We thought we had collected all the balls and he would find another!).

To fill the void left by no ball-kicking they will give him things to chew and to forage for. Already well trained, they will give him more activities that exercise his clever brain.

Spot-on recall

A big problem they are finding that contributes to the stressful walks is the number of off-lead dogs that suddenly appear.

Even if they can’t control other people and their dogs, they can control Badger. Reliable recall is key.

Stressful walks would be less stressful if they could get, and keep, Badger’s attention. If he is to be safely off lead they need to get him back immediately.

They will change to a whistle to get his attention, working at whistle recall first at home. They will condition Badger to come, without thinking, when he hears the whistle.

To change how Badger behaves and reacts towards other dogs requires his humans also to change how they behave and react.

They need now to help Badger associate other dogs with only positive and good things. If his human tenses up, so will he.

Negative things have a far greater impact than positives. Something scary has a much longer lasting effect than something good. That’s just life unfortunately.

Avoiding stressful walks

To expect Badger to be relaxed and non-reactive when off-lead dogs rush up to him, particularly if they show aggression or are very noisy, is unreasonable. Unfortunately, each time Badger is (justifiably) forced to react by a dog being too close for him, he rehearses the very behaviour they don’t want.

There should be no more discomfort to Badger’s neck as they change to using a harness. They should avoid him feeling unsafe by no longer holding him tightly beside them while another dog approaches. Instead they should give him more space.

Comfortable distance, relaxed humans and only valuable, positive things like food and his beloved ball should now be associated with other dogs.

Unplanned and scary encounters will add to any dog’s wariness to the extent that he may eventually go for other dogs just in order to maintain distance. He’s given no choice.

Change can be hard

People can avoid the tension of stressful walks by considering carefully where they go. They should avoid narrow alleys where increasing distance is hard without turning around. People don’t like turning round and going back the way they came. They also understandably don’t like to seem rude by turning away from a potentially too-close encounter with another dog.

Badger’s confidence needs building again as does his trust in them to respond appropriately (to him) when he’s feeling uneasy or vulnerable.

Stressful walks with their dogs can overshadow people’s lives. My advice here is to do all they can to avoid putting Badger in a position where he feels he may need to defend himself. To keep his excitement levels down so that he is more tolerant.

Meanwhile they can work on other dogs in more controlled environments – or at least in places where they can beat a retreat if necessary. So far he’s very good with the majority of dogs, but it’s going in the wrong direction.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Other Dogs. Walks. Pulling on Lead. Canicross

 

They had two German Shorthaired Pointers, Douglas and Gracie with which the couple did Canicross. Sadly, Gracie developed cancer, had to have a leg amputated and can no longer run.

Four months ago they adopted two-year-old Louie.

They want to run with him also, but his reactivity to certain other dogs makes it difficult.

Outings fall into two categories.

There are general daily walks and there is Canicross which they do several times a week.

The downside of Canicross is the level of arousal that is built up – putting Louie in the wrong state of mind for being non-reactive around other dogs.

Canicross and reactivity to other dogs

Douglas and Louie

There are conflicting things involved.

Arousal and excitement seem to be part of Canicross.

But for learning to chill around other dogs, over-arousal is counter-productive.

For Canicross in a group, Louie will be close to other dogs.

For working with his being at ease near other dogs, distance is necessary.

For Canicross Louie needs to learn to pull – with a special harness.

But for walking in a relaxed fashion, enjoying the walk for it’s own sake, pulling and excitement are counter-productive.

One seldom sees calm dogs on a loose lead, sniffing, peeing and generally enjoying the walk and ‘clocking in’ with their owner being reactive when they see another dog.

Calm everyday walks; Canicross something different.

We will aim at using everyday loose-lead walks as a kind of antidote to Canicross where they are trying to get Louie to pull.

At present walks are about trying to stop him pulling by using a head halter and then walking somewhere in a determined manner for the sake of exercise. These walks will now be as stress-free, calm and comfortable as possible.

I would abandon the head halter and use a harness, but not of the Canicross type. The lead can hook onto the front. This will then feel completely different to the Canicross pulling harness.

What is a dog walk anyway?

Instead of trying to get somewhere, they can wander. The dogs use up so much energy with the running several times a week that walks need not be about exercise. They can give Louie full length of the training lead and let him stop whenever he likes. With the lead hooked on the chest he will be less inclined to pull. He will learn the difference.

The walk is about the journey, not the destination. If they have forty-five minutes, then they can fill that with something different each day and simply see what crops up.

Against this background, dealing with his reactivity to certain other dogs will be a lot easier. He should not be feeling restricted on tight lead and head halter when he sees another dog. They can associate dogs with good stuff – food and fun. They will make sure he doesn’t get any nearer than he’s comfortable with.

At present they are mainly avoiding other dogs on walks which will get them nowhere. In contrast, they then run with a group of dogs and this is too much. Louie may ignore the dogs when fired up with running and some he may for a while run shoulder-to-shoulder with. However, he may suddenly snap at them and bark at others.

Building up to Canicross in a group.

It’s not realistic to suggest they no longer do Canicross with Louie. However, they will go running with him alone to start with, then with a couple of dogs he gets along with and gradually build it up from there.

There is preparation work to be done at home. Two terriers live next door and they are enemies the other side of the fence. Louie patrols the garden, waiting for them to come out. While he’s rehearsing aggressive behaviour towards other dogs at home, they will make less progress when out. Working on his reactivity towards these dogs will be a good place to start.

The couple themselves need to be as relevant as they can so the dogs enjoy walking with them. Only this way they will get and hold Louie’s attention when needed.

I have never done Canicross myself (now there’s a surprise) but it seems a great thing for humans and suitable athletic dogs to do together. It’s a sport that humans have chosen.

It seems to me only fair that human and dog bond doing something that is more natural to the dog too – something the dog has chosen.

Here is a study where exercise was significantly reduced and the resulting positive effect on reactivity. Adding this to Louie’s life will hopefully counterbalance the general arousal of Canicross.

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 Louie because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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. 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).

Romanian Street Dog. Settling In Gently

In the photo the Romanian street dog is in a kill shelter.

Then a lady the from a local rescue saved the Romanian Mioritic Shepherd, in the nick of time. One day before execution.

Some weeks later Balou came to live with my client – into a very different world. Into a house.

No pressure.

From the start, the family have allowed their Romanian street dog, Balou, to find his feet, his big fluffy feet, without pressure.

This is perfect.

Romanian street dogHe has been allowed to decide where to sleep, where to sit, where to toilet (outside fortunately). He went upstairs when he was ready. He has been reluctant to go in the garden though that is now changing.

Balou can find very small things pressurising. For instance, he was just about to pee in the garden and the man spoke to him – probably to encourage him. Balou changed his mind and came straight in. A street dog isn’t used to someone talking to him or watching him while he has a pee!

The dog I saw isn’t the dog that first arrived. They have made great progress. He is slowly showing his true self as his confidence grows.

He is very peaceful, mostly lying about when in the house – so far! This could well change.

The one area where Balou may be under some pressure is going out on walks.

Only the man can walk him because the big dog pulls. 

He pulls?

As a Romanian street dog  he will have had one thing – freedom. Freedom to escape from other dogs. Freedom to escape from anything he doesn’t like. Held tightly on a lead he has no freedom at all and he may be becoming more reactive towards some people and some other dogs.

In this one respect only he’s not being allowed choice.

They will be perfecting loose lead walking technique on a longish lead with their Perfect Fit harness. This can be in the yard and near home until he’s relaxed.

There is simply no need to cover distance. Studies of street dogs show that they never go very far.

The walk is about information, not about exercise. The walk is about the journey.

Follow the dog!

For now they will let him do his own thing. They will let him choose where to go – and contrary to most training – they will follow the dog!

They will now resist using their own strength or holding him forcibly beside them. For Balou to feel confident he needs to feel free.

Covering ground isn’t important for now. When they get to the nearby field, instead of the lead they will put him on a long line – more freedom.

While he settles into the walking routine, they will avoid dogs and people. They will avoid going places they may have no escape route.

There’s no rush.

He just needs time.

This is necessary reading to prepare anyone for acclimatising a rescue dog  from overseas – by my friend Lisa Tenzin-Dolma.

 

Redirected Arousal After Too Much Play

I have just had a DIAL conversation, a one-hour chat with a couple about their two-year-old Red Fox Labrador, Saffy. I wasn’t there in person because they live too far away, but it was doable because the problem is straightforward.

Some questions unearthed the true reason for her behaviour towards other dogs.

Saffy is very well trained. She is also very sociable and well-mannered with other dogs apart from just one scenario.

redirected arousal

Dog similar to Saffy

She has her special dog pals that she plays with and, in the words of the lady, ‘when walking with one of her friends, if other dogs come to join in the play she tries to “own” the pal dog. It is as if she is jealous. She chases and hangs on to its collar and sometimes snarls’.

Questioning diagnosed that these ‘pals’ that she reacts upon aren’t the only dogs she walks with and knows well. She only behaves in this ‘aggressive’ manner with those that are playful and not her calmer or older pals. Could it be redirected arousal?

Saffy is walked twice a day off lead in a place with many off-lead dogs and there is a lot of playing and running about.

I am sure that it’s to do with over-arousal.

The incidents rarely happen at the very start of the walk.

The play is unchecked and the added excitement of another dog results in Saffy redirecting onto the dog she knows best – her pal that she’s been playing with. When we are stressed and want to take it out on someone, it can be our nearest and dearest that received our redirected arousal can’t it! Too much play and exercise may not always be a good thing.

It’s redirected arousal, not dominance.

I recommend limiting play to short sessions with lots of calling her back. Her recall is great apart from when she is really fired up, so they will work on whistle recall instead and use it well before things get too exciting.

When she’s playing with a pal and another dog appears, they must call her back straight away. Lots of reward for doing so. Then, when the dogs interact she can join them rather than the other way around.

I’m sure also that redirected arousal onto a pal is now simply a habit for Saffy, when she’s excited from play and another dog comes over, to ‘take it out’ on the pal. This can be broken by preventing it from happening, even if it means curtailing play to very short sessions.

 

If you are out of my area and your problem is reasonably straightforward, you may like to take a look at DIAL. I give a one-hour telephone consultation followed by a written report with plan and email help.

That’s Not Punishment, is it?

What exactly is punishment?

This is not the place to get all technical with semantics and the definitions of punishment. It’s enough to say here that it’s anythinPunishment can be as subtle as disapprovalg the dog doesn’t like, done by us, in order to stop him doing something we don’t want him to do – correction.

Punishment doesn’t have to be wielded with obvious things like a stick, shock collar, water spray or shouting. To a sensitive dog, a warning tone of voice or even a certain look could be punishment. Some might say that psychological punishment is worse than physical punishment, anyway.

Basically, anything imposed on the dog that he doesn’t like, is, to that particular dog, punishment. Being thrown into the river would be traumatic for one of my dogs but heaven to my Cocker Spaniel!

In the case of delightful Collie Staffie cross Banjo, there are things that his humans would never have regarded as ‘punishment’ at all which have been punishing to Banjo. They love him dearly and would never hurt him.

Why is it that today, despite all the evidence, many people still reject the regular use of food for reinforcement when getting their dogs to do what they want and still rely on correction?

One problem with anything aversive is that it can contaminate other things present at the time – or things the dog may associate with the scary event.

Here an illustration of this – not related to Banjo. A wellington boot is dropped by mistake or thrown in anger, scaring the dog; he could then become frightened of all wellington boots, or of anything dropped or thrown, or of the room it happened in, or the washing machine which happened to be on at the time or even of anybody wearing wellington boots.

 

People can be surprised when they realise something they do is, in fact, punishment

Surely punishing a dog would be something physical – or at the very least, shouting?

‘Punishment’ can be a lot more subtle and the fallout from subtle things that are aversive can be a loss of confidence in general.

Using positive, reward-based and force-free methods doesn’t mean we have a dog without boundaries that can run wild. It just means that the dog learns to enjoy the behaviour that we want because it works best for him, rather than just hitting upon the desired behaviour because it’s the one that doesn’t lead to unpleasant consequences.

Three-year-old Banjo comes over as a rather worried dog. He is easily effected by the emotions of his humans and it’s quite a volatile household with the lady and her two adult sons. Each one is different with Banjo. One son is the disciplinarian and has done a great job with teaching him training tricks, the other son is more sensitive and probably less consistent, and the lady is a pushover! They find it hard to agree on how to treat the dog and this predictably leads to disputes.

One can imagine how this can be confusing to a dog, particular one that doesn’t like raised voices.

Maksad2

Banjo is generally obedient but rewards are seldom used. He is taught to avoid the consequences of being disobedient and even though few dog owners would class these consequences as ‘punishment’, to Banjo they can be.

Of late the young man has introduced ‘time-out’ when Banjo does something unwanted or doesn’t do something he is told to do. Are we sure that Banjo actually knows what it is that he shouldn’t be doing? The man counts down “3-2-1” and then Banjo is shut in the porch.

Apart from learning that the countdown ends up with his being sent to the porch, I doubt whether Banjo always knows why – or is actually learning what he should be doing. Because the counting will sound threatening, he will no doubt stop anything he happens to be doing whatever it is; the counting alone will have quite a high ‘punishment rating’ to a dog like Banjo.

One of the probable fallouts from this ‘time-out’ process is this: Banjo has become scared when the younger brother comes home from work and initially runs and hides. He then behaves in an appeasing manner before settling back to his normal friendly and excitable self. My guess is it’s because he has been on imposed ‘time-outs’ in the porch on one or two occasions when the young man has came in through the front door from work. Negative associations.

Punishment or correction can seem to come from nowhere – out of the blue.

How do we feel when with an unpredictable person who is loving one minute and angry with us the next? I have lived with someone like this and it’s like treading on eggshells and you can’t relax. (Take another look at my favourite video – the poor man doesn’t know when the next punishment is coming or what it’s for).

There is another more obvious example where fallout of punishment (which they may not have regarded as punishment) has affected Banjo. It is probably responsible for his more recent wariness of children.

A young child and her mother came to stay with them for a few days over Christmas. Banjo seemed fine with the child initially – if he was uneasy they didn’t read the signs. The child wasn’t actively supervised all the time and would be pestering him. Banjo growled. Everyone reacted angrily and Banjo would have been frightened.

The dog will not have understood why, despite all his polite warnings, he was eventually forced to growl in order to protect himself. The result, to him, was his humans suddenly acted irrationally and in a way that scared him.

It’s not a big step to conclude that his fear of children approaching him when they are out since this episode is fallout from this ‘punishment’. He has built up a negative association.

They had Banjo from eight weeks of age, and very early on one of the adult sons played light-chasing games. He still regularly ‘entertains’ Banjo by nudging the lampshade to make shadows dance around the walls and floor. Each time someone picks up their mobile phone the dog starts looking for a light to chase, as a mobile phone light has been used for chasing games.

It’s such a shame. Sensitive dogs so quickly get OCD-type obsessions.

The young men will now do all they can to avoid light chasing games and anything else that stirs up their sensitive dog or scares him.

With a more positive and consistent approach by his humans, with all three ‘drinking from the same water bowl’ so that they become more predictable, Banjo is sure to become more confident.  More confidence will affect his whole life, particularly when out on walks.

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 Banjo. 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. 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)

 

Enjoyable Walks Begin at Home

Enjoyable walks with Izzy can be better if she’s calmer before leaving

Enjoyable walks with Old English Izzy Izzy, a stunning 14-month Old English Sheepdog, is extremely friendly, very bouncy and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the all the attention she gets.

When I arrived she came to the door and gave one Woof. Thinking she may have been uneasy because I was taking no notice of her (something she wasn’t used to) I said hello. This stressed her sufficiently to make her do a small tiddle on the floor.

She very quickly relaxed however. There was a bit of jumping up but she was so friendly and biddable. A delight.

 

Izzy is treated like she’s the centre of their world (which she probably is!)

Izzy is adored by four ladies and other family members including young children. Whenever she wants attention she gets loads of it. To look at her you can see how hard she must be to resist. However, it does leave her with little incentive to give them her attention when they want it.

She has constant access to food, so food isn’t a sufficiently valuable currency for rewarding and paying her for doing as asked. She could instead be working for some of her food.

What prevents enjoyable walks is Izzy’s pulling like a train on lead and going ‘deaf’ when called if she’s engaged in something she would prefer to be doing, like running off to play with another dog.

She is wild with excitement before the walk even starts.

The lady, having been pulled over by her, will no longer walk her alone, so one of her three adult daughters will come after work and accompany her.

There is a massively exciting greeting at the door when the daughters arrive, possibly with grandchildren too, to the extent that Izzy will pee on the floor. In the normal way of things it would take quite a while for the effects of this degree of excitement to subside and they immediately go out for the walk.

Soon Izzy will learn that ‘good things come to a calm dog’ while they give her time before leaving, doing their best not to wind her up in the first place. Enjoyable walks should then be a lot easier.

Walking equipment needs to be changed away from that which depends upon physically restraining the dog to equipment that encourages her to walk comfortably and willingly beside them. I use a good harness with D-ring at the chest (Perfect Fit) and a loose training lead. Equally important is that they all practise the correct walking technique.

I demonstrated with the lead on Izzy’s collar. She was excited when I picked up my lead so I sat down and waited. Then I called her to me (reward) and asked her to sit quietly – once. After a moment she did so and I attached the lead to the collar so that it hung from the front under her chin. I then walked around the house with her following me on a loose lead.

To make my point I now turned the collar so the lead attachment on top of her neck. Izzy immediately pulled due to the ‘opposition reflex‘.

I rested my case.

‘Coming back when called’ also begins at home. If she won’t come in from the garden until she is ready she certainly won’t when there is something exciting to run off after on a walk.

So, with a mix of a calm start, better equipment, a technique where she walks nicely because she wants to, being conditioned until coming when called is a habit along with a slightly different overall relationship with her humans at home, enjoyable walks should be achieved before too long.

 

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 Izzy. 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. 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)

Elderly Dog Can Unlearn Old Tricks

An elderly dog, he still has plenty of life in him

An elderly dog, twelve year old StaffI went to a delightful elderly Staffie yesterday, twelve-year-old Barney. I was told that his jumping up was a big problem, particularly for the little grandchildren, and that his pulling on lead was so bad he’d not been walked for nearly two years and that he had now started to destroy the house when they were out.

Prepared, I left my equipment bag in the hallway, safely away from being raided, just bringing with me my notes, treats, pen and mobile. I need not have worried.

Barney was in the living room, sitting at the man’s feet. He hadn’t heard me! So – obviously he’s a bit deaf.

When he did notice me he came over, very friendly, but no jumping up. The elderly dog was more interested in sniffing a day in the life of my own dogs on my clothes.

As so often happens, he had been particularly good in the days since they had booked their appointment. It’s like he knew! I believe that owners, perhaps subconsciously, examine their own behaviour a bit more carefully in preparation for a visit and without having received any advice, the behaviour work is already beginning to take effect!

 

Jumping up and scaring the grandchildren will be easily addressed.

The two little children and the elderly dog get on beautifully once he has calmed down.

There is a history of family members coming in and making a huge fuss of Barney. One young man particularly fires him up with fuss and play. To quote the lady, ‘Barney doesn’t know when to stop’.

Of course he doesn’t. If this were a child he would be in tears by now or else in hysterics or having a tantrum. It will probably take him hours to properly calm down. I know I am a spoilsport but this has to stop if they want to achieve their goals.

If Barney jumps up on adults, family and visitors, then he will jump around the little children too.

Telling him to get down and pushing him whilst at other times playing or fussing him when his feet are on them, teaches him exactly what they don’t want. He will now learning that that feet on the floor works best.

This is the first ‘old trick’ that elderly dog Barney can unlearn. He has, in effect, been taught to jump up.

 

He’s not been out beyond the small garden for eighteen months.

an elderly dog, 12 year old Staff

Camera shy

Everything became harder for Barney when their other elderly dog, another Staff, died a couple of years ago.

He used to get uncontrollably excited even when the drawer containing lead and harness was opened. By the time he was launching himself out of the front door he was so aroused that he was beside himself. His pulling was so severe that the lady said it simply hurt her and with his lunging at any dog he saw, walks became a nightmare. They gave up.

They had taught him the ‘old trick’ of getting excited when going to the drawer by letting him know that a walk would follow. He may even have believed that his manic behaviour was causing the walk. Now they will open and shut the drawer countless times until it’s no big deal. The same process will be used for lifting the lead and harness and then putting them on.

Having not been out on a walk for eighteen months they can have a fresh start.

Barney walked beautifully on a loose lead around the house with me and then with the lady. He needs the right equipment so that he has nothing to pull against and he needs encouragement and praise.

In the past pulling has still resulted in forward-progress, so this is another old trick that can be learnt even by an elderly dog.

When Barney does eventually get to go out, in his new state of mind he will be able to cope a lot better with the appearance of another dog. No longer will the man force him forward, holding him tight – maybe even picking him up. They will increase distance and start to get him feeling good about dogs so long as they are not too close for comfort. Each dog is an individual and Barney has his own things that will help with this which I shan’t share here.

With help he can ‘unlearn’ reactivity to other dogs also. Knowing that he’s not expected to make friends or get too close to them if he doesn’t want to even if they have to go another route, the elderly dog can relax and they can all start to enjoy walks together.

They will change his diet away from Bakers Complete – known to have an adverse effect on the behaviour of dogs.

At home they will train him to the whistle in order to compensate for his reduced hearing. Eventually the elderly dog may even be able to go off lead – or at least on a very long line – and enjoy some freedom to sniff, relax and do doggy things.

The lovely family’s elderly dog will have a new lease of life!

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 Barney. 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. 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)

 

 

Giving the Dog Choice

They will be giving Joey more choiceGiving a fearful dog choice

Joey, the four-year-old Collie Labrador mix, came over from Ireland at a year old. Isn’t he gorgeous.

Over the past three years his family has done great things with him. A lot of the general day to day stuff I usually recommend they do already. He is very well trained and regularly goes to agility which he loves.

The one downside to ‘training’ can be that the humans are making the choice for the dog by using a command to guide his actions. It’s not necessarily the answer where fear-based reactions are concerned. A command is no substitute for the dog learning how to make the right choice in response to a situation for himself. A command is unlikely to address what the dog is feeling inside – fear. The dog will only make the right choice if he’s given the ‘tools’.

Joey’s problems are quite clearly all to do with his need to feel safe.

The two times he reacted worst of all were at the vet, trapped in the room, held down by three people while he had his injection and when he was cornered in a small place by a child. In each case he was robbed of all choice. His reasonable warnings and requests had been ignored so, to him, he had no choice but to react ‘aggressively’.

(Where vet procedures are concerned, with techniques worked on over time a dog’s choices can be part of the process. See how Chirag Patel does it using clicker).

Clicker training is ‘choice training’ and is unbeatable where giving an animal freedom of choice is concerned. Joey caught on almost immediately.

 

The walk starts way before leaving the house.

Joey’s fearfulness is causing problems when they go for walks and encounter people, particularly men, and other dogs. He’s also scared of unusual things in different places.

He gets very excited before they start out, jumping about, crying and howling. They try to get him to sit at the door for his lead to go on. What happens back at home is the start of the walk and they are not even out of the door yet. Before anything happens he has a choice. It’s simple. When he’s still and quiet, they can leave. There is no rush – people can wait. Until he is calm and quiet they go nowhere. It’s his choice.

Because of his pulling he wears a head harness. This prevents pulling. He has no choice. With a front-fastening Perfect Fit harness he will soon be walking beside them through choice.

So, Instead of starting his walk in a wild state and in considerable discomfort, feeling restricted, already he should feel more calm and free – in a much better state of mind for encountering people and dogs.

When he spots a dog he should also be given choice. At a distance where he’s happy, they can pair the other dog with something Joey loves. He loves his ball. He can have a choice whether to hold, catch or chase his ball or whether to react to the dog. By keeping sufficient distance we set him up so it’s in effect Hobson’s Choice!

Which brings me to ball-throwing (again!). Constant ball chasing is not necessary when the dog has an hour in the fields to do doggy things. Why fire him up with a ball? They can give the ball much more value by no longer spending most of the walks chucking it to a ball-obsessed dog. By starving Joey of the ball they will have a potent tool for counter-conditioning.

An approaching man may make Joey uneasy. By allowing Joey to choose, they can let him decide how much space he wants to make. One way of doing this is to watch him carefully and reward him for any sign of avoiding trouble by breaking contact – looking away, looking at his human, sniffing, scratching, yawning – and to reward him for making the right choice by increasing the distance from what scares him. Thus choosing avoidance rather than barking gets the prize – more distance and safety, a game of ball perhaps or food.

If Joey knows it’s his choice how near he goes to something or somebody, it’s certain that over time he will choose to go nearer.

I am sure that when Joey knows he has a choice as to how close he goes and with scary things paired with great things – balls and special food – he will gain greatly in confidence.

 

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 Joey. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned, as the case needs to be assessed correctly which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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 Get Help page)

Two Romanian Street Dogs

Was a Romanian street dog

Roma

The two Romanian Street dogs I have just visited are doing magnificently as are their new custodians, a couple with a large open home, marble floors and furniture!

Everything is different and it’s not surprising that they are on high alert at times. At others they are amazingly chilled. It’s hard to believe they were flown over from Romania only three weeks ago.

Having lived on the streets till eighteen months ago and then all that time since in kennels, it’s little surprise that there are toilet accidents in the house. They have been scared of walking beside traffic which makes sense – freely roaming they would have kept away from a noisy road.

Roma is a Romanian Sheepdog of around five years old and Mocca a Collie mix, a year older. They look surprisingly similar really. The two dogs were best buddies during their time in kennels before coming here, which must have a lot to do with how well they are settling in. That, along with great work which must have been done by kennel staff and now by the couple they live with who have been fielding their issues with great sensitivity and insight.

Out in the garden in particular they are very reactivite to the smallest noise, including sounds inaudible to their humans.

Romanian Street Dog

Mocca

We will be approaching the barking situation from three angles. Firstly to reassure the dogs that they can trust their humans to be responsible for protecting them by how they deal with alarm barking.

Secondly, the best way to see this through is for the couple to call the dogs away from what they are barking at and to themselves, so a lot of recall work is needed until responding to being called is immediate. Thirdly desensitisation, removing the feelings of fear associated with noises.

Paired with the recall work the dogs should eventually accept most of the sounds and learn to go to their humans if they are worried. It needs consistency and persistence which these people certainly have.

Walking is the other area of major concern. Now that they have to walk on lead around the streets, we need to get into the dogs’ heads. How will they be feeling? Are they feeling safe? Comfortable?

Having been free-roaming street dogs, they will have been used to meeting and greeting people and dogs if they so chose and avoiding them if they preferred. They are now physically attached to a human – and by short and rather heavy chain leads. The first thing is the for the dogs to feel as free and relaxed as is possible; then to give them back some sense of choice as to whether they approach people and dogs or not.

They need comfortable equipment – I prefer Perfect Fit harnesses – with lightweight, longish training leads that can be hooked both back and chest. Then both dog and humans will feel safe and be safe.

I suggest they take the dogs back to ‘primary school’ with the walking. Why not start ‘walking school’ near home? Several five or ten minute sessions following the protocols just around the immediate locality, one dog at a time and swapping dogs so the one left behind doesn’t get too anxious. This will advance things a lot quicker than a tense mile-long walk with both dogs together, being forced near other dogs and people, and battling against things they hate like cats!

There is always a legitimate worry about whether the dog gets sufficient exercise, but it has been observed that dogs living free to do their own thing actually cover very little distance. We have to prioritise. Exercise with anxious dogs will do a lot less good than gradually acclimatising them with plenty of manageable and low-stress sessions that are both mental stimulation and fun.

If you are particularly interested in street dogs, why not watch the Living With a Street Dog webinar by Lisa Tenzin-Dolma.

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 Mocca and Roma. 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 which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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 Helppage)

Aggression Towards Other Dogs

HopcroftAggression towards other dogs when out on walks might be the problem but the causes probably have tentacles in other areas of her life. Reactivity is always as a result of some sort of stress – fear being the most likely. Stress isn’t a thing that is there one minute and gone the next. The surprise or shock may be sudden, but the effects linger. We know with ourselves that once things start to go wrong nothing seems to go right. We get into a progressively touchy mood. Stress builds up.

The other day Indie had negotiated cows in a field which seriously spooked her before breaking her collar to get to a dog she encountered immediately afterwards.

The lovely four-year-old Wheaten Terrier greeted me politely, had an interested sniff to find out all about my own dogs and then went and lay down.

It can be hard to reconcile the dog one sees in the house to that dog that goes bonkers on the end of a lead at the sight of another dog. Indie ‘changes personality’.

Indie has always occasionally been a bit prickly with dogs she doesn’t know, but about six months ago this took a turn for the worse. To quote the lady, ‘I want the old Indie back’. They used to be able to enjoy socialising in their local pub with other people and their dogs, but now Indie’s behaviour is embarrassing and people are taking their dogs back to their cars. What a shame.

These things, once started, snowball as the dog rehearses the reactive behaviour – unless and until thrown into reverse with a different approach to what the dog’s humans are currently doing and which isn’t working.

There were a couple of factors in Indie’s life about six months ago which may be relevant, one being her starting some ongoing medication which we need to ensure has no side effects for her. Indie has been checked by the vet and there are no obvious new problems.

We began by looking at the areas of her life where seemingly minor stressors could be building up and how the couple can help her out. For instance, she barks and cries when she hears the frequent church bells near their house (we already made headway with this while I was there). She attacks the vacuum cleaner. She hates metallic noises. We looked at ways not only of avoiding or dealing with stress, but also of helping her to de-stress and calm herself.

Another area that has a bearing on a dog’s behaviour when out is her relationship with her humans at home. Their being able to get and to hold the dog’s attention when out and in the presence of other dogs is vital. If the dog receives all the attention she requires upon demand, ignores requests to come to them when she doesn’t feel like it, is she likely to give them her attention in distracting situations when out?

Also relevant is the dog being able to trust them to look after her. They need to be there for her where any perceived danger is concerned and this starts at home too.

The lady used to do a lot of fun training with Indie but that has gradually stopped over the past couple of years. I suggest she starts again as this is good relationship building stuff. Indie’s not a dog interested in cuddles (though I was honoured with an ear snog when I knelt down to say goodbye to her!), so action is better.

On walks Indie is friends with dogs she already knows. As soon as the lady spots a friendly dog she excitedly tells Indie ‘Look, there’s so-and-so’! However, when an unknown dog approaches, she tenses up and says nothing. We have so much more influence over the behaviour of our dogs than we can see, being unable to look at our own actions and reactions objectively.

Finally and as I always bang on about, a dog that on walks feels comfortable and not too restricted by using the right kind of harness and a longish lead (rather than collar or head halter with a short lead or, even worse, retractable lead), that walks nicely on a loose lead, is going to be in a much more relaxed state of mind when encountering other dogs.

Rome can’t be re-built in a day and this will be a slow process, but I’m sure in the end if they persist they will have their old dog back and be enjoying taking Indie to their local pub again.

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 Indie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly where anything to do with aggression is concerned.  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).