Miniature Daschund on old man's lap

Smudge loves a cuddle

He yelps when going through the dog flap, but no, the yelping isn’t due to pain. Not only has the vet thoroughly checked little Smudge, but they have another identical dog flap in another door and he jumps through that happily.

Smudge lives with two other Miniature Daschunds – Ginny who is blind and fourteen-year-old Herbie who has just one eye and is deaf. Smudge, at only four, is the youngster.

The three beautifully behaved and friendly little dogs live with a couple who are well into their eighties.

The two issues I am helping them with is Smudge’s ‘refusal’ to go through the dog flap and his addiction to having toys thrown for him.

They have had dogs all sixty years of their married life and can’t remember having had similar problems with any of their other dogs. ‘Old-school’ methods aren’t working very well for Smudge who is a lot more nervous than the other two. Being told off really scares him.

The couple could soon see, as I demonstrated, just how modern reward-based methods provide us with the most efficient and kindest tools to use – and in this case, the fastest also.

Minitaure daschund with his shadow

Smudge – me and my shadow

Although the little dogs get treats, they are never earned. When they are asked to do something, it’s not rewarded. ‘Good Dog’ is thought to be enough. Smudge won’t come when he’s called and it’s not hard to see why. Not only is he not rewarded with something he values, but most times he’s called it is to go into the garden where the only way back indoors is through that dreaded dog flap, so in effect he is being called and then punished.

What has made him yelp in the past is that, to make him move, the lady has blocked his retreat with her foot and with no option but to go on through he cries in fear as he does so.

Firstly I had him repeatedly coming to me in the room where we sat. When I called him I let him know that he would always be rewarded with something tiny and tasty. He was becoming motivated.

Then we went to the dog flap.

I tied it securely open, looping string around the flap and then over the door handle. Asking the lady to stand well back so he had no fear associated with her, I shut the door with Smudge the other side, looking at me through the hole.

“Smudge – COME”.

I threw the food through the hole onto the floor in front of him. He ate it. After several repetitions, I called him and placed the food on the step of the flap itself. He ate it. Soon I was calling him in through the flap.

Miniature Daschund on her back for a tummy tickle

Ginny on her back for a tummy tickle

It took a while for him to go back out again, but by playing a game whereby I kept calling him through from one side to the other he was jumping through willingly and soon joined by Ginny. Twice he even knocked into the flap itself, but it didn’t panic him.

The next step was to call him through and for the lady call him back to her side. It was a little difficult to train her to use a sufficiently bright and encouraging voice but he was soon jumping through the dog flap for her too!

So, for this week my instructions are for the couple to simply leave the flap open all the time and the door shut. Smudge should then get very used to going through the hole.

When I go back in a week’s time I will lower the flap so it’s half-open by lengthening the string.

The obsessing over thrown toys should simple if the people are consistent. Smudge needs to go cold turkey. We lifted all the toys. The gentleman, unfortunately, has a degree of dementia and he simply forgets he shouldn’t be throwing.

They can sometimes initiate the game themselves but for no more than about five throws in succession so as not to feed the habit, and then put the toy away again.

Being unable to constantly ‘feed his toy-chasing addiction’ will leave a vacuum in Smudge’s life that they will fill by having a supply of Kongs to give him, ready wiped inside with a little paste or peanut butter – but of course not for throwing! This should keep him busy whilst also helping to keep his stress levels down.

Ten days later: Smudge is a happy dog! He now no longer avoids going into the garden because of the knowledge he’ll have to brave the dog flap if he wants to come back in! He was taking himself off to another room for much of the day rather than remaining with the others and he’s not done that since I left. After a week of the flap being tied open, I went back and played games with food and coming through the now closed flap. It seems the banging is what scares him, so I muffled it with Bluetak. It’s five days later and I have just spoken to the lady. He now comes through fine – still giving it a few nudges first.  We are counting the nudges. It took about fifteen before he would come through five days ago and now it’s down to about five. Soon he will be charging through I’m sure. It is surprising how this one thing was affecting the whole of the dear little dog’s life.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out here. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good sometimes. Every dog is different and every situation is different. 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)