Jasper is a large Springer Spaniel, seven years of age.
His coat is dull and matted and he has big knots behind under his ears, almost as big as the ears themselves.
A grooming nightmare
To look at him, one may think he’s not well cared for when exactly the opposite is the case. He is a very well-loved dog.
The problems stem from Jasper reacting increasingly aggressively to feeling trapped or restrained in any way. If anyone corners or restrains him, he may now growl or snap. Even being on lead makes him feel trapped. So far he’s done no worse than air-snap but the situation is escalating.
It all began some years ago when, as a young dog, a groomer nicked him. He may already have a genetic disposition for the need for space.
Over the years they have found it increasingly difficult to groom him. They had one groomer who visited the house who was patient, grooming a bit at a time. Jasper looked good back then.
This groomer unfortunately stopped work. Jasper has since become increasingly reactive at groomers they have tried. At the last trip the groomer could no longer touch him.
Likewise, the vet. The last groom and cut he had was under general anaesthetic at the vet. Now they can’t get him there.
Reading the dog
If we respect his personal space, Jasper is a lovely friendly, biddable dog. He actually gives warning when he feels uncomfortable or trapped, which his humans don’t read well. For instance, like many people they mistakenly associate a wagging tail with friendliness. What a wagging dog tail really means
Jasper doesn’t like anyone looming over him or cornering him – feeling trapped (this isn’t unusual).
As the man opened the door to let me in, he grabbed the dog’s collar. Without making contact, Jasper quickly turned his head to snap at his hand.
Jasper needs choice.
Their work will concentrate on allowing him as much feeling of freedom as possible with as much choice as they can. They will watch his body language. If he looks away when they approach, he’s saying ‘no thank you’. They should stop.
Learning to ‘tune in’ to Jasper will increase mutual understanding and trust.
With more understanding and reading the dog, they will do their best to remove any kind of force as restraint causes him to feel trapped. They will aim to use motivation and reward instead.
When Jasper feels his space is invaded or someone restrains him physically, he becomes defensive.
When we get good at communication with a dog he can become like putty in our hands! It feels a lot better than physically controlling or even trying to dominate him to get him to do what we want.
Can’t walk him
Too make things worse, they can’t even walk him down the road to the vet due to his pulling. He’s trapped on lead (he’s great off lead). They can’t trust him not to freak out when they get there either.
He needs a really short haircut so they can start all over again and buy some time! Keeping him tidy will be a lot easier than making him tidy.
I suggest they take him to the vet in the car. They will first discuss the possibility of a sedative just to get him there.
They should go as a couple and the man, who is more confident, take him in.
Choice and permission
Anything they do, whether it is teaching him to love the grooming equipment and letting him know he has choice whether they brush him and how long for, will take time. The same goes for teaching him to willingly accept a muzzle.
Key to success is allowing Jasper to give his permission for them to touch him with a brush, inspired by Chirag Patel’s Bucket Game.
Unlike the Bucket Game, the lady will put something in his mouth that he loves and has at no other time (he loved my Yak chew). She will sit down and call Jasper over. He has a choice. She will hold the Yak bar while he chews – he’s fine with that.
With something occupying Jasper’s mouth, the lady won’t feel so nervous and chewing has proved to calm Jasper.
Now it’s all up to Jasper. He can decide.
The lady will already have the brush nearby. She will slowly pick it up, watching Jasper. If he continues to chew she can gently wave it about.
As soon as he either stops chewing, freezes, lets go of the chew or even starts chewing frantically, she will put the brush down. He will slowly realise that he has some control. Nothing will happen unless he’s working on the chew or relaxed with it in his mouth.
Gradually, over time, she can graduate to touching him with the brush then moving it over him. All the time she will watch for him removing his permission. As soon as he says ‘stop’ by dropping the chew, looking out the corner of his eyes or freezing, she will move the brush away. The signs can be subtle.
No brush, no chew
They can finish when he abandons the chew. She will remove it. No brush – no chew.
Jasper’s life is not sufficiently fulfilling for a working dog. He doesn’t have enough to occupy his body or his mind. Getting him into a better mental and emotional state by reducing stress whilst at the same time giving him more to do should give them a much better base to work from.
On-lead but not trapped
Due to the man’s working hours the lady has to walk him. He pulls like a train and she doesn’t have the strength. Because walking him is so difficult, Jasper gets few walks. About once a week they will take him somewhere where he can run free. Not trapped on a lead, he is the model dog. He ignores other dogs and comes back when called.
With different walking equipment and a different walking technique, Jasper will no longer feel trapped. Over time, walks should be transformed.
The couple will need to go slowly and have a lot of patience.