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).