Reactive Dogs and TRUST

Over the years, a far number of aggressive dogs have found their way to me. Some of these dogs have been on their last chance and if they had not come to me, they would have been on their way to the vet for that final injection. All of these reactive dogs have have taught me so much and helped me to develop my TRUST programme.

So why did I develop TRUST?

My approach to dealing with aggressive dogs have changed over the years that I have shared my life with them. Way back when I first started with reactive dogs (over 30 years ago), I followed the commonly advised approach of correcting the dog for barking, lunging, attempting to bite etc. I’m not proud of that fact now, nor am I proud of the stress that I inflicted on my poor dogs. However, I did learn that punishing dogs for exhibiting aggression just doesn’t work. It may appear to work, as the punishment will stop the dog giving warning signs (so will stop them growling/barking/lunging), but it does nothing to solve the fear that they feel when they see a person or dog (or whatever their trigger is). Most dogs are aggressive because they are fearful of something and using punishment makes them more frightened of their owner/handler than of the scary object and so stops the behaviour to some extent but when the dog goes over threshold, the dog will react, seemingly without warning (remember we’ve punished the dog for giving those warning barks and growls) and may go straight to biting. The dog doesn’t trust us to protect it from what is scaring it and in some instances, the dog is more scared of us than the original trigger. What an incredibly stressful way for a dog to live.

The other problem with using punishment, is that it doesn’t actually teach the dog what we would like it to do instead. it only tells the dog what not to do.Not particularly helpful and again very stressful as the dog has no idea of how to escape the punishment. Punishment also needs to be escalated as the dog will eventually habituate to it. It is also very difficult to assess just how much punishment is enough to stop the behaviour; for one dog a sharp intact of your breath may be punishing enough, for another dog a more severe punishment may be needed. There is far too much room for error.

Please do not use a trainer that advocates the use of punishment (leash corrections, e-collars, rattle cans/tins, spray collars, alpha rolls etc) on your dog. It will not solve the aggression issues, nor will it teach the dog the correct behaviour that you want it to sow instead.

Of course, I tried newer techniques and some of these techniques had bits that I liked and bits that I didn’t and with each dog teaching me something new, I gradually developed my own approach that is based on developing a trusting relationship with the dog and on teaching the dog what to do, rather than what not to do and in addressing the dog’s emotional needs.

TRUST

The first step in my programme is to develop trust. Trust is a two-way thing;  the dog needs to learn to trust you and you need to learn to trust the dog.dsc_8279

The dog needs to know that he is safe from:

  • Pain
  • Punishment
  • Scary situations
  • Unpredictability
  • Aversive training equipment and techniques

He needs to know that:

  • He will be taught to make good choices
  • His warnings will be listened to
  • You will protect him when he feels worried
  • He can have his own safe space

You need to know that the dog:

  • Will keep his teeth to himself
  • Will learn to give clear warnings
  • Will let you protect him

Many of the dogs that arrive with me are incredibly worried by people and or dogs and need time to relax. They need to be allowed their own space and time to relax and de-stress. Yes, moving to a new environment with new people and new dogs is stressful and we need to make this as stress free as possible, by creating them a safe place, not approaching them whilst they are in that safe place but encouraging them to come with us. I will use long lines, but these aren’t used to drag a dog out of its safe place, but to encourage the dog to move with me. If they stick the brakes on, then I leave them be until they are ready to move. I will not force myself onto the dog, demanding its attention. I wait for the dog to make the first move. I want the dog to trust me and I don’t want to break any trust by forcing myself on the dog or by forcing the dog to do anything. Time is a great healer and by allowing the dog to de-stress, they become less reactive.

For the first few days, I may do little more than feed the dog and let it out for toilet breaks. Don’t get me wrong, I will still talk to the dog, but I won’t force my affections on the dog until it sows me that it is ready. Once the dog starts to react and show some interest in the environment, the other dogs or even me, then we can begin building that two way trust that is so important. It is important to listen to the dog by observing the body language and to back off if the dog is showing signs of being uncomfortable.

This is just the first steps in the process of rehabilitating an aggressive dog. Watch out for our workshops on our TRUST programme that will be part practical and part theory. Keep an eye on our FaceBook page for details of workshops.

Want to host one of our TRUST workshops? Bookings are now being taken for 2017. Contact me on pauline@caninetutor.org.uk or pauline@druidale.co.uk

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Making Multiple Dogs Manageable

I live with a large number of dogs of various breeds (some of them are shown above) and yes, they do all live in the house with me. Having  a large number of the dogs in the house could end up being chaotic and, over the years, I’ve found various techniques and strategies that work  for me. Some of them may work for you.

  1. Reinforce the behaviour that you want and manage/interrupt the stuff that you don’t want.For example, as I work from home, the dogs have to learn to settle quietly when I’m working. They all have their own preferred place to settle and they are intermittently rewarded for settling by either  a treat or a good dog or a gentle stroke. If they are being restless, then they can be cued to go and lay down. New dogs sometimes struggle with this and may end up popped in a crate for a short time or tethered to me so that it is easier for me to encourage them to settle and to reward it.

    A great way of ensuring that you reward the good stuff, is to have a tub containing around 50 treats per dog and to reward every instance of behaviour that you like. OK, you may not reward one dog 50 times and another dog might get more than 50 rewards, but it does help to ensure that you don’t take your dogs’ good behaviour for granted.

  2. Meal timesWe have a routine at meal times. Each dog has its own place where it will be fed and we have an order in which the food bowls go down. This order never changes and this predictability can help reduce anxiety/arousal at meal times. Each dog is required to sit before I will start feeding and to begin with, this is cued for new dogs, but the established dogs know the routine and will automatically sit. The dogs have to remain sat until the food bowl in on the floor (great exercise for impulse control, for more ideas have a look at my online Self-control course)

    New dogs are often fed first and may be popped into a crate until I know whether they are food aggressive or not. Ash is fed in a crate at home as he can be a pain for trying to nick the other dogs’ grub. The crate door is no longer locked and he stays in there until he is released (have a look at Crate Games by Susan Garrett for how to teach this).

    One rule in the household that is strictly adhered to is that dogs are not allowed to push another dog away from their food (i.e. Dog A cannot push Dog B away from their bowl and then eat Dog B’s food). Each dog eats only from its own food bowl and only when a dog walks away from their own bowl can another dog go and lick it clean, eat the leftovers (not that there are ever many leftovers). This helps to stop squabbles and gives the slower eaters the confidence that they won’t get driven away from their food and reduces food guarding.

  3. Going outI have a set routine of which groups get to be put in the van first. This is determined to some extent by who makes the most noise and who settles best in the van whilst I fetch another group of dogs.

    Each dog is loaded into the van crates in a set order, again this predictability reduces anxiety and helps prevent that mad dash when all of them are trying to leap into the same crate at the same time (another trigger point for fights). New dogs may be popped in before established dogs, it just depends on their personality and character.

    Each dog comes out of the van crates in a set order, and this may be different to the order that they went in. Crate Games comes in useful for teaching them not to leap out of the crate as you open the door and before the lead goes on.

  4. WalksThe dogs are walked in groups (usually no more than 5 at once) and those groups are determined by who gets on with who. Mint cannot be run with Ash at the moment or with Beau as she will bully both of them. Mr T can cope with her obnoxious behaviour as can Wish. Leon, Teal, Ash, Beau and Mallik can be walked as one group.

    It is important that you have a group recall cue as well as an individual one (mine tends to be ‘Girls’ ‘Boys’ ‘Here guys’) as it takes so much time to call out individual dogs’ names when they suddenly take off after something.

    I play recall games to reinforce this group recall cue; I call them and whoever gets back the fastest gets the best reward and the others get a lesser reward. Now you would think this would slow the tardy ones down even more, but in fact, it makes them more eager to get back first so that they can have the best reward. Recalls are always rewarded. I also practise recalling each individual dog back, so that they are learning to come away from the pack.

    I’m lucky that the places where I walk are generally quiet and we meet few people and other dogs, but when we do, all mine go on lead at quite a distance form the oncoming person and dog and we continue to walk on lead until we get a bit closer. This stops them trying to charge off to say hello (it can be very intimidating to have several dogs charging towards you). Once the other person gets closer, I will move to the side of the path (or just off the path) and ask my guys to sit whilst the person passes. My dogs are rewarded for sitting quietly. Once they are passed, we will continue our walk but I generally walk a little way before the leads come off again.

  5. Door mannersSeveral dogs all charging through a doorway at once is a flash-point and can trigger a fight (which can be nasty when you have several dogs). So we tend to have an order for going through a door and dogs will be called through by name. As I know Mint can be a bully (this behaviour is being worked on), she tends to go out last. If they go to rush out when they’ve not been called, then the door is just closed (not slammed in the faces just gently closed enough to stop them going out). Again, it is all good impulse control training; something that is very important when you have multiple dogs.

This gives you a taste of what it is like to live with multiple dogs and the things that have made life easier for me. These ideas and others will be presented at our new Making Multiple Dogs Manageable workshops that will be launched soon.

Have fun!

Frustration in Dog Training

There have been numerous blogs and articles looking at the dog’s frustration during training and giving tips for how to deal with it, but something that occurs just as frequently is frustration in the human half of the equation and how do we deal with that?

We get frustrated when things don’t happen as quickly as we want them or they don’t happen the way we expect them to; we’re human after all. Even the best trainers will get frustrated, although some of them won’t admit it. If you are an instructor; you’ve probably got frustrated because one of your client’s just isn’t getting it and yet the dog does it perfectly when you handle the dog.

So why does this happen? First off we’re human; it’s part of our emotional repertoire. Some people are more impulsive than others; that is, they lack self-control (maybe something we should be teaching children so that they develop this skill), maybe they aren’t very patient and want instant results, maybe they haven’t thought out a logical training plan and have no idea what to do when things start to go wrong or maybe the behaviour that the dog is carrying out is so annoying and irritating, that they are struggling to find a way of coping with it rationally. Another one that is really frustrating is when you are trying to teach something and your dog can’t focus and your instructor is telling you to get his attention, but isn’t telling you how….this one is so frustrating when you are a handler.

So what do we do about these human traits? Stop what you are doing, take a deep breathe, walk away from your dog and have a break. That is your first step. Continuing to train when you are frustrated is going to end in disaster. You could end putting the dog off the behaviour that you want him to carry out (because your frustration is acting like an aversive to the dog and it won’t be earning as many rewards – a double whammy if you like; the behaviour that you find irritating is likely to increase (or escalate) as your increased attention to that behaviour could be reinforcing it or if it is a stress-related behaviour or an attention seeking behaviour, these will both increase as the dog becomes stressed and tries to appease you.

We may also over use a NMR (No Reward Marker) when we get frustrated which will have an aversive effect on the dog and they will start to shut down, which is likely to frustrate us even more if we aren’t careful, resulting in a vicious cycle.

I cannot emphasise enough that you need to stop and take a break. Go and do something other than train your dog. When you have calmed down and can think, then you can plan what you are going to do differently.

There are several options for you to consider:

  1. Consider breaking the behaviour down into smaller steps. That way it is easier for the dog (who will get reinforced more and will progress faster) and you will get reinforced more because the dog is doing what you want him to do.
  2. Video a training session so that you can see what you need to improve on and then find someone to teach you those skills
  3. Take a break from trying to teach that behaviour for a while. This break may be a couple of days or several weeks. You’d be amazed at how often the dog processes the information from your last session and how often you’ll see the dog progress faster when you resume training after a break. A bit of latent learning can be a very powerful thing.
  4. If it is an irritating behaviour, change your perspective; instead of thinking ‘How can I stop the dog doing that?’ considering what you would like your dog to do instead.
  5. If it is one of your clients that you are trying to coach through an exercise, consider changing how you are trying to teach it. Are you focussing too much on what they are doing wrong? If so, look for what they are doing correctly and reinforce them for that. So excellent timing, well done, great treat placement, well done. Consider getting them to mirror your action as you walk them through it step by step. If they confuse their left and right, look for some way of helping them out..do they wear a watch or a bracelet on their left arm or a ring on a finger..something that is different to their right arm. Demonstrating with their dog only shows that you can get their dog to do it but it doesn’t make the owner feel any better about themselves.
  6. Minimize or avoid the use of NRM.
  7. If your instructor isn’t able to give you the tools to get your dogs attention, then take a break and consider your options. Is the environment too much for your dog at its current level in focus and engagement training? Does the instructor lack the knowledge to help you work through this problem? Does the instructor lack experience of your breed of dog? May be a change of instructor is called for just whilst you learn how to build the focus and engagement that you need. May be a total change of instructor is needed.

I’m sure you can think of other situations where you may get frustrated.

A couple of real-life examples for you:
1. A recent rescue dog has no idea to play and the handler is trying to teach the dog to retrieve (only a play retrieve not a formal one) and the dog is struggling to grasp that they have to pick the item up off the floor, but will hold it if the handler holds it. The handler has tried different objects and is no further one. After a week or so of making very little progress, the handler takes a break and moves on to doing other things. After the break, the handler gets an article out and all of a sudden, progress is more rapid and the dog now has the basics of a play retrieve. Breaking the cycle of handler frustration and giving the dog a break, enabled the tension of the situation to dissipate and for the dog to be able to learn.  The handler being more relaxed enable them to be better with their timing and to be more enthusiastic with their praise.

2. A rather stressy working bred, high drive rescue has the habit of leaping up and nipping at times of high excitement. Really not very pleasant for the handler (the nips hurt) and very hard not to react by pushing the dog off and shouting at it. A very frustrating situation for the handler. So, as the dog is quite food orientated, the handler dropped food on the floor whenever they got the dog out the their vehicle to distract the dog from leaping and nipping and also used the food drop technique frequently as they walked the dog, to reinforce the paws on the floor. A hand touch was also trained and the dog encouraged to leap up to touch the hand (so that the dog had an activity that they enjoyed doing and it was another reward that could be used). Food was also tossed on walks to give the dog something to chase and to build that into a game that is played with the handler. As time progressed, the dog could then be rewarded from the hand for walking nicely and not jumping/nipping. This one is still work in progress but the nipping is now becoming a memory rather than a frequent occurrence and the handler is starting to enjoy the dog and is building a relationship with it.

Enjoy your dogs, enjoy your training and don’t be frightened to take a break, it will do you and your dog and your relationship, the World of good.

 

 

Welcome

Welcome to Canine Tutor’s blog. Here we will post about issues that have come to light in our own training, whilst we’ve been delivering workshops, topics in the news and topics that have been requested by our followers and course attendees.

Remember to check out the website http://www.caninetutor.org.uk for details of our workshops.