Celebrate Those Testing Pooches

Looks like butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth right? But Leon (the dog in the header) was a very challenging dog in that he used to be people and dog aggressive and he’d also clear off with any toy (or dead rabbit) and just not come back with it (he’d be the opposite end of the field with it). He is an awesome dog, and ha taught me so much and pushed me to learn new techniques and to be creative about how I trained him.

He will be 11 in October 2018 and I can’t believe that we’ve shared 10 years together. Yes, he has driven me nuts, made me cry, caused me no end of stress and frustration, made me wonder why I took him, made me very ware of people approaching and of what they are going to do (he’s cute, cream coloured and fluffy and people just want to touch him, not what he needed). I’ve wondered what the hell I’d let myself in for and whether I was totally mad when I offered to keep him after fostering him for 3 weeks. He arrived with a bite history, had been badly handled and had learned to bite first and ask questions later. He didn’t have a lot of trust. He was a mess…he barked and lunged at people and dogs. He had to be muzzled to go to the vets otherwise the poor vet would have been bitten. He had no recall if toys were involved and was very experienced at playing keep away. Why oh why did I take him on? Why did I put myself through this?

i’m sure many of us that have these challenging dogs, have asked ourselves the same questions many many times? Why do we do it? Because the rewards are so worthwhile, even if no one outside of your family and friends every sees them. They will one day, trust me. Yes it takes dedication and yes, sometimes it seems that we take one step forward and ten backwards, but then on other days, we may take several steps forwards and none backwards.

The point of this rather self-indulgent blog? Celebrate your successes people, no matter how small they are. We are such a negative species and we really do beat ourselves up with things go round and mull over in our heads how we could have done things better. We lose focus on the things that have good well, we forget to focus on the goods things that have happened. We need to celebrate the successes, the times when our dogs made a good choice or when we made a good choice.

Smile and celebrate the times that your dog didn’t react to one of his/her triggers. Pat yourselves on the back for a job well done. You’ve got this, honestly. Look up, look around you and really notice your dog. Look at how far they have progressed, look at the trust that shines out of their eyes. They may not be perfect (yet), but they are making progress. They may be finding life tough outside of the home environment, but inside these four walls, they are with people who they trust and who love them, warts and all. You do love them,, otherwise you would have moved them on, in one way or another.

I remember, all too well, the sense of failure when we’d had a bad walk, the sense of frustration when things weren’t working out well and training seemed to be going so badly, the despair when nothing seemed to be working and we were making no progress for what seemed like months on end, but was probably only a few weeks. I remember going through stages when I hated Leon and hated myself, but then I stopped and took stock of where we were at that point in time and looked back to what we started with, and realised we had made progress, the boy was doing good; I had just got some tangled up in the negatives that I wasn’t seeing the progress.

My challenge for you today, is to stop, look into your troublesome pooches eyes, give them a smile and a cuddle (if they will let you). Let them know they are fabulous and then look, really look at just how much progress they have made. Every day make a point of noting down at least one good thing your dog has done that day and celebrate your part in that success. Step by step these successes will build and suddenly, one day, you’ll stop and notice that your dog now has a new doggy pal or a new human friend or he/she hasn’t reacted at one of their triggers for weeks. Please don’t miss this moment, they are so precious.

leon draxI no longer think of Leon as a reactive dog, he has his own circle of friends, he is safe to be let off lead around people and dogs and has ended up being a fabulous dog who has helped many troubled pooches to settled into my home and to teach them how to trust people/dogs and how to communicate and play. Yes, he is still special and I still don’t allow folks to touch him unless Leon invites them to, but I can relax when I walk him, I’m no longer hiding behind cars, finding secluded places to walk him or telling folks to keep away. He has raced in flyball for me (gaining his BFA Flyball Dog award), gained his Gundog Club Grade 1 and gained Bronze and Silver levels of the Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Dog Scheme. I know what makes him tick and I love him warts and all.

 

 

 

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Distance is your friend

When you live with a dog that is worried about people and/or other dogs, then walks can be a bit of a nightmare as you want your dog to enjoy some exercise/new environments but still need to ensure that other people and/or dogs stay away from your dog so that you dog doesn’t get upset and feel the need to react. It really is a balancing act.

Why is distance your friend?

reactive rvers distancesYour have two critical distances around it and the size of those spaces will depend on the individual dog, and the outer one will alter with training.

The outer circle or bubble, can be thought of as peripheral space; outside of this space, the dog is aware of people and other dogs but isn’t worried by them. They are far enough away not to concern him at all.

One a dog (or person) crosses that barrier and enters that outer bubble, then your dog will start to get anxious and the closer the other dog (or person) gets to the inner circle (the dog’s personal space), the more uptight and worried your dog will become.

If the dog (or person) enters the dog’s personal space, then the dog is likely to react. Dogs only let their close friends into their personal space, very much like we do. Think about how uncomfortable you become when a stranger gets too close to you. It’s only our social inhibitions that stop us from lashing out (well usually they do).

For some dogs, that out peripheral boundary may be more than the length of a football pitch or more; for other dogs, that distance may only be the width of a street. Our aim is for out dogs to be comfortable to have dogs/people within that outer boundary and to shrink the distance of that boundary down to a more acceptable (to us) distance. This isn’t going to happen overnight and it certainly won’t happen if the dog is punished for showing signs that it is uncomfortable.

Your job is to keep people and dogs outside that outer boundary and to reward your dog for being comfortable when they are there (so lots of really tasty goodies or play with their favorite toy). The food (or toy) only gets produced when your dog is aware of the other dogs/person.

Sometimes, the other dog or person just gets too close and we need to be backing away and getting our dog away.

Here are a few tips for dealing with dogs when you are out walking with your dog reactive dog.

Both dogs are on lead

Cross over the road, do a quick U-turn and quickly go back the way you’ve come from, hide yourself and your dog behind a car, hedge or tree so that he doesn’t see the other dog. I’ve even nipped up someone’s drive way before now to avoid another dog. Basically put as much distance between you and the other dog.

If the other dog owner insists on following you, shout across to them that your dog has got kennel cough or some other infectious disease and that usually makes them go away.

Your dog is on lead and the other dog is off lead.

This is a slightly trickier situation, especially if the owner is not in sight or appears to be of the “It’s OK, he only wants to say hello/play” type. I cringe when I hear that phrase as it usually means that they are unable to call their dog back to them, no matter how politely you ask them to. I usually carry a pocket full (or more) of tasty treats. As the dog approaches, I grab a handful of treats, lift my hand up above my head (a signal for sit) and shout at the approaching dog to sit and at the same time, I throw the treats straight at it. The startled dog usually spends a little while scoffing the treats, enabling me and my dog to run away in the opposite direction.

You can also try the “My dog has an infectious disease” approach if you feel that the owner has a hope of recalling their dog.

I’ve heard of people using pop-up umbrellas to startle the other dog away, but it’s not something I’ve tried and you will need to remember to teach your dog that the umbrella popping up is not something to be scared of.

Tips for dealing with people approaching your dog

As you see a person approaching, before you even speak to them, quickly back up and call your dog to front and then keep walking backwards as you explain that your dog is frightened of strangers. Feed your dog the whole time you are doing this.

A variation on this is to walk backwards, call your dog back to you and then drop food between your feet. People seem less inclined to approach a dog’s backside to fuss him that they do the head.

You could teach your dog to go behind you as people approach, thus putting yourself between the approaching person and your dog.

I have actually been known to step forward with my arm up whilst saying stop (bit like a policeman directing traffic). That generally shocks people into stopping their approach, which then gives me chance to explain.

One more thing with people is that they are very judgmental and when your dog does bark, lunge or growl, they expect you to tell the dog off (which actually won’t help) and are shocked when you don’t. I’ve found teaching the dog a ‘mock’ reprimand works very well in these situations as folks believe that you’ve told the dog off. A mock reprimand is something like ‘bad dog’ where we have actually taught the dog that these words and a cross tone mean that a reward is coming. It’s a very handy ploy.

For more tips like this and for support for your reactive dog, come and join us in our Top Tips for Reactive Dogs FaceBook group.

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Keep those experiences positive

We all get told to do it, but just how do we do it correctly?

What am I talking about? Socialising your puppy of course.

24826216_1747354428670420_1879317993_oWith having a new puppy myself, I’m back to going through this process with my puppy. So let’s take a look at what socialisation is all about. Basically, it means exposing your puppy to everything that it is likely to meet as an adult, so that your puppy isn’t frightened by those things in later life. Sounds all fine so far, and we’ve all seen those checklists where we tick off that our puppy has met x number of people this week and x number of dogs and heard x number of sounds and so on.

 

Checklists are great as a basic, but they do tend to shift your focus onto completing the checklist rather than the actual process of socialisation and what it means to the puppy. Socialisation is the process of allowing a puppy to become familiar with something, whether that is a person, and object, a sound or another animal. It is a process of habituation (becoming familiar with) and it should be a positive experience (nice things happen) or neutral (nothing pleasant or scary happens).  Given a choice, I prefer to make every experience that a pup has, a pleasant one. It sets the pup up for being a well rounded, confident dog that can take a few emotional knock-backs because it has a host of positive experiences to fall back onto.

If we become focused on just ticking the boxes on a checklist, we can forget to make these experiences pleasant or neutral for the pup. What can happen is that a pup is put into a situation and then feels overwhelmed. This is not a positive association for the pup, nor is it neutral; it is a negative (scary) situation for the pup and continual experiences like this will create a pup that doesn’t like certain people, dogs or situations or could even become a nervous dog altogether.

If someone wants to say hello to your puppy, ask them to ask the puppy if it wants to say hello. If the puppy puts its tail done, turns its head away or moves away from that person, then the puppy is quite clearly saying that it doesn’t want to say hello. Respect the puppy’s decision and just ask the person to stand there and leave the pup alone. What you don’t want to do is pick the puppy up and thrust it into that person’s arms as now you have just taught your puppy that you won’t protect it when it is frightened (you are no longer a safe place) and you have just made that person and that experience (other people approaching) a very scary thing. You also don’t want to drag the puppy by the lead to ‘say hello’ or allow the person to keep approaching until the puppy can’t escape and has to submit to being touched. These situations will end up being very scary for the puppy and they can learn quite quickly, to be scared of people (or even a specific type of person, such as men, women, children, babies, etc.) and try to run away or to drive the scary person away by barking and lunging. What we have just done is the direct opposite of socialisation! We actually made people scary!

The same can happen when your puppy meets another dog or puppy. Allow them the chance to decide whether they want to interact or not. There is little point is pushing your pup into interacting  with another dog or puppy that is going to be aggressive or bullying with them. A poorly run puppy play session, whether it is at a training class or a dog creche, can do untold damage to your pup and make them worried by other dogs approaching, so that they react by barking and lunging or these play sessions can teach your puppy to be a bully. Neither of these scenarios are good or appropriate socialisation.

DSC_1656Pups do not need to play with every dog they meet or every person they meet in order to become sociable around them. All they need to do is be able to see them and have wonderful things happen whilst dogs, people, vehicles etc. are present. If the puppy wants to approach closer, then fine, but do be guided by your pup’s body language, not by an arbitrary check list that says your puppy MUST meet 10 people this week. Yes to the meet, and be prepared to say no to the interact.

Of course, depending on your pup’s innate personality, it is entirely possible to over-socialise your pup. What do I mean by this? Well, your pup can have so much fun saying hello to other people and dogs that it has little interest in you and all that it wants to do is drag you over to say hello to other dogs and people or it clears off to see them as soon as the lead comes off and has little interest in being with you. You’ve basically become your pup’s social manager and little else. Your puppy needs controlled exposure so that it learns that responding to you is still important and you should most certainly work on teaching your puppy to come away from another dog (not all dogs are friendly) and from people (not everyone likes dogs)

DSC_2108Being able to take your dog anywhere and have your dog continue to do as it is told, is just fabulous and opens up so many opportunities for you and your pup to go on social walks with your dog. Socialisation is something that every pups needs to experience in a positive way. Note that I say it is something that the pup needs to experience; their choice. It is not something that we just expose a pup to, as that it when it is likely to go wrong and we end up turning what was a confident pup into a shrinking violet that finds the World a very scary place.

If you are not too sure that you are reading your pup’s body langauge correctly, then please seek help and advice from a reward based dogs training (avoid anyone that tells you that your pup needs to ‘face up to its fears’). You could also take an online course in Canine Communication.

Have aread of our other article on socialising dogs. Sociable or Socialised?

 

Chillaxing…Learning to Settle in the Real World

I’ve just had three days at The BFA Flyball Championships. Some very exciting racing and a real adrenaline rush for both dogs and handlers. As I was only racing one dog each day, I had plenty of time to just hang about near my van and relax, so I took the opportunity to work with Mint on getting her to just relax, settle down and chill at the side of me in this busy environment. This got me thinking about teaching our dogs to chillax and just how important it is.

As you can see, Mint relaxed so much, that she actually fell asleep.

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Not only does it do us good to be able to just settle and relax in an environment, it does our dogs good as well. Teaching them to settle and relax, also means that we can relax.  Just imagine how relaxing it would be to take your dog to a dog friendly pub, and have then just settle down beside you whilst you have a meal and a drink (or two!).

Having a dog that doesn’t switch off can be very tiring and frustrating for the owner, but just imagine what it must be like for the dog to be constantly on the go and to be unable to relax? That’s not good for the dog’s health and welfare and often leads to the owners getting frustrated with a dog that won’t calm down and may mean that the dog gets left at home whilst the owners go for days and evenings out.

So, how do we teach our dogs to relax and settle? A lot does depend on your dog’s personality; you may need to start off training a settle when your dog is already a bit tired or you may be able to train this when the dog is  a bit fresher.  You can start this off at home or when you are out on a walk. You will need something relaxing for you to do (read a book, check your Facebook, sit and watch the World go by, watch a TV documentary, practice your meditation, anything that will keep you calm and relaxed). If you are off out and about, you will probably need to take something to sit on, unless you know there  is a seat in that location.

This is how I did it with Mint at the weekend.  sat myself down in my chair with Mint on the lead and a good book and a coffee. Mint was on lead and was allowed to explore the environment. I sat back, took a few deep breathes and tuned myself out from the noise of the flyball going on in the next field. I read my book (The Fitz and The Fool series by Robin Hobb..well worth a read) and just kept my eye on Mint. After a while, she stopped pestering me and just lay down. That was the time that I very quietly, calmly and slowly praised her ‘Goooddddd giirrrllll’, just enough for her to hear me but not enough to excite her into getting back up again. We continued in this manner for a good 40 minutes or more. You can see from the picture above, that she eventually chilled enough to just go to sleep. This is a huge deal for her as she is such an environmentally aware dog and such a stress head at times, which is why I am so keen to teach her to relax and switch off in novel environments.

Here is another picture of Mint settling and relaxing in a training class environment. Another big deal for her as there were other dogs and people present. 14311251_1179757615430107_442914007508741822_o

Although she hasn’t gone to sleep in this image, you can see from her eyes that she is relaxing and thinking about going to sleep and you can see that her body is relaxed. Her ears tell you that she is still aware of the other dogs and people, but not enough to worry her.

I must admit, it was lovely to just sit and chill with her and I found that I was de-stressing as well (living with a dog like Mint can be very stressful). The biggest benefit for me, was that when Mint was popped back into her crate in the van, she actually laid down quietly (even though the van doors were still wide open and we had vehicles, people and dogs as our close neighbours). This is huge as she’s usually barking at everything around her and sometimes spinning in her crate.

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Maybe not the best quality photo, but a milestone for this girlie.

Other ways you can use to encourage your dog to settle at your feet (or near you) is to tether a stuffed Kong to your chair. This prevents the dog from just picking the Kong up and moving off with it and keeps them occupied close to you. I often suggest this for people to use in training classes as it keeps their dog occupied whilst others are being worked. See my Facebook page Get Stuffed for some ideas of frozen Kong recipes.

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Proactive not Passive

I love  clicker training. I love the way the dog (or other animal) is a willing participant in the learning process. I love how fast the learning process can be and how much fun can be had.

Unfortunately, some people dismiss clicker training because they think we are just a bunch of hippies that try to ignore bad behaviour and just passively wait for the dog to offer good behavior before we reward. Whilst I am sure that some trainers attempt to use this  ineffective approach, a good trainer (regardless of what tools they prefer to use), will adopt a proactive approach to solving unwanted behaviour (so-called bad behaviour).

So how do we clicker trainers and other positive trainers deal with unwanted behaviour? Well management is high on our agenda and ignoring behaviour should be fairly low down: depending of course, on what the unwanted behaviour is. If my dog ignores a sit cue, I’m probably going to be fairly chilled about it all and not stress. If it ignores a recall cue, I may get a bit worried if the dog is clearing off to chase rabbits, other dogs or just going over to bug other people and dogs…..that one would mean that I’d have to go and put some work in on proofing my recall around distractions and making sure that I pay the dog a decent wage for ignoring those distractions and heading back to me. Management would involve a long line clipped onto a harness.

So what if my dog is jumping up people. Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait until the dog decides it is going to do something else? Absolutely not! everytime the dog jumps up someone, it is getting rewarded, so the behaviour is going to increase and not go away by being ignored. What I need to do, is reward the dog for doing something else; something that it can’t do at the same time as jumping up. Sit is an excellent one to pick (as you can’t jump up whilst you are sat) as is keeping four paws on the floor. So again we’d manage the situation by keeping the dog on a lead and then rewarding the dog for either sitting or keeping its feet on the floor when people are about, and then as people approach and then when people come over and say hello to the dog.

What about a dog showing aggression? Am I going to ignore that behaviour and wait for the dog to do something else? No! This needs addressing. Again management will come in to protect whatever the dog’s target is; so lead, muzzle (once the dog has been trained to accept one) and then work is needed on treating the emotional component of the aggression (if it is ear based), on treating the pain (if the aggression is medically related) and then desensitising the dog to its triggers. How to deal with this, would need several blog posts, but do look out for our TRUST programme. Also see our blog post on Muzzle types to ensure that you choose the correct type.

What about barking? Am I going to ignore that? Generally, no I won’t, although it does depend on where and when it occurs. I probably won’t try to stop my dogs barking when they first go on the beach for a run, but I will stop them barking in the house, when someone comes to the door and barking at me to get me to throw a toy. barking does tend to be a rewarding thing to do (makes the dog feel good inside), so ignoring it isn’t really going to make it go away. We need to be proactive and teach the dogs what quiet means.

Dogs can’t bark and sniff (bit like we can’t talk and sniff…try it!), so if your dog starts barking, pop a tasty treat on their nose, they will sniff (and go quiet), then say quiet, count to 5 and then reward. You have just rewarded your dog for 5 seconds of being quiet.  You can build on this and gradually increase the duration of the quiet behaviour.

For dogs that bark when people come to the door, then I really like Kikopup’s approach of using a positive interrupter to interrupt the barking so that you can then reward the quiet behaviour. Works even if you have multiple dogs.

For dogs that are getting over excited and barking because they want to play with that toy now! I’d be wanting to work on their self-control (impulse control). I play a series of games to help to teach the dog to stay calm and focused, no matter how exciting the game or the environment. These games now form part of my successful EPIC self control and focus course

We’ll have  a look at other so-called problem behaviours in another post in the future. Have a think about the behaviours that your dog does that are maybe not appropriate and see if you can think of a proactive approach to teaching your dog to do something else instead.

If you’d like to do more about why dogs bark and the other ways in which dogs communicate, then join us on our online Canine Communication course

 

 

 

Looking ahead to warmer weather

We’ve had a couple of warm days recently and hopefully, there are more to come. Our canine companions enjoy the sunshine as well, but we do have to take care.

Dogs are not very good at maintaining their own temperature in warm weather. Try not to let them sunbathe for too long as they will overheat; let them sunbathe for a short while and then move them to a shaded area.

Avoid walking your dogs in the hottest part of the day (lunchtime) as even on a 30 min on lead walk in full sun can cause a dog to overheat and get sunstroke. Allowing them to play fetch or runabout like loonies for 30 mins or more in full sun, can also cause heat stroke.

 You are best to walk early morning and late evening when the temperature has dropped. Always take water with you so that your dog can have a drink. Also be aware that the temperature at your dog’s height may well be different to that for you…long grass will trap the heat low down and make the dog warm as it will prevent that cool breeze reaching them, although you may think that it is cool. Pavements can get very warm in the sun, resulting in your dog’s feet getting warm, which impacts his ability to cool himself down (dogs can sweat through their feet).

If your dog is panting heavily and the end of the tongue has taken on a spoon shape, then your dog is too hot and is starting to suffer from heat stroke – get the dog into the shade, use tepid water to cool the belly and groin area. Phone your vet and get there ASAP.

Dogs can over heat whilst on a walk round the streets on lead, whilst running in the fields/park, playing ball and so on. They can even overheat whilst you are driving along in your car with all the windows open as the sun shines through the glass straight onto your dog. Use sun blinds to shield your dog from direct sun and make sure that they have plenty of water and are actually drinking. Frequently stop and check your dog on long trips.

Do not leave your dog in the car in this weather, the glass causes the car to heat up like a greenhouse in a very short time and dogs can die in less than 30 minutes. If it is too warm for you to sit in the car with your windows shut and your airblower/air con turned off, then it is definitely too hot for your dog! even with the windows partially open and bowl of water in the car, it will soon heat up too much for the dog to be able to cool itself down. Special modifications are needed to keep dogs cool in vehicles in this weather.

Heat stroke is a very real killer; if you suspect your dog has got heatstroke, then pour cool (not cold as it can cause shock which in itself is fatal) water onto your dog’s belly/groin area, offer frequent cool water drinks and contact your vet immediately.

If you have a dog with a short muzzle (French Bulldog, Boston Terrier, Pug, etc.), then you will need to be even more careful that they do not overheat. Due to their short muzzles, they cannot pant efficiently which means that they cannot lose heat. Be very careful to only walk them in the coolest part of the day and to keep the walks short to prevent overheating. There is nothing wrong with skipping a walk if it is too warm, your dog won’t die from missing a walk, but may well die if you take them for their usual walk on a really warm day. Your dog will enjoy some food searching games or playing with a snuffle mat or a tasty frozen stuffed Kong (check out our Frozen Kong Recipe page on Facebook)

A kiddies paddling pool is likely to be appreciated by your dogs in this weather, but please don’t force them into it if they don’t want to get it.

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The Myths about Playing Tuggy with Your Dog

Tug is a fabulous game to play with your dog but sadly many dogs never get to enjoy this game with their handlers. Why is this?

  •  Playing tug makes dogs aggressive

Playing tug does not intrinsically make dogs aggressive, it actually makes them more careful with their teeth IF you play using the following rules:

Play stops if canine teeth touch human skin or clothing

Play stops when you want it to.

Teaching a dog to be careful with its teeth is very important in this day and age. Playing tug without rules can result in a dog that thinks that the tug game also includes playing tug with people’s clothing and or grabbing hands to play tug. Using the rules above menas that tug games are controlled and safe.

  • Letting my dog win the tug game will make my dog dominant

Play between dogs is very much a game of give and take and our games with our dogs should also be interactive. Watch what happens when you let your dog win the tug toy; does the dog suddenly try to take over the World or does it bring the toy back and thrust it at you in an attempt to get you to play again. Generally dogs will bring the toy back to you and try to engage you in play, which isn’t the behaviour of an animal trying to be dominant (if you still think that dogs are here to be dominant of people  there is plenty o information on the Internet which disproves this thinking).

  • Playing tug will make my dog ‘hard mouthed’

This is a common belief of gundog trainers. In actual fact, playing tug is a great way of a dog releasing tension (they hold tension in their jaws) and again by teaching them to play tug with rules ensure that the dog learns to be careful with its teeth. I’ve actually found that playing tug is great for keeping a soft mouth in my gundogs but obviously we have specific toys for tug and different ones for retrieving. The dog then learns contextually i.e. I can bite and tug hard on this toy but need to be gentle with this retrieve item.

  • Play tug will make my dog want to kill small furries

I’m not quite sure where this idea comes from, unless it is some people think that by playing tug with a hunting breed such as a terrier will make the dog want to go off and hunt and kill small furries. Yes dog will shake the tug toy when they’ve won it, but this does not mean that they are going to develop into rabbit and rat killers. In fact, it is more likely to provide an outlet for those instincts. Playing tug is a great reward for a dog that has just recalled away from a prey animal such as a rabbit, hare or deer.

Tug is a fabulous interactive game that helps to build the relationship between dogs and their humans. Tug means that you are playing with your dog, not just throwing a ball for then to retrieve and amuse themselves. Tug is a great reward for your dog, great for teaching self-control (Impulse control) and is terrific fun! A good energetic game of tug is a great workout for both dog and handler and should leave you both feeling tired. Enjoy 🙂

To learn more about how to build Self-control/Impulse control in your tug play sign up for our online course.