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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Running Free – an understated need

Living with and working with dogs that are easily over aroused (poor impulse control) and those that are reactive to various things, I’ve recently be pondering about exercising these dogs.

Note: for the purposes of this blog, reactive dogs are those that lunge and bark at things like people, dogs, other animals, cars, jogger etc. I know all dogs are reactive (aware of and reacting to) to what goes on around them, if they weren’t they would be dead!

We are often told to make sure that these dogs have relaxing, calming walks and to allow them to sniff. This is because these activities are inherently calming. I have no problem with that as a main activity, but I do think dogs need more than this; they do need to burn off some energy by being allowed to runabout and to play with their handler (or other dogs if they are sociable). We are often advised that allowing a dog to run about is too adrenalising and will make it more reactive or ‘hyper’. The flip side of that is, that if  a dog is never allowed off a lead to run about, it will have pent up energy just desperate to bubble out..think about it as a can or bottle of a fizzy drink that has been shaken up…all that energy needs to go somewhere and it will explode out once the bottle/can is open.

It must be very frustrating, as a dog, when you are kept on a lead for the majority of your walks, even if you are allowed to wander where you wish and for as long as you wish. Dogs do need to run and burn off their energy. Compare it to a toddler that has had to sit still for several hours and how they just have to have a run about afterwards. Consider how you would feel if you were only allowed to walk to the same places day in and day out and how much you’d enjoy doing something different.  Conversely, I’m not suggesting that you just let your reactive dog off leash to do as they please, but they do need to trot, run and lark about.

In my experience, the lack of off lead exercising can make reactive dogs more reactive and can bring out other unwanted behaviours. With those dogs that can be over aroused, an off lead blast is a great way of letting off steam and you may well find that they are less easily aroused after a good run and less easily triggered as well as a bit less OCD.

Of course, finding safe places to let these types of dogs off for a good run, can be difficult. If you have a dog that is a car chaser, it can be hard to find an area to let them run where they won’t see a car and be tempted to chase. For those dogs that are reactive to dogs and/or people, it can be hard to find somewhere to let your dog run off lead where there are no people or dogs. Often times, we end up walking in very secluded areas or very early or late at night, so that we can avoid those triggers.

17103796_1890622894549274_3683343764793018899_nIf there are no safe off lead walks near you, consider hiring a secure field for your dog to run off lead in. Several rescue organisations rent out their secure fields (such as Jerry Green’s and the RSPCA centers), some boarding kennels may rent out their secure exercising fields and, thankfully, there are a whole host of private secure fields that have been developed for dog walking purposes. These fields are usually available to hire for 30-60 minutes and some allow you to have dogs from more than one family sharing, so that you can have a safe place to meet up with your dog’s pals.

16938839_1890622881215942_961381504793021443_nThere is a fab resource on FaceBook called Dog walking fields – enclosed, private, off lead dog walking  which has details of secure fields all over the UK. I’m lucky that there are about 4 secure fields within an hour or so drive from me. Check the page out and find a secure place to give your dog a good off lead run. Great places to work on recalls as well.

Try it out, just once a week and you may see your dog’s behaviour improve for the better.

Costs vary depending on area, but somewhere between £5 and £10 is the likely cost and once a week, that has just got to be worth it.

Thanks to The Paw Park at Sand Hutton for allowing me to use a couple of their photos

 

 

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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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

 

 

 

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