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Archive for February, 2011

Little Bear about town

Last Spring, Other Half and I took Little Bear into town one Saturday afternoon. It was a gloriously warm day and we thought it would be nice to sit outside a cafe and enjoy a coffee as we watched the world go by.

The reality however was nothing like the reverie. Little Bear was a complete nightmare. He barked incessantly – at everyone and everything. Heads down to avoid the disgruntled looks from passers-by, we beat a hasty retreat to the car and had our coffee at home.

Like other memories that we’d much rather forget, I’d obviously buried this one deep, but it surfaced again today. Happily, to provide a fantastic benchmark of just how far we’ve come.

On a whim I decided to take Little Bear with me to the pet shop. He was pretty well-behaved for a veritable ‘kid in a candy store’ and as we left, I decided, on yet another whim, to attempt a training session in town on the way home. My dream is to have a ‘take anywhere’ dog, but of course that’s pretty hard to achieve if you don’t take them anywhere except the park.

Armed with treats and the newly acquired squeaky rugby ball we found in the bargain bin at the pet shop, we headed off to brave the hoards of Saturday morning shoppers.  Stiffening my resolve, I mentally upped by skin to ‘rhino hide’, took a deep breath and decided that whatever happened, we’d cope with it – even if that was another hasty retreat.

Narrow pavements meant we frequently had to stop to let people, push-chairs, wheelchairs and at one point, a motorised mobility scooter pass. When we did, I asked for a sit and a watch me – both of which he gave instantly in return for a bucket of praise and a teeny bit of cheese.

We did a complete lap of the busy town centre  with just one bark and a half-hearted ‘oof’ at a passing pigeon. The rest of the time he trotted calmly at my side, stuck his head in a few shop doorways just to get a sniff and wagged his tail at the anyone who cooed in his direction (which many did).

We practically floated back to the car. Little Bear had his ‘I’m a clever boy’ swagger and I was so proud I didn’t know who to call first. We may not be quite ready for cafe culture, but I’m sure that with regular practice we might just be able to sneak in a sneaky Cappuccino before the year is out.

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Blogging has taken a reluctant back seat of late behind the day job, training with Little Bear, Annie’s operation (more on that later) and of course my dog behaviour course.  It’s very much at the baby pool end of behaviour but for me it’s the best kind of study because I love every minute of it. As I’m doing it just for fun I’m free from any expectations, self-imposed or otherwise so I can just enjoy it for the sheer hell of it. The only downside is not having the time to do as much studying as I’d like.

Neglecting my blog is of course another drawback, so I decided tonight to post one of my pieces of course work. Hey presto, I get to study and blog at the same time, yey me Ms multi-tasker!

So the task was simply to write about how I see life for your average family dog.

 

I see everyday life for an average dog as a mixture of confusion, frustration and boredom punctuated with rewarding activities like eating, playing and socialising.

Confusion

There must be hundreds of objects in our homes that our dogs have learned, through trial and error, to classify as ‘safe’ or ‘not safe’.

Pick up a teddy and you might get a game but pick up one the toddler dropped and you’ll get it taken off you and possibly told off. Lay on one comfy thing (the couch) without a problem, try and lay on the other one that smells even nicer (the bed) and you’ll be made to get off.

Even if they learn the rules, humans can suddenly change them without telling the dog e.g. dog gets rewarded with a cuddle for jumping up but shouted at when his owners is wearing his best suit.

When it comes to training, formal or otherwise, poor timing and/or lack of consistency with reinforcements (or punishments) can also create confusion and in the latter case, fear. “Huh? I got a treat for that yesterday but today I get told off?”

Frustration

The expectations we have for dogs also mean that they don’t always get to follow their natural drives.  Most people would be horrified if their pet dog caught and killed a rat but if they owned e.g. a Jack Russell then this type of motor pattern wouldn’t be surprising.

Although I’m not advocating that our dogs be allowed to do as they please, not being able to express natural urges (including reproduction) must be a source of huge frustration.

Other sources include, not being allowed enough time for socialising or play.  Having to resign yourself to a bowl of dried dog biscuits while your nose drinks in the myriad of food smells from your humans’ plate might well be another.

Boredom

Most pet dogs must be bored out of their brains for much of their lives. Breed, temperament and age will have a bearing on the dogs boredom threshold and their reaction to it, but I feel that on the whole we grossly underestimate the amount of physical exercise and mental stimulation that dogs need to thrive.

Even a relatively well looked-after dog has a pretty dull daily routine e.g: wake up; go on the same walk they went on yesterday & probably meet the same dogs (if you’re lucky); come home eat the same food out of the same bowl; sleep in the same bed all day; out for an evening walk; back home; cuddle on the sofa; eat dinner and back to sleep again.

If we had a routine like that we’d most probably find great excitement at the thought of barking at the postman or chasing after a squirrel too.

Conclusion

Despite dogs’ incredible ability to read our body language, I think they must still consider us very strange beings on times! I think even a well looked after family dog still leads a life way below their potential and one that on a daily basis is subject to confusion, frustration and boredom.

Human values probably remain a mystery and I doubt that they classify things in the way we do: Human: walk time, training, playtime, feeding, grooming. Dog: Fun stuff  / not fun stuff.

‘Think dog’ is probably the most useful piece of advice any dog lover can be given. In trying to see the world through their eyes we take the first step towards understanding what motivates them and what part we can play in enriching their lives and our own in the process.

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