Archive for April, 2011

Car boot Bear

Little Bear laying in the back of the car

Chilling out after the car boot sale

The thing about dog training is that you can turn anything into an opportunity. Yesterday’s opportunity was the local Bank Holiday car boot sale. My mission to help Little Bear feel happy in just about any situation means lots of practice in lots of different locations.

Despite the crowds and the distractions in the form of lots of stuff to sniff, Little Bear behaved impeccably. Attentive but relaxed, he sat without being asked when he saw children anticipating his click and treat as per our ‘little people mean good things’ training. He said lovely banana shaped waggly hellos to  the people who asked if they could meet him and accepted his ear rubs and shoulder scratches with great enthusiasm.

In fact, we managed the whole sale with only one half woof which he quickly thought better of and sat down instead. It’s days like this that are the most important to record. Little Bear and I are a team. We’re in this together and we’re learning on the job. I’ve no doubt that on the days when I’m frustrated, tired and disappointed in him, he’s probably feeling exactly the same way about me! All the more reason to give ourselves a team high-five when we ace it!

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In praise of praise

How often do you praise your dog?  was a question posed in the really excellent ‘Bonding with your Dog’ by Victoria Schade.  Defensively, my brain jumped to ‘Oh, all the time.’ But when I really thought about it, I started to wonder if I praised my dogs as much as I thought I did.

Yes, I said well-done when Little Bear retrieved a ball, or when Annie sat when asked, but was it enough?

As recommended, I decided to look for as many opportunities to praise Little Bear and Annie as possible. Out for our morning walk, Little Bear trotted sweetly by my side (compared to steam-train Annie, he’s like a mouse on the lead!) so I told him what a lovely walk he was doing then clicked and treated him. Other Half looked confused. “Eh?  He didn’t do anything.” he challenged.

In a way he was right. I hadn’t asked Little Bear to heel, but then I hadn’t needed too because he’d already learnt not to pull on the lead and was now doing what he’d been taught. Most people don’t need their boss to remind them to do their work before they get their salary, so why should we not reward our dogs for doing the things they now do automatically?

Like anything, it takes a while to get into the mindset of praising but once you get in some practice it’s quite addictive. It also makes walking so much more fun!

Mad dog woman 

I’m teaching Annie to walk on a loose lead after Other Half’s shoulder started wracking up bills at the Chiropractors. It’s a long, often frustrating, sometimes physically exhausting process, but we’re getting there.

Annie loves the praise game too and we very nearly had a party in the street when she not only walked the whole way around the block on a loose lead, but then topped it off by managing to ignore ‘the Collie who must be lunged at’ this week.

It was 7am and assuming there were only dog people around I pulled out all the stops and threw in a little dance as we skipped along. While I’m in confession mode, I might have also  sang a few bars of  the entirely made up, ‘Annie is a good girl’ as we jiggled up the street too, just for good measure.

She was totally delighted and wagged and wiggled so hard she was in danger of poking out her own eye with her tail, but judging by the odd look and frosty good morning I got from one of my neighbours, I think I might have  well and truly cemented my reputation as ‘the mad dog woman’. Like I care.

Seeing my dogs bubbling up with pride as I tell them how clever they are is worth a thousand odd looks.

So my thanks to Victoria Schade for that and the countless other great suggestions and insights in ‘Bonding with your dog.’

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Dog teach dog

Little Bear and Annie

Best Buds - Little Bear & Annie

I can’t remember exactly when I decided that a second dog would be a positive  influence on Little Bear, but I know I waged a long campaign of persuasion with OH. Little Bear would, my fuzzy little brain reasoned, learn the finer points of dog manners from the example of an older, calmer dog far easier than he would from me. I might be doing my best on the learning front, but let’s face it, I’ll never be a dog.

I’d seen it happen many a time. He was far more relaxed meeting a new dog when on a group walk with his friends and far less likely to growl out of fear or try to bully a youngster. He  lives to play and loved friends dogs coming to the house, moping horribly when they left and being reluctant to leave his pals at the dog sitters.  It made me question the limits of what I could teach him. I’d made huge mistakes in his training up until then, but even with the remedial work, would I ever be able to teach him everything he needed to control his fears?

It might have worked a treat, had Annie lived up to her billing as a chilled-out, laid back Lab. But she isn’t. She’s also fearful and reactive. So much for doing your homework before you adopt!

Now I know the pros out there will be shaking their heads at the dumb logic, and they’re right. Two reactive dogs have a sort of synergy that just means more barks and lunges per square kilo. So, instead of one fear aggressive dog to train, I now have two.

But, despite the hindsight, I still stand by my initial instinct. Little Bear is a happier, more contented dog because of Annie. There have been things that she’s been able to teach him that I just wasn’t able to. His loathing of dog coats for example. Years of flat-out refusing to go out in the rain or walk in a coat evaporated the day Annie got hers.

Pre-Annie, Fireworks night was hell in our house. LB would cower and shake so hard it broke your heart. But this year, as Annie sat and watched the pretty lights in the distance from the patio, LB decided it was safe enough to venture out and join her. No shaking in sight.

And then there’s the miraculous u-turn on the clicker. Pre-Annie, clicking the softest clicker on the market, in my pocket, from another room would send him scurrying upstairs to his bed to hide. We muddled on using a marker word, but it never felt as comfortable and my timing was never as good. On a hunch, I left the door open at the end of a clicker session with Annie and was amazed to see LB scamper in and line up happily for his treat. He’s now a click addict and actually gets waggy when he sees it!

I still wonder how we came to have not one, but two reactive dogs. It’s hard not to feel an occasional pang of envy at the ‘take anywhere’ dogs but if Annie has taught Little Bear something about dealing with fear, it’s nothing compared to what the pair of them teach me every single day – and for that I’ll be eternally grateful that they found their way into my life.

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For the love of Annie

Annie the Labrador on her bed


When I was running my ‘Little Bear needs a friend’ campaign,  my attempt to convince Other Half that a second dog would be no more bother than one, I genuinely believed it. I anticipated a few weeks of settling in, yes. A few sleepless nights perhaps plus a little remedial training, but then I saw us basking in the joy of my first multi-dog household. Long leisurely walks, the dogs playing in the field, curled up together in their bed…

If this was a movie, this would be where the film would slip off the reel.

Nine months after adopting Annie, I think it’s fair to say that it’s been a rough ride. Her terrifying disappearance for three days; separation anxiety; the super strength off the scale reactivity to any dog within 400 yards; the ruptured cruciate; hip-dysplacia and arthritis and then the (not insured) TPLO operation to re-build her ruined leg. For six weeks post op she was my umbilical dog, only leaving her crate if she was tethered to one of us.  We took it in turns to sleep on the sofa for the first week and for the next two she woke us every 3 hours through the night. Because she hurt, or itched or was just plain old miserable on her own.

Just for fun she’s thrown in 3 monthly seasons and a phantom pregnancy to squash any cunning plans of getting her spayed. On the training side she’s a master of lunging out of a Halti and gets spooked by all manner of strange things. Today it was a man with a skipping rope, yesterday an owl. For the first two months I couldn’t walk her at all for fear that she’d pull me off my feet.


Despite the traumas, we love her. I very nearly burst with pride yesterday as she did a 20 minute walk on a loose lead. This is the dog who pulled like a train! She grins back at me as we walk now, looking for her click and her treat for checking in and I smother her with praise until she grins and wags some more. She chose to watch me instead of barking and lunging at a dog earlier in the week and as she shied away from the scary skipping man today, she believed me when I said he wouldn’t hurt her.

I’m writing this, not because I want to catalogue her faults, far from it, I want to celebrate how much she’s achieved. Re-homing is traumatic for any dog, for a fearful dog who spent 3 days lost living off her wits, it’s even more so. Watching her squashed into Little Bear’s bed now, snoring the deeply contented snore of a dog who’s found her place in the world, I can honestly say she’s been worth it all.

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