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Archive for April, 2012

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear sitting in a field

Little Bear in his Spring clip

As anyone with a reactive dog knows, a walk is anything but relaxing.  I go out kitted up with clicker (+spare clickers should the first one break or get lost), treat bag (+ back up treats just in case) squeaky balls (+back ups) and a pet corrector for real emergencies.  Thats as well as the poo bags, ball chucker, wet wipes etc etc. I know all of the fields and parks in the area and a bit like Jason Bourne in the Bourne Identity, every exit and roughly how long it will take us to get to it should we need to.

I can also spot an ‘It’s okay, my dog’s fine’ owner a mile off. Maybe you know the type? They’re the ones with the big lumbering dogs that flatten yours while their owners laugh and say things like “It’s okay, he’s only playing.” Gee thanks, but what about mine?!

They seem oblivious to the fact that you might be trying to avoid them or that in letting their friendly lummox of a dog ‘play’ with yours without checking first, they might be putting your behaviour training back weeks if not months.  For all they know, they might even be putting their dog at risk of serious physical or emotional harm.  Even when you call your dog, pop him on a lead and walk quickly in the other direction, they STILL don’t get the hint!

Real treat

So, today was a real treat!

As we went into the field, two Huskies bounded up to the gate. Little Bear froze and whined and then looked at me which in itself was a fantastic result as he looked to me instead of kicking off!  His reward was a swift retreat away from the thing that was worrying him.

The owner looked a bit miffed and said a bit tersely ‘It’s fine! They were brought up with Schnauzers.’ We get this a lot.  People we big dogs or bull breeds often assume I’m being a breedist in avoiding them and I don’t usually get the opportunity to clarify, but with LB at a distance he was comfortable with and happily hoovering up treats from the floor, I was able to explain over the fence that it wasn’t his dogs I was concerned about, but my own.

Penny dropped, he walked his dogs away from the gate so that we could come in. With LB in ‘stuff your face with treats mode’ he was happy to focus on me and we passed the Huskies without incident.

Great manners 

We had a lovely walk, LB exploring and snacking on grass here and there, then chasing the ball and working on his retrieve.  Whenever I see another dog I don’t know, I pop him on a lead.  I do this partly because of his bullying towards timid dogs but also because it’s just good manners.

To my delight, another other dog walker on seeing me pop LB on the lead as they approached immediately called his dog and popped its leads on too.  A mutual round of ‘thank yous’ later and we went our separate ways.

Seconds later, we saw the Huskies again and as soon as he saw us, their owner recalled them, popped them on their leads and asked for a sit.  Little Bear was fantastic and again passed without even a grumble. I thanked the owner again and we even had time for a quick chat about the joys of training and what a difference well-mannered owners made.

This may seem silly, but this truly made my day.  As anyone with a reactive dog will know, it can sometimes feel like your best intentions get undermined by other people’s assumption that all dogs are friendly and docile. They are also usually the first people to tut-tut and mutter things about ‘always the owners fault’ as your dog gets tipped over the edge and aggresses because they feel so threatened by the situation that the tut-tutter has unwittingly helped kick off.

Nature vs. Nurture 

As I’ve come to learn, nurture can only do so much and nature has a heavy hand in deciding a dogs temperament.  Just like people, some dogs have a shorter fuse than others and try as we might, there’s no way of changing that, we can only manage it as best we can by giving them the tools and support to cope with the things they find threatening or frustrating.  But owners need support too and as I found out today, a little help and understanding from fellow dog lovers can go a long long way.

 

 

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I’ve blogged before about how sometimes it’s easy to miss what’s right under our noses. Changes happen so slowly that we sometimes fail to see the process. Trees are a good one – you drive down the same stretch of road each day and then WHAM! One day you notice that the bare branches are now chock-full of bright spring leaves.

Dog training can be a lot like that. Walking the dogs the other day Annie kicked off at the sight of another dog on the other side of the road. Little Bear woofed a few times, but with a seriously lack of commitment which in no way matched her level of arousal. I walked him away calmly and despite her lunging and barking, he remained quiet and kept glancing up at me – which of course got him a lot of praise, clicks and treats.

Just like the tree, I’d missed the bud stage, but was pleased I’d at least spotted the unfurling leaf so that I could reward and encourage it. I took a lesson from that.  Even when you think nothing’s happening, the time we all, if we’re honest feel like giving up, it’s good to remember that there’s progress being made that we just can’t see.  Little buds of progress waiting to burst forth and surprise us.

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