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Archive for the ‘Behaviour’ Category

This is Little Bear hiding under my desk thanks to a raging summer storm. He’s a shaking, panting ball of stress & the worst thing is there’s not much I can do to help him.

He’s had some KalmAid and I’ve done some T-Touch but now all we can do is ride it out until the storm passes.

Old School
When he was a puppy the old trainer told me to ignore “such silly behaviour” (her words not mine) to avoid reinforcing it. This may work for jumping up, but the idea that ignoring an animal in obvious distress would somehow help them deal with their fear is not just unkind it’s misguided.

LB is in no state to think or learn as he quivers and shakes under my desk at the loud claps of thunder that to a dogs sensitive ears must be unbearable. So the only learning he’ll be doing today is that there’s a safe and comforting lap when he needs one, legs to hide behind and soft words to do what little they can to reassure him.

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Having a ‘problem dog’ can be a lonely old business on times.  At our local stomping ground I’ve often been the one red-faced and apologetic as Little Bear grumbles at young or submissive dogs or barks manically at anyone and everything.  

Avoidance and removal are the tactics recommended by the behaviourist so we’ve spent a lot of time running away from dogs or situations that might worry him.  We’ve spent a lot of time on our own in the smaller top field too while the other dogs play together in the larger one and it’s hard to coax him away from the fence when you know all he wants to do is join in.

But you can’t live your life simply avoiding the things that worry you. So when last year, we met a friendly dog walker with a group of equally nice friendly, well-balanced dogs we started meeting up with her a couple of times a week to up the ante on LB’s social skills. 

We bumped into her in the park today and within seconds of arriving LB had six dogs sniffing his rear end.  A couple were new to him, but he stood there, alert but relaxed while they made and remade his acquaintance.  Sniffing complete, they all bounded off to have a play. 

I couldn’t help but beam because six months ago he would have been a different dog. 

One day sticks out in my mind in particular as it nearly brought me to tears.  We’d been meeting these same dogs for months, but hadn’t seen them for a few weeks because of holidays etc. We arrived at the field and spotted them playing in the far corner.  As I began walking towards them Little Bear started whining and scrabbling on my leg – a ‘pick me up’ request he’d not done since he was a pup.  He looked desperate and it took all my will power not to scoop him up and run to the car. But what would that teach him?  That these friendly dogs he’d come to know and play with were to be feared? 

I walked the rest of the way with an anxious little Schnauzer whining and pawing at the back of my legs, alternating only to try to pull at my trouser legs.  I felt to cruel I could have cried. 

The walk across the field seemed to last forever but in reality it couldn’t have been more than 30 seconds before we were met like long-lost friends by the other dogs.  LB froze for the greeting, bringing the meaning of the word ‘petrified’ very much to life.  They ignored this and went about their sniffing, tails wagging, tongues lolling.  Inspection over, LB had a good shake and without even a backward glance in my direction bounded after them.

I wanted to record this as it’s so easy to forget how far you’ve come.  Today’s episode was such a welcome reminder of something I may well have forgotten about, but to overlook it would be to discount the progress he’s made. 

We’ve had an amazing week full of little triumphs in fact:  Coming back to me even after he’d spotted his least favourite dog in the world a mere ten feet away.  Playing happily with an 11 month old mini schnauzer puppy without any grumbling what-so-ever.  Choosing to stay by my side and not to run over to see a Collie in the park this morning even though he was off the lead.  I could go on!

So my lesson to self is really about making sure I keep recording the good times as well as the bad.  LB will probably always be a nervous dog but the fact that he’s making progress despite his anxieties makes me even more proud of him.  🙂

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…you wonder what on Earth possessed you to get a dog…

A couple of my friends have ‘perfect’ dogs.  In fact, I question whether they’re actually dogs at all – maybe they’re shape-shifting aliens here to covertly monitor human behaviour.  I say this because these dogs are chilled out, easy-going, love everybody, get on with all dogs, adore puppies, rarely bark, travel well….you get the picture.

Now I love LB as if he was a small child – actually, given that small children can be annoyingly whingey on times I’d go as far as to say that I probably love him a wee bit more. But having a dog with issues is a roller coaster.  Some days you’re bursting with pride and then on others….you look at the cat and think ‘why didn’t I stop when I was ahead?’

I’ve lost count of the sleepless nights and the hours I’ve spent worrying about him and replaying scenes from his puppy-hood – Should I have done this? Why didn’t I do that?  And in my darkest moments I’ve balled my eyes out wondering miserably if he’d be better off with somebody else.

Now to ND (non-doggie) people all this angst probably sounds a bit pathetic. I’m a reasonably well-educated professional and here I am losing sleep over the choice of training classes for my Mini Schnauzer in the same way parents battle to get their kids into the right school.  As a work acquaintance guffawed at me the other day ‘It’s only a dog!’ 

But he’s not just a dog.  He’s my dog and I made him a promise the day I picked him up that I’d love him and look after him for the rest of his life.  A promise is a promise no matter who you make it to and I intend to keep it, no matter what.

But we’re all entitled to our bad days. 

Take last Monday. LB completely over-reacted to a Jack Russel we know who had the bad manners to sniff his bum when his back was turned.  My usual distraction techniques went out the window as he growled, snarled and barked fit to bust at the ‘so not bothered’ JR.

After weeks of great progress, here he was being demon dog.

As we abandoned the park for some brisk heal work to calm us both down my mind ran the usual gambit of emotions – embarrassment, anger, frustration, self-pity (oh how attractive) and I mentally beat myself up for being stupid enough to get a dog in the first place.

But having a dog with issues has taught me a lot – one of the main lessons being that I’m allowed to be human.  So it’s okay to feel all of that stuff now and again I can only ever be human just like LB can only ever be a dog. 

So I indulged myself in the negatives for a good ten minutes and even allowed myself to wallow in the ‘why me?’ pool just to get my money’s worth, but then I forced myself  Pollyanna style to try to think of something positive I could take out of it.  Amazingly, I found one!  My new-found ability to stay calm. 

Amidst all the barking, snarling and writhing around on the end of the lead, I realised that I had managed to stay perfectly calm, while keeping the lead loose and completely ignoring the behaviour.  I’d even managed a brief exchange with the Jack Russel’s good-natured owner as they’d passed – and forced a smile!

So we had a ‘bad’ day.  It’s not the end of the world.  The important thing is that we move on from it, we go forward, we learn and improve and as Winston Churchill is famously mis-quoted in saying, we “Never, ever, ever give up.”   After all, I have a promise to keep.

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In my last post I mentioned Emma Parsons’ book ‘Click to Calm’.  In it she advocates the use of a head collar such as a Gentle Leader or Halti. Now as Little Bear is on the sensitive side, I’ve learned not to change too many things at any one time for fear of unsettling him. But, as he hates his harness with a passion and chokes himself if walked on a collar, I decided it was worth investigating.

After a root around on the internet I called our trusty dog walker Louisa (aka Auntie Lou) to ask for some pro advice and she raved about them. Suitably convinced, I decided to give it a go. 

Now I’m as keen on new things as the next person, but with a day job in marketing I’m also far more cynical than is maybe healthy when it comes to product claims.  ‘Unique patented designed prefered by many leading trainers, vets and behaviourists around the world.’ Hmm….. ‘Results occur in minutes – not weeks.’  Ha – sure they do – are they made by fairies too?

Back at home, I decide that we’ll start with some positive reinforcement.  We get off to a shaky start as LB shoots off at the sound of me opening the packet – then decides that tiny bits of cheddar in return for touching first the packet and then the collar are worth the trade. 

Resigning myself to not being able to return the head collar if it didn’t work due to odour issues, I pop it in his treat bag and give it a shake just to make it extra smelly. This seems to have the desired effect because once I’ve finished fiddling with the adjusters and put it down to read the instruction book again, LB decides to lay with his head on the collar and give it the occasional lick. Good start – and something unheard of with his rather smart but hated harness.

I pop it on and off him a few times that afternoon.  Each time is accompanied by extra nice treats and for the last and longest trial he gets to keep it on for the 3 minutes flat it takes him to polish off a chew. 

After umming and ahhing over whether to work on this for a few days longer before venturing out in it, I decide to give it a go.  If he hates it once we’re out, I can pop him on his collar and build up slowly over the week.

Once out of the front door he decides that he can’t walk a step.  This is his usual reaction to his harness or any type of dog coat.  He becomes super-glued to the floor and refuses to budge until the offending item is removed – or in the case of the harness, he gets a better offer.  

Silent protest over (he decides that playing with his tennis ball is more fun) off we trot on our evening walk.

So this is where I eat my cynics hat.  We walk around the block, through the wood and around the dog field without the lead becoming taught once.  

He pawed at the collar twice within the first 5 minutes of the walk but then left it completely alone. We play ball, practice his recall and then trot home without incident or any tension what-so-ever on the lead. In fact, he seems incredibly calm and totally unphased by it.

Back home he sits as usual to have his lead unclipped and as I slide the head collar off his nose, he gives it what I hope is a lick of approval.

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