Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘dog behaviour’

Red fox Labrador, laying down, 'smiling' at camera

Annie’s happiest when she’s close to her people

I didn’t have dogs when I first read Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials. I loved the books for many reasons, not least the fact that in his world, every human has a ‘daemon’, a manifestation of their soul that takes animal form.

While daemons aren’t really animals, it’s impossible to read the books without relating it to the animals in your own life. In Pullman’s world, daemons speak, regardless of their species, and share the same level of intelligence as their humans. They are one and the same being, tethered by an invisible bond and parted only by death.

Other half has long referred to Little Bear as my ‘daemon dog’, a reference to the fact that his moods have always mirrored mine (or mine his) and because he is rarely far from my side.

Of late though, we’ve noticed that Annie has become more ‘daemon’ in her ways. While Little Bear is happy to lounge on his beloved couch while I work upstairs, entertaining himself with his own brand of neighbourhood woof, Annie wants to be wherever I am – all of the time.

Red fox Labrador laying on rug in kitchen

Annie’s kitchen spot

She follows me constantly. If I leave the room, she’s right behind me, hauling her aching bones out of her bed to hobble along, before lowering herself, joints like creaky doors, to lay within a couple of feet of wherever I am.

Telling her to stay is met with a derisory look and the equivalent of two Labrador fingers and so it is me who is being trained in the art of decisive tea-making. Popping back to the kitchen to add a splash more milk and cave in on the idea of that biscuit isn’t an option when you have an arthritic Labrador in tow.

Red fox Labrador peeking around door

Even bathroom breaks are now accompanied

As she has never ‘done’ stairs, (not that we’d allow her to now at her age even if she did) this presents a problem when it comes to working – and sleeping. I’ve taken to splitting my working day between ergonomically comfortable desk upstairs and neck pain inducing lumpy couch downstairs where she can snooze at my feet.

Nighttime is more of a challenge. Three requests for a garden break is typical on the average night. Usually at midnight, three am and then again sometime around five, although if you’re getting up at six, it’ll be ten minutes before your alarm.

She outdid herself on Wednesday though with a record six woofs. Other Half, who valliantly responds to most of her demands at night, was away, so it was a miracle I made it to my London meetings on Thursday as I felt slightly punch drunk from all my nighttime stumblings down the stairs.

As there have been a couple of accidents in the house in recent months, ignoring her requests is not an option, but she only actually needs to go out about half of the time. The others I think are a combination of her arthritis and the need to be with her people. No matter how tired we are, we can’t deny her that comfort in her twilight years.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of daemons lately, prompted by the new BBC adaptation of Northern Lights over Christmas. It occurred to me today that another part of the attraction is the fact that human and daemon are together for life. Oh that it were the same for us and our daemon dogs.

Read Full Post »

photo-of-black-puppy-1904103.jpg

Christmas Puppy. Photograph by Helena Lopes 

Happy New Year. As I write this, Little Bear is snoozing next to me on the sofa under a blanket and Annie is lounged in her bed; newly revitalised with memory foam to help her joints. People say our dogs are spoilt. I disagree. They are loved, but they are also respected. 

What does it mean to respect our dogs? I’ve heard two stories in the last couple of days that have made me ponder this exact question.

I love my dog, so long as it doesn’t act….like a dog 

The first was about an old man we used to see in the neighbourhood walking his Jack Russell. As our two are reactive, we only knew them to wave to, but our friend got to know them well. She asked me a few months ago if I’d seen them. I hadn’t and yesterday I found out why.

Through another friend, I discovered that the little dog, let’s call him ‘Bob’, was put down after snapping at the man’s grandchild who woke him up while he was sleeping in his basket.

To someone like me, who sees animals as I do people, (a soul is a soul no matter what the container), this is akin to murdering a human.

To be killed for exhibiting your natural behaviour when startled is an abomination. That’s like putting me down for swearing in the car when someone cuts me up on the motorway.

Failed by humans

The real crime here wasn’t ‘Bob’s’, it was the failure of his human to protect both child and dog from their own instincts. Few humans read a dogs body language well, so it’s insane to expect that of kids – or to expect them to stay away from dogs just because they’ve been told to. As adults, we need to manage the situation to keep them both safe.

Better safe than sorry 

Little Bear spent the best part of three days in the dog room last weekend while our granddaughters visited. He barks incessantly at kids and while I’m confident he’d never bite, I wouldn’t dream of putting my precious granddaughters or him on the Roulette wheel.

He had plenty of walks, free time to roam the house while we were out, plus he got his beloved sofa and humans back when the girls went to bed, but heart-breaking as it was hearing him howl, it was the safest thing to do.  

Respect dogs for who and what they are

To expect a dog not to act like a dog, well, that’s like asking a child not to act like a child. Dogs often do things we wish they wouldn’t, like hunt squirrels, roll in fox poo or lunge at other dogs, but they are dogs, doing what dogs do and when we take them into our homes and our lives, we need to understand and respect that.

Our job is to train them, control the environment to minimise unwanted behaviours and ultimately, keep them safe. And keeping them safe does not mean killing them when we get it wrong!

New Year (Doggie) Declutter? 

The second story was from the lovely rescue organisation, Friends of the Animals Wales, who, just three days into the new year, are full to capacity with surrendered dogs. They’re literally having to turn dogs away for want of space and foster families.

My mind reels even thinking about it. Are these older dogs shoved out to make room for Christmas puppies or are they just part of the new year clear out? How long I wonder before the Christmas puppies follow them to the rescue? Or did these older dogs growl or snap amid the stress of Christmas celebrations or exhibit some other doggie behaviour that wasn’t acceptable? My heart is breaking just thinking about how those little souls must feel to be turfed out and abandoned.

The bottom line is that, if you can’t respect a dog for who and what he/she is, then please, just don’t get one.

If you’re based in the UK and could offer a foster place to a dog in need, please apply via Friends of the Animals Wales. 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Annie the Labrador laying on duvet on the floor looking up at her mum

Finally….!

In the on-going conversation between humans and dogs, dogs are by far the better listeners.  If we were measuring it in terms of reading ages, I think they would be on Dostoyevsky and we’d still be on the Ladybird Classics.

I haven’t worked out what I do differently yet, but Bear will start sulking and sitting in the window to keep watch for my return, even before my overnight bag has made it out of the cupboard.

Annie, normally a frenzy of arthritic acrobatics when I so much as look in the direction of their harnesses, doesn’t even stir from her bed on the days when Bear and I are heading out for an extended walk in the woods. When he’s harnessed up and ready to go, she’ll calmly go and sit by the fridge waiting for what we call her ‘consolation carrot’.  How does she know? She reads me like a book.

Are you sitting comfortably? Er, actually no… 

Lately though her communication skills have really ratched up a gear. Other half and I have been trying for months to get her to join us in the living room of an evening. There was a time when evenings meant all four of us squished happily onto the sofa, but since her arthritis has started bothering her, Annie will no longer jump up and won’t settle even if we lift her on and off.

There’s no denying that she loves her crate with its three super-soft crate pads and the thick duvet that make up her bed, but her crate is in the dog room and we of course, want her with us.

We tried moving the spare crate into the living room but she wouldn’t settle so after a fortnight of it gathering dust, it went back to the garage. I bought her a new memory foam Orvis bed, which after a week of her flatly refusing to even put a paw on it, I reluctantly returned. I even bought her a second fabric day bed which is almost exactly the same as the one that she still uses, just not as squished and flattened – but this too was found wanting.  And yes, we’ve tried just shutting the door but that just gets us woofed at until we relent.

Breakthrough

I don’t know what made me think of it, but a few weeks ago her duvet was hanging over the living room door drying after a wash. I folded it double and put it on the floor in front of the sofa and her eyes lit up. She hurried over, turned around twice and plonked herself down. She glanced up at me and if she could speak, I swear she would have said, ‘Finally!’ She lay down and went to sleep and she’s been curled up on her duvet in the living room every evening since.

Her communication skills don’t stop there though. Last night, I forgot to put her duvet back in her crate at bedtime.  As I was about to head up the stairs she stalked out of the dog room, stood on the duvet in the living room, wagged at me and nosed the duvet. Good slave that I am, I returned it to her crate while she watched, only for her to barge me out of theway the second I was done and settle in for the night.  Who says that dogs can’t talk? Or that humans can’t (eventually) learn to listen?

Read Full Post »

Mini schnauzer Little Bear having a cuddle

Bear deals much better with firework night if he has someone to snuggle with.

“Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot.” For some unknown reason we’re still celebrating Guy Fawkes’ failed attempt to blow the Houses of Parliament to smithereens 400 years after the fact.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for tradition if it brings a smile to people’s faces, but when you have a dog that’s terrified of loud noises, firework night is traumatic. Picture your dog hunched in a corner, shaking like a leaf and panting so hard you’re afraid he might pass out.

It’s a pitiful sight especially when you’re unable to control the source of their fear. What’s worse is the fact that as the sale of fireworks is unregulated, fireworks ‘night’ now seems to last up to two weeks meaning another assault can come at any time.

Advice 

Lots of dogs are of course frightened of fireworks and social media has been awash with people asking for advice on how to cope with their terrified pets.  On the whole the advice offered is sound: Turn up the TV; try a Thunder-shirt, herbal calmers, hormone collars and diffusers like Adaptil and for those instances where nothing works, a consultation with your vet for a prescribed tranquilliser.

However, there are still those who insist that ignoring your dog is the only way to deal with the situation.  I understand where this thinking may have come from – in positive reinforcement training we often ignore bad behaviour like jumping up for fear of reinforcing it with our attention.  However, YOU CAN’T REINFORCE FEAR! Once your dog is afraid he’s incapable of learning anything so you won’t make it worse by giving him attention.

For pity’s sake, just cuddle your bloody dog! 

So please, if your dog is frightened and wants to be near you – CUDDLE HIM! Distract him, play with him – hell, wrap him in a blanket and feed him roast chicken off a fork if it’ll make him feel better but please, PLEASE do not ignore him.

Read Full Post »

Mini Schnauzer Little Bear takes a break out on a solo walk

Little Bear takes a break during our solo walk

If you have more than one dog, chances are you probably walk them together.  I actually still recall the “Walking two dogs is no more work than walking one” argument I used as part of my case for a double dog household.  Oh foolish fool, how wrong could I have been?!

The reality is, if you have reactive dogs like ours, combined walks can sometimes do more harm than good.

Tipping point

Just like us, all dogs have a tipping point. Now for your laid back, confident pooch the circumstances needed to reach that tipping point might never ever arise but for the nervous, under-confident dog the line between calm, rational thought and an emotional, amygdala driven outburst is always that much finer.

In the fourteen years we had our beloved Springer Spaniel, I only once saw him aggress and that was when a Rottweiler  jumped into our garden and cornered him in the yard. Even our sweet old gent found his tipping point that day and acted to defend himself much to our utter amazement.

For reactive dogs like Bear and Annie, their equivalent of a Rottweiler over the garden wall can be as seemingly benign as a dog on a lead 300 yards away. Through an unfortunate mix of temperament, experience (and lack of it), they see threats where there are none.  But when they bark and lunge, it’s out of the same fear my old Springer felt all those years ago, it’s just that their tipping points aren’t as obvious to us.

A life lived in fear

They say a life lived in fear is a life half lived and this can certainly be the reality for many dogs. On Little Bear’s scary list were: bikes, skateboards, other dogs,  horses, velcro (?!) and thunderstorms to name but a few.  A walk invariably encountered at least one of the things and so for a long time, practically every trip out of the door would mean he’d end up in a frenzy of fearful barking and lunging.

Positive reinforcement 

Over the years we’ve worked to raise his tipping point to a more comfortable level.  Armed with clicker and treats (and a swift and unapologetic about turn if we spot something that I know he won’t cope with) we’ve slowly built up his tolerance to the point that he can now see a dog across the street and remain calm enough to sit and get a treat for his non-reaction.

Bikes and skateboards no longer get a second look thanks to the same positive reinforcement and he can walk past a field of horses without batting an eyelash. That said, he has learned to flutter them a little in the hopes of a reward when he thinks he’s been especially good.

The key to the training has simply been to encourage him to feel differently about the things he was once afraid of.  Get rid of the fear and the over-reaction just isn’t necessary anymore.  Which brings me on to the need for solo walks.

Going solo

Part of the ethos of positive reinforcement is that dogs are alway set up to succeed. Considering his naturally anxious disposition, Little Bear has achieved a lot over the last few years which is why asking him to be cool, calm and collected while his best friend Annie is freaking out by his side is really a bridge too far.

So, as much as I love walking my dogs together, until he and Annie are at a similar level in terms of tipping points we’ll continue to walk them separately as often as we can. The good news is that judging by Annie’s progress, she’ll not be far behind him.

Read Full Post »

Little Bear finds a shady spot

Little Bear finds a shady spot

When it’s hot its hard to keep dogs properly exercised without the risk that they’ll over-heat. Little Bear especially finds the warm weather quite tough and although he knows his limits, it still leaves us with a problem: One very bright, very active little dog who has no outlet for all his get up and go.  As we know ourselves, being happily tired after a good workout is very different to the lethargy that sets in when it’s just too hot to move.

Putting the fun back 

So this morning , before the day had chance to hot up, we booked the local agility course with a friend of ours. LB has done agility before. We had a couple of one-to-one lessons and then joined a group class. Given his anxiety levels, the group class was incredibly challenging, but he coped admirably and seemed to forget about the other dogs once he was doing the course.

Teaching resilience

He’s loved agility from the off and proved that although he wasn’t built for speed or endurance, he’s a brave little chap.  To my utter amazement he tackled a full height A frame on his first ever session (see the video here).

Taking a break at the end of the session

Taking a break at the end of the session

I was reminded of this today as he lost his footing on the walkway but pressed on regardless. Then again when he misjudged a jump and took a tumble. He picked himself up and with a bit of lighthearted encouragement took the same jump again and again as if to prove it hadn’t beaten him.

 Building confidence

Nervous dogs usually lack confidence and depending on their temperament, use either aggression or retreat (fight or flight) as their only means of coping with the things that scare them.  Watching LB face his fears today and overcome them so swiftly was a timely reminder of how I need to be constantly finding ways to build his confidence and boost his resilience. The other bonus is that before the sun had had a chance to take too much of a hold, Annie and Bear were back home, happily tired, mentally stimulated and quickly snoozing.

Read Full Post »

Lennox, guilty of nothing but looking like a banned breed was taken from his family, kept in awful conditions for 2 years & killed by Belfast  Council in questionable circumstances.

Lennox, guilty of nothing but looking like a banned breed was taken from his family, kept in awful conditions for 2 years & killed by Belfast Council in questionable circumstances.

When I was about eight I was nearly bitten by an English Springer Spaniel. Thinking him to be just like my best friend at home, I reached down to tickle him but he growled and lunged at me. I got the shock of my life, but I also learned a couple of very valuable lessons 1) always ask before approaching a dog you don’t know and 2) don’t think breed is an indicator of temperament.

Last week, 14-year-old Jade Lomas-Anderson was killed by four dogs at a friend’s house in Wigan, UK. Horrifying and heart-breaking, it’s hard imagine losing a child so young, yet alone in such circumstances.

Media speculation

Predictably, the news reports, still waiting for confirmation of the facts, started speculating on whether any of the dogs responsible were from a banned breed.  When it emerged that they weren’t, the flames of speculation were duly fanned by the suggestion that Bull Mastiffs and Staffordshire Bull Terriers should be added to the list.

Genius idea. Dog bites have actually risen by 41% since the Dangerous Dog Act was introduced according to HES so on what planet does this sort of thinking make any sense?  I was enraged, not just because I’m a dog lover, but by the laziness of the reporting.  A beautiful young girl had been killed in appalling circumstances and they had rolled out the usual lazy, hackneyed tripe about banned breeds.  It’s akin to obsessing about the make of car involved in a hit and run and not tackling the real issue of who was behind the wheel.

Breed myopia 

The elephant in the room here is that by focussing so myopically on breed we’re totally missing the point. Would our children be safer if we told them it was okay to talk to strangers just so long as they weren’t French, or Greek or any other arbitrary classification? Of course not.

As I found out all those years ago, any dog is capable of biting, just like any human is capable of harming another.   To keep people safe we need to educate them on how to treat dogs ethically and how to meet their needs – for exercise, training, socialisation and security to name but a few, but while any moron can knock out a litter of puppies in their garden shed to earn a few quid and while utter garbage like Caesar Milan is allowed to pass for national dog training, is there any wonder that we have damaged and fearful dogs out there and owners without the first clue of how to properly care for, train and manage them?

State sponsored lunacy

That the media and government compound this lunacy by suggesting that eradicating some breeds of dog will magically solve the issue is just beyond comprehension.  We do need tougher laws, but they should be around the strict control of the breeding of all dogs.  Licence all breeders and stamp out the quick buck mentality fuelled by the likes of Craigslist and PreLoved that provide an easy market for flogging puppies like second-hand sofas.

When we declared a war on drugs we went for the source and we educated people so why not take the same approach with dogs?  Our rescue centres are bursting at the seams and according to Dogs Trust, nearly 8,000 are killed every year by local authorities and other ‘rescues’ due to a lack of homes which is a disgusting waste of life and should be a point of national shame.

When dogs can’t be bought online, in pubs and out of the boots of cars, there’ll be more opportunity for licensed breeders and rescue organisations to vet would-be owners and to educate and support them to raise their dogs in a responsible manner.

Breed specific legislation has done nothing to keep people safe and adding to it will be a pointless waste of time and public money.  It will also bring untold heartache for thousands of committed and responsible dog owners all over the country and allow the backstreet breeders to continue to peddle their misery. Enough is enough.

 

You can find out more about the story of Lennox and the lunacy of Breed Specific Legislation here

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: