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Posts Tagged ‘dog behaviour’

Annie the Labrador

Annie

On the fifth of August 2010 we picked up our new foster dog – Annie,  a four-year old Red Fox Labrador who’d been used as a breeding bitch.  A snapped collar saw her disappear into the twilight before we’d even had chance to get her home (Disaster strikes) and so began a two-day roller coaster.

The panic, the despair,  the guilt and worst of all, the agony of wondering what this sweet but terrified girl must be going through to be lost in a strange place but tempered with the humbling kindness of the strangers who helped us find her ( Little (Big) Dog Lost & Breakthrough).

It’s hard to believe that was two years ago. Watching her now, stretched out, paw over nose, twitching in dreamland on the sofa, it’s almost hard to believe that this was the dog so shut down that she refused to even toilet for three days. The dog you could send scuttling under the dining table should you accidentally look her in the eye. The dog so seemingly ‘aggressive’ that she’d erupt at the sight of a dog a football pitch away and who would charge the patio doors on sight of Little Bear or Camden Cat in the garden.

Overcoming fear

Now that the fear isn’t doing quite so much of the talking we’re seeing the real Annie. She loves Little Bear and she and Camden have come to an arrangement based on mutual respect that even extends to polite sniffing. She can still be wary of some people, but will also cheerfully approach complete strangers with a relaxed wag if she likes the look of them.

Her dreams are more peaceful now too. I don’t know what dogs dream of, but I know for sure that they have nightmares. Seeing her run in her sleep, her face contorted as she whimpered and whined was once a regular occurrence.

We’re still working on the on-lead dog to dog reactivity but that’s coming along steadily too. She’ll get there. Just as she learned to let go of the other fears that racked her life, so this, in time will pass too.

Lesson

I’m not know for my patience, but dogs don’t work to our ridiculous, artificial schedules. Annie will continue to learn and grow in her own time and our job is to help and encourage her along that path. My knees still go a little weak when I see her run because a part of me will never fully get over that fateful first day, but I can’t help wonder whether it didn’t do me a favour.

In losing her I gained a valuable insight – I now know what real fear feels like. We are all so hounded by the imagined fears of our over-active minds that real fear, the type that comes from immediate danger is blessedly rare. Maybe, in order to help her overcome the very real fears she has to face, I just needed to walk a mile in her paws.

 

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Little Bear the Mini Schnauzer

Little Bear

I’m thinking of writing a stiff letter to Life.  I think I’ve been incredibly tolerant up until now but something really has to be said about the way it relentlessly interrupts my training plans. And please, don’t even get me started on its effect on my blogging schedule…

I’m joking of course, but it’s a nice thought isn’t it?  ‘Excuse me Life, but can you just butt out for a while? I have dogs to train. We’re on a schedule you know.’

Curve ball

My mother was taken suddenly and critically ill recently and in the space of one phone call everything changed. Life jumped on us from a great height and we had no choice but to let it.  Thankfully she made a remarkable recovery and when I returned home nearly two weeks later, (to a thorough telling off by Little Bear and what I can only describe as a giggle dance from Annie) the dogs and I picked up where we left off.

Surrender

I’ve used Churchill’s famous quote about ‘never ever giving up’ many a time and it’s still something that inspires me and spurs me on when I’m tired and down-hearted. I’ll never stop striving for the best for my dogs, but I am willing to give up on something – the idea that I have to do it all perfectly and that if I don’t, then I’m somehow letting them down.

If you have a reactive dog, let alone two, you know what hard work they can be.  The dream is something most other dog owners take for granted; a quiet stroll in the park, a coffee at a pavement cafe without it causing a scene. It’s not a big dream but getting there takes a lot of work.

Little Bear and Annie have come such a long way. The work is working and we will persist, but I’m going to tear up that draft letter and tell Life that it’s okay. I understand. It has to do its thing and that’s fine. Whatever it throws at us, well, we’re just going to work around it.

 

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Hands up if you’ve ever ended up in tears as a result of your dogs’ behaviour.

If you’ve said no I’m willing to bet that you either have a well-balanced dog & stumbled innocently upon this ode to the reactive dog while getting your canine net hit (you’re very welcome by the way :-)) or you’re a man. Sorry to stereotype here, but our dogs have pushed Other Half to the limit and he’s not blubbed once, so I’m assuming it’s a predominantly female thing.

Yep, I blubbed.  In public. I blubbed as I trudged through the woods while rummaging in my dog walking bag for tissues without bits of dog biscuit on them and overall failing miserably to put on a brave face.  The incident which sparked this bout of self-indulgence was wholly avoidable, but I got it wrong. So did the other owner but she must have a hide like a rhino as she didn’t seem to give a damn that her dog had just caused utter chaos.

Dive bombed

The scenario played out like this. We’re wandering through the woods when I hear a woman call her dog. I can’t see the dog but call Little Bear to me and seeing her bend down, I assume she’s put the lead on her dog so I did the same.

There’s nothing worse than letting your dog run up to another one that’s newly tethered – not only is it rude, but if that dog has been put on a lead for a reason, your dog is now in possible danger.

Lead aggression is a common problem and is, if you think about it a logical, if not desirable reaction. We all respond to stress with a split second ‘fight’ or ‘flight’ decision, but leads take away the flight option, which for a stressed dog only leaves one course of action.

Three guesses how Little Bear reacted when a super excited Mini Schnauzer raced straight into his face through the ferns. Yep. He went nuts. Lunging, growling and barking and all the while this little dog kept on coming back.  His owner wasn’t a bit bothered and didn’t even try to recall him!

Unable to fend him off I had to resort to picking LB up, something I hate doing as it’s a further confinement, but while being relentlessly dive-bombed I was left with little choice. Said hooligan then started jumping all over me while his owner just puffed on her cigarette and shuffled off without him – charming!

Getting it wrong 

There are so many things I did wrong. I should have turned tail and headed in the other direction. I should have called to her to check if she’d put her dog on the lead. If she hadn’t, I would have let LB off the lead as he’s met this dog before without incident. I should have thrown some chicken on the floor for the marauder and run with LB the other way. I should at least have given her a piece of my mind… but of course, in the stress of it all I did none of those things. Instead, I ranted and raved and then cried hot tired tears while wondering if I was ever going to be able to get my darling boy to a state of calmness.

The whole incident is in such stark contrast to the progress he’s been making lately that I think it was even more upsetting than it might have been. It’s left me under a cloud and kicked off a headache that looks like it’s settling in for a long stint, but we’ll plough on. I may get it wrong frequently, but the biggest mistake I could ever make would be giving up.

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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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Annie in her beloved bed

Annie in her beloved bed

When we took on Annie her first bed was a folded quilt under the dining table which was her bolt hole of choice after her ordeal.  She soon discovered the delights of the sofas and as we were only fostering her at that point it seemed fine to let it go.

When we adopted her, we bought her a bed.  It felt symbolic, a way to mark her joining the family officially and after months of being squashed between two dogs on the sofa of an evening, the idea of them sleeping in their own beds was appealing.

So we went to the pet shop and she picked out a bed. Or rather, we bought the only one she seemed vaguely interested in.  It was stupidly expensive, but I justified it on the basis that all the bits came apart for machine washing.  “She’ll have it for years” I confidently told Other Half as he scoffed at the price tag.   It fell apart in the first wash.

We got a refund and decided to get her a sturdy plastic bed that we could fill with soft (and washable) blankets instead. Then came her surgery so ‘bed’ became a crate for almost 12 weeks while she healed. When at last the crate was packed away, we put the new bed in its place.  She ignored it.  She’d sit in it occasionally, as did Little Bear and now and then, Camden Cat. She’d even lay down in it if we asked, but you always got the feeling that she was doing it under sufferance.

Impulse buy

A couple of weeks ago I saw a bed I just knew she’d love. I was only in the pet shop to buy cat treats. She didn’t need a bed I told myself, she had two sofas and two arm chairs to choose from for crying out loud. I left the shop and walked to the car. I opened it and locked it again before even taking the key out of the lock.  Minutes later me and the new bed were heading home.

LB was incredibly excited.  He dug out the inner pillow within seconds and then promptly chewed off the tag putting pay to any ideas of returning it, but  he quickly got bored and wandered off to find a tennis ball while Annie, unusually aloof gave the new bed the eye.

I love my bed

That was a few weeks ago now and she’s very rarely out of it. She loves her bed so much she’ll lie in it no matter where it is. She’s even choosing her bed over the sofa. I have some theories of course. Maybe she likes having somewhere that’s entirely hers. The sofas after all are shared and she can and does get turfed off them if there’s no room for anyone else to sit down.  Or maybe it’s just the fact that it’s comfortable. We’ll never know for sure, but she certainly does look like one very happy dog!

Annie snoozing in her new bed

Annie snoozing in her new bed

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Our school motto was ‘Manners maketh man’. Now I didn’t go to a posh private school, quite the opposite in fact, but we, my peers and I were brought up to understand that manners were important. They’re not just social norms, they’re a way of conveying respect for one another. Sadly, I often see far better behaved dogs than I do owners these days.

The other week we were walking the dogs on the large football pitch near the house. It’s a vast space with multiple exits so for reactive dogs like ours it’s great. You get plenty of warning of other dogs and can make a quick calm exit if needed.

We’d just arrived at the field this particular time when I noticed Annie had dropped her collar torch. It was getting dusk so OH back tracked to look for it. This left me in the field with both dogs on waist leads, which we prefer as it gives you two hands to sort out clickers, treats or poo bags. It started when Annie, much worse than she is now almost dislocated OH’s shoulder and now it’s sort of stuck.

Just as he went out of sight a woman came the field with two dogs and was soon joined by another lady with three dogs. Annie and Bear, until then doing okay with their sit stay and watch me got a little agitated so we moved to a safer distance.

They were walking directly towards us, all five dogs now her off lead. I moved down the field, zig-zagging to a spot I was sure was safe as it was off their trajectory. They changed direction and headed once again, straight towards us.

Lunge
By this point Little Bear and Annie had had enough. They lunged, they barked and clipped around my waist, were doing a great job of cutting me in half. The women looked up to see what the commotion was, shot me a ‘god, your dogs are awful look’ AND KEPT COMING!

Now any normal person seeing that would recognise a fear reaction in a dog. Even if they’d never experienced it, who in their right mind would walk their own dogs towards dogs who are lunging and barking?!

I was incredulous. How could these women not realise that their presence and that of their mob of dogs was seriously upsetting mine? They had an entire football pitch to walk on but seemed intent on hounding me out of it. Thankfully, their dogs had more sense than they did and gave us a wide berth, but the damage was done. By the time OH returned a few minutes later they were extremely agitated and despite trying to lighten the mood with some chase once we were free of our stalkers, Little Bear walked home with his tail down.

I thought of this yesterday. We were out in the woods and spotted a couple with four dogs coming towards us on a narrow path. We called our dogs, they called theirs. We had them sit and wait. So did they to the point that for about a minute nobody moved.

When the stalemate became apparent we walked ours on past them, only to find their dogs sitting patiently just off the track. We exchanged a round of thank yous and all went on our way. To my deep joy our two looked but continued on their way without a murmur. I couldn’t have been prouder or more grateful that there do seem to be some owners out there with manners as good as their dogs.

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