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Posts Tagged ‘dog training’

 

Little Bear on sofa with his teddy

Little Bear’s first blog picture in 2010

Wow! The Little Bear Dog Blog is (drumroll please) NINE years young!  How can that possibly be?  But yep, sure enough, my very first ‘Hello World’ post is dated 21 February 2010 which means Little Bear was just two and a half when I started. Happy belated birthday little blog!

While I’ve not been the most consistent blogger over the years, I love that so much of our journey has been recorded.  Living and loving reactive dogs is a massive challenge and human nature means that we’re great at remembering the bad stuff, but not so great at remembering the good things.

In the early days I was definitely on the quest for the ‘cure’ – the training method, diet, supplement, harness, magic talisman (I added that for effect, but I got really close to being tempted!), that would transform my highly strung super-sensitive nutcase into the chilled dog I had so wanted.

It took me a long time and a lot of learning to be okay with the fact that he would never be a ‘take-anywhere dog’, not because I’d ‘failed’ in some way in not finding the holy grail of dog behaviour modification or scrimped on his training hours or socialisation, but because that’s just not how he’s wired.

I certainly made plenty of mistakes along the way, but looking back, I think we’ve done okay.  Suzanne, a very dear friend of mine who, thanks to her own journey with her own super-reactive dog is now a brilliant trainer, joined us in the woods for a walk the other week with her chilled Cockapoo Barney.

Watching LB meet lots of new dogs (pre-vetted by me obviously), play in puddles, carry sticks and clown around with her lad, she gave us the highest compliment ever, “Wow, he’s just like a ‘normal dog’, she said.  Now THAT I’m going to remember. Well done Little Bear! x

 

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Little Bear with his pals 2019 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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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