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Posts Tagged ‘Labrador’

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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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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After the trauma of Annie’s TPLO last year to repair the damage caused by the ruptured cruciate ligament in her knee and the long and achingly slow recovery process, we were nothing short of delighted the first time we saw her off lead, bounding through the woods like a normal dog.

We’re realists so we knew there might be times when she’d be a little stiff in that leg and of course there’s always the risk that the other cruciate could degenerate at some point meaning we’d have to go through the same process again on the other leg, but we were prepared for that as a possibility. What we weren’t so prepared for was for nearly 18 months later, her to have a bout of seemingly unexplained lameness on the TPLO leg.

It started after a normal and pretty uneventful walk in the forest. She came home, laid down and got up holding up her leg. That was six weeks ago and the vet has drawn a blank. The metal work is all in place, he’s manipulated and palpated and can find nothing seriously wrong. There are days when she’s absolutely fine, but then days when she’s hopping lame.

We’ve refused another XRay as even the vet is pretty sure that it won’t tell us much and with his support, have opted instead for chiropractics. Luckily, the McTimony chiropractor we see also treats horses and dogs. She had her first treatment on Friday and although it went well, she’s on house rest for three days. Have you ever tried telling a walk obsessed Labrador that she can’t go out for three whole days? I’ve been trying to sneak Little Bear out so that she won’t see but I feel so mean!

Hydrotherapy is also on the list so these dogs will be keeping us busy in the coming weeks and months.  When I think about what they give us though, it’s a no-brainer – they’re worth every penny and every minute of our time. All I want is for my dogs to be happy and healthy and I’ll do whatever it takes to make that happen.

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