rethinking your Dog Training

Professional Dog Trainers talk about Avoidance as though it is some sort of difficult thing to do. It isn't but then again it is a non-human compatible process.

WHAT?? Okay listen. If we are scared of something as a kid our parents ask us to push the boundaries and get over it. If we are scared of water they enrol us in swimming classes. If we have trouble with Maths, our parents send us to Numberworks. If we hate dogs or horses etc. Sometimes it works out good - hey kids say you hate something that you really want and the parents will do the thing so that you grow to be 'well rounded'. It is Brer Rabbit syndrome but that might be hard for younger handlers to understand and dates me terribly. Just LOL right now.

So when our dogs show a dislike, aggression, or are terrified of 'a thing' which makes them shake and be unable to act in a normal calm manner, we are at a loss as to what to do. The regular thinking is that if a gun dog is gun shy, just keep doing it until he gets over it. If a dog shows aggression to sheep, cattle, cats, just keep the dog fronting at it saying NONONO and beating it over the head and the problem will go away. Wrong. It will get worse.

So the first practise is Avoidance. If the dog is turned away from that aggression or terror immediately and held quietly then normality will eventually be the emotion it reverts to. Let's look at an occurrence. Walking down the street, dog on leash, dog sees cat, goes nuts. Immediately turn the dog away from the distraction sharply and stand on the leash with the dog forced to go into a down facing away from the problem. Your leash should be about one and a half meters long you should be able to get your foot on it and move up to the collar clip and down the dog. During this time your action is to forcibly turn the dog on the lead, stand on the lead to the collar clip forcing the dog into a down facing away from the action. You will stand there, upright, not bending over until the dog normalises its behavior. You will not say one word to the dog. No voice, no anger, no feeding treats. As soon as the dog normalises then give it a 'good dog' and a treat if you have one, but definitely touch your dog as soon as it normalises it's behavior. Now, you have a system for dealing with cats on walks. The next distraction might not be a cat but whatever your dog nuts off at on a walk then the action above is what you do.

Next statement from training person, but I let my dog run loose at the park and when it sees a cat it won't come back. Answer, Why are you letting your nutty unreliable dog loose at the park so that it can run off and harass another animal. Training person, but all dogs need free running exercise. Answer, Absolute rubbish, if you are working your dog and training your dog and walking your dog for one hour per day, or two hours total dedication to training and walking, then your dog does not need to run loose in the Park. When he is older and wiser and will come instantly when you call and will have a positive response to all distractions then he can run loose at the Park.

Question - so how long will I have to practise 'Avoidance' . Well it is an interesting question, because almost everyone I train with their dogs actually has their dog's faults pretty much figured, early on in the piece. Many people say to me, he is a really good dog and loves children and other dogs, is good with our cats and budgies but when we take him to the lake he is terrible about the swans. So what I am saying is that every dog has its breaking point, its things that 'get its goat', if you like and most owners know what these things are. Friends say to me they are going bush for the holidays and other walkers are taking their dogs, but they don't feel that their dog would cope as he runs away to hunt and probably wouldn't be good around nesting birds and we might not get him back if he sees a pig, or a rabbit. Great, know your pet's faults. Don't go out there all bravado and let him run riot in the bush and kill a kiwi or disappear never to be seen again after a rabbit, so that your tramping holiday is ruined. If you can't cope, put him in the kennels. That is avoidance. If you take him with you then put him on his one and a half meter long leash and tie him to your belt and put a pack on his back so he carries his own stores, food, poo bags, water, and tramp with him as a companion. Some time in the next five years if you do this often, your dog won't need to be tied to you he will know his job is to stay with you and carry his stores in his backpack. But don't rush it, or better still, train for it. Do short tramps to get him used to the job, just the same as you would build yourself up to being fit enough to do a tramp.

Once you have the avoidance action completely under control and you know how to normalise your dog's behavior by waiting until it happens keeping him in a quiet position without communicating with him, then you can move on to the next step of conquering his absolute terror or aggression or combination of both by starting at a long distance, to confront his demons. It can be a long slow process and it can be very frustrating. Get an understanding trainer to help you work through this. Use the process of Obedience lessons to get his attention back on you and learn how to work through the next stages of distraction. Once you have this under control you will be amazed at how different your dog is about looking for trouble, which is what he has been doing until you started to take control.

If there is any part of this process you do not understand please contact me or another trainer who understands the next steps after avoidance, and I know they will help you to get to a happy place with your dog. If you don't do anything, then your poor dog will spend it's lifetime 'being a nuisance'. Not good enough folks. It is really modern life with it's lack of full time employment for dogs that is causing the neurosis, don't buy into that for your best friend.

Raewyn Saville 13 October 2012