Tag - avoidance - Dog Handling

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Monday, February 3 2014

Good Dog Training Newsletter -February 2014


Towards the end of last year it became apparent to me that I was failing some of the dogs, and people who come along to Dog Sports. My feelings of failure really came to a head with the three Bella’s.

Bella #1 came to me three and a half years ago with her owner Mo. Bella is a Labrador/ Sharpei. She is a hyperactive, full on, fun loving, barking dog. Mo despaired of her, she would take her for a run at the local dog park and Bella just disappeared. This left Mo with many hours of worry until she finally turned up again. Smiling all over her face and telling Mo what a lovely time she had had, she then proceeded to drag Mo by the leash back to car or back home via the walk to the park. We started training her to do Control, and then Obedience and then Flygility. She loved it all, when she concentrated she was fantastic, for about twenty seconds and then she ran off to do whatever, jump in the trough, chase a bird. She really loves playing tennis ball. Nothing really calms her down. However, she is a great animal.

Bella #2 is a Greyhound cross pig dog. She also loves to chase things, coursing really as Greyhounds do. She is also a fun loving dog, no malice. She belongs to Leonie and her husband and children whom she loves dearly. We have been working on Bella's Flygility for a couple of years now, and sometimes she is just terrific and other times she goes zoomies around and around the training grounds just burning off energy and trying to rark up all the other dogs. She loves to take a playmate or two with her on the zoomies and generally winds up half the Flygility class. Bella road runs with Leonie for exercise and should be getting enough to burn off her frustrations.


Bella #3 is a White Swiss Shepherd, a fabulous looking dog, almost full grown. She belongs to Rebekkah and her family with Mum Debbie taking equal responsibility for her training. Bella is quite shy, especially worried that other dogs are going to 'get' her. She is due to be spayed, so some of her nervousness could be her starting to mature, however, in my opinion she is a typical Shepherd who really needs confident handling

Obedience Class, but it is slow progress, and as soon as a new dog comes into class she wants to run back to her car (which we encourage her to do) and to bark and fuss and pretend she is aggressive to the new thing. There are a bunch of other dogs who come to classes, who are still lacking confidence, are over protective of their owner/handlers and are slow to learn to concentrate, in spite of the best and most sincere endeavors of their han-dlers. Bear, George, Gus, Mac, Tippy, Sabre, Jezz, Petra, Harry, Sophie, and others…

On top of that, one of the things I have noticed at Obedience/ Agility Shows, is the number of dogs who are working beautifully in the ring, but who have muzzles taken off before they go in to compete and put on again when they come out. They are unable to stand quietly close to other dogs without lashing out and there are a number of dogs who are incredibly nervous, which ruins their performance opportunity. Then there are some who just leave the ring in panic, particularly junior dogs.

I have puzzled over this for a long time. I have owned two dogs who were slow to settle in new places and when faced with new dogs, but it never took two years or more to settle them down. Twelve months and they are over it. So what is going on?

Dogs are pack animals. Rolls off the tongue easily, but do we actually understand what it means. It means that whenever a dog steps outside its own territory it has to find its place in a new pack. Every time a new dog comes into the pack territory the home dogs need to show the new dog its place in life. Mostly at the bottom of the ladder. All of the above behaviors of dogs at our club are born out of stress. That stress is created by us, the owner handlers, because we interfere with the natural integration program that the dogs want to follow, so that everyone fits in with everyone else. How does that work you might well ask. Well there you go, you have no idea, and I probably only have an inkling of an idea after all these years of observation. This is what I know.

When you arrive at a new place, or where there will be other dogs that your dog might or might not know, leave your dog in your truck, or if you have walked there, tie your dog up to a post or tree and put a piece of your gear down beside it. Now go for a walk on your own and suss out what might be around that you think might cause your dog grief. Why, well because it will be your surprised scared behavior that sets off a negative chain of events that can have terrible consequences. In order to move your dog on, you need to let it know that this is a safe place and the dogs here are safe. HOW will you know if it is a safe place from your dog's point of view - a dog will only accept food if it is comfortable, it will only play with its toy or ball if it is relaxed. SO. Get out that treat pot and feed your dog a small amount while it is confined, tied or in the truck with the door open. Pat your dog, tell him he is a good boy, feed him a bit more. With a leash attached to his collar but not held by you, drop it on the ground, do a little bit of off lead heel work. Do some go look / come look stuff. Tell your dog this is a 'new place'. Play tug with his toy. If a dog/cycle/child on skateboard comes around a corner towards where you are working calm him, tell him 'new dog/cycle/child'. When another dog runs up to your confined dog, tell him 'Good Boy'. Remember your dog is confined or has a leash attached, the other dog/cycle/child is the aggressor. Back your dog, don't touch him, step away from him, keep telling him good dog in a calm voice. When the other dog, cycle, or whatever has come close to him, has moved on, go back in there and tell him good boy and give him another treat. If you are working out of your vehicle, encourage him to get back in and let him come out at his own pace. Don't rush him.

Two things now. If your dog's tail is up, his ears are normal, he is looking at you 'What's next boss', then you can move on with your continued introduction to new place, if not - the dog is fearful, lying on the ground tail tucked up, ears flat, or growling, lunging barking at the aggressor, then take your dog home do not continue with your new place walk or introduction. Your dog will not get any enjoyment from this walk and will have a negative experience.

So what to do with dogs who, for one reason or another, have worked up a stress related behavior over a period of time, which overpowers them and makes them behave either crazy or aggressive or a bit of both. Free run class is for them... Free run class teaches people to trust their dog, to back their dog and to take action to manipulate their dog into a calmer emotional space. Free run also allows the dogs to make contact with each other in a doggy way, without us interfering too much. I will interfere if it looks like the aggression is getting a bit over the top, but I don't want the owner/handlers interfering because someone will get bitten. There is a massive emotional THING going on about our dogs, in our heads. One of them is - 'what if my dog gets killed' and the other is 'what if my dog kills someone else's dog'.

Natural things that dogs do: Chase other moving things, jump on and push down other dogs, growl at other dogs and people they do not know, run away in fear, run up to other dogs they perceive are in their territory, protect their boundary fences, protect their owner (if he/she allows it). Bark incessantly when their territory is breached. Chase children or other animals making noises that sound like screaming. Grab hold of things they think are moving to attack them. Bite hard when they feel very threatened. Lose the ability to stop attacking once they reach a certain level of hysteria. Are all these things avoidable - yes but good solid control training is absolutely essential.

Be aware that the beautiful fluffy border collie pup is not a wind-up toy. It is capable of doing all of the above, and so are most dogs. Sensible things, if you own a large dog, be aware that even if your dog is playing he may kill a small dog. If you own a very small dog, keep it safe, it does not belong at a public park where huge dogs are running, there might be an accident.

Free run class is:

 designed to teach people who are dog handlers and owners, how to introduce their dogs off lead in a busy space with lots of other dogs (such as when you go to dog shows)

 designed to let the dogs burn off a bit of energy both physi-cal and emotional; and

 designed to allow the dogs to find their place in 'that pack' without interference from nitwits who have no idea what language their dog or any others are speaking.

To achieve this I have set aside an hour from 3p.m. till 4p.m. on Saturday to Free Run. We have had three sessions and they have all been just magic. Come and watch if you are doubtful. Your dog needs to weigh at least twelve kilos to participate, (Gus is the exception).

My hoped for outcome is:

 dogs that learn how to fit into new stressful situations with-out going over the top.

 dogs that start to follow good body language emitted by their handler.

 dogs that can concentrate on the game at hand without losing the plot.

Val said it all when she said. 'I don't have to worry about them any-more, I don't feel stressed when they rush off to other dogs, I know nothing is going to happen and I know what to do'. What a great start to the year!

Saturday, October 13 2012

Practising Avoidance

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