How was your Bank Holiday Monday? Did you enjoy the rest and break from routine?
I hope you did. If you live with a reactive dog there may be one routine which is seldom fully relaxing no matter what day of the year it is. The Walk. I bet you've got a system worked out to try and ensure you have the least chance of meeting your dogs Triggers, whatever they are.
You have times of day, specific locations, equipment and so on. You may have to drive out to your preferred spots rather than walk out your gate and straight into your neighbourhood.
You may be able to build relaxing, enriching activities into your walk too. I know you do your absolute best to ensure your dog remains under their threshold.
BUT ........ us reactive dog walkers do know this, we can't always, control every event, encounter and environment as much as we'd like to. So then what?
If you've had one of those walks where the dreaded has happened it can be hard to get over it, to forgive yourself and to move on.
Perhaps you've been making progress and now fear your dog's gone back a step?
Maybe you feel you should have been more aware or vigilant?
Did you feel the need to get back to the car, cut the walk short and escape home?
Did you get cross, was this a moment when your knowledge went out the window and you wondered if they will ever JUST GET OVER IT?
Stressful isn't it? It can take you a while to come down from an 'event' it may take your dog even longer.
We can all get a bit obsessive about the Walk, we can get hung up on getting that energy out of our dog, sometimes more especially when we have a Reactive dog, but guess what? If your dog has encountered a Trigger or even more than one on a walk it could take them some time for that experience to leave their system.
Just a couple of side affects could be:-
Less deep and recuperative sleep
More knock-on reactions to usually small less significant triggers
Possible quicker more pronounced reactions on the next walk
We absolutely know how important physical exercise is for all dogs. But, if their emotional state during the walk is compromised, then a rest day or days, could in the short term, be the better option.
Yikes! Are you worried your dog will now be crawling the walls? Here's what to do, break up their rest day with short training intervals, 5-10 mins a couple of times a day. Teach something new like a trick.
PLAY...... with toys, with Hide & Seek, with You.
ENRICH - meal times by feeding with a KONG, a Licki Mat, with foraging exercises.
NOVELTY - Introduce something new, it could be a new toy, a new blanket, or just a random box of (safe) leaves, twigs, grasses, herbs for them to unpack and explore.
SLEEP - let them just chill and sleep, remember the quality of their sleep can be adversely affected by a Trigger reaction, it may take a few days for their anxiety levels to reduce and a truly restorative sleep to occur.
BONUS - Rest days are good for you too! You also need recovery time so enjoy, reset, reboot, recover.
PS. This really should have gone out yesterday's Bank Holiday. But me and Milo were having a day off. Sorry (not sorry!)
Wendy the Weary Wanger
Habitat: Any flat, grassy, open space.
Behaviour: Wendy can be seen twice, sometimes three times a day with her high energy, ball obsessed dog Floss.
Most likely to say: "this is absolutely the last one Floss….. oh OK three more then home, I mean it!"
Floss is either crouching in front of Wendy, trembling in anticipation or flying at top speed in pursuit of/retrieval of her tennis ball.
Wendy stands in one spot, waits for Floss to deposit the ball and then using her wanger she launches the ball once more. This happens over and over for several minutes at a time. If Wendy tries to carry on walking Floss grabs her ball and dances in front of Wendy nearly tripping her up, as she stops abruptly in front of Wendy, drops the ball at her feet again and barks and barks AND barks until…… Wendy picks up the ball with her wanger and it starts all over again.
Eventually Wendy grabs Floss’ collar clips on the lead and they go home.
Poor Wendy, her shoulder aches, she’s bored stupid with this routine but doesn’t know how to get out of this rut. In the beginning she thought using the wanger would be a great way to exercise Floss. The trouble is rather than tiring her out it seems to be doing the opposite.
Despite her frequent walks and frantic wanging Floss seems to never tire out. What should Wendy Do?
Zoe the zoned out Zombie
Habitat:- Edge of the playing field, leaning on the railings or sitting on a bench.
Most likely to say:- It’s OK he’s friendly
Behaviour:- Headphones in, phone out, head down eyes seldom on her dog who is….. tearing around the Rec, bounding muddy paws up on you, sprinting after some dogs, bundling and bowling over others.
Zoe’s dog is a nightmare. (we don’t know his name because we’ve never heard her call him) He doesn’t know how to even approach other dogs let alone how to play with them, he doesn’t understand that some of them don’t want to play at all. Sometimes Zoe’s dog finds a friend on the Rec who’s bigger than him, can cope with his boisterous style, enjoys a game of chase with him and helps to draw him away from hassling everyone else.
So far, Zoe’s dog has been lucky but one day he might approach, bully or frighten another dog who may react badly.
What should Zoe do?
Sally the Sorted Stroller
Habitat: Lots and lots of different places, including lovely open country spaces, town centres, you might spot her in a pub garden enjoying lunch with friends, her tired, contented dog enjoying a chew under the table
Behaviour: Sally and her lovely dog Louie have a range of walking styles, sometimes Louie is walking on a loose lead, sometimes he’s off lead.
Mostly likely to say: Thank you, yes he’s lovely I’m very lucky
Louie trots a little way ahead, sometimes a few paces behind and sometimes by her side. Louie checks in with Sally frequently. Stops and waits for her to catch up. He’s allowed to go off and explore, enjoys pausing to sniff and investigate, sometimes they just sit together and enjoy the view.
Sally mixes up their routes and routines, she slips little training exercises in as they go along. Louie loves to climb and jump so when they find suitable obstacles out and about they incorporate a little parkour into their walks too!
Sometimes they walk with other friends but often they’re just out together the two of them. If they see a dog on lead, Louie goes on his lead too, till they’re safely past. They seem to know when to give others space, but if other walkers and dogs are keen to say hello they will, but they move off again quickly.
She always has treats, comfy boots, poo bags a small doggie first aid kit, in fact Sally always thinks of everything. Sally’s enough to make you sick! On the other hand maybe we’d secretly like our dog to be more Louie?
Mike the Meerkat
Habitat: Quiet, deserted country lanes round about dawn
Most likely to say: Sorry
Behaviour: Mike takes his highly reactive dog Lily on an hour long walk every day. They always set off in the car and drive out to the most deserted places he can find. Even in the quiet of the early morning Mike is unable to relax, he spends the whole time on high alert, constantly scanning all around him. Frequently looking behind him.
Coming to the end of a track he’ll stop and peer out around a hedge before going on. You might, if you’re out very early observe his head bobbing up above the hedgerow at frequent intervals.
They come out at this time to these locations because Lily seems to be afraid of the whole world. She barks, lunges, squeals, spins and jumps at so many different things; cars, bikes, joggers, tractors, motor bikes, people, other dogs…... the list seems endless.
Despite these precautions Mike can’t guarantee that they won’t come across something that will trigger Lily’s hysteria. A tractor will come past, a pheasant or rabbit may shoot out in front of them or worse still they might meet another dog walker.
Mike and his ex partner got help for Lily soon after they adopted her. She was beginning to make progress and then Mike and his ex split up and he let things slide. Mike dreads snowy weather which can mean they don’t make it out at all, or Lily falling ill, the last trip to the Vets was a nightmare.
He’s overwhelmed and isolated. Is there hope for Mike?
Can you relate to these dog walking types are you a Wendy, a Mike a Sally?
And who am I?
Like many of you I suspect I’m a bit of a combo. I’m deffo not a Zoe and thankfully not a Wendy but sadly my dog is more of a Lily than a Louie. We enjoy chilled out Sally type walks, we don’t have to go out at dawn but I am cautious where we go and am a bit of a Meerkat.
Will he ever be a Louie? Perhaps not completely but gradually we’re chipping away at multiple triggers and widening our walking environments and horizons.
but we’re even worse…..
Why the Poker analogy? Well because one of the skills of a great card player is knowing how to read the other players, those little clues which predict when someone’s, bluffing or holding a killer hand.
Great players can contain their responses so that their opponents can’t read them but are expert at reading the ‘tells’ of others.
If you feel your dog is unpredictable or that you don’t always understand how he might be feeling – it won’t be because he’s an expert liar, or is able to disguise his body language. He’s giving you clues all the time you just have to learn how to interpret them. Why? Because not only will it help you with your relationship bond and training but could also help you to keep him and people/dogs around him safe too.
The exception to this would be a dog who has become ‘shut down’ through trauma or one where appropriate responses have been previously punished out of them. (If you think this is the case seek help from suitably experienced trainer.)
So we have to become doggie detectives and study the particular signs that our dog is giving. Some might be really overt and obvious and others slight and subtle, Some appear quickly and others build slowly. These could be stance, muscle tension, position of ears, tail carriage, mouth- opened or closed, vocalisations. etc. etc. etc.
Phew! So much to look for, but the more you watch the more you’ll learn and the better you’ll get at reading your dog’s Tells and getting a better picture of how they’re feeling.
Want to find out more? A really great resource is the Dog Decoder App you can download it from the Google Play or App Store for under £4.00, it provides amazing interpretations of canine body language through very clear illustrations and simple text. It’s brilliant! ttp://www.dogdecoder.com/
See whether some of your dogs’ poses are in there, is this what you thought they meant? You might be surprised.
Why not test yourself now? Here’s two images:- have a look at the first one and see if you can spot all the indications of how this dog is feeling all these show us that the dog is very unomfortable with the proximity and scrutiny of the little girl? All the Tells are in the second image.
Yeah? Well let me tell you about MY day
When people are describing their Reactive dog to me they sometimes say things like …….‘It’s really strange, some days are great and Fido doesn’t have any meltdowns, but other times he goes mad at a dog for no reason’ or ‘I don’t understand why he only kicks off at that particular point on our walk, and only on some days’ or even ‘it’s like he’s constantly thinking of new things to add to his list!’
Does this sound familiar to you? Have you ever wondered why you can’t seem to predict a pattern for your dogs reactive behaviour or why just when you think you’re making progress you have a set back?
It could be Trigger Stacking. Let me translate this to a human scenario, you wake up 10 minutes after the alarm should’ve gone off – no worries you always allow yourself enough time in the mornings, off you go to work…… whoops you’d forgotten the fuel light had come on last night, no time to stop now, fingers crossed there’s enough petrol left to get you to work.....
Oh No! there’s been an accident and you’re in a queue – you’re going to be late for work that’s if you make it to work of course because you haven’t got any petrol left remember you’re now running on fumes only. Phew! you’ve made it to the office, but all the car park spaces are gone so you’re going to have to circle round the street. So you’re now officially late AGHHHHHH you HATE being late it makes you so stressed.
You see what I mean? Just one thing going wrong isn’t that big a deal but when nothing seems to be going right…..
Back to the dogs, if your dog is reactive, chances are he has more than one Trigger, perhaps even a couple you’re not aware of as the Triggers will also have a scale of influence on your dog.
So a possible list in order of severity could be:
Number one - other dogs the sight of another dog will guarantee a reaction obviously you’re doing your best to regulate this exposure and you’ve got him so he’s OK as long as he can pass on the other side of the road.
Number two might be loud noises like big motorbikes or heavy lorries again this will upset your dog though not as badly as Number one.
Number three may be skateboards – Fido may be OK with these a little way off, but doesn’t like them too near especially behind him.
Number four might be busier spots, it’s not the end of the world for him but if you have to navigate the bus queue he does speed up to weave around all those legs and get away
Numbers five, six and seven might not be things you’re even aware of, and/or only have an influence at certain times. For example, feeling a bit off colour or having some pain. The weather, some dogs think they’re going to melt in the rain so a pouring day wont do anything to improve their mood. Feelings of confinement – this could be an underpass where sounds are also amplified, or types of gateway for example.
So a possible set up for a reaction you weren’t expecting or one that is more severe than you’ve experienced for a while; Your Dog barks and lunges towards a dog that’s a good way away on the other side of the field, you struggle to hold on to him and he takes ages to ‘come down’.
He’s usually able to handle/ignore other dogs nearer than this what’s wrong with him? Well maybe he encountered a few of his other Triggers on the way to the fields. You went through that kissing gate that he seems at bit afraid of, you did see your friend soon after you set off and she would NOT shut up so he was standing around for about 10 mins when he was raring to go. Oh yeah and she did have to stop you in the middle of the High Street and the kids had just got out of school and were all milling around outside the shop and it didn’t help that those three girls all wanted to stroke him, and, and, and, and.
You can’t control the whole world to make it suit your Reactive dog. But you can try to be aware of all the likely things that contribute to his anxiety. You can also learn the particular signals that he might be giving to show you just how uncomfortable he’s feeling before it all kicks off, we’ll be looking at these in my post ‘Tells! - or Why Dogs are Pants at Poker’.
Fed up of being a midnight dog walker? Want to enjoy spending time out and about with your dog? Ready to learn how to gain coping skills for you and your reactive dog? Then get some help from a positive, force free trainer or behaviourist.
Getting to Know You the First 21 Days
So I got this new dog, he’s lovely but……
I hear this phrase often from clients and now it’s my turn.
Three weeks ago I picked up my lovely new fella from his previous home. He has come from a lovely family who had pulled him out of a bad place. Because his start was so poor he came to them with no socialisation or training and they suspected, a situation of neglect and deprivation. They did a great job in helping him to be really good around the house, gentle and tolerant of the children and their much older dog.
Unfortunately though he is scared or reactive around just about every environmental stimulus you can think of. So that’s noises, objects, people, cars, bikes, motorbikes, other dogs, birds, planes, hats and the list goes on. Breed specific traits include a high prey drive so smaller, fluffier dogs would be especially vulnerable around him. Because of this shopping list of ‘issues’ his family found it pretty daunting to walk him or expose him to this myriad of Triggers, so reluctantly decided to re home him and reached out to a charity to help them in their quest.
That’s where I came in. Did I know what I was letting myself in for? Yes, I met him twice and walked with him and saw first hand how low his threshold is.
Yikes! So where to start and how can I help? Slowly is the short answer, but here’s the shopping list of what I’d like to achieve. (In no particular order)
1. Impulse control
3. More exercise
4. Different Diet
8. Coping strategies
9. Less stress
12. Safe expression
13. Mental stimulation
So these first weeks have been all about getting to know him and giving him space for his personality, likes and dislikes to emerge and establishing a routine.
I’m so lucky to have access to private Dog Fields so exercise has been increased. Can I control everything in this environment? No - I know I won’t meet any strange dogs or people there, but I can’t stop a wood pigeon shooting out of a bush, a low flying plane going over or a pheasant shoot happening near by. Can he respond to, look to or listen to me in this environment? Not at first no, everything was so novel and exciting and/or scary, but now, yes!
So that’s how we proceed, a baby step at a time. Can he learn new stuff in the house? Absolutely Yes! Can he do that same training in the garden? After a few repetitions Yes. So the next step is to take that new learning into the field or the bottom of the drive for example, then we’ll go further up the drive, then to the Vets car park etc. etc. etc. It’ll be ages till we can go off on a lovely walk where other walkers and dogs may be. But that’s OK we’ll get there one day. In the meantime it’s my job to keep him under threshold as safe and secure and as confident as it’s possible for him to be at the moment. Oh and keep the dried sprats, venison sausages and/or cream cheese coming, not to mention the new toys and fun games (that’s one of the first jobs - work out the favourite forms of reward!)
Is it going to be easy? NOPE
Am I going to make mistakes? NO DOUBT
Is it going to be rewarding? YEP
Will it ever be boring? NEVER
Dog Law - A brief guideto the bits we need to know
Do you know your responsibilities as a Dog Owner are? It can be a confusing picture and like all things under the Law can be open to interpretation of events. So here’s a guide to what you need to know and do.
The Law requires all dogs in a public place wear a collar with the name and address of their owner on the collar itself (such as printed or embroidered) or engraved on a tag attached to the collar. You are required to include the postcode you are not obliged to include a phone number – though it would seem common sense to do so. Here’s an example of a Law Abiding ID, with the addition of a telephone number.
Ms D Doglady
No 1 Crufts Lane
07777 777 777
Note: you are not required to include the dogs name. Personally I don’t. If god forbid, your dog was stolen a dog responsive to it’s name is easier to pass off as the thief s own if they attempt to sell on.
On 6th April 2016 the Law on Micro-chipping came into force, so all dogs must be chipped. Some of you might have registered with an additional service who have sent you a special tag which contains the company phone number and an ID code, these are designed to help speed up the finding process should your dog become lost. Remember though the Law states that your dog must have the info above displayed so if this is you, your dog needs to wear both tags.
In the Car
Rule 58 - The Highway Code - When in a vehicle make sure dogs or other animals are suitably restrained so they cannot distract you while you are driving or injure you, or themselves, if you stop quickly. A seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard are ways of restraining animals in cars.
Non compliance with the above Ruling of the Highway Code is arguably unlikely to result in prosecution on it’s own. However if your dog is loose in the car and is distracting enough for you to make an error deemed as driving without due care and attention or even dangerous driving then it could be a whole other story. Additionally and really importantly;- an unrestrained dog is so much more likely to be injured or cause you injury in the event of a collision even a little one.
Out of Control?
It is against the Law to let a dog be dangerously out of control anywhere such as:
- in a public place
- in a private place e.g. a neighbours house or garden
- in the owners home
What is out of control? Here are some of the definitions under the Law:
Injures a person
Attacks another animal
Seems clear enough – hang on though what about these:
Makes someone worried that it might injure someone
The owner of an animal thinks they could be injured if they tried to stop your dog attacking their animal
Be honest, do you think your dog may have made someone worried in this sense, perhaps during bouncy adolescence? Or have you been scared by another dogs’ interactions with your dog? Has your dog been attacked?
Under the letter of the Law even the perception of an attack being possible is in theory –prosecutable.
A measure much more like to affect us in our daily life are: Public Spaces Protection Orders
These are regulated by Local Authorities and restrict how and where you walk your dog. In these areas you may be required to:- keep your dog on a lead, stop your dog from going into certain places such as parts of a park, farmland etc. and limit the number of dogs you can walk at one time (this applies to professional dog walkers too) the number allowed depends on individual Authorities many do not impose a maximum number ruling. Any areas imposing Public Spaces Orders should have the particular restrictions clearly on display. Any Local Authorities planning to designate new PSPOs must publish their plans prior to inception.
What can you do to protect you and your Dog?
1. Make an honest assessment is your Dog a fizzy Fido - Likely to chase, Jump Up, Bowl over or otherwise worry people or dogs? Not fond of the Postman?
If the answer Yes then get some help from a professional
2. Be aware of any restrictions in your area and make sure you comply with them. If in doubt put your dog on a lead
I’m not going to patronise you because I know you’re a responsible lot who always pick up after your dogs. Even in those country areas, in the long grass around the fields, because you’re aware of the dangers of dog poo contamination to livestock. So I know you already pick up every single time? Cool!
So, you think your dog could do with some training – you don’t fancy weekly group classes.
Maybe you’ve rescued an adult dog and you’re realising he hasn’t had much training at all. Perhaps you have a few different things you need help with, like Loose Lead Walking and some Impulse Control for example.
You book an initial quite long appointment with a Dog Trainer. You’re not sure how many weekly sessions you’re going to need, the Trainer has explained that it will really depend on your Dog and also You. Hmm….
Following lots of questions and note taking - you run through a few exercises with the Trainer and it works! A couple of times it doesn’t work quite so well. So the Trainer tweaks your timing and you practice a few more. Fantastic. Wow! turns out Fido isn’t an idiot and neither are you. RESULT.
The Trainer leaves you with a simple Handout, printed on blue paper with some nice clear illustrations so you can re-cap in your own time. And another sheet with daily Homework tasks, ‘sorry - homework’? Yes fraid so it’s over to you for the next week until your next session.
The next day….. well the Trainer isn’t due back for days yet. The following two days you’re at a work thing……. And so on, till you get to the day before the second session and panic. Where’s that blue sheet of paper gone? That’s when you see the little pile of blue paper under the table. FIDO! Aghhh…….
Or maybe you do it diligently every day but Fido is throwing in a new response that you’re not sure how to handle? At the session you realise that your timing was off again and that’s why Fido was reacting that way, so back to step one.
What other professional service works in this way?
Here’s what I mean: Say you have a very tall tree in your garden which is pretty dead, the limbs could come down, you need help. You hire a tree surgeon who assesses the situation and explains the work that needs to be done, he then points to the bits you need to cut, leaves some rigging, safety gear and cutting equipment, explains that he’ll be back in a week to check on what you’ve done. Oh and you pay him too. Whaaaatttttt????
A Few Facts
● As Trainers we are taught to coach people to train their dogs – this is the default position for much of the teaching we are given as we learn to be trainers. There are whole organisations, books, seminars, conferences indeed a whole industry based on this. This is what Dog Owners sign up for in Group Class, this is not necessarily Dog Owners expectation of 1:1 training
● I love coaching people, I love to see the lines of communication clear between dogs and their owners and for their bond to grow. Training is a great facilitator for this.
● Good Trainers have spent years and £1000s honing their knowledge and skills. Trainers can judge when learning criteria needs to be lowered, or can be raised in relation to the unique, individual dog they are working with. They can recognise signs of stress and frustration in Dogs.
A New Model?
Owners purchase a bundle of sessions, paid in advance but split into instalments. They are told at the outset how many sessions will be needed.
Owners get to choose
a. Full coaching alongside their dog
b. To observe training sessions with Q&A at the end – owners have 1:1 coaching at intervals during the training plan (usually middle and end, sessions 3 and 5 for example)
c. Trainer works alone with dog and owner has 1:1 coaching as above
Less drop off
Dogs learn, owners learn, communication increases, resentment dissipates
I’d love to hear what you think about this especially if you’ve had experience yourself as an owner who’s brought in Dog Training. How did you find it? Did work for you and your dog? What sort of format did you have?
Jo Boyce. BCCS.Dip.Behav.Prac