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Looking back and what next

Over these last 12 weeks, I have written about a positive reinforcement training method that dogs readily understand that you can incorporate into your way of living instead of the old enforcement method. Chastisment by shouting or hitting your dog is not being an option. It may make you feel better but it does more harm than good. No is the only verbal negative command you should need as your dog recognises when you are angry from being able to read your facial, body expressions and interpreting hand signals better than verbal ones. If you cater for all of your dog needs and have the understanding of your dogs question of what is in it for me whilst always remembering that you control all that happens not your dog then you will have an excellent relationship. The most important central theme running through all these articles is the answer I gave to my daughters question as to why, with all my experience of training dogs and handlers, should I need to take my next pup to an obedience-training club in Spain. I hope that now you can all answer Socialbility. Like any child we cannot let our dogs grow up using their own rules of right or wrong simply because we do not understand. We must learn to communicate with our pet and spend the early days in education, as we have to do with our children. (Forget the dog translator)

The first 6 weeks of a puppy’s life is to learn from its mother of how to socilise with other dogs and after that it is for us to take over. It is from the next 6 weeks your puppy needs to meet with just about everybody and every experience we can think of in order for it to survive without the need to resort to aggression. In these next months, you then teach your dog obedience and further socialbilty training until you feel you have a dog that has reached a suitable standard and become as we say Bomb Proof. It is only then that we feel we can live without anyone feeling anxcious about our dog. A dog purchased at 10 to 12 weeks old will be better adapted at relating to dogs than people whereas a dog purchased at 6 weeks will be better adapted to people but less toward dogs. Enlightened breeders are now undertake socialisation training to their remaining pups in order that those sold later than 6 weeks are better adapted to the human environment they are soon to encounter. The more a dog remains with the litter it learns to adopt the standard canine rules and when it then enters a human household, it applies those rules to humans. It is these canine rules that can give rise to many common problems with possibly a subsequent need for a period of retraining.

Though I mention so many of the problems that we find confronting us, I must congratulate the 60% of owners whose dogs are never a problem to neither man nor beast. Often the dog’s character is one where it never wishes for confrontation nor has any hierarchal intentions and quite happy being the cuddly family pet. Some have never been to an obedience class as such but still the dog has had a socialbility class of a kind. Just the way owners take their dog to meet other people and other dogs if done frequently enough is sufficient. Remember classes only last a few hours and only teach handlers how to teach their dogs during the rest of the week. Classes do have the added advantage of meeting so many dogs good and bad that this has that additional help for bomb proofing. I personally would like to see the same system as used in Australia where every dog must qualify at a test to show owners have taken all reasonable steps to teach our dog at making them sociable and well mannered.

Unfortunately, every day someone somewhere a dog owner must face the parents of a child savaged by their dog. How do you answer them? As dog owners, do we ever consider it because we should? Alternatively, we do we try to see it from the position if it was our child who was savaged. Remember I wrote regarding the police handler with the child with no face and the dog intent of further carnage with the owner blaming the child. I do ask myself what would I do in the same circumstances and if it were my daughter no longer with her face. If I had a gun, could I draw it, remove the safety and point it at the dog and owner. Could I disregard all our laws, Gods laws and pull the trigger until it simply clicks. Thank god, we cannot possess guns. I do not wish anyone to ever feel anxious about any of my dogs nor do I wish to ever have to face any parents. As I originally stated to remove the threat of the most sever attacks you need to ban all fighting and large breeds. This I know would not be popular. The question is which is best, protect the right to own a large breed or protect children. You cannot have both unless prepared to accept a certain level of attacks or alternatively we are all prepared to train dogs never to use aggression. Even now, that choice may no longer exist, as there are hints of proposals under future EC legislation to phase out the larger breeds. If we cannot show we have control then others will do it for us.

The way forward and what can we do next.

I have received a number of enquires from ex-pats in Spain and those intending to move to Spain asking are there any dog training and competitions available here. I wonder how many Ex-pats are suffering withdrawal symptoms from not having to get up early to go to some club or competition. Do they think they had purged the bug of dog training from their blood stream? I was at Ollerton Open Working Trial the other week to see those dog handlers still severely bitten by this bug. The number of people who are now buying suitably fitted out vehicles just for working trials training and competitions is incredible. They are just like police dog vans. The agility owners are just as bad. They travel all over the country just to compete and to feel that thrill they receive from working with their dogs.

I had a look round the web and came across a number of sites and I see there is considerable interest by the Spanish in agility competitions. I also see that around Javea there exists a number of English-speaking dog training classes with all the equipment needed to teach agility. It is possible you could set up your own inter-club competitions and if you feel confident enter the Spanish competitions. (It is all right your dog does not speak Spanish or English) Dogs and handlers love agility competitions and it is great fun for both. Dogs love it because once they know the basics it is they that improve their ability and speed. If the dog knows the course, they can navigate it faster than when running the course directed by the handler baring the occasional compulsory stop. Even then, they listen for the steward to say go. Why not try it.

What is a working trial competition is a frequent question that people ask me not just by ex-pats here in Spain. There are such competitions all over the United Kingdom and people never know they are there. In America in the last few years, they have organised the first four working trials clubs whereas before they only had hound tracking. You may have seen the agility section in the local paper or on TV. Once a year we see on the news extracts of the criminal work from the National Police Dog competitions or from a Civilian Police Dog competition in your area. There is much more to these competitions than this but watching a dog complete a track without you having any knowledge of what is happening is like watching paint dry. Nevertheless, when you do learn more about trials you begin to think to yourself I can do that and I must get a dog.

In working trials, you are teaching your dog to use its sense of smell, agility and mental ability for you to work as a team. The competitions are there to test how well you have succeeded through the various levels. Each level has an open competition to compete in and qualify in before you can enter the championship ones. To hold the qualification of TD excellent or PD excellent is a very high accolade in deed but to become a Working Trial Champion in PD or and TD is the highest.

We start with the Companion dog, which has a simple article search, agility and obedience. In the Utility dog, this incorporates a half-mile track of half an hour old together with the search, agility and obedience at a higher level. Working dog has a track at one and half hours old plus all the rest of the work and then the two top stakes Police Dog and Tracking Dog where the tracks are now three hours old. Police Dog also includes the criminal work that we all enjoy watching and is the most popular with the spectators. In these competitions, the judge can set up an incident that can look and feel quite like the real thing. It is all fun enjoyed by dogs and handlers irrespective whether they win, qualify or not. You may also have the opportunity to conduct a body search for a weapon and for your dog to protect you when the criminal tries to attack you. (No it is just a cursory search so no ideas please)

Unlike the Police, the civilian handler must train for fun. The barking you will hear is all enthusiasm. There is no aggression and biting the criminal on the arm is only to retrieve the leather sleeve and nothing more. Returning the sleeve to the handler is the conclusion for the training of civilian dogs whilst the actual detention of a criminal is the conclusion for a serving Police Dog. The outcome may appear the same but it is not. With the legal ramifications, fewer police handlers send their dogs to detain today because of the injury the dog can inflict and the huge amount of paperwork needed to justify using the dog. Working Trails may become the last place where people will be able to see how Police Dogs worked. Following further cost cutting in the Police forces it is a pity there are now very few serving Police dog handlers allowed to enter the civilian competitions any more. At this years Police Nationals there was seen a marked decline in the standard of the current competitors.

The most important part of a trial is the track. This is where a person has walked in a field following a prescribed pattern given to him by the judge. These are about half a mile in length and will have more legs on it in Tracking Dog compared to Utility Dog. At certain points around the track there are articles left for the dog to find and retrieve. These are to represent articles lost by a criminal or lost person. The handler and their dog must then follow the same pattern by the dog detecting the track by smell and recover all the articles. This is when the dog wears a harness and the handler follows on a long line. The track can be from half an hour old up to three hours old between laying the track and the dog and handler running it. At half an hour, there is a great deal of body scent to follow but after an hour, the dogs must begin to follow the changes in the sent coming up from the ground that each footprint creates.

There is a missing person search in the Police Dog stake. This might be for a criminal or someone lost and maybe indisposed so each exercise seems very realistic. (I used to use this when our cat stayed away from home for days. I would take my dog down wind of the village and walk him across the wind until he detected her scent in the air and the rest was easy). A judge will also incorporate a test for food refusal here either given by the criminal or left on the ground near the indisposed person. Searching woods or empty building for hidden people is great fun but not much to look at for spectators. Steadiness to gunfire is encountered anywhere in any part of the competition in all of the stakes.

I have giving you only a small and the very briefest insight into trials but I will cover each competition exercise and the required training in the weeks to follow.

If there are any ex-working trials addicts here in Spain that would love to take it up again just for fun and possibly compete then please contact me. This also applies to anyone interested to learn more about it and even try it. I can certainly set up seminars, training courses, and give help to organise clubs where members can train regularly. I can also organise a competition based on the current Kennel Club rules and standards.

On a personal note to PC Trevor Ellis Manchester Police Dog Handler retired now living somewhere below Torrevieja I say a very warm welcome to Spain and please give me a call. I would love to hear from you.

Next week I will go through the required training for agility and trials competitions as well as problems and further progress reports. If you have any questions or queries then as before, please contact me.

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