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Behavioural updates and the diary of an adopted shelter dog IV

I would just like to congratulate two dogs that who have featured in these articles for gaining certificates in basic obedience and one has even won a trophy. One handler had used the modern training method of using the translation of commands reinforced with titbits whilst the other who won the trophy is the dog that has barked for over four years.

I am still receiving many emails regarding poor recalls. Again, the most common complaint is the dogs can do this in classes but not outside. Over thirty years ago, an owner asked us the same question and PC (Big) John Poole suggested next time he tells his dog to sit before he recalled him. The following week he returned to say that it had worked but he could not keep telling his dog to sit when he needed his dog to come back to him. Our reply was "Welcome to the real world." This was not a criticism of the handler only the way training classes taught civilian dogs in the ritualised regimented system that has little application in the real world.

Modern classes no longer look like those featured with Barbara Woodhouse yet they still exist. I asked David Bowels of the RSPCA International what is the current position regarding check (choker) chains. He says that so long as owners use these correctly as part of a proper training programme then they should not cause pain. I will let you draw your own conclusion but an answer I did receive is that it is better to have dogs trained by any method than not trained at all.

Modern classes normally only take a maximum of eight dogs and all eight remain for the full eight to ten week course. They must cater for all dogs from the worst to the best. You will never hear these instructors say to any owner that their dog is too aggressive or too timid so it will disrupt the rest of the class. All the dogs need proper training.

Those of you who are in training classes why not ask your instructor if you can all sit at tables simulating sitting outside a restaurant for coffee and have your dogs under the table and take it in turns to walk your dogs in amongst the tables. You could walk dogs towards each other having handlers closest to one another to help with socialisation. What about having all the dogs in a sit and stay and someone walk past and in amongst the dogs giving you the opportunity to correct your dog. Why not try someone or the instructor walking up to each dog and standing in front of each dog showing the eye-to-eye aggressive stance for dogs to see how each reacts. I could go on with a long list because these types of exercises are the applications of your obedience and socialisation training. Parade ground training is great for the instructor as it whiles away the hour but handlers need to practice the applications not copy the class routines during the week until the next class.

Behavioural Updates

Winston and I completed another trip to Cartagana and back to see as many dogs as we could. We started at 9am and returned home at 4am including a two-hour sleep in a lay by.

The first dog we met was the TV dog that barked at all animals that invaded the house via the television. This meant the owners could not watch TV without the dogs constant barking. At my suggestion, the owner had prepared a 15-minute video of all the worst programmes in preparation for our visit.

There were two dogs in the house and the smaller of the two had now started to join in by barking along with the other and it was this dog that barks at all strangers including me and would not be quiet. The husband took this dog outside and I placed an Aboistop collar on the TV dog. The owner started to play the video and as soon as the dog barked this released the odourless gas. It was not long before the dog would not even look at the television but was shivering. The reason for this is there was now a conflict that the dog could not resolve. It wanted to protect the family from all the animals that invaded the house but now gas appeared stopping it from barking. We then gave the dog praise for seeking comfort by sitting next to use for a cuddle and praise. This was an improvement to the previous behaviour acceptable to owner and dog alike. We then needed to bring in the other dog but as he was always barking at me, I went outside. I expected that as the other dog has stopped barking this dog would receive no further benefit so would remain silent. This is what happened but there is one further problem. This smaller dog barks at small humans too and so as some have just arrived for a visit the dog barks incessantly setting off the collar for the other. With such a short retraining programme, the removal of the collar the dog is barking at the television again. I have suggested they place the collar on the smaller dog to stop it barking at the children then return to retraining the other dog afterwards.

The next dog was the one that chased shadows. It also hates water to such a degree that it is concerned for the owners when they swim in their pool. I have delivered them a compressed air can to use to stop him pacing up and down when there are swimmers in the pool. I hope to have Winston swimming soon and then we can try to encourage the dog into the pool to rid him of his aversion to water. For chasing shadows, the dog is calmer but not cured. It is at best to say it is under control for the present.

The third dog was the dog where the previous owners had chained it to a workbench for four years and it barks incessantly. The vet has suggested cutting the vocal cords as the only way of solving this problem. The vet had also prescribed using an electric collar but the owner's think they failed to set it up correctly as it had no effect. They also were averse to using it anyway. I would thought that if it had been working it would have turned the dog inside out so I was wondering what was this dog like and amazed to see only a smallish dog that was very friendly and obedient but for the barking.

From the information, I believe this dog thinks it has to protect the owners as if they were its responsibility so as long as they stay in the house and the dog is outside it is happy. If one of the owners leaves the house, the dog goes ballistic. Even in the car, the dog will not tolerate either one to get out of the car to go shopping whilst the other remains with the dog. As I said before the owners have two other smaller dogs and they are no trouble, so the problem is not lack of dog experience. The question was how do they solve this problem and give the owners back their lives.

I held the dog on the lead when the owners left the house and they drove off in their car. Nothing happened, the dog did not bark it just looked at the door. We tried placing the dog in its crate and the owners left the house leaving me close to the crate. At last, the dog barked and received compressed air for its trouble. After this, the dog was wary of my presents so we tried the remote gas collar. The remote had some effect but the feeling was the Aboistop automatic collar was more preferable. This they would purchase at their local pet shop for about 80 euros. I learned the next day that whilst in the car the dog had barked when one owner left the car and after using the compressed air, the dog remained quiet. Therefore, it does know what is required but it must have this reinforced with continual retraining.

The owners are also following some dominancy training and I have lent them some useful books like Jan Fennell, Roger Mugford and Bruce Fogle just to help them understand the dog's way of thinking. The owners had read all this in desperation and thought the dog was 80% separation anxiety and 20 % dominance. I had to disagree because it is like reading a medical book and you think you have all sorts of disease when in fact you have none. Therefore, it is with this case that the symptoms can look the same but certain actions are not consistent with separation anxiety. The main one is the dog can be outside and not in sight of the owners providing they are safe in doors. Another is when I held the lead the dog did absolutely nothing and it should have gone ballistic when left alone in the house with a stranger if this were separation anxiety. A third is that being with either in the car one owner leaving was enough for the dog to bark. The dog would have been happy with either owner if this were separation anxiety. There were also signs of dominancy control by the dog with its continual shadowing of the owners to pin them down to chairs etc.

Diary of an adopted shelter dog

The most important training is still the recall so I call him every time a car comes past us on our walks or to come away from barking dogs. Sometimes I just say, "come" together with clapping my hands and my arms open wide simply as a test and to give him praise. There are now odd occasions when he thinks he does not need to come all the way back but I keep calling until I touch him and then give him lots of fuss. I want him to enjoy some play every time he comes back so reinforcing in him to enjoy returning to me when I call. I am slowly allowing him to move further away from me on our walks but I regularly show him I still have influence over him. I do not train for any failures. He must come back to me every time I call him and he always receives generous amounts of praise and play. Never show anger nor chase your dog to try to get him back.

Currently I do not need to use titbits, as Winston was initially my permanent shadow and never letting me out of his sight. Using this his recalls were easy but now as he learns his new ever-increasing environment with more interesting things to see and smell, recalling to me ever time is imperative.

For some fun for both of us, I do sometimes go inside an empty building to have a look around. If I find somewhere I can hide, Winston will soon realise I have disappeared and then he begins a frantic search for me. If he takes too long, I just clap my hands and then when he finds me for lots of praise. I only needed to do this once to help him find me but now he can find me very easily for a big hug and praise. This hiding reinforces his need to never let me out of his sight as well as an early training for a building search looking for a missing person or criminal. If you wish to try this, make sure it is in a safe place in case your dog moves too far away from the building and your influence. Always be aware of where your dog is by sound of your dog moving around the building. Its only a game of hide and seek.

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