Is your dog a chase junkie?

SabreBe his supplier no more.

The young couple has a beautiful Border Collie pup called Sabre, five-and-a-half months old.

He greeted me outside the house, pulling hard to get to me. Most of the time I was with them he was flying all over the place or barking at the young man in particular. He barked for him to throw a toy. The man always complies because the barking ‘goes right through his head’.

He barked at me too but not so much. I ignored it. After a couple of hours of ignoring the barking and giving Sabre things to do, I introduced Click for Calm.

At last Sabre understood what we wanted of him.

The wrong kind of stimulation

They have a very clever puppy (he’s a Border Collie!) that needs a lot of mental stimulation. Too much stimulation of the wrong kind can cause problems.

They are pumping him up too much, the young man in particular. The fallout comes in the form of over-excitement. He barks and obsesses with people throwing things for him. .

There are issues that need addressing. These are chasing their two cats, chasing cars, jumping all over everyone and barking. The barking is relentless and constant barking. Like many Border Collies in particular, Sabre repeatedly drops a toy onto a lap. Then he barks. And he barks — until someone gives in.

Mealtimes are impossible. To stop Sabre barking, the young man plays while he’s trying to eat.

Honing Sabre’s chasing skills

Then don’t want him chasing the cats or traffic.

With all the throwing they are practising and honing Sabre’s chasing skills. Border collies herd because they were selectively bred to and it’s in his genetics. The sequence is staring, stalking then chasing.

They are making super-skilful his already predatory instincts. All the throwing fires him up to the point of obsession. He would go on until he dropped. His brain gets a buzz every time he chases. To his brain, like cocaine, constant chasing is addictive.

He now needs to go cold turkey.

They will cut right down on throwing and never respond when he’s pestering. They don’t need a thrower on a walk (see ‘I Hid the Ball Thrower‘). While he’s chasing his obsession he is missing out on the enrichment of the environment. This is where all the sights and smells are.

Unwittingly taught him to bark

By always giving in they are reinforcing the behaviour they don’t want. Because barking drives them mad, they give in! They can see that they have actually taught him to bark.

Now they will show him that the barking and flying all over them doesn’t get the attention he wants. They will do this by looking away, ignoring it and even walking out.

This is not enough. Equally important is to show him what he can do instead and to fill his life with more suitable stimulation. We started Click for Calm and that’s the way to go with Sabre. If they have no clicker on them, ‘Yes’ will do, followed by food (but no chat as chat would simply pump him again).

He caught on super-fast and was soon experimenting to find what would earn him clicks!

Click for Calm is the antidote.

Yes, he can have a ball, but only for ‘changing the target’ work and nothing else. They can throw other toys, but only a few repetitions and never when he’s asking for it. After three or so throws, they should remove the object.

They will provide alternative behaviours to the things they don’t want. They will find alternatives that are incompatible with cat-chasing for instance. When he’s eyeing up a cat, on a cue word he can chase a ball in the other direction instead. Change the target.

With Sabre on lead and in a room with the cats, they will use Click for Calm. Each time he relaxes, looks away or settles he will earn a click.

Suitable enriching activities

They will provide as many ‘calming’, brain and chewing activities as they can. Already they feed him in various imaginary ways and teach him training tricks. They will add ways of allowing him to let off steam like a rummage box or snuffle pool.

Now they will instigate plenty of play and training sessions, but only when Sabre is quiet.

He will learn to keep away from them when they are eating. They can give him something to do that is incompatible with barking at them while they eat. For now they will throw a handful of kibble all over the grass and shut him outside. He must never again think that barking at them while they are eating will get him back in. They will need to hold their nerve — let him in once and will never stop.

They live in a friendly environment with people calling. They will need to pass the word around. The will ask other people to give Sabre a chance to calm down before they say hello to him — a notice on the gate too.

As the barking affects the young man the most. I gave him my clicker. With this small object and a supply of tiny bits of food in his pocket, he has the power to stop the demanding barking.

With Click for Calm Sabre can settle down.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. Details and names may be changed. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

For many more stories of dogs I have worked with, please go to my website www.dogidog.co.uk

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Patience is a virtue and virtue is a grace…..

…and Grace is a little girl who wouldn’t wash her face. If you were my age you may be familiar with this saying from your school days!

Each time I hear the word ‘patience’ it triggers this saying in my head. Then it makes me think of my childhood.

pianoFrom an early age I’ve used patience and stickability.

I was self-driven to excel at playing the piano. I had an end goal in sight. Two end goals actually. I went to a school that specialised in music and the competition was strong. I also wanted to be able to play wonderful piano music.

I had a great teacher who inspired me.

In my dog behaviour work I need to be a great teacher too.

I must instil patience and stickability.

Elizabeth B Moje of the University of Utah said “I teach students, not subjects’. So true.

Instilling patience in a worried dog caregiver is a huge challenge when there can be no honest guarantee at the end of it. The most scientifically knowledgeable behaviour expert in the world would be ineffective as a behaviourist without being able to inspire patience.

Your being patient hangs on one thing and that is belief.  Belief in me. You have to believe that, if you stick to my plan for long enough, the outcome will be successful.

In our line of work we can never make promises, so this can be tricky. ‘Follow my advice for long enough and I can promise you will be able to leave Bertie for up to six hours a day’. That would be unethical.

Guarantee of future success with your dog is impossible.

We humans can believe in things of which there can be no proof of – like the existence of a heaven. But achieving everlasting redemption may depend upon avoiding doing things.

Using threat would be as unethical as promises. ‘If you don’t follow my advice your dog will likely end up being rehomed or put to sleep’.

Instilling belief in me and my advice is my biggest challenge. If, as a child, I didn’t believe I could eventually conquer Bach’s Italian Concerto I wouldn’t have put in the time and practice.

Belief instilled in dog owners hinges upon understanding. Understanding based on the principals and methods behind the advice. Understanding of the amount of systematic work and repetition necessary.

Belief is best backed up by ‘what others say’. Testimonials and Google reviews infer some kind of guaranteed success. Other people can say on my behalf what I myself can’t.

Testimonialseparation

I often tell my piano-practice story to a client whose dog, for instance, has separation problems or reacts negatively to dogs he meets on walks.

If I wanted to play the piano well it meant practice. Hours of practice. Scales, One hand at a time, slowly then faster and then hands together. Then the same with a new piano piece.

One step at a time.

It took hours, days and weeks. I kept the end goal in mind all the time.

With so much repetition I was setting up brain memory until I could play the piece by heart. When on a stage in a concert or taking an exam, my hands just played it. I never thought about the individual notes anymore.

So it has to be with many dog behaviour and training protocols. This includes unlearning old habits whilst building new ones.

Repetition creates the strongest learning—and most learning—both implicit (like tying your shoes) and explicit (multiplication tables) relies on repetition. It is also why it is so hard to make behavior change, because the new behavior must be repeated for so long—and the old behavior must be held in check.” (Gretchen L. Schmelzer, PhD – not referring specifically to dogs).

Schmelzer ends “So with rare exception, repetition is the only real option for learning, unlearning, and re-learning—and yet as adults we so often believe that we can and must learn everything fast. Everything is supposed to be 3 easy steps, or maybe 5, but not 100. We are designed to learn through practice”. We can apply this to both ourselves and our dogs.

Repetitions build proficiency.

Repetitions require patience.

Patience requires motivation.

Motivation requires belief.

I had total belief that, if I worked for long enough at the last movement of Beethoven’s Pathetique piano sonata, I would conquer it. So I did.

In these days of instant everything, we are working against the flow.

Chip away at it, a bit at a time, and suddenly you realise things are falling together. (That’s not a guarantee but a high probability).

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“My Dog Won’t Listen”

How many times do we hear that?

We all remember from our school days the Mr. Smith who couldn’t keep control; we all ignored his shouting and ‘discipline’. There were riots in his class.

Mr. Smith dished out detentions and punishments freely.

On the other hand, many of us will have left school with our favourite subjects. These will have been taught by teachers who fuelled our enthusiasm and interest. They didn’t need to shout.

They simply had ‘it’.

Charisma? Enthusiasm? True interest in each child’s learning?

I was a school teacher once – many years ago. I like to think I had control without shouting. How?

I rose to the challenge of ‘being interesting’. I taught class music which could be a challenge with teenagers. It would need imagination to capture the enthusiasm of 13-year-old Steven to listen to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony when he’d rather be outside kicking a ball.

It was MY job to make Beethoven something that fascinated Steven.

It wasn’t HIS job to be interested.

It was down to me, not the boy.

What if I took my eyes off the ball and I sensed the rumble of a rebellion?

I reacted immediately. No shouting. Shouting merely adds fuel to the already ignited fire.

I stood very still. Silent. Silence with stillness eventually gets attention. Then, when I spoke, I spoke VERY QUIETLY.

They listened. They sank back into their seats.

Now I tightened up my own game. It was my failure, not theirs.

Some kids, admittedly, are more inclined to disrupt the class than others. Some are more of a challenge. They have wandering minds and a short attention span. With them we have to raise our game.

See the parallel with dogs?

Commonly the dog that ‘won’t listen’ has learnt to become deaf to the more and more loudly repeated commands. The shouting is simply less relevant to him than what he wants to do.

The more the ‘dog doesn’t listen’, the louder the shouting. He may even be punished for ‘not listening’.

But whose to blame?

You want Alfie to ‘listen’? Then tighten up your game. You simply need to become more interesting, more rewarding. You are quieter. You consider Alfie’s needs. You use management to avoid Alfie getting into the position of challenging you.

An example

A common example is the dog ‘not listening’ when she’s called. Bella can hear you but the lingering smell of a recently passing fox is a lot more relevant to her.

How can you be more relevant than fox? Be realistic. You probably can’t!

While we humans have been occupying ourselves all day with our own chosen things like jobs, internet and watching TV, our dog spends much of the day waiting for his or her opportunity to do ‘dog things’. Things like sniffing where foxes have passed recently.

It’s no wonder we can be low down on out dog’s list of priorities when out in a field.

I would suggest you go with it instead of fighting it.

In the case of ignored recall, use a long line. Wait until Bella eventually loses interest in fox scent and then call, not before. Even if you’ve had to wait, make coming to you really worthwhile.

What is worthwhile? You know Bella best – it could be food or it could be fun. You may need to engage more generally – to be more on her wavelength. Vary the reward. Don’t let her know too well what you are going to do. Keep ahead. Keep her interest.

Trying to be forceful and shouting repeated commands will probably have the opposite effect to what you want and could damage your relationship with your dog.

If your dog ‘won’t listen’, then it’s due to you, not the dog

Some people do build up the kind of relationship that gets priority over the scent of passing fox. It’s possible. Have you got the time for the hard work, commitment and consistency necessary?

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Stepping Stones to Calm and Confident Walks. A Chaining Game for Reconstructing Walks

This is a new game that I’ve developed to help people whose walk is an emotional crisis for their dog.

It’s for dogs that are manic, over-excited and over-reactive, making walks a nightmare. It’s for dogs that are scared or jumpy – or simply don’t want to go out at all.

Reconstructing the ‘walk’.

I have taken ideas from Janet Finlay and Leslie McDevitt Pattern Games, and from Bankhouse Barker’s circuit walks.

It’s all about transforming your dog walk into something quite different – not what the dog has been programmed to expect.

The Stepping Stones Game involves a sequence of actions for the dog, using his or her memory and also anticipation. Anticipation is a really good way of getting the dog’s attention and keeping it. It increases focus which in itself results in calmer behaviour.

Do you remember the game (you may not if you’re if you’re young) ‘I packed my bag and in it I put…..’? I used to play it with my children. One would say, ‘I packed my bag and in it I put (for instance) a toothbrush’. The next one, ‘I packed my bag and in it I put a toothbrush and a Mars bar’. The next one, ‘I packed my bag and in it I put a toothbrush, a Mars bar and a tortoise’ (as the game became silly).

You will build a chain of stepping stones with your dog, based on the same sort of thing.

The wildly excited dog

A dog that is wildly excited may jump up and grab the lead or grab you. He may be over-reactive to other dogs and people, She will very likely pull on lead. A wildly excited dog is experiencing an emotional storm and can’t cope. Any loose lead walking technique goes out the window.

The aim is for excited and over aroused dogs to begin their walk calmly.

The frightened dog

A dog that is terrified out on walks and perhaps very reluctant to go out, may due to fear also be over-reactive. This dog is also experiencing a kind of emotional nightmare. He/she simply feels very unsafe.

The aim is for the sacred dog to start out willingly and more confidently.

The convalescing dog

The third use of the Stepping Stone game is only indirectly to do with walks. It’s for dogs that can’t go for walks who are perhaps having to convalesce; it’s a really good enrichment memory game just for its own sake.

Okay, so this is this is roughly what you to do.

Like the saying ‘charity begins at home’, enjoyable walks begin at home also.

First of all list all the cues your dog knows. You might call them commands, I call them cues. Things like sit, lie down, paw, stay…… Now list the activities and games that your dog enjoys.

To start with have about 10 activities. All right, we may want to make it longer eventually but you don’t use them all at once you add them one at a time.

Here’s an example of links in a stepping stone chain. Your first one could be ‘count aloud taking five slow paces’. Then ‘take five slow paces and then sit’, then ‘take five slow paces, sit, stay for a couple of seconds, drop food’. Then ‘take five slow paces, sit, stay for a couple of seconds, drop food’ and a short game of tug’.

Build your stepping stones until it takes about 10 minutes and do it four or three times a day to get the sequence really learnt and established.

It goes without saying that over-excited dogs stepping stones won’t involve things that are too exciting, or fearful dogs anything that makes her/him uneasy.

The order of stepping stones remains the same, the route covered is variable

Your stepping stones stay in the same order always. It’s best to always add a new thing to the end only.

The ground you cover varies.

You begin only where the dog is most comfortable and calm. Your stepping stones go around the house and the garden, in as many rooms as you can. Vary the exact route each time.

Don’t push ahead too fast. When each step is learned and anticipated you add another stepping stone onto the end.

When your dog is ready, sometimes add walking just outside the front door to your random circuit. Come back in again to continue your chaining in the house and garden.

Harness, lead and other ‘walk triggers’

Two important things to add into your chain are putting on the harness and then a few activities later adding the lead. When you do come to open the front door you’re not having to stop put on the harness and lead.

Add in other ‘walk triggers’ like changing your shoes or picking up your keys.

If the dog is excited or scared when you go out of the door, spend more time in the house and garden before trying again – just opening the door but not going out this time.

Once you establish going out and coming straight back in again you can then gradually take your chaining a little bit further away from your house. Your neighbours may think you’re crazy but they might enjoy watching you as well!

Over time you will be eliminating a lot of the triggers which the dog associates with going out for a walk, causing excitement or fear. They will begin to mean something else, something not loaded with emotions of fear or excitement. You are reconstructing the walk.

It could mean you don’t do anything but this game with no walks at all for a while. It depends upon how severe your case is.

The choice of stepping stones themselves will depend upon a lot of things.

This is very general course. For each dog and his or humans, it’s going to be very individual. What the stepping stones consist of and where they lead is going to depend upon what sort of house they live in and what it’s like outside the house. It will depend on the dog’s emotions, temperament and personality.

It’s going to depend on a lot of things. Work out the best sequence of ‘stepping stones’ for your own dog and then take it slowly, adding one at a time.

Theo Stewart www.dogidog.co.uk

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Silence is Golden

imagesThere is a lot nowadays in books and the media about humans reading the language of dogs, a pioneer of this being Turid Rugaas in her book On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals. 

There is less said about how dogs read us humans. We humans do like to use words, anything from commands to continual background chatter. We only tend tend to consciously use body signals to comunicate with our dogs when employing exaggerated signs to replace words in training or distance work.

Roger Abrantes suggests on the Ecology Institute Cambridge website, ‘Our dogs, I’m sure, think that we talk too much and say too little. My advice to dog owners: when you cannot improve on silence, be quiet’.

His short video beautifully demonstrates the instant connection between him and dogs who don’t even know him – all action and very few words.

Human beings love talking. Dogs may vocalise, but it’s not verbal. Words are the least salient means of communication to our dogs.

Try this: ask your dog to sit in your usual manner – and preferably video it. You will probably find you nod your head slightly or make some sort of movement with a hand. Now try again, keeping dead still and saying the word ‘Sit’ just once. Very likely the dog will do nothing. Now try the nod or slight hand movement without the word ‘Sit, and wait. There is every chance your dog will sit.

Abrantes finishes, ‘Dogs are connoisseurs of silence. Instead of so much talking, I’m convinced your dog would value immensely more a friendly glance or a tiny pacifying gesture. In other words: if you don’t have anything important to communicate to your dog, keep quiet.

Here is the story of a dog I went to that had been bombarded with words, which left him no opportunity to work things out for himself.

Here is my main website with stories of many dogs I have visited: www.dogidog.co.uk

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Ten Proven Ways to Achieve Aggression in Your Dog

aggression

In no particular order.

ONE: Be confrontational

TWO: Steal things off her

THREE: Interfere with his food while he’s eating

FOUR: Overdo contact sports

FIVE: Use physical force

SIX: Assume she wants to be touched especially when she’s resting

SEVEN: Push him into situations he can’t cope with

EIGHT: Allow too much excitement around her

NINE: Chase, corner or trap him

TEN: Watch Cesar Millan

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A Behaviourist? What should that word really mean?

A ‘Behaviourist’ is about much more than letters gained through college. Some things can’t be learnt at university alone.

Wikipedia vaguely says: ‘A dog behaviourist is a person who works in modifying or changing behaviour in dogs. They can be experienced dog handlers, who have developed their experience over many years of hands-on experience, or have formal training up to degree level’.

Why do I call myself a Behaviourist?

I call myself a Behaviourist simply because it’s the word the general public and potential clients search for. They have their own concept of what a Behaviourist is and what they need.

This is what a dog ‘Behaviourist’ really is in my opinion:

  • A dog lover
  • A person lover
  • A shrink
  • A trainer
  • A friend
  • A listener
  • A motivator
  • A problem-solver
  • A supporter
  • A non-judger
  • A sponge for knowledge
  • An enthusiast for learning
  • A holder of meaningful practical qualifications
  • Someone experienced who has lived life themselves
  • A professional who is answerable and accountable

Can anyone call themselves a Behaviourist, then?

Yes, anyone can call themselves a Behaviourist. There are no qualifications legally required. The unwitting public can be blinded by a ‘Behaviourist’s’ claims to belong to associations with letters after their names that are totally meaningless.

In their desperation to get help with their dog, how many people do their research?

This is what makes public awareness of the Charter so important and membership of the leading force-free associations that continually check and vet their members for ongoing learning, ethics and standards.

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You and Your Dog’s Uniqueness. (A word in the ear of first Time Dog Owners)

Your uniqueness.

In choosing your canine friend, your first dog, I hope you did your research well or chose a responsible rescue.

Wherever your new friend came from, whatever his or her start in life, she’s yours now.

She’s living with a unique you – your first dog.

You very likely have high ideals of being the perfect dog-parent. You want to get everything right from the start. You research diligently. You ask questions.

You may well join a Facebook group for advice. You chat to your friends who have dogs.

And here is where the trouble starts and very likely before your new dog or puppy has even joined you.

Asking on social media

Sharing a question on Facebook in particular can open up a barrage of advice (usually limited and often biased or unethical). Some may be good, some very bad. As a first time dog owner, you don’t have the experience to judge.

The deluge of ‘advice’ encourages you to try one thing after another, briefly. This may be because you don’t have sufficient faith in this advice to stick to it, or because there are other alluring suggestions that promise success to ‘try’.

You are easy prey to those owners and other so-called ‘professionals’ that still are in the harsher dark ages of dog training.

They may advocate dominance and quick-fix results. As the Alpha, you should go through doors first and never let him step in front of you, that he must be crated, never on the sofa or on your bed, that she must go through a series of tricks before being allowed eat and so on.

One common example is being told to leave your puppy to cry all night in a crate, away from you. This has made so many new puppy parents very unhappy – not to mention what this must do psychologically to the puppy.

They quote certain TV trainers to back up their dogma.

Your uniqueness

What applies to one dog doesn’t necessary apply to another. What works with one dog may not work for another.

You are YOU

Your lifestyle is YOURS

Your dog is YOUR dog

There is a multitude of variables: your personality, your family, physical abilities, environment, state of happiness or stress, financial, restrictions, your other dogs, your other animals. Your dog’s past, genetics and personality.

What about your own true preferences when not influenced by ‘other people’ and popular belief?

So together, you and I as a behaviourist, we create your OWN UNIQUE IDEAL STRUCTURE for life with your dog. We come up with a positive, force-free plan that is bespoke within certain unnegotiable constraints.

Positive doesn’t mean permissive. There are boundaries, but they are kind, fair and consistent.

Welfare and ethics

Our plan, after discussion and questions, is a Mix ‘n Match of all kinds of factors both human and dog.

We have flexibility but only within those boundaries that map out the dog’s welfare and needs.

Your uniqueness

There can be no universal template

You are uniquely YOU. Your dog is uniquely your dog. Your dynamics together are UNIQUE.

Instead of listening to what ‘people say’, ask yourself WHY.

If you’re not 100% happy with something – DON’T DO IT.

My job is for you, a first time dog owner, to find out about YOUR dog, YOUR needs, YOUR wishes, YOUR circumstances.

Then, always within the boundaries listed above, we mix and match to create a UNIQUE protocol for you to follow. 

It’s not about imposing anything on you. It’s about explaining how things work, how your dog might feel, understanding how you might feel, providing a bit of the science behind suggestions, and then working something out.

No more ‘try’

Having faith in the advice, you can now ‘do’ rather than ‘try’ …. and be consistent in ‘keeping doing’.

(Of course all this applies just as much to people whose dog isn’t their first).

Join my own Facebook group if you would like qualified support and answers, somewhere you won’t get lots of conflicting advice from non-professionals.

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“Are you a Cesar Millan or a Victoria Stilwell?”

I’ve just spoken to a lady on the phone who had asked a trainer, “Are you a Cesar Millan or a Victoria Stilwell?” and it got me thinking. These two polarise people’s perceptions with the dark side still holding their ground.

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To be fair on CM, he’s nowhere near as extreme as some. It’s his far greater exposure that is the real problem. People copy him rather than make informed choices based on evidence.

Anyway, why do force-free trainers need loads of studies and the weight of scientific evidence to argue the obvious?

Everyone knows that a good proportion of offenders incarcerated for violent crimes and aggression will have had lousy childhoods, many having experienced violence, neglect or witnessed aggression from a parent or other adults.

Exposure to violence in general can warp minds and alter behaviour. AAP Gateway proves the ‘Linkages Between Internet and Other Media Violence With Seriously Violent Behavior by Youth’.

Everyone knows that many of the most violent and desperate criminals very often have had a terrible start in life. Of course a terrible start in life doesn’t necessarily predicate ending up as a violent criminal and many seriously abused dogs have become gentle and loving pets.

Everyone knows that a child brought up with patience, care, love and understanding has a much greater chance of ending up a well-balanced adult than one that is harshly discplined or tormented.

It’s obvious.

Why are we having to take a stand against the notion that teaching a puppy or dog, or any animal in fact, using violence, pain and intimidation is any different to doing the same with a human child; that it will produce a non-violent, non-aggressive, balanced, sociable and self-controlled animal?

People may say about a rampaging kid (it’s sometimes hard not to agree), ‘what he needs is a clip round the ear’ (dog equivalent: pop with prong collar or choke chain).

What he really needs is some quality attention, mental stimulation, some fair rules and boundaries that are consistent and that he understands — and positive reinforcement for good behaviour.

Harsh techniques and gadgets promise quick results. We live in the age of instant gratification. We do what works best in the short term, closing our minds to the future tsunamis we are creating.

I quote Stanley Coren in Psychology Today regarding punitive methods of training dogs.

‘While on the issue of dog training, one of the most practically significant findings found in this research has to do with the effect that the type of training has on a dog’s risk of aggression.

There have been a number of studies that have reported that training procedures based on punishment can have negative consequences ( click here for an example).

In this study the researchers defined such punitive training techniques as including things like physical punishment (hitting the dog), verbal punishment (shouting), electrical or citronella collars, choke chains and jerking on the leash, prong collars, water pistols, electric fences and so forth.

Such punitive techniques apparently increase the risk of aggression in dogs. They are associated with a 2.9 times increased risk of aggression to family members, and a 2.2 times increased risk of aggression to unfamiliar people outside of the household.”

Why do we need studies to tell us this?

It’s should be obvious.

Here is the story of a dog I went to that well illustrates the divide between the methods of the past where the owner must be Alpha and ‘in control’, and modern science-based methods that enable dogs to develop ‘self-control’ by giving them encouragement, reinforcement and choices.

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Mental Health and Wellbeing is for dogs too.

Scared1

In these days of lockdown, we constantly hear about how the mental health of us humans can be affected.

Have you thought how many of our dogs live their lives all the time?

Eight-week-old puppies deprived company, many older dogs socially isolated for hours at a time, dogs socially distanced from their own species, denied choice where they go; unable to escape from things that scare them.

Isn’t the mental health and wellbeing of dogs what a behaviourist is for?

Where the vet, like a GP, is primarily to concerned with physical health whilst passing more targeted problems onto specialists, a behaviourist like myself is is one of those specialists.

I am primarily involved with a dog’s mental health and wellbeing. A bit like a human psychiatrist or counsellor.

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If dog owners were more aware of the mental benefits to the dog of using a behaviourist as readily as they choose a trainer, many sad situations could be avoided.

This is the order in which people very often think of getting assistance for their dog:

  • Trainer
  • Vet
  • Behaviourist

I would change the order.

  • Vet
  • Behaviourist. Quite rightly the vet is reluctant to prescribe meds unless the dog is having help from a behaviourist as well. The vet is needed as a number one to check there is no physical reason for the dog’s emotional state. The vet however, unless a veterinary behaviourist, isn’t usually experienced in behaviour work.
  • Trainer

There is considerable overlap between each one of course.

Training

Mental stability surely has to be more important than learning ‘commands’ or ‘cues’. Fortunately nowadays many trainers also double up with behaviour work as the importance of a dog’s mental wellbeing is increasingly recognised.

A dog is now accepted as a sentient being, not as a sort of slave to be dominated, commanded and controlled.

In the UK dog owners, and many vets, are very reluctant to use psychopharmacology on dogs. A dog is expected to suffer fear and anxiety in a way that would long ago have brought counselling and medication to a human. Meds are often prescribed as a very last resort, at a stage in the dog’s mental health where a human may even be either harming themselves or contemplating ending it all.

scared3

Ethics

Thankfully ethics are becoming more and more important in the world of dog behaviour and training.

Here in the UK we now have the UK Dog Behaviour and Training Charter https://ukdogcharter.org. ‘The UK Dog Behaviour and Training Charter provides assurance to the public and other professional bodies that the practitioner they employ has been checked, supported and monitored by a reputable accrediting member organisation’.

So – mental wellbeing for dogs.

I run a thriving dog-owner Facebook support group and am saddened by how few understand that, if they have a disturbed, scared or aggressive dog, it’s the emotions driving this behaviour that need working on with a behaviourist (me). Not correction and ‘training’.

Their first stop is usually, if searching the internet for free information doesn’t work, to look for a trainer or for classes.

I wish that people were better educated in the importance and relevance of general mental wellbeing for dogs. It’s so much more important than learning how to sit, high-five or spin which is a a bit like sending a child with acute anxiety to Saturday morning school to cure him.

A message to my Facebook group members and anyone else with a troubled dog: for your dog’s emotional wellbeing I can help wherever you live. An online consultation can be an eye-opener in your understanding of your dog’s needs.

www.dogidog.co.uk

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