Saturday, 30 November 2013

Double Trouble - two puppies at once?

*Note - this was first published as a Training/Behaviour article on the forums, by me!*

Double Trouble - Two puppies at once?..

Postby emmabeth » Wed Mar 31, 2010 6:38 am
Hopefully you are reading this BEFORE buying any puppies at all, and are considering having two puppies at the same time, possibly littermates.

STOP!.... Sit back down.. hold your horses.... wait a second...

Two puppies at once is one of those things, where one or two people... someone you heard of.. maybe a family member did it.. and got lucky.. (we will come back to these people later!).

Believe me for the rest of you... its a slippery slope to a NIGHTMARE and a catastrophe and a wholly unenjoyable puppy/dog owning experience.

First, ask yourself why two puppies seems a better idea than one puppy?

The top answer is because 'two will keep each other company'. Now ask yourself why you need them to keep each other company - would that be because you arent going to be there so much?

If the answer is yes, then honestly... you don't have the time for one puppy. Not without making some other arrangements such as a puppy sitter, a doggy daycare/creche, a family member minding the pup during the day, or being able to take the puppy into work with you.

IF none of the above can be done... then either wait until it can.. or consider an older dog who can cope with being left. Dog ownership is a privilege for those who have the time, money and patience.. not a right for those who plain 'want'.

Next top answers will be 'because they are cute/because the kids wanted one each/because we couldnt split them up/because we couldnt choose between them/ because the breeder offered us a discount if we took two....'

Puppies only LOOK cute because if they didn't we wouldnt put up with the horrible things they do. Puppies are NOT really cute at all.. stop thinking about cute, it baffles your brain and you forget the important things in life. Cute is a survival mechanism, its there to trick you. Ignore it!
Puppies are incontinent, puppies BITE and they bite HARD. Puppies make extremely loud noises and demand and NEED your attention 24 hours a day. Puppies are extremely expensive, tiring and will eat your most expensive stuff, rip up your carpets and sofa, drag your shoes out into hte yard and bury them.... make the neighbours hate you... make you sleep deprived... make you stand in poo... or wee... Puppies... are... not... cute!

What kids want... whilst sometimes important, is NOT important when it comes to 'I want a puppy'. Yes, sure they want a puppy... next week they will want to swap it for a Wii. The week after they want a skateboard - I have nothing against kids, I was one... but what kids want when it comes to cutsey things is NOT a reason to commit to 12+ years of dog ownership.

Splitting puppies up is GOOD for them. Puppies together only practice being puppies, and I will get on to what that really means in a moment. Puppies do NOT learn how to be nice sensible adult dogs from other puppies, like toddlers do not learn how to be quantum physicists from other toddlers. They learn this from adults.

In any given 'wild' situation.. baby animals of sociable species split up as they hit adolescence.. between 'baby animal' stage and 'adolescent' stage... they mix with a WIDE range of other ages of animal of their species.. from similar aged animals to old ones and from nice ones to crabby ones and everything in between. When everyone in their social group is fed up of them, they go on their merry way... to seek their fortunes in the big wide world. Occasionally some buddy up for a while.. through choice, a choice made as adolescents and adults.

In your home there is no choice. They are stuck there, permanently, in a tiny space... those pups who would have grown up, spent time with other adult dogs, aunties and uncles and cousins .. who would have taught them all manner of things... have grown up with only each other. Who is to say at adolescent stage whether they will still love each other and choose to stick together, or whether they will hate one another with a vengeance.. and fight to the death. Certainly not you or I... and do you WANT to live with the possibility that this will happen and you will have to choose between your beloved pets? Or live with the fear that one day someone will leave a door open and Fluffy will rip Precious's head off? Or that King and Prince will fight and your toddler will get in the middle of it and get hurt?

Believe me.. splitting up puppies at 8 weeks is as easy as anything, compared with the horror of discovering one of your dogs wants to kill the other.

If you cant choose, toss a coin, let the breeder choose, go for a walk and think about it for a little while longer.. you will find a way of choosing, you have made harder choices before in your life and you will probably come across harder ones again in the future.

And finally... because the breeder offered you a discount?...

ANY breeder who is happy to sell people two puppies from the same litter, ESPECIALLY same sex littermates... has only one thing on their mind. Your money.

They dont care if the puppies live happily ever after, they dont care if you spend the next 12 years in a living hell, they dont care if you have to take one to the vet to be put down.... they just want your money.

The same goes btw for puppy mills, pet stores and back yard breeders and the breeders of wolf x or made up breeds, all who breed or sell pups without the health tests necessary, without care or consideration towards the parent dogs, without giving you the advice you need to make sure your pup lives a long and happy life. They are in it for the cash and nothing more.

So.. you dont want two puppies to keep each other company cos you reckon you have the time... you arent doing it just because they are cute and you reckon the breeder is a responsible and reputable kinda person..

You still shouldnt get two puppies.

They will take three times the work of one, if not more, everything you do with one puppy.. you must do with the other puppy... seperately AND together.

So thats three x the socialisation. Three x the training, three x the walkies..

Its also a million times harder to potty train two pups... because if you have them outside together they are playing and forget to poop.. put one inside whilst you do the other, the one indoors messes in the house..

Unless there are TWO adults fully committed to doing this work, in the same way as one another, or you have achieved omnipresence.. its going to take way WAY longer.

How many months of wee and poo on your floors are you going to be happy with? Because realistically, ONE puppy takes at least a couple of months to get reliably housetrained. Two... you could easily have half grown dogs still going in the house at six months or more old..

So.. you need two adults to train them together.. and you cant leave them alone together because if you think one puppy can cause some destruction when left alone you havent seen a THING compared to what two puppies can do.. eat your sofa? rip up your carpets.... or put them outside and see them eat through the neighbours fence and howl and play fight all day long...

And that is when they still like one another - wait until they reach sexual maturity and decide that this town aint big enough for the both of them...

As I said at the beginning, theres always going to be someone you know or you heard of who reckons they made it work. Id say for every 1 of those people who is actually telling the truth, 10 more are lying or at least glossing over some details. Ask more detailed questions, ask them where they can and cannot take their dogs.. you'll find out most likely that their dogs never leave the property, or cannot be seperated because one yells the house down if the other leaves the building, or they cant be kept together because one wants to kill the other, or they cant be trusted around guests.. or they wont walk nicely on the lead... or or or..

Question these folk who say its ok, and find out if their lifestyle is actually anything like yours - maybe it did work for them, I'm not saying it never can, but theres a degree of luck there.. and maybe you find out that this person is home all day, has 10 acres of well fenced land and no neighbours for 100 miles in any direction. Maybe they show dogs or work them, there will be some details that mean what works for them may well NOT work out for you.

Most people make mistakes with puppies, we are after all only human and mistakes is something we humans do pretty well - one puppy under socialised is a pain to deal with.. two are a nightmare. By the time you realise that two puppies was a mistake though, very frequently its going to be one of those pups who suffers for your error the most.

If you have already got two puppies you might think I am over reacting or painting a very bleak picture to scare you - believe me I am not writing this to wee on anyones parade here..
We all have dogs because we like them and we have a vision in our heads of what our life with our adult dog is going to be like - its going to be fun and fairly carefree with our dog by our side, obeying our commands and having a ball.

By taking on two puppies at once you drastically reduce the chances of that becoming a reality - you only need to take a look in the rescue centres and shelters around the world to see that MILLIONS of people fail to raise ONE dog every single day.

Why make it any harder than it already is - the world is rapidly becoming less and less dog friendly and dogs are expected to behave impeccably in every situation.
Give yourself the very BEST chance you AND your dog can have, of having a happy life together - get ONE pup at a time, from a reputable shelter or breeder. If you got two pups together and you are struggling with them now... TAKE ONE BACK. Rehome him or her... its a lot easier to do now at a few weeks old than it will be in 6 or 12 months time when its not just a struggle... very few people want to take on half grown out of control pups who have learned bad habits from their sibling.

If you decide to keep two puppies.. we will still offer you all the advice you need and want, this isnt a case of 'do what I say or we wont help' at all... this is about making life as easy, making success as easy as possible.. If you choose to do it the hard way we will still help, and we wont say 'I told you so'.. either.. Positive dog training starts before you even get your puppy, by making the right decisions, no matter HOW hard they might be.

I hope this helps people to decide what to do when they get a pup, or to make a hard decision having already got two pups.

Monday, 18 November 2013

I'm Outta Here! - dogs that escape!

Help, My Dog Jumped Out of the Yard... 

I think most dog owners have been there at one time or another, for whatever reason! Finding that your dog can get out of your garden or yard, and not only that but WILL get out, is a real problem.

I considered my yard totally 'dog proof' - at the time I had four dogs, none of them had gotten out, one or two of them could, I knew from experience, clear a 6ft high fence, but my fence set up had kept them in.

And then I got an Ellie-dog, escape artist extraordinaire!

So, your dog is getting out - first things first, you have to prevent this, so lets look at HOW your dog is getting out.

1 - Clearing the fence - the fence is not high enough
2 - Digging under the fence
3 - The fence has holes in it
4 - The gate is not secure
5 - Climbing the fence - the fence is climb-able, and your dog knows how to climb!

The first step is, keep your dog on a long leash and 100% supervised in your back yard/garden.

If this is not possible, for example your dog lives outside, then you need to consider teaching your dog how to live inside. The chances are, if you can't afford to put up a suitable fence right this second, you also can't afford to set up a running wire type tether or build a secure kennel and run. If you CAN, then go to it... but you need to have a serious think about this next stage...

WHY is your dog escaping?


 Your dog has a reason for getting out of your yard/garden. It might be a reason you consider dumb, it might be a reason you hadn't considered before or did not realise was such a strong motivator for your dog. So now it's time to think about it.

Some dogs get out because the yard, quite frankly, sucks. There's no one there most of the time, there's nothing to do out there, yard = boring.

Or, you might actually spend a fair bit of time out there with your dog, you might have a ton of toys out there for him too... but on the other side of that fence there is what he consider's, doggy nirvana! There are squirrels, there are cats, there are other dogs, there is a neighbour half a mile away having a barbeque that smells sooooooooo good...

If the  motivation to get out, is higher than the motivation to stay IN, and your yard is not totally secure - you are likely to have a problem.

That problem is often compounded if your dog doesn't have the strongest bond with you (for example, he is new), or if his training isn't great so he has no recall (or worse, he associates being called back with being punished!).

So... what do I do?

Well, first of all you make your yard secure. I discovered my Ellie-dog could fit through a gap of just 4inches wide! She only got to do it the one time, we blocked that gap up straight away!

Most people think that when it comes to making a fence dog-proof, its all about height.

It really isn't.

You need to consider HOW dogs jump over things. Dogs tend not to try to clear an obstacle naturally, they have to be taught this - what dogs do is jump ON to an item, then off it, or they climb it.

So when a dog jumps, he needs to know really accurately where the top line of that obstacle is, he can't just guess and give it plenty of room, because he is aiming his front paws AT it, to grab and scramble over.

If you  mess with his depth perception and perspective (something dogs eyes are not great at anyway), by making the top line of a fence something hard to grab, something hard to judge, then you are able to make a much lower fence secure.

To do this the best ways are to put a 45 degree inward overhang, and/or, a roller, to the top of the fence. The roller is easy, its PVC plumbing pipe, threaded onto heavy gauge wire. If he did manage to judge the top line, the roller just rolls!

The inward overhang is really great - from your dogs point of view below the fence, he can't judge just where that top line is, he will get too close on take off, and hit the underside of the overhang and just bounce off! Since he can't get a grip on that top line (even without a roller), he can't clear it - and if the overhang is big enough  (around 1ft is sufficient) ,he isn't going to climb it either!

So that deals neatly with dogs who go over. What about dogs who go under?

The first option when you put up a fence is to bury it pretty deep, so you have wire or concrete gravel boards going some depth under the soil. If you know your dog is a great digger, bury that fence DEEP!

The add-on to this for real serious diggers, is to put a concrete skirt around the inside edge of the fence once its erected - or you can lay concrete slabs around the perimeter, so there's nothing for him to dig through!

Why didn't you just tell me this first?

Wellllll... I could have, and you could hop straight to making your yard dog proof, without thinking about why your dog is getting out, sure.

But the chances are, your dog has a really good reason to try to get out, and if you don't address that problem, he is going to come up with some other behavioural issue.

If your dog is bored, and he is getting out because the neighbourhood is exciting, and you stop him - he won't quit being bored!

What's he gonna do now? Well he could howl, or bark, he could take up fence running and snapping through the fence, he could start ripping pieces off your house or trash your yard...

If you don't take a look at why the unwanted behaviour is happening, the chances are you will swap one problem for another!

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Separation Anxiety - Secret Life of Dogs!

Channel 4's Documentary 'Secret Life of Dogs' Reveals ....

Well - not that many surprises for me - but then if it did, I wouldn't really be doing my job properly!

I am hoping though that it has revealed to the average owner, that far more dogs suffer anxiety on being left home alone, than they realised, and that quite possibly, their dog is one of them.

I am often quite ruthless with reviews of TV shows but this isn't really a review and in any case, for once, I am pleasantly surprised that what WAS covered was pretty damn accurate, and its only real failings was it was trying to cram into an hour, a topic that really requires a few DAYS to discuss!

So - if you found this blog because you were googling the show, if you were watching and want more information than can be found here I'll try to fill in the gaps!


If you have a puppy or you are thinking of getting a puppy and you are keen to avoid a separation anxiety problem, pin your ears back, this bit is for you!

Your first step is this: do not force separation on your puppy.Yes, your puppy  needs to be gradually introduced to the idea of being entirely alone. No this does not need to happen by shutting him in a room and leaving him to cry his head off until you return!

The dogs who cope best with being left alone are the dogs who are confident and able to be independent.
Confidence and independence are grown gradually, at your pups pace, NOT at a pace dictated by you, your desire to go out without your pup, your work schedule etc etc.

The first error the majority of people make is in forcing (you cannot call it anything but force, if you shut the door and prevent access to you, this IS force) a pup to spend the night times alone, probably in the kitchen or utility room, whilst you go to bed upstairs.

Lots and lots of horribly outdated books will tell you that this is necessary and this is how your pup learns to be alone - this is one of the biggest untruths within dog training bar none.Actually, what this does is starts your pup off anxious and distressed. You are building the foundations here for a really big problem - separation anxiety.

What most puppies will do, is yell. They will cry and whimper and howl and bark, they will make sounds that make you think they have broken a limb. IF they shut up, it is to hear if anyone is responding. If they do finally go to sleep, they go to sleep exhausted and distressed.

Do these things sound like the building blocks for a happy and confident puppy? No.

What inevitably happens, is that you go back to the puppy - because your neighbours will go nuts, because you cannot sleep, because it sounds like the pup has hurt himself, because you think he needs to pee and most of all because you eventually have to go back into that room.It does not matter what the reason is - the fact is, you returned, and the puppy now thinks 'if I make a horrendous noise for hours and hours, someone WILL come back in the end'.

Hey presto - you have taught your puppy to scream for hours on end! The relief of your return is MASSIVELY reinforcing to him, and it is thoroughly impractical to suggest you do not return at all until he learns to be quiet, for some puppies that might take days!

The better option with a new puppy is to have him sleep beside you, in a box or a crate. You can sleep downstairs with him on the sofa, or you can have him sleep upstairs with you beside your bed.

This means your puppy does not need to scream - you are right there. Additionally, it means if he DOES wake, you know it is because he needs the toilet, and you can take him outside immediately.

Whilst that means you will have a few disturbed nights, in fact the vast majority of puppies are so calm and relaxed with this routine that they will be able to hold it over night very quickly (of course, being distressed and anxious does increase the frequency and urgency of toilet needs, being calm and relaxed has the opposite effect!).

It does not matter one jot whether you eventually want your dog to sleep in your bed, in your room, on the landing, in the kitchen, in the utility room, on the goddamn MOON - if you let your pup build his confidence and independence at his OWN pace, and have him sleep with you until he can cope alone, you will avoid  one of the major early causes of separation anxiety.

Teaching Your Dog to Cope Alone

So, teaching a dog to cope alone is basically the same process whether your dog has a problem with this or not.

You need to teach him that you being gone is actually not just fine but GOOD, you being gone needs to be associated with relaxation, rewarding experiences, calmness.

The major difficulty is of course that most of us need to go out, whilst we are also teaching our dog to handle being alone. If our dog is not ready to be left for 2 hours and we have to go out for 2 hours, there is a problem!

I wish I could tell you that you can fix separation anxiety AND still go out to work every day but honestly, you really can't.

For some dogs who's anxiety is already low you might be able to run a behaviour modification program alongside having to leave him, but it is going to add months or even years to the process, but for a dog who has a serious problem that just isn't going to work.

For those with a serious problem I recommend you find a dog day care (vet them carefully, not a place that just allows dogs to whizz around together in a small, stress filled environment), a dog sitter, at worst perhaps a kennels would take your dog as a day boarder, which might still be stressful for him but it removes that stress from the home.

The beginnings of this program are, you teach your dog not to tolerate or accept being along but to actively choose to be away from you. Along with that comes understanding and acceptance that you are not available - make a note of that 'not available'. If he can cope with you not being available AND he can choose to be alone, he is much better equipped for when you are not available BECAUSE you are not there.

Step 1 - for dogs that shadow their owners (skip this if your dog doesn't do this).

From now on you ONLY pay attention to your dog when moving between rooms IF you invited him to follow you. If you didn't invite him, then pretend he isn't there.

You don't have to be harsh or military style about this, you don't have to ALWAYS ignore him, you can invite him to come with you as much as you like, as long as its clear that when you invite its good, if you don't its boring.

A couple of times a day, make a point of flitting between two rooms. Now each time you are about to set off on one of these pointless back and forth trips, set down a nice comfy bed (one he doesn't have down all the time, it can be a mat or mattress style bed, or a brightly coloured towel on his normal bed).
So you go from living room to kitchen and back again. Over and over. Don't invite him, ignore him BUT... pay attention out of the corner of your eye.. every time you see him start to settle down in the new room, move on again.

The idea is here you are pushing the point home 'follow me when I didn't ask you to, and its REALLY annoying'.

After a few days of this, most dogs are going to start to hang back certain for the pointless sessions if not on other occasions too. You will see them lurk in the hallway seeing if its worth following you, or peer round a doorway rather than be right at your heels. This is a good sign, your dog is starting to think 'well... she's just going to fart about... there's no need for ME to keep getting up...'

When you see this happen, its time to add in the next step.

Step 2 - dogs not following but curious as to where their owner has gone.

 and... set down a juicy bone, bigger than his head. If you can't do that, rig up a Kong toy filled with something extra delicious that is either so big he can't pick it up easily OR can be tied to a fixed object.

Now commence your flitting about - he has the choice, he can follow but a/ he knows he wasn't invited b/ he already knows that this is likely to be a pointless exercise and c/ he has something MUCH better to do that he cannot take with him!

He is most likely to choose to stay where he was on his bed with that bone.

What you are doing here is giving him a Visual Cue - the mat or bed or towel becomes a cue that tells your dog 'my owner is unavailable right now'.

By allowing him to choose (even though you are stacking the odds, he has no idea about that) and motivating him to make the choice you want, he can cope much better.

Step 3 - use your visual cue and his motivation to stay where he is, to build up the time you can be out of the room. You should start by just extending the time you are in the other room by a few seconds, build it up to a minute or two, then add in going up stairs or to another room.

Each time you add a new element, say going upstairs, cut down the duration again. So you might be able to spend five minutes away from him in the kitchen, but when you add in going upstairs, keep it down to just 1 minute or less to begin with.

Step 4 - going out of the house! As with the changes inside the house, build this gradually. If he has already learned to link things like you picking up house keys or car keys or putting on certain shoes or coats, leave those things for the time being and just build stepping out of a door, closing it, coming back in immediately.

If your dog does have negative associations with you putting on coats, shoes, picking up keys etc, address those individually - so you might start to pick up the car keys.. but then go upstairs. Or you may put on your going out coat... and then sit down in the living room and read a book.

Doing this breaks down those associations, that your dog previously used to chain together and were cues that told him 'she's going out soon... start to panic NOW'..

This of course is why it is super hard to fix a seperation anxiety problem if you are still going out for long periods, because every time you go through that routine of shoes, coat, car keys, handbag, leave the house, lock the door - you are re-teaching that chain of visual cues that says 'going out now PANIC PANIC' and effectively undoing the work you are doing with the above steps to teach new visual cues.

Friday, 11 October 2013

A pondering on the funny ideas we get!

You have to face your fears...

Here's one - and in one way, it is true - if you don't sort out a fear or phobia, it can limit your life, it can cause you to react in a way that is dangerous or unpleasant for those around you too!

This is as true for us as it is for dogs, but we forget, we can explain things to other people, those of us with fears can talk about those fears with others and make choices about how they address them.

Dogs can't do that.

If you ask most people how they would go about addressing someones fear, for example, a child's fear of the dentist, they would use rewards, they would try to make the experience nice. The dentist may well have some ideas too, for example, pictures or mobiles on the ceiling above the chair can help distract and calm. Fishtanks in waiting rooms have long been used to calm people and prevent them working themselves into a panicked state before they get into the scary chair.

There are drugs to help too, and stickers for afterwards (and who doesn't love a sticker, I'm 33 and I still love a sticker!).

When it comes to the dog though, how many people forget all the above and shove the dog in at the deep end, and say things like 'he has to get on with it' or 'she's got to get over herself' or similar phrases to that effect.

And then, when a dogs way of communicating his fear involves lashing out, behaving aggressively, barking or biting, people react with anger (do parents get angry when a frightened child kicks the dentist or bites them, probably not NEARLY so much!).

Avoidance is not dealing with the problem...

Again, this is another 'yes' and 'no' thing. If you JUST avoid something and never attempt to deal with it in any way, then no, it isn't dealing with the problem. Of course not.

But avoidance isn't the full story when it comes to dealing with reactive dogs, fearful dogs.

When a trainer tells you to avoid the situations that make your dog react, kick off, panic, they are not saying 'stay at home, never leave the house with your dog again'.

They are saying 'avoid your dog experiencing the level of fear that causes him to react' - dial it back, manage him so that he doesn't get to that stage.

So your dog goes nuts at other dogs, avoid them.... but in the process of avoiding them, also:

Make a mental note of how far away a dog needs to be before your dog reacts.
Make  a mental note of his behaviour - how tense is he, how able is he to comply, how able is he to focus on you, in each context.
Make a mental note of which contexts and situations produce which reactions.

In other words, whilst practicing avoidance, you are also LEARNING about your dogs reactions and how he is handling things.

After a few weeks of avoidance  you should know whether your dog can handle seeing another dog at 30ft, 50ft, 100ft. Is he better if that other dog is on the other side of the street, walking toward or away, is it a small dog or a big dog. Can he handle dogs he can't see but can hear. What about those he can see but can't hear, does the speed of the dogs movement change things, does the other dogs behaviour have much bearing on his reaction.

This avoidance phase also has a positive effect on your dog - you are demonstrating to him, each time you spot another dog and take evasive action, in a way he can understand, ie by your actions, that YOU will handle the problem and importantly, you WON'T force him to approach, deal with it, etc etc.

All too often I see people trying to force their dog to deal with a problem, the dog who is worried about other dogs is just taken to a dog park and forced to get on with it... fairly predictably, this method does not work. Where it appears to work the reality is the dog has suppressed their fear, not gotten RID of the fear!

I like thinking up analogies to help people see the oddness of some ideas or concepts... so this is my 'face your fears and just get on with it' one.

If you are rehabbing a meth addict - would you take them to a meth lab to deal with that problem? Do we take crackheads and put them in a crack house to fix their problem?
The answer to both of those is no, because we do know that actually, to deal with any chronic behaviour pattern, we need to break the job down into easy achievable goals, starting out in an environment that is conducive to success.
So just as we wouldn't expect to teach someone new behaviour patterns, new coping strategies to deal with a meth addiction IN a meth lab, we don't take the reactive dog and try to teach him how to handle other dogs IN the dog park!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Fear - a ramble about how fear happens and how the fearful mind 'thinks'.

For those of you who have me as a friend on the mighty Facebook, you might have read my status update yesterday about a spider.

That incident has proved... interesting and I want to examine it and subsequent events a bit further.

To start with, prior to yesterday I would not have said I was scared of spiders.

I can watch them, I know a fair bit about them (they have hydraulic legs man, that's SO cool!), I can remain calm in the presence of them...

What I did not like was a spider ON me, particularly one on me, unexpectedly, which has happened perhaps five times in my entire life.

Yesterday though a spider crawled up my sleeve - I felt something tickle and thought it was a crane fly as we have got tons of those at the moment. Brushed it off, didn't see anything, continued doing whatever I was doing...

Then I felt a tickle in my cleavage - ooh err missus, so I peered down the front of my top...

And a HUGE  house spider peered back! For those of you not in the UK, (and those truly terrified, sorry for this!)...

This is the guy I saw..

He was probably not far off the size he appears on your screen now (body about 1.5cm, huge leg span of around 4inches).

I stood up, screaming, tore off my top shaking it, still screaming, he fell to the floor and ran under my desk, squeezing past the dog who was lying with his back against the wall.

He was so big the DOG felt him trying to squeeze past, got up, looked, saw the size of him and ran away!

I took a little while to calm down - notably I could not calm down until I made my partner find the spider AND kill it, a step I have never needed before (just being clear that the spider was not longer ON me has always been sufficient in the past).

If it were not for the fact that I take beta blockers, I suspect I would have had a raised heart rate, certainly the cup of hot sweet tea I had immediately after did its job!

So, to cut out all the waffle - I was scared, by a spider. The spider met its maker, end of story?

Errr, well - no.

Because there are more spiders, in fact until earlier today there were at least three more I was vaguely aware of, having seen them in certain locations repeatedly in the last few weeks.

I have to point out here, I know about house spiders - they breed in early autumn, ie, now, and the females tend to stay put in their tube type webs, with the males roaming around trying to find them. It is this roaming around that leads to us seeing them as, for most of the year they stay hidden, eating woodlice and whatever comes their way.

Unlike most spiders, Tegenaria (both T. domestica and the large T. gigantea) males do appear larger than the females. Actually they aren't, their leg span is bigger but their bodies are smaller - however that is NOT what you see when you spot one scuttling along the floor or peering up at you from between your boobs!

What you see are HUGE HAIRY LEGS, mainly!

So - whats happening now is both weird, and interesting.

Even though I understand why these huge hairy male spiders are hurtling about my house, even though I know they really can't hurt me (you can feel their bite but they are not going to cause you even the pain of a wasp sting), none of this matters...

My brain is now in spider spotting mode - and this is the interesting bit that relates to canine behaviour modification.

I am scared - therefore my brain is working hard to SPOT the trigger for my fear. I am actively looking for the scary thing!

Most people with a fearful, reactive dog, miss this. We tend to think if our dog is scared of something, they want to avoid it, and so we don't recognise that actually they may be on high alert, LOOKING for that trigger, because no matter what it is you are scared of, its always going to be slightly less scary if you KNOW where it is, than if its going to leap out at you in an ambush!

Today another spider 'attacked' me - it didn't actually attack me of course, but it ran down the landing and into the bathroom when I was sat on the loo and of course, my brain still being hyper-aware and looking for spiders, saw it SPRINT down the landing and run UNDER my legs... and I was trapped!

I'm quite impressed I saw it in some ways because I was sat on the loo, reading a book, (sorry if its TMI on my toilet habits!), the point is I was not consciously looking for spiders, I was involved doing other things...

What I was however, was trapped and vulnerable (I don't think I need to explain just how vulnerable one is when sat on the loo, I think we all get that!).

This incident actually sent my heart racing despite the beta blockers, it was in many ways MORE frightening than the 'spider down the top' event of the day before.

Immediately following this, I spotted and had Mike kill two more big spiders, cashing in on my brains hyper-awareness to identify spiders from shadows or clumps of dog fur on the floor (ok ok so i read on the loo and I don't hoover that often, so sue me!).

So, to translate this further to dog behaviour modification..

Stress from a particular incident does NOT go away immediately - I was still stressed and hyper aware 24 hours after the 'spider down the top' incident.

Fear leads us to subconsciously spot the trigger, because the trigger we SEE at least, cannot then ambush us.

Even when occupied with something else, the hyper-aware state of the brain will continue to spot the trigger.

Being trapped and vulnerable and already stressed will INCREASE the stress of any subsequent incident, even if that incident is apparently far less upsetting than the initial one was.

  Now, I fervently hope my fear does not escalate - I should think that knowing my OH can come and remove a spider for me will help with that.

It is interesting to note that for a variety of reasons I am not compelled to kill the spiders myself (though, having OH kill them IS an increase in fear on my part, previously I have been happy to remove them myself and throw them outside). I suspect in part this is just my personality, I'd rather not kill things. In part it is a peculiar fear in itself, I don't like the pop or the mess or the feeling of crunching an exoskeleton, even under a shoe!

Similar things will happen with dogs - though for different reasons (probably, I can't swear there aren't dogs out there that plain don't like the feeling of biting something) - some will want to run away, some may make an aggressive looking display that is really a bluff, some will actually be aggressive and intend to do harm.

I do think that all this reinforces my belief that, when dealing with a fear problem, we should absolutely NOT go looking for triggers to try to desensitize our dogs to. Our fearful dogs are going to be a million times better at seeing those triggers, long before we do - if we try to expose them on purpose, even below threshold, we increase the stress and we really risk making matters much much worse.

It also helps me understand 'stress stacking' - there is no way I'd have screamed and made OH come and kill todays spider IF yesterdays incident hadn't occurred. (I know this because its happened before). It was the stress from yesterdays incident that made todays incident all the more scary, simple as. So it really hammers it home to me HOW important it is that we give our dogs a break and we DON'T expect them to progress at our pace, handling one thing on day one, two things on day two etc etc.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

SHUT THAT BLOODY DOG UP!!! - Inappropriate barking, why it happens, how to solve it.

Excessive or Inappropriate Barking...

Probably one of the number 1 complaints from non-dog owners about other peoples dogs, and one of the most frustrating problems for a dog owner to solve.

Barky dogs are annoying, to you, to me, to your neighbour to the man down the road who can still hear them at 3am.

For the dog owner, there is not just the annoyance of living with a barky dog, but the added pressure of knowing your neighbours are getting pissed off too. Maybe it is even worse than that, maybe your neighbours are making complaints, sending nasty stroppy letters or reporting you to some relevant authority.

What all this means is, when we have a barky dog, it is very very easy to focus on the symptom - the barking - and not the cause OF the barking. We are driven to 'shut that bloody dog up' and in some cases even actively discouraged from figuring out WHY, because after all, our neighbours actually don't care why, it is just very irritating to listen to!

However it is extremely important to seek out the reason WHY your dog is barking excessively or inappropriately, because attempting to treat just the symptom will not work in the long run. It might even create some bigger problems!

Why Dogs Bark:

  • Boredom
  • Loneliness
  • Fear - to drive something away
  • Frustration - seeing something exciting they cannot get at
  • Communication - dogs bark (and growl and howl and snarl and  yap and squeak and huffle) to communicate with us and to a certain extent, with each other

Why Dogs Carry On Barking...

  • Boredom - barking is in the absence of any other activity, self rewarding. The dog gains some enjoyment from repeatedly barking. Not a lot, but then if there is nothing else to do... anything is better than nothing.
  • Loneliness - barking will eventually 'work', in that someone will eventually reward the dog by coming back, by shouting at the dog, by in ANY way interacting with the dog. And the dog thinks 'ah ha! if I only bark long enough, someone WILL respond and I will know I am not entirely on my own!' The dog has no idea that someone was going to come home eventually anyway, he has no idea that the person shouting 'shuttup you bloody animal' wants him to shuttup - all he knows is, he wanted a response or someone to return and he got it, result!
  • Fear - some dogs bark to drive things away, this is particularly common in dogs left alone in front or rear gardens particular when there is a footpath or pavement the other side of the fence, and also in dogs left to look out of a window with a view onto a footpath.
    What happens is the dog barks at the sight of something, that something goes away, the dog is therefore rewarded for barking, because HE thinks, his barking made the person (or dog, or whatever) go away.
  • Frustration - this is very similar to the fear thing - the dog barks at things that are moving and exciting, people passing by, cars, wildlife etc. The barking often appears to make that thing move more (or so the dog thinks!) and so the barking is rewarded!
  • Communication - everyone needs to communicate and barking along with the other sounds listed, are some of a dogs ways of doing this. They actually communicate far more with body language, but we humans are desperately poor at reading this, and it is obviously no good for communicating with someone who is out of sight.

So, how DO I fix this problem... he is still barking!

Lets go back to why he was barking. Is he bored? Is he lonely? Is he scared or frustrated, maybe he is a combination of these things.

When does your dog bark?

If he is outside when he is barking, is he out there alone? Dogs actually aren't very good at amusing themselves shut out in a garden on their own. Most of the things dogs like to do outside either can't be done in your garden, or you don't want him to do in your garden. These are things like digging, running long distances, chewing things, chasing prey animals, killing prey animals...

Dogs also don't naturally cope well with being alone, so if your dog is outside and you are inside its highly likely he is going to want to be with you and will bark to get you to come back. If your dog IS spending a lot of time outside and thats not his choice, on his own, ask yourself why do you have a dog if you don't want to spend time with him?

If your dog is barking when he is indoors, again, why might that be? Is it when you are out, is he barking because he can't cope being left behind, is he shouting at things through the window?
Or is he barking when you are home, alerting you to the things he sees, or frustrated or fearful of the things he sees?

Some dogs are reactive to sounds, they will mooch about happily outside and then go nuts barking at something on the other side of the fence.

This is one of the easiest anti-social barking problems to solve - it is so simple. Teach your dog that these sounds now mean he gets a reward. Sound = treat, don't wait for him to react and don't withhold the reward if he does, its simple classical conditioning. It does mean you have to be out there WITH him, with high value treats and whilst you change his habit, you can't allow him outside alone (or he will practice the unwanted behaviour) but it does work!

Dogs who are left outside and bark through boredom or loneliness are a bit harder - you'll need to change the way you live with your dog to fix these to some extent. First of all, stop shutting the dog outside on his own. Next, make his life much more fulfilling, more walks, more play, more training and mental stimulation. Then if he does have to spend time outside on his own, ensure he has a warm dry shelter, plenty of interesting toys (toys you can stuff with food are good) and gradually reintroduce him to the idea of being alone.

Dogs that react to the view out of the window are THE easiest to fix, bar none. Simply remove the view, you can get very attractive frosted window films that are not hard to apply to your front windows, and are removable should you move. They cut out around 80% of the view (or more), meaning the dog can no longer identify things to bark at, but let in 95% of the light so you aren't left in the dark!
This will reduce 'barking out of the window' by 95% in just a day or so - and it only takes that long because some dogs are reacting to the sound as well as the sight (which you can address by classical conditioning as I outlined above!)

The hardest type of barking to fix is separation anxiety when your dog is left in the house alone - this requires a lot of work, and really will only be fixed with a lot of patience, time and kind methods. I strongly recommend you get a reputable, force free professional in if you think your dog has separation anxiety, but I can assure you, punishment will NOT fix the problem, only make it worse.

Why not just punish the dog for barking so that it stops?

If your dog is barking because he is lonely - is punishing him for it going to make him any less lonely? If it is because he is scared, how will punishing his fear help there?

Punishment carries its own problems, the first of which is how do you actually punish a dog for it to be effective.

Punishment requires good timing - the punishment MUST happen within a second or two of the behaviour occurring that you want to stop.
Punishment MUST be aversive, the dog must find it unpleasant, which seems obvious but this raises two further points:
1/ How do you know for sure that the dog will find it unpleasant? If you go out to punish a lonely dog barking in the garden, really no matter what punishment you give, the FIRST thing that occurred closest to his barking was... you, coming back to him! And that as I pointed out earlier, is a reward.

2/ How do you know how unpleasant to make it, if it isn't unpleasant enough then you are just being mean to your dog without effect, thats not training, thats just abuse. If it is TOO unpleasant then you will create some more problems, mainly that your dog will not trust you any more, he will want to avoid you and dislike you - that's not why you got a dog is it?

Much unwanted barking actually happens when the owner is not present, so how do you punish a dog when you are not there?

Well there are for barking, two main options.

1/ Bark activated spray collar.
2/ Bark activated electric shock collar.

Please note, in Wales the shock collar is  now illegal.

So, option 1 is a collar that you put on your dog and the sound of him barking activates a spray mechanism that sprays citronella scent up his nose. Dogs find citronella very unpleasant so asides from the initial shock of the spray sound, he gets a nasty smell, and a dogs nose is very powerful so this probably isn't just a nasty pong but a painful experience for him (ever smelt a REALLY strong smell like smelling salts? Or too much vinegar? Ouch.)

Whilst this would seem to be the answer, there are problems with it.

Firstly the spray collars can be activated by other sounds, for example another dog barking, the dog growling or coughing or sneezing. It would be horribly unfair to punish your dog for these things and if that happened enough it would make the punishment much less clear and effective.

Secondly, the punishment goes on FAR longer than the one second spray, because the dog can smell the citronella for a LONG time after the spray. This again makes the message you intend to put across much more vague.. is it barking he is punished for? Or is it something he did a few minutes later when he can still smell that horrible pong?

Thirdly - dogs are not stupid, some dogs figure out to twist the collar round so the spray jets off harmlessly at the back of their necks. Some dogs (a LOT of dogs) figure out that if they bark repeatedly for a few minutes, they can empty the collars spray unit and then it will no longer work.

The reason these two things occur is because as I say - punishment doesn't address the reason WHY the dog is barking. The dog has a reason, that reason is still there, so he still needs to bark. Further more, if a spray collar actually does stop a dog barking, most dogs will do something else instead - options range from howling, digging, and chewing things up to actually escaping and running away or being fearful of going outside or wherever it is they wear the collar!

So, option 2, the electric shock collar.

Like the spray collar this is activated by the dog barking, and like the spray collar it can also be activated by other loud noises close to the dog.
The shock collars tend to come with a range of shock levels, it is up to you to determine which is appropriate for your dog and here you again have no idea what is enough, what is too much, what is too little and you risk getting it wrong and making the problem worse, or scaring the living daylights out of the dog.

Shock collars are the subject of massive controversy - as I say they are illegal in Wales, deemed not humane and theres a pretty big fine or potentially a prison sentence if caught using one.

The shock collar works by causing pain - there are no two ways about that, if they did not cause pain they could not ever work.

How much pain is almost impossible to tell - you can try one on your own arm (you'll note manufacturers state not to put them around your OWN neck... and the reason for that is that you can achieve some level of nerve damage or worse!) and it might tickle, or sting... or it might make you  yelp and jump.
One of the major points to take in when thinking about trying a shock collar on yourself, is this though - when  you try it yourself, you know what is going to happen, you know why it is going to happen and most importantly, you know WHEN it is going to happen, because you are in control of it.

Pain that is expected and predictable is much more easily tolerated than pain that is unexpected and unpredictable - you can grit your teeth and bear it when you get a jab from a Doctor, but if someone randomly stabbed you with that same needle you would jump and yell out!

With both the shock collar and the spray collar, one of the selling points is that the unpleasant event is not associated with you, the dog does not know that you caused it. The idea is that he figures out HE caused it, but that unfortunately is not guaranteed to be the case.

If your dog sees a cat, barks, and gets a zap from the shock collar - is he going to realise it was his bark that did it? Or more likely, is he going to think the CAT caused it, because after all, he was focusing on the cat at the time, the bark was a sub-conscious reaction not a planned out action.

There have been plenty of cases where dogs wearing shock collars have become too scared to go out into their yards, or have become dangerously aggressive to cats, other dogs, whatever it is they bark at.

There are other unpleasant side effects too - just as with the spray collar the dog could quit barking and take up digging or biting at the fence or chewing things or escaping.

The collar unit can malfunction and cause nasty burns on the dogs neck, or the batteries can die and your dog learns that sometimes he CAN bark (and if you learn that sometimes a thing works, thats actually more reinforcing than learning that it 'always' works! Just look at how many people are addicted to gambling on fruit machines as opposed to people addicted to buying from vending machines!)

So, for lots and lots of reasons, punishment here is not the answer, it carries big risks of failure, of hurting your dog, damaging your relationship with your dog, and making the problem worse.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

A Treatise on Toys...

Toys? Yeah, my dog has a couple of toys... what's so important about toys?

Well for a lot of dogs, toys are just that manky rubber tugger and tatty bit of knotted rope that are under the sofa and have been for donkeys years.

Some dogs aren't too fussed about toys and that's fine - on the whole, those dogs are adults who lead very fulfilling lives with plenty of mental stimulation coming from other sources, but modern dog toys are a bit of a revelation, so read on anyway!

Toys need to be about the dog - not about the human!

Obvious isn't it - and yet there are THOUSANDS of toys out there that are all about amusing a human and have very little to do with the dog. Those countless rubber tuggers for example - only the die hard tug enthusiast is going to bother with those and there's one very simple reason for this - they taste FOUL. Natural rubber has a VERY strong flavour and odour and a huge number of dogs actually don't like it!

Then there's all those plastic squeaky carrots and bones and newspapers - again whilst some dogs go wild for a squeaker, once that's been killed the toy is reduced to something for the dog to bring you to hint that he'd like to play - very boring if you happen to be busy.

Finally, there's often a clash between humans and their dogs about what their dog does with a toy or how their dog plays, and how THEY want to play or think their dog should play.

Humans want dogs to carry teddies around and curl up with them - dogs want to rip teddy limb from limb and remove his stuffing.
Humans want to throw the tennis ball a few times - dogs either want the ball thrown 10'0000 times, or to skin that ball like the fluorescent yellow bitch it is... that's right, kill that mofo dead!

Yeah, I don't give my dogs soft toys or squeakies because he wrecks them...

Yep, I bet he does and you know what, that IS play - he plays the way he wants and needs to. The fact that it makes a tiny little bit of you cry inside as he rips the head off the fluffy zebra is not relevant here.
There are thousands of dogs out there who don't get toys, who would love toys, because the way they want to play is not the way their owners think they should play. Sometimes it is because they are buying the wrong toys of course, sometimes its because they can't accept who their dog is!

So, what toys SHOULD I be getting my dog?

First thing to do is separate out the kinds of toy available. There are interactive toys, where you need to help - there are food dispensing toys - there are chewing toys/shredding toys.

I'll list a few examples with links to where you can get them (please note I am not endorsing any of these stores, its just they happen to stock them!):

Interactive toys - these toys require some input from you:

Nina Ottosson Tornado Dog Interactive Toy Game The Nina Ottoson 'Dog Tornado' - the dog has to spin the sections to find the food hidden inside. Like all the Nina Ottoson range, these toys can be made a little harder as your dog gets better at them. There is now a huge range of puzzle toys from Nina Ottoson and other makers - this ones available from VetUK

Puzzle Plush Hide a Bird I call these 'hide inside' toys - plush toys that comprise a cube or cage or some sort of container, with individual, often squeaky toys that you stuff inside and your dog has to pull out. Brilliant for dogs who love de-stuffing toys. There's a great range of these available these days, with the iCube being the original and still brilliant, and the Hide-a-bee and Intellibone and and more than I can list! Awesome toys!

Puzzle Plush Egg Baby Dog Toys This is a similar idea - pull out the eggs hidden inside the penguin.

Both these toys and a LOT more awesome positive training stuff including toys, are available from Training Lines

Along similar lines, Kong make a range of soft toy animals in two or three sizes which have a velcro closed compartment inside that holds a squeaker, or you can take the squeaker out and replace it with something else - great for dogs who like to rip open a toy and pull something out. Not the hardest wearing of toys (I've mended our Errol's Platy Duck a few times now!) but a lot of dogs are actually satisfied once they have ripped the toy open!

All these toys will require supervision from you and are not designed to be given to your dog unsupervised at all. You need to be there to ensure your dog isn't getting the food from a puzzle toy by flipping it upside down or chewing the lid off! You need to be there to stuff the eggs back in the penguin, etc etc.

Food Dispensing Toys

These toys all require you to stuff them and/or put them together but your dog can be left with these whilst you get on with something else.

Kong Classic Red Dog Toy Here's the original and brilliant Kong. It comes in a variety of sizes (don't bother with the tiny puppy size) and also in black for power-chewers. Now some dogs HAVE managed to wreck Kongs but they are few and far between, and this generally happens when a dog is given a Kong that has been stuffed in such a way as it is too difficult for that dogs skill level. You MUST teach a dog how to use a Kong, working your way up from 'food that almost falls right out' to 'hardcore frozen, gonna take hours' or you will frustrate your dog into wrecking it, or he will give up.

Busy Buddy Twist n Treat Dispensing Dog Toy    Linkables Treat Dispensing Puzzle Toys   Kong Genius Treat Dispensing Dog Toys Tug-a-Jug Treat Dispensing Dog Toy

From left to right, Busy Buddy Twist n Treat, Linkables, Kong Genius and Tug-a-Jug. All available from Training Lines as above.

These are all variations on the same theme - fill them with food, let your dog figure out how to get at the food.

There are a lot of other food dispensing toys available, this is just a VERY small selection and I would encourage anyone and everyone, to get hold of two or three or four of these toys and use them instead of a food bowl for at least one of their dogs daily meals. You effectively get 10 - 60 minutes mental stimulation all for the price of 5 minutes stuffing them!

You do need to think about what your dog likes best however - the Tug-a-Jug is a great toy but if your dog likes to fling things a long way, it could cost you a flat screen tv or a picture window. Better for non-flingers or inside a crate!  The Twist n Treat is good but not for dogs who have figured out they can chew it open - great for dogs who like to lick though, fill it with some meaty food and freeze!

The Linkables and the Genius are I think some of the most innovative toys around, satisfying a dogs urge to pull things apart, chew and lick, and you can buy as many sections as you like and link them together in different ways so the toy is much less likely to become over familiar and boring.

Chewing toys

Rubber Rumdinger Treat Finder Toys  Busy Buddy Rip n Tug LotusJW Crackle Heads Crunchy Ball

First two available from Training Lines, Crackle Head ball by JW, from VetUK

Chew toys need to give a dog a reason to chew - the above toys give you somewhere to put cheese spread or peanut butter, kibble in the rip-tug and the Crackle Head ball is an amazing invention, containing the plastic we use for pop-bottles that dogs LOVE to chew, but without the sharp edges or lid that make such things dangerous. JW get a massive thumbs up from me for really thinking about what dogs LIKE to do!

JW Crackle Heads Cuz Dog Toy This is the Cuz version - the Cuz, by JW is basically a tough rubber ball... with legs! The Bad Cuz also has horns - whilst this may  mean your dog chews off the legs and horns, before he does so you have a throw-toy that bounces unpredictably.

The original Cuz toys JW Pet Bad Cuz Dog Toy These bounce unpredictably due to their feet and horns - they squeak, but unlike standard squeaky toys these produce a much less ear-bleeding tone, more like a grunt or fart!

Petstages Orka Stick Dog Toy

Mixed textures are also a good thing - this is the Petstages Orka chew/tug bone - it combines a durable, NON-nasty tasting rubber with knotted cotton giving your dog two textures to go at, and giving you a toy you can throw, he can tug, and he can chew!

Petstages make a wide range of interesting toys - do check them out and look for them in shops or online stockists.

Theres more cool stuff out there, too much for me to list but go  on a google-hunt, try Zogoflex, Goughnuts for really tough chewers! For dogs with a lot of chase instinct, try Skineez and tie them to the end of a lunge whip or make your own flirt pole using a length of broomhandle and some para-cord.

I firmly believe that at the very least, all puppies should have a toy box filled with the likes of the toys above, and if your adult dog doesn't have an appropriate outlet for their chewing needs, they need mental stimulation or something to do when left home alone, then you really should invest.

I hope this post has given you some idea of the innovation thats gone into dog toys and what is actually out there - as I say, there is a massive range of stuff, I have barely scratched the surface, but I hope it inspires you to fill your dogs toybox with the good stuff and ditch the boring things!

(NB - None of the stores or manufacturers listed here paid me or gave me stuff to feature them - if they'd LIKE to, they'd be more than welcome!)


Please ensure when selecting a toy that you think about HOW your dog plays, and then supervise your dog with a new toy, to be certain they won't get a tooth or claw stuck and injure or frighten themselves!

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

It's amazing what you see when you learn how to look...

This is a nice, positive, if a little wandering and possibly a bit deep n' meaningful... you cannot say you were not warned!

I am a bit scared of things that fly at my head...

There, I've 'fessed up. Things that fly around (I mean insects, not, half-bricks!) and hit me in the head cause me to go 'arrrgh' and 'eeeeeeeeeearrrrrrrrrrgh' and 'FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKGETOFFME' and other such things.

My reaction ranges from 'crap I don't like this' to 'full scale meltdown' depending on what the thing is.

If it just flys near me, I am wary. If it flies near me AND it goes BZZZZZZZ I am on the verge of panic.

If it flies AT me and is silent, I flap around and move - if it flies AT me and goes BZZ  I am close to filling my pants, I run and scream.

If it goes BZZZ and it LANDS on me I become completely irrational, I'll run around, scream, strip off clothing, smash myself in the head trying to make sure its not in my hair. I can't listen to stuff that's said to me either.

So, moving this story along - whilst clearly, bees and wasps and their various brethren are no friends of mine.

Moths on the other hand are cause for a little concern, which grows with their size and desire to fly at my head.

Where I live, we have a lot of moths. Probably because there is a lot of wild scrubby woodland and fields behind my house, and I live in the West Midlands where its marginally warmer than the Frozen North that is my native land (ok ok, Manchester).

The other relevant points here are - our terraced house requires we have windows open or it is too hot in summer. Even if its not actually that hot. Windows closed results in a vile, stale, airless abode.
Also, our upstairs toilet is a tiny room, with an open window - and we tend to leave the light on as its the least annoying light to leave on so you can see where you are going for your middle-of-the-night-wee (or otherwise you trip over an Ellie dog on the landing).

The net result of course is that our tiny tiny loo with its pale walls and electric-moon, is a veritable Mecca for Moths!

It was just NOT sustainable to carry on being so worried about things that fly at my face, when this affected my ability to go for a wee, so Something Had To Be Done...

I started to learn about Moths.

Moths are quite interesting - theres a huge variety of colours, shapes, sizes, flying habits... males tend to have ridiculous feathery antenna, there are some with incredibly furry faces, and their common names tell of times gone by, when to keep slightly odd young men busy, moth collecting was thought  a good, upstanding activity. I feel that moth collecting was then, to butterfly collecting, what goth music is to chart pop... still a bit weird!

The names really inspired me - I wanted to meet the Dingy Footman, The Setaceous Hebrew Character and The Snout and all their friends. Looking through pictures of the species found in the UK, I thought 'wow... I have never seen almost ANY of these before....'

And I know why  now - and it isn't that I was blind, and it isn't that these are particularly rare creatures.

It's simply because I wasn't looking.

In the last fortnight I have found:

Dingy Footman
Common Footman
Buff Footman
Clothes Moth (common/various)
Scalloped Oak
Early Thorn (many!)
Lesser Rustic
Carcina quercana (has no common name)
Common Plume
Light Emerald
Willow Beauty
Poplar Hawk Moth
Riband Wave

I haven't set foot outside my house to see these, these are just the moths that were drawn into my home by the lights we leave on!

This brings me to two thoughts.

Firstly - when we look, when we know what we are looking for and where, and how, we will find it - we WILL see things that were always there... we just never noticed them before.

Secondly - when we pair something we aren't keen on, with a reward, we become much happier about that thing.

So thats how this relates to dog behaviour modification, because really here, I was counter conditioning myself to moths.

Using a functional reward - my love of learning about wildlife, my human desire to collect and collate and list the things I find - I have changed my emotional response to moths from 'urgh yuck' to 'ooh, interesting!'.

We can and should do the same with our dogs.

I am constantly amazed when people watch various tv shows and youtube clips, and they don't seem to see the things I see. I talk to clients and they have never noticed for example, the difference in a dogs mouth when he is panting because he is a little warm, and when his mouth is open because his lips are drawn back, tension creating wrinkles at the corners, ears back and tight, caused by stress or fear.

They don't see because they are not in the habit of looking - because they don't know why they should look, nor how or where, contextually, these things are important.

Once people DO know how to look though, it can be quite a revelation!

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

It's another Cesar review - Jinx and Ruby the JRT's

To save your eyes from the frankly outright fuckwittery that is this slightly different 'behind the scenes' episode, I provide for you, a review. Ta da.

We are introduced to Ruby and Jinx, two JRT bitches aged 8 and 11.

Their problem - oh, well they HATE each other and they fight, and when they fight, they intend to kill.

We see their owner (I missed what her name was. Honestly, I don't really care) and she's working with one of the two terriers, using food rewards though she's using them in a rather obviously luring way, which suggests shes not 'da bomb' at positive reinforcement, as these dogs are way past old enough to have had outright bribery faded out!

Cesar meets the dogs - one lives upstairs, with an 18" high unsecured barrier (it folds in the middle and doesn't appear to be secured to the hallway wall) stopping her going downstairs to where the other lives, behind a similar barrier.

This does suggest to ME that though these dogs fight when together, out of sight is very much out of mind - I have lived with bitches who hated each other and really did want to kill, such barriers would have been a joke!

Cesar first meets Jinx who lives upstairs. He immediately identifies her as being submissive and weak, though excited because she sniffs him. For those who know JRTs, you'll be surprised to hear that this excited behaviour involves no barking and no jumping around, just curious leg sniffing.

Now he goes downstairs and meets Ruby, who stares at him, or rather, actually, past him at the freaky camera man. You can clearly see her do this in a few shots. She isn't bouncy, she doesn't bark, but he declares HER silence as meaning she's dominant. He asks if this is the dog who has done some hunting/bird dog work, and when this is confirmed he declares her a 'true animal' and pure and a hunter is always silent (remember this point later folks!). He makes a big deal of how awesome it is to be in the presence of this pure hunter... *rolleyes*

The owner discusses that shes tried using a shock collar to stop the fighting, she apparently knows how to use one of these properly as of course, shes trained Ruby to do bird dog work and that 'as any fule kno' requires a shock collar.... but oh, it seems that after the initial zap, the shock collar made no odds at all, they still fought.

We see some footage throughout the show, of Cesar in the editing suite looking at the footage. At one point very bizarrely he shows us a still of Jinx, claiming that ONE of her eyes is hard and aggressive and the other is soft and submissive..... WHAT THE VERY FUCK?

Cringe time...

Now we see Cesar let the two dogs in together, having already seen some lengthy footage of them on leads in the house yelling at one another fairly furiously, it is a bit of a let down to see them trot about generally relaxed and ignoring each other.

Cesar tries to trigger a fight - it takes rather a lot to achieve this. The owner has them facing each other in front of her and gives them food, she drops food between them and makes them wait to take it and then has one take it whilst the other waits.

Then we hit upon using the hoover, but Jinx just sits in a corner and Ruby is anxious but goes to the food bowl and eats. Cesar does correctly identify that Ruby is using the food as a displacement activity (he calls it redirecting), and of course he stops her doing this with a tsst and a jab a couple of times.

He identifies that Jinx is worried, shes sat by the gate and if given the choice, she'd leave - but actually I think its the cameraman who again is on the floor up in her face with a huge camera that is her real problem.

They give this up for a bit then try again and this time the owner starts to squeal 'they are going to fight they are going to fight' and THAT does trigger a fight...

However it is not Ruby who starts the fight, in fact Jinx puts the 'eye' on Ruby and steps towards her, Ruby was actually walking away but the owner screeching and Jinx's offensive behaviour means Ruby flies at her and Cesar has to scrabble to stop them.

He then holds them at arms length, kneeling on the floor, with himself in the middle, so the two dogs are facing one another. THroughout this 15 minute session it is Ruby who backs down first several times and Jinx, our supposedly 'weak' dog who is starting it up again.

At one point, Ruby eventually bites his hand a bit, he tells her off for it and claims shes the hunter because

He tries to let go at one point saying he should reward Ruby for backing down as she is clearly submissive now and the second he does, she flies for Jinx again.

We are seeing Cesars concept that one dog MUST be the dominant one and one MUST be the weak or submissive one, fall apart here, because in my opinion, NEITHER of these dogs is particularly confident nor 'dominant' - they are both pretty much riddled with anxiety and fear, and just don't really want anything to do with the other.

Eventually when Cesars feet go numb he separates them, carrying Ruby away and leaving Jinx with a member of the crew, then he comes back and lets Jinx go, but immediately she tries to get in her bed, he claims shes STILL not submissive and he stops her getting in the bed, stares her down, until she rolls and she crawls to him...

But apparently she is STILL not submissive, shes lying to him, shes faking it because her front legs are bent and stiff.

Hold up a minute - this dog was the one Cesar claimed was weak and submissive!

He prods her legs around a bit trying to make her relax, this doesn't actually work and then we cut to a scene where the owner is bringing both dogs to Cesar's centre.

They are let out off lead together and enter his compound and immediately meet some of his pack - they are pretty much ignoring one another and the other dogs and just exploring their environment, again, I strongly believe these dogs REALLY want nothing to do with one another and are only fighting when its triggered by something else.

Some of Cesars dogs are pretty rude, crowding, head over back etc, but there is no reaction until at some point the two girls end up in the same spot. We don't see why but its under a small table type thing and almost immediately they are clamped on to one another. Cesar picks them up together as they won't let go of each other and even when he prizes one off she re-grips onto the other bitches leg. Id be surprised if there weren't some fairly severe bite wounds.

Throughout this 'meet the pack' scene, Cesar waffles on - he starts asserting that JINX is the dominant one and that Ruby is the submissive one and then theres a voice over where Cesar explains that their roles have changed.

Here I suspect he made a mistake, and corrected it with the voice over edited in later - he is correct that dogs change roles when you change the environment, the context etc but at no point does he SAY this, he makes it sound like they have suddenly flipped roles permanently!

Then the show ends with some more footage in the editing suite, where Cesar explains that of course they only had 2 days with his pack, and he is absolutely positive he could have solved the problem but unfortunately the rehab has been postponed.... indefinitely. (So... cancelled then. Yeah? Postponed is temporary... indefinitely is forever)... due to Ruby having some serious health problem.

This episode was, frankly, fucking dreadful. Cesar reveals in the first five minutes of the show that he is guessing at much of what goes on. Good behaviourists take details BEFORE they show up, but Cesar clearly hasn't, because he has NO idea that these are both bitches, a fairly crucial point in my opinion!

It is quite possible that Ruby ALWAYS had a health problem, if this information is in fact true - a good behaviourist would insist that all dogs involved had a thorough vet check to rule out any underlying condition - again, it is possible Ruby always had this and no vet check was done.  If she did have a serious issue, this could have been enough to upset the other bitch (who was very clearly anxious!)

I actually think that the owner put the kybosh on this episode after her dogs injured one another at Cesars centre. I know I would be mighty pissed off if a behaviourists actions ended with my dogs being injured (of course I wouldn't send my dogs to a prat like Cesar though!).

I think THIS is why he chose to make this episode a sort of 'behind the scenes' one, filling in a lot of gaps created by the fact that he COULD not resolve the problem and that the owner threw in the towel.

What Cesar never ever picked up on was that simply, these two dogs are anxious, caused by a fight that kicked off with a third bitch, Lucky, who was subsequently rehomed. They had also spent HUGE (years) amounts of time separated, reintroduced only to fight, being shocked with shock collars - all things that would increase their anxiety and antipathy toward one another.

They just did not want to live together and part of being a GOOD behaviourist, is actually recognising the animals needs, not forcing them to do something for the owners benefit.

Of course the other thing GOOD behaviourists hold forefront in their minds is the ethos 'DO NO HARM'... but Cesar has never concerned himself with THAT one!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

I don't care how damn cute it is... Kids & Dogs

I Need To Rant...   Do you think this is cute? 

I make no apologies here, I have stolen these images off the net, and if it makes ONE dog owner or parent see sense and behave more responsibly, I'll do it again.

Children and dogs CAN have a fine old time, they really can. I adored dogs from an early age and, though we didn't have one, I was taught how to behave around dogs, just as I was taught how to behave with other children, how to cross the road, not to touch the fire ...

And until I was of an age where I could be trusted to follow those rules and that education on my own, I was not allowed to cross the road alone, be around dogs unsupervised, was not given access to the fire or the kettle or the sharp knives.

So why is it these days I am seeing endless frigging photos of children with dogs, being allowed and often ENCOURAGED to do things to dogs that dogs DON'T like, should NOT have to tolerate and that can and sadly does, tend to result in a child being bitten!

I hear really really frequently 'Oh, the dog lets him climb all over, he rides the dog like a pony, the dog lets him pull his ears and tail, he wanders round with food and if the dog approaches he bops him on the nose and says 'No!'...

"my dog would never hurt our child"...


Well, that's what Blakes' parents thought - here's Blake, he's so cute, that huge wound on his face is pretty cute too don't you think?

You don't? But Blake was just hanging out with a pair of dogs who were eating a bone, in fact, the dogs owners and Blakes parents don't actually know WHICH of the two dogs bit him - do we think this suggests that a/ they were not supervising him and b/ he was too close to the dogs and maybe c/ the dogs should have been left alone to eat their bones?

I'll quote from their own article on this incident, Blake was bitten by a dog:

"is a dog my son is used to walking around with food.. especially hotdogs.. and the dog will try to sniff his food and Blake will tell him no and pop his nose and the dog NORMALLY jumps away as if he is scared. My son rides this dog like a horse.. pulls his tail and ears.. anything you could imagine like that."

Dogs can and do tolerate a huge amount of  crap from us, from our kids - but they should not HAVE to. The likelyhood is, in fact, most dog's won't bite a kid, but very scarily, the likelyhood is this WON'T be through training, good management or an understanding owner.

Most owners do NOT see the warning signs that a dog is not happy, they do NOT read the body language of a dog avoiding a child, they don't know how to read (or even look for!) tension in the dogs body or mouth. They don't seem to realise that a dog is a sentient being with his own feelings, likes, dislikes, and he or she should NOT ever be considered a childs plaything.

If you want your dog to tolerate your child, you have to teach him how, you have to make him  feel that it is rewarding to stay calm and relaxed around the kid... and... you have to prevent the kid doing anything the dog won't like.

Here's a heads up folks - dogs do NOT want to be climbed on, bounced on, hit in the face, have their tails pulled, ears pulled, eyes poked, be sat on, be ridden like a pony, be taunted with food, have their toys snatched from them, have kids climb on them when they are in their beds....

In fact, a lot of dogs find babies and toddlers outright FRIGHTENING. They are unpredictable, they are grabby, they fall down a lot,they make sudden high pitched noises, they smell strange ... and if you think that is weird it is worth remembering, a lot of adult dogs actually freak out at first at puppies. If they find it hard to cope with a juvenile of their OWN species, can you see how a baby of a totally different species could be pretty damn scary?

Dogs do NOT automatically know how to behave around kids, nor should you expect them to. They are not 'bad' dogs if they are fearful, or boisterous or outright aggressive even - they are DOGS and unless you teach them how to be around children or manage them so that they CANNOT get near to children, then accidents like Blake's will happen.

Of course Blake is pretty lucky, he's just got some facial disfigurement. He seems like a pretty happy chap considering what a fright and what pain he has suffered.

None of it was necessary of course, if Blakes parents (and all the other parents who put their children AND their dogs at risk) had just taken some common sense management precautions.

So next time you see a picture like the one at the start of this blog, and you think 'aww, cute' - stop, and remember that it can end up like the picture in the middle and if it does, the chances are the dog ends up like this one:

And that's definitely NOT cute.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Balanced blogging... force free Gun Dog Training!

In the interests of 'balanced blogging', I'd like to show some examples of positive, force free training that cover most if not all of the jobs a working gundog would do.

Some of these will be with actual gundogs, and some will not, they will be pet dogs doing 'tricks' that can be applied to a variety of activities.

Whilst thinking about the previous blog, I have to say, (and this is absolutely no defense for the actions taken by Mr Upton), there ARE a lot more trainers out there behaving the way he does, treating dogs the way he does, and in a fair few circumstances, getting good results from it.

So first of all I'd like to address why that is.

Traditional gundog trainers don't start training a dog until it is around 12 months old, some wait til 18 months and they will tell you that to start earlier will ruin the dog...

Now I start training my dogs at 8 weeks old, and if I am lucky, I buy a pup from a breeder who has started the pup off at even younger, housetraining, chew toy training, the beginnings of recall, sit and settle down in a crate or kennel can ALL begin at around 5 weeks old!

So to hear that gundog trainers wouldn't start until the dog was practically an adult baffles my mind... until you realise that by training, they mean using fairly harsh physical punishment.
And now it makes sense - because you WILL ruin a puppy, you will kill all trust he has in you, if you start strangling him, lifting him up by his scruff or his ears, hitting him, kicking him etc, when he is a little baby. You also risk serious injury or killing the dog too.

So, for a lot of these pups they have spent maybe the first year or more of their lives doing nothing more than running around, being fed, playing and having fun. They have absolutely no reason not to trust their owner/trainer, because that person is the enabler of all the fun (bear in mind most of these dogs are also kennelled so their exposure to humans is very limited, what they do get is then awesome).

Next, when you are looking specifically at working dogs, doing the job they were bred to do, you must realise that there is one HECK of a lot of functional reward going on there. These dogs are not cooped up in a home and they are not going nuts being prevented, as many of us have to do, from doing what they inherently and instinctively are driven to do.

So, the dog is now 12 months old, and he is itching to get out there and hunt, he wants feathers in his mouth, he wants to retrieve, to mark, to quarter and flush, he is bursting to do this job and to please this person who has been his fun, his food source, his world...

And then that person sets him up to fail and punishes him physically. Whoa! But hang on.... there is still the FUN FUN HUNTING FUN OMG FUN... but wait.. erm.. hmm this guy, he was mean...

Well maybe that was a mista...... OW, he hit me...  oh now it's getting confusing!

So little baby gundog has suddenly discovered his owner is unpredictable, but he has always been a source of fun and still is, he is baby gundogs entire world and still is... and he enables those functional rewards, doing what baby gundogs want to do.. WORK...

It is against THIS backdrop we have to consider that, whilst it may APPEAR that harsh, force based methods work... its actually the truth that these dogs enjoy their jobs DESPITE the abuse they suffer under the guise of training.. not because of it.

People will of course tell you that the majority of dogs working successfully in the field are trained using compulsion, force based and physical punishment methods. They will also tell you most of the dogs winning field trials are also trained this way... ergo it works, ergo it is necessary...

But that isn't really the full story now is it. If all the dogs in a contest are trained the same way, that just means all the dogs in the contest are trained the same way.

If 50% were trained one way, and 50% were trained another way, THAT might give you some indication of whether force based training is 'better' or 'necessary'... but the currently status quo does not reflect this, because there are still more old school force based gundog trainers around.

So lets consider my point - these dogs are doing the job and doing it well not because of force based training, but, despite it.

Lets have a look at what positive reinforcement, force free gundog training looks like.

Here's Thomas Aaron from Fetchmasters, training young dogs to remain steady when the dummy is thrown, first without and then with, gunshot.

You'll notice, this IS a little scrappy, its rough and ready, but that's cool because Thom is clicker training, he can refine these behaviours later on. No they probably wouldn't win a UK field trial but hey, he's training a working dog, not a competition field trial animal (I am sure he could!)

What you will see is that the young dog is CHOOSING to exercise impulse control HIMSELF, he is not choosing to sit because he fears the repercussions, he is doing so because he understands that IF he does so, he earns his (functional) reward.. being allowed to go retrieve the dummy.

Nice. I like this, this dog is enjoying his work, he is building on his relationship with his owner/trainer here and no force is required.

Here's some non-gundog work that is totally applicable, training a sendaway, a drop on recall and heel, all completely fun for the dog, completely force free. This is Kikopup, aka Emily Larlham and she is a fantastic clicker trainer.

One of the most pervasive and I think, horrible concepts within traditional gundog training is the 'forced retrieve or forced fetch'.
I have just watched a video that claims the force fetch is the ONLY guaranteed way to teach a solid and reliable retrieve in a gundog. The vid (which I won't subject you to here, shows two very very miserable unhappy looking young labradors being subjected to ear pinches).

The concept of the force fetch is that the dog is taught the ONLY way to avoid pain (pinched ear) is by hanging on to that dummy until the handler asks him or her to hand it over.
This is negative reinforcement in action - the dog is subjected to something unpleasant (the ear pinch) which is removed as soon as the correct action is taken (holding the dummy).

In contrast, a clicker trainer teaches a retrieve by marking (clicking) the dog for first touching, then mouthing, then holding the dummy, then holding the dummy for longer and longer periods, and back chaining the sequence of behaviours, so the final stage 'present the dummy into the hand' is the first thing learned, then the distance is increased until the dog is retrieving the dummy to the hand.

Because the first thing learned is the last thing in the finished behaviour, it is also the most ingrained behavior, the dog knows that THIS is when the reward comes, and so he is not going to drop that dummy anywhere, which translates to, he is not going to drop the bird on his way back with it, because above all, it is returning the bird to the hand that is the important behaviour here.

All this is also fun for the dog to learn because it involves learning each stage with lots of praise and reward. You can see this in action here, in this video by Donna  Hill


No pained expressions here, no looking away, ears back, pawing at arms trying to avoid the punishment - here this dog is having fun AND learning efficiently and effectively.

So given that all this is possible, why DON'T people use it - I really don't know and I would love to hear peoples explanations as to why they think causing pain and discomfort and fear is acceptable and necessary, and why clicker training wouldn't work - I really would, and I promise you I won't call you an asshat if you come and talk to me. If you refuse to LISTEN and TRY of course, then you are THE biggest asshat going, but if you genuinely have not seen this stuff before, if you don't know how it works and you want to know, come talk to me!