TIME TO THINK

A MOMENT OF QUIET

We had a quiet Thinking-Dog session this morning with just 3 dogs. I like these quiet sessions, sometimes, because it means we get a chance to chat with customers as well as work with the dogs. It means we can learn a bit more about what’s going on with the dogs at home, how they’re progressing, and this extra quiet time means that we can focus on some of the more ‘minor’ things that owners are less worried about, but would like some help with.

OODLES OF DOODLES

Doodles has had a very good week, and has been around a number of dogs on lead with none of his old reactions. Considering he’s only been with us for 4 sessions, his progress is very pleasing. His owner had no choice other than to walk him past a dog last week, and she was surprised that there was no lunging, squeaking or panting. His tail went up, and she could see he was a bit anxious, but he shook himself off and carried on his walk happily.

His owner has been working very hard with him, and he is far more happy to refer back to her when he sees something that bothers him. This week, his owner has been working on keeping her lead loose at all times – she sets her own ‘homework’ and is very committed to helping him with his issues, which is why he’s made such quick progress in such a short time.

FIZZY JASPER

Jasper started this week feeling a bit fizzy, but managed to calm himself down, despite several off lead dogs in the car park. His owner has pulled a muscle in her arm, and is finding his pinginess quite uncomfortable, because it jerks her arm. She had considered using a head collar to stop him pulling, but was pleased that she had made the right decision not to.

Jasper wouldn’t cope with a headcollar, he finds anything around his body or head difficult to tolerate and it would take many hours of patient work to get him used to and easy with a headcollar. As we explained to her, they rarely stop dogs pulling or pinging, the dog tends to just pull and ping to the side. A headcollar doesn’t reduce the urge to do either of those things, the dog still gets the feeling; it is, admittedly, sometimes more controllable when it has the headcollar on, but it doesn’t stop it feeling the uneasiness, threat or need to react. Creating more distance between a dog and the thing that makes him want to react is always the best option, rather than reverting to a headcollar.

Jasper was finally happy to lie down or stand quietly and watch other dogs go by, although he needed a bit more distance this week than he has done. This can happen with some dogs – he has found new dogs that have joined the group a bit difficult. Reactive dogs often take time to get used to any kind of change, and Jasper will need a couple of weeks before he’s back to the more relaxed boy he had been.

IGNORING THINGS WE DON’T LIKE

Not us! We often tell owners to Ignore attention-seeking behaviour, but this kind of ignoring is actually from the dog, not from trainers or owners ;) Rufus is a lovely little chap who has joined us of late. His owner is one of our regulars to Life Skills with one of her other dogs. Rufus has behaved beautifully with the other dogs in class, but this doesn’t mean that he has any fewer issues with them. He is a big Ignorer. If he can’t cope with something, he turns his back on it and ignores it. He tends, then, to ‘over-focus’ on treats, or just on looking at his owner.

This is the main reason why we never use distraction with our dogs: when dogs deliberately and intently ignore a trigger, they’re very likely to suddenly react towards it when it really gets too close for comfort. Because they’ve been ignoring whatever worries them, they look to most people and dogs as if they’re not bothered by the worrying thing. Then the owner is surprised when they suddenly explode into a riot of barking and lunging. The ignoring was the important signal that the owner needed to pick-up: it means ‘I can’t cope, I need to get out of here’.

If your reactive dog is encouraged to be distracted by other dogs with treats, games or ‘Let’s Go!’ they’re never learning to cope with how other dogs make them feel. The distraction only ever works for as long as you’re there to distract them. And that depends on how much your distraction is worth it – if you can be big enough, and exciting enough, and WAHEEEYYY! enough to get your dog’s attention, then you’re doing ok.

But a day is always likely to come when you’re not. And the other dog gets too close. And you’re big, exciting Wahey! isn’t enough to get your dog focused on you. That’s the day when the Treat-or-Ball-Focused dog reacts, and because the other dog has got far too close for comfort, the Treat-or-Ball-Focused dog will react fast and hard.

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Rufus is learning, by lots of reinforcement for looking calmly at things that bother him, that things are less worrying than he thought. It will take him time, and we’ll need to be careful that he’s never put under pressure by allowing other dogs or people to get too close to him. But he’ll get there