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Problems updates and agility training

When I give a talk, I find people show a great deal of interest with dog problems. Who likes reading the problem pages of agony aunts?

What we must remember is most problems have taken many months to emerge or learned by your dog so in these cases there is often no quick fix. What is required is to dissect the problem into individual links then set a program of retraining for both owner and dog for each link. All dogs are different so what works for one dog many not work for another. Many behaviourists will say all problems are leadership related but in fact, they are not. That is not to say that where leadership is not a problem the owners are still recommended to adopt some generally accepted leadership roll play that may help solve the problem and prevent others forming.

It is important that the owner understands why the dog does what it does and can see progress otherwise doubts are formed and a temptation to try something else ending up with a confused dog. The owner must also understand why the problem has emerged in the first place and accept that in many cases it maybe their attitude to training that maybe is to blame.

The bucket of water trick is what I would call a harmless quick fix along with the use of bitter apple onto possessions you do not wish chewed. The electric collars I have never and will never use except as the very last option to euthanasia. I do use a radio controlled spray collar and the automatic anti-bark spray collar but only under my direction along with a properly structured retraining programme providing the problem is not related to anxiety. Using such devises with anxcious dogs will only make matters worse. Many people do buy these only to end up reselling them still in their original boxes because they wanted an instant fix rather than make an effort in curing the reason for the problem.

As I have stated before if your dog does have a problem you should first have your dog inspected by your vet and explain your dog’s reactions. Some problems maybe due to illness or quite simply dietary or chemical (hormonal) imbalances that is easily resolved with modern medication. I mention this again as I have just received two major problems one being aggression biting and one of severe anxiety. Both I feel are learned problems and both dogs should respond to retraining. Never the less for the owners to have trust and faith in any appropriate retraining programme I have advised them both that they first see their vet. If they are satisfied, there is no medical problem and the dogs would benefit from retraining only then should their vet refer them to me or any other local behaviourist. Dogs deserve appropriate treatment not experimentation.

Just on the point of vets who do study animal behaviour because for them it is survival of the quickest. (Does your vet still have all his fingers)? When taking your dog to the vet, do please treat it as training to reduce your animals fear. If you enter, the surgery being anxcious this will only reinforce your dogs own fear that something nasty is about to happen. Do what you do when you take your children to the dentist and lie. Go into the surgery with happy thoughts that help support your body language read by your dog that there is no need for anxiety. Take a toy or titbits and give these at the appropriate time like injections to take the dogs mind off what the vet is doing. The vets may even offer to give a titbit themselves to show your dog they are in fact nice people. I assure you your vet will appreciate this if they wish survive.

I was asked my advice on a problem the other week and though simple to solve it is the significance of how we think and how we think a dog thinks that create misunderstanding of the dog’s true reasoning that creates further problems.

The question was about a rescued dog that when chastised for any wrongdoing urinates and sometimes defecates. Initially when he walked into the house, he saw a sight of household destruction with a seemingly happy dog in its midst that then drops down and urinates. Now any sign of anger produces the same result. How do you stop the fearful or submissive urination?

Usually when confronted by any destruction your body language will show very well that you are angry. If the dog is in any way anxcious is will take a submissive stance and if the fear appears real will begin to urinate. This produces more anger and then the realisations that to stop further mess you realise you need to pretend that everything is ok and you are not angry at all and hey presto the dog stops urinating and starts to improve. Any form of chastisement now for the destruction is pointless and will only reinforce to your dog to always fear your return so forget it.

Like the owner, would you then think by looking happy each time you enter the door has solved the urinating? No, what it has done is reinforce to the dog that if it urinates it will make you into a happy person. (Action and reaction) In the dogs mind it is simply it urinates and you become happy. What we need to do is to change the reaction. On entering the house, do not look at the dog nor say anything. Ignoring your dog serves neither benefit nor fear so urination will cease. Next still without looking at the dog or talking to it prepare its meal and then give it to it after saying come and give much praise followed by the meal. The dog will then learn to look forward to your return. This is just one link in this particular chain of events. I hope you can see from this that the first logical answer of looking happy to stop the dog being frightened appeared to work but had this continued it would have only made matters worse.

Agility training for fun or for competitions.

Before you start agility training please check with your vet and in particularly with the larger breeds have them x-rayed for hip displacia. Agility training is not for you to teach your dog to jump or walk over obstacles. This they know how to do if they have a good reason to do it. It is for us to teach the dogs to understand our commands of when, where and how. The usual verbal command used is over or get over but again remember your dog more easily understands hand commands than the words, as they contain no tones of voice that can confuse. If it is easier for you, to start with a verbal command use a hand signal as well then just use the hand signal alone. For the times to recall the dog over a jump like the six-foot scale, I clap my hands.

Training for agility does not mean you need to start to build any standard jumps yet. We can use the command for anything from jumping over the low wall or a falling tree branch in fact any low obstacle. All they need is it to be easy with out any option to fail. You can jump over them first then followed by your dog just keep using the command until you can send your dog over them every time no matter what the obstacle is so long as it is not too wide or too high. This is particularly important in a growing pup as their bones are not yet set and jumping excessive obstacles too early will damage the bones and joints. Do not rush your dog into the Olympics just get the command to response working every time correctly. It not important that your dog finds these too easy that it needs to try something a bit harder to challenge it just set the command in stone first and keep it all for fun.

You can include going through tubes, big hoops and walking over low wide planks just make sure they are all easy. Also, make sure there is no alternative way round the obstacle to produce a failure when you could have found an easier obstacle.

The signal we all find easy to use is to point to the dog and swing your arm forward towards the obstacle indicating you want your dog to go forward, over, through or even under depending on the obstacle. If you throw a titbit at the same time over or through the obstacle, this will reinforce the command. Thanks to B J Skinners, experiments with rats he found that to retain learnt behaviour more efficiently reward reinforcement is given occasionally rather than every time. One other reason for using only hand signals is otherwise, we are saying over, through or under when one hand gesture will suffice. Please keep it simple.

Never ever, teach your dog to jump using its lead. Do not stand behind the jump and call your dog over as you are in the way and probably will impede your dog from jumping its full capability. Running with your dog also impedes your dogs jumping as you are training it not to go in front of you for heal work so it runs at your speed and probably too slow for the jump. My dog jumped a long jump too early as a pup, cut open the back of his hind leg, and cut a tendon. We were lucky as the Vet fixed this permanently and Tip following a short period of recuperation went on to jump to his original full potential.

I have received a reply from a lady near Benidorm who is interested in assisting in a situation problem-retraining panel. If you are interested in helping dogs with problems in your area, please contact me. You do not need to own a dog nor have doggy experience just love them all.

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

Epitaph:
For the 29-year-old man who broke into a Carciaxent villa on October 3, two Rottweillers found him guilty passed sentence and executed him. On that day, so-called civilised man took a giant leap backwards.

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