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The case of the dominant bitch

In this case, we had a medium sized bitch that would bark very aggressively at the fence to ward of anybody and everybody. She would try to wind up her partner a huge cuddly dog that was so laid back he would fall over. The bitch ignored the owner in very many ways and sat on the bed or the spare settee which are all dominate traits. Just the way the bitch and I greeted one another confirmed this to me on our first meeting. This I thought was a where the owner should have to show her dominance over the bitch and gave her some of the standard dominating exercises to do but they had little or no effect.

If the owner ignored the bitch, the bitch simply ignored her. Lack of food to encourage the need for titbits she simply stole food. The more the owner tried to dominate the worse the bitch became. I had tried to evict her from the home and only when she was terrified that she could not get to her owner did I let her into the house. All that I suggested should have made the bitch realise that it was the owner who was in charge and changes for the better should have become noticeable. If fact things were getting worse. The bitch was now attacking other dogs. She was also running away and having the owner spend hours tracking her down. A further question was why did she try so hard to excite the dog to bark at people when he had no reason to. Dogs first set of rules guide all dogs to the need to reproduce even though they were never designed for what a Vet and a scalpel can do. The bitch wanted her cuddly laid back mate to become dominant like her to make a good and strong pack that could survive. (Dominant? The dog is as dominant as I am)

This was not a case of a lack of control by the owner. The owner trained the dog at obedience as well as teaching her to be sociable at the dog classes. So why the apparent lack of control in the home or surrounding area.

Whilst in England I was puzzled by the new reports of failure so suggested, the owner take her dog to the vet for hormone and thyroid tests. This was just to confirm if the bitch was not in fact male. All tests came back negative but when I spoke to the Vet, her opinion was the bitch was a lot older than 3 months old when the present owner rescued her.

The bitch was born in a cage in a garden centre. Humans only brought food and escorted them for a short walks to go for a wee etc. The other humans were simply chased away from the cage by all the dogs. You may recall that a dog learns all the rules to survive from being born to 14 or 16 weeks. The Vet was of the opinion this bitch had been in a cage environment for maybe 6 months. The kind owner had only taken the bitch from one cage to another. There were many more freedoms in a house and garden with lots of comfort but to the bitch, this was just another cage and treated it the same way. Remember removing a thorn from a lions paw may only be a prelude to it eating you. Kindness does not always change the need to survive.

Looking at it this life style of life in a cage, then the bitch’s actions were consistent and she did not view humans as other than passing through her domain and providing food. The bitch showed kindness to her owner but there was no need for unnecessary companionship with humans.

How to change this ingrained belief was reasonably simple. Most of the things the bitch could follow were privileges provided by the owner and so easily taken away. When she barks at the fence, leave her attached to a long piece of rope so she is easier to catch if she does not come when called. Once having got hold of the rope she should take the bitch into the garage and fasten the rope to something then leave and close the garage door for 10 minuets in the Sin Bin. When the time is up go into the garage and without saying anything take the dog out and make her do a recall. If she does it all right, she can sit on the beanbag, the settee, or the freedom of the garden. Even food is a privilege if the owner is careful in the way she retrains by using the recall as the compliance test for food as the reward. During this, period of retraining work for privilege is so important and takes some time but will work. I had suggested much longer times in the Sin Bin but the owner felt she could only accept a 10-minute rule. (I did say I am impatient)

The owner simply wanted to be able walk with her dogs without the fear that the bitch would attack other dogs or people and possibly children. The bitch’s bad behaviour ruled the owner’s life. This was worse by having such a beautiful dog that everybody wanted to meet but with the bitch, people began to keep away. This was not too much to expect.

I showed the owner the radio controlled Aboistop collar and explained that in using the devise she must incorporate and needed lots of encouragement and supportive training, as the Aboistop would become useless after a period. The Gas is quite harmless and is only there to startle. It is tangible to the dog so it is not something the dog cannot understand. We tested it on ourselves and it smells a bit like sweaty socks. We agreed that the most important command to focus on was the recall so every thing needed a good recall before giving back any privileges. (Bit like in prison)

The collar had been on for about one hour when she started to bark at the fence. One touch of the button and she jumped back and tried to visualise the gas. As I have said before she knows it is there unlike electricity. I gave her much praise to leave and come to me. She started to bark again and a second squirt was required before she came directly to me. A few hours later, we walked the bitch past two medium-sized dogs that growled and barked at all people and dogs. We walked by with the owner holding the lead and me with the Aboistop remote unit. Sure enough, the dogs barked for blood and the bitch retaliated. The owner said COME with the usual no response until one little squirt and she returned to the owner. With such intimidation, the bitch went for the fence again needing another Come with a squirt before compliance. Later in the afternoon, we set out again but at the top of the street, she was very apprehensive of going past the dogs again. I had to pull her for a moment then with loads of encouragement she walked to heel for me but tail down. This time going past the dogs still in kill mode, there was no sign of the bitch retaliating. Once past her tail came up and was pleased it was over. The owner now had the tools and information to control the bitch. I telephoned in the evening and told the bitch had tried to run along the fence and bark at a deliveryman. She gave the command to COME followed by no response but after a squirt, the bitch did a lovely recall. The owner was also going to follow the rules of chairs on the settee and beanbags on top of the door routine and only returning these privileges when the bitch has completed a good recall. The Aboistop has a good range so though not heard yet I feel confident that recalls outside will be forthcoming. I will keep you informed.

This problem does highlight that the old trainers saying there are no problem dogs only problem owners is very much untrue. It also shows the importance of training and socialisation of a dog in the crucial early weeks between birth and up to 16 weeks.

The Scale Jump is not a jump I am happy with and think the Vets opinion is that it is unnatural. I know dogs can do this but to watch a big dog drop down from 6 feet the whole body shakes. I like the one with a table at the other side so the dog drops to 3 feet then off the table. If you wish to take up agility then you will only have the A frame and dogs love that. Only in Working Trials will you face this challenge.

I have taught the scale by the enforcement method and hated it. You teach the dog to hurdle the scale with boards removed to 4 feet. Gradually the height increases until hurdling is impossible. Remember you have been training to teach a dog not to touch the jump so confusion sets in. At a certain height, refusals begin and the method was to attach a lead to the choker and pass it over the top of the scale to a strong person who at the appropriate time would haul the dog over by the neck. (I think I have only done this four times before I started to look for a better way)

I had a lot of room at home and had many sets of agility equipment set up in the field next door. Agility fanatics asked me if I would build an A-frame from two old scales for their agility classes. Being the lazy person I am I simply hinged the two together and one was 6 feet but the other was 8 feet top to bottom. It was not a problem and dogs could still use it as well as owners running over with their dogs set at the lower angles. My pack of five decided that this was great for playing King of the Castle a game most wolves love to play. The top dog would try to hang on to the top whilst the others tried to knock him off. As time went on the angle decreased getting higher but one side began to become vertical while the other still had a good slant on it. It was then we noticed that my young dog Tip could run up the slanted side but could immediately turn round and scale back up the near vertical side. We had not even started his scale training yet and here he perfected this by himself given the right equipment. All I would need to do was to teach him to go over on command. After this many people came to our house to use the jumps and to let their dogs play on the A frame to let their dogs learn to scale by themselves. (No pain no gain is rubbish it is gain by fun but does not rhyme)

Next week I will be in Romania regarding aggressive dogs in the EU and meet with Vier Pfoten Romania (The Austrian version of our RSPCA) to discuss ways of solving Romania’s dog problems. The information sent to me would make you cry. I also some information regarding dogs I have seen whilst I was in Spain. If you have any questions or queries, please contact me.

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