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Why choose a rescue dog?

As I am in Spain this week, I have no information regarding the progress of the Staffi dog that David Olley will cure with his stooge dogs and the problem of messing the bedroom. I hope there is some delay with the consultation, as I would like being present just to be nosey and keep you informed of the progress with the dog and of the everyday work of a behaviourist.

When I return to the United Kingdom, I am only there for a few days before I attend a meeting in Romania. It is a hope that Romania will become a member of the EU in 2007. I had innocently expected that they would then come under the Directive for Dangerous Dogs but apparently new member states can now chose for them selves how to solve their own doggy problems. I viewed a web site suggested to me and that may interest me. As it unfolded, I first thought it was a web page against aggressive dogs until I realised it was how to train dogs in being aggressive. Dogs are mans best friend but I think we fall far short of being theirs. Dog training in Romania is apparently very expensive so that most people do nothing and therefore sociability is none existent. I have received an e-mail from the RSPCA to say they have no representation in Romania but hope my articles maybe a step in the right direction. I mention this only to show you that no matter how much we think things are bad here there are still people in a worse position.

The large dog chasing shadows and agitated when people enter the swimming pool have contacted their vet and Roger Mugford who I know has seen the same symptoms in similar dogs. Unfortunately, advice would only be forthcoming at a price. (We all have to earn an income.) The owners have tried the normal methods of distraction using a tin with stones, water pistols etc but here the dog simply chewed up the tin and the water pistol was just a new game. Remember such methods must distract the dog without appearing to come from you and for you to then encourage your dog to adopt an alternative activity for which you can give praise and titbits.

My advice for the shadow chasing is to purchase an Abiostop radio controlled collar that ejects a jet of harmless gas when triggered. This will certainly distract the dog and prepare it for some other alternative activity for praise and reward. You cannot keep using this device without some alternative activity, as the dog will eventually become oblivious to its use.

This collar costs about £160 but if used properly will solve many problems. Afterwards you could sell the device or rent it to someone else. If anyone wishes to send me details that you have such a collar I can keep a data base to pass on to anyone in your locality who could use it and to either purchase or rent it until their problem is solved. I have one and the anti bark collar triggered by the sound of the dog barking if anyone wishes to try them but under my supervision. I say this because it is important for the correct timing and for the requirement of an alternative activity. This is not an electric collar and is only to distract not to give pain. It is not suitable for use with anxious dogs as it may make matters worse.

Regarding the swimming, I understand that when the husband goes to work, the dog becomes more protective to the family without being aggressive. This leads me to feel that the agitation when people are swimming is simply a concern. My reasoning is though the dog can swim, it is distressed and wishes to get out of the water yet will not swim to the steps. It then needs lifting out from the pool which is a stressful action and which simply reinforces the dogs concern of swimming. This is why it is therefore concerned and protective for the swimmers. If the owners were to show the dog that swimming is fun, I believe the concern will stop. I would suggest taking the dog along with other dogs if possible to a lake or when the sea is calm where it can play and learn to swim without fear and finding that it is an enjoyable way to play like fetch the stick.

You will have seen in the papers that no one is immune from the dangerous dog act. Reading the papers, the family seem to have a differing view of the ferocity of the incident than presented by the defence and I would expect a civil claim for damages to follow.

I received a question the other day about what to do if you find your dog is becoming more aggressive. I must reiterate that protecting your dog by locking it away or keeping it away from other people and dogs is totally the wrong approach. If you find this happening, there is no shame in purchasing the right type and size of muzzle to effectively remove the bullets. It is then you will feel more at ease whilst walking your dog amongst other people and dogs in order to socialise more than you had previously. Make this a positive training exercise giving rewards for non-aggression. If it shows aggression, try to distract it to another activity for reward. If you can use an Abiostop collar and use it correctly, this does work much more quickly.

A disadvantage of writing rather than training is the lack of feedback so I was very pleased to receive an e-mail from a lady owner who has followed the basics contained in these articles. She now has a very well trained dog using titbits as reward and without the need for choke chains. She also has no dominance problems either with her dog. Now the owner wishes to take her dog to classes for sociability training but alas, they have told her that her dog must use a half collar. This is the half collar with a chain ring that when jerking the lead the loop elongates tightening the half collar to a set point. The owner asked for my opinion as she does not wish to nor needs to use such a device used only to teach enforcement training. My advice was to have a look at the training and to state she only wishes to train for sociability so has no need for such a collar and objects to its use. It was uncanny that last week my article was regarding the demise of chokers as a training method device. My hope is that the instructor will allow them to train and that others will see that there is an effective alternative to enforcement training.

In these days of ready-made off the shelf allsorts, I received a request for advice on adopting a rescue dog to purchasing a puppy. There is a belief that all the dogs in rescue centres are all problem dogs. If you were to look at all the dogs in the world, you would find there are a greater percentage of problem dogs in family homes than the percentage of problem dogs found in Rescue centres. At the Javea Dog Shelter, I tested all 145 dogs and only found one a little uncertain of coming forward yet certainly wanted to and one other that is still a little shy. Many dogs arriving at shelters have simply lost their puppy appeal and ejected from their homes. Some dogs end up in the centres following cruel amateurish attempts of euthanasia whilst many dogs are in the centres in order to find new owners because the current owners are unable to keep them for various reasons. A few aggressive dogs do turn up but are unlikely to find a new home unless taken in by someone capable of controlling them. Many shelters like The Blue Cross now use behaviour techniques to identify any problems and solve them in order more dogs have the opportunity of finding new owners.

With a puppy, you have very little idea of the character it will eventually develop. With a rescue dog the character has already evolved and known. You can then choose a dog with the type of character that suits your family. With a puppy, you need to quarantine you puppy following its injections but with a rescue dog, this is usually unnecessary. With a puppy, you have to house train but with a rescue dog, this is no longer a chore. Puppies could grow up aggressive or very timid but with rescue dogs, you can see for your self if the dog is showing any signs of problem behaviour. Puppies may not like children when they grow up but a rescue dog your family can see straight away, if the dog takes to your children or anybody else’s children. I could keep going but I think this does cover the main advantages of having a ready-made dog.

It is important that you set your criteria of important points before visiting shelters so the staff who know the dogs can direct you to ones that fit. If you are uncertain of what you are looking for have a look in David Alderson’s book ‘Dogs’ one of the Dorling Kindersley handbooks and this tells you all about the breeds and the genetic traits of each type of dog. If you cannot find this, you can e-mail me and I will gladly look this up for you and see if there are certain breeds appearing more frequently in behaviourist waiting rooms.

Once you have all agreed to what sort of breed and character you are looking for and that you think will fit into your type of life style then visit the various shelters to see if you find any matches. Ask for a report of each dog from the previous owner if one is available and their own assessment. The staff by now will begin to know the dogs more as they settle down in the kennels. Do not rush but take your time. An excellent book to purchase or borrow is The Rescue Dog by Gwen Bailey. This is full of very useful information that is well worth a read.

I would like to see all the dogs have an experience behaviourist complete a standardised assessment of every dog once it has settled in as most people do not always perform standard tests in exactly the same way. A test carried out by someone impartially will produce a reasonable assessment that an intending new owner can rely on to help make an informed judgment to the dog’s suitability for their home. Remember the dogs are in kennels and may not react the same once in your own home. Do you want a guard dog, a companion dog, a dog good with children cats, or whatever? Do be careful of choosing on looks alone, as the character may be very unsuitable for your life style or environment.

The following are a few tests you can use to check for potential problems. First approach the kennel sideways; do not look directly at the dog and squat down near the wire. With peripheral vision only, see how the dog responds to your presence. Does it appear happy to see you, not cower away, bark, growl or bear its teeth? Remember that this is probably how it will react to meeting your friends. If it comes up to you happily, then turn and face it. It should be pleased to see you and may try to seek attention or press up against the wire in order to be touched. Does it accept you stroking it and ask if you can groom the dog. Whilst grooming see how it react to you touching its head, ears, neck, chest and in particular the hindquarters. Check if it is a neutered dog. Most shelters do this as a matter of course. Does it like everybody in your family touching it? Will it walk on a lead without pulling, take it past other dogs, and see how it reacts to them.

Try simple commands like sit or down and see its response. Try saying sit with a titbit given as a reward and then getting the dog to move into the stand then offer a titbit again. If it sits without saying the command, it should respond well to your training. (They are not daft) It may not be a perfect sit but you can always improve. How does it take a titbit from your hand carefully or with a rush nearly taking your fingers with it? Quickly raise your hand to see if it cowers away to show the previous owner has previously hit it. Walk with the lead in your left hand and suddenly jerk your right arm away from the dog. The dog’s reaction to this will show if the previous owner trained the dog using a choker. Clap your hands quickly and see the dog’s reaction to the noise be it a sign of fear or aggression. If the dog seems happy with your presence just stare at it with eye-to-eye contact, as this is an aggressive stance. See if the dog acts with aggression, licks its nose or just wags its tail. Do not try this with Rottweillers as they can out stare you. Ask if the shelter has any cats or any other animals in residence to see how the dogs react to them. Ask if you can take the dog for a short trip in your car and see the reaction to this, as travel is so important to people now.

There are a lot more tests we can use but these are the major ones. Each type of reaction helps build a profile of the dog for prospective owners to read. If you are prepared not to simply choose by its looks alone you should be able to choose a dog very suitable to your family and life style.

For you trialists I have not forgotten you. I intend to start up working trials interest here in Spain very shortly. I hope those of you thinking of joining in are teaching your dogs to jump on command. Remember always direct your dog with your left hand only to go forward or walk in front and cross over to the left hand side of the jump and again using a sweeping action of the left arm sweep it forward directing the dog over the jump. This way you are consistent with the signaling arm and you can see your dog at all times whilst it completes the jump.

Next week some more updates relating to dogs whilst I am in Spain and how to teach the six-foot scale jump easily. If you have any questions or queries, please contact me.


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