Saturday, 12 October 2019

Update on Freya

It is now 7 months since Freya came to live with us and she continues to surprise us with how well she is doing. I can happily say she is fully integrated.

She had a laparoscopic spay at my fabulous vets just over a week ago. Considering how nervous she can be meeting new people and having only met Katharine once (my fab vet), she happily walked off with her ready for her operation. I am so lucky that my vets take time using fear free methods and truly understand nervous and anxious dogs.

My vets don't often use the inflatable or old style elizabethan collars, instead they use body suits. What a difference this has made to her confidence.

Just home from her operation

The body suit has worked in the same way thunder shirts work for some dogs. I've always been a little sceptical about these and hesitate to suggest these to clients due to the cost and the lack of studies to prove their efficacy. Well, it is safe to say, my view has now changed!

Freya sleeps in the bedroom, on her bed at the side of our bed - another huge step for her and regularly wanders around the house investigating!

We have discovered she has a toilet roll fetish too - she likes to remove them from the toilet roll holder and drop them, intact, along the hall! Hilarious.

All three dogs greet me together when I come home and all of them congregate at the door waiting for their walk!
She is learning about toys and often lies watching the staffies playing with a very inquisitive look on her face.

I cannot stress how important it is to take things slowly when integrating dogs. It is much better to go slowly and celebrate small successes than rush things and end up with a problem between dogs.

Freya's favourite toy

Monday, 23 September 2019

Gryffin update: 23/9/19

Gryffin has been learning how wonderful it feels to be calm. His lovely rescue person is slowly expanding his world in a carefully controlled way to avoid flooding him with stimuli. He is also learning impulse control, how to self-calm, and is slowly being desensitised to household noises and situations that would have provoked over arousal. 

Like many young dogs, Gryffin may sometimes try to jump up or even on things such as cupboards, people and window ledges. His rescue lady has been working on this and he now responds to his name being called in a happy positive way and leaves what he was about to do for a reward. It is essential not to punish or shout at dogs when they do things we don't want them to. 

In the past Gryffin had been quite stressed by household noises but he is now able to cope with various household appliances running if he has had sufficient mental stimulation/enrichment beforehand.

Gryffin could cope with the sound of a television but not with the moving images. In the image below, Gryffin chose to go to the bed and chew on his toy when the TV was turned on. 

The moving images (including a dog) provoked a fear response and Gryffin tried barking at it to see if he could make the scary monster go away.  Therefore, a little desensitisation and counter conditioning is needed around moving images on the TV. In other words:

When the "scary monster" comes on (TV): a prepared licki mat with pate appears like magic!

After a number of repetitions, the TV coming on predicts the appearance of the licki mat. After just a few repetitions today he was already looking to see if the mat was coming when the TV was turned on!

Over arousal is often mistaken for happiness but it can actually feel rather stressful. Whenever Gryffin's arousal levels increased, afterwards he gave a number of full body shakes.

People often say "I wish my dog could talk and tell me how he feels."

Dogs DO talk - with their body language. Have a look at the two images below. The first one was taken during desensitisation and counter conditioning with the TV on. Look how high his tail is and how alert his ears are. 
Now compare them to the image below. This one was taken a little later, after the desensitisation work had ended. Can you spot the difference?

Gryffin is waiting for his forever home with Terrier SOS. If you would be interested in adopting him, please contact the rescue - Terrier SOS website

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Coco the wonder dog aka The Ginger Ninja

Met up with this stunner again today to progress his loose lead walking. What a star. He did so well especially with a kamikaze squirrel running around in one of the trees.

I'm already using less treats this week but reinforcing his behaviour with praise now. It is so important to avoid bombarding our dogs with cues - let them choose to follow us and reinforce this when they do. We need to make sure we are relaxed and calm too - dogs pick up how we are feeling and if we are impatient or stressed - it will affect their behaviour and responses.

After a few repetitions in the familiar area we moved on to the car park. A difficult task for Coco as he thought he was going off in one of the cars.

Next, out onto the street. Although Coco is choosing to follow me and to interact, he is not sniffing or interacting with his environment. He is still on alert for any possible "threats" (or squirrels)! Calm, relaxed sniffing will come next as he starts to feel more comfortable.

It is essential to set dogs up for success and to work at their pace. Coco is coming on leaps and bounds but if we try to rush it or take him somewhere too busy, he will struggle to concentrate. First we teach the connection and then we slowly introduce more and more stimulating environments.
Remember the four C's 
  • Calm
  • Connection
  • Choices
  • Confidence

This is how we finished our session - snog and cuddle time ;)

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Coco the wonder dog!

Coco is in rescue waiting for his forever home ......... and pulls like a steam engine! 
I have worked with him once before, taking time to build a connection with him. He quickly remembered his training today.

It is essential to find out what motivates our dogs when working with them. Coco loves treats but he also loves affection and praise which we can pair with treats to reinforce the behaviours we want more of.

*Nb I would not usually wear flip flops when working with dogs but unfortunately my legs and feet are badly swollen due to multiple insect bites, making shoes impossible!

Coco was a star today. We spent a few minutes building up a connection again, reinforcing each time he checked in with me. 

We don't lure dogs to look at us - this does not feel good to them and we don't want dogs craning their necks to look up at us all the time. Instead, we wait for it to happen naturally and mark the behaviour followed by a small food treat. 

Connection not control!

As soon as a dog pulls in front we stand still, saying nothing and quietly wait for the dog to turn and come alongside. As they are coming, we drop a tiny food treat down to reinforce where we would like him to be. We also add praise. Coco even follows a hand signal here - such a quick learner as I only really introduced this today.

To begin with, Coco pulls ahead several times and is moving quite fast. Over time you will see him begin to match my speed and to keep an eye on where I am going. Another crucial element is to be calm ourselves. Dogs pick up on our emotions!
We must always remember to keep the lead loose - if we grab at it or take up the slack, we can be part of the pulling issue!

In the second video you can see he is much quicker to turn and follow me. I use fewer treats now and you can see how loose the lead is.

I am using quiet praise with him and at one point I give some affection. We need to make it feel good to be alongside us, to follow us, to walk with us: hence why it is essential to find out what motivates our dogs. For some dogs, affection could even be aversive!

Notice how I let him sniff and wait till he is finished. This is his walk, not mine and I want him to enjoy our time together! 

Coco is an absolute star and a real pleasure to walk with. 

Has he learned to walk on a loose lead now? Not at all. We need to practice his new skills and also introduce more distractions - at a distance to begin with.

Am looking forward to spending more time with this gorgeous boy.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

21 weeks and counting!

How long does it take for a new dog to feel settled, completely relaxed and at home post adoption?

How long does it take to integrate dogs?

How long does it take for a fearful dog to feel secure?

The answer to all three questions is

It depends!!

The key is patience and consistency, keeping dogs below threshold, promoting calm, providing mental and physical stimulation, a nutritious diet, building positive associations every step of the way and taking things slowly at each dog’s pace.

It is now around 5 months since Freya came for her “overnight stay”. So many changes in this lovely girl, becoming more and more confident each day. She now walks on a lovely loose lead on familiar walks, shares the sofa with Jack, all stair gates are open all of the time, even during mealtimes. They all go out for synchronised peeing which is hilarious to watch.

She sleeps on the sofa overnight (her choice) and it is lovely watching the three dogs “reunite” in the morning.

If you are considering “adding” a dog to your canine family, remember to take things slowly, work at their pace and build positive associations every step of the way.  Prevention is way better than cure.

Monday, 1 July 2019

Let's talk about enrichment - again

Enrichment for our dogs seems to be the buzzword at the moment. In many ways, this is great news. We should be providing activities that are mentally stimulating and enrich our dogs environments. But - there is always a but......

Enrichment can actually cause more problems if it isn't suited to the individual dog. 

Individual is one of my favourite words whether we are talking about activities, walks, diet, motivators, environment - we must take into account the individual dog.

There are some amazing Facebook pages and groups that have lots of truly innovative ideas for mental stimulation and enrichment.
However, we must consider the individual dog! I have spoken to quite a few people who say their dog is not interested in puzzle games/mental stimulation/enrichment ideas.

Providing enrichment isn't as straightforward as just giving a puzzle toy though. As with any training we do with our dogs, we must set them up for success.

Gradually build up the difficulty level 

For example:
My male Staffie is a real problem solver but my female Staffie soon gets bored if she can't get to the food quickly enough. In fact, she would bark in protest! Not something we want to encourage!

Puzzle solved in 3 minutes by one of my dogs. My female staffie abandoned it 

My new girl is wary of new things and won't even attempt some puzzle games. If it hasn't got real chicken or ostrich treats it isn't worth attempting. If we make the game too difficult or too noisy she may become anxious.

A simple puzzle for a nervous dog

Things to consider:

How we introduce the puzzle - for nervous dogs it is a good idea to prepare the activity first to avoid making lots of noise while setting it up. Quietly place on the floor and encourage the dog to engage - and then let the dog explore. Choose something really easy such as a treat underneath an old towel or treats in a cutlery draw organiser, along with some toys.

The difficulty level - if the puzzle is too difficult, dogs will not engage and it can have the opposite effect. Instead of building confidence it can actually decrease it.  Start with easy puzzles so the dog enjoys finding the food and gradually increase the difficulty level. Set them up to succeed.

The food we use - if the dog is not motivated by the food he is unlikely to bother working to find it. Using a portion of their dinner might work later on, but we need to use something tasty, at least to begin with. Moist, soft treats tend to work best.

Where we use it - if you have a multi dog household we need to be careful not to cause problems between dogs. Some dogs will be reluctant to interact if there is another dog around. Stair gates between dogs or dogs in other rooms often provide a feeling of security and allow the dogs to explore. In multi dog households a little 1:1 time with each dog is a good thing to do anyway.

Which puzzles we use - A Kong Wobbler for example would not be a good idea for a noise phobic or nervous dog. These are designed to roll around - have you heard one when it hits a radiator?

If your dog does not seem interested in using puzzle toys, scattering treats in the garden or hiding them behind pots/seats/sheds etc can often encourage them to engage.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Update on Freya

Just a short update on how the integration is going. It is now just over 4 weeks.

Freya still uses the conservatory as her safe base but rarely goes in there except to sleep at night.

We are still taking things slowly, ensuring Freya does not feel the need to bolt in panic and that Jack also feels comfortable around her. We do separate at key times, using stair gates -preparing for a walk, meal times and enrichment times.

Freya is so much more settled and immediately heads for the sofa after her walk and breakfast.

She loves to run in the garden and has excellent recall there already. The next step will be recall with distractions. Lead walking is excellent on the way out but still some pulling to get home as we get closer.

Freya and Jack pretty much ignore each other most of the time with the occasional greeting/tail wags/sniffing each other.

We keep everything calm, manage resources such as food and toys and sleeping areas to ensure none of the dogs feel they need to guard a resource.