Sunday, 8 March 2020

Are labels useful?

Throughout our lives, people attach labels to us, and we attach labels to others. Those labels reflect and affect how others think about us as well as how we think about ourselves. Labels are not always negative but some of the labels that we use to describe each other are the result of assumptions and stereotypes. 
We regularly apply labels to people whom we barely know or have never even met, and the same is done to us. Sadly this also happens with dogs.

"This dog is reactive"
"That dog is aggressive"
"The dog next door is vicious"
"My dog is stubborn"
"He is a difficult dog"
and the list goes on......

Labels can limit the amount of information we can gain about the individual dog and they also shape how we think about that dog.

A dogs behaviour is a reflection of how he feels in a particular situation or about a specific trigger. He may not behave in the same way in other situations.

Just because a dog barks or lunges towards another dog, does not mean he is aggressive or vicious or a "bad" dog. Labelling also doesn't take into account motivation.
A dog may be labelled "aggressive" but really he may be fearful of the other dogs. He may have had a bad experience in the past, he may have been forced to meet other dogs when he would prefer not to, he may have have been punished for not being "sociable" or he may even be in pain. He now uses barking or lunging to create distance from other dogs - he isn't wanting to get closer to attack the other dog.

The labels we use affect how we view the behaviour, instead of looking at why he is behaving that way.

We need to view a dogs behaviour with compassion, empathy and understanding - not judge them (and the same goes for humans too)!

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Gryffin the superstar!

We have been working on building up his resilience to excited humans,  unexpected noises, household noises and external noises etc that he may encounter in a home.

Dogs often appear to be hyperactive when they are worried about something but really they are just trying to cope with the stress it makes them feel. Homes can be extremely noisy, not just with humans talking but with household appliances too. 
Dogs hear 4 times the distance of a human with normal hearing.  Dogs can hear higher pitched sounds and can detect a frequency range of 67-45,000 Hz, compared to a human range of 64-23,000 Hz. Even a washing machine can be really loud to a dogs hearing.

Today, we added to the television sounds, which he pretty much ignores now and introduced things like a hairdryer, music and sounds of a vacuum cleaner all at the same time!

Gryffin pretty much ignored it all including the cannon sounds in the music!

We also threw in some grooming with a very soft brush. Gryffin used to struggle with being brushed or handled too much but by setting him up to succeed and gradual desensitisation he can cope well now.  We waited until he had interacted with all the enrichment toys for a while, loaded them up with a few more treats and did some short bursts of brushing. We began this by giving some affection and maintaining contact with his body, slowly swapping the hand for the soft brush.

When he moved away, we stopped. It is important to give dogs a choice - we didn't call him over, just simply waited until he was ready.

When we truly "listen" to what dogs are telling us, it promotes confidence and trust, building their resilience.

Because Gryffin has come on so well, we no longer need the harness and indoor lead as back up. By the end of the session he was ready for a snooze. Too tired to really chew on his bone.

Little Gryffin is really making so much progress. Sadly he is still waiting for the right home/foster to come along but there will be plenty of support to continue working with him. 

Terrier SOS are looking for a Terrier experienced family that has time and patience to continue working with him. He is currently in the Norfolk area so priority will be given to homes in the south east so he can continue to receive back up support. He is a clever little dog, a fast learner and is beginning to enjoy affection and snuggling up to people. He has come such a long way- he just needs the right foster/new home to help him finish his journey.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Freya is coming along leaps and bounds in so many ways. However, she has bonded very closely with me which in itself is wonderful.

Watch the first part of the video clip below and you will see how she stops what she is doing to follow me! This seems really cute at first but it could develop into a problem for her if we are not careful. You can also see she is a little concerned about what is happening. When I stop, she stops and sits (not something I asked her to do).

She used to follow me all around the house but we have been working on this.

We began with a hand signal, step back and step forward, treat. We have to make it really easy for dogs to succeed rather than setting them up to fail! If we cause anxiety and stress by moving away too far, too quickly, they are not going to want to repeat it.  

In the second part of the clip you will see her ears pulled back and that she begins to pant. It is not hot today - there is frost on the ground!

In the third part of the clip you will see her raise her paw too. We will be staying with this length of duration (and distance) for a while, until her anxiety levels come down.

Stress and anxiety is not pleasant for humans and is exactly the same for dogs so we will wait until she is more comfortable before progressing.

Please note: I did not ask her to Sit at any point. This is something she offers - possibly something that was taught to her as a puppy.

Thursday, 30 January 2020

Gryffin getting used to household noises

We continue to work with little Foxy Gryffin who needs either a foster or a new home. Little Gryffin is sensitive to noises and needs to slowly get used to everyday sounds that he might experience in a home.

When he is stressed or worried, in the past he has become quite bouncy, jumping up on people and furniture - including window sills. This looks like excitement - it isn't! Dogs will often appear "hyperactive" but in reality they are stressed.

His lovely rescue lady sets up the room with lots of interesting things for him to investigate - setting him up to succeed.
Today, we had the washing machine, tumble dryer and the television on. He didn't once attempt to jump on on furniture!

Whenever we work with dogs we ensure we manage our own behaviour. However, Gryffin needs to get used to many things and learn to cope as not everyone is calm around dogs! When I arrived I was quite loud and "excited". He handled it like a star and carried on with his enrichment. A quick sniff of me and back to searching! What a clever boy.

We had the television up really loud - even myself and his lovely rescue lady were struggling as we like calm and quiet! 

Gryffin does really well and ignores the television sounds. We kept the volume at the same level and carried on chatting away.

In the second video, you can see his ears twitch at the television sounds but he is still coping and interacting with all the enrichment.

Gryffin was an absolute star today, coping with so many things (but always kept under threshold as we don't want to cause stress). 
  • Excited person arriving
  • Washing machine
  • Tumble dryer
  • Television
  • Telephone ringing
  • Visitor arriving
  • Excited behaviour from me

We now turn up the volume a little. In the next video you will see he has taken himself to his "safe space". Watch for the lip lick and his ears held back and he actually looks at the screen at one point. Warning - swear word on the TV at the end!

Gryffin coped with screaming, music and motorbike noises on the television. Dogs hear so much better than we do. We were struggling with the volume today - but it is so much harder for dogs. Humans have learned to ignore many household sounds and have got used to them. Take a moment to think how difficult it must be for our dogs with all the environmental noise.

In this last video you will see Gryffin take himself to the door - he wants to leave as it has all become too much to cope with. Look at the shape of his tail as he walks over to the door - about 10 seconds into the video - he has quite a lot of tension in his tail. He then comes to me to seeking help. We decided he had done enough for the day - we don't want these sessions to turn into something negative. 

Gryffin was exhausted at the end and ready for a nice long nap.
We turned off all appliances and let him snooze before he headed back to kennels.

On our next session we will use a sound cd to desensitise him to a number of other noises.
Such a quick learner, well done Gryffin. It is lovely to see his progress.

Sunday, 26 January 2020


I spent some time with this stunner today. Meet Lynx. Approximately 4 years old and looking for a new home.

Lynx has never been taught to walk nicely on lead and he pulls, paying no attention to who is on the other end of the lead.
The wind, rain and loud noises today did not help and you can see in the video that he is checking them out, paying no attention to me at all. We need to make it worth his while to pay attention to me!

We began in the same way we did with Tilly, marking and treating where I wanted him to be. Lynx quickly gets the hang of it and we have some lovely moments of connected loose lead walking.

Repetition, consistency and short sessions are key. If we try to do sessions for too long, dogs will get bored or frustrated. If we don't show them how we would like them to walk, how will they know? 

Yanking the lead or pulling them back does not work and can actually cause anxiety and frustration. Constantly calling their names or saying things like "heel" do not work - dogs don't know what the words mean. We have to teach them how we would like them to walk, using kind, positive methods and reinforcing the wanted behaviours.

As with Tilly, we mark and treat where we would like them to walk and avoid calling their names. Whenever he pulled ahead, I turned and changed direction and all I used was a verbal Yes and dropped down a treat (Lynx was initially in a rush and missed some of the treats so I had to point them out to him)and lots of praise.

I didn't ask Lynx to sit for this photo - he just did it and then got "paid" for it. Clever boy.

Sunday afternoons!

I went to spend some time with a couple of the dogs waiting for a new home.
Neither walk well on lead but both are really quick learners!
First up is Tilly. She is a typical female Labrador around the age of 5/6 and utterly adorable. Just look at that face!

Tilly came into rescue with a horrendous skin condition but is slowly healing. You may notice her shaking herself a number of times. This can sometimes be due to stress but in Tilly's case its because her skin is still very itchy.

Tilly pulls on lead! This isn't because she is a bad dog or trying to be "dominant". She pulls simply because she has never been shown how to walk nicely on lead! With a little bit of training she soon started to get the hang of things.

We started by simply marking (with a verbal Yes) and treating whenever she was close to me, changing direction when she pulled in front. We don't call their names or try to attract their attention - we simply wait and then reinforce it with a treat and praise. 

You can see from the video clips that she enjoys affection too so we also use that as a reward. 

In order to let dogs know what we would like from them, we need to reinforce that behaviour. We pay them! 

When something feels good and leads to a reward, they are more likely to repeat that behaviour. 

We also have to make it really easy for them to succeed - we always set dogs up for success so the rate of reinforcement (treat payment) needs to be high to begin with. These can be faded out over time, once she knows where she should be.

There were a lot of noises today along with wind and rain but Tilly did really well. I don't think it will take long for her to be walking on a loose lead. Beautiful girl.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Anxious dogs

Dogs that are anxious or worried are sadly often labelled as "stupid". But unless a dog is relaxed, she won't be able to learn.

Freya will usually follow me around the house as soon as I move. She finds it really difficult to not follow me and it could very easily escalate into separation distress! 

We have been practising, one step at a time, me moving away while she doesn't move! We use a simple hand signal and literally do one step each time, slowly building up the distance, setting her up to succeed. 

Today, I was able to ask her to Stay while we were outside, using just the hand signal we have been practising inside.

Unless we tackle the underlying anxieties and stress, dogs are not able to learn. We no longer teach obedience, we teach life skills and being relaxed and staying where she is, is very much a life skill for Freya.

Suzanne Clothier tells us to ask the elemental questions. 
If your dog is unable to do what is asked of him, check the following:

How is this for you? 
Can you?
May I?
Can we?

and above all,  be patient and set him up to succeed.