I have been thinking a lot lately about stress, raising puppies, and frustration.
Recently I had a conversation with a respected behaviourist and we debated frustration and how much is acceptable for your dog to experience. I think that it's acceptable for well balanced dogs to experience a level of frustration during training and perhaps life in general without this being damaging to them. For example, in trick class we use free shaping exercises, those of you who have been to my classes will know I'm pretty damn strict when it comes to free shaping as far as helping the dog goes, and I would be more than happy to say that all the dogs participating in this exercise get frustrated- is this a bad thing? I don't think so- as long as you are not frustrating a dog that is likely to resort to an unwanted behaviour, or the dog starts to find the exercise too de-motivating to join in I don't see the problem. When I was a kid I wanted a horse, my dad told me to write a business plan, which was really frustrating because I wanted a horse now! I wrote that business plan and still didn't get a horse- even more annoying! Do you know what though?- it made me more resilient, taught me better life lessons and big news....it didn't kill me!
Then there's stress...so so much emphasis is put on not exposing puppies or adult dogs to any stress, allowing them to disengage the instant they feel uncomfortable and I'm starting to think, actually, this isn't totally ideal.
Iv seen loads of pups recently, from working line Dutch herders fed around gunfire, to farm dogs and puppies brought up in a house with puppy culture.
My opinion of stress in human terms may be different to yours...I believe it's really healthy. If you can experience stress, push on through it with a level head, and come out the other side smiling I genuinely think this makes you a stronger person, agree or disagree, whatever.
For us that's sort of ok because we understand why we are going through stress, and we know there will be an outcome sooner or later, dogs don't necessaraly know that but I do think they need to be prepared for it.
I met a lady with four dogs at a village (not dog) show recently, there was loads of other dogs there and it would have been cool if your dog is totally fine with other dogs but as I approached her to say hello she warned me her dogs weren't allowed to greet on lead, something they had taught since a young age at puppy class. It stunned me a bit, I was like, ah, cool ok, *stepping back with my dog* and that night I thought and thought on it, why the hell would you not want your dog getting used to greeting other dogs on lead? How is she gonna make sure they never do? What if they do? How will they know how to cope? Her dogs weren't reactive I may add...so that posed a conundrum in my long term thinking log.
Then there is the puppy culture method (which I love- this is not me slagging it off) but I do wonder how productive it is minimising puppies stress to a level when they are young...
I'm very strict about my protocols when raising my puppy, I'm not cool with him meeting dogs that aren't 150% nice, I wouldn't put him in a situation that terrified him but I defiantly would expose him to small amounts of stress deliberately with the aim of making him resilient to overcoming it as an adult dog. Examples of this are, I would teach him to be teatherd, when I work my dogs they need to be teatherd for 30-60mins while I attend to other jobs like calving cows which defiantly don't need the assistance of a dog.
I would take him to events, shopping centres and shows, expose him to noise, hustle and bustle, meeting other dogs on lead *shocked face*
Because in the long run this is what I want to be able to do with my dog, I want to be able to take him places, do cool things with him, meet people and dogs and him be fine with that, and big news, he is! I must add, when I'm undertaking this socialisation / stress innoculation / what ever you want to call it, it's planned, prepped and an awesome experience for the dog. Obviously if a puppy is anything less than well balanced I would change this plan specifically to him.
It's great that we are learning more about the risks of stressing them out, and what causes problems but at the same time we risk forgetting that the world isn't stress free for our dogs and we can do them a favour by helping them cope with that, I'm not in any regard endorsing punishment or flooding methods, this is a thought about plan, implemented by a dog trainer, let me know if you want advice on this.
What do you think?
Caption: Working Trials Top Team. Dogs, people, babies, malinois!
What a week! I have had lots of requests to write blogs on things like dogs and kids, laser pens, and other negative things but this week i just cant bring myself to write anything but a positive post. I have had a fantastic week with such lovely dogs and owners i feel really privileged to be in the occupation i am. A combination of things have positively reinforced me this week, i have had a lovely bunch of puppies and owners graduate from our Advanced Puppy Class on Wednesday night, each and every puppy and person in this class has put 200% into learning the skills and tools they need to bring up a well balanced pup so well done to Mischa, James, Gill and Helen, you guys really have set a high bar for puppies coming through EYE2EYE now.
Thursday then brought week 3 of our Kingston puppy class, what an awesome set of dogs and people, as soon as my tracking geeks left at 6pm the puppy owners start piling in and i'm instantly hit by the enthusiasm of some of the kids that come to class asking questions on how to improve behaviours and what to do in different circumstances. Puppies did great, we picked up two little habits in two individual puppies that we addressed and put a plan in place for, things like resource guarding and distancing themselves from owners can seem minor at this age but coming to terms with a potential issue now instead of parring it off with "I am sure he will grow out of it" could be the make or break for these dogs in future years. The thing i find most amazing about this class is that everyone listens to the issues and no one is afraid of them - no one makes snap assumptions and everyone is really supportive.
Then i had a fantastic Partnership Grades class where we started to work on some of the intricacies of obedience type stuff which seems to be my thing this week :)
Friday night is always a fun one with my "Bandana's" training first, these super stars have been training with me for what seems like forever (i think maybe 18months?) but you all make me laugh and smile and your training really is stepping from great to highly epic!
Last but not least was a new bunch of Level 1 Trick Uber Dudes! What a fantastic class, a super bunch of uber sociable dogs and people all of which have done lots of dog stuff before, be it trainers, to massage practitioners. I cant wait to get my teeth into you guys (i did just say that) and i can see that we are going to have a fun assessment in six weeks time!
One day off for me now and then we are hitting the WSDA with full force on Sunday with our MANHUNT one day introduction course. If you want to see what I'm up to today, il be doing some working trials training, have a look on the Facebook page and il upload some videos.
Thank you for making my week epic!
I have had to really toy over what to write this next blog post about, the last few weeks have been so so busy i could have listed about ten different subjects to write about!
I thought what i would spend some time talking about is what is and what isn't important when training your dog. This subject popped into my head when i looked at the puppy class plan for my Wrington group tonight to see that i had written the following:
- Getting in and out of the car
- Man Trailing
- To Stay or not to stay
Each puppy class is totally different, we cover all the same subjects but we use different exercises depending on what breeds we have, owner capabilities etc etc and tonight we are doing the list as above. All the subjects we cover in class are things i think are important to bringing up a well balanced dog with all the skills that particular person needs to get on well. Yes we also do fun stuff like man trailing which isn't totally necessary but you know what, its fun, it keeps everyones motivation up, and its way more interesting that doing sit stays through a gate.
Everyone has different priorities when it comes to owning a dog, what they would like that dog to behave like, cues the dog can perform, and sometimes preparing that dog for sports, activities, or tasks, but one thing i have learnt over the last few years is sometimes we spend way too much time drilling behaviours or getting stressed about behaviours that just aren't that important. This leads me on to talk about rescue dogs as suggested by Cheryl who is one of my lovely long standing trick class attendees. I have had a few rescue dogs over the last few years, from different backgrounds, different personalities etc etc. I think the main thing to think about when rehoming a dog is to expect the worst. Plan for that dog to be reactive, have separation distress, be aggressive and all the other things that would be a nightmare for you, that way when you get the dog and (hopefully) they don't have all these behaviour issues, it will be a nice surprise!
Its a bit like making a big life decision, i always think to myself, "Whats the worst that can happen" and if i'm happy with that possibility, il go ahead and make the decision.
Once i have got to know the dog over a few weeks (and i use the term "got to know" lightly - i don't think you fully know a dog until 18 months on plus) Il start to make a mental list on where i am going to start training wise. There may be things come up like a slight tendency to resource guard, recall issues, problems with kids or anything else along those lines, what i then do is have a think about what is most important to me in my house. What issues can i prevent using control and management so that i can crack on with other issues, what things needs to be sorted asap, and what i would like long term. Something that never comes into that decision making process is what other people might think. Once i have made that mental list, i then put a training protocol together for those things that start straight away, and control & management protocols in place for the things that can wait. We don't really have discussions about these, i am lucky enough to have an incredibly supportive fiancee that trusts my decisions and follows those plans well, and of course i would positively reinforce him for doing that! I hear a lot from clients saying that the rest of the family are not following training plans, or are not on board with the protocols in place, and until this is sorted you might as well not bother training. I don't do family counselling, the only two bits of advice i can give you is reinforce good behaviour, and talk about stuff! You must all be on the same wave length for the sake of the dogs learning, and if that isn't possible, use control and management to make sure the dog isn't set up to fail.
It is really important that you start tackling the things that mean the dogs is getting all his primary needs met, things like resource guarding will put some dogs in a constant state of stress so make sure that dog doesn't have access to things they may guard, or that underlying stress might start to affect other things too. If you don't care how your dog walks on the lead, don't spend any time on that - don't listen when other people say "you really should sort out your loose lead walking" just put on a harness and stick to the things that are most important to you and your dog. In some of our classes we teach a "Stay" (i must add, not much anymore as it makes my eyes bleed a little) and the one single reason i would teach that stay is because to that particular owner, being able to say "Stay" and his/her dog stay in the position he/she left him in is important to them, therefore we teach them that cue because thats what they want. For other owners however i will start to explain about what stay actually means, or what it doesn't mean, and how teaching a sit with duration is just as/even more effective than using "stay"....the dog doesn't need the "stay" cue , the owner does. It gives them some sort of security to walk away from the dog with the palm of their hand facing the dog repeating "stayyyyy stayyyyy stayyyy"
In a nutshell, that behaviour is important to that owner, because that behaviour makes them feel satisfied that their dog is understanding and performing the behaviours they have been taught. Some things are totally essential, like using a long line to recall train your puppy/dog so that it doesn't accidentally run up to an on lead dog etc etc but some behaviours just aren't important, or maybe not important at that particular time in the dogs/owners life.
Spend time making sure you have the behaviours in place for you and your dog to be happy and successful, don't stress over stuff that isn't important **cough stay cough**
Until next time...
If you try and find a dictionary definition for drive, relating to dogs, there isn't really one. There are a lot of different opinions around what "drive" actually is, i'm going to run you through some of those roughly, so we are on track to understand this blog post, these aren't necessarily my own opinions of what drive actually is, they are examples to help you understand what I'm nattering on about.
A dog labelled "high drive" is usually a dog that has a high level of stamina, is mentally very active, hopefully very human orientated, extremely motivated and focused. When you put it like that it makes a "high drive" dog sound amazing but it is not always that way! These dogs care A LOT about getting what they want and this leads on to us talking about the dogs drive types. There are, also, a few different layouts and theories around how many and what drive types dogs have, we will highlight one of these, prey drive.
Prey drive is the dogs natural desire to chase and capture prey. This manifests in different predatory action sequences depending on the breed, for example, a collie would eye, stalk, chase, where as a terrier would, chase, shake, kill.
So over the years we have bred more and more, and now we have some breeds, or types that we would refer more often to as "high drive" such as the malinois, greyhound, ridgeback, bull terriers, huntaways, etc etc. These dogs tend to have a much higher want to practise their predatory action sequence than something like a pug, cockapoo, or other such breeds - i'm not saying these breeds don't have a P.A.S, i'm just saying it will be much more prevalent in the breeds that we have bred to continually enhance in these specific ways. For example, general purpose police dogs. We need police dogs to have a high prey drive so that they can perform their job well, therefore we have selectively bred breeds suchlike the malinois, german shepherd, and dutch shepherd to have very high prey drives, making them successful working dogs. After all, if they didn't care that much about catching the bad guy, what use would they be?!
How does this post actually relate to anything? Well....we have had a lot of high drive dogs through our puppy class recently, which i love, and we made this class specifically for them, which is also great for breeds who aren't high drive as it means they will receive a top notch level of training which covers all the bases and not just stuff your basic bits and bobs.
The reason we created a puppy class specifically designed for high drive dogs is because i felt i was meeting a lot of owners who simply hadn't considered how different these dogs would be to own and then came in to trouble training things like recall and impulse control. They would be the owners of the really chasey dogs, scenty dogs, dogs that won't settle, dogs that bite things a lot - and these owners and dogs need a different level of training to your average pug. These high drive dogs are so satisfying to train, but sometimes harder to live with.
The title of this blog post is "Cutting out the drive battle" and i am about to get there now.
If you have a high drive dog, don't focus on things like preventing the dog from chasing, preventing the dog from sniffing, telling the dog "NO" when it bites....work with what you have got! Research the breed before you get the dog, and work out what things you are going to find harder than most other puppy owners, for example if you get a malinois puppy, you are going to get bitten roughly a thousand million times more than another dog owner because this is what they are bred to be good at! Instead of trying to pick a fight with an alligator and telling it "NO!" every time it bites (which, newsflash, doesn't mean anything anyway) - work with the behaviour, channeling it into play, reward experiences and suchlike because trying to stop it biting is a battle you are going to struggle to win. There are also sports and activities you can do that specifically tap into those things that your dogs loves to do, like gundog work, sheepball and working trials, and these don't have to be competition based, you can just do them for fun! What I'm trying to say is, if you have something like a scenthound, and you are struggling with recall, stop focusing on what the dog is doing wrong, think of ways you can satisfy that dogs need to scent, and change the way you reinforce the dog, because however exciting you may think you are, this just isn't going to cut the mustard against following a fresh fox track through a field, nor is sausage and cheese, so maybe you teach a premack recall where you reward the dog with a track for coming back??
If you know someone who is struggling with a prey drive issue or is about to get a high drive puppy please send them our way!
Here is an example of a chase recall, rewarded with a bite.
Train the dog that is infront of you!
Everyday of the week i am either doing 121 sessions with clients and/or teaching classes. A lot of the time weather its reactivity, loose lead walking or simply recall that we are looking to work on in that session, the relationship needs improving between owner and dog, and from there comes better engagement.
This was reinforced for me particularly this weekend when i attended the North Somerset Agricultural show. I took my youngest dog, Gus, and of course there was lots of other dogs there too.
When i was deciding weather or not to take Gus, i was asking myself weather i just wanted to have a look around in peace, dog-less, or weather i had the time and energy to engage i what i would compare to an ongoing conversation the whole way around the show.
Im always one for a good training session so i decided i would take him, he has just turned two but this was his third time at the show as he came at 1 yr and also at 12 weeks. Not only does the show have livestock and tractors, there is also guns being fired, birds and ferrets, tractor pulling and LOTS of people and dogs, so its a challenge for any dog, even one that is pretty accustomed to it.
He did amazingly which made me really proud and appreciative of the well rounded dog that i have, but that was fuelled by our constant conversation of check-ins with each other, giving and receiving of support when something a little bit different came along.
Being at the show also made me realise how rare this communication is, and its almost annoying being a dog trainer sometimes as it makes you even more aware of when things aren't as good as they could be with other peoples dogs!
I saw a lot of dogs just being taken around the show on a lead, with little or no communication with their owners, two separate entities walking around some fields, literally only connected by the lead, and then when something suddenly happens, for example, two dogs bark at each other, all of a sudden the owners are engaged in telling their dogs off. It makes me wonder why there was no guidance what so ever up until this point and then the owners are shocked when their dog cant keep total self control for a second? We don't have total self control over everything we do so why do we expect our dogs too? A little communication between owner and dog in this situation may have been enough to pre empt this but now, instead of that , the dog has received a punishment, taking vast withdrawals from their "relationship bank account" and making the day out more stressful for dog and owner.
Its just something to think about, you wouldn't drag your small child around a similar show, and literally not say a word to them until they kick off because they are hungry/bored/tired?
FOCUS ON RELATIONSHIP AND FROM THERE COMES ENGAGEMENT - ITS THE ROOTS TO EVERY GOOD BEHAVIOUR.
Bryony is a qualified dog trainer from North Somerset.