Behaviour Problems

I feel like a lot of these blogs are not talked about enough – from the owners perspective. You find a lot of blogs or pages from all different kinds of trainers saying about different training methods with what you should and shouldn’t do. The best thing about the internet can also be the worst – there’s a lot of information, a lot of the time too much with conflicting ideas. It’s hard to know which information to trust and go for when it’s all so different to each other.

I thought that for once there could be a blog from an owners perspective and what swayed them to go for one way or why they needed to go for one way. Different dogs need different training not all dogs are the same and react differently even with the same problem. Now my dog is fear aggressive to other dogs, to be honest quite a lot of dogs are like this too but the personality of individual dogs will mean they need training a different way.

Now in this blog I am not trying to “condemn” any training methods as long as it’s not hurting the dog then I don’t have a problem with it although I may not use it on my dog.  My dog is very nervous and sensitive so I wouldn’t use a prong or vibration collar on her as it would freak her out but on a more confident dog that had a behaviour problem that had a lot of trust in me, sure I would use it but first making sure I knew how to use it correctly before putting it on my dog. I also do not use dominant training on my girl as that is what got her to her nervous disposition in the first place. Not that i used this on her but my dad believes strongly in this method however he doesn’t regard that each dog is different and may not respond the same way to this training method. Leesi’s brother responds well to it because it is attention to him it doesn’t matter what attention it is as long as he gets it he’s happy.

These two are from the same litter but are complete opposites in personalities. Her brother is confidant and out going nothing really fazes him and if he’s behind a fence or gate he is invincible. He demands attention and will do anything to get it and he never stops moving unless he’s being fussed on your lap – he doesn’t realise how big he is even at 9 months old! Whereas Leesi used to be a very confident but sensitive dog, she doesn’t like being told off at all but is very clever and very very affectionate and also nosy! Her favourite thing is to be on a long walk off lead running around getting into everything. Now she used to run up to people and greet them however she did used to jump up out of excitement and my dad hated this so he used to tell her off but then a few minutes later he would call her over for some fuss which really messed with her head – she didn’t understand it at all so she resorted to hiding under things instead. It broke my heart that he treated her this way and I tried from the beginning to stop him and just tell her to get down instead of giving her a smack but he didn’t listen, so I moved out with Leesi instead. I didn’t want to put her through that anymore as I knew she couldn’t handle it and there were a few other reasons for moving which I’ll discuss another time.

Now when she was little I did take her out on walks when I was able to go off the farm. However, I did take her with the older two and her brother as well and I didn’t realise until a few weeks later that she used to hang back and not say hello to the other dogs, so I started taking her out on her own but she started growling and I didn’t know how to stop her being fearful and say hello to other dogs to see that they are not so bad.

So I did take her to obedience class along with her brother, her 3 other siblings went there as well and the trainer actually owned the granddad and the great granddad of the pups. I felt confident at first as the granddad is a world champion and the trainer does protection training etc that I was sure he could solve the problem before it got too much. He told me to use a choke chain on both the dogs and he showed me how to use it correctly so that I wouldn’t harm them. And they worked to a point. It stopped them from being able to react and meant I had control over her, however it didn’t get rid of the behaviour it just helped me to be able to control her better with it, and to be honest that wasn’t what i was looking for – i was wanting someone to help me to get rid of the behaviour not just deal with it , although it did help me control her in the situation it wasn’t enough for me.

So when I moved out I moved in with my grandparents for a couple of reasons. The first being it was difficult to find a short-term place that accepted big dogs, whereas my grandparents have had dogs their whole life and their dog had died about a year ago so they were very much missing a dog and happy to have us. The second reason being that this was the first time Leesi was indoors (she was an outside only dog previously) and since I had to go to work 4 days a week it would be a lot easier for her to have someone with her whilst I was at work.

It took her a few days for her to come up to my grandpa as she is now fearful of men thanks to my dad, but my grandpa won her over with lots of treats and attention and since then she has had some really good experiences with men so she’s not as fearful of them as she used to be. The third being my grandparents had two cats and it was great training for her as their cats although being weary of her were used to other dogs. She did really well there and loved cuddling up to my grandpa in the evenings, she settled quickly and never had to be toilet trained she somehow knew not to go in the house and held it in until she was let out thankfully. She learnt to not duck her head when people reached down to pet her and flourished into a very affectionate girl.

Walking her however was becoming tiresome, she had increased her reactivity since seeing more dogs which went from just growling to barking and lunging as well if she was really scared. I got her a vest that says nervous so that other dog owners would know not to let their dogs run up to her and most owners respected it, there has only been one stupid owner so far but that’s a story for another time. I was trying my best with the information that I had but it was seeming like I was fighting a loosing battle and some days I was at my wit’s end with her reactivity.

I look up dog behaviourist (as I knew normal trainers wouldn’t be able to fix her) and tried to look at their websites to see what training methods they used (all behaviourist I have seen use positive methods) and the reviews on their website left by other owners with problems. Of course the problems I looked at was if they could deal with dog aggression and most said they could help. I emailed countless behaviourists to see if they could help and explained the problem I was having and also what their price was. I was shocked at some of the prices (one was £1800 for one session!) and although I really needed help getting it sorted i wasn’t got to pay a bomb for one session and without the promise of further help. I looked further and found what i thought would be a good one although still a few hundred it was for the life of the dog not matter the problem. However the problem was that i was shortly moving cities so decided to wait until we moved so that i didn’t have to change trainers half way through.

I’m very glad that I did as we were researching behaviorist again my sister found one that lived 10 minutes away, had amazing reviews for every type of problem including many that had problems with their dogs being aggressive and the best part was that it was only £50 for a session plus a follow-up visit and continued support if needed. She also does numerous training sessions and groups for all types of dogs, is a dog walker, does dog camps and also behaviour sessions and one thing that I haven’t heard others do before is that she does group walks with puppies, adults and reactive dogs although they do have to wear a muzzle and all dogs have had to been to a training session before so she can see if they are a good fit for the group or not. She also does gun dog training and agility training. All of her reviews were positive on her website and social media and she had a LOT of reviews! Let’s just say I was very impressed and hopeful that she could help so I contacted her via email and she got back to me the next day.

She was eager to help and asked for more information and a back story on her to see if she could see a reason straight away as to why she was reactive to dogs, as it is it’s just because she’s quite a sensitive and nervy dog naturally thankfully she hasn’t actually had a bad experience with another dog as of yet.

So we have just had our first visit today and I am really pleased with how it went. Now I have been using a choke chain on Leesi but the problem with choke chains is that you have to keep adjusting them as they are forever slipping down the neck and so she gave me a slip lead which she says would be better as it is the same concept as a choke chain but it doesn’t keep slipping down the neck, so she gave me one to keep which i didn’t expect but was pleased with. We soon found that walking near another dog even with the slip lead Leesi was still able to lunge and when she knows she’s near home she pulls like a hog! So Aimee the behaviourist taught me the figure of eight – it’s very much like a haulti in the way that it looks and works except that it’s part of the slip lead and you can still use it for corrections. It worked like a dream, don’t get me wrong Leesi is still able to lunge and pull if i let her but this gives me a lot more control when walking her. figure 8 leadThis is what it looks like on a spaniel.  It makes me feel a lot more secure – although if I gave her her head when first walking Leesi would be able to get it off however I know that if for the first few minutes I just make her walk and not give her her head then she will forget about it and continue on our walk without a problem – she reacts the same wearing a muzzle but soon forgets she’s wearing one after a few minutes.

Back to the training session, it actually went really well, yes there were times Leesi reacted however we worked on positive association towards dogs and managed to walk past Aimee’s Black Lab and Springer Spaniel, let them walk past her without reacting and also walk next to each other although she was a little worried about this to start off with she soon settled into it nicely and most importantly had lots of rewards. I found at times that she was at times too stressed next to the other dogs to accept food rewards so at those time I just gave her loads of fuss instead as her reward – no point forcing food on her when she didn’t want it.

We also worked on focus training (Aimee put her dogs away at this point so that Leesi wouldn’t be too distracted whilst we were doing this), also gate training making sure she didn’t charge the gate when another dog went past it or was near it, and most importantly we gave her breaks in between to let her rest as in total it was about 2 hours. Also it was a good opportunity to let her go back to her normal behaviour and relax in the garden before continuing and reinforcing positive behaviour towards other dogs.

Don’t get me wrong we still have a long way to go and a lot to work on but at least I now know how to correct the behaviour in a way where Leesi isn’t constantly being told off which she really hates – but being rewarded for what she is doing correctly and removed from the situation when she is fearful until she is in a calm state of mind again. We have been given a daily plan to help us with her progress and training and our next session is next week where we will be seeing what she is like off lead with other dogs (whilst she has a muzzle on) where she is in a safe environment with other dogs that won’t react if she is reactive towards them but we will also be able to work on her recall away from other dogs and see how well she does with that.

She actually has really good recall off lead if she doesn’t see another dog however I don’t know how she’ll react if she’s off lead with another dog nearby if she’ll recall back so it’ll be good to know if she’ll be able to do that with them nearby. With a bit of training I’m sure she’ll be just as good as if there wasn’t a dog there as she already has such a solid recall already I just normally call her back if i see people – even if i can’t see a dog as 90% of people around here have dogs so i don’t like to take chances, especially as she is reactive i prefer to call her back put her on a lead until we have passed the people and or dogs and then she can go off lead again.

I’m quite fortunate for two reasons, one is that Leesi is still a puppy so it’s not as difficult to fix as it would be in an older dog (my friend has a dog that is reactive as well but her dog is 6 years old so will take a lot more work to get it sorted although they are doing very well with her training) two being that because Aimee had to cancel the first session due to her dog not being well (it’s OK now though) so she has given me two extra sessions for free, so I’m very thankful that I have those extra sessions to help us However, if needed i would be happy to pay for more as i can already see an improvement in Leesi so if it helped her even further than i would do it. But right now we just need to work on our training – first thing tomorrow we start of focus training for 10 minutes doing different exercises, then before our first walk do gate training for 5 minutes and then do a 10 – 15 minute training walk around the block rewarding calm behaviour around dogs and people. Then later on a fun-filled walk off lead and for Leesi that means being able to sniff everything and chase rocks (she doesn’t catch them or chew on them she just likes chasing them and then she’ll run back to me so that i can throw more stones for her). After that she will hopefully sleep the rest of the day!

Well that’s it for now but i will be back again letting you know how the next session and week goes with the training! Thanks for reading! 😉