Monthly Archives: April 2012

Damn weather!

Took Spencer out in the pouring rain this afternoon.  Once we got to the fields the sun came out and I bloody roasted!  Not warm enough to not wear a jacket but too warm for the big coat I had put on coz it was cold and rainy.  Oddly though, the grass wasn’t wet.  Or at least my feet and the long line didn’t get wet.  Very strange.

Had a bit of a blip with the recall today.  Spencer went the wrong way around a tree and as usual I dropped the line and called him to me.  He ignored me and started to run.  Now okay, he doesn’t run anywhere near as fast as Rupert did but anyone who’s ever seen me attempt to run will crack up at the mere thought of me chasing even an elderly, obese Labrador never mind one who’s young and fit!  Thankfully though it didn’t come to me having to chase him at all.  I have no idea why he decided to run but he just as quickly decided to stop and come back to me once he’d run up and down for a few minutes.  Recall before and after that was perfect.  Just a Kevin moment I guess.  He’s still checking in and has started offering a sit when he does so too.  He’s a bit like a boomerang sometimes, I send him away, he goes running away then comes flying back to me.  He does still go off and sniff and jump ditches and fallen trees and splash in the streams but he makes sure to come and check in regularly too.  I usually put a cup of his daily food in my treat bag, mix in a bit of cheese and garlic sausage and use that to reward him on walks.  Saves me having to cut down on how much of his regular food I feed and the mixture of high value and not so  high value keeps him guessing.  Plus I sometimes throw his ball instead of giving him a treat.

And today, for the first time, we had a loose dog come charging up to us.  Yes I kind of went “oh my god, oh my god, oh my god!”, 8 years of living with an extremely aggressive dog doesn’t go away that easily and while I’m fine at passing other dogs now having an unknown one charging towards us off leash is a different matter.  Spen was also a bit wary, I’m not sure whether picking up on my worry or whether because it just charged straight up to him and got in his face.  There were raised hackles on both sides at first but no aggression and the loose dog and Spencer had a bit of a play until its owner caught up and leashed it.

Got home from our walk after about an hour and a half and what did Spencer do?  Did he chill out?  Did he sleep?  Did he hell, he picked up a pink squeaky hedgehog that belonged to my first dog, Shadow, and got the zoomies all around the flat.  Computer went flying, dvds went flying, books went flying.  I sat on my chair hoping to god he didn’t crash into me and send me flying too!  He’s asleep now and despite being absolutely filthy on the walk is actually looking pretty clean.  Typical teenage boy though, his neck is dirty lol.

And a picture of him recalling.  Okay, so he doesn’t come running back at the speed of light, it’s more of a trot, but he does respond quickly and comes straight to me.  I can live with that.

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Doubts and what ifs

I seem to be having a bit of a wobble today.  I’m not sure why but today the fear of screwing up with Spencer hit me.  Hard.  I mean, what if something happens and he becomes aggressive?  What will I do then?  Can I face another 10+ years living with a dog who has to be kept leashed and muzzled at all times?  Or what if he becomes as terribly fearful as Rupert?  What if the Spencer Eating Monsters become commonplace and he starts spooking and shutting down at anything and everything?

I know the chances of him becoming anything like Rupert are remote.  Rupert was extremely anxious in general while Spencer is quite confident.  Rupe was fearful of other dogs when I got him, Spencer loves them and wants to play.  Rupert had a really shitty start in life, had some serious behavioural issues and was a killer before I even met him.  Spencer might not have had the best start exercise and training wise but he’s confident, friendly and just generally a relaxed and happy dog.  The exact opposite of Rupert really.

Don’t get me wrong, I adored Rupert and don’t regret for a moment the 8 years I had with him.  I find it very hard to believe I’ll ever have that sort of bond with another dog to be honest.  For all his issues, all the tears and the frustration Rupert was one special dog.  I think working on all his issues brought us much closer than we’d have been if he’d been a “normal” dog despite the fact those same issues made him a nightmare to own and manage at times.  It’s coming up to 4 months now since he was put to sleep and I still miss him desperately.  Not a day goes by when I don’t think about him and wonder whether I did the right thing in not having him put to sleep and releasing him from his demons way back when I first considered it.

I may have loved Rupert to bits but would I want to live with another dog with his issues?  That would be a resounding hell no!  His high prey drive and desire to kill and eat other animals was bad enough but I could have lived with that.  His serious aggression towards other dogs on the other hand took almost all the pleasure out of owning a dog.  Long walks in nice areas were impossible as they just resulted in both of us being stressed out and usually resulted in someone being hurt.  Normally me where I’d placed myself between Rupert and an out of control dog who came charging up while it’s owner yelled from half a mile away “don’t worry, he’s friendly!”.  Even walks around the block were highly stressful as simply hearing what might be another dog resulted in Rupert reacting and he’d then take days to calm back down.  Then there were his random fears.  One day he’d be frightened of wet leaves.  The next day it would be twigs.  Then the next day it might be a fence we’d walked past every day for years.  My collection of dog behaviour books grew.  I had clickers coming out of my ears, I tried every food and toy known to man, I tried Premack.  I think the list of things I didn’t try would be much shorter than the list of what I did try.  Nothing made the slightest difference.  Rupert simply could not handle the real world.

So Ruperts life mostly consisted of games and training in the house and garden with walks very late at night to minimise the risk of so much as hearing another dog.  We didn’t go out in the day unless we absolutely had to and then it was more like a military procedure than a walk.

Spencer and I go for longish walks in nice, open, green places.  I no longer panic when I see another dog coming our way or hear the jingle of what might be keys but also might be dog tags.  If another dog does come up to us there’s no panic, there’s no having to practically get my dog in a stranglehold to prevent him beating the approaching dog to death with his muzzle.  There’s no worry about children rushing up and doing the things kids typically do.  I do still have to watch out for birds and squirrels etc as Spencer will chase them but there’s no deadly intent there, it’s all a bit of fun to him.

God, I paint a horrible picture of Rupert don’t I?  I’m not meaning to put him down and make out he was a horrible dog or anything like that because despite all his problems he really wasn’t.  Nor am I really trying to compare him and Spencer.  Rupert was Rupert and Spencer is Spencer.  It doesn’t stop me worrying that Spencer’s going to turn out the same way though!  Even though the chances of it happening are practically nil.

Anyway, I think I shall end these ramblings there with a picture or two of me and my Rupert Bear.

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just a nice walk

This afternoon I took Spencer through the woods to the fields as usual.  There’s so much space up there that we can do different walks each day to save us both getting bored of the same old route.  He walked quite nicely up to the woods then I switched to his harness and it was an immediate head down, shoulder to the floor, let’s drag Sarah around attempt.  Much slower going teaching him not to pull on the harness but I think we’re getting somewhere.  He has his moments still but he’s not constantly lunging and pulling now.

It was looking a bit overcast when I went out and not particularly warm so I put my big coat on and guess what happened?  The sun came out as we got to the fields and I roasted.  Typical.  Can guarantee if I hadn’t taken a coat though it would have peed it down.  Thankfully there was room for it in my bag once I had Spen on the long line.

There were lots of cars going up and down at the end I’d planned to go to today so we went a different way instead and we encountered an old friend of Spencers.

Last time we encountered this fallen tree it was barked at, growled at and he ran backwards and forwards trying to chase it off before deciding it was safe.  Today he didn’t bat an eye lid at it and I was really mean and made him sit still for a minute so I could take a photo

On the way home we encountered 3 dogs, 2 on the path in the woods where it’s very narrow and where he usually barks if he can’t say hello to them.  Today although he clearly wanted to say hello to them there was no barking at all.  He did lunge a little towards the second one we saw but he stayed quiet.  There’s no aggression there, he just really really wants to play and when he can’t tends to get frustrated.  We’ve been working on self control so looks like it might be paying off.  I hope so, it really puts people off letting their dogs near him when he’s lunging and barking and carrying on.

And he’s really picking up on the whole checking in with me business.  For about the first 10 minutes on the long line he’s away with the fairies, just running and jumping around and generally being an excited young dog.  After that though he comes back to me every few minutes and stares up at me going “well?  I’m here, where’s my reward?” lol.  Sometimes he gets a piece of food, sometimes a quick game of tug, sometimes he just gets a “good boy” before being told to go and play again.  His actual cued recall is coming along nicely too.  Hopeless in the first 10 minutes he’s on the line but after that very good.

And one last picture, this time me very cruelly asking him to lie down instead of just letting him be a dog lol.


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Just let him be a dog!

I’ve just had Spencer out in front of our block of flats on his harness and long line to do a bit of training with him.  Wasn’t planning on working on anything in particular really, just brushing up on stuff in a more distracting environment than in the house.  Ended up working on down stay.  Nothing impressive, just a couple of steps away and straight back.  I’d do a couple of them and tell him “off you go” so he could go and sniff around and basically do whatever he wanted.  A few times he wandered off for a minute or two, read a bit of pee mail, picked up a twig, had a pee etc.  Most of the time though he was going nowhere, just attempting to re-engage me in training.  Even when he did go off he quickly came back and insisted he was ready to carry on.

Anyway, after about 10 minutes someone shouted to me from their balcony “you wanna just let that dog be a dog, not turn him into some sort of performing monkey!”  I asked what he meant and apparently he sees me out there every single day making Spencer lie down or sit or “some other such rubbish” and finds it sad that he never gets to just play and be a dog.   This isn’t the first time I’ve had comments of this nature.  I had similar comments from quite a few people about Rupert when I did outside sessions with him.

What is with this attitude that training a dog is a bad thing?  All I’m asking of Spencer at the moment are basic obedience commands.  Sit, down, walk nicely on a leash, come and stay.  God knows what sort of comments I’ll get when we’re working on the more “for fun” stuff.  Because I do not intend to stop at the basics, he enjoys training, I enjoy it and it works his mind which is something he needs.  I just don’t understand why so many people seem to see it as a bad thing that I practise outside of the house.  I don’t want my dog to obey in the house and nowhere else therefore I train him outside the house.  Is it that these people have untrained dogs themselves and simply don’t like the fact they see my dog following commands with a wagging tail and an eager expression?  Or do they truly think it’s cruel or sad to see a dog out of the house and actually being expected to focus on its owner and not just bugger off and do its own thing?  Has anyone else experienced this sort of thing?

It’s not going to stop me working with Spencer outside, far from it.  Bit pointless putting a ton of work into teaching something in the house if I never proof it outside isn’t it?  And at the end of the day him being well trained will actually give him more freedom because I’ll be able to let him off leash 99% certain he’s going to come back when called or lie down where he is when told to.  After 8 years of living with Rupert I’ve learned not to care what other people think but I do wonder whether this attitude puts people off really training with their dog outside of the house and garden.  It would have put me off when I was younger, that much I do know.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, Spen gets plenty of time to just be a dog and do his own thing.  We’re out down the woods and fields pretty much every day and the vast majority of those walks are just the both of us mooching around enjoying being out and about.  I don’t insist on him walking to heel, eyes glued to me just waiting for the next commandor anything like that.  Most of his walks around the block for toilet purposes don’t involve any more obedience than him not dragging me along behind him either.

And a picture just coz I can.

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Any dog will do!

Okay, so I’m on several facebook groups for pets being rehomed out here and I have to say I’m really, really disturbed by just how many people see a picture of a dog and go “oh he’s lovely!  How much and when can I pick him up?” sort of thing. And then as an afterthought “what breed is he?”.  No questions about the dog itself, no asking why the original owner is rehoming it or anything.  Same with the people who post “Looking for dog/puppy, any breed”.  When I post that they may want to think about things like how much grooming and exercise they’re prepared to give the dog each day I’m told that if I’ve got nothing helpful to say then I simply shouldn’t post!  Nothing helpful to say?  Forgive me but I would have thought grooming and exercise needs would be kind of important!  Along with knowing why the dog is being rehomed, whether it has any problems etc.

Just yesterday somebody decided they wanted a puppy that was posted on one of these groups.  A little while later “is this a staffie?”  The puppy was a ridgeback.  The person posting the litter had clearly stated that the puppies were ridgebacks.  Not that it really mattered to the person asking about breed, breed isn’t important to them, they just want a dog and any dog will do.  It’s no wonder there are so many dogs being rehomed or dumped if this is the attitude people have towards getting one.  Okay so I didn’t have a specific breed in mind while looking but I knew I wanted a medium to large, short haired, fairly high energy, reasonably easy to train dog.  Not a huge list but it narrows it down to breeds that are likely to be suitable.

And don’t even get me started on the training advice I’ve seen being dished out on these groups.  People are advising new puppy owners to alpha roll them, get dominance over them, not let them “get away with” mouthing, rub their noses in their accidents and things like that.  It’s bloody disgusting!  I keep posting alternative methods but unfortunately I seem to be grossly outnumbered by the control freaks and bullies.  Not only that but these people have seemingly impeccably well behaved dogs that make Spencer look like a hooligan.  I admit, he’s a work in progress but in the 2 months I’ve had him he’s come a long way with his training!  He may not be perfect but he’s doing well.  So I really doubt my advice is being taken over all these people advising the other stuff.

But then I don’t want my dog to stay right behind me on a walk through the woods and never go off to sniff or do doggy things, never run just for the sheer joy of doing so.  I don’t want him to have his eyes constantly glued to me.  I don’t want him to flinch away whenever I move suddenly or cower when I accidentally tug his leash a little.  That’s what the majority of these “well behaved” dogs do and quite frankly I find it sad.  I guess that if my posting “unhelpful” and “mollycoddling” advice gets just one person to train in a kinder way then it’s worth it though.

I’m hoping that one day in the not too distant future people will look at Spencer and think “I want my dog to be just like that” and then listen when I tell them how he’s been trained.  I want to have proof that the kinder methods of training work just as well as, if not better than, the old dominance rubbish and punishment.  Although no doubt even when we reach that point I’ll get comments such as “oh but that won’t work with X breed, you really have to show them who’s boss”.   I really wonder whether we’ll ever get away from punishment based training and start teaching what it is we DO want rather than simply punishing what we DON’T want.  In all honesty, I really doubt we will.

Well, that went a little off topic didn’t it?  And it didn’t exactly have much to do with Spencer but I needed to get it off my chest.  Anyway, guess I should go and walk the teenage hooligan now, he’s wandering around the house looking for things he can pick up that might get my attention.

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It’s been a while!

Well it’s been a while since I posted here!  Spencer is getting on very, very well.  He really seems to have settled with us now.  Unfortunately he has also hit the dreaded teenage stage!  One minute he’s a nice, loving dog, the next minute he’s the dog from hell charging around the house, grabbing hold of anything he can, biting at us, jumping on us.  He’s now 11 months old, I imagine we have many more months of this to come.  I just keep telling myself that it will pass and with training he will come out the other side a much better dog.

We’ve started going through the woods on our walks now.  After about a half hour walk at a relatively slow pace we come to huge open fields where Spencer can have a bit of freedom.  We’re in the breeding season at the moment and dogs must be kept leashed at all times but with a long line it means he can let off a bit of steam without us breaking the rules.  And now that my husband has assured me that the barrier I didn’t want to cross is fine to cross we will be exploring even further!

Spencers pulling on leash has become a real issue.  He practically dislocated my husbands shoulder and pulled his back out a couple of weeks ago.  I’m finding him very hard to manage and come home from walks with my hands sore and bruised because of how hard he pulls.  So this week I’ve been working with him on keeping a loose leash while on his harness.  So far so good, I can get round the block in a reasonable amount of time now.  He still gets over excited at times and needs reminding but he’s doing very well.  Will try heading towards the woods tomorrow, see how far we get.  I doubt we’ll make it to the fields but round the block is getting very dull and isn’t getting him the physical exercise he needs.


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