No bad dogs, only bad owners

If there is one phrase guaranteed to make me see red it’s the “no bad dogs, only bad owners” one.  Or anything that basically says that all a dogs problems are down to how it’s raised and if you’ve got an aggressive dog then it’s all your fault and you’re a terrible owner.  I hate it.  Absolutely hate it.  Just seeing it written down makes me angry.  Irrationally angry really.  For one, it simply is not true.  For another I can’t describe how it feels to have a dog with issues, to be working on those issues and managing the dog so both the dog and anyone around it is kept safe, only to have some sanctimonious little know it all (not my first choice of words but since my mum reads my blog I’ll keep it clean lol) smugly turn around and basically say it’s all your fault.  Do people have any idea how hurtful that comment is?  Any idea how close I came to showing them just how awful a person I was by giving in to the rage that rose up when those words spewed from their mouth?  Do they not realise how very unfair it is to be blamed for the issues your dog has when those issues have been caused by other people being unable or unwilling to control their own rude or aggressive dogs?  Or children.  Or themselves.  Whichever fits.  Dogs were the issue for Rupert so that’s what I tend to talk about.  Seriously, it is NOT always the owners fault that a dog is aggressive or fearful or doesn’t have good manners.

Let’s look at some of the things that can contribute to creating a dog who reacts badly to certain things shall we?

First, breeding.  There are dogs being bred who quite simply shouldn’t be bred.  Health reasons aside it is thought that traits such as anxiety and fearfulness may have a genetic component.  People simply throwing two dogs together to get puppies to sell to make money aren’t thinking of temperament.  Or health for that matter.  Sure, you can say it’s the owners fault for not going to a good breeder.  But what if the dog is a rescue?  Their own fault for choosing to rescue?

Incorrect socialisation.  Socialisation is a case of quality over quantity in some respects.  People seem to think that simply exposing a dog to things is socialising it.  It isn’t.  Having good experiences with those things is important.  Not going to try to go into the ins and outs of it here, there’s plenty of stuff out there on the internet about socialisation but here’s an article I like http://www.clickertraining.com/node/3953

Bad experiences.  In some cases all it takes is one bad experience to cause long lasting issues that require a lot of work.  Some dogs simply do not bounce back well from them even as adults.  Spencer will shake off an unpleasant incident with another dog, Rupert could not, it took him a good few days to calm back down and in that time he’d be far more on edge than normal.  Spencer seems able to go “yeah, yeah, whatever” at another dog raging at him from a few metres away, Rupert couldn’t.  And again, where Spen is over it almost before it’s happened, Rupert took ages to get over it.  It ruined the rest of his walk if not his entire day.  And bad experiences don’t have to involve aggression.  A young puppy being bounced all over by an over enthusiastic adolescent or mobbed by a group of people all wanting to fuss it at once is probably not having a good experience.  Nor does it need to “man up and deal with it” as many seem to believe.

Punishing the behaviour.  I think it’s perfectly natural for us to go “whoa, no, that is not acceptable behaviour!” and punish a dog whenever it shows aggression.  But doing so does nothing to change the dogs feelings towards whatever it is reacting badly to.  Punish a dog for growling at a child and you may well suppress the growl, stop the dog from doing it.  But that dog is still going to be just as uncomfortable about the child if not more so because it has been punished for showing its discomfort.  There seem to be a lot of people fall foul of bad trainers unfortunately.  It’s easy to know where to look to find a decent trainer if you already know, if you’re the average pet owner however you’re probably not going to have any idea that organisations such as the PPG exist and are probably going to use google or something to find a trainer near you and chances are it’s going to be one of those old school, punish the dog types.  Having done a quick google search myself a certain franchise features heavily in the UK.  As do many “whisperers” and “listeners” who promise very quick results.

There are probably plenty of other things that can contribute to a dog reacting badly to things but this is going to be long enough as it is.  Now yes, you could say that some of these are down to the way the owner has handled the dog.  But still, is it the owners fault?  If you don’t know the history of the dog you have absolutely no idea whether it is a rescue dog that came with those issues.  You don’t know that it has been punished for its behaviour.  You don’t know whether or not it has had bad experiences previously.  You don’t know whether the owner, realising they had problems, called in a supposed professional and knowing no better followed advice that made the problems worse.  Or perhaps they’ve had good advice and are working to rectify the problems they’re having.  It seems a hell of a lot easier to find advice that says hurt or frighten the dog than anything else unless you’re familiar with dog training terminology. Either way, they really do not need someone judging them, telling them it’s all their own fault, that they’re a terrible owner etc.  Your dog lunging and barking and snarling is embarrassing and unpleasant enough without someone who has no clue whatsoever about you and your dog spouting what is often complete and utter rubbish.

Are dogs who react badly to certain triggers bad dogs?  No, they’re not.  But that doesn’t mean that they have a bad owner either.  Please, just think a little before thoughtlessly quoting that awful phrase at them.  One day you may be the one having issues and that phrase may become the red rag to a bull that it is to me.

Apologies for the rant.  I seem to have seen this sentiment all over the place lately and as I say, it just makes me see red.

 

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Debunking the Stubborn Hound Myth

I’m sure we’ve all heard that some breeds are stupid, some breeds are highly intelligent, some breeds are highly trainable, others are too stubborn to be trained and various other things along those lines.  Well today I thought I’d post this fantastic video that proves that Beagles are not the untrainable, stubborn, stupid dogs I see so many people describing them as.  I have never met her owner but consider her to be a friend and she and Miss Tinker have made me see Beagles in a whole new light.  She has given permission for me to share the video, hopefully it will help to show people that when the right methods are used those “stubborn” hound dogs can certainly shine 🙂

Is Tink an anomaly?  I don’t think she is to be honest.  I think the fact she’s learned the behaviours she has and is so willing to do what is asked of her is because her owner has put in the time and effort to work out what makes her tick and how to bring out the best in her.  As a team they put me and Spendog to shame, they  really do, but I find them so inspiring, watching that video makes me want to teach Spen a bunch of tricks I can put together like that.  It’s brilliant!

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A coat and the first snow of the year

We had our first snow of the year a few days ago.  Sadly I’m sure it won’t be the last snow of the year though.  The same day the snow arrived so did the coat a friend sent to him, a happy coincidence really.  Not that he really needs a coat in the snow, he doesn’t seem to feel the cold at all.  The coat is more so that he can go swimming on cold days without me worrying that he’s going to freeze to death on the way home.  The RSPCA face he does when there’s perfectly good water to swim in and I won’t let him is just too much to bear lol.  So I took him outside to try on the coat and take a picture

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But he got the zoomies and so I got yet more pictures confirming that my dog is a Labradork rather than the staid and sensible Labrador I thought I was getting 😉

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He really does love the snow.  He also seems to like the coat, it has been carried around the flat a few times.  So that night we went for a walk in the dark in the snow.  I love night time walks, they’re so much more peaceful than the day time ones because it seems most people don’t like to walk when and where it’s not well lit.   It was only a short walk as I wasn’t well but it was pleasant and gave Spen the chance to get all his snow induced silliness out.  Very difficult to take good pictures when you can’t actually see your dog though.  I got lots of pics of nothing.  Really do need to get him a better light up collar as his kept switching itself off every few minutes.

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Went to the husky meet again yesterday.  More like the Spencer, Demon and Willow show at the moment though.  Not that Spen minds, Willow is the love of his life.  He’s actually spending more time playing ball now than he used to though.  Yesterday hubby came with us and Spen spent a good chunk of his time playing fetch with him.  At one point 2 dogs came to the fence so Spen said hi, spent a few minutes whining and wagging his tail and sniffing them through the fence.  Then went back to playing fetch and completely ignoring them.  Once he’s said hello to a dog then for the most part he loses interest, it’s just the fact he feels he HAS to approach and say hello that’s the problem.  He’ll sometimes play if we’re standing around but even then a lot of the time he’ll start offering me behaviours instead.  Or will play for a short time then come and ask me to do something.  Willow is about the only exception.  Maybe one day we’ll reach the point where he can ignore other dogs completely.  Maybe.  I’ve no objection to him meeting and greeting willing dogs, I just don’t want him running up to every dog he sees before I can check with the other owner that it’s okay.  He’s far better than he was though so that’s progress 🙂

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People have some odd ideas

A few days ago someone’s dog slipped its leash and came running up to say hello to Spencer.  His owner arrived in a real panic to retrieve her obviously friendly dog.  Turns out she’s been told to avoid me and the Spendog because he’s extremely aggressive!  Spencer is about as far from aggressive as you can get, he sees every strange dog as a potential new best buddy as far as I can tell.  I’m not sure whether this has been someone spreading a nasty rumour or whether it’s a case of a misunderstanding of some sort.  I did shout at a few people back when I had Rupert and they let their dogs run up to him so perhaps they recognise me as that nasty person who shouts and is aggressive rather than saying it’s Spen that’s aggressive lol.  Or perhaps there’s another yellow dog in the area who is aggressive and who I just haven’t encountered.

A while back someone else said something about worrying about their dog around Spen because of how dominant Spen is.  Dominant??  Even if I believed dogs had a rigid dominance hierarchy I would not describe Spencer as a dominant dog.  Okay, he’ll tell another dog off if they’re being rude and nobody steps in to stop it.  And if another dog starts on him he’ll have a go back.  But that doesn’t make a dominant dog surely?  As for someone being worried about their dog around him…well he has no interest at all in this particular dog.  He’ll have a brief mutual sniff if they meet while out but that’s as far as it’s ever gone.  He’s never so much as looked at him funny let alone given cause for concern!  Even if he were to tell him off (the dog in question is an adolescent male who has been known to push the boundaries) then at most it’d be an air snap and a roar sort of thing, not blood and guts and emergency vet treatment.

In a way I find all this a bit laughable, the thought of my Silly Spendog being this dominant, status seeking, aggressive dog is utterly bizarre.  But in another it annoys me.  I don’t want people avoiding us because of something someone’s said that simply isn’t true.  I certainly don’t want reporting to the authorities for having an aggressive dog when he’s anything but aggressive!

But on to happier things.  Been practising loose leash walking on the collar again and going for nice, relaxed if pully walks on the harness.  Last week we went to the woods through town again and he walked most of the way there and all the way back on a nice loose leash on his collar.  He really isn’t a fan of having to do that.  I think it’s the not being able to stop and sniff all the time that he hates.  He looks all sulky and grumpy about it lol.  I let him sniff where it’s appropriate but that’s not good enough, he wants to sniff it all.  We had a very nice walk in the woods though.  Stopped at the bottom of a hill because there was a large dog standing at the top staring down at us, very stiff and not friendly looking.  Owner leashed it and moved it on so we carried on.  Spen sat nicely and waited until we moved again.  A few minutes later we went round a corner and he was practically nose to nose with a Teckel.  Poor little thing cowered and wanted nothing to do with him.  Instead of jumping on it or anything Spen sat down and just whined a little until it passed.

We had a lot of RSPCA face from Spencer as we went along the river and I refused to let him swim.  It was a cold day and he was stuck on a leash and I had no towel or anything with me.  He was NOT impressed at there being water and him not able to go in.  A lovely lady I know online is sending him a coat her dogs have outgrown so in future he can go swimming to his hearts content and I won’t have to worry about him freezing on the walk home.  He doesn’t seem to notice the cold normally but if he’s soaked to the skin it’s likely going to be another matter.  Especially as it’s about a 40 minute walk home at least.  No doubt I’ll get all sorts of nasty comments about my Lab wearing a coat but oh well.  I got nasty comments last year as he was out in the snow naked, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t it seems lol.

And in other news, it seems we’ve finally had the light bulb moment with Spin!  It’s not a nice, tight spin at the moment, it’s more of a walk in a small circle but I can build on that.  We’ve also been playing Find The Treat I’ve Hidden Somewhere In The Room.  Ooooh boy is that one a hit!  I have ordered a book on scent work and hopefully will be able to start doing something along those lines with him.

And now I think we need pictures don’t we?  Let’s start off with the zoomies in the ditch of muddy water, love the 10 shot function on my camera.

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He seemed very pleased to be muddy again

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But I’m sure he’s made of teflon or something coz it never seems to stick to him long

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Poor Spendog, having to sit by the river and not go in!

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I think this place must be beautiful in summer.  Bet it’s busy though!

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And finally, another online friends Beagle has a thing about balancing on tree stumps and logs but Spen can’t possibly jump or climb onto one so we got a Dog By A Log pic instead of a Dog On A Log one.

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Picking My Battles

For the past few weeks I’ve been trying to work on stopping Spencer pulling on his harness.  Up to now our work on loose leash walking has been done on the collar and the harness used to get from A to B and when he can’t be off leash but I want to give him a bit of freedom.  Well it’s not been going so well.  Very, very little improvement on the harness and a hell of a lot of stress for both of us.  I realised yesterday that I’m marching along like grim death and my usually happy, relaxed Spendog is plodding along with his tail down and shooting me worried glances out of the corner of his eye when he’s not pulling.  Not a happy dog and not a happy owner.  So we’re ditching the loose leash walking on the harness and just going to put more effort in on the collar.  He’s really not too bad on his collar now, my main reason for wanting to stop the pulling on the harness is because I use it with a long line.  And 2 hours of pulling on a long line is NOT fun.  So I’m not sure where to go with that now.  Can’t use a head collar with a long line even if Spen would tolerate wearing one and I don’t think the front attachment harnesses are safe with them either.

Other than that though we’re having fun.  Recall is going great.  Still not tried it around approaching dogs but once he’s passed a dog he can go back off leash and not bother about it.  Also managed to increase the speed of his response so he’s not stopping to pee, detouring to sniff or going “yeah, just a minute” which is good.    We’ve also been practising Wait (stop and wait where you are) which is going quite well too.  And downs and hand touches while out on the fields are usually pretty damn quick now.  Sadly I’m sure other dog walkers must think I’m a bit of an idiot running around making lots of noise and waving toys around but oh well.  If it gets results I’m gonna use it lol.  It’s actually quite fun.  But shh, don’t want people thinking I’m nuts!

Trying to teach him Spin as a trick now.  I’m still not sure how well that’s going, we seem to have gotten stuck at “lean on human while staring over left shoulder” lol.  I think I’m going to have to use a lure for this one rather than shape it.  Been slacking on the trick training lately, really need to get back at it coz we both enjoy it.

And now for some pics.  We went on the nearby field a few days ago and the pond is back.  So of course Spendog had to go for a swim.  I’d taken his ball so we played some fetch in the water for a bit.

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Got a video of him swimming to get his ball too.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6Vmj53rJ3s

And last week hubby came out with us.  Husky meet wasn’t on due to remembrance so instead he drove us up to the polo pitch in the afternoon and we had a walk around it while playing with Spen.  Well, hubby played with Spen, I watched.  Apparently I suck at throwing things lol.

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A walk in the woods

Lovely sunny autumn day yesterday and I decided I’d take Spencer somewhere different for a change.  With my blood sugar dropping so often I’ve been sticking fairly close to home  and we’ve done lots of walks around the crop fields which is pretty boring.  For me at least, Spen doesn’t seem to mind where we go as long as we go and he gets to sniff.  And sniff.  And sniff some more.  I’m sure he’s part beagle sometimes lol.  We seem to have solved the problem for the most part now so I thought we’d venture a bit further afield.

So we went through town and into the woods up there.  Climbed a hill covered with fallen leaves.  And fallen branches and loose stones hidden beneath them.  Sat and rested on bench coz I’m horribly unfit and needed a rest after that.  Spencer surprised me by lying down next to the bench rather than pestering me to get moving.  Perhaps all those rests while waiting for Dextro to kick in and bring my blood sugar back up have had that effect.  He even stayed lying down while a GSD walked past on the other side of the path, about 3ft away.  Which is unheard of.  He did whine at it and wag his tail but he stayed where he was.

Impatient to be on our way

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Once I’d recovered we set off along a trail.  Spencer found some lovely mud much to his delight.  He actually got far dirtier on the way back, all 4 legs, his belly and his face were black.  Apparently he needed to stick his face under and blow bubbles in the mud.  Strange creature that he is.   Which sadly I didn’t get a picture of as there were just too many dogs around for me to mess around with flexi and camera.  Thankfully he also appears to be teflon coated and nothing sticks to him for long so by the time we got home he was a yellow Labrador again.

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Spen kept jumping up the side of the path we were walking on to run a long for a few steps and then back down.  Apparently that was fun.  This is the sort of terrain he was running along.  Perhaps he could have a career as a parkour dog.

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At one point we came across the Grim Reaper and his friend.  I have no idea what they were doing all dressed up in scary costumes in the woods or what the other guy was supposed to be.  Me and Spen stopped to let them pass since not everyone likes a wet and muddy Labrador passing within inches of them, especially not when clearly dressed up for whatever reason.  Mud and yellow hair is just not a good look for Death is it?  Wish I could have got a picture but seems a bit rude to take photos of random people even if they are wearing a strange costume and wandering around in the woods.

A little further along the trail and look what we found!  The river!  At last!

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Spencer was a little perturbed by it at first as there was no gradual incline to get in, he had to instantly plunge into deep water.  But it didn’t put him off for long and he was soon swimming around attempting to retrieve sticks he found and failing that retrieving his leash.

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We turned around after a play in the river since we’d set out quite late and it was starting to get dark.  Don’t mind walking in the dark but I don’t know those woods and the trail was hard enough to see in daylight at times and so much mud and so many loose stones and stuff underfoot that I’d likely have broken my neck trying to walk through them in the dark.  Or gotten horribly lost.  I’m good at that.  Planning to go back there soon though and follow the path further and see where we end up.  And take a toy I can throw into the river for him to fetch, I didn’t have a suitable one in my bag.  And maybe even a picnic since I could end up horribly lost lol.

The only downside to the walk was the sheer number of people and dogs we encountered.  Spencer spent the entire walk on his flexi as I forgot to pick up the long line which had been left on a radiator to dry.  And I really don’t like the flexi for long walks, it’s uncomfortable to hold for long periods and I’m not as confident in controlling him no it as I am on the long line.  But he did really well.  He only lunged at one dog and that was the one that lunged at him growling.  Course if he’d been off leash he’d likely have gone rushing up to introduce himself to them all though.  But I suppose it’s good practise for us.  If we always walk where we rarely see anyone we can’t really work on ignoring other dogs can we?  Although lately I seem to be running into loads of dogs on every walk for some reason.

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We’re still around

Well we’re still here and it has been pointed out that I am hopeless and haven’t posted to my blog in quite a while.  So here I am again.  There’s not really much changed since I last posted though.

We’re still working on recall.  Spencer is now only get a treat for turning and coming straight back when he’s called rather than being rewarded for faffing around, stopping to sniff or taking the scenic route back to me.  It took about 6 times of getting no treat for slow responses to speed him up and now we’re only getting the occasional slow one.  Still having problems with it when it comes to other dogs though, he would still ignore a recall to go and introduce himself to a dog within a certain distance.  And will still follow a dog we’re walking with to run up to a dog at a much greater distance.  Once he’s met a dog he’s happy to come back, just not until he’s met it.  So obviously he’s still on his long line a lot.  Really not sure what else I can do with it to be honest.  Just keep on working at it I guess and hope that one day it sinks in.  He’s walked past a few dogs recently without so much as a pull in their direction but would still have run up to them from about 20m away if he’d been off leash.  I’m sure some people think I’m expecting too much but I don’t find it acceptable for him to go rushing up to every dog he sees.  What if the dog is elderly?  Recovering from illness?  Aggressive?  Frightened of other dogs?  A guide dog or other assistance dog doing its job?  Not fair to them or their owner to have my social butterfly of a dog bounding up.

Other than that he is doing really well though.  We still go to the husky meets each week and he’s started to check in with me regularly and on Sunday he actually went into work mode for about 20 minutes, completely ignoring the other dogs and offering me his tricks.  This was after about 90 minutes of playing lol but it’s a start.  He has never “worked” there before, the most I’ve been able to get is a sit or down and that’s clearly been difficult for him because he’s wanted to be off playing, not stuck with me.  We’ve been doing a lot more training and playing out on walks lately though.  Nothing fancy, just the basics and playing some chase (I will not call what I do running, anyone who knows me would likely fall over laughing at the thought I might run) and some tug.

Spendog has had kennel cough recently and I have to say I can sort of understand why owners who didn’t walk him rehomed him.  He was an absolute nightmare!  He copes fine with a couple of days of restricted walks but over a week with no walks at all is another matter.  He was climbing the walls after 3 days!  And that’s with us doing lots of training and him being given stuffed Kongs and Tug a Jugs and stuff like that.  Thankfully we’re back to walking now and he’s back to his usual self and able to just chill when there’s nothing going on.

So, time for some pictures I think!  Walks have been a little limited lately due to me still having problems with my blood sugar crashing on them, been doing a loop around the crop fields mostly since it means I’m not so far from home as I am on our usual walks.   Perhaps I should just start taking a picnic out with me.  Sitting in the grass in the pouring rain eating a sandwich or something might be fun lol.

First here’s a video of a short training session with Spencer while he was on house arrest with kennel cough.  Nothing fancy or complicated, just me trying to wear him out a little.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XTS_NnlL3W0

Let’s dance.

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Managing a down stay with another dog nearby.  Not sure what the weird expression is all about lol

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And apparently Kong Wobblers are best when you hide in the curtains with them.

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We’ve come a long way

We took Spencer to Fluggenhofsee today, a lake with a dog beach about a 30 minute drive from here.  He was an absolute dream for the most part.  Pulled like a steam train but I was expecting that since he’d had the excitement of a car ride, the excitement of a new place and the excitement of hubby being with us all on top of each other.  Other than that though his behaviour was about as good as I could wish for.  He recalled when asked, didn’t go wandering too far off, didn’t really bother about other dogs unless they approached us and was polite when they did.  He said hello politely to an obviously intact male French Bulldog (I swear this dogs balls were bigger than its head!) but once it was clear the dog didn’t want to play with him he went and found his tennis ball again and resumed playing fetch in the lake.  He completely ignored the other Frenchie who was clearly frightened of him.  Then a little mixed breed bitch came along and I managed to let the German owner know that Spen was friendly even if I did refer to him as an it rather than a he lol.  They had a play for about 5 minutes then the other dog and owner moved on and Spen went back to playing fetch.

When I look back it’s kinda hard to believe he’s the same dog.  He used to be utterly obsessed with other dogs and would have gone flying up the hill to see these dogs while they were still on the path 12 months ago.  Today he was happy enough to wait until they came over to us.   He didn’t try to follow them when they left either which he certainly would have done at one point.  Nor did he really bother about the dog we passed on leash on the way home.  There was no lunging, screeching, spinning or barking, just a bit of a whine.  And once we’d passed it he lost interest and I felt confident enough to let him off leash again.  He didn’t go charging back the way we’d come to introduce himself.  He was responsive to us when we wanted him to do something.  Not as responsive as he is to me on walks locally but again, new area and hubby was with us.  I had no fears letting him off leash.  Well, no fears except for him possibly swimming off never to be seen again lol.

It’s days like this when I really realise just how much he’s improved.  And it’s days and walks like this that I really, really missed with Rupert.  This is the sort of day out I used to have with Shadow and Wolf down at the river.  Just chilled out and not having to worry about managing an aggressive dog around dogs other people couldn’t or wouldn’t control.  I’d have loved to have been able to take Rupert somewhere like this but somehow I don’t think it would have been anywhere near the enjoyable few hours out it was with Spencer.

And now for pics.  I took lots and lots of them but I won’t post them all here lol.  A lot of them were taken using the 10 photos in a few seconds mode on my camera anyway so are very similar to each other.

 

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I don’t think he liked the sand all over his ball, every time he dropped it he’d scratch at it, roll it around a bit and eventually pick it up with a grimace and shake his head.

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In the car ready to come home again.

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As you can see, he had fun! 🙂  Just wish I’d taken a change of clothes so I could have gone in with him, I had to make do with paddling lol. Hopefully we will go there again at some point.  And hopefully I will find somewhere for him to swim that I can get him to without having to rely on someone driving me there and back.

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Needless panic

Spencer had a bit of an incident with another dog.  I won’t call it an attack because it wasn’t.  It was more a case of two dogs really not liking each other and having a fight.  No damage done as far as I’m aware but it seemed more than the usual noise and slobber handbags type scrap.  Had we not separated them quickly I think it may well have escalated to more.  Hubby got caught on the hand splitting them up but not badly, didn’t even break the skin so obviously no real intent on either side.   The dogs had met a couple of times previously and although not best buddies they’d been okay.  A bit of noise and slobber the first time but nothing that made me think they’d have problems in future.  There was no apparent trigger for the scrap, both dogs were off leash and just flew at each other.  Just one of those things I think, I guess they can’t get on with every dog they meet any more than we get on with every person we meet.

But I spent all last night and most of this morning worrying that Spencer was now going to be just like Rupert and attempt to destroy pretty much any dog he encountered.  A bit of a stupid worry really considering Spen has always been fairly confident with other dogs and although intolerant of rude behaviour from strange dogs he’s generally friendly and even his telling off a rude dog is done appropriately.  But when you’ve been there, done that it’s hard to think rationally.  Rupert only became aggressive after several attacks by other dogs, a couple with intent to harm but most just the usual bully boy type “attacks” that are all noise and no intent.

Being a Sunday today we had the sled dog meet we go to each week.  Now that was a daunting event given my worries.  But I had a feeling that Spen would be perfectly fine and it’s me who’s likely to have the problem so I set my alarm last night and dragged myself out of bed and to the field where the meet is held.  Being rather pathetic I found my heart racing and I was shaking as I walked across the field.  Some of the dogs saw us and began to make their way over so I stopped and let Spen off leash.  He knows the dogs after all, gets on with them and at least if he’s off leash I can’t panic, tighten it and transmit my “oh my god he’s going to attack them” vibes down it.  He took off with his friends over to where the other owners were.  Then I spotted a new dog.  Oh god.  Spen approached it in his usual way, his tail wagging and his “hi, want to be friends?” body language though and all was perfectly fine.  He didn’t even seem to feel the need to hump this new dog which is something I do have to watch for.

Then a dog he kept taking exception to last week arrived.  More “oh my god” moments for me (yes, I’m pathetic, I know) but this week she was his new second best buddy (I don’t think anyone will take Willows place) and instead of grumping about her rude behaviour today he took it all as invitations to play and had a blast with her.   It seems rude behaviour is acceptable once he actually knows them.  Or at least to some extent anyway, he still takes exception to some things and I can’t say I blame him.

So my worries were all completely unfounded and stupid which deep down I knew anyway.  He has not turned into an aggressive dog because of one incident.  He’s still the same playful, slightly annoying, wants to be friends with everyone Labrador he always was.  People keep telling me I need to remember that he’s not Rupert.  But while I know he’s not Rupert it’s still difficult to over come some of the worries I had with Rupe.  Like simply letting him off leash.  It’s taken nearly 18 months for me to be comfortable letting Spen off leash, how long is it going to take me to get over worrying about him becoming dog aggressive because him and another dog have had a scrap?  And I bet I still panic the next time we see a strange dog when I’m out on my own with him.

Well, I think that’s enough of a pity party from me.  I have no new pics to post or anything.  Well done if you even made it this far lol.

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Let’s talk about recall

Well I guess I should start using this blog for a bit more than pictures and random Spendog updates.  Like for the training blog it was actually meant to be lol.  I am not a professional dog trainer or behaviourist or anything like that.  This is all just my own experience with my own dogs and the occasional help given to a friend.  I clicker train and most behaviours I teach Spencer are taught by shaping (breaking the behaviour down into small steps and reinforcing each step until we reach the end goal) but I do use lures now and then and occasionally the dreaded “no” word comes out of my mouth.

So, recall.  Or the art of getting the dog to return to you when you call it.  Sounds simple enough doesn’t it?  Well with some dogs it certainly seems to be.  I know a few people who’ve put in no real effort to teach a recall and yet their dogs stop on a dime, whip round and race back to them the instant they call no matter what they were doing.  Am I jealous?  Oh hell yes!  But for the rest of us recall is often something that has us tearing our hair out.  Well, it is for me anyway.  Shadows recall wasn’t good.  I still remember our trainer, who always said never to chase a dog that wouldn’t come to you, legging it around a field along with several others trying to get him back so we could go home.  And if it rained while we were on the field he would disappear.  I have no idea where he went, there was no for him TO go, but he’d come back a while later bone dry while we were soaked to the skin.  Wolfs recall was excellent, the stop on a dime and come back no matter what type, but I think that was purely an accident.  Rupert had an okay recall but at the slightest hint of prey he would head for the horizon so couldn’t be trusted off leash unless in a secure area.

And now I have Spencer.  Spen is a pretty easy going fellow who for the most part is happy to do whatever it is you’re asking of him as long as he knows what is being asked.  But, he came to me utterly obsessed with other dogs.  One of those dogs who’d leg it across a field to go and bounce on another dogs head in sheer excitement and desire to play.  Recall?  What recall?  Oh he’d come back happily enough providing there were no other dogs around.  But add another dog into the equation and forget it.  This is something we’re still working on but we’ve gone from him being likely to leg it across a field to see another dog to him being able to recall with another dog much closer than that.  When it gets to within about 10 metres is where it starts falling apart, it seems.  I can’t be sure as if we have to pass close to another dog I leash him until I can check it’s okay for them to meet.

Sadly there is no magic trick to getting a “perfect” (sorry, I don’t believe you can ever 100% guarantee a dog will recall no matter what) recall.  You can’t just wave a magic wand and instil your dog with excellent recall in all situations as much as I might wish you could.  As with everything else it’s a case of teaching the dog what the cue means and putting in the time and effort to proof it in different places and different situations.  The more a dog practises a behaviour the better it gets at it.  Which is why management while teaching is so important.  If your dog is allowed to keep running up to other dogs then the more ingrained the behaviour becomes and the harder it is to stop. I used a long line with Spencer on walks to give him some freedom to run around, do doggy things and burn off some energy while preventing him from legging it to say hello to any other dogs who appeared.  We did lots of very easy recalls at home and just outside our flat.  I varied the rewards so sometimes he’d get hot chicken covered in melted cheese, sometimes a lower value food reward such as cheese or sausage, sometimes a piece of kibble.  Sometimes I even took a tupperware container filled with minced green tripe out on our walks and spoon fed him a little each time he came when called.  I also used toys and playing chase as rewards for coming when called, sometimes food just doesn’t cut it, not even for a stomach on legs Labrador and Spen would much rather play than eat.  I also made a point of recalling, rewarding and sending him back to what he was doing.  All too often people make the mistake of only calling their dog back when it’s time to go home so of course the dog associates coming when called with the fun times ending.

Another thing I did was teach him that simply coming to me from time to time without being called was worth his while.  All I did with this was click and toss him a treat any time he glanced in my direction.  Or if he happened to come close to me (even if it was accidentally while trotting past or stopping to sniff something).  He soon got the idea and started offering to come walk with me.  Now he tends to come up to me every five minutes or so without me calling him.  I get a lot of “oh but he’s only doing it coz he wants a treat!” but quite frankly I don’t really care.  I’d rather him come look at me for a treat or a game (again I didn’t just use food rewards) every so often than be off doing his own thing and completely ignoring me the way I see so many dogs doing and the way he used to do.  He does still do his own thing, sniffs and marks and does zoomies and splashes around in any water he comes across, he just keeps an eye on what I’m doing and gets rewarded for it.

Spencer is not perfect, I cannot guarantee he would recall from another dog at close range until he’d said hello and he is still managed in some situations with a long line or by being put on leash for a few minutes.  But we’re getting there.  I am comfortable letting him off leash on our usual walks, I don’t worry any more abut him disappearing over the horizon because he’s heard a dog bark or legging it off to visit with a dog half a mile away.  We go to meet ups most Sundays and he checks in with me of his own accord fairly regularly now rather than being so excited at the prospect of having other dogs to play with that he forgets all about me.  I’m not sure he’ll ever be one of those dogs who turns on a dime to come racing back the instant I call but I can live in hope.  After all, 12 months ago I wasn’t sure he’d ever be one of those dogs I’d be comfortable letting off leash unless I could see for miles around.

An excellent book, in my opinion, for anyone wanting a sort of step by step guide to working on recall would be Total Recall by Pippa Mattinson.  For those with dogs not known for being biddable When Pigs Fly by Jane Killion is an excellent read although not recall specific.  It’s also an excellent read for those with breeds generally classed as biddable, you just have to ignore the assumption that your dog simply hangs around waiting to be told what to do lol.

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