Posts Tagged With: clicker

Fairy dust and waving treats around

Something I seem to be seeing and hearing a lot of lately is the assumption that those of us who use positive reinforcement/force free/whatever you want to call them methods simply wave treats or toys in our dogs face no matter what they do.  Want the dog to recall from chasing that deer?  Wave a toy at him and all is sorted!  Dog is about to run into the road?  Offer him a piece of cheese and disaster averted.  I’m sure anyone who uses non aversive methods to train has seen or heard these sort of examples before, usually given as a reason for why “purely positive” can’t or won’t work or isn’t practical.  And I’m sure that like me you’ve often rolled your eyes, heaved a sigh and tried to explain that there’s a hell of a lot more to it than simply waving treats and toys around.  I thought I’d address some of the common misconceptions I hear about the methods I use.  An actual post about dog training rather than life with Spen, who’d have thunk it!

Firstly, no, I do not reward my dog for doing things I don’t want by giving him treats or playing a game with him.  That wouldn’t make any sense would it?  Nor do I simply ignore all unwanted behaviour.  Some behaviours do get ignored and die out because there is no reward from them.  Self rewarding behaviours I try to pre-empt and ask for an alternative behaviour instead.  So instead of letting Spen jump up when someone approaches and then punishing that I ask him to sit BEFORE he jumps up and then the sit is rewarded.  If I allowed him to get to the jumping up before asking for and rewarding the sit there’s a good chance he’d learn the chain of jump up, sit, get rewarded.  And no, if my dog were about to hurl himself under a car I wouldn’t wave a treat at him and hope for the best, I’d grab him however possible.  An emergency like that is not a training situation, let’s be sensible about things.

Secondly, no, I do not need to have treats on me for my dog to do as I ask.  If I’ve forgotten them or have run out then he’s not suddenly going to stop listening to me.  For one, I don’t only use food to reward Spencer.  There are a hell of a lot of things out there that can be used as a reward and food is only one of them.  Let’s look at what Spen finds rewarding while out and about just off the top of my head and in no particular order.

  • food
  • tug
  • fetch
  • a game of chase
  • sniffing
  • saying hello to person or dog (with their okay of course)
  • me being silly and engaging him

So looking at that list (which I’m sure I could expand upon if I really thought about it) there is always something available for me to use as a reward.  Which leads on to the whole “I don’t want to have to keep rewarding my dog” thing people seem to have going on.  I don’t understand this attitude, I really don’t.  Why do you not want to keep rewarding your dog for doing things for you?  Why do you think he should keep doing them just because you ask him to?  Would you keep on doing everything someone said just because they told you to?  I wouldn’t.  I’d start asking why.  Especially for more difficult or time consuming things.  Why should dogs not be paid for what they do?

Thirdly, the whole “positive is not permissive” saying is true.  My dog is not allowed to simply do as he pleases.  There are rules and boundaries and these are enforced.  Just not in ways that cause him pain or fear.  And again, let’s not be silly and mistake an emergency situation such as running out into the road (this is almost always the one brought up) for a training situation.  But then I suppose it depends on what you consider “permissive” really.   Spencer can still have a tendency to bark at other dogs in frustration if he can’t meet.  We’re working on self control and he is so, so much better than he was but there’s the occasional lapse.  I know some would punish him for it while I don’t as I don’t feel it would really help in the long run.  If I think he’s likely to react out of frustration I’ll either move him on or try to distract him with treats or working with me before he starts barking.  Nor was Rupert punished for his fearful reaction to other dogs as again, I don’t feel it would have helped.  So in that respect perhaps I could be seen as permissive by some.

Fourthly (I’m not even sure that’s a word but oh well), dogs do not need to be punished for getting it wrong to be reliable with the right behaviour.  Or at least not yelled at or physically punished anyway.  Some say that not getting a treat is punishment but if I start looking too in depth at it all I end up with a headache and feeling utterly baffled lol.  It’s the idea that dogs must be set up to get it wrong and then punished for getting it wrong for the behaviour to be reliable I disagree with.  Yes, my dog makes mistakes and those mistakes are not reinforced (hopefully!) but deliberately setting him up to fail so I can punish him does not sit right with me at all.  I much prefer to teach him what I do want him to do and give him reasons to do it than to have to make him not want to do the things I don’t like.

Now don’t get me wrong, Spencer is no angel, far from it in fact.  But I have a reasonably well mannered dog who I can enjoy taking out and about and who is mostly a pleasure to live with.  Nor am I a saint.  There have been occasions where I’ve reverted to the typical primate behaviours of jerking things around and yelling when I’m frustrated or angry.  But for the most part I train using methods that do not cause my dog any pain or fear.   No, I do not as a rule yell at my dog or hit him or yank on his neck or jab him or “show him who’s boss” or anything like that.  But at the same time it’s really not a matter of waving a magic wand, farting out some fairy dust and sparkles and suddenly it’s all rainbows and butterflies.  I’m getting a little tired of being accused of using “namby pamby” or “airy fairy” methods and ridiculed for them to be honest.  I’ve put in a lot of hard work with my dog to get to where we are now and to get there with him happy and confident rather than worried and shut down.  No, he’s not perfect but who is?

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Of snow, nail clippings and cuddles

Still very little of interest to report here really.  We’re off back to the UK for a visit next month so my beloved Spendog is going to go in kennels.  How am I supposed to survive 12 days with no dog??  The kennels we’ve used here are lovely though.  Nothing special, just the run and bed but the lady who runs them is fantastic so I’ve no real concerns leaving Spen there.  Well, none except for the fact I’m leaving him anyway lol.

Spencer has discovered the joys of the sofa in the last few weeks.  Here’s a very rare pic of me (I HATE pics of me, I’m a big fat blob at the moment!) with him cuddled up.  He doesn’t look too comfy, he’d much rather be sprawled across me than lying next to me.   Excuse the make shift computer desk made of boxes lol.

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When he can’t be cuddled up next to me or across me he lies at the other end of the sofa.  We’ve had to buy him his own fleece blanket because he’s been so intent on stealing mine to sleep on.

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We’ve had snow here recently.  Up to now the winter has been really, really mild but last week saw snow and temperatures of around -13.  It’s warmed back up a bit now and today was a positively tropical zero apparently.  It started out as a light dusting that made it look like everything had been sprinkled with icing sugar.

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But then we got more of it.  Just in time for the husky meet.  Or the Spencer, Demon and Willow Show as it seems to be now.  We left a load of blood soaked snow behind this week, that’ll fuel the rumours of fights and mega serious injuries that seem to have sprung up about the meet.   I don’t know when these fights and injuries have been happening, I must be hiding under a rock while there because I’ve seen none. There wasn’t a fight or a serious injury this time either, Demon simply broke the end of his dew claw off and of course it bled massively.

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Sadly Spendog has had to be kept on leash a hell of a lot in the snow because his nose goes into overdrive and his ears stop working.  I’m not sure exactly what the snow does to scents but it seems they’re more interesting in the snow and Spen gets a little carried away following them.  If he notices me calling him he’s happy to return to me but getting his attention is a work of art when it’s snowed.  So he’s been stuck on a Flexi except for the husky meet.  And todays walk was more like bambi on ice than a walk.  For both of us.  Slipping and sliding everywhere!  I think we may have to stick to street walks for a bit until it either snows again or it all melts.

Leash walking is coming on well on the way home from our walks though.  He’s anticipating it now and at my side without me saying a word or luring him.  He still wants to go off and sniff so he gets rewarded for a brief stretch of walking nicely by being told to go be a dog.  Then brought back in for more work.  I wish I could get a pic of him walking to heel looking all attentive and happy but all I get is a blur of leg and dog.  Still a work in progress on the way out a he’s so excited to be going out but the actual pulling seems to be a lot less most days.

We’ve practised recall in the snow despite the cloth ears.  Of course he had to do his village idiot impression didn’t he?

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And we’ve started work on nail clipping again.  Spens nails are horrendously long and always have been.  The problem is that the quick is almost as long as the nail so I can only take a very tiny bit off without making them bleed.  Apparently if I do it regularly enough the quick will shrink though and I can get the nails shorter. So today we bought some better clippers coz I struggle terribly with the ones we have and I’m going to attempt to get them shorter.  They’re not curling under his foot long or anything but they’re longer than they should be.  Anyway, sat there on the sofa with his dinner in its bowl next to me tonight.  Clipped a nail, gave him a piece of food.  Clipped another nail, another piece of food.  He offered me his paw so I could clip another lol.  Unfortunately he only offers the left paw and I had to insist on the other one being given so I could do those nails.  But he was more than willing to have his nails cut.  I just have to get over my fear of doing them now.

And I shall leave you with this photo I took.  It’s so very rare to get a nice photo of Spen just standing, he’s usually got his nose to the ground, tail in the air and off after a scent.  Or if he is standing still he’s sniffing.  But I really like this one.

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Belated happy new year

Well I’ve been slacking here again haven’t I?  I guess I should have made a new years resolution to update my blog more regularly.  But anyway, Happy New Year to everyone!  Hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year.  I managed to hurt my back some time between the two so spent the start of the year hobbling around and trying to entertain Spendog as I couldn’t walk him. Then just as my back was getting better and I was able to walk again I pulled it again!  Not the best start to the year lol.  But all’s well now.

One new years resolution I did make was to spend some time each day working on Spencers loose leash walking.  I’ve sort of let it slip after the disastrous attempt to really focus on it a few months ago that ended up with me stressed and annoyed and hating walks and him plodding along looking miserable.  So I said I’d spend around 10 minutes a day working  on it.  It’s not a huge stretch of time but I can do 10 minutes without getting angry or upset and he can easily focus for 10 minutes at a time so it seemed ideal.  Truth is, I’ve probably not even been doing 10 minutes a day on it.  I chose to walk on it on the way home from our walk each day.  It seems the best time to start off as he’s not excited about going out, he’s had a good run around to burn off excess energy and is generally in a pretty good frame of mind to do something that’s quite frankly not very exciting lol.  And I don’t think it usually takes us 10 minutes to get home from the field.

So, we’re two weeks in to our loose leash walking work now (first week of the year I did nothing due to the back injury) and I have to say we’ve made more progress in the last 2 weeks than we have in the last 2 years.  I think because I’m not stressing about it and because I’m being more clear about my expectations.  Not just aiming for not pulling but for him to actually be walking by my side for the short session.   Two weeks ago I started out using shameless bribery, waving a treat under his nose and luring him to take a step or two by my side with it before feeding and releasing him to go sniff.  Today we walked all the way home with him more or less by my side (not aiming for perfect heel work) with no bribe.  And when released to sniff he mostly decided he’d rather walk with me instead.  On the two occasions he did go sniff they were only brief sniffs before he returned to my side of his own accord.  The last few days we’ve even managed some very short stretches of it on the field itself.  It’s very difficult for him there as he so wants to be off sniffing but even a couple of steps is brilliant progress.

And he did absolutely wonderful one night last week.  I’d taken him out at that ridiculous time when it’s not quite light but not quite dark when I don’t really like walking for some reason.  Day time walks are fine, night time walks are fine, those murky half light times are not.  I don’t know why, just don’t like them.  Anyway, since there was nobody around I had him off leash and he’s way, way up ahead doing his sniffy stuff and I’m pottering along keeping one eye on him and trying not to fall flat on my face in the mud when suddenly a load of deer burst out of the trees and run across the path right in front of him.  He stopped and stood there watching them for a moment.  Then when I made a noise (didn’t dare try a recall coz I didn’t expect him to do it) he turned and came to me for a treat.  He got half the treat bag while I clipped his leash on and rambled on at him about how good he was for not chasing the deer.  Glad nobody was around to hear me really lol.

Other than that I have nothing really to report lol.  We’re just doing the same old things really.  He has discovered the sofa though and that he likes to sleep on it.

And now for pictures.  We’ve had a really mild winter so far, fair bit of rain but only one lot of snow and that didn’t last long.  As a result most of our walks look something like this.

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However, it appears my dog may be teflon coated as he ends most of them looking like this

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He does like to splash around in the puddles and the mud so god knows how he ends the walk so clean.

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Couple of recall pics

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And this is his “I know you’re going out so gimme my damn Kong and get gone!” look.

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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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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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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.

 

Watching to see where the ball lands.IMG_0457

 

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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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