The Bond Fostered by Training

I was on Facebook last week, and saw that one of my close friends had made the decision not to have one of her elderly dogs operated on to attempt to remove a cancerous mass from her leg.  Now it became abundantly clear why a few days earlier, that same friend was asking how well a dog can cope with only three legs, and how long recovery might take.  Only this time I knew which of her dogs she was talking about, so not only did I really feel for my friend and her special dog – I was hit pretty hard too.

You see, when I was “dog-less” for twelve months or so before bringing Inka home (and starting this blog), my friend would lend me one or another of her dogs to take to classes and train, and I felt honoured that my first “surrogate dog” was my friends’ very special sable collie.  Born with a form of diabetes and rejected by her mother, my friend raised her and hand-fed her.  When I first met her she was 11 years old, although I assumed she was around 5 or 6 – such was her love of people and vigour for life.

My friend and her dogs were there for me at a time when I really needed them, and after being snuggled back to having a dry face again by Starr and Inka, I realised that it was more than this reason, and empathy for my friend, that caused my sadness and tears.  Even though we spent the majority of our time together in class training, and very rarely “hung out” like we all do with our own dogs, the thought of this special girl passing is upsetting to me on a personal level because of the bond formed between us by clicker training.

I have read a number of times about the bond that is formed through the use of positive reinforcement training, and from experience I know this to be true – with some of my friends’ dogs, with dogs at the shelter I volunteered at, as well as dogs who have come in to classes I’ve assisted in.  But this is a very special, wonderful girl who has touched the life of a close friend of mine, and also helped my friend to help lots of dogs, furthermore she was a joy for anyone to meet; her life is and will continue to be celebrated by many, and it is for that reason that I wanted to share this poem:

I am standing upon the seashore.  A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze, and starts for the blue ocean.  She is an object of beauty & strength, and I stand and watch until at length she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other.  Then someone at my side says, “There!  She’s gone.”  Gone where?  Gone from my sight – that is all.  She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination.  Her diminished size is in me, not in her; just at the moment when someone at my side says, “There, she’s gone,” there are other eyes watching her coming and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, “There she comes!”  And that is dying. – anonymous

 

Dog Training New Years Resolutions – 2013 Review

This is later than I intended, but I’ve been busy helping a collie get a rescue space.  Thankfully, everything’s sorted now, barr her having a little sleepover at my house before being picked up this weekend.

—-

Last January, I posted a list of things I wanted to accomplish with Inka and Starr; I called them my “dog training New Years resolutions“.  Before I look at my intentions for the coming year, I want to take a moment to look at how I did with those resolutions.

To review, last year I resolved to:
* Train my dogs more!
* Train because it’s fun!
* Not waste breath and energy on cruel, pushy, aggressive, and ignorant people that rely on those same behaviours to bully animals and other people.
* Do my coursework!
* Be open to new and different things

So, how did I do?  Well, starting on the negative – I didn’t finish my coursework.  Technically, I didn’t even start it, although I do have a lot of notes and plans for what I want to look at for each question, and I do now feel capable of starting it.

However, the good news is that I stuck to everything else!  I didn’t waste my energy on people who don’t want to know, and I did train both dogs more often, maybe not as much as I’d like to, but certainly more than I’d trained Inka in the past year.

Now that we’re starting to get past Starr’s demons, and I’ve been able to give Inka a break (which I feel that he needs as he still holds quite a lot of demons about learning in general from his early days, before he came to us), we’re concentrating on the fun things – Inka’s training has involved things I know he can do, and just having fun with those; Starr’s training has also been fun (like when we played with this box (below)), but she enjoys the learning process, so we’ve also done some more serious things together (like starting to work on her loose lead walking).

I will say, however, that I think part of the reason why I didn’t train more is because I felt a little bit overwhelmed.  I completed Pamela Dennison’s online course, and when the chance arose I signed up to Susan Garrett’s Recallers course – as part of that we got a whole second course for free, I also signed up for Denise Fenzi’s precision heeling course, and then her heelwork games class, and I then got the chance to become a member of Susan’s “inner circle” – so, of course, I jumped at it, and then Puppy Peaks came along, which I wanted in on as well!

Pam’s course had a small amount of material, and a DVD, so that was fine.  Recallers would release one five minute game every weekday for six weeks, and there was *a lot* of accompanying information (I filled a lever-arch ring binder!), Shaping a Difference was time-sensitive, and Puppy Peaks and the Inner Circle both are an amazing resource, plus both of Denise’s courses are full of information; I’ve then been back and forward to the vets a fair amount, alongside work, running a house, and all the regular exercising and bonding with my dogs.

I know, I know – I took too much on.  I’ve learnt my lesson, and (hopefully!) won’t do it again.  Starr & I are re-doing the Recallers games, but at a slower pace; once I get the mechanics down for the really fun ones, I’ll do those with Inka, leaving the “less fun”/more precise ones to later, or not at all if he would prefer not to; and it’ll be the same for Puppy Peaks, and anything that comes up in the IC (I’m desperately saving so that I may renew my membership, after a couple of surprise expenses in December).

Going forward, at least for the moment, I feel that the Say Yes!/Susan Garrett way is a really good fit for Starr, Inka, and myself; it also fits nicely with the ethos of our training instructor and her classes, plus there’s enough information held within it to help me teach many, many behaviours, and to equip me for figuring out almost anything it doesn’t contain specific information for.

So, what are my goals for this year?  Find out in my next post…

Shouting Does Not Modify Behaviour

I can’t believe I’ve actually just typed that, but after last week I feel that it needs saying – and sharing!

I was on leave last week, and with the weather the way it was, any time I spent at home all the windows were wide open.  Early in the week, a neighbour was having some work done on their house; and during the first day I heard one of the workers shout at Starr.  She’d been barking at all the strange, new noises the workers were making, and while it was a little annoying, as far as she was concerned she had good reason to be anxious and try to make the scary stuff go away and/or alert me.

That’s why, when I first heard her being shouted at to “shut up”, I responded in kind and shouted back “don’t shout at my dog”.  Aside from the fact that it’s not the job of a complete stranger to attempt to change my dog’s behaviour, it certainly is not up to anyone else but me how their behaviour will be modified; not to mention that with that one action the worker showed how little he knows about dogs and behaviour modification (yes – I know – pot/kettle!)

‘Shout!!!’ by Maciek Łempicki

The next day, when a similar thing occurred, I was otherwise occupied attempting to make pizza dough (and failing horribly!), once I’d washed my hands and had moved on to other – less involved – tasks, I kept an ear out for the man coming to get tools out of his van.  That was the problem today – he was to-ing and fro-ing between his van and his work, and every time he slid open the door to his van, that set Starr on edge and she would bark until he went away again.

This time, I did better – for Starr, for the workers, and for myself.  The next time I heard someone at the van, I went and spoke to him.  It turned out that I’d missed a second worker arriving, and it was actually him I spoke to – but I asked him to pass the message on, that shouting at my dog was doing her no favours; she was barking because the strange noises outside made her nervous, and the best way for them to help me help her was to ignore her and not respond in kind to her frantic shouting.

This did the trick, and while they unsettled Starr as they continued to work, they didn’t shout at her any more.

Result!

However, I can’t help but find it sad that in general people think shouting will stop or change a behaviour.

Here’s the deal: it won’t, at least not permanently.  If you’re lucky, you might come across as so terribly, horribly, scary that whoever you’re shouting at doesn’t want to be anywhere near you, and will just do nothing whenever you’re around.  More likely, however is that (to stick with the example), the dog will think you’re joining in – either on their side, or against them.  Whatever the reason the dog is barking is now secondary to the support or opposition the dog is barking along to.

As a stranger, it’s never your job to modify a dogs behaviour – unless you’re being paid as a professional to do so, in which case you wouldn’t be a stranger.  As an owner, it’s generally up to you to find out why your dog is barking, and mitigate that in an appropriate way, unless you’ve employed a professional to help you.

In our house, we use classical conditioning: scary noise outside = yummy treat.  We also have cues: a cue to bark, and one to stop.  These have worked wonderfully for Inka, and while he still barks at some things, he’s generally pretty cool with external noises, or being quiet when he’s asked to be.  Starr, on the other hand, isn’t doing so well with these, but that’s part of the story of why I’m considering behavioural drugs for her, which is an entirely different post!

How do you deal with excessive barking in your house?

 

Be Your Dog’s Advocate This Summer

It’s officially summer time.  That wonderful time of year when we in the UK hope we will have long, warm, sunny days.

We daydream of walks at local beaches and lakes, or on hills and fells; we think of all the things we could do at the weekend: go to a local beauty spot, visit a nearby picturesque tourist town, take a day trip to an ancient wonder, sit in the beer garden of a local pub.

Many of us – when weather allows – will follow through with these plans; those of us with family dogs may also take them along for the trip when we’re going somewhere that welcomes them, sometimes a dog may be taken for a trip even when he’s going to be sitting in the car as the destination doesn’t allow pets.

But, wait – have you considered whether your dog would want to go?

When we have summer days out, we make a distinction: we either take Inka & Starr and go somewhere they’ll be happy going to (a quiet beach, a lake with a little used area, or similar); or we leave them at home and go somewhere they they are less likely to enjoy.

Sure, I’d love to be able to take them both to Keswick, or to local agricultural shows or fun days where I could enter them in the requisite dog show, and plenty of other places too; but knowing my dogs, I know that – at least for now – they wouldn’t enjoy that kind of atmosphere.  People everywhere, lots of noises, children who are neither trained nor leashed, and dogs who are leashed but often untrained are just some of the things we’d face.

Days out are supposed to be fun, and I know they wouldn’t enjoy that, just as I wouldn’t enjoy fending them off.

Yes, I could use it as a teaching opportunity for people who insist on doing “The Wrong Thing(s)” with other people’s dogs but why subject us all to that stress?  When I’m out with my dogs, I want to devote my time to them – not to ensuring the guy who “all dogs love” doesn’t put his clammy paws all over my obviously anxious dog(s); and I want us to have fun.  Running around a field is fun, running a gauntlet of people who are mostly clueless about dogs is not.

I love my dogs, and I show them that by sometimes leaving them home, even if I’d much rather take them with me and let them in on the fun. After all, who has fun when they’re worried, stressed, or anxious?

Starr enticing Inka to play at home, in her own special way…

 

Why is Recall So Important Anyway?

I know I’ve posted about recall before, but I love it! Whether I’m training, practising, or using that one special word; recalls are fantastic and they’re also one of my ‘markers’ as to whether I’m comfortable allowing an individual dog off lead in any given situation.

Even with my first dog, I knew that teaching a reliable recall was a very important thing, but it was only when I happened across Susan Garrett’s take on recall – as a way to evaluate your relationship with your dog – that it fell into place in my mind.

* If I’m going to allow my dog to have some off lead freedom, I must trust him 100% to come back to me when I ask
* That means that he must want to come back to me, even if I’m asking him to move away from something “really interesting” such as a rotting sheep carcass (yak!), or kids playing football
* If I want a reliable recall, then I need to define both ‘reliable’, and ‘recall’.
* I also must set specific criteria, and stick to them – what will my cue be, how many times will I say it, will I use a visual signal as well, what specific behaviour(s) will it elicit, and so on

So, first things first – define what I’m training, and set criteria:
Reliable: dependable, consistent, unfailing, steadfast, certain.
Recall: often used in terms of memory – remind, recollect, evoke; also used when quality control issues affect one or more of a company’s products – e.g. “there was a recall on yoghurts”. In dog training, recall is the set of behaviours the dog performs when you call him or her to you. Exactly how fast, how close, and so on are part of your criteria.

My criteria
My dog’s recall behaviour will involve:
* Responding as soon as I say his cue, on the first time I say it (that quick response may one day save his life)
* Turning and moving away from whatever he is engaged or interested in
* Locating me, usually visually – though if he’s out of sight I will encourage him without using his recall cue again (and then work on him keeping better track of me, and me of him)
* Running back to me as fast as he is able
* Returning right to me, and staying close to me – no staying out of grabbing distance, or coming back and immediately going somewhere else

What I would add to that list now: –
* Now that I use a release cue, I would also add that he stay with me while I leash him up and we walk on, or until he is verbally released.
* I would also list the dog’s distractions and reinforcers, and rate them so that when the time comes I can pair a distraction with a reinforcer of equal or higher value. This list would need updated as we worked our recall, so it will need to be kept safe!

“Wait a minute!” You say, “I have a husky – who should never be off lead anyway – and we generally walk in the city, where it’s not safe or legal for any dog to be off lead, I don’t need to teach her recall, do I?”

Well – no, and yes.  If you’re 100% certain that her lead, flat collar, and/or static harness will never, ever break; and you can be completely certain that you will never, ever, ever let go of the lead, no matter what’s going on around you, then maybe I can let you off.  For the rest of us that are fallible: even if you don’t intend to ever have your dog off lead, it’s a good idea to train a recall anyway, that way if something ever does go wrong, you have at least a chance of having your dog come back to you rather than disappearing over the horizon.

So now that we know our criteria (to come straight back to me the first time I call, and stick around), how do I go about training?  Technically, I guess recall could be shaped, but that would likely be a slow process!  Since recall is so important, I think it’s much better to train it.

Obviously since I signed up to Recallers, the way I teach recall is changing; but since I paid good money to be a ‘Recaller’, and I respect Susan and her propriety information I won’t/can’t share it with you in that way (though I’m sure there’ll be lots of videos of various bits and pieces in the future).

However, I can share this video of Starr and I again.  This is one way I teach recall – I have my dog “chase” a thrown piece of kibble, I mark when she turns around, and when she returns to me she gets three or four tasty treats.

As with all good training, we start off somewhere not distracting (in this case, we started indoors), and slowly work up to very distracting environments, using a lead or long line as appropriate (in our enclosed garden, she’s fine off lead).  I help her to make the right choices – by marking the turn; and I make the right choices achievable – I don’t take her to the beach on a sunny Sunday afternoon, take off her lead and expect her to stick around, much less come when I call her, without plenty of practice of what I do want first.

After all, practice makes perfect and if she practices ignoring me, or having me chase her for twenty minutes before I can get her back on the lead (after calling her repeatedly) then that will become her “recall” behaviour – and that is not what I want!

What about you – is recall important for your dog(s)? Do you have a special way of teaching it?

Are You Bribing Your Dog?

There seems to be a fallacy in the world of dog training, and indeed even outside of the world of dog training, and dogs in general.

I’ve had knowing looks on the street, overheard strangers commenting at the beach or lake, had comments directed towards me in person and online, even my mother has (once again!) chided me for my seemingly “poor choices”.

If you train your dog with treats, you’re bribing her.

Bribing – Craige Moore

There I said it.

Anyone who’s anyone knows that all dogs love and respect all humans, and will do as we say because it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside when they make us happy by doing as they’re told; so it follows that anyone who’s anyone also knows that dogs don’t need treats, or any form of reward, for working for humans. And if you choose to use treats, you’re bribing your dog to do whatever it is you want him to do, because he wont do it out of “love and respect”, or for the joy it brings him in knowing you’re happy with him, he’ll only do it for the food in your hand.

Clearly, all the people making such comments are amazing, wonderful even. They may have spent their whole life working, but they have never once taken a penny – or anything else – in recompense; or if they have they’ve given it all away again.

They have no need of reward or recognition from their employer (or customers, if they’re self-employed), they do the work because they like the fuzzy warm feeling it gives them to help others, and that’s all the payment they need.

Oh, wait…

That’s not true.

While some people can, and do, volunteer their time; the majority of people in gainful employment need to take home a pay cheque every month (heck, even people who are not in gainful employment still have to find a way to get the money they need!).

I don’t know about you, but if my employer decided to stop paying for my time I’d certainly be looking for another job – let’s face it, for humans, money is a very powerful secondary reinforcer.

Money gives us roofs over our heads, various methods of travel, the ability to buy food, books, clothes, music, tickets to the cinema, theatre, or concerts, and even the ability to have and appropriately care for our animals.

Animals see no value in money (aside from the ones who may see value in eating it). They tend not to have pockets to keep it in, or places to keep a lot of it safe, and they don’t have bills to pay, so money as a form of payment is as meaningless to them as hotdog slices as a form of payment is to you and I.

But just because they don’t see value in money doesn’t mean they don’t see value in being “paid”.

Especially when training new behaviours, your dog (or human, horse, goat, lamb, cow, chicken…or any animal) needs paid. They need to feel value in their work (learning), and this value comes from rewards – not only food and toys, but also other things they enjoy doing – digging, barking, running around, sniffing…whatever floats their boat.

These rewards do a number of things: * firstly they help the animal to learn that the rewarded behaviour is worth repeating;
* it adds “money to the bank” for the behaviour, meaning that at some future time when you need to ask for the behaviour and only have dry, biscuit treats (or, worse, nothing at all) your dog is more likely to do as you ask, and not mind too much that you didn’t have some liver or a favourite tug toy handy (however, after this type of situation it would be worth “refreshing” the behaviour in your dog’s mind – and increasing your “bank balance” – by training the behaviour with one or more of your dog’s desired rewards, especially if you made a large withdrawal – such as recalling your dog away from unexpected livestock or wild animals;
* additionally, training using the rewards your dog wants (rather than the ones you think he should want) also has the added bonus of teaching your dog that you’re worth listening to;
* and it’s great for building a strong relationship with your dog.

Looking at that list, I wonder why we aren’t all training with rewards. For me, it all comes back to working: I want my dog to want to be with me, and to not only want to interact with me; but to enjoy interacting with me – whether we’re playing tug, or whether I’m training a drop on recall.

It pains me to see a dog who wants to be nowhere near his human, after all, dogs are social creatures and should have the strongest bond with their ‘family’; but to think that some people actively dislike despise “treat training”, well…I don’t want to think about what they do to their dog in the name of training

Crating – A Life Skill

Crating is one of those things that divides people.  Some people say it’s wrong, some people say it’s necessary; some people call them cages, and use them only for house-training their puppy, some people call them crates, kennels, or dens, and use them throughout their dog’s life.

I saw a comment from someone recently who refused to use a crate for their dog because he’d been a stray in Romania, and then was in rescue kennels for about 12 months.  I wonder what they think of me, having crate trained Inka even though he spent up to eight months of his life in a shed full of other dogs?

I love crates, I really, really do.  They’re amazingly useful tools (we have five, in a house with two dogs!); and the thing is, regardless of what anyone thinks, or wants to believe, being crated really is a life-skill for dogs.  Whether we’re crating them at home, or other locations (class, trials, and so on); or if they’re spending the day at the vets having surgery or x-rays; or if they’re in kennels while you’re on holiday, or they’ve been picked up as a lost dog; or in even, in some cases, if your dog has a serious accident or injury and needs to be on crate rest for a number of weeks; and the simplest of all – in the car, being comfortable in a crate is important (I know many dogs travel wearing a doggy seatbelt, but the majority travel in the boot, which is basically a giant, moving crate).

A lot of people say that they don’t like crating their dog because their dog doesn’t like it – but given how necessary it is, even if it’s only on the occasional time when your dog’s away from home, then surely you should work on your dog thinking his or her crate is a super-fun, super-awesome place to be.  Lets face it, for many dogs being away from home is stressful enough – why would you want to make it worse by not acquainting your dog with a crate beforehand?

When I thought I might need to send Inka to the vets to have x-rays last year, I was worried how he would be.  He had a crate at home, but wasn’t ecstatic about it, and lets face it – he was going to be in a strange place, that would smell pretty funky too, and getting poked and prodded to boot!

But, thanks to Susan Garrett and Crate Games, I have a dog who loves his crate.  He sleeps in it, relaxes in it, runs at top speed when I ask him to go to it, I really don’t know what I’d do without his “crate love”, he thinks it’s one of the best ever places to be!

Here’s a clip of him & I having a run-through of his Crate Games in the back garden earlier this week.

Of course, there’s more than Crate Games to help you get your dog comfortable in their crate, but I like that Susan finds the dog’s joy so important, and works to make each exercise fun – that’s what I wanted for Inka, not a resigned “oh, OK then”, but a happiness and a sureness in what he was doing, and enjoyment in the activity.

And I can safely say that Inka was fab when he was at the vets for x-rays last year, and he was just as fab when he had his operation earlier this year too.

Over to you, readers: what do you think of crating dogs?  If you do crate your dogs, what’s your preferred method of crate training?

Sheep

‘Name That Sheep’ – Alan Cleaver

Well, this has certainly been an interesting week!  I found out through a friend that a local rescue organisation had hired an electric shock collar trainer for a dog that was chasing sheep.  I posted on my Facebook page that: “Currently I’m feeling shocked and saddened that a local rescue organisation has hired an electric shock collar trainer to “cure” a dog of his sheep chasing.

I feel very sad for the dog, but also lucky that I will never have to resort to such dangerous and barbaric practises – in fact I currently have just the same problem with Starr, she would love to chase sheep if given the opportunity, so she’s not getting it!  Or at least not until I can take her up to my friend’s farm and start teaching her to play with sheep appropriately.”

‘Loweswater Sheep’ – mPascalj

And I mean every word of it. Starr has about 10% of the recall she needs to be off-lead, and about 1% of the recall I’d like her to have before I “let her loose”; and I’d never ever let her off lead anywhere near sheep that she was not working.  Why would I?  If a farmer thinks that a dog is worrying his sheep, he can shoot it dead on the spot, and to many farmers a dog being off lead near his sheep is more than plenty reason to shoot it…

This then brought to mind that a little while ago I was chided in the comments section of another blog.  The post was about dog training and the apparent lies therein.  The reproach came as I’d said I never had and never will use anything except a flat collar & static (i.e. fixed) harness on any of my dogs, and I have no need of telling them “no” (as in “don’t do that”).

I was told I had “so much to learn”, including “the four ways to deal with a behaviour” and “what to do with a confirmed sheep worrier”.  I did have to wonder where the common sense was – if one has a confirmed sheep worrier why would you take it anywhere near sheep?  That’s just asking for trouble, and certainly not something I would ever advise to any future potential client I may have, unless they were under the tutelage of the person who owned the sheep, and they were either a) teaching the dog to herd the sheep; or b) teaching the dog enough that he could leave the sheep entirely alone on one cue.  Note also that both of these would take more than one short lesson!

It was then that I was curtly told that I “know nothing”, and should “go out and learn” as well as “shut up” because my “lack of knowledge won’t impress anyone”.  Hmmm, yes – clearly I lack knowledge because I’m not going to take a dog who may worry livestock near the livestock, nor will I let said dog (or any dog, for that matter) off lead unless they’re working the livestock, and I certainly would never electrocute my dog for showing an interest in livestock!  Oh, how much I must have left to learn to get these sensible ideas out of my head!

‘Sheep’ mPascalj’

I then had someone else telling me that I “don’t live in the real world”, and “would rather keep a dog on lead than give any form of ‘no’ command”.  According to this second commenter, I’m not alone in living in cloud cuckoo land, as I’m an “example of many UK trainers”.  This coming from someone who allowed her dog to kill a sheep (meaning it was off lead and/or under no control around them), and then used an electric shock collar, rather than walk her dog somewhere beside sheep-covered moors.  Of course, she’s otherwise a totally positive trainer, and had “exhausted every other positive option”.

I’m sorry, but I really fail to see what is so bizarre about being responsible enough to keep your dog on lead around sheep that don’t belong to you and/that your dog isn’t actively working; not to mention keeping your dog who you know is, or is likely to be, overtly interested in sheep away from them.  It really isn’t that difficult – I did it for over twelve months while living up the road from a farm; not to mention having done it with my previous two dogs!

It’s common sense – if you don’t want to see your dog shot by a farmer, you need to make sure he or she can see you have control over your dog around livestock and that means using a lead – something that is visible and obvious; not just hoping that you have enough verbal control over your dog that you can call your dog away in the split second before the farmer reaches for their gun…

‘Sheep’ – mPascalj

 

Vet Visits

I was going to post something else today, but was so annoyed livid on Tuesday evening (and most of the day Wednesday!) I decided to write and post this instead.

So Inka and I were sat in the reception/waiting area of our vets before our follow-up appointment about his haematomas.  Inka was stressing a little, so I was doing what I could to help him keep calm, including asking him to do some of the tricks he knows, the Look at That! protocol from Control Unleashed, and a little bit of Pattern Games too, as well as calmly petting him.

The waiting area isn’t very big, so I try to keep us within a small area, though this can be difficult at times, so sometimes I’ll ask Inka to hop up on a chair so he’s off the floor and out of the way; if the practise is very busy, I’ve been known to sit him on my lap, usually for his own sake, but sometimes for mine too.

Inka chilling out after being at the vets

You see, what a lot of people don’t seem to realise is that any of the other animals at the vets could be in a lot of pain, and an animal in pain doesn’t want some stranger’s sweaty hand all over him, nor does he want another dog right in his face.

It’s not as bad for small furries, and even small dogs because they’re usually in carriers or can be easily picked up. But bigger dogs, like Inka, are too big to put in a carrier, and too gangly, heavy and/or too unwieldy to pick up.  Or all three in Inka’s case.

That means that when someone walks in and has little to no control of their dog, he or she is almost immediately bouncing on the other dog’s heads, without even a basic show of politeness from the owner to ask if your dog is friendly.  Not forgetting, of course, the plethora of people who start petting and/or talking to your dog without first stopping to consider that even if your dog isn’t in pain, he’s likely to be quite stressed out just by virtue of being at the vets.

All in all, other people often do not make vet visits easy.  This is not helped by the fact that when you ask someone to remove their dog from your dog’s face, or their hand from his person they often don’t.

At all.

Some might ask why (and then ignore your response as well as the original request), some might say “oh, but he likes it” (I’m sorry, can really you not see the huge stress signals he’s telegraphing to you about how uncomfortable he is right now??!), or as the dog owner we contended with on Tuesday evening, they might smile gormlessly at you, while still allowing their dog to harass your, as you tell them your dog’s in pain and is likely to snap – complete with a lack of basic control of their dog and obliviousness while they speak to the receptionist/nurse (yes, the dog was on a flexi lead – thank goodness it didn’t also have a choke chain on!)

Meanwhile, as a responsible owner I’m left trying to separate their dog from Inka, and ensure enough distance is kept that the other dog isn’t pulled back to jump on his head, while the owner continues to discuss politics with fairies, or whatever it is that’s currently occupying their mind and obviously so much more important than their dog and his or her well being.

I’m generally not a nasty person, but between this dog owner as we waited to see the vet, the lady who was very intent on petting Inka as I tried to keep my very obviously stressed dog calm and pay the bill, and the woman with a staffy on a choke chain who moved to sit two feet away from us, and proceeded to strangle the poor dog rather than help keep him out of the way and keep his stress levels down (plus I’m sure she hit the poor dog, though as we’d just left I didn’t actually see it, but it sounded like it) I was ready to hit someone…well, maybe not, but I wanted to at least give them all a good talking to about appropriate human behaviour and their lack of it in that setting.

It’s very simple, all you need to remember is: when at the vets, don’t pet.  Not at all, even a tiny bit on the sly, and certainly do not allow your dog into the face or space of any other dog or human.  Also, it should go without saying (but I have seen it happen, on purpose, recently) keep hold of your dogs lead!  Even if he is “friendly” and “just wants to see” someone else in the waiting room, do not, ever, ever, ever let go of that lead – he may just want to say hi, but he may also be so stressed out of his head that he completely freaks out and bites the person instead, and while there are a lot of dog owners that would recognise the difference, I’ve seen many more that wouldn’t.

Thankfully, Inka’s preferred method of dealing with stressful situations shit clueless humans try to put him through is to flee, and even when he couldn’t really flee as he was on lead and in a small area, I would put money on the fact that he wouldn’t bite, unless he was seriously provoked – which, of course, I wouldn’t let happen.  He might threaten it, and on Tuesday, I wouldn’t have blamed him one bit.  And I probably wouldn’t have held back if someone had made a comment about him being aggressive, but I managed the situation so that nothing too bad happened, and then after we got home, Inka got to play in the sudden downpour of rain.  I still felt bad for what he’d been through though.

As for Inka’s ears, we’re to finish all of his pills, cream, and drops and see how he is from there.

Growling

I said in my last post that I was grumbled at when I tried looking at Inka’s sore ear last week.

I was happy that Inka growled at me, not only because it let me know how much his ear hurt (i.e. he needed vet visit that evening, rather than leaving it for a day or so to see if the swelling was going to subside); but also because it gave me another opportunity to let Inka know that I listen to him and respect his needs.

Good boy Inka for growling!

He growled, I stopped touching his ear.  I apologised.  I petted him.  I asked him to sit, and compared the external properties of his sore ear to his normal ear.  I thanked him, petted him again, and called the vets.

That was it.

No big worry about Inka thinking he’s “pack leader”, or “top dog” because I let him growl at me; and no thinking about how I might wrest this title from him.  He’s no more leader than I am (though I suspect that some days he might like to lead his “baby sister” down a forest track and leave her there).

Growling isn’t his way, or indeed any dogs way, of trying to “dominate” someone or something.  Growling is communication, and in this case Inka was saying “oww, that hurts”.

What sort of person would I be if I hadn’t listened to him, and kept looking at his ear – aside from, potentially, a person with a bite?

As it happened, once he knew I understood his ear was sore, he was OK with it being gently handled, even by the vet – who’s new by Inka’s standards, having only seen him once before – and who made him stand on the rather wobbly examination table.  If he didn’t trust me, I don’t believe he would have let me, or anyone else, look at his ear; so I’m glad that we were both able to show trust in each other.

There are , or at least seem to be, many people who believe “nice” dogs don’t growl, or that their dog growling means she’s now a “bad dog”, and must either be shown he’s not the “pack leader”, or somehow told off for this unacceptable behaviour.  This I find quite an odd belief, as dogs growl in many situations – when they’re unhappy, sore, when they’re worried a possession is going to get taken from them, or that they might get hurt, and of course they growl when they’re playing too.

People need to learn to listen to their dog, especially when she’s being so obvious in her communication.  What about you, has your dog ever growled to communicate with you?  What did she want to tell you?