Shiba Samwell’s Story Part 2 – The Introductions

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I was starting to get excited now, but I was also nervous about how the introductions would go.

We agreed to meet at a park in Glasgow; a neutral territory. I often talk to clients about adopting confident posture when handling their dogs, so I’m well aware of how that should look. But I can also empathise with them as it’s easier said than done! So this was my time to practice as I preach.

I entered the park and walked along the path, Oshi and Yuna by my side on their long lines. They were very relaxed, taking in the new environment. It was our first time here so lots for them to see, hear, sniff and for Yuna to roll in!

We turned a corner and there he was…this beautiful white Shiba. I was smitten immediately. I kept my distance and slowly made my way towards him, allowing Oshi and Yuna to decide if/when/how they wanted to interact.

I could feel myself tense up a little at this point and Jessie, also a trainer, noticed this immediately. “Drop the leads”, she said. I hesitated. This is not common practice or something I would recommend unless you are very fluent in reading dog body language and have a wealth of knowledge and experience in dog behaviour.

I made a calculated decision to drop the leads based on the information available to me from observing all three dogs. I was also ready to intervene if necessary.

Yuna said a quick, polite hello and decided to go about her own business and leave the boys to talk.

The boys approached each other a little more cautiously. In proper textbook dog-dog interaction fashion, they approached each other in an arc shape and subtly sniffed each others’ rear. They then circled around for a face to face sniff. I won’t lie, my heart was in my mouth by this point, even though the interaction was lovey so far.

Within around 10 seconds, Oshi bowed and his high-set, sickle tail slowly began to wag. This is his “chase me, mate” display. I started to breathe again and the boys went off for a game of chase. I was thrilled.

The following hour and a half was filled with lots of lovely interactions between all three dogs, but particularly between Oshi and Samwell. The play was very balanced with lots of role reversal and frequent breaks. It was beautiful to watch and very “textbook”.

So, it was decided: Samwell would become a Whitelaw!

Next time…bringing Samwell home.

A Question of Ethics

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A question of ethics.

He’s cold. It’s 18 degrees (64F). Who gets decide whether he’s cold or not? Him or me?

I just took him for a bath with hot soapy water. He had been out playing in the fields and ran through a manure pile so I took him for a bath at The Wizard of Paws. I had a couple of errands to do so he was in the car for an hour or so afterwards.

When we got home, he lay up on my bed and curled into a ball. I felt his ears and they were cold. His hair is so short and he has so little fat that he gets cold quickly so I wrapped him up in his blanket and let him sleep.

If he gets to decide if he’s cold or not, why do I get to decide what is painful or unpleasant in his training. If the consquences of his actions are painful or unpleasant and he either wants to avoid or escape that consequence, who am I to say it is not unpleasant.

If it’s right that I supply the blanket when he’s cold, is it not right that I do what I can to make his training more comfortable too?

Logan – part 17 – one more round

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As some of you may know, I do Brazilian Jiu Jitsu as my sport (which is why my forearms are as awesomely powerful as they are!) (Joke! before the haters have a heart attack). We spar for the last 30 minutes of the class and we usually do 5 five minute rounds. I am always looking for more. “One more round!” is the battle cry. It’s not always a good idea. One more round when you are dog tired can lead to injury. Self knowledge is crucial. The less experienced players become more aroused, tempers can get frayed and people get hurt.

This brings me on to tonight’s arousal control session with Logan. His ability to control his arousal levels is the single biggest things which will change his life for the better. My suspicion is that beofre he came here there was plenty of going up and not enough coming down. When he is over aroused, he will pull on the lead like a train. He won’t let go of toys readily, moves frantically, snatches the toys from your hands and can’t listen when you ask him to do things. When he is really over aroused, it takes him an age to calm down.

Having said that, with the advice from several excellent trainers I can talk to about him, we are making huge in roads.

This evening, we played tug under control. It was the best he’d been. Loads of beautiful behaviours, letting go of the tug immediately when asked, accepting food and affection during the session, lowering his arousal levels quickly so we could engage in another round.

We did about 4 rounds of this over about 20 minutes. Tug-let go-move with me-tug-let go-accept food and petting and so on. All was well. Until I got a bit greedy and asked for one more round. Up he went. We did manage to get back to the house without (major) mishap so all good. I’ll stop at four rounds for the forseeable. Operant conditioning in action!

What is aversive to you? To your dog? Who decides?

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What is aversive to you?
 
Being physically controlled without having the ability to move?
Having a black belt’s full weight on you so you find it hard to breath?
Being choked like I am in the picture?
Having your neck cranked?
Having a grown man who is sweating heavily lie on top of you?
Having that sweat drip into your face, or worse, your mouth?
Having a sweaty armpit or groin in your face?
Having someone elses leg hair (I hope) in your mouth?
Being choked almost to the point of passing out?
 
All of these things happen regularly in the sport which I do as a hobby. I’ve experienced them all. I keep going back several times a week.
 
Would you subject yourself to this? Does any of this appeal to you?
This evening at class I got caught in a tight triangle choke (search for it on YouTube). I fought through it despite nearly passing out and was able to escape from it. The relief from the pressure was welcome but I’d rather not have been caught in it in the first place.
Is the application of pressure in dog training any different?
 
It’s up to each of us to decide what is pleasant and unpleasant.
 
Your dog gets to decide as well.
 
More to come.

Logan – part 16 – putting the pieces together

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If you have been following this blog, you will have been reading that I am teaching (or doing my best to teach) Logan the necessary skills for his life with me. So often with these types of dogs, people awake their natural arousal without teaching the dog how to control it and when to use it.

Loads has happened in the last week. One of the things he we have found difficult is being able to get him back into the car at the end of a play session with toys if he doesn’t have the toy in his mouth. The reason why I want this from him is that he then fixates on the toy and cannot calm himself down or relax after the play session. Think of it with ourselves or with our young kids. If we have been doing a physically activity which is highly charged, we need to come down at the end and relax. This gets our bodies back into a physiologally normal condition and allows us to get the benefits of the cortisol produced during that activity. We are teaching our bodies and minds how to respond in a positve way to stress so that we are able to more readily handle stressful situations when they occur.

In order to work on this, we have been doing some high energy work such as tug, or chasing the ball or kong and then working on settling after this. We throw the kong a few times, then take a little bit of time to calm down. This is a real balancing act as not enough of the tug or chase doesn’t satisfy him, which means he then gets frustrated and wound up during the cool down period. The alternative to that is we play more tug and chase which satisfies him, then it takes longer to cool down. When we first started working on this he was so wound up that he actually couldn’t switch off afterwards. This has taking a lot of observation from me, loads of getting to know him learning his body language and infinite patience from Logan of my mistakes. 7 months in the making with practice 3 or 4 times a week.

Like anything in training, we required a plan. We went to the rugby fields where he has only been a few times ( no string association with play at that location) and I threw out his 6 kongs into the grass. I decided to do some searching activity the first time rather than tug or chase as this causes less arousal. We did three round of 6 and I put the kongs back in the car. I then gave him a few treats (there was a time where he have refused food under these conditions) and I did a little engagement work with his using food as the reinforcer. After 10 minutes of this, I lead him back to the car, tossed a treat in the crate and he jumped in behind it. Much success.

At the weekend, we took part in Craig Ogilvie’s interactive play workshop which is all about excited play with you and your dog. Loads of tug games and running around so very high arousal from Logan. Under Craig’s tuition, Logan was able to bring himself back down to earth afterwards, take food and then jump back into the car. Result!

Notes for progress

  1. How long will it take him to switch off from the toy at the end of the game?
  2. How long will it take him to accept food after the activity has ended?
  3. How long will I be able to work him in a calmer state where he is able to listen to me?
  4. How quickly will he be able to go on to do another activity, such as heel work or accepting petting?
  5. How long do we need to do the second calmer activity before he will readily go back into the car?
  6. Working towards jumping back into the car without a food lure.

Loads to work on over the next few months.

The video clip show is Watson showing the skill set which Logan lacks at the moment. She is able to easily go from one activity to the next and seems to be doing so happily.

Until next time.

Peace and love.

Logan – part 15 – golden moments

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This blog was going to be a different topic from what I  written as I started it yesterday. I’ll write that blog in the next part but I had a little golden moment with Logan this evening, about 20 minutes ago. I had taken him down to the retail park car park where it’s quiet in the evening and I can do some work with him (looking our for traffic cones of course).

The rain had just started but it was moving in behind us, the sky was really dark grey and the sun was out at the same time. A perfect rainblow arced across the sky, the wind picked up a little and I only had a T-shirt and jeans on so it was not too comfortable (mere mortals would have been cold under these conditions, you know who you are).

As you know from my writing, I am not prone to romanticising but the atmosphere and the conditions were quite lovely and I was watching my dog. After we had finished working, I threw some treats into the grass so he could search for them to ease him out of his training session as he has difficulty switching from one task to the next. It has been a huge task to get him to relax when out doors as he associates grassy areas with playing. He was on the long line and had started to run about, the way dogs should do when relaxed. This is maybe only second tme I have ever seen him doing this outwith the garden when he is playing with Dr Watson and they are chasing and wrestling.

It dawned on me how far we have come together since December and how a small triumph like this dog running around in a relaxed manner, in a way most owners take for granted, can make you feel overjoyed.

Celebrate these small moments with your dog. Watch them just being a dog, either mooching round the garden or running around an open space just being a dog. Don’t take them for granted because we don’t all experience them.

A good day today, I’m happy for him. Good dog Logan, good dog!

Never work with Dogs or Children

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My daughter Abigail first met Quillan when he was only a few months
old. He was a little bundle of fur and fun – Abigail adored him and
helping Gillian teach him tricks. In fact she loved all dogs,
constantly asking if she could have one and always wanting to say
hello to the ones in the neighbourhood that we knew.

Six or seven months ago, a dog got over excited and jumped on Abigail,
catching her badly on her hip with his claws. She got a huge fright
and from that point on wouldn’t go near any dogs, even ones she’d
known for years. She would hide behind me whenever we saw a dog on the
street while clutching my hand and would ask if we could cross the
road to avoid them; something which was particularly difficult to
manage on the school run where many parents get the morning walk in
while taking their kids to school.

She was quite simply terrified and nothing I tried helped (not even my
brother’s hypnotism skills which she instead found hilarious).

For the last few months Gillian has worked with Abigail and Quillan to
identify the different behaviours dogs exhibit when they are happy,
anxious, settled, alert etc and crucially how our own body language,
pitch, tone and actions affect them. Gillian’s own efforts and journey
as a Dog Trainer and her direct handling of Quillan has developed in
her a wealth knowledge of what makes a dog tick and how to identify
and manage sensitive or difficult situations. She also has helped my
family understand that it’s not just a dog’s behaviour that needs to
be assessed and managed but ours in at least equal measure.

Thanks to the help, training and support Gillian has given to both
myself and Abigail we have had a breakthrough. For the first time in
months Abigail was completely comfortable in the presence of a dog.
She walked with Quillan and myself for over an hour and listened
intently as she was given instructions and enjoyed giving him treats
when he had responded to her requests to sit, lie down, “speak” etc.
The difference is amazing and I can’t thank Gillian enough for her
support with my beautiful daughter in restoring her confidence.