Writing this has felt organic and super reinforcing. I had the idea that maybe I could use my experiences to provide some people with a little help when struggling with their dogs; I hadn’t anticipated the warmth, support and surge of human relief that came back or the international community of animal lovers and trainers going through the same things, all represented in the blog responses.
In this chapter – having previously covered some of Quillan’s adolescent behaviour and what I’ve been doing to address it, I’d like to write about the stage we are at currently; how to gently steer through management, to improvement and having the balance of good days far outweigh the bad.
From trainer Tess Erngren I heard the phrase “play dates with play mates” and I have used its implied strategy with success. Observing my own mentor, John McGuigan, employ BAT style technique with hundreds of dogs and seeing significant improvement inside of hour long client sessions has invaluably augmented my own approach.
Thoughtfully, set yourself up with the right equipment and environment. If you can access a decent facility, a private garden, local secure field or dog run try to organise supervised, controlled meetings with “safe dogs” where you can reinforce calm behaviour, gradually reducing distance in approximations depending on their responses. I always start with Quillan on a line. Depending on the other dog, they can be leashed or free and always able to self determine the level of interaction they are comfortable with. This has the benefit not only of, ethically, not subjecting the ‘stooge dog” to unacceptable behaviour but establishes in Quillan’s experience that softer body language and polite greetings yield a greater choice of interaction. He learns “rudeness” will result in the removal of his particular reinforcer here.
Repetitions of this will lead to interactions where you can freely allow appropriate behaviour (even play) and interrupt/block anything else.
Be prepared to take your time here. First meetings may need to be less than a few minutes long and each subsequent interaction kept short enough to allow you success without it wearing thin or letting it “go bad”. My own journey with my friend and colleague, Bruce Whitelaw and his Shiba, Oshi, has entailed many months of careful, thoughtful, small interactions and I learned the hard way not to not rush the process in my enthusiasm. Plan for the long term and as always, be grateful for the thin slices; the little markers of progress in the dog that you know so well make the bigger picture.
Regarding the vital matter of community and support – as well as the obvious benefit of engaging a (well researched) professional Trainer or Behaviourist – online communities and forums can be a fantastic resource. The positive, ones which promote non-aversive training I am part of are supportive, informative and engaging. For the many introverts out there, they offer the added bonus of choice in when and how you interact. “Naughty but Nice”, Caitlin Coberly’s “Dog Training 101”, and Laura Spackman’s wonderful “Canine Principles” page are to name a few groups I have found particularly useful. Remember as you gather resources how important it is to assess your personal code of ethics and how their stances align with your own in terms of advice being traded and protocols you are preparing to implement.
The overall feeling I had been hoping to leave you with in this chapter was that your perseverance, patience, kindess and sense of humour at times will lead you and your dog both back to a place you can enjoy life together again.
Unexpectedly and unlooked for I have been gifted much more in return; messages from people who had been having a bad day/week/month or more felt bolstered to continue training kindly with their animal, empowered by the simple but beautiful connection from other people going through similar times and seeing the other side of it in their results and relationships.
This confirmed for me the belief I am amongst good people, who are looking to do the best they can each day for their dogs. Thank you all very much.