Monday, 21 February 2011

Tellings off

When I was a young teenager I once got into a fight with my younger brother and our cousin, who were both a little younger than me. They'd been teasing me for a long time, and I'd snapped and hit my cousin. My dad was FURIOUS and told me that they could push me under a bus and I still could not hit them. So of course, being kids, they just teased and taunted me all the more, especially when around traffic, as now they had permission from my dad (status by association) to do what they liked to me as I was not allowed to retaliate.

Did this decrease the chance that they would get hurt by me? No. It increased it. As I was only a child myself and hadn't learned self-control. So I just hit them all the more to try to make them stop - no-one was protecting me (in fact the protection was going to the boys who were ganging up and bullying me) I had to do it myself. Eventually, the boys were crying, then I got walloped by my dad and I was crying too. We all got hurt.

Why do I tell you something that makes me sound unpleasant and maybe a bit of a thug? Chances are we've all got into fights with our families when we were kids and you'll understand. But why is it related to dogs? I'll tell you.

When I look after puppies, they get a lot of leeway from my dogs, and the dogs I walk, as they're all good-natured nice family pets. But they all have different temperaments and different levels of tolerance of being messed about by puppies.

One day I was walking with an older puppy, just on the cusp of adolescence when the tolerance of adult dogs can sometimes drop. He was bouncing around, happy to be alive and in the great outdoors, wanting to play, like every other puppy. He'd bounce off the other dogs every now and then, trying to get a game going. None were really interested as they just wanted to do their own thing, and dogs walking with me never know how long they are going to be out so they like to pace themselves just in case.

So eventually one of them had enough, and told the puppy off. He ran off to another dog, who also told him off, which started a bit of noise and nonsense with a couple of the dogs running after the pup and barking at him - really telling him off, but not hurting him. He ran to me for protection, as that's what I always teach the dogs. If you're worried or don't like what's going on - come to me. Only when the pup got to me this time...

I told him off too.

Why would I do such a wicked thing? Because I don't want to give the puppy status by association. He has to learn that he can't just insist on a game. He can't go up to other dogs and bounce all over them. He can ask for a game, and lots of dogs will say yeah, great! But when they say no, he has to accept that or face sometimes unpleasant consequences. Of course, being a pup who did what he was supposed to by coming to me I didn't tell him off badly. I simply ignored him. Wouldn't look at him, wouldn't touch him, wouldn't talk to him. I don't want him to think coming to me is a bad thing. I just wanted him to know that I wasn't happy with him either.

This protects ALL dogs, as this puppy is learning that when he's told no he should gracefully accept it. The other dogs know they do not have to bite or fight because they are allowed to tell another dog to leave them alone. Why didn't I stop the puppy bouncing on them in the first place? Because it wasn't excessive, he just hadn't accepted the no the first time. When pups are really excessive and not taking no for an answer time after time after time no matter what, I will take steps to prevent them being a bother, usually keeping them on a lead until they've calmed down. But in cases like this it is beneficial to allow the puppy to learn something without being traumatised by bouncing up to a dog who's had one too many dogs bounce on him and get bitten.

Two minutes after that I did a successful recall with the puppy which meant I could shower him with love and affection. By leaving it two minutes, pup didn't associate the fuss and love with the scolding from the other dogs, nor my cold reaction. He just knew he'd done A Good Thing and Aunty Was Pleased.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

I'd like to tell you a story of a pond

The Dog Pond. Some of you may remember seeing such lovely photos as:

Summer time, the water level is low, there's a little bit of beach for the dogs to investigate, those that haven't learned the joys of swimming yet like to have a paddle.

Today the dog pond is two or even three feet higher than in the summer, all that melting snow and ice, the recent rain, it looks like this:

Very full, no beaches! Cato's on a mission to play with Bobbi.

Ooops, overshot the bank and fell in! He's dragging himself out, as usual Fred has to check things out to see if anything needs a little help.

It's not deterred him though, he still wants to play!

but wait! What's that going on behind Bobbi??

Scamp's falling in!! He must have thought it was shallow enough to paddle in. He's never swam before, only paddled, and he's wearing a fleece coat and harness! Oh no! What's going to happen? His head has gone right under (ears float, that's quite interesting...) It's such a deep pond for such a short dog. Are those little legs capable of getting him back to shore? Will his wet coat and harness drag him under and weigh him down? I don't fancy getting in there on a cold morning, that's for sure, but if a rescue is needed, it'll have to be done.

Oh no, panic over. He can swim.

I did have to drag him onto shore, but at least he got back by himself.

And thanks to his fleece coat, he wasn't that badly soaked so didn't get cold on the way back to the van.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

New Dog Training Techniques - back from India

I'm hoping to write a few blogs about India itself, about the people, what I thought about how they live, their dogs, both street and owned.

Here's some of the dog training.

Training Sheba the Saluki to do the Guide Dog task. 

At the test on the last day (blindfolded) I did walk into one barrel, but with more time to train I'm sure Sheba would have carefully led me round every obstacle! She also alerted and led me to the doorbell at the end of the task - a Hearing Dog task.

Training Sheba to detect tobacco

Some of the dogs were learning to detect explosives, tobacco isn't quite as glamorous but apparently it's hard to get the scent of drugs through customs. No idea why... For this section we were being trained by Jane Sharp, who trains the detection dogs at Heathrow Airport.

The lecture hall. I'm hidding behind other students, but see if you can spot me!

All the lectures were outside. This was where we had our lectures about dog behaviour and learned the techniques we then used on the dogs. 

Tracking session

We learned 'search and rescue' style tracking, teaching the dogs to use not just the track itself, but sight, sound and the air currents. Helped along by us! So we learned a little bit about following tracks as well, and if  wespotted the item, person or sausages that counted, it wasn't the dog working on their own. I'm told this is properly called 'trailing' and is great fun to do, as you really are working in harmony with your dog.

The great thing about all of these activities is that they are all done on the lead. So any dog can do it,, it doesn't matter if they pull on the lead, or are not reliable off the lead. Plus it can be done in areas dogs may not be allowed off the lead. I'd like to use my new skills to make training fun again. So no  endlessly marching up and  down a training hall in a line with a group of other dogs.

Dogs can be useful again - the Hearing Dog task for instance - ever mislaid your mobile phone? You ring it, but still can't quite place it, which coat or bag has it been left in? Or maybe you dropped it, you know roughly where, but can't see it. Your dog can take you straight there.

If you're walking along having a chat with friends, have you ever 'nearly' walked into a lampost or a tree? Your dog can make sure those near misses never happen, and once they've learned to lead you around obstacles, the bond between you strengthens and you can use this to help stop pulling on the lead.

And after the more standard exercises are done, what's more fun than teaming up with some other dog lovers, splitting into two teams, and using your dogs to help find a person who is 'lost' or better yet, a trail with all the makings of a picnic on it! If your dog doesn't find something you may find you have everything to make a cuppa but the teabag, but that's where the fun is. Maybe the other team found the tea, but not the milk.

Once our dogs have learned to locate lost items, we will never lose our keys again! Anything that's dropped can be found again, and dogs regain their lost purpose. Many of our breeds today were bred to work - while some dogs have a working life and there are plenty of dog sports to try out there, they all need investment in money and time, especially if you want to compete seriously. 

Our dogs were finding 'lost' people very, very quickly, after very few sessions they were leading us around on a night track (completely dark, no street lights in the mountains of Pune - I've never, ever seen so many stars), successfully finding the spoons our trainers had left for us. I think we missed one, but on 'test day' we found enough letters to make the word TEAMWORK.
Some of these skills are very new to me, so I'm practising them with  my dogs, but if you fancy a short session, we can meet in the park and learn together -the more dogs I do this with the more I will learn. Fees, coffee if it's a chilly day, diet coke if it's a warm day! If I can teach a 7 month old Saluki, your dog can learn this too. I also worked with ten year old Sarah, so there really is no limit on the dogs who can learn these skills.

I have two more course this year, one in March repeating some of the trailing work with one of my dogs, then one in May repeating some of the detection work, with another of my dogs. I've been told I don't need to do these after being in India, but I'd like the refresher on the techniques and of course I get to work with my dogs under expert supervision.