Friday, 16 October 2020

Short and Sweet Spells Success!

Finn's park adventures with me have not happened for a few weeks now - even after the kids went back to school, the park we were going to in the next town was still busy the last few times I tried to go. I see no point in pushing things if there are more people there then I'm happy with and I definitely will not attempt it if I am unable to park somewhere I can get back to the car and Finn inside quickly if I want to beat a hasty retreat. Today was the first time I tried going there in a while that was quiet enough to try it.

We parked up and I got him out. It was a bit like flying a collie shaped kite for the first couple of minutes as he was all about getting to and exploring the SMELLS, so I gave him some leeway and just went with him to in the beginning. As soon as he broke off from sniffing and checked in with me, I rewarded him and changed direction to see how engaged he was with me. I was very happy to discover I had a lovely engaged dog trotting next to me on a loose lead and focused on me.

Having a bit of a nose at some people the other side of the park

What really thrilled me was how he behaved when we saw another dog. It's been a while and he was a little excited so I was not surprised that he spotted the dog from a way off and focused on it immediately. Ears right forward, tail moving up, he took a step in that direction and showed every sign that he was about to fixate and potentially growl. I threw out a quick 'this way' and that was all it took - he came straight back to focusing on me and off we went. We spent a couple of minutes working on quick direction changes - he looked back at the other dog once but that was all. After that, he had some sprinkles and we spent a little time wandering around, letting him go where he wanted on condition that the lead remained loose.

We'd been there for about 10 minutes total when I saw another car pull in and could see the driver inside watching us and smiling and talking to someone/something in the seat behind her. Having a gut feeling I knew what was coming, I steered us straight back towards my car and, sure enough, once I'd got Finn safely inside and turned back to look, there was a little dog on a flexi-lead heading towards me at high speed 'to play'. Never ignore a gut feeling about when to retreat is advice that has not let me down yet!

We had managed 10 minutes of quality time at the park - we saw people, both adults and little children (they required a bit of a stare to make sure they were staying well away but that was all), bikes, cars, people walking dogs along the opposite side of the road that runs alongside the park - some distance away but it still counts! - and the dog he spotted actually in the park. Even if the woman had not turned up and I had not felt uneasy, I would have called it quits soon after anyway, because I have always found that short sessions work much better for training and working on reactivity.

With short sessions it is much easier to set things up so that success is more likely. Short and fun sessions stop either you or your dog becoming stale and bored or frustrated. At home I have a treat pouch with clicker in the pocket sitting on the dresser that's in my sitting room. It's the middle of the house, and is the perfect place to grab the treat bag to train inside or go out to the garden, and means I'll often do a 2 minute session multiple times a day perhaps. Mix up some things he knows how to do easily with things he finds more difficult or new things, falling back on the easier things if he struggles or gets frustrated. The result is a dog who jumps up if he hears the treat bag moving, or the sound the wrist strap on my clicker makes, and positions himself in front of me with his tail wagging, ears pricked and his eyes fixed on my face, wondering what fun things we're going to do in the next few minutes. Who wouldn't want to spend time on multiple training sessions when just letting him know we're going to train gets that kind of reaction?

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There is a new line available in the Blue Merle Minion Teespring store. We know that our reactive dogs are not bad dogs but are scared and anxious. They need us to be their voices. 'Reactive Dogs Are Not Bad Dogs!'

I've mentioned before that I have a Ko-fi page where anyone that feels they'd like to show some appreciation if anything I've written has helped them can buy me a coffee. Added to that now is a Ko-fi Shop where ebook versions of my books are now available.

I rarely say that I am proud of myself. As anyone that has read my book 'Conquering Confidence' or taken the workshop 'Overcoming Impostor Syndrome' that I created for Canine Principles knows, I suffer from impostor syndrome. This time however I can actually admit to myself that I have accomplished something, as I have successfully completed the level 5 (equivalent to HND level study) Canine Behaviour Professional Diploma from Canine Principles.

Onwards and upwards now as I want to get writing on the next book and I have a level 6 canine behaviour expert course lined up ready to begin after a short study break!

Thursday, 8 October 2020

What a Chronic Condition Has Taught Me About Anxious Dogs

 I talk a lot on this blog about Finn and my much missed old boy Red - they are the reason the blog started, after all - but I rarely talk much about me. The dogs are far more interesting and much more photogenic. šŸ˜‚ For a change today I am going to talk a little about me in relation to something dog related, so it's still relevant!

Tuesday, 15 September 2020

Repost and update: The Emotional Toll of a Reactive Dog

 ** This is the most widely read post I have ever written. Nearly 2 years on, I still get messages from people who have come across it for the first time, and it still gets me every single time, that email that says how great it feels to realise they aren't alone and that there are other people that understand. Here's the complete text of the article - I'll add some more thoughts at the bottom. šŸ˜Š

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Get a dog, they said. It'll be fun, they said. Think of all those great, social dog walks, they said.


So why am I stumbling around a field at 4.30 in the morning?

I've had a number of dogs over the years. All have had their distinct personalities, but all were fairly easy going, and liked meeting people and going to places. Owning a dog meant that people would sometimes smile as we walked past them in the street, children would come up and ask if they could fuss them, and our dogs loved all of the attention.

And then along came Finn.

Friday, 4 September 2020

The Pros of Practicing Positive Reinforcement

Why should we use positive reinforcement when working with our dogs?

So what is positive reinforcement? The thing that comes to mind for most people is food rewards. These are a form of positive reinforcement, but to begin to understand what makes positive reinforcement the best option for our dogs’ learning process, we need to understand a little bit about learning theory. Anything that will increase the chances of a dog repeating a behaviour is known as a reinforcer. Reinforcing the behaviour means that the dog is more likely to do it again. There are two kinds of reinforcement – negative and positive.

Monday, 17 August 2020

Finding a path past fear

 As humans, we know about the extent to which fear can be subjective. Some people like that feeling, being a little bit scared in certain circumstances, which explains the existence of horror novels and films, and scary games. Others find the idea of voluntarily exposing themselves to something scary as utter insanity. Still others find difficulties in everyday living because they have a phobia of something most people regard as commonplace. I fall into that final category – I describe it in brief as a phobia of dolls, but it actually extends to what is known as automatonophobia, which is a fear of anything that imitates the human form. This can make clothes shopping ‘interesting’ as, while I’m usually ok with most store mannequins, some provoke a big old ‘NOPE’.

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Why understanding is critical

I often talk about how important understanding body language is, to all levels of people that may be around dogs or interact with them in any way, as a canine professional, rescue volunteer, fosterer or dog owner/guardian. It has become something I no longer really think about saying but just add in to posts and articles, because it is such an obvious part of helping people help dogs, showing them that they need understanding before anything can change or progress. A few evenings ago though, the importance was brought back to me sharply, in a very personal way.

Thursday, 2 July 2020

“I’m not going to BRIBE my dogs to do as I tell them!”


This is along the lines of my absolute most hated comments. This idea that dogs should follow our commands, just because. As for the respect thing? Don’t even get me started! I don’t want my dog to have to ‘respect’ me. I’m not looking for an underling, or someone to look up to me. What I want from my dogs is for them to enjoy my company, to want to be with me, and to want to cooperate with me.