Dog training

Difficult times ahead

Posted on

Chili’s fear of vets got stronger (no wonder as I didn’t have any time to desensitise her) and now when I’m finally about to start working on it she has an ear problem again. It’s really bad luck. Changing the way she feels about vets will take really long time either way and now on top of this we will have to take her to the vet to get her ears checked first. I made an appointment on a day when a female doctor is working and in early morning so there are not too many people and Jochem can come with me. Hopefully she will feel more secure with both of us there. We will carry her in the exam room as last time she didn’t want to walk in there and I don’t want to struggle with her more than necessary.

Once this visit is done I will start behaviour modification plan based mostly on systematic desensitisation and counterconditioning. As she is generally anxious (in novel situations) I will have to start with working on our way to the clinic. We have to walk there (she is afraid of cars and we don’t have one, and she gets over aroused in trams) and when she has a worse day she will become anxious already on the way. So I will have to make sure that we are working under the threshold which means before she starts to show any signs of stress or anxiety. The next step will be getting her feeling relaxed by the door of the clinic (as she refused to go inside last time), then the reception area (slowly each part will be worked on separately) and eventually the exam room but I think it will take at least two months before we get to that stage. It will all depend on Chili and how she is dealing with it.

The important part is to not get her too aroused and stressed as in this situation her learning will be compromised. Additionally if she has other stressful experiences they might add up together  and make her react faster and stronger than she normally would. It’s called trigger stacking. It is really easy to understand from a human perspective. Last week I was flying back from the UK, I didn’t get enough sleep (one trigger), I lost my phone (another trigger) I could not fin my boyfriend at the airport (trigger as I was really tired and wanted to go home) by that time I was ready to explode even in situations that normally wouldn’t make me feel edgy. The same happens with dogs, and anxious dogs like Chili will be more sensitive to everyday life stressors. (For more info see “Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for dogs and cats” by Karen Overall).



Posted on Updated on

Zafra is a young medium sized female dog that was found on Greek streets and brought to the Netherlands. She is a very kind and sweet dog and looks a bit like a miniature Labrador. When I visited her at home for the first time (to let her get used to me before I walk her) she sat next to my and leaned on me with her whole body. Yesterday I took her for a first walk. She was happy to see me enter the apartment even though she is not used to strangers coming in without her owner. She wears a harness with a leash attached in the front so I asked her to sit in front of me so I can attach the leash without putting my arms around her or leaning over her.
She has a very devoted owner that took her to two training courses already (they are together for 2,5 months only!) so I did ask her to sit in while waiting for the lights and so forth.
They are working on recall with a clicker so I took some nice treats with me and my clicker and we did few repetitions of the recall. She is still very much focused on her surroundings, I was walking her on a long line as she goes off hunting sometimes. I did reward her for looking at me and in general paying attention to me. And at the end of the walk she became more attentive and playful.
I enjoyed our walk a lot, and i think she did too.




Sit and stay, I love it!

Posted on Updated on

I don’t think a dog needs to know many commands in order to function well in a human world, I am a bit lazy on the tricks teaching side. But I do think that there are few commands that make our life with dogs (especially in the city) easier.

One of them is “sit and stay”, we can use it in so many different situations, I love it. I thought about it today because after my morning run with Chili I wanted to buy coffee. We went to a small take away place that is also a bakery. As we walked in I asked Chili to sit and stay, which she did. A girl working at the place told me to watch out because their cat is in the room, and so she was, looking at Chili from behind a table. Chili didn’t see her because she was looking at me. In this situation Chili’s sit and stay was sufficient enough but would it be if she saw the cat? And the cat was creeping closer and closer to the point that she was behind a door few centimetres from Chili. At this moment I took Chili out of the bakery and asked her to sit and wait for me in fron of the door (this is still in our park, and there were no people or dogs around at that time). But this was too difficult for Chili and she did stand up, I got my coffee and the cat stayed inside but it made me think we need to get our stays more bullet proof. And this can be done by a lot of exercise in different situations with different level of difficulty. It is important to remember not to increase all the distractions at once. So if I step away farther than usual I will not increase the time I’m away I will actually make it a bit shorter.

Salma is a lot more advanced in her sit and stay but I will also work with her, there is nothing wrong with continuous learning. And actually a seminar by Ian Dunbar I went to was mostly devoted to working on that sit and stay with a very creative distractions, like playing musical chairs while dogs have to sit 🙂








Chili trying to make new (female) “friends”

Posted on Updated on

Let’s talk about my weird choice for the title. First of all I put information about the gender of Chili’s new social contacts. For a while I was in a camp that believes that it’s silly to pay attention to gender of the dogs. Now even as I type this I think it’s a ridiculous statement. How could gender not play a role? Of course I’m not saying now that female dogs hate other females same goes for the males (I encountered this view). But I am saying that a gender of a dog plays a role in interspecies interactions. And in Chili’s case she doesn’t have female friend yet. She can have proper interactions with other females but I haven’t seen something that I would call friendship or sympathy. It’s more in terms of either Chili being afraid of other female (and she is often picked on by them) or being neutral. Salma on the other hand likes female dogs most of her dear friends were medium sized females. She is not to keen on uncastrated males on the other hand (and Chili loves them!).

So, let’s move to the other part of the title, I put word friends in these “”. I did that because it’s difficult for me to describe what Chili did today in one word. Simply said I think she was trying to have a social interaction with two other dogs but was not going about it too succesfully (whats new? 😉 ).

We’ve met two female dogs, one golden retriever 1,5 years old and a village dog from Greece, 4,5 years old. Chili tried activating the retriever, doing her most annoying high pitched bark. I stopped her when she tried that. Why? Because, retriever female was a very soft and low in aggressiveness, and in my opinion she did send enough signals to Chili telling her she doesn’t want this kind of interaction. I used a word first (“ee”) and when it didn’t worked I took Chili on leash. Every time, I also verbally rewarded her whenever she passed by retriever or looked at her but didn’t bark. She was getting the message, but it took few times.

On the other hand when there was a moment when Chili and the other dog got excited by one of the owners and it turned into a disagreement between them I didn’t interfere. I didn’t even though it was loud and full of growling and showing teeth, but I was confident the other female will not get hurt by Chili, she was stronger and more stable than my monster. And also she responded only as strong as necessary, she didn’t escalate the situation but was stopping Chili.

There were also a lot of calm moments between them, just waling together, getting into the water, drinking, sniffing.

I know there is still a long road ahead of me and Chili, and I can only hope that her social skills will get better and she will get more secure without getting aggressive or becoming a bully.




Why do I always carry treats with me

Posted on Updated on

I always carry treats with me because a) life is unpredictable and b) you never know when a great training opportunity might happen.

I don’t think it is necessary or smart to be always dependent on food during walks but I think it’s good to be prepared to reward a dog for good behavior.

Unpredictable situations:
Just in last few days we had few if those. We had a close encounter with a fox and Chili didn’t even noticed him because I immediately called her to me and asked her to sit, I was rewarding her a lot, I wanted to make sure to keep her full attention as u don’t think it would be safe for her to have a meeting with a fox. And this gave the fox a possibility to walk away without being bothered.
We run into a dog that absolutely hates Chili and I had to quickly put her on the other side of the fence. And while the owner of the other dog tried to call her I was asking Chili to do simple commands to keep her occupied.
Yesterday night we were passing by a huge red cat, and Dutch cats can be very dog aggressive so again I got Chili’s attention and asked her to heal. And again she didn’t even noticed the cat.

Training opportunities:
I think everyday life is filled with them and it’s up to us to incorporate training into daily routine. I like to use parts of walks for simple training. Now additionally I want to work on Chili’s recall which is already pretty good but I want it to be faster and more reliable because in her case it can be very useful around other dogs.

Salma, long line and rabbits

Posted on Updated on

Today I took Salma and a 10 meters long line to the park. It used to be impossible to take Salma there even on a normal leash. At first we couldn’t even go to the industrial part of the park and now I can take her to the part for dogs where rabbits are at large and we manage. She still is mostly focused on searching for rabbits but she started doing normal dog things too, which is a good sign. She sniffs, marks, greets other dogs and today she even split two males that had a bit of an argument (one was trying to copulate with the other and he really didn’t like it). And this tells me that there is some part of her brain not focused on rabbits. And in the beginning this wasn’t the case, she looked stoned and she was not able to focus on anything else. We even had a close encounter with a rabbit and she recovered (also not possible before). She was 3 meters away from me, and she suddenly jumped in the bushes so I hoisted her back on the line, I am not naive to expect her to return when called in this situation, she is not ready for that and I will only spoil our recall by calling her. Once she was next to me I asked her to sit, which she while looking at the bushes. I know that she can sit and still be absent minded. So I asked her to target my hand. I used this exercise before. I put my fist next to her head but in a way that she needs to turn away from the stimuli (rabbit in this case) in order to touch it. This seems to do the trick. I had special sausage with me, so I can reward her in more difficult moments. And then we walked away. She was still a bit excited for a minute or so but managed to relax for remaining part of the walk. Again before this would be not possible and I would have to get out of the park as fast as possible dragging her behind.

It is a slow process and sometimes I feel like giving up. And I have given up few times, just avoiding places where there are rabbits (but there is not many of those where we live). But not slowly but steadily we are going in the right direction. I am realistic and I don’t expect her to ever be in this place of leash (a chance that I will not take with train trucks so close) and I am very happy with what we achieved so far. We went from not being able to walk in this park with Salma at all to walking her there on a long line.



Tuesday with Star

Posted on Updated on

It was our second walk together today and I decided not to take Chili. I want to established a relationship with Star, show him that he can trust me and we can have a lot of fun together. I want to be able to commit my undivided attention to him so I can get to know him better. He is a really good boy, I absolutely adore him. 

I don’t have many expectations at the beginning, because I want to first create a bond between me and the dog. But there are few things I start from the first walk: Calm greeting, he was very very excited to see me and I waited for him to calm down a bit (stop jumping at me and whining) and asked him to sit. I don’t think sit is necessary but in his case I though that a bit of guidance will help and make it easier for him. Another thing is pulling on the leash, I use very simple and well known methods for a loose leash, in Star’s case it was just a matter of stopping every time he pulled and rewarding him for walking on a loose lead. He is a very bright boy and he learns with ease. I also ask the dogs to sit before we cross the street or are waiting at the lights, it’s a matter of safety. And a last thing I do is to reinforce recall with some great treats. People have different ways of calling their dogs and I want show the dog that it pays to come to me when I say their name. I start simple in moments when their attention is not focused on something really interesting. Those are the simple rules I start with and then we go from there. The rest depends on the dog.