Difficult times ahead

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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).


Why do I always carry treats with me

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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.

Tuesday with Star and Chili

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I decided to include Chili in my walk with Star today. I wasn’t 100% sure it is a good idea as Chili has been misbehaving a bit lately but I was confident that I can control them if need be. And in case it wasn’t working out I could always walk Chili back home and continue with Star alone. I decided to take her because they really like each other and always have great time together. I think it comes from the fact that they are very similar in the way they want to play, and in their strength. On the other hand they are easily excitable and their interactions can get intense at times. But I was prepared for that and introduced rules from the beginning. They were not allowed to physically interact while on the leash; they could sniff together, walk next to each other and so on but no funny business. Which could be difficult in the beginning of our walk when they just saw each other after a week. But they understood really fast. Because, Star was very excited when we got out of the building I asked them both to sit down in front of me and I took a big breath to clear up the atmosphere.

They were off leash most of our hour long walk and they were really enjoying each other. I did mix play and running with a bit of obedience. It’s useful to switch on their brain from time to time to lower their excitement.

We met quite a lot of dogs and I was positively surprised how much better Chili was coping with social interactions. With Star there she was really relaxed and ok with all the dogs we met. They both were more interested in each other than other dogs and after short greetings they would move on.




On a journey to adulthood

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I see rising a dog as a journey, a long one. Salma was around 2 years old when she started to behave like a mature dog but it still took a year for her behaviour (especially towards other dogs to settle), and she did become a lot more confident in a past year. Now I feel that we know each other well, I know what I can expect from her. But the most importantly I trust her fully when it comes to interactions with other dogs. I know she is very skilled, and confident so she knows when to participate in interactions. She prefers to avoid conflict and uses running as a way of getting rid of some dogs, especially adolescent and puppies, at the same time she is not afraid of confrontation with dogs that are pushy or bully other dogs. She will displace the, and she will not let them displace her. Salma was really scared of dogs when she was young, she was separated from her mom at 4 weeks and didn’t have a good dog role model while growing up. I worked on her as well as I could, but put too much pressure for her to have contact with dogs, and for a while she was obsessed with meeting other dogs. From the beginning she was more interested in her environment than working with people, so when dogs came into play I was probably the least interesting thing on the menu. Back then I was really into clicker training, and training in general and I was missing the knowledge to see our relationship as something more complex than positive reinforcement. And don’t get me wrong I really loved her and I think she loved me, and we did have fun together I was just too focused on training my dog and not focused enough on helping her become a well adjusted adult. Slowly, my attitude changed and I become more interested in dog communication, and focused more on just being a unit with Salma. I remember the switch, how I felt that now we are a group going together for a walk and not just dog and a owner. And Salma is just a wonderful dog. Yes she has issue with chasing trains (which she doesn’t do but would love to) and rabbits and she is a bit emotional when she gets excited. But she is so cool and sweet. I was very lucky to find her. And she must have good genes as her sister is also very skilled in interactions with dogs.

Funny enough this post was supposed to be about Chili. But I guess most posts are, as she is still work in progress and I’m still trying to figure her out. 

She is a year and 10 months old now and far from being an adult. I see changes in her behaviour after we came back from Communication Classes, she is more confident and more interested in other dogs. I let her explore her personality and learn how to interact. Because she is a bit more outgoing those last two weeks, I interfere and protect her less. I see it this way if she is hiding behind me when a dog comes by that dog is not getting to her, because I need her to feel safe with me. On the other hand if she approaches a dog herself and that dog chases her away or scares her I don’t interfere. I want her to learn that her behaviour has consequences and to pay attention to the body language of other dogs. On the other hand I don’t think she is ready to deal with unstable dogs so I do make sure (as much as possible) that we avoid those. 

Salma during the communication classes

Sunday Market (please leave your dog at home)

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I always found it funny when people ask me if I’m going to bring my dogs to our meeting (those are often people afraid of dogs but not only). The answer is almost always NO. I obviously am crazy about my dogs and love spending time with them but I don’t think that dragging them with me to meet my friends were I will have to divide my attention between the two is fair to my dogs. And yes you will not get my full attention when my dogs are with me because they are not just my accessorizes. I do sometimes take dogs along when a friend joins me for a walk with them or I’m meeting someone on a way from a walk. Also I take my girls to places like pharmacies, banks or cafe’s but I do pay my full attention to them and take this as a training opportunity.

Why this post? Sunday Market took place in our local park again. I love going there but I do not love seeing all the dogs brought along. Something is wrong with me right? Why wouldn’t I be happy that people bring their pets along and spend a whole day with them in a nice dog friendly place. Well, it this was the case I would be really happy. But the truth is that a) not all dogs are ready (or ever will be) to successful deal with big crowds and loud noises (and flooding is a tricky business) and b) 99% owners that I see don’t pay a slightest attention to their dogs while at the market. They don’t give them any support or protection but so get angry if the dog growls or barks.
So the poor dogs are on short leashes dragged from place to place, often confronted with other dogs on shot leashes where they cannot communicate. And they are approached and touched by strangers while they owners are not even looking.
Yesterday I saw a 4 year old child coming up to a dashound, leaning over it at trying to pet it on the head. The little dog was very clearly stressed and tried to avoid the contact but it was in a short leash and it’s owners were not aware of the interaction. I slipped between the child and the dog and displaced the little girl (I find that children respond to body language very well). I separated them just like I would two dogs. Girl walked away and the dog could breath again. But as I was about to walk away girl came back, again really close to the dog. I actually had to put my knee between them (it sounds strong but Iw as very gentle and the girl really didn’t take the offense, she was a nice playful child). And this time she got the message and left to play somewhere else. The only people responsible in this situation where the owners (parents also but eventually girls mom did say “ask for permission before you pet” ), owners didn’t notice anything. I so close to them that I was basically breathing down at their necks, and I was talking about the situation withy boyfriend. And the whole time they were only interested in the stuff they were buying. Why then take your dog with you?
Later I saw a women with kids buying something while a stranger was stroking her dog. It was very unnerving fore because the dog (also small) was very clearly stressed. Man was leaning over her, petting her head and a whole length of her body and eventually he even grabbed her paw to shake it! Dog owner only noticed something when the dog got up and tried to create a bigger distance between herself and the man. But of course she just smiled because it’s so cute when others likes our dog. Later the same dog was scolded for barking at another very large dog that was passing close. There was also a man talking on his phone with a tiny old doggy, they were walking in a crown and the guy didn’t look at his dog even once, he just pulled him along on the leash. And there were many more dogs like that, stressed and left alone to deal with the situation.
And again WHY would you take your dog with you if you won’t pay any attention to him?!
I do think that it is wonderful to take your dog to many different places, to have him accompany you a lot. But that what he is supposed to be your companion and not a dead weight at the end of the leash. And it is very important to make sure the dog is ready to be in a situation like this and to give him support he needs and leave the situation when it gets too difficult.