A big part of helping owners with their canine concerns is doing detective work. Listening, observing, taking notes, looking for the obvious and not so obvious are all things that allow me to help owners uncover possible causes for why dogs are doing what they are. Let’s look at three cases (details changed for privacy). Right now, you will be given the same information I got at the initial phone contact.
1) Sophie was refusing to walk on leash. The behaviors started within the past few weeks and were worsening. Previous training was positive reinforcement. There had been no incidents her owner could remember that could trigger the behavior. Medical had been ruled out.
2) Spike’s owner called me at the recommendation of another trainer. Spike was doing great with coming when called in class as well as during formal training sessions in and out of the house. However, outside formal training sessions, Spike was ignoring the cue.
3) Bingo, a mid-adolescent dog, had begun attacking the older dog in the house. Bingo was given plenty of enrichment things, so the older dog was not the sole focus for playing. Bingo had been neutered. The older dog was neutered. As Bingo hit adolescence, his attitude was changing towards the other dog. His owners wanted help before things escalated.
Stop reading, go get a snack and a cup of something. Sit and ponder the three cases and see if you can come up with possible reasons for the concerns. (Insert Syncopated Clock – aka Jeopardy music here – and time is up). Let’s go over each case and see how you did.
1) This case was straightforward once I saw one thing many owners would not consider a problem. Sophie’s owner had attached a poop bag holder to the leash. As they walked, the holder swung in front of Sophie’s face. This was unpleasant for the dog. Once removed, Sophie began enjoying walks again.
2) Spike’s trainer was one well known to me and someone I refer to for group classes, sports training, and play groups. I asked his owner how Spike was trained to come when called. The trainer taught what I call a “competition recall.” Competition recalls start with the dog at a sit. He is told to stay. The handler walks away, turns and calls the dog. This way of training a recall gives a set of behaviors that need to happen before the dog comes to you. Spike could not figure out what to do when most of the sequence was absent.
3) Bingo was perplexing at first. The history indicated things were great until they were not. During the evaluation, Bingo signaled to go outside. Before opening the door, one of his humans put a shock collar on him. Since the collar was not out when I got there, I had no idea they were using one. It was information left out. I asked why it was used. Bingo only wore the shock collar when outside with the older dog. If the owners felt he was getting too rough in play with the other dog, Bingo got zapped. The reason for the behaviors was very clear. Bingo was associating the older dog with pain and was working to keep him away so there would be no pain.
So, how did you do? A lot of dog work can be detective work. The more information we have through what you tell us and what we observe, the better for us.
- Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training