Friday, 28 December 2012
We’ve told you how Cairid, in four homes before his first year, didn’t have the benefit of early socialisation with other dogs. He doesn’t see this as a disadvantage of course. It’s just us. It’s our aching shoulders, our frayed nerves, our disillusionment and impatience with fellow dog-walkers who don’t understand and don’t give a damn anyway. You see them look at you, while you fight to keep control of a strong dog who lunges on the end of a lead, with an expression of incredulity on their faces. They clearly say without words, “Why are you allowing this? Why are you not severely chastising this dog?”
It’s a long story, but in brief we’ve been working with Cairid the best ways we know how. We’ve tried everything available, as long as it doesn’t involve punishment which we know would make his insecurity with other dogs worse, and which we do not believe is ever effective in any case. But we are only human. Sometimes we get it wrong, or can’t be bothered to think about it. Other times we feel despair. No matter how much effort we put into it, nothing improves.
But – wait a MINUTE!! – today was major red letter day in our calendar! We’ve been using a clicker – first associating a click with getting a treat, then using it in the house and garden for easy things like “here” and “sit” and “lie down”. Then we started taking the clicker for walks with us. We do random recalls, but not too many so he doesn’t get bored with it. Cairid is on a long line during all our walking in the forest, but has off-lead spells on the beach where we can see if other dogs are approaching. When we see other dogs coming, we do a fairly large “curve” past the other dogs. The minute Cairid stops looking at them and trots back to us he gets a click and a treat. He may have lunged. That doesn’t matter. We ignore that. We just reward the coming back to us after seeing another dog. Cairid desperately wants to chase, play rough, and generally make himself a nuisance – probably not from most other dogs’ points of view, but certainly from their owners’. Our worse-case scenario is a small barking dog running. Cairid will chase till he catches it, and has been known to grab it by the leg, although not to its injury. Hence, no freedom around other dogs! Anyway – I digress! Let me tell you about this morning, bearing in mind this is MONTHS after we bought a clicker.
We’re walking along when suddenly around a bend comes a barking beagle, a confident retriever and a disinterested black lab, followed by their owners. We didn’t have time to curve, and besides, the retriever and the beagle were approaching fast, off lead. Dislocated shoulder time. A brief conversation with the owners led us to believe that they wouldn’t have minded if we’d let Cairid off for a play. We carried on, muttering. About an hour later we were on the beach, throwing a ball into the sea for Cairid. Along came the same three dogs and owners, and we clipped Cairid on his lead. Another brief conversation on the way past while we answered questions about Cairid, and we parted company on friendly terms. When we were well past we again released Cairid and threw the ball into the sea. Off he dived, throwing himself with great vigour over the waves. He’s swimming back with the ball, when suddenly we’re aware that the retriever has left his owners and come racing back towards us. Oh heck! Well, we could do nothing but watch. The retriever runs into the water to watch Cairid swim towards him. When they’re out of the water, the retriever bounces up and the two dogs are looking at each other (I wish we could have filmed it to see in slow motion.) then the retriever starts to run. He has his tail down, and Cairid chases him. Then the retriever stops and turns around and Cairid stops, as though he doesn’t quite know what to do next. At that point, we did a recall. And for the FIRST TIME EVER when there’s been another dog on the scene, he came back to us, and the retriever ran off without Cairid attached to his tail. You’re probably thinking SO WHAT? Well, it’s a breakthrough moment, that’s what! He can do it. He DID do it. And the chances are that he will do it again. Because he got the best treats ever and the most wonderful attention. And we love him. And we think these other dog owners are pretty cool too. Life is good. Sometimes.
Monday, 17 December 2012
Sunday, 16 December 2012
Having just downloaded the PDSA’s latest 69-page report and read it cover to cover, we thought we’d comment on it.
The report focuses on diet, behaviour and preventative health measures and emphasises that greater awareness of welfare requirements is needed among pet owners. Almost 4000 pet owners were surveyed. In the behaviour section, some of the ideas proposed are great: dog-free areas for children (we assume this means areas within parks); a change to “deed not breed” because all dogs are capable of aggression; promotion of education. Two that we don’t feel so enthusiastic about are the need to attend training classes – any training classes – and compulsory microchipping. Training classes can be great, especially puppy classes, but a poorly run class can have undesirable effects, especially if aversive techniques are used, or if the dog is older than a few months and has not been around other dogs before. To be put into a situation of such close proximity with other dogs can be devastatingly scary for some dogs. (Interestingly the statistics quoted for 2011 and 2012 show that dog aggression towards people increased, and dog-dog aggression decreased, while attendance at classes decreased in 2012.)
There is still debate about the possible side-effects of microchipping and whether in fact it would be effective if a dog is found or goes missing, because different types of chip readers are used, among other things. If microchipping is to be made compulsory, there needs to be a universal chip reader and a single data bank.
We noted that “87% of owners think people should face tougher penalties if their dog attacks another person or animal”. We broadly agree with this, but feel there needs to be some caveat to this. In order for the world to be safe for people and dogs, people need to be aware that dogs talk a different language. Here are just some scenarios:
· Someone approaches your dog with a big smile on their face. To a human this is a warm and friendly gesture. To a dog this is a THREATENING GESTURE (baring teeth).
· A child runs up to your dog and tries to hug him. Humans do this as a show of affection. A dog sees this in an entirely different light. It is restricting and uncomfortable, and threatening if your dog is unused to this.
· When a dog approaches a human, said human bends over him and tries to pat his head. In human terms these are pacifying , reassuring gestures. To the poor dog, however, this is at best a threat if he doesn’t know the person, and at worst, a sign that he needs to (and ultimately will) defend himself from this perceived attack.
We speak a different language from dogs and we expect them to comply with our every gesture and put up with odd behaviour from complete strangers. It’s surprising how many dogs react to these gestures with no more than an attempt to shrink away. People, including children, need to learn dog language because only then will they be safe. Dogs don’t speak English.
It’s great to read that
· 80% of adults believe that any breed of dog can be aggressive. At last we have a chink of light – aggressive dogs are NOT breed specific.
· CAREFUL early socialisation is very important. Don’t just toss your pooch into a ruck of other dogs or into an unstructured training class and ask him to get on with it! He will, but maybe not the way you want.
· The PDSA advise us to “think about the time and cost of owning a pet”. We must take as many steps as possible to reduce the need for re-homing a poor dog just because it doesn’t fit into the niche that someone first thought it would when they looked at the ball of fluff portrayed on the card they got for their birthday! We think breeders have a huge part to play here, and it’s good that more and more responsible breeders are recognising the need for early socialisation and the need to vet potential homes.
In the diet section, it was noted that “71% of owners are aware that food meant for humans shouldn’t be part of a pet’s diet.” This we think could be misleading. If they mean all the junk food that humans often consume, then yes, kill yourself but not your pet! “PDSA advises owners to speak to their vet before making major changes to their pet’s diet.” And in addition …..”….vet practices offer a wealth of information about pet diets.” They certainly do, because pet food manufacturers sponsor them to do so, and additionally sponsor their training in nutrition (which I understand is minimal). There is an increasing bank of evidence that says human-grade meat and vegetables are probably a good deal better for our dogs than some over-processed dog foods. I have the greatest respect for vets and the work that they do, but have some reservations about their reportedly limited training in this one area. The number of obesity cases among dogs and cats has increased substantially, and there’s no doubt that something has to be done about it, the same as with human obesity. (We say thank goodness for Jamie Oliver! Could he do something for dog food? )
A final comment on vaccinations and annual boosters, which understandably the PDSA are promoting. It seems to make sense doesn’t it. And yet, more and more pets are falling prey to horrible illnesses despite all this vaccinating. There is now a titer test available, which your vet can use to determine your dog’s immunity level, which evidence suggests lasts a lifetime following initial vaccination, in most cases.
If you’d like more information on vaccines and the controversy around it, visit :
Overall, the PDSA have made a great effort here and this will raise awareness and debate about these issues, we hope.