I have worked with animals in varying capacities most of my adult life (and I am becoming a fine vintage!). The capacity within which I work now is energy healing and communicating, but for over 20 years I worked with dogs who had problem behaviours either rehabilitating rescue dogs or helping people modify unwanted behaviours and gain a greater understanding of man’s best friend, it is with this in mind that I would like to speak to you today.
Many of you already know that I share my life with 4 dogs and I love them all; 3 gun dogs and a little terrier who is by nature a reactive dog, as many of his breed are. It has taken a great deal of work and patience to teach him impulse control and even now if I am distracted and another dog is a little overbearing he will spit and snarl.
Through my communication with animals of many species who interact with humans a common problem is either a feeling of not being heard and being misunderstood. Very often when this has been addressed a simple conversation with the guardian can be enough to help address the ‘undesirable’ behaviour. The whole point of an animal communication is to ‘listen, understand and then make a diference’ to the animal’s life for the positive.
I walk my dogs daily and on my travels I often come across dogs who bark at them. Because of my background I can tell by the tone of the bark and the body language whether this dog poses a serious threat or would just prefer some space and is letting me know this, which of course I respect. However, what I witness from the human are a variety of different behaviours that usually fall into 3 categories:
- Total lack of guidance
Quite logically I shall begin with number 1. Chastisement. Either through a misguided need to discipline the dog for being ‘bad’ or because the behaviour is embarrassing and there is a need to save face a scale of discipline is metered out. This can take the form of sharp jerking of the lead whilst giving a vocal command such as ‘stop it’, shouting at the dog, whereby the human is perceived as joining in the warding off of the threat and physical punishment. People often think that it is because the dog is being dominant or just plain naughty. This is not so. A truly dominant dog, just as with people, does not need to make a lot of noise about it, their energy and body language very clearly give off an ‘I am in charge’ persona.
Number 2. Praise. Constantly stroking the dog and telling him or her that they are a ‘good dog’ in an attempt to calm them and keep calm oneself can be rather counter productive as the dog is getting the message that this behaviour is ok; keep going.
Number 3. Lack of guidance. This can take the form of simply ignoring the dog and pretending that nothing is happening or having the mindset that the dog just needs to ”get on with it’ even if that is causing distress to another dog or person.
There may be subtle nuances to all of these but the one thing they have in common is they tend not to work! I know this not only through my work and experience, but because I see the same dogs being interacted with the same way for weeks, months and even years and yet their behaviour either remains the same or it escalates.
There can be several factors that contribute to reactive behaviour fear is a common one or at the very least a lack of confidence, a lot of this stems from the relationship with the human. If a dog is confident that you have its back and you know what to do they are often very happy to look to you for protection. Breed type; as previously mentioned some breeds are predisposed to be reactive, this does not mean that all dogs in this category will be and that breeds in the more passive categories can’t be, but it is a general rule of thumb. Here is the biggest one: LACK OF UNDERSTANDABLE GUIDANCE. It is our job to teach our dogs in a way that they can understand, what is expected of them.
It is worth noting here that if you have a reactive dog in the UK you can be prosecuted for having a dog that is perceived as dangerously out of control in a public space – it does not need to have bitten. I am not sure what laws other countries have around this. I would suggest that you contact the APBC or a trainer that is registered with the APDT and get yourself some good quality help. However, while you are waiting for your appointment here are some tips you can try to bring your dog under control.
- If your dog runs at other dogs and won’t come back, keep it on a lead or long line. You have greater control then.
- If your dog is too strong for you to hold, gently introduce it to a headcollar, introduced and fitted correctly this can become your best friend and often helps the dog (and you) feel that you are more in control.
- Teach your dog to look at you on command. Clicker training is the most wonderful tool to have in your training tool kit, but you should be shown by someone who fully understands how this works or it will confuse you and the dog alike. Begin by either using favourite (high value) food such as sausage, chicken, cheese etc, the dog’s normal kibble will not do the trick or if your dog is not motivated for any of the delicacies listed here and doesn’t have a favourite treat then use a favourite toy. The size of the treat is important; small quickly disposed of food around the size of the tip of your thumbnail is desirable. I have known people take chew sticks and this actually makes the problem worse and adds to the dog’s insecurity.
- Work at getting the dog’s attention when you are in your home and all is calm. Until you have achieved this you won’t have a chance of managing it out of doors distractions or not. Positioning of the treat (I will use treats as most dogs respond well to a high value treat, but the principle is the same for a toy) is paramount, what you are doing is engineering the dogs eyes to look up in your face, therefore, holding a treat somewhere near your tummy button will not ‘cut the mustard’. Here is the important bit: the moment your dog looks up at you you give a chosen command and release the treat, the word is irrelevant it can be something along the lines of ‘look’, ‘watch’ or something as random as ‘knickers’! Dogs don’t speak English so what you are doing is forming an association between the dog’s action (looking at you), the word ‘knickers’ and a reward (treat). This will begin to form the basis of an understanding that when you say the word and the dog looks at you it is duly rewarded. This can take many, many repetitions for the association to be soundly formed.
- After you have practised in and around the home (all rooms) take it to the garden, once the behaviour is reliable then try it on a walk when no one else is around. What you are doing is building a strong behaviour that has a far greater chance of working when you really need it; when there is a threat looming on the horizon.
- Be one step ahead of the game. When on walks, keep your head out of your phone and be vigilant. Spot who is around, where they are and if they are coming towards you try to engineer some space between you (initially) and start working with your dog. Give your learned command (knickers) and release the food when the dog looks at you, lower your expectations of the dog right down as this will be hard work for him / her. Keep reminding the dog what it should be doing and then reinforcing the correct response with the treat.
- Incorrect responses do not get chastised they simply don’t get rewarded. A little like if you did something wrong at work and your boss stopped you some pay – quite a powerful message, I am sure you would agree!
- It is worth bearing in mind that if the dog is consistently not getting it right then there is a very strong chance it is because you are doing something wrong that is confusing them.
Be patient, be consistent with your message and make sure that all people who walk the dog stick to the same rules. Remember unless you have studied it you don’t speak dog and your dog doesn’t speak human and therefore an understanding of each other is required. If you were wondering how it is possible to perform animal communication with a dog if we speak a different language then that is a whole different topic! Here are some frequently asked questions about animal communication, if you have another please get in touch.
If you are looking for an animal healer or an animal communicator please get in touch with me here. I work all over the world remotely.
Or get in touch with Samantha here. Sam is another animal communicator and healer working throughout the world from her base in Surrey UK.