Category Archives: choice

Forks in the road

It has long been touted that a dog’s walk, The Walk, was an important event, allowing the dog’s owner to assert their ‘dominance’ and implement all-important control. But, really, there is no social significance to exerting such control on walks and outings.

For most dogs, while walks and outings are certainly significant events, getting out of the house or garden is limited. Most pet dogs have very limited access to the outside world – their humans work long hours, weather is so often unpleasant, their dog’s behaviour might be difficult, and so on.

Earlier this year, a survey from Forthglade dog food revealed that over half of the pet dogs, whose owners had responded, didn’t get a daily outing. While I don’t believe traditional dog walks to be the be-all-and-end-all, and in some cases they are not appropriate for individual dogs, my concern is that it is terribly unlikely, unfortunately, that these dogs have sufficient appropriate enrichment in place to make up for the lack of outings. And in addition to outings, which is also important.

In my experience, and that of many of my colleagues, the bottom line is that most pet dogs don’t get sufficient appropriate enrichment and entertainment. (This impending pet dog welfare crisis is the subject for another post, and a topic I discuss often.)

This is why #100daysofenrichment came to be.

The dog’s nose knows

Choice and choosing features big throughout #100daysofenrichment. In the modern study of captive animal behaviour, it is recognised that opportunities to choose what happens to them allows animals to feel more confident and reduces the stress of captive living.

At the very heart of what makes an activity enriching or not, is how the animal chooses to interact, how they choose to engage, and the behaviours they choose to use. Without choice, enrichment isn’t enriching.

Here’s some clips of recent outings with Decker. There are lots of trails established in the long grass, some mechanically but most just by human and animal activity, as we meander about.

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About a month ago, Decker seriously injured his foot and as part of recovery, we’ve been gradually building his exercise back up after almost 3 weeks of next to no activity. This includes walks/trots on lead so that he takes it somewhat easy. We are in the Phoenix Park, which is the most wonderful facility, and there are lots of these crosses eeked out in the long, summer grass.

I have no idea what criteria he uses to choose but you can see him actively consider the best route to take. But it doesn’t matter. How or why he chooses isn’t my business.
Case in point, here he is choosing a specific tennis ball from his collection. 11 identical balls but one is special…

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It is not possible to give dogs unlimited choice and often times, if dogs were left to choose in some contexts, they would not make appropriate, safe choices because dogs.

But there are lots of significant ways that we can add choice to their lives, so that they can get a little say in their day, in what happens to them, in their enjoyment.

What can you do to add choice to your dog’s outings?
Can they choose the direction, the location, the activities, the twists and turns, how long they stay..? What else?
After all, there’s no point following my nose…that would not be a fun dog-outing at all! The dog’s nose knows so let them choose what to do with it, every day. 

Where will your dog’s nose bring you today?

Make dog walks more dog

Dog walks don’t have to be elaborate or even lengthy. We just need to make sure they are more dog!

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#100daysofenrichment emphasises making sure that sniffing and other doggie pursuits are central so that outings are more about quality than quantity…time spent sniffing is never a waste so go for a SNIFF instead of a walk:

There are even lots of options for when you can’t get your dog out and about and even more options if you check out the entire program.

Bring your dog places that allows them freedom to choose (safely), to truly follow their nose. Get ready, leash up and tag along for the ride!

Where will your dog’s nose take you today?

To the extreme

Reading my social media feeds this week, you would think that the only way to train a dog is NEVER with this tool or ONLY with this tool, to ONLY feed this diet because this diet KILLS dogs, to NEVER allow your dog carry out this behaviour, ONLY get dogs from this source…and so on and on.

I understand that social media, as a communication tool, facilitates this polarisation, but as professionals, surely we have responsibilities in recognising and understanding the nuances in human-dog interactions.

We espouse “science” and “evidence” bases but yet commit science- sins of absolutism and declarations of ‘fact’ and ‘proof’ based in anecdote and bias.

The bottom line is that dogs and humans have been together, in one way or another, for many tens of thousands of years (if not longer). Both humans and dogs are complex social creatures, who bring lots of variability and flexibility to the table. Dogs are super-dooper adaptable, which is a feature that has probably allowed them to develop such close and intense relationships with us.

My clients are, for the most part, regular pet owners. They have busy lives, to which their dog is an addition, and their pet must slot in. My job is to help them help their dog to do that.
In essence, what I am doing is helping them meet their pet dog’s needs, improving its welfare, so that their relationship blossoms.

Sharing extremes is likely not helpful. My responses to queries about trying or avoiding such recommendations tend to range from “maybe that’ll work” to “that might not work in this situation”.

Behaviour is such a loose and flexible phenomenon that binding it in absolutes is not helpful. Many, many factors contribute, some within our control and some without.
What works for this person, this dog, this context, on this day, may be very different for another person or dog, or another context or day.

I am not at all suggesting that rules and laws don’t apply to behaviour, but rather the application of same, in every day life, may be a greyer area altogether.

My clients need help fitting their dog and its needs into their lives. That requires compromise and discussion, rather than dictating and self-righteousness.
Social media is powerful, but can be a dangerous place for novices, who may be impressionable or naive.

Yes, lots of training-cultural norms need to be challenged and re-challenged, and I enjoy that and the accompanying learning curve, but not at the expense of discussion, preference and appreciation for variation in approach.

By opening up, rather than shutting down arguments for or against, we can debate and discuss, and learn and adapt. Absolutes and definites shut that down, scare away newbies and make dog training a dictatorship, rather than an applied science that can be molded and shaped to help pet owners and their pets.

Information gathering

So much of training and living with dogs is about doing, doing, doing, action, action, action.

Sometimes it’s important to take time, to be, and allow the dog process the environment.

Give them time:

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The brain errs on the side of caution and tells the body to expect danger, as a default setting. That means we have to do lots of work to give the brain and body time and relief to gather information to facilitate a change in attitude.

The time to reset the brain is during a puppy’s first few months of life, and then to continue this in a structured manner over puppy’s first year. But we need to get that first few months right. Dogs who don’t cope with this well don’t need to have been abused or have had particularly bad experiences in early life. All it takes, is lack of exposure, lack of time to information gather.
We don’t get this behaviour developmental stage back again – we get one go, so we need to get it right.

 Information Gathering for Puppies

This is especially important for puppies, who are just learning about the world. And often explains why puppies and young dogs will suddenly plant themselves in the middle of a walk, unwilling to move on.

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In a Puppy1 class Minnie takes some time to engage with a ballpit puzzle, and Ellie prefers to sit back and watch the goings-on.

Providing puppies (and all dogs) with time to choose how they wish to respond, helps to reduce stress and helps to build confidence.

Information Gathering for Dogs

 

In this clip Simon, on one of his first trips to AniEd a couple years ago, before he was rehomed, is out for a walk in a busy business park.
Simon, given his rough background, can be a little overwhelmed in some situations. This is our first walk together – that’s why he’s panting plus we had just had some ball fun inside too.
We came across a man mowing a lawn in behind a fence and another man with a forklift working. We moved across the road so that we were about 15-20m away from the action. As soon as he spotted this activity he stopped and I made sure to keep the leash loose. We just waited while he processed the noise and activity.
Notice his rapid head movements as he watches the scene and note his mouth becoming tighter at times as he concentrates on the activity. Listen for his big sigh as he gathers as much information about something that might cause him a little concern.
As soon as he’s ready to move on I mark (YES!) and reward him. That it looks calm and a bit boring (let’s be honest!!) is good – it means that he could relax enough so that he could just watch the goings-on without experiencing too much concern.

 

Let your dog take it in…

When your dog encounters something that interests them, especially if it causes them to be excited, to be scared or spooked, causes them to lunge, pull, whine or bark, give your dog some time to process that trigger.
If your dog is already reacting like this first move far enough away that your dog is able to give some attention to you and so that they don’t react that way anymore.

But, when you encounter something that you think might be of interest to your dog give you and your dog plenty of space from it.
Keep the leash loose and allow your dog to process any information that he can from what he is seeing, hearing and smelling.

Things won’t seem as scary or interesting to your dog if they have had some time to find out a little more about it.
This is really important for puppies, who are learning about the world, and for dogs who are worried or ‘reactive’ on leash.

It’s not always about “training”

You don’t need to jump in there with treats or cues straight away. Take the time. Don’t encourage, don’t nag, indeed, you don’t need to do a whole lot.

If your dog can’t information gather, you’re too close, you’ve stayed too long, the trigger is too intense. Distance is your friend, and there’s nothing wrong with packing it in and trying again another day.

Things to try, and not to try:

  • keep your distance
  • give your dog time
  • if you notice your dog stiffening, become more tense, or having difficulty moving away – help them. Move away excitedly, call to them, keep it jolly. Try not to put too much pressure on the leash as this tends to escalate things. If needed, move them along with brief, gentle pressure, and then use your jolliness to keep them moving with you.
  • never drag a puppy who has stopped
  • don’t attempt to lure a dog toward something he is unsure of or scared of. Don’t even encourage them to approach – give them time to choose.
  • You don’t need to understand their hesitation – just listen to your dog!
  • after some time information gathering, get ’em outta there, moving in the other direction
  • too much exercise for puppies and growing dogs is damaging – review your exercise regime, and think of outings more for exposure to the world, rather than physical exertion
  • don’t make puppy’s world too big too soon.
    While puppy is on vaccination hold, bring them in your arms to new places on foot and in the car. Remember, they have little choice when in your arms so don’t expose them to new things, people or animals when restrained.
    When they start going for walks, expand their world a few metres each day, starting at the front of your house or garden on the first day, then a couple of houses down the next day and so on. Rather than marching, try playing with toys, doing sniffing searches for them, and letting them range on lead (safely).

If you have difficulty moving a reluctant dog or puppy, give them some time (might take several minutes) and then encourage them to follow you back the way you came. You can move in a big arc to go in your intended direction too.

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Learn to ‘listen’:

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Teach a hand targeting behaviour, to encourage movement in a non-confrontational and low-pressure manner:

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Add movement:

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Make it fun!

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