Baloo: Meet your Master!

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Despite the age of 8 years, Baloo has led quite a sheltered life. Busy people lead busy lives – a common situation for many families, as it has been for Baloo’s owner and his 15 year old son Shawn. With virtually no obedience training coupled with little exercise, this imposing Rottweiler was not easy to handle. Walks on a leash became a huge challenge and therefore dwindled to near extinction.

With no proper socialization skills, this big guy became a black torpedo set to launch at almost any moving target when on leash or off. He also learned how to throw his weight around, having shared the back yard with a Bull Mastiff and English Bulldog – all very powerful and naturally dominant breeds. Competitive squabbles would at times break out, especially when governing the back fence line which looked down upon a neighborhood park trail. Barking and lunging became Baloo’s daily source of energy release out of pure boredom and frustration.

This situation would intimidate most adults, let alone a young man at age 15. Yet Shawn’s keen desire to learn how to build a healthy connection between himself and this astute dog is what gave me the incentive to work with them together. Although Baloo has shown a tremendous lovable character, he was no pushover. A dominant attitude and sheer physical power were two tremendous obstacles to counteract especially at his age. This dog required strong strategic training to set him on the right track.

The first step that helped with Baloo’s transformation, was introducing him to a quieter environment at Shawn’s home with his Mom. This immediately took him out of his conditioned ‘power zone’, which enhanced the opportunity to develop a partnership between a boy and his dog. Second was teaching Baloo to respect people not dominate them. It was vitally important to gain Shawn’s mother’s support to join us on the journey of rehabilitation. Everyone in the family needed to be on the same page to meet the level of consistency required to gain the desired changes.

I initially worked with Baloo one on one, then introduced Shawn into each exercise once the dog started to show signs of healthy submission, on the path to respectful behaviour. Teaching Shawn the most appropriate equipment to use along with the correct way of interacting effectively with the line of communication, was crucial in developing the behaviour we wanted to see. Specific techniques were also applied to control Baloo’s ingrained physical habit of cutting you off & lunging toward other dogs – not necessarily with the intent of aggressiveness but always excessive excitement.

We also found Baloo to be overly reactive to any physical touch, as he was use to competitively warding off the other family dogs to maintain his power status among them. The Tellington touch eliminated this issue.  We gained another foothold to correct bad behaviour, and introduce rewarding the good. There were plenty of lessons in proper heeling, basic commands, and spacial boundaries in and out of the home were all necessary to help develop attentiveness and general respect.

Step by step, Shawn had to prove that he was capable of handling this large powerful dog. His decision to stay on course has directly influenced the direction and therefore the results that have been achieved so far. This was possible because of his earnest desire to achieve a goal and walk the talk alongside his receptiveness in receiving supportive direction. We see the continued efforts has produced a much happier canine. With a quiet determined focus, Shawn’s level of maturity has helped transform an inattentive, commanding dog into a more sound partnership and affectionate family guardian. That’s impressive for a 15 year old.

Foster: Naughty Nipper Sent to Time Out

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The initial meeting with Foster went extremely well… For the first ten minutes that was. Once seated and chatting with his owner Cindy, I happened to move my foot just so and this five year old Border Collie X dove for my toes with lightning speed. I had paid more attention to what Cindy was saying verbally, rather than what Foster was communicating silently. Bruised but no harm done: My mistake.

Here was a case of misunderstanding a dog’s motivation for his actions. The owner had originally called, stating in great agitation and viable concern that her dog suddenly started to bite people.  Actually the dog wanted to herd people and gave signs all along of becoming territorial with the yard gate, the doorway, his toys, bed and eventually almost every guest that arrived on his turf. Foster wasn’t mean, yet he displayed aggressive behaviour that contributed to him gaining more power with each nip at a human leg.

Cindy’s level of frustration and genuine concern for her guests’ safety – forced her to deal with the situation by banning her beloved dog behind closed doors, away from people. This is an option that many others in her shoes would naturally adopt as well:  Avoidance. His aggressive nipping was merely the outcome from a lack of understanding the symptomatic behaviour. In my eyes, Foster was bored, highly intelligent and had no job to show off his innate abilities. Foster’s breed type needed to be honoured. Despite daily walks, he also needed a mental challenge. Unfortunately avoidance extends problems, not solve them. A plan of action was required to overcome the issue.

As it’s never just all about the dog, some tough love was required on Cindy’s part to balance out Foster’s dominant tendencies that were inadvertently condoned over time.  The role of who was leading whom needed to be reversed, in the home and out. Cindy had to work on ‘subduing’ her energy level in order to effectively generate more focus and respect from Foster. He needed to overcome his high level of sight fixation – part of his breed characteristic, however not having an outlet, his fixations became an obsession. Movement triggered excitement therefore work was required at desensitizing his intensity towards his toys, bed, and gate entrance. Fair and due corrections applied at the right time enabled effective changes. Learning how to interrupt his fixed stares by giving him specific commands to perform simple tasks helped divert his attention to seek out positive rewards.

Suggesting agility training as a mental workout, was an added key component for Foster’s transformation. He needed a job to focus on:  A herding/working dog’s dream environment. A locally offered class was available which helped support a leadership role that Cindy required alongside the specific exercises we adopted for Foster’s new change of attitude.

The final process that truly emphasized a successful outcome, was my request in re-inviting one by one all of Cindy’s friends back to her home, that were subjected to one of Foster’s naughty nips. With their generous support , this gave Foster the opportunity to apologize for his misconduct! Armed with new found tools and knowledge Cindy no longer had any problem controlling Foster in the presence of her friends. More importantly every person was easily able to forgive Foster once they understood his misguided intent. They could see for themselves how much more relaxed yet respectfully attentive he became.

The stress has melted off Cindy’s shoulders. Her confidence is evident in how she now controls her dog with ease. The level of trust developed between her and Foster was generated by Cindy’s willingness to push through a challenging issue.

Henry: From Show Dog to Show-Down

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Despite being one of the smaller breed of Bulldogs, Henry exudes attitude. It’s no coincidence that this five year old confident Frenchie commands attention wherever he goes.  Three years of struttin’ his stuff in the show ring naturally led to romancing the girls for the next two. Retired from his U.S. show and breeding days, Henry found his way to a new home and therefore a totally new life on Canadian soil. His new owner Melanie was enthusiastic to gain an endearing companion dog at home and a fun mascot at her place of business. Sounds wonderful so far, right?

Not having gained full details of Henry’s past, Melanie began seeing unexpected behaviour that was not the most gentlemanly conduct for such a handsome little dude. One would think that prancing around the show ring and being exposed to so many other dogs would produce a certain level of focus, obedience and happy acceptance of his fellow species. In fact, it appeared that the total opposite was true.  He would totally lose it on walks – becoming totally unglued as soon as he saw another dog. Thirty-five pounds of dynamo energy conducting the leash, made walking a miserable event.  A frenzied level of excitement produced challenges in other areas as well.

The Jollyball became a launching target in Melanie’s hands. Putting it away became an obsessive pace and stare game no matter where she tried to hide it to end the play. The front window was a source of great visual excitement with squirrels and taunting cats jumping within the tree just outside. The wooden shutters were kept closed to eliminate barking and lunging. Greeting people at the front door gave way also to naughty tendencies. Do you think it was any different at Melanie’s workplace? … You guessed right.

It appeared that Henry’s unwanted habits were perhaps a by-product of seclusion and avoidance:  A dog that has been exposed to a show ring and a multitude of other dogs, yet never being able to socialize freely with a single one. Perhaps excessive crating and lack of normalized play time with neighboring pets were factors contributing to a frustrated dog that kept the previous owners in a state of avoidance to maintain the peace. This poor guy had limited access to learn how to develop play buddies. So he had none.

Henry represents numerous dogs that become easily mislabeled and therefore seriously misunderstood. Discovering these behavioural tendencies of social aggression would drive most people to use physical punishment out of pure frustration. It would be an understatement to say that Henry is very fortunate to be in the hands of his current owner. Having previously owned a Frenchie, Melanie understands their breed characteristics, the level of patience required and a keen ability to recognize what it takes to follow through diligently in working with the persistent Bulldog type.

Has Henry progressed from our first encounter? I am thrilled to say absolutely! The shutters are left open now and the Jollyball is truly a playful toy rather than an object of prey. Social graces on leash have improved by changing the dynamics of how to reduce excitement and maintain focus. We traded the old collar that triggered aggression and introduced a different one that promoted calm.

By eliminating the tendency to avoid dog confrontations, Melanie has learned how to actively work through challenging daily distractions that in the past caused over-stimulated reactions. This owner’s sense of commitment to overcome someone else’s influence of unhealthy ingrained habits, is a testament to true love for a dog. Although there is still work to be done, happier days co-exist between home and office, as Henry works towards embracing a more social life with his fellow species.

Mika: Good Girl Gone Bad

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Can an older dog learn new tricks? Many people hold the belief that there is an age limit related to a train-ability factor with their dogs. This is simply not true – as in the case of Mika.

Golden Retrievers are one of the most gentle beloved canines to ever grace our human presence, and Mika is no exception. Sweet to the core, eyes that melt your heart in a second – this girl wants nothing more than to be at your side every moment of the day, until it’s time for that hike on a wooded trail.

At the sight of a deer, Mika’s whole demeanor would change. Her head would snap up, eyes locked onto the target and then she would instantaneously abandon her owner in pursuit of a full out party-chase. Maria the owner, would typically call out to her dog to come back, to no avail. The level of frustration and helplessness that Maria felt, translated into a scolding after the fact. Yet time and time again the same scenario unfolded while out hiking.

A dog that loses complete focus is the core of developing bad behaviour over time. Add excitement by distraction and you now have a viral common problem that most dog owners could relate to. Maria was obviously not alone in her predicament. How do you train an older dog new habits?

First: By truly identifying the specific issues causing the unwanted behaviour.

Second: By recognizing that all unwanted behaviour often starts in the home.

One would assume that the cause of Mika’s runaway action was directly caused at the moment the deer suddenly appeared upon the horizon. Mika’s problem was over-excitement coupled with lack of focus.

The deer represented the moment of distraction, but in actual fact this ingrained behaviour started at home. Think about it. If your dog exhibits huge excitement when presented with the leash, while in the process of donning the equipment and then allowed a frenetic bolt out the front door and gate – how could you expect any different behaviour while out on your neighborhood walk, let alone at the dog park or free roam on a wooded trail? Who causes the degree of excitement and non-focus? You do: By producing and condoning unwanted behaviour right from the start. Let’s face it:  It’s just easier for all of us to blame the deer!

The solution was straightforward. We chunked down the steps to make it easier for both dog and owner. Maria learned to focus on eliminating boisterous talk (which causes excitement) while leashing up. Mika was then able to gain a quiet focused departure from the house that enabled her to learn how to maintain that sense of focus during a regular on-leash walk. Focus and obedience started there. Teaching Mika to heel in a proper position gave her cause to focus on her owner. (That’s called a job… And I speak of it often.)

This up close leash work then naturally set Mika up for success, followed by re-call training sessions using the long-line. Maria worked diligently to gain the skills of correction and reward with the right timing, alongside the use of the right equipment and how to use it effectively.

This training took place a year ago (April 2015), yet today you would find Maria and her loving canine companion happily trekking along the Okanagan trails with friends that have also attested to Mika’s change in attention span. This bad girl has gone good again.