Distracted Dog

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.