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  • Writer's pictureSophie Mayes

Why you need to know the whole picture!!!!

OK firstly there's going to be a lot to unpick in this post, which hopefully will help you to understand just why dog trainers are so invaluable when helping with your dogs; and why the internet, or watching a dog training video shouldn't be the go to place for behavioural needs- or even simple obedience problems..... because sometimes what appears simple to start with, isn't at all.

Now, I'm not saying training videos, seminars, pictures, books etc are a bad thing- I'm a big fan of them in general. However sometimes you need to know the bigger picture and in some cases (usually social media based) watching just a snippet of something can actually be quite damaging.

Take today with my own dog for example..... I had to go against most training recommendations. If I had gone to a book, or posted online for help, it's unlikely I'd have found a solution... in fact I could have made things much worse. But for arguments sake, lets say I did. Lets just pretend that I wasn't a dog trainer, and was simply an owner of a dog who was struggling with something. I might for example have posted this video with this caption:

"Help, I can't stop my dog pulling.... any suggestions?"

Now most training advice aimed at pulling on the lead just wouldn't help here. You might get told shorten the lead, use treats to reward her when she's in the right place, stop every time she pulls, only continue walking when she's next to you, make yourself more interesting and exciting etc. And all that advice isn't wrong IN GENERAL, but what most people would fail to notice is the body language that the dog is displaying. Even in this short video note the ears back, the tail down, the fast erratic pace, the head turning back. Now let me show you the longer clip and you will see why (sound on):

For those that may not hear it, there is a group of children we went past who were being quite loud and worrying her.

So now we know we are dealing with a dog that is worried- what should we do? Perhaps let her see the children, or get them to give her a treat? Or what if I said to you it has nothing to do with the children per se. And this is what I mean about knowing the bigger picture.... let me take you back just a couple of weeks (and for those of you that don't know) and remind you that it wasn't long ago that she managed to get lost around the streets and wouldn't go near anyone who tried to catch her. (For those that don't know the story she managed to get out of a window somehow and panicked when a neighbour tried to catch her- she found her way to another place of safety where I found her after a few hours).

Now what you are seeing in the video is a consequence of this experience. The streets in her eyes are not safe and the pulling you are seeing is her in flight mode. Now hopefully you can see why all of the advice above just wouldn't help in this situation.

So what did I do?

Well firstly, before you can train a dog to do anything, the dogs emotional state has to be addressed. You cannot train a worried, anxious dog. What you can do is change the dogs emotional response to a stimuli (or environment) ... this has to be the beginning point and is called counter conditioning.

In Wrens case, food works well, so perhaps I could have just gone out there and fed her a load of treats? Well maybe, but this would have only had limited effect. Knowing what she had been through, I knew her thought of fleeing also had to be addressed. She is also in general quite a flighty dog and is 'busy'. So it was important that I addressed her attitude of what being out on the streets involved. And one of the best things to do with a worried dog is engaging their nose- it has a brilliant calming effect on the brain.

Playing the find it game to stimulate the nose and create interest in the environment

So this was step 1.

Step 2 was allowing her to take that interest onto her own accord. I let her sniff what she wanted, ensuring my body language allowed her to take her time. The last thing I wanted to do was hurry her up. It was important she could take whatever time she wanted to just 'be' and not feel like she had to get anywhere. However whenever we came across anyone, we went back to playing the find it game to prevent her freezing and panicking again. What she needed to do was stay calm whilst they walked past or we could have been at risk of self reinforcement if she was in a negative emotive state when they walked away.

Sniffing and staying in the moment - pulling was irrelevant at this stage

Step 3.

Seeing if we can have some loose lead walking now we are in a more confident emotional state

notice how I don't correct the moments she pulls ahead- at this stage I still don't want any negative associations of the walk

Step 4:

Introducing some more 'fun' activities. Now there's a couple of reasons for this.

1- so she simply doesn't get bored (she's an active dog and ideally would be running and burning off her energy - it's only because she's been spayed she is on these lead walks).

2- Using tricks and games she has a good association with continues to increase her emotional state.

Spin is a great trick for dogs which worry- they can't stay stiff in the mind if the body is loose

changing the pace and direction can help engagement

So I'm hoping after reading all this, you can see how a simple case of pulling may not be so simple after all; and why many times you need a professional to help truly get to the bottom of why, and how to help. It's also important to note that this is likely to require a lot of repetitions before we really undo her emotional association with street walking.

And for those of you who are reading this following on from my facebook post, I hope you now understand the difference in the videos and the types of pulling.

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