2019 is now in full swing! January saw Canine Behaviour Guernsey go full time and with that it means I have been working out and about a lot more! While we have been out we have noticed many people are walking their dogs on retractable flexi-leads. What is wrong with that? Well, the truth about flexi-leads is they may just be encouraging the very things you are trying to train your dog not to do.
People like us to walk nicely on our leads so they can have a pleasurable walk. And that can be the very reason some people buy a retractable lead. If their dog pulls and they have a flexi, there is less strain on their arms when they go for a walk but they still have the comfort in knowing there is a lead there if they need to get their dog back. Flexi-leads make it more convenient for the human – they don’t have to keep stopping and changing direction when teaching them to walk nicely on the lead. They think it’s nicer for their dog as they have more ‘freedom’ to roam. We certainly can see how that convenience is appealing for an owner. However, by their very nature, retractable leads are always tense. They are also heavy so we can feel this as we walk. When they are locked, they are tighter and even tenser. And when they are unlocked, we know that we can pull against the lead to go ahead and investigate all those lovely scents and smells.
Let’s think then what this is all teaching us. With a flexi-lead we learn to pull. We don’t learn any self-control, nor do we learn to check in with our handler because if we are out five metres or so ahead then we’re only thinking about one thing – whatever is in our path. This doesn’t help with our recall and you actually have little control over us. They also don’t help us to be calm and relaxed on a walk. Tension can lead to anxieties and frustration on the lead – we dogs feel restricted because we can’t make our own decisions.
Another truth? Retractable lead locks can fail. Rescue centres know all too well about this – they have seen so many accidents where a dog has bolted into the road, the lock has failed and in a blink of an eye the dog is injured or killed by the oncoming car. And then let’s think at what happens if you have a reactive dog on a flexi-lead who has gone into fight mode and the lock fails? The consequence doesn’t bear thinking about.
So what can you do instead? Ideally, we should be to the side of our humans walking next to them on a nice loose lead with a loop in the middle – this ensures no tension and so a relaxed walk is had by all. It’s so nice to be able to trot alongside mum at our own pace, no pulling, no straining. I can see that she enjoys our walks. We’re trying to teach Holly this concept – it is difficult for a puppy because they get so excited but pawrents have to stay patient and consistent!
We walk on two-metre training leads that mum has the ability to shorten if need be, to tie around her waist or even to use a double clip harness. Mum also does loose lead walking exercises with us. And what about recall training? Long lines, or recall lines as some people call them, offer more flexibility for when you are out in wider spaces and practicing recall.
A loose lead is a happy lead,
Hello paw friends! I have a key message to share in this article. It's something very important and something my mum and I feel very passionate about and we want to raise awareness of. Unfortunately though, it's a debate where those on either side can get very territorial about. But at Canine Behaviour Guernsey we don’t get territorial, we look at the facts and treat every dog as an individual.
As I write this, I'm feeling rather poorly. I've had an upset tummy recently and now an ear infection and, to be honest, I'm quite fed up. My mum knows when I'm ill because I get quite grumpy - understandably of course - and my guarding tendencies tend to get stronger. I'm not sure why, but, when I feel unwell I feel like I need to cling onto things to protect them. Maybe it's because I don't know what's going on and why I'm hurting so I get anxious and that's how it all comes out. Anyway, everyone knows I'm a resource guarder, I've been rehabilitated but I still sometimes feel like I need to do it - mostly when I'm ill. I know now that there is nothing to be ashamed of though- it is a relatively common instinctual tendency and reinforced very quickly. Think of it please as an anxiety – I am nothing like a demanding child, who knows right from wrong but is trying to get my own way.
There are many complex behavioural issues that my dog peers can suffer from. Guarding is just one of them. My pawrents know how to manage and control my incidences of guarding and they have counter-conditioned my responses so now, if I have something that will harm me or I will break, they will ask me to swap it for a tasty piece of sausage. I love sausage and now will give up anything for it!
The problem is when people incorrectly apply an out-dated theory to these types of behaviours - the dominance theory. Now I could write for days on why very little weight, if any, should be put onto such a theory. It's something that so many people quote and for those people, it's considered to be gospel. However, it's a theory based on an old study of wolves in captivity and there are many new studies that give us a much better understanding as to why we act the way we do.
You see, the dominance theory simply doesn't fit many dogs. Mum prefers to use the word confidence as people use the word 'dominant' in the wrong way and also as an excuse to bully their dogs. Yes, there may be certain confidence related behaviours displayed between dogs themselves but there is certainly nothing to suggest that us dogs are trying to dominate our owners. Those who believe in dominance even think we manipulate our owners! But let me tell you this - a dog sees the world way more black and white than a human sees it. We live for the moment, for our next meal, for our next treat and for our next self-rewarding behaviour - not to manipulate or dominate our owners in an attempt to seek some perverse type of 'success'. Not us folks, I care way more about my sausage!
So next time you hear someone refer to the theory, think of me as I lay here at the end of my mum's bed, in pain and completely miserable. Am I being dominant while guarding my mum's pyjama top?! Nope, I just want to cling on to the comforting scent of my mum while not knowing why I feel this way. How would it feel if someone snatched this top away from me or even smacked me because they 'are the boss'? My fear that this would be taken away from me would be realised and I would learn that next time, I should guard that little bit harder. I once heard someone say that a dog should know its place in the home. So I ask, what place is that? Remember, it's our home too and you brought us here.
Till next time,
Hello! A lot has changed in the last couple of months - all for the good of course! I'm no longer an only child! My pawrents went away for a few days back in late June and came back with a nine-week-old cockapoo, called Holly. They did say they were coming back with a surprise! It was a little weird at first of course. I was introduced to Holly in a big garden and I think she was a little scared of me to start with because I was so big! But I have great manners so I let her be as she settled in.
When we went home, she wanted everything that was mine! My toys, my bed, my food! I felt I had to be a good big brother so I let her have everything she wanted - after all she was only a baby. Now though, I’m not quite so keen to let her have everything. But somehow she always ends up with whatever it is she wants!
I've had to be like an old school master with Holly - showing her how to behave in a domesticated human home. It's something that some dogs do struggle with so I made sure I told Holly from day one when she was doing something she shouldn't be. Cor, I didn't get much of a break! Every time I turned my head she seemed to be up to something! Biting chair legs, tugging the curtains, grabbing at my mum's trousers, chewing dad's phone cables. With every 'ah, ah, ah' mum and dad said, I barked to tell Holly to stop! And it worked - she only chewed through one mobile phone charger, which thankfully wasn't plugged in! It could have been worse!
But the amazing thing about having a little sister is I get to play! Some people might think we play a little rough but that's only because they miss-understand our intentions. This can sometimes lead owners to get too involved in their dogs play, which can cause issues. For instance, if mum picked Holly up when we were playing rough because she is smaller, I would get frustrated because I wouldn't know what I have done wrong. Holly too might get frustrated or learn there is something to fear when playing with bigger dogs. It is a tough balance though, you do of course need to step in if you think it's going to end in tears.
When we dogs play, we practice our survival and fighting skills, as well as chasing, wrestling mimics fighting and mouthing mimics biting. If someone saw still images of us playing in isolation, they might think we are trying to kill one another – but we’re not! You know we’re not when the play is being mirrored by both dogs and there are play behaviours thrown in such as play bowing and rolling over to expose our belly. Also, when we play we learn not to bite too hard.
Now, like all siblings, we have had our fair share of squabbles. Nothing major but for instance, I'm not keen when she jumps up at me at 6am in the morning and tries to wake me up by smacking me in the face with her paw then trying to bite my toe nails! But we sort out our differences. Again, my pawrents try not to get too involved. But if Holly bothers me when I'm ill or grumpy, they will try and call her away to distract her with something else and likewise, if I try and steal something from Holly and it gets a little heated, they call us in to distract us. Again, it's a balance. So trust your instincts.
Ah… recall. It’s every dog’s worst nightmare to learn – and that’s because it’s so, so very hard for us! While it’s a tricky thing for us to grasp – and our owners to teach us - it is one of the most important things every dog must learn. Why? Because without it, we could find ourselves in a sticky situation –running up to another dog on the lead that doesn’t like to socialise with his canine peers, leaping out into the road at the thought of what could be on the other-side, worrying livestock when our instincts kick in. I could go on.
Learning a recall is something that protects us from harm and indeed protects others - humans, other animals and wildlife - from the potential mischief that we could cause. Without it, we simply aren’t safe. I’ll be the first to put my hands up here – I struggled to learn it at first. I’m a cockapoo – we’re nosy little poos. We like to go and say hello to everything. I would have never have meant any harm, but I wouldn’t have known the circumstances of the person or other dog I would have bounded up to. My mum, Anna, knew this and so she didn’t take me off the lead until I had learned a solid recall. She knew I would get myself in some sort of pickle if she had – probably something like sniffing the behind of an old dog that wanted nothing to do with me!
You see, it’s not enough for you just to think ‘my dog is friendly, he never means harm so therefore it’s okay to take him off and let him bound up to others’. What if the dog he bounds up to is on a lead because he is scared of other dogs and suffers from fear aggression? What if it’s a dog recovering from an operation, what if it’s a young child that they bound into knocking them over?
It’s not some kind of dog owner’s law or right to take their dog off the lead. And it is a common misconception that a dog can’t enjoy itself when on the lead. A lead isn’t a restriction, it’s a safety device. Get your dog a nice long lead and a long line for the beach and work on your recall in all situations and scenarios. Teach your dog how amazing it is to be with you on the beach and to come back to you. And then, only when you know they will respond, take them off the lead. Tell them it’s okay to go and play when you do and recall them every now and then – and when you see another dog on the lead, a waddling toddler or an elderly person, call them away.
It will take them time to learn so don’t think it will happen overnight – it took me 18 months. This is because running off or chasing something is self-rewarding. You have to make sure that staying with you is more rewarding so take toys as well as tasty treats if you like – sausage is my favourite! When the summer beach restrictions get under-way, we will all be trying to enjoy ourselves in busy, concentrated areas. Please be responsible and considerate of others, that’s all I ask.
In 2018, we were asked to write a new column in the Guernsey lifestyle magazine GYone. But this was not to be any ordinary column - it was to be written from a dog's perspective. Murphy has since launched his column and has been hard at work for the last few months, writing about topical issues in the modern dog training world. We've had a lot of positive feedback from readers, who have found that the articles have helped them to understand their dogs better. And therefore we wanted to share Murphy's words of wisdom with you too. So that you can be sure as to who is writing - whether it is Anna or Murphy - we will call his posts as 'Murphy Writes'.
Many people think a dog’s life is easy. We eat, we sleep, we play, we walk and then each day that cycle starts all over again. But in truth, our lives aren’t as easy as you think they are. Each of us were bred by humans to do different things, my mother for example is a cocker spaniel, bred to be working all day as a gun dog. Some dogs were selected and bred to guard livestock and homes, some were bred to work all day herding sheep and others were bred to be hunters. Now, people mostly want us to be their companions and conform to their human ways of life and I’ll be honest, this can be quite tough! While indeed some breeds were intended to be companions from the outset, all of us dogs have canine instincts, some of which even date back to our ancestor, the grey wolf. Unfortunately though, humans tend to forget that and that’s where we run into difficulties.
Humans expect a lot from us. Although we’re a different species and communicate in different ways, we’re often expected to know what they want us to do without even being shown. We are so desperate to please that we frantically try and work it out, but if we don’t get it right or we get confused and try to tell them, they bark at us, they huff and they puff and some of my unfortunate peers will also get a harsh punishment. How is that fair? Humans simply expect too much from us.
Now, I see myself as one of the lucky ones – I have an owner that was so intent on understanding my species and behaviour that she researched and studied it. Now together, we are trying to educate dog owners in Guernsey how us canines see the world. The world isn’t all about money and success for us, nor is it just about cocking our leg up lamp posts and trees. It’s about exploring and getting used to our surroundings, getting our exercise, using our brains and having the very best relationships with our humans. If we feel fulfilled and if we are understood, we will live happy fuss free lives.
In this new column, I’m going to try and describe to you how we learn, how we perceive certain situations and what you as a dog owner can do to help us out. The first topic – one that I know all owners struggle with – lead walking. Like all pups, when I first learnt to walk on the lead, it felt a little strange! Suddenly, I was attached to my human by a relatively short piece of material and they were dragging me around left, right and centre. But as I started walking the first few times, I learnt that if I wanted to walk in one direction and pulled, they would follow and come with me. Great, I thought – that’s the way to do it! But to be honest, while it meant I could go in the direction I wanted, it wasn’t a particularly nice feeling. I was straining. Then shortly after that, my training started and suddenly if I pulled, they wouldn’t come with me. It didn’t work anymore. They would change direction and then I started to learn that actually it was much easier and nicer to walk next to my owner. I was getting a treat and a click when I was next to them and the lead was slack. Because I was clicker trained and because I was getting a reward with the treat, I knew I was doing something right. Pulling didn’t get the click but being next to my owner did. Walking next to my owner is still reinforced every now and then today and to be honest, most of the time I forget whether I’m on the lead or not!
The problem with lead walking in when most dogs pull, their owners go with them. Like me when I was small, I believed that was the right thing to do because it was reinforced. But then when I was actually shown what I needed to do, I got it. Now I have pleasurable walks and both my humans and I enjoy them. I often see other dogs taking their owners for a walk – their owners struggling to catch up, tripping over themselves and shouting expletives at their furry friend. But it’s not the pups being naughty, they just haven’t been taught what to do. So if you have a problem with your dog pulling on the lead, you know what to do – teach them instead to walk next to you.