Popular Posts

Thursday, 25 October 2012

'Guard' Dogs...

I was asked by a colleague in a rural area about the possibility of a client of theirs taking on a couple of rescue dogs to act as guard dogs in their property during the night and be tethered during the day (living outdoors).

As I wrote my response I thought it might be useful to put it in a blog post for others to read.  I've had quite a bit of experience with people wanting to rescue Molossers to give them a 'better' life as a guard dog for their premises...  

"With regards to keeping dogs as guard dogs, we generally strongly recommend against this now.  It’s actually not strictly legal anyway, as a dog cannot be kept as a ‘guard dog’ unless some pretty stringent measures are put into place such as warning notices all over the place and the dog being supervised by a handler at all times.

Tethering of dogs makes them extremely frustrated (this is a massive problem in the U.S.) and this can lead to aggression.

In my experience dogs (whatever size or disposition they are) would prefer not to be left to their own devices to guard territory.  They need to know that it isn't THEIR job to make critical decisions about who they let in and who they don’t.  They need to work with a handler to make those decisions for them.  Even if they are not expected to actually attack anybody and just raise the alarm, this won’t stop the stress related to having that responsibility on their shoulders unless very specific training is instilled such as I've taught my dogs; one or two barks then run back into the house and find me so I can reward them with a treat.  Most pet owners will not be able to put this training in and keep it in place.

Dogs that work ‘alone’ make all the wrong decisions - usually using their teeth - and end up being very unstable characters who generalise their instability around animate stimuli even when they are taken ‘off duty’ for a walk with their owner.  They usually lead miserable lives never quite knowing when they are on or off duty and never being able to fully relax.

I think that in truly rural areas this isn't really a problem as people, as you say, live differently and almost expect visitors to understand that there are loose dogs roaming around and the dogs generally have more space to 'escape' if they feel they need to. This is very different in busier towns and cities though, where dogs are subjected to far more ‘threats’ and probably never get a chance to ‘switch off’, leading to long-term problems with cortisol build-up due to prolonged stress etc.

Living outside is a purely an individual decision based on the individual dog.  I've known many dogs who prefer to live outside and only visit indoors now and again.  These guys tend to be quite independent, aloof characters and not ideal family pets though.  They are loyal to a point but personally speaking,  I think they will always be ‘their own masters’ because due to the emotional detachment needed to live separately from the human social group, they’re not emotionally invested in their humans.  

A part of me can’t help feeling there’s something sad about that, but as we have to tell people every day - dogs are as individual as we are and may not always be people-orientated.  Like some humans!

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Been reeling over Lennox today... 

There was a part of me that really didn't believe they'd actually go through with it against the weight of worldwide opinion.  It's bad enough feeling so sad about it but my heart really goes out to Sarah Fisher, who actually spent time with him.  

It reminds me of a dog I worked with that was also destroyed for no good reason...

Every dog I work with, I form a bond with.  It's unavoidable.  A couple of years ago I was asked to assess a dog for a breed rescue. He had come in for showing aggression towards a small child, but the child had been trying to hug the dog while he was eating.  I was told that the dog had been subjected to non-stop chasing and hugging from the child since it had been born a couple of years previously, and 'without any warning' had snapped at the child... 

To cut a long story shorter, I assessed the dog as having some slight proximity issues around food (to be expected), calm, quiet, gentle and just wanting to have his own space and bumble about without being pestered.  He'd have been the perfect companion dog for someone who just wanted a bit of company while they were working at home or doing the garden; perhaps a retired / semi-retired person or couple without any visiting children.  I'd have had him in a shot, but then I was used to mastiffs and although this dog wasn't a mastiff, his temperament was very similar.  He'd have made someone a very loving companion.

I received an email just a few hours after my assessment from the foster carer telling me that the dog had been destroyed.  When I asked why, it was because his temperament was not indicative of his breed and he would be un-rehomeable.  In other words, because he wasn't bouncy and bright with a constantly wagging tail he wasn't to be given a chance.  Another dog who had lost his life due to breed 'type', but this time  because he WASN'T typical of type.

I only spent an hour or so with him but I still remember the quiet, gentle way that lovely dog had about him.  I remember his quiet, thankful eyes and how restful and at peace he seemed now that he was in a quieter environment without being pestered all the time and used as a plaything or child's toy.  I will never forget him and how needless his death was.

So my heart goes out to Sarah tonight as she also remembers a dog that has been lost for no good reason.  

I wish that humanity's obsession with 'breed' could simply die and we could see dogs as individual as we see ourselves.  Perhaps Harvey and Lennox would be sleeping on a sofa somewhere now.  

Friday, 22 June 2012

Gavin Grant's Blog on Responsible Dog Ownership

Regardless of what you may think of the RSPCA as a whole, the outlines for the overhaul in legislation in Gavin Grant's blog make sense EXCEPT for making people responsible for the actions of their dogs within their own home...  In gardens?  Yes; we have to protect postal workers and other people who have valid access to our front door, but behind the front door?  No.  For me, this is a sacrosanct, private, family area in which every member of the family - INCLUDING THE FAMILY DOG - should be able to feel safe.  

I know that the proposed legislation changes allow for the event of a dog biting someone with unauthorised access to the house (i.e. a burglar), but we already know that ambiguous wording of an Act can give clever lawyers a chance to take advantage, especially where dogs are concerned.

Contrary to popular opinion there is ALREADY perfectly usable legislation in place to prosecute owners of dogs who harm people within the home.

The Dogs Act 1871

I deter visitors to my home as much as possible because I'm looking after a dog that needs to have one place in the world where he feels safe.  On the rare occasion I have to allow workmen into the home for essential works, I take the day off work and sit at my desk working with the dog at my feet or in his bed behind a closed door to 'show' him that there's no need to be anxious.  At no point do I 'allow' him to make a mistake and put someone with approved access to our home into fear. However, what I would not tolerate, and would resent enormously, would be someone who ignored my advice as to how to behave in MY home to keep the dog calm and stress-free and then felt they could have me charged under some law because THEY made the mistake that made the dog feel threatened.

I may be in the minority, but members of my family - even temporary ones like foster dogs - come first in their own home.  

I'm just worried that a blanket law stating that a dog is guilty until proved innocent is going to lead to exactly the same problems as we now have with the DDA...

Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Incredible Ignorance of Man...

The title of this post may seem a little extreme, but the events that unfolded today proved once again that some humans do not deserve the company of dogs...

I had to do a bit of shopping this afternoon and as I went into the supermarket (Sainsburys) I spotted a car with it's back windows open a few inches (always a tell-tale sign that there's someone in the car...).  It was parked in the shade but those of us that have done our research know that a car can still become dangerously hot in these conditions.

As I approached I saw them... two greyhounds lying down in the back of the car.  As they saw me one of them stood up poking his nose through the gap in the windows.  They were both panting distressingly heavily.

I took a photo and a quick bit of film as evidence and went immediately went to the Customer Service and told the not-too-concerned assistant that there were two dogs in distress in a car, gave her the registration and details and asked that she request the owner return to her car.

I went back to the car as the announcement was made (not for the owner to return to her car as her dogs were in distress, but just to come to Customer Service...) and watched the dogs get more and more distressed.  They didn't even get up as I returned to the car, they were lying as low as they could, clearly having difficulty in breathing and in some distress.

I then saw the owner, a middle-aged woman, wander up to the Customer Service desk and simply could not believe my ears as she tried to defend her actions, with the shop assistant agreeing with her sympathetically... Comments such as

'my dogs are fine... I'm checking on them all the time etc... Some people are just busybodies.. They just want to cause trouble..." etc.

I could not believe my eyes as this personification of ignorance just walked back into the shop and continued her shopping.

I immediately contacted the RSPCA, got through straight away, reported the incident, gave them all the details and by this time (some 15 minutes later), the owner came wandering out, went to her car, unloaded her shopping, returned her trolley to the bay and then got in the car, not looking in at the dogs once....

I didn't see them stir, so I am only hoping and praying that they weren't already beyond help.  The RSPCA have said they will follow up the incident as they have the registration number and I am hoping and praying they will.  

I completely understood the aggrieved stance this ignorant owner took; I see it all the time.  Owners who - instead of taking an incident like this as an opportunity to take a step back, look at their actions and see if there is a point to them being reported - take a defensive position because they feel their actions have been criticised.  When I see this kind of reaction I know that I have 'touched a nerve'... a person truly ignorant of the fact that their dog's welfare has been compromised will react with surprise, not defiance.

I also know from experience that personally challenging people like this is pointless, even though I wanted to.  This kind of person will only take notice of 'officialdom', and not someone they see as an equal; another member of the public.  This is why I hope the RSPCA will do the job I know they can do very well and follow this up.  I am also hoping at the very least, this owner will think twice about taking her dogs with her to go to Sainsburys, as there are people who WILL be an advocate for her dogs and disturb her little shopping trip.

From Scrapbook Photos


As soon as I got home, I checked the temperature in my living room - completely in the shade, insulated against the heat via double glazing and being mid-terrace.  My dogs were peacefully snoozing and it actually felt really cool and comfortable, but I was amazed at the temperature reading of this room...

From Scrapbook Photos

I shuddered as I thought of those poor greyhounds in that car... Goodness only knows what the temperature was in there.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Give a dog a bone? No. Give a dog A CHOICE...

I was reading this blog today and it never ceases to amaze me how you seem to find an article discussing just what you have been thinking about recently.

As my regular readers will know, I've got a life-term foster dog.  He's a 5yr neutered male Neapolitan Mastiff who bounced from his two previous homes for health reasons but also because of his severe neophobia (fear of novel stimuli).

When he bounced the second time, I promised him he never again have to endure another massive trauma (for him) of changing homes.  So here he will stay unless I can find him another person who can actually guarantee his behavioural and physical health management.

The reason I've been thinking so much lately of the irony of my work with him is that over the past 18 months he has gradually overcome the worst of his behavioural problems and he is now only mildly neophobic.  However, while he is now much more comfortable with new people approaching him, I find myself leading him away from people.

Reasons for this? (yeah I had to think about why I was doing this too...)

1.  When you say 'yes, you can come and say hello to him' (that's when they even bother to ask..) people just seem incapable of being polite to a dog.  They will approach making lots of noises, bending down over him, touching and smacking his head.  If they did that to me I'd slap them, but people think it's okay to do that to a dog they don't know.

2.  Being a Neapolitan Mastiff, I am loathe to give people the impression that this breed can actually tolerate this type of personal violation of space so that they will go online when they go home and get one as a family pet.  Only last week I was desensitising him to a lively child on a bike when the boy's father attempted to walk right over to us, saying how beautiful he was and enquiring what breed he was (to which I ALWAYS reply 'just a crossbreed').  If I hadn't physically blocked the man, he would have thought nothing of invading both mine and my dog's personal space.

Having worked in the welfare of this breed for about 7 or 8 years now, I have lost all empathy with people who go out and buy a Neapolitan Mastiff as a family pet 'because I love the way they look' and then want to get rid of them when their true nature surfaces at sexual maturity.

So... I find myself verbally or even physically blocking people when they ask 'is he friendly?'.  I find myself saying 'No' and then praising my dog warmly for walking on peacefully.  Why SHOULD I subject him to the risk of having all of our work undone by one ignorant person who frightens him with their approach?  Why SHOULDN'T he be able to go for a peaceful walk without being accosted by people who he would actually rather not interact with?

I always know a true dog person.  Someone who stands back, asks me if THE DOG would like to say hello and simply waits for an answer, then waits to see if the dog would actually like to approach for a sniff.  No approaching, no hard eye contact or unpredictable moves, no violation of his personal space, no intimidation.  

Most importantly, a true dog person simply smiles back and nods 'of course' if you say no or THE DOG says no.  

Next time you see a dog you would like to say hello to, just wait and watch.  You could be surprised when you actually give the dog some choice in the matter...

Thursday, 24 November 2011

So Proud of Poppy...

My day, in fact my month or two was made today when one of my clients described her recent visit to the vet for her Dobermann female's check up as a positive experience with the veterinary staff praising her for her handling of her dog!  

Poppy is a young rescue Dobermann who is a highly strung and feels the need to bark at other dogs that come a little too close. There's no aggression there, just a bit of panic (in much the same I do with spiders that run towards me!) but we've found her some friends in our Walk Club and she's doing marvellously.

The only way this could ever have happened though is her owner learning how to be calm and confident in any situation, which has made the world of difference to Poppy.

When Poppy and her owner went to the vets last week, the staff were really understanding and allowed them to wait outside for their appointment instead of the behavioural boiling pot that that the small waiting room would have been for Poppy.  They then showed even more understanding when they blocked the view of another dog with a large towel as Poppy went through.

Even better, they praised Poppy's owner for her calm and confident handling skills!  I always praise owners for their improving skills but it's even more pleasing when other professionals notice and comment on it too.

So, a big congratulations to Poppy & Ruth, and an even bigger thank you to AlphaPets Veterinary Clinic in Maidstone (I think!) for displaying a terrific understanding of canine behaviour!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Resource Anxiety

I have a theory forming, based on suspicions I've had for a while (and probably blogged about before).

Cutting straight to the chase, I believe that making a Dog wait for their food creates frustration / tension and therefore they get to it in a state of heightened arousal...

It's something we all teach puppy owners to do, to use the food bowl as an opportunity for training, to teach that the owner provides and doesn't take away in order to reduce the likelihood of food guarding.

However, what if the very action of mucking about with a Dog's primary resource is creating the very tension that leads to anxiety that leads to guarding?

Should we simply be teaching people to leave a Dog in peace while they're eating?

The latest reason for my doubts...

I've recently started controlling my foster Dog's access to his bowl; making him wait for his food for a few seconds behind the indoor gate and then releasing him.

I started this simply as an opportunity for a training session. He'd never had a problem with me or our other dogs walking past him while eating before.

Since we've been implementing the sit-and-wait, his arousal levels have escalated at mealtimes and his resource anxiety has resulted in full-blown guarding with him leaving the food bowl to display Level 2 bites on three occasions, once to me walking around in the kitchen and twice to our other Dog walking past him. Neither of these incidents would normally have solicited this kind of behaviour.  I believe there is a strong element of barrier frustration going on here too, with him wanting to charge the gate the minute the food goes down.

Needless to say we have stopped the sit-and-wait and have gone back to just letting him go straight to his food and things have calmed down but he is still a little resource-anxious.

I was considering impending a food resource-guarding programme but have a strong feeling this will simply be perceived as mucking about with feeding time and we will simply be increasing the intensity of his anxiety.

I'll update so watch this space, but this has been another case for me that confirms my suspicions and is leading me to the affirmation "LEAVE YOUR DOG AND HIS DINNER ALONE".

Thursday, 3 November 2011

A Different Form of Abuse?

I've been busy lately - REALLY busy!  So apologies for not blogging before now.

Before I start, I will state that I will NOT be naming the organisation concerned as I refuse to slander any organisation that actually does good work (which this one generally does).

I was at a pet show event doing charity work recently, working on just one of many charity stands doing a great job of promoting what they do and how they help people and animals.

On my travels around the show, I started to notice dogs showing signs of stress.  Now a big event open to the public is stressful for most dogs to some extent, but these dogs were supposed to be used to and enjoy human interaction, or they wouldn't have been there, right?  Well as the day wore on, these dogs were being surrounded by members of the public, getting smacked by children across the head and all over their bodies.  Now some of these dogs dealt with this okay and just accepted the attention (it must be noted that I didn't observe ANY dog positively enjoying the attention), however some of them started to show extreme avoidance behaviours and when these were ignored by their owners, started to behaviourally shut down.

An example was a large breed dog I was able to observe over a period of hours as I was situated close to where the dog was 'working'.

The owner was either oblivious to this dog's behavioural state or chose to ignore it; whatever the reason, this dog went through over 3 hours of misery.  The first sign that the dog wasn't coping was avoidance behaviours, whenever people came up to him he turned his head away, licking his lips, slow blinking of the eyes, lowering of the ears, tightening of the skin on his head and shutting his mouth tight.  Whenever he did this, his owner would hold his head in place for people to pat and stroke, many of them small children.

As his avoidance signals were obviously being ignored, he then started to actually turn his body around when he saw people approaching.  Again, his owner would merely turn him around and encourage people to come and say hello to him.

Then the dog started to hide behind his owner when people approached, showing real signs of distress by now to anybody that remotely understands dogs.  Again, his owner ignored this and merely dragged him back out for people to surround and begin their assault on his head.

Then this dog merely shut down.  He was in a severe state of distress, by now panting excessively, and didn't even attempt to move away.  The owner seemed to take this as a sign that the dog was now enjoying the attention.

This dog had to go through this for over 3 hours without any kind of break, with literally hundreds of people coming up to him and assaulting him (from his point of view) while being forced to endure the experience by an owner that really should have known better.

The crucial thing here is that this dog was probably trained only to accept the CONTROLLED attention of a few people at a time, not the continuous and uncontrolled onslaught of the general public and their children.  It is only due to this dog's incredibly tolerant nature that he didn't descend into displaying aggressive behaviours to try and control the stimuli (people) that were causing him distress.

What his owner should have done is identify her dog's stress the moment he started turning his head away from people and taken him to 'escape' into a wide open area or outside where he wasn't crowded.  Then if she returned, she should have controlled the amount of people coming up to him to a level that the dog had been previously trained to accept, just something simple like 'just one at at time please!!'.  If the dog was still displaying stress signals he should then have been removed from the public area and not return to the stand.

My point here is that this dog may well have been an excellent dog to bring to schools, hospitals or other similar environments, but he couldn't cope with the sheer onslaught of the general public at this kind of event.

This wasn't the most depressing thing I witnessed however (unbelievably).  

I couldn't bear to watch another dog go through this trauma so when the same stand had a different dog showing exactly the same behaviours I advised the show organiser and they arranged for the vet on call to examine the (toy breed) dog.  

I observed this vet smack the dog's head a few times, (affectionate patting?), smack it's rump a few times (more affectionate patting?) and merely ask the owner some questions. She didn't remain around to observe the dog during intense periods of public interest.  She then said the dog was 'fine' and left.

I was absolutely appalled as I had to watch this poor dog endure more stressful, forced interactions with the hundreds of people that came over to him.

It has to be said that there were also a few dogs that genuinely seemed to enjoy the human interaction, but these weren't subjected to the same kind of sheer numbers of people that the others were (specific, unusual breeds always draw a bigger crowd).

It dawned on me that this kind of abuse is not recognised at the moment.  We all recognise the distress a dog goes through in a car on a hot day, or being left alone for hours at a time, or being hit or kicked.  What about the BEHAVIOURAL stress that a dog goes through?  Just because a tolerant dog that would never turn to aggression to repel the stimulus that is causing him stress (human interaction), does that mean we should ignore the stress it's under?

There are patrols in dog show car parks to break into cars where dogs are suffering, there are legal processes to intervene if an animal is being subjected to being left for hours at a time or being hit or kicked; what about for the stress that demonstrator dogs may go through on stands at shows?  

Because a dog is incredibly tolerant and will not resort to aggression seems to currently mean it can be subjected to hours of intense human attention without consideration for its behavioural well-being.

Next time you're at a show where there are dogs on stands where the public are encouraged to interact with the dog, just stand and watch for a while.  Look for signs of avoidance, however small, and watch to see who the handler is being more attentive to; the humans - or their (supposedly) best friend...

Sunday, 15 May 2011

One Dog Per Family?

Sky News: One Family, One Dog Policy For Shanghai

This may seem extreme but, to play Devil's Advocate for a moment, in the long run is this a bad thing? I know rescues may now be inundated with dogs no longer legal to keep, but aren't they inundated now anyway?

Can you envisage the problems this might solve in years to come?  Or is it simply unthinkable to be forced to only have one dog in the family?

Food for thought and perhaps discussion?

The Dog that Bites...

I wanted to write something to contribute to the US Dog Bite Prevention Week but wanted to represent The Dog somehow without making it sound like a Disney script.

I've spent my life around dogs, learning about them, learning from them, with them; for them.  I've felt an empathy and affinity for dogs for as long as I can remember and in the short periods of my life that I have lived without them I have felt incomplete.

So when I know a dog is about to bite, I don't just see the behaviour, I feel the emotion vicariously.  I feel the conflict, the fear, the intent, the desire to repel whatever stimulus is causing the dog's distress, because it IS distress, most definitely, in the pet dog that feels the need to bite. 

I spend much of my time educating owners in how to read their dogs better. To develop more empathy for them by seeing the world through their eyes and feeling it with emotions equally as powerful as our own.

When I see a dog growling and / or freezing in front of someone I ask myself what is that person doing to put the dog in this emotional state?  I ask myself just what is the dog's expected outcome here? Why does he have an expected outcome?  What has happened in this dog's history that is making him feel so concerned about the presence of a human that illicits such a hugely emotional response?

I'm sure there are many others who feel this, but unfortunately it doesn't seem to be the owners of dogs.  How do we change that?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Don't Switch Off!

During our Walk Club we find lots of places to stop under a shady tree and chill out.

Scampi, Sticky and Ralph are demonstrating how easy it is to slip some training into a nice walk in the park.

If you can do exercises like a Down-Stay in an environment like the park with lots of distractions, you can do them anywhere.

So often I see people and their dogs taking two completely different walks; the owner on the phone or deep in thought, and their dog trotting around them but so far away doing their own thing, each switched-off from each other.

Don't switch off from your dog when you're out on a walk. Learn to enjoy their company like you would an old friend you haven't seen in ages. Look at the world through their eyes and share the sheer joy they feel at just being out in the fresh air. Get excited to find a discarded tennis ball or a cricket chirruping in the long grass and call your dog over to show them what you've found!  Chill out under a shady tree together and practice your Down-Stay together.

You never know, you might just enjoy 'being a Dog' with your dog for a while!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Any excuse to socialise!

Here's Sticky 'socialising' at the cafe after working hard at the Walk Club.  The fact that they make cracking bacon sarnies is neither here nor there...

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Our Session with Rico

Here's some pics of our training and behaviour session with Rico in Greenwich Park today.

Rico learned in just 40 minutes not to chase footballs using just verbal markers and lots of positive reinforcement. He is one smart cookie.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Taking in the evening sun.

Here's a little pic of my foster dog, Belly, taking in a bit of evening sun on the doorstep...

Friday, 1 April 2011

I've got a client who took on a dog with severe proximity issues around other dogs.  We've come to a bit of an empasse in the dog's rehabilitation because the owner's work pattern doesn't allow them to attend regular sessions.  The owner feels really bad about this because they would love a dog who can just be let off the lead to frolic and play with other dogs.
This was my recent reply to them...

"Hi D****

I really understand the dilemma that owners have when faced with taking on a dog with issues.  I've fostered plenty myself so know how stressful it can be, but I really can tell you that some dogs really don't want to be bothered by other dogs.  They would much rather just play and work with their owners while on a walk.  I think B*** is one of these dogs, at least at the moment.  It's really important for us to separate what we think the dog would like from what the dog would tell you if he could speak.

Well, dogs can speak - in their body language - and at the moment, B****'s body language tells us loud and clear that he's not happy around other dogs.

I'll tell you a little story... When my boys were young I really wanted one of them to go into rugby.  It's a great sport and I'm a qualified coach and I knew they'd really love it if they gave it a chance.  To cut a long story short, they tried it and even got fairly serious about it, which was when I got fairly serious about it, hoping they'd get picked for the county, maybe even the national side!  When they decided to give it up and move onto other things it was really difficult for me; I'd given up years of my life thinking that they were enjoying it, thinking that they had the same goals as me.  It took me a long time to realise that they didn't have the same goals as me and my ideas of what they loved doing weren't the same as theirs.

We all want a dog we can slip off the lead and let go off to run about and play with other dogs and people.  Well I can promise you that that kind of dog is becoming rarer and rarer these days because humans mess them up. B****'s previous owners really did mess him up and it's really unfair that you have to deal with the problems that someone else created.  However if you accept that he's probably not going to develop into a dog from a Disney film for a very long time, if ever, then you will be able to let up on yourself a bit and simply enjoy B***** for what he is.  A great companion to you and your family.

Yes it means you'll have to pick your walks carefully.  Yes it means muzzling him.  Yes it means having a long trailing line on him at all times.  Does it mean he's going to be any less happy doing these things?  Well that's SOLELY up to you.  If you walk him feeling unhappy that he's not Lassie, then he'll probably have a rotten time too and yes, he will be unhappy, but not because he can't go charging off into the field, but because you're feeling sorry for him.

I'm fostering a dog a bit like B**** at the moment; has to be on a lead most of the time, can't be walked in busy dog-populated areas because of fear problems with some types due to a really bad upbringing by numpty owners etc.  Does he have any less of a great time?  No, because I make sure that these times with just me and him are really great times, where he can have my undivided attention, and explore every mouse or rabbit hole, he can hunt for food I drop out for him, we can run about and play chase with each other etc.  Does he miss the company of other dogs?  Why should he!!?  I AM THE ONE THAT MAKES HIS TAIL WAG!!!

That's eventually how I'd like you to feel about being out with B*****.  Don't feel sorry for him or wish he was some other kind of dog.  Love the dog you're with, not the dog you wish you had.  You'll really feel much happier about everything - and so will he.


Friday, 25 March 2011

The Pride of the Wolfhounds...

I had a consultation with this amazing group of dogs yesterday.

It was a wonderful experience to be in the presence of a group of dogs that have learned to co-exist so peacefully within the confines of a normal family home. 

We witnessed such beautiful, eloquent, subtle dialogue going on between this truly gentle giants; all designed to resolve any proximity issues and keep the peace.  Like some kind of canine pride of lions.

In this picture I was handing out food to get a better idea of the social dynamics of the group and was blown away by how, well, polite these dogs were!

The reason for the consult was to resolve a developing issue between an adolescent male and an older male in his prime, and yes, the adolescent stood out like the proverbial sore thumb with his insecure and slightly clumsy communications amongst this stable, peaceful pack.  With some careful supervision and management during the next few months, he will be fine and should come out of the adolescence tunnel a really balanced individual.

I see so many dogs kept apart in kennels or separated in their homes, and then I see a group of dogs like this, so well balanced and calm, that I wonder, on a general level, just how much of this is nurture and how much nature, i.e. how much of this is just breed type / natural adjustment within the group, and how much is careful management. 

I was looking for signs of tension or stress in the relationships between the dogs but there honestly wasn't any, even when I got the food out! The adolescent male became a bit  anxious and there was a light grumble but the elder male simply calmly lumbered away again as if he was happy to defer to keep the peace.  We witnessed this kind of negotiation over and over again in different situations and it was nothing short of an honour to witness.

I've said it before and I'll keep on saying it; the human race could learn a lot from the way animals like these Wolfhounds live in harmony.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Parade of Mutants

Pedigree Dogs Exposed - The Blog: A parade of mutants

Just seen this... follows on pretty well from my earlier blog I think.

Someone comments about 'the uneducated' talking about the breed. Well I AM educated, having dealt with the rescue and welfare of this breed for over five years now, and this breed is in a mess. If the enthusiasts, owners, breeders and judges can't control what people are doing with these dogs, then perhaps Jemima is right and the breed should be banned, for the sake of the poor dogs.

Heartbreakingly Sad

Crufts 2011: the best – and still the worst – of the dog world – Telegraph Blogs

I completely agree with this.

The judging of the classes I witnessed confirms that judges are still rewarding the owners and breeders of exaggerated, unfit dogs.

So if you were wondering just how the winning Neapolitan Mastiff got its 1st place when there were other fitter less extreme dogs being shown, join the club; you're not alone...

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Here He Is!

I was working with this lovely lad today.  Not much wrong with him, just a bit of over-exuberance when he sees another dog!  Such a lovely treat for me to work with another giant breed...

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Ultimate Sacrifice...

Sky News: Tributes To Brit Soldier Shot In Afghanistan

Not that any lost soldier in war is any more or less deserving of tribute than another, I hope this four-legged one is remembered and honoured.

RIP, Theo.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Is Your Dog Really Hyperactive?

Hyperactivity in Dogs | Clinician's Brief

Or does it simply need...

A good walk?
More of your attention?
Better quality or less quantity of food?

All of the above?

I can honestly say in all the years I've been working with dogs that there have only been a few that needed veterinary help for hyperactivity, the massive majority of them have only needed some basic environmental adjustments like those above.

Food for thought next time you think 'hyperactive' when you are a dog that can't settle, can't concentrate, doesn't respond to training etc.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

A familiar place for us...

Poor foster dog Belly...

Yet another trip to the vet, this time for skin scrapes and swabs to try and get to the bottom of his recurring pyoderma.

There was no question about this; I requested a sedative for him to ease the trauma of the process and will always do so when I feel its in everyone's best interests, but especially that of the behavioural health of the dog.

Thanks to this combined with the opportunity to sit on the floor with him for 20 mins to help him relax, meant that the vet was able to do his work without hassle or risk of being bitten, and Belly doesn't retain any negative memories of being forcibly handled or having something painful done to him.

As I write, Belly is lying peacefully on the kitchen floor back in familiar surroundings and when he wakes up, will probably have no firm recollection of anything that has happened to him in the last few hours.

My thanks go, as always, to a veterinary clinic that understands the importance of behavioural health, and works with me to ensure that the dogs in my care get the necessary arrangements.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Future Walk Club Venue

Knole Park, Kent: Walk of the week - Telegraph

We would love to run a Walk Club here, possibly on a Thursday lunchtime. It's such an interesting and beautiful place.

We are also planning a course of evening Walk Clubs in West Malling in the summer on Wednesday evenings.

To register your interest in either of the above please email Dogpsyche UK.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Some Very Important Lessons

Rise in Dog Bites Has Experts Concerned

I'm hoping to get to read this research but there are some massively important lessons here.

For me the core problem is NOT the behaviour of the dog but that of  person being bitten.

Dogs do not WANT to bite.  More often than not they are forced to because they have been left with no choice.

Time and time again I hear parents say that their dog is fine with kids and is HAPPY to have the children lie all over them.

I don't hesitate to make the gravity of the danger in this misconception very clear...

As I type this I'm sitting in a little English country pub watching a little female Staffie show HUGE signs of stress at some children running around and just well, being kids; screaming, jumping, running about.

Thankfully the owners seem to be aware of this and are protecting their dog by allowing her to escape under the table, but how many owners are this considerate in their own home? With their own dog? Their own kids?

It's almost as if people are ashamed to admit their dog isn't the perfect family pet. They would rather risk a bite incident than protect their dog.

There is a rightful need to protect the child from being bitten, but I say the need to protect the dog is equally as important if we want to reduce bite incidents...

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Where'd that squirrel go?

Sticky getting a crick in his neck... After a consult where he has worked hard, I allow him to play hard as a reward. If I thought he had a cat in hell's chance of catching one, I would be interrupting this squirrel-watching!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.6


Went to see lovely Ruffles today. She's developed a bit of a ball obsession but within an hour or so of impulse control exercises, her owner was able to hold the ball without getting it snatched out of her fingers! Lots of work to do but Ruffles has a very dedicated owner; they'll do well.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.6

Monday, 7 February 2011

Friday, 28 January 2011


This beauty is Sassy. She is a 7yr rescue with a deep insecurity around certain dogs. The only dogs that she can relax around are dogs that are COMPLETELY confident and passively dominant around her. If they respond in any way to her anxious stare, even with eye contact, she responds with a typical loud and animated display to keep them away.

She has been making great progress with calm, confident dogs like my Teacher Dog, Bailey, and absolutely adores my other one, Sticky, simply because they are confident and self-assured enough to completely ignore her anxious watchfulness and go about their business, using displacement to diffuse her tension and relax her. They know not to make any sudden moves, not to make prolonged eye contact. Because Sassy gets no reinforcement of any kind, she can find a neutral companionship where neither says a word, and from there we can help her to trust our handling and guidance i.e."its ok Sassy, stick with me, stay calm and nothing bad will happen".

This is impossible to achieve without the right Teacher Dogs, and we have some awesome Teacher Dogs.

I'll keep you updated on Sassy as her rehabilitation progresses.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.6

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Life with a Molosser...

Just a little taste of what life with a Molosser is like; desperately trying to watch the tv or do some work with this delightful racket going on beside you...
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Monday, 3 January 2011

During a Walk the Other Day...

We were out for a walk the other day, just me, my daughter and a couple of the dogs, in a public country park in Kent.

I’ve always wished that there was some way (other than fixing a camera to your forehead) of recording events as they happen to put in a blog entry because a 60 second piece of video can speak an hour’s worth of typed words!  As I didn’t have a camera attached to my forehead, I’ll have to describe the things that happened during our walk that I found so fascinating that I wanted to blog about.

The first was as we entered one of the fields.  An adult male Labrador cross was enjoying himself with a Frisbee being thrown by his adult male owner.  The instant thing that hit you about this pair were that they were inherently relaxed, both of them.  The owner wasn’t on his phone or miles away in thought, he was enjoying some time with his dog and the dog was clearly enjoying the time with his owner, but there was a mutual ‘peace’ and calm about them both that I found really pleasant to watch.

Our dogs were enjoying their first few moments of freedom and of course were terribly excited to see another dog to interact with and ran up to the Labrador a little too rudely and quickly.  I explained to the owner that my dogs were okay, just a little excited to have just got here and the owner merely said with a kind smile ‘Ah that’s okay, he can look after himself’.  As I watched this lovely Labrador very calmly drop his toy to concentrate on dealing with the approach of dogs shouting ‘HALLOOOO THERE!!!’  on their approach, I anthropomorphosised in my head that he was letting out a sigh and a quick eye roll as if to say “…  Oh dear.. and I was just enjoying a bit of peace and quiet with my toy – oh well, had better be polite at least”.  Immediately it was obvious to me that the dog was as relaxed and confident as his owner and of course, the dog was able to calmly receive the attentions of my slightly-hyped pair, including telling my little guy that he was being a bit rude by jumping up at him with a little snap. 

It was lovely to watch, and I dearly wish I’d had that camera stuck to my forehead to show you.

By contrast…

Half an hour on, we were approaching one of the gates when a man came in with his young Springer spaniel.  The Springer was clearly extremely excited to be in this environment, well what Springer wouldn’t?  Rabbit, fox, cattle, squirrel and goodness-knows-what-else tracks all over the place!  My dogs had calmed down a little by now, but were still happy to see another offlead dog and they all met halfway between their respective owners.  However, the other owner’s behaviour was very stiff and anxious and he came walking very quickly up to the dogs.  At the same time his Springer’s tail went between his legs, he became anxious and tense and the entire atmosphere changed.

Now I don’t know if the dog’s behaviour changed the owner, or the owner’s behaviour changed the dog, but I DO know that the only element capable of change in this relationship is the owner.  This was obviously an established pattern - anxiety around other dogs from both owner & dog – and now this pattern is established, the owner is the only one that can alter the course of events through his behaviour changes, his attitude towards other dogs, his actions etc.  However knowing this usually creates more tension in the owner and the downward spiral continues to a point where the dog is automatically going on the offensive with every dog it meets.

As the experienced ‘element’ in this interaction it was up to me to take the initiative and I called my dogs away from the Springer who was led away by his owner.

There are a few take-home messages from this blog; 

  • Laid back owners have laid back dogs. (Think about it).
  • In EVERY situation where dogs meet, being tense and anxious NEVER helps, and it is really important for the person (or dog in some cases!) with the most experience and knowledge to take the initiative, read the situation and calmly deal with it, whether it’s 2 dogs and 2 owners or 10 dogs and 5 owners…
  • Like it or not, if you live in an area where you meet offlead dogs a lot, you HAVE to help your dog learn to socialise.  If that means YOU need to learn more about canine language in order to help your dog, then get in touch with a behaviour consultant who can teach you.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Winter Walkies

Here's a pic of the fittest, healthiest, almost-11-year-old Great Dane I've ever known, Bailey, enjoying a Winter walk today. We put her extraordinary good health down to a stress-free life, good diet and being kept lean and fit, never being allowed to get overweight.
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Doggy Heaven...

Our walking field in the village. How pretty is this?
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Wednesday, 8 December 2010


At last I have a proper smartphone that I can blog from. Hopefully I'll be able to blog a lot more often now... Watch this space!
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.5

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Vincent - Foster Dog Blog

Here's some shots of Belly at the Molosser Fun Day today after the classes had finished. I'll blog more about the day tomorrow but he was an absolute star. He made his Auntie Mummy (me) very proud.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Belly (Formerly Vincent) - Foster Dog Blog - 5 weeks

I took a few photos of Belly during a habituation session last week.  He still suffers from a slight anxiety around new stimuli but has habituated to 'our' half of the village which is generally much quieter so I thought it was time to take him to other, busier parts of the village to get him used to light traffic, a bit more social activity etc.

He was nervous at first but this junction in the middle of the village has lots of space and is not busy at all.  It has no lorries or fast vehicles going through it and rarely any pedestrians so within 10 minutes, Belly was relaxed enough to lie down and watch the world go by, which was very encouraging.

We then continued our walk to the local kids' playground, just 5 minutes up the road.  Again, I left lots of space for him to gently habituate to the activity but there were only a few families in there.  I made sure to sit down with him to show him that I was relaxed enough to 'chill' so he very quickly chilled with me!

His anxiety around children is still interesting to me as he apparently lived with a family of young children for the first 3 years of his life but as I've mentioned before - I don't think this was a pleasant experience for him so I make sure he knows I will 'protect' him and give him lots of space if he needs it.  Luckily we didn't need it on this occasion, even though children were running about and even came out of the playground to play cricket nearby, Belly remained happy to sit by me and relax.

Good stuff.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Peaceful Co-existence

Just to show that, with patient, consistent handling, peaceful co-existence can be possible after an argument (and this wasn't set up - I had my mobile on me to take the pic!)...

Friday, 16 July 2010

Vincent - Foster Dog Blog

4 weeks on and things have settled down beautifully again after the incident at the weekend. Close but relaxed monitoring have restored peace.

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Vincent - Foster Dog Blog

Poor Belly. This is an example of his skin problem. We'll be back at the vet this week...

Vincent - Foster Dog Blog - 3.5 Weeks

Well at last... He's shown he IS a true Mastino after all!

It's a little later than usual for a Mastino but today Belly (formerly Vincent) charged one of the other dogs in a definite dominance showing.

I'd observed over the last 24 hours that he was getting a little more 'clingy' than before - not wanting to settle in his half of the house at night, wanting to stay by my side at all times during the day, following me about etc. and assumed that this was just the normal bonding process for a new dog, but especially a Mastino, who form very strong emotional bonds with their chosen human if allowed to.

Yesterday I was in a very lucky position to be able to record him jumping towards another dog on the TV!  See here:

Again this gave me a clue that he was 'getting his paws under the table' and becoming more confident.  Watching his body posture but in particular his tail carriage, this wasn't 100% play either...  It has to balanced by the fact that the dog on the TV wasn't behaving in a balanced way however and I would expect most dogs to react the way Belly did in the presence of such an unbalanced dog!  What I was pleased about was the way he very quickly came back to me on command.  (Watch the vid a few times to catch all the important points!).

Then this morning...  Aha!

My 17yr daughter, Rachael, was sitting on the floor next to Bailey, our 10.5yr Great Dane.  Bailey was doing 'the Dane thing' of sitting with her bottom on the sofa and her front feet on the floor, getting some attention from Rachael.  Belly was sitting on the other side of Rachael.  The two dogs were facing each other and about 3ft apart.

Suddenly Belly lunged across Rachael and pinned Bailey to the floor with lots of noise and bluster.

I quickly and calmly got up from across the room, took Belly's collar and pulled him away from Bailey.  There was very little resistance from him, no redirected aggression, no frustration.  He immediately deferred and I took him out into the kitchen and put him behind the gate.  I was very careful not be angry or upset with him and just treated it as a completely normal act.

We checked Bailey over and - this is important - there wasn't a mark on her.  Not even a drop of slobber demonstrating that this was a gesture; a show of bluster and dominance from Belly because he wasn't happy that Bailey (for once) hadn't deferred and moved away from him in appeasement - something she always does normally.

The analysis of this between my daughter (herself an accomplished dog and horse handler) and myself was that the catalyst was her sitting on the floor between the two dogs.  Because she was stroking Bailey, she had distracted her from her normal behaviour of appeasement and moving away from Belly to keep him calm.

In fact, in Belly's eyes, Bailey was probably being exceptionally rude and almost challenging him in not giving him the space he's come to expect from her.

We are actually extremely pleased that we've seen this behaviour in him because it fills a missing piece of the jigsaw for me, i.e. why this Mastino apeared so benign and unchallenging!  The massively important aspect of this for me was that - although we would never have set this up deliberately - we know that he does not use his teeth to make his point.  Bailey was completely unmarked and unmouthed.   

N.B. A very important point to make is that we immediately went into 'happy mode' with Bailey, smiling at her, patting her cheerfully as if nothing had happened, to help her to 're-balance' again.  The temptation was to go into 'oh you poor thing...' mode as humans but DOGS DON'T DO THAT and dont understand our behaviour when we do it!  By being completely normal, cheerful, matter-of-fact with her for the next 10 minutes, she bounced back to being completely herself again...

Now we go back to square one.  As all of the dogs will have had a surge of adrenaline and may therefore be a little more reactive and 'on-edge' for a while, we'll have a couple of days of Belly being kept separate for things to calm down and more importantly, for senior dog Bailey - who is also deaf - to be able to relax in her own home.

Then we'll return to keeping him onlead in the living room again, making sure that we respect the hierarchy that THE DOGS have chosen, i.e. helping Bailey to give Belly the space that a typical Mastino demands and needs and ensuring that he doesn't slip into bullying or intimidating behaviour towards her.

It may be that we can never allow them unsupervised access together.  That's just a fact of life and we'll deal with it without 'belly-aching'!

We cannot enforce dog hierarchy.  We must help and support them while they are sorting it out and ensure and encourage that it is done as peacefully as possible and ensuring that no dogs actually get hurt (emotionally as well as physically).  While that must always mean that we are still in charge, no matter how many dogs, no matter how they organise themselves, it's important to understand that if we try and interfere too much, we actually put more pressure on them.

As an example, if we had punished Belly by alpha-rolling him, pinning him to the floor and insisting that he defer to Bailey - our oldest dog - it would have not only caused him utter confusion but would have caused Bailey stress that she doesn't want in that she is HAPPY to defer to him; she doesn't want us to make her top dog!  In the past she has been very passively dominant, but as she's got older she has been very happy to defer for a peaceful life.  Painful as it is for us to watch - our beloved dog who has been with us for years slipping down the ranks - it's the way dogs (and many other social animals) do things.

It was absolutely spot-on for a Mastino that he didn't give any warning signals like staring, growling, freezing, stiffening, standing up etc before losing his cool.  This is why they do not make ideal pet dogs for the unexperienced dog owner.

I feel that Belly has never had to deal with a dog like Bailey before and doesn't quite know how to deal with her.  He lived with a fairly passive male Basset Hound in his first home.  Bailey is bigger, is female, and, on this occasion didn't move away (which was totally our fault of course for letting OUR guard down).  He IS a typical Mastino after all... 

Lastly, and very interestingly, only a few seconds before Belly lunged, Sticky calmly moved himself off the floor and up onto a sofa away from everything.

Concidence or did he sense Belly was getting agitated?... Food for thought...

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Vincent - Foster Dog Blog - 3 Weeks

Well it's been 3 weeks today and while I would normally have done a 2-week report as one of the main guideposts in a new dog settling down, Vincent has settled in so seamlessly that the anniversary slipped by without me even noticing!

As you can see from the photo, he has settled into the family home wonderfully, has adopted a 'baby' (a soft toy which he merely carries about in his mouth from time to time) and has become the perfect family pet.

Behavioural issues that we are monitoring:

  • Slight anxiety with novel stimuli 
  • Some basic impulse control training to stop him barging through doorways and people!
His health is still a cause for concern in that he has severe hip dysplasia, very weepy eyes and chin skin and ears that need almost hourly cleaning!

Luckily he is exceptionally patient and tolerant for a Mastino and as long as he is getting a constant trickle of liver cubes he allows me to clean him, even when it's invasive or painful for him.  The hip dysplasia is altogether more serious and means that for the rest of his life, he will be on limited exercise.  He is only 3 years old and if we want to get him to double figures, we have to act now.  It's bitterly sad to not be able to take him for long walks, but every step he takes is deteriorating his hip joints and it would simply be cruel to allow him to walk for miles when this will eventually cause him extreme pain and ultimately end his life.

Luckily we live in a rural area with fields of interesting smells and sights and sounds only 5 minutes away so we don't have to go far for him to have stimulating walks, and he absolutely adores them.

He's also been put on Glucosamine HCL, Chondroitin and Cod Liver Oil to help with the regeneration of joint tissue.  This will be lifelong and very expensive.  In addition, to help with his digestive sensitivity he is on Acidophillus Lactobicillus (sp) which has worked incredibly well in settling his digestion.  Mind you, he is fed exclusively on Burns foods...

His foster dog blog will cease now as he's gone past the critical 2 week phase but I will post again if there are incidents or issues that might be useful for others to read about.

Oh, and the name Vincent just didn't suit him so he has been renamed 'Bellini'... Or just 'Belly' for short!

If you have enjoyed reading this blog or perhaps even learned something from it, please consider giving something to Neapolitan Mastiff Welfare towards his lifelong care.  Please click here:
Neapolitan Mastiff Welfare Website

Even a few pounds helps...