A Bundle of Bad Behaviour
Last week while at my desk thinking about the days canine behaviour consultations and going over the advice I had given the owners about controlling their pets in this or that situation, I realised that not only did most of these despairing owners need advice on how to control their pet but that some of these same pets, full of character and of exceptional intelligence, had learnt more about human psychology than their owners had about dogs.
Open Plan Dogs
Pickles is a Roan Cocker Spaniel with a little tuft of hair on his head sticking up like a flower display. Oh yes, he is adorable alright, but I think he somehow knew as well as I did that his reign of brattish behaviour was about to come to an end.
Pickles was bought as a puppy of eight weeks and soon established himself as top dog within the Blaxby’s household. His owners said that they had tried to keep him off the sofa; had tried to stop him barging through all the doors before them; had even tried to stop him begging for their food and on occasion he would resort to grabbing a butty and “leg it” to behind the sofa and gobble it up before you could say Jack Robinson. But always the big floppy ears and soft fawning eyes did the trick.
Every time that Pickles behaved badly or, as far as he was concerned, normally because he was getting away with it, they forgave him just because of his pathetic look which said “I’m only a dog, come on, Mum, have a heart.”
He would whine and bark the house down when a closed door prevented him from entering a room or from reaching his owners. Not because they had left him to go out but because he could not get into their bedroom or a door was shut preventing him reaching them in the lounge, for example. He would have gone completely berserk if they had left him in the house alone and would have become a canine shredding machine capable of rearranging the carpet, the curtains and furniture. He would simply have chewed the place up and this is not mentioned in the Complete Cocker Spaniel Book as one of the costs of keeping that kind of dog.
Pickles certainly dominated his owners and had a bad dose of separation anxiety. But what amazes me is how dogs in general manage to fool so many people so much of the time. After all, a dog is only being a dog when he tries to get his own way. Maybe it can be amusing to have a paw placed on your knee and you melt a little and then another and a head and then eventually the dog is strewn flat out across your lap helping himself to the odd Cadbury chocolate whilst you both enjoy South Pacific. That is what I call training owners to cater to every whim of the deviant dog, though an amusing sight not a satisfactory outcome.
Pickles also fretfully scratched so many doors to get into a room that the Blaxbys had all the doors fixed permanently open or removed them. Of course, he was delighted that his masters had obeyed his every wish and now the geography of the house suited him just fine with no more doors to obstruct his movement.
Pickles had also trained his owners to act as doormen conveying his message by pawing at the patio doors whenever he wanted to go out into the garden. They thought they had at least trained him to do something useful but I had to explain that this was just another scam. Pickles didn’t associate their endless ups and downs to the patio doors with kindness. No, he had again brought them under his control on the wave of his paw. It was good training but unfortunately the wrong way round! I told the Blaxbys that Pickles rarely went for a meaningful wee. He cocked his leg for marking purposes, not because he needed to go. Most of the time he just scampered about and then barked impatiently until these well trained owners opened the door and let him back inside.
Poor old Pickles. Unfortunately for him I set down my tried and tested programme of rehabilitation into the world of dogs obey and masters are obeyed…. well, at least most of the time. Beautiful dogs like Pickles often end up dumped in dogs homes when the owners can no longer cope with what they perpetuated in the first place. However for pickles I set down enough training practises that would make his life more ordered and his owners in command. Time is up for the old Pickles but long may he live in a new harmonious human relationship or whatever Cocker Spaniels call it.
I said COME
How many times have we heard “Come Polly” or “Holly” or whatever the dog doesn’t answer to. Labradors are great dogs, but Badger the labrador had amazingly trained his Mum and Dad to follow him round and round the local park for ages. The walk normally ended with a lot of noise and a little verbal abuse but Badger can cope with that –
Badger’s owner, Mr Simpson, said that when he was a puppy he would always come when called but from about six months of age he behaved as he were stone deaf. Since that time they had hated walking him because of the trouble he got them into. Without reservation he would happily attempt to mate with the odd bitch or even odder dog, run to the nearby road for safetys sake, jump up on people in the park uninvited and the final straw, run off in the opposite direction when called. That was his cue for the off. The chase was on with Badger in the lead and not on it.
So how did they reach this stage Badger’s owner wanted to know. In my view Badger as a puppy instinctively kept near his Simpson wolf pack for security but as he grew more confident and his hormones kicked into action he became bold. That is the way dogs function; it’s called growing up. You can see this happening, everywhere. Young puppies move away from their owners to greater distances week by week unless they are nervous. That is the time to see the warning signs and action is required.
I explained to the Simpsons that they need to teach Recall to a puppy within a few days of its arrival. That is step 1. Don’t take your dog out for a walk and ignore is Step 2 as it teaches the dog to ignore you and why not? If somebody went for a walk with me and didn’t say a word or bored me to death I would not pay much attention either and after a time that would become the norm. Step 3, or Recall, introduces games in which the dog brings a toy or ball back to you –
The Simpson’s followed this and other advice and Badger is getting better. No he’s not, his owners are getting better and Badger is responding accordingly. They are starting to enjoy their walks once more and Badger is enjoying their communication. The Simpsons are delighted that he now knows they exist in parks as well as the house.
Shih Tzus Rule OK!
Harley Street London is not only the home of Doctors & Nurses but of their dogs too. One such dog is Daisy a Shih Tzu. Mrs Buchanan Harvey Davies is her doting mistress whose life’s work is dedicated to Daisy, her only companion. Daisy is pretty and she is noble and like all Shih Tzus knows how to manipulate people. They’ve had hundreds of years to master the art.
Mrs Buchanan Harvey Davies explained her worries and concerns about Daisy to me but one of the most astonishing things she told me was that she had not been on holiday for nine years, not even a weekend, because she could not cope with the guilt she would feel leaving her in kennels or with a dog sitter. Mrs B said she was embarrassed to tell me this but wanted to know if it would be considered cruel to leave. I have heard this many times before especially where the dog in question is the sole companion of one person.
Now Daisy for all her glamour and vivaciousness would not have had a nervous breakdown if left or would she? Many years ago Mrs B had tried to leave her with a friend so that she could have a weekend in Paris. She had received a frantic telephone call from the friend on the second day stating that Daisy had become aggressive and distressed, barking, snapping, refusing to eat, and scratching the doorway carpet to bits. Mrs B had heard enough and was on the next flight to London to be united with Daisy on her arrival. Daisy performed her distressed and hurt look perfectly and as a result of this Shakespearean performance Mrs B became even more upset and distressed as her little dog jumped into her arms.
Mr Tennant,” she lamented, “am I such a wicked women to ask for one Holiday or should I wait until Daisy has lived her life?” I explained that though it was a bit late in the day I felt that Daisy, like most humans and other dogs, would have to bite the Bullet and learn that being left was not the end of the world. As an exception to my rule I offered to take Daisy in my kennels when Mrs B went on her next trip and I certainly wouldn’t be contacting her mum on Daisy’s first distress signal and the chances of success should be higher.
With immense reluctance Mrs B placed her trust in me and my small kennels. I never take more than 15 dogs and average about 7 so Daisy would be in good company and well looked after though she didn’t see it that way. After all, for eight years she had completely dominated her owners life style to an unhealthy level. No one blames Daisy for being normal and for trying it on but from now on Mrs B can behave the same as the rest of us dog owners and Daisy in turn will have to adapt to that. I arranged for Daisy to be brought for a few day visits to my kennels and house. On arrival she snooped about, took in the odd scent and had that look on her face that so many dogs have of “Where’s the door? It’s been nice visiting you but bye!” At the end of the third visit after a flood of tears, anguish and a twenty minute extended goodbye Mrs B left. She also telephoned me many times that evening to check on her baby and each time I gave her the same answer “Go off and enjoy yourself”.
Daisy was sitting in my kitchen and not at all grateful that she was the only dog to do so out of all my residents. She was working out her escape from doggy Alcatraz! I spent the next few days ignoring her to the full having taken preventative measures so that my carpets didn’t end up as Shih Tzu shredded delight.
Her distressed cries for help were met with a wry smile and a matter of fact look as I continued on my way or watched TV or read a book. I do have the ability to turn off to barking and yelping. You can become immune if you’ve had thousands of dogs living with you so Daisy’s attention seeking antics made no obvious impact on me. Underneath my stoic pose I did have secret sympathy for the little dog as she was confused and probably would have dealt better with being left with others if Mrs B had had the courage to be firm many years previously when Daisy was a puppy. But this was the reality before us, not the ideal.
Daisy soon adapted to the new regime and within four days she was trooping around the house and garden taking an interest in her surroundings. My kennel maid introduced her to other dogs, who were taken out on leads, unlike her pretty self and believe it or not Daisy started to behave like a dog and all the vocal distress calls ceased. Daisy was slowly being conditioned to accept her owner’s departure. When Mrs B returned I asked her not to make a fuss of Daisy but just to simply sit down in my office whilst a colleague brought Daisy in. To Mrs B’s surprise Daisy had not lost weight nor become ravaged by her absence and she greeted her mum in a frantic noisy way. Mrs B, following my advice, responded in a low key way. This was the first step for Daisy and Mrs B to develop a comfortable and healthy relationship for the future.
Client: Kay –
Pet Dogs Feature: Readers Letters
I wish to buy a puppy but already have two cats in the house. A friend told me that if I get the puppy the cats may leave home permanently. Should I get a puppy and if so what should I do to settle them in together?
Dear Mrs Burger
Cats and dogs can get on together depending on the habituation and familiarisation that has taken place from the outset. However, with dogs, first impressions last and even moreso with cats. If you get it wrong at the beginning it will be farewell to happy families!
Here are some quick tips. First of all, before the puppy’s arrival set up a play pen area for it so that for the first four weeks the puppy cannot chase after the cats. The cats will then be able to observe the puppy, probably from a high vantage point and this will keep them relaxed as they will see that the threat is limited and they have an escape route. Over a period of weeks gradually introduce your puppy to the cats whilst you hold it well restricted on a lead. More freedom can be given as the cats become adjusted to it. The rate of progress is always dictated by the cats and not the dog.
My Norfolk Terrier, Bob, attacks every dog it meets in the street. I am at my wits end after trying numerous training clubs who keep recommending food to associate the dogs with a good experience. It does not work and we are eventually asked to leave the club.
Dear Mrs Williams
Food reward training by association has its limits and most dogs who, like yours, are established fighters think of fighting and not food as you have discovered. Unfortunately your experience is typical of the theorist who knows little about dogs but enjoys espousing “book knowledge”. The clubs reject you because they do not know how to help but are unwilling to say so directly. You need a visit to a canine behaviourist. Contact your Vet or write to me for a list. You will need one-
What is the best diet for dogs? My West Highland White Terrier hates dried dog foods and it is hard to feed and put weight on her.
Dear Mrs Palmer
The best food for dogs is meat and three veg. or raw tripe if you can get it. Tinned and dried food are, on the whole, fine for convenience. My dogs are fed on Forthglade meats, a commercial food which has no added chemicals and this is, at times, supplemented or wholly replaced by meat and three veg. Left overs are great for dogs as most humans eat a reasonable balanced diet and leave some of it . I hear a lot of hot air about “But it must be balanced” and yet I have never come across a case where a dog did not look good on normal household food.
My Golden Retriever bitch will not stay in the back of my car and recently I nearly crashed whilst simultaneously driving and trying to pull her from the front to the back. We have tried leaving a treat on the back seat but she eats it then jumps into the front passenger seat. All the treats must have given her a good impression of cars if nothing else.
Dear Mrs Payton
Dogs sitting on front seats are dangerous –
I have a Jack Russell dog who goes berserk whenever the phone rings. He jumps on and off the settee barking and yelping and eventually if I do not pay him some attention, like cuddling him whilst talking, he bites me in the leg –
Dear Mrs Bell
This behaviour, including “only little nips though”, is usually attention seeking. Most humans do not talk to walls or to themselves in empty rooms and dogs notice this. They also notice what gets your attention, in this case a noisy telephone hence the barking and yapping. When they see you pick up the telephone and have a natter some dogs cannot adjust and think that they are being ignored while you talk to the wall. They discover by trial and error what gets your attention and then perform. Firstly, get friends to telephone you several times a day –
By Colin Tennant
Principal of the Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour & Training