I’ve had Bria my Border Collie in my life for over a year now and I have to admit I haven’t done much training with her. She doesn’t have a great down unless I use my hand signal. She doesn’t walk perfectly on lead and she doesn’t have many tricks yet. What? Why? As a dog trainer, surely, I must think these things are very important? The answer is yes and no. When Bria first came to live with me, she struggled with the simplest of things such as going through a door way, dealing with stairs or having her collar taken hold of. She certain didn’t understand what a recall was. In her past life I know she lived on a farm, so her version of normal life is very different to what I now needed her to cope with. Living indoors, having different noises around, and living with other dogs are just a few to name. She was 9 months old and had spent 1 month in a rescue centre so in her short life, she had already experienced a lot of changes.
I therefore wanted to take my time to get her settled into my world. I started a plan of what I wanted her to experience and what she needed to learn. I had no expectations of her – other than she is a dog! I think this is a lesson we humans can easily forget; if you haven’t spent time showing your dog how to behave then you cannot be upset if they don’t know and do something ‘wrong’.
It’s amazing that a lot of people rescue dogs and some of those now come from abroad, however I do feel that people don’t give them sufficient time to settle into a new life and throw them straight into the deep end. They have all their family round that weekend to meet the new addition of the family. They go out to a busy dog area and expect them to enjoy it. Walk them through town where the sights and sounds for some must be so daunting etc etc.
If you have a new member of your family, please give them time to adjust. If you know their background then that can help, but please slow it down. Let them develop a relationship with you first. Play games, learn what they enjoy doing and join in. Then slowly introduce them to their new life whether that’s new places, people or other fury housemates.
Bria is now a very settled dog, loves all our visitors, really loves chasing Cuba, has confidence in the home and we have lots of fun together, therefore we are now ready to jump into our ‘training’ journey. This doesn’t mean we haven’t learnt some fab stuff along the way, Scentwork was a great confidence builder for example, but I mean the ‘training’ that I think most expect of a dog trainer’s dog. I will keep you updated with our progress. And for those with new additions to your family, take your time, there is no rush. Give us a call if you would like help on how to build a fantastic relationship.
I love working with ‘reactive’ dogs. This is something I have had to work on with my own dogs so understand the emotional roller-coaster it can be. A ‘reactive’ dog requires management and lots of time to start to change their emotional responses to whatever their triggers are, such as other dogs or people. You need to overcome your own embarrassment (from the looks of other dog owners when your dog does bark), feelings of guilt (it must be all my fault) and frustration of not having the dog you dreamed of having (the free running, social dog). It requires planning: taking high value food reward with you on your walks, going to places that you know will have enough space for your dog to keep under their threshold, and perhaps using different equipment like a double ended lead and harness. All this can feel daunting to start with.
The question I get asked a lot is “will it get better”? The short answer is “yes”! You will start to anticipate what your dog needs, read their body language better and in doing so, start to build a better relationship with your dog as they trust that you aren’t going to put them in a situation that they cannot cope with. You will automatically make ‘good’ decisions on behalf of your dog such as increasing their distance from potential triggers.
As you both increase in confidence on your walks, your dog’s recovery from an event will also improve and something that may have taken them several days to come down from the ‘high’ of adrenaline and cortisol after a reaction, take a few minutes and they can continue on their walk without any fallout.
Will your dog ever become a social butterfly that can free play with all dogs – probably not! You need to have realistic expectation and each dog is an individual. I know many dogs that have become very sociable, however I would not have that expectation at the start.
What I can help you with is getting your dog to the point where they are manageable in public, being able to walk down the street without reacting and you both having a more enjoyable life together. Using rewards and managing the environment may be something you always have to do. However, we aren’t trying to change your dog into a robot; life will get easier and you will see improvements. Training will build your dogs confidence (and yours!) so I want to encourage you to start your journey and let’s get training!