I’ve been spending a fair amount of time with a friend and her guide dog. As a professional dog trainer working in the same community I have been aware for some time that there is an enormous amount of education regarding dog behaviour needed.
What I wasn’t aware of was the extent of the problem.
It has been a frequent occurrence while out with my friend to have her guide dog approached without permission, patted, praised, fed, talked to, stared at and generally interfered with by the public. When politely asked to refrain because their behaviour is interfering with the dog doing his job, a common response is for them to say is “its okay” or “I know I shouldn’t but he’s such a good boy”
To be clear, it is never okay to distract a working guide dog.
I understand that people are drawn to animals, especially dogs, but it is important to recognise that whilst years of training are responsible for these dogs becoming the unique mobility aids that they are, enhancing their owner’s lives in a way many of us will never fully comprehend. They are not infallible, the effect of people interfering with the dog is cumulative. By the end of one days outing there has often been so much interference that the dog’s ability to focus on his job is affected, putting both dog and his vision impaired owner at risk.
These dog/owner “units” deserve to be respected and allowed by the general population to navigate their way through our community with dignity and without interference.
It takes a great deal of concentration for a vision impaired person to work safely with a guide dog. Here are some ways that you can help:
- Difficult as it might seem, please try to ignore working guide dogs completely. This means do not touch, feed, compliment, smile at, talk to, stare at or otherwise distract the dog. Distractions can undo months of training and have the potential to affect the safety of the ‘unit”
- If you know the handler and guide dog it is still important that you don’t pay any attention to the dog whilst he is working.
- If you see a guide dog in harness, please choose to engage with the human rather than the dog.
- You will not be distracting the dog and therefore putting the handler at risk.
- You will not be disrespecting the handler by ignoring their presence. Never distract a guide dog or his handler when they are about to cross a road, walk down a flight of steps, alight a bus etc. It is dangerous to do so. They need to concentrate on what they are doing.
- Do not grab the handler or the dogs harness. This is a common cause of distress. If they need help they will ask.
- This is a big one but it’s not that difficult. However, it is a major problem in our local area. Unless in an off leash space, please make sure your pet dog is on a leash and under effective control, which means with you. Do not allow your pet dog to wander. Unfortunately many working guide dogs encounter unwanted, unasked for interactions with both supervised and unsupervised dogs. This can cause the guide dog to become dog distracted which is a safety issue for both handler and guide dog. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for working guide dogs to be attacked.
- People who use guide dogs have been extensively trained in the most effective way to control their dogs behaviour, so please only provide assistance if requested.
We also have a reasonable number of therapy assistance dogs working in our community. If you’d like to interact with these dogs please just ask the owner first. Depending on their job the owner may be happy for you to interact with their dog, however it’s a good idea to use the same basic conduct as when meeting a guide dog unless the handler tells you otherwise.
Our greater community really needs to take a breath and look at our interactions with dogs we don’t know. I have a team of dogs who I train to perform a variety of disciplines and my training is constantly being undermined by strangers approaching my dogs whenever we are out and about. It’s just plain rude and can be dangerous. We are fortunate that our younger generation seem to be well educated and often it’s the younger generation reminding the older generation about appropriate interactions.
So, just take a second and ask permission first. You wouldn’t grab someone’s handbag off their shoulder, examine it, and then hand back to the owner. So, why touch, fondle, or greet a strange dog that way?
Often puppy preschool groups are socialisation only classes, where (hopefully) small groups of puppies are interacting together. Often, for some, these classes can be stressful and chaotic for both pup and owner. Because of their age and limited mental capabilities and lack of impulse control, they are often put into situations where they are set up to fail. Calling a single puppy away from a seething mass of squirming excitable moving puppies is no mean feat, even if you have a highly food motivated puppy.
My belief, is that initially a few weeks bonding and learning family/house rules can make all the difference. Once you have these basics in place, depending on your puppy’s level of mental maturity start looking for recommended and experienced trainers who run their own courses.
Many of my clients who attend my six week course’s have previously attended a puppy preschool course run by a vet practice or pet store. I am regularly told by these clients who attend early puppy training classes that they feel these classes were really a waste of time and that they don’t feel they benefited from the experience.
I believe the problem is that the organisers of these classes tend to forget about one very important step. Building a bond and relationship between dog/owner while having a dog who is friendly with other dogs it’s important that it’s not at the expense of your dog completely ignoring you and trying to drag you across the road to greet another dog.
In my opinion it appears that most puppy owners are not getting their real needs met and I feel that some of the advice given is questionable.
How experienced is the trainer? I believe that these classes should be run by the most experienced trainers as during this period puppies are in one of the most crucial developmental periods.
Not all puppies are the same so it’s important that a trainer can and will balance the needs of the group but at the same time meet the needs of the individual puppy and analyse both their breed traits and individual personality.
If you do decide to attend early puppy training classes (puppy pre-school) have a clear understanding of your expectations from these classes and what the instructor can and will deliver. If this is not your first experience with a dog it’s likely you may have more knowledge and experience that the person giving the advice. So ….. If you want a deeper understanding of dog behaviour, relationship and communication I suggest you explore a few options.
As the weather improves and spring arrives – everyone wants to be out and about enjoying the sunshine – that means that we usually want our dogs to tag along – I’ve had a few phonecalls over the last few weeks asking about pets and travel sickness – here are a few pointers to help make travel with your pets less of a drama for all concerned.
If your dog suffers from travel sickness, it is important to remember that dogs don’t get carsick from travel sickness but from stress and anxiety or excitement.
The first car ride that most dogs experience is often stressful; the puppy is leaving his litter with complete strangers in a vehicle. This is for some dogs a traumatising experience that they may then associate with travelling in a vehicle.
The best solution to prevent this type of carsick dog is to condition your dog that travelling in a vehicle is a process to be endured, in order to have an enjoyable time once arriving at the destination.
Stress and anxiety in dogs
Some steps to conditioning your dog that a car ride is a positive experience are the following:
- Place your dog inside the vehicle and secure him, with the engine off, just sit with him. Don’t go anywhere and don’t start the engine. Just sit and listen to the radio for a few minutes.
- When the dog realizes that this is not an unpleasant experience, reward with a food treat and remove the dog from the vehicle.
- When you see that your dog is relaxed and comfortable with this process, then start the engine, however do not go anywhere.
- Repeat the reward process.
- When your dog is relaxed with the engine running, then begin to take very short trips, perhaps just around the block
- Reward your dog every time with a treat and a game.
- Then find a beach or park nearby (5-10mins) where you and your dog can have some quality fun time.
- Then drive back home and give your dog as much attention as you did in the park.
If you have a carsick dog that gets very excited, barking, jumping around in the car, and then gets carsick, it is likely that the problem is that your dog has associated a car trip with too much excitement. In this case, you will need to teach your dog to calm down.
To modify this behaviour, follow the same steps as with a stressed or anxious dog.
- Sit in the stationary vehicle, and wait for your dog to calm down
- Praise him when you get out of the car
- Repeat this process a number of times
- When you are happy that your dog can be in a stationary vehicle and remain calm, take him on short drives around the block, that do not end up at the park, instead he arrives back home again.
This two day seminar will target dogs drive, focus and concentration as well as handlers getting it right for their dogs. Animation will also be covered, along with teaching owners how to understand their dogs better so they can then teach any dog to be a great pet or any dog sport they wish to.
Presented By Karen Sadler Saturday 4th – Sunday 5th April 2015
This weekend seminar is for anyone who would like to teach their dogs to learn in a positive manner and owners that want to understand their dogs better.
It will cover Motivation, duration and creating a better competition dog as well as behavioral issues for all dog owners.
As one of NZ’s most successful obedience competitors, instructors and animal trainers, Karen Sadler’s achievements include a long list of New Zealand titles gained with her own dogs in many dog sports, including 6 obedience champions. Karen is the Director of Agrade Animals Action Limited, which provides training for domestic dogs, competitive dog sports, and trains a range of animals for film and TV. Karen’s work has featured in well known commercials such as the Roly (Purex), Wiska’s Cat, Dulux paint as well as Film and TV credits, Shortland Street, Bridge to Terabithia, and Whale Rider plus many more.
Karen’s training methods have been widely tested around NZ and in Australia. Adding to her vast practical experience, Karen has completed The Principles of Canine Behavior Paper through Massey University to gain an even greater understanding of the way dogs think and learn.
Karen’s seminar will be held at the Empire Bay Public School, Central Coast – cost is $120/day for handler spot and $60/day for observer spot. Morning and afternoon tea will be provided. Individual lessons will also be available on the Monday, $50 for a half hour
Watching dogs play always makes people smile. Interacting with your dog through play is also great fun, good exercise and rewarding for both dogs and humans – why then do so many of us just use food as a reward in our training???? It doesn’t matter whether you are training a pet or a performance dog .
Play is one of the most underutilised reward systems. So what do we mean when we talk about “play”? Is it having a dog haul you around hanging off the end of a tug toy and refusing to let go? It doesn’t need to be.
Experimenting with a range of toys that work for you and your dog is really important.
Build up their desire for the toy. Then you can use this as a reward after they have performed a behaviour. Using play helps to increase their desire and drive to perform a behaviour. Food will help with accuracy, however taught correctly playing tug with a toy will actually help to increase a dogs self-control.
Some dogs such as herding breeds prefer independent play – they will take a ball or other object and have a great game tossing it in the air and amusing themselves. One of my dogs has a hoop as a favourite toy – at the end of a great training session where he has been engaged he may well earn the right to perform his rhythmic gymnastics routine in his own free space. After a period of time I’ll remove the toy and it will come out as a “jackpot” reward another day.
So it’s a matter of finding the right style of play for you and your dog.
Other forms of play involve touching, pushing and using your hands on your dog in a playful fashion some dogs really enjoy just the feel of your hands on them – and the right sort of pat can be really rewarding for a dog.
If you’re not sure what style of play will suit your dog just observe them interacting with other dogs and that will give you a good insight.
Build up your dog’s play drive and then try using it as a reward instead of food, it doesn’t necessarily replace food rewards but it will certainly add another layer of enjoyment and interaction between you and your dog.
Tell us below in a comment, whats your dog’s favourite style of play?
A dog sits quietly next to its owner. While she chats in an animated fashion to a friend. They are in a park and it’s a lovely spring day – plenty of sounds and pleasant dramas fill the air.
The dog is a golden retriever – it stares off into the distance. The dog doesn’t look in the owner’s direction. Nor for that matter, the owners friends’.
A couple of young children come around the corner followed by their mother, without checking with the owner first they run up to the dog and start squealing and patting the dog. Giggling and chatting at the same time, the dog just burrows its head and is tolerant. As the mother walks away she say “What a good dog”.
Observing this reaction and series of events started me wondering. What is a good dog in the eyes of an average pet owner?
- One that never asks for engagement or interaction from its owner and will never chose to great a friendly stranger
- One that never turns its head to identify that unusual sound; squealing children or a verbal greeting
- Never strains at the lead or runs off to investigate the smells at the dog park
- A dog that silently endures children
- Doesn’t bark at strangers approaching
- Quiet acceptance of anything and everything around them
When it was time to leave, he quietly plodded along next to his owner on a loose lead. An accessory of a perfectly behaved companion – I am often intrigued by owners and their expectations of daily life with a pet dog. What starts in the form of an ‘idea’ can rapidly turn into an unbelievable struggle to contain the chaos that an addition of a canine companion adds to everyday family life.
Dogs have needs that go way beyond the simple need for food, water and shelter. Different breeds with specific genetic traits have different requirements for activity and mental stimulation. Sometimes owners become overwhelmed rather than content when their new pet cannot just behave and meet the criteria of a good dog or an ideal pet.
Some owners get a dog for a specific purpose. They think that they are just being practical, here are a few reasons;
- To be a companion for an existing dog in the household
- To guard the house
- As a playmate for the children
- To help motivate and increase physical activity
While these are all valid reasons – dogs don’t arrive in any household understanding what their ‘job; is. Deciding to get a dog to address something in your life or perhaps to be a catalyst for change isn’t a bad thing but it is important that owners are prepared for the reality of owning a dog and the journey they are beginning. Own a dog can bring plenty of benefits but it will come at a cost in terms of time, energy and money.
Unfortunately there could very well be some problems to solve along the way. Dog ownership is never plain sailing – and I can tell you from experience that a great deal of my working day is made up of helping owners who have discovered that owning a dog is different and more challenging than they realised. Perhaps the expected a calm, quiet buddy instead they have a happy, focused play driven dog. Whatever the situation, the end result can be matched to the owners intention for their new companion.
We need to redefine what we believe to be a ‘good dog’ means. The traditional view that dogs should remain quietly out of our sight until we want them to do something is outdated and certain demands of what our dogs are capable of can be unrealistic. Instead we need to think of a ‘good dog’ in terms of what they can be taught and how much value an appropriate relationship with a dog can bring.