Day 28 in the doggy house …

… and Tilley has had her ups and downs. (And we love her to bits.)

We truly enjoy having her around, she is keeping Peli on her toes since she is spending all day at home with Tilley. She is cheekier, testing her boundaries like a true teenager should. We leave the room and up checking the table tops she goes and as we come back she is down on her mat looking like nothing happened (Peli even got this on video!).

One trip to the vet and her spay scar is much better. She loved it at the vet, though the journey to and from, less so. Her phobia of the car is growing, so we’re only doing essential trips now and we’re slowly working on habituating her. Softly does it. Though she does enjoy laying in the bicycle trailer, which we are hoping to use to explore the Dales with her.

We went to doggy school with her and, as this post explains, it was an utter disaster, she was not herself for a day or two after. We are still very careful not to make sharp noises or fast movements around her, following the unfortunate use of the rattle can by the trainer, and are carefully working on associating that type of action with good stuff, rather than bad.

Happily, we had a one-to-one training session with a different local trainer, who uses positive methods only, which went brilliantly. How we wish we’d heard about her in the first place! She and Tilley bonded right away and we’ve got loads of advice and tips to work on.

We took TIlley on a longish walk yesterday and today. As soon as we were on new ground and there were shops, people, cats (especially cats), Tilley became very keen to explore. Once in the dog exercise area of the park she had a good 20 minute run around off lead, well she had a 6-8 metres long loose lead after her so we had something to step on if she tried to escape the enclosed area. It was fantastic to see the joy on her face as she was able to just run, and run! Today’s walk went past the allotments to get to the same enclosure and there are chickens, ducks, sheep and a rather large horse. She did extremely well with no barking or growling, just loads of wags and curious looks.

She is now about eight months old and is somewhat dyspraxic, because she is forever falling over her legs! OK, she does have four and we all know how hard it is with only two but she does bang into doors, tables and is lacking spatial awareness. Hopefully she will soon learn where she starts and stops!

Tilley training: a very accidental experience of harsh training methods.

First day at dog trainingA couple of updates to this post:

We’ve since heard from local people about several other incidents of harsh methods being used by this club, including a puppy being ‘pinned down’ during a class. Also, Peli reminded me that another attendee sitting next to her while Tilley was being subjected to the ‘corrections’ told her not to worry, that she regularly used the rattle bottle on her dog when he barked, and that now he’s really wary of the bottle – which the attendee said with a laugh.

Also, very sadly, we noticed this evening that Tilley freaked out when Peli swatted a mosquito with a tea towel. The sharp downwards ‘swat’ movement clearly reminded her of the rattle bottle and she shied away and needed much reassurance. Later, a rattle from her kibble in the plastic measuring cup also made her jolt. Needless to say, we now feel even more sad and angry and determined to follow this up.

End Update:

We tried to clue ourselves up as much as possible about how to train our dog, including reading blogs, forums and books, watching YouTube, DVDs and TV, there is only so much you can do by yourself. We needed to go to dog training classes at least to confirm that we were on the right track and also to socialise Tilley. She is a bit of a handful out on the lead when she meets other dogs, people or when the wind blows a leaf across our path.

At home without any distractions we have managed to get her nice and calmly out the door and out walking on a loose lead. But as soon as she sees anything new she is all over the place, so we haven’t managed to walk far from our front door. We have tried at least four anti-pull harnesses, which she has learnt to pull against. She goes into her “meerkat” impression when she very keen to get further than her lead. Along with the stopping trick or the turning around tricks when she pulls, we still haven’t gotten far, because when we get away from the back street it is a whole new and exciting world. Her best time to walk is her last walk of the day until we come across a person or a dog.

We have been using what is called “positive reinforcement” training, used by the likes of Victoria Stilwell, and yes we may have been a bit soft on the commands. But when she is concentrating she does her sit, stay and ah-ah – stop doing naughty things – even when said with a soft voice. Having guests over she is good as gold with a little bit of jumping up, but if our guest turns around and ignores Tilley she soon figures out that jumping is a no go, and sits neatly.

We were hoping that by getting her to doggy school, she could meet other people and dogs and hopefully would calm down and get used to new things without going bonkers.

I took her to the first class at Embsay Dog Training Club and she was a right old nightmare, didn’t know what to do with herself. She couldn’t contain herself and with 15 people and nine other dogs it was quite a lot to process in one go. Even with her favourite treat, liver cake, I couldn’t turn her head, and if I did there was just something new to explore.

I went away know that we had to be a bit more sterner with Tilley, but that is hard to be when she is as good as gold at home. The good news was that the day after her first day at school she slept more that usual. We just thought, “Oh, it’s her first time at a training class, and the trainers say they’re happy for a very reactive dog to attend, so I suppose it will get better.”

During that first class the trainers didn’t do anything to cause us concern about their methods, so we decided to return the following week.

On Tilley’s “second day at school” we had Peli as back-up, I clearly needed an extra hand to try to control her. Tilley was as crazy as the first time: all over the place and this time was called in before the previous class had left the hall. There were about nine other dogs in our class and about 15-17 people in the hall: quite a prospect for a keen, reactive pup.

While feeding her treats and telling her off with a sterner “shhhh” than before she calmed down enough to sit/lie down and watch the other dogs, as long as they stayed still too. As soon as they moved Tilley became anxious, whining, wiggling and panting.

We got called up to try the “walk out of the door” exercise, which we have almost perfected at home. While walking down the middle of the classroom Tilley completely lost it, throwing herself about and running like a crazy thing with her paws scratching and sliding across the floorboards. Coming back into the classroom she reacted to all the dogs and people again and went bonkers.

While I’d been up with Tilley, another trainer asked Peli, “Do you use any corrections on her?”. Peli replied that we’d tried different harnesses, but wasn’t sure what she meant by corrections? That trainer then spoke to another, who went into a back room and returned with a bottle with something in it. I had no idea what was going to happen next.

As I was trying to return Tilley to our seat, one of the three trainers came towards us and Tilley was keen to meet this new and exciting person. But the trainer, with no warning to me, then shook a plastic bottle full of dried chickpeas right next Tilley’s head with a loud “Bang”. It was such a loud noise that it shocked me, and I’m a big 6’4″ bloke. Even Peli across the classroom was shocked. I’d thought the trainer was going to take the lead from me, or show me how to hold it. I was totally unprepared.

So, you can imagine how Tilley reacted. She was to be found way behind me at the end of the lead with her tail between her legs, ears right back, hugging the ground while shaking in clear panic. The trainer told me to call her to me and praise her when she came to me. She gained some confidence and came to me, but tentatively, and not really sure what was going on. Heck, neither did I! Just as we had calmed down, a different dog trainer came up and Tilley – clearly still scared, but getting over it – walked very keenly towards the trainer to say hi, and got yet another loud bottle shake next to her head.

Tilley was now shaking badly, very freaked out and looking, panicked, around the classroom trying to figure out what was going on and where the next bang might come from. I’m talking about a very scared dog here, tail between legs, ears right back, curled up on the floor shaking and she wouldn’t even come to me. The more I called the more she backed away, even treats didn’t get her to move. She was so frightened she ended up wetting herself right there on the floor and onto herself.

The other dogs in the class didn’t look too happy at these huge noises either, or seeing a stressed-out dog wetting itself on the floor.

This is where I should have walked right out of the door, but both Peli and I were so shocked, we didn’t know how to react.

In the end, as Tilley refused to move towards any of us, the first trainer said, “This will unlock her” and put a trail of treats across the floor to bring her back to us. She very, very tentatively followed the food, but she was clearly traumatised. For the rest of the session she was hiding under my legs, clearly unhappy and wary of everyone.

But the corrective advice didn’t stop there: we were then told we should jab her with a finger on her hindquarters to get her into line when she got too giddy, and the trainers gave detailed directions about how to do this, and where exactly to jab her.

I’m not really sure about this method of training – corrective, or dominance-based, or alpha? I’m not sure how to label it but we’ve seen Cesar Millan using something similar on his programmes. It might work on an aggressive and really troublesome dog, but not on this sweet-natured, reactive, unsocialised pup who is keen on meeting new friends, overwhelmed by a room full of new people and dogs and – significantly, as a rescue dog, with an unknown background.

We finally got her home and digested the doggy class. We were confused and not able to process what we’d experienced. As very new dog owners (the last time I owned a pup was many years ago) the thought did cross our mind: is this the way dogs really should be trained?

But the next morning made it clear to us that it certainly isn’t. Tilley was not herself at all – very anxious, not sure what was going on, not our usual bright and sparky Tilley. Peli reported that she had been walking around with her tail between her legs, lacking her normal spring, head down and had been looking for me more than normal. She has always reminded Peli when it was her dinner time at four, but on that day at that time she just laid on Peli’s lap, looking sad. When fed with her Kong and toys she definitely wasn’t her playful self and it was a very subdued mealtime. And she even peed inside, even after she had just been taken outside to go potty.

I arrived home from work and she was happy to see me but lacked the same spring as normal. When coming up to her she always turns over to show her belly with an wagging tail. But tonight it was done in a much slower speed with a much less wagging tail and not with the same look. Looking at us with her head turned and out the corners of her eyes, not direct eye contact as before.

The way she looked at us was with much less joy, trust and a face that said “I’m not really sure if you are just going to pat me or make a big nasty noise”.

I’m all for a firm hand on some dog breeds and if the dog has behaviour problems but not scaring the bejeesus out of them so that their personality changes. And certainly not without clearly explaining and confirming with the dog owner before the change of training method.

It is clear to us that:
1. That training group should not accept highly-reactive dogs into a busy class. It’s not fair on anyone: the dog itself or the other class attendees. It should have been clear that our dog was not suited to classes, and this should have been pointed out to us.
2. If they plan to use such corrections, then the owners (and other class members) are warned and – importantly – have agreed in advance.
3. That they make clear when advertising their courses that they promote the use of such techniques.

Let’s just say that we are not going back to these dog training classes again, and we’ll be contacting our vet (who recommended them) to let them know about our experience.

Day nine in the dog house

We didn’t have time this weekend to write a post to mark a full week with Tilley. She has been good as gold and Peli has done some splendid work with her. I walked her for 15 minutes one night with a loose lead and no pulling at all. It’s not her natural walking state, shall we say, and it’s taken a lot of patience (using Victoria Stilwell’s ‘reverse direction’ technique) to get to this point!

The bin men came and went without any noise from Tilley, we even had someone knock on the door and she didn’t bark. Though when the postman did his drop she had something to say. Dogs never change!

A normal day in the dog house, I get up around 4-5 in the morning depending on what time we put her to bed, just to see if she needs a leak. We get up again at 7.30 – 8 am and immediately take her for a walk. Our morning walks are rather chaotic – she understandably has a lot of energy in the morning after a night in her crate! Then we chill a bit with some gentle training – sits and downs and stays and a game of ‘ping-pong puppy’ which allows us to practise her ‘recall’. Then feeding time at the zoo is noisy because we hide her kibble in various toys and bottles, so that she has to work for the food. She loves this, and her tail never stops wagging as she hunts out the grub! It also exhausts her and she tends to have a good long nap after food.

Sorry for the lack of photos and quality, just got so into it that I forgot and when remembered only had a phone camera at a hand.

Just before 10am I leave for work and Peli has her for the day. Peli’s well tired when I get home and Tilley is still happy to play more! She gets training walks, play sessions and quick bursts of training throughout the day, interspersed with lots of dozing, depending on what Peli’s schedule is. When I get home at 6pm Peli shows me the new tricks and a run down of the ‘day at school’. 🙂

While Peli cooks I check the internet (to see if it is broken) and since we don’t have desks yet I sit on the floor. I usually then have a cuddly and rather tired Tilley plonked on my lap, half on me and the other half on both sides of me, most uncomfortable but she snores away and is generally affectionate and adorable!

On Saturday we took her to a local reservoir for a walk. Getting her in to the car was a bit tricky as she isn’t that keen. The idea was to get her to get used to the car and the journey with small ones at first, so she hopefully would learn that the car would mean a fun walk at the end. Sadly the five minute drive ended with her emptying her guts (again) in her crate. We’re going to have to work on this!

All the training that Peli put in was right out the window since this was new ground to be explored. Tilley saw her first rams, met seven other dogs and three kids covered in great smelling candy.

She did brilliantly when she saw the rams and got within 3 metres, OK she was pulling like a mad thing and was keen to get closer to them, but there was no barking or growling or even herding. The same was with the other dogs though she went extra mad when the other dogs were off lead. The three little girls got to pet her and feed her treats, though she was more interested in licking their candy-covered fingers. She’s definitely a gentle soul who likes meeting new people.

Getting her back in the car was hard work and we had to part-lift her in. She was rather glad to get out when we got home, but went into the crate to sleep as we went shopping for more dog food.

You can’t go into a super pet store and only go out with dog food, we came home with a Kong Wobbler for to play with. She was nicely tired for the rest of the day after she had food from the Kong.

The next day she was very good meeting and playing with two new friends (Peli’s sister and her partner), with next-to-no jumping. (Though she did try to take some cake from a plate on the table, of course you see how far you can push it when guests are around, especially when the cake in question is so delicious!)