Talk to the Animals

Reiki and animal communiction.

I have always been a bit different from the norm as a child I would sing hymns to God in the garden, chat to Angels in my bedroom and talk with creatures that I collected outdoors while playing!  It wasn’t until I started working with dogs that I found I seemed to be more ‘in tune’ with their feelings both physical and emotional than other folk.  AND THEN…. I was attuned to Reiki and a whole other world began to open up.  In the early days I had no control of what was happening and was often woken in the early hours with as many voices telling me things as my brain could cope with.  It was like waking up in Victoria train station at rush hour!

Having witnessed my journey so far and been part of my experience with Button the cat a very dear friend asked if I could help her horse.  He was out on loan and was supposed to be competing, but despite success in the past he was not getting on at all well.  His behaviour was quite a challenge, he had always been a spirited horse but not like this; they couldn’t do a thing with him.

My friend came to me and said “Darling you have to talk to Chris, (the horse) find out what is wrong with him.”  I said that I would try, but couldn’t promise anything – I had never met him so asked for a photograph and sat with the picture between my hands, connected to Reiki and waited.  Firstly thoughts began to drift into my head, thoughts of being sad, stressed and unhappy and I instinctively knew that the thoughts were attached not to me but the horse.  Then I saw pictures of the horse being forced to do things that he was not comfortable with.  I knew that he wasn’t in the right place for him.  I told my friend all this and being a very proactive person she got straight down to action and found a new place for him and retired him from competition.  His behaviour immediately changed back to his old self and he lived a happy life for the rest of his days.

Since this experience many years ago I have had the privilege of communicating with other horses, dogs and cats both whilst visiting them and remotely through photographs.  One thing this has taught me is not to underestimate the range of emotions that an animal can experience and how, just like us, those emotions can affect their physical wellbeing.

Reiki opened up this part of me and I consider it to be the most wonderful gift that has been given me to use in the best way I know how.

This is what Chris’s owner said: “Those of you who know Lesley will be aware of her enormous empathy with all of our four legged companions. Those of you who don’t, you would be absolutely amazed at her connection and tuning in on their thoughts either from a distance or hands on. It really is wonderful to see the expression on the animal’s face as they realise this person can understand how they are feeling and if there is a health problem she is able to pinpoint from where the trouble lies.  I have seen her bring a cat, who had all but given up, after a complicated operation, back, from passing away.  There have been so many animals she has helped over the years.  She truly is very gifted” Helene

The Dog Whisperer

Double pay off: ball and cool muddy water!
Double pay off: ball and cool muddy water!

I have recently been given the title of Dog Whisperer by some lovely ladies who I have been fortunate to meet through my reiki-logo-smlerReiki Practice.  This is not something I have ever called myself as I think it was a shameless copying of Monty Roberts, The Horse Whisperer for whom I have a great deal of respect.  It seems to me that most of the people who call themselves Dog Whisperers are in actual fact dog trainers some of who fail to use, kind, hands off training methods which is really what the term Whisperer refers to, my understanding is that it is about connecting with an animal in a way that it understands.  So I suppose those ladies were right in a way as this is exactly what I do!

I have always called myself a dog trainer, but perhaps I could call myself a Dog Speaker or a Hound Harmonizer?  My whole working life with dogs and their owners has been about helping them gain more effective communication with their pets.  It is my opinion that the majority of training problems are down to one simple factor and that is a breakdown in communication between human and canine.  Methods and scientific research in dog behaviour has moved on over the last 20+ years that I have been doing this and that only serves to make the work easier as the human race gains greater understanding of what makes our canine companions tick.

Living with a dog should be about mutual respect and understanding rather than one species dominating, punishing or abusing another. The way dogs learn is quite simple and it is up to us as a species  to understand this.  If a dog finds something rewarding it will be highly likely to repeat it (not too different from us really) if it is not rewarding the dog is less likely to repeat it, if it is dangerous it will avoid if it is safe it will not.  Here is where the communication break down kicks in, this seems a perfectly simple and logical state of affairs until you begin to understand what is rewarding and not rewarding for a dog.  Here is an extreme example to illustrate my point:-  take the cases of several Border Collies who live in rural communities and have access to the country lanes where they live, being a herding breed with a hard wired chase instinct, in the absence of ‘official work’ these Collies love to chase cars, many of them have been hit by cars and even lost limbs – not rewarding and dangerous I hear you cry and you would be right UNLESS you are a Border Collie who has a very strong genetically programmed urge to chase.  The reward they get from the chase is greater than the possible consequences and therefore if the behaviour is not redirected to something safer many of these dogs will continue to chase vehicles.

So if your dog keeps repeating a behaviour that doesn’t work with your lifestyle ask yourself what reward is he or she getting from it, when you have established what is ‘turning the dog on’ you can then work to redirect the behaviour to a more suitable activity.

For complex behaviour and training issues please always seek professional help.

 

Getting your dog to come back!

Dog Behaviour Matters

It’s no good falling out with your dog when he doesn’t respond to your recall.  Instead of getting hopping mad – think dog!

During a beautiful sunny winter’s walk in the woods this week I witnessed a very stressed dog owner and unbeknownst to her a very stressed dog.  From what the owner was shouting at her dog I gleaned that if it did not return to her immediately she would be late for work (and potentially chastised by her boss) unfortunately what the dog’s body language told me was ‘I am very concerned about returning to you as you are being extremely aggressive!’

One of the most frustrating things for a dog owner is a dog that has selective hearing and will only come back when he feels like it.  It particularly worries owners because they feel so helpless.  Let’s get this straight the dog is not deliberately plotting to make you late for work.  There are a number of factors at play here.

THE SCENARIO

Just imagine a human scenario for a moment.  You are at a party and having a wonderful time, you have only been there a short time and have yet to catch up with your friends, hear all the gossip, have a drink and some food then your partner tells you it’s time to go home.  Not only is it time to go home, but when you get there your partner plans to go straight back out again for a few hours leaving you home alone. Would you willingly return with your partner?

The main reasons that a dog won’t come back are fairly simple; the first one is that the dog has never been taught in a way that it understands what is expected of it when you give your chosen ‘recall’ signal, often too the pay-off for what the dog is currently doing, finding scents, chasing prey, playing with others, is greater than the pay-off for returning to an owner who is not a great deal of fun to be with and having the lead put on.

LIFE ON THE HOME FRONT

If your dog does not willingly come to you in the house and in from the garden when you call then there is little chance of it reliably coming when there is a wealth of exciting distractions in the great outdoors.  If you don’t have control of the dog at home, you are very unlikely to have control on walks.

CONSEQUENCES

Going back to the lady I saw in the woods, from her behaviour it was fairly clear that when she finally got her hands on the dog she was going to be quite aggressive.  The dog knew this and therefore was extremely reluctant to go to her.  Also he had no concept of what the words “you are making me late for work” mean. Time and deadlines are a human invention.  For this dog the negative consequence of returning was actually preventing it from doing the very thing that the owner required.  Assuming for a moment that the dog had been taught exactly what ‘come here’ means and was choosing, for whatever reason, not to return then there needs to be a sliding scale of praise and reward to help the dog understand what is expected of it.  There is no place for physical or verbal violence when training recall it is very counterproductive in most training situations. However, if your dog gets a piece of sausage or liver cake when it returns sluggishly after 10 minutes of you calling then there is no incentive for the dog to do a better job.  If a sliding scale is used it is then possible to begin to ‘shape’ the dog’s behaviour.  For example; a first time recall gets a JACKPOT!  This being whatever the dog loves best.  It could be a handful of sausage, chicken or liver cake or it could be a high intensity game with a favourite toy.

DOGGY DECISIONS

Sometimes when I have called one of my dogs I see them having an internal dialogue which I imagine goes something like this “She has called, I like it when she calls, but what I am doing here is so much fun, this is the best rabbit hole I have ever seen.  Oh she is calling again and clapping AND running around. Aw shucks I love it when she does that.  Ok the rabbit hole can wait. Hold on mum I am coming!”  obviously dogs don’t think in English, but when I have seen my dog struggling with making the decision that is right for me I will treat this very favourably and the dog will be rewarded with sausage and a fuss if it comes to me.  If the dog makes and unfavourable choice then it will get no reward at all.  If the dog has already learned to run in the opposite direction when you call then you will need to enlist the help of a trainer who is well versed in positive training.

BREEDS

Think about the breed of dog that you have chosen and how this will affect their behaviour, for example recall problems with Border Collies are often born out of a need to chase something; jogger, car, cyclist and so on.  Recall problems with a Jack Russell are often caused by a desire to head down a rabbit hole and recall problems with Gun breeds such as Springer Spaniels and Labradors are often caused by the dog getting carried away following the scent of something very interesting like a Pheasant.  What motivates your dog to not respond to your call is the very key to training it. Take the Collie as an example.  Scenario 1:  A cyclist whizzes past on his bike that looks like the best fun ever, the dog can engage in the behaviour that it is genetically hardwired to do and herd the bike, which will probably result in ‘nipping’ at the bike tyres or the ankles of the cyclist.  NOT a desirable behaviour!  Scenario 2: A cyclist is approaching the dog knows that it’s owner will call it because the cyclist is a trigger for a fantastic game of ball.  The end result; the dog gets to ‘herd’ the ball, has great fun, the cyclist passes by unharmed and dog and owner carry on their walk in a happy and harmonious way.

CHOOSING THE CUE

Many people use the dog’s name as a training word.  This results in many confused dogs! Some of the most common things that a dog’s name is used for are:  come here, look at me, stop what you are doing, bad dog and shut up.  All of these commands and just one word for the dog to understand ‘Fido’!  Put yourself in the dog’s paws for a moment.  If someone kept repeating your name but in varying tones you wouldn’t have a clue what they wanted from you.  The words you use are irrelevant, provided that the dog is properly taught what they mean, but one word per command is essential.  It is a good idea to precede the cue with the dog’s name, particularly in multi dog households, in the case of the recall ‘Fido come’ is a good cue.  It gets the dog’s attention but is clear and to the point.  The more words, the more diluted the cue and so the less efficient.  As with most training practice begins in the home. Start by calling your dog to you when you are about to feed it. Or sometimes when you are walking past the dog’s biscuit tin call him from another room, give the treat and send him on his way again.  You can use the same method with a favourite toy.  When you are achieving this then you can begin to practice outdoors with the dog on a lead to begin with.

TIPS

  • Teach your dog what your chosen recall command means, remember they don’t speak English. Enlist a trainer if you need help.
  • Set your dog up for success, if your calling only ever means the end of fun, what is the point of coming?
  • Call your dog to you regularly during walks to either give it a treat or play a short game and then send it on its way.
  • Remember your sliding scale of praise and reward
  • If your dog has developed a recall problem engage a good dog trainer to help you
  • Don’t call the dog to you for something he doesn’t like or is afraid of (ear drops, nails clipped are a couple of common ones although a dog can be taught to accept these, but that is another article!)
  • Using a whistle can be very effective, it doesn’t show emotion and can be transferred to all members of the family.Don’t forget to train the dog what the whistle means!

Buy a Boxer for Christmas?

Big, beautiful, bouncy Boxer dogs.

The competition for the best retail advertisement at Christmas continues to grow each year with John Lewis and Marks and Spencer being two of the giants.  I am sure I was not the only doggy professional to let out a groan when I watched the John Lewis ad for the first time.  It features #ButsterTheBoxer who watches quietly as a group of wild animals have fun bouncing on the trampoline that has been bought for the family’s daughter.  Groan number 1!  I wonder if this causes people to have unrealistic expectations about their dog’s behaviour.  How many dogs would sit calmly at the patio doors whilst wild animals walked across their garden.  Mine get quite excited if they find a hedgehog under a shrub and one learnt the hard way that it is not a good idea to sniff a hedgehog or you get you nose prickled!  Buster The Boxer patiently waits until the morning and when the patio door is opened, charges towards the trampoline and has a wonderful time bouncing.

One of our dogs loved the trampoline, for sunbathing and looking over the fence!
One of our dogs loved the trampoline, for sunbathing and looking over the fence!

Groan number 2!  I am not saying that some dogs do not enjoy a trampoline, one of mine is included in this group, but not all dogs will enjoy this particularly if it is something that is pushed on them rather than discovering for themselves.

 

Our beautiful girl (now passed) who came to us called Perdy when the 101 Dalmations movie was popular - we were home number 5 at 9 months!
Our beautiful girl (now passed) who came to us called Perdy when the 101 Dalmations movie was popular – we were home number 5 at 9 months!

The BIG GROAN number 3 is a bit more serious, whenever dogs are heavily featured in the media this sparks and interest in the breed, which in turn causes some people to purchase a dog (1) from a less scrupulous breeder (because it is cheaper) and (2) because it is cute, with little or no thought as to whether the breed fits in with the family’s lifestyle.

Boxers are fantastic, intelligent, loyal dogs, but they are not for everyone. If you are thinking of getting one of these dogs there are some basic considerations.

  • These dogs were originally bred for Bull baiting and guarding, they are STRONG! Are you physically able to cope with a big strong dog?
  • They have a lot of energy and therefore require a lot of exercise, a trot round the block will not suffice. Do you have the time and energy to cope with the exercise requirements?
  • This breed loves company.  Will the dog be left for extended periods of time? If they are bored or stressed the default coping mechanism of many Boxers is destruction.  They will try and chew through doors and walls to get to their owners, chew up the sofa, carpet, curtains – you name it they may destroy it. Do you have knowledge and the time to ensure that you can prevent attachment problems and provide coping strategies.
  • Boxers are the breed that never grows up.  Will you enjoy a dog that retains it’s youthful ‘joie de vevre’ well into maturity.

I am not trying to put the prospective Boxer owner off, what I am attempting to achieve is put off the impulse purchase based on Buster The Boxer is so cute!

Find yourself a good breeder or rescue center who will offer sound advice and check you out.  They will want to know about your living arrangements, family and lifestyle – this is a good thing. If you need help find a reputable trainer who uses positive training methods.

Above all enjoy a wonderful fun filled life with your Boxer dog!

If you would like more advice get in touch with Lesley

Communicating with your Dog

Does Your Dog Speak English?

Just think about this question before you answer.  The reason I say this is because when it is pointed out to people that dogs don’t, in fact, speak English they quite often look totally shocked.  Dogs speak Canine not human and not Wolf.  A high percentage of problem behaviours and training breakdowns are down to the simple fact that the owner doesn’t realise how to communicate effectively with their pet.

A lot of canine communication is done through non-verbal signals – that is to say body language.  When you are out walking your dog and you see another approaching in the distance there will be a conversation going on between the two long before you give your greetings to the other owner.  This is why your dog is perfectly social with some dogs and either aggressive or submissive to others.

People tell me that they know their dog has been naughty because when they come home he runs and hides or looks guilty.  It will only take a split second for a dog to pick up on a change in your body language from happy and relaxed to stressed and angry, he might know you are becoming cross even before you do and certainly will before you have uttered those all too common words “What have you done!” and if you are often cross with him when you come home he will anticipate this.

Many people, myself included, have full blown conversations with their dogs and their beloved companion seems to hang on every word thus giving the impression that every word is understood.  It isn’t!  However, they enjoy the focus that you are giving them and the gentle tone of voice.

The way a dog learns is to form a series of associations between an action and a consequence.  If the consequence is rewarding the dog is more likely to repeat the behaviour and if it is negative the dog is less likely to repeat the behaviour.

Food for thought:

  • Taking the ‘sit’ and ‘down’ commands as a prime example.  Most people successfully teach a dog to sit by raising a food treat over its eye-line (or using clicker training); as the head goes up the bottom automatically goes down and the treat is released.  Usually when the bottom hits the floor the owner will say ‘sit’.  The association is between the raising of the hand and, eventually, the saying of the cue – the consequence is a treat.  Because this is rewarding the dog will want to repeat the experience and will begin to offer ‘sits’ in an attempt to train the owner to give it a treat.  The same applies for the ‘down’ command; the treat is pulled from the dogs nose down to the floor just in front of his feet this will make the front half of the dog drop down to try and access the food, when it doesn’t get it the dog will usually try lying flat on the floor to get better access to the treat, when this happens the food is released and the command ‘down’ or ‘lay down’ given (slightly different with clicker training).  Just as with the sit the association has been formed between a hand signal, a word and a reward.  Taking this into consideration how confusing is it then for a dog to be told to ‘sit down’.  The dog will look at the owner with pleading eyes as if to say ‘which one do you want me to do?’  It is only when the owner shouts the command that the dog thinks ‘oh dear that doesn’t sound good I’d better offer a learned behaviour and see if it calms them down’.  The dog may offer a paw, this is usually met with a smile, if it is lucky it will get it right first time and offer a sit, but if it lies down that is usually enough to appease its owner.
  • What happens then when an owner asks the dog to sit, the dog offers a down and the owner praises the dog?  How confusing must that be!
  • Using the dog’s name is another thing where we not only expect our pet to speak English, but to be psychic as well.  Here are some of the things that the dog’s name often gets used for – remember this is just one word.  ‘Rover’ can mean:  Come here!  Stop doing that, pay attention to me, do not roll in that fox poo, heel, be quiet and numerous other variations.
  • The final thing I will use for this illustration is barking.  A dog barks to alert its pack.  It is either saying ‘come or look at this, wow this is exciting!’, ‘Stranger danger!’, ‘ let’s get rid of the postman!’ and so on.  Taking the scenario of the Postman as an example:  The Postman enters your gate and is spotted by the dog, the dog barks to warn and rally the pack, you as a fellow pack member come rushing through from the kitchen shouting (barking) ‘Be quiet / shut up’ or similar exclamations; the postman having completed his task then retreats down the garden path and the dog thinks he has done a fantastic job of alerting you and as the pack joined together in barking the intruder retreated. Sound familiar?

Dogs should be trained.  I think this is a statement that no one would disagree with, but next time you try and teach your dog something take a step back and see it from his perspective. If you try and teach a sit or a down by pushing and forcing your dog into position it will not wish to repeat the behaviour, if it is a submissive dog it will comply to avoid the negative sensation, if it is confident or over confident you are highly likely to have teeth placed on your hand or arm as a warning that the dog is uncomfortable, this in turn may lead to you feeling the need for discipline and before you know it you have a total relationship breakdown with ‘man’s best friend’.

Footnote:  The training examples used here are based on lure training, when using clickers (operant conditioning) the process is slightly different.  When in doubt seek the advice of a reputable dog trainer who uses positive reinforcement.

Barking Dog

What well trained dogs!

dog-training-lookOn my morning walk today I had 3 dogs with me; 2 of mine (I have 4) and my daughter’s Terrier we and had had a very pleasurable, uneventful time. There were challenges along the way, a dead pigeon always makes for an exciting distraction, a lady who was clearly frightened of dogs who walked right towards us with a fixed gaze only at the last second to make a very sudden move as she reached my Irish Setter, who took it all in his stride and carried on with a slightly confused look on his face.

The high point was a cyclist that rode past my dogs who I had called towards me and got them sitting looking at me when I spotted her coming; who commented “What well trained dogs”.  It still gives me a such a buzz when this happens.

One of the boundaries that I teach my dogs as soon as I walk them is when we see a horse, cyclist or small children running around they are called to me and sit and wait until they are released with a reward and a “Go play”. People think I am doing it for their benefit when actually I am doing it for the benefit of my dogs.  I don’t want them being hit by a bike, putting a horse into a situation where it feels it needs to kick them or going to play with children whose parents will automatically see a potential threat of a dog that they don’t know and can’t vouch for their character.

Barking let’s all join in!

As the walk was drawing to a close and dogs were back on leads we walked past a driveway where some builders were working with 3 dogs helping them.  One of the dogs, a Labrador x Border Collie, spotted us and began barking.  We were not particularly bothered by this as we could tell that it was the kind of bark that was designed to alert the rest of the group that we were there.  The dog’s two canine companions flicked their eyes towards their friend and then continued sunbathing (yes really, sunbathing in the South of England on 2nd November!), however one of the builders, obviously out of embarrassment, attempted to stop the barking by firstly grabbing at the dog’s collar in a heavy handed way and then shouting at the dog in the most impressive mimicking of a canine vocalization!  There were growls, barks and a few words like “shut up” thrown in.  This did not stop the dog barking, in fact quite the opposite, the behaviour escalated.  The man thought he had done a good job as once we had passed by and were a safe distance away the dog stopped it’s noise:

  • Man thinks: that worked it just took a while.
  • Dog thinks: it’s great how dad always joins in, those guys must have been scarier than I thought.

The man could have saved himself a lot of trouble and embarrassment if he had taught his dog to come to him and sit or even better lay quietly in front of him until we had walked past.

My trio were duly praised for not responding to the barking, particularly the Terrier who is very fond of the sound of his own voice in true Terrier style!

Doggie Thought for the Day

Dog pulling tipsDog: “How do you expect me to walk next to you when you keep shouting at me to HEEL and strangling me”

Heelwork can be a challenge, but when attempting to teach your dog to walk next to you keep these three things in mind:

  1. Make yourself interesting to walk with or the smells on the grass and lampposts will win your dog’s attention every time.
  2. Be nice, would you want to walk next to an angry person who keeps choking you?
  3. Change pace and directions and engage with your dog, checking your mobile phone when walking your dog automatically makes you dull to be with!