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Building Confidence Pt. 2

Thou call'st me dog before thou hadst a cause, But since I am a dog, beware my fangs.

- William Shakespeare

There are techniques where if a dog is woofing at something, or displaying an undesirable behaviour, trainers tell owners to fill a tin with stones, and throw it on the floor as a distraction. Sometimes they will suggest a water pistol, squirting an air spray, or even to throw a set of keys on the floor.

Spray01These are negative reinforcement techniques. If you have a dog who is barking because they are scared or behaving badly because they are nervous of something, then the negative reinforcement techniques can make that dog even more scared and agitated. The scary noise / action may well increase that fear.

These techniques can cause even more dangerous behaviour. Teaching your dog they are in trouble when water in squirted has, in some cases, caused dogs to become violently aggressive around water. Hosepipes become a huge source of fear, and now you have a dog who is terrified of having a bath or shower.

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Losing Your Best Friend

 “Dogs, lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you're going to lose a dog, and there's going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can't support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There's such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and the mistakes we make because of those illusions.”

- Dean Koontz, The Darkest Evening of the Year

Arthur01Losing your best friend is one of the most difficult times you can experience as a dog owner. We speak to a lot of people who are still working through the grief of losing their best friend, and they have real problems coming to terms with the sense of emptiness a death leaves behind.

People we speak to often feel a huge sense of guilt that they are affected more strongly by the death of their pet, than they were for members of their own family.

When you have a friend who leaves you - your best friend is gone. You have lost a companion who never asked to borrow money, never reversed your car into a wall, never pestered you for a brand new computer, never gave you six months of the silent treatment because of an inconsequential argument, but was always there whenever you need them to be. The void that is left behind is indescribable.

Henry01Having spoken to hundreds of bereaved dog owners, the whole theme of this site is reflected on them too; everyone is unique, and everyone is different. The way each person handles a canine bereavement is different. There is no ‘right’ way or ‘wrong’ way. The way that person feels is how that person feels.

It isn’t wrong to cry, even if you’re a burly 6’6” scrum-half for a Rugby team, and it isn’t wrong to feel numb. How you feel is how you feel. It’s common to feel angry that you’ve had a sweet soul taken away from you. It can seem unfair and cruel that their lives are so short in comparison to our own.

In some families, one member will be devastated, whilst others may not seem affected at all. This can cause an awful amount of tension - but everyone copes with situations in a different way. There’s no point asking someone to ‘snap out of it’ if they are depressed, and there’s no point being cross that someone seems to be taking it far too well.

Some people cannot cope without a dog in their lives, and rush out to find another companion to try and help fill that enormous hole that has been left. Others feel so guilty at the thought, believing that bringing another dog in is disloyal to the friend they have just lost. For some, it can take many years before they feel ready to take on another friend.

For some, they will lose a friend young, and for others, their dog will have reached a grand old age. Neither of these situations are easier. Some dogs health will decline and you will dread having to make the decision to help them over the rainbow bridge, and yet others will leave us suddenly with no warning.

NeverForgotten01Some people, if they know their dog is nearing the end, will get another dog before their old dog leaves - that way they feel as though they are not replacing the soon-to-be departed.

It’s natural to think ‘what if’ and feel guilty. We will always wonder if there was something - anything - we could have done differently. We will always wake up hoping and praying that perhaps today our little friend has had a miraculous recovery overnight. If they have already left us, we will wake up, hoping that their little face will appear around the door, and the loss was just one huge nightmare.

Your heart will break into a million pieces at the loss of your friend, and you will never get over them. There will always be a piece of them in your heart.

And while the heartbreak is the most intense and unbearable aspect of keeping a dog in your life, you can only have your heart broken if you’re in love. And what is a life without love?

Read The Next Section “Overview” >

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Pup Pup Pup Pup Puppies!

There is no psychiatrist in the world like a puppy licking your face.

- G. K. Chesterton

Everyone seems to think that a puppy is ultimately the very best way to get a dog. Often, people say that with a puppy, you’re able to train them and ‘mould’ them the way YOU want them.

Well, yes and no. Firstly it’s important that you recognise the personality of the puppy when you’re choosing them. And even then, as they grow and go through hormonal changes their personality can change quite a lot. A confident little pup can suddenly become frightened of it’s shadow, and conversely a timid little pup can really come out of it’s shell and turn into a confident little mischief-monkey.

One of the secrets of coping with a pup is to be prepared for change. Don’t assume that the bundle of fluff in front of you is how the adult dog is going to turn out, because you will be disappointed.

Just like kids are different when they are 2 years old, 10 years old and 18 years old, puppies have a similar path through their lives and they develop too. Kids go through phases of being interested in different things, and dogs can do that too.

As they grow and mature, make sure that you’re paying attention to the signals they are giving you. This is especially important when they hit a stage between 4 and 8 months, where they become awkward teenagers who really need your encouragement and direction. It’s a sad fact that this is the time a lot of enthusiastic puppy owners realise they’ve made a mistake, and that little fluffy bundle is growing up and pushing some boundaries.

PuppyLove01It’s not a time to get disheartened - it’s the time when you need to be a patient parent, guiding and showing them what their role is in the home, family and world. Without your confidence at this important stage, the pup won’t know what they’re supposed to do. Consequently they will end up trying to figure it out for themselves. Sadly, the associated behaviour gets misdiagnosed as ‘behavioural problems’ when it’s really just growing pains and teenage angst.

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Training

“After you work out, you have your dog with you. There's no better companion. You've got to have a friend. I didn't like opponents who had dogs with them, because you know they had a little edge. They have a friend.”

- George Foreman

As you can tell, we’re all about doing things differently, and whilst a lot of training techniques will be familiar, your approach should follow what we’ve gone through so far: your dog is unique, and you use their personality, temperament and intelligence to adjust your training techniques accordingly.

LooseLead01It’s obvious to say it, but your dog is not a computer or a video recorder. No matter how much we say it, some training techniques just seem to involve punching the information in, and if it doesn’t stick, keep pummelling away.

If you decide you want to take your dog to a training class, always made sure that you find a reputable trainer who uses positive methods. Ideally, you want one who has real, practical experience with the breed of your dog. There’s no point taking a Chihuahua to a German Shepherd training class!

“He was a Police Dog trainer so he must be good!” Well, do you want your dog to be a Police Dog? Do you see many Chihuahua Police dogs? Perhaps they would be useful for the Pixie Police, but let’s be honest, what’s right for a Chihuahua isn’t right for a German Shepherd. Always think about the breed of dog that you have, and whether the training class is actually appropriate for your dog.

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Doggy Friends & Enemies Pt2

"Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate."

- Sigmund Freud

A relationship where one dog is the troublemaker and another becomes the protector is more common than you would think. We’ve seen some hilarious pairs of dogs over the years. Harry (a large black Lab X) and Helix (a small scruffy Terrier) were inseparable.

Harry&Helix01Entirely devoted to each other, Helix was a typical noisy terrier. He’d bark his head off, cause trouble and run off with a look on his face that was pure joy. He just loved causing mischief. Harry on the other hand had a wise old head on his shoulders. He never got involved in Helix’ nonsense unless Helix had got himself in trouble. Then, Harry would step in, and with one swift move would remove Helix from the situation and calm everything down. On occasion he would also tell Helix off. Harry always acted like Helix’ dad, he’d protect his little friend, but wouldn’t let him get away with too much.

Relationships in groups of dogs often get more complicated than that. There’s nothing more fascinating that watching a group of dogs interact with each other over a long period of time. What you learn is that each individual dog has their own skills and interests. What becomes most fascinating is watching and learning that the traditional idea of the ‘pack leader’ becomes entirely redundant.

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Doggy Friends & Enemies Pt1

“Once when I had remarked on the affection quite often found between cat and dog, my friend replied, "Yes. But I bet no dog would ever confess it to the other dogs.”

- C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

As humans, we love to think that we are the centre of our dog’s world, and that we’re the most important relationship in their life. The reality of it is that no matter how much we love our dogs, and how much they love us, we simply cannot provide the interaction that another dog does.

As humans, we can find it difficult to engage our dog in a very doggy way. Let’s be honest, we’re not going to sniff their bum. We can’t play racy-chase games the same way; we can’t dive under things and we won’t wrestle with them using our teeth.

We’re not going to snuggle with them in their doggy bed and fall asleep. We don’t eat from their bowls, and we don’t interpret the world in the same way. We don’t necessarily give off the right body language in scary situations. Sometimes, being human makes things worse.

Queueing01As standard, humans tend to tell dogs off when they jump up to say hello. We actually encourage it! When a dog says hello to another dog, they are pretty much at eye level. If a St. Bernard says hello to a Chihuahua, the Chihuahua will look up, the St Bernard will look down. They compromise so that they are able to greet each other. It’s a doggy handshake. Every time we tell a dog off for jumping up, really we’re snubbing their attempt at a handshake with us. We’re not entering a compromise, but demanding they adhere to our body language.

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Building Confidence Pt. 4

You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'

- Eleanor Roosevelt

EXTREME NERVOUSNESS

If you have adopted a dog who is extremely nervous, it may be that they have been through a terrible ordeal which makes them see the world as a very scary place. No matter how scared they are, it is possible to help them, and increase their confidence.

When we are dealing with a dog who is very scared or worried about us, or the environment, we have to work out what makes them feel comfortable and let them come out of themselves in their own time.

Perhaps you won’t have read this in dog books, but we often find singing to nervous dogs can really help. If you ignore them, but sing around them, your voice will be relaxed and your body language will naturally relax. We will often make up the most stupid songs, but a sing-song voice can be really helpful to show you’re friendly, and your tone of voice will be non-threatening. It becomes second nature to do it, and you naturally relax without thinking about it. You may feel silly to start off with, but you’ll soon get used to it. We don’t care if humans think we’re mad for singing stupid songs to the dogs as long as it’s the right thing to do for the dogs.

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Building Confidence Pt. 3

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.

-  Lao Tzu

SOUND SENSITIVITY

Doggie01If you have a dog who is scared of noise, such as fireworks, it isn’t always possible to solve the problem. The key to helping people with issues, is being able to draw the line as to what can be solved and what can’t. When something cannot be solved, it’s important that we help them have their own coping mechanism. That’s something which can come in handy for other problems too, and we’ll expand more on it later.

Some dogs are actually scared of the noise of fireworks, and for others, it isn’t actually a fear - the loud noises can cause physical pain. Fireworks can be painfully loud for humans, so imagine how it must feel for a dog who has a much keener sense of hearing.

Some dogs cope with the situation by finding a bolt-hole, and hiding in it. Some people try to encourage their dog to come out, but not all dogs will want to.

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Building Confidence Pt. 1

Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.

- Vince Lombardi

A lot of problems that people encounter with their dog revolve around their dog not having confidence. They are often described as ‘nervous’.

ItWasntMe02However, it’s worth remembering that not all dogs that are described as ‘nervous’ are genuinely nervous. Some very worky collies are described as nervous, when it is that they work ‘on their nerves’. The workier the dog, the more they need to react to movement or noise. In a working environment, this means they react very quickly to commands and the flock they are herding. In a domestic environment, the hustle and bustle of suburban life the constant noise and movement of traffic can stress them out and make them look extremely nervous.  Their heightened senses make lots of things scary...

And so there are lots of breeds that are sensitive; we've had Rough Collies who run and nip you even if you do something as innocent as sneeze.  Some sighthounds can be very sensitive, and it's worth remembering that the sensitive hearing dogs possess can make situations we think are completely normal very traumatic for even the most well-balanced dog.

Unfortunately, when a dog looks nervous, reacts in a nervous way or is overwhelmed by the environment around them, it can lead to the dog being wrongly diagnosed with a problem like “Fear Aggression”.

Phrases like that can make your dog sound like a nightmare, when really they are reacting completely naturally. So, let’s explore the reasons that can cause your dog to be scared and how we can help them deal with the world around them.

FEAR AGGRESSION

It’s said that dogs are a ‘fight or flight’ animal. Given a situation, a dog will make one of those two decisions when under stress. When you look at it, it’s an understandable reaction.

RunninAround02If you were cornered by scary looking humans, and were worried for your safety, you would try to run. If that were not possible, you would have no option but to fight your way out. When a human is in this situation and fights their way out, they are lauded as ‘brave’. People pat them on the back, praise their courage and generally see that instinctive reaction as a positive thing. We look at the situation, see it as self defence and see that it is completely understandable.

However, when a dog does it reacts in the same way, it’s often called “Fear Aggression”. When someone tells me that their dog is Fear Aggressive, we always ask them “what does fear aggression mean?” 90% of the time, we find people have no idea what it means. And if you don’t know what it means, how can you solve it?

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More Food For Thought

That's the only dog I know who can smell someone just thinking about food.

- Charles M. Schulz (creator of Charlie Brown)

So, we’ve spoken about the way food can affect your dog, but what if you actually have food issues with your dog?

One of the most common food issues experienced by people and their dogs are ‘food aggression’. This is where a dog becomes stressed around food, and guards their food.

There is the school of thought which says you should always be able to take food away from your dog. You should be able to remove their food bowl while they are eating, and your dog should not respond in any way. Whilst there seems to a some sort of logic to it, is it really the end of the world if your dog doesn’t like you taking it’s food away?

Food01For example, if we were to try and take an ice cream from a child, would we expect that child not to respond? They’re going to cry, scream and some children can become quite violent.

If a waiter were to take your food away from your table in the middle of a meal in a restaurant, would you be able to keep your cool and not respond?

When that child or that human responds, do we claim they are dominant? Of course we don’t. Do we make the suggestion that these children and adults have behavioural problems? The desire to ensure our food is not taken away from us is an instinctive, primal feeling.

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