When dogs need training we begin with the basic essentials like a collar and lead and for those people who make the effort the results are generally good. A dog, like a child, needs an education to prepare it for life in our world and like a child if it does not learn what it can and cannot do it will eventually do what suits itself purely by instinct and conflict with its owner is almost inevitable.
It is instinctive for a dog to grab any food resource (jargon for food) available, not only from a dog bowl but even the dining room table. Tasty sandwiches of salmon and cucumber go down just as well as the dog food, even if they were prepared for Auntie Alice. To a dog it is simply its natural drive, until taught otherwise. In fact, a human baby will do exactly the same until trained to do otherwise and yet, whilst most people will see the baby’s action as innocent the dog is labelled a thief, bad, naughty and so on. That perception or expectation of the animal is rather unfair to the dog and this is where human behaviour is unreasonable.
Though we feel strongly that most dogs should and can be trained for the most part by motivational methods and inducements –there are always cases where certain dogs of specific breeds, backgrounds (i.e. rescue dogs) which do not solely operate for a reward despite misinformation put around to by some surreal dog organisations. Any person who has the slightest knowledge of dogs will know this statement to be true. These dogs though often not bad dogs do and can cause conflicts with their owners and others. That’s where equipment may be used to help re train that dog to a good standard. When people who whish to train their dogs to heel but make little or know attempt to train the dog properly by inducement/reward but simply take the dog and place a HALTI on it then that without doubt is an example of inappropriate and unnecessary use of equipment and says more about the dog owner than the dog.
In this article I will deal mainly with those dogs which need extra help in learning; or more to the point; undoing bad habits which they have learned by themselves, by default or simply had their initial education neglected. Many British companies have produced some splendid and innovative equipment to help assist the trainer, or pet dog owner in re educating training the dog and improving some problem behaviour. I am not stating that some equipment does not have a psychological and physiological and initial adverse effect on dogs, it may – but that sometimes there is little choice in the matter. Most head collars cause most dogs, however fitted to react against the fitting on the face of the collar a dog alter being an example product, but the dog does get used to it in time and like a lead eventually becomes excited as they make the more positive link to the collar i.e. face collar means walk and freedom. A dog that walks without pulling will get more and longer walks and that is enrichment of its life style. The decision ultimately is for a Trainer to suggest use of equipment an this should be an agreement between them and the dog owner. Their combined aim to educate the dog to a more favourable control level that produces equilibrium in the canine/human relationship.
Unfortunately equipment is too often employed as a quick fix which is sadly taken up by many dog owners. Humans often prefer to choose an apparently quick route to solve a problem. However, when the equipment is used in conjunction with experience and sound knowledge or with the assistance of a dog trainer, it can help speed up re-training and in the more serious cases, such as a dog which has learned very bad or dangerous behaviour, it may certainly help put the brakes on that same behaviour becoming worse or even compounding.
Some years ago I remember speaking to Melvin Driver of Mikki Products (now part of Interpet) about Mikki Discs, a training device which John Fisher, a dog trainer and behaviourist and a very likeable man, had developed. He was practical man and used the Discs to stop dogs performing various unwanted behaviour like jumping up, barking, or being a general nuisance. Bowe Tennant productions made a short video for John Fisher & Melvin to explain the Discs’ uses and it is still on sale today. John found that when thrown nearby, the Discs interrupted the action the dog was presenting at the time.
Pre conditioning of the dog to the Disc. Sound was a prerequisite to John’s formula. I had always used a check chain or bunch of keys to obtain a similar effect but the Discs are far more practical to use and will work on the majority but not all dogs. As to how the discs work is debatable. I firmly believe that the dog is fearful of the unknown sound, John Fisher would differ in that view.
I recently demonstrated the Discs’ use to a very well known pop star and their truculent dog Doodle. They were so impressed, they though that they had a second use and should be applied to the press when they too misbehave! I think John Fisher would have been very amused by that.
Dogs Are Heavy
Teaching dogs to enter and exit cars is a major task if your dog is large and the owner infirm, or not very strong. Barjo (an engineering company) has developed a dog ramp which is ever so useful. It is displayed on their Internet site I normally use a stack of boxes but this ramp is far superior and very well made. Because many new cars are very high off the road, small dogs and puppies can also learn to enter and exit a car with this ramp.
Carrier cages and dog guards are also a speciality made by Barjo and safely help you convey your dog about and prevent unwanted behaviour like jumping about on the car covers – no joke when the darling creature is covered in mud.
The Company of Animals in Surrey is another company that has been innovative in bringing to the professionals’ attention very useful training devices including the Aboi Master Plus scent collar. It works by remote control at short distances and emits a jet of foul-smelling but harmless citronella spray. I have used this to help teach recall in dogs which have learned to ignore or not follow or respond to any training methods, in order to get them back on command.
Stopping dogs scavenging food, which could ultimately make them very ill, has also been helped with the Master Plus. One of my clients hates her little Cairn terrier gobbling up goose and water bird droppings in Regents Park, London. She has tried screaming commands at the dog, obedience training (five trainers in total) but all had failed along with her voice box. She didn’t want to use a muzzle. The Master Plus gave duck droppings that unpleasant taste that took them straight off the menu. Bazil is now a reformed scavenger and thinks goose droppings are rank.
I do believe, however, that to use the Master Plus you require knowledge of how dogs learn. Training and timing are essential and one should get help from a dog trainer to help put the device into operation. It is not intended for and neither should it be used in frustration. Though it is innocuous, like all training devices, it can still freak out a few dogs when inappropriately used.
Though food (not treats) is not a device often used in training it can be very potent. We have found a considerable change in dogs’ behaviour when they are fed on what I call a clean diet (chemical free, fresh meat, bone and vegetables etc. A dog I saw recently for Noise Phobia ( gun shots) has dramatically changed its behaviour in less than two weeks by simply being fed on natural food and in conjunction with a desensitisation programme. Reggie, a Staffordshire Bull Terrier, has become more relaxed and less fearful. The owners believe natural food has without doubt helped their dog’s entire physiological and psychological well being.
Last year I conducted a test on 10 dogs brought to me for various behavioural problems. All these dogs shared very high activity rates which appeared to compound the respective behaviour problems presented, including jumping up on people, excessive attention seeking and the like.
I placed all of the dogs on a natural food as opposed to the dog’s normal foods which consisted of about half wet and half dry varieties. The outcome as reported from the owners of the dogs concerned was a dramatic change. Their dogs became much more settled, less prone to execute the bad behaviour they previously exhibited. The most common comment made to me was that the dogs seemed more content and there was less conflict all round.
I then compared those ten dogs with a previous group of ten with similar problems who had received the same behavioural modification advice from me but had not had their diets changed. Although the ten owners stated that their dog’s behaviour had improved, few described the temperament change of a more relaxed dog. Overall I concluded that there appears to be an advantage in feeding your dog food which has few additives or chemicals.
The very famous Flexi lead has a multiple of uses in reforming the dog’s mind. I am happy to use this device when introducing a family dog to a new pet, whether a cat or dog. It allows, as the name suggests, flexible distance on the cord thereby allowing the pet to move as near to the new pet as you wish without the handler imposing or being near by. Dog to dog aggression is also an area where the Flexi is useful. Many dogs react aggressively to other dogs when attached to a lead. However, when the handler pays out the Flexi lead, the lack of the close expected restraint takes the edge off the antagonist. The handler is not nearby to support the antagonist so the dog has to stand alone. This flexibility often reduces tension and thereby aggression. An excellent training tool all round.
Another company, Pet & Garden Plc of Scotland makes an enormous range of products including one that dissuades pets from digging up your garden by leaving foul smelling but harmless pellets in certain areas you don’t want spoiled. Bitter Bite is a harmless taste liquid and very useful when in the early stages of teaching puppies not to chew valuable house hold furnishings and items.
I have just recently been using it to stop Saphie, a puppy Cairn I own, from chewing. She sits at my side in the office whilst I’m typing articles like this one. Puppies are inquisitive and exhibit natural investigative behaviour. Saphie, like all puppies, explores her world with her teeth and nose. When lost under my desk, there is a myriad of computer wires and electric cables. I can’t see what she is doing all the time so I always spray the cables with Bitter Bite once every few days. First experiences are critical in dog training and once she has had a taste of that Bitter Bite the electric cables become the least interesting aspect of the wire jungle and she quickly returns to the toys I have about the place like the Kong. Interpet also makes very attractive soft toys which are especially enticing to young puppies and though this may sound like an equipment led article it is simply a question of using the tools to help educate the dog.
Children of all ages are provided with toys to help stimulate their mind and body. When young babies begin to use the wallpaper as a drawing board we gently redirect them to a drawing pad or some other toys which takes their mind off their previous action. Dogs like children need training and the doggy products available today are immensely helpful in that same educative process.
Super beds a company run by Alex Griffiths is one of Britain’s top dog bed manufacturers and you might wonder how they can be used in behaviour modification. Well, when a puppy is newly brought into the home, it is very insecure and a little lost. Adaptable as dogs are, one can help the process by teaching the dog that it has a place where it can lay without being in the way of pedestrian traffic around the home. I usually insert a small Super bed in a cage or puppy pen when the puppy first arrives. The puppy finds the texture and warmth reassuring and it is kept in the pen for short periods and at night thereby naturally conditioning it to sleep in the soft warm bed. As the weeks pass by and the puppy’s security and well feeling increases, I then begin to move the bed around say, the kitchen area. As the puppy is now conditioned to sleep or rest in the bed it will seek it out and stretches out for a “kip”.
As more time goes by I add another link to the training by giving the command “Bed” and point to it. I train the dog to go to the bed and lay down and I reward it with a treat. In time this command becomes useful when visitors arrive who do not necessarily want dogs near them or when perhaps you are cleaning the floor or unloading the weekly shopping. “Bed” commands are useful.
I find that you can take the bed and place it in any part of the house or even the car and the dog relaxes and due to the early conditioning accepts the training and direction without any fuss. Dog beds are very useful items in dog training and developing good manners. Alex Griffiths just just happens to make such fashionable and colourful designs.
Edited by CCT for The Guild