GILBERT THE DAXIE


It was lovely to catch up with Gilbert this week and to see that he's made some good progress since I last saw him. He had adjusted well to not getting attention on-demand and to having shorter, less tiring walks in the first week (which are both important aspects of the Thinking-dog Programme that help reactive dogs calm down).

Like a lot of teenage dogs when they start the Programme, his owners found that his behaviour started to deteriorate in the second week. This isn't unusual, and it's a process that most dogs need to go through. Because their attention-seeking used to work, and because attention feels so good, many dogs will start to try-out some of the old behaviours that used to work to see if they can still get a result.

It can be quite disheartening after you've seen improvement in the first few days, and so many owners start to think that they're 'doing it wrong'. Gilbert's owners have done really well - they've weathered the storm and been consistent in ignoring his attention-seeking (which is hard when you have a wee Daxie who keeps throwing his ball at your feet!)

They've found that he is demanding play a lot less often, and I was pleased to see that he quickly started to play on his own when I came into the house this time. His owners have plenty of toys and dog chews around for him all the time, which means that he is never bored and the fact that he is now learning to play happily on his own means that his attention-driven barking will soon lessen.

Another reason why barking in the house and garden can improve in the first week and then seem to go back a few pawsteps is because dogs on the Thinking-dog Programme are less physically tired. Some of them can seem to sleep less in the first week, because they are doing fewer physical activities and having shorter walks.

The reason for this reduced activity is because many over-excited dogs are kept too busy as a way of tiring them out so that they're too exhausted to 'behave badly'. Many of the fizzy teenagers I work come to me with problems of over-excitement (which generally shows itself in a lot of barking at home). Understandably, a solution that many owners come-up with is to give their barky, excitable dogs lots of physical exercise in order to tire them out. When this happens, they end-up sleeping a lot, which means they have longer periods of quiet (it's quite hard to bark in their sleep!)

Even though they're flaked-out, though, it doesn't solve the problem. The urge to bark at every little leaf that flutters past the window is still there, but being exhausted just means that the dog is too tired to react. In other words, the barkiness is still there, bubbling under the surface and, as soon as the dog is awake again, they're back to barking at tiny triggers again.

Replacing all the physical activity with Thinking-dog activities, like Ping Pong Puppy and Loose Lead practise means that dogs like Gilbert learn to love having their brains (instead of their muscles) stimulated. And a stimulated brain means a dog who is able to concentrate and think calmly about their reactions to fluttering leaves! They learn to enjoy feeling calm and relaxed, rather than looking for every little trigger to bark at.

Gilbert has had some good days where his mum has enjoyed her quiet walks at home with him. He has walked calmly on the lead and she has felt that they have been connected as they've mooched around the block.

Because his owners are so attuned to him and are becoming very good at reading him, he's making steady progress. He started our session today by playing on his own, which he is learning to do more and more. Then he calmly sat on his mum's lap while we talked through his Action Plan. These are very early days, and we will still expect some blips in the weeks to come. His owners have been determined to be consistent with him, and watching them handle him this morning was pleasing: they have a lovely connection with this special little dog and are determined to work hard with him to help him become calmer and more confident.

Have a look on my Facebook page to see how well his owners handled him with Buddy-dog Finn today.

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Fern Ember Dog Behaviour

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