Thursday, 30 April 2009

Dogs Stolen - Please Read


Angela Briggs van was stolen with her two dogs; Chester and Drift inside - this is from Angela:

It happened outside Bierley Community Centre, Bierley, Bradford at 10.20pm Tuesday 28th,

I have been up all night searching for them, I or the police haven't a clue where the van is or where my boys are, I am absolutely destraught as I write this - its now 03.56am Wed 29th. As soon as its light I am off looking again, goodness knows where but I have to find them, I have alerted police, dog lost so far,when light I will ring dog wardens, RSPCA etc etc. Printing posters as I type this. It must have been a planned thing as as soon as I got out of the van with a view to going and locking the gates after taking our heelwork to music classes, he jumped in it happened so quick but yet in slow motion I was/ am in absolute shock, Karen who was thankfully with me at the time managed to get a glimse of him but he had a white mask on thats why I think it was planned, probably just after the van but my boys were inside.Van is White Vauxhall Vivaro Reg letter "PAW" ... As yet there is no word of either the van or, more importantly, the dogs. Drift is a short coated red and white Collie, Chester is an old dog, black with lots of grey hairs on the muzzle and chest. If you live in the area please keep your eyes open for the two of them, obviously don't know if they are still with the van or have been dumped out of it somewhere.
Angela has been in contact with all local rescue agencies, vets, radio etc but as yet nothing
Oh god what has happened to them........

Car fears part 2

So how often does Finn need to travel and how necessary is it...
  • to see our specialist vet in Leeds (about 45mins each way) usually every 6 weeks for acupuncture and homeopathy follow-ups but can be less often
  • once a week or less to go with our dogwalker when I am out of town at meetings etc
  • Monday evenings 15mins trip to dog training classes
  • once or twice a week to go for longer walks
  • usually every other weekend for 1-2 hours to go hillwalking
  • rarely to go to the small kennels we use

When we initially worked on our DS and CC (desensitising and counter conditioning) I was able to not take him out in the car at all - we went to see our vet once and after that did most stuff over the phone where possible. From my learning I think that for CC and DC to be useful you really need to minimise any other exposure to the stimulus. Our challenge now is two-fold

1. no other close by person to assist (Janet has offered and is brilliant but lives in Leeds!)

2. unsure if I can actually eliminate car trips from our schedule for long enough that the DS and CC has a chance to work...

Thoughts on duration of a no-car-travel period would be really helpful :-)

Have also been re-reading some stuff on fear etc in dogs (and loving ebook) which has sharply reminded me once again that Finn is not in any sense a 'normal' dog nor is it reasonable for me to expect that from him. Perhaps I have been pushing his boundaries because of selfish desires to do more walking/CaniX etc. Regardless, one of the main reasons for being able to travel in the car is for his enjoyment of walks when we do arrive - he is such a happy relaxed boy out in the countryside.

Another possible option which I will discuss with my vet tomorrow is going back onto the Valerian tincture which was so helpful in taking the edge off many of his other fears and phobias.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

More fears and phobias (children and footballs)

Tonight's gentle walk turned out to be more of a training exercise than I planned, but thankfully I grabbed a treat bag and clicker before we headed out! As usual there was me + sensitive fearful Finn + deaf wannabe-traffic-herder Farah. Usually on these walks I can focus on Farah's training while Finn bimbles along taking in the smells. Tonight we ended up doing some good work instead! I've tried to condense a long story into a series of challenges that we faced and a bit about how we coped with them (this post has already vanished once!)

1. setting off to the post box, once on the slightly busier road Finn appeared not quite right (tail tight, ears tense and pulling a little on the leash) so we stoped, played some Give M A Break CU games and touch the post box :--). Worked very niely and on we went.

2. kids kicking a ball in the back garden of a house way across the street from us, definitely not that close. Finn starts to freeze up slightly. Stop and do TTouch zigzags, bring him in beside me and c+t (click + treat), walk on using Balance Leash (will post pics soon!) and c+t for any signs of reduced tension at all. Within a minute or so almost back to normal and focusing nicely.

3. kids in our normally quiet fields up by the horses. Finn seems okay but I notice he's not running around like a happy collie, lots of displacement sniffing I think. Move on through the fields, at a safe distance do a minute of cued relaxation and massage.

4. near the exit of our walk there are three kids playing football. After little moving around we get a comfortable distance - about the length of a football pitch! We play Look at That, then release to go sniff. Try for some passive relaxation but its too much. Feel good that we coped, but grumpy that we can't walk where we wanted to!

5. on our way to the alternative exit past some gardens that back onto the fields, there are some little kids playing in one garden. Out of sight but definitely in hearing!! Hmmm, some zigzags, some simple attention behaviours and then *woo hoo* we find a stick! The one thing I forgot to pick up was a toy, so we make the most of the stick and play games as we pass by the gardens (still a good 20feet away from them though). This is great - although Finn is stressed he is able to play with me, not too hard mouth/eyes and no running ahead to escape.

After all of that we just need to get home - thankfully no more challenges on the way, but we do stop to do some quality sniffing and play touch the tree trunk on our way :-)

Hopefully I will be able to sort out the cd of sounds on Friday and then we can begin the counter-conditioning/desensitisation process in earnest.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Re-evaluating car fears in a fearful dog

My older collie Finn came to me with a lot of baggage, fears and outright phobias which in some cases we have had to use medication to cope with. To put it into perspective at one point he had become so fearful of overhead planes that I had to seriously consider having him put to sleep as his quality of life was so appalling. Thankfully we have largely moved on from that dark place, although he remains over-sensitive to most noises.

One of our ongoing challenges is travel in the car. For various reasons, partly a small almost accident (4.5yrs ago) and mostly Finn's amazing ability to link fears and escalate them, Finn has struggled with car travel for much of the time he's been with me. His reactions are relatively unpredictable but he is most likely to react on a narrow, twisty road especially if the surface is bad or rough - however he has been known to have problems on straight but rough roads and its difficult to tell from a map or SatNav what the surfaces are like!

When I say reaction, I mean that he starts to pant, sits up in the boot (fully enclosed) and starts to look distressed, pressing against the side of the car (perhaps for reassurance? he does a lot of compression seeking when he is worried). Obviously as I am driving I don't always see this stage, nor is it always possible to stop the car. The full expression of his panic is frantic tearing at the bodywork of the car/dog guard etc. He is incredibly strong, and totally unable to hear anyone at this point. The dog guard is now bolted into the body of the car, and I have built a wooden protector as the back seats have been shredded resulting in cuts to his mouth etc :-( All of that took just 3 minutes in one episode.

We have been working with homeopathy, acupuncture and TTouch and initially this year I felt we were making some progress. Coping better in general and able to tolerate some more dodgy roads. Unfortunately as with all stressors, if other environmental stimuli upset him (low flying plane or child kicking a football) when we are away, then the return journey can become very difficult. He displays much of his anxiety in a physical way (low back, right side and right hip) which while the acupuncture relieves this, doesn't seem to stop it building back up again!

Re-evaluation as of this week:
I wanted to try and move Finn into the body of the car so I can observe him more clearly while driving, plus he seems worse if the car body is fully packed and he can't see me. After quite a lot of struggling with various sized crates I've had to opt for putting the back seats down, Finn in a harness and clipped on a medium length leash to the bolted down dog guard.

Yesterday was our test run - journey 1 to a local moor for our run together, short trip of less than 10 minutes each way. Journey 2 is the 15-20 min drive down a main road to our training class which Finn loves.

Thanks to all of the counter conditioning work we did two years ago Finn really loves jumping into the car, will do tricks in it etc and in fact is a chilled bunny until we start actually moving (as now I was working on my own with him and its hard training and driving at the same time!)
However once its clear we are going somewhere, a fine trembling starts up over his body, some panting, slightly unfocused eyes. Varies in ability to take food. Pressing body against the car. The trembling seems to stop within about 3-4 minutes and he is clearly less distressed on return journeys??
What I have learned: my inability to observe Finn previously led me to believe that he was in fact coping better than he really has been. Clearly he is distressed by travelling on any road and until I can help him cope better in easy situations its unfair to expect him to cope on a difficult road. I am working hard not to overblame myself for this, and am trying to focus on moving forward with Finn.

Next steps: make another appointment for acupuncture and homeopathy consultation in an attempt to reset his system. Discuss our options with the vet again.

Am also having a chat with a behaviourist up in Iverness, Scotland, later this week about another specialised CD of children/footballs etc for Finn and will mention the car travel issue then too.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Control Unleashed style classes

I came across Leslie McDevitt's amazing book "Control Unleashed" (or CU) last year and, like reading Pam Dennison's books,its been a life changing experience for me and hopefully my dogs too. CU is both a programme, a set of training games and a philosophy all in one. It seems to draw its roots from non-confrontational training principles that build communication and trust between dog and handler. One of the aspects that most attracted me was the idea of using what your dog wants to do in a constructive manner - the Premack principle made very obvious!

As an experiment myself and another trainer ( are running a set of classes based on the CU book and DVD's, and the underlying philosophy. Basically its for our own dogs who are at various stages, and also to help a lady with a challenging rescued collie boy. We've run two sessions now, one of the interesting things has been realising quite how far my fearful/reactive collie Finn has come. While Max and Mirri are fairly excited and can be a bit barky and unfocused, Finn is now working as the calm dog distraction for them!!!

So - week one we covered passive attention (massage/TTouch/breathing) while on a mat, a little bit of on leash walking using ring-gates (photos to come!) to provide a safe enclosed space within the class, and 'whip-lash' turn behaviours and re-orienting. We also began to teach the 'look-at-that' game which is essentially a cued visual targeting game which encourages the dog to look at an exciting or worrying stimulus, and then back to the handler.

The lovely thing is with having just the three and now four dogs in the class, there's plenty of space for everyone and much less of a tense atmosphere. Even 10 month old hyper-collie Max was able to chill out on his mat for a few minutes and by the end of class looked positively relaxed.

Week Two: we revised Look At That and taught it to Mirri - all the dogs were clearly engaging in the game and offering quick glances at each other *yay*. Of course there was plenty of mat-work and passive attention, but we also managed more active work too using the ring-gates again. We worked on on and off leash walking, re-orienting, targeting hand from a distance and then onto targeting the mat as prep for a 'send to mat' exercise. **I just love how the CU games essentially turn life into a series of targeting games!** W also worked on teaching leave. Now all the dogs in class know some version of leave, but I figured it was worth trying it Leslie's way :-) Following clicker type principles we are working on the behaviour before adding in any cues. Stages are below as from the book and DVD (this assumes the dog knows some version of doggie zen)

  • place hard treat on floor under shoe, wait for dog to stop digging under foot and mark/reward any other behaviour esp eye contact

  • place treat beside foot - if dog moves towards treat then cover quickly! as above

  • drop treat near/beside foot from very low height, cover with foot if needed.....

We're aiming to get to the stage where you can throw a handful of food and the dog simply looks up at you - then we'll add in the cue!

Lots more I could say but will leave you for now.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Introducing Finn

Finn, short for Finnegan, who is now around 9 years old and was adopted from Bothwell SSPCA near Glasgow in 2004. Finn's history suggests he was owned by a gentleman with mental health and alcohol problems who repeatedly left him out to stray. The dog warden picked him up as a 'problem stray' and Finn ended up with the SSPCA for several months during which time he contracted very bad kennel cough and displayed clear signs of kennel stress.

Finn was the first dog I adopted and over the first couple of years we have worked through aggression and reactivity toward adults, children and other dogs. Finn has been severely noise sensitive and displayed various phobias (going out in the dark for example) which we have worked through. Finn is a true soul dog and has changed my life in so many ways
I have excerpts from a training diary I kept which I will try and post up later!

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Simple things that make our lives easier...

The dogs and I went on a fairly stiff walk on Sunday (Pen-y-Ghent in the Yorkshire Dales) as part of our training for tackling the Three Yorkshire Peaks at the end of May. My dogs always wear limited slip collars which prevent them backing out, and with no buckles that could accidentally pop/release or break. Very strong collars that carry all the necessary ID (I love these ones

I walk with a rucksack plus waistbelt and a carabiner, the dogs wear their walking/running harnesses ( and the leash clips to my waist keeping my hands free. The other beauty of this system is that even if they did escape the harnesses (very unlikely!) they still have collars on.

While resting on a handy patch of grass near the car park a gorgeous young dog came by (a Northern Inuit I think) on a harness much like mine, flexi leash and with two runners. The dog was interested in my two but everyone was very polite and they headed on to their car.
Next moment - the young husky-type comes bounding over and rather exuberantly says hello. Clearly the harness was removed to get dog into car and the smart dog took the opportunity to escape.... Cue a good ten minutes of chaos as the husky-type got more and more into the game of avoiding his handler, made much easier by the fact that the dog wasn't wearing a collar. The whole situation eventually ended when one of the runners rugby-tackled the dog. Not a great way to maintain your relationship and could have been so easily prevented....

You might have noticed that many dogs are actually not that keen on having their collars grabbed, especially if we don't give them much warning. We work round this in training class by teaching all the dogs that the cue word "collar" means we're touching the collar + a tasty treat is delivered. We work up to practicing grabbing the collar as you might need to in real life and making it all part of a really fun game. So if your pup or dog doesn't like being touched on the neck/collar and is telling you - why not reframe the whole experience for both of you and see it as a training opportunity!

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Hello world!

So this is my first time blogging per se, I use livejournal to keep up wih friends around the world but hopefully this blog will give me an outlet for all those thoughts and questions about the canine world.

The Well Connected Canine is going to be my new business venture, to be officially launched once I have completed the dreaded PhD (homeopathy for ADHD in children for anyone who might be interested) at the end of 2009.
I will then be continuing my training in dog training/behaviour and bodywork (TTouch, massage and acupressure) and offering my services part-time in the York area.

I'm also a homevisitor/checker for several rescue organisations which gives me the opportunity to meet lots of animal people and discuss the important aspects of taking on a new family member.

I'll post more soon about my own dogs, and then start getting into training sessions etc!