My dog won't get in the car!
Today I had a bit of traveling to do as I drove to Woodhall Spa in Lincolnshire. In case you don't know it, it is between Lincoln and Boston, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom.
What took me all the way over there? Two Labradors, both female and both demanding in their own way.
Bramble is the youngest and the most unsettled and she won't get in the car, she won't recall if she wants to chase something and she constantly brings you toys.
Because Bramble has become disruptive, it is affecting where they can go for days out and her behaviour on the lead means it is also difficult for anyone to walk her should her owners decide to go on holiday.
Bramble could relax, she could lie down and chill out but only when she was away from her owners, when she was around them she had to have a toy in her mouth and she was very elevated in her behaviour.
She is wary of getting too close to visitors and would shy away from hands. Not because she had ever been hit, far from it and actually quite the reverse, she associated hands with vigorous and prolonged stroking and to put it bluntly, she hated it so she had learned to stay away from hands.
This also explained why she brought you a toy because she knew you would play with the toy and leave her alone. It is a bit of a shame that we as people can often do things with the best of intentions that actually cause our dogs to stay away from us, not every dog is a robust as we might think they are and every dog is different and has different needs.
Praise for good behaviour and for being relaxed is essential. Bramble was praised whenever she didn't have a toy in her mouth so soon enough she stopped carrying toys. She appeared with sticks and plants from the garden because she knew that would get a reaction. Instead this time all she achieved was the closing of the back door.
This soon convinced her she was wasting her time and was getting no attention at all.
She only got attention for the behaviours we wanted to reward her for, not those she thought would work.
Bramble also resisted being walked on the lead because she couldn't go where she wanted to and she really resisted when she was walked towards the car where she though she might have to get in.
If you force a dog to do something, the dog will not learn and you will always have to force the dog or they will learn to do it out of fear.
I do not work this way.
My training revolves around helping the dog make a choice, yes that is the choice I want her to make but she has to choose. I don't use treats as a bribe or as an incentive because I want the dog to do as she is asked because she wants to and when she makes the right decision she is praised. I can make praise last far longer than any bag of treats and with praise I can reward a calm dog and keep a dog calm whilst I praise.
All this is achieved with a loose lead, without stress or confusion because Bramble needed to think clearly and she can only think clearly when she is calm. She asked for several time outs by sitting or lying down at various stages of the car exercise because she was working hard to solve the problem.
She was given all the time she needed to think and process and she worked really hard and achieved a great deal and yes, she got into the car.
With repetition and practice, Bramble will become much calmer and more confident because her owners will know what they are doing and they will be doing it in a way that Bramble understands and appreciates which will help Bramble be much more cooperative.
I have been working with dog and their owners for 26 years and our understanding of the dog and human relationship has developed so much over that time. It is a deep and complex area to understand and to correctly address the individual dogs needs takes time and patience and does require the owners to change their own behaviour towards their dogs.
Bramble was a confused and stressed dog because the behaviour of her owners was confusing and stressful. After a year of this, there is now changes happening that will make the next year a very different one and a much more enjoyable and relaxing one for all concerned.