Yesterday, saw another adventure for us, and we stayed really close to home this time. So much so, we walked from my house to the starting point on the map, located at the top of Old Macc Road, Buxton.
My friend Caren, and her dog Sprout came to the house, where we set off down the road, street walking. It was around 8:20am and I was cautious of this being the prime dog walking time for people taking their dogs out.
Would the start of the walk bring problems for us, before we’d even begun?
As we strolled down the avenues, ahead of me I could see two off lead collies in the cue-de-sac. ”Ah shit” was my initial thoughts.
Hunter saw them, but was relaxed and walking normally as I glanced down at him to check. He was keeping an eye on their movements, just as I was. I was pleased to see the owner of said dogs, call them back, taking them around the corner and lingered there. It was in line with the bridge we needed to walk over.
H was already in some what of a mood. I could tell when I left the house he was excited, desperate to catch up with Sprout and was barely listening to me. Occasionally remembering to check in and receive a piece of freshly cooked chicken. We passed the off lead collies with no issues, continuing to make our way up the next road, where we had planned to meet my landlady and friend, with her dog Meg.
I’d already prepared Debs for the Hunter low down and integration. ”I’ll hang back with Hunter until he can adjust to another dog being there, so if you’re okay to walk with Caren as we arrive, then I’ll catch up!”
I’m not one for diving straight in with new meets. Knowing my dog, I always air on the side of caution. He can be impolite at times, and his stature can be threatening to the other dog with his intense staring.
I also knew Hunter wasn’t focusing on me as well as I’d have liked, opting instead to pull me and sniff at all the new smells.
Off up the hill we went, me being dragged by Hunter as he saw Meg. We had frustration and a couple of woofs, but no fear, which I was super happy with. Sprout was also quite aroused when walking next to Meg, so I had to factor in those responses with the overall picture and reactions from H too.
Anywho! Things settled down quickly and it must have been a good hour and a half, until we saw anything else outside of the ‘pack’
We’d walked across the wonderful moorlands, brimming with purple heather, stopped at the stream so the dogs could have a paddle and a drink, before setting off again up a short incline, where we were greeted by a one track, narrow road.
Our first encounter with another dog came in the form of an on lead Basset Hound, it wasn’t great and because the road was narrow, the distance required for Hunter to feel secure was too small. Alongside me being aware of these factors and what had happened previously, he lunged and reacted, displaying signs of fear.
I knew he was going to react because of his actions and body language, and to help you identify some signs in your own dog too, here’s what I saw in mine.
The road was narrow but long so we could see a good way ahead of us. As much as we could see what lay ahead, so could Hunter, so he saw the dog approaching. He continued to walk normally and relaxed, until we hit that ever so critical threshold (that’s the distance the dog can’t stay calm and comfortable anymore because it’s too close) where it all got too much for him. And me.
His entire body froze, imagine looking at a statue. He was staring directly at the approaching dog, this is our biggest issue now dealing with head on approaches. He was bearing his weight on his back legs, and this is pretty typical of a fearful dog. You can spot it because the back legs bow and their back is lowered.
And the big one, his mouth closed as he continued to stare.
I’m at a bit of a loss in these situations because if I approach Hunter, it can cause him to react quicker. I tend to opt for a basketball shot, where I throw food at his shoulder, which falls to the floor and he drops his head down to eat it. He did a few of these which was helpful in reducing the intensity of the reaction he was about to do. The searching and seeking mode for the food, stops the fearful mode, as the two parts of the brain can’t work together or at the same time.
He flicked from seeking to survival quickly, but these breaks in the approach were helpful.
Before dogs are due to bark, their mouth closes and you can pretty much guarantee a reaction is about to brew.
This breaking of his gaze was something we did lots of with the sheep, and factoring in his breed who stares, this is the first behaviour I’d like him to do when he see’s his triggers. So, it’s something I’ve done a lot of. It worked well until the threshold was too much and out came the reaction.
We continued on the walk, his recovery from the barking quick and we met three more sets of dogs. I had more space to work in, and although Hunter saw them and they were approaching us, the extra space was key here, so I hope you’re taking note of this as you read. He looked at them, we continued as normally as possible in the security of the additional space, and passed with no issues.
We had a few more reactions later on. One with a dog staring directly at him and they both had a bark off at the top of Errwood reservoir, and then again with two off lead labradors (sigh) and collie. At this point, every dog we encountered I kind of expected a reaction too.
We speak about trigger stacking and the barking bucket in our training, and this essentially means, the dog has dealt with too much to be expected to deal with any more triggers. Each time, although he reacted, it wasn’t what I’d class as excessive as he stopped as soon as they passed, and recovered from them quickly. I’m not too concerned with this, and supported him as and where he needed it.
I’ve replayed all scenarios over in my head, and I know how easy it is to get yourself into a downer zone on your dogs behaviour. I reminded myself of all the good things he did and coped with whilst we were out, and they outweighed the undesirable stages. I also noted how some things I simply couldn’t control, some I could have done better with and some I handled brilliantly. Oh and I almost forgot about the final dog!
As we came off the Goyt moorlands and down onto Bishops Lane, ahead of us I could see a dog wandering out of it’s garden, steady, but interested to say hello to Sprout and Meg. I was tired, my feet were killing me, my knees I felt were about to break and I was in the mindset of ‘Oh to fuck with it, if he reacts, he reacts”
I’m not bothered anymore. And with this we passed with Hunter inches away from the dog, and because I put my fuck it head on, he didn’t lunge or bark once… he was interested, pulling towards it, a bit bouncy, but no reaction and as the other dog turned it’s head, Hunter came away and continued to walk with me.
We all laughed afterwards, stating how typical it was when I told myself ah whatever. I’m done. And it’s one of the best passings we had at such close quarters.
So, when it comes to knowing when your dog is going to react, alongside what I’ve mentioned, it’s also about knowing your own dog too and reading the whole picture.
In today’s story and recollection of the walk, we had many factors leading up to Hunter’s reactions:
– Wanting to catch up with his mate, and being impatient
– Dealing with the two off-lead collies
– A brand new environment full of interesting and arousing smells
– Integrating a brand new dog onto the walk
– The excitement and arousal from playing in the stream
– Lack of distance upon meeting the Basset
– Tiredness after having to drag me up the hills 😉
– Off lead dogs under no control, getting closer to him, staring and barking.
That’s a lot of things stacking up, and there were more.
Perhaps your dog is different and doesn’t freeze upon sight, maybe they stare and stalk instead. Or even give little to no warning and literally see something and kick off barking straight away.
Maybe they drag you on the lead, ears back, hackles on their back rising up, and then barking. I’ve seen dogs bouncing on their two back feet on the end of the lead, looking like a pogo stick, before rearing up. Shooting back and forth and around their owner getting into a right state before exploding.
There are loads of variants.
But can you see from reading all of those variants, how there’s always something BEFORE the barking occurs. Meaning we can learn to read the signs on when they’re feeling uncomfortable, over excited, getting frustrated or whatever emotion it is that your dog is feeling before they react.
When I hear the phrase ‘My dog barks and gives no warning signs” I’m always a little sceptical of this. It’s not that the owners are lying, but it’s more a case of them not being able to read these minor, and fast paced signs on how their dog is feeling.
But they’re there. You just need to learn to look for them.
My Elite team members have all mentioned how much easier it is for them now to see how their dog is feeling, which then means they can manage the whole situation so much better in dealing with what ever comes their way.
Ole the Staffy got bombarded by two off lead dogs a few weeks ago, circling around him, with a recovery rate so fast, we hardly knew anything had happened at all.
Billy and Cassie are much more comfortable in passing people these days, and are learning that being stared at isn’t such a big problem.
Jarvis and Titan aren’t reactive, but are solidifying their recalls when off lead and around other dogs, and are absolutely smashing it and listening to their owners more. Jarvis has been at it for a lot longer, and the other week his owner Debbie told me how he recalled every single time away from other dogs and distractions. Which was amazing!
Loki, Sid, and Hendry are all still reacting but progressing and making amazing leaps with their training too, all being able to listen more to their owners and control their emotions in different settings, and step by step.
And we have three more dogs joining the Elite team in a couple of weeks time, to start learning more about their own dogs and get the same levels of progress the rest of my team are getting.
If you’d like to learn more about how to read these signs in your own dog and have the advantage over reading them and being able to intercept before things get too much, then I have two spaces remaining for my Elite coaching program.
It’s a 12 week deep dive and in person coaching course, where you come with your dog, to learn how to better manage their behaviour.
We work individually to begin with, before integrating you into pairs with another team members dog, then we prepare you for the larger group training sessions, working amongst 4/6 other dogs and their owners.
Then when you’re up to speed and in better control of your dog, you then join our training walks, come exploring with my and the team, and ensure your dogs barking is reduced and in most cases stopped altogether in the presence of new environments, distractions and dealings the outside world throws our way.
To be sent more details for this, simple email firstname.lastname@example.org with the email heading of ELITE
Don’t dilly dally either, because the shut off date and final intake for the year is on Friday 21st August. We start the new intake on the 25th and see the year out together as a team.
Don’t miss out on the exciting, invigorating and life changing training has gone and you have to wait until next January to get yourself a slot. By which time you’ll have had three and a half more months of daily stress, barking battles and the behaviour being practiced more by your dog.
Chat soon and stay alert,