BLOG POSTS BY Emma Collings
Fireworks are not only for the 5th November (sadly!)Posted by Emma Collings - 12/02/10 at 06:12:39 am - 3 Comments
After another long strung out period of loud bangs, fireworks night has thankfully been and gone for another year, but not before it affected many of our household pets. Standby for one of my soapbox moments; Fireworks(or Guy Fawkes) Night seems to be developing into Fireworks Fortnight, as the celebrations begin a week early and do not finish for another week because people appear to wait for good weather to use their remaining fireworks. Don’t get me wrong, I think fireworks provide a great spectacle and can make a fun event; however I have to get up on that soapbox and ask why members of the public are allowed to purchase as many pretty explosives as they like and set them off whenever and wherever they wish! From my biased point of view, I believe that if fireworks were only displayed at organised events on public premises, there could be fewer pets affected in their homes by these unnecessary loud noises. Okay, I’ll jump down from that box now!
I am one of those pet owners that is affected each year by fireworks. One of my collies, Eko, is very sound sensitive and finds it terribly stressful when exposed to firework’s loud percussions. We have recently moved from a country location and into a town environment where fireworks are far more commonplace. He is so smart that he is able to differentiate between fireworks or explosions on the television and those in the real world outside; this means that the desensitising sound CDs have not proved to be effective as he can tell that they are not the threat coming from outside the home. So what can we do to help alleviate our dog’s anxiety? Let face it, Christmas is around the corner and then it will be New Year’s where even more fireworks are going to be let up into our skies! Once again, I, and many others in a similar situation, are going to have to deal with a anxious dog.
In order to help our pets, I find that trying a variety of techniques or helpful accessories can be successful, although, maybe only a few of the remedies available will work for a particular dog. Unfortunately, this can mean it becomes a bit of a trial and error situation. The first thing to do is to act early; be prepared and do not leave your choice of action to the last minute, as some of the remedies require a lead-in time. So what are the options? Here are some useful ideas and techniques which I have found to have merit, and may help your dog through that difficult time.
The Sounds CD is a useful tool for many, but as I mentioned, has not been a success on Eko so far, although it can alleviate the symptoms in some dogs if the training is followed correctly. It is definitely a method that requires early preparation in order for it to be effective. The idea is to desensitise your dog to the loud bangs by pairing it with something pleasant, and so creating a positive association to the noise. We begin by putting the CD on at very low volume so that you can just about hear it and ensure you have some very tasty treats with you such as chicken. While the noises are being played in the background, keep your dog’s attention by either doing a Watch Me, the Find It Game, or you can simply feed the chicken to your dog when he is displaying calm behaviour. Gradually increase the volume and continue with the training. This may be done over a number of consecutive days, and if at any time your dog becomes anxious, turn down the CD to the level where you were last successful. I have not given up on this particular training tool just yet. I just need to find an inventive way of fooling Eko, even if it means putting a sound system outside my house so that he thinks it is an external threat!
The Thundershirt is a purpose-made body wrap for dogs that applies gentle and constant pressure on the dog’s torso. The pressure applied is designed to have a calming and comforting effect on the dog, and has been judged to help reduce the anxiety in over 80% of dogs whose owners have tried the product. The application of pressure has been used successfully for many years to help reduce anxiety and fear by those such as the Tellington Touch Professionals. People who suffer with Autism have had pressure used on them to relieve persistent anxiety, and there is the old-fashioned method of swaddling infants to help calm them. The Thundershirt has been a huge success in the United States of America and is now over here in the UK. I had the opportunity to try the product on Eko and found it did give him a little relief, but I was also pairing it with other techniques due to the situation. My Assistant Trainer, Jenny, also tried it on one of her dogs who had issues, and she found it to be very successful; Fen sat calmly beside her throughout an evening with a lot of fireworks.
D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone) is a particularly well known product that is often recommended by many Veterinarians. Essentially, it is a synthetic reproduction of the natural canine appeasing pheromone, and by using it, helps give dogs support through many stressful situations. There are a number of differing methods of dispersing the chemical; plug-in devices that to go into a wall electrical socket, an impregnated collar, and a handheld spray. Personally, I found that this had no effect on Eko due to the severity of his anxiety, but I have seen its effects successfully calm dogs in other spheres of my training.
Zylkene is derived from milk and is lactose free. It is a fully natural product and has proven to help cats and dogs manage stress and anxiety. It is not intended to be a cure for all behavioural problems, but is extremely useful to manage situations such as fireworks and coping in Kennels. I have seen a great deal of success gained using this product with the shelter dogs, and I hope to use it on Eko for the next round of fireworks.
Dorwest Veterinary herbal tablets; Skullcap and Valerian is a herbal medicine for the relief of anxiety, nervousness, excitability and travel sickness. This again, has shown to be particularly effective for those suffering from noise phobias such as fireworks. It does need to be taken daily and works best when taken for the week prior to the stressful event, and its effects help produce a calmer dog without causing drowsiness. I use these herbal tablets in conjunction with the Thundershirt to help Eko with his stress, and I find they a very effective product.
Training; Trick Training and Playing is a particularly effective method of distracting your dog from what is happening around him. Essentially it is a form of desensitisation; doing something positive and fun while the loud bangs are present. It certainly has been invaluable to me when dealing with Eko, and I hope that it can also be a useful tool in your training bag.
I love to trick train as it gives the dog something fun to do while he has to use his brain, stimulating him, which in turn will help tire him by the end of the day. I use simple tricks such as find-it, using three pots on the floor with a biscuit hidden under one of them, Play-dead games, high-five and fetch-it games with a toy. There are great books available full of tricks and games for your dog, and they make a worthy addition to your bookshelf. You can also do some simple training like watch me, sit, down and waits, but you must ensure that you maintain the interest level; some breeds are more easily bored than others, so ensure you have a wide variety of tasks to keep them occupied. Playing simple games inside the home can also be fun. You don’t need to be throwing balls inside, but simply train your dog to down-wait, roll the ball along the floor and then send him away to fetch it. You can play another mentally challenging game by hiding his favourite toy somewhere accessible in the room and making him find it; great for dogs that love to use their nose.
During this period of distraction or distressing, it is essential that you do not try and comfort your dog. This can cause him to worry further, so be quite ‘matter of fact’ about the situation and give him a simple ‘good boy’ for being calm. If he wants to lie quietly under a table, then allow him to do so, don’t try dragging him out of his ‘quiet place’. Shut the curtains or blinds, and put the television or radio on to cover some of the noise if it is appropriate. By putting some of these ideas into effect, you can begin to alleviate your dog’s anxiety. If you choose to try herbal remedies, don’t use all of them at once, choose one and stick with it to allow it to work fully. I also recommend pairing it with something else like a Thundershirt, and don’t forget to engage with your dog by playing some games or doing training. Now that we are close to town, I will continue working on finding a better solution for Eko, and hopefully one day my boy will be able to cope with firework noise. To all of you out there with sound sensitive pets, I hope you find this blog of some use, good luck and start preparing!
Lets Get Ready To Rally!Posted by Emma Collings - 05/27/10 at 10:05:17 am - 4 Comments
Earlier this year I took the time out to attend a course titled Talking Dogs Rally. Rebecca Skelhon & Pam Mackinnon run the training and they have brought over from the United States their take on Rally Obedience. This sport has only been established in the UK for a short time but in that time has grown fast. Rally Obedience was originally created by a gentleman, named Charles Kramer in the USA ten years ago. It since has flourished in the States and now it is our turn to enjoy the sport!
So what is it? Talking dogs Rally involves user-friendly obedience style exercises (known as stations) set out on a numbered course. You can take part for fun or if you want something more challenging there are competitions run throughout the UK. The beauty of this sport is it welcomes handlers of all ages and abilities, and dogs both crossbreed and pedigree. With 75 different exercises, three levels of difficulty and an infinite combination of stations, Talking Dogs Rally can keep you and your dog busy for years to come.
Jo (my good friend and trainer) and I were both very much looking forward to this Trainer’s day at Talking Dogs as not only were we off to learn something new but it was also a good opportunity to talk for the entire journey about training, dogs, new ideas and ventures, only taking a breath to drink our coffee! It was a hands-on training day, so we took a dog of our own to get to experience TD Rally ourselves as well as learning the rules and how to teach it to the public.
The day began like most training days with a cup of coffee and excellent choice of biscuits and we were then thrown straight into the deep end with a demonstration by Pam of one of the TD Rally courses that had been set out for us. Two courses had been set, one at each end of the hall and we were split into two small groups; I was second in line and I must say, was quite nervous! I may train dogs for a living but you can’t help that competitive streak that comes out of you, by simply wanting to do well! However, Mich (AKA The Ginger Whinger) and I were both complete novices and therefore I was armed with lots of cheese as an enticing lure. The course began on a basic level with you placing your dog in a Sit position at the Start and then getting your dog to walk around you to return to the ‘Heel’ position. Mich and I proceeded to the next station in a relaxed heel, executing a right turn at the end and proceeding into a set of cones to weave in and out of. We demonstrated a tidy bit of heelwork and then had to perform a Sit, Down and Sit (the cheese was very useful here!) and a recall exercise where we had to leave our dog in a sit position and walk away. We had nearly completed our first course by finishing on a few nice turns and some heelwork over to the ‘Finish’ station. Mich took this all in stride and thoroughly enjoyed it. He has never really enjoyed the agility very much; he will do it but his only motivation seems to be aimed at getting the toy. But with the TD Rally, he took to like a duck to water, and apart from sniffing the first couple of stations at the start (checking that they weren’t edible cones) he did everything I asked of him.
Throughout the day we progressed onto more challenging courses, learning all the different exercises and ensuring we had a clear understanding of the rules so that we would be able to teach it correctly. Both the dogs and ourselves were completely exhausted by the end of the course as we left with our manuals (which, I might like to add, is so thick that it could be used as a step for reaching that top shelf!). However, we thoroughly enjoyed taking part and felt that Talking Dogs did a fantastic job organising the day.
So what prompted me to learn to teach TD Rally? Well two reasons really; my business is expanding fast and I like to think I offer something that is a little different and yet useful to all dogs and their owners. It goes without saying that my style of training is solely positive based, but I also like to use effective body language and techniques that help you to understand your dog; these help create a calm and well-balanced animal for you to live with. All training is based on everyday situations to help you control your dog effectively; hence we try to avoid using village halls where possible and instead work outside or in a large indoor riding school. Apart from workshops and training days, the majority of my work is based on private training, whether it is simple dog training that is required or helping dogs with behavioural problems. Most animals I come across in my line of work need a job. What I mean here is that when a dog is worked or kept mentally stimulated, many behavioural problems can be eradicated or reduced (not all, I’d like to add!) My job is to go into the home of the client and assess their dog’s problem and set a realistic training plan, talk about exercise, diet and understanding dog behaviour. After a period of time, I often find the dog has improved no end and the clients are beginning to enjoy their dogs once more. It is sometimes the case that dogs just need that extra stimulation and an outlet that helps reduce hyperactivity, behavioural problems and boredom. Therefore an activity such as TD Rally can be beneficial to the dog by keeping him stimulated and because of the control required to partake in Rally, it enables dog owners to maintain control of their dogs within public places as well as the home. It also goes without saying that TD Rally is also an excellent activity to enjoy with your dog and it helps to build a good relationship between the dog and its owner.
The second reason I think TD Rally is a great addition to the dog training/owning community, is its accessibility. I love taking part in the sport of dog agility. I train with my own dogs; I enjoy competing with them and love teaching it to the public. But it is a sport that requires a certain amount of stamina to run with your dog and tends to be an outdoor, all weather kind of activity. It also requires a lot of training and control with your dog, and let’s face it, that does not suit everyone. So, for those dog owners who have completed their basic training and often ask, ”what can we do next?” I can at least offer them another outlet that both dog and owner can enjoy, and is beneficial for the dog’s development at the same time.
In conclusion, this really is an activity that is easy to get started at, all you need is your dog to understand the basic commands (Sit, Down, Stay, Come and Heel), have plenty of rewards to train your dog positively and off you go. It’s as simple as that. So why not give it a go, check out your local school and go and have a look. I highly recommend it and am looking forward to seeing this activity take off this year throughout the UK. Hopefully it will benefit many dogs and owners alike for years to come.
(Acknowledgement: I would like to thank Pam and Becky for organising an excellent day and to congratulate them on their success with Talking Dogs Rally. I am proud to be part of it and look forward to teaching it and taking part in the sport myself.)
We don’t like everyone we meet, so why should they?Posted by Emma Collings - 02/01/10 at 07:02:06 am - 1 Comment
Dog aggression on lead is something that is all too commonly seen these days but also very much misunderstood. That is why I've chosen to share a case of mine (names changed for privacy reasons) where a family had experienced emotional disruption when it came to walking their dog. Here is there story that I hope many could relate to...
Archie is a beautiful Border Collie who's distaste in life is other dogs, and consequently would display signs of aggression toward them when either on or off the lead. His owners fell in love with Archie at first sight where he retired to the back of the kennel looking at them with appealing eyes and a gentle wag of his tail. There was no information about Archie's history apart from he was picked up as a stray in Wales, but this did not deter his new family to committing to give Archie a new start with them.
Archie had been with his new family for two years before my help was required. The family had no great expectations of Archie, but they simply felt he did not enjoy his walks and they certainly felt on edge each time they took him out. On every occasion when a dog came into sight, Archie would become anxious and lunge forward followed by erratic barking and spinning. Many attempts to alleviate Archie's problem had been unsuccessful; the techniques that had been suggested were lead yanking, using a citronella spray collar, and forcing him to walk with other dogs in close proximity to get him to suppress his aggression (method known as flooding). Of course, this had an overwhelming effect on Archie and his behaviour became worse.
When I first met Archie in his home, I received a warm reception. First impressions were of an animal that appeared pretty relaxed and well balanced. I was keen to learn more about him and so we set out to the park; suddenly, things began to change. In the distance another dog came into sight and Archie's demure changed from being relaxed, to demonstrating text book signs of a stressed dog. Archie was communicating clearly to us that he felt uncomfortable. I knew that if we went any closer, it would trigger the aggression that he has learnt to demonstrate around other dogs. At this stage it was clear to me that his owner was unaware of the body language that Archie was displaying; this is something every dog owner should attempt to understand. He was wearing his heart on his sleeve as he exhibited stiffening of the body, whining, panting and demonstrating avoidance to the other dog. It is no wonder that he felt he had no choice but to resort to aggression.
I was content that I had seen enough to assess the behaviour, and certainly didn't want to force him into a confrontation to see the aggressive outburst itself. This dog did not want to be around other dogs, and forcing him into that scenario was not going to cure his problem. Clearly it was time to head for the security of his own home, and begin training on a more positive start.
For whatever reason a dog does not like being in the company other dogs, we have to acknowledge one point; why should they like being around other dogs? As humans, we have the freedom of choice to make our own decisions on who we like or dislike, so why do we assume that all dogs must like each other. This can only result in some of our dogs being placed in uncomfortable situations. Unlike our dogs, we know that it is morally wrong to verbally abuse or strike out at people we don't like, yet we need to work with our pets so they know it is not acceptable to act in an aggressive manner towards other dogs. Some animals may never be reconditioned to accept the company of other dogs around them, however, with the correct use of a desensitisation program and some positive training it can be possible for a dog to learn to cope with being in proximity to other dogs and so learn to enjoy their walks without the need to exhibit stress.
Archie began his training back home, where there were no distractions. Fortunately, Archie was not shy when it came to food, which does make a trainer's job a lot easier! A medley of treats were prepared consisting of hotdog sausages, cheese, and my homemade tuna cake. I always say don't be stingy with the treats, and use a high value reward to help keep your dog's concentration. To make Archie feel more comfortable when near other dogs, we had to focus his attention away from them and onto us. I did this by introducing a 'Watch Me' command; I used a treat to get Archie's eye contact and with the all important timing that is required when training, put the command to the action and reward him. When built up over a period of time, this exercise will help improve the relationship between the dog and his owner, and also take his focus away from other dogs in a positive and rewarding way. It did not take Archie long to realise that humans were actually easily pleased; "If I just look into her eyes she feeds me!" It was time to raise the game and take Archie outside to continue this training. At this point I must make it clear that all this training was not achieved in one simple hour, but required dedication and consistency from his owner using baby steps to reach that ultimate goal. Archie was extremely motivated by this new concept of training and his owner was determined to help Archie overcome his lack of confidence when it came to other dogs, so with a gradual learning curve he soon became untroubled with the presence of other dogs as long as they didn't get too close. Archie is still a dog who likes his own space!
Archie was a fortunate dog. He has an owner who, firstly, recognised their dog's anxiety towards other dogs, and then put in a lot of time and effort time to help him overcome his problem. Since writing this article, I have been informed that Archie continues to improve; he has learnt to accept dogs passing him by and now appears to be more relaxed on his walks. He continues to be unsettled when another dog approaches him directly, but that is now a manageable issue, as his owner is alert to the fact and prevents any altercation. Archie's state of mind now appears calm and stress free and that was the end goal we wanted to achieve.
So next time your dog expresses his dislike toward other dogs that invade his space, just imagine how you would feel if a stranger came up to you in the street and proceeded to hug, kiss and force his company upon you - I bet you wouldn't like it, I know I wouldn’t!
As trainers, we should be working together.Posted by Emma Collings - 12/29/09 at 12:12:01 pm - 1 Comment
Training is changing and I am pleased to report, for the better. There is now more emphasis on positive reinforcement, reward based training, understanding the dog's mind, and using body language to effectively communicate and train our dogs. Old fashioned and traditional training methods are slowly being phased out but unfortunately not all trainers can see the benefits of modern thinking, and still believe that harsh, punishment type training is a suitable way we should be educating our dogs.
I am a trainer that uses rewards, encourages positive training, and takes the time to understand how our canine's mind works. I enjoy sharing with others the knowledge I have gained and benefit from working with other like-minded trainers who can introduce me to new skills. You never stop learning when involved in training and behaviour, and it can only be good to share and discuss ideas with each other in order to improve ourselves professionally.
This is why it saddens me when some trainers in the business treat you like 'The enemy', a rival, and someone to be ignored and disparaged. I began my business in the busy county of Hampshire where Dog Trainers are abundant. As with any profession, there are a large variety of abilities and personalities, and we cannot all be expected to get along. I endeavored to contact a number of trainers in my area in order to establish some links and exchange ideas, and had some success. Not all were committed to my training ideals but at least I was able to swap ideas or recommend alternates if I was not able to assist a client due to time or distance.
I had my biggest disappointment when I relocated to Shropshire last September and had to start up my business again. I began advertising and networking with local vets and pet shops as I had done in Hampshire, and contacted some local trainers to introduce myself and to explore whether we could assist each other. It occurred to me that by making myself known, I would pose less of a threat and more of ally; by cooperating we could help each other if a client needed something that the other could offer. Unfortunately, by the end of this exercise I had only established good relations with one other trainer and one agility club. The remainder of nearly a dozen trainers either ignored my proposal, or stated that it could not possibly be in their interest.
I fully appreciate that times are difficult for most at the moment. Our country is desperately is trying to pull itself out of a recession, and due to insufficient finances many pet dog owners do not have training high on their list of priorities, and some are even abandoning the animals. So the work can be a little slow for some of us, but this must not be used as an excuse to continue the competition and animosity between rivals. Instead, we should be encouraging a relationship where we are able to pool our resources as colleagues within a supporting network. I believe that in our role as dog trainer and behaviourist, we are trusted to give a 100% professional service to help people achieve attainable goals with their dogs. This can be achieved as a community if we learn to trust one another, be unafraid to share opinions, to discuss methods and to try new techniques. If we all work together for the good of our dogs, it can only be a positive experience, and you never know what good friendships may be formed!
It is for these reasons that being invited to join this blog is a refreshing change and I am honored to be part of it. I hope that I will be able to pass on some new ideas that may be added to the trainers tool box, and look forward to reading about other aspects of our craft that I will help expand my own knowledge. So to all the trainers out there, lets start making a difference by working together to achieve our common goal - well behaved, trouble free dogs that are happy in their environment, and well informed, responsible owners that have a mutually pleasurable relationship with their animal.