LABRADOR RETRIEVER RESCUE
SETTLING IN AND TRAINING TIPS
THE EARLY DAYS
Many dogs take rehoming in their stride but for others, being re-homed is a huge upheaval and they arrive feeling confused and stressed. Signs can include lack of appetite, pacing around, panting, drinking lots of water, hyperactivity, barking at noises outside. There may be physical symptoms such as hair loss, upset tums, scratching, tail chasing or paw chewing. All dogs will benefit from you following our ‘Rescue Remedies’ advice. It can take some time for their bodies to get back to normal after such a big change, so ideally, your dog will need a calm, settling-in period of about three weeks in which to unwind and get used to his new routine. He will need you to gently teach him how you want him to behave by praising him whenever he gets things right. During this time, avoid letting him get too emotional or excited. Naturally, you will want to show him to friends and family, but please resist the temptation to take him round to see lots of new people, or fill the house full of guests. Try not to take him here, there and everywhere – such as to shops, people’s houses or the vets (unless necessary) in the very early days. Also, avoid playing games that hype him up – choose thinking-type games instead. Try to wait a few months before you take him to training classes. A stressed dog can’t learn because his brain is far to busy whirring and worrying. When your dog is calm enough to concentrate at home, you can train him to do basic things eg ‘watch me’ (holding eye contact – if necessary hold a bit of biccy up to your eyes), or just looking up attentively when you say his name. If you would like to know more about understanding his body language and whether or not he is showing signs of stress, have a look at this website http://www.canis.no/rugaas/onearticle.php?artid=1 or the book Calming Signals, by the Norweigan dog trainer Turid Rugaas. Rescue dogs often take about 3 months to fully settle in – and it might even be a little longer. Some may not even feel confident enough to show their real personality until after a couple of months. Others might arrive on their best behaviour, then start ‘testing the boundaries’ a bit. Some might seem on their worst behaviour to start with, and then gradually settle down. The important thing is to be patient and understanding …and be consistent.
HOW TO HELP HIM UNDERSTAND
Dogs need rules to live by – without them they can feel stress and confusion. It is vitally important that new owners decide on what those rules are – right down to what words you will use for commands - then ALL people in the house must stick to them. So, for example, you may decide you are going to say ‘down’ when you want him to lay on the ground. And if he jumps up, you might want to say ‘off!’ But you’ll only confuse him if other family members then say ‘lie down’, ‘go downstairs’ – or ‘get down’ when he jumps up. Show your dog what you want him to do by praising him when he gets things right. If he does something you don’t like, avoid any harsh corrections or shouting – they normally make things much worse. Instead, either ignore the behaviour by turning your head and/or body away, or say a calm ‘ah-ah’. If necessary leave the room or put him out of the room for a brief moment – 30secs to 2mins is enough and is a far more effective punishment.
HOW TO WIN YOUR DOG’S ADMIRATION
Your dog will hold you in high esteem if he sees you as the ‘great controller’ of all the good things in life. So don't dish out toys, games, food, attention etc for nothing - teach him to first do something very simple in order to obtain them eg sit, give a paw, or ‘wait’. So to give an example: Ben wants to go in the garden/have a cuddle/go out the front gate for his walk/ or eat his dinner? No problem - but he must first say please by doing something you ask. This will help him learn self-control - not just flying out of doors, grabbing food etc - which will be useful when you want him to listen to you at times when he’d rather be doing something else. Avoid making him very frustrated in these early days – don’t expect too much of him, his patience may take time to build up gradually.
COMMUNICATING WITH YOUR DOG
Humans have a tendency to react to bad behaviour, rather than good behaviour, but dogs respond much better if you show them the behaviour you WANT rather than don't want. So for example: You don't want him to chase the cat. Tell him to 'sit’ as the cat comes into view (or even better, before he actually sees it) and give treats and praise for obeying you, rather than waiting till he's excitedly rushing after it and yelling 'Oi don't chase the cat!' That’s too late! If a dog gets very excited or emotional (eg when he starts running after the cat, or another dog) the part of his brain that deals with excitement and emotions like fear, anger etc, takes over from the part of the brain that deals with rational thought and obedience. The two cannot work at the same time. So a really hyped-up dog won't even be able to hear you call his name if you leave it too late - you must get in first and ask for the behaviour you want him to do instead. That way he’ll be occupied with doing that, and the ‘thinking’ part of the brain will take over. Learning his body language will help you spot if he’s getting uptight or too emotional eg staring, tail erect, ears forward and body stiffening, maybe hackles up. As soon as you see these signs, get him to focus on you and obey a simple command.
This is a great way to improve your bond. Dogs don't have an in-built desire to please. They do something because they learn it brings a good result for them. So: Fido learns that if he sits when you say Sit, you then give him praise and treat, (or whatever he wanted, such as being let out of the door.) Keep commands simple:’ Fido sit’, ‘Fido come’. Immediately praise/treat him for doing it and then give a release command such as ‘go on!' to tell him he is free to go, so he doesn’t just run to you, grab a treat and run off again. Please note that dogs do not generalise well, so when mum says ‘sit’ in the kitchen, he won’t automatically realise that it means ‘sit’ when dad says it in the park. Usually, the penny drops when he’s learned something in about 3 different places. Always start training in a quiet distraction-free place like the kitchen and when the behaviour gets 100 per cent, move to outdoor places with other things going on around you, where it’s harder to concentrate. Most ‘disobedience’ is because the dog doesn’t understand what he’s supposed to be doing. It might also be that he is distracted by something, or he is simply not motivated to obey.
HOW TO MOTIVATE HIM
Treats – Some dogs are happy working just for bits of biscuit from their meal allowance. If you want to make it more exciting, pop the bits in a bag with a smelly piece of food eg frankfurter, cheese or a clove of garlic. For tasks he finds more difficult, make the reward really good eg morsels of cheese, sausage. He only needs one little fingernail-sized piece as a reward for each thing – it goes down his throat so fast he has no idea how big it was! Praise – Always say Good Boy even if you are giving a food treat too, as the association between praise and food means that eventually he’ll just be happy with praise alone. It is always a good idea, once behaviours get learned, to vary your reward – sometimes he’ll get praise, sometimes a food treat (especially if he performed well), sometimes a game with a toy. Keeping him guessing will keep his interest. Toys - Watch to see what toys and games he likes best eg tug toys, balls, squeakies. Reward him after a training session by producing a toy and having a game. You can build up the value of a special favourite toy which only comes out on walks - if you've found the right one to tickle his fancy, you can then use that to divert his attention if you need to. Don’t leave all his toys lying around, they will become boring to him. Instead, keep some special ones in a cupboard and get them out when you decide it’s time for a game – then put them away afterwards. He’ll really value those! Of course he must have a few toys that are his and can be left lying around – eg a Kong, or Nylabone are good choices and maybe a safe rubber bone.
REWARDING YOUR DOG
To reward a dog, say Good Boy and produce the reward WITHIN 3 SECONDS of the behaviour you wanted. Any later than that, he'll associate the reward with whatever he did next eg sniffed the air, scratched his neck, blinked, or whatever. Remember that dogs do what works for them. They quickly learn that if they sit on command they get a treat, or you open the door to let them out etc – so they do it again and again. But a reward is anything the DOG finds rewarding. It might be something you didn’t intend! For example: The dog is barking because no one is giving him any attention and he wants attention. The owner looks at him and tells him to be quiet. THAT in the dog’s eyes is attention, so he’ll do it next time he wants some. OR, the dog quietly chews a bone. He is being good, but no-one pays him any attention. He then picks up one of the children’s toys, or leaps on the sofa – and suddenly he’s the centre of attention. He will do it more and more if that’s what gets him the reward he’s after. OR, the dog is in the park. His owner calls him. He ignores her and runs up to another dog and plays. That is more rewarding than coming when called, especially if he has learned that obeying the command means the lead is clipped on. It’s very important to set him up for success, not failure. So don’t say his name if he’s engrossed in something - you will be teaching him to just ignore you. Wait until you stand a good chance of him looking up. Avoid using his name or the word 'come' if you are immediately going to do something he might regard as nasty eg put the lead on and end his fun when he’s in the park, clip his nails etc. Use his name and 'come' when you are going to do something nice - call him to go for a walk, to get his dinner etc If you want training advice and have internet access, look at the behaviour section of the website www.takingthelead.co.uk which is run by a respected trainer and behaviourist called Gill White. There is also a bulletin board where she and others give fast, free individual advice on all dog-related matters.
GOOD BEHAVIOUR… AND NOT SO GOOD
The basic rule is praise the behaviour you like - even if he’s sitting quietly, that’s good! But don’t praise so madly that you get him over-excited. When he gets things wrong – either ignore him (walk away if necessary), or say ‘ah-ah’ and just ask him to obey you in some way eg by sitting. If he’s crying or barking for attention try to ignore him or walk away. If he is really getting upset and worked up, wait for a second until he goes quiet and then ask him to ‘sit’ – the idea is for him to associate the ‘sit’ with getting your attention rather than the barking. Be aware that he could learn you come running when he barks – so always be conscious of what connection he will be making to your response. If a behaviour doesn’t work, then a dog will just give up doing it. However they may initially go all out a strategy that has worked in the past - just to see if they can get it to start working again - before they finally dump it. Be aware that if you give in – or he even occasionally gets his way – the behaviour becomes stronger. Randomly rewarded behaviour is very powerful for dogs – a bit like getting a jackpot on a fruit machine. This in fact a tool used in dog training: when a dog gets very good at earning a treat for a particular command, trainers start only giving treats for, say, every second or third time he does it, or for very good performances, to make him keep trying.
There is more rescue dog advice on Gill White’s website http://www.takingthelead.co.uk/3/BehAdv/helping_a_rescue_dog.htm
Disclaimer: Please note that these suggestions are made at no charge by a volunteer behaviour counsellor who is receiving no payment. The author and Labrador Retriever Rescue shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information supplied. The services of a competent professional trainer or applied behaviourist should be sought regarding its applicability with respect to your own dog. The training of dogs is not without risk..