Barks & Bunnies are delighted to have a Guest Blog from the owner of Shep a wonderful Border Collie who with the help of his owner and Kris Glover from Pets in Practise has been given another chance. Please do read their story about how positive, force free training really can (and does) work. We as a company always look to promote force free training and we named all our Handmade Dog Treats after Dog Tricks to demonstrate our commitment to working with your dog and promoting the owner/dog bond.
A few years ago now my dad retired as a JCB driver having worked hard for 50 years, I knew he wasn’t the sit down type and would find retiring challenging to say the least. So we chatted about getting a dog for him, at first he wasn’t very keen but we eventually managed to convince him.
He insisted that we got Border Collie but at the time we struggled to find one in a Rescue Centre so we made the decision to get a puppy from a working farm in Wales. I spoke to the farmer for over an hour on the phone and we were accepted as adopters for one of his litter. We drove to the farm and my dad chose the puppy that he wanted – a boy. He was still too young to leave his Mum and litter mates so the famer offered to drive him to us the following week.
When the puppy arrived he was the cutest ball of fluff I have ever seen! My dad had the first cuddle and we all decided to name our new member of the family – Shep. My dad loved Shep, everywhere my dad was you knew Shep would be right there too.
A few weeks later my Dad took Shep for his normal walk, but he was taking longer then usual and those of us left at home started to get worried. Finally Shep and Dad came home but Dad was bleeding from a cut on his head. My Dad explained that he had fallen over and couldn’t get up. But Shep didn’t run off like he thought a puppy would, instead he sat by my dad and waited patiently and calmly for him to get up.
We were all a little anxious and so we decided that Dad needed someone to go with him when he walked Shep. After a few weeks Dad suffered a mini stoke and was confined to spending large amounts of the day in bed. Shep just lay next to my dad and refused to move – even as a puppy bursting with energy he stayed right there. Sadly not long after, Dad had to move into a home, Shep found it very hard and so very clearly missed Dad. So as he was still very young I thought I would take him to a puppy class in my local area that my sister found on the internet.
During the class there wasn’t very much happening and we spent a lot of time just sitting around. Shep understandably got bored and started barking out of frustration, the trainers response? to spray water in his face and when that didn’t work they used a bottle filled with stones which they slammed onto the floor. Shep was now terrified, he didn’t want to go into the hall again, even when I did manage to get him in, if any dogs got too close he would start to act very aggressively, barking and lunging. The trainer told me that I had one of the most aggressive dogs they had met, after that I decided not to take Shep back.
So life carried on as before and we decided to get Shep a friend, hoping it would help him with other dogs. We went back to the same farm we got Shep from but the dog we now know as Buddy wasn’t from working lines, he was a rescue puppy. At first it was awful! but in time they started to like and accept one another. Still though, Shep wasn’t comfortable around other dogs and it was getting to the point where I found it impossible to walk him.
I decided a holiday was in order! and I knew I needed one. So Shep and I went to stay with my sister, her husband and her three children. Shep adored the children and the children loved Shep, they could always be found playing together. The weather was wonderful so we took a day trip to the beach and of course as a member of the family Shep came too. Oh my god, it was the worst day of my life! every person that walked past, Shep would bark and lunge at and I really struggled to keep him under control. My sister went out and bought a shock collar for him but I refused to use it as I wasn’t comfortable with that sort of torture for my Shep.
Towards the end of the holiday Shep bit one of the children. It was his bedtime and I always told the children that when Shep is in bed they mustn’t go into his room and disturb him, but they didn’t listen. Instead they blew in his face, popped balloons and Shep hit his trigger, he had finally reached the point where he reacted. It was time to go back home and end the holiday.
Once we were safely home and unpacked I wanted to try and find some help for Shep. After going to a local event I found a behaviorist who said she didn’t need any forms filled, or a vet to sign anything. She came to the house and spent two hours with us. Her advice was that Shep needed sleep, 17 hours during the day and wasn’t allowed to be off his bed, with me saying “good boy, bed” – all day long! I thought she was from the funny farm! We didn’t try her suggestions.
After that failure a friend suggested I contacted a dog trainer who she had used, so I phoned them. This time I was told Shep had no respect for anyone and needed to go to her training center for two weeks and live with her pack who will “show him”. I was utterly shocked and the images I had running through my mind made me certain that there was no way in hell I would be putting Shep through that.
After two failed attempts to get help for Shep, I gave up. We continued as normal and I did my best for Shep but I found it very hard and got to a point where I felt I had to contact my vet. They very kindly offered to come and do a house visit as Shep was clearly so very anxious.
Our vet spent over an hour with us and during the entire visit Shep could only be found hiding behind the sofa – he wouldn’t come out, not even for food or toys. Our Vet felt that Shep would benefit from some help provided by a behaviorist and also from medication. They gave me a list of numbers to call but suggested I call the number at the top of the list first – Kris Glover from Pets in Practise.
Kris and I spoke on the phone and she emailed me some forms to sign and also for the vet to say Shep was fit. Kris didn’t suggest anything along the lines of Shep staying on his bed, shock collars or showing him who was boss and I hoped finally we had found someone who could help us. We completed all the forms but unfortunately our timing wasn’t quite in unison as Kris was just about to go on holiday. She advised us that as Shep was struggling with being outside we should give him a break from his walks until she was back and able to come and see us.
When Kris came over she could instantly see how incredibly stressed Shep was, both inside and outside the house. She told me what was wrong from his side of things and how he must be feeling, rather than just my feelings. She didn’t talk about using water bottles or nasty things like prong collars, she just understood Shep and his fears. Kris put a plan in place to give him the reassurance that he needed. She alsl got me to arrange a vet visit as his the medication he was on at that time wasn’t benefitting him. She suggested changing to Prozac, which the vet was happy to do.
Together we set to work on things with Shep and although the first few months were very hard they were totally worth it. In time, Shep began to show signs of relaxing and he even started to enjoy playing.
It has been 15 months since first meeting Kris and the results have been brilliant, he is now comfortable with dogs off lead and will say ‘hello’ and do the whole sniffing face and bum which for Shep is fab! Even though I have done all the daily work, Kris has guided me through all of it.
So Shep is here today because of all the support he has. Even now Shep is a lot happier even in just himself and isn’t that stressed out dog I had last year.
Note from Kris Glover BA(Hons), MSc CABC, CCAB , Shep’s behaviourist
Shep was clearly a very frightened little dog. He was worried about people, dogs and a fair few household sounds too. In order to help him feel less worried we not only needed to get him onto some supportive medication but we also needed to make the scary things appear less scary. Reducing a dog, or indeed human’s fear of a stimulus is doing through a process of desensitization. The premise with desensitization is that we present the scary stimuli at both a distance and intensity level the dog (or indeed human) can cope with. A human example of this would be someone who is scared of spiders would be asked to walk to a distance away from a captured spider (as a moving one will be at an intensity level that is too great) where they can just about tolerate its presence. It is important that the human is aware the spider is there but is not too worried about its presence. Exactly the same, minus asking the dog to take himself/herself to a distance where they feel safe, is setup when we do desensitization with dogs. We need to make sure, by watching for any stress signals, that our dog is aware the scary stimulus is there but isn’t overly aware of it. After lots of practice sessions we gradually bring the stimulus closer and/or if applicable increase the intensity too. So if we have a dog that is fearful of other dogs we might decrease the distance between the two dogs, or we might instead increase the one dog to two dogs, keeping the distance the same. It is also important that slightly (as the rules of desensitization must be maintained) scary people, dogs, objects and sounds can be associated with pleasant times. That way we can change how a dog feels about a person, other dog, object or sound as these stimuli now predict good things not bad. If every time a dog spotted another dog in the distance he was provided with his favourite food, most fun game or attention from his favoured human he will soon start feel pleasure every time he spotted the previously scary stimulus rather than fear. The process of changing a dog’s emotional state from a negative state to a positive state is termed ‘counter conditioning’.
But good desensitization and counter conditioning is still no good unless you have a committed and keen owner to implement the programme the behaviourist writes. So often I deal with people who just don’t want to put in the massive amounts of time and effort needed to help their dogs to feel less worried. They just want the dog’s unwanted behaviour stopped as these owners are often much more concerned about how it affects them rather than how it affects their dog. Fortunately Shep’s owner Amy was not one of these people. Amy REALLY wanted to help Shep. She wanted to understand how he felt, why he felt like he did and how she could help him. She tirelessly worked with him and still does, he has been undergoing behavioural therapy now for 18 months and is improving all the time. Amy and Shep are clients I will never forget. I have learnt a lot from them both and it never ceases to amaze me how much improvement Shep has made. Both Amy and Shep were a behaviourist’s dream to work with as they followed the behaviour programme to the letter and gave as many positive updates as they gave less than positive ones (us behaviourists sadly only get updated when things aren’t going so well). The fact that Shep can now cope with meeting new people, in fact he often gets quite excited when he seems new people, can now relax when previously scary sounds occur and is able to be walked in and around dogs is just amazing. Shep’s success, is purely down to his owner Amy, I just provided her with the tools for his repair.
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For further information about Kris Glover please contact Pets in Practise
Images of Shep courtesy of Gina Soden http://www.ginasodenphotography.co.uk/