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Be consistent. Start as you mean to go on.
From the start Casey was very difficult. Before Lesley and Colin Harpley brought her home from Chilterns Dog Rescue Society, she had been left in a flat for 12 hours a day whilst her owner worked. She had not been socialised nor house trained at all. In addition, when she showed signs of nervous aggression to people and dogs, while at the same time being quite dominant. Lesley explains how they got over the problem.
Casey was quite nervous when we tried training her at home, and would run off and stand looking at them from a distance. She would also do things like barging through to the front of our pack, snapping and biting at our other dogs on the way in or out of the house.
Fair but firm
We made her wait to go out behind us and the other dogs, fed her last (but only just after) the other dogs etc etc. If she did bite at one of the others, we immediately put her on her side firmly and pinned her down to emphasise her position and give one of the more extreme calming signals. We were more gentle, of course, with her agility training but still ensured we reinforced the positive and desired behaviours rather than the negative ones.
One evening, Colin and I sat on the grass ‘ignoring her’ for 20 minutes after Casey ran off a few yards in apparent fear. We then rewarded her greatly with treats and fuss when she eventually crept round close to us. It was really hard to tell if Casey was genuinely afraid, or whether she was exhibiting signs of ‘submissive dominance’. Either way, we felt that there was no point in chasing after her, as it would only reinforce the undesired behaviour and she was perfectly safe, if uncertain, standing several yards away.
A further factor is that, of all our dogs, Casey has the strongest 'work ethic' and instinctive herding tendency. We had to learn to distinguish this from her otherwise anti-social behaviour. We tried to separate her instinctive 'sheepdog' behaviour from anxiety induced and unacceptable behaviour.
results in behaviour modification
In agility, it was more ‘exciting’ of course. Casey would snarl and snap at other dogs within three yards of her and we did make it clear that was unacceptable by making her ‘settle’ and saying ‘no’ whilst trying not to ‘overdo it’ and reinforce the fear. She never made contact with another dog, and often bit her own tongue in her frenzy, ending up with blood all down chest. It took a couple of months but the wonderful thing is that two years on Casey is now so happy and well adjusted and we love to see her charging around with an extended pack in the exercise area with no problems at all.
I’m not suggesting that this formula would work for every dog, since every case will be different. Some of what we did was quite structured, in the sense of positive and negative reinforcement, pack structure and leadership, but obviously a lot of it was quite intuitive too and we probably didn’t even notice a lot of the things we instinctively did.
Casey is much more affectionate now, but a very quick cuddle is all she needs. She is almost like the pig in Babe, where a curt 'That’ll do pig' in the form of a quiet 'good girl' will send her leaping into Colin’s arms. Anything more enthusiastic from us either goes over her head or makes her stressed.
Interestingly, she calmed down the most when we got Mace. That might be a coincidence, but I think she took on the task of the next youngest dog ‘training’ the baby and it somehow made her ‘belong’. Maybe, after all is said and done, it is the other dogs in our ‘packs’ that do so much of the social training for our newcomers and what we do is only the tip of the iceberg.
So how is she
We still have to maintain our consistent approach as Casey is quite prepared to push the boundaries whenever she thinks that she can get away with it! But overall she is a totally different dog to the one we rescued two years ago.
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