Winners of 'Public Choice' Award

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Dogs & Child Safety

Those of you who follow us on Twitter would no doubt have seen that we went for a walk around our local park recently. The rare warm weather (which seems to have escaped the UK this summer!) had brought everyone out and the park was absolutely heaving.

It’s great to see families out enjoying the open spaces & it’s great to children out playing and enjoying themselves, rather than stuck inside on their computers! We took our 2 nephews to the park with us, one of whom is just 4 and the other a matter of months old.

Sear with our nephew

We spent a good few hours in the park, and as usual the dogs always come with us. Whilst we were in the park something really apparent came over, which was actually quite concerning. . . . . .I couldn’t believe the number of young children who were just allowed to wonder, crawl or come running - yes literally sprinting!! - up to our dogs. It’s a recipe for disaster!

In all the time we were at the park, close to 20 children must have touched, stroked or spoken to the dogs – yet not one of the children nor the parents had asked if it was OK to do so. Fortunately our dogs are sociable and friendly, however the children who came over to us certainly didn’t know this to be the case.

Now I totally accept that if the dogs are not sociable they shouldn’t really be taken into such an environment, however the biggest problem, as I’ve said time & time again, is that this would rely on all dog owners being responsible. Sadly not all are.

But, even sociable dogs with responsible owners, there’s still a chance of the dog reacting in the wrong way if a child makes the dog think it’s being threatened. The body language and actions of people is read by dogs, and very often children don't have a clue what their behaviour & body language is giving off to the dogs.

You have to so careful with children & dogs – because in a split second it can be a recipe for disaster.

Take for instance a situation where a child runs straight towards a dog. What does the dog think? “There’s someone running towards us, towards my family. Is this child friend or foe?” The dog then has to decide this his own mind, probably in a slit second – based on the actions & body language of the child – whether he needs to protect his family or not.

Even something as little as the way in which a child puts their hand out to stroke a dog gives off so many messages to a dog - again without the child even knowing what they are doing.

Similarly, the child isn’t able to read the dog’s body language either. Most adults would recognise when a dog is telling you to back off – but children wouldn’t pick up on this. The other problem with children is that they are at eye level of the dog – therefore increases the interaction of eye to eye contact, which to a dog can be a threatening or confrontational sign.

We do lots of work with any children in our family around our dogs. Teaching them how to interact correctly, how to approach dogs. Letting them be confident of dogs & not scared of them but at the same time ensuring that they are aware of their actions & behaviour around dogs.

Vitally important to educate children at an early age

It’s ironic that as I write this Blog, I’ve just seen a Tweet that the Mail have just done an article which runs with the headline “Worrying rise in the number of children needing hospital treatment for dog attacks”
Read more:

The under 10 age group is the most ‘at risk’ category & it’s easy to see why.

However, it’s all well & good people creating a frenzie about an “increase in dog related NHS admissions.”

Take this example for instance;
Had a child have run over to us in the park & started stroking Sear while he was looking the other way (which did happen by the way!!). Sear then turns round & knocks the little lad over, causing him to knock his head on the floor & cuts him - which then required stitches.
This could have been counted as a ‘dog related NHS admission requiring surgery’. Potentially the question could also be raised as to whether this dog was ‘dangerously out of control’?

So we need to be really careful about any sort of statistics & how they are used. It's easy to turn a statistic into a headline & newspapers are very good at this! I could reel off a whole list of statistics about a whole host of things and turn them into a story.

But let’s not forget; dog attacks & more importantly irresponsible owners are most definitely on the increase!!

There needs to be a lot more done surrounding the education of dogs – especially as dog ownership is on the increase. As I’ve said before, more needs to be done surrounding dog ownership and the responsibility owners have over their dogs, but not only that, there needs to be more education about dogs generally for children & parents.

It’s vitally important people realise that dogs aren’t just cute, fluffy pets – they can seriously harm people. It is exactly why dogs are fast becoming the ‘weapon’ of choice for hardened criminals. They really can do serious harm to people - especially children.

No matter what dog - even a Beagle - if it's pushed hard enough and to the limit of it's tolerance it will bite. The only difference with different breeds is their tolerance threshold. Sear being a dominant GSD would tell me off quicker than Taylor who's a laid back, happy go lucky Beagle. But make no mistake - I could push Taylor into biting if I wanted to.

Don't ever think or believe your dog will NEVER bite - because it most certainly will.

Dogs tolerance threshold decreases when unwell

Will the new dog legislation really educate people in this area and will it stop this type of thing happening? No.

There’s some great sources of information out there for parents to help educate children, and I know of lots & lots of people who actively go out to spread this message. None other than one of the many dog handlers we follow on Twitter.

We follow so many fantastic dog handlers on Twitter, & I know it’s hard to single one out for the work they do BUT. . . I read very often of the work Chappers does at Scouts, Brownies, Schools etc with her wonderful Police Dog Karly.

The beautiful PD Karly

This type of education with a Police Dog like Karly is such a fantastic way of not only interacting with children but also allowing the children to practise their ‘dog approach’ on a fully licensed, big, strong, working Police Dog – who in normal ‘work’ circumstances scares the life out of hardened criminals!! It’s such a credit that people like Chappers go out of their way to do this type of work, and it no doubt gives off such a great message to children. They are a real credit to their profession.

Top 5 Do's & Don't

  1. Never touch, stroke or approach a dog without asking the owners permission
  2. Always remain calm & quiet around dogs - no sudden movements or screams
  3. Don't let dogs lick your face & never go to 'hug' them
  4. Let the dog sniff the back of your hand & never stroke the top of a dogs head
  5. Never approach a dog from behind
There's a wealth of information about Child Safety around Dogs - here's a couple of great sites 

Battersea Dogs Home have some great advice & brochures on their site. Click here...

The Kennel Club also run a Safe & Sound Scheme. Click here...

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Puppy Nipping

A very common problem we hear often, is related to puppies nipping & biting. It's even more common amongst puppy walkers who have got a really high drive line of dog. I really do feel their pain - quite literally!!

There's nothing worse than the feeling of those puppy needle teeth clamping themselves around your ankle while your wearing shorts. Especially first thing in a morning when you've been out the night before!!! 

When we get a new pup I very often have to avoid wearing short sleeves because I've always got little needle teeth marks in my arm, which actually makes me look like a drug user! Not a great look!

I certainly wouldn't want the pup to be nipping & biting -especially if there are children in the house. Children & dogs is a really tough subject, very often the dog will see a child as not only a play mate but also someone they can dominate. More often than not children cannot 'read' dog's behaviour & the child's actions can sometimes be read by the dog, as them installing themselves as pack leader - without the child even realising what their behaviour is giving off to the dog. See our Blog about Dog & Child Safety!!

Everything we do with our pups is ALL around positive reinforcement, we don't ever use any control methods via compulsion. Don't get me wrong, there are times the pup needs telling off & we use suitable methods to do so - but we always finish off with something positive & reward based.

As always, I'm not saying this is the 'correct' way or 'only' way to manage puppy nipping, but I'll tell you the method we've used to great effect & what has worked for us. There's also the consideration for us, that we do, in some ways, need to encourage some form of biting in the pups we have. So this method, is not always recommended for every single case especially in pet dog owners.

There are some cases of puppy nipping, where we would suggest it really is nipped (if you excuse the pun!) in the bud altogether & in these cases, we recommend a very different approach. This is where having a crate comes in so useful.

As I say, there are lots of ways to stop puppies biting, nevertheless over the past few years of having puppies come in and out of our care - this is what's worked as we have developed puppy Police Dogs.

We'll aim to write a follow up Blog on managing puppy nipping in a different way, which is more aimed at completely discouraging such behaviour.

So just how do you manage it?

Whenever our pups start nipping us, we always try to redirect this behaviour away from us & onto a toy - in order to turn this into a game with the toy. As soon as the pup nips us, we'll tell the pup firmly "NO" while pointing at them sternly & then excluding any social interaction for a short split moment. They need to understand that biting us is not acceptable behaviour.

We've been really lucky in that Charles Afford from Easirider Company agreed to supply us with offcuts of real sheepskin, which works great for training our pups in a whole host of exercises. Easirider Company have supported us with our puppy development for a number of years & we're really grateful for the bits they've provided to us over this time. You wouldn't believe how something so small plays such a big part in the development of our puppy Police Dogs! It's the first time we've really been able to say Thank You properly to them too.

Sheepskin thanks to Easirider Company

The sheepskin is great, because it smells & the pups love chasing, biting and ragging it. We use their natural instincts to correct the nipping behaviour away from us & into a game. Even Taylor loves to play with the sheepskin! We have a piece of sheepskin tied to a piece of rope, which is then attached to a handle -  a bit like a fishing rod with sheepskin on the end (instead of a fish obviously!!)

Taylor & Sear enjoying playing with the sheepskin

So, if the pup starts biting us (or Taylor for that matter) we'll tell them NO, wait a second or so, then shake the sheepskin in front of their nose. This encourages them to redirect the bite onto the sheepskin. We'll then turn this into a game of chase & biting of the sheepskin. If the pup tries to bite us, we do exactly the same. Tell it NO, wait, then encourage it to bite/play with the sheepskin instead.

By having it tied to the handle on a rope, you can flick the sheepskin around so that the puppy chases it. We also use this exercise as the very basic foundation blocks of Police Dog training.

As with anything dog training wise, it takes time & lots of repetitions before the dog learns not to bite you. The dog also soon learns that the only thing he's allowed to bite is the sheepskin ragger. It will soon become their favourite toy.

Sear with 'his' sheepskin

This type of behaviour shaping is where the use of a crate comes in brilliantly. If you're using a crate correctly, you can control when the puppy is playful & excited. We always play with the pup after coming out of it's crate - always after it's been to the toilet though. In addition, we never leave ANY toys lying around. The only time the pup plays is when we are interacting with it & teaching it the correct behaviour. This way, every time we get the sheepskin out the pup knows it 'playtime'.

The use of a crate is also the key to the other method of discouraging this behaviour (which we will cover further int he future)

The key is, to use the sheepskin as the pup's playtime. Don't just play this game when the pup is biting you - otherwise the pup will soon learn that every time he bites you he gets to play a game! They aren't stupid!!

The benefit of using this method over any other methods of stopping your pup nipping is that it uses all positive reinforcement. We much prefer to engage our pups in a positive manner than by any other means - however there are times when an alternative method is needed. However for us it's a winner & is also a vital element in our Police Dog development phases.

Words of Caution

Whilst this is what we do with our pups, there are a few things to be mindful of when using this method.

As I said at the start, our pups are a little different to 'pet' puppies, so in some cases this method wouldn't always be recommended. Especially for people with their first puppy or with strong willed, 'difficult' to manage, breeds.

You need to be very careful that you are not simply teaching the pup; that everytime he nips you, it's the cue for a great game of tug on the sheepskin ragger! Using this approach, relies on you interacting & playing with your pup regularly - not just when you are trying to redirect unwanted behaviour.

Dog's are clever & VERY quick learners - it wouldn't take an unengaged dog long to work out how he gets stimulation. . . .  via nipping you.

The puppy will naturally be excited from playing with you. When you come to the end of playing, be sure to take the puppy to the toilet area before placing it back in it's crate. Allow the dog the calm down outside & go to the toilet (again not forgetting to praise the dog for his correct toileting) - so that they understand the game is over.

Once you've had enough & the game is over, if the dog then starts to bite ensure you tell it NO and completely ignore him. Place the pup calmly in his crate & only allow any social interaction once he's calmed down.

What you don't want to do is, play with the puppy for a while & then just finish the game, leaving the puppy in an excited state of mind.  Possibly 1 or both of these things will happen;

1.) The puppy will toilet somewhere and/or 2.) the puppy will go back to biting you - because it's now excited & wound up.

The other thing to be mindful of is, playing 'tug of war' games with your pup. When using the sheepskin we don't just play 'tug of war' games. While the pups are chasing the sheepskin around, we'll pick it up so they can't catch it & then use it to teach commands like 'sit' & 'stay' etc . They only get the sheepskin back when they've displayed the correct behaviour. It's always good to mix up training with different games & exercises.

It's always important to ensure you teach the dog the 'leave' command. Again, let the dog win the sheepskin while it's chasing it, but then also teach the dog to 'leave' the sheepskin when you say. In the early stages you may have to help him 'leave' by opening his mouth with your hands.

I would never encourage children play any sort of 'tug of war' games with puppies or dogs at all. It's a recipe for disaster!! Children playing with dogs must be supervised at all times.

Hopefully though this will help avoid those puppy needle teeth inflicting pain into your skin - believe me I know exactly what it feels like!!