11 May 2010

A pocketful of treats... a diversionary technique

This Sunday, my last dog walk with the hounds before leaving to travel back down South, turned out to be quite eventful and got me thinking about how little us humans sometimes 'think dog' and expect so much from our canine companions.

Me, hubby and hounds had decided to stretch all 16 legs and take the hounds for a bit of off lead time, recall practice and a run in the local playing field. When we got to the field there was another dog - an off lead German Shepherd (GSD) - playing with its owner, so we decided not to go in as Mina can be unpredictable with other dogs.

We carried on walking for a bit and then turned round to head back home...at this stage I could hear screaming and shouting coming from the field, accompanied by loud barks and yapping. We ran back to the field and when I saw what was happening, I handed Stevie and Jasper to hubby and went into the field to help...

...it was quite a sight. The German Shepherd was half lying down, being held and protected by his owner, and was being attacked by two off-lead terriers (a Jack Russell Terrier and a Terrier Cross). The owner of the terriers was frantically trying to catch them, and the owner of the German Shepherd was desperately trying to (a) stop them biting her dog and (b) keep her dog calm, preventing it from biting the terriers.

I know that getting involved in a dog fight isn't the most sensible option, but it did look I could help and the attack hadn't escalated into a full blown fight.

I always carry a pocketful of food treats when I'm walking the hounds, and remember reading somewhere that if a dog starts to attack your dog, try and throw food, a ball or an object to get the attacking dog's attention. The terriers were running around barking and nipping at the GSD, who thankfully was long haired - as it appeared that the terriers were mainly biting out chunks of hair.

The terriers' owner was struggling to catch either of them, so I went across and started calling to them and throwing food treats - in their direction, but away from the GSD. Food can be useful diversion and both appeared to be food motivated. Somehow the lure of the food worked its magic and got them away from the GSD, allowing me to hold one by its harness and the other by its scruff (their owner had taken off his collar/harness).

Thankfully no-one was hurt - human or dog. The terriers' owner clipped them both back onto their leads and the GSD owner was keeping her dog calm.  What made it even more unbelievable was that the owners and their dogs were neighbours...

...and this got me thinking to how much we really know our dogs and just don't think dog.

Just because you may be neighbours, and even if you don't like your neighbour, the chances are you're polite to them - you say hello and exchange niceties about the weather and know how to act socially around them.

But, what if you're a dog and all you see/hear of your doggy neighbour is barking, growling and jumping at the other side of the fence when you're out in the garden? What if that 'big dog next door' is always trying to jump over the fence, or the 'little dog next door' is always poking its nose under the fence barking and trying to nip you?

Just because us humans know how to act when we meet a neighbour, we shouldn't expect our dogs to know what to do. All too often we expect our dogs to be mini doggy etiquette experts, doing what we would do in a strange situation, minding their doggy Ps & Qs, but dogs don't think human; they think dog!

We all want well behaved, well socialised and well mannered dogs but this takes time, patience and training. Next time you think about letting your dog off lead - think dog!

03 May 2010

Finding my 'fido fix'

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I recently started working in London, which means that in the week I'm living away from my husband, hounds and Taz, the cat.

Most weekends I plan to come home to Lincolnshire as I really miss the hounds in the week and by the time the weekend arrives, I can't wait to see them again (and hubby of course)! It also means that I can't help the Lincolnshire Greyhound Trust, the charity which I work for on a voluntary basis.

Last weekend, I spent the weekend 'down South' and by the Friday, I was really missing my 'Fido Fix.' So, thanks to the power of the Internet, I Googled to see if there were any local dog rescues nearby who allowed volunteers to come and walk dogs. Luckily I came across the wonderful Stokenchurch Dog Rescue and after a quick phone call on the Friday I was all set to walk Echo, a four month old Collie/Lurcher cross, at 10.30am on the Saturday.

So, Saturday morning - with the sun streaming down -  I found myself travelling down the M40 to Stokenchurch Dog Rescue. Despite all the years I lived down South and travelled this route, I'd never really noticed the rescue until now, or maybe it's just my memory playing tricks on me! After introducing myself, and filling in a volunteer form I was introduced to Echo - a four month old, Collie/Lurcher cross - who'd been found as a stray pup.

As you can see from his picture, Echo was a little bundle of absolute loveliness.  I was asked to walk Echo for 20 minutes, as being a pup they didn't want to overtire him.

I checked whether I could use treats before we set off and then we started our walk together. I'm generally used to walking dogs the size of my greyhounds and a bouncy puppy was certainly a different kettle of fish.  Echo was very excitable, but soon calmed down and took everything in his stride.

When he didn't pay any attention to the cyclists or the fire engine that passed, I made a big fuss of him and gave him a treat. However, when he showed too much interest in some of the other dogs (I'd been warned about this), we just walked calmly by (well I did, anyway) without a word from me.

At the end of the walk, I handed Echo back to the centre staff and was asked if I'd like to walk another dog. I readily accepted and was then introduced to Ben.

Ben was a 2 year old Patterdale Terrier, who had been rescued from his abusive owners. I was informed that Ben was afraid of men with deep voices and was wearing a muzzle to prevent any mishaps.

Ben was lovely but I could see how fearful he was, particularly of men. He'd obviously been trained to basic commands as he knew "sit" and "wait" but at the beginning of the walk he had a tendency to stop, drop to the ground and flatten himself out; not wanting to move or go on.

With gentle persuasion, and the use of some tasty treats, Ben became more accustomed to me. I used the treats as a reward for him coming to me when called and ignoring cyclists (there were a lot of cyclists out that weekend and apparently Ben's terrier instincts generally kicked in when he saw cyclists)! By the end of our walk, I felt I had gained a little bit of Ben's trust as he did allow me to stroke him without tensing up, or showing signs of stress.

The next weekend I stay down South I'll certainly volunteer my dog-walking services again. It was the perfect way to get my 'fido fix' and to build on my studies,  but more importantly it gave these rescue dogs the chance of a good walk, time away from the kennel environment and the opportunity to socialise with more humans.

Many dog rescues can't survive without the help of volunteers and if you have a few hours a week to spare, why not consider helping a local rescue centre? There may be no pay, but the satisfaction of knowing you've helped a dog in need is worth its weight in gold.
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