Thursday, May 8, 2014

Yes, we're still alive... #WOOFSupport Report

Things were hectic during April down here. The A-to-Z Challenge, other writing projects, household stuff; my computer broke down at the end of March, which did not help. All in all, I devoted little (read: zero) time to proper training.

As with everything else Dog, it's the human that's to blame.

But I'm (slowly) learning from my four-legged teachers. No would've, could've, should've. Move forward. It's about the present; yesterday's gone, tomorrow doesn't exist yet.

I'm trying.

So. First: what are we struggling with? Besides general reactivity (which, as I've mentioned, spreads like wildfire in a pack--and I still can't figure out why it's the reactivity, and not the calm, that spreads), our neighbor at the back has two new dogs. Puppies. One around 6 months, the other about 10 or 12 weeks.

And my dogs do not like them.

Which means there's loud, incessant, and obsessive barking at the fence. It just takes one to start--one of mine, I mean--and the other six sprint like stampeding Mustangs to join in the call to defend the fortress. The neighbor's dogs think it's great fun. They're puppies; of course they think it's fun.

But it's mighty serious business for my pack.

It doesn't last very long; even without (my) interference, they're done--tired, hoarse, bored--after about seven minutes. But with nine dogs barking as loud as they can, those seven minutes feel endless.

The neighbors--the other neighbors, not the owners of the puppies--have begun to complain. We've had the police here twice, plus a "formal" protest visit to tell us to either shut the dogs up or else. (I'm paraphrasing.)

That's the latest symptom. The solution comes in short- and long-term; long-term, obviously, is what we're aiming for--I want all my dogs to be happy, able to deal calmly with the stress of encountering new things, to (dare I say it?) enjoy encountering new things. But long-term takes, well, longer. Given the neighbor issues, it's become a choice between my dogs' psychological and physical well-being (dog poisoning is disgustingly common in this island).

Short-term solution: I'm building a wooden fence at the back. (It's actually a relocation of the fence; if you're curious you can read more here.) That will prevent the dogs from having a clear view of the neighbor's yard, which will (we hope) stop, or at least diminish, the barking. That fence is going up this week if it kills me.

Then there's the long-term. The two trainers I consulted agreed that the reactivity in my pack comes from lack of exposure to new things. The three puppies (now 18 months old) were born in this house, never left, and--to top it off--when they were scheduled for puppy training, there was an outbreak of distemper in the island, which means we kept them in quarantine-like isolation: no visitors, no walks, no leaving the house at all. Whenever I went out to help with other dogs, I wore plastic bags on my shoes, changed clothes, and disinfected everything, including myself, before coming even close to the dogs back home. It was a crucial time in their development, those couple of months, and it didn't help that their mother also stayed with them for eight months. Or that they've grown up in a pack with another four dogs.

So anti-reactivity treatment in this house, besides general "obedience" (which, to me, isn't so much tricks or cute behavior but rather the establishment of a two-way language so that the dog and I may communicate effectively), includes one-on-one walks. And that's how we discovered the Kabouterbos.

The Kabouterbos--or "Dwarf Forest"
It's a mini-forest ("kabouter" means dwarf, "bos" means forest) nearby; not a park in any civilized sense of the word, just a few square kilometers of wilderness with paths created (and maintained) by the few people that go there, mostly with horses. And no, I don't go at the same time as they do; as curious as I am about what my dogs would do if they saw a horse, I think we're not ready for that particular experiment yet.

It takes me about ten minutes to walk to the Kabouterbos. Once away from the street, whoever the lucky dog of the day is (I have seven dogs, there's seven days in a week--it can't be an accident) can go off-leash.

I was surprised to see how well-behaved they become when it's just me and no other dogs. When we're all at the beach, even if it's just three or four dogs, they go much farther afield and the intervals between coming back to check on me are longer. Makes sense; they feel safer in a pack than they do alone. When there's other dogs, I'm part of the pack (pack leader or not). When it's just me, I am their pack.

This iguana, for example, barely escaped with its life.
That's not to say they hang out by my legs all the time. No, they wander--just not far. They chase lizards and iguanas, they catch interesting scents and stay back to sniff or follow them into the brush for a bit--then they realize they're all alone and dash back out to look for me.

I expected this, the bit about losing me, to send them into outright panic mode. Lo and behold--no. Even Sam, who's the most reactive of my dogs (I can't even go pee without him), exhibited no signs of hysteria when I disappeared (from his sight; I never let him out of mine). He backtracked a bit, found my scent, and trotted--trotted, not sprinted--nose-to-ground, in my direction. It took him a couple of tries, because I fought my every instinct and stayed motionless behind a tree, but even when he lost the scent and had to backtrack again, he seemed cool and collected. When he found me I was the one celebrating like crazy; he was all like, "Oh, there you are. Keep up, will you?"

Sam, startlingly calm all by his lonesome
at the Kabouterbos
So it works. Yes, I'm slightly surprised it does. Maybe because the results are so immediate. I guess I expected a lot more tension and stress, a lot more unpredictability.

Which, of course, says a lot more about me than about my pack--and explains a heck of a lot about their behavior.

~ * ~

Thanks for visiting, and please do hop over to the other participants in this month's WOOF Support blog hop--awesome bloggers and all-around great human beings.


11 comments :

  1. I honestly don't know how you manage with seven dogs - and how do you get away with only taking one for a walk? We have had two dogs for quite a long time now, and if one is left behind, he hates it!
    Barking at next-door dogs is something that is part of our daily lot, too. Not only next-door's dogs, either. We live on a lane with one neighbour across the road (Breton Spaniel used for hunting), and one at the end of our patch (mixture, lives outside), some sixty metres from the house. Seeing a dog (or, heaven forbid, a cat) sets JRT Trevor off. We are ten metres off the lane. Hearing a vehicle, a voice, or even footsteps on the lane sets Trevor off. Jets flying overhead set Trevor off. House-flies on a window set Trevor off. Sometimes, he just likes to bark at life. Oh, I forgot to mention, Wire Fox Terrier Ulysse is set off by - you guessed it - Trevor! Happily, no complaints from the neighbours. Barking dogs are not generally a problem - if they were, the hunting pack a kilometre away in the village would be the first target!.

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    1. Keith, I get away with *nothing*--I had to seal off the back patio so the rest of the pack doesn't follow me out. And it's a full-blown howling session when I (and one lucky dog) leave. Makes me feel guilty as hell, and the only reason I keep doing it is because the results have been so good.

      Hahaha... Trevor sounds like my Sam. Or Winter. Both of them whip themselves into a frenzy over--well, anything, really. And your neighbors sound like wonderful, wonderful people. Wanna trade? ;)

      Thanks for the visit!

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  2. People can be so cruel. I hate it when I hear that they poison dogs-so mean. I love your pictures and I just want to hug them:) I think getting a closed fence where they can't see will help. It reminds me of kids. Little kids will get into mischief and start to yell and scream-they never calm down until they are told(which seems to not happen all to frequently by parents). I think you will need to try to curb their natural desires and that will take a lot of work. Our Wallace is still so scared of the outside and no matter what I have done he will always retain that fear I am afraid. He becomes a lot calmer as well when he is away from the city. he becomes "dog" and sniffs and his tail is normal(not under). I hope the neighbour shuts up because your dogs look so cute and have a happy home. I hope you do not have as much calamity happen in May

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    1. Aw, Birgit, thank you :) My dogs send you a virtual, if somewhat slobbery, hug right back. That's so cool that your Wallace frees up a bit when away from the city... Maybe that's a place to start for him to get a bit more confident, and slowly introduce some city-related stuff to him there so his threshold is widened bit by bit? Either way, I'm super glad Wallace found you.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  3. Our dogs bark at the neighbors whenever they are in their own backyard - no dogs, just people! Luckily the neighbors love dogs and it doesn't bother them. One will spot them and then the other two will join in. That's enough cacophony, never mind tripling it! But dogs bark and our neighbors understand that (a stockade fence would be the only solution). There is a GSD across the street who barks at us whenever we walk by, and his owner constantly apologizes, even though I say there's no need to. As long as the barking stops, I don't see a problem. But we're dog people and not everyone sees it that way. I hope you can get things worked out, and the fence helps.
    We are homebodies and didn't take the dogs out much and realize now that was a mistake. Our newest addition is going to obedience school but he missed out on some early socialization because of minor health issues. Sometimes stuff like that happens. If you have nine dogs, how could you possibly take them everywhere with you anyway? I think the one on one walks are great...I do that with mine as well. It sounds like it is definitely helping and you are seeing results.
    Great post, and thanks for joining the hop again (and for your nice words about our group)!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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    1. So true, Janet. If everyone was "dog people" the world would be a much nicer place :) And yes, missing out on socialization early on has some pretty unpredictable consequences, but you're right--sometimes it just can't be helped. The important thing, for me at least, is to try and remedy that as best I can.

      Thanks for the visit, Janet, and for hosting the WOOF hop--it's something I look forward to every month now :)

      Delete
  4. Our dogs bark at the neighbors whenever they are in their own backyard - no dogs, just people! Luckily the neighbors love dogs and it doesn't bother them. One will spot them and then the other two will join in. That's enough cacophony, never mind tripling it! But dogs bark and our neighbors understand that (a stockade fence would be the only solution). There is a GSD across the street who barks at us whenever we walk by, and his owner constantly apologizes, even though I say there's no need to. As long as the barking stops, I don't see a problem. But we're dog people and not everyone sees it that way. I hope you can get things worked out, and the fence helps.
    We are homebodies and didn't take the dogs out much and realize now that was a mistake. Our newest addition is going to obedience school but he missed out on some early socialization because of minor health issues. Sometimes stuff like that happens. If you have nine dogs, how could you possibly take them everywhere with you anyway? I think the one on one walks are great...I do that with mine as well. It sounds like it is definitely helping and you are seeing results.
    Great post, and thanks for joining the hop again (and for your nice words about our group)!
    Jan, Wag 'n Woof Pets

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  5. Sheba very rarely barks without reason, unless another dog barks first and then she has to have the last word.

    Sheba.

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    1. Haha--I have one like that, too. The last word is *his*, period :D

      Thanks for visiting!

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  6. That sounds like a lovely place for a walk!
    I hope you get that fence up painlessly and fast. It's horrible how careful we have to be with our own animals only because we are worried about how other people can be so cruel and awful.
    It sounds like you are making progress, and with so many dogs, that is HUGE. Great job! I look forward to reading more :)

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  7. It might be worthwhile for you to pick up the book, "Control Unleashed" and give it a read. This book really helped transform my pack of dogs for the better. Good luck!

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