Training the dog in front of you

Training the dog in front of you. It’s one of those things I feel is really important.

No dog is the same. They all have different likes and dislikes, they all have different quirks to their character. They can be the same breed as other dogs you have had in the past, they can be the same age as things you have taught previous dogs. But they cannot be the same dog.

Arthur has been with us for almost 2 years now. I knew I should expect many challenges adding another dog to the household. Marley and Womble are both reactive and highly strung, but both were at a point where they were much improved. I knew my biggest battle would be preventing reactivity in this loudmouth little puppy. Arthur has developed a few quirks as he has matured, however I am starting to realise something very important. Arthur is not Marley. Arthur is his own dog, I need to relax!!

The last 6 months Arthur’s tolerance for young males has decreased drastically, he has got a little more vocal and bouncy on lead. I have pretty much been avoiding dogs for the last 6 months, not deliberately. Just as a standard I guess. Once issues appear, you need to manage them. I am so used to Marley’s much more severe issues, it seemed the sensible step. But I found the more I have avoided…the more tense I have become. The more I have avoided, the more stressed I have been.

I should add I don’t mean walking him at midnight but instead seeing dogs and crossing roads. Avoiding areas where dogs go off lead. It was easier, less stressful. It became the new normal. However, I stumbled back into a routine of walking where many dogs go again recently. Every time someone asks “Is he friendly?” I feel myself hesitate and pause for so long ” Erm..yeah…I guess..He can be a bit much though?” I should answer YES he is friendly! There is nothing wrong with Arthur. Yep, he will tell inappropriate young males off..but that is fair. He probably pushes it a little now and then, but the other dogs push him as a starting point. He doesn’t really deserve to be postured at and jumped all over. It probably hurts him with his incredibly light frame!

On meeting more and more dogs again,I realised that actually, Arthur hasn’t had an issue…I have. I have been so worried that actually, Arthur was the problem. When I know if I was working with him as a customers dog, I would explain that although Arthur needs to learn manners in some situations, most of the time he’s being on the ball when telling another dog to back off- and he has every right to. I let Marley’s issue’s take over (Well, he doesn’t like to be left out!)

Do I have much to work on with Arthur? Absolutely! But I need to work on it and realise he won’t be dreadful, and he won’t be traumatized, and he won’t traumatize another dog. Arthur is Arthur. I need to not get worried he will be like Marley. They are almost polar opposites in every way.

Whether it is another dog you have or have had in the past, or even a friend’s dog; don’t expect the same behaviour. Don’t expect to resolve it in the same way. Appreciate your dog for who he is. And ensure that you are respecting them for the individual they are.

I realise that once again I have neglected this blog! Life has got in the way, as it easily can.

Expect to see more of my inane ramblings in future, on my 4 dogs and a bit more on the work we do with customer’s dogs now and then!

Catching up with Marley


It has almost been a year since Arthur came into our house like a little whirlwind! He came in and changed life for all of us with his various quirks. He settled in beautifully with Marley, and they have become firm friends, despite a few challenges along the way (Marley’s determination Arthur’s ears are detachable being just one!) 

It’s hard to believe that in February of last year Marley was struggling badly with pain and his behaviour was spiralling to such a bad level. Marley had always been reactive to people and dogs on walks, but this had become very manageable with a lot of work and commitment, with him and Ollie able to walk and see dogs with no reaction to the majority of dogs we saw. HowevMarley’seys behaviour was becoming very worrying in the home, he had began to redirect on people and dogs at events that triggered his anxiety. Mainly if someone at the door or dogs the other side of the fence. Marley would began to grab and bite whoever was closest whether human or canine when he could hear the neighbours dogs, and began to snap and bite towards us when we went to answer the door.

Along with this he had become hesitant about walking again, and had several episodes where he became lame suddenly and his gait just seemed “off” to me. He had begun growling when any of the dogs went near him when sleeping and started to lash out more and more. Marley has always had a lot of problems, quite a few of the more serious ones in recent years related to his Epilepsy. But he was becoming harder and harder to handle, and more and more agitated. We were told to greatly reduce his exercise to look for improvement. This seemed to help, and I continued to work solidly on his behaviour. Keeping him onlead in the garden and away from the fencing. Very carefully desensitizing him to the door being knocked on and me answering it, as well as ensuring he got the most amazing treats throughout. Marley is a pessimistic dog, so training is always a challenge. He needs so many more positive or neutral experiences to counter balance old behaviour patterns than the average dog.  His behaviour began to improve again and he began to relax more and more. (This is the super short version of his training!)

After many tests and vet visits he was diagnosed with Cervical Disc Disease, this was shortly after Arthur came home. Having a diagnosis was a great relief. Arthur began to bond closely with Marley and seemed to provide him much comfort when he was uncertain. I reduced Marley’s out of the home exercise for a while. It was becoming a challenge to walk him without him reacting due to pain, and on equipment that didn’t cause him further discomfort (he found harnesses most uncomfortable for some reason!) He has enjoyed much playing with Arthur, and brain games and only recently have I realised that Marley is actually much calmer and happier. I had always been incredibly worried about adding a puppy into the home with Marley, however for Marley it seems to have provided him a comfort. Marley has not had a seizure since September 2017. This is the longest period of time he hasn’t had a seizure since his epilepsy began.

Marley is enjoying life at the pace he dictates, and he’s loving that! He gets a walk if he wants, fuss when he wants, puzzles and training when he wants! He is still a much more confident dog than he ever was and I am keen to keep him that way by still taking him out whenever he wants a walk or to meet friends and their dogs he loves!

Marley on Muzzles

Hello! I am Marley!
I am 6 years old and you might notice that i wear a muzzle on my walks. I thought i would post to tell you all why and how you can help dogs like me in future!
My favourite things are my ball and running around offlead, my least favourite things are new people and big dogs- they really scare me. When i was a puppy my breeder didn’t socialise me until i went to my new home at 9 months- i had never seen a busy road, other dogs, i hadn’t lived in a home before. Everything scared me, it took me a long time to realise there wasn’t a big monster at the end of the road that would eat me!

I started to like going out but people kept putting their hands all over me or squealing and making funny noises when they saw me. I was very scared and hid behind my persons legs , i thought i was being very clear that i was scared and to leave me alone. I did this for a long time but people wouldn’t listen, neither would the dogs i met who jumped all over me. No one would listen even when my person said i’m nervous and to give me space. One day i had enough and i barked at someone…it made them go away! I tried the same for a dog- that worked too! I started to do this alot and it kept everyone away- so i kept doing it. I started doing it when people came to our house, it was my place, what were they doing there? I just wanted some space for Marley.

A nice lady came to my home to help me, she was very nice but she gave some misguided advice. She said to let me bark and lunge at people offlead in the home and treat me when i stopped. I didn’t get it. I just wanted my own space and not to worry. Eventually i liked the lady but only because my person gave her my ball to throw- i love my ball! Lots of people kept coming round, i kept telling them all to go away but they just ignored me and wouldn’t listen. So one day i ended up having to be more clear and using my teeth, no one would listen to my warnings, i really tried. When people went to leave i told them to never come back ever again.

I can look very scary on my walks when i bark at people or dogs, i have never hurt anyone on a walk but my person understands it needs to stay that way. She cant tell people to keep away anymore than i can sometimes, some people think my barking is funny and want to talk to me even more! Or that i just need to get over it and be around their dog jumping on me. I am a good boy when i am given a few minutes to calm myself and to see nothing bad will happen. I just panic and get scared. I have lots of people friends and other dog friends who i love zooming with! Sometimes when i am offlead though i run away very fast, my tail is tucked because i’m scared. My person tells people that and to call their dog and they say whippets like running- not when i’m scared! I wear my muzzle so i can run offlead, and if people or dogs come over and i’m startled everyone can be safe. It means i can meet new dogs- i like little terriers who play, they’re the best!

I am not bothered by my muzzle, it means i still get to go out and be a whippet. It doesn’t mean i’m nasty. But it doesn’t mean you should try and stroke me still. I’m still scared, so if my person says not to, please don’t stroke me. If my person says i’m running away scared, please put your dog onlead to give us a chance to get away- we aren’t trying to upset your day. My person tries hard to walk me at quiet times. If i am walking away from you with my person, its because she knows i will be scared of your dog or you. Please do not follow us or throw your ball right by us for your dog to catch- it wont entice me to play, it will scare me! I am alot better and more brave now! I get better everyday. I also have epilepsy, this means some days i will be extra scared as i’m not very well and wobbly on my legs. So some days i will play with you and some days my person will say i cant play today. Its not personal. I just need extra space.

There are alot of dogs like me. If you see a dog being given treats at a big distance to you and your dog, it might be because they are in training like me. Their person probably spends alot of time to make them happier, if you are not sure if you or your dog can say hello, put your dog onlead and ask if you can say hello. Some dogs might be ok like me if you walk onlead together for a bit, that person will know their dog best and be able to tell you what to do for best if you can help and want to. Sometimes the person might just walk away chanting “lets go” it isnt the person being rude, they just think their dog might get upset and they are trying to help their dogs be happy.

Sometimes dogs like me wear yellow, it might be a yellow ribbon, a yellow lead, a yellow harness, maybe even a yellow jacket. It might be a muzzle ( you can even get yellow muzzles!). This tells you we need some extra space please! Sometimes we don’t make alot of noise , some of us just look worried. Some of us bark and cry. I am not always consistent in this! I do know I am Marley and i wear a muzzle because you wouldn’t go in a car without a seatbelt and my person takes the safety measures that i need so i can enjoy my life!

Marleys progress 2015

         Walking down the road we see a man with his lurcher. A lovely fawn and white not dissimilar to Marley. The man is an older gentleman with a hat on,  walking stick in one hand, impeccably behaved lurcher in the other. We stop and have a chat before continuing our walk.
That is a normal walk for most owners. But its something i could not have done with Marley at the beginning of 2015. Not only was he highly reactive to dogs, barking wildly at them in the distance, but he was also still incredibly people reactive. No one could speak to me on walks without him leaping into action to get them away from him. Marley had always had a degree of nerves before becoming reactive. I had resigned him to being walked only when roads were quiet, clear of people, dogs and children. I had been encouraged to not walk him by a colleague, to ensure he never got stressed and to not cue him. As our work together continued euthanasia was discussed, it wasn’t an option, i always knew he had potential underneath, it was just a case of finding what clicks for him. We parted company after continued disagreements on training methods. This was in February.
It was a bit tricky to begin with, we had to start from scratch. I began reintroducing cues and stresses at low levels, as well as ensuring he understood rules and he wouldn’t get treats simply for existing, and he didn’t get them for stopping barking! Instead we began distracting him from barking, it had become a deeply embedded behaviour that he really didn’t know why he was doing anymore in some cases. Marley is one of few dogs that i work with who reacts to not just dogs, but people, children and all sorts. So a figure of 8 headcollar is used for control.
We met up with many old friends over the next few months, whippets, poodles, terriers and lurchers. He seemed to be improving nicely so we took him to his first dog show…I genuinely expected to be sat in the carpark for the afternoon. I was more than pleasantly surprised as he trotted around the show, in fact pulled me into it! Well the rest is history. We found a new show or event to complete most weeks over summer and into autumn and i was more surprised with each passing show. I am not going to present the idea he is now a social butterfly- far from it! He enjoys his own space, and i can’t blame him! If his space is respected he won’t react, with each passing dog that respected his space his confidence continued to flow (with plenty of treats of course!) His issues with people decreased dramatically, people treated him and with permission stroked him
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We even won some prizes! My highly reactive dog even got a place for being offlead in a ring of other dogs, walking to heel and sitting on cue with good speed. As well as this winning a recall contest (ok we couldn’t lose, hes built for speed!) At times he was unsure, it will always be his default response to anything new with his lack of early socialisation, but he recovers well, and show him a whippet bitch and hes a new dog! 11995737_10153531461362660_556346406296259317_n11760137_10153531461252660_2635805172888748584_n
As his behaviour outdoors began to come together his behaviour indoors changed dramatically too. Ollie and him fought often in previous years. Fought often and Marley can hold a grudge and a half. So their relationship broke down as they just lived in the house together but rarely interacted. It was sad to see. I got Ollie to increase Marleys happiness and confidence but it seemed to have gone the other way. However this year has been different, i can walk them together most walks now and let them off to play, and they actually play! Not every walk, but often enough, they seem to enjoy each others company and even play in the home sometimes. They spend most time curled up together again, a sight that had been long gone for quite some time
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We even managed to integrate another dog into the household (who sadly ended up not being a fit with this household, not fault of Marley which is a surprise!) It was a dog who encompassed everything Marley isn’t fond of in a small package. He was young, teen shepherd type. Pointy eared, fluffy and desperate for Marleys friendship- that kind of thing drives Marley crazy!
However Marley proved that he can continue to improve and learn as, over a week or so, he allowed Elf to cuddle him on the sofa, and play with him indoors
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As the year comes to a close we can’t help but appreciate the many hours put in by friends to Marleys cause. We certainly couldn’t have done it alone. We enjoy our walks together now, rather than dread each one and the inevitable “episode” that would occur at least once. Instead we walk and take in the world, Marley is beginning to trust that the world isn’t after him! And we are always very thrilled when someone tells me “ what a well behaved dog you have there!” It always takes me aback, but seems to shockingly be becoming a regular occurrence.
We aren’t entirely sure what the new year will bring! We haven’t yet made any goals, but we are sure it will be full of many more adventures. I couldn’t ever consider this is how the year would be ending, but im certainly grateful that its ending on a massive high, with a happy, confident and contented dog.
And here is a video to show it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sYiEY4f6GTE 

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Really Rubbish Recall and Regression

After Marleys new blog yesterday evening i thought i best take a look at Marley as though he was a customers dog. It can be really easy to just take a casual training approach with my own dogs. Bits and pieces here and there, usually does the trick as im lucky Marley loves to learn and train. However we have had a few rubbish days since the Great Grey Gathering. He lunged at a person for the first time in a month (possibly longer)

It wasn’t a quick swipe at a hand but a full on hind legs barking and lunging. It made no sense, it was at a woman minding her own business. I should add that Marley currently wears a figure of eight. For safety we have 2 choices, figure of eight or a muzzle when onlead. He is a tricky boy and finding his exact trigger with people will always remain a mystery, i am aware him lunging is very intimidating to some people, and with recent changes to the law we feel eliminating alot of the lunging is best option to minimize upset with public. Particularly as where we live there are alot of children, usually on bikes, scooters etc which can trigger him (albeit rarely now!) and i dont want a child to get muzzle punched by him if in close enough quarters. I have a higher level of control with the figure of 8, and it gives us both more confidence.

As well as reacting to the woman he reacted to several medium sized breeds in an explosive manner. He simply has not done this for months. I had to have a chat with a few friends and realised hes getting less exercise with the rain, and less socialising. As well as this i reflected on the Great Gathering. It was a cramped occassion, far more so than any other fun dog show we have been to. At all times there were dogs within his safe space. I assumed it was the sighthound effect, he loves them! And i think that could not have happened unless they were sighthounds. However neither of us were 100% with the lack of space. All credit to him, he only reacted to a single grey who dared to sniff his bottom while he was doing a “touch”. It may have been too much for him, thankfully few fun dog shows we attend are so lacking in space. It may actually finally be just an extinction burst. When dogs are learning alot of new behaviours and responses , old behaviour patterns can come to the fore. This is very normal and as long as there is consistency the dog will come out of it as they were before.

With this in mind i took Marley out today with a ball launcher to exert extra energy, he’d never been too keen on balls or ball launchers until our guest Elf took a liking to them- Marley thinks they are great now! So he whippet off after this ball a dozen times then decided it was naff. I have noticed in the last 7 months something has changed along with Marleys confidence..his recall has gone to pot! He used to stick by me like a little lost sheep, now he bowls over fields without a care for me, as he ran towards a branch in the middle of a field today with the kind of curiosity he does when he is stuck between fight or flight with a dog i called him back…to no avail! One of my favourite things Marley can do is respond like lightning to recall…yet he completely ignored me! Recall is one of the most important things you can teach a reactive dog in my opinion. Recall could be the difference between your dog not noticing a trigger, stop approaching a trigger or recalling at that very last moment or ignoring it and going for a dog or person.

Some may suggest such dogs should never be offlead anyway, so why teach a recall? Because management fails, and so does equipment. Earlier this year we had an incident with a workman at our house, he decided he needed to be outside, which is where we keep Marley when essential work needs to be done. So i quickly popped him on lead and stood in corner of garden, this was about 6 months ago. He began barking and lunging , which was no surpise he was still heavily reactive to men at this time, and anyone on his property. One second everything was under control, the next he was at his leg barking and air snapping. The lead had snapped clean. I was holding one end and the other was still on his harness. This is what prompted me to begin muzzling marley when anyone was around for the first month. His muzzle was the only safe option. In emergencies it can be hard to think but 90% of people would react by shouting their dogs name. Foolishly i didn’t, instead trying to shout to my mum and the workman as marley sped over- i cant outrun a whippet! Had i called his name he would have stopped, he always had a good response to me. I never would have expected that to occur, and that is what your recall needs to be ready for. Those unexpected moments.

So this afternoon i began practising our favourite recall game. It involves me calling Marley, and when he gets to me dropping a few small treats and running off calling him, treating him when he gets to me following the call and dropping a few smalls treats, and running off again. He used to be a whizz at this game…well this did not occur this afternoon :O
He blew me off several times! And dawdled his way to a recall! To say i was unimpressed is an understatement. We have ALOT of work to do. He will not run off when offlead, so he will not be kept to a long line ( as he just tangles himself and being a whippet- and a pathetic one at that!- he gets bruises and cuts all over himself) however he will be expected to check in more frequently.

So we have begun more work. When offlead i am not going in a straight line, forever zig zagging and changing direction. Think i will have to pull out the clicker again and mark him moving with me (we had phased out clicker for recall and attentiveness on walks). We throw treats into distance and go opposite way, sometimes throw them in the air. As well as this i will be using the famous green squeaky ball as part of his training as a reward for coming back. As well as this we will be using a higher variety of treats and building more motivation for training and toys… but thats an entirely different post!

Fresh Starts and Clean Slates

I thought it was about time that Me and Marley began again. Talking about our journey OUR way. No filtering and having to await others approval, but posts the way that actually describe what is going on..

Who are we?
I’m Zara and I’m a dog trainer at Wagging Wonders Lincoln. I have had this business set up 3 years having worked directly with other dogs (generally dog reactive) for the last 4 years.
Marley was my inspiration, having bought him from an unscrupulous breeder he was full of issues. I had to learn very fast how to deal with them, and learning more about dogs was something i was already keen on. I spent every waking moment learning from resources abound, books, videos and other trainers online. I met another trainer and began working with them , training didnt go to plan for Marley so we will leave it there. We want to focus on the now and the future.
Starting again with marley proved a challenge, it had been suggested he was miserable and i was making him worse by trying to train him and improve his quality of life. Which was not only unkind and unfair, but simply short sighted and untrue.

Marley is an intelligent 5 year old whippet, he lives with me, Ollie, Womble and my brother and mum. Ollie is an 8 year old whippet and womble a 10 year old JRTx.
To sum Marley up in a single word? Neurotic! He is both people and dog reactive. As well as this reactive to cyclists, joggers, cats, unexpected items (new road signs). On top of this hes hyperactive, obsessive and enjoys the sound of his own voice. He also has serious issues with Ollie and used to fight alot with him.

In March when we began our journey again he was a terrible state. Although treats were used in the last few years the methods involved shutting a dog down and ignoring them. Marley didn’t believe he could trust me, which had an effect on many aspects of his behaviour. We couldn’t walk off the road without him having a “panic attack”. I will use this term alot, and what it simply means is he thrashes about trying to escape his harness and the situation. Alot of this behaviour was habit and continuous cycle of fear and a response he’d got himself stuck in. We had to start from scratch.

Marley would react to people from large distances, barking and lunging at them from across the road. Giving a more intense reaction to dogs. Both of these had improved however after being advised to not walk him anymore he was no longer habituated to basic life stimulus. Traffic sounds, people talking, all would cause extreme anxiety in Marley. Marley is highly intelligent but incredibly obsessive. Creating alot of negative Conditioned Emotional Responses over the last few years.

However anyone meeting Marley now would be unlikely to guess his issues. In fact this weekend we attend the Great Greyhound Gathering in Nottingham and most people commented on how he didn’t seem reactive, with people commenting how well behaved he has been at previous shows! Its all been a shock but we are not home and dry yet. Marley is a dog who had no socialisation and along with various issues needs continued socialisation and a heavy amount of training. So i have to put that in. It can be demanding. Having a reactive dog is heartbreaking but having a people and dog reactive dog is twice the work. It can be soul destroying. Watching others dogs without issues enjoying life, wondering what has gone wrong for yours. But when progress is made, it is a level of joy those owners may not understand. That moment when they watch a dog without reacting for the first time, sheer elation! The first time they don’t fear a stranger, Bliss!

He has conquered a major fear of his , travelling in the car. He now does it at least once a week, with his new best friend Blossom. He used to throw up if in one for just 2 minutes! This weekend he travelled from Lincoln to Nottingham.
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His relationship with Ollie? Much improved, they spend their days like this now…

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His relationship with me? Back to being close!
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Reaction to other dogs? Dwindling

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And even won some prizes along the way!
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When a dog has complex or multiple issues the world can feel isolating and it can weigh you down. Whether your dog is reacting from fear, excitement, frustration, prey drive. Its hard. It will get you down, but hopefully Marleys blog will help other owners see it can be done. We don’t intend to sugar coat things, if we make a mistake we will post about it! Everyone makes mistakes, even dog trainers! The last 7 months have been a good start, we are looking forward to an even more exciting future!

We are both very thankful to some truly amazing people along the way who helped give us the confidence to go forward. You have changed his life by pushing me and making me believe we can do it. We are very lucky to have some amazing friends.