14 December 2008

Dog Whisperer Woe

This morning I really, really wanted a Dog Whisperer walk. Having read a couple of Cesar Millan’s books recently and seen quite a few of his TV shows, I thought today was the perfect time to put some of his lessons into practice. Now don’t get me wrong, the hounds are excellent 99% of the time. There’s no intra pack aggression, they’re hugely friendly towards people, they’re neither possessive nor food obsessed, in fact, they are generally lovely. Unless you’re a cat, that is. Or for that matter, some dogs. Yes, passing some dogs is our one and only ‘issue’ and if I’m to believe the dog man Cesar, it’s all down to the fact that they don’t see me or A as a sufficiently good pack leader, so take the job on themselves. How this manifests itself with a dog they take umbrage with is usually Susie doing a lot of barking and the rest of them looking curiously on until the moment has past and the other dog has gone on their way. So not really too bad…but still a bit worrying as one is always concerned that things may escalate. And of course, the dogs sense the tension we feel and it’s a bit of a vicious circle as they play up to that.

So this morning, we were all ‘calm assertive energy’, walking tall, thinking positively and visualizing a great walk. You can see where this is leading can’t you? I took the decision to keep to the lanes as the fields are so boggy and that’s where the problem started. The main lane we walk down is quite narrow with high hedges either side – there is no space to get into if you want to give your dogs some room in their passing of/encounters with other dogs, but we haven’t really had any problems before so we duly set off, dogs trotting obediently by our thigh. Well, first up, we meet the village psycho dog – lovely owner and I’m sure she’s a lovely dog in the house but she starts to pull violently whenever she sees another dog and the initial ‘I’m going to get you and duff you up’ puffing and panting and choking soon turns into a full-on visceral ‘I’m going to rip your throat out’ bark. Well, this of course is like a red rag to a bull for my own psycho Susie – she can’t abide girl dogs with a bigger attitude problem that she has so she immediately joined in and there was a right old tooing and froing as we got past without them knocking seven bells out of each other. To be fair, as we owners talked at a safe distance they both shut up and I’m sure this is a classic case of letting them off in a field with a muzzle on and letting them sort it out for themselves. The other dog is a grey/lab/Staffie cross and I’m sure would love a good old tear up with Susie – they’d probably end up being bosom buddies. Well, maybe.

As you can imagine, we were somewhat discombobulated by this encounter as we’d had such high hopes for a Dog Whisperer walk, but we took a deep breath and carried on. Two hundred yards further on, we spotted a border collie off lead but with his owner, a hardy Suffolk country type with a crook, just behind and seemingly in control. I mean, every BC I’ve ever met has been intelligent, obedient, placid and biddable…no worries there then.

Even so, I just know that A and I both tensed at that stage but before we had to worry about passing the dog, we had to get the dogs to the side of the road to let a car pass. I had charge of Monty, Ranger and Miffy and A was ahead of me with Susie and Arthur. I had just stood up from keeping their bums in with my hand when Susie lets rip with barking and dancing all over the place. She doesn’t like the collie either seemingly. But then, before I have myself on an even keel, the collie suddenly rushes my group, with Susie looking on frantically but held firmly by A. My immediate thought is to hold Monty as I’m fearful that he’ll react – stupid really as on every other occasion when he’s been faced with a confident dog in his face, he just freezes. I think I just worry about the potential, given his size and strength…

I then look to restrain Ranger but before I can, he’s in there, wrestling the collie and me and Monty and Miffy to the other side of the road. He’s gone for the neck, determined to subdue the interloper and while, in retrospect, I think they would have both worked it out by themselves, one’s natural instinct is to stop the fracas before anything nasty happens. The trouble was, mister with the crook had about as much control over his dog as I did with Ranger and his commands fell on deaf ears. Instead I got a crook up the bum as I moved to take hold of Ranger’s coat to try and restrain him, and then suddenly it was over, with me in the hedge, Ranger looking pleased with himself and the collie bouncing off down the road looking none the worse. He got a right ticking off from his owner mind…something along the lines of ‘You were asking for that, you were’. I was very worried that Ranger may have done him some damage but the chap shouted back that he was fine – I somehow got the impression it wasn’t the first time the collie had enjoyed a bit of rough and tumble with the local dogs.

Looking back now, all the noise and terror and confusion came from the humans, not the dogs – maybe we just make things that much worse? And annoyed as I was at Ranger, I was more annoyed at the chap for not having his dog under complete control. I have no problem with people walking their dogs off lead but they need to have 100% control over them. I can remember our gang passing a collie on the towpath last year – she walked beautifully at heel, eyes ahead and our lot went past no problem. Even so, it was not the behaviour I wanted off Ranger, even if he did think he was protecting the pack – guess he needs to learn who’s boss.

After all this we decided to turn for home and a welcome cup of coffee. On our route back, we had to pass ‘the house with the caravan’. Now ‘the house with the caravan’ is home to a very vocal, very territorial dog, breed unknown. He’s rarely out but when he is, he patrols the hedge that divides his garden from the pavement. And for the hat-trick, he was out today. Off he went, off Susie went, with barking that was apparently heard on South Uist. A tried to manhandle Susie past the garden but she was obviously so wired from the previous incidents that she was completely unmanageable, even turning her ire onto poor, innocent Arthur as he bumped into her accidentally. I was set for a repeat performance from one of my lot as we went past but thankfully, at last, they behaved themselves. In fact, in fairness, Ranger and co do not tend to react to barking dogs on the other side of hedges and fences; Susie speaks for everyone.

You can imagine that we were relieved to get home and whistle up a quick latte to calm our nerves. But then I started to think about why it had all gone so tits-up – what would the Dog Whisperer say? My best guess is that of the five dogs, four of them have the same low energy as A and I do (Monty can run like the wind but he’s very, very laid back indoors). But Susie is different – she is a medium or high energy dog and perhaps she’s not getting sufficient exercise or stimulation as we’re catering for the needs of the lazy majority. Susie is the only one that has a mad five minutes in the living room. Susie is the only one that will run without any stimulus. Susie had her career cut short whereas all the others have raced hard. Susie is a bossy cow. When we travel with all of them in the car, the only one who growls at the others is Susie. We once travelled back from somewhere with two cars and Susie went with A and the rest went with me – god, it was bliss! So I am slowly turning my attention away from Monty, who I thought was the problem because of his nerves, and refocusing it on Susie. (At the same time, I am working on Ranger and reinforcing my boss status – he now waits at the bottom of the stairs for me to call him instead of barreling up past me sending the laundered knickers every which way).

And it’s this refocusing that explains why I was to be seen huffing and puffing up and down the village this afternoon, with a beautiful black greyhound called Susie by my side. She wasn’t puffing, she was just looking at me like I was an idiot, but I do think she enjoyed herself. Interestingly, she jogged perfectly by my side, whereas when we do it as a group she’s always jumping in front of me trying to trip me up. No, throughout all the running bits, she behaved exquisitely, not pulling and only giving a dog on the opposite side of the road a look before turning her attention back to her running. Painful as it was for me, I think we both benefited and certainly when we all went out for our evening walk, the dogs walked extremely nicely, even passing another dog without a whimper. Were they taking their cue from a tired, happy Susie? Who knows but I’ll be keeping up with the Cani-Cross and possibly rotating my running partners more than I originally envisaged. I understand that you can run with two dogs but I sense that may just be asking for trouble and I’ll be back in that hedge before you know it.

4 comments:

Jill and Graham said...

I also am a follower of Cesar Millan & the amazing Jan Fennell (similar but teaches a different approach to becoming the pack leader). When you watch/read it makes perfect sense, but when you try to put it into practice it suddenly goes all grey & woolly. What would I give to borrow one of them for the day!

Anonymous said...

Stick with it - we've used dog whisperer techniques to good effect with our two, though I've yet to sort all of Lou's quirks. Like Susie, she likes to lord it over other dogs (usually loudly). Uhm, what shall I try next - something from Dog Borstal maybe.....
Sue, Indigo Dream

Lesley K Nb Caxton said...

You are doing exactly the right thing by increasing the exercise , persevere and you will have a well balanced and well behaved girl - don't know about Susie though....

Dogsontour by Greygal said...

Thanks for the kind words, peeps. And yes, Lesley, we will have a very well behaved, if completely exhausted, girl - and Susie will just go on being Susie I suspect!