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My World Of Dogs (part 4)

Taken out of the car, she crouched on the ground and took root if I were near. I sat on a low wall, food at my feet, and for several weeks, Mandy was walked closer and closer to me. We laid a trail of food. It was nine weeks before she came up to me, and accepted food from my hand.

During that time, she was taken out into quiet places, where she did not spook. Once we could begin to teach her the basic commands, we had to use food. You cant touch Mandy except for a very brief chest stroke, even now. She leaps away from hands. We taught the recall after about six months by having me hold her lead while her owner hid behind a nearby bush. This became a game, the first that Mandy had ever played. We used titbit rewards for all her first lessons, but now she knows all the commands, comes to group classes, and is doing very well, they are no longer used all the time. The dogs do get occasional rewards to keep them alert, and always when teaching something new. .

As I explain to my owners, you don't reward a child for saying the alphabet when he can now read the Bible. I expect my dog to sit a number of times during the day to make it easier to do something myself. I don't reward her with food every single time she sits. I suspect that those who condemn the use of titbits rewards are unaware of the correct way to teach with them. Barney was a Newfoundland, with a leg condition, which required an operation. He had to learn to walk beside his owner and not pull as this aggravated the problem.

There no way anyone could have manipulated him into a basic position, and to do so might have aggravated his lameness. He lived on a caravan site, and his favourite game was to snatch towels from people walking to the showers, and destroy them, running off with them to tear into tiny pieces. Once the operation had been successful and he was able to move freely again, we began training he was now very large and almost two years old. Food rewards (not bribes) were our only possible means of gaining his attention.

When winter came and the place closed, we used to staff to help with training. Barney was taught to stay, without moving. This exercise was practised constantly. Once he would sit or lie down for three minutes without moving at all, we began to walk people past him, at a distance. He learned to stay, with people racing up to him and patting him, with people who ran past him, with people who ran round him. He learned to stay with bicycles moving past and with children on skateboards. This sort of training proved useful when I had a security dog owner to teach. He had a rescued dog that was an unremitting chaser. Once the Newfoundland was steady, people ran past waving towels. They came closer and closer.

By the time summer came the dog no longer chased after visitors, and lived for a further ten years without once trying his old tricks. The security dog had two lessons a week in a large car park at the edge of his territory. His stays were also perfected as was a drop o the ground when running away. The result was that one night when boys on bicycles were vandalising the dog was sent to chase them off and dropped before he reached them. This so impressed the miscreants that they treated him with great respect afterwards, and gave no further trouble.

One of my present dogs is the size of a bullmastiff, and is a cross between two of the largest breeds. He was bought as a burglar alarm. He spent the first year of his life on a chain and was 'trained' with two canes, which were apparently used to thrash him for barking. He is now thirteen months old and has been with his new owner for three weeks. Move, and he tries to bolt.

Take a hand out of a pocket and he tries to bolt. Hold anything that remotely resembles a stick and he tries to bolt. His new owner has owned dogs all her life, and bred them, and also done some training, so that when he comes for lessons, so long as he is at least fifty feet from me, she can put him in any position, without touching him (he would bolt if she did) and he walks quietly at heel. He has never known a game; never been allowed to run free, and he regards her garden with suspicion.

So far he hides from all visitors, though he now accepts family members, so long as they move slowly, don't try to stroke or pat, and never pick up his lead carelessly. His lessons consist of me sitting on a wall with my back to him while the owner passes us, at first at a distance and the closer and closer. He will now come to within four feet and look a me, and not try to bolt when within yards of me. He is taken to quiet car parks and through the village in the early morning, learning to accept people. She uses a brisk no nonsense voice with him, but nobody can raise a voice within his hearing. he tries to bolt or hides.

Susie, another rescue, does not know how to eat from a bowl. She only knows how to race in and steal. She too is afraid of feet, hands, sticks, and is still very thin. She too is a year old. Her owner has a neighbour with a dog, and now he comes in at feed times with his bowl and Susie is beginning to see that food is not going to be withheld, and she is not going to be punished every time she eats.

Titbits cant be used for her yet , as she wont accept anything from a human hand. She has to learn to trust us. Tara was a St Bernard. She had been kept in a garage for a year. She was finally rescued when neighbours reported her. She arrived at her new home with very little fur, with ulcers, and her leg muscles were wasted. She had no muscle at all. Strangely, she adored everyone in the class, and made friends quickly with all the dogs. She learned very fast with titbits, and soon did not need them.

She had never worn a collar and the slip chain terrified her, but a half check , worn for some days without putting on a lead, did not bother her. Her owners were advised by the vet to give her short walks at first; just one hundred yards. By the time she was two years old she was one of the best performers in the class, and a magnificent looking dog with a good coat. The gradual exercise had encouraged the muscles to develop, and she was walked for miles. Her response to commands was fast and accurate; so much so that told one day to sit, when in their kitchen, she did, in her water bowl, which was enormous. Everyone there was drenched and the floor flooded. Other dogs that come have been trained by a variety of compulsive methods that simply don't work with very dominant dogs.

They do respond to lessons that are taught as games. I had a re-homed GSD of my own, who hated men. Another of his problems is very common with these rescued dogs. For some reason, the car becomes sanctuary and if out and alarmed, they bolt to it. This is not easy with a large dog on lead. I took him to the car park and we did baby recalls, out of the car, sit, food, in the car. Again and again, in all kinds of places, until the time came when I could call him across a large car park (we went in the early morning before people were about) and he would happily leave the car knowing he was going to come back to it at once.

It is never possible to say do this or do that, train this way, or train that. Many of these dogs need a very individual approach. But many of those that come to me have, within eighteen months, passed the Kennel Club Good Citizens test and that is all their owners want. I wish people were different, but there are too many out there who do not really care about the dogs. I also run a help line and had a caller last week.

'I have a gundog. She's too old for what I want and I'm replacing her. Can you tell me how I can find her another home?' To too many people, dogs are disposable. Get rid of the old dog and have new puppy as it is much more fun. Maybe it is time people realised that they are not commodities for disposal but worthy of care throughout their lives. But I felt that this one would be better much off with an owner who wanted her for herself and not for her performance.

Joyce, Anglesey UK Website: