Some dog folk prefer to have their problems addressed in the privacy of their own homes. Each problem is unique and requires a different approach. Not all problems are trainable, some benefitting more from management rather than discipline.
Some calls are so simple that one wonders whether the caller is trying to have you on. For instance, one lady phoned me asking “please can you come and help me with my dog. The situation is an emergency, so we need you here tomorrow if you can make it”. Of course I immediately cleared my diary and rushed around, expecting the worst. After all, an emergency requires prompt and decisive action, not so?
For me, one of the biggest problems with house visits is finding the house. I have a natural bias to turn left, and can happily spend hours getting to the correct suburb and then going round and round in circles, before breaking down and phoning for more directions, only to find that I’ve driven past the house five times already!!
Anyway, this call was only about half-an-hours’ drive away in a suburb that I am vaguely familiar with, so after only two wrong turns I arrived at the house. It turned out that the dog in question was a young Great Dane male (intact) which was kept in a large area at the back of the house. The owner was very proud to point out that there were no plants of any sort – this so that there was nothing for the dog to destroy. This poor dog had only been off the property twice (to visit the veterinarian – hardly a red letter day for the dog!) and was kept in this area bereft of any stimulation. True, there were other dogs, but they were kept inside the house. The “emergency” was that the owner had two weeks prior to my visit put a collar on the dog. And the dog now wouldn’t stand up with the collar around his neck. So here was this huge Great Dane male lying on his side and propelling himself along the ground like a flounder. Take the collar off, and hey presto! He was back up on all four legs bouncing around like any normal dog.
Problem number one was that this dog was not used to having strange people enter his enclosure. It took a few minutes for him to accept that I wasn’t the Great Dane Killer from Hell. I always use food as a primary reinforcer, as no animal (including humans) will eat if it is stressed. As for a lot of the time I am working with animals that I don’t know, this is the easiest way to assess how receptive the animal is to my presence and the training process. Needless to say, this Dane would not touch a morsel of food. We tried chicken liver, cheese, roast chicken, raw beef, cat food, etc., etc. No go. The dog was just too stressed to eat. That was problem number two. Problem number three was that the dogs left in the house didn’t quite see why they should be excluded and set up an almighty wail from inside, which of course distracted and upset our poor Dane even further.
After spending some 10 minutes or so playing ball with him, we took the plunge and placed a collar around the dogs’ neck. He fell to the ground like a stone. No amount of coaxing would get him to lift his head. So I put another collar on him. Then another. And another. And then I attached a lead to each collar. The poor dog now looked a bit like a horizontal Maypole. We moved away from him to see if our presence was upsetting him. Not a bit. He wasn’t going to get up with those heavy things around his neck. I went back and removed all the leads and two of the collars. And started playing ball with his owner on the other side of the garden. (I was assured that this was his favourite game). Sure enough, this proved too much for the dog, and (after carefully checking that we weren’t watching him), he leaped to his feet and joined in the game. As soon as we looked at him, he fell to the ground again.
This procedure went on for some time – collar on, dog down. Play ball, dog up. By the end of an hour the dog was wearing all three collars and leads and was walking around the garden in a relaxed fashion. He was still unhappy about someone holding the end of the lead whilst he was on his feet, but at least the owner now could see that the collar wasn’t the problem, but rather the manipulative dog!