I was contacted by Claire to help her with her 18 month old Chocolate Labrador Betty. Although Betty was generally very well behaved Claire was having difficulty with two behaviours. Firstly Betty pulled strongly on the lead making it difficult to walk her. This is a common problem experienced by dog owners and was easy to correct by showing Claire how to encourage Betty not to pull by using treats and other strategies such as changing direction. Betty’s walking on the lead soon improved and going for walks became a much more pleasant and relaxing activity for both Claire and Betty.
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The second behaviour that Claire wanted help with was a more unusual one. Claire reported that Betty, and many of the other dogs at the park where they usually walked, were obsessed with another dog who also walked there regularly. All the other dogs flocked around this one dog try to engage it in play but the dog was not interested in playing with any of them. Betty was particularly keen on trying to encourage the other dog to interact with her and the dog’s owner was concerned that her dog would get hurt as it was much smaller than Betty. In addition Betty often followed this dog to the other end of the park ignoring Claire efforts to call to call her back. This behaviour was making it difficult for Claire to exercise Betty at the park as the other dog was often there. Initially I worked with Claire to build Betty’s focus on her encouraging her to ‘check in’ more often. I also worked on strengthening her recall and initially encouraged Claire not to walk Betty at the park when the other dog was likely to be there. Although these strategies were partly successful as Betty was more responsive and her recall improved, she still remained focused on trying to get the other day to engage with her and pursuing it at the dog park. So another more effective solution had to be found.
After much thought, it occurred to me that maybe I could use some other object or activity as a way of distracting Betty and engaging her in a more acceptable activity. By talking to Claire I learnt that Betty was quite keen on playing with a tennis ball. So we decided to try and increase her interest in playing ball so we could use the ball as the object of her focus instead of her focusing on the other dog. Claire built up Betty’s interest by playing with the ball more and Betty soon became much more interested in playing and retrieving the ball instead of focusing on the other dog. So she rapidly lost interest in her obsession and happily played fetch with Claire instead.
This was an interesting experience for me as a trainer and reminded me to work with the dogs strengths instead of only increasing the dog’s level of obedience. We replaced one activity she enjoyed with another activity she enjoyed just as much. Claire is now able to take Betty to the park without her having to worry about her dog heading for the hills in pursuit of another dog and they can enjoy a fun time walking and playing with the ball.