If like us you happen to own a dog that is reactive then you probably keep your dog on the lead when you’re outdoors. Our own dog, Buzz isn’t ever allowed off the lead on walks as he’s a reactive dog. Or he was…read on to find out just how much he’s improved.
We brought Buzz home in July of 2016 and although he was initially OK, he very quickly turned to the dark side and started reacting at any and every dog he spotted. He was ‘that’ dog that rages from the back of the sofa looking out of the living room window should another dog dare to come into view. On walks he would react to another dog on the street even it was 50 yards from us. And god help you if he seen a cat.
We did wonder what the hell we’d brought home from the RSPCA. We were told that Buzz was a Lurcher cross. Quite quickly we were pretty sure he was crossed with the Tasmanian Devil.
I would like to say though that he was a brilliant dog at home. He settled in immediately and there wasn’t a hint of badness in him, indoors there were no negatives, he was a lovely dog. Take him outside though and he’d turn into what the experts call ‘a pain the in arse’.
He was just a complete nightmare; I can’t emphasise strongly enough how stressful it was taking him for a walk. Whenever we’d go out with him there would be multiple highly charged incidents. He’d see a dog and he’d lose the plot.
He’d be tense throughout the whole walk; his lead work was horrific as he’d be pulling this way and that looking for other dogs and then once he had a dog in his sights he’d go nuclear. There was lots of lunging and barking and his behaviour was just horrendous.
We had to do something, we couldn’t give him back to the RSPCA, could we? No, we couldn’t, they knew him so they probably won’t let him back in anyway. Maybe we could try Dogs Trust, they might take him?... nah, only joking. In all seriousness we probably did have second thoughts, but he was our dog and we couldn’t just give up on him. We had to begin to break down what was happening and look to see how we could correct his behaviour.
As you know I’m a dog walker, not a behaviourist. Personally, I’m sceptical of behaviourists as I know a lot of people who’ve spent a lot of money on them to no avail. I now know one or two dog behaviourists that I would recommend but back in 2016 we decided to do what we normally do if we have a problem and need some help. We Googled it.
In the short term we muzzled him. This gave us some breathing room to be able to try and correct his behaviour whilst minimising the risk of him attacking a dog.
We then started taking him out when there were less dogs about, early mornings and later in the day. Other dogs were unavoidable (there are 9 million other dogs in the country!) but at quieter times of the day he wasn’t bumping into other dogs around every corner.
As mentioned earlier his lead work was very poor so we decided to try and tackle this issue at the same time. There are lots of great videos on YouTube that can help but in a nutshell we just took him back to basics and rewarded him with training treats when he’d walk well and we would stop dead when he pulled. Once we stopped we would only walk on once the tension on the lead had gone slack. Eventually he did start to get better, but this took quite a long time, we put months and months into this often taking half an hour just to get around the block.
To be fair we were a bit lax at times with this Stop and Go training method as we were often in a hurry to get from A to B so we’d sometimes just put up with the pulling just to get to where we were going as we were so often in a rush. I feel if had we had the time to properly use this technique every single time we went out he would have cracked it in less than a month.
Our mission was now to try and correct his reactive nature. He was definitely improving on the lead and on our walks his focus was on us because we were giving him lots of praise and lots of treats. It was clear that these 2 things (praise and treats) were going to be key weapons in our battle to recalibrate his behaviour.
What we did was actually very simple, but just like teaching him to walk nicely on the lead it took a long time to work effectively in every instance. What we did was to give him a nice treat every time we seen a dog relatively close by. By ‘relatively close by’ I mean close enough where he would be about to react – for Buzz that would be dogs on the other side of the road, dogs behind fences or gates and dogs heading toward him at a distance of about 50 yards or so.
The exact timing of giving him a treat was important. It was no use seeing a dog heading our way and giving him a treat and then expecting him not to react once the dog was passing by. The key to it was showing him the treat and tempting him with it, making a real fuss whilst the other dog was drawing closer and closer and then after the dogs had passed each other he got his reward. A lot of the time we’d get him to sit and almost hold the treat to his nose whilst the other dog got safely by and then he’d get the reward. If he reacted, he wouldn’t get the treat. We would try not to get stressed or animated about this. We rewarded the good behaviour and bit our lips when it didn’t go to plan. In time I believe we got better at timing the treats and this helped because giving the treat too soon or too late often led to an unwanted reaction from Buzz.
The only verbal command we’d ever really used was ‘leave it’. Perhaps this worked well on 2 levels. On one hand he was leaving the juicy titbit as he already knew that command and wouldn’t take the treat until you stopped saying ‘leave it’ and told him to ‘take it’. A by-product of him concentrating on leaving it was that this took his mind away from ‘I must react to the other dog’ which brough his tension levels down to a level low enough to allow the other dog to get past.
I have since read online that using higher value treats (cheese, ham, chopped up hot dogs) can work better than the stuff we used which was just shop bought basic training treats. Perhaps we would have had a quicker resolution had we used these higher value treats, but we were thrilled to be making any progress at all. It was clear to us that what we were doing was working.
We took treats on every single walk we went on and we continued to improve both his lead work and his reactive nature. It took many months but gradually he became less and less reactive and we now find that he’s still on the lookout for other dogs when we’re walking him but now when he sees a dog he looks at us for his treat. We are still in the habit of rewarding him whenever he sees or passes another dog but he’s at the stage now where he can walk past another dog without incident.
Buzz is now almost 8 years old and he’s just a great dog. He’s still not the best on the lead, sometimes he’s very good and sometimes he decides to be a pain but overall he’s significantly better than he was. In terms of his reactive nature I would say he’s entirely rehabilitated, he doesn’t even react when another dog reacts at him. Even his hatred of cats has gone. Now when he spots a cat he just looks to us for a treat!
Last July I received an enquiry to walk a lurcher called Dan and made the necessary arrangements to visit Dan's owner to be able to assess Dan's suitability for pack walks and take them through all the relevant paperwork etc. All in all, this looked like a run of the mill enquiry and obviously I hoped it would go well and we would be able to walk the dog. It did go well and we took Dan on and I'm pleased to say we have been walking him since then.
It transpired that the reason we were now walking Dan was because one of his owners had unfortunately had a heart attack and the rest of the family had rallied around to help out with Dan but work commitments innevitably came into play. It was felt that if Dan could be walked by a professional Tynemouth dog walker then that would at least take that responsibility off their collective plate.
The amazing part of this story is that it was Dan who raised the alarm and got help for his owner. The heart attack happened whilst Dan's owner was sat in his van feeling decidedly unwell. Ultimately this ‘unwell’ feeling was him having a heart attack and very quickly he lost consciousness. No one knows how long after this happened that Dan starting barking, but it was Dan's barking that caught the attention of a passer-by who had the wherewithal to ring for an ambulance which ultimately saved Dan’s owners life.
I am pleased to say that Dan’s owner is now very much on the mend and is very grateful that his dog raised the alarm.
Dan is a lovely dog, as you can see he does look very much like a Greyhound but he is in fact a Lurcher, he was a rescue dog that the family have owned for a number of years now – how ironic that they rescued him and then he rescued one of them.
Initially they were a little worried he might not settle on a pack walk but that was only because he was an older boy and hadn’t ever been walked with groups of dogs. From day one though he’s been no bother and has always been very gentle around the rest of the pack.
He’s met and been walked with lots of dogs over the past 7 or 8 months and he’s most often out with his friend Leo or a couple of Staffies we walk called Oscar and Pearl but whoever he’s with he’s always very well behaved.
He’s brilliant on the lead too – we find a lot of Lurchers and especially Greyhounds are fantastic on the lead and Dan is no exception, sometimes you’d hardly know he was there as his loose lead work is very good.
He’s now 10 years old but looks a lot younger I think. He was a much-loved member of the family anyway but following his heroic actions last year he’s now surely now achieved almost mythical status!
Sadly, Dan’s due to leave us soon as he’s moving to a new house - he’s a one off and will definitely be missed when he moves on.
Good boy Danno
At this time of year we’re always busy with new enquires, Christmas it seems is a peak period for rehoming a dog or bringing a new puppy into your life.
A lot of us take time off at over the festive period, families come to visit and generally there are more friends and family around to pitch in and help look after the new hound. Then January kicks in, your folks go home, your friends go back to work, you have to face the reality of having a job and suddenly your neighbour isn’t so keen to help walk the dog! It dawns on you that you need help but just how do you choose a dog walker?
As a professional North Shields dog walker with 6 years experience I have compiled a rough guide to choosing the right dog walker for you. It’s not really in any order, feel free to skip past bits that aren’t relevant to you.
Coastal Dog Walkers is a North Shields based professional dog walking business. We have had the pleasure of walking dogs in Tynemouth, North Shields, Cullercoats and Whitley Bay since 2015. For more information please call or text on 07725041572
Thanks for reading!
Coastal Dog Walkers, January 2020
I'm a bit later than usual with Dog of the Month this time around as it's just been a busy couple of weeks at Coastal Dog Walkers HQ but I am thrilled to give the award this month to Lola and Ralph!.
We've been walking these two characters for quite some time now. Lola joined us a few years ago and then, to her horror at the time Ralph became her brand new older brother in January this year. Almost a year later and it's fair to say Lola has now got used to Ralph and they make a great pair of dogs.
Both dogs unfortunately didn't get the best start in life and eventually they ended up in a rescue centre, thankfully they've now found their forever home with Phil and Louise are are happy living in Cullercoats. Because they had such a rough start in life they are both of a nervous disposition and it's took a long time to get them used to us but gradually we got there. They are still a bit skittish in certain situations but I think they'll continue to settle in time as they're both relatively young dogs.
These dogs are so very lucky to have finally found a happy home to live in. Well done Lola and Ralph!
I am very happy to announce that October's winner for Dog of the Month is Delilah. I am sure both Delilah and her owner, Abbi will be thrilled at this news.
Delilah has been with Coastal Dog Walkers since February of this year and it's fair to say that when she first came on board she was a dog with 2 distinct sides to her personality. At home she was a playful, clever and loving dog but in typical Border Terrier style she was not so great in the company of other dogs. Delilah at the time was about 15 months old and I am unsure what amount of socialisation she'd had with other dogs up to that point; we inherited her from another dog walker who would walk Delilah on her own but thankfully her owner wanted to explore pack walks in order to socialise Delilah.
We'd had some success stories over the years with anti social dogs (April I'm looking at you!) so we welcomed the challenge. My own experience with Border Terriers in the last 5 years has been mixed, maybe it's just me but I do find that often they can be a grumpy little breed around other dogs. However Border Terriers are also quick to learn and I looked forward to playing a role in Delilah's rehab. Owning an anti social dog myself I know first hand that this rehabilitation takes a long time, there's no quick fix and often it's one step forward and 2 steps back.
For Delilah the key tactic employed was exposure to other dogs. This was done frequently and in a way where everyone was safe, it would have been unthinkable to just lump her in with dogs she didn't know and that would have only set her back and put the dogs at risk. Fortunately she is a pretty regular client so there was plenty of opportunity to gently increase her exposure to dogs we knew would cope well with her....dark side.
Fast forward to now and she's improved no end. It's been a gradual thing but if you compare how she was initially in February to how she is now she's like a different dog. She's not perfect but I honestly think she'll continue to get better and better. She knows about 10 of the other dogs so is actually an easy dog to work into my scheduling each week. Her behaviour around them is very good and it's rare now that she reacts at all and if she does begin to 'go' she snaps out of it with is snapped out of it with ease, usually a short, sharp 'tsssk' noise gets her attention back on me and we can move on from there. Our next mission is to try and take her tension levels down around dogs she doesn't know as this is now where almost all of her anxiety comes from.
Delilah is much more that just a narky dog though, she's gots bags of personality and I can imagine she's great company at home. She's got a mischievous side and did go through a phase of playing hide and seek when we picked her up, fortunately we now usually find her on her bed, legs akimbo or pretending she's been eaten by the sofa!
Well done Delilah. I will fetch you some treats and your certificate later this week.
I am very pleased to award the latest dog of the month award to Pearl. She hasn't been with us all that long, just 3 months in fact but in that short time we've quickly grown to love her.
Pearl is an 8 year old Staffy and is quite the character. She's always super happy to see us and she gets so excited that she just can't keep still for long enough for you to put her harness and collar on. You can't help but laugh at her though as she just can't contain her excitement. She's borderline 'about to wet herself' literally every time but thankfully she has managed to contain herself, so far anyway!
On the walks she's a happy and relaxed dog, she likes her own space and prefers to be with quieter dogs. We usually walk her in a pack of 3 dogs but she knows 9 or 10 dogs altogether and she gets on very well with all of them. She's a great addition to the gang and we hope to be walking her for many years to come.
Well done Pearl!
The quick answer to that question is that it's up to you! If you've read up on the pro's and con's of having your male dog neutered and you still wish to leave him intact then that's great, go for it! This decision is a very personal one and for some dog owners the decision is a no brainer and for others they wrestle with the idea and find it hard to know what to do for the best.
Here's my thoughts on the matter. I won't go into the medical implications at all as there's lots of information on Google regarding that and I'd just be rehashing stuff from other websites.
Coastal Dog Walkers have been walking dogs for 5 years now and to begin with we'd take on any dog, any breed, any temperament and we wouldn't give any real consideration to whether a male dog was intact or not. In hindsight this was a little naive as over time we began to notice one thing that had not crossed our minds when we started out; intact males can attract trouble from other male dogs.
Allow me to explain and expand on that statement. Some of the loveliest dogs we've ever walked have been intact male dogs, in fact the first dogs we ever took on was a fantastic Labrador called Lewis. He was THE most gentle and loving dog and you could walk him with any other dog and he'd never be any bother. However as time passed we noticed that on occasion another male dog would get very agitated in Lewis's company or a dog that we walked past would react to him in an aggressive manner. Lewis never instigated any of this behavior and never even reacted to it as he was always super chilled. We thought it was odd but never really put two and two together.
Over the next couple of years we took on other intact male dogs and on occasion we had similar experiences with all of them, i.e. for no reason apparent to us another male would just act up and be aggressive towards them for no apparent reason.
We then spoke to some dog behaviourist colleagues and did a bit of Googling and suddenly everything fell into place - non neutered male dogs can sometimes provoke an unwanted response from a neutered male dog. The exact reasons for this seem to be open to discussion but in our experience this unwanted behavior toward uncastrated males is a very real thing.
As a consequence we no longer take on new clients with male dogs who are intact, the only exception to that is puppies who in time will have the operation usually at around 6 to 8 months old. For us it's just not worth the inherent risk. As a North Shields dog walker we are responsible for a lot of your dogs and our underlying thought in everything we do is always your dog's safety.
On a personal note I'd like to add that our own dog Buzz and his predecessor Elwood were both castrated, they were both rescue dogs and the rescue centres usually always give their male dogs the snip before rehoming them but even if they hadn't we would have put both dogs in for the operation - after all no one wants a humpy dog around the house!
We'd love to hear your thoughts - is your dog intact? What have been your experiences if you have an intact male dog?
This is Lewis by the way. Still my favourite Labrador x
Tilly has been awarded the coveted prize for dog of the month (August 2019). Tilly has only been with us since early June so it's great to see a relatively new dog win this coveted prize!
Tilly is an older girl, (don't worry Tilly I won't give your age away). She's a Bichon Frise X Yorkshire Terrier and has the cutest little face. She settled in very quickly and has continued to gain in confidence in the 3 months she's been on board. She's a brilliant dog for a dog walker to have on board as she's just one of those dogs that's happy to mix with any of the other pooches in the pack, she gets on well with everyone, human or canine.
Well done Tilly, i'll drop your prize and certificate off later this week.
So about a month ago we began a collection for the animals at the RSPCA shelter (Newcastle branch). This was something we'd thought of doing a few months ago and finally found some time to make it happen in the middle of July. The collection itself ran for just under 3 weeks and we had a couple of 'drop off points' in our local area. Big thanks to Doggy Delish Deli in North Shields and Children of the Revolution in Tynemouth for giving up space in their stores for your donations.
As a North Shields dog walker we really wanted to help a local dog charity and also the RSPCA was the place we got our own dog, Buzz from in 2016 so it made sense to choose them as the benefactor of our efforts. We also walk dogs for Louise (hi Louise!) who is in charge of the local adoptions for the charity so if we needed another reason to choose the RSPCA then that was it!
We really appreciate those people who made the effort and dropped things in - the dogs will get the benefit of the bedding, blanket, food, toys, treats, leads and everything else for a long time to come I'm certain.
Thanks again and look out for this collection next summer as we are planing on doing it all over again.
Please share this post as it helps raise awareness for the charity. If you'd still like to donate just pop your donations into the Whitley Bay branch of the RSPCA and mark your donations with the word 'kennels' and it will be taken up to the cats and dogs.
Here we are putting some of your donations into the RSPCA van the other day and here's one of the dogs who's looking for a new home already enjoying one of the toys.
This months coveted Dog of the Month prize actually goes to 2 dogs, Max and Mae. Well I couldn't give to one without giving to the other! These 2 gorgeous dogs have been with us since 2015 and we've had them both on the books since they were puppies. Mae came first and Max was adopted later and it may have been 2016 when Max came on the scene. He was already 6 months old when his owner brought him home to meet Mae who by that time had pretty much gone through the puppy stage and was a happy go lucky young dog (I bet she didn't know what was going on when Max came to stay!).
Mae is a Border Collie and is very loving. She is happy to accept any dog into the pack and is just a really friendly and confident girl. When she was a puppy she went through a stage for a couple of months where her favourite thing to do was to undo my shoelaces whilst we were out walking. She still has a mischievous streak even though now she is older. I no longer have to double knot my laces though.
Max is a Belgian Shepherd and he's been Mae's little brother ever since he was rescued at age 6 months. He's a big lump of a dog but is actually very good on the lead and although he can be reactive to male dogs we encounter he is getting better and will continue to improve as he gets older.
Both dogs live together and get on really well. Mae's in charge though!
Coastal Dog Walkers
Welcome to the occasional ramblings of a North Shields dog walker.