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We may need to start there! What you need is a set up. A set up is an environment where you can control most of the factors. A good set up will mean easy, clinical progress. The top of the T is a main road.
I like the long bit of the T to have trees or buildings or something to mean that the cars are only going to pass into view for a very short second. Visual chasers are not usually that bothered by the sounds of traffic, but for a fearful dog or a dog who has practised chasing cars, I may even need to work on sound or smell alone. The yellow path is 1. On the dark blue road, there is lots of traffic at a fairly constant 80 or 90km. There are no other distractions — few other people on this section of track and as long as I check it out before, I can park far up it and start m away from the car.
There have to be gaps in the traffic for the connection to form with the dog. So we start m away and start walking towards the dark blue road. I stop every 20m or so, allow lots of sniffing and interaction, but no toys and no food. And as soon as the car is gone, the food is gone. The reason I go with something surprisingly tasty and amazing is because the more surprising the experience, the more we learn from it. The more we remember it. The ones that were surprising. Being surprising helps associations and memories form much more quickly.
After, the food goes away and we stay at the same distance.
I like a short interval between the next car, but it has to be the very next car, and the food comes out again. Food-food-food until the car is gone, and then the food goes away. I need to confess that dogs are SO quick at getting this. Two times with one collie.
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Three with the mali. The moment the dog looks to the car and looks back to you, you have won a major, major victory. It has clicked. All those lab-rat behaviourists said it should take times of those surprising phenomena for an association to form. We go home. Always finish on a win. Next time, I start at the same distance, maybe even just a little further back, and a different set-up zone. As you can see above, the choice of set-up situation is really important. Set-up one and two have long, straight, quiet paths that give an eye-line to a road about m away. However, between the two there is a part of the wood that has been coppiced, and it means the dogs can see cars moving for about seconds.
Set-up 3 involves a T that is on a part of the road with a bend and a steep hill, so cars are going kpm there — that slows them down and increases the time the dog is exposed to the moving vehicles — neither are good for a second experience either. Set-up 4 is perfect. Cars are speeding up again, short period of contact, long straight road and the trees either side of the pathway that help create a really short period the car is present for.
Check out the set-ups before you take your dog. No use doing them if the path is heavily-travelled or busy, or filled with other things your dog finds overwhelming like lots of scents. Working with a behaviourist who has done programmes like this before will mean they should have good local knowledge of where will work. For most dogs, I teach a hand touch or a shoulder target where they touch your hand with their nose or their shoulder to your knee. I like hand touch because it disrupts their looking at the car and I can also add duration later and get a 2-second or a second nose-to-hand.
That is one calm dog who is thinking, not a mad dog chasing a car. She comes back to me when a car comes and leans on me. Will Work For Petting is very dependent on you dog. And Flika still appreciates the sausage-petting combo SO much more than petting alone.
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After that second session, we practise over the next few weeks at shorter and shorter distances, never ever letting the dog go into manic chase mode. I also build in lots of non-training days. I think of where we are now and where I want to be. And then I work out where I need to be at 3 months, 6 weeks, 3 weeks and 10 days from my starting point. This would be my rough plan. Small, measurable, achievable, realistic targets that I can adapt if I need to. But I go at the pace the dog dictates. Partly the success of this method — whether for chasing or for fearfulness — relies on gentle, gradual, planned habituation to moving machines.
Start far enough away that the moving object is noticed but not that near your dog is straining towards it.
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Your dog will partly be learning just by repeated exposure, over and over again, to things they want to chase — just at a mild enough level that they get used to it. For Effel with the lawnmower, that involved me being off the mower and letting someone else ride it. We started much closer than I would have liked to as my garden is not that huge, but it took a bit of work for him to be around the mower simply because it had been so enjoyable when he did it the first time.
Another part of the success of this relies on pure science stuff where a trainer who has a lot of practical experience with conditioning will be a real asset. Your sink is your body. The taps are the centres of your body that control the release of hormones, neurotransmitters and other bodily chemicals. Lots of factors decide how much pours out of those taps and how well your sink is able to handle the flow. It might be too small, overflowing at the smallest fright. Tilly is a bit like that. When her sink floods due to a stressful event, she alarm barks and she pees. You might have a fairly big sink that drains well — coping with life admirably.
You might also overflow too. Chronic stress can do this as well — when it just accumulates and accumulates. Steroids can also have the same effect. What largely dictates the size of your sink, how well you are able to cope with the flow of cortisol and adrenaline, is dependent on a number of things. Genes are one. Bombproof parents are more likely to have bombproof babies. Breed is also a factor for dogs: it is without doubt that some dogs are more nervy and less able to cope with stressful situations or change than others.
Then socialisation between weeks and then continued more gradually up to adulthood also influences the size of your sink and how well you cope with stress. Heston, my shepherd, came to me aged 6 weeks. We had lots of exposure to cars and the outdoor world, not enough to people, vets, groomers and dogs, and none to stairs.
Full-on fear overload because I forgot I might not live in a bungalow or have bungalow-dwelling friends all my life. Habituation getting used to things in life , desensitisation getting used to the scary stuff gradually and socialisation knowing how to interact with people, dogs and other animals are crucial influencers on the size of sink your dog ends up with.
A dog born with a fairly small sink may, for instance, expand their sink through a careful, planned, gentle programme of habituation, desensitisation and socialisation. You have got a very brief period of time with a puppy to make the most impact — from 3 weeks of age to around 12 weeks.
After this, your job is much tougher. However, a lot of people do the early stuff and get it wrong by accidentally overwhelming their young puppy and forget to keep doing it — a lot of the good work you can do early on can be diminished by stopping at 13 weeks and not keeping it up at a gentle rate.
But if you only start at 13 weeks — illness and vaccinations are two common reasons this step might get overlooked, but lack of understanding in puppy rearing is also a big factor too — then you are facing an uphill battle. Those kind of events are rare though.
So a small-sink dog might be a poorly-bred puppy-farm-raised nervous nellie of a -doodle whose owners followed vet advice to the letter and never took the dog anywhere until it was 16 weeks. It might be a dog who started out with a great big sink, but who was over-exposed constantly to stressful situations and lived in chronic stress.
That takes a lot.
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Rock-solid temperaments in parents, great genes, careful breeding programmes, thoughtful socialisation up to 12 weeks and beyond…. Genetics, breed and parentage fix a lot of the size of a sink.