FODS Shelter Initiative - "The Journey to Improved Quality of Life"
- Helping dogs to be calm and well behaved in the run Step 1
1.Helping dogs to be calm and well behaved in the run Step 1
As we have mentioned previously in your theory notes having a dog appearing to be quiet, happy and content when people approach it’s run is going to result in the following: -
- A dog more likely to be adopted than one jumping up at the fence, running in circles and perhaps barking.
- Due to the training and learning what behaviour works, and what behaviour does not work, we are reducing the dogs stress levels overall – this will result in a dog that both looks, and is happier, which will increase the chances of adoption.
- The crucial 30 second initial emotional connection with a person more likely to be made as we are making people even more important to the dogs.
- All the above is going to make these dogs even more adoptable than they already are!
All the interactions we are having with the dogs is based on the body language that dogs exhibit between themselves, and this first step is a version of the Ignoring the dog when arriving home, with is one of the most important House Rules.
Until we say to start talking to the dog softly later on – this whole procedure is done in silence, only giving the ‘good settle’ cue and the treat when the dog has settled.
Be aware always of your body language and observe the body language of the dogs to practice your skills and also see the changes that come about with the exercise being repeated.
You will see that when you have practiced with one dog a few times, you then move onto the next dog. Apart from practice, practice, practice, which is crucial, the dogs are learning to accept and be calm with a lot of different people – this will help them to be overall more balanced and increase chances of adoption.
Ideally the shelter staff should all engage in the same exercise a few times a day, and the shelter should take advantage of when children visit and show parents how to perform the exercise. The same with men, different races, different body types – all these will assist the dog to being comfortable with different people, make it a more sociable, have less stress and be more balanced overall – again should increase chances of adoption.
Take your time – don’t rush – the calmer and more composed you are will impact on the dog
- When we praise the dog for being calm and quiet, we request that the shelter staff, volunteers, assistants and everybody on the course uses the same terminology of ‘good settle’. By keeping the consistency in place for the behaviour we do want, it will be much easier for the dogs to be successful and in the next session we will be using the same cue for when dogs bark (but a different procedure). When out on the lead and the dog is over excited, the same cue can be used. The shelter can use the cue when inspecting the dog for any injuries or giving medicine. In a very short space of time, this cue will achieve amazing results of a much calmer dog and the dog will understand what is required of it.
- Be a magician! We don’t want the dog to just associate treats coming from your hand, pocket or the container or holder you carry them in – we want the dog to associate that treats and praise comes from people; so mix up where you carry treats and be as creative as you can.
- With the exercises below, some dogs may calm down very quickly while others can take a good amount of time – what is crucial is just stand there until the dog has stopped whatever it was doing and immediately give the praise and the treat. With a dog like this, we suggest that you give several treats very quickly in a row – this is ‘jackpotting’ and we are really helping the dog to associate what behaviour did work. If you reward with any attention at all before the dog has calmed down, all you are doing is reinforcing the behaviour you do not want.
- Walk to outside a dog’s run and stand with your body relaxed. If you have a hat or dark glasses on, take these off. Do not look directly at the dog (can signal aggression), rather turn your head or body slightly away and do not speak. Now – do nothing – just stand there. The behaviour you are offering is what a dog will understand and also realize that you are not a threat or a person to be fearful of – this will immediately help the dog to relax and be successful. At the same time start to become aware of any calming or stress signals the dog is exhibiting. You are honing your skills and it will be interesting to see if the dog exhibits the calming signals the next time you interact with it.
- The very second the dog stops whatever it was doing that was not acceptable (jumping up, running around, barking, acting silly or another behaviour) you praise quietly with ‘good settle’ and immediately toss in a treat. At this stage you don’t give from your hand. What the dog is learning is what behaviour results in praise and a treat and what behaviour does not – additionally the association of people being wonderful to have around is reinforced.
- After giving the praise and the treat, stand up, move a step away from the run and repeat the process. It really does all depend on the dog and many dogs will start to get excited when you move away – just repeat the procedure of observing, doing nothing and wait for the dog to calm again. Immediately it does, praise with ‘good settle’ and treat. After doing about 4 or 5 times in a row, move onto the next dog and repeat.
- If the dog is sitting quietly when you arrive outside the run, stand calmly and quietly for a minute or two, then praise with ‘good settle’ and offer the treat. The reason we wait the minute or two is so that we can observe the dogs body language and also that we can now start to very slowly build up the time period that a dog can remain quiet and calm.
- When the dogs are reacting quietly when you approach the runs, you can start to do three further things.
- Start to offer the treat through the run from your hand when the dog is quiet – after praising – do this from the standing position and you can even turn your body slightly sidewards to reduce the dogs stress (calming signal). The reason we are breaking this down a bit is to help the dogs to be successful – some dogs just get far too over excited when people go down to their level.
- Start to extend the period you stand in front of the dog before giving praise and a treat – this teaches the dog to maintain the good behaviour. If you do not do the ‘jack-in-the-box dog can develop. This is where the dog sits quietly and politely for a few seconds and as soon as praise and treat have been awarded, the excitable behaviour starts again.
- Do your basic exercise and next step is to crouch or bend down the dog’s level to give praise and a treat. Watch what calming/stress signals the dog exhibits here as some dogs may stress a bit especially if your body language is seen as the dog as ‘bending over it’ to a degree. If this does occur, lean back slightly and see if this helps the dog to cope. At this stage you are still silent apart from the ‘good settle’ cue. Practice this a few times each time taking a step or two away from the run and then starting again with each dog. Work with all the dogs this way.
- Go back to step 3 above with dogs that are being successful and this time after giving the praise and treat while crouching or bending over, talk softly and gently with the dog.
Once we have had the practical sessions with these adult dogs on basic obedience, we will be taking their skills a step further!
In addition to improving the quality of life for dogs in a shelter, making them more adoptable and increasing owner / staff knowledge, a very important aspect is that of safety. We are not just concerned with the safety aspect of those working with the dogs; we are also concerned about the safety aspect of the dog as well. A dog that bites is a dog that could well be looking at euthanasia – if we ignore signs that a dog is not coping or do not have the tools to handle the situation, we could be putting that dogs life in jeopardy. Never, ever take on anything you cannot handle – there could be serious consequences.
The people who really take the risks and open themselves up to possible aggression are the shelter staff when they first interact with any dog that comes to a shelter - they simply do not know what to expect. Due to this some of the risks associated with working with dogs has already been reduced for you and the dogs you will be working with are not knowingly aggressive.
Having just said that, we have to remember that dogs have a mouth full of teeth that are razor sharp, so do not just presume that the dog is friendly – the dog may be having an ‘off’ day; the dog may have pain in its body that has recently occurred; the dog’s stress levels could be higher than usual; the dog may have had a bit of an altercation with another dog and be on edge.
What is absolutely crucial is an excellent knowledge of body language as we have mentioned and this starts from outside the run, standing quietly and observing the dog. Here are some pointers for you to bear in mind:
Outside the run
- Read the information about the dog on the Adoption Kennel Card attached to the run paying special attention to any areas of the body the dog may not like to have touched.
- Do not enter a run unless you have the information about, or are familiar with the dog. The main reason for this is that some dogs can become very territorial about their space and can act in a reactive manner even if they seem to be friendly from the outside of the run.
- Take your time – stand quietly outside with soft body language and just observe the dog – it is not going anywhere and will feel a lot more confident if you are quiet and calm.
- If you feel hesitant or are not sure, then call for assistance – prevention is so much better than cure and there is nothing to be ashamed about – the opposite actually applies. We all have a different skills and experience and if you feel that any particular dog is beyond your current capabilities, call for assistance and this can turn into a learning experience for you by going into the run with somebody that is more experienced.
- Although we have extreme heat in SA, avoid using dark glasses so that the dogs can see your eyes and if working with a dog that is fearful, avoid wearing at hat while interacting with the dog.
- Always follow the procedure of calming the dog before entering the run – this really does make a major difference in calming a dog down.
- If the dog is lying at the back of the run and does not come forward when called – do not enter. This dog is clearly indicating that it does not want to interact and if the dog feels threatened or trapped, it can easily reaction – call for assistance.
- Keep on watching the dog’s body language and remember that a wagging tail does not necessarily mean that the dog is friendly – look at the rest of the body.
- Keep your body soft and pliable and don’t stare at the dog. To a dog, a direct stare can signal aggression, rather turn your head (and even your own body) slightly to the side – we are imitating a calming signal.
- Offer a treat while keeping your head slightly turned – wait for the dog to come towards you before going further.
- Only make the decision to go inside if you feel that the dog is relaxed and would welcome the interaction.
- Each and every time we go in or out of a run, we run the risk of the dog getting out – prepare all you want to take inside with you before you enter. Ideally each dog should have it’s own equipment, however if this is not possible, try to have the collar ready for the approximate size of the dog so avoid faffing around inside. As you will want to have your hands as free as possible, either have the equipment placed through the wire for access on the inside; perhaps have a small bag or draped over you.
- An additional benefit of having your equipment in a small bag is that if there is reactive behaviour, you can place the bag in front of your body. If using a bag, do let the dog smell this from outside the run.
Inside the run
- When entering use the inside of your knee/leg/hip/shoulder to control the door – as above this will leave your hands free.
- If necessary toss in a treat so that you can get in quickly.
- Ensure the gate is correctly locked after you enter.
- When you enter the run, repeat the calming procedure – do not go any further until the dog has calmed down – if you do you are setting both of you up for failure.
- If you are in the run and the dog moves away from you – do not follow the dog – this dog is indicating that it does not want any further interaction – rather toss a treat towards the dog and make your way out of the run.
- If the dog is jumping up, don’t shout, push the dog or react – just turn your body slightly, moving your hip and knee as shown so that the dog is deterred from doing this again – you may have to do this a few times. Wait until the dog is calm and then offer a treat as in your demo.
- Never turn your back on the dog and if you feel you need help call for same.
- Don’t put your hand out for the dog to sniff – hold your arm and hand loosely at your side with a treat in the palm of your hand and let the dog come to you – this can initially take a little time.
- If offering a treat from your hand, most dogs have not learnt bite inhibition – to avoid being nipped, hold the teat in your palm and let the dog take from there.
- Avoid looming over the dog – one dog putting its head or paw onto another dog can be view as dominant behaviour – rather bend over with your body turned slightly to the side. Make this into a habit that you initially work with all dogs with your body turned slightly away and avoiding direct eye contact.
- Do not kneel down with a dog in a run unless you are totally comfortable with the dog – rather partially kneel (we will show you the position)– this is so that you can get away in a hurry if need be.
- Don’t make any quick and/or jerky movements unless necessary.
- While working with the dog, talk in a calm, quiet voice – it does not matter what you say – it is the tone that makes the difference.
- Don’t grab the dog, especially by the collar if wearing one, or on the scruff of the neck. Many dogs have been abused and this could cause the dog to react.
- We will be showing you the way to get out of the run in the next session, however if the dog was trying to push past you, just toss a few treats a bit away and go quickly out the door.
Always report any sign of aggression, or anything you feel out of the ordinary to a member of staff