Friday, 13 November 2009

Shock Tactics

It's miserable outside. I can't remember when the rain started, it seems to have always been here. The wind is picking up and gale force winds are expected overnight. I've been checking the animals by flashlight - the sheep are tucked under a hedge chewing cud with their eyes half closed, seemingly unperturbed by the storm. The horses have moved to the lower side of their field and turned their bottoms to the wind, but they exude a zen-like acceptance of the weather. I guess they know it will pass eventually. They've not even bothered to go in their shelter, which they prefer to use on hot sunny days (the few we have) to get away from the flies.

The dogs are less impressed. Jazzy and Nellie, who have definite likes and dislikes in life, do not go for evening walks in very bad weather. I leave the door open in case they wish to nip out of their kennels and do their necessaries. The others are mostly immune, including Pip who is the wimpiest dog I've ever known. She came out with me to feed the horses and happily mooched around, checking out the rabbit holes in the hedges. They will work in this weather without complaint.

Hazel is another tough little spaniel; as long as you offer her a game of fetch with a tennis ball, she will follow you anywhere in any weather. But, there's a problem with Hazel. If she's hunting in cover, she will not come back when she's called. And very occasionally on a morning walk, she makes a beeline in a flat-out run to the corner of the field, across the road and into the neighboring woods to hunt. She's what's called a 'self-employed' spaniel.

It's made taking her out on shoot days a huge gamble. I can't afford to lose a dog and hold up the team, or fall behind and leave them to pick up my slack. But Hazel is a great retriever. She lives to retrieve. When she brings me back a bird, she doesn't want food, or praise. I reward her by giving her a tennis ball to carry. She sits, obeys hand signals at a distance, waits to be told to retrieve. It's just this running away thing, but it's a BIG thing.

Assorted dog training goodies hanging in the porch

Hazel was offered to us as a working dog that wouldn't retrieve. Mike needed a dog just to run birds home, no retrieving involved, so we thought we could give her a home and a job. We adopted her at 4 years old and she'd had a rough time until then. We put her in the kennel with Nellie and they have become firm friends. At the beginning Hazel was aloof but over time she has become a lot more affectionate and involved.

I've done nothing but be consistent with training based on positive reinforcement. Turns out she retrieves like a thing possessed when she's rewarded for the behavior. But unless she has something to bring me, I can't trust her to come back. Mike and I have had many discussions about rehoming her. A dog that won't come back is no good for chasing birds or retrieving them. I am running out of options to give her a good working life.

In desperation, I have bought a shock collar. I'm really conflicted about this. Hazel had a shock collar used in her training before we had her, and it was used on her with cruel intent . I feel like a heel even thinking about it.

Yet, under circumstances such as chasing deer or cars, or running off, these collars are said to be effective. I've seen it work - in one case I know it saved the dog's life. I charged it up and put it on setting 2 (1 is lowest, 8 is highest) and put it around my neck and stood barefoot on the carpet, and pushed the button. It made me squeal. This sucks.

My plan is to put it around her neck every time she comes out of the kennel, and just work on our basic training with positive reinforcement as usual. And I should never have to use the collar until that day she makes a break for it. I will blow the 'stop' whistle and if that doesn't stop her, I'll give her a #2 shock, and praise her when she comes back. In a perfect world, she will learn the first or second time. Even if she has to wear the collar as a 'just in case', it means I can take her out into the shooting field to work more. And she'll be happier doing what she's bred to do. Is this the end justifying the means?


It's been charged up, sat on my desk for a few days and I haven't had the heart or stomach to put it on the little dog. I don't want to re-home her, she's had enough upset in her life. And Nellie would be just as heartbroken to lose her.

Mike always says "No dog should be an only child". This was evident today when Dakota was sulking about the house by herself. It was too wet to be outside and all her playmates were in the kennel. She looked forlorn. I brought her favorite playmate Podge in the house for a bath and left them to play together for the afternoon while I made soup.

Play date

Podge makes use of the furniture to dry off on. She's found one of my homemade dog retrieving toys: a length of tubifast bandage stuffed with old socks and tied on each end. Much cheaper than buying the canvas dummies, especially at the rate we go through them. The other favorite toy is a pheasant, sans stuffing, which is great for a game of tug-of-war

One day I'll be bigger than you!

I fell for a gamekeeper which means I fell into a gamekeeper's life. Dogs are the remit of the 'keeper's wife. I'm trying to learn as fast as I can, to make sure the dogs have the best quality of life they can. I wholeheartly love these little dogs and it's hard when you think you fail one. I hope this chapter will have a happy ending, for the dogs first and for me second.


Pomona said...

Terriers are very independent-minded and quite likely to run off after rabbits, too. I met an old boy once who told me that he trained his terriers by keeping them on a lead whenever he went out with them until they were 2, and then if let off they would not run away. I didn't do it for that long, but I did have them on the lead for ages - and if one ever showed a tendency to run off or be tardy about returning I would put it back on the lead for the rest of the outing. I also always have broken up dog biscuits in my pocket and keep calling them back if they go too far out of range, and reward them often enough to make it worth their while. I don't know if this would all work with a 4 year old gun dog, though - that's all a bit more professional!

Pomona x

Poppy Cottage said...

You can only do your best Jen. If it doesn't work, maybe I could borrow it for Jasp. No 8 setting, every time he is rude to me a quick zap. Actually....where did you get it? :0)

Jennifer Montero said...

Hi Pomona - That's the problem with older dogs, so much of their behaviour is ingrained. It's easier to prevent than to cure in my limited experience. 5 of the 8 dogs are rescues, all adopted as older dogs, but they came right with basic reward-based training.

I wouldn't even know where to begin with a terrier!

Hi Colette - As I hear from Paul the stalker, Jasp is a nice, well-mannered young man! Got collar from the interweb - picked one with long range capability!

Terry Scoville said...

That's a tough one Jenn.
I commend you for checking the shock level on yourself, quite respectable. I would not give Hazel the opportunity to continue her "personal hunts" and suggest to start the collar training immediately. Work at short distances and when she doesn't 'bout face at your command let her know about it. E-collars do have a place for responsible trainers and you will both benefit. Good luck and keep us updated.

Jennifer Montero said...

Thanks for your comments Terry, they're much appreciated. I might be in contact by email for some advice.

Paula said...

Hi Jenn-

Crate training also feels cruel to us humans, but in the long run, it all works out okay.

I currently have a dog that I thought I would have to rehome because of his aggression. We never had to resort to the shock collar, but I know they do have their place, and I would have borrowed one from a friend if we didn't get him straightened out. He is such a sweet pooch now that he has many girlfriends at the vet's office, and I mean human ones.

I should think that between a couple of shocks for running away, and overwhelming rewards for coming when she's called that she'll 'get it' quickly and you'll both be relieved in short order. Good luck and don't feel bad. She has a good mommy.

Jennifer Montero said...

Thanks Paula, it helps to hear of others' struggle and successes with their dogs. I'm so glad your boy has overcome his agression. What type of dog is he? Second chance dogs somtimes prove to be the best ones!

I'm a big advocate of crate training, especially with nervous or excitable dogs. Spud has a crate in the house and when the play gets too rough, she retires into it and the other dogs give her some space. It's also helped her learn self-control as she's a bundle of energy, even with 3 walks a day.

Poppy Cottage said...

Jaspe is as we speak, at his Dads cooking pheasant,following a recipe.

Yep he really enjoyed his time with Paul. Thank you so much for putting them in touch.

Ps. Can Jasp buy a couple of pheasants as in two weeks time he is cooking pheasant at school.

Tamar said...

Jen -- Hats off to you for putting the shock collar on your own neck. If I were Hazel, I would want to undergo any training necessary to remain your dog.

Have you ever read Vicki Hearne? She was an animal trainer (dogs and horses, primarily), and she gave me a different outlook on dogs and what's "fair" in letting them know your expectations. Try ADAM'S TASK, or BANDIT: DOSSIER OF A DANGEROUS DOG.

I think you're doing the right thing.

Anonymous said...

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