Working With Patrick
So, how have we gone about trying to “fix” Patrick’s suspicion issues?
Firstly – what is suspicion?
Essentially, its when a dog reacts fearfully rather than curiously to something he hasn’t seen before. Not all dogs develop suspicion, and if the parents are suspicious the pups can develop the same trait.
Patrick walks beautifully on lead – pulling a little but listening when you tell him to. He’s not dog distracted at all either, having a look if a dog barks when we’re walking but not much more than that.
Seeing something like garden services in a yard or pedestrians walking past the car would spook him though. Instead of a single curious woof, like “Hey! I’ve never seen that before!”, he’d back away a little with lots f barks, and occasionally he’d run.
A Guide Dog can’t be suspicious, it would mean he was on the look out for potential threats instead of focusing on guiding his partner safely, so if possible it has to be fixed.
I started by teaching him to look at me, at my face. This can be done with a clicker but I didn’t use one. I’d sit on the bed or the couch so as to be at his level and each time he made eye contact I said “Good boy!” and he got a treat.This focus is very important for all aspects of a pup’s training. This is ongoing as is his obedience training – sit, down, stand, stay and wait.
When my other dogs run to bark at something I call him to me with a small treat (a single pellet of his own food). Their barking spooked him initially, so I encouraged him to come to me instead and sit quietly next to me, praising him if he was calm and quiet and treating him if he looks at me.
I walk around the house banging two of the dogs stainless steel food bowls together – at different times on different days, sometimes fast and sometimes slowly, sometimes mixing it up.
If something on the TV catches his attention I rewind it (I have a PVR), turn the volume up a bit and play it again, and again until he no longer reacts to it, praising him if he ignores it.
When we are out walking, we sometimes sit on the side of a road that is relatively busy and I praise him when he doesn’t react to the people going by. A look is fine, but pricked ears and a furrowed brow is discouraged with a “leave it”.
If something startles him when we’re out walking we go the other way for a short distance then do some obedience exercises before proceeding, repeating the procedure if necessary. Some days we don’t walk very far at all! 😀
The “trick” is not to leave a situation until he is calm. If he’s spooked by something and we leave immediately, I am telling him his fear is okay by taking him away from it. Trying to soothe him or cuddle him f he’s afraid will have the same result – he learns that if he’s scared he’ll get a cuddle, and that won’t get him past it.
High-value treats like biltong or yoghurt drops are reserved for new experiences or situations I know have spooked him before, and as he gets better the treats are lessened.
He’s been with us for almost 4 weeks and when we went for a group walk with 9 other guide dog puppies-in-training at a shopping mall on Wednesday, Patrick did so well! We saw people, other dogs, skateboarders, cars, open shop doors, walked through a market choked with incense – only a caw skin draped over a wire frame had him a little wary, but more the puppy curiosity he should display rather than fear, and I touched it and scratched it and shook it as he sniffed it until he was happy to walk away from it.
I was so proud of him! He responds so well to instruction and he is very eager to please, both excellent traits for Guide Dogs!