The concluding part of Colette’s wonderful essay on training Spot.
Chapter Seven – A trip to new territory
Spot had never really been walking anywhere else so a trip to the seaside promenade an hour away by car was in order.
Here, on paved city streets, I put him through his paces: past people; dogs; new smells; and the beach. We sat on park benches and in a cafe. Spot was quiet and sat still at my feet.
He was over-awed by new sensations but coped admirably. He didn’t know what the sea was and sniffed it suspiciously but wouldn’t test the water with a toe, preferring to run and feel the sand under his paws. But it was mown grass that totally freaked him out.
I took Spot onto a boulevard of grass and trees so that he could sniff and pee like most dogs do. But when Spot was on the grass I got an inkling of a former trauma. For Spot froze and looked at me with terrified eyes. He cocked his hind leg and held it up as if in some perpetual, quavering fear yet he wasn’t peeing.
When I then approached him he cowered; something I’d never seen. It was pretty obvious to me that Spot had been beaten as a punishment whilst standing on a grass lawn for some unknown misdemeanour. I gently knelt down and stroked him. Spot shivered with apprehension. Then I guided him off the grass to the paved area close by and after I reassured Spot with a big hug his normal behaviour returned.
Traumas for animals come in all shapes. For Spot, his memories of fear and loathing had been triggered by a tactile feeling under his paws; the feel to Spot of mown grass. We finished for the day and went home. Spot was tired.
Chapter Eight – New Collar; New Beginning
Over ten days, the harness and choke rope had slowed Spot to a walk speed. It was time to switch to a collar. Spot was still a strong-willed character so after finding a brand-new, half-choke collar, again in Pauline’s collection of unused equipment, I chose it as the next step.
It was a perfect width, well made, soft on the neck side and the small half-choke chain meant that it loosened to slip on and off easily over Spot’s head. I tested it to its full choke capacity, allowing it to still retain a two-finger gap so it never fully closed on Spot’s neck.
Our first walk out with this collar was a great success. It gave Spot an even better indication of where I wanted him. He didn’t pull and trotted happily alongside me. Whenever an interesting smell appeared alongside, I fed out the lead to allow him to explore while I stood still. The lead was his old strong woven one. I had removed the bit of washing-line rope that Mike had tied on to lengthen it and returned it to normal length. A long lead is not ideal because if the dog pulls at the other end it will pull you off your feet. A short lead will not do that because you keep your dog within your centre of gravity and therefore strong enough to resist pulling. This means you keep control of your dog at all times thus making it safer for you and him.
I was really proud of Spot. He had come such a long way. His demeanor was soft and he relaxed much more during the day. He didn’t bark at every little thing.
Chapter Nine – Lizards and Food
It was a lazy day on the patio in the sunshine. Spot was lying on my feet below the table when he stiffened. Looking down, I saw a tiny lizard about a foot away. Spot stared at it intently, nose twitching. Slowly I reached down and stroked Spot’s head. “Friend” I said, putting the image of my love for lizards in Spot’s head. He relaxed. We watched the little lizard for a full five minutes during which time Spot never wavered. When it disappeared down a crack Spot laid back down by my feet and went back to sleep. This was a big milestone. It didn’t end up in his tummy!
Spot’s food consumption had changed. I put his dry dog food into his bowl and then taking some boiled warm water I melted a teaspoon of coconut oil into it, added a tiny bit of cooked chicken and made a sort of gravy by mashing it all up. I coated the dog food with this mixture and Spot ate it up really well. His coat started to shine after about a week and he looked a little bit trimmer, his haunches clearly defined. He had not been given hot dogs or ham since Pauline had left.
Training treats were commercially bought, but 60% protein so I cut them in half so that they were no bigger than the size of a rice crispy. I used loads of them for training but they amounted to little in extra bulk.
Other treats comprised of dog biscuits and a dental chew stick last thing before bed (again, keeping Pauline’s routine).
Spot had stopped begging at the dinner table and in the kitchen. He came for food only when bidden and always away from the table.
Chapter Ten – Hello’s and Goodbye’s
My work was still a work-in-progress but it was time for Spot’s people to return so we began our pack up.
Now all dogs know what bags in cars mean. They know you are leaving so it was no surprise that Spot now followed me closely everywhere I went. He wondered at what was going on at the bedroom gate then bounced into the room and onto our bed but only once. As he saw me exiting the room he jumped down carefully and trotted after me looking up at me. He was clearly unsure of what to do?
This is the hard bit of a house sit. Leaving your new buddy behind is a real wrench. But Spot is not my dog and now he has to get back into a routine with Pauline and Mike.
I took Spot into the back garden when I knew the owners were on the way. The large gate had been pulled open ready for their arrival; the sun was beginning to set. Spot and I played “fetch” and “bring” games with his toys to while away the time.
Our first games earlier in training were tough because Spot wanted to keep his toys and not “give” them to me. I used a simple technique of finger and thumb around his lower jaw (hand underneath for support) as far back as possible to encourage him to open his mouth. He eventually would “give” up his toys voluntarily without the gentle manipulation and wait eagerly for it to be thrown again.
After half-an-hour of playing lights appeared followed by the sound of the camper van turning into the driveway. I noticed the noises before Spot did but when he heard loud greeting voices he ran to the side gate. He wasn’t barking but his tail wagged furiously. I opened the latch and away he went bouncing like a bunny.
The greetings were exuberant and meaningful for all parties. People and pup alike had missed each other. Spot looked at me; was that a big smile on his face?
We had a cup of tea and Spot sat on the rug in front of all of us. He didn’t beg for Pauline’s cookie, I wagged a finger of “no” at Pauline, and he didn’t drink their tea that had been placed on the floor near their feet. He just eyed everyone happily and then put his head down to sleep.
I showed Pauline a few of the commands that Spot knew, often just using the hand signal as you see in the dog shows. I also put the half-choke collar on Spot and showed how he responded to walking commands. Pauline and Mike watched with dropped jaws as Spot did everything asked of him.
Pauline hates any kind of animal mistreatment and also thought effective training had to be harsh. But it doesn’t have to be: Far from it! While it takes longer, little treats, love, hugs, and lots of patience produce the most wonderful behaviours. Once complete, your dog knows you are pack leader and can be trusted to do as you want. They are also happier in this subservient role especially when they don’t have dominant traits.
Spot had changed. He was still the cute little ‘sweetheart,’ but the rough edges had been polished off. He no longer growled or bared his teeth. His eyes were softer and his body more relaxed. He was less jumpy, less nervous and more confident. He looked up more, much more, at faces for approval and no longer ran away from anyone holding out a hand.
I spent the following day with Pauline showing her how to walk Spot on his new collar. We went through all the commands he knew and how to reward him. Pauline almost cried as she shuffled along at snail pace and Spot stayed alongside looking at her face every now and again. She was amazed at the “Spot Round” command that brought him round in a complete circle to face her legs with the “Stay” command to keep him there. I had taught Spot this to help Pauline when she had an Asthma attack so she could stand still while recovering. It was a very effective command and Spot had mastered it!
We left the next day, keeping our goodbye’s short. Spot had been following me around as I packed up our last few things.
Before saying goodbye to our hosts I made my private goodbye to Spot with a human hug. I was going to miss him. I didn’t want the home owners to see my hurt in having to leave him. It wouldn’t help them.
As we opened the gate to leave Pauline panicked. Spot was outside. “Spot Stay” I commanded, and he stood still while our car rolled out into the road. Mike closed the gate behind us and I saw Pauline giving Spot a big hug for being so good!
Not going to say a word. For I want the echoes of Colette’s wonderful story to reverberate with you for as long as possible.