I’m sure you have all heard me talk about my big fluffball Shadow, the creator of much hairy muddy cleaning jobs and the impetus that drives me outdoors on a daily basis to partake in all of our wonderful adventures. Shadow came into my life four years ago. I used to use freecycle a lot and had seen this dog advertised and then re-advertised as the new owners couldn’t handle him. He had initially been rehomed after he was rescued from a couple who used to leave him alone in the kitchen for days when they went out partying. His previous three owners couldn’t cope with him either, so I was his fifth owner, and he was only fifteen months old. I had the day off work on my birthday, and noticed that this dog had again been re-advertised so me and the ex went to see him. Well, it was love at first sight, this big bouncy soft haired beauty of a dog seemed to take to us straight away and came home immediately.
It was clear to me that this dog needed a lot of attention, and in retrospect I maybe should have thought more carefully about my choice of dog, having never owned one before, but I did a lot of research and found out the best way to rehabilitate him, even if some of my methods came from the dog whisperer, of whom my opinion has diminished over time. Sometimes I feel out of my depth but often the best way to learn is to jump in at the deep end…right? He was very barky at night – for the first two weeks I got no sleep at all. I took him to classes to learn some techniques and to socialise him – it was clear he had little in the way of interaction with other dogs. He has never been unfriendly with other dogs but he wanted to play with them all, and on a lead he pulled me over once, in his enthusiasm. I got him chipped, vaccinated and neutered and Shadow and I embarked on a new road for the both of us. It’s amazing the beauty that can be found right on your doorstep. I lived in a very unpretty area of Coventry and on our extensive bonding walks we found some absolutely fabulous places to go on foot.
He soon settled, and we both found a new enthusiasm for life, out and about in the fresh air together on our twice-daily excursions. My relationship with the ex was becoming more strained so we moved from out flat to a house, which I was convinced would make things better between us, with more space to live in. (It didn’t). Somewhere along the line we adopted a needy teenage (in dog years) Rottweiler which I though would be good company for Shadow. They did get along, and the memory of seeing them chase each other round and round over the fields still makes me smile. Shadow seemed to see her as an annoying little sister and shrank into a shell a bit. The ex and I slept in separate rooms and Shadow always came in with me and the rotty with him, so when we split for good sharing the dogs was an obvious choice. I got pregnant and the situation at home became intolerable so I moved out. Both dogs initially came with me. I knew I was the only one who cared or them properly and exercised them adequately. However when I was seven months pregnant, severely depressed and feeling totally rotten, i had to admit that I could no longer handle two excitable dogs on leads any more (being pulled by about eight stone of dog is no joke when preggers!) and he had to take his dog back home.
At this point, Shadow seemed to come back to himself a bit, he was so much happier as an ‘only’ dog. I’m sure he knew I was unwell though, and he was my rock throughout some very hard times, and often my only motivation to get out of bed. Some days I just lay in bed and stared at the walls, only getting up to take him out for his walks. It was when we were just the two of us again that he started barking at strangers. We would be on a walk and if there was a human out walking with no dog, he would bark at him/her. I soon learned to grab and leash him if I saw someone approaching not an ideal response but all I could manage at the time. I can’t remember at what stage the ex started making threats towards me but it was while I as pregnant and whilst I was out walking I was on a mental alert at all times in case I saw him. I suppose Shadow picked up on this hyper-awareness too.
In December 2009 I started a week-long labour and I would still walk Shadow through the pain. He was there for me when the ex deserted me, he was my only companion and I cried and screamed with pain into his soft long comforting hair. I was even begging for him to be brought to me when I was in the delivery room near the end when I was delirious on gas and air and fear.
The first three weeks after my baby was born I stayed at my mums and the ex looked after Shadow. The first thing I did when I had him back was to resume our walks, I know that walks are imperative to Shadows behaviour – he has so much energy and it’s a bonding time for both of us. I even go stir crazy too now, if I am indoors for too long. Twice daily walks with a newborn were a challenge I overcame with the help of numerous baby carriers and we soon got back into our old routine, albeit centred around the new person. I was in that house for another year, and the place was a difficult place to be – the ex knew the address and would randomly turn up with abuse and threats. I was very glad to be rehoused to a lovely countryside location near to my family.
My problems didn’t end there though. I ended up living next door to a dog-hater. Now, Shadow, when moved to a new house, has historically reacted by barking at every little sound, but settles as he becomes accustomed to the noises around him. He even learned to behave around post people, temporarily, because the post lady at the last address always had treats with her for the village dogs. Clever lady. This all soon went to pot. The neighbour would lean over the fence shouting at Shadow, making him even more fearful and barky. When I raised the fence so he couldn’t peer over, he’d still shout and bang the fence and even assaulted Shadow my throwing a rock over onto his head! The man is a complete loon! I reported him to the police and the RSPCA and he quietened for a bit but it’s all starting again now.
I managed to train the barking at strangers on walks out of him quite quickly by using treats – my pup will do anything for his Wagg treats, and I used these treats to reduce his reactivity in the garden too. The poor dog got into such a tizz that he would be fearful even if I went near the idiots fence. I used treats to train him to the point where he barked three times then came to me, but this still needs working on. I can quiet him outside now quickly by either treating him or throwing a ball for him. He always looks to me after a bark too, so this is something that will continue to improve.
He barks in the house if he hears a person at the door. I know I’m not handling this correctly because I shut him in the kitchen to answer the door but sometimes when you have a dog and a two year old, you have to secure one of them so the other doesn’t escape as you open the door! This can be worked on in the future when kiddo is old enough not to want to run out of the door every time it’s opened.
He also, however barks if he hears, or thinks he hears, someone outside. I can’t always hear what hear what he is hearing but I know there are occasions when he is responding to other dogs barking in the village. For example, I know when the postie is on her way because he gets restless and a bit barky, presumably from hearing other dog’s alerts. This is also a problem that needs some work, and at the moment I’m using the yes command if he looks at me, followed by an ear ruffle if he comes. It is hard to maintain this though with a young child because sometimes I’m distracted/busy/elsewhere in the house.
A big problem that I really need to address for my own sanity is the car bark. For years pre-baby he was fine in the car, no problems whatsoever. we’d travel for miles to some big muddy wet patch or other so that we could frolick in some new scenery. Zip to baby’s arrival and if anyone comes near the car with my son in, he goes CRAZYYYYYYYYY! I sit in the drivers seat, Cub is in the rear seat and Shadow in the boot, so you can imagine how hard that is to manage when he starts. I have tried to examine his motives. He doesn’t bark if Cub is not in the car, but that has only ever been about twice – we are always out as a family. If he is out of the car then passengers get in then fine…no barking. If he is in the car when they get in….barking. If someone puts cub into the car seat and I’m stroking Shadow in the boot then he doesn’t bark but the moment I shut the boot and the person is nearby then all hell breaks loose again. This even happens with people he is very comfortable around normally such as Granny and Grandad. His bark is so loud that I really need to knock this behaviour on the head. I thought he might grow out of it as cub got older but that has not happened, so I am trying to address this problem first.
Today, after starting to read a BAT book recommended by @lilacsky215 I thought I’d try a training technique. I was at my mums house and her back door is quite far away from where I park my car, eight metres or so. I asked her to stand by the door, approach slowly and retreat when I gave the sign. It didn’t really go to plan! Shadow jumped into the boot, I closed the boot…fine. Cub climbed into his child seat and immediately the barking started. Shadows eyes were fixed onto my Mum and he was barking, but otherwise did not seem very stressed – he is a nervous dog and shakes quite visibly at times. He barked until we were maybe twenty metres away from the house (my distance estimation is probably really inaccurate there!). After conversing with @lilacsky215 on twitter and receiving some excellent analysis and advice from her, I will now try to either address this problem with Shadow next to me in the front, or, (possibly and) video him to try and identify his exact triggers and counter them.
I should also add he appears to be madly protective of the Cub. Even when I was pregnant he growled when my sister put her ear to my belly.
It’s a bit of a long introduction, but I will document my progress here and share any revelations I may have along the way.
In case you’ve not met him, here is my little poochy-woo (!). I was told he was GSD x ridgeback but I have been advised by a top dog trainer in the USA that this may not be the case. He has the ‘bossiness’ of a collie, but I just call him my mutt.