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What we know and what we do...

Bullmastiff in 'down stay' Dog training at Pippsway Classical Natural Horsemanship Wellington Somerset near Devon

I’ve had a succession of bugs over the the last couple of months and have been rather under par. At the same time, Brando has had some swelling on his back legs and has been seeing the vet. It was a shock to find out that my 3 year old dog may have arthritis and a lifelong condition that will need to be managed. I had noticed that in the home, this past week, he had gone back to some old behaviours like scratching at the back door when he wanted in, stepping on my feet, demanding attention and begging for food. I was asking my Husband if he’d been giving him treats or something? As usual not realising that the problem was slightly closer to home. Last time we were at the yard I had him on the lead and Pip pointed out that I was letting him walk in front of me and go where he wanted….

I went on the common today on a walk with a much wider track and Brando was back to running on ahead, running up to people and so on. It was really frustrating. I got chatting to a chap with a young pup who is very dominant and I started talking to him about all the things I had been doing with Brando since meeting Pip and all that we had achieved. Whilst we were talking I made Brando lie in a 'down stay' at my feet which he wasn’t very happy about. Listening to myself talking to the man about all the things he needed to be aware of very quickly made me realise that since I haven’t been well, and perhaps more importantly since Brando hasn’t been well, I had slipped back into old habits of being submissive…...then I was feeling cross with Brando for falling back into old habits of being dominant! This situation was entirely of my own making!

I’ve learned with the horses that as we become aware of dominant behaviour it becomes more subtle. It is down to us to be as vigilant with these subtle signals as we were with the obvious ones! One thing that I said to the chap that really made me think was ‘it is not a case of working with an animal for a period of time and then achieving leadership, it is something that is achieved or lost in a moment’. Here was I telling this man the very thing I needed to hear myself! I did of course admit that and we had a bit of a chuckle and talked about the ways in which we have both inadvertently been submissive with our dogs. Knowing as I do how stressful it is for animals to think that they are in charge I decided in that moment that it was time to redress the balance.

I kept Brando in the down stay for a considerable time whilst I was chatting with the fellow. Every time he got up I made him lie back down. He was not to get up of his own volition. When we continued with our walk I made sure he stayed behind me, which he did.

We got home and he had his breakfast, then waited at the back door, without scratching, to be let in. Just in the course of one walk we went from him being dominant and doing as he pleased to being submissive and behaving in the ways I find acceptable and it was all down to me and what I was doing. How I was behaving. Being ‘soft’ with Brando because he has not been well was not serving him. It would have been causing him stress! Not only is he in pain but he was also feeling responsible for the family.

So often what we know is very different from what we a dog owner it is my responsibility to reassure my pet that I am in control, I am responsible, I am his leader. Thankfully animals are so present minded that as soon as I spotted that I had made the mistake of being submissive I could correct it. So I’m taking on board all my own advice and I’m so pleased that I can already see it working!

I’ve said before that achieving the relationship we want with our horses, and dogs, is not something that is ever done… is always something that we are doing. The moment we stop doing it? We can find ourselves back at square one. I had forgotten that every moment that I am in my dog's presence we are having a conversation…..from now on, for both our sakes, I’ll be making sure I’m saying all the right things!!!

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