Thursday, December 11, 2008

Cruel to be kind

There's a Catahoula Leopard X named Fiji at Toronto Animal Services in adoption. She's a very striking dog, a real attention getter. Yesterday I took her out of her kennel for a walk and as we were walking down the stairs to the first floor, she started biting on the leash. I stopped and gave her a firm no and she stopped so we continued but by the time we reached the bottom step, she was biting the leash again.

Now usually when I'm taking a dog out at TAS and it bites the leash, my main concern is that it might actually chew through the leash and run off. I've had a wide-eyed and innocent looking Beagle chew through a webbed nylon leash once in five chomps, all the while giving me a look-how-sweet-I-am stare, and though it luckily didn't take off, it made me always careful not the let that happen again. For me, then, stopping a TAS dog from chewing the leash is more a practical exercise in preventing escape than it is a training exercise in getting the dog to behave better. It's a subtle difference but it puts me in a different frame of mind.

Some people incorporate a training session into all their walks. That's cool too. That's what I do with my own dogs every day even though they hate the homework. But when I'm at TAS I feel, especially when there are lots of dogs that need to be walked, that I just want to let the dogs enjoy themselves and get as much of their yayas out as possible before I return them to their kennels. That means that as long as they're not crazily running in every direction or barking nonstop or biting the leash, I don't do much correction. It means I'm not usually in the frame of mind of trying to show the dog who's the boss.

I think that explains what happened next.

Fiji started biting the leash again. I tried voice only to get her to stop but that was having no effect so I pulled on the leash to get it out of her mouth and then I kept it taut to keep it out of her mouth and to maintain control over her as she continued to try to grab the leash. After a couple of attempts, she relaxed so I took another step and immediately she grabbed the leash again and started shaking it. I pulled it out of her mouth again, more worried about damage to the leash, but then she started growling and snapping at the leash. She was working herself into a frenzy, not wanting to be controlled and instead trying to control me, and I wasn't helping the situation because I had been focused on saving the leash, not on correcting her behaviour.

Fiji was on the verge of getting aggressive and the worry wasn't that I was going to get hurt, it was that dogs deemed aggressive have a limited future at TAS and we were downstairs in the reception area and people could see and hear what was going on. I should never have let her behaviour reach this point.

Then the shelter supervisor, who had been watching, walked over.

"Let me have her," she said.

Now I was worried.

I thought she was just going to take Fiji back upstairs and I'd never see the dog again but instead she tried working the leash to control Fiji. That didn't work out very well. Fiji kept fighting back, maybe even got worse with more snapping and growling.

Now I was really worried.

Then one of the animal control officers walked through the entrance and when he saw Fiji, immediately said, "Oh she's a really nice dog. I've never had any problems with her."

Great, I thought. So it's me.

The supervisor decided to try a different tact and tried to calm Fiji down. She kneeled down beside Fiji and put her hands on the dog's body, keeping her still. That was better. Five minutes later Fiji was walkable again.

As she handed me back the leash, she said, "Do not let her do that again."

"I won't," I said.

As I walked out the entrance with Fiji, I was praying, please don't bite the leash, please don't bite the leash and then we were outside and the door closed and we were safe. Fiji actually seemed okay. She was walking calmly, ignoring the leash, sniffing the air. That lasted for about five steps then Fiji turned around and started biting the leash.

For me, there's a point in a dog's behaviour when the kid gloves come off. Now if this was one of my dogs - well, let's say a totally untrained version of one of my dogs - I'd either grab it by the scruff of its neck or have it on its side by this point. I'm not recommending this method to anyone. This is just what I do with my dogs specifically because I know what works with them. If they cross the line, they get in shit.

Fiji had crossed the line.

I whipped around and grabbed Fiji's lower jaw and held it tight. I could see the surprised look in her eyes as she leg go of the leash.

"Look," I said to her, "If you don't stop that and start behaving yourself, you're going to end up in the freezer in there you dumb ass."

Fiji was trying to back up, trying to pull out of my grip but I held on.

"And I'm not joking."

I let go of her just as she was starting to let out a whimper.

She was fine after that. It was like we were best friends.


Anonymous said...

OMG Fred!!!!!!!! I've been thinking about Fiji ever since monday. James and I have been in contact about trying to correct this behavior. Ive done a lot of research on the breed and THEY ARE A HANDFUL, NOT EASY. I had a hell of a time with her on monday with the leash pulling. The first few times I had it under control but on our way back she grabbed on and WOULD NOT let go and the more I corrected her the more she fought.I was nervous at that point and Im sure she picked up on that(never show your weekness around dogs)and I was scared that I was alone. I too thought shed chew through the leash, I think that was honestly my main concern. Anyway Im going back tommorow to work with her with james's guidence. we are going to practice a few techniques. I am soooo determined, as this dog is not a "bad dog" she just has a very BAD HABIT, a natural habit for this type of dog

Wish me luck


Fred said...

She's definitely got a lot of personality - reminds me of something wild. She'll need to learn her manners but I hope she doesn't lose her spark doing it.

Anonymous said...

Apparently she's going to Catahoula rescue. Thank god!!!Im not sure which one, I found a Catahoula Rescue thats in Ottawa that I mentioned to James but I don't know if thats the one shes going to or not. Im sure James knows way more than me. Im glad because she neds to be placed with someone who completely understands the need of the breed. Wish her luck.

As for he "wildness" catahoulas are a "primitive breed" very closely compared to Dingos in behavior and stamina. They are bred to take down wild animals in the roughest terrain, bog, and bush. If I was lost in the wilderness I would hope to have a Catahoula by my side LOL. They DO NOT BACK DOWN! no bear or mountain lion would get close to me


Fred said...

That's funny because the first thing I thought when I saw her was that she reminded me of a dingo. Maybe that's what she's mixed with - one of those wild Canadian dingos.

Caveat said...

Ah yes, leash-grabbing - the sign of a spoiled, pushy pup who likes lots of attention.

Tough to fix but not super-tough. I'm no dog trainer, but I've had a few leash-grabbers so here are some suggestions.

Your approach was good.

You can also distract the dog, ask her to do something - anything - else she knows, then reward that behaviour. Repeat it a few times to create distance from the bad behaviour. Sit! treat pause Sit! treat pause Sit! treat pause OK, let's go! walking nicely=treat

In an extreme case, you would teach her to grab the leash on command so you control the behaviour, as you would do with nuisance barking or unwanted varmint-chasing. Once you've ingrained it through rewards, you just stop commanding it. Works quite well with a lot of things but not practical in your situation.

Another option is to give her something she likes to carry, just until she gets used to walking without the sideshow.

A chain lead will usually break the habit fairly quickly. I've heard of spraying bitter apple on he lead, haven't tried that.

This is a safety issue, not just an obedience issue - dogs must learn to respect the leash. Her previous owners probably didn't walk her, just pushed her into the yard all the time.

Good looking mutt, here's hoping she gets a proper home.

Fred said...

All good suggestions. I needed something that would work immediately because my prime concern at the time was getting Fiji to stop appearing like she was verging on aggression in front of everyone. I don't think she was aggressive but she was getting out of control and just one person putting in a bad word on a dog and who knows what might happen to it.

I don't like using the old school method of domination and intimidation but this time I figured a short, sharp, shock was better than a shot in the arm.

Caveat said...