Spot

20th Jan, 2020  

We brought Spot home when she was 8 weeks old in 2013.  After Daisy died, Tim, my husband said, “if we are to get another dog (and I’m not sure that we should) we must get a small dog, a puppy of the ‘right’ age”.  By this, he meant 8 weeks so that we could socialise her/him properly.  The next time I went to the Moorlands Rescue kennels there was an 8 weeks old puppy there with her Mum.  Thus, Spot was almost to order, although when Tim heard that she was white his final resistance was to say, “it’ll show the dirt”.  Her Mum, a Jack Russell, had been picked up in Cardiff virtually in labour and her puppies had to be born by Caesarean.  Spot was the only surviving pup.  By her looks her Dad must be a Staffy. 

Despite getting her at the right age, Spot doesn’t always behave in the way that I might wish!

Spotty is very impulsive and often she can’t think and simply acts:

  • Spotty is what I’d call ‘transitional’:
  • she gets over aroused around doorways.  Certain doors at certain times (particularly bedtime) will have her barking uncontrollably
  • if there is someone walking down the pavement when she gets out of the car or when we are leaving the house, Spotty can bark a lot.  The same person appearing literally seconds later would provoke no response.  This reaction will vary tremendously according to her state of mind.
  • Although fine with all people, non-aggressive and essentially friendly, if someone crops up suddenly on a walk, she will run at them barking.  Again, this reaction will vary tremendously according to her state of mind Fortunately, she has a fab recall and comes straight back.
  • Spot is territorial: there is lots of barking when people come to the house.  Although she isn’t aggressive to visitors, she will sometimes ‘re-direct’ onto Rover and snap at his beard.  She will also jump and plant her feet on visitors’ legs.  This isn’t jumping up to greet like many dogs, it’s more a ‘pushing’ of the visitor to find out how they will react – typical of impulsive individuals.  The planting of the paws is also a scent marking strategy.  These impulsive behaviours are very difficult to train out.
  • She really doesn’t care for the postman, even though he is lovely!  The way he penetrates her territory with the post upsets her greatly.  He is also very recognisable, comes every day and successfully goes when she barks.  Of course, all this makes her dislike him even more.  Interestingly, she will also now react to anyone else we see going door to door on our walks.  Watch out political canvassers this election!
  • Whilst she is lovely with people and (most) dogs, both whom she knows and doesn’t know, she’s not very sociable and will take herself away from the madding crowd and snuggle down under blanket on her own (unless there is a chance of getting fed).  I think this is probably because she was an only pup.
  • She gets over aroused around food and this can make it hard to train her.  She can’t think if she is hungry.  Most training guides say ‘start with a hungry dog’ – this doesn’t work with Spot she simply can’t think.
  • Spot doesn’t like to be handled around the top of her head and front legs.
  • when several of these factors occur at once and the ‘triggers’ stack up, Spotty quickly becomes uncontrollable and if she is also hungry, dog help you!

……..And yes, she does show the dirt!

Of course, amongst my friends there has been lots of talk of builders and their houses, plumbers and their taps and mechanics and their cars.  One friend even saying that I’m not well enough behaved myself to have well behaved dogs.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think that Spotty is actually trying to embarrass me!

So how to explain Spot without having to admit to not being a good trainer?

Genetic: Spotty is a Terrier and a lot of her behaviour is reflective of this.  Terriers have been bred as independent, aggressive killers who keep in touch whilst working by barking.  They can be easy to arouse and vocal, with a low threshold for aggression i.e. they can bite first and ask questions later.  Thus Terriers tend towards being genetically impulsive.

Presumably Spotty’s parents’ mating was accidental.  She is badly bred.  In addition to her dead siblings who were too big to be born naturally, Spotty has luxating patella’s (or a terrier skip).  In addition, she doesn’t have an undercoat and is virtually bald underneath.  Of course, she gets cold and rather cutely, will snuggle herself under a blankie whenever she gets the chance, but not good for winter walks or periods of time at the allotment. 

Physiological: Spotty gets hyperglycaemic if she has had too much exercise or if she has been cold.  If, for example, we go for a long walk, when we get home she is very restless and digs the door mat, whimpering and rolling until she has something to eat and it has had time to sink in.  These days, we don’t walk her too far and feed her 3 times a day which seems to help. 

On top of all of this, due to her impulsive nature when she was about 2, she threw herself out of the back of the car before I could say ‘wait’ and bounced off the tow bar.  Since then she has had a chronic pain issue which is exacerbated by her terrier skip. 

Experiential and developmental: Tim was correct, getting Spot at 8 weeks of age left a good 4 weeks of the sensitive period for socialisation giving us the opportunity to gently expose her to a broad cross section of the things that she was likely to meet in life.  She met lots of friendly dogs, tonnes of friendly people of all varieties and went here there and everywhere.  We have a busy house and lives, and retrospectively, Spotty was a bit ‘dragged’ up.  I could have been more careful with her socialisation.  We had had two 6 year-old dogs and weren’t expecting them to die young.  When we got Spot, I was very busy.  It also has to be said that Rover wasn’t altogether a good influence during this time - see ‘Rover’.  I should definitely have walked Spot separately more, just as I advise my clients.

Spot has also had bad experiences.  She was born in October and we had her just before Christmas.  It was a freezing, snowy winter and at about 4/5 months of age, something happened when we were on the local playing field.  I noticed that Spot was no longer by my side but in the middle of the field, cowering and terrified.  The weather had turned nice and suddenly it was summer.  Where there had been nobody and nothing, now all the noisy children and adults were out to play.  At the end of the ‘sensitive period’ from about 12/14 weeks, dogs enter what we call the ‘secondary sensitive period’ or ‘fear phase’.  This is when, if there were such a thing as ‘wild dogs,’ the pups would start to venture out alone without the protection of their parents and it is ‘adaptive’ to be fearful of new things.  Essentially, something scares them, and they run back to the den.  I believe that the new sounds of children playing and the ball bashing against the football cage frightened Spot at a sensitive time.  The environment had dramatically changed from what she expected, and it freaked her out.  Despite gradual, rewarding re-acclimatisation to playing children, it took Spot a long time to get over being anxious when she heard them or a ball hitting a cage.  This incident undoubtedly had a negative effect on Spot’s confidence.  Additionally, in common with most dogs, she has had several bad experiences on walks.  She has been randomly attacked by other dogs, especially whilst she was still very young.  One incident, where a whippet came out of nowhere and bit her on the face drawing blood was particularly nasty.  She has also had an incident with an electric fence which left her baffled and terrified – thank dog electric shock collars have been banned in the UK.

Spotty has always been a bit of a challenge and when one looks at the contributing factors, this is perhaps understandable, especially with the chronic pain issue.  However, she also had so many good experiences and whilst she’s been difficult to train, she’s actually very well trained and all of this training has been positive and confidence building.  As well as very good basic training; Spotty has skills, she is proficient at tracking, scent detection and before her bad back she was a whizz at agility.  All in all, she is a very good girl – just not a people pleaser!  Rover has had many more bad things happen to him.  Whilst this unlucky start has affected his behaviour, he gets more and more confident and more and more easy to manage on an almost daily basis.

Spotty, had a total breakdown when she was about 6.  She became very anxious and stopped wanting to go on her walks, particularly one walk and particularly when she was with me.  I have found this very humbling; I am meant to be the expert after all.  The truth is, I take her for most of her walks and most of the bad things have happened when she has been with me and mostly on our most frequent walk, so it makes sense – she associates bad things happening with me there.  Around this time, Spot stopped wanting to come in the cart with me after I had had a couple of small bumps.  Again I feel humbled as she was still happy to go in the car with Tim.

Ultimately, I believe that Spotty dog’s issue are a combination of all of the above.  However, I’m not sure they entirely explain her break down.  Her negative experiences have been couched in many, many positive experiences and for me, the overriding factor is that she has a ‘negative expectancy bias’, whereby she expects the worse to happen and anticipates it.  Although undoubtedly her breeding, developmental, experiential issues and the chronic pain problem are big players in Spot’s difficult behaviours, I believe the dye was already cast before Spot was born.  Her poor mum would have been very stressed on the street and most likely hungry too.  There is a proven link between maternal stress and impulsivity in people and rats and it is known that the offspring of rats that are stressed and starved are unable to code the proteins required to build feel good neurotransmitters.  Their brains are altered before birth by their experiences in utero.  Spot’s first 8 weeks in rescue won’t have helped either.  Thus, maternal stress and pre-natal stress become embedded in the genetic code ‘epigenetically’.

We wouldn’t have her any other way, and Spotty has a good life.  She’s quirky, fun and deeply wrong and we adore her for it.  She’s not a people pleaser and why should she be?  We’re prepared to go to the ends of the earth to help her enjoy her life.  She has regular acupuncture, hydrotherapy and physio exercises to help her with her back.  I have worked ceaselessly and tirelessly to encourage her to be happy on walks and in the car and with the help of Gabapentin she is now back to ‘normal’ for Spot.  In life, it’s often best to adjust one’s expectations down to avoid disappointment and self blame, at the end of the day, you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s arse! 

So, am I a bad trainer? My (maybe biased) conclusion is that above all, Spot’s ‘negative expectancy bias’ explains her and I’m not a bad owner or trainer!  When people say to me, ‘I bet it’s always the owners’ fault’, my own personal experience with Spot shows me just how unhelpful this judgemental attitude is.

 

 

Spot has some undesireable 'doggie' habits and she saves this one for when she has an audience ideally of teenagers but also for other family or certain friends!

 


 

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