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The case of Jackson the Mizunderstood!

The case of Jackson the Mizunderstood!
– by Montego Town investigations.

 

IMG_6841I would like to introduce you to a nerd called Jackson. He has a bad rap and a history of biting. I did not know much about him when he joined our family in the Montego Town Octagon, but we rarely know anything about the dogs who come to us in general. People believed he was a terrifying creature and we are asked to please take them in. After various circumstances Jackson had become a feared boy and he needed our help. We knew he was just misunderstood.

What I learned about Jackson, by watching his body language and his reactions to situations is that he really loves food, and that from his past experience food tends to be in hoomans’ hands and so he has started to fixate on people’s hands. He can also be quite jittery and unsure at times and so quick movements startle him. According to his history, when he bit, food was involved and hands were involved, and that makes complete sense now doesn’t it?

IMG_9358Our first step would be management. If we can not manage the situation and the triggers, we cannot change the behaviour. We also had to help Jackson change some very old and long practiced habits. Luckily, he is super clever and he loves cooperating to earn rewards so with him, management is really not a difficult process.
We have to set the stage for him and for ourselves, to be able to start changing his behaviour, to make it safe for us to work with him and to make him feel safe about co-operating with us. We started getting him used to the idea that we do not carry food in our hands, washing our hands before we go in with him so that it does not even smell like food. We hid our hands in our jean pockets so that he could not come sniff our hands and we were very cautious about making sudden movements around him. He started to lose interest in our hands very quickly.

Then we started to teach… (oh wait, we being myself and his primary caregiver Platson)…. we started to teach him nifty ‘tricks’ like Back up, go to your place and wait. We work with him every single day, taking turns and working in short casual sessions. It started to become a ritual for him, if one of us approaches his gate and ask him to back up, he backs up and sit down, letting us enter his garden without sniffing us for food. We excitedly tell him ‘Go to you place!’ He runs and jumps onto his hound sleeper, waiting for us to catch up with him. He must lie down on his hound sleeper in order to earn a hand full of Montego biscuits. And then he must wait until we are done cleaning his garden and refilling his water. He absolutely loves this, because he gets to watch us work, whilst lying on his hound sleeper, munching on his biscuits. We love it because we can get to work without worrying about him munching on any of us. This was only phase one of his behaviour programme, and we have a long road ahead of us, but luckily Jackson has Platson, who is very dedicated to his rehabilitation.

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It’s been said a lot that pet owners often only start looking for help, when the problem has escalated so far that it feels unmanageable. The fact is, the sooner you can nip an undesirable behaviour in the bud, the better. Do not let it escalate into having to rehome your pet. And this is actually easier to do than you might think. All you have to do is reward your pet for the behaviours that you like to see. If you told your dog to get off the couch, and he got off what do you do? Most of us doesn’t really give it a second thought

because the problem went away. However, if we reward the dog for getting off the couch when we asked him too, eventually he will start doing it a lot quicker, eventually he might not get on the couch to start with, and then you would reward your dog for lying on the mat under the couch instead. Dogs are not as altruistic as we get told by internet memes. They will continue to do something if they get some sort of reward out of it, having pleased their human is rarely rewarding on it’s own.

Dogs that bite, do so because it works. It gets them what they want, whatever that may be. But a bite, is an escalated behaviour, because it probably started out with a yawn, a whale eye, a hard stare, a growl and when all those were ignored (or punished), biting was the only option the dog was left with.

By Tersha, Trainer