That’s what life with a reactive/fearful dog can be like. In truth, it can be like that with any young dog when you’re training them. It just seems like when they have issues like our Luke does, even at 4 years old, there is simply more to work on as time goes on.
One….Maybe Even Two, Steps Forward!
Sometimes you make progress and have breakthroughs. I was so proud of Luke recently when we had company and he did well staying in his crate. Later in the evening as our chatting continued, he got fidgety and whiny about being in the crate. I can’t blame him for that. I decided to let him out on a leash. The Dadz was sitting on the couch watching TV while I visited, so we let Luke sit there with him. At one point, Luke sat right up and looked at one person who he was still fearful of. He did not bark or react in any way, not even when they got up to move around and leave!
Then there was the day I was painting at my sister’s, and the Dadz was home with the crew. It was snowing lightly on my drive home, and when I got home I was surprised to see paw prints in our driveway. It’s certainly not like the Dadz to take the dogs for a walk, and neither dog likes riding much lately either.
Of course, I quizzed my hubby when I got in and this is what had happened: the guinea hens had gotten in the dog yard. When he decided to herd them out (yup, we herd them!), he accidentally left the gate open. He then later let the dogs out, went to do something, and came back to see them running around the driveway!
It’s not surprising that Cricket would come back, but when he called Luke, Luke ran right into the house too! He did take a short detour into the garage where the guinea hens were, but he turned around without doing anything, leaving the birds behind!
Wow, was I ever proud of him when I heard this! In addition, hubby said that Luke had been in the yard once when the guineas were there as well, and he did not bother them then either. Perhaps I was being overly concerned about him and the birds, after the small incident we had last summer where he chased one? (“Luke’s Little Adventure“)
The Rest of the Story
If you’re reading all our posts, you know that Luke did have a run-in with Harry the guinea hen, however, and I promised to tell that story. That happened just two days after I was swelling with pride over Luke not just not chasing the guineas….but coming back when called! Our training was paying off!
I was out playing in the yard with both dogs after working. With much of our snow melted, all the birds were happily digging in the dirt near the dog pen. There is no issue with the chickens, they won’t fly into the yard. Even though Luke had done so well the other day, I still didn’t want to encourage the birds to come into the yard. They are apparently more afraid of us humans than the dogs, so if I just moved towards the fence, they would usually move away.
However, Harry was close by, and I think Luke kind of ran towards him. Instead of running or flying in the opposite direction, Harry went into a panic and flew up towards the house and onto the roof. Well, we have a metal roof, so that was not going to work. He scrabbled and flopped around, and next thing you know, he’s falling right onto the patio and Luke is already headed that way. I’m right behind him, but he took a shortcut through the snow bank and I went around. By then, Harry had tried and failed to fly away again more than once. When I got to them, Luke had him pinned to the ground and was pulling his feathers out. My yelling “leave it” was falling on deaf ears. I had to literally haul Luke off of Harry and pull him away.
The last time this happened, it was fortuitous that Luke had his harness on after we’d had a walk. Luke does not like to have his collar held on to, and he was trembling with excitement and way over the top wound up. He would not move, and his eyes kept wandering over to where poor Harry was lying on his side on the ground.
There was no way I could let go of him, but I also couldn’t get him to budge. I took a deep breath and calmed myself, then knelt down beside Luke and spoke calmly. That settled him down enough that he would listen to our cue “with me”, and I was finally able to get him into the house.
I went back out to check on Harry, who was still lying on his side, but was alert. I saw a lot of feathers around but did not see any blood, so I just gently picked him up and set him on his feet. He immediately ran away from me and started pacing up and down by the fence – the other guineas were on the other side. I called my hubby who was at work, and we decided we should just leave him there for now and see how he was. He wasn’t going to let me near him again, but I did my best to look at him, and though I could see some redness on his back, again, I saw no blood running anywhere.
The big concern with an injured bird is that the other birds will pick on them. When hubby got home, we decided to just let Harry out and see how everyone did. The prospect of getting him into any kind of cage to separate him was a daunting one (we may have been able to get him later when it was dark, because that’s usually the only time we’ve been able to handle them).
We got a little first aid spray on him for a couple evenings and watched things for a few days and all seemed fine. Phew. Oh, and for those of you wondering? No, Harry did not learn anything from this experience and he has been back in the yard many times since. We’ve had to manage the situation, not letting Luke out until we know the “coast is clear”. When I can, I play with the dogs in the morning while the birds are still in the coop. Now that we have snow on the ground again, the birds are staying away for the time being anyway.
The Other Step Back
I was so disappointed….heartbroken really. I had been so proud of Luke when the Dadz told me he hadn’t gone after the birds! However, I couldn’t be mad at him. That bird was scrambling around and flopping all over the place….there are many dogs who could not have resisted that. Though, on a lighter note, while all that was going on? Cricket was oblivious and still just kept bringing me her ball to throw, so I guess some dogs can!
I can try to work with Luke on a leash when the birds are out there (and I will)…..but, sigh…..another thing to work on. In Luke’s defense, if you research on the internet what the biggest predator is for chickens? They will all tell you that it is dogs…..your own dog, the neighbor’s dog, a stray dog. It’s just natural for them. Harry did not have any bite wounds on him that we could tell, so we really do think Luke was just playing with him like a toy. Not that that is acceptable, but at least it doesn’t seem that Luke’s initial intent was to kill him.
Then it was just a couple days after that when we had the incident with hearing the shooting in the woods and Luke freezing up and refusing to come home (“At My Wit’s End“). You probably have a better understanding now of why that event drove me to tears!
No one ever said life was going to be easy, and I think the older we get, the more we know just how true that is. It was our choice to add guinea hens to our flock, though we really had no idea it would lead to this challenge. With all of the area we have for them to roam, who would have thought they’d become obsessed with the dog yard? I think it’s the fence they like. They want to sit on it, and then just naturally jump to the other side. I do think (hope) it will get better when all the snow is gone so they do have more snow free areas to go to.
We stick with what we commit to, even when it’s difficult, and we will manage things the best we can (we do want them in the yard at times, so they can eat any ticks that might be in there). Most backyard bird keepers say that you’re going to lose some birds to predators sooner or later. We’ve been lucky so far; and we will continue to do everything we can to keep our birds safe. Management is a big part of living with a reactive dog, and it seems to be a big part of keeping our flock safe as well (not just from Luke but from all predators) – so we certainly know the drill!
One thing I know with Luke is that the work with him is probably never going to end, whether it’s due to his fears and reactivity, or just the fact that he’s a dog. But I also prefer sometimes to focus on his strong points: his intelligence, his eagerness to please (most of the time) – remember that great recall! – and his loving and affectionate nature. We will celebrate each success, manage what we need to, and work on the rest as we can. The good will always outweigh the bad in my book, and we’ll just keep plugging away and hoping for more steps forward than back.
Bell Fur Zoo says
Glad Harry is okay. We have similar issues with Matt. During the summer the ducks and egrets like to frequent our back yard cause I guess we have some good bugs and usually Matt just goes about his business but there have been a few times where he has gone after them and he got one duck but thankfully I got it away from him and his leg was just slightly injured :/ He always goes after our neighbors cat too that loves to come in our yard so I have to check before we go out to make sure she isn’t out there cause I would feel terrible if he hurt her. It is definitely one step forward and two steps back around here as well.
Bell Fur Zoo Mama
Thank you for sharing that. It really does make me feel better to know that we’re not alone.
We had been thinking about getting some barn cats, but now I’m thinking that might not be a good idea. I guess we’ll have to stick to birds, and preferably those like chickens that don’t really fly!
That must be cool to see egrets in your yard though (as long as you see them before Matt does!)
Shadow & Ducky's Mom says
Oh, my sweet friend, this is the first I’ve seen of this post. I don’t know why it didn’t come through my email on Thursday. I’d have commented immediately.
Our sweet, loving, reactive pups. They can drive us to tears at times. And that’s when we reach out to each other. We get it. And we support each other. As Jodi said, don’t get discouraged, you’re doing a great job! Celebrate the steps forward. And accept the steps backward for what they are: learning tools/teaching moments. As Emma said, any dog is a work in progress. Having lived with Ducky these past 5-1/2 years has proved that to me.
As for the incident with Harry? I think you’re right – Luke saw him as a toy. If he had intended real harm, I doubt you could have prevented it. Harry didn’t “learn his lesson” because our non-human animal friends don’t possess reasoning “skills”. So just manage the situation as best you can.
(I am working on that email issue, and hope to have it fixed in the near future.)
It is such a big help that both you and Jodi are there for me if I need to talk. Mostly I just keep these things to myself until I decide to sit down and write them out, I often find it difficult to talk (or write) about things when the soreness is fresh. But just knowing you are there is important and helpful to me.
Shadow & Ducky's Mom says
Jodi and I get that, too. 😊
Luke sounds like he’s doing better overall. You’re juggling a lot, and so is he!
Wow! What an adventure! It reminds me of the time a cat got into our yard and kept trying to climb up our vinyl fence and sliding back down on top of the dogs. The girls were both furious that this cat was in our yard and I was sure I was going to have a dead cat to deal with. Thankfully, it got out and Barley’s the only one who got hurt when it scratched her nose. I’m so glad that Harry is ok and I’m sorry that you had to go through that!
It’s interesting too that your dogs were bothered by that cat when they have their own! But I think that really does make a big difference….that cat was an intruder.
That also makes me think of the fact that we had been talking about getting barn cats. Now I’m thinking that’s probably not a good idea with Luke. I’m just glad I’m realizing that now, before we went ahead and did it. It would definitely be hard to keep cats from getting into the yard.
The Island Cats says
We’re glad to hear Harry is okay. It’s hard we know…but your dedication to sticking with Luke and continuing with his training will pay off. We know it.
Thank you so much for your faith in us – that really does help!! ♥
The fact that you will be working with Luke for life is going to be why you have an exceptional bond. There’s something about working with someone for a long time that really strengthens a relationship.
Glad the guinea fowl incident wasn’t worse. But just about any dog will get aroused by something they perceive as prey. It’s just instinct.
I joke that Honey is a pacifist, especially after seeing her come nearly nose to nose with a rat without reacting even a little. But we have discovered some animals that make her nuts==least terns and armadillos draw out her chase instinct.
There are some motions that are just too much. And apparently that’s what happened with Luke. I know you’ll continue to watch carefully. But you may find on other days that Luke is trustworthy as long as the birds are calm.
You are right, Pamela. I think I can easily say already that my bond with Luke is stronger than any other dog we’ve had. I will always appreciate how much he is helping me to learn about dog behavior and training.
Isn’t it funny that just those certain animals make Honey crazy? I definitely think it was the guinea’s behavior that attracted Luke. There have been plenty of times that we’ve been outside with them close by and he’s ignored them completely.
M. K. Clinton says
We are working with the boys in our new environment too. Change is difficult for our best friends and when you add another species into the mix, there are bound to be scary encounters. Our biggest challenge other than Pierre’s barking is teaching them not to get on our new furniture. Bentley seems to accept it but Pierre has always been a couch dog so it is a work in progress. LOL!
Good luck with that! 🙂
Jodi Stone says
First, let’s celebrate Luke’s great recall, and his ability to stay with the Dadz and not bark at the visitor. You’ve done a great job with helping him with his anxiety.
Second, Phew, it seems like Harry got a pass on that one. That must have been terribly scary for you, and I can’t blame you for being upset, but I think you handled it well. I can see myself screaming, “Drop it, drop it, drop it” and shaking poor Delilah as I tried to get her to release.
I remember feeling this way with Delilah, in fact, I think I had a post with the same title. Just went and checked and yes I did. In fact, I had two different posts with the same title! One on Delilah and one on Sampson. With Delilah I felt this way a lot. But thankfully as she house matured, it felt less and less like I was fighting a losing battle. Since you’ve been with Luke since he was a puppy, I bet you see the benefits sooner than I did.
Until then, don’t get discouraged, you are doing a great job!!
Thank you SO much for your encouraging words, Jodi! I think you know exactly what I’m going through, and it helps that you think maturity might help too.
Oh yeah, I don’t even want to think about how many times I probably yelled “Leave it!!” to no avail! LOL
Edie Chase says
Harry was lucky. Luke must have thought he was a toy. Of course you already know to keep the dogs and birds separate, now if the birds can figure that out, you’ll be all set. ; )
Exactly! As much as I love our guinea hens, I can’t say that they are very smart, so we’ll do what we have to in order to keep everyone safe (even if it is more work)! 🙂
Brian Frum says
It sounds like you both are managing quite well, seriously. That really had to be a Harry scary time though but at least nothing horrible happened and that’s a good thing.
Thank you so much, Brian, and you are certainly right about that.
Sounds like you’re making good forward motion in general. Poor Harry, I’m glad he’s doing well. I doubt there’s any greater temptation for any dog than a moving “toy”! Daisy is sweet, but I wouldn’t trust her to be loose around birds, squirrels…any moving smaller critter. She’d just see them as fun, but I’m sure they’d feel differently!
I guess I should have seen this coming, considering Luke has always liked chasing the Mourning Doves out of our yard. They are kind of noisy birds when they land so they always get his attention. And he does chase the squirrels too. I’ve never discouraged that so maybe I should have!
we hope for a lot of steps forwards now and the reverse-gear is blocked ;O) we had such issues with Easy… Phenny cured his hunting fever with his own paws, he fears chicken&turkeys like the plague since one of them pecked him awful in his nose… hope ne never forgets that moment ;O)))
That almost makes me wish Harry had fought back a little bit and maybe scared Luke. Not that I want him hurt or afraid of something else, but it could have helped with this issue!
Any dog is always a work in progress. Even the best trained dogs change as they age, and they find themselves in new situations. Working to change a dog’s instinct to hunt something like a bird is very tough. Keep working on it, and it will get better. Just stay calm as your excitement only builds your dogs’s as well.
You are so right about staying calm….I know I need to be better about that. Luke is not the only work in progress! LOL. I do hope that he might settle down and relax more as he gets older…but in the meantime we’ll just keep working on and managing things as best we can.