After our little setback with gobby Biggles on Conic Hill the other day we’ve been having a good think about why we’re struggling to keep Biggles calm in certain situations. It’s not as if we haven’t worked hard on solving the problem!
Most of the time Biggles is an extremely laid back little boy. He does everything at a slow pace and rarely gets over stimulated at home or on regular walks. I’d go as far as to say that he really is as good as gold most of the time and responds very well to commands and training.
When something (a scent or a ‘pack hunt’ atmosphere – a race for example) does get him going he looses all self control and is oblivious to us. This is true of Beanie too, but she’ll calm down after a moment or two. Biggles keeps it up for hours on end if the stimulus doesn’t go away. This unpredicatable behaviour is both dangerous and antisocial. If he ever got loose in this state goodness only knows what would happen. He’s capable of doing himself damage in his determination to hunt, and the racket he makes really isn’t fair on other people (or dogs!).
We’ve had a degree of success with games that teach him self control. For example, a game of tuggy to get him revved up then make him sit and calm down for a few moments before resuming the game. The limitation of this is that whilst the game is fun it doesn’t tap into his Beagle hunting instincts. It doesn’t help him to learn self-control in a situation where all of his senses are compelling him to relentlessly pursue the trail of some critter (or run with the pack). There doesn’t seem to be a gradual build up towards a ‘hunting frenzy’. It’s an on/off switch. So no opportunity to practice in a partially aroused state.
The other day it dawned on me that there was another situation where he was completely oblivious to us or treats – during off-lead play with Beanie away from home. She’s totally focused on us, but all he wants to do is entice his sister into a chase. There is no tasty treat that would entice him away from her. Despite his obvious excitement he’s not at the fever pitch he gets to when in ‘hunt’ mode so I think we can work with him. Fortunately there’s a nice safe enclosure close to home where we can practice.
The plan is to use the excitement of this situation to teach him self-control. We have close to 100% reliable control of Beanie (she’s completely fixated on us due to hour upon hour of work to keep her close when off-lead) so we simply won’t let her join him in a chase until he calms down and responds to us. But also we plan to work on transferring his fixation from Beanie onto us.
And if it doesn’t work? Well, we’ll all have good fun trying!