Archive for October, 2009

posted by Michel on Oct 11

Soon after we got our furry friend (he was rescued from Death Row at the Manila Dog Pound), it became apparent that Falco was a, well errr, “special” case. He was exceedingly hostile towards strangers and really only accepted one single human in his life, the one person who was looking after him at that particular time. During our last visit in January/February. I was unable to connect to him for lack of knowledge. This time, I came armed with knowledge and some practical experience however …

After a few weeks of training through the fence

After a few weeks of training through the fence

As expected, Falco was highly agressive towards me (or to any other stranger for that matter) when I first approached his enclosure. He would readily accept treats, but as soon as he had cashed in, he’d be back to showing of teeth and fierceful barking. As you know, I did this excellent course in dog training a few months ago and I decided to try 2 courses of action. The first is to try approach the dog behind a tennis racket or something similar for protection, but in any case this method is a bit confrontational. Well, it sort of worked, apart from the part where I would have to remove a leash from his neck. Having counted on something like this, I brought a special “hunting” lead, which is basically a noose with a stop (we definitely don’t want to choke him), making it very easy to quickly release a hunting dog. Results were very mixed: one day he would accept the leash without too much protest and even let me take it away. Other days he would object strongly and even attack the racket. Bit scary actually because he was not about to take prisoners. Conclusion, this method caused too much stress.

So, time to move on to the next approach, the subtle one as taught to me in the (Positive Reinforcement) course. I decided to establish calm dominance by taking firm control of his food. Now being the only one to feed him, I would bring his food bowl, sit near the fence and waited for him to calm down. Then I’d pretend to be eating from the bowl (alpha always eats first). At first, he went mad! Viciously barking and showing of teeth. I calmly “continued my meal” however (i.e. no threats from my side). After he would calm down, I’d place the bowl in the rotating ring: mayhem again! OK, out goes the food: lesson being that agression equals empty stomach! That first evening, it took 30 mins. before he got the idea and actually “sat” while waiting for the food. Then, I also taught him (yes, through the fence) to “sit” on command. At the moment, I’m even working on “down”! This process was repeated over the course of a week, after which Falco now patiently waits until I finish “eating”. BINGO!

When it comes to walking, our helper (the only person he completely accepts) puts the muzzle on him and brings him out. Before (7 months ago) he would be very nervous when I took over, even jumping up at me and/or trying to bite (but not so viciously). No more of that this time! He happily accepts that I take over the leash and of course I go out the gate first (the right of an alpha dog). As before, outside he’s quite manageable. I take him back to his enclosure, remove the lead (no problems now) and then the helper takes the muzzle away.

When I was away to Boracay a few days, he was genuinely happy to see me again: wagging his tail and shaking his hind quarters just like Snowy does. So I think we can say that we have made a lot of progress and I’m confident that one day he will be a manageable dog all around.

When we go to the beach, I put him on a 20m leash so he can run around a little. Usually he just chases Snowy but completely ignores our other dog Arwen. Strange! One day, he saw another dog (he’s still exceedingly dominant towards other dogs) and ran so fast he broke the collar!!! Oh my God, how was I going to get him back??? Well, after having checked out the other dog and asserted his dominance he actually followed me while I was picking up his normal leash which was hanging off a nearby coconut-tree. I put the hunting-leash on him and that was all there was to it. I was REALLY surprised! Since then I even let him run free a few times, but the last time he went after a dog that we hadn’t seen coming and it took a while to get close enough again to get his attention. So I won’t let him completely free again, but the 20m leash is a good alternative.

On doing his training over the past weeks and the way he acts around strangers in our compound, I noticed that he would bark viciously when I showed him my open hand (I actually tried to calm him, sort of like the “Stay!” signal). Hmmm, I guess that might make a good “threat” for those employing unfriendly training methods: show your hand as if you want to beat him. And when he tries to “bite” at you inside the compound, he also goes for the shoes. This leads me to conclude that he might have been beaten and kicked as a puppy and since then developed fear for hands and feet.

Sitting by my side on the beach

Sitting by my side on the beach

One final thing. When we take a rest on the beach, Falco likes to sit next to me, even approaching me and lying down beside me. One time, he even showed me his belly. However, if I pet him too long, he will growl softly to indicate he’s had enough. If I stop then, there’s no problem. Outside of the enclosure, others can pet him too, but he will warn earlier than when I do it. Again, I think he’s well on his way to recovery but at this stage (and with our current time schedule of two visits every 6 months or so) it’s unclear how far we will get. Falcito is a beautiful dog and both my wife and I are glad we could help in saving him, despite of the mental problem the poor fellow has had to suffer. He suffers no more however and is putting in good work guarding our property. Big hooray for our Falcito!!!