Welcome to Terrierism

If you have ever owned a terrier and shed tears of frustration at their antics, felt lost in a sea of ‘advice’ from your dog-owning peers, or just simply wondered why your little fuzzy companion has all those quirks? Then this is the site for you.

Terrierism is an all-consuming way of life, and the Terrierist can help you shine a light into the darkest corners.

No-‘No’

Imagine this. You’re going about your daily routines and someone keeps getting in the way and saying “No!” to you. You want to watch your TV show? No! You want to walk over there? No! You want to have a snack? No! You need to pee? No!

Well, all these things you want to do, you’re not allowed to do, so what CAN you do? What does this person want from you? You don’t know. Why can’t you do these things? You don’t know.

You’re going to get frustrated, aren’t you? So will your terriers.

The independent streak in the brains of terriers means they are often fully capable of making their own cost-benefit analyses, decisions and logical reasonings. Where you may well get away with saying “No!” to stop an action in a more placid breed, this simply isn’t enough for our terriers.

Think of your terrier like a young child who is always asking ‘Why?’. Annoying, isn’t it. But you do give basic explanation and offer an alternative. ‘No, you can’t have a cookie right now, because it’s nearly lunchtime, but if you sit quietly right now and wait, you can have a cookie after.’

There are 3 parts to the above sentence:

  1. Your immediate response “No”
  2. Your reasoning why “because it’s nearly lunchtime”
  3. Your counter-offer “sit quietly right now and wait, you can have a cookie after”

If you want a well-behaved terrier, you need to focus on part 3. Parts 1 and 2 are for your brain only. You don’t want your terrier to be doing whatever it is they’re doing and you have a reason why. Your terrier doesn’t care about that. They’ve chosen to do something because they want to do it.

Part 3 is the key. Instead of saying “no”, offer a command to do something else for a reward. It’s that simple. Words are triggers and terriers are clever. The word “no” is over-used and offers no release for an alternative behaviour. They know very well that “No” will mean to stop doing whatever it is they’re up to, but they’re also clever enough to ask “Why?” and you need to have the answer “Because this activity is better.”

Remember, “No” is your opening position – you need to be ready with your counter-offer and it better be worth it. Simply saying “No!” will probably guarantee that your terrier will learn to ignore you and lose that carefully built attention bond I spoke about in previous posts.

Travelling Terrierist

I was very fortunate to spend the past few days in the USA at Montgomery Weekend, a series of 4 dog shows which are considered THE terrier speciality shows in the USA.

My purpose of this visit was to surround myself with terriers, learn more about the USA way of showing and generally to have fun with likeminded people, picking up some tips here and there.

I was absolutely honoured, during my few days there, to be asked to handle (take the dog in the ring) two young pups on their first shows.

Now, this is a big deal. Why? Because dog handling is a big business in the States. People pay thousands of dollars for a professional handler to show their dogs. The dogs themselves develop a deep bond with their handler and will respond to the handler’s training.

These were young pups. One was 9 months, the other was 6 months. It itself, this is a challenge – to get any puppy to behave in a new exciting space; but to also respond to a brand new person is an extra challenge!

I put my Terrierist techniques straight to work. For an hour before our ring time, I worked one-to-one with the pups individually, gaining their trust with fun games and letting them learn that I was the most exciting person in that venue.

I made sure they got used to me touching their body all over, particularly the lower leg and face – as this is where they will get handled the most.

It paid off. Both pups (one who had been a nightmare for its owner the day before) responded beautifully to my handling, one coming first and one coming second on different days.

Atten-shun!

I find it remarkable that dog owners expect such high standards of their dog in terms of behaviour without having ever invested time and effort in being able to capture and hold their dog’s interest and attention.

I’m not necessarily talking about a fabulous recall at 12 weeks (or indeed 12 years – we have Terriers after all, and recall is rarely ever a strong point). I’m talking about being able to concentrate on you, hold that concentration amidst various distractions and await the next command.

If you can’t get the attention of your dog, in whatever situation, how do you honestly expect them to offer good manners and actions. Terriers are constantly scanning for opportunity, their little cost-benefit brains always calculating, always working away.

They won’t naturally focus on you, or your commands. Why bother? They are independent thinkers, they were bred to take matters into their own hands and work alone. So, rather than being “in charge”, we need to work as a team with our terrier.

Someone once said that “attention is the mother of all behaviours” and they are right. If you can win their attention, you’re working together and you can achieve wonderful results.

If you are experiencing poor behaviours from your Terrier, before you start working on improving that specific problem, you need to be able to consider if you have their attention. At any time. In any situation. It’s likely that poor behaviour is simply your terrier using their independence to their own advantage, and making poor decisions by themselves because they’re allowed to do it, and don’t need to factor in the rest of their pack (you) in their cause and effect scenarios.

How do we therefore encourage attention?

Try this. Ignore your dog for a bit. Every single time your dog makes eye contact with you, instantly say “hi!” in an excited voice and offer a high-value treat. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Keep moving around, and reward on eye contact only. Doesn’t matter if they’re sitting or standing or jumping or whatever, you’re simply praising them for their attention, not any other command.

Start increasing the time between eye contact and reward. So they have to be looking at you for maybe 5 seconds, holding your gaze. Repeat etc.

Ever increasing time, always in lots of different scenarios and times.

Give it a go. It’s the start of your behaviour journey. Once you have their attention, they’re ready to work with you on something new.

Behaviour 101

When you have a problem behaviour with your dog, perhaps you do things in the following order:

  • Google ‘how to stop your dog doing xyz’
  • Ask your dog-owning friends
  • Post on a Facebook group
  • Spend endless hours searching YouTube videos of professionals working miracles
  • Buy some books on Amazon you’ll never read

When you ‘should’ be doing the following:

  • Visit your vet to ensure the problem isn’t something internal manifesting itself as poor behaviour
  • Find a professional to help you with training who understands your breed, your dog.

So here’s a confession. I’ve done all of the above in the past.

There’s no such thing as ‘no reason’ for bad behaviours. Every single time there is an identifiable trigger. Causality, like in the Matrix when the Merovingian states: ‘You see there is only one constant. One universal. It is the only real truth: Causality. Action, reaction. Cause and effect.

And this is sort of important. Triggers and trigger stacking are hugely important in relation to displayed behaviour. The more triggers/actions you layer up, the more of a reaction you’re going to get. But not all triggers are equal and reactions can vary on the scale of 1 to Idiot.

At the start, we are all desperate to know ‘why’, when actually we don’t need to dwell on why, we just need to know ‘what’.

When you focus on ‘why’, you can send yourself down a frustrating path. It’s much easier to logically analyse cause and effect and remove any emotion from it. Be more of a Merovingian.

Keep a diary of the reactions and you will soon see there are trigger actions. When you see the pattern of triggers you can start to create a strategy.