Gonçalo v the PSP dogs

We were having multiple issues with Gonçalo. He was proving hard to housetrain. He was also chewing more or less everything that could be chewed. He was also nipping us, and sometimes the nips were painful enough to make us exclaim!

Thus we started looking at resources which might get us through this difficult period more quickly.

Our first line of enquiry was a lady vet in Tavira who specialises in canine behaviour analysis. Here we hit a brick wall. The lady insisted we both had to travel to Tavira so she could see us interacting with the dog. Then she would write a report. Then we had to find a trainer who worked with the methods she specified. She had no existing contacts near to Lagos who did that. From here to Tavira is 1.5 hours on a good day, that to be followed by an ‘interview’ of 1.5 hours, plus another 1.5 hours to get home. We decided that as we could not implement any report, putting the puppy through a day of stress was not what we wanted to do.

Then I went online, researched training books, and picked The Cocker Spaniel Handbook by Linda Whitwam. This is a bit more theoretical than I wanted. We already had Gonçalo, so explaining how to check out a breeder and an obscure U.S. selection test was somewhat boring. However, I have completed the book, I have picked up some useful information, and I am now re-reading the book, as and when I can get some time.

The third strand was Officer Mario Pidos of the PSP. We got his name via a lady who operates kennels in Luz. Mario had trained some of the dogs of her customers 15 to 20 years ago. Mario also trained PSP dogs from 1997 to 2004.

The guts of the PSP training boils down to just 4 commands. However, these are taught in very specific ways.

‘Come’ means come here. This is done on a long lead. You say the dog’s name to get his attention, then say ‘come’, and give a couple of very gentle tugs on his lead.

‘Sit’ means sit down beside my left ankle. There are ways to make sure the dog does this by your side, rather than simply sitting down anywhere.

‘Heel’ actually means the dog should walk in time with you on your left heel. There is a process for getting the dog to turn at any angle as you both walk.

‘Free’ means the work/training session is over, and the dog is free to play as it wishes, on or off the lead.

After these 4 commands, the most important thing was getting the puppy to stop chewing everything. The key here is the dog does not like sudden, unanticipated noises. So one takes a small, empty water bottle and put a few stones, pebbles, dried beans, or macaroni inside, on the bottom. Anything that helps to make a noise, but is not heavy. Then when you see the puppy gnawing at a chair or destroying a cushion, lob the rattle to land near the dog. It helps if the dog does not see you launch the missile. The dog then learns to associate destructive gnawing with sudden, unpleasant sounds, and from there it learns to move on.

Officer Mario’s PSP programme is 100% practical. And so we are putting various rattle-making objects into small, empty water bottles. It’s us versus Gonçalo.

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