Sunday 7th June: The watering hole

To avoid meeting weekend hikers or cyclists, I don’t take the usual route for my Sunday walks.  Instead I take the dogs along a narrow track through the woods following the rocky coastline between my bay and the next. It’s single file only, other than exploratory diversions into the undergrowth, so the dogs don’t get to run as they normally do but they seem to like the variation.  The only problem with this route is that there is no lake for the dogs to swim in, and they get very hot and thirsty.  It’s still a good 90 minute walk, so I have to carry two large bottles of water with me which I give to the dogs at the end of the track before we turn round and head home.  I know that somewhere in the rocky seafront there must be a fresh water source from underground springs but I have yet to find one.  Until today, that is.  I break through a prickly screw pine outcrop onto a stretch of flat rock face, and there I find a couple of natural spa pools fed from a trickle of fresh water.  The dogs line up to take their turn as the pools can only hold about 6 dogs at one time, but it’s a great find and I’m happy to be relieved of my water burden and worry for the dogs.

 During the walk I get a call from someone needing help, which is a pretty standard thing as I get calls throughout the day from people wanting to give up their dogs.  This woman has a labradoodle she wants to get rid of due to its biting.  She tells me the dog was imported from Melbourne, Australia, as a puppy and that despite training it still responds to certain situations (like not wanting to have a leash clipped on) by biting. Almost knowing the answer before she replies I ask who the trainer was, and sure enough it was someone who uses the old fashioned training methods of choke chains and hard discipline.  I explain that this type of training frequently results in dogs that are afraid of people, and respond by biting out of fear.  Almost no trainer these days uses these old and brutal methods of training and it has long since been established that dogs respond far better to positive reinforcement, that is, reward not punishment.  As much as we no longer thrash children for “bad” behaviour, we should also not beat our dogs or throttle them with chains round their necks.  It’s simply not necessary, and choke chains can cause damage to a dog’s throat as well as being plain cruel.  Anyway, I know the labradoodle is probably a borderline case for rehabilitation as it’s now 2 years old and the fear and behaviour patterns are fairly well established.  I suggest that I take the dog back to Lamma for assessment, but add that there may be nothing that can be done.  This case underlines what I say to everyone:

–         Labradoodles may look cute and they may have a coat that doesn’t shed, but they are NOT Labradors.  They are crossbreeds that often have the hyper and slightly manic characteristics of a poodle. Anyone who thinks that labradoodles are great family dogs for young children needs to think again.

–         Importing a puppy from an overseas breeder DOES NOT guarantee that the puppy will be either physically healthy or have a good and stable nature.  I have seen shocking cases of dogs that came from overseas who have all of the congenital defects inherent in that breed.  I’m pretty sure that breeders use Hong Kong as a dumping ground for their poor stock.  The sad thing is, these dogs are then used for beeding here in Hong Kong, producing puppies that should really never have been born.  In the case of the labradoodle, the owner tells me she has tried speaking to the breeder in Melbourne but they aren’t interested.

–         You can make a dog do what you want it to do through fear of punishment, but one day the dog will turn round and bite.  Or, you can make a dog do what you want it to do because it wants to please you, and get praise and reward for it.  Ask yourself which is the way you would choose?  Choke chains belong in a museum along with thumbscrews and other torture instruments.  Electric shock collars should be banned and binned immediately.

If I bring a problem dog back to Lamma, this is how I re-train it.  I leave it alone. I give the dog time to understand that it is under no pressure to do anything.  It will get a quick pat if it wants to be touched, or not if it prefers.  Physical contact is kept to a minimum to avoid any chance of biting, especially in dogs that have been fear trained.  Under no circumstances will there be any physical punishment.  It’s like doggie rehab, where every dog has as much time as it wants or needs to understand that it can be itself without any pressure to perform or conform.  I can’t say it’s a quick fix because it isn’t, but it does at least allow time to assess whether the dog is a real biter, that is one that bites without provocation, or if it’s a reactive biter meaning that it bites only in response to an action that it doesn’t like.  A dog like Derek, the cocker spaniel who has been adopted and returned for biting,  has shown no inclination to bite at all while on Lamma.  He is as happy as a clam with his life of no pressure, his walks and swims in the lake, and his dog friends to play with. In a “proper” home he reverts to his biting, but does that mean he’s a biter or simply a dog that doesn’t fit well into a family situation?

 At Whiskers’n’Paws it’s a slow afternoon.  I take my ultra-friendly puppies: Milky and Jools, creamy brothers who love everyone.  Sisters Sugar and Creamy (I wonder why I called her Creamy as she is brown?), and Diana.  They all have great fun on the terrace and get lots of attention from visitors, but it’s “lookers” only.  Inside the store the two fluffy pups, Biba and Donovan, prefer to curl up together and snooze.

 Pug familyFriend Kirsten arrives with a whole family of pugs that someone has surrendered.  Mother, father, and four children, already a year old.  More idiots who presumably thought it would be cute for their dogs to have babies.  I try to help by calling around, and line up a couple of prospects, but Kirsten still leaves with all but one of the pugs and nowhere for them to go.

There is at least one good moment when Gina, the shiba inu cross, comes to visit.  She has just been picked up from the Pokfulam kennels and has dropped by to say hello and goodbye as she sets off for her new home.

To help us save more dogs’ lives, click here to make a donation.

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