Overcoming Rusty’s fear of gunshot noise

When Rusty was about a year and a half old, we moved to a more rural area with lots of woods and fields surrounding us. There are many more bird-scarers and shooting parties in this area, and we often hear them on our walks (particularly in the Autumn time).

I can’t remember exactly when it began, but I think we had been here some time when Rusty began to show signs of fear whenever she heard gunshots.

Initially it began with her simply changing her pace on the walk – if we were heading away from home she would hang back and walk very slowly behind me, whereas if we were going towards home she would run as far ahead as the lead would allow and try to pull.

DSC_0005 (7)

Over time the situation escalated until it reached a point where Rusty would be panting, drooling and shaking with her tail tucked between her legs. Sometimes she even tried to crawl into hedges in an attempt to hide.

This was awful to watch and also very frustrating as we didn’t really know how to help her. In the end it took us many months to fix the problem, during which we tried several different techniques to teach her that there wasn’t anything to be afraid of.
In the beginning, I thought that it was best to just ignore the behaviour and carry on as if nothing was happening – the idea behind this being that the dog doesn’t get any kind of attention so that the behaviour isn’t reinforced. Trying to comfort the dog could be interpreted as the owner rewarding it, but becoming angry could convey the message that there really is something to be afraid of.

DSC_0027 (3)

This had little effect, so we then borrowed a CD with recordings of gunshot noise and other scary sounds from a friend. This is supposed to be played quietly when it is first introduced to the dog, and then the volume is gradually increased so that they become desensitised to it. I do think that this is a really good idea and if I have another puppy in the future I will definitely use it, however Rusty seemed totally fine with the noises on the CD (a far cry from her attitude on walks!) – I think that this is because the gunshot sounds didn’t have the same kind of echo to them that they do when we are out walking.

We also carried toys on walks so that we could try to distract her – this would work, but only for a limited amount of time: she soon became fixated on the gunshot noise again.

DSC_0012 (4)

It was around this time that we were attending agility classes, and when Rusty displayed her fear during training it was suggested that we actually pick her up and hold her. We weren’t supposed to make a fuss over her, just try to make her feel a little more safe. Unfortunately that didn’t work either, and it was at this point that we really did feel stuck! There didn’t seem to be anything we could do to help her.

However, another few months down the line and we had had a major breakthrough… it was spring again by this point, and I can remember one particular walk where I headed over a stubble field with Rusty panting and panicking due to the gunshot noise nearby.
We sat down on a grass bank at the side of the field, and I began thinking about a programme I had watched on TV. It was the ‘Dog Whisperer’ – I imagine most people will have heard of Cesar Millan! When he is working with dogs he talks a lot about the energy we give off, and how dogs can pick up even the slightest changes in our attitude.

DSC_0006 (3)

There was one clip that stuck with me, where he pointed out to someone that they needed to be thinking about what they wanted their dog to do, instead of focusing on the things that their dog was doing that they didn’t like.

It then occurred to me that all of my thoughts were revolving around Rusty’s fear – I would walk along wondering why she was so afraid, questioning when it had begun and feeling annoyed that we couldn’t just go for a relaxed walk.

As I sat there with Rusty drooling and shivering next to me, I began to imagine her calmly lying in the grass. We set off walking towards home again, and I worked really hard to only think positive thoughts – I pictured her skipping along next to me, stopping to sniff in the hedgerow and running over to beg for a treat.

DSC_0086

I was completely astonished to find that she stopped pulling on the lead and her shaking subsided… Once home I explained everything to my mum, and from then on we began to use this on walks. It is surprisingly difficult to avoid thinking negatively, especially if at first it doesn’t appear to be working, but with time and patience it paid off.

Now, Rusty is much happier with walking when there is gunshot noise. She will sometimes come over to us for reassurance, but apart from that she no longer seems too bothered.

DSC_0009 (3)

This experience definitely taught me how important my thoughts and energy are when working with animals – I use this all of the time now, especially when things aren’t going exactly to plan!

Advertisements

Dog agility – improving the tunnel and weaves

Over the past couple of weeks, Rusty and I have been working specifically on the tunnel and the weave poles.

Tunnel6

She has done so much jumping over the past few years that as a result she is now really confident with it and will automatically run ahead of me to a jump if I give her a clear signal. However she has not had quite as much practice with the tunnel and the weaves due to them taking longer to set up (I sometimes just do jumping).

Jump

To fix this I have begun to teach her that she can move further away from me with these obstacles and that I don’t have to lead her right up to them every time they are part of our course. It will take some time for her to learn this, but we have made a start and I have already seen lots of improvement which is pleasing!

Tunnel

When I was teaching her to be more independent with the jumps, I would carry her toy and throw it as she left the ground to encourage her to be more forward thinking. This could potentially work with other obstacles too but it does present some problems – for example when she is inside the tunnel she can’t see the ball being thrown, and throwing it too early whilst she is weaving might lead to her picking up bad habits such as skipping the last poles to chase it.

I also don’t want her to rush the weaves at this stage: she is still finding her feet with them and if I ask her to run too quickly she gets confused and sometimes trips up.

Tunnel5

Instead of throwing the ball, I asked her to sit in front of the obstacle and then dropped it at the other end before telling her either ‘tunnel’ or ‘weave’. She still got the idea of moving ahead to the target, but didn’t rush.

Whilst reading on the internet about the weave poles, I realised that I have been spacing them incorrectly. Having moved them a few inches further apart, Rusty’s technique has improved a huge amount (the video at the end of this post shows this).

Tunnel4

Another tactic to give her a bit more energy coming into the obstacle is to place a jump before it. Obviously if we were doing the obstacles as part of a sequence she would already be going fairly quickly, so I did this to imitate that situation whilst still focusing specifically on the two particular obstacles.

Tunnel1

At one point this actually resulted in Rusty skipping the tunnel, as she gained a lot of speed after the jump and missed my directions. I took her back and she completed it the second time round without any problems, however this does show a clear difference in the way in which she treats the tunnel – if there had been a jump there instead I’m pretty sure she would have flown over it without needing much telling!

Tunnel skip

I was also pleased to see that at one point she almost skipped the tunnel, but then corrected herself and ran through. The pictures below sort of show this, but I’ve added the clip to the video at the end of this post as well.

You may notice in the video that I did use the clicker in some of the clips (they were filmed over a couple of days). I’m still working on getting Rusty used to this, but this won’t require too much effort as it just means that I have to make sure I always give her a treat after clicking. I clicked too late in some instances – I kept forgetting, so sometimes she had her treat before hearing the click… It definitely gives me something to work on though.

Thank you for reading today’s post on Wild Call; I’ll be back in a few days time for Wildlife Wednesday so stay tuned!

Wildlife in Tanzania and Kenya – mammals

While I was in Tanzania and Kenya I saw so many breathtaking sights, but one of the highlights of the trip for me was the incredible wildlife. Even just around camp we discovered some amazing creatures, but a day on safari in Tarangire National Park took it to another level!

Our guide for the day was really awesome; his name was Ben and he knew so much about everything we saw. There was another boy in my group who shared my interest for birds so it became a bit of a joke that we were calling for the truck to stop every few minutes for them, and nobody else was that bothered about them…

This blog post however will focus on mammals.

Some of the first creatures we saw on the day were mongooses – there were stripy-backed mongoose running around near the entrance and further along some dwarf mongoose perched on a mound of earth.

We then saw warthogs – Ben told us that the mongooses often follow the warthogs as the two species have a mutualistic relationship: when the warthogs lie down, the mongooses groom them and remove ticks and parasites which they then eat.

We saw several herds of zebra throughout the day; most of them seemed unphased by the safari trucks but some cantered away and then stood in pairs nose to tail – this is a defensive behaviour. It means that the two zebras have eyes in all directions (there are effectively no blind spots) and they are less vulnerable to attack when standing together with hind hooves at either end. Unfortunately I didn’t actually manage to snap any pictures of this behaviour.

dsc_0489

Where we stopped to eat lunch there were a few Vervet monkeys sat on the railings and tables – we were warned to be careful as they had sharp teeth and claws, but our poor team leader had her lunch snatched from her – before she had chance to react the monkey had torn open the box and run off with her sandwiches and banana. Everyone was very wary after that as the monkeys sat in a tree above our heads watching us carefully as we ate.

My personal favourite out of all of the mammals we saw was the elephants. On the safari day in Tanzania we did see some standing together quietly and also watched a group crossing a river, but nothing prepared me for what I was going to observe in Kenya.

On one of our rest days we visited a restaurant by a waterhole and to our amazement six herds of elephants passed through while we were there!

dsc_0968

This was a fantastic opportunity for me to actually watch for a decent length of time as previously we had had to move on fairly quickly. It was fascinating to see the elephants enjoying the water and interacting with each other.

One of the elephants went right into the middle of the water hole and actually lay down – I hadn’t realised how dusty the elephants were until this – this particular elephant came out a completely different colour!

dsc_0817

There was a huge female elephant (she looked to be one of the oldest there) with a calf following her, and when she walked underneath the platform we were standing on we realised that she was already pregnant again.

dsc_0903

When new herds arrived, some of them mingled and appeared to be greeting each other whereas others seemed to have staring matches before one group slowly moved away.

dsc_1022

This experience has definitely fuelled my interest for animal behaviour and I hope to travel to Africa again in the future.

On a side note, I have just moved to Manchester where I will be studying for a degree in zoology. This means that the focus of my blog posts may change slightly; there will be a couple more about Africa and then perhaps something slightly different to the usual write-ups – but fear not, it will still revolve around animals!

Parrot behaviour 3/3: interaction between birds and with their environment

Parrots are sociable, intelligent creatures – having watched my own parrots exploring their environment and interacting with each other, I would like to share a few brief examples of my observations in this blog post to bring my mini series to an end.

Dealing with a new environment

When I first introduced Captain Beaky to the outdoor aviary, he sat in the same place for a long time, with his crest raised vertically and his posture very upright with the feathers held tightly to his body – giving him a very thin appearance. Gradually he began to move about – just walking along his perch a few inches and then back again.

If I place a new object in the aviary, the birds will stare at it for a while before using this ‘approach and retreat’ tactic – once they are satisfied that the object is not going to jump up and eat them, they will start to tentatively test it with their beaks.

This is a very common sight in birds when they are first exposed to something new – they are quite wary of unknown objects as a result of being prey animals. Rocky has shown this behaviour when I am standing nearby – he gradually moves a little closer each time until he reaches the food I have left for him.

Interacting with other birds

Captain Beaky and Rockhopper have been living outside together permanently for several months now. At first they kept a respectable distance between each other, but they soon became used to each other’s prescence and are now quite happy with sharing the aviary.

As Rocky has grown and matured he has become a little bit more dominant – I often see him hissing at Beaky or chasing him away from the food – but I have read about a ‘bluffing’ phase that rosellas are prone to going through when they are adolescents, so hopefully this behaviour will eventually stop!

Keeping a rosella and a cockatiel together like this is actually quite unrealistic as in the wild they would not interact at all – there are significant parts of life in a flock that are missing in the aviary: for example cockatiels will preen the crest feathers of their mate; Captain Beaky does not have a mate so this is not possible for him.

DSC_0015 (4)

Interacting with humans

Before I bought Rocky, Beaky was entirely reliant on humans for company. I used to take him upstairs to my room in the evenings and he would pester me as I did my homework… Captain Beaky and I developed a strong bond in these hours spent together and now he will allow me to preen his crest feathers for him (in much the same way that a mate would – as discussed above).

He used to call loudly through the house when I arrived home and would run up and down his perch if I was eating an apple as he knew I would share it with him. (Despite all of this loving behaviour I did used to be hissed at in the mornings…)

Now that he lives outside, our relationship has changed slightly. He spends a lot more time ‘being a bird’ and I believe he is much happier for it, although he still gets his cuddles out in the aviary!

Scratch crest

I hope that this series has given a small insight into the world of parrot behaviour – I hope to do some more in focus blog posts on the behaviour of other animals in the near future, so keep reading!

Parrot behaviour 2/3: common behaviours

In part two of this mini series we will explore some common behaviours exhibited by parrots, using my cockatiel and rosella as examples.

Sleeping – this is an essential part of a parrot’s life – in the wild, cockatiels and rosellas will sleep through the afternoon due to this being the hottest part of the day in their natural habitat. When asleep the bird will tuck his head into his wing and puff out his feathers – he may also stand on one foot.

DSC_0052

Preening – this forms a large part of a parrot’s day – in between eating and socialising with other flock members, the feathers are meticulously cleaned. The bird uses his beak and tongue to move along the length of the feather, ensuring that dirt and parasites are removed and that the feather is in the right position in relation to the others.

Stretching – a very common behaviour – birds will stretch throughout the day at regular intervals.

Stretching

Chewing – cockatiels and rosellas are highly inquisitive and use their beaks and tongues to explore new objects – chewing forms a large part of their day as it keeps their beaks in good condition and burns a lot of energy.

DSC_0835

Beak wiping – parrots will often rub their beaks on their perch to clean it after eating, although this can also be a territorial behaviour used to warn other birds in the area.

DSC_0881

Head shaking – there is some debate as to what this means: some suggestions include that this happens when the bird hears a sound that he doesn’t like, or that he likes the taste of something. From my own experience I would be more tempted to believe the second theory, as Captain Beaky often shakes his head when I feed him apple or dandelion leaves.

Playing – this behaviour is seen in captive birds who have a lot of spare energy, however birds play in the wild too due to it reinforcing bonds with other flock members and also simply being a fun way to pass the time.

DSC_0766

Hanging upside down is one of Rocky’s favourite games at the moment – he seems to be enjoying viewing everything from a different angle!

Hanging

Flying in place – this is where the bird grips his perch tightly and flaps his wings. This is another way in which to burn excess energy, but it can be put down to attention seeking – before Beaky started living outside, I used to have him in my bedroom in the evenings. He quickly learnt that flapping about would gain my attention and began to use it to his advantage!

Vocalisation – most parrots vocalise in the mornings and evenings (at sunrise and sunset), and for a variety of reasons. Rocky and Beaky call out to each other, and will reply to me if I whistle to them. Beaky is generally quieter but Rocky often chatters and sings throughout the day.

The video below shows some clips from the past few weeks – several of the discussed behaviours are shown in these clips.

Stay tuned for the final part of the series!