April 2020

 Whippets in lockdown: behaviouralist advice from Sighthound Expert Becca Sommerville
Specialising in Greyhounds | Whippets | Lurchers | Rescues

 

Our features highlight brands we celebrate, artists we admire and knowledgeable people in different fields of expertise - covering a wide range of topics but the central theme is of course Sighthounds, especially Whippets! Occam focuses on engaging, current and thoughtful content to create a resource that connects us, strengthens our community and develops our knowledge collectively.
This entry focuses on Sighthound behaviour. I recently posted a poll on instagram to ask how your Whippets were coping with lockdown. I then put these queries to Rebecca Sommerville who is a behaviourist specialising in Greyhounds, Whippets, Lurchers and Rescues.
Read on to learn more about Becca and her lockdown advice!

 Behaviour By Becca

 

Becca adopted her own Greyhound, Del Boy, in 2017. He is an ex-racing greyhound from Wimbledon Greyhound Welfare in Surrey where she had previously volunteered. Del Boy had just turned 3 and had only done a couple of races before being retired, as he was a failed racer! Becca wanted to change his name (her partner had never heard of Only Fools and Horses!) but now she is pleased as it makes people laugh and suits his personality. He was quite anxious to start with, so she worked a lot on his confidence and for him to be happy in lots of new situations. Becca says “he’s a different dog now, though he’ll always be shy around new people”.
Becca helps owners of sighthounds, of any age or background, who are experiencing a behaviour problem, or who want to learn more about how to communicate with and train their dog. The behaviours may be aggression, such as growling or snapping, separation problems when left alone, excessive barking, or advice for general settling in after adoption. She also helps with training such as recall, for prey drive and puppy social skills.
After adopting a greyhound Becca found she was surrounded by friends and neighbours with sighthounds who started to ask her for behaviour help. After that it soon evolved that her practice became sighthound focussed. Becca was drawn to “the gentle giant nature of greyhounds, the goofiness of whippets and the high energy of lurchers”. She explains they are individuals and can vary a lot with their behaviour, even within a breed! Sighthounds can be more subtle, or it can be difficult to read their body language because of their small ears, narrow heads and stoic expression. So Becca’s approach helps people to learn to ‘speak sighthound’ which means reading their signals.


Your queries answered -

  • If a dog is enjoying the time at home but its owner is concerned they might struggle after lockdown is lifted, is there anything they could be doing?

 

I would suggest to keep your dog’s normal routine, as far as you can in the circumstances. The time of day they eat, sleep, walk and have time apart from you should be kept around the same as it would be normally. When you can’t leave the house at the usual time, spend some time in a different room, or with a barrier such as a dog gate between you and your dog so they still have some independence from you for a while, as long as they can cope with this.

 

  • If a dog is already struggling with separation anxiety and owners are worried it'll be more intense after a long period of having humans at home, what do you suggest?

 

This depends on each dog. I anticipate that dogs who were fine with being left alone before and still have periods of being left alone during lockdown shouldn’t have an issue with adjusting back to their routine of being left in future. 

Dogs who are prone to mild separation problems – such as whining or barking a little bit when they are first left alone, but then settle the rest of the time, or who had a separation issue they overcame, are likely to need gradual reintroduction to being left alone for longer periods. These dogs are the ones who most need to maintain some separation from their owners during lockdown, to not go backwards with their practice of being alone. I wrote a post on instagram about preventing future separation problems here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-H8iVrBYeT/

Dogs with a history of more severe separation anxiety – such as continued barking, howling, whining, toileting, pacing or being unable to settle for any length of time alone are likely to need the most support, and professional help from an accredited behaviourist, to get them to the point where they can be left alone. Lockdown could be a good time to begin some training with them to introduce being alone.

 

  • Some Sighhounds are struggling without their usual structure and not seeing friends as much. What do they need most from a walk?

 

This depends on what your dog likes best! Sniffing is great for communication – they use it for information gathering and it feels calming to dogs. Offlead walks are nice, but not essential. You could use a long training lead (attached to a harness, not a collar for safety) to give them more freedom to run and play. If you can’t do off-lead walks, then a longer walk or running for short bursts with your dog (if they are fit and healthy for this) can give them some extra exercise! 

 

  • Key workers on double shifts or longer hours may want to make sure the quality time they spend with their dog ensures they are getting everything they need. Any suggestions?

 

A walk together once a day can be lovely quality time with your dog, and you can integrate some fun training into this. When you are not at home, give your dog things to keep them occupied if they are going to be alone – such as long lasting healthy chews, or food puzzle and enrichment toys.

 

  • Some hounds might be struggling with kids home from school and not getting enough down time. What would be your suggestion here?

 

Ensure your dog can have breaks where they can rest undisturbed from children; they may need a babygate or room divider to give them this space. Supervise all interactions between dogs and children. Use the ‘3 second rule’ for stroking – your child can stroke the dog for 3 seconds and then stop to see what the dog does – if they nudge or move in asking for more, then keep stroking for another 3 seconds. If they don’t, stop there as the dog doesn’t want it to continue. Family paws have some great resources for families with dogs: https://www.familypaws.com.

 

  • Lockdown is especially hard for inner city dogs without gardens. How best can owners keep these hounds occupied?

 

Most parks are still open, or being re-opened and you can make the most of any outdoor space you do have – even streets and inner-city areas can be turned into spaces for training, games and urban agility! Get your dog using their nose – hiding treats for them to find while on walks can be done anywhere.

 

  • With off lead walks being restricted around the world can you recommend some alternative games or brain stimulation?

 

I share suggestions for indoor enrichment ideas here: https://www.instagram.com/p/B-y8kysBJOR/. ‘Brain games’by Claire Arrowsmith is a great book, there is also a facebook group called ‘Canine enrichment’ with lots of ideas!

 

  • If you have a brand new puppy in lockdown, what can you be doing to socialise it without socialising? eek?!

 

Socialistion is a crucial period for puppies, between the ages of around 3 to 12 weeks. Anything they are exposed to in a positive way during this time they are less likely to feel fearful about when encountering for the first time later in life. This includes other people and breeds of dog, but also sights, sounds and smells. There is still plenty you can do to expose them gently to all the other types of new experience while on a walk. If they haven’t had all their vaccinations yet then carry them outdoors so they can still get exposure. I’m going to run a masterclass on puppy socialization during lockdown, so keep an eye out for updates.

 

Can you explain how you would work with a dog remotely?

 

First, we’ll chat for free for 30-minutes, so I can learn about your sighthound and how you’d like to see them improve. Secondly we develop a treatment plan, face to face.

We meet over video conference, so we can connect, and I can see some of the behaviour for myself. You’re provided with a treatment plan & a recommended training protocol that will reduce or resolve your dog’s issue entirely. Based on your treatment & training protocol, I’ll tailor a package to your dog and your desired outcomes. We’ll work together until the issues are significantly reduced or completely resolved (if resolution can be expected).

For remote support, I use video call software to work with owners and they share video footage of their dog’s behaviour, so I can observe their dog and give real-time feedback while they do the training. The advantages of remote training are that I can be more flexible with the time of day, as there is no travel necessary, and many dogs behave more naturally without an unfamiliar person around.

If you want to work with Becca -

  • Follow her instagram for announcements about her Free Sighthound Quarantine Masterclass. She’s taking suggestions for future topics too, if there is something you would like to hear about.

 

  • To work with her one-on-one quote the code OCCAM10 during your introductory call to get 10% off a behaviour or training package when you book.  You can schedule a time to chat with her here: https://calendly.com/behaviourbybecca

 

Check out Becca’s partnership with the Cognitive Canine company. This offers owners a discount on behaviourist-approved enrichment toys, such as snuffle mats and lickimats to keep dogs occupied during lockdown. Use code ‘DOGS8’ to get 10% off: 

https://cognitivecanineco.co.uk/collections/enrichment-toys-actvities

 

I have made some incredible connections since launching Occam; many like minded and creative individuals who share a similar ethos. My inspiration is sought from the people and hounds we meet, the lifestyle we choose to lead and experiences we share as a community. It was a pleasure to speak with Becca and learn more about her life and practice. I can personally recommend her if you need any help at all as Seymour and I recently had the benefit of her knowledge and advice.

Follow Becca on instagram here

Expert Behaviourist in Whippets, Lurchers and Greyhounds

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