Dog behaviourist, dog trainer, dog supernanny, problem solver
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An accredited 'Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer' - VSPDT

COVERING BEDFORDSHIRE, HERTFORDSHIRE, CAMBRDGESHIRE, PART BUCKINGHAMSHIRE & NORTHANTS.

Theo Stewart – ‘The Dog Lady’

VSPDT (a Victoria Stilwell Positively’ Dog Trainer), ISCP, PDTE, INTODogs, Cert.Ed., PPG, DWA

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Canine Behaviour Training, Support & Problem Solving

Issues such as unhappy, unruly, needy, excessive barking, aggressive, guarding, over protective, nipping, snapping, biting, reactive to dogs, children or cats,  pulls on lead, toilets indoors, jumps up, separation problems, destructive, obsessive, possessive, growling, fussy eater, restless, stressed, hyper, nervy,  jumpy, fearful, panic attacks, attention seeking, self harming, fighting, OCD, demanding, defiant, puppy training, adolescence.

All dogs – all ages – all breeds
Single dogs – multiple dogs
Puppies – start off right, Older dogs, Rescue dogs

ALL PROBLEMS, BIG OR SMALL

Canine SUPERNANNY!

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*Always only with the client’s permission. In some stories identifying details may be changed.
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Reliable recall could save his life

RockyCh1If a dog won’t come to you from the other side of the room when called, he’s unlikely to do so when out and chasing off after another dog!

They call him and Little Chihuahua Rocky may just stand and look. If he does come he will stop short by several feet and then they will go over to him. Mind you – his humans give him attention whenever he chooses so in a way they are teaching him that he doesn’t need to do things when they choose.

What a great little character Rocky is.

The other day he ran out the front, and ignoring their calls was nearly run over. This prompted them to get in touch with me.

His ‘not coming when called unless he feels like it‘ is also a problem out on walks. He is very reactive to other dogs (scared but brave) and will chase after them barking.

WRockyChhat’s the secret? Food! There must be something ‘in it’ for him if they want him to come back.

The tone in which he’s called has to be clear and encouraging too but not repeated over and over. Being given several chances looked like he was being begged to come – and Rocky just turned and walked away!

Whilst he’s fine and friendly meeting new people when out, Rocky is barky and wary when they come into his house.  Although he quickly accepted me, he started barking again when I walked towards the lady. He alerted to every sound outside and does a lot of barking in general.

We worked on rewarding not barking with food – particularly when he alerted having heard something, catching it immediately before the barking started with an ‘okay’ and food.

Where reliable recall is concerned I introduced a little game. The process needs to be done over and over (I usually say a thousand times) before it becomes sufficiently engrained to be an conditioned response which can be relied upon to work when really needed.

Little dog with big ears

RagsNot being able to trust your dog can ruin walks. The human is anxious all the time and the dog loses freedom.

Little Jack Russell Rags is nearly 4 years old now, and he has lived with the lady since he was one. To date there have now been four episodes culminating in Rags attacking a dog that he knew.

Each incident had seemingly been over a resource of some sort – a ball or food. From how the lady describes it, it’s probable that in the most recent and worst incident with the friend’s dog that she herself was the resource.

I noticed that wherever we were standing Rags carefully placed himself between us, watching me.

In the most recent and worst incident the lady was with a friend in the other lady’s kitchen. The dogs had met a couple of times out on walks previously and had been fine together. The two ladies were chatting and both dogs were under the table between them. Suddenly Rags went for the other dog’s throat. Being long-haired, the much bigger dog wasn’t hurt and he didn’t retaliate, but it really upset Rag’s lady. She decided she needed to do something about it.

Already she has started to put into place some of my advice over the phone regarding encountering dogs on walks and the situation is getting a lot better. The hackling, lunging and barking has reduced dramatically.

It can seem unfriendly and embarrassing when meeting a person with their dog if you simply walk away from them! For this reason I suggest a ‘dog in training’ yellow vest for Rags. This may help a little too with those off-lead uncontrolled dogs whose owners give one an earful when our own on-lead dog responds to being approached!

The lady now needs to address the issue of Rag’s possessiveness of herself, including guard duty in general. She will work on a couple of training exercises to get and keep his attention and give him a bit more mental stimulation.

Elderly German Shepherd is finding the new dog a challenge

I felt quite ChloeJackinspired being with this couple and their two rescue dogs – one elderly German Shepherd who without their offer of a home would have been put to sleep and a younger Belgian Shepherd who was found in a canal.

Since the four-year-old Jack arrived from Wood Green a couple of weeks ago, Chloe’s barking has escalated.

The couple badly want both dogs to be happy together. They already have a very ‘positive’ outlook on dog communication, but some things need an outsider’s perspective.

This is quite a challenge. Many of the options for the sort of behaviour exhibited by GSD Chloe are impossible due to her being in quite a lot of pain from arthritis despite being on the maximum dosage of Metacam. Even getting up is a labour, so they are working on getting eye contact and reinforcing quiet.

The constant discomfort together with lack of mobility I’m sure will be contributing to Chloe’s intolerance of active new boy Jack.

To help her properly, they need to change the emotions that are driving her barking behaviour.

Seeing Jack petted and fussed may be upsetting Chloe. She barked at him when he was excited around me. She barked at him when he was chewing a toy. She barked whenever he came back into the room from the garden. She sometimes barks when he just walks about. She barks constantly on walks with him.ChloeJack1

As we could see from his body language, Jack at times feels a little uneasy when entering the room or walking past her.  He is treading carefully – for now.

Their way to make him feel at home has been a lot of touching and petting, he’s certainly irresistable – but they are fair.  Chloe gets her share also. However, something tells me that it would be best for now if the fussing of Jack was kept to a minimum, best for him and best for Chloe.

Despite the Metcam, Chloe was stressed and restless the whole evening. It ended with a spat between the two dogs over a toy she had been chewing and which Jack then took and started to destroy. (They dealt with it beautifully – immediately and calmly separating the dogs).

Chloe’s barking on walks when she sees other dogs has escalated these past two weeks. This is a shame because she used to be so well-socialised and friendly as for now, fortunately, is Jack.

The couple are afraid that he will learn the wrong things from her.

For now the two will be walked separately in order to work on Jack’s loose lead walking and give him the exercise he needs, and to properly work on Chloe’s barking and reactivity.

Then, all being well, they will be able to walk both dogs together again.

I can do nothing at all with the little Chihuahua (because he’s perfect)!

Prince2This little dog is a dream. I’m in love.

The lady is wheelchair-bound and has had 20-month-old Chihuahua Pepe for ten weeks now. Apparently he came from a home where they also had two big dogs.

He doesn’t bark too much, he isn’t demanding in any way, he doesn’t pull on his lead, he’s confident and friendly with other dogs – he has a dog walker. He’s not nervous of anything. He is fine with the people that regularly need to come in and out of the lady’s house.

He even takes himself into the sitting room with a chew when she needs to go out.

The problem is that with limited mobility, the lady needs Pepe to be more responsive to her requests.

He may go out in the garden last thing at night and finds it much more interesting than coming in to her when she calls him, particularly as she is unable to use a bright tone of voice.Prince3

When someone comes to the door, for his safety she needs him to jump on her lap before she wheels herself over to open it. It can take many ‘UP UP UP’s before he does so and she worries about the person waiting outside.

I asked her, “What do you think is in it for him to do as you ask?”

She replied, “I cuddle him!” I could see she thought that was a silly question!

Well, this independent little dog isn’t fussed about cuddles, possibly because she tries too hard.  (I did find he likes a little tickle on his chest and behind his ears best).

The lady never uses food.

I demonstrated the power of food rewards by teaching him to both sit and lie down in about five minutes.

To get his attention she is going to use a whistle. It will be a bright sound. First she will ‘charge’ it with repeated ‘peeps’ followed by cheese or chicken (something special), many times until Prince gets the connection.

Then, when she wants him to come to her, one little ‘peep’ should do. She can immediately drop him the food which she will have beside her on her wheelchair in a pot or bag.

If she wants him on her lap, she will ‘peep’ and then pat her lap with ‘Up’. Then he gets his reward.

What a lucky lady she is to have rehomed such a wonderful little dog – a dog with no issues at all.  He is obviously a very happy Pepe to be living with her too.

A dog that has been ‘trained’ using commands can find it bewildering when left to think for herself.

The decision was that Billie shouldn’t jump up at people anymore.Billie1

Up until now jumping up has been very rewarding in terms of attention. The 6-month-old terrier cross (right) is looked at, spoken to in terms of reprimands and also touched – pushed off.

She may get down but it doesn’t teach her to stay down or not to jump up another time.

The lady even, without thinking, caught herself automatically fussing Billie as she jumped up.  Modifying behaviours like this need consistency and patience. That’s it.

The dog should get absolutely no reinforcement for jumping up from anyone – no family members and no guests.

But, most importantly, what about letting the dog know what it is we DO want?

Jumping up is natural behaviour to dogs. Puppies in particular want to get level with our faces where so much communication takes place – just as they do with other dogs.

The most powerfully effective way to teach Billie not to jump up is to reward and reinforce her for feet on the floor. We worked on this continually all evening while Billie, unused to the jumping getting no results, tried harder and harder – in effect becoming more and more frustrated as is to be expected.

She was waiting for the usual instructions or reprimand, but nothing was happening!

HarveyWe simply outlasted her. Every time her feet were on the floor we rewarded her immediately. We turned, looked away or tipped her off each time her feet were on us.

She was learning to work things out for herself.

A dog that has been ‘trained’ using commands can often find it bewildering when left to think for herself.  She is used to being ‘Sadiedirected’ and it can take a while for the penny to drop.

Eventually Billie was sitting on her bed nearby and even lying down. All the time she was earning her food.  She had the self control to sit still while I took the photo.

Billie lives with Beagle Sadie and Beagle cross Harvey. I arrived to find poor Harvey on crate rest due to a neck injury. Harvey and Billie are a ‘terrible twosome’ when Harvey is fit, so I will need to go back when he is mobile again. Meanwhile, this very active dog has nothing to do, so he will need mental stimulation.

All are rescues with pre-existing baggage. Work needs to be done in other areas, particularly with walking nicely and reactivity to other dogs.

Reinforcing the behaviour we do want rather than punishing behaviour we don’t want makes us happier also

BenjieLingling1BenjieLingling4

Until the lady picked her up, Lingling (left) was either hiding under the table or peering round the corner licking her lips, yawning and lifting her paw. A scared little dog.

Benjie was protecting the lady.

They are both very reactive to anything happening outside their home and bark madly. Both dogs are frightened of people they don’t know.

They have bitten ankles. Benjie doesn’t like people approaching the lady.

With such a friendly and outward going owner, it’s hard to understand why the two dogs are so wary of people until one looks into their early life.

Maltese LingLing, now three years old, came from a puppy farm and was in a terrible physical state. A year ago Chihuahua-Yorkie mix Benjie joined them. He had been taken from his mother and litter mates too early.

I would guess in both cases they will have inherited unstable genes from fearful parents along with inadequate or non-existent early socialising.

The lady lives in a flat and their barking is causing problems. She has tried everything she can think of, including collars that shoot compressed air at them when they bark and a bottle of stones to shake at them. Because the barking stops for a moment it’s easy to think this ‘works’.

The lady adores her two little dogs and realises that punishing fear is inappropriate and can only make things worse which is why she called me. To them it must be like the very person that they should be able to trust has turned on them.

Now we began to reward quiet instead.

From his protective position beside the lady, Benjie wasn’t so much barking as grumbling and growling at me. Here is a very short video of the two dogs. Benjie is anxiously lifting a paw and grumbling at me, and Lingling is hiding behind the lady.

Each time he stopped even for a moment, the lady gave him cheese.

She was surprised how calm Benjie became. He eventually lay down and settled.

There were noises outside and neither dog barked. She rewarded them.BenjieLingling

She will now save some of their food quota to use specifically to reinforce not barking or growling.

A wonderful thing about reinforcing the behaviour you do want as opposed to punishing the behaviour you don’t want is that it makes you feel good. It rests so much easier with people who love their dogs than does punishment and correction. As the lady said the next morning having changed the way she does things for just a few hours, ‘I feel so happy with myself’.

Reggie guards his food, he guards the bowl and maybe he guards the feeding location also.

Reggie2 I wonder what started Reggie’s guarding behaviour as it’s hard to see how it fits in with the rest of his personality.

The 4-year-old English Bull Terrier only guards food-related items. He doesn’t guard toys or anything else.

He is an interesting character. Apart from the food guarding he is affectionate and gentle. He can also be very demanding, especially in the evenings when he occupies himself with anything that he knows will get a reaction, whether it’s knocking over a flower vase, pushing over a full mug of tea, or fiddling around in a corner where there are cables.

It took a while for Reggie to stop trying to jump onto me, and he just checked again several times during the evening. Mostly he settled beside me – something very unusual with visitors. There was no repremanding. I simply showed him by my response what I didn’t want and, more importantly, what I did want. He understood.

Strangely, although Reggie is happy to set off on a walk, he’s not gone far before he wants to come home again. He is a heavy dog, and if he goes on strike he’s very difficult to move.

He normally takes little notice of other dogs, though what prompted them to get in touch with me was the other day he attacked a smaller dog – something unprecendented and seemingly for no reason. The dog was on lead, Reggie wasn’t. Reggie

Reggie is a dog whose day revolves around his own wishes and much of that is food driven! I know his humans won’t mind my saying that he carries too much weight. He is given treats simply for looking at the cupboard and asking. They all share their food with him while they eat. He may even lunge to snatch something out of their hands like a bag of crisps.

I have created a ‘recipe‘ for them to follow to resolve his obsessive behaviour around his food.

They have been tipping his food on the floor so there is no bowl to guard. He goes at it before it’s even hit the floor – like he’s afraid he will lose it. He wolfs it down but freezes and shows the whites of his eyes if anybody goes anywhere near.

The key is to convince Reggie that his humans are ‘givers’, not ‘takers’. We will first get him used to receiving food a bit at a time in an empty bowl.

To stop possible guarding of any one location, they will put the bowl in a different place each time. To avoid possible guarding of a particular vessel, they will use a variety of bowls and pans.

We also considered whether the marble floor which resulted in his bowl sliding around may have encouraged the pushing and guarding of the bowl itself, so bowls will now be placed on a mat.

After several weeks probably, they will move on to placing all the food into the empty bowl.  Next they will fill the bowl before they put it down and gradually teach him some impulse control so he doesn’t dive in too fast. They will walk about and they will stand still – regularly dropping good stuff in. Instead of taking the bowl away from him, they will call him away and out of the room before lifting it. Ultimately they will be able to take up the bowl in return for something else – chicken maybe.

When Reggie knows that people near his food mean better stuff is always added and when access to all food will be under the control of his humans and not himself, he will stop all this I’m sure.

I believe that all dogs should be left to eat in peace, and that a lot of guarding behaviours have been triggered by humans ‘training’ their dogs to have their food taken away from them by interrupting the meal. It somewhat predictably often has the opposite effect.

Our ‘slowly slowly’ strategy is much the same with Reggie’s walks. He will start with many short sessions near home where he is happy, and only very gradually, a few yards at a time, will they take him further afield – always coming home before he’s had enough.

He has a life of too much fussing, too much food, and too little to occupy himself in terms of healthy stimulation. Change this, and most other things will fall into place.

The problem with all ‘don’t’ and no ‘do’ is that a puppy can become frustrated.

Hassle Hassle2What do normal puppies do?

They toilet indoors, they have manic sessions tearing around the place, they may fly at you and nip, they chew the carpet, they bite you with their sharp little teeth, they get over-excited and they may even get cross when they are told off.

What usually happens? “No, No, No, No, STOP“.

“How otherwise can I teach my dog NOT to do these things,” people ask?

It’s not that I don’t take it seriously, but I say that the unwanted behaviours are unimportant.

“You teach him to do other things instead”.

Here is adorable eleven-week-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Hassle. Hassle (self-named like my Cocker Spaniel Pickle!) plays nicely until he gets over-excited and then he flies at them. Too much hand play and touching simply encourages him to go for hands. He may bite, nip feet and grab socks; he tugs at the lady’s hair. When they try to stop him firmly, Hassle gets cross. They feel he’s becoming aggressive.

The problem with all ‘don’t’ and no ‘do’ is that a dog can become bewildered and frustrated.

Puppy does one thing and the humans react in a way which causes puppy to try harder. Human reaction escalates all the problems until they have a battle of wills on their hands.

It can be so hard but they need a new mindset, one of: “Do do do do YES”.

They will keep half of his food back to ‘mark’ quiet moments. When he gets over-excited they can scatter some in his large crate and, shut in there, he can then be busy ‘hunting’ which will calm him down. He can learn how to take food gently from hands. They can show him what he can chew and make sure there are plenty of options. They will remove temptation.

One big problem is that Hassle toilets all over the place, day and night. They live in an upstairs flat with no garden so he is expected to go on puppy pads. At the moment he ignores them.

Hassle has too much space. From the start the puppy’s environment should start small and gradually increase in size as he becomes trained. His environment needs to be controlled so that initially, unless he is closely watched, he has two just choices for toileting – in his bed or on pads.  It’s very unlikely he would go in his bed so he will be choosing to go on pads. Gradually, one sheet at a time, they can be lifted until there is just one left – and that will become his necessary indoor toilet place until he realises that walks are for toileting.

Of course – Hassle loves destroying puppy pads, so what should they do? Scold? No (it only makes him worse). They should ‘mark’ the moment he stops with a piece of food and offer him something he can chew!

So far he has learnt that he’s let of his crate out as soon as he cries, so now he can learn how to be quiet before he is let out of his crate. How? By rewarding just a moment of quietness and then letting him out – and building up from there.

Until he can stay happily in his crate at night time and when they aren’t watching him, they may have little success with the toilet training.

The quality we need above all others with a puppy, is patience.

Such a personality change when Elsie meets another dog!

LlasaElsieLlasa Alspo Elsie may lose it when she sees another dog.

She is such a friendly, confident and to my mind faultless little dog at home, living with the perfect family for her. She’s wonderful with the little boy and friendly with everyone, so this other side to her comes as a big surprise.

All was fine until about a year ago. It’s often hard to work out why something has changed, so we look at just what the dog does now and deal with that.

Tracing back it was probably a chain of events as things so often are, each one pushing her a little further down the road to where she is now. She was attacked by another dog whilst still in the vet immediately after having been spayed and before she had fully come round (how awful), then they moved house to find there was an aggressive barker next door, then she went for another dog outside the house, then she came back from a new groomer an unhappy dog. Each thing will have gradually sensitised her to other dogs.LlasaElise2

However, we do know what we have now: a little dog who believes that many other dogs, particularly those bigger than herself, are bad news. She is fearless! If she doesn’t like the look of one she goes for it! No dog is too big for her to take on.

She has doggy friends. There’s not a pattern. Some new dogs that she meets she doesn’t react to at all, which suggests her state of mind at the time and the input from her humans both play a part.

Owner reaction is so important. Tightening the lead and forcing her forward even if at the same time talking to her in an ‘encouraging’ way, won’t help at all – particularly if this begins before she herself has even seen the dog. It’s like an announcement ‘uh-oh…a dog. Time to get worried‘.

Until this change in her about a year ago, Elsie was never walked on lead (not something I would actually advocate for safety reasons), but it shows how reliable she was.

Now she has a collar with retractable lead attached which by definition never hangs loose.  She will feel trapped.  When she is held tight or lunges there will be discomfort to her neck. More and more she will be associating other dogs with bad stuff.

This is an issue of trust as much as anything else. When someone is holding the lead, the dog has to trust them. Trust will be worked on in other areas of her life also. They have exercises to teach her to give them full attention when they ask for it and to make food as valuable a reinforcer as possible.

They also have a trump card – golf balls!

She accompanies her gentleman to the golf course where she always stays close, and she also plays with the balls which she particuarly loves. (I personally don’t recommend golf balls for safety reasons but she’s been okay).

If, in addition to using food, they now reserve golf balls solely for when they approach another dog, she should eventually be thinking ‘ah-ha, a dog, good, where’s my golf ball’!

It’s all about timing and working out what strategies are best for that particular dog.  Never does ‘one plan fit all’.

This will take time but with patience and consistency they will get there. Elsie is not only very clever dog, she is normally very biddable. A dream.

Alfie’s not happy about the new baby

WestieAlfieNine-year-old Alfie’s predictable life has been turned on its head – the couple’s first grandchild has arrived on the scene.

The baby grunts, snuffles and cries. The family that previously saved all their cuddles for him, now instead cuddle and hold this strange-smelling alein – an animal maybe?

Alfie is fixated with small prey, and squirrels live in the trees by their home. He spends much of his day on ‘squirrel-watch’ when not watching out for the disembodied human heads that pass behind the fence at the back of the garden.

Alfie barks and he barks. Squirrels and people always go away when he barks. It works in the end. But barking doesn’t work in driving away this new being - and it’s not for lack of trying.

If the people don’t do something, they will lose out on visits with their baby granddaughter whose mother is understandably concerned. They initially tried ‘comforting’ and spoiling Alfie which made no difference at all, and now they scold and put him out of the room.

Alfie is part of their family and they don’t want to exclude him. They don’t like to see him so distressed.

Actually, little Alfie normally calls the tune and this has been no problem at all – until now.  He now needs to dance to their tune a little! He needs to cooperate willingly and be taught happy things to do that are incompatible with barking at baby.

We chopped up small bits of cheese.

Alfie morphed into a focussed and willing little dog when he realised there was something in it for him! You’d never believe that he hadn’t been asked to do things for years. He loved it.

They have foundation work to put in before actually working with the baby. The brainwork, the exercises and the food rewards will together help him to associate baby with good stuff.

He also needs to be prevented from so much ‘go-away’ barking in general. They need to keep him away from squirrel-watch (which he ‘enjoys’) and boundary barking as far as possible, and when he does break into barking they will deal with it immediately in a positive fashion. After all, barking at the baby isn’t so very different.

We have a plan broken into small increments to get him accepting the baby, starting with a crying doll that they have. He shouldn’t be pushed beyond what he can cope with. It takes as long as it takes. The baby lives nearby and can be introduced very slowly for very short periods – starting when she’s asleep and in her pram.  Nice things will happen when Alfie is near the pram with the sleeping baby, thus building up positive associations (anxiety and scolding having done just the opposite).  As soon as the baby stirs they will implement those exercises that they  have been working on.

They need to keep Alfie under threshold, meaning that they do their best to pre-empt any reactivity by separating baby and dog. He won’t be ready for the baby to be carried around or nursed – or crying – for a while, but they will get there with patience.  Whilst playing safe, all humans must remain relaxed or Alfie will pick up on their anxiety.

Slowly slowly, little and often should do the trick.

The two little dogs rushed into the room like a mini tornado, barking

daschundsButter wouldn’t melt!

I didn’t take this beautiful photo – at no stage were the little dogs either still or quiet enough.

Blaze and Rolo, three-year-old Miniature Daschund brothers, are very excitable and extreme barkers. In order to get them to stop even briefly when people visit they have had water sprayed at them, they have been shouted at, they have had a bottle of stones shaken at them and noisy compressed-air ‘corrector’ spray to frighten them out of it. Incessant barking can really drive one crazy.

These’solutions’ may work in the moment but they do nothing at all to ease the real problem apart from making it worse.

The tiniest thing starts them off. Blaze (in front) is probably the instigator, but they charge about in manic barking tandem!

To deal with any behaviour we need to deal the emotion that is creating it. In cases where barking is such an automatic reflex it’s also become a habit. The more they have practised barking, the better they have got at it. Automatic barking can be a difficult habit to break.

The times that worry the family the most are when someone comes to the house (whether familiar or unfamiliar) – and when their grandchildren visit. Blaze may accompany the barking with little nips. He is also obsessed with nappies!

Normally when someone arrives the dogs are put into the garden – or if they do join them it will be hectic. There was the spray water bottle on the side at the ready. I asked for everyone to ignore them. As I usually do, I wanted to see what happened without human inteference. We could hardly speak and I had hoped we would be able to sit it out, but after about ten minutes they were still standing close in front of me as I sat on the pouffe – barking, barking, barking at me.

The lady took them out of the room and put them into their crate.  They still barked. We got on with the consultation.

Eventually they were quiet so I asked the lady to let them in again. This time we had tiny bits of cheese prepared and fortunately both dogs are very food orientated.

They came charging back into the room, barking.

I held bits of cheese out to them. They couldn’t bark and eat at the same time – but they could still bark between bits of cheese!  They also snatched the food, so I taught them a bit of inhibition and manners which meant they had to be quiet and back off for a moment before I opened my hand with the cheese – a few moments of blessed silence.

Soon we were at the stage when as soon as they started to bark again the lady called them back out of the room. They were reasonably willing because of the food reward – something they don’t usually get. After they joined us for about the fifth time the barking was minimal and the lady herself was doing the feeding. Progress.

These little dogs will be associating people coming to the house with panic and scolding. Blaze was even driven to bite a friend who insisted on picking him up against instructions. The aim now is for the dogs to begin to associate people with good stuff – food.

When the grandchildren visit the dogs will either be the other side of a gate or brought in on leads and taught not to nip fingers and jump on them using positive methods. Currently they have never been taught what IS wanted of them – only punished for what is NOT wanted.

The underlying problem of extreme excitement and stress has to be dealt with. This won’t be easy.  No more rough play from the teenage members of the family which is encouraging the mouthing and nipping.

Being so hyped up is not good for the dogs any more than it would be good for us, and not not only causes problems for the family but also for friends, the neighbours and on walks.

From now on the motto should be ‘good things come to quiet dogs’. Food won’t go down until they are quiet. They won’t step out of the front door until they are quiet. They won’t be let out of their crate until they are quiet, they won’t be greeted until they are quiet, and so on.

If the people themselves are quiet, calm and consistent these adorable little dogs should eventually get the message.

How this great young dog turns out is in the hands of his humans

dexter3Six month old Mastiff/Cane Corso mix has grabbed a child by the arm, and now he’s in trouble. The police have called.

Dexter is enormous already. It’s possible that if he were a spaniel there would have been little fuss.

He has lived with the young couple and their Mastiff Labrador mix Marnie for a few weeks now, having had a very dubious start in life.  Apart from a lot of mouthing, all went well for a while.

Then they had a young lady visitor to the house. She was scared just at the sight of Dexter. She sat on the sofa and Dexter jumped up onto it as he usually does. The lady threw her arms about and Dexter, puppy that he is, grabbed her arm.

The reaction was panic and anger towards Dexter. The guest left.

The child episode happened a couple of weeks later in the vet waiting room. She walked too close. If a child is taken to the vet, surely it’s common sense to keep it away from dogs that may well be stressed and scared, so some of the blame is with the mother. Poor Dexter had patiently endured being pulled about and the removal of stitches and they were simply standing at the desk waiting to pay.

The man dragged the dog away and in doing so the his tooth caught on the child’s jumper leaving also a small mark on her arm. Again there will have been noise and panic.

Things are now stacking up against Dexter and he is on the route to actually biting someone. By now he will be thinking that people are not good to be around and they cause his own humans to be unpredictable.

When I arrived I had been primed and played very safe, and Dexter was brought in on lead. I sat alone on a chair to avoid being jumped over. I had to work hard to get the man to stop being on Dexter’s case and to relax. I explained that he would only be picking up on the man’s anxiety which could make me less safe.

The dog turned out to be the most mellow and friendly dog imaginable. See my picture of him watching me intently as I spoke gently to him. I later tried some Ttouch massage. He rested beside me, totally relaxed. I loved him.

Because he’s so big it is easy to forget Dexter’s only a puppy and bound to chew things. Both dogs need to be taken out for daily walks and Dexter given more healthy stimulation – plenty of chew toys and constructive interaction with his humans.

There must be no rough play as this only encourages arm grabbing and lack of self-control.

If they want people to come to their house, they will need to start teaching both big dogs not to jump all over the sofas – unless perhaps upon invitation and then only when they are calm.

The couple must now go out of their way to associate all the people Dexter encounters with nice stuff – food, fun and happiness. No more panic and anxiety; no more scolding. They will teach him to give them his full attention when asked.  It’s a measure of how much they care for their dog that they are investing time and money to give their dog the life he deserves.

This can be nipped in the bud, but only with a different approach.

 

Why can’t Monty be trusted to come back when he’s called?

LabMontyIn the distance, the other side of a road, Monty saw a dog. Ignoring all calls to come back, he ran off after it. He could so easily have been knocked down by a car.

They don’t let 18-month-old Black Labrador Monty off lead now because they can’t trust him to come back when called – particularly if he sees another dog. He wants to play.

Poor Monty is now unable to have any freedom to run about, sniff, explore, chase and do doggy things.

You would think that coming when called was a simple, single issue. One of ‘dog training’ – learning to come when called.

Good recall can be a matter of life and death. If coming whenever called is worked on continually from puppyhood (using food), this never becomes an issue.

There is much more to recall than simply ‘training’. Most dogs understand what we want, but many decide to ignore us when there is something they would rather do.

This is more a relationship and motivation issue than lack of ‘training’ as such.

LabMonty2Monty really is a very good dog – particularly for an adolescent. The family has worked hard with him. However, I did notice that he was allowed to over-ride things he was asked to do. Did he want to go out at night? No? Okay. Did he want to come downstairs in the morning? No? Okay. It’s not a big leap to suppose that he would consider coming when called as optional also.

It’s sometimes hard to get Monty’s attention at home, so home is where it has to start. If the family members aren’t sufficiently relevant at home where there are few distractions, they are much less likely to be relevant surrounded by all the distractions of the outside world.

Monty’s humans are not using their main incentive – food!

We work best for money and for appreciation. So it is with dogs. Food is the best currency for most dogs.

When a dog has learnt to be selective whether he comes or not when called, it can be good to start all over again with a whistle. Home work needs to be put in first - lots of it. After a thousand toots of the whistle over a couple of weeks, each time followed by a tiny piece of something tasty (it can be a great family game whistling a dog from room to room), we should be well on the way to creating a conditioned response.

It still won’t be not strong enough to rely upon in the face of the major distraction – other dogs, so the work then needs to be taken onto walks, with Monty on a very long line.

The humans need also to look to themselves. Are they sufficiently relevant and exciting? Can they compete with another dog? Is a walk comfortable for Monty – in other words, are the people great to be with? If the dog is pulling on a collar or Halti, why would he want to come back to that discomfort and stress?

They must convince Monty that they are the very best, most exciting and rewarding option in the world!

So, what looks like a simple issue of not coming when called and a bit of ‘recall training’ out on walks, is actually quite a lot more.

Gaining control of food, requiring the dog to pay attention before he gets something he wants, not negotiating if we ask the dog to do something, teaching instant recall in the home, comfortable loose lead walking and so on, are all part of the picture.

Ultimately when they call him there will be nothing else in the environment that can compete with the importance of his family.

Then he will be conditioned to return when he hears the whistle.

Ollie is simply too excitable

OllieCockerOllie just kept on going! Pacing, rushing about, panting, drinking, wanting to go out, clamouring for attention, chewing…….

Being excitable may be an emotion and part of a dog’s personality – but it can be a learnt behaviour too when it’s constantly reinforced.

Dogs very often mirror their humans. Calm and quiet people very often have calmer dogs, and excitable people dogs that are more reactive themselves. This could of course be because people choose the breeds of dogs that suit their own characters.

Ollie is a two-and-a-half year old Cocker Spaniel, and as the owner of a Cocker myself I know how excitable they can be. In Ollie’s case, his excitement is unwittingly being reinforced. He will always eventually get the attention he wants while excited, demanding or barking. Like many excitable dogs, he can’t be given toys because he then directs his energy to wrecking them, though he was very busy with my unbreakable Stagbar.

When guests come ‘he calms down once they make a fuss of him‘.  It might be more accurate to say that ‘he remains excited until they make a fuss of him‘!

When I arrived he was very bouncy, tearing about, jumping up on me, going and having a drink, rushing about again and so on.

I said, ‘Let’s ignore what we don’t want – what is it we do want?’  I gave him a tiny bit of biscuit with a quiet ‘Yes’ each time he stopped still even briefly, then when he happened to sit or lie down. His brain was working!

Throughout the evening he was pushing one of the men to respond to him. This gentleman would I’m sure agree that he’s something of a pushover. The downside is that a dog can be less respectful and tries to control him in other ways too. The man can’t walk downstairs without Ollie trying to grab his feet and ankles.Olliecocker2

Ollie is over-stimulated in one way and under-stimulated in another.  There is too much exciting stimulation and too little healthy stimulation by way of brain work and breed-specific stuff like nose work. He needs to be left quietly to work things out for himself like ‘good things come to calm dogs‘. He needs to actually be taught how to be calm.

I must say that it’s due to all the good things the men have done with him that Ollie is so friendly, confident and biddable. Absolutely gorgeous. Ollie’s good points far outweight any bad ones he may have. All his problems come down to over-excitement. Now that his owner realises that quietly restraining himself with Ollie will help him, that should help the dog to learn self-restraint.

When Ollie’s excited antics no longer get the attention he craves he will then start to learn. Meanwhile he won’t give up easily I fear. While he still believes excitement and demanding always works in the end, in the short term he may simply increase his efforts.

They may be in for a rough few days during which they must occupy him with activities and calm attention but under their own terms – and when he’s not hyped up!

He will learn so long as his humans are consistent.

Traditional gun dog training versus force-free reinforcement training

Whilst harsh training methods may well Rufuswork in the moment, there is usually future fallout of some sort.

I may well get some people’s backs up, but here goes!

Dogs that are specifically trained and used as gun dogs are to my mind, a commodity. These dogs are trained specifically to do a job, they are often kept alone out in kennels and some have never seen the inside of a house. Usually they are very ‘obedient’ – possibly they dare not be otherwise.

(Please note that there are becoming more and more exceptions to this sweeping statement as gradually some gun dog breeders and schools are beginning to catch up with modern training methods).

There is no argument that many working dogs are a lot more fulfilled than those family pets who may be either left alone all day or over-spoilt. Many working dogs are trained positively and are treated as valued members of a family or at least have a close relationship with their handler. Assistance dogs and sniffer dogs come to mind in particular.

I have a gun dog breeding and training business near to me with probably around twenty dogs and in fact I got my cocker spaniel from there (that’s another story).  I saw first hand the dogs’ environment. Most of the dogs seemed  submissive in general and a bit fearful of me when I stood by their caged areas. There were no bouncy, friendly welcomes that one might have expected from Labradors and Spaniels.

I was given a demo of the skills of three 4-6 month old dogs and they were certainly very obedient and were 100% focussed on the man even at that age. To be fair, they seemed to enjoy what they were doing but I guess their life didn’t hold a lot else by way of interaction with humans.

In saying their dogs are used as a commodity, I absolutely don’t include people who have family dogs that happen to take them to gun dog training classes because of their breed, like the owners of Rufus and of Bramble who I went to a few months ago. These conscientious dog owners do so because they believe it is the best for their dog on account of what he’s bred for.

A couple of years ago at Crufts there was a gun dog display of dogs trained to do gun dog things using positive reinforcement and it was a joy to watch these enthusiastic dogs – dogs that weren’t afraid of making mistakes. It proved it’s possible.

Rufus began with normal puppy classes. He met lots of people and lots of dogs – and became a happy and confident adolescent.  He then went to gun dog training for a year.

I don’t believe it’s purely coincidence that now, over a year since they stopped the classes, Rufus has become an increasingly nervous dog. The family members who attended the classes with him try to maintain the ‘firm’ approach and the other person lacks the same sort consistency and discipline, resulting in confusing mixed messages for the dog.

It’s like Rufus is waiting to be told what to do – external control. He doesn’t have much self-control.

Dogs that are trained to think for themselves using clicker or other positive reinforcement methods aren’t afraid to make mistakes. They become inventive and try different ways of getting their rewards and making us happy because they know they won’t be scolded or punished if they happen to get it wrong. The key to teaching a dog is not about making them do what we want, but making them WANT to do what we want.

It’s a big step for Rufus, now nearly four years old, to start thinking for himself. With clicker a ‘formally’ trained dog can take a long time to ‘get it‘ before experiencing the fun of experimenting with what will bring results and what will not. If Rufus’ family persist they will eventually get a breakthrough. Then the possiblities of what he can learn for himself are boundless.

Gone now is the punishing and uncomfortable slip lead – like a choke chain, what can possibly be the purpose of this as opposed to a normal collar and lead, or a harness, apart from causing discomfort if a dog pulls and owner convenience?

We took turns to walk Rufus around outside on a harness with long lead clipped to the chest and he walked beside us like a different dog, round in circles, back and forth – a dream. If he wanted to stop for a sniff, why not?

In this comfortable state of mind, he is much more likely to be chilled when encountering unknown dogs or if a moped buzzes past.

Rufus is at the dawn of a new life, and his family will now work in unison to give him back his old confidence.

Over the months the friendly Golden Labrador has changed

BruceArchie2Bruce he has now bitten four people.

The 3-year-old Golden Labrador was a friendly and well socialised dog up until about 9 months ago when things started to change.

He lives with a couple and their other dog Archie, an easy-going Chocolate Labrador.

What could have caused such a big change in him? The very first time he showed aggression to anyone was when a man put his hand through the open car window – despite the dog’s warnings he wouldn’t move away. That man asked for that bite.

Could this have been the turning point?

Nothing happened for a few more months though they report he was becoming more growly. Maybe because the growling made them cross he’s learnt not to growl. Growling is good. It gives us a chance to work out why and deal with that, and to save the dog from situations he can’t cope with.

The next three bites were on people in the house or the garden who he didn’t already know. Each incident has happened in the presence of the man, not the lady. One, a lady friend, was apparently just sitting still in a chair talking and the dogs were playing with a toy. As the man remembers it, the next moment, out of nowhere, Bruce had flown at her.

The most recent time, a few days ago, he broke a repair man’s skin.

Any angry reactions towards Bruce after each incident will undoubtedly have helped to push things in the wrong direction. People don’t realise this – they mistakenly think punishment will teach the dog not to do it again.

At first I thought that this was just going to be a case of over-attachment towards the man and territorial protectiveness. We would also work on the dog’s confidence along with the man altering his own behaviour.

Then I very nearly experienced for myself what Bruce had done to that lady.

Initially the man had brought Bruce into the room on lead. I sat still and avoided eye contact. Very soon he settled and I got absolutely no vibes of trouble that with my experience I am very tuned in to, so I said to the man to drop the lead.

Bruce seemed fine for a few minutes.

He ate a treat I rolled to him. He came calmly up to me and sniffed me. Then, all of a sudden and out of the blue, with no growling, he flew at me. Fortunately he didn’t use teeth. I gently asked the man to casually come over and pick up the lead. From then on he held onto it.

The very odd thing is that throughout the evening Bruce seemed mostly fine, playing with the other dog even – punctuated by similar outbursts. Each time it was without any warning or provocation that I could see – and I have seen a lot of dogs. The inconsistency and unpredictability is really very puzzling.

We will work on the behaviour issues – his confidence and protectiveness, and they will change his diet.

A visit to the vet is now a priority just to make sure nothing else is going on with his body, something that we can’t see but could be affecting his behaviour.

Things have got off to a very bad start with new rescue dog

Shar-pei Yoko had been in her new home for one day when she received a bad injury to her face from Malamute Alaska, requiring many stitAlaska2ches. But it wasn’t a fight as such.

What a sad situation. It had started so well. Both dogs had been walked together several times before bringing Yoko home and they had got on well.

What the lady hadn’t been told was that not only did Yoko have a bad ear infection, but in addition to a skin problem she was also in season. So, here was a very stressed dog trying to adapt to home life after nine months in rescue with physical problems as well.

Alaska, the most polite and confident dog with people that you can imagine, was only castrated recently. Yoko presented herself to him and he started to do what male dogs do. Unfortunately he has a bad hip problem and he will have been in pain also. Things were stacked up against them.

Anyway, the outcome was a sudden angry response from Yoko as she tried to escape, followed by the same from Alaska and at the same time he must have grabbed her face. There is a big discrepancy in the two dogs’ size and possibly because of her baggy skin, what may otherwise have been a puncture wound was a tear, probably caused when they were pulled apart. She has a good number of stitches.

The lady has a £400 vet bill.

The final really sad thing about this is that the lady, a very conscientious and caring person who chose the two dogs specifically for their seemingly calm temperement in the kennels and not their breed, worries that she may never be able to trust them together again. She is now so anxious that she keeps the dogs apart unless Alaska is muzzled.

So this is the situation I arrived to. Should she or should she not keep Yoko?Alaska

Alaska himself had been in rescue for over a year before she adopted him last year. He has a few problems which we will work on, including marking in certain parts of the house and being a bit of a bully with off-lead dogs.

There are some very positive things also.

Because she has two children, the young lady has always played very safe. She gradually taught Alaska to welcome wearing a muzzle just in case it was ever needed  – it’s a bit too big and he looked so comical I had to take the photo.

She is a gentle person and the houshold is calm. Alaska is a quietly confident dog. When I arrived he was lying in the hall and I simply walked past him.

Both dogs showed no animosity to one another and although they are now let outside separately, they walk past each other with no reaction.

At the moment Yoko is very uptight.  Understandably.  When she joined us and a muzzled Alaska in the sitting room, she lSharpeiYokoay with her back to us for much of the time.  I then suggested we put Alaska on lead and removed the muzzle. When Yoko was walking about, the only sign of any trouble between the two was when Alaska sniffed her bum and she growled softly.

When the three guinea pigs that are kept in a large cage in the kitchen got active, Yoko became extremely agitated. She began to pace, cry and stress. It takes her a long time to calm down again.

The eleven-year-old daughter did some great calming work with Yoko that I showed her, reinforcing her whenever she sat, lay down or settled.

Whether or not Yoko stays will depend upon how she turns out when she settles in and what behaviours come to the fore. She has so many new things to adjust to.

Whether or not she stays will depend upon how the two dogs get on once her season is over and her body healed.

Whether or not she stays will also depend upon whether the young lady, who lives alone with the two children, ever feels she can relax again and leave the two dogs together – her house is quite small.  She got another dog to be company for Alaska.

If Yoko can’t stay, she won’t be abandoned back to the rescue. The young lady, bless her, has already decided she will get their permission to find the dog she already loves a good home – but not until she is fully healed and is in much better physical condition.

Another little dog that greets other dogs too exuberantly

MillyYorkeNot all dogs like a little dog to rush up to them and jump all over them. So far Milly has come to no harm.

Three-year-old Yorkie/Terrier cross Milly is an absolute delight – a little bundle of friendliness and joy. Many of the people I go to would love to have a dog whose problem is being too friendly with other dogs, rather than being fearful, barking and reactive.

Milly runs up and play bows, jumps about and invites them for a game.  She’s not deterred if they don’t want to know.

Understandably,  the lady wants Milly to come back to her more readily when other dogs are about, and not to pull towards them so enthusiastically when she’s on lead.

If it were not for this uncontrolled excitement when she sees another dog (which may just also be her way of dealing with slight anxiety) , life with Milly would be perfect.

The lady may now get her dog’s attention more easily if she uses a whistle when Milly’s off lead and sees a dog. She needs first to pair the whistle with extra-special tasty rewards and to practise over and over at home and also when out but only when she knows that Milly will come, before she uses it for real to call her back from running eagerly over to a dog.

Milly is currently kept on quite a short lead and she pulls. She would like to sniff more than she’s allowed. When they see a dog she’s held back and made to walk at the lady’s pace towards it.

Now the lady will be using a longer lead and giving Milly some slack – and time to sniff. I recently discovered the notion of ‘Smell Walks‘ which I think are a great idea. She should then be more relaxed.

When a dog approaches the lady will bend over and gently restrain her by her harness, and just as with the puppy in my previous post, teach her some self control, being calmly encouraging. The lady will check first to see if the other dog is going to welcome Milly’s attentions, and only then will sherelease Milly and give her the length of the lead when the dog is close enough.  If the dog isn’t interested, then they can wait until it’s passed before carrying on with their walk.

This will take a while, but isn’t it great to have a dog whose only problem is being too friendly!

Puppy is over-enthusiastic when meeting people and dogs

CavapooIf our puppy is given rapturous welcomes by all who come to the house – being picked up and encouraged to jump at them rather than (along with those guests!) taught some restraint – isn’t it likely she may think this is the way to greet all people she meets?

Looking at 19 week old Cavapoo Molly, you can see that she is absolutely irresistible.

Another concern of the couple is that she may be getting a little fearful of larger dogs. She tries to greet them in the same exuberant way, by jumping all over them, and recently has encountered a dog that was not so friendly.

She really is the sweetest, friendliest little dog and very gentle for a puppy.CaverpooMolly

I do sometimes wonder whether extreme excitement upon meeting people and dogs doesn’t actually mask a touch of anxiety. If a human were to greet someone at the door in this rather frantic manner, would it be pure happiness? May it not betray some unease?

I picked her up briefly myself and did sense she wasn’t really enjoying it. Immediately I put her down she started scratching herself which I suspect she uses as a displacement activity when things are getting just a little bit too much for her. I suggest that Molly isn’t picked up unless really necessary.

I also suggest she learns that hellos at home don’t happen until she has calmed down a bit – and this is so hard to explain to callers who instantly fall in love with the delightful puppy.

Out on walks her ‘parents’ now need to take charge of who she interacts with, just as they would a toddler, and restrain her gently, only allowing her to greet those people and dogs they know feel the same way about her. Later when she’s a little older and no longer quite so aroused, she can be taught to sit, give owners her attention or to walk on.

It would be a great shame if, at this sensitive time in her development, she were to meet an adult dog that showed aggression towards her. Her encounters should as far as is possible all be positive. If there is any doubt, more distance should be put between her and the possible ‘threat’.

Two important rules are: don’t give puppies too much freedom to soon. Start with restricting them in small areas at home (which also aids toilet training) and keep them nearby on a long lead when out. Gradually, as one would a child, expand the available space as they learn to handle it, without giving complete freedom for several months at least.

The second rule is to work constantly on recall using tiny bits of something tasty as a reward or play, both at home and out, thousands of times over the days, weeks and months, until when the dog is called it is a conditioned response to come.

Coming when called is the key to managing much unwanted behaviour. If the puppy is doing something like chewing a chair or chewing stones as Molly does, all one needs to do is to call her and she will come running over (dropping the stone). Then she can be rewarded for coming away and given an acceptable alternative.

A bomb-proof recall will keep her safe on walks. It should override the instinct to chase or desire to play if caught in time – before she’s in another zone altogether when she may become so focussed that nothing will get through.

Why is Colin growling?

Understandably we don’t like our dogs to growl and it can be embarrassing, but growling is GOOD.Colin2

Growling tells us what our dog is feeling. Growling gives us the key to open the door to the dog’s emotions. When we know what he is feeling, we then know what to do about it.

Colin is a four-year-ColinBarneyold Collie-Terrier cross looking like a very small Border Collie. He lives with his lady owner and Shitzu age sixteen called Barney who is very slow moving, blind and deaf.

Whenever Barney approaches Colin, he growls. The lady assumes he growls because he himself doesn’t want to be approached by Barney. As a trained observer one sometimes sees different things. Because Colin is near the lady all the time, he growls because Barney is approaching her. I woColinuld be willing to bet he never growls at Barney if she’s not there.

In my photo on the right Barney had just come in the door which meant walking past the lady. Quickly Colin was under her chair, growling at him (something he couldn’t hear anyway!).

Colin also sometimes growls when touched. The lady, like most people, then scolds him. I would say it’s only a matter of time before he abandons growling as a waste of time and nips instead. He is merely saying ‘please don’t touch me’.

The lady is going to keep a note of where on his body she is touching him when he growls to see if it may be local discomfort and need for a vet visit, or whether he simply doesn’t want to be touched anywhere just now thank you. Because he then lies on his back the lady believes he wants a belly rub. When Colin growls then, the lady think he is just ‘talking’. He is! He’s saying ‘please stop’ or perhaps ‘go away’.

I experimented. I briefly tickled his chest and he moved in to me for more, indicating he quite liked that. Then he threw himself onto his back. The lady said ‘see, he now wants a belly rub’. I thought a demonstration would help her better understand him and, watching him carefully, I moved my hand gently towards his lovely inviting little soft tummy and he growled. He was saying ‘no thanks’, so of course I backed off immediately.

This little dog has never bitten but I believe it’s only a matter of time. His restraint is amazing really.

The lady has two main angles of approach. First is to teach Colin by her own behaviour that she isn’t merely a large unruly resource belonging to him that he must follow, guard and protect – and stop anyone else getting too near (he also reacts badly when she welcomes friends with a hug).

Second is for him to associate the approach of Barney (or the lady’s friends) with good stuff (food) and not scolding.

The protectiveness and nervousness has been spilling out onto walks where he will rush at dogs he doesn’t know for no apparent reason than to drive them away. He’s not actually bitten yet, but it has been a near thing. Most recently Colin was off lead and he charged – barking, growling and snapping, at an approaching young on-lead Spaniel.

It’s embarrassing for the lady and distressing for the other owner and dog. People feel they must be seen to be taking a firm hand so they react by scolding. But scolding doesn’t work.  If it did, Colin would be getting better, not worse.

It’s also vital that the opportunity for this off-lead behaviour is prevented from happening again while work is done, starting with a bomb-proof recall or loss of freedom.

A friend had suggested spraying him with water and shaking a bottle of stones at him when he barks and growls at approaching dogs when on lead. Two bottles were waiting on the hall table. Fortunately I arrived before she actually started to use them.

‘A friend told me to do so and so‘ is a very common theme with people I go to, with different people saying different things. There is all sorts of conflicting advice online also. ‘What people say’ (“you need to get a grip on your dog”) is invariably misguided and along the ‘quick fix‘ lines that may work in the moment but end up by making things far worse, with a confused dog becoming more fearful and aggressive.

In desperation people often end up doing things they feel very uneasy about, believing it’s the only way.

It’s not the only way. The lady is dedicated to doing her best for her little rescue dog.

Simply opening a window causes a panic attack

Jasper JasperPixieSuddenly a large fly was buzzing around the room and Jasper lost it! He barked, flew all over the place and jumped at us all.

When the lady goes to open the window to let a fly out he really panics – after barking and leaping about, he jumps up onto the sofa, eyes darting, drooling.

It is the opening of windows that seems to be causing Jasper’s distress. It may be the noise, it may be reflections – perhaps both.

He is somewhat obsessive with shadows and flies, but knowing that a buzzing fly is usually followed by the window being opened to let it out is what really sets him off.

I demonstrated how to begin to desensitise him to the window opening, expecting it to be a slow and gradual process. However, this evening, a few hours later and to my great surprise, I received this: ‘We have already been able to open and close the windows in the living room and kitchen without a peep from Jasper!’

Border Collie Jasper is 18-months old and lives with a young lady and her mother. The young girl has worked really hard and done a wonderful job with him. He was well socialised right from the start and she has spent time, love and effort training him.

Recently they got 8-month-old Pixie, the most tiny Chihuahua Yorkie cross you have ever seen and who is quite a barker. This will be influencing Jasper. The two are kept apart much of the time for fear of the little one getting hurt, but for the few minutes I saw them together Jasper was wonderful. He lay down so Pixie could get to him – it’s Pixie who is the rough one!

Jasper just needs a bit more mental stimulation and a bit less stressful stimulation – it is a fine line. Too much ball throwing on walks is seldom a good thing – he needs to sniff, wander and explore.

I demonstrated how relaxed and settled he became after about fifteen minutes of using his wonderful brain and clicker. We worked on a strategy to divert him from obsessing on shadows.

Where Jasper is fine with other dogs when he is off lead, he’s not so good on lead – and he is a big puller.

The young lady will now be using wholly positive techniques to get her lovely dog to walk near her because he wants to and not because he has to. She also now knows how to work on his fears when, trapped on lead, he sees another dog.

Little Pug barks at nearly anything that makes a noise or moves

puglola pugpupLola barks at planes and birds and bees. She barks at the door bell, at animals on TV and at the young sons’ Nintendo game sounds. She barks at other dogs if she can’t get to them.

Lola, left, is a two-year-old Pug and the new addition is Stanley, just nine weeks of age.

The new problem since a week ago when Stanley arrived is that the two dogs constantly chase and play rather roughly  – something Lola also does with other dogs given the chance.

A nine-week-old puppy needs a lot of rest. It is period of learning – so the lessons need to be the right things. He needs to learn how to fit in with family life and to be gentle. He needs to learn impulse control.

Duration of playtime should be limited. Just as with children, too much pushing and shoving can ‘end in tears’. It would be different if they were both puppies of a similar age and size when they would be learning bite inhibition and give and take, and would both have matching stamina.

This scenario simply means the puppy is learning to become very excitable like Lola – and rough.

A while ago I went to a puppy that had started to show aggression to the family due to the relentless rough play with the older dog, so I am glad they have nipped this in the bud.

The more excitement and stress Lola is under generally, the more she barks! Telling a dog to ‘shut up’ when a dog is barking may temporarily quieten it (perhaps!) but does nothing to address the dog’s emotions which are causing it all.

A great deal of time and patience will be needed.

At a quiet time when the puppy is asleep and the young boys at school, the lady can sit in the garden with Lola and start teaching her to cope with all the sounds, birds, bees and so on. She will teach Lola to be quiet using food. As soon as she alerts and before she barks, the lady will ‘mark’ the quiet behaviour with a special sound and food.

When barking does break out, they won’t scold. They will deal with it in a similar way as they would if one of their little boys started to shout in panic – by helping her out – by showing her that alarm is not necessary because they are there to protect her, and by helping her learn self-control.

All the stressful things in Lola’s days stack up to make her so extremely reactive, so the calmer they can keep her in general the better. This is not easy with two young boys, visiting children – and puppy Stanley!

It can be kinder in the long run to encourage a dog to stand on his own four feet

Rodney1 RodneyLittle Long-Haired Daschund Rodney goes into a state of panic when he’s left alone even for a couple of minutes.

Many people have seen the excellent Channel 4 programme proving just how many more dogs suffer when left alone than we realise. Here is the link if you missed it.

Separation distress can be a dreadful thing for a dog, and rehabilitation is usually a very slow, gradual process.

Rodney has been in his new home now for a month. He had lived previously with an elderly lady who died, and one can image that he spent most of the time on her lap or bed. There was another dog also, so he would never have been absolutely alone.

Rodney is now becoming very attached to his new owners, so much so that if he’s dog-sat by neighbours or family he may still cry intermittently.

The more he is cuddled and carried about, the longer they never shut doors on him even briefly, the more attached I fear he will get. You can see from his photo that he is totally irresistable!

His two main issues are the separation distress and fear of going out on walks – possibly because he’s also wary of other dogs. He runs away when the lead comes out. At present they are more or less forcing him to go and to walk, but now we have a plan in place for them to do the very opposite. 

We also have a detailed plan in place for working gradually on his panic when left. The gentleman had an excellent idea – he is going to set up a spreadsheet and tick off each tiny increment as it is achieved.

As time goes by I would expect Rodney to relax and become more carefree and even playful – just as two-year-old dog living with wonderful people should be.

It ‘happened out of the blue’. But did it really?

PoppyMonty2

Poppy attacked a Whippet for ‘no reason’.

It usually takes a crisis of some sort to make us face up to a gradually worsening problem.

Monty the Viszla is four, and Poppy on the right is two years old.PoppyMonty1

Over the past few months Poppy has become increasingly touchy with other dogs when out. The owners admit that this is a vicious circle as they themselves become more tense. It’s a hard cycle to break without outside objective help.

What has brought it to a head is that out on a walk a few days ago Poppy went for the Whippet, seemingly for no reason at all.  The on-lead dog was approaching with a lady and gentleman. Poppy was called and put on lead and she took no notice of them as they passed. However, when let off lead of short while later, she simply doubled back and bit the poor dog on the back leg.

There was screaming from the dog and distress from the owners.

Poppy’s owners were gutted.

This is a perfect example of how things can stack up. Click here for a very good diagram that illustrates trigger stacking.

In Poppy’s case we could think of several factors, and we would be able to find more if we could get inside Poppy’s head. The lady owner who normally walks her was away, she’s scared of going through the back gate, she may have been excited by their children, possibly she had previously been barking at the gate at home, grandfather had arrived which may have excited her, one child was hanging back playing with Monty and a large stick when the Whippet passed which may have made her anxious.

She really is a dream at home as is Monty apart, that is, from when callers suddenly appear through the gate or let themselves in the house. She has become paranoid about the noise of the gate latch to the extent that she is reluctant to go through it at the start of a walk. She has nipped caller’s legs several times now. This too is getting worse. PoppyMonty

The initial adjustments to be made are to do with non-family members being unable to simply walk in. No door or gate should be left unlocked and the dogs should be somewhere else for now when people first enter. She’s happy and friendly once they are in. She needs to be on a long line for now when out, so that she still has a certain amount of freedom.

The visitors also need some instructions – and that can be hard!

The lady has already done some clicker training with Poppy and she’s a bright little dog. The two children participate in feeding, play and training.

So I believe the whippet incident was really just the culmination of several things. There are several other issues that need addressing including walking on a loose lead. When added together, things will gradually fall into place.