Dog behaviourist, dog trainer, dog supernanny, problem solver
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An accredited 'Victoria Stilwell' Trainer. Member of Institute Modern Dog Trainers: IMDT

COVERING BEDFORDSHIRE, HERTFORDSHIRE, CAMBRDGESHIRE, PART BUCKINGHAMSHIRE & NORTHANTS

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Theo Stewart2VSPDT (a Victoria Stilwell Positively’ Dog Trainer), IMDT (Inst. of Modern Dog Trainers), ISCP, PDTE, INTODogs, Cert.Ed., PPG.

Canine Behaviour Consultant

Support & Problem Solving

Canine SUPERNANNY

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Lovely gentle man, but Tilly is frightened of him

Tilly was a stray dog found on the streets in Greece along with a male dog from whom she was inseparable and who now also has a new home. She is one year oldTillyLurcher.

Tilly is a remarkably stable dog in all respects bar one – she is still, after four months of living with the couple, very wary of the gentleman of the house, this is despite the man doing nearly everything for Tilly because the lady is often away for a week at a time for her work.

Tilly is worst of all when he is standing up or walking about. One can only guess at what must have happened to her earlier at the hands of a man, perhaps the dog-catcher. Apparently the other dog is even worse, which is a tribute to the efforts Tilly’s people have put in so far.

Sitting on the sofa with the lady, I watched as the man walked around the room, making us a coffee. Tilly made sure she had the kitchen table between her and him, eyes darting, tail between her legs and licking her lips.

When he sat down on the L-shaped sofa, Tilly jumped straight up too but as far away from him as she could, between the lady and myself. Here was his dog, snuggling up to me and kissing my nose, whereas if the man so much as moved on the other end of the sofa she shrank back into the seat (see her picture). He feels so very hurt. He is the sweetest, gentlest of men and I’m sure he wouldn’t mind my saying that he’s not a macho type. He has tried so hard with her.

The fact that the other two little dogs (photos below) enjoy his cuddles doesn’t seem to help Tilly at all.

Here is a very short video of Tilly thinking the man may be about to stand up, but relaxing when he doesn’t.

He really does adore her, but I feel his efforts to make her accept him are the crux of  the stalemate they have now reached. He needs to start behaving in a way that doesn’t come naturally to him – with some indifference.  I believe that all the effort he makes is, in a way, driving her away. There is too much pressure upon on her (I have had personal experience of this when I took on my German Shepherd, Milly).

Weirdly, off lead out on walks with lots of space she is a different dog, running about and playing, and (mostly) coming back to him when called, but at home, before they can go, she runs around before cowering in a corner for him to put collar and lead on her. Again, it does make one wonder whether it was a dog-catcher that caused her problems with men. Once collar and lead are on, he gives her a fuss – but I did point out to him that at this stage a fuss was in effect punishment to her. It can be hard for a loving human to see this from the dog’s point of view.

I am certain that playing harder to get is the answer and to release her of all obligation to come to him or to be touched by him. Easing of all pressure by acting indifferent is one half of the plan for desensitisation. The other is counter-conditioning.

She will now only be fed dog food at meal times and the special stuff – chicken – will be used for ‘man’ work. Starting at a level she could tolerate, each time the man moved and Tilly looked at him, we said a quiet ‘yes’ and fed her. We gradually upped the anti until he stood up and sat down again, all the time feeding her. When he walked around it became too much for her – she ran off to the other side of the kitchen table.

While heCookie walks about, as obviously he must, he will either silently throw food to her as he passes or drop it behind him as he walks, encouraging her to follow him rather than to rBenjieCrestedPun away. If he can manage to resist words and eye contact, she will slowly relax I’m sure.

He will become a walking ‘chicken vending machine’! In time she will associate him only with good stuff.

If he resists approaching her in any way for long enough, the time will come when she actively invites his attention, and I feel he should still hold back! To value it, she needs to have to work for it (rather than, as she probably now feels, it being forced upon her). She needs to learn that coming over to him doesn’t result in something that is (to her at the moment) punishing.

I am sure, if he takes things sufficiently slowly and resists showering her with demonstrative love until she is well and truly ready, all will be well eventually. It’s a question of building up her trust.

 

Calm to be created out of chaos

MarleyStaffie1Jumping all over people, flying behind them around the backs of the sofa, leaping up at faces when they are standing, stealing things then destroying or eating them, tail chasing round and round, and suckling his blanket, Staffie Marley is a loveable but exhausting dog.

However, when they are out and he is all alone, Marley sleeps.

As is usually the case, his hyper and stressed behaviour is largely influenced by his human’s own behaviour, completely unwittingly of course. He wants their attention constantly and it seems the more people there are together, the worse he is; this isn’t unusual actually. There were three generations of people in the room. The more that people have their attention on something else – whether it’s talking to someone, on the phone or even watching TV – the more wild Marley gets. The more wild he gets, the more attention in some form or other, he gets – even if it’s to be shouted at or chased.

Marley was taken away from mother at four weeks old and was removed from the next place by someone who saw him being seriously abused at just eight weeks old. What a terrible start. He is now three. His family feel they are paying for ‘over-compensating’ by spoiling him, but I’m not so sure. If the poor puppy had not received lots of love, things could be a lot worse than they are now.

He is obviously highly stressed and confused. This is not helped by the various methods used to ‘control’ him nor by the fact he no longer goes for regular walks. The young man gets impatient and also feels he must be the boss, so is inclined to shout and be rather harsh at times. He feels that his mother, on the other hand, is ‘too soft’.

I am pleased for all of them that they are now getting some help and will now be working together. The young man has taught Marley many tricks and is very concerned for him. He is a clever dog. They have done their very best as they know it, but over the past six months his behaviour has escalated into something new – reacting aggressively when somebody he doesn’t know comes into the house.

I myself did not see so much of the Marley that I describe, because I orchestrated the occasion carefully – as I do!

Marley joined us when I was settled and he was friendly from the start. He had bouts of tearing all over the place, jumping all over us all, but apparently not nearly as severe as usual. In every way possible we created a calm atmosphere, to show him by our behaviour that leaping on us was not to be rewarding in terms of attention – whilst reinforcing the behaviour we did want instead. He had one short bout of tail-chasing and actually did lie down for some of the time – unheard of. He then looked so adorable that it made us want to cuddle and fuss him, but more than a very casual, gentle touch would merely start him off again.

Because he destroys and even swallows anything he can find, he doesn’t have toys and they dare not give him bones, but I found a Stagbar did the trick. It was something more or less indestructable onto which to direct some of his angst. Chewing and sucking are calming activities for dogs – just as they are for humans.

This case is a good example of the manifested behaviour that they wanted help for – that of his deteriorating attitude to people he doesn’t know coming into the house – being really a symptom of other underlying things. An active, clever three-year-old Staffie needs occupying, so daily outings are a must. They need not always be long walks, two or three short trips and loose-lead walking work or casual ‘sniff’ walks would make a huge difference to his well-being, along with evenings being punctuated by other owner-initiated activities, training and play.

With stress-levels through the roof, all sorts of problems can develop. Lowering stress is key. Everything should be done to give him some realistic boundaries in the kindest way possible.

The young man did ask shortly before I left, in reference to not shouting or being ‘firm’ with Marley anymore, ‘So this really means that we no longer try to control him?’ I don’t think he expected me to agree, but my answer was, ‘Yes, because he will be learning self-control instead. He has begun already’.

 

They come home to wrecked furniture

LolaMix SaxonThe young couple, with their dog, are caught up in a downward spiral of manic behaviour, destruction, scolding and nearly tearing their hair out. The young lady is reduced to tears.

They have a well-behaved but slightly odd Staffie called Saxon, 5, and Border Collie/Staffie Mix, Lola – a one-year-old adolescent behaving badly.

I say Saxon is odd, because his normal lying position is with his back to people, and every now and then, whatever he is doing, he may freeze or shake. These are thing which we can look into later, but at the moment their main issue is with Lola.

Over time, in addition to wrecking other furniture, Lola has destroyed one sofa and has now started digging a big hole under the cushions of the new one. This has happened when they are out. She is probably bored and if she’s feeling restless (which she is much of the time) she will start to chew furniture.  It could also now have become a habit.

Yesterday she started chewing on the bottom stair while the lady was upstairs – the stair gate was open and she was free to follow. Once Lola starts a ‘project’ she will continue!

When they go out she is left with food in various places with the intention of keeping her busy, but she starts on it before they have even left and has finished it all soon after they are out of the door. They have videoed her.

They have a little girl age three and the young man works shifts, so finding time to give Lola the amount of daily stimulation and exercise she needs is difficult.  It’s not safe for the lady to walk Lola if she has the child with her.

Lola is constantly on the move. She may prance about and make little growly sounds if someone is on the floor playing with the little girl and ignoring her. Saxon takes as little notice of her as he can! In this state she is just constantly looking for ‘trouble’ – stuff to occupy her and to release some of her stress. At my suggestion they will now have a gate on the sitting room doorway so Lola can be removed if necessary to avoid possible accidental danger to the little girl (a child who gives the dogs space and who both are very good with).

While I was there we ignored jumping up – looking away and tipping her off, whilst constantly rewarding calm behaviour. She became more settled than they had ever seen her. As often happens, the day after I left she was so much calmer and happier, and so were the people. Then the next day, yesterday, she chewed the stair carpet. Then they had an excitable visitor and the day continued to go downhill.

There is a common pattern where things start off brilliantly then go rapidly downhill for a couple of days. This is the time that people must hold firm and keep faith – and consistently stick to the plan until they work their way through this until things start to improve steadily, if slowly. There are all sorts of other related things to be dealt with at the same time that when established should influence the eventual outcome.

Because the lady goes to work a couple of days a week, Lola has to be left alone and logistically there is nowhere else other than the sitting room to leave the dogs. Whenever she is left they could either come home to destruction or to no damage at all. I suggest for now leaving her all sorts of items she can chew and destroy – cardboard cartons, toilet roll tubes, empty water bottles with lids removed, maybe stuffed calcium bones. I am always wary of dogs being injured by chewing on things left for them, but in this case stuff around the room could be a lot more dangerous. I so hope that this helps while they work on her.

I have also lent them a crate. I have known very restless dogs who, when crated, settle. They won’t be able to use it straight away though. If they can spend the next couple of weeks getting Lola to love that crate (and it is possible if taken slowly enough and associated with fun and food), they can start to leave her shut in there for the shorter absences.

If Lola is happy in the crate they can relax. If she is given more exercise and stimulation this will help her mental state – and they will have to find a way somehow if they want to improve the situation. If she simply has no opportunity to chew inappropriate things for long enough, she should get out of the habit too.

It is going to be hard work.

A week has gone by and I received this message: ‘We are really good, feeling alot more positive and actually enjoying our dogs which is great, dont get my wrong we still have a long way to go but the change in a week has been amazing!  Since Tuesday the dogs have been left on there own on the Thursday, Friday, Tuesday and today. Now I do not want to jinx anything however so far no damage at all.  
Lola and saxon are left in the lounge with the babygate closed. They have a box of toys and chew left the the room, I have found if I leave it in the box lola likes to help her self its more exciting for her, we also leave milk cartons with a few biscuits in (no lid) and the odd toilet roll etc. we also put our ironing board and washing basket on the sofa and our washing airer in front of  it to stop them jumping up.  We have had a couple of sucessful trips in the car without any dribbling or sick ( this is a true turning point for her)’.
 

Little dog’s instability and stress level is causing fighting

What a puzzle! Piggy1

Piggy, 2, a Jack Russell/Lancashire Heeler cross and eight-year-old Lenny, a Corgi mix used to get on famously, even sleeping together in the same bed.

They had the occasional minor altercation, but all was fine until a combination of the clocks changing, Halloween Piggy2and early November fireworks. The fireworks freaked Piggy out.

They have had Piggy for a couple of years and he came from a remote farm. He has had to get used to a lot of new noises, people passing, other dogs and so on – and he can’t cope. He is a very stressed and anxious little dog.  Lenny on the other hand had a great start in life and is calm and confident.

Things have got so bad that the two dogs can no longer be in the same room without a fight quickly erupting. Even if Piggy senses Lenny’s presence in the house he will mutter, growl and bark. If Lenny barks from upstairs, Piggy is immediately ready for action.

When I was there, despite Lenny now sleeping happily in the shed way down the garden, Piggy was all the time growling and guarding the kitchen doorway where perhaps Lenny would appear – you can see him in the picture. I was there for three hours before he finally settled. It was evident that we couldn’t be bringing Lenny back in for me to actually see the dogs together.

The anomaly is that the two dogs run happily together on walks. If they know they are going out they can meet at the door and have leads put on. They also come back in together but then have to be parted immediately. They are okay out in the garden together too.

The problems are only in the house and mostly around doorways.

My educated guess is that Piggy’s instability and extreme stress winds Lenny up who then wants to sort him out. Lenny himself suffers from arthritis, so possibly he’s not as tolerant as he used to be.

All the time I was there Piggy prowled and he growled. It was virtually impossible to distract him. Although Lenny wasn’t there, it was like his ghost was. It almost seems that although he is obviously scared of Lenny, he also is dependent upon him in some way and needs him to be there.

Where to start with a solution? Nothing much can be done whilst Piggy is so aroused, so reducing his stress by every means possible is the first priority and they should not do anything else meanwile. Then they can build upon what they have – extending the time the dogs are together after a walk, leaving leads on with one person per dog, feeding both dogs all the time to build up positive associations. Baby steps.

Each dog has his turn in the sitting room, and positive (food) associations can be built up when he hears or senses the other dog upstairs.

Because understandable owner tension will now be playing a part, over the next few days both dogs will be taught to love wearing a muzzle, so that later in the process they can be together in the same room briefly while their owners can drop the leads and relax.  At the first growl from Piggy or eyeball from Lenny the dog can be calmly and kindly walked out of the room. The lesson learnt from this being that either they were together for too long too early, or Piggy was too stressed for work that day.

I have big hopes that because the dogs are such good friends outside, things can return to how they were a couple of months ago.

 

Puppies don’t toilet train themselves

Bichon Lucky BichonLuckyBichon Frise Lola is now nearly 5 months old and an exceptionally easy puppy. Isn’t she delightful!

She never nips and she’s not demanding. This is fortunate because the family has five young children.

They have another dog also, a gorgeous and rather reserved fifteen-month-old Goldendoodle called Sam. Both dogs get on famously when they are together.

Lola spends long periods of time in her crate in the dining room, mainly because she may otherwise toilet all over the place but also because she may run around the house and they don’t want the dogs loose anywhere but in the utility room.

With the five little children life is a bit of a juggling act.

It is Lola’s toileting regime I was asked to help address, but this leads on to other things. Unfortunately, this training can’t be done without changing her entire lifestyle. At the moment she is seldom taken outside so has, in effect, been taught that the puppy pad in her crate is the place to go.

She is always carried, so would not have learnt that if she wants to go to the toilet, it starts with walking towards and then out of the garden door.

It is a little concerning also that, because she doesn’t go out to meet new people and dogs, the window for effective socialisation and getting her exposed to things that may later frighten her is now closing. As she’s such an easy-going character, they may still have time.

Another thing is that she doesn’t seem to understand coming when called, which is unusual for a puppy. This will be because she is pulled, not called, out of her crate and then carried everywhere (to discourage the toileting or running off into other parts of the house).

I have suggested an intensive fortnight of working with Lola’s recall and toileting, and then I shall go and see them again. No more carrying her about all the time!

At present she is crated from 7pm to 7am without a break as well as for much of the day. I have suggested a smaller crate – no bigger than her bed – which she should only be shut in at night time or when they are out and at other times she can be in the utility room with Sam. It would, however, not be fair to put her in a bed-sized crate without giving her plenty of opportunities to toilet outside so she isn’t forced to mess her bed.

Last thing at night before being shut in her new little crate she needs to be walked outside (not carried). She needs to be accompanied (even in the cold and rain) and rewarded when she performs.  First thing in the morning, instead of leaving her in the crate until they have done some other jobs, they need to take her outside the moment they come downstairs.

I suggest the family draws up a rota so that Lola is taken out every half hour she is awake, immediately she has woken up, immediately they come home and any time she starts to sniff and prowl. She needs to go out after each meal. She needs praise and reward for going outside, whereas accidents indoors should get no reaction at all.

Using food they can teach her to follow them into the garden; they can teach her to come in again without having to chase her, they can teach her to go in and out of her crate without any man-handling.

I hope they have made some good progress in a fortnight’s time, because then I shall be teaching one of the children how to clicker train her puppy to sit, and also how to walk nicely beside them.

Giving Lola more attention and freedom may ‘unleash the puppy’ within her to the extent that she may become more lively and ‘naughty’, but that is what puppyhood should all be about, isn’t it.

 

Great progress with bang-reactive dog

ChocLabPoppyNearly two months ago I visited Poppy, a five-year-old Labrador who seemed constantly haunted by every sound she heard from loud bangs to things we couldn’t even hear ourselves. It probably started with a firework a couple of years ago.

Click here for her story.

Often Poppy would refuse to go out at all and when she did get out most often she would go on strike after a very short distance, or else she would refuse to go in a certain direction.

They have worked very hard with Poppy over the past two months, they had faith and stuck with it, and today I received this update:

“Just thought I would give you a quick update. We have now done a few walks and Poppy has been so much better….. She has heard several bangs in each walk and barely batted an eyelid!! Amazing! They are not overly loud but enough that she would have spooked before. Yesterday on a track some off road motor bikes and a quad bike passed us and she stopped dead and did not want to carry on (she did not shake though I noted), I played running backwards and forwards and doing recall until she ran past the spot where she had stopped and carried on the walk perfectly happy!

It is so nice being able to walk her again and be quite confident that she will actually complete the walk! I am amazed that such small changes have made such a difference! My neighbour even saw her this evening and said she is a different dog! She does still have a wobble occasionally if she hear something like a neighbour bang their bin lid shut outside but she is still very much a different dog!”

Time constraints can ruin dog walks.

RosieRosie swings between being totally relaxed and happy to being a somewhat mixed-up character.

The seven-year-old Springer Labrador cross’ problems have been coming to a head over her reluctance to get into the lady’s car. Interestingly she is okay getting into the man’s car and the daughter’s. From my questions it seems this is not to do with the vehicle itself, but the human. With the lady there has been an undercurrent of shortage of time at the start of the day before she leaves for work, where when the man takes her after work or at the weekend he is unlikely to have deadlines.

Several times the lady said to me ‘Time is precious’ as she explained her frustrations at Rosie’s behaviour which now has culminated in her being bitten.

A ritual has build up over the past couple of years in order to get Rosie into the car.

All her walks started with a car journey – to somewhere she would toilet (another pressure).  Initially it was enough to throw a biscuit into the car to get Rosie to jump in. She would put her front feet up and the lady then lifted her back legs in. She is a nimble little dog who loves agility – and certainly could jump in for herself.

As time went by she began to refuse even to put her front feet up. Over time the lady was opening the boot, taking Rosie away from the car and then making an enthusiastic game of running up to the car to get her in.  The number of times Rosie got her to do this increased.  However, there came a point when she started to refuse to get in the car even after all this and was snarling and growling at the lady. The final straw was when the lady shut the boot instead and tried to walk Rosie away from the car, whereupon Rosie became very angry and grabbed her arm.

I would say that Rosie is totally confused. Due to the understandably exasperated lady feeling the pressure of time, Rosie is under a lot of pressure as well. To the lady, the toileting was dependent upon that off-lead run. ‘You would think she’d know that with all this messing about at the start of a walk (up to 20 minutes sometimes) she’d get a shorter walk’.

The ritual has to be broken and actually fate has stepped in. Poor Rosie has had stitches after cutting herself jumping over barbed wire so had to be road walked on lead for the past three weeks. It has proved that she can toilet without running round the fields. It has also shown that life goes on without these car journeys for off-lead walks. The pressure is off somewhat.

Our plan is to carry on with road walks only whilst building in car work; by merely touching the boot initially whilst feeding Rosie, gradually and incrementally doing a little more – opening the boot and feeding Rosie, opening it and shutting it again, all the time feeding Rosie.  At home they will be teaching her to jump on and off things on cue. Considerably later the lady can introduce opening the boot, feeding, then casually saying ‘up you get’, waiting a moment (no pressure) and if she doesn’t jump in continuing with the road walk, and so on.

It could take a long time to undo two year’s worth of ritual where Rosie’s own behaviour has dictated the amount of effort the lady put in, until she sort of lost control of the lady and understandably became very confused and frustrated – angry.

The lady felt very pressurised, understandably – and so did Rosie.  People and dogs in a close relationship so bounce of one another!

At home the lady will now spend more time encouraging Rosie to give her her full attention and to enjoy doing little things for her – for rewards. The family can show Rosie that from now on they won’t always do what she wants, when she wants it but that it’s fun and rewarding to do things for her humans when they ask her. Currently Rosie, in her own sweet way, calls the tune.

The lady need no longer be thinking ‘time is precious’! If she has an hour, she has an hour. If this starts with a short road walk, followed by an invitation to Rosie to get into the car which she declines, they can carry on with more lead-walking instead, so be it.

 

Oh dear. As they opened the door to let me out, Marley took himself off for the morning walk he had missed.

MarleyLabradorWhen they opened the door for me to go, Marley simply walked out and down the road, coming back home about fifteen minutes later. We may have done some loose-lead walking but he didn’t consider that to be his morning walk, so he went by himself.

The previous dog I went to, a mixed breed called Milly (see previous story), looked like a Labrador but wasn’t – Marley is the real thing.

Needless to say, one of the two problems I was called to help with is his total lack of recall. I had seen it for myself. As we all called him, he looked round at us, grinned, and ran around a corner leading to the field.

The other issue is pulling on lead. They want walks to be enjoyable and have tried ‘traditional’ training which involves correction and holding the lead tight, with no success at all.  With a different mental approach and different equipment, we walked Marley about the front of the property on a loose lead.

Just like Milly, Marley is two and a half. They have had him for six months before which he lived on a farm and one can guess he had a fair amount of freedom. Another thing he has in common with Milly is that his only problems occur outside.

Marley has come a long way in the past six months. They have resolved many issues including begging for food and jumping up on people. Like many Labradors he is simply full of life and enthusiasm. He needs a good run and chase which he can’t do anymore due to his running off and ignoring them.

Working on the recall will be a lot longer process because things have happened the wrong way around. My feelings are that puppies should have very restricted physical boundaries and freedom should be introduced gradually (with a bit of reining in again when the dog becomes adolescent) so that ‘not coming back when called’ simply never becomes an option. In Marley’s past life, due to the freedom he very likely had, he expects to freelance. The only way to deal with this is for him to lose freedom for as long as it takes while they work on it, using a very long line, so he has no option of escaping.  At present he’s on a retractable lead which by definition is never loose. We can’t do proper work on recall if the dog doesn’t feel free.

At the moment calling Marley in the usual way is a waste of energy. To him whether he comes or not is optional.  They will now use a whistle – first charging it like battery so running to them immediately for something especially tasty becomes an automatic response when he hears it.  For the forseeable future they will not use it unless they are sure he will come or unless he’s on the long line and has no choice.

The loose lMarleyLabrador1ead walking is more of a technique to teach a dog to do something that doesn’t come naturally – to walk at a human pace when he is eager to get somewhere or play with another dog, and to walk near his humans because he wants to and not because he is forced to.

I predict that it will be months before they dare let him off, even briefly. If meanwhile he gets the opportunity to run off again they will set things right back.

This isn’t merely a matter of training though. Marley already has ‘learnt’ what coming when called means. He simply doesn’t do it.

Why would that be? Because what he wants to do is far more relevant and exciting to him than coming back to his humans. In general he gets their attention whenever he asks for it, rather than the other way around – his humans getting HIS attention when they ask for it.  In order of relevance to Marley when he is out, his humans come way down the list.  With people to greet, smells to explore and dogs to play with, it’s a no-brainer to Marley!

Doesn’t like the lady fussing other dogs

OvcharkaX

Ovcharka

Ovcharka

On the face of it, Milly’s connection with the emotions of her human is very different from the last pair of dogs I went to, who so closely picked up on the owner’s anxiety. Milly is laid-back, quiet and mellow where her lady is animated and chatty. But maybe there is some connection? The dog herself doesn’t have to make much effort. All she has to do is wait and food and attention are showered upon her. Maybe consequently both have lost some of their value.

This is observation not criticism; she has turned out wonderfully well.

Two-year-old Milly is an Ovcharka mix – an Ovcharka is a Caucasian Shepherd dog bred for protecting humans and hunting bears.  It’s hard to see the resemblance in Milly. I am promised that there is no Labrador in her and the mix includes Boxer and Staffie.

Milly is a wonderfully friendly and gentle dog and much of this is due to a dedicated owner who has trained and socialised her from the start.

She has just three issues really. She hates getting into the car and travelling, her recall depends upon whether she has something better to do, and just occasionally she puts other dogs she doesn’t know ‘in their place’, but only if the lady is fussing them. The lady feels obliged to make a fuss of the other dog because of the petting the very friendly Milly receives. This, and possible possessiveness over something edible, only happens when Milly is with the lady, not with her other walkers.

It’s clear this is largely to do with the relationship between them.

At home Milly is unintentionally encouraged to feel that she is in charge of food. Every day, instead of breakfast, a sOvcharkaX2morgasbord of goodies is left around the house for her. If any of her evening meal, laced with tasty chicken to tempt her, is uneaten, it will be left down until she is ready to finish it.  The downside is there is nothing left that is special enough to reward her with and on account of so many extras she is never hungry. The best way to get a balanced feeding routine around a single dog is to imagine you have four as I do.

The recall and reactivity issues really aren’t about training at all, more about Milly’s relationship with the lady who simply needs to be more relevant (again, this is nothing to do with love – love goes without saying) and sufficiently inspiring to race back to.

Milly has always hated the car, ever since she was driven many miles as a puppy to her new home, sick and toileting in terror. She tries to avoid getting in the car although the lady has made sure all journeys end somewhere nice. Lots of patience will be needed and constant repetition around the car, looking at it, touching it, opening the door, getting in and straight out of it, very short journeys round a car park repeated over and over along with constant feeding of something really special. At present the shortest journey is ten minutes – too long.

Central Asian Ovcharka/Shepherd

Central Asian Ovcharka/Shepherd

Many people would give their eye teeth for a dog like Milly. Friendly, polite, fun and good with all other dogs who she loves to play with – the only exception is the circumstances mentioned.

I have been reliably informed that Milly’s dad was actually a Central Asian Ovcharka/Shepherd and this makes a lot more sense. (ears and tail traditionally docked).

Owner and dog over-dependent upon one another

South2

Seldom do I go to see dogs that so clearly reflect the state of mind of their owners.

Poppy is a ‘Yorkiepoo’, a tiny underage pitiful little puppy for sale three years ago in a shop. One can only guess that she came from a puppy farm somewhere, very possibly shipped over from Eastern Europe as so many are. Not a good start in life.

Ollie is a Miniature Schnauzer, chosen to keep Poppy company and to give her a bit more confidence which hasn’t really worked.

The most concerning thing is how inseparable they are from the adult daughter, Poppy in particular. They won’t let her out of their sight.  If the daughter moves, she moves.  All the time I was there Poppy sat beside or or in front of her, scared but protective. Even thought the yound lady wasn’t touching her, a sort of invisible concern cloaked her.South1

The girl herself is equally needy of the dogs and worries and watches over them them constantly (as do the whole family to a lesser extent). She hates going out to work, conjuring up all sorts of scenarios of their coming to harm when she is out. This started, somewhat understandably, when the tiny, scared and vulnerable Poppy came into their lives.

When I arrived it took Poppy quite a while to stop barking at me, keeping me away from the young lady. When the lady goes out, she cries at the door, even when other people are in the house. She then transfers her ‘following’ onto the mother. The family has not felt able to go out in the evening for two years now. Predictably, Poppy is very scared of people and other dogs, and when off lead may run away and hide. Both she and Ollie bark constantly at anything they see. Ollie is a much more stable character in general, but is affected by Poppy’s barking and panicking.

We discussed ways of dissolving the invisible umbilical attaching Poppy to the daughter. We looked at ways of enriching the dogs’ lives and encouraging independence. The humans’ tone of voice and body language can make a huge difference – hellos and goodbyes can be matter-of-fact. We put in place little changes in many aspects of the dogs’ lives. A bit like a jigsaw puzzle, if all the bits are slotted into place then you start to get the whole picture looking different.

One day later I received this email – before even they had received their written plan: ‘We made all of the changes that we could remember and the transformation with Poppy has been absolutely astounding. It is literally as though someone has pressed a switch. I can’t explain it any better than that. She is like a different, chilled out little dog. Would you believe that neither Poppy or Ollie followed ……… when she came home from work today? They stayed in the living room, sprawled out and (hopefully) carefree. They both ate all of their dinner. The baby was here today but they did not seem as interested in him as they usually would be’.

I did give them one word of warning. A familiar pattern I see is dramatic improvement immediately, followed by a downturn as the dogs start to adjust and test the new boundaries, maybe even becoming frustrated. If this does happen, the people can now see what they are aiming for if they work through this and remain consistent.

 

The importance of people ‘drinking from the same water bowl’.

HugoThe reason I was called to meet and help Hugo was his reactivity to other dogs being such that they now feel they can’t walk him anymore.

However, I soon realised that this was just one symptom of a much wider issue – the six year old Jack Russell’s general anxiety and stress levels.

He lives with two young ladies who each do things very differently. One gives him firm boundaries and even carries discipline a bit too far in my mind. The other lady, who he actually belongs to, is very soft with him, does just what he wants whenever he wants, and encourages his general excitement with wild greetings and reinforcing behaviours like jumping up on people, lots of barking for attention and to get what he wants and so on.

Like with many people I go to, some of it’s about getting the people to do things the same way – drink from the same water bowl so to speak. One is pushing him off the sofa and the other is encouraging him up.  One will entice him to give up stolen items where the other will force things off him then tap him on the nose for being naughty and has been bitten in the process.

This little dog needs to be a lot calmer at home before he can have sufficient self-control when encountering other dogs. They will work hard on loose lead walking around the house and garden, and lots of trips down the garden path and no further – standing still while he does as much sniffing as he wants. If done many, many times the outside world will become less overwhelming and then they can gradually start to go further.

I am trying something a bit different with the manic jumping up and barking, and this is for the sake of his lady owner as well as the dog. I would usually say that from now on he must know that barking and jumping up get no attention at all where feet on the floor and no barking get especially nice stuff.  However, I think they may have to wait too long and meanwhile the frustration could lead to Hugo becoming even more stressed, and because he tugs at her heartstrings the lady herself will not be able to outlast him. Consequently I suggest they work on it in stages.

When he’s jumping and barking at the back door to be let out, instead of opening it immediately as they normally would, I suggest they wait for a slight improvement – feet briefly on the floor or a break in the barking, before opening the door. They can also use ‘Yes’ and food to mark those moments. When he’s used to that, they can wait till his feet are firmly on the floor even if still barking, then they can wait for a second of quiet also….and so on.

It will be the same when the lady comes home. Instead of the rapturous and frenzied greeting he gives her and to which she responds in a similar manner, she can hold back for just a second initially, and then gradually over time, day by day, wait for and reward a bit more calm, until Hugo has better control of himself and can greet quietly with feet on the floor. This way the lady, too, will be able to learn different behaviour!

Dogs do, so clearly, reflect their owners sometimes.

 

Energetic Cockerpoo steals things then guards them

JonahThere is one word that best describes delightful one-year-old Cockerpoo Joe – unruly!

He is clever, affectionate and dearly loved. A lot of time and effort is spent on him as his owners do their very best for him in every way they know how.

Using confrontational tactics in trying to get a dog to stop wild behaviours including stealing and guarding things, always backfires in some way.  The kind of methods promoted by a certain well-known TV dog trainer, when copied, have actually caused the behaviour in many of the dogs I go to.

Jonah steals things and what happens? Because they feel they should be dominant over him, a chase game follows and then he is conrnered. Whatever he has, even even if only a tissue, is forced out of his mouth. People can’t let the dog WIN!

Then what happens? Starting when a puppy, the dog learns to protect his ‘trophy’. The man has now been bitten several times which is totally unecessary. The dog has merely been indirectly taught to protect a resource. It becomes a sort of scary chase game where he gets a lot of attention.

Joe seems more Cocker by nature than Poodle. He is a very energetic dog, flying all over the place and jumping up at people – perhaps grabbing clothes or humping them if he is frustrated at getting insufficient attention. The usual response of getting angry and exasperated simply fuels the behaviour.

This lovely dog has never actually been taught how to be calm or how to exercise some self-control. He also needs much more ‘regulated’ stuff happening in his life – activities initiated by his humans and not himself. He has recently started agility which he adores. At home he needs to learn that his antics get no result – and if he steals something they would do best by simply walking away.  Anything valuable or dangerous will now be the subject of exchange – for something of higher value to him. No more confrontation and he will eventually lose interest.

Exchange really does need working at, whether it is to get him to let them have a ball without a fight so they can throw it again or to let go of a tug toy at the end of a game. It can be fun. A range of different items starting with something of not much value to him being exchanged for something of slightly higher value, and that exchanged for something of higher value still and so on, can teach him the concept of giving things up willingly.

Joe will be earning some of his food now – for good behaviour. We sat at the table and he kept jumping up at it. It is quite hard for people to ignore this and not constantly scold and give commands. They soon saw, though, that if the only attention he got was when his feet were back on the floor whereupon a piece of his food was promptly given to him, it worked a whole lot better. He was soon sitting down, lying down, having another try at jumping up and learning for himself this wasn’t nearly as rewarding in terms of attention as having his feet on the floor.

We worked on a list of short, controlled activities to punctuate his evenings in particular – when he is at his most demanding. It’s best to pre-empt trouble if possible. He always goes for a short walk at about 7pm (putting the harness on is like fighting a whirling dervish) and when he gets home he’s at his most manic. To calm him down they can put his harness on earlier, just before they put the food bowl down when he knows he’s not going out straight away. Then they can make it part of his routine to go straight into his pen for fifteen minutes (where he’s happy to be) immediately he gets home – with something special to chew so he can calm himself down. He then should be less demanding and hyper when they let him out again.

I broke off halfway through writing my story of Jonah because I had an appoinment with an advisor at my bank. We soon deviated from financial matters do dogs (a whole lot more interesting!). The young man said he had a Cocker Spaniel that could do with my help. I said, let me guess? Does he steal things? Does he guard them? Does he act aggressively when cornered? Have you been bitten? The answer to all was, ‘Yes’.

A little angel – until he sees another dog.

Cavachon1Considering that little ‘Cavachon’ Chauncey was an impulse buy from a pet shop a couple of years ago at the age of about eight weeks old, he has turned out remarkably well. This is tribute to the hard work and dedication of his lady owner.

Little Chauncey is very friendly if initially slightly wary of men. If they take him out anywhere, to the pub for example, he revels in the attention……until another dog enters. Then he quickly morphs into a barking, lunging and snarling little monster!

Very unfortunately there are a couple of larger dogs that are often running loose in the country area where they live, and Chauncey was first attacked by one of them at about a year old. The other ran through the open door and attacked Chauncey in the house.  Understandably, he changed from being confident and friendly with dogs to being fiercely on the defensive.

Chauncey is most reactive to things that happen suddenly – especially dogs suddenly appearing. Paradoxically, he has been walked with several dogs by a dog walker and is perfectly happy, and he mingles with other dogs at the groomers. He also has doggy friends that he plays with.

It is hard to desensitise a dog to the point where he will stop believing other dogs are a threat, given past history, because the reality is that some are indeed a threat. This is where the owner or walker must play their part.  It’s up to them to build up trust and simply ensure, by hook or by crook, that their dog is safe – and that he knows it.Cavachon

It is very tempting to scold our dog and apologise when he goes off on one at another dog.  It’s embarrassing.  However, we must act as advocate for him, unapologetically keeping unwanted canine advances at bay without worrying whether the owner may find us rude. A Yellow Dog shirt with words like ‘In Training’ or ‘I Need Space’ can help explain why we may suddenly be walking away from another dog owner without explanation.

It could also mean putting in some effort to find ‘safe’ places to walk, or places where any other dogs should be on lead.

Little Chauncey hasn’t been walked at all for several weeks now, so they can start again from scratch. Instead of the constant stress of pulling and being corrected, he will have a loose lead from the start. By whatever means necessary he must not be allowed any nearer to another dog than he can tolerate. This is where the intensive work will start, and a carefully structured plan especially for Chauncey is now in place.

It is so important not to push ahead too fast and take things at the dogs own pace. It is human nature to want measurable and fast progress. However, the more relaxed we are and the less hard we try, the better it will go. To quote Grisha Stewart: The less you are able to ‘want’ progress — the more of it you will have.

Dog in a bubble

PoodleHarryA while ago Harry started quietly growling when touched by the two young boys (7 and 9).  It was when he was either lying on his chair or in his crate. The attention they give him is likely to be rather over-enthusiastic and he’s a delicate little toy poodle.

Harry is two years old, a perky and intelligent little dog. Very friendly.

This sort of behaviour usually escalates because what the dog is trying to say politely – because his other signs of anxiety like lip-licking and looking away haven’t been recognised – is ‘I don’t want you to do this just now’, and this is ignored.

Many people believe that dogs should like being touched whenever and however we want to touch them, but many simply don’t – or else they only like ga certain touch like chest tickles.

Harry’s soft growls were met with scolding and being put outside. He was descovering that polite gentle growling wasn’t acknowledged so the growling has been getting louder and more frequent.  Now he may even also sometimes growl when the parents touch him when he’s lying down or asleep. If the boys rush into the room he may tell them in doggy language to Go Away. If the growling is disregarded or punished, what choice does that leave him? The next step may be to snap.

Some days Harry is more tolerant than others. Imagine you stubbed your toe as you got out of bed in the morning, then the phone rang as you were about to leave for work with a sales call, then the car wouldn’t start and by the time you got to work you had a raging headache. Then someone knocks into you. You may well shout at them.

There are things in little Harry’s life that can contribute to a build up of stress, more some days than others. The boys, being boys, can make a lot of noise which he doesn’t like; he goes mental when post comes through the door, he barks when people walk past the house and if he hears a car door slam; some days when he’s left alone it is in the garden where he no doubt will be barking most of the time. On walks when too near people and dogs he gets scared and barks. Imagine how he may be feeling later, lying somewhere peacefully where he should be ‘safe’, and attention is forced upon him.

It is a tribute to the little dog’s restraint that he’s not yet snapped. They realise this is only a matter of time which is why I was called.

Harry is now going to lie down in an imaginary bubble (which if burst will let out a revolting smell – the boys can decide just what that smell should be!). This bubble surrounds him whenever he lies down. We caught Dad, unthinkingly, touching a snoozing Harry as he walked past so, boys, how can we remind Dad and how can you remind yourselves?

They will design some stickers which they can then stick on the places where Harry likes to sleep – maybe pictures of a bubble? When they want to touch him they can sit a few feet away and call him to them. This way Harry gets a say in the matter. But why should he want to come to them? What’s in it for Harry? Not for a hug, that’s certain or for anything too boisterous. They have been thinking about what Harry would like. Play? Food?

In order for Harry to be more tolerant, in addition to the family being more tuned in to his feelings there are several pieces of the jigsaw missing which, when in place, should make him a less reactive dog in general. These include not leaving him for several hours alone in the garden when they are out, helping him out when he barks at people going past, installing an outside letter box, making his crate a sanctuary that nobody goes near so he has somewhere to escape to when the boys get rowdy, putting more distance between him and other dogs when out, and doing everything else they can to keep his stress levels down.

By fitting in all the pieces of the jigsaw, along with the boys (and Dad!) allowing Harry some choice in the matter of being touched, they will reverse the downward spiral I’m sure.

 

A couple of weeks later: The children are doing really well. They want to cuddle and give Harry love all the time but are learning to do it in a different way. They respect the “bubble” and say it automatically when they go near his bubble. Brilliant. They call Harry to them when they want to give him a fuss and have learnt to do it in a calmer manner, not to excite Harry too much. If Harry doesn’t want to come, they try using food and it works every time. Always a short fuss and not more than Harry wants. We have all started to recognise his signals.

 

 

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.

Their dog and their baby grandson

DannyDanny gets very excited around the five month old baby. He may pull off one of baby’s socks (he actually ate one and it passed through!), and he has also grabbed the little one’s leg.

The baby is held high, out of his reach, and this merely makes Danny want to jump up to get to him.  This then leads to Danny being told off and pushed away. Although he shows no aggression at all, only fascination and maybe a little anxiety, the baby’s mother in particular is understandably anxious.

This is quite a common a situation that I go to from time to time, that of grandparents having a dog and their son or daughter being anxious about bringing their baby to their house. The people are torn between banishing their beloved dog which seems like betrayal (he’s a family member after all) or being less involved with their new grandchild.  Danny slee???????????????????????????????ps in the couple’s bedroom and when they are at home he is never far from their side. They can’t simply banish him and nor would they want to.

I have five dogs and three grandchildren myself, but it was easier because of the way I arranged my environment. My dogs are used to being behind a barrier for periods of time (with five dogs and just one large room I find a ‘dog den’ is necessary), so I simply kept dogs and baby separate unless under close supervision, one dog at a time and only if the dog was relaxed and easy with this. My dogs gradually simply accepted the babies and toddlers from a safe place and nobody had to be anxious.

8-year-old Springer Spaniel Danny is more sensitive than one might think. You can see that having his photo taken, above left, made him uneasy. He is very good with children, but babies are something he’s not used to and if his people are showing anxiety too, that will be adding to his unease.

danny1This is another situation where the environment needs to be managed while the work is done. A gate is needed and Danny gradually introduced to a place where good things happen – food and toys – but away from the couple behind the gate.  If baby is one side of the gate and Danny the other, everyone can relax and Danny can then be desensitised. If Danny is in the same room, then he should be on a long loose lead. He must not pick up on any anxiety.

Every sign of relaxing, looking away from the baby or settling should be rewarded. If the baby moves or makes a noise, Danny should be fed. The baby should be associated with only good things. Every small indication of calm from Danny should be reinforced.

In order to prepare him, Danny should be introduced to short times the other side of the gate for several days before the baby next comes so the two aren’t associated in his mind. Then, instead of coming just once a week for maybe a day, for a while the baby should be brought several times a week for a short visit so as not to put too much stress on Danny.

Given more meetings the baby should become less of a novelty.

Safety first

FoxTerrierWe can’t have eyes in the back of our head, so where dogs and toddlers are concerned the environment needs to be adjusted accordingly.

Jack is a five-year-old Fox Terrier and they have had him since he was a puppy, well before their little girl was born. They have put in a lot of loving training, he is given plenty of exercise, but still Jack is a very stressed dog; very possibly genetics play apart.

They also have a toddler. When the little girl runs about Jack can become quite aroused. He grabs her clothes and sometimes lightly nips her. They need to keep a close eye on him. The temptation then is to tell him off rather than to call him away and reward him for doing so.

The lady is expecting another baby in seven weeks’ time so she may not always be able to watch Jack, and they can’t shut him out of the room they are in because of the fuss he makes.

The kitchen leads off the sitting room. When Jack is shut behind the glass kitchen door he becomes very agitated and very noisy.

I suggest a gate for the kitchen doorway so that Jack is less isolated from them and more part of the action, and that over the next seven weeks they get him used to being happily behind the gate. This can only be done really slowly and needs to be worked on several times daily.

The plan goes a bit like this: Call him briefly into the kitchen behind the barrier and reward him, then go and sit on the sitting room sofa nearby. Wait for a couple of minutes – or maybe less, making sure they let him out before he starts to stress and bark. Gradually increase this length of time and the distance away from him. They give him something good to do or chew when he is in there. By the time baby arrives Jack should be happy in the kitchen with just a barrier between them when mum has her hands too full to be watching him and the little girl.

We discussed all sorts of other strategies to help Jack to become less hyped up and gain some impulse control. His stress levels are at the bottom of the behaviours they want to change, his excessive barking in particular.

 

Fighting Females

DollyFlossyAll went very well indeed until one day about six months ago. The two dogs would share the same bed, play and walk together. They fed in the same room and there were absolutely no problems until, seemingly out of the blue, Dolly went for Flossie out in the garden.

The two girls are both two and a half years of age and American Bulldog/Dogue de Bordeaux cross Dolly came to live with Springer Flossie earlier in the year. They had played with each other since they were puppies – Dolly having lived with the daughter. Unfortunately she and one of the daughter’s older dogs became arch-enemies so Dolly went to live with Flossie.

At the time of the first incident the family were there including young children. Dolly suddenly roared and lept on Flossie, grabbing her by the throat. So much noise and panic ensued that neighbours down the road were asking what happened.

Poor Flossie hurt her leg. If Dolly had seriously intended to hurt her there would have been much more damage. Had the dogs been of equal size it may not have been serious at all.

When this happens once it all too often happens a second time, largely generated by the knee-jerk reactions of the humans. The second occasion was once again when family were there.

I believe Dolly,  like many dogs, is intolerant of extreme excitability or instability in another dog. She generally likes to assert herself. She is ‘in charge’ of petting and attention, getting it whenever she demands it, but gets ‘jealous’ when she sees people giving attention to Flossie. At the time of the second attack Flossie was being fussed.

The two fights have each taken place against the background of a stressful or exciting day, with several people about including youngsters. While Flossie gives in to her and is submissive, there is no trouble. When stressed, Flossie is probably sending out subtle signals that are challenging to Dolly – ‘asking for trouble’ if you like.

The other very important feature is that both times Dolly was hormonal – the first she was coming to the end of her season, and the second she had just been spayed with a phantom pregnancy at the same time. She was understandably less tolerant and even more bossy.

For the past five months the two dogs have been kept separated. They rotate between crates and gated kitchen.

Each dog must now associate the other with good stuff as it will take a while to erase the panic and anger generated by the two encounters. They can earn some of their food. Whenever one dog looks at the other dog, reward one or both dogs. When Dolly walks past Flossie’s crate or Flossie walks past Dolly’s, reward both dogs. This should scotch any growling. If the dogs are nose to nose at the gate – reward both of them.

Everything must be done to maintain a calm environment. The dogs must realise that nothing they want to do takes place until they are calm, whether it’s going for a walk or getting their food.  Calming Flosse down will make life a lot easier for Dolly.

Each time two dogs have a set-to it makes another time more likely, so they must simply not get the opportunity for a while. There is a lot of work to be done before very careful short get-togethers can take place at home – when nobody else is about and everything is calm.

Unlike some fighting bitches I go to where things are past the point of no return and they truly hate one another, I feel that, handled carefully, these two can be friends again. Their crates are beside each other and the dogs are relaxed with that. They can even be together out on a walk.

Altogether too much noise and barking from this little dog

ScampLittle Scamp’s barking and vocalising is driving his lady person crazy! He is an eight year-old Jack Russell Yorkie cross and he has lived with her from eight weeks old.

This has been going on for years, so the lady does accept that what she has been doing (mostly scolding and getting cross) hasn’t worked, therefore she may need to do things differently.

Having spoken to her on the phone, I was expecting something a lot worse. Scamp barks to get attention, he whines and squeaks too. He also alarm barks at sounds outside. The phone rings and he rushes to the lady and barks until she picks it up.

As I asked all my usual questions I could find a whole lot more GOOD things than bad. I encouraged the lady to look for these things too. Here are some: Scamp stops barking when the lady picks up the phone unlike may dogs I go to, throw something and he brings it back and (usually) gives it up, he may bark at the cat in play but he is brilliant with the cat, he settles quietly and quickly whenever he is put into his crate, he has no problem with being left alone, he is very friendly to everyone and every dog, when touched or examined he relaxes like a rag doll… I could go on and on.

We need to look at what is really only to do with noise and why he makes it. Firstly he alarm barks when someone passes the house, the phone or doorbell rings or there are sounds outside. He barks when the lady goes to look out of the window (he senses it’s because someone may be outside?). Secondly, he barks when the lady doesn’t give him the attention he is asking for. Finally he barks with excitement when he’s playing.

Barking is what dogs do – some more than others. I wonder how many dogs would like us humans to talk, shout and sing less!

Scamp makes all this noise because it works. If he barks at someone passing by what does that person do? Go! If he barks at the lady for attention what does the lady do? Either plays with him or gets cross which is – attention. Scamp always gets a result.

Just as with children, if we start looking for the GOOD things in our dogs it actually makes them behave better, and the things we don’t like become smaller. It makes us happier too.

Puppy challenges!

LunaThe couple have had adorable thirteen-week-old Luna for a week now and they don’t know what’s hit them! She is a divine cross between a Havanese and a King Charles Spaniel.

Luna is a totally normal puppy, doing what puppies do – but they’ve not had a puppy before and are finding Luna hard work. When not asleep, she is either ‘on the go’, rushing from chewing skirting or chair legs, to digging the floor, to charging around after a ball, to nipping hands and biting clothes – and toileting.

They are finding the indoor accidents a bit exasperating. She obviously hadn’t had much training where she came from, so they are catching up.  She has messed in her crate each night they have had her.

People have the idea that a puppy must be shown toileting in the house is ‘wrong’. How is it wrong? Would a baby toileting be wrong? When a puppy wees or poos indoors the only possible reasons are insufficient vigiliance and trips outside (our  fault), lack of positive reinforcement for going outside (our fault), anxiety (our responsibility), simply too young, unsuitable diet – or perhaps a medical problem.

Luna came to them on Bakers Complete dog food – cheap and tasty – with too many additives and colourings and not enough high quality nutrition. The cheaper the food, the more ‘bulking’ ingredients there are that simply pass through the dog, hence more or larger poos. They have now changed her diet but she still does poo very frequently. She probably went about five in the three hours that I was there.

She consumes too many commercial treats and chews in the evening which the couple give her in order to manage her. This may result in the messing in her crate during the night. What looks like a small treat to us will be the size of a doughnut to little Luna. I personally feel commercial treats are simply money-spinners. What’s wrong with real, nutritious food kept back from her meals, or real chicken or turkey – or tiny bits of cheese so long as the dog isn’t lactose intolerant?

Feeding the last food if the day earlier, making her sleeping space in her crate no bigger than the size of her bed so that she is reluctant to soil her sleeping place and getting up once in the night for just a week or two should cure the night toileting problem.

We covered lots of puppy stuff making sure things are on the right track, pre-empting any future problems like separation issues, and we made a start with walking her around the house and garden beside them – off lead for now.  Unfortunately she still hasn’t had her second injection which means vital socialisation is limited while they carry her about. We also looked at ways to avoid ‘correcting’ her by teaching her what we do want instead.

People still can be resistent to using food rewards as positive reinforcement. It is scientifically proven beyond all doubt that learning is more efficient when reinforced positively than it ever can be if to avoid punishment or scolding, and food is usually the most potent reinforcer for a puppy in particular.

Spooked

ChocLabPoppyI could see immediately that Poppy was a very worried dog.

After an initial uncertainty she was friendly, if reserved, but throughout the evening it was like she kept hearing sounds that no human could hear. She is constantly ill at ease, looking to hide or escape upstairs.

Five-year-old Chocolate Labrador Poppy was a confident puppy. She often accompanied her farmer owner and was well accustomed to bangs and bird-scarers from the start. Then, at over two years of age, she changed. This may have started with fireworks. Since then she has been steadily becoming more fearful. Her fear of sounds includes heavy rain and household appliances.

Often she will refuse to go out at all – not even into the garden to toilet at night time. Each morning she will happily go out to the car – daily she is driven to the parent’s farm where she spends the day with another dog.  The company of the parents’ bouncy dog doesn’t appear to give her any more confidence.

Some walks go really well – but she is unpredictable. Happy to run to the car, she often won’t walk past it.  Even if the walk starts okay, most often she will go on strike after a very short distance, or else she will refuse to go in a certain direction. Without the dog’s superb sense of hearing we can’t tell exactly what it is that is upsetting her but they are sure it’s sounds of some sort.

Until recently the man used to carry her down the lane as a way to get her started on a walk.  If there is any hint of a noise, a distant slamming car door for instance, she panics and freezes.

All this makes the owners anxious – as it would. Their own anxiety won’t be helping. It means they are trying too hard to get her to go out, even into the garden, so in a converse sort of way, with all the lobbing food outside and encouragement, she is being reinforced for her reluctance. It’s not in any way addressing the cause of the problem – her fear.

It is very likely that things build up in this way: she may just cope with the first sound or bang. Then, there will be another sound and then another, and each time she becomes more stressed. She then starts to pace, looking to hide if in the house, or pulling or bolting in the direction of home if out – and once this led her across a busy main road.

Confidence-building must start at home. The earlier they can spot and deal with any signs of unease the better. Fear does certain chemical things to the body, and the more of the chemicals that flood in, the less responsive the dog will be to any desensitisation. Caught early enough, as soon as she starts to spook, she will learn to associate the distant noise that only she can hear with something good – food.

They can set up controlled situations to work on at home with sound CDs and soft bangs coming from other rooms, again associating bangs and sounds with food or fun.

Lacing the environment by scattering food is very effective as it can teach her that outside is a wonderful place. This will need to start in the garden with the door open so she has an escape route.

Conditioning her to come for food when she hears a bang will require multiple repetitions over a long time. It requires working at a level where she is aware of the sound but still able to think and to eat which can mean putting a halt to normal walks.

This is the biggest challenge for them, avoiding  things that send Poppy into a panic for the foreseeable future, while they work on desensitising her.

Nearly two months later – my latest update on Poppy’s progress: “Just thought I would give you a quick update. We have now done a few walks and Poppy has been so much better….. She has heard several bangs in each walk and barely batted an eyelid!! Amazing! They are not overly loud but enough that she would have spooked before. Yesterday on a track some off road motor bikes and a quad bike passed us and she stopped dead and did not want to carry on (she did not shake though I noted), I played running backwards and forwards and doing recall until she ran past the spot where she had stopped and carried on the walk perfectly happy! It is so nice being able to walk her again and be quite confident that she will actually complete the walk! I am amazed that such small changes have made such a difference! My neighbour even saw her this evening and said she is a different dog! She does still have a wobble occasionally if she hear something like a neighbour bang their bin lid shut outside but she is still very much a different dog!

 

Indoors Outdoors, Jekyll and Hyde

BorderRosie1Rosie, the Border Terrier, is the friendliest, softest, most biddable little dog you can imagine. Below on the right she is lying on her back at my feet. Oh – I love her.

The couple have had four-year-old Rosie for about 7 months. She came from a household with several children and lots of people coming and going….but no dogs. She was seldom taken out anywhere.

Without this vital habituation from an early age, other dogs were scary enemies and traffic terrifying. The couple have worked hard at getting her used to traffic – but the ‘other dog’ situation gets worse.

So, we have a dog that is wonderfully socialized to people – old and young, and used to all household things like vacuum cleaners – completely fearless at home, but a dog that is very reactive and scared of other dogs when out.

Put the lead on and open the front door, and Rosie completely changes.  She is on ‘dog-watch’.  She goes mental if she sees another dog.

Soon after she arrived in her new home, little Rosie rushed out of the front door to attack a Labrador that lives opposite. Undaunted by the dog’s size, she apparently had it by the throat. Not good for neighbourly relations!

Like many modern houses, theirs is surrounded by houses with dogs – statistically there is a dog living in every 3 or 4 houses in the UK.  Every morning ‘before-work’ walk is an adventure, avoiding dogs where possible or dragging a frantic lunging, barking Rosie past one dog after another. The lady holding the lead may as well not exist where Rosie is concerned.

The first point to address is the relevance of Rosie’s humans and the second is the value of the currency that will be used to desensitise Rosie to other dogs – food.  Only then can they use food and attention when they find the distance (threshold) at which Rosie knows there is another dog but can tolerate it.  Then the real work begins – that of holding her attention and associating the dogs with good stuff whether it’s food or fun – not  the usual pain in the neck as the lead tightens and anxiety of owner going down the lead.  Someone had advised spraying water at her – disaster! It may temporarily interrupt the behaviour by intimidating her, but long term be yet one more negative associated with other dogs and eventually shBorderRosiee would become accustomed to it anyway and ignore it.

Both food and attention need to gain much more value at home. Currently they are constantly seeking to give Rosie the food she likes best for her meals where they could be saving the most tasty stuff for dog encounters. They are lavishing the little dog with attention whenever she asks for it when they should be saving some of it for getting her attention when another dog is about.

This will be long-haul. Every unplanned encounter will set things back, but each controlled, properly managed encounter will advance things.

The magic ingredient is patience. We can’t reverse four years in four weeks.

 

Wrestling with the lead and constantly looking for trouble!

Pointer2 PointerOne-year-old Pointer, Chase, is a working dog without sufficient outlets to exercise his brain! With a dog like this, a daily walk simply isn’t enough. By getting attention in any way that he can, Chase is giving himself work to do.

He must also be very confused. For instance, he jumps up at people. Sometimes it’s ignored, sometimes it is actively encouraged and sometimes he is scolded, ‘No – Get Down’.

Whenever the lady wants some peace, Chase is ‘winding her up’, so he will end up in his crate.

After I had shown her what to do, the lady clicked (with clicker) or said ‘Yes’ every time Chase did something good. No more ‘No’. If he had his feet on the side, she clicked when they were back on the floor and he came for his reward. Each time he jumped on anyone, they ignored it and turned away, and the lady clicked as soon as he was back on the floor.

Now this is exactly the sort of brain work Chase needs. He is a gorgeous, good-natured and friendly dog – but bored. His evenings now need to be punctuated by regular short human-instigated occupations.

The greatest problem – the problem I was called out for is his pulling on lead. Before that can be resolved, his extreme, uncontrolled behaviour before he even sets out on a walk has to be dealt with.

As soon as the lead comes out he runs and hides – not because he doesn’t like it but because it instigates a chase game.

Once the lead is on, Chase is leaping about grabbing, wrestling and pulling it – instigating his own tug game! He has eaten his way through several leads.

Again, I showed them how to concentrate on what they DO want and not what they don’t want. Soon I had my long loose lead on him. I simply waited and waited until he was still and calm, and then asked him gently to sit. He doesn’t need to be ‘commanded’ – just reminded.

I popped the lead on and the manic jumping, grabbing game commenced.

What was the behaviour I wanted? I wanted him to release the lead from his mouth! When he grabs it, the human is holding it tight and the opposition reflex kicks in. Both are pulling and it’s a good tug game. He grabbed the lead, I approached him which loosened it. I kept doing this. No game. As soon as he let go I said Yes and rewarded him with something a bit special. We carried on like this for a few minutes and soon he was walking around the house calmly on a loose lead.

He had been taught what I did want, and he was finding it rewarding.

The next door neighbour comes each day to take Chase for a walk, and thankfully he was at our meeting. The walks may be a bit shorter to start with because they will be late starting out. When the man arrives Chase is usually leaping all over him and getting a fuss for doing so. That now has all to change. The man will wait for as long as it takes for Chase to calm down and stop jumping up. Then he will take the lead to the door and once more wait until Chase comes voluntarily, and sits calmly to have the lead on. Then there will probably be some pantomime of lead grabbing and jumping about. This will take some more time while he reminds Chase that NOT grabbing the lead is what is wanted.

Only then will they be ready to start out on their walk.

Say Cheese!

SalukiTilly1 SalukiTillyFour years ago, at only about eight weeks of age, Saluki Tilly was found abandoned – tied up in the Dubai desert. She was rescued by an English family who have just recently just moved back home.

They have overcome various problems including separation issues, and Tilly is the perfect gentle family dog. However, she is giving them a new challenge now, that of reacting fearfully to other dogs (the good news is that there are some dogs she happily plays with, so it’s not all dogs).

As owners try more and more things in an endeavour to ‘stop’ their dog barking and lunging at other dogs it so often actually escalates things. Their attempted solutions are usually aversive to some extent. Gradually she will be associating other dogs with unpleasant things – in this case a tight lead on an uncomfortable head halter or collar with owner tension running down it like electricity resulting in discomfort and possibly pain when she lunges, along with a water bottle that scares her.

The way to start changing her reactivity is not by trying to force her into a different behaviour but by addressing the emotion that causes the behaviour – fear.

Other dogs should now only be associated with nice things – comfortable equipment, a loose lead and a happy, relaxed human – and CHEESE. Tilly adores cheese, so cheese could be reserved solely for associating with other dogs until eventually she will be thinking ‘oh good, a dog, where’s the cheese?’! There are various ways of actually achieving this which we discussed (cheese would be unsuitable for a dog that’s lactose intolerant).

Before they are ready again for any doggy encounters at all there is some groundwork to be done. First, she should be walking comfortably on a loose lead instead of the usual pulling – something she was soon doing beautifully this afternoon on just collar and lead with the lady.

Secondly, in order for her humans to be trusted to deal with danger when out, they must be trusted to deal with it at home.  Thirdly, for the dog to give them her full attention when other dogs appear, she needs to do so at home. If the people are unable to get the dog’s attention because they are at her beck and call, then they won’t do so when out. Finally, for food to work on walks they need control over the food at home. A grazing dog is less likely to be sufficiently food motivated when in the distractions of the outside world.

Where the walk itself is concerned, she needs to be as relaxed as possible from the start. Loose lead walks should include all the sniffing she wants. Each dog ‘incident’ on a walk is cumulative. First time she may be only slightly concerned and walk past with no trouble. The second dog she meets she may be more reactive to and by now she is in a mental state ready to have a real pop at the third one. The people need to call it a day sooner. One successful encounter, even from a distance, is enough to start with.  Add to this her fear of loud vehicles. If she has been thoroughly frightened by a lorry at the beginning of the walk they might just as well come home. Her stress and tolerance levels will be far too high for any other challenges today.

Patience pays off in the end.