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

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

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Canine Behaviour Training, Support & Problem Solving

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

Canine SUPERNANNY

 Help for you and your dog

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN TO READ MY ‘STORIES’

*Always only with the client’s permission. In some stories, images and identifying details may be changed.

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Will the new puppy help Bella? Early socialisation is so important.

BellaBrewsterBella’s sweet looks attract attention when they are out, but she doesn’t like being approached and especially touched.

She barks.

She looks like a long-eared Labrador puppy, but she is actually a two-year-old Labrador Springer cross, much smaller than a Labrador.

The couple, first-time dog owners, admit to not having socialised her when they got her as a puppy, not realising how crucial it was. The lady took her for long country walks with a friend and her dog but she met few people. They didn’t have many callers to the house at that time either.

Now they have a baby and they get more visitors, and Bella is finding them scary. Her barking sounds quite fierce. In his ignorance, a visiting family member tries to grab her while she’s barking and she has snapped at him. She has no choice with all her other warnings ignored. She has nipped a couple of other people who have approached her and tried to touch her at home as well as out.

Her owners now see that it’s their responsibility to protect her from unwanted advances just as they would their baby. Over time Bella should then become less wary.  In addition, a lot of good associations need to be attached to people she meets, both coming to the house and when out.

Bella is very reactive to many things – the vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, hairdryer, garden hose and more. The young man plays wrestling games and hypes her up when he comes home till she’s flying all over him like a wild thing. Inadvertently, through his shouting at a TV football match, she is now really frightened when he raises his voice.

Helping her to be calmer is key.  It is all TOO MUCH. So, sorry, no more wild games. Put her in another room if the match is gripping and put her somewhere else before using any machinery that scares her. They understand and are happy with this, wanting the very best for her.

They will get a little yellow jacket for her saying ‘I need space’ or ‘please don’t touch me’ to help when they are out (maybe even when they have callers!). This way they won’t have to keep making excuses or apologising. For anyone interested, here are a couple of sites to get them from: http://www.coats-4-dogs.com/Space-Dog-Campaign.html or http://www.purechaos2calm.com/store/#.UotiJ-LpWaM

Believing it will be the best they can do for dear little Bella, in a few days’ time they are picking up a new puppy!  A Newfoundland called Brewster. He will be eight weeks old and I guess not much smaller than Bella herself.

They are hoping that a companion will give her more confidence. Maybe. Time will tell.  Crucial will be allowing Bella to make her own advances (or not) and doing much more to avoid her building up stress in general. Watch this space.

I shall be returning in a few days’ time, the day after they bring Brewster home, in order to make sure everything is set in place from the start and that Bella is happy.

Very importantly, we will also draw up a plan for active socialisation – for both dogs.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.

Away 3 weeks for training, and still goes mental when he sees another dog

Two-year-old German Shepherd Fonz is a beautiful, friendly German Shepherd. His lady owner has worked very hard with him and is very much on his wavelength – that is until other dogs enter the equation.

He left his litter and mother too young – at six weeks old, and had a couple of early bad encounters with other dogs that was not a good start. Before he was a year old the lady had a one-to-one trainer in to help her with walking him around other dogs. No improvement.

Then, last summer, she sent him away to be ‘trained’ for three whole weeks. They advocated a choke chain and old-fashioned training methods. All was OK while he was there – he had no choice – but when he came home and his lady walked him, there was no improvement at all – in fact, if anything, his recall was worse.

This is proof to me that it’s not to do with the dog, it’s to do with the humans. What has been lacking all along has been an understanding of why he reacts so hysterically and violently to other dogs, and instead of forcing him to comply, looking at it from his point of view.

He is scared. He is certainly not a naturally aggressive or territorial dog that wants to dominate. When there is a dog about he experiences discomfort as the collar is tightened around his neck, anxious vibes from the lady zip down the lead as she beats a hasty retreat, and loud scolding and jerking as he lunges if this is left too late.

Surely the only way to conquer the fearful behaviour is to conquer his fears, and this has to be done slowly. It’s far too late for ‘socialising’. He needs to feel comfortable with the equipment used. The situation needs working at from whatever distance necessary for him not to feel threatened; his human, his owner, like a good parent or guide should be the one who teaches him confidence without pushing him beyond his threshold, without bullying, and to behave like the leader/parent she is with him in other respects. Avoiding dogs altogether for ever contains the situation but doesn’t advance it.

‘Training’ of various kinds hasn’t worked so there really is no choice but to have a totally different approach if Fonz is ever to be relaxed in the vacinity of other dogs. It will be a slow business requiring considerable patience and sensitivity which I know this lady has.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.
 

Yorkie Brother and Sister

DaisyCody Yorkie twins Daisy and Cody are now five years of age.

There are well-documented disadvantages of taking on sibling puppies – see here for more information. One common problem is that one of the puppies becomes shy, even when both puppies started off as bold and outgoing. This means that the shy puppy never reaches his or her potential. Another problem is that same-sex siblings in particular can end up arch enemies.

It’s a tribute to their family that these two little dogs have turned out so well.

I would say that although Daisy, on the right (look at that little face), is a lot more nervous than Cody, they are no different many other two unrelated dogs.

Their problem is too much barking from Daisy, particuarly when they are out or when people come in the house. Cody is self-assured and has ‘attitude’ on walks but Daisy is scared.

Because she can sometimes sound quite ferocious when a person or another dog approaches, the lady has been so worried that her little dog is aggressive. She is on lead with a tense and anxious handler and she feels vulnerable.

But it varies. It’s not consistent. Because some days she is fine where other days she is very nervous, it’s useful to look at what is happening in all other aspects of Daisy’s life. There are many things that stir her up daily which don’t affect Cody at all, including the post coming through the door, the vacuum cleaner or lawn mower, and even enthusiastic greetings. Without too much effort the family can save her the build-up from all these stresses and it will make a huge difference to her.

The lady in parDaisyCody1ticular is very concerned her little dog could be ‘dangerous’. When they are out or when someone comes to the house she is both nervous and apologetic.

The people holding the leads will need to keep a close eye on the dogs for their reaction – to nip it in the bud. They must move Daisy away to a distance where she feels ‘safe’ and then work on building up her confidence.  When over-threshold she barks and lunges and snarls – and then may redirect onto poor Cody with a nip.

Work can only be done with the dogs walked separately for a while.

It’s the stress and fear that needs to be addressed – both dog and human! Already the lady has said, “I feel more at ease with the barking knowing it isn’t aggression”.

Already, after one day of implementing a few changes, she says: “We can’t believe how quiet they have been – less stressful today all round for the dogs and me!

When Daisy calms down and everyone gains confidence, they should have no problems on walks – as has already been proved on ‘good’ days.

To change the behaviour we must change the emotion that drives it.

 

Where should they leave their dogs when they go out?

LeviLilly1It is largely due to the diligence and love of the young couple that Miniature Daschunds Levi and Lilly are so biddable and loving. From the start they have done their very best to get everything right.

Levi on the left is three years old. I read little signs of stress on and off through the afternoon and Lilly, 18 months, lacks confidence.

It is very likely that the many hours the little dogs spend out in the garden alone while their humans are at work is fuelling this anxiety. Lilly in particular barks at things she hears – neighbours talking, birds and especially a cat that walks along the fence. After their evening walk Levi seems exhausted, understandable if he’s spent all day ‘on watch’.

The couple seldom go out apart from work unless they take their dogs with them. They are extremely dedicated dog owners.

Because it’s a long day the two little dogs are left outside with a nice kennel to go into should they wish to.  They are left with plenty to do, Kongs and so on. Many people believe their dogs are happiest left outside with the freedom of the garden. I see it differently. Dogs left outside can’t escape from storms, noises and invading birds. They are vulnerable. There was a time when a neighbour’s children would torment them over the fence. There was a complaint about barking.Levi3 There are many terrible stories nowadays of dogs stolen from gardens and high fencing is no deterrant.

A day of intermittent alert and barking must contribute to their stress levels big time. If they are already stressed they will be unable to cope so well with other things life throws at them.

A while ago something shocked me badly. My heart was pumping like mad for days. In this condition I found it hard to cope with small everyday problems. Nobody would see how I felt from just looking at me – it was all going on inside. This experience gave me fresh insight into how dogs must feel when in a constant state of arousal.

The couple will now leave their little dogs indoors when they go to work, in the area of the house where they are occasionally already left in the evening. For the first week or so the lady will take time off work to come home at lunchtime to check on them and let them out. After that they will try to find someone else who can do that for them.

Amongst other things that can relieve stress is to cut back on ‘commands’. Training is essential to a point, but we humans give out these words like Sit and Wait long after we have already taught the dog. If we have taught him to sit before food goes down, for instance, must we always keep prompting? If we wait, he will do it for himself. Training games that can teach dogs to think for themselves and games that make use of their hunting instinct are great for de-stressing them.

Over time both dogs should become more settled and be better able to deal with other things in life – Levi with car travel and Lilly with meeting other dogs.

 

The less Pip goes out, the more difficult it gets to walk her

GoldiePipSometimes life just doesn’t go according to plan. The gentleman had an emergency operation three weeks ago and will take some time to fully recover. He was the main dog walker as the lady is not strong enough to manage Pip alone.

Pip is a very energetic eleven month old Golden Retriever who is coping with the lack of stimulation and exercise remarkably well. They are doing their best with ball games in the garden and up and down the stairs along with some training, but it’s a difficult situation.

Young and enthusiastic, the outside world is just too stimulating and is getting more so by the day. Pip is desparate to introduce herself to every person she sees but most especially every dog.

Pip walked around the house beautifully with me, walking from room to room even when I didn’t have a lead on her, but as soon as we got outside the front door she was on sensory overload.  The only way anybody could walk her anywhere in that state of mind would be by using physical restraint, and that’s exactly what I work to avoid. I came back in. Even immediately outside their front door is a huge adrenalin rush for her.

Because increasingly she has insufficient opportunity to interact with other dogs, dogs are understandably super-exciting to her, maybe just a little daunting too.

So here is something the couple can do. They can keep going in and out of the front door as well as standing around out there, doing it so frequently that she starts to become more accustomed.

The more little outings she has the more mundane they will become.

I suggested a dog walker for now, until the man regains his strength. This way Pip could get to be walked with other dogs so that she remains socialised.

There are more things they can do at home to stimulate her. Scenting, searching and foraging is great for healthy stimulation and giving the dog’s nose the work it is designed to do. They can work on her recall too. They can walk her around the house and garden to practise their new loose-lead walking technique. Instead of reacting when she jumps up, as well as turning away they can actively mark and reward her when her feet are on the ground as well as other times when she’s calm or lies down.

Looking for and rewarding what we do want rather than simply reacting to the behaviour we don’t want not only makes the dog happy, it makes us happy too.

Pip is a little nervous of new things. The less she is out in the real world the more sensitive she will become.  I wanted to try a special soft but secure harness on her and left it on the floor for her to investigate. She was a little wary of it. I worked on introducing it to her very slowly. Treats for hearing it click to together (not on her), a treat for sniffing it; soon she was putting her own head through the hole to get the food and I carried on on desensitising her. I didn’t push it. They will take it very slowly and she should be welcoming the harness after a couple more sessions.

This way she will associate it with good stuff.

Remember a song that brings back wonderful memories? ‘Your’ song’ (mine was ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water – a very long time ago!)? That song is associated with special times and your brain is now hard-wired so whenever you hear it you re-live a little how you felt back then. This is the sort of positive association we want to give our dogs when we are desensitising them to something.

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It’s just over two weeks later and rthings are looking up for Pip: “We took Pip out yesterday on her harness and we were both impressed with how well she walked. It was a pretty stress free little stroll & we even met children on scooters which didn’t really faze her and even when we met another dog she was fairly sensible ! The hunt the treat game in the garden is probably her favourite game to date and she is getting rather good at it, she waits excitedly inside the kitchen while one of us lays the bait. Then its nose down and away then she wont stop till she’s found it all.

 

Quick fix may work in the moment, but long-term?

OllyCockerCocker Spaniel Henry is a gentle and friendly dog, well trained and not overly demanding nor too excitable……..at home.

Outside he’s on a mission. A joint mission of sniffing and looking out for other dogs.

If he picks up the trail of dogs that have recently passed his way, particularly dogs he doesn’t like (and he has a very good memory), he will hop, jump and lunge all over the place, very fired up. He barks on the way to the car and he barks when he gets out.

There are dogs that he likes and dogs that he doesn’t like, particularly when he’s on lead.

I watched the lady leave the house with him. Well trained, he sat nicely at the door. Then, as soon as the door opened the dog launched himself out, towing the lady behind him. He dragged her to the nearest bit of grass.

It’s strange how his indoor persona is so different to how he is outside. This must be because at home he feels safe.

The lady enriches his life in many ways, with plenty of scenting and hunting games both before she goes to work and when she gets home. She dedicates time each day to his training and play.

However, she can do nothing about his noisy reactivity to other dogs when they are out apart from resorting to an aversive gadget to shut him down.

Henry does have plenty of doggy friends, but he also has his enemies. Historically not all his interactions with other dogs have been good ones.

He was taken to training classes for a while. In my mind and, from personal experience before I knew better, ‘traditional’ puppy classes can be where many dogs are introduced to the notion that not all other dogs are friendly. These classes can be noisy with too many dogs in an enclosed place.  If a dog barks or ‘misbehaves’, always due to stress, he may be sprayed with water or intimadated in some other way.

One of the worst exercises is, dog on lead, to weave in and out of other owners and dogs and each time two dogs so much as look at each other or touch noses, both owners shout LEAVE IT.  What sort of negative associations does that give to the dogs? In modern dog training the dogs would be praised and rewarded when near another dog.

It’s not a big leap from this to using ‘quick fix’ devices like a citronella anti-bark collar (a smell dogs hate) to stop a dog barking at other dogs.

The big attraction of this is that, in the moment, it works. The dog stops barking.

However, the fear or frustration that will be causing the dog to bark at other dogs isn’t addressed at all. The very opposite in fact. The emotion will be getting worse every time the dog associates the other dog with an extremely unpleasant aversive.

Because Henry is fine with certain dogs, the lady will need to vary her own responses according to Henry’s own reactions.  If he shows little reactivity she need do nothing apart from calmly feeding him to reinforce him feeling good near a dog.

If he looks like reacting, then she needs to put more distance between them – quickly.  Eventually, Henry should see another dog and look immediately at the lady, thinking ‘A Dog? Good. Food!’. To get Henry to this stage will take a long time and hundreds of ‘safe’ encounters backed up with positive reinforcement, and the previous damage needs to be undone.  At the end of the day Henry will have positive emotions around other dogs. He won’t feel the need to react.  This, unlike suppression, is a real result.

Henry is very much worse on lead, so a longer loose lead on a comfortable harness is essential so he has more of a feeling of freedom.

The people who do best with their dog-reactive dogs are those who take things slowly and over time teach their dogs to associate other dogs with good stuff.  Allowing uncontrolled encounters meanwhile will merely set things back.

Getting it right (or wrong) at the beginning can determine a puppy’s future

GoldendoodleIdeally I would say a puppy needs some physical boundaries – not too much freedom, and calm humans who don’t give him mixed messages.

However, one size simply can’t fit all.

Yesterday’s family have a wonderful 11-week-old Goldendoodle puppy called Dexter. They also have a very large open plan house, a big garden and two young children who are very keen to be involved!

I sat in the kitchen watching a lovely scene through the window. In a world of their own, the two children and the puppy were climbing some rocks in the garden beside a covered pond. This is perfect until the children or puppy get excited and start to run about.

When someone hasn’t had a dog before, let alone a puppy, it can be hard to see things from the dog’s perspective. This is the dream: ‘Won’t it be lovely for my seven-year-old boy and his little sister to have a dog to play with’, based on childhood stories and films of dogs bounding free and sharing adventures.

The reality is that this lady now has three young children! Thankfully, the newest member of the family will grow up a lot more quickly, but meanwhile he needs the same sort of attention translated into doggy terms. He needs encouragment, teaching good manners, rewards and reinforcement. The children aren’t smacked and nor should he be. Toddlers are forgiven for toileting mistakes whilst being encouraged to go in the ‘right place’ and so should the puppy.

Little children aren’t given unsupervised freedom anywhere and nor should the puppy. This is particuarly the case when he is outside with the children. Thinking it would be fun, they have actively encouraged chasing games which have resulted in Dexter now getting over-excited, hence grabbing and nipping. Running along with children is part of the dream – but chasing them is not.

It may never have occured to a new dog owner that the dog may not want to be cuddled, crowded and carried around by a child.  It is so important that the children are trained to respect the puppy’s personal space because already Dexter (really the most amenable and gentle puppy) is beginning to growl at the little girl.  It’s also essential that the children keep their distance when he is eating or chewing anything.

Just as Dexter needs reinforcing for everything he does that they like, so do the children. We rewarded the little girl with small sweets for touching him gently on the chest and for hanging back when she wanted to cuddle him. To her he is just a large animated teddy bear and she already has a small cut on her face – but is undeterred. When an excited Dexter ‘goes for’ the little boy, he gets scared and angry and smacks him. This is a recipe for disaster.

The children can have great fun with Dexter by playing games that teach him desirable things.  Instead of chase games, the family can call him from room to room and in from the garden, rewarding him for coming – a brilliant recall game. They can play the sort of tug games that teach him to release and to be careful what he does with his teeth. They can teach him to walk nicely beside them off lead.

Mum is going to have her work cut out for a few months!

Rather than let things get out of hand and allow Dexter to become unruly and rough, she needs to pre-empt trouble. The moment he begins to get over-excited he should be called to her, rewarded liberally, and shut behind a gate with something to do. Then the children need to be taught that they simply must stay the other side of that gate until he has calmed down.

Although children speak the same language as we do, they are probably harder to train!

Does the Cocker Spaniel really bite ‘out of the blue’?

Last week three-year-old Cocker Spaniel Pete had been booked in to be putimages to sleep.

Fortunately the lady phoned me first. Her dog had bitten her quite badly and it wasn’t the first time. She told me the many bites were ‘out of the blue’ – for no reason at all.

I suggested that she asked her vet to give Pete a thorough check including bloods and a physical examination to rule out pain and any other condition that could make him have a short fuse. Unfortunately the vet refused, saying he could see the dog was fine and then gave confusing and outdated behaviour advice.

Pete was jumping at me and grabbing my sleeves as I walked in the door. He does the same with the lady. Yet – if she steps on him by mistake, tries to touch his feet or, as she did once, tripped and fell by him, he bites her.

Should not respect for personal space go both ways?

All the bites and near-bites she listed for me can actually be explained. Most were around resources of some sort and the others around Pete’s not wanting to be touched or moved. There is a strong suggestion that at least a couple of those could involve pain of some sort.

Positive reward-based methods aren’t just some modern fad but based on sound scientific research described in all the up-to-date literature, yet still some people hang on to the old notions.

I would agree in principal that the lady should take control of her dog and be ‘in charge’, but that doesn’t mean acting like a ‘dominant Alpha’ which would undoubtedly make things far worse.  In fact, guarding behavour often starts when people take the puppy’s food away to show ‘who’s boss’. Why do they do that! If he thinks you’re about to steal his food, wouldn’t it actually cause food guarding?

Leadership as in good parenting means building a bond of understanding and mutual respect, whereby the owner is the provider, the protector and the main decision-maker. All this is done kindly using praise and rewards, being motivational so that Pete is willing and cooperative.

I demonstrated the power of food while I was there, showing the lady how to use a clicker and chicken to get Pete eagerly working for her. What a gorgeous dog.

Nearly all conflict between owners and dogs is so unecessary because dogs so love to please if they are rewarded and appreciated – just like ourselves.  This isn’t bribery.  At the end of a consultation when I’m paid, have they have bribed me to do my job? No. I willingly and happily do my work for them, knowing I then receive my earned reward – payment.

Unless Pete is vet-checked properly we can’t rule out anything physical and invisible, but all the same this is very much a relationship issue. It would be a tragedy if Pete’s life were to be ended when with consistent, kind boundaries and getting him to earn much of his food in return for cooperation and learning things, the lady could slowly gain confidence in him.

It will take time.

 

With a puppy – make Food your Friend.

Ralph2Like all puppies, Cockerpoo Ralph can change from a manic foot-chasing, hand-nipping whirlwind to a sleeping ball of fluff in an instant.

Sometimes they have their special ‘victim’ – often someone who lavishes the most love on them. Frequently this is the lady, but not always. I have known it to be a child but less often a man.

It can be upsetting when our new ‘baby’ seems to turn on us.

I was with them and Ralph for over three hours but as is often the case I never actually witnessed the behaviour. We pre-empted it once by giving him something to concentrate on, in this instance learning to touch a hand using a clicker.

Brain exercise can often do more good than physical exercise which can fire a puppy up even more. He needs pacing – attention, exercise and training projects little and often.

Ralph isn’t too keen on being stroked. He is so soft, silky and fluffy it’s almost impossible to keep ones hands off him. He has started to quietly growl if touched when asleep and when he’s had enough of being stroked.

Here are a few of the basic tips I have given them and which are applicable to a lot of cases.  It would be good if Ralph had to put in some effort for his attention. The lady in particular should refrain from going over to where he is lying and touching him. She should wait until he comes to her. She can call him, but if he says ‘no thanks’ it’s not a good idea to cajole and beg him.

If touching and stroking is given to hiRalphm on a plate, pushed onto him even, he won’t value it.

They should avoid picking him up and moving him which also makes him cross. If they make use of his food as rewards he will willingly come of his own accord, and isn’t ‘willing’ just what  we want?

Another thing is that a puppy’s environment should start small and gradually open out. Time and again I find a puppy in a large garden chasing human feet and clothes. It’s like the lack of physical boundaries brings out something wild in him. Trying to ‘tire him out’ with chasing and games will only make him worse. Having an anchor point can help when puppy starts to get excited and silly (lead hooked to harness not collar for safety), and he then needs to be occupied with the sort of thing that can calm him downhunting and foraging for bits of scattered food or something nice to chew.

The question people always want answered is, ‘what do I do when he’s actually biting me’?

Immediately withdraw all attention. Immediately – not after one or two bites. Look away. If it’s a hand you may do a soft squeal and fold your arms (anything louder might be too exciting!).  If it’s feet – freeze. For now it’s sensible to wear clothes that give a bit of protection.

This is only half the story though. He needs to learn what he should do. ‘Food is your Friend’!

As soon as he backs off or stops, silently give him a piece of food. Do it over and over – he will get the message. It may seem like rewarding the biting, but it’s not so. You are rewarding NOT biting.  Add to this distraction. Immediately put something acceptable into his mouth, a chew or a toy.

It all requires forward planning. You need big pockets or a bum bag so you can keep food and toys on your person all the time! It’s not forever. He will grow up all too soon.

Ralph is a clever little dog. He was soon learning using clicker. He also walked nicely in the garden – with none of his usual grabbing and tugging on the lead.

This is yet another instance of the actual problem they wanted help for - nipping and chasing feet – being more than just that.  A holistic approach comes from all angles and enables us to work on the underlying causes. It shows the humans how their own behaviour can affect the puppy’s behaviour, as well as showing the puppy what we do want of him.

Vinnie is settling into his new home

VinnieI suggested they start all over again just as though Vinnie had never been walked before!

They have had the young Jack Russell for just over one week now and he is slowly finding his feet.

It’s very likely that he had seldom been outside his home and garden during the 2 1/2 years of his life which was apparently with a terminally ill person. He is another dog that reacts badly when seeing other dogs and where the groundwork needs to be put in at home first.

Each day he becomes more relaxed with them and although he’s an independent little dog he now will enjoy a cuddle.

He has a couple of strange little quirks.  He is completely quiet when anyone comes up the front path, rings on the doorbell, delivers a package or comes in the front door. However, when there is any noise from out the back – a dog barking or a car door slamming, he will rush out barking.

He’s very reactive to anything sudden, even someone coughing (they will gradually desensitise him to that in very small stages and using food). I do wonder whether the general background noise in his previous home may have been higher. One can only speculate. Now he lives with quiet people in a quiet area and against this background most sounds may well seem sudden.

The other strange thing is that from time to time he stands still, almost trance-like with his eyes closing. I did wonder whether it was because he was anxious, but there were no other indications such as lip licking or yawning. I took a video. On advice, I have suggested they get this checked out with their vet.

They will first start walking Vinnie in the garden until both humans and dog have the technique and a loose lead. As they go along they will work on getting and keeping his attention.

Only then they will venture out of the gate – but they won’t be going very far!

Bit by bit they will build on this until he is walking happily down the road on a loose lead. Only now will they be ready to work on dogs and Vinnie should be a lot more confident. They must do their best to keep at a distance where Vinnie isn’t too uncomfortable to take food or to give his humans his attention.

The secret to success is being prepared to put in the necessary effort and put in the necessary time – as I know Vinnie’s people are (see my ‘Reality Check’ page).

Enjoyable walks are about a lot more than dog training alone

GSDDukeprincess1 GSDDukePrincessThe last of German Shepherd Princess’ eight puppies went to a carefully checked home a couple of weeks ago and she has now been spayed.

Duke on he right (the puppies’ father) and Princess, both three years old, had the wrong start in life. Duke was in a barn and then not taken out until five months old which left a big gap in his vital socialisation, and Princess  had been left alone for hours and was beaten for destroying things.

The family have made huge headway with both dogs. Unsurprisingly, their main hurdle is socialisation and reactivity to other dogs when out, particularly Duke.

There are five family members who are all involved and adore the dogs, but they have been missing the vital ingredient to real success – positive reinforcement, particularly food.

Although their sole aim in asking for my help is to be able to enjoy walks, this is where I take a holistic approach.

Enjoyable walks are about much more than ‘dog training’.

The relationship with the human is particularly important when a dog is ‘trapped’ on lead. Firstly, the dog needs to find them relevant so that they can get and hold his attention. Secondly, the dog need to trust the human to whom he’s attached not only protect him and themselves, but also to make the decisions when out. If off lead, this also involves coming straight away when called rather than putting the owner somewhere lower on his list of priorities!

In order for the human to be trusted, they must be confident and this is one big problem here in this case.

Ever since Prince had been attacked by another dog, the lady who does much of the walking has been extremely anxious whenever they see one and admits that her reactions could well be part of the problem. Even discussing it made her tense up.

The business of decision-making, trust in the owner or walker and their being ‘relevant’ in order to get and hold a dog’s attention begins at home. If these things are not in place within the safe and distraction-free home environment, seeing the person on the end of the lead as ‘decision-maker and protector’ will not happen when out in the big world in the face of potential threats.

This is why a holistic approach works best. The process isn’t just about walks and other dogs alone.

Princess and Duke will be learning to respond to a whistle which will be throughly ‘charged’ at home – using food.  To teach them to really listen, they will learn to do their usual training tricks for one quiet request – and food. They will learn to give their humans eye contact and hold it upon request, they will learn to come immediately when called at home and they will learn that although they are the alarm system, their humans are ultimately in charge of protection duty.

Associating other dogs with nice stuff (food) will be part of the solution. Perhaps the lady would like to take a bag of her favourite sweets out on walks also and to pop one into her own mouth instead of reacting in panic!

This all takes time of course, but with these basics in place and calm loose lead walking established, these dogs will eventually be in a very different state of mind when meeting other dogs than they are now – as should their lady owner.

Over-arousal resulting in barking, obsessive behaviours and tenson between dogs

BellaRosieSuzie BellaRosieSuzie2I could hear the three little dogs as I got out of my car down the road!

With the exception of a German Shepherd, I have recently been to a run of little dogs, and one thing many of them have in common is excessive barking!

Two of yesterday’s three little terriers were particularly hyped up, especially Bella (left). Not only do they bark at sounds and people arriving, they bark with excited anticipation whenever anyone moves. Car journeys are a nightmare.

I took Bella’s picture after we had worked with her for a couple of hours, keeping the atmosphere as calm as possible, moving quietly and slowly, and rewarding her when she stopped pawing and scratching for attention. She became calm, undemanding and happy. It’s like at last she had a clue what was required of her.

The barking understandably drives the two ladies with whom they live to destraction. There is quite a lot of shouting! The more worked up the humans become, the more worked up the dogs get too. It’s a vicious circle.

Attempts at some ‘firm’ discipline have led Bella to showing her teeth and she has in fact bitten one of the ladies. A confrontational approach can so often end with the dog standing up for itself.

In the stress-charged atmosphere, Bella and one of the others may break into a fight. Bella can become fixated with her tail, then spins, growls and chews it. She may chew at her feet.

It was wonderful to see the little dog calm down and to demonstrate to the ladies what is possible if positive methods are used. There are kind methods of stopping a dog barking at the gate, of breaking up potential trouble between dogs and of getting a dog off the sofa. These methods require patience but the big difference is that they work, and not just in the moment.

Many humans feel it’s the right thing to do to play wildly exciting games (‘but the dogs love it’) or give manic greetings to dogs, not understanding that they may be pumping them up to a degree that something eventually will have to give. It’s hard to convince people that it’s kinder to wait and respond to the dogs only when they are reasonably calm.

The main aim for now is to reduce the tension and arousal in the household. Having calmer dogs will help their humans – and calmer humans will help the dogs.

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.