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 SOME OF MY ‘STORIES’

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

Then go to the Options page to find out more.

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.

 

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.

Seven little dogs and turmoil

Jones

I sat down, the gate in the kitchen doorway was opened and the seven little dogs barking behind it flew out.

Some were jumping all over me and climbing behind me, there were a few potential spats between three of them (I had treats in my pocket) and two – Snowy, the little white one in the photo and and Chihuahua Rudi on the right, stood back whilst continuing to bark at me fearfully.

Threre was so much barking and bedlam it was a while before we could chat. Temporarily settling somewhat, the dogs all started tearing about again at the slightest sound or if I stood up.  There were frequent near spats, all involving French Bulldog Boysie. The lady in particular was constantly on edge in order to pre-empt trouble.

I suggested they put Boysie on lead and the dynamics changed completely.

First they had Rolo, a Chihuahua Yorkie cross, now five. He was a happy dog and they got Honey, a Chihuahua Pug cross. Snowy soon arrived followed by Rudi. A relative bred Frenchies and they decided to add Boysie to the group, not realising that Honey was already pregnant with Rudi’s puppies (they kept two). They sent me this photo – an achievement with five of them including Boysie in one place, lying still and quiet!

Frenchie Boysie is the fly in the ointment. He is now ten months old and increasingly over the past three months has been challenging Rolo in particular, but also Rudi.

There are many other dynamics going on as you can imagine and a fair bit of conflict.  Rolo is constantly pacing and snaps when another dog comes near him, and others pick on Rudi.

At the slightest noise the whole lot immediately charge outside into the garden, barking, then back through house.

There are three family members – a couple and their teenage son. Their main concern is the increasing conflict between the dogs.

At the moment, before we can do anything else, ways have to be found to calm everything down. The spats mostly occur when the dogs are aroused which is much of the time. There is a crate in the sitting room and any of the three main male protagonists is happy to be in it – more relaxed crated than out in fact. I suggest ‘zones’ for the dogs and they rotate with two crates in the sitting room, one on top of the other and Rolo (the oldest) in the top crate where he won’t feel the need to growl at other dogs that get too close. Boysie can go in the bottom crate and the third male freely with the other dogs either in the sitting room or behind the kitchen gate. The boys can be regularly rotated. One boy can be released from the crate and another put in – so none are away for too long, and so no two boys are out together.

This simple strategy alone will calm things down enormously.  Food rewards have been impossible because food starts fights – even a crumb on the floor – but with the dogs in their zones some rewards can now be used. With food they can get much more control of their dogs and the barking. Crates can be ‘special places’, the only places with chews or bones.

There needs to be no shouting (difficult) and family members need to encourage calm and quiet by walking slowly when doing something like letting the dogs out or feeding them. The humans should simply wait for some semblance of calm before doing anything the dogs want.  The dogs need over time to learn some self-control. We have worked out strategies for when someone rings the doorbell, for when people come into the house and for when family members come home.

When I got up to leave we saw a good example of how organising things better – quietly and calmly – could work.  I stood up and the dogs, by then seemingly quiet and relaxed, immediately started flying around and barking, so I sat down again. I asked them to put Boysie in the crate, to pick up the most scared little barker Snowy as this helps her, and to put the others into the kitichen behind the gate.

I then stood up to go again – silence!

 

Increasingly reactive to other dogs on walks

Mo

Around nine months to a year ago Mo gradually changed from being a confident dog that loved all other dogs to how he is now, reactive to many dogs.

Mo is a cross between a German Shepherd and a Portuguese Water Dog – unusual and beautiful.  He is 20 months old.

As with most dogs, he is worse when on lead. The other day he went for another dog when he was off the lead – the only other time he did this was some months ago when they were on holiday. They decided it was time to get some help.

We looked a little into past history. At the time when Mo started to change there were a few things happening in his life that perhaps individually would have made little difference but when added together may have played a part.  Firstly, they moved house. Previously he had had many doggy friends that he played with daily. The young couple had been living with parents so Mo would not have been left alone much, and he started showing signs of distress when left. Also around that time he was castrated. The final thing that won’t have helped is that along a track at the start of their usual walk they regularly used to meet a dog that barked aggressively at Mo, and now he is particularly reactive along this same track.  In fact it was the scene of the recent incident.

Like us, dogs have much better memories for scary things and locations. It’s much harder to wipe out a really bad experience than to recall a good one.

Mo’s not consistent. Some days he takes little notice of the other dogs and some days he reacts. The two times he actually went for a dog were each at the end of a period of upheaval. There was a build up of exciting and overwhelming activity over previous days with lots of people, a holiday packed with activity in a new environment, excited children, too much noise and so on.

Whilst Mo needs plenty of stimulation of a healthy sort, he doesn’t need to be over-stimulated. The longer evening walk itself possibly over-stimulates him in some way because he doesn’t settle afterwards.

People often don’t see the connection between the state of mind the dog already is in before leaving the house and how reactive he is on walks and believe it to be merely a training issue, but homework is usually needed also.

At home Mo needs to be able to trust his humans to take care of any perceived danger in just the way he needs to be able to trust them when out on a walk.  Food is about the best resource for getting the dog to associate other dogs with something nice, but it has little value if it’s constantly available at home for free. He loves a ball, so maybe the only time for now he gets to hold a ball when out on a walk is when they are passing another dog. They need to know exactly what to do and what sort of distance there should be between the two dogs.

When walking past other dogs they need to be able to hold his attention. If they can’t do this at home they won’t get it out on walks.

They need equipment that is comfortable – at present they have a short and heavy chain lead, a Halti and a retractable lead.  None of these are conducive of happy, comfortable loose lead walking and in fact will make him feel restrained and trapped.

Mo has some doggy friends and he needs lots of opportunity to play with them. He however needs to learn, by constant repetition, to default to coming back to his humans whenever he sees another dog – and then they can decide what to do, not Mo.

A couple of days later: ‘We have already had a couple of good experiences with other dogs and Mo has showed improvement in loose lead walking. Yesterday I actually enjoyed our walk together for the first time in months!!’
A month has now gone by and this message shows just what can be achieved when people carefully follow our plan: ‘Last weekend we took him for a long walk across big open fields where we could avoid dogs if we saw any. At the end of the walk we saw two dogs coming in the distance so called mo back with the whistle, turned back in the other direction and left about 25-30 metres distance for these dogs to pass. We had mo sat down with a treat but made sure that he was able to see the dogs and he didn’t react at all! He definitely saw them but was so focused on me and the treat that he didn’t care, so we felt really good after that’.
 

A different mindset needed with ‘naughty’ Cocker Spaniel

Yesterday I visited a 9-month-old Cocker Spaniel called Willow.  Wonderful!  My own irrepressible Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, has given me some good practice.

Here is a list of things Willow does: Jumping up on people, excessive licking of people’s faces, jumping at the table and sides, barking (answering) back when told off, too much noise generally, steaWillow4ling any items she can get hold of and running off with them, leading the lady a merry dance and getting cross when cornered, humping people, fixating and barking at certain objects, jumping over people and furniture, racing at speed round and round the room and growling when eventually caught and restrained, shoving toys at her people to make them play with her, pulling on lead and, finally, chasing the cat. Oh – and running back to the car on walks.

All this may sound amusing to read, but it can be exasperating and has reduced the poor lady to tears.Willow5

Willow really is adorable as you can see – and see the white tail? She is a soft, affectionate little girl, However, two or three walks where she’s encouraged to keep moving and not sniff too much, just isn’t sufficient for her. She is BORED.

The family is on the back foot, trying to ‘field’ the things that Willow throws at them rather than themselves being proactive. She is a clever, working dog with insufficient appropriate stimulation so she is constantly finding ways to fulfil herself. She spends quite bit of time in the ‘naughty’ room.

‘No’ is a much used word.  In the three hours I was there we consistently looked for ways of saying ‘Yes’, and rewarding her with food. The lady was becoming really good at looking for the good rather than the bad and Willow was getting the message, becoming really focussed.

It is only fair on a dog to let her know what you don’t want in a language she really understands. ‘No’ and ‘Get Down’ or pushing are very confusing messages when the dog wants attention, because they ARE attention.

If a dog is jumping all over me I consider how another dog would make his feeling clear to a bouncy adolescent. Would not a stable dog look away, turn away, maybe tip her off and walk away? The other dog would probably signal when he saw her coming, making his feelings clear from the start. Showing the behaviour isn’t wanted is only part of the exercise. Just as importantly we then need to follow up by showing her just what we do want. If it’s ‘feet on the floor’ we want, then that is when she gets the attention.

Giving Willow a more fulfilled life requires being creative and offering alternative incompatible behaviours instead of scolding or ‘no’, and constantly reinforcing the desired behaviours. They will need to go cold turkey on the barking for attention whilst scheduling into the day the sort of activities that satisfy her canine Spaniel instincts – mostly nose-based. She needs plenty to keep her busy. When the family want to watch TV in peace, they need to instigate short bursts of activity themselves – during the advert breaks perhaps. She could have a hunting game, training games, a short ‘sniff’ walk around the block or a toy or chew kept aside especially.

Gradually, over time and with the help of food rewards, Willow will be looking for ways to get attention by pleasing them.  A different mindset for owners – looking for the good instead of the bad – can really help.

It’s the next day and I have just received this email: ‘We found all you said made absolute sense and we are now looking at interacting with Willow with fresh eyes.  Some things are so obvious it is almost embarrassing to have not realised it! Today we went for a couple of walks and it was so much more relaxed letting Willow do as much sniffing as she wanted rather than thinking she shouldn’t be doing it and trying to get her to walk on.  Also, I did as advised re meal times and she ate the meals!  Amazing! We have bought her a Stagbar and some other toys for playing with in the evening.  At the moment she is lying quieting asleep – perhaps dreaming of the fun day she’s had today! There is obviously a lot of work to do and reinforce but I feel much more confident and relaxed’!
And my reply, lest this gives anyone the false notion that there is such a thing as a ‘quick fix’: ”You are off to a good start. Be prepared for things to go downhill for a few days and take this as a taster of the future! It’s a different mind-set isn’t it, but not many people see it like that until it’s explained. I was the same myself once. You will soon really be enjoying your great little dog, but you have some hurdles to jump over first!’

 

A neighbour has complained about the barking

FrankieCharlie FrankieCharlie2People often feel, if they are out all day, that their dogs need a lot of space along with access to the garden.

I frequently go to dogs that spend a lot of the long day barking, and often this results in neighbours complaining as is the case with the two little dogs I went to yesterday. Even though it’s probably only in fits and starts, it can seem continuous if you live next door.

Parsons Jack Russell Freda on the left is now eight years old, and Jack Russell Chester two. Although Chester is the more nervous of the two, Freda is the bigger barker, and suffers more when left.

When left all alone it is most likely that the two dogs eventually settle, but they will be vulnerable to all the sounds from outside which will keep starting them off again. Whenever they hear the neighbours feet crunch on her gravel path or a car slowing down outside, the dogs bark. They go quite frantic when someone comes up the path to put something through the letterbox and they can see out through a front window.

Giving the dogs access to the garden will be making things a lot worse in my opinion.  It’s no wonder they feel insecure, left all alone all day with run of the house and garden, having to deal with such a lot of guard duty. Instead of settling the will be alert to every sound, charging in and out of the dog flap barking and getting themselves into a state, with no owners about to reassure them that all is well.

Shutting the dogs comfortably in the large kitchen should be a lot easier on them, although to start with they may be frustrated – barking to get outside through the dog flap because this is what they have been accustomed to. The people can rig up a camera and have a word with the neighbour.

When family members come home it is to give the dogs a huge fuss. I’m sure if they tone down their their greetings to make their coming and goings less of a major event, and if the lady can pop home at lunch time for half an hour, these little dogs will soon quieten down when left alone.

The second issue is about both dogs, Freda in particular, ignoring their humans when called out on walks. There are five family members and the dogs get everything they want upon demand by way of attention. While this is the case and while food isn’t used for rewards but given for doing nothing, the humans don’t have much leverage! They need to be more relevant in terms of getting and holding their dogs’ attention and work on this at home before expecting the dogs to give them attention out on walks – particularly ‘coming when called’ when there is something far more exciting to do like chasing a rabbit!

 

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.

 

A month later I received this email: Thank you so much for all you have done for us and our dogs. Every one of the exercises you gave us is showing improvement on our relationship with each other (all 4 of us). But most of all I want to thank you for the encouragement you gave us when our confidence was rock bottom, and helping us realise the things we already did that were good…as it helped us get our balance right between loving our dogs and allowing ourselves to have a social life:) They are now happy left indoors during the day with classic fm and never once messed in the house…sometimes you even see Levi coming out with puffy eyes from all the sleep he was getting! We are now seeing progress rather than frustration…and feel less anxiety of trying to listen to everyone trying to give us advice about what we should do about our dogs (most of whom didn’t ever own dogs themselves).

 

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.

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.
A month has now gone by since we started: Pip continues to do well especially when walking on the lead. There is no manic activity to get out of the house anymore just a calm but purposeful walk ! The harness has been a tremendous help and worth every penny….. Games in the house and garden are times enjoyed by all three of us and play quite a big part of our day. Pip does seem  more content and calmer during her day and is happier to rest when we do or if we  have other things to do . The jumping up is slowly improving …. she’s beginning to sit or play with a toy on her own. All things considered Pip is a much happier 14 month old [ and so are we ] and we  certainly feel more able to cope .  Especially now that we have all your great suggestions and ideas to help us on our journey with her.

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.