Agitated. Anxious When They Talk to People

Trevor, an absolute sweetie, was extremely agitated by my being there. He is a small, very young-looking black Staffie age ten.

He never stopped pacing, chewing and panting all the time I was there. Two-and-a-half hours.

This is how he behaves when anyone comes to the house. When alone with the couple he is relaxed and calm. No pacing or panting, that’s for sure. Apart from when the grandchildren are there, who Trevor adores, it’s a quiet life.

Was it scenting?

Interestingly, as soon as I arrived he wound himself vigorously around my legs like a cat for a while which I suspect was about putting his scent on me. Possibly he feels more secure when people coming to his house smell like ‘family’? My own dogs certainly showed more interest than usual in the scent on my trousers when I got home.

Agitated

Never stopped moving for a photo

Although very friendly, he became increasingly agitated over the time I was there. This is the opposite to what normally happens though many dogs don’t settle, not used to people simply sitting still and talking to each other in an intense kind of way for this length of time.

As soon as I left they tell me he settled, lay down and went to sleep. He was exhausted.

Trevor on walks is the perfect dog, just as he is at home. He is good with all dogs, he comes back when called, he doesn’t pull. The only problem is when they stop to speak to someone. Poor Trevor’s tail goes between his legs and he shakes. He becomes very agitated.

Could it be something to do with his previous life?

For the first six years of his life Trevor lived with a younger couple. They had obviously loved him and trained him well.

Then they split up. Neither could take him.

He has lived with my clients for four years now.

It is pure speculation, I admit, but is it possible that in his past life animated conversation sometimes ended in a row which scared him? (If the man forgets himself and shouts at TV, Trevor is terrified).

Agitated and anxious. Worse recently.

Sticking to facts, he is a relaxed and calm dog when alone with the couple. He loves his off-lead walks but is not happy if they meet someone and the humans start talking. He becomes very agitated when anyone, including family, comes to the house.

Recently it has become worse. This has coincided with the lady retiring. It suggests a change in routine is unsettling the sensitive dog.

No longer going out to work, the lady has friends coming to the house to see her more often. This will mean there is more animated talking going on.

Trevor paces, he pants, he frantically chews something. He stops briefly to be touched (I tried gentle massage but he couldn’t stay still) and then moves again. Round and round. He licks his lips. With nothing to chew, he may chew his feet.

For starters, we want to get Trevor back to how he was until a few weeks ago when the lady retired and his agitation and anxiety accelerated. He always has been agitated with people about, but not this bad.

They will try to make his routine more like what it used to be where possible. They will avoid things that obviously stir him up where they can and give him activities that help to calm him. There are things like Thundershirt, special music, a plug-in and a calming collar that they could try as well.

I am hoping that, as a certain supermarket says, ‘every little helps’ and that things added together produce results.

No talking.

When friends come round, they will experiment with silence, with the person being very calm and trying ‘no talking at all’ from time to time. Is it talking that’s the problem? I didn’t try five minutes’ silence myself because the possible connection with talking only dawned on me as I left. Like so many cases, it’s about detective work.

When they meet someone out on a walk, the lady can stand Trevor further away. With more distance he should feel safer. The lady can drop food for him, he is fortunately very food motivated, so that he can begin to associate his humans stopping to chat with something good. Over time this should replace any possible previous negative associations.

They will involve the vet, both to check Trevor has no developing medical problem and maybe to back up the behaviour work with medication. In cases like this we should not forget complementary therapies.

Our end aim is for Trevor to stop being agitated when they are talking to someone whether this is at home or out on a walk. This fear is blighting the sweet dog’s life.

From an email three weeks later: ‘Just a quick update. Had a friend round last week. Before she came Trevor was out in the garden searching for “sprinkles” for about thirty minutes, I used Pet Remedy spray before she arrived and I put his Thundershirt on him as well. She commented on his behaviour as soon as she arrived, as to how much calmer he was. Before very long Trevor was lying on the sofa next to her, just like he does in the evenings with me.’

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Trevor and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Too Much Excitement. Too Much Lots of Things

‘Too much’ results in stress.

Ollie’s stress levels are at the root of the problems. This said, not all stress is bad and a lot is associated with fun – but it’s too much of everythiToo much excitementng that’s the trouble.

So many things add up during the day. The eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo has to have the lady in sight all the time and panics when left alone. He barks at every sound outside. He can’t control himself when other dogs are about.

Their young children are often excited around him. Too much arousal, too much petting (and too vigorous), too much prolonged, rough or repetitive play, too much physical contact. They believe it makes him happy and it does, in a way. But it’s too much.

It was evening, the children had gone to bed and Ollie gradually settled. I watched him go and snuggle on the sofa beside the man who immediately began touching him. Ollie licked his lips, then licked his nose, then yawned. A little uncomfortable? To me it suggested the dog wanted the closeness but wasn’t asking to be touched. He soon jumped down.

When they walk past him, he will roll onto his back. They assume it’s because he wants a tummy rub. Really? It will depend upon context, but often it will be appeasement. “Please leave me alone.”

Why should Ollie be so stressed?

I saw for myself how easily he becomes anxious. Sadly, as a twelve-week-old puppy, right in the middle of his first fear period, he had a painful medical problem that resulted in his being confined for six weeks.

Ollie is a lovely friendly dog. He should be having a lovely life. He has love, attention, play, walks and the best food, so why should he be stressed? It’s about everything in moderation. There is, simply, too much.

There may however be ‘too little’ of the things he really needs – down time, sniffing time, closeness without necessarily being touched, peace and quiet without being alone, brain work, healthy stimulation.

So, I would say that cutting down on the intensity of everything will make a big difference. This has to be the starting point. At the same time, we will introduce activities that help him to reduce stress and to use his brain, instead of working him up into a frenzy of excitement.

One very interesting thing they told me is that Ollie loves a tight-fitting garment they dressed him up in for an occasion last year. Recently, sniffing a box, he dug down and dragged it out. He then he took it off and lay on it. Apparently, when he was wearing it Ollie seemed calm and happy which is why they felt he liked it. This started me thinking. How does he react when his harness goes on, I asked? He’s calmer then also.

From this I just guess that there’s a good chance of him being one of those dogs a Thundershirt or Ttouch wrap could help.

Other dogs send him onto a high

Here is another strange thing. Ollie is only aggressive to other dogs when his humans are eating! If there is dog food or bones about he’s okay.

He has only ever shown aggression to humans when other dogs are around.

Ollie’s arousal levels shoot through the roof when he’s near dogs. He is so desperate to play that he overwhelms them. In his uncontrolled way, he charges about, jumping over them and has nearly bowled over a couple of owners who were not pleased. The presence of other dogs gives Ollie such a high that he’s uncontrollable. The lady is now anxious about walking him.

First things first

Number one priority, then, is to calm him down a bit. Then after two or three weeks I will go again and see what we then have and what we need to do next.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ollie and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Dog and New Baby. Not a Happy Dog

This is just the start of the story of beautiful Labradoodle Byrne and the new baby.

When they brought their baby home just three days ago, Byrne barked frantically at him and they didn’t know what to do. In desperation they phoned me but I couldn’t see them until today.

I suggested they got someone else to have Byrne for a couple of days until I could come.

He came back home just ten minutes before I arrived.

For the dog to be relaxed around the baby requires him to be driven by different emotions. Currently fear, arousal and probably a mix of other uncomfortable things are flooding him – it’s been proved that dogs feel jealousy. Scolding and commands, due to natural human anxiety, can only make things worse.

Just home with a new baby is not an easy time for very worried people to be calm..

Management

The first priority is management. Barriers in the form of gates and an anchor point will be installed straight away. The lady can then begin to relax.

Helping Byrne to feel at ease will be a gradual process – a gradated or incremental plan – aiming at keeping him (on lead of course) within his comfort threshold all the time.

We worked with a clicker and the baby asleep in his pram, occasionally making little noises as babies do. Byrne looked at the pram, the man clicked. As Byrne looked around the man fed him.

The dog was fine.

Next we took it to the next stage. With Byrne out of the way in the garden, mum picked up her new baby and settled down to feed him – well away from the door.

Byrne was brought in. While the baby was still, quiet and feeding, the dog was fairly relaxed even quite near to him. He was repeatedly clicked and rewarded.

We then removed Byrne from the room again while the lady lifted her baby against her shoulder. He was brought back in.

This was too much for him. He began to bark.

I feel he’d actually done very well indeed for his first day, particularly as the original encounter a couple of days ago had been so distressing for him.

An incremental plan and the new baby

In order to build Byrne’s confidence and acceptance of the baby they need to work a step at a time. This is how I see these steps at the moment, but some more may need to be added. Each step has to be achieved before embarking on the next. Calm with……..

  1. Baby in pram in the same room – making sounds
  2. Baby being fed
  3. Quiet baby in seat and not held.
    Stressed by the new baby

    Looking at the new baby

  4. Doll held in arms and moved about and talked to – using a doll to mimic the lady’s behaviour with the baby. It could even be dressed in used baby clothes.
  5. Quiet baby being held in arms – maybe the man holding him initially
  6. Noisy baby in pram
  7. Noisy baby in seat
  8. Noisy baby in arms

Whenever baby moves or Byrne is aware of him, they should give the dog food. The new baby triggers chicken!

It is vital, if Byrne’s emotions towards the new baby are to be resolved, that positive methods are used. It’s too tempting to discipline and try to teach the dog what he must NOT do instead of what he should do.

If it were a snake and not a baby, for instance, and if Byrne could die if he touched it, then there may be justification in sudden shouting or punishment because they would want him to hate and to avoid snakes forever. The opposite is the case here with a new baby.

Too many changes

Poor Byrne is unhappy if not in the same room as the young couple, so will no doubt complain behind the gate.

He sleeps in their bedroom – and this is where the baby’s crib now is. He may need to sleep somewhere else and this could make him unhappy too.

Hindsight always being so easy, this is a good example of where thorough preparation can prepare the dog. Weeks before the arrival of the new baby Byrne could have been introduced to being left behind gates and sleeping somewhere else at night. He could now feel pushed out just when the opposite is needed.

This has all come as a very sad surprise for the young couple who adore their beautiful and very well-trained dog and assumed he would be fine.

New unforseen challenges will no doubt occur but overall, if they can be patient and never push ahead too fast, Byrne should learn accept the new baby.

The story has just begun.

Four weeks have now gone by. Byrne is back on their bed again at night, peaceful, happy and calm while the lady feeds her beautiful month-old baby.
From email three weeks later: Things are going better with Byrne each day. 

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Byrne and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Unpredictable Humans so Unpredictable Pup

Unpredictable pupSometimes, just sometimes, things don’t work out as we would like. This through absolutely no fault of our own.

It could be a mismatch or an environment not best suited for a puppy.

There can be all sort of reasons, including lack of company with people being out at work all day.

In the case of 7-month old French Bulldog Ezra, it’s not lack of company that is the problem. It’s too much. Too many people at times. Too unpredictable. Too noisy.

What puppies need more than anything else is predictability (like children). It makes them feel safe and allows them to learn self-control and to be predictable themselves.

Unpredictable. Too noisy, too much happening.

In Ezra’s case, it’s his exposure to unpredictability and occasional chaos that has led him to biting. It’s the only way he can get any control over things that are simply too much for him.

The family is large and extended. One of the younger children has issues that make him unpredictable and noisy.

The other day Ezra bit him on the lip. The ten-year-old was taken to A & E.

The boy himself explained the run-up to this and it included noise, people, loud TV which Ezra hates. The dog was already over-aroused. He had jumped onto the floor probably to get away and the child had slid off the sofa onto the floor beside him. He had pushed his face into the little dog’s and stared into his eyes. He has a sort of compulsion to do those things he knows will upset Ezra.

BITE

Another family member, a young man, had a couple of weeks previously been bitten on the nose quite badly. He said he was doing nothing, but questions revealed a sequence. The dog will undoubtedly have high stress levels to start with. The doorbell had rung, making him very excited. He had been chewing bones. He then jumped up on the young man’s lap (why do people always think this means the dog wants to be touched?). The TV may have been too loud. The man had his hand on Ezra’s back.

Then, for seemingly no reason at all, Ezra flew at his face.

Unpredictable? I’m sure there will have been warnings. Possibly Ezra will have frozen. He is now learning the only way to get away from unwanted attention is to bite.

A habit is forming which started with nipping. Each time he attacks it in effect gives him respite so the more of a learned behaviour it becomes – the more likely it is to happen again unless the various criteria that lead to the behaviour are changed.

Dogs need choice – a say in the matter.

Does he want to be touched just now? Does he want to be left alone just now?

In addition to altering these criteria which won’t be easy (creating calm, choice and predictability) the situation needs to be safety-managed.

A muzzle is good as a safety thing in emergency, but using it so that people can be free to do as they like around Ezra would be very wrong.

Since speaking to me on the phone the other day when Ezra had bitten the boy, the lady has had the pup in a crate in the dining room when the younger kids are about. She will be locking the doors to the room when she’s not in there – Ezra safely shut away with plenty to do.

(This sounds like Ezra is now shut away all the time but that isn’t the case. They are managing to juggle things so that he has plenty of attention and outings).

Dedication, kindness and patience.

The lady is treating Ezra with the same dedication, kindness and patience she treats all the family which includes several young people she has taken under her wing.

The younger family members will be changing their own behaviour where possible as will the older ones. We are looking at ways of using clicker and food to create a more useful relationship between Ezra and the boy.

It may be at the end of the day that they aren’t the right home for Ezra. This happens.

They will know that they’ve not left any stone unturned. Where you can’t fully control the humans and have to rely solely upon management there is always the risk that, in an unguarded moment, management falls down. A door can be left unlocked.

At the end of the day these kind people will be making the right decision for both Ezra and their family.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ezra and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Bite! Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.

A cat can lie on its back and when you tickle its tummy it can yowl, grab you with it’s claws and BITE.

A dog can be approached when he doesn’t want to be touched. If he so much as growls in warning, let alone gives a snap or a bite, he’s probably in for trouble.

Being touched when he’s asleep.

Man petted him and received a biteThe affectionate little pup I went to yesterday is very happy to be touched most of the time – but not when he’s in his bed, particularly first thing in the morning.

Little Teddy is only five months old, a mix of small breeds and was born over here to a Romanian street dog in a shelter.

In every respect he has a lovely life with a family – a couple, their young adult son and daughter and lots of friends. They all adore him.

He soon proved himself to be a very clever and enthusiastic little dog with some clicker training that I taught the lady to do with him.

From the start Teddy has been a bit fearful of certain things, although with their help he is improving.

He is walked across a busy road each day to get to the park. Big traffic scares him.

The daughter wants to take him to where she keeps her horses. Unfortunately, he’s scared of horses also. He has spent considerable time recently barking at a horse in the field behind their garden, rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.

I’m sure given continued time and patience he will gain more confidence. The lady will keep him at a comfortable distance from traffic while she works on his fear. He will no longer be left outside barking at the horse.

One thing at a time.

Before he encounters the daughter’s horses (again from a comfortable distance) she will acclimatise Teddy to the environment itself – the smells, sights and other dogs in the yard. She will let him walk around the yard and nearby land on a long line. One thing at a time.

What really prompted their call is what has caused Teddy to bite the man twice and the son once – and these weren’t mere puppy nips. On each occasion the tall human had come into the kitchen, walked directly over to Teddy’s bed and bent over where he lay sleeping. Because of the layout of the house people can appear very suddenly in the gated doorway which doesn’t help.

Anyway, the pup bit him. Hard.

Bite!

Very unfortunately the man did what many people would do in the circumstances and that was to punish the puppy. He shouted and lightly smacked him. Teddy hid from him for some time under the table afterwards.

Probably feeling he shouldn’t allow the dog to win, the man did the same thing another day. He bent over the dog’s bed to stroke Teddy repeatedly on the nose. The little dog snarled this time before another bite.

He was punished again.

It has been proved beyond all doubt that using punishment to ‘teach the dog’ where any aggression is concerned can only make things worse, despite certain out of date nonsense still out there. The puppy’s reaction to being touched in his bed like this may have been partly reflex, some instinctive fearfulness or due to his simply not wanting to be touched. Whatever the reason or mix of reasons, it was valid.

Punishment like this always backfires in some way. It could later if continued possibly have spread to his guarding his personal space in other situations and places. It made the kindly man feel really bad afterwards too.

The solution is simple.

Nobody, ever, will again be going over to Teddy when he is lying in his bed. It’s quite fair that he should have a safe area that is his own, after all. All friends visiting must be told the same.

If people want to fuss him, they can sit at a distance from his bed and call him over. He can then choose. He’s such a friendly little thing I’m sure he will be all over them.

Totally secure in the knowledge that his space won’t be invaded when he’s in his bed, he will have no reason to feel defensive when someone comes near it in future.

He won’t now have any reason to bite ever again.

At all other times little Teddy is the sweetest-natured little dog you can imagine.

(Here is a great article about how dogs may feel about being approached directly).

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Teddy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Bites When Touched in his Bed. Warning Growl.

He bites when touched in his bed.

It’s hard to believe!

Will is the most adorable, soft, fluffy, friendly and gentle Pug Poodle mix – a Pugapoo I believe. While I was there it was impossible to see any hint of what I had been called for – growling and biting his two lady owners.

He has a lot of attention and is seldom left alone. He has been to several puppy training sessions and he’s fed on the best food.

This escalated about five weeks ago though he had growled when in his bed and approached before that. 

They didn’t heed his growling

Now one lady has two bite wounds on her hands.

I likened it to my standing in a queue with someone uncomfortably close to me. I would move away. The person then moves near again. I might give them a dirty look (the dog may freeze). If that doesn’t work I might tell the person ‘Back Off’ (the dog would growl). Then, if the person moves right close and touches me despite all this, would I not be justified in slapping the hand away? (The dog snaps).

Then, what if I was accused of assault? Would that be fair?

Will is then scolded ‘No No Naughty!’.

Will only bites when touched in his sleeping place, and mostly when it’s for something he doesn’t want, getting him outside at bedtime or taking off his collar.

We worked on “Will, Come!” back and forth all over the room. This is the key. When sufficiently motivated with food he will do whatever they want. Nobody needs to invade his space.

The other issue is food. He’s a fussy eater and this worries the ladies greatly. Food is left down all the time and he is enticed with chicken. This leaves them nothing for ‘payment’ and motivation. He has a running buffet and his favourite is used for regular meals. Rewards need to be of especially high value whilst also being nutritious. We looked into what to do about this.

One other problem – Will is car sick.

He bites when touched in his bedHe drools as soon as he is put in which to me suggests fear – maybe in anticipation of the motion. We have a plan. First the car will be parked about 50 yards down the road and on the way back from their regular walks he can be popped in the car and driven home – taking about half a minute. After several days he should know exactly what to expect and feel chilled with this. No drooling.

Next I suggest that at the start of the walk they pop him into the car and drive this fifty yards, park the car and, again, pick it up on the way home.  When he’s happy they can increase distances and go further.

It’s so hard to believe that the adorable Will bites when touched in his bed. He clearly, in dog language, says what he’s feeling. His body language is misread. Growls aren’t taken seriously. Just because he has rolled onto his back  it doesn’t mean he’s asking for a tummy tickle. He’s much more likely thinking ‘uh-oh, I don’t want to be fussed just now, please, I give in, no…..!’.

As ignoring his signals continues, the dog can become increasingly defensive. I’m sure if Will’s lady humans now no longer approach him to touch him but wait till he comes to them instead, he will become more relaxed about it.

Who can resist touching a little dog who looks and feels like this, after all!

 

Touched and Cuddled. Some Dogs Like it. Some Don’t

African Wild Dog (Wikipedia Commons)

Pearl came from a ‘farm’ in Wales. At six weeks old she was driven from there to the house the young couple bought her from. There were lots of dogs there. I have my suspicions about what kind of farm that was – a puppy farm very likely.

They say she’s a Border Collie, but doesn’t she look like an African Wild Dog! Look at those huge upright ears and the colouring.

The 9-month-old Pearl is a puzzle behaviourally also.

Pearl doesn’t like being touched.

doesn't like being touched

Happy face

Pearl doesn’t like being touched whilst seeming to invite it.

She approaches the young lady who assumes it’s because she wants her to pet her, and then growls and bares her teeth when she does so.

Unfortunately, the couple feel the way to touch the dog is vigorously, kind of ruffling her with both hands. The man gets away with it – Pearl tolerates being touched by him – but not by the young lady, not even being touched gently. This understandably upsets her.

Pearl used to just growl and occasionally show her teeth.

They then had some very unfortunate advice from a trainer over the phone.

“Grab her by her scruff and remove her!”.

The couple admit that things have gone downhill from then, even though they only did it the once.

Pearl started snapping too and although it’s mostly at the young lady, it’s other people also. Family members want to fuss her. Looking as she does, people everywhere want to touch her. When she reacts, telling them in clear ‘dogspeak’ that she doesn’t like it, she is scolded. NO!

How confusing this must be.

doesn't like being touched

Pearl

The real puzzle is that she seems to be asking to be touched – or that is the conclusion they jump to. I however don’t think so. She wants to interact but she doesn’t want hands.

If she were to go to another dog, put her face against him and look into his eyes, what might she be saying? It would be inviting interaction and maybe play, certainly not hands on her or even paws.

Below is a still from a short video the young lady sent me of Pearl baring her teeth as she touches her. I see a dog exercising great self-control.

It is evident to me that, like many dogs, Pearl particularly doesn’t like a hand coming from above. Her first signal is to momentarily freeze. She did this with me, even though I was just very briefly touching her chest (with her consent). I immediately stopped.

Their reaction to ‘aggression’ is to be firm and shout NO. They have had the wrong and old-fashioned advice. To stop is to ‘give in’ and she ‘needs to know who is boss’.

The dominance approach can only make things a lot worse.

The young man perceptibly made the point that touching Pearl is really for their own benefit and not Pearl’s.

Pearl’s reaction to the young lady touching her

I suggest they no longer ruffle her at all and no hands-on play. The lady’s daily routine is to touch her vigorously, particularly when she comes home from work. This is when the main trouble starts.

The evenings deteriorate into Pearl jumping on her – ‘demanding’ to be touched. Then Pearl shows her teeth, growls and maybe snaps when it happens.

Now they will resist nearly all touching and any done will be brief and not on the head. No vigorous ‘ruffling’. They will no longer go over to touch her when she’s lying down.

I showed the young lady how to clicker train Pearl to come to touch her hand. In this context Pearl will learn to like hands. Let the dog initiate the touching and find it rewarding.

Another aspect to it all is that, because she’s left alone while they are at work, the clever young dog may not get sufficient stimulation. Instead of ‘fielding’ her puzzling and demanding behaviour in the evenings, they will now initiate frequent short mentally stimulating activities. Activities that don’t get her stirred up unnecessarily and don’t involve too much physical contact.

They have already taught her lots of words. They have worked hard with her and I am sure there is a strong genetic element to her behaviour. She’s just not born to be a cuddly dog. They can accept her for who she is, a dog who likes at most being touched gently and briefly. Instead they can spend time doing with her the many things that she does enjoy.

You never know, in time and as her confidence and trust in them grows, she may enjoy short petting sessions.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Pearl. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

 

 

 

 

Running Off With Things and Guarding Them

Guarding behaviour is unecessaryThey had been told her guarding behaviour couldn’t be fixed which is pretty unbelievable really. They were told nothing would stop her picking up and guarding anything that was lying around.

The two main problems with beautiful and mostly loving Cockerpoo Nell are that she will steal things, run off with them and become aggressive when they try to take them from her. Also, she has bitten when she didn’t want to be touched.

The two things are related. Nell can feel uncomfortable or threatened when approached directly.

Things like this aren’t usually in isolation so there are one or two other things to be resolved also. I find when eventually each smaller thing is addressed the whole picture becomes clear and everything starts to fall into place.

‘Consequence drives behaviour’.

Nell does things because they work for her in some way.

On each occasion when she has snapped when touched, her space has been invaded. Biting makes the person back away. Bingo.

The guarding is much the same thing. To retrieve the item, her space is invaded. It scares her. It’s weird how dogs set themselves up to be scared like this, knowing what the consequence will be.

On my way home from their house yesterday I was listening to the radio. A young man who had been in prison several times being interviewed. He was talking about the adrenaline rush of the chase if police or householder were after him like it gave him a fix.

Perhaps this is how it is for the dog. She is creating her own excitement and danger.

It’s likely that the working breed in her isn’t getting sufficient fulfillment and she is giving herself an adrenalin rush.

The humans totally have it in their power to stop the behaviour from happening by how they react. They can also give her other activities that will provide her with the kind of stimulation she needs. This isn’t hours of exercise or manic ball play either. She needs to use her clever brain and her hunting and sniffing instincts. She’s a mix of Cocker Spaniel and Poodle after all!

What makes this relatively easy for Nell’s humans is that when she takes something she rarely damages it. It’s hard to know why they bother to go after it, setting her up to growl and guard, thus feeding her fix for excitement and fear.

What they have done for the three years of her life in reaction to her nicking things and guarding them clearly isn’t working or she wouldn’t be doing it anymore.

From now on I advise they totally ignore all guarding.

They will look away or walk out of the room. they will only retrieve the item when Nell isn’t about. What can she get out of it then?

The person who advised them before said it could never be fixed! Nonsense.

With the brain games they can teach her exchange and ‘give’. They will use more food as payment and reward so she is motivated and engaged.

An reaction when being suddenly touched can be solved similarly. She clearly doesn’t like her space invaded, not only if it’s to take something off her but also to take a thorn out of her fur or if she is patted in passing when she is resting.

Again, the humans need to do things differently. Nell’s reaction, growling and snapping, makes the person go away. It works! I suggest for a few weeks none of the family goes into her personal space at all. She lives in a bubble that mustn’t be burst.

If they want to touch her, they sit down a couple of feet away and call her. If she doesn’t want it, so be it. I guarantee she will start putting herself out a bit more for her humans and in time will be a lot more easygoing about it.

‘Trigger stacking’ again.

It’s another case of trigger stacking – where stressors build up and it erupts elsewhere. In Nell’s case with occasional reactivity to other dogs on walks for instance.

They may have been told that nothing can be done about the guarding behaviour but that is ridiculous. It’s not extreme and the solution is simple really. It’s to do the very opposite to what they have done in the past that hasn’t worked but only made things worse.

It also means giving her the stimulation and excitement she needs with appropriate alternative activites.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Nell. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Agitated Dog. Excited, Alarmed, Relentless

agitated daschund

I could only catch a back view without him rushing to me!

The Miniature Wirehaired Daschund charged about barking, agitated whilst at the same time as ecstatic to see me. He flew all over me.

It was relentless. At my request we were all doing our best to ignore it.

I continually turned away and tipped him off.

I then asked the lady to show me what they usually did when someone came and he was barking like this. She pointed her finger at the agitated Monty and shouted NO a couple of times.

Monty stopped. Briefly. Then he focussed his barking on her.

Monty was also ready to bark at the smallest sound outside, but this time a different kind of bark. An alarmed bark.

The agitated Monty panted and scratched.

He scooted around the carpet – he has recurring anal gland problems that can only add to his stress (he has an appointment with the vet who will check him all over too). He chewed his feet.

Then he was flying around again. A stuffed Kong later on gave him and us a short respite.

It is so very hard for people to deal with this sort of thing and I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that, much as they love their adorable little dog, he is driving them nuts. They have spent money and they have taken advice. They are at their wits’ end.

The humans are agitated and the dog is agitated. A vicious circle.

Monty barks at people, he barks at planes or helicopters. He barks at church bells and things on TV. They can’t have friends round because from the moment he hears the doorbell he is jumping up, flying everywhere, agitated and barking frantically.

Some months ago an old-school dog trainer advised spraying him in the face with water. This did stop him – briefly.

There are two things particularly wrong with this.

Trying to terrorise an agitated dog does nothing for the underlying reasons for the barking. It undoubtedly makes them worse, whatever the cause of the barking.

The other very wrong thing is that the dog quickly gets immune to water spray, so then what?

They were advised to move on to an ‘anti-bark’ collar and other remote-controlled anti-bark devices. Here is my favourite video demonstrating how aversives can only add to stress and confusion.

Things have progressively got worse. They are people doing their very best with the information they can find. How do people know where to look? They are at their wits’ end.

They feel they have really tried everything.

Fortunately, they have not tried everything.

Not at all.

For a start, they haven’t tried doing everything they possibly can to cut down on Monty’s general arousal levels using only positive methods. Nobody has suggested that.

They’ve not tried helping him out with the alarm barking – basically thanking him instead of punishing him. Yes – thanking him – and using food!

The usual question then is, ‘am I not then rewarding my dog for barking?’.

Not if he’s alarm barking. They are addressing the fear that is causing the barking. Already with me being there they could see how that worked. A plane went over. He pricked up but didn’t bark. If they are sufficiently on the ball and can spot when he first hears something, they can catch it before he even starts – pre-empting barking.

Poor little friendly dog. What a state to be in.

People coming into his house cause a sort of total meltdown in Monty, to the extent that he may lose control of his bladder.

He did lie down a few times briefly. He lay in front of me on a stool and now that he wasn’t clamouring for attention anymore I slowly touched him. He lay still. I did it again and he charged off around the room once again.

Now when Monty is calm, instead of gratefully letting sleeping dogs lie, they will sometimes initiate activities. We looked at things that would both fulfill him and help to calm him down.

Getting to the underlying reason why he’s barking and dealing with that is the key. Any punishment is like putting a plaster on a festering wound. The wound continues to get worse underneath.

Now they have the tools for dealing with their beloved dog’s barking and agitated behaviour in a kind and positive way, they will be much happier.

And so will Monty.

Just one more thing – Monty is perfect out on walks. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t pull and he loves other dogs!

Reading the Dog Correctly. Responding Appropriately.

Reading the dog correctly is a skillReading the dog incorrectly can cause us to do the very opposite of what is needed.

Angus is a gorgeous miniature wire haired dachshund. He greeted me in a very friendly fashion and sniffed me (getting information about my own four dogs I’m sure).

He then rolled over onto his back, still looking very friendly, tail wagging.

His young owner said he wanted a tummy rub.

I wasn’t so sure. This needs to be taken in context and I am an unfamiliar person to him. There is a good chance it was a gesture of appeasement.

I didn’t touch him but just talked to him.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when your dog does something like rolling onto his back.

As I found out more about Angus I feel I made the right decision. When he was a bit younger – he’s now seventeen months – he would do this with anyone new and may pee at the same time. He still may do so if greeted too excitedly even by someone he knows.

This would indicate too much pressure of some sort. Stress.

Reading the dog incorrectly can lead to other misunderstandings.

Angus may shake before going out on a walk. They assume it’s fear and possibly it is. It may also be in anticipation or a mix of the two. Walks may well be a bit daunting to Angus, particularly if he’s already slightly stressed.

They may encounter people who, because he’s so extremely cute, will want to touch him. He rolls over. For a belly rub? Surely not. He doesn’t even know them.

He is wary of many other dogs and his young owner has taken advice. She has worked very hard. She has been using a recognised system that works really well if the environment can be properly controlled. On normal walks however where dogs may just appear, it’s meant she’s not responding soon enough.

Some days Angus may just want to sniff and mark to the exclusion of all else. The lady will have trouble persuading him to move on and it worries her that if they don’t cover sufficient ground he won’t get enough exercise.

His walks will now be a bit different. They will be ‘Angus’ walks. 

Could the constant marking be some sort of displacement activity?

Is he avoiding facing possible encounters by doing something safe that he can control and that fully occupies him?

Reading the dog, in this instance, as attempting to avoid trouble rather than trying to mark territory will determine the appropriate course of action.

His walks usually take half an hour. Now they won’t have a set destination. If Angus wants to sniff, he can sniff all he likes. The lady will only move on when and if he relaxes from marking and sniffing. At present she lures him forward with food in front of his nose which means he stops to eat. Now she will drop bits of food on the ground in front of him as he goes to encourage forward movement, not stopping.

Then, instead of carrying on walking, she can stop him and invite him to sniff and mark again. No pressure. Understanding why he could be doing it will give her an insight into what needs to be done to avoid him feeling anxious.

She will now make sure anyone they meet hangs back and invites Angus over. If he doesn’t go to them, then he’s not to be touched.

I tried this as I was leaving. When, standing, I invited him to me he hung back – and he knew I had food too. Instead of moving over him to touch him which would undoubtedly have made him roll onto his back, I backed off. It looks like for all his friendliness he’s slightly intimidated by people when they are standing up which is understandable. He’s tiny.

Reading the dog correctly influences the appropriate response.

When in doubt, the best thing with Angus is to do nothing.

If I’m wrong about his reason for rolling onto his back, it’s better to do nothing than tickle when it’s not what he’s asking for.

If I’m wrong about the marking and sniffing being largely a displacement behaviour, it’s better to do nothing and leave him to get on with it if he likes it.

A couple of months later: I think he may just be beginning to trust me! Yesterday a man came towards us which we have met before. Angus moved forwards towards the man and then changed his mind and walked back towards me and sat next to me. It sort of felt like he was coming back to me for reassurance. As long as the dog is the same distance as being across the road Angus is quite happy. We have seen a few very unhappy dogs across the road who have quite angrily barked at us! And fortunately because Angus is happy at that distance he was not at all bothered. I think this process has probably been more about me having more realistic expectations.