An approved Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer - VSPDT

Both Jack Russells go crazy when anyone, including family, walks up the stairs into their flat

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

JRElmo JRRocket2I followed the gentleman up the stairs to join the family, and towards two little dogs at the top, barking frantically.

We all went into the kitchen (there were five or us) and the dogs carried on and on barking. Younger Rocket, age five (left) stopped first and was suddenly quite friendly and interested. Older Elmer (16) who in other ways is the more relaxed of the two, carried on. Rocket is the instigator of barking, but when Elmo joins in he doesn’t stop. We wonder whether it now may be somewhat age-related behaviour or, as it’s been going on for years, simply entrenched

Eventually all was quiet. Elmo chose to stay in his bed in the kitchen and Rocket came with us into the sitting room – friendly and cuddly.

I soon found out that both dogs also were very noisy when any family member came in the front door down below, and walked up the stairs to them.

After a while I decided to see what would happen if I visited Elmo in the kitchen; he opened his eyes but seemed relaxed. I did it again when the daughter was in the kitchen to see if maybe he was being protective. I walked towards her. No reaction. Very strange.

There were a other anomalies, one being that they were quieter when everyone was out and the first person came home, and also quieter in the morning.

One can guess that it’s the presence of people that stirs them up and  that as the day wears on they become more stressed. There will be five people coming home, one at a time. The more stressed the dogs are, the more reactive they will be – and barking itself raises their stress levels even more.

It seems the stairs are a big part of the problem. There the dogs stand, at the top, barking at people advancing on them.

So – we have plan! Each family member is going to work on this. A step at a time they will begin with frequently (maybe be TV advert breaks) just walking downstairs, picking up a dog treat by the front door and coming straight back up again – feeding the dogs as they walk past them. Gradually they will progress to opening the front door, going out, staying out and so on – always treating quiet dogs as they come up the stairs, and never going to the next stage until the dogs are not barking at the previous one.

Eventually they should be able to knock on the front door, call out ‘Hello’ (something that always starts the dogs off), walk upstairs and they won’t bark.

Perhaps the family should also be positively reinforcing themselves with a treat waiting at the bottom of the stairs – from a box of chocolates maybe!

When visitors arrive and because Elmo bounces off Rocket, I suggest separating the dogs initially and keeping them away from the top of those stairs.

I am sure so long the all family members have sufficient patience, they will end up with two much quieter and much more relaxed little dogs.

Are training classes making Barney worse?

Friday, August 30th, 2013

This photo doesn’t do justice to beautiful 15-month-old Border Collie Barney.

Barney was re-homed by my lady client just two months ago and is becoming increasingly reactive to other dogs when out. When they first had him he was playing with them. He also has started to bark at people.

The lady has been taking him to training classes – of the traditional kind – and I can only wonder whether being physically controlled around dogs, being told to ‘Leave’ them rather than politely allowed to sniff and say hello which is a lot more natural, along with being ‘corrected’ to stop him pulling on lead rather than teaching him to walk like there is no lead at all through choice, isn’t actually making him worse.

For many years I did traditional dog training. I know all about it!

Barney is playful and extremely biddable. The lady herself is serene and gentle, and having met many of the Border Collies of his age, I am sure he would be a lot more excitable and hyped up had he gone somewhere else. My modern gentle, non-coercive methods will suit her down to the ground.

Barney is also scared of traffic and will lunge at it. It seems he had a very sheltered life previously with little enrichment. The lady has, very sensibly, got him a harness so he doesn’t hurt his neck, but he rears up and he is strong. I have recommended a better kind of harness, one where the lead is attached to the chest, along with a simple procedure to follow each and  every time he looks like reacting to a vehicle. He needs to know that his lady is in control of the situation. Then, over time but only within his comfort threshold, his exposure to traffic needs gradually be increased so that he is habituated.

It is a shame that old-fashioned training classes make walking the dog seem like a battle. He must be to heel or else he will be ‘corrected’. But, if the lead isn’t too short and so long as he doesn’t pull, why should he be stuck to the walker’s left leg? Does it matter if he is sometimes ahead so long as the lead is loose? Why shouldn’t he stop to sniff and explore? It is a dog walk, after all. If reacting to traffic, people and other dogs is treated with understanding of just how the dog is feeling and the emotion which is driving the behaviour is addressed, a result may take a bit longer than using force, but it will be permanent and not a temporary fix that is dependent upon his being ‘dominated’ by a bullying handler (which fortunately this gentle lady just cannot be).

I have yet to discover modern, reward-based classes in my region, classes with small numbers that will use clicker, luring and reward to teach the dogs.

Two Miniature Schnauzers, both scared of people

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

“Go Away”, “Go Away”, “Go Away”, they bark!

Whilst Bill barks and backs off, Little Ben (now one year old) charges at people coming to the house. The person then recoils of course, and Ben achieves his result – the person backs away. Now he is actually making contact with his teeth.

Both dogs barked frantically for a long time when I arrived – I didn’t recoil when Ben made contact! We tried various strategies. I took no notice of them. I looked away. I stayed sitting down. I moved slowly. Eventually I dropped treats gently onto the floor. Any sudden movement made them jump away.

This isn’t aggression at all – it is pure fear.

I asked the owners to show me what they did when people came. Like many people, they have reinforced the behaviour, maybe sitting on the floor with them and petting them while they growl and bark – in effect backing them up in their belief that the ‘intruder’ is an enemy. Then, having had enough, they will loudly command them to be quiet. How it is currently dealt with must be confusing for the dogs. Reinforcing them for NOT barking makes more sense.

These little dogs need to learn that visiting people mean good stuff – calm owners, nice treats and eventually fun, but being removed when things become too much for them. The people also need more ‘guinea pigs’ to the house to work with.

Because they have few visitors it’s a vicious circle. The more reactive their dogs are to visitors, the less the owners feel able to involve their friends and family.

Unsurprisingly this fearful and noisy reactivity extends to people on walks – and to dogs.

I would say that old-fashioned formal dog training classes have made things worse, especially with Ben. I felt really sad to hear that, because of his barking, he had been pinned down in the middle of the hall and forced to lie there while the other owners and dogs walked around him. It’s hardly surprising he believes people and dogs are bad news!

Knowledge of what makes dogs tick and how to train them positively based on scientific fact has advanced hugely over the last few years, but unfortunatly a lot of existing trainers simply haven’t kept up. Old-fashioned dog trainers just keep on doing what they always have done, and dog owners, in their ignorance, believe in them.

A Meerkat? No, a scared Chihuahua

Monday, June 24th, 2013

Just like the two German Shepherds I went to over the weekend, Buddy, a little Chihuahua this time, is very scared and very noisy when someone comes to the house. Because of this, like so many dogs I go to, they have few guests. Buddy may fly at one friend and bite his trousers. This then creates panic which only goes to confirm Buddy’s belief that this human is there to cause trouble.

Over the two years of his life has learnt that he always gets what he wants when he barks. So, here is another dog whose barking wavered between fearful ‘go away’ barking to demanding ‘do as I say’ barking.

If a dog is taking food from me, I know that he isn’t totally terrified. Animals won’t eat if they feel their life is in peril. So, to associate myself with something nice I gave him tiny pieces of cheese. He was a very brave little dog, and eventually took a piece from my hand before rushing off and barking at me again  – see this (back arrow to return here afterwards). When I took a break I could swear his barking changed to ‘give me cheese’ barking! Fifteen minutes later, after the odd spook, here he is (and my David Attenborough voice!).

The owners admit that this little dog knows how to get them to work for him! Barking always gets a result. One of his favourite tricks that always gets attention or food is to beg like a cute meerkat. Being allowed to make most of the decisions and always being obeyed is actually a big burden for any dog to carry, as it would be for a child. Moreover, he is constantly in their company, virtually 24/7, and this can make a dog dependent and needy. Buddy needs some boundaries in order to increase his belief and trust in his owners to look after him.

This is a good example of how the particular problem I was called out for – reactivity to guests in this case – is actually part of a much larger issue that needs approaching from several angles.

Buddy soon learnt to touch my hand with his nose – we used clicker technique using gentle noise with the tongue lest the sudden clicker sound spooked him. As a dog that is fearful of people and especially approaching hands, this exercise is good in that it encourages him to associate hands with something nice and it also gives him a choice in the matter. He was soon touching my hand held out over his head, doing his ‘meerkat’, and a bit higher still so he had to stretch or jump to touch it with his nose. Simples!

I also managed to stand up for a short while with Buddy being quiet. It’s a start. When I had to get up to walk about, I found if they picked him up he was silent. He felt protected. The deal here is that they don’t talk to him or fuss him – they merely lift him out of  harm’s way.

The bottom line is that Buddy needs less stress, less exciting play, less attention, less reinforcement for barking, less being obeyed, less stressful walks – and more proper nurturing. Gradually, he needs to be exposed to more people (and other dogs) but in a controlled way.

Another German Shepherd barking fearfully at people, and using a clicker to help her

Saturday, June 22nd, 2013

I went to see Bella three months ago when she arrived at her new owners, and they have come a very long way. The couple have worked very hard indeed and it’s not been easy. They have developed a firm bond.

However, Bella is still very fearful of people, especially people coming to her house. Today she was fine if she couldn’t see me - even though she could hear me – but went into manic barking if she sighted me.

After a while she got used to me sitting down and lay down seemingly relaxed so long so long as I sat still, a great improvement on last time; as soon as I stood, though, the barking started.

Whilst the couple have made brilliant progress considering what she was like three months ago, it is now time to advance things further. Bella needs to learn to be more confident around visitors to the house.

We worked at my going out, ringing the doorbell and coming back in again. When I last came she was in such a state that we had worked by removing her because she was so frantic; now we all felt it was time to progress forward. With me as the ‘guinea pig’, we used a clicker to reward her for calm behaviour in my presence.

Because she is such a clever dog, Bella soon realised that barking and then stopping barking would be followed by a click and a treat! It’s called chaining. She was barking in order to stop barking in order to get the click and then the treat! So, we had to get her to wait for the click and wait for the treat. I took a video of her wonderful lady owner’s attempts. The timing will improve with practice – the click and reward should come for having looked calmly at me for several seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGl8BiDECuc

Now, after a very shaky start, Bella’s new owners are 100% committed and have made great progress already. When they took her on they were told she was socialised. It was a big shock to discover what she was really like, but after a lot of soul-searching they decided to keep her and to give her their all.  Confidence building can be very, very slow.

Another dog reactively barking and growling at people – this time an English Bull Terrier

Friday, April 26th, 2013

Another puzzle insofar as it’s impossible to work out just why miniature English Bull Terrier Vinnie’s behaviour changed so drastically three years ago. A couple of things may have contributed to it. They moved house to somewhere a bit more busy, and Vinnie, now four, was reaching sexual maturity. He’s not been castrated. I do find that some dogs who had previously been relaxed with other dogs and with people may change in adolescence or upon reaching maturity.

Vinnie barks and growls aggressively at people he doesn’t know coming into the house. When I walked in he sounded quite scary. He has not yet bitten anyone and his owners didn’t describe the noise as fierce and warning, but as barking ‘in an excited, naughty way’. It didn’t sound like that to me. He also barks at people and some dogs when walking near home on their usual walking routes, but another part of his mystery is that at the lady’s mother’s house he doesn’t bark at people at all. Nor does he on holiday. Neither does he bark or stress when in the car and people and dogs pass by.

When he goes out for walks Vinnie drags his heels. He ‘will only walk one particular route’. He is reluctant to move – worse for the young lady although at home he follows her about. The gentleman puts pressure on him if he dawdles. Then, at a certain distance from the house Vinnie perks up and starts to take an interest in the walk, only to revert to his noisy barking and growling behaviour at people when on the way back and in sight of home.

More and more puzzling. If either the lady or gentleman takes him out alone, he doesn’t bark much although he still shows reluctance. When they walk him together he growls and barks at people he sees.

My best guess is that it’s to do with being protective and territorial. He shows none of the usual body language signs associated with fear or anxiety, and is very easily distracted with food. Really scared dogs or really angry dogs are unlikely to eat.

Whatever the reasons, our plan is based around the principal that reinforcement drives behaviour, and that dogs don’t do something for no reason at all. We can try to look at what is actually happening rather putting interpretations on it. Just the specifics. We look at what result, in his mind, he gets out of the behaviours. That is what needs to be changed, and alternative incompatible behaviours put in their place.

People often don’t realise that they are unintentionally giving their dogs most attention for doing unwanted behaviours in the form of commands and scolding, rather than encouragement and reward for desired behaviours.

PS. I spoke to colleague, behaviour trainer, author and close friend of mine Lisa Tenzin-Dolma about this puzzling case and she feels that it’s the house itself needing to be examined. They could look into its history. Could it perhaps have been built on landfill? Would the radon levels be worth checking? The couple are going to do some research. One must bear in mind that a dog’s senses are many times more acute than our own. One other strange thing came to light. A previous owner some years ago had been stabbed to death across the road. Believing in the psychic may be a step too far for some, but who knows.

Ten days have gone by: “We feel that Vinnie is listening to us more and is quicker to respond to us as well as seems calmer, we are very surprised to be honest as we feel everything we have done has been very easy and was expecting it to be harder some how but we have been doing just about everything you suggested. i feel that we have also changed and are calmer and reward Vinnie much more which he is responding to”.

Another German Shepherd scared of people – and only a puppy.

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Half of the German Shepherds I have been to over the past year have had the problem of being reactive and scared of people coming into their homes. It’s a high percentage compared with other breeds. Nineteen-week-old Monty is no exception and it’s sad for a dog so young to be thus burdened.

Monty came from a breeder who had a lot of dogs but not many human visitors. I am a firm believer in puppies having a lot of handling by lots of different people from a very young age.  This is more likely to happen in a home environment than a breeder’s with several litters and lots of dogs, probably kept outside the house. Monty’s owners chose a shy puppy and so he has not only inadequate socialising to humans but an unconfident nature also. This is not an easy combination for a guarding breed like German Shepherd.

It was worse with my own Milly whom I took home from a client at fourteen weeks old – a truly terrified puppy-farm puppy who hadn’t had any interaction with humans at all until twelve weeks old when, shaking and frozen with fear, she was carried to their car. She was in the same state when I carried her into my own house a couple of weeks later. She was terrified of all humans including initally myself. I have worked hard with her ever since to the point where the intial surprise of someone arriving is a few woofs which is to be expected and she settles fast. It will never be ‘job done’.

Little Monty (with those huge ears!) is a self-controlled puppy who is not destructive and seldom jumps up; he’s very affectionate – but he is easily scared. On walks he is jumpy and skittish even with birds, and he feels very threatened if a person approaches, particularly when he’s on lead – people can’t resist saying hello to puppies! Monty will lunge and bark.

His humans will be working hard to show him that he can trust them to look after him by how they themselves react – to help him out. He needs positive associations with people whilst he still having an escape route if necessary.

It is also important that Monty learns right away always to touch base with them when another dog appears. There is a disproportionate number of dogs afraid of German Shepherds having been attacked by one. Likewise, it’s important for Monty to meet only stable dogs so he, too, learns that other dogs are not a threat.

Although his recall so far is good, a mix of being scared, being a guarding breed and not being under complete control when out would not be a good scenario for the future without work.

The lady suggested my methods were ‘alternative’. Modern positive methods used by all principled modern trainers and behaviourists educated in learning theory are alternative to old-fashioned punishment-based dog training. I am sorry that no puppy and dog training classes I know of in my own areas are up date and still use force and harsh commands and negatives (if you know differently I will promote them big time). For instance, if he is harshly told ‘leave it’ when approaching another dog, what message does that give to a wary puppy? How much better ‘Good Dog’ and encouragement – even food!

German Shepherd aggressively barking and lunging at people.

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Tara is onto her fourth home now. Looking at her history she had little or no socialising for the first year of her life. Her new owners didn’t realise she was going to be so reactive to people – and to other dogs. Nobody had told them.

Like so often happens unfortunately, new owners don’t get what they had bargained for. In this case the rehoming organisation had taken the previous people’s word for it and passed her over on the same day. They had done no assessment of Tara themselves. The couple had specifically requested a dog that gets on with people and other dogs so they could make her part of their lives for the next ten years perhaps. Instead, when their first visitor called, Tara horrified and shocked them by suddenly morphing into a wild dervish, barking and lunging. She is just the same with people she meets out on walks.

Then they called in a trainer and OH DEAR! The dog, already highly aroused by the man’s presence, was treated to metal discs being crashed on the floor in front of her in an effort to intimidate her and make her submit, and then the horrific sound of a compressed air from a can, something sometimes used to break up fights. It sent poor Tara into even more of  frenzy and I would say it’s very fortunate the man wasn’t badly bitten.

Fortunately the couple weren’t having any more of this with the dog they were growing to love. They have had her for several weeks now and have made great progress at home – so long as it is just themselves, but are now at their wits’ end and wondering what to do.

I don’t usually go into as much detail as I have here. The reason is that the strategies are fashioned around a particular dog’s problems and their causes. This method won’t apply to every dog that barks at people. If you have a dog like this, it is very important to get professional help so the strategies are appropriate to your specific dog’s needs and problems.

When I arrived Tara was barking and lunging, straining on her lead, tightly held by the gentleman. The lead was attached to a collar which would have added pain to the situation (dogs necks aren’t much different to our own). I could see that the restraint was making her worse, and with no known history of actual biting I suggested he dropped the lead wherupon, as I expected, she charged at me. I stood still, sideways to her, explaining to the couple the calming signals I was using – slow blinking, looking away, relaxed posture, breathing slowly – and we carried on talking over the noise for a while. I pointed out that their own posture should be relaxed also (not easy!).

I then asked them what they would usually do. They had developed a strategy for when people did visit of training an incompatible behaviour by getting her to lie down and put her chin to the floor, which was good but only lasted a couple of seconds before she was up and barking again. Lying down did nothing to change her inner emotions and fears.

We experimented. We worked on removing her from what she was finding a scary situation immediately the barking started, whilst at the same time associating my presence with good stuff, using a clicker.

They put a harness on her to avoid any unpleasant association with pain in the neck and myself. I sat down at the table to make things as easy as possible for her and asked the man to take her just out of sight until she stopped barking. Then he’s to bring her back, being ready turn around again the very moment she began to bark. This wasn’t so that her barking was being reinforced by getting rid of me because I was going nowhere. The man was helping her out by removing her from the situation.

Now, as soon as she was quiet he brought her back so she could see me. Timing is extremely important. As soon as she looked to me without barking, he clicked and fed her chicken. This went on for a while until I could walk around the room and she was relaxed – click/chicken. Next we experimented with my going to the front door area and appearing again – upping the anti. Next I opened the front door and shut it again before coming into her presence.

This method needs to be used when they are out also, being careful to keep within her threshold and work on the ‘advance/retreat’ and clicker whenever she’s quietly watching someone, doing their best not to go any nearer to people than she can cope with. They have a big job to build up her trust in them and undo past history.

They need to practise it with each other, going out, knocking on the door, coming in etc. and then with anyone they can get to visit – starting with people Tara has met before. It can be done with the neighbour whose presence looking over the fence sends her into a panic. It can be done with the chickens in the garden. As they turn, they can add ‘Let’s Go’ in preparation for encountering unexpected people or dogs outside. It’s just as much teaching the owners as teaching the dog. Good timing is essential.

Many dogs hate the sound of people banging on the front door which is understandable. I suggested a cheap wireless doorbell. Before putting it up outside the door they could repeatedly ring it indoors and for several days associate the sound of it with food or games. When the bell is put up outside the door, they should continue to ring it for no reason at all. In this way when people come Bella won’t be fired up so early in the process.

One other point is that their sort of walks are probably not helping her to keep calm. They are overstimulating in terms of play and scary encounters. It’s a big ask to get people to avoid close encounters for as long as it takes, but there is no other choice and where there’s a will – there’s a way.

You can’t exhaust a dog out of being fearful.

German Shepherd barks at visitors to the house

Monday, December 17th, 2012

If the humans a dog lives with are not calm, stable and predictable, how can their dog be these things? If they are erratic then one might expect their dog to be the same.

The situation Lily has lived in for the first four years of her life has not been happy for her young lady owner, nor really for Lily either. She has now moved back home to her family and after just four months Lily is happier too. During this time they have had two different trainers to advise them. The trainers had totally opposing methods, one believing in punishment and dominance and the other reward-based more like myself.

There is currently a muddling mix of input for Lily.

The problem that has most impact on the family is her excessive barking at people who come to the house. I had asked them to ignore her so I could see what she did. It went on and on and on! I tried various things. Then the young lady showed me what she normally did and the picture started to become clear.  She had been taught a routine to get Lily to settle, involving a mix of actions, tricks and rewards until she lies down and is quiet. She doesn’t stay down, though, so she gets scolded and NO until the routine is started over again in order to make her quiet again.

I found Lily’s barking different from most dogs that do this. Although it was doubtless fear-based to some extent, she wasn’t that fearful. We tried various things until I worked it out that the dog was actually barking for the attention she gets in terms of the routine of attention, commands and rewards! Inderectly she is being taught to bark.

It is always a good idea to give a dog an alternative behaviour that is incompatible with the behaviour you want to eradicate, but in this case the alternative behaviour itself has gradually become the reinforcer! The alternative needs to end up being something the dog will do if her own accord and not dependent upon all that owner input – to lie down quietly.

They have tried everything they can think of – except recognising the things that are really reinforcing the barking – and removing them. It’s also essential that Lily has confidence and respect in her humans in terms of leadership – which is not earned by a confusing mix of fussing her, excited play with harsh commands and negatives like LEAVE and NO.

Now they at least have a tool for stopping the barking, so it can be a starting point to build upon. They need to move forward. We have a new plan, taking it one small increment at a time - gradually cutting down the ‘routine’ until she can simply be left to settle without commands, reinforcing only quiet behaviour until she learns what is required and finds that rewarding.

Like all dogs that are reactive to people coming into the house, they need to have plenty of visitors to practise on!

About six weeks have gone by and this is the latest input from Layla’s young lady owner: She’s made really good progress with visitors.  She no longer needs the full ‘tricks’ routine. I just say ‘down’ followed by ‘settle’ and she remains quite calm for the rest of the time…..so I’m very happy about that. Walks are going well, she now also sits down calmly when I pick up the lead to go on a walk. We’re also working on exchanging sticks/balls for treats, which is going well, she’s happier to ‘give’ now and less possessive. She also had a very polite nose touch with another dog that appeared which was lovely to see and then she simply followed me. And again many thanks for all your help, I’m really happy with how Lily has been doing.

This is the message I received exactly four monthy after my visit, and shows just what can be done with time and patience when the owners really apply themselves: “Everything is going well here, we’ve been going on weekly walks with other dogs and Layla is really enjoying socialising with them. House visits are constantly improving, I had a visitor come (that Layla had never met) on Tuesday and she let herself me stroked and cuddlled, which was amazing”!

Pug shows aggression when approached

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Somebody said “The dog is your mirror. The behaviour you get is usually, in some way, a reflection of your own.” This was particularly apparent in the case I went to yesterday with fifteen-month old Pug, Parker.

He has problems that only manifest themselves around his lady owner, not with the gentleman. For instance, when the man takes him out, he is unfazed when someone approaches them and is okay for them to lean over and touch him. The man is relaxed about it. When the lady takes him out, he becomes very anxious when a person approaches; the lady is anxious. Parker barks aggressively and if someone tries to touch him he may snap.

The biggest problem for the family is that Parker feels threatened when someone comes to the house (or feels the lady and young son might be threatened – not the man). He is becoming increasingly protective. He will bark quite aggressively at them. He gets very agitated if either the lady or the son leaves the room.

It seems Parker picks up on the man’s confidence and the lady’s anxiety. Because of how she treats him in general, he has the idea that he must protect her – almost as though she is a resource belonging to him.  It is one of the consequences of allowing a dog to call all the shots – in a way the son would never be allowed to.

Parker mostly gets attention under his own terms, and one of the best attention-getters is to steal a shoe! There is then a lot of chasing with three humans trying to corner him. A great game. See him on the right with a slipper? We ignored him so he lay down with it!

A dog full of his own importance may be more precious about his own personal space. A dog used to being in control may feel fear when forced into a position where he lacks control. The recent visit to the vet was a fiasco and in the end he had to be sedated in order for the vet to give him the kennel cough dose up his nose (when the gentleman alone has taken him to the vet he has been a lot calmer).

Parker is a teenager and like human teenagers he needs rules and boundaries presented to him in a kind and positive way. He needs to be rewarded for good behaviour and not reinforced with attention for bad behaviour. His people need to be consistent – to stick to their guns. In the past plump little Parker has been lavished with food, treats and even fed from their own plates. If we were showered with money, would we bother to work for it? It’s the same with attention. If attention is always freely on tap, why should the dog take notice when we need him to do something for us. By rationing attention somewhat, giving it more under our own terms, we become more valued and relevant.

Nearly three months have now gone by, and I have received this email: “Just thought I should give you an update on Parker! We have been working hard with him over the last few months & he is a changed little doggie. It was a real tester over Christmas with people coming & going & although he still barks at the doorbell on occasion, he settles down very quickly. When out for walks he now automaticaly sits when strangers or other dogs approach & we then give him a small treat after they have passed & we don’t ever have any pulling of the lead . He still begs for food (he’s a greedy pug) but realises he is wasting his time. Oh & he is in love with his stagbars”!
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just take a look at what I do, check the map and contact me.

Turmoil when people visit and dogs reinforced for their behaviour

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Over the months the stress both in and between these two 9-year-old dogs has been building up.

Staffie Maddie is almost impossibly noisy, pushy, barking and jumping up when the lady owner has guests – if she is allowed to join them at all – and little Misty, a Terrier Whippet cross, is also very vocal but with more obvious fear. People can’t hear themselves speak. The way they try to calm Maddie is to do as she demands and keep stroking her as she lies beside them. Not only is it giving her a very good reason to behave like this, but also, even while she is being given the attention she’s demanding, she is getting more and more worked up!

When I initially arrived Misty came through alone and she was quiet, relaxed and sniffing. It was only when Maddie rushed in that she, too, started to bark at me. Once little Misty has stopped barking, she watches Maddie. Sometimes she shakes. Maddie intimidates her when she’s like this. See how anxious she looks.

Maddie’s stress levels are extreme much of the time. Small things set her off. This is now increasingly being redirected onto Misty and there have been a couple of incidents, one resulting in blood.

Ten days ago I went on a fascinating weekend seminar by Dr. Susan Freidman about behaviour, consequences and reinforcement. It was like she was sitting on my shoulder. The more noise Maddie makes, the more attention she gets – sometimes scolding sometimes petting – but reinforcement either way. The more anxious Misty becomes, the more attention and fussing that earns also.

As soon as the lady comes downstairs in the morning, Maddie starts the day by rushing at the gate separating her from Misty and giving her a loud, warning bark. When she comes in from the garden, she noisily demands her breakfast – which she gets. Quite simply, barking works.

Maddie excelled at dog training classes. This is another example where traditional dog training is largely irrelevant, especially if it doesn’t take into consideration the home dynamics. Commands don’t reduce stress. In fact, ‘silence is golden‘. Both dogs get a lot of excercise with lovely long country walks.

Whilst I was there Maddie was learning very quickly that the only attention she got from me was when she was still and quiet. She tried so very hard, bless her. She was distracting herself with a bit of displacement scratching and chewing in her efforts to keep calm while she was beginning to understand what was required. I, too, was learning just what level of gentle attention was enough not to break through that fine line and fired her up again. She is so eager to please and only needs to understand what is required, and then for all the humands to be consistent.

It can be so hard for us humans to break our own old habits.

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

Bangers and Mash

Tuesday, July 24th, 2012

Yesterday evening I went to visit Bangers and Mash (don’t you love it!), brother Miniature Dachshunds age 15 months.

Mash on the left having his tummy tickled (not by me – I never got that close) is the more nervous and noisy one of the pair and despite being considerably smaller than Bangers, he controls him. He prevents him walking where he wants to go with just a stare. He will walk the long way around to avoid a doorway Mash is occupying. Mash bullies Bangers and takes all toys off him to hoard for himself.They play beautifully but occasionally, when particularly stressed by something, they have a full blown fight, with a lot of noise, sounding and looking vicious but fortunately no damage has yet been done.

The other things that cause concern is how they behave when people come to the house, and when they go out on walks. Mash instigates. When people come to the door, the two barking dogs are blocking the doorway making it hard to open, Mash almost goes for ankles in his frenzy, and sometimes they redirect their frustrations and excitement onto one another. When they seem settled they may fire up again if the person walks about.

On walks they lunge and may go hysterical when approaching people and dogs, and again may redirect onto one another if walked together.

I suspect if these little dogs had their time again, and if from the start the humans had done things differently, things would not be like this. I am convinced that in the first crucial eleven weeks when they were still with the breeder, they will not have experienced sufficient handling, different people and environments, other dogs and so on. Their owners, not knowing the importance of early varied and positive experiences, sheltered them further during the next really important weeks, with a lovely large garden to play in. Then, to ‘socialisie’ them they went to puppy classes with Bangers going ballistic at other dogs and Mash shut down and shaking. They persisted in the common belief that it would break down their fears. In my experience it does the very opposite. So this is where we are at.

Reinforcing only calm behaviour with attention, rather than reacting to noisy or anxious behaviour, is the way to start. They have plenty of visitors to practise on, so if this is handled right, over time, the dogs should become more chilled. The same goes for encountering people or dogs on walks. Pressing ahead and forcing them into situations is the same sort of thing as the puppy classes. If this sort of thing worked, then it would have done so by now. So, things need to be done completely differently. In time the two little brothers will be walked together again, nicely, not particularly reacting to other dogs and, being in a calmer state, not needing to redirect anything onto one another.

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

Fearful Jack Russell barks at people

Tuesday, May 15th, 2012

Here is Rosie, a two-year-old Jack Russell re-homed from Wood Green a couple of weeks ago.

She has landed on her feet with a lady who is very empathetic to her needs and who instinctively understands the balance between loving Rosie and giving her space.

Previously Rosie had been living much of the time in a crate, muzzled. Because of how she drinks water in a strange way with her head on one side, she must have worn the tight muzzle for a long time.

She is an extremely well-behaved little dog when not stressed. She’s not demanding, she is polite around food, she doesn’t bark at passers by, she can be left alone without crying, she never damages things, she never toilets in the house and, as you can see, she is beautiful!

However, she is very scared of people. She barks frantically at anyone coming into her house and has now nipped a guest. When I arrived she was barking and growling from behind the gate. We worked on this until, by the end, I was walking around the room without a reaction. You can see she was now quite relaxed!

She needs to be gradually desensitised. They need plenty of callers who are willing to behave exactly as requested, friends popping in for half an hour whilst the lady follows our plan. There is a thin line between pushing Rosie beyond what she can cope with, whilst stretching her a little. I know her new owner will be getting this right.

Rosie has similar problems when encountering people out on walks, and dogs. She’s not consistent however. She is worse at the end of a walk – an indication that the walk is too stimulating or too long.

With work, patience and given sufficient time, I am sure that Rosie will eventually be happy for people to come into the house and that outside she will not react adversely to people and other dogs.

Here is an email I have recived two days later: ‘Now, a remarkable walk this morning.  I put Rosie on a long lead like the one you showed me.  I held it loose and Rosie did not pull.  As we got to the end of the Chinese Bridge we were approached by two people and two greyhounds.  Still on the loose lead Rosie did not show any calming signals.  As we got nearer she did then prick up her ears and so I did the arc movement.  Amazing, she then walked past the dogs without looking at them!!  … I kept her on the loose lead whilst we walked.  Two dogs in the distance both on long leads.  She showed no interest.  When they had gone, I let her off the lead and we played with a frisbee type toy.  … as you suggested I called come and each time she came I rewarded her for the ‘come’ rather than asking her to sit.  It works!!  Heading back home we came across two more dogs, both on long leads.  Rosie seemed calmer and only ‘looked’ and as she moved forward again I used the arc movement.  Miraculous.  I know it is early days, but I cannot even explain how much better this makes me feel.  It is so demoralizing to have an aggressive dog, but today was a pleasure’. I replied to be prepared for there to be many lapses. It would indeed be an unusual miracle if a permanent corner were turned quite so easily, but you never know, a combination of appropriate strategies and the lady’s own karma may be the perfect mix!
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just take a look at what I do, check the map and contact me.

Five-month-old German Shepherd terrified of new people

Monday, April 16th, 2012

It is sad to see such a young dog so scared.

Darcy is only five months old. At home, with family and close friends, she is relaxed, friendly and biddable. She is surprisingly calm for a puppy, she doesn’t chew things and she is house-trained.

The problem is ‘other’ people. When I arrived her hackles were raised high all along her back, she was backing away and barking like mad. This carried on for a while. She would find the courage to come a bit nearer and then back off barking again.

The natural reaction of humans is to either tell the dog to be quiet, or to pet and ‘comfort’ her. They were doing both these things. Scolding a dog for being scared isn’t appropriate, and stroking is reinforcing her fears – telling she is right to be frightened. I am showing them what are the appropriate ways of reacting. You can see on the right she is yawning – a sign that although she now looks in settled position she is still anxious.

Out on walks Darcy shrinks away from people and other dogs. She has already started to bark at things she hears outside the house or garden. One can imagine what she will be like as an adult German Shepherd if something isn’t done now.

Darcy displays all the signs of a puppy who has not been handled by a sufficient number of new people before she even leaves the breeder. One or more of the following factors could also contribute to the cause: being born to a fearful mother and maybe of a natural nervous disposition anyway, kept out of the way in another room or a shed for the first eight weeks of their life, possibly some inbreeding.

I shall be helping Darcy’s family for the next few months, maybe longer, helping them to understand her and to help her gain confidence. There is no quick fix and we can’t put the clock back.

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.
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