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Owner and dog over-dependent upon one another

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

Another puppy!

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Here is fifteen-week-old Miniature Schnauzer Herbie, in his bed surrounded by toys!

What a little character!

His lady is a first-time dog owner and over some things she is being very sensible and over other things she has picked up mis-information. For instance, she is running him with other dogs for an hour a day when at four months old Herbie’s limbs are not up to this, and she may scold him for toileting indoors – both of which I believe to be wrong. She wants to do her very best so that Herbie grows into a stable and happy companion.

Puppies can be exasperating – especially when they are grabbing clothes, biting feet or latching onto jewellery! People can feel helpless because repeated use of the word ‘no’ only makes matters worse, and they don’t know how to stop their little terror from doing these things.

Herbie was a ‘solo’ puppy – he had no brothers or sisters on whom to learn bite-inhibition, so ideally his early humans should have been filling this role. It’s all very well to be cross with a puppy (and those little teeth both hurt and can do quite a lot of damage to clothes), but this doesn’t teach the youngster what he should be doing, especially when his antics are getting him so much attention.

Already Herbie is on sentry duty, barking at passing children and dogs from the large upstairs window, and at people coming into the house.  He can be intimidated by people approaching him too directly and by being loomed over, and he may leap up and snap at a hand that is held out over him.

We have worked on basic ‘dog-parenting’ rules and strategies, on removing temptation for now so that it’s not such hard work (why set him up to fail) – not wearing flowing clothes, boots with dangly zips, hanging neck chains and so on. A gate to pop him behind while he calms down will work wonders when he is being challenging.

Jumping up on people, flying all over furniture, barking at people walking towards him and so on are perhaps cute in a fifteen week old puppy but not so good in an adult dog, so the basics in rules and boundaries, taught by using positive reinforcement for the desired behaviour, need to be set in place immediately.

I shall be helping this lady and her lovely puppy for months to come, through the various stages of his growth.

Another young Miniature Schnauzer reactive to people

Sunday, September 2nd, 2012

What a cutie! Basil is only seven months old and life isn’t always easy for him. Mainly, he’s scared of people coming to near to him or into the house and he barks like mad. First time dog owners, they have taken advice from a so-called trainer/behaviourist who advocated things like teaching him impulse control by having him on lead, putting his food down and as soon as he goes for it to jerk him back and shout Leave It. How cruel and pointless is that! Fortunately his caring owners, who only want to do the best for him, didn’t follow these instructions.

Other advice, this time from the breeder, has included using a pet-corrector when he barks both at home and on walks where he barks at people (this is punishing fear rather than getting to the root of the problem and dealing with that!). A trainer advocated forcibly controlling him on walks with a Gentle Leader not used ‘gently’. Poor Basil started to run away when the lead was brought out – and no wonder. Thankfully they also abandoned this a week ago and already Basil is happier before walks. They now need to go back to the beginning and teach him to walk comfortably on a loose lead, and then work on his apprehension of approaching people.

One very good thing in Basil’s life is he goes to a good doggy daycare once a week where he mixes with plenty of dogs and they are grouped according to size and temperament, so they don’t need to worry about his socialising with other dogs whilst they work on his lead walking.

There is another challenge for them all. They have an autistic ten-year-old whose actions must baffle Basil. She is noisy and ‘sudden’ – her actions can be random. Basil barks at her also. He needs helping out.

Let’s look at it from the perspective of a small dog. Large unpredictable humans approaching and looming, maybe shouting or moving suddenly, would scare any dog. We worked on his barking at myself and he calmed down surprisingly quickly. They could see by the way I moved slowly, didn’t go up to him, looked away and talked calmly whilst they also quietly followed certain procedures, that Basil quite soon was happy around me and taking treats. I am sure that, dealt with right and with the pressure taken off him, with the humans around him now helping him out through understanding not force, gadgets, commands or punishment, he will become more trusting and less fearful.

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.
 

There have been some big changes in this Miniature Schnauzer’s life

Friday, April 13th, 2012

Max is four years old and for the first two years of his life he was the most important thing in his owners’ lives. He had three long walks a day and they took him everywhere with them.

Then they had their little girl and now a four-month-old baby. They have also moved house.

Max now is not the happy little dog as he used to be and this is demonstrated by his change in behaviour. Because of his behaviour, his owners are not enjoying him any more, to the point where he’s almost too much trouble. Consequently their own behavour towards Max has changed. It’s Catch 22.

Max barks excessively. He has become touchy. He snaps at the little girl and he snaps when he’s disturbed. His walks are no longer so enjoyable and he is unpredictable with other dogs.

In response and in order to try to do something about the situation, they have watched Cesar Millan. Cesar makes things look so quick and easy on TV. Copying some of the dominance techniques on our own dogs can cause much more harm than good. Humans trying to act like ‘Alphas’ have caused defiance and an escalation in aggression. I would ask people – is this the way you would treat your child if he was frightened, misunderstood and unhappy?

In no time at all, this little dog quickly became eager to cooperate with me. He came alive. He looked joyful and attentive. And all because I showed him just what I wanted of him – in ways that he understood; I encouraged him and I rewarded him.

I hope Max’ people can now see that if they treat him with understanding, patience and encouragement they will see a huge difference.  At the same time they must play safe. I suggested a small dog pen for their big sitting room with his bed in it, a child-free area where he can come and go freely but shut in when necessary, so that children are always safe but at the same time he can remain part of the family.

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.

Billy, upset and scared Miniature Schnauzer

Sunday, March 11th, 2012

Billy is a Miniature Schnauzer of just eighteen months old. He goes frantic when anyone apart from family and close friends come to the house. He lunges, barks and growls, very upset and scared. He has to be restrained until he calms down.

Billy is never taken for walks now because it is such a nightmare. Virtually anything can cause him to lunge and bark with hackles up – people, other dogs, bicycles, joggers – you name it.

He has twice quite badly bitten family members who tried to put a harness on him. On occasions when they need to take him out like a visit to the vet, he will cower, try to hide and do all he can to avoid the lead. Billy also growls around the feet of anyone who is moving about whom he thinks may be leaving the house.

Imagine how it must be, constantly living in such a highly wound up state.

The family thought they had done all the right things when they chose Billy. He was Kennel Club registered. I am sorry to say I don’t feel this is particularly significant if it’s a family pet we want rather than a dog that physically fits the breed standards for looks rather than temperament. The puppies were upstairs in a bedroom. The family did not meet the mother dog. It’s obvious the puppies had little or no socialisation or encounters with everyday things, people or dogs outside that environment. Inadequate exposure to everyday life before eight weeks of age can contribute to a dog being temperamentally fragile.

One very positive thing is that he seems very much at ease with their 10-month-old crawling granddaughter. It seems she is the only person who can touch him freely and his body language is a lot calmer around her – he even brings her his toys which is lovely. He does not feel threatened by her at all.

With an inadequate start in life and possibly unstable genes where temperament is concerned, Billy’s owners have more work to do than most. Billy needs convincing that he is safe in his own house – protected by his humans.  He needs the right sort of calm, encouraging and consistent leadership. He also needs to know that the family can come and go as they like and he need not worry.

Introducing him again to his harness and preparing him for going out on walks will be an exercise in patience and kind encouragement.

It is so easy to get cross and shout at a dog when he growls or shows aggression. Unfortunately this can only make things worse. The dog isn’t bad, he’s scared.

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.
 

The importance for a puppy of early socialising and handling

Monday, December 5th, 2011

When Miniature Schnauzer Bertie, now fourteen months old, was picked up at the breeder at eight weeks old, he was shaking with fear. This is not a good start. Already he should have been handled and played with by various different people, adults and children, he should have been introduced to household things like vacuum cleaners and maybe even taken for a brief ride in a car. He should have spent time in the the house and time outside so that he learns to tell the difference for toileting purposes.

There is a critical time in a puppy’s development for introducing new things, and experiences both good and bad can have a lasting effect. Ideally there should be a variety of experiences – all good ones.

A consequence is that, through fear, Bertie will nip people – especially the couple’s grandchildren. He may suddenly fly at them from across the room. He barks and growls when people come in the house.  He is scared of everyday items and unknown things. He is very protective and on guard which can be a big burden brought about by insecurity. Looking at his picture it’s hard to believe, but day times are spent in quite a highly aroused state – often looking for trouble! A stable, calm dog will probably sleep about seventeen hours a day.

Bertie now needs to learn that he is not the centre of the universe along with the responsibilities that carries, and to become more confident in general. He is a well-loved little dog whose owners are already doing many of the ‘right things’.  A puppy that is already scared of people at eight weeks is going to be harder work. I have already experience of this with my own German Shepherd, Milly, who was born in a puppy farm and had no real human contact until she was twelve weeks old when her first owner bought her.

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.
 

Being King isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Yesterday it was a Miniature Schnauzer and today a Giant Schnauzer!

Benson is very Big and very regal. He is magnificent – a really lovely boy, and a teenager! He runs the show. After being let outside in the morning he runs upstairs and leaps all over people in bed, may even hump them and may growl if removed. He jumps up and barks while his meals are being prepared (ignoring repeated commands to sit and wait). He jumps up and barks while they try to put his lead on to go out and then pulls like a train down the road until he reaches the park. When let off lead, he may jump up and grab his owners. There is nowhere indoors he is not allowed to go. Benson and the other dog can’t have toys or chews because Benson commandeers them and becomes possessive. He is becoming increasingly protective and wary both when meeting people outside and at home. His owners are getting worried because signs of aggression are increasing.

He has some major plus points. He is aloof and ignores other dogs, so no trouble there.  He can be very affectionate. He likes to keep an eye on his human pack, so apart from one time when he was spooked by a bicycle and took it upon himself to run home, he stays near them when out. When called, he comes – but only to within a few feet. Then they have to go over to him! He is still an adolescent and is pushing his luck. The power takeover can creep up on people as they give way bit by bit until they suddenly realise they are being controlled by their dog!

For Benson there is a downside to being King in that without leadership he feels exposed and unprotected so easily scared of things like bikes, pushchairs, umbrellas and so on.  He also is scared when certain people, men mainly, look at him or lean over, approach directly or enter his personal space. A dog with convincing human leadership is much more relaxed and less touchy about his own personal space, less likely to worry about collecting and possessing trophies, jumping up, humping and dominating.

I read somewhere that a leader has a much greater need to lead than a follower has to follow. It can be a long job gently and fairly convincing a dog like this relinquish his responsibilites – to be more relaxed. Trying to do it through domination and force would make things a hundred times worse.

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.
 

Adored Miniature Schnauzer

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

I have been to quite a few Miniature Schnauzers of late. This won’t be because they are more troublesome than other breeds but because they are very popular at the moment.

Pepper is very small example of the breed and one year old. She is worshipped by a mainly female household. She is carried about, picked up, cuddled, kissed, greeted with high voiced excitement and obeyed. They all dote on her. Considering all this, Pepper is surprisingly well-adjusted!  She must basically have an easy going by nature, given the chance.

Her main problem is excessive barking at people walking past, and at people coming to her house. Protecting the family group should be the job of the head of the family – or the leader. By being constantly ‘told’ that she is the most important member, this protection role falls upon Pepper. A dog already aroused with excited squeeky greetings and so on, will be much more ready to go into a frenzy of barking on hearing a noise outside.

Calm needs to be encouraged. The family needs to show Pepper that they are there to look after her – not the other way around. Leaving her to ‘get on with it’ when she barks as they often do simply isn’t leadership – neither is scolding her.

Pepper ‘belongs’ to the eight year old daughter (though she won’t know this!) and the child has quietly and calmly taught her a very neat routine of actions. It was wonderful to see Pepper wait one end of the large garden while the little girl walked away, and then run joyfully to her when she was called. It was a perfect example or how good a relationship between a child and a dog can be. Pepper is getting the best leadership from an eight year old! The rest of the family need to tone down the homage and put a few boundaries in place. Pepper has legs! Pepper can then learn to trust them to take on protection duty.

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.
 

Hector is fearful of some dogs and people, especially children.

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

miniatureschnautzer-200x300Look at this for a face! Hector is an eight month old Miniature Schnauzer who looks like a teddy bear. He is a remarkably calm pup most of the time. He is intelligent and biddable. He has been given sensible boundaries from the start, but is now quietly testing them as teenagers do! It is amusing to see how much he can get his unsuspecting humans to do for him, on his own terms, and how he chooses just what he does for them on their terms. He knows exactly how far to push it!

This is typical puppy stuff which makes owners wonder whether it will ever end, and even causes some to give up.

The problem with Hector is his fearfulness. He is a very confident little dog when at home with his family, but when someone new comes into his house he barks at them and backs away.  Out on walks when on lead he is likely to bark at people and dogs. The worst is that he barks at children. When young children come to the house from time to time he is very scared, and if they are toddling or walking about he barks incessantly at them and this sounds aggressive and scary. He is very reactive to children playing outside or riding past on bikes.

It is natural for a dog to be wary of small children. They move suddenly and upredictably, they can be noisy, and they often approach in what the dog perceives a threatening manner, directly and staring, and most likely with arms outstretched. The owners then get anxious or cross when the dog is barking or growling, which compounds the problem. If there isn’t opportunity to acclimatise the dog to young children every day or so over a period of time, then he needs to be protected and to have a ‘safe haven‘ where the children can’t go. In Hector’s case I suggested putting a gate on the kitchen doorway to keep the dog in and the children out. Maybe the child can throw little bits of the dogs dry food through the bars – but only if Hector is sufficienlty relaxed and not barking – so that he associates children with something nice.

Whether the dog is frightened of children, people, other dogs, traffic or anything else, it needs to be worked on gradually in a controlled way. Complete avoidance to start with and then introducing the trigger slowly and gradually whilst dealing with it the right way – never forcing the dog out of his comfort zone and being ready to retreat. Complete avoidance gives no opportunity to rehabilitate, but pushing ahead too fast can even result in shut down or aggression.

Hector is only eight months old, and with the right guidance and responses from his owners, over time he should gain his confidence.

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.
 

Miniature Schnauzers

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Yesterday I visited two great characters, Tom and Sidney, two Miniature Schnauzers who have just come back from Singapore. They now have a very different lifestyle. In Singapore the doors to the garden were always open so the dogs were free to come and go, but dogs were not allowed off lead at all outside. The lady had a helper who did most things for the dogs – walking, feeding, grooming, playing and so on. I suspect the dogs may have thought she was their servant as well!

Now Tom and Sidney are in cold wet England! They may be a little unsettled because it is a big change, and their lady owner is learning what to do with them. Tom is easier because he fortunately will do anything for a food reward, but Sidney is very clever and food doesn’t do it! He only responds if he so chooses! He has no recall, either from the garden or when out. I found when I was there that outwitting Sidney worked well. He ran out when I arrived (the front was gated) and the lady went out to try to get him in. I suggested we went in and shut the door loudly. He was there in a trice!

Tom’s face looks as if he is wondering what restrictions my presence might impose on his future lifestyle!  There will be a few fair rules and boundaries that, once decided upon, must be consistently stuck to.

There dogs need to learn to walk nicely together on loose leads. Before Sidney can be let off lead again after a hare-chasing episode last week, there is a lot of work to be done on his recall. However, for him to want to come when called, he must see the point. Whilst he thinks dogs rule people, then why should he come? So, there is work to be done at home also!

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.