Nervous Dog. New Puppy. Early Exposure.

What is it with so many Staffies? Is it a genetic tendency I wonder? Nervous dog Tom is yet another Staffie who is fearful of the outside world and reluctant to walk.

Tom drools when he is scared. He does a lot of drooling on walks.

A new Staffie puppy

The other day they brought home a new Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy. Buster is a nine week old heart-breaker with a coat of grey velvet.

New puppy with nervous dogThey first brought home something that smelt of the puppy to introduce his scent to Tom. Tom drooled.

When puppy arrived, the poor nervous dog was really scared of him. Tom drooled continuously.

Over the past three days he has improved but still likes to keep out of the enthusiastic puppy’s way.

One surprising development is that Tom himself sometimes now initiates play. Strangely he’s not a nervous dog with Buster when they play. He bows and barks to Buster to get him to chase him.

There is only so much he can take though, and then he’s back to his nervous, quiet self and retires.

Buster follows him into the corner and Tom then drools or tries to escape. It’s like he is expecting to be told off or punished when the puppy is near him (something which definitely isn’t happening).

The big outside world.

They have had the four-year-old Tom for five months now and it’s clear he didn’t get the best start when he was Buster’s age. With my help they will make sure Buster is properly introduced to the outside word of dogs, people, vehicles, wheelie bins, paper bags, buggies and so on. All the experiences should be positive.

They should start this right away. The clock is ticking. Buster needs plenty of early exposure before he is fully vaccinated and ready to put down on the ground. They will have to carry him.

Poor Tom is scared of so many things, particularly when out of the house.

The main priority at present is to get the nervous dog’s stress levels down. To build up his confidence. Then he will be in a better state of mind to cope with Buster and to enjoy his company.

Every time Tom has to face things he is scared of without the opportunity to escape, it makes him worse. Every day he has to face the ordeal of a walk, particularly as it means going under a scary underpass if they are gong to get to the green. This is much too big a price to pay for exercise.

Building confidence in the nervous dog.

They will go back to basics with him and build up the nervous dog’s confidence immediately outside the house, going no further for now. Without this daily stress Tom should then become more resilient around Buster.

Buster fortunately seems a very confident puppy though he hates being alone. After all, he had lots of siblings and had never been alone before. He has adopted a bean bag as his favourite sleeping place, snuggling into it like it’s a pile of puppies.

Patiently and gradually they will wean him into being alone. Over the next six weeks I shall be helping them with all the usual puppy things, a mix of settling into his new life and pre-empting any future possible problems. We will start loose lead walking and basic training.

Confident little Buster may well, in the future, be a real confidence booster to nervous dog Tom – and even bring out the inner, carefree puppy in him.

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 Tom and Buster and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 fearfulness is concerned. 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)

 

All Alone, he Howls Cries Shakes. Life Without Daisy.

 

Nine years ago Banjo came to live with their other Jack Russell, Daisy. She was four years old at the time and all his life Badger lived with her and relied upon her. Daisy was the in charge.

Daisy has died.

Badger never before had been left all alone.

His young couple have to go out to work and Badger howls and cries. The young lady sneaked up to the window and looked in when he was quiet. He was sitting on the rug, shaking. This was the rug where he had last seen Daisy when the vet came to put her to sleep a couple of weeks previously.

unhappy left all alone

His life has been torn apart in more ways than just being all alone when his humans go out. Daisy was the dominant dog of the pair. All Badger’s life he has been used to following her and now he’s alone. It has left a big void with both her humans and with Badger and I’m sure he feels insecure without her. The separation problem is part of the bigger picture.

Without Daisy beside him, the previously calm dog is now on alert when out on walks.

Without this strong influence, Badger is lost. He is, in his way, grieving.

All alone without Daisy

He is now on window guard-duty alone. He has to deal with the invasion of post through the letterbox alone. They will block his view, put up an outside mailbox and help him out when he becomes alarmed.

The lower his stress levels are in general (I keep banging on about stress levels don’t I), the better he will be able to cope with this huge change in his life.

You might think now that they take him out everywhere with them – something they couldn’t do with Daisy – it would compensate for life without her.

Banjo needs time.

Introducing him to activities that suit his brain should help to enrich his new life without his strong-willed companion to control him – things to do with sniffing, foraging. He doesn’t play.

Helping to get him used to being all alone is tricky when they both work. They have arranged cover for the next couple of weeks and after that will take him to doggy daycare twice a week. He can then be without Daisy but somewhere he’s never had her with him – he loves other dogs.

A controlled and systematic plan.

A slowly slowly plan involving desensitising him to the triggers that precede their going out is fundamental. They will repeatedly go through each thing individually, coats on, checking the house, lifting keys etc. and then the whole sequence without actually going out of the door to begin with. Then they will add going out of the door – for one minute only initially. They will use food.

They can watch him from through a camera and an app their phones. This will enable them to time their returns, to be back before he panics.

When they are gone they can leave Badger a stuffed Kong and a chew, though it’s likely in his state he won’t yet be interested in food when all alone. Departures should be associated with good things and returns fairly boring.

There are other things things they can try that may help to comfort him when left:

  • Thundershirt. It works brilliantly with some dogs and not at all with others. First associate wearing it with calm and happy times. so that it doesn’t become yet another trigger ‘oh heck, they are leaving me all alone now are they?’.
  • Pet Remedy plug-in Watch this video explaining it.
  • Dog Music – downloadable. Why does Through a Dogs Ear music work to relieve canine anxiety?
  • Song for Daisy and see this explanation.
  • Continual boring talking like a speaking book is said to keeps some dogs company and calm.

We can review the situation in a couple of weeks. We may need to get the vet involved. The fact Badger will still have to be left all alone for several hours some days will unfortunately slow things down, but it is what it is.

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 Badger and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 as not all separation issues are the same. 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)

 

Fear of the Vet. Panicked. Struggled.

has developed fear of the vetBeautiful Jack Russell Jojo is nine years old and the friendliest, easiest little dog you could hope to meet.

Unfortunately she has developed a fear of the vet. She was taken for her regular yearly check and vaccinations but went into a flat panic.

Why, after all these years?

She has never enjoyed being at the vet but has tolerated it. The previous year she saw a different vet who, seeing she was uneasy, got down on the floor with her and all was well.

That previous time the waiting room had been full and busy. Sociable Jess was very happy with that.

This most recent time the waiting room was empty and quiet.

Sudden direct approach into a quiet room.

The vet came out of his room and walked directly towards Jojo. She immediately went and hid under the lady’s chair. Most unusual.

I see two things here. The appearance of the vet into the quiet room may have been a bit sudden. The direct approach towards Jojo will have scared her.

Then, when carried into the vet’s room, Jojo struggled frantically to get out of the lady’s arms as she was lifted her onto the table. They couldn’t hold her sufficiently still to do anything and had to give up.

It looks like she was sensitised to the actual vet himself by the manner and suddenness of his approach. It’s very likely, however, that in addition to fear of the vet she will also now be sensitised to the whole premises.

Maybe another time he can be asked to stay in his room and maybe the receptionist can send them in – or maybe just put his head around the door instead?

Direct advance can be intimidating. See this – the Pulse Project.

A dog can be a lot more confident if a person is already in a room, seated even, when the dog enters.

Getting over her fear of the vet.

The lady will now be working on getting Jojo not to have fear of the vet but to positively like him instead.

They will break a vet visit down into the smallest increments. This is a framework:

  • Have a word with the receptionist. Find out the best time of day.
  • Short walk first – fifteen minutes max. Keep it relaxed if possible.
  • Park outside vet. Walk around the immediate area. Drop food on the ground as they pass the vet’s step. If she’s totally chilled with the area around the step, open the door next time. If not, keep on walking past each session until she is.
  • Next, with lead long and loose, walk in. She can follow if she wants. Turn around if she’s not ready. If she goes in, feed her. Ask the receptionist to feed her. She’s such a friendly dog she will love a fuss.
  • Let her wander about. It would be good if the surgery room was empty and she could go and walk around there too. Make good things happen – special food.
  • Do these things several times on several different occasions.
  • When she is very comfortable, lift her onto the table and feed her there. It would be best of all if she could be taught to jump into the lady’s arms then put on the table. She can then have a choice. If she doesn’t jump up, she doesn’t go on the table.
  • Eventually they may be able to arrange that the vet is in there already. She can walk on a loose lead so she can escape immediately if she wants to. The vet also could feed her (she wouldn’t eat last time – much too scared). The vet did in fact recommend me for helping Jojo so I’m sure will be happy to help.

What led to Jojo’s fear of the vet can be diagnosed fairly accurately, so we know exactly what it is that needs to be reversed. It’s not what a vet does with her that scares Jojo but the vet himself. With some work and with the help of the vet, little Jojo should go back to tolerating him again – maybe even liking him.

 

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 Jojo and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 is concerned. 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)

Bird Scarer. The Curse of Dog Walkers.

Ten days ago a bird scarer detonated and if he’d not been on lead Bob would have legged it home. He has now become reluctant to walk again – as he had been a year ago when they first got him.

The Staffie Labrador mix is now four years old. Previously he was wary of the outside world and the couple have worked hard at enriching his life with walks.

It’s obvious that, apart from the recent escalating of his spooked behaviour due to the bird scarer, they have come a long way with him in one year. There are many things he can now handle that he couldn’t cope with a year ago and his ‘bounce-back’ recovery is a lot faster. 

Feeling unsafe.

Some of Bob’s problems with sudden sounds and feeling unsafe may well be genetic.

Bird scarer spooked himIn his home I met the sweetest, most friendly and well-mannered dog.

Despite their progress, there are many times when Bob has heard something distant, maybe inaudible to his humans, and put the anchors on. Their reaction has been to encourage and gently press him ahead.

The bottom line is that Bob’s spookiness is due to his feeling unsafe. This overwhelms everything else – even eating, and Bob loves his food.

Their task is twofold: to stop him being so jumpy in general and to work with sounds in particular.

They can do little about the random sudden noises that life throws at Bob, so in order to progress they need to generate their own, controlled sounds.

Threshold

To advance further beyond where they have already got to themselves will require doing all they can to avoid forcing Bob over threshold. There will usually be a volume or intensity of a sound where he is aware of it but still feels safe. It could be a long way away. It could well be hearing a distant bang from inside the house.

The more he knows they will let him back away and always allow him an escape route, the less unsafe he should feel. This requires a long and loose lead, preferably a long line. He will then feel even more trusting of his humans.

So, they will set up controlled situations and generate sounds themselves. They then have control over when the bang happens and control over the volume and proximity of the bang.

Overcoming noise phobias from Absolute Dogs suggests recording sounds on a phone.

They can record the bird scarer.

First the chosen sound needs pairing with food (chicken in Bob’s case) at a very low volume or distance. In brief it goes like this:

Start with a stream of distant or soft bangs, each triggering food. Bang=chicken, bang=chicken, bang=chicken….)

Gradually they make the bangs a bit more random and less regular – but not louder or closer yet. Gradually they become more sudden/unexpected.

Bit by bit they can increase volume or decrease distance.

Now, to make Bob as bomb-proof as possible, they should start on another sound and repeat the process.

As this second sound gets to the random and ‘sudden’ stage, it can be mixed with a previously ‘de-spooked’ sound. They can work their way up to party poppers heard from the furthest bedroom.

The sound must always cause chicken to drop.

Later they can introduce the sounds from outside in the garden. After all, it’s sounds outside that are the problem.

They can also experiment with Bob continuously chewing/eating during a session of varied bangs. A Kong filled with smelly tripe for instance.

It’s vital to keep Bob under that threshold.

This is the distance, volume or intensity where he’s aware of a bang but not disturbed by it.

Bit by bit this threshold should relax.

Real life bangs will continue to occur. Their reaction to a bird scarer whether distant or too close should be the same – chicken – regardless of whether he eats it. The bang triggers chicken, full-stop. The lead should be long and loose so Bob has some degree of escape. They should follow him to ‘safety’ instead of holding him tight or making him carry on.

If they can get back sub-threshold without going home, they can now occupy him with an alternative, fun activity to help him to bounce back.

Those locations contaminated by the bird scarer – and he can hear it from a long way, even his own garden – can be systematically de-contaminated using food.

The future for Bob and bangs is bright.

 

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 Bob and 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)

“I’m a Terrified Dog. GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

In the reality TV game show ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ a young woman is locked in a tank of snakes. She is terrified of snakes. A man who’s not a good swimmer is shut in a dark tunnel leading to a deep tank with scary water critters. Others are buried in a dark tomb with rats and insects dropping all around them.

These people do this through choice.

Terrified of the outside worldThey know exactly when the terror will start and when it will end. They have a get-out card. If the terrified contestants shout “I’M A CELEBRITY – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” they will be rescued immediately. There is a team of medics on hand, just in case.

They know that however much they hate the ordeal, they are safe.

Imagine how it must be for Marco.

After some weeks in kennels he has a wonderful new home. But, as soon as he leaves the sanctuary of the house and garden he is terrified.

The gate opens and a world of horror is beyond.

Vehicles – small, large, fast, slow, noisy, smelly – are passing. There are bikes and runners. He lunges and barks, attack probably being the best form of defense.

In the open he is on high alert all the time. He barks at wind in the trees, at birds flying overhead and at distant lights.

Being in the boot of their car sends him into a meltdown. A covered crate makes no difference.

Unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco has no way of knowing that he is, in reality, safe.

It’s an educated guess that for the first three and a half years of his life the Staffie mix will have had little exposure, if any, to the world outside a house and garden. Any journey in a car would probably have taken him through this outside hell and ended somewhere like the vet. No wonder he’s terrified.

All good dog owners give their dogs long walks, right?

Like the conscientious dog owners they are, wanting to do the very best for their gorgeous but troubled dog, they had been taking him out for walks from the start.

Choice.

Unfortunately, unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco doesn’t have choice. He can’t know that in reality he is safe. He can’t know that the ordeal will only last a set length of time and then it will end. The dog has no ‘I’M A TERRIFIED DOG – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” option.

See this: What fear does to the body – dog or human.

Marco is gorgeous. Indoors he is friendly without being pushy, he’s gentle and affectionate. It’s probable that after just six weeks with them he’s not yet shown all his true self. His body language is what I would call ‘careful’. He shows signs of anxiety at unusual times like when he’s called through a door he lowers his head.

With a dog so obviously fearful of the outside world (the rescue apparently didn’t see this side of him) it’s common to suggest to new owners that the dog isn’t taken out at all for three weeks.

No walks!

People find this hard.

Let a dog get used to his new environment – house, garden and new people first. Just imagine the enormity of being trapped in a totally new world over which you have no control.

It’s all to do with trust in his humans, with Marco feeling safe. No animal, or human, willingly goes somewhere he believes is life-threatening. Keeping fit and exercise is an irrelevance compared to feeling safe.

If our guesses as to his previous home are correct, he’s not had much exercise in terms of long walks in all his life so far, so neither he nor his body will miss it.

They will now work slowly, always keeping in mind Marco’s comfort threshold. He’s fine in the house. He’s fine in the garden. When the gate opens he panics.

He is terrified.

He transforms into a lunging, pulling and barking beast.

They will now walk him around house and garden only, teaching him to walk on a loose lead. The teenage son was soon walking him about at his side with no lead at all.

They need to get him okay with the traffic on the busy road outside. He has to negotiate the footpath before going anywhere else.

With Marco on a long, loose lead they will open the gate and find his threshold distance – where he is aware of the passing traffic but can cope; it could be right down the garden. As the vehicles pass and Marco is watching them, they will rain chicken on him. If he won’t eat, he is still over threshold. He will have the freedom and choice to retreat further.

With lots of short sessions, with vehicles at a safe distances heralding food, over time his threshold will get closer to the road.

The car is another thing to work on but not until he’s okay walking towards it and around it. Little by little.

It is likely that with slow and patient work Marco will suddenly surge ahead and some of the other things that terrify him in the large and unfamiliar world won’t seem so scary.

He will have absolute trust in his humans if they allow him to choose what he is ready for.

He now can shout “Get Me Out of Here!”

He can choose!

If with his body language he shows uneasiness they will make things alright. If with barking he shouts “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”, they will do just that. Beat a retreat.

 

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 Marco and 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)

Large Hand Over her Head. She Barks at People

Rusti is a tiny 13-month-old Miniature Daschund. She is wary of people. Too often an approaching person means a large hand over her head.

She looks so cute people feel compelled to touch her.

A looming person. A large hand.

Rusti barks at people who come into her house. She barks at people who approach the man’s car. On walks she may bark at an approaching person.

scared when a large hand goes over her headThe man has held her up to help a person touch her. She will try to escape over his shoulder. She may growl or even nip the hand.

Because, as people do, they feel that she should allow a person who is being friendly to touch her, her reaction can be embarrassing to them.

Understandably, being that small, Rusti can feel unsafe when someone looms with large hand outstretched, particularly when she’s trapped. She is a lot better when free and off lead.

The man takes Rusti to work with him and she stays in the car. He has an active job where he can keep an eye on her and regularly return to let her out.

Though fine to be left in the car, she spends much of the day looking out for approaching people. She gets very aroused and barks frantically at them to go away. Very often they come over. Sometimes a large hand may even come through the open window towards her.

Looking at the world through Rusti’s eyes.

They will now look at the world from Rusti’s perspective. They are learning to read her signals.

Her humans will do their best to help her out and avoid anything that scares her whenever they possible can. They will get her an igloo dog bed for the car and a couple of window blinds like one might use to shield a baby from the sun.

People won’t see her and she won’t see them.

If they help to avoid people getting too close to her, particularly preventing them from touching her, she should become a lot less wary and then she will have less need to bark at them, “Go Away”. This will build up trust in her humans.

Human beings must be puzzling and scary to a tiny dog. They touch her when they feel like it, they cuddle her, they move her about whenever they wish. She shares their food but they get angry when she helps herself.

Confusing!

Someone she doesn’t know puts a large hand out to touch her. We ourselves wouldn’t like that, would we. When she defends herself by growling or nipping she gets told off.

We expect our dogs to understand us and fit into our world without realising just how little we try to understand them and allow them their own feelings and preferences.

We should act as our dogs’ advocates. Rusti’s feelings are a lot more important than the feelings of a person, usually a stranger, who may want to touch her.  Can I pet your dog and why it’s okay to say no

 

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 Rusti and 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)

Poo Indoors. Emotions-Bowels Connection?

To poo indoors once seemed the natural thing for the twelve-year-old Tibetan Terrier.

Tipsy was a breeding bitch who had lived in kennels for the first five years of her life. It took them a year to house-train her, but that was now six years ago. 

Why poo indoors now?

Over the past four months things have taken a downward turn with Tipsy defecating indoors regularly.  Possibly a couple of times a week.

There are questions to be asked. What was it about four months ago that could have triggered this? They have had her thoroughly checked by the vet and it doesn’t seem to be a health issue.she has begun to poo indoors

Around four months ago the gentleman had a fall. This would have been very alarming to Tipsy. In August they had a scary car journey in a storm with high winds and when they arrived in the house, Tipsy emptied her bowels everywhere. In November, the first November in their new house, Tipsy was so terrified by fireworks that she messed all over the floor.

There may well have been other things over the past three or four months that have also unsettled the now more highly-sensitised dog.

Other questions include where does she usually do it, and when does she usually do it?

Apart from those couple of occasions when she has panicked and she had no control at all, it’s alone and out of sight, usually in one of the bedrooms.

They believe it happens during the evening.

The lady has scolded her. Scolding is such a natural thing for a person to do – how is the dog to know she shouldn’t toilet in the house after all? However, scolding is likely to make the dog even more anxious. It may even make her furtive and go somewhere she may not be discovered.

The poo itself isn’t really the problem.

It probably seems like the problem to them, of course! It will be a symptom.

We need to determine the underlying cause and deal with that instead. Tipsy is feeling unsettled and unsafe, in my opinion. So – we need to work on her confidence.

Because both her humans have mobility problems, Tipsy is seldom taken out or walked now. She lives in the ‘bubble’ of her own house and garden, a very sheltered life, largely isolated from the outside world.

She is never left alone and she gets agitated when they aren’t both together with her.

I suggest they enrich her life a bit by exposing her to more of the outside world in a gradual fashion. Taken slowly it should acclimatise her a bit. The lady can sit on a chair by her garden gate with Tipsy on a longish lead and let her take in the sights and sounds – and sniff. Fortunately she just loves other dogs and would greet passing dogs with polite enthusiasm.

They themselves suggested a dog walker a couple of times a week. If she can handle being taken away, it could be a great idea.

What goes in comes out.

They also need to work on the toileting itself. The impact of what she eats is very important. What goes in – comes out! What she actually eats can affect her mood.

Not only is this relevant to her pooing, but so is the time of day that she eats. Currently Tipsy has one big meal early evening. She tends to poo indoors late evening. This routine should change if some of the digestion is going on a lot earlier.

When and what she eats is unlikely to cure the problem alone, but, together with dealing with Tipsy’s emotions,  it could be part of the solution.

Is it she now for some reason is more reluctant to go out when it’s dark? Maybe she needs to be accompanied. We are covering all angles I can think of.

Finally – management of the environment – the easy bit!

The couple sit in the living room all evening, so why not keep the door to the rest of the house closed, shutting off the area where she might poo indoors? If there is an element of habit to it, that should break it.

Nick Coffer who hosts the 3 Counties Radio phone-in programme I do monthly would smile. He says the topics always get around to either poo or humping!

 

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 Tipsy and 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)

Punish Fear. Training Discs. Scared of Clicker

Little Terrier Ricky was found abandoned in Ireland, very young and with a broken pelvis. He is two years old.

Ricky now has the near-perfect life for him with the couple he has lived with for a year. He’s very friendly with people and best loves to be snuggled up on the man’s lap. He is however a sensitive little dog – perhaps more sensitive than one might think.

Something has frightened him badly either in his past life or as the result of someone demonstrating how they should ‘cure’ his barking at the hoover. They tell me this person threw spoons on the floor in front of him – or it may have been training discs specifically manufactured for ‘scaring’ a dog out of doing something.

Why would anyone think to punish fear is a good idea?

This has led me a bit away from this actual case, but I find it incredible that anyone can think punishing a dog already exhibiting fear with further terror can be a good way to go about things. This was often the old way of ‘curing’ a dog of barking at something – and there are a few old-school people including a well-known TV trainer who carry on promoting the ‘punish fear’ kind of approach.

to punish fear makes it worseIn human terms, would we slap a child for crying because he’s afraid, say, of the dark? The noise may stop but for sure the fear would increase.

Fortunately Ricky’s lovely owners would never knowingly scare their little dog and didn’t take up the punish fear advice to stop his barking at other dogs.

We discussed ways of helping Ricky to become more confident and to overcome his fear of dogs in situations where he feels vulnerable or trapped. A clicker can be a useful tool. It turned out that he was very scared of a clicker.

Ricky’s owners had bought a clicker a while ago and, as most people would, just clicked it.

Ricky ran and hid. They didn’t try it again

Could the sudden click have reminded him of the sudden throwing down of spoons or discs, I wonder? Perhaps the click reminded him of something from his early past.

I’m careful when I introduce a clicker. I will muffle it under my arm on in a pocket, just to check how the dogs feels with the sound. It’s not uncommon for a nervous dog to react.

Threshold

Because I thought a clicker could be useful, I had another go, this time being very careful to muffle it so the sound was very soft.  I clicked and I threw food. Ricky was fine.

I gradually brought it out from under my arm, making the sound less muffled.

Then, all of a sudden, it was too much. Ricky was scared. Even though I thought I had been bringing it out gradually, it wasn’t gradual enough.

Needless to say, clicker will never be used with him again.

It was an interesting for them to clearly see, though, the dog’s fear ‘threshold’ and how slowly things have to be taken. Once over threshold, the dog is scared and unable to learn or function properly.

Ricky then was uneasy with me also. This demonstrated how scaring a dog in this way may spread to fear of other associated things like the person who administers the frightener or even the location where it happened. It can destroy trust.

This shows the principle of how they will be dealing with Ricky’s fear of approaching dogs. He only reacts when they get very close and when he’s on lead, unable to escape. However, if they watch him carefully, they will see that he is uneasy long before it gets to that.

This is the point at which they will start to work on his fear. And they certainly wouldn’t punish fear. Instead they will do the opposite. They will work on reducing fear by building up positive associations.

Taking their dog to the pub.

An end goal, similar to that of quite a few other people I go to, is to be able to take their dog to the pub!

They want him to ignore other dogs coming in or passing by rather than barking defensively at them.

Punish fear by throwing discs, keys or spoons as some people (certainly not Ricky’s humans) might? Possibly the barking would stop, temporarily. How, though, would the dog feel about an approaching dog another time?

When another dog is sufficiently far away for Ricky to know it’s there but he’s still relaxed, food should rain down on him. The challenge is to do this before Ricky goes ‘over threshold’ with the other dog being too close or Ricky already being too stirred up to accept it.

Fortunately he has quite a few doggy friends and is fine in a group. It’s only when he feels cornered or trapped and the dog gets too close.

To get to the stage of sitting in a pub garden with other dogs coming and going also requires Ricky to feel more comfortable when directly approached by another dog when he’s out on lead.

They will give Ricky coping mechanisms.

 

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 Ricky and 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)

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)

Scared Dog Indoors

Poor Boris looked uneasy all the time.

His family, unable to read his subtle signals just hadn’t realised how his uneasiness went a lot further than the problem I was there for – his fear of going near particular pieces of furniture and on certain routes through the house.

When they first adopted him a month ago he was very reluctant to enter the house at all.

He may be a very scared dog indoors, but outside Boris is a different dog. He loves to be outside in the garden.

The three-year-old Labrador Boxer mix has now landed on his feet with a couple, their two young daughters and a lovely home.

As soon as I arrived, the young girls cuddled and fussed him, probably for my benefit. Neither they nor mum could see that with his looking away, lip licking and even freezing he wasn’t enjoying it at all. He was wagging his tail, but taken in context this was more in appeasement than joy. Then Dad arrived home and welcomed him with rather vigorous stroking and again he looked away and licked his lips. I would say he was simply enduring the fuss.

Boris sleeps and eats in a utility room at the back of the house, but won’t go through the kitchen and down a short passage to get in there. He will only walk around the outside of the house and in the back door.

We sat in the kitchen – another room where he’s not happy – and because we were all there he did venture in. As he crept through the door, warily, he wouldn’t turn around but would then back out again. Reading him, he seemed to want the company without the fussing. He eventually quietly sat between the gentleman and the lady, away from me, but his eyes were constantly darting.

Each doorway or corner to another area seems to hold terror for Boris.

His behaviour looks to me very much like that of a dog that has been punished by someone unpredictable, not knowing when something might happen and why, which may tie in with what is known of his past. His body language and the backing away is symptomatic of the use of a remote-controlled electric shock collar – a beep comes out of the blue to the dog followed by a zap if he doesn’t comply. Possibly as a puppy he had been shocked to stop him chewing furniture or zapped for going into forbidden areas.

I usually avoid conjecture but want to explain what it looks like. One can only guess and the past is the past, but his behaviour is typical of fallout from the use of excessive or unpredictable punishment of some sort. Whatever it was will only ever have happened has caused  indoors which would explain why he’s so much more comfortable outside.

His new family’s kindness and wish to make him happy has resulted in rather a lot of added pressure on him. The enticing in an excited voice to encourage him out of his room and through the passageway is making things worse as is too much fussing in general. We listed the things where he may be feeling pressure, and they need working on.

When nobody is about he has, on a couple of occasions, ventured out of his room and they have found him at the front door when they arrived home. He has never, though, gone back into his room from indoors.

That route from hall to his back room needs ‘exorcising’. I have suggested they lace the area, starting near the door where he’s least wary, with his favourite food chopped up small. They should scatter it there with him out of the way and then leave him to discover it, always with an escape route back into the hall. This way it is the room and the floor that is offering him the food, not his humans using bribery. (See more about Sprinkles TM here).

Eventually, if taken gradually enough, they should be able to lay a trail down that passage so long as they themselves keep out of the way.

If this psychological approach is very slow, then we have another tack using clicker training – a way in which he won’t suspect that he’s being lured into ‘danger’.

Boris’ body language must be respected and I have sent a couple of excellent videos for the children to watch – mum and dad too, helping them to read dogs. As little pressure as possible should be put on him while he builds up trust in humans and in the safety of his environment. This will take time because things that may have happened to him at a young age will be fairly well implanted in him now. There may be a genetic element to this, but I’m am pretty sure that humans have not always been nice to him. It’s a big tribute to his lovely nature that it’s not resulted in aggression.

Feeling unsafe overwhelms everything else. It’s a survival thing. An animal that feels unsafe won’t even eat. Changing this is a priority. Over time he should be getting his trust back in humans.

In some areas they have already made some great progress in the month he’s been with them.