Obsession With Small Child. Fixated. Reactive.

She has obsession over the childMaddie, a delightful seven-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, has an obsession – the little grandson, now aged four.

I met a confident, relaxed and friendly little dog. I had left her alone to sniff and investigate me without trying to touch her until she was ready. Also, I was already seated before she joined us.

A new person walking directly towards a dog in a doorway, looming, can be intimidating.

Maddie is a very friendly and well socialised little dog, great with most people. She is particularly reactive to children however.

Her main problem is the little grandson – we will call him Jack.

Jack is a very good with Maddie. He treats her with respect. They have known each other since he was born.

He is now getting fed up with her behaviour towards him – even a a bit scared.

Maddie has an obsession: Jack.

As soon as he arrives Maddie is running at him, jumping up and barking. It’s excitement to see him for sure, but is it pure pleasure? I doubt it.

This generates a lot of human excitement and understandable scolding. The dog is getting worse.

All the time Jack is moving about, Maddie is barking at him. She rushes up the stairs ahead of him, barking down at him. When he goes downstairs she rushes ahead of him, barking up at him.

When he sits down she stops barking but she sits right beside him, staring at him.

He may now be able to move about slowly – though she will be at his heels. If he runs, as children do, she will begin to bark again.

Maddie is very agitated.

So far I haven’t actually seen this for myself. My assessment is from close questioning rather than observation. They have some groundwork to put in place first before having Jack round again.

It is obvious that Maddie has some sort of fascination for Jack. She seems excited and scared of him in equal measure. It sounds like she seems to want to control him, herd him. The herding theory is plausible. Schnauzers and Miniature Schnauzers were originally used as cattle herding dogs.

Being a child, Jack will naturally be somewhat unpredictable. He has become Maddie’s obsession.

The plan is for them to have a well-rehearsed short visit with Jack, dealing with Maddie completely differently but without me there to complicate things or cause any extra excitement.

Then Jack will make second visit with me already there.

An unused trump card.

Instead of trying to stop Maddie from behaving like this using scolding and restraint, they will be upbeat. They will sound encouraging and reward her for being quiet instead. They will reinforce her when she looks away from him – with food. They’ve not tried using food for reward and reinforcement so they have a big, unplayed, trump card!

They will now think in terms of helping her out rather than disciplining her. This will mean putting her on ‘remote control’ by working on a solid, bright and encouraging ‘Maddie Come!’ so that she immediately comes away from Jack when asked to. This is part of the groundwork.

Setting the scene.

Most importantly, the scene needs to be set in the best way to help Maddie, so that when she comes into Jack’s presence she’s not already highly aroused and barking.

Managed in this way, both Jack and the adult humans will be a lot calmer and less anxious, which Maddie should pick up on.

She will be out of the way when Jack arrives. He will already be sitting down when, much calmer, she is brought in to join him. She will then be given things to occupy her mind and help her to calm – she would love a Kong or a chew. The session will be kept very short.

After this initial ‘trial’ session, I will be there for the second session to see for myself what is now happening. I can make sure we are using the very best tactics for both Jack and Maddie.

 

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 Maddie and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression issues of any kind are concerned – particularly anything involving children. 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)

Feels Unsafe. Street Dog. Feral Dog

Feels unsafeNeo is still a street dog – still a street dog although living in a house. The fact he is living so well in a house is tribute to the hard work and research of his young owners.

He was picked up from the streets at a few months old with several siblings who bullied him. They reckoned the mother was more feral dog than street dog. Neo is now two-and-a-half.

The young couple had fostered dogs for a Hong Kong rescue. Neo had had several foster homes and, a nervous young dog, he wasn’t chosen for adoption.

They brought him home with them.

He is restless. He is ready to jump at any sound. When something passes the house it’s like he doesn’t dare bark. He huffs and his hackles rise.

Neo isn’t unfriendly but he doesn’t seem to bond in the way most domestic dogs do. At times he still seems afraid of his own humans. He is no way attention seeking – in fact, the roles are reversed – his young humans try to get his attention!

Outside and on lead he pulls in a kind of panic, darting about at anything that moves or rustles. They have worked hard at trying to get him to walk beside them, but he comes back only to dart forward again.

On high alert from the moment he leaves the house.

Most dogs that are reactive to things are more so when trapped on a lead. Neo will, for a short while anyway, have experienced freedom on the streets. He could keep his distance from things that scared him. He could hide. It’s understandable how he feels unsafe when trapped on a lead and to make it worse, they often use a retractable lead. This will always have tension.

Neo not only feels unsafe, he is also overwhelmed by too much sensory input/overload.

Each and every walk will be piling up the stress.

Most of the exercise that he does get, in the fields, doesn’t really have freedom. They dare not let him off lead (they will now ditch the retractable lead in favour of a loose long line). They do sometimes hire an enclosed field where he can run off lead. Perfect.

To make things even more difficult, Neo isn’t much interested in food at the best of times. He certainly won’t eat when out – he feels unsafe, on high alert, far over his arousal threshold.

Neo feels unsafe.

Feeling safe is the most important thing. Safety key to survival.

An important task now is to build up the value of food by both how they feed Neo and what they feed him. This should get him to eat better and also give them a valuable tool to work with when he’s ready.

Like most people, they worry about giving him sufficient exercise but they can’t stop him pulling. A frantic dog pulls. Only a relaxed dog mooches and sniffs.

Walks to Neo will be of feeling restricted, frustrated – and scared, particularly if they meet another dog, a person on a bike or a horse,  motorbikes and much more. Off lead he’s fine with other dogs. He can avoid them if he so wishes.

I suggest they forget about normal walks for now because conventional lead walks do no good at all to a dog that feels unsafe. They will work on Neo walking near to them on a loose and longish lead – not a retractable. They can follow him about. If the lead is attached to the front of the harness and hangs a bit loose, they will find he naturally follows them – so long as he’s not overwhelmed and feeling unsafe.

So, work starts at home and around the garden.

What can they do? 

Do Nothing!

This is what I suggest. After some loose lead work in the garden, go to the garden gate, open it and stand still for 5 minutes. Give him full length of the lead. It may be tight throughout – but do nothing. They could even take a chair! Eventually, however long it takes, the lead will lose its tension. He may begin to relax a tiny bit. To sniff. He may even show interest in some sprinkled food.

After several sessions of doing no more than this, they should find the lead takes less and less time to go slack.

Then they can take a few steps forward and repeat the process, being ready to retreat if necessary.

These two videos of Suzanne Clothier say it all: Feeling unsafe and Not DOING anything.

Eventually they will be able to help Neo with encountering dogs, men with hats, people on bikes and many more things. This is only possible from a basis where he can feel safe. For this they will need the food – and maybe something he finds fun. He feels too uneasy most of the time to find very much fun at all in anything (apart from playing with a couple of dogs he knows well).

This has taken a year already, and will take a lot longer. Things should now move slowly forward.

 

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 Neo and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Alarm Barking. They Worry he May Bite

Barney barks with alarm at any sound he hears that could mean someone is approaching the house. It can be a car or footsteps on the gravel.

If outside in the garden, he barks with alarm as someone he doesn’t know approaches the gate. As deliveries or the postman let themselves into the garden, he may sound more fierce.

They are worried he may one day bite.

Alarm barking at people

Barney

Once someone is in the house, they find a delightful, friendly three-year-old Cocker Spaniel. Barney is simply doing what the majority of dogs would naturally do. That is, to alarm bark when someone approaches their territory.

He has unintentionally been ‘given the job’ by his humans, by their allowing him to be out in the garden alone when someone comes through the gate.

It will be quite scary for him when a stranger approaches him, possibly carrying something.

Allowing him access to ‘look-out’ points at the sitting room windows isn’t good either. If he barks for long enough the person will eventually go away.

Success.

Both having him in the garden unsupervised and barking at people from the windows mean that he is rehearsing the very behaviour that they don’t want. It’s being constantly practised – so it can only increase.

Being very alert and responsive is in Barney’s genes, very like my own Cocker Spaniel, Pickle. Although I will never make Pickle a quiet and placid dog (I could wish!), how I deal with it is very different. He is never left to feel that alarm is his responsibility. It could never get to a stage where he might feel it necessary to growl or even bite in order to feel safe. I would either have intervened immediately to help him out, or he would be safely out of the way somewhere.

Barney’s young couple have four things to do. 

Over-arousal.

The first is to avoid stirring him up unecessarily. The calmer he is, the more able he will be to cope. Like many young people, they find it fun to wind him up in play and even tease him. They think he enjoys it. Possibly he does – in the way we might enjoy a scary ride at a fun fair.

There are plenty more constructive things they can do with him that will help him to be less reactive.

Rehearsal.

The second is to prevent rehearsal by removing opportunity in every way possible – drawing curtains, going outside with him and so on.

Getting Barney to feel differently.

Thirdly is getting him to feel differently about people approaching. For instance, if they are outside in the garden and a delivery is approaching the gate, they can throw him his ball. He loves the ball. They may also get the man to throw his ball to him.

For the ball to be effective they will ‘ball-starve’ him! Whenever he hears or sees an approaching person he gets to play with his ball. Whenever they go, ball play stops.

Their own response to his alarm barking.

‘QUIET!’ won’t help him. He is alarmed and scared!

Cuddling and comforting won’t help him. ‘Don’t worry about the man that has come to kill us all, have a cuddle instead!’.

They need to work on every little sound that causes him to alarm bark. They will condition him to come straight away when called brightly – for either special food reward or the ball.

When he barks they need to react immediately. ‘It’s Okay!’. Then call him. Even if he doesn’t come, he should be getting the message that people walking past or approaching the gate or door are not his responsibility.

He has back-up.

Getting him to feel differently about the things that alarm him should gradually get him to behave differently. He may well continue to bark, but not for so long or so urgently. He should never be put in a position where he could feel compelled to bite.

It would be a good idea to put a bell on the gate and lock it so people simply are unable to just walk in – maybe a combination padlock? Friends and family will know the number.

Prevention is a whole lot better than cure. Belt and braces.

 

Fighting Brother and Sister. Older Dogs

It’s a sad situation.

Fighting with his sister

Hugo

The Irish Terrier brother and sister, now ten years old, have had the occasional spat in the past.

Lottie was always the most confident one. Hugo is more fearful and has been very reliant upon Lottie. He loves his walks, but won’t go without her. It sounds like Lottie has controlled Hugo for years, but now the roles have reversed.

Lottie’s pre-existing heart problem has developed into full-blown heart disease. The fighting has escalated. Probably the two things are connected.

Hugo attacks her.

Their humans desperately need to be able to relax, knowing that there will be no fighting while their backs are turned.

Questions unearthed a pattern that fits most of the incidents.

It seems that it’s access to an area that Hugo controls from Lottie. He places himself where he can see the most important places at the same time – the kitchen doorway access to the sitting room, the pantry door where the dog food is kept, his own eating area and where he can see the lady working in the kitchen. One of his humans is always nearby.

Lottie will be across the kitchen in her favourite place lying by the open back door.

I went to where Hugo chooses to lie and lowered myself so I could see what he sees. He and Lottie could be staring at each other unnoticed – through the table legs.

I wonder what subtle messages pass from Lottie to Hugo? It’s just possible that she’s not a totally innocent party. Possibly she is still pulling his strings and he gets all the flack.

Anyway, what usually happens is that Lottie gets up and starts to walk towards Hugo (and the lady and the sitting room door and the pantry and his food station).

Hugo flies at her.

Lottie retaliates but due to her weakness comes off the worst.

Fighting is becoming more frequent.

The human response isn’t achieving a halt to the fighting. It’s getting worse. They throw water at the dogs which usually gives them a chance to forcibly pull them apart. Like most people would, they then add shouting and scolding.

I suggest they resist their instinctive reaction to shout unless that’s needed to break the dogs up as it simply adds fuel to the fire. From the dogs’ perspective they are probably joining in with yet more anger and noise. The people should be as calm and quiet as they can be. Separate the dogs with as little fuss as possible and ignore them for a while. Afterwards behave like nothing has happened – most dogs do, after all.

Often siblings who have always lived together rely upon one another; and the owners rely upon their dogs having each other for company.

I feel that Hugo now needs to be more focussed on his humans (and not just for attention under his own terms). For this there is no better way than to constantly reinforce, pay, the dog with food for everything he’s asked to do. They need to be able to instantly get his attention if necessary.

Almost immediately I found an unresponsive Hugo running to me when he realised I had food for him. This then puts the dog on remote control. His focus will be on them – not on Lottie.

Due to the fighting, the couple have been reluctant to use food. However, no fights have actually happened around treats or food when not a valuable resource like a bone. They will be careful.

What to do?

If they sense or see stillness or eyeballing, or if they simply feel uneasy, they will call that dog – Hugo probably. They will reward him. If Lottie comes too, they can feed her also. They can tell them both that they are good dogs. Remain upbeat. This works a whole lot better than any ‘Uh-Uh’, warning or scolding.

Motivating Hugo to focus on themselves rather than on Lottie, by using food, will be the best antidote.

So the couple can feel secure that no fighting can happen, management must be in place. Hugo’s ‘guarding’ area should be blocked, perhaps with a dining chair. The dogs can be separated by the closed gate at times – but not always on the same side. We don’t want Hugo’s ‘space guarding’ to take over one of the rooms.

Hugo can be weaned into liking a muzzle.

Then everyone can relax, knowing that poor Lottie is safe. No more living on tenterhooks and human tension being transferred to the dogs.

Being relaxed and calm may even extend Lottie’s life.

 

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 Hugo and Lottie and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. As can advice advocating punishment, as seen here. 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)

Barks in Panic When She Leaves Him

Barks in panic when left

Murphy

There has been a big change in young Cockerpoo Murphy’s life recently. They moved into a new house two weeks ago.

The lady was able to go out without any problems before. Now he barks in panic as she walks out of the door.

She comes home to a panting and distressed little dog.

She put Murphy, along with her other Cockerpoo, Missy, in kennels for a week – to save them from the upheaval of the move itself. Could this have something to do with his fear of being left now?

To better understand the different kinds of separation distress, imagine a bitch and her puppy. If we separate them, the mother will suffer from separation anxiety, unable to see, and therefore protect, her puppy. The puppy suffers from abandonment anxiety because he is missing his point of reference and safety. 

Murphy barks in panic, “Don’t leave me!”

I believe it’s abandonment Murphy’s feeling. He barks in panic at the door even as she leaves, “don’t leave me!”. It’s not like he’s alone for a little while and then begins to get uneasy. It’s immediate.

Missy

This case is a good example of the importance of asking questions and not jumping to conclusions. I was about to go when something occurred to me. The lady works at home and would go out a couple of times a week, for two or three hours.

I asked her, what time of day do you go out? She said it always used to be in the morning. What time of day have you been going out over the past couple of weeks? Afternoon.

What time of day do you usually walk the dogs? Afternoon.

Hmmm. I wonder whether Murphy barks in panic, due to abandonment, because he expects to go out with her as he always would in the afternoon? It’s possible. Wasn’t that his old routine after all?

Murphy’s separation plan divides into two separate areas for the lady to work on at the same time. Departures, and the triggers that signal her departure.

Departures and triggers.

Working on departures will be in steps, beginning with just closing the dog gate on him and walking away for a moment, building up to being able to walk out of the back door.

She may need to break the stages we worked out into even smaller increments, keeping on each step until Murphy is relaxed and happy before going onto the next.

She should do these exercises many times until Murphy is convinced beyond any doubt that when she departs she always comes back.

Working on the triggers will include putting outdoor shoes on and off regularly, leaving her bag about, walking around with her keys, taking the keys out of the back door and so on.

Every time the lady walks out on Murphy, however briefly, she will drop food. The idea is that her departures are associated with good stuff (food) and her returns are fairly boring.

She can add calming music. Noise from TV or radio may actually be too varied and stimulating. Through a Dogs Ear music can relieve anxiety.

When she starts actually going out of the house she will do so in the morning.

I suggest she has a camera so that she can see Murphy from her phone. She should always come back in before he starts to show signs of distress.

Murphy may well still associate the afternoons with walks, regardless of whether he’s already been walked in the morning. Returning to her old routine may well speed things up.

 

Romanian Street Dog. Settling In Gently

In the photo the Romanian street dog is in a kill shelter.

Then a lady the from a local rescue saved the Romanian Mioritic Shepherd, in the nick of time. One day before execution.

Some weeks later Balou came to live with my client – into a very different world. Into a house.

No pressure.

From the start, the family have allowed their Romanian street dog, Balou, to find his feet, his big fluffy feet, without pressure.

This is perfect.

Romanian street dogHe has been allowed to decide where to sleep, where to sit, where to toilet (outside fortunately). He went upstairs when he was ready. He has been reluctant to go in the garden though that is now changing.

Balou can find very small things pressurising. For instance, he was just about to pee in the garden and the man spoke to him – probably to encourage him. Balou changed his mind and came straight in. A street dog isn’t used to someone talking to him or watching him while he has a pee!

The dog I saw isn’t the dog that first arrived. They have made great progress. He is slowly showing his true self as his confidence grows.

He is very peaceful, mostly lying about when in the house – so far! This could well change.

The one area where Balou may be under some pressure is going out on walks.

Only the man can walk him because the big dog pulls. 

He pulls?

As a Romanian street dog  he will have had one thing – freedom. Freedom to escape from other dogs. Freedom to escape from anything he doesn’t like. Held tightly on a lead he has no freedom at all and he may be becoming more reactive towards some people and some other dogs.

In this one respect only he’s not being allowed choice.

They will be perfecting loose lead walking technique on a longish lead with their Perfect Fit harness. This can be in the yard and near home until he’s relaxed.

There is simply no need to cover distance. Studies of street dogs show that they never go very far.

The walk is about information, not about exercise. The walk is about the journey.

Follow the dog!

For now they will let him do his own thing. They will let him choose where to go – and contrary to most training – they will follow the dog! Like this (thank you Emma Goulding-Bosworth).

They will now resist using their own strength or holding him forcibly beside them. For Balou to feel confident he needs to feel free.

Covering ground isn’t important for now. When they get to the nearby field, instead of the lead they will put him on a long line – more freedom.

While he settles into the walking routine, they will avoid dogs and people. They will avoid going places they may have no escape route.

There’s no rush.

He just needs time.

This is necessary reading to prepare anyone for acclimatising a rescue dog  from overseas – by my friend Lisa Tenzin-Dolma.

 

Food Guarding, Resource Guarding. Biting Works.

Food guarding dogTelyn, the Sprolly, is a friendly and polite dog. She is a lucky dog also – living in a lovely family with three teenage girls who all play an active part in her life.

However, Telyn has bitten several times. The biting has included family members and other people.

It happens around one thing only – something that, to her, is edible.

When very young she had genetic meningitis (she’s now had it twice) and, when on steroids, was constantly ravenous. This is probably where the food guarding started.

Each time she bites, fear is involved – that of losing something. Food items she’s bitten for have ranged from a complete Christmas ham joint, to a treat a man was giving his own dog, to something on the floor nobody even saw.

She may also attack another dog over a food item. 

Biting works.

The result for Telyn most times has been the same.

The person backs off and she gets to keep the item. Success.

Very unfortunately, recent advice they were given will have escalated her fear issues badly. It can only have added to her existing terror of machinery noises – anything from vacuum cleaner to power tools to traffic. It will also have affected her trust and relationship with her humans.

They were advised to deal with her barking due to the noise of several months’ building work being done on their house, by waving a power tool at her each time she barked!

In Telyn’s case it’s the very worst thing anyone could do.

How can making her terrified help in any way?

Things have come to a head. Telyn’s first full panic attack was triggered a couple of weeks after the work had finished – by the vacuum cleaner.

Telyn managed to leap the high fence in her panic.

They eventually managed to catch her. They raised the fence. She then found another place to jump out a couple of days later.

Interestingly, Telyn has just spent the past couple of weeks in kennels. She has come back much calmer. What has been the difference? Less arousal in terms of exciting play, no encountering traffic on walks and no machine-type noises perhaps?

Their house itself may now be ‘contaminated’ with fear from building noises or even that power tool. At the kennels Telyn has had a break. Hopefully as they follow my plan they will be able to build on her calmer state.

A more relaxed dog is less likely to guard resources. Using a power tool to deal with barking or guarding has to be the very worst thing they could have been told to do. Fortunately they weren’t happy with it and stopped.

Her family now will constantly reinforce their role as ‘givers’ and not potential ‘takers’. From now on, in addition to never taking anything off her, when she has anything at all in her mouth and if they are nearby, they should drop food as they walk past her.

Food guarding. How can they make biting not work?

It’s pointless guarding something that nobody wants!

So, from now on anything Telyn picks up in her mouth they should ignore. If nobody wants it she can’t guard it. Even better, if they’re walking past they can drop her something tasty (‘have this too!’) without going too close.

They should avoid forcibly taking things off her even in play. Being chased and cornered even with a ball then having it forcibly removed from her mouth, is teaching her the wrong things. Tug of war is a great game for teaching exchange and ‘give’ if done properly.

There is a very good book called ‘Mine’ by Jean Donaldson, worth reading.

Practical measures need to be taken also, to make it as impossible as they can for Telyn to bite again. She will be introduced gradually to a muzzle, vital if young children are about who may unthinkingly bend to pick up a dropped food item, for instance.

When out and about, they will either muzzle her or put her or on a long line, just in case. She could even wear a florescent yellow vest with appropriate wording for a food guarding dog – along the lines of ‘Keep Food Away’. People might think she has a medical condition but it could achieve the desired result!

They may never be able to trust Telyn 100% or let their guard down altogether, but with work they can make the likelihood of her food guarding and biting much reduced.

 

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 Telyn and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression issues of any kind are concerned. As can advice advocating punishment, as seen here. 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)

Barks. Barking at Everything. Constant High Arousal

Barney barks at anything and everything.

he barks at everythingThe Wirehaired Fox Terrier came to live with the lovely lady ten weeks ago, a companion for her Welsh Terrier, Lily.

Barney barks for attention and simply won’t stop until he gets it. He barks at the slightest thing he may hear or see. He barks at anyone who might come to the house and this will continue, on and off, all the time they are there. He barks with excitement, he barks with frustration and he barks when he’s scared. He barks non-stop in the car.

Barney barks at Lily when he’s aroused and this can upset her. He also barks at Lily when the lady pays her attention of any sort.

Over-arousal. Habit.

There are two underlying things to be dealt with that are relevant to the excessive barking, the main one being Barney’s severely high stress levels. Even in this calm environment they are permanently so high that the smallest thing tips him over. He is constantly having to find ways to release the build-up.

The other underlying thing that’s relevant is habit. He’s learnt to rely upon barking. It’s a learned behaviour that has been reinforcing to him in some way, probably for most of his seven years.

Whenever he’s barked for attention he will have received it in some form or other, even if only to be shouted at (not by his new lady owner, I must add).

Barking may simply make him feel better (like we might feel better by screaming, shouting or crying if we had no other way to relieve our feelings of frustration, fear, anger or excitement).

His barking was worse than usual when I was there. Normally it’s just the three of them and things are more peaceful. We sat talking, sometimes in a fairly animated way. The lady was giving me her attention and not Barney. This kept him restless.

It was good that I was able to see everything at its worst.

Cold turkey.

I would liken Barney’s need for attention a bit to that of an addict’s need for drugs. The only way to reduce this is for attention barking not to work; he will need to go through a kind of ‘cold-turkey’. Things could get worse before getting better.

The antidote without veterinary intervention is plenty of attention and reinforcement being given for quiet and for calm along with various stress-reducing activities to fill his life with instead.

Where barking will get him nothing in the way of attention, stopping barking or even a momentary break in the barking will be reinforced. The idea is to teach him that not barking works a lot better than barking does.

Barking isn’t the only thing he does to relieve his stress. He may scoot along the floor or rock on his bottom. He may pester Lily. He drinks excessively and constantly licks his lips and nose. He pants.

He is using Lily to redirect his emotions by barking at her too. She tries to chase him off. I advised immediately calling him away as it upsets her.

When they did play, it quickly developed into Monty body slamming – see here. I’m told that when he is relatively calm they play nicely.

Gaps and empty spaces leave a void that needs to be filled.

I read something the other day which I like: ‘You don’t stop behaviours without replacing with new ones. Gaps, empty spaces, have a void that needs to be filled’.

The lady will be looking at more alternative activities to help him de-stress, involving chewing, foraging and so on. She had already made a good start. Anything that is currently happening in Monty’s life that works him up will be reduced as much as possible.

He will be taken into the garden on lead until he learns not to charge out, barking frantically as he goes. He won’t have unattended access to outside. The lead-up to walks and meals will be done differently for maximum calm.

We went through lots of things, ways to reduce his stress levels whilst looking for acceptable ways in which he can vent his overflow of stress for himself that will replace the barking.

A bit like the Tesco slogan ‘every little helps’, lots of small things should add together to help Barney. This in turn should, over time, reduce his barking.

 

Head Halter. Restricted. Uncomfortable.

Beautiful Golden Retriever, Monty, really is the perfect family pet despite having a sad start to life. He’s now five.

reactive to dogs when on lead with head halterMy visit was triggered by his attacking another dog on a walk a short while ago.

It was so uncharacteristic that, from hearing all the circumstances before and during the event, I come to the conclusion that it was due to a build up of arousal – including excitement.

Trigger stacking‘.

Without going into the exact circumstances, things probably came to a head and a fairly minor thing was the last straw. This resulted in Monty attacking a dog and injuring his ear. They want to make sure this never happens again, so they contacted me.

Head halter. Restricted and uncomfortable.

Monty is absolutely fine with all other dogs when he is off lead, which is much of the time.

When he’s on lead however it can be a different matter. He wears a head halter which he hates but he’s a big dog and he pulls. The lead is held tight, especially when they approach another dog.

He feels uncomfortable, trapped and understandably on the defensive when another dog barks at him.

Off lead he’s fine, free to avoid anything that worries him.

Actually he’s fine with most dogs even when on lead. The dogs he reacts to with lunging and barking are those who themselves are reactive.

Many walks start with Monty having to run the gauntlet of two or three barking dogs behind gates. He is held tight and walked on, experiencing discomfort from the head halter.

His stress levels will already be rising.

Added to this, at home he can hear a couple of these same dogs from his garden and will bark at them.

This reactivity is undoubtedly due to fear or at least his feeling acutely uncomfortable and vulnerable with proximity to certain dogs.

From now on Monty should have no more opportunity to rehearse barking at dogs he hears, so garden access will be controlled while they work on it. Dogs he’s uncomfortable with will now be associated with good stuff at a distance he can cope with.

Walking comfortably on loose lead from a harness rather than head halter means that Monty will feel less restricted. Already he should feel a lot more confident when encountering those other dogs.

Starting at home where there are few distractions.

We all walked him around the garden on a Perfect Fit harness, loose lead hanging from the front. The idea is for him to learn to walk near them wherever they want to go, like there is no lead at all.

Loose lead walking work will start in the house and garden where there are few distractions.

Soon Monty will get back to walking down the road, but on a loose lead. There should be no more walking past the barking dogs behind gates until he is ready. A comfortable distance from them can always be achieved even if they have to turn around and go back the way they came.

It may be necessary to pop him in the car for now for the five minute walk to where he can be let off lead.

The problem seems fairly straightforward. They will give Monty the feeling of freedom and not force him out of his comfort threshold where proximity to other dogs is concerned.

At this distance they will work hard at getting him to feel differently about those reactive dogs that may be barking and upsetting him. They will teach him what to do, rather than what not to do.

I hate to see frustrated and uncomfortable dogs trying to rub a head halter off on the ground. Without the need for one anymore, I’m sure walks will be transformed for the otherwise perfect Monty, and for anyone walking him.

 

Dog and New Baby. Not a Happy Dog

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

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

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

He came back home just ten minutes before I arrived.

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

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

Management

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

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

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

The dog was fine.

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

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

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

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

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

An incremental plan and the new baby

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

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

    Looking at the new baby

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

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

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

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

Too many changes

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

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

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

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

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

The story has just begun.

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

 

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