Chase and Attack Bouncing Footballs and Geese

Jasper is a wonderful Border Collie. He is beautifully suited to life as a house pet in his particularly lovely home environment. They have a big garden with a stream running through it, lots of lawn with rougher areas, two alpacas and a couple of geese.

chase and attack footballsAs soon as I arrived and walked through the garden, sun shining (at last), having said a polite hello the super-friendly Jasper leapt into the stream! I’m sure he has a sense of humour. They will play a game where Jasper hides the ball and the lady has to find it!

Jasper’s ‘Border Collieness’ breaks through just sometimes. Whether his attitude to the geese and alpacas is prey driven or herding gone wrong, something instinctive kicks in. He goes deaf to being called. It’s the same when he hears a football bouncing. He’s off!

Apart from being a talented escape-artist, the young dog has just these two failings. He will chase and attack the geese if he gets the chance. Jasper gets very aroused at the sound of a bouncing football; he will chase and attack that also. He flattens it – kills it!

Chase and attack and kill that football!

They have inadvertently taught him to chase and attack a football!

Their previous dog had loved playing with a flattened football and Jasper was introduced to this at a young age. It’s not surprising that the sound of a football bouncing gets him going. A dog’s hearing is so much better than our own that they often get no warning when he suddenly runs off.

He could then scare children if he leaps up at them to grab their ball. He is such a gentle and friendly dog, a complaint would be dreadful.

The geese are a different matter and he is drawn to them. Their flapping of wings when they are alarmed he finds highly arousing.

Rock solid recall.

The couple need Jasper on ‘remote control’ which means rock solid recall. Over time they can condition him to respond to a whistle followed by food, as the sharp sound is much more likely to interrupt him if caught quickly enough. He will build up an automatic response to the sound of the whistle.

They will also use clicker for work with both the geese and the ball – where, although he’s not actually clicking it himself, Jasper in effect works the clicker by behaving in a certain way, thus earning food. By looking away and staying calm he will in effect cause the click which will result in food.

They will start work well away from the geese with Jasper on lead. I suggested a squeaky ball if suddenly a goose flaps its wings. Squeak to get his attention. Then roll the ball the other way, thus redirecting his urge to chase onto something acceptable.

The aim is for Jasper to not only gain self-control around the geese, but also to have something alternative to redirect onto. something that is incompatible with the chase and attack on a goose.

Differentiate between inflated and flattened footballs.

Because he so loves playing with his flattened ball, they will differentiate between flat footballs and round ones. He’s such a clever dog this should be no problem. Any new football will now need to be flattened before he’s given it.

As with the geese, they work slowly from a distance where he doesn’t react, Jasper on lead. They can start by holding the ball, then putting it down somewhere out of reach but not moving. The clicker will mark and shape every little bit of desired behaviour like relaxing or looking away.

When he no longer is excited by the sight the stationery football and when he can calmly sniff it, they can introduce a small bounce from behind their trellis. And so on. A bouncing ball will become the signal for Jasper to run to them for fun of a different kind rather than chase and attack the ball. ‘Fun’ will be things that are specifically fun to Jasper.

For now, when they are out anywhere they think there may be a football, Jasper must be on a long line. This is so he is no longer able to rehearse his football chase and attack.

With a bit more brain work in other areas of his life, clever Jasper should be less in need of getting gratification from the behaviours they want to avoid.

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 Jasper 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 much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. 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).

Jealous When Other Dog is Fussed. Dog Fights.

Nellie isn’t very happy.

This is despite being treasured, along with their other two tiny dogs, Luna and Sandy.

Nellie is a two-year-old Pomeranian, the last to join their little dog family of three. Luna is a Chihuahua Pomeranian mix and Sandy a Chihuahua.

Jealous.

Luna is Nellie’s problem. Tiny Sandy keeps well out of it. Every time the young couple sit down Luna is on them – the lady in particular. She is cuddled and fussed. Nellie herself isn’t a dog that likes so much fuss, but she doesn’t like Luna getting it either.

Luna

I’m pretty sure it’s not that she doesn’t like Luna herself (she’s absolutely fine with her when they are shut in the kitchen; they play together). She is jealous.

Jealousy is a horrible emotion that eats into you, isn’t it. It’s like Nellie is bearing a grudge. She seems to choose to act like she’s an outcast, lying away from Luna and the young couple.

Luna for her part may be tormenting her! She is obviously ‘revelling’ in her attention, rolling on her back, eyeballing Nellie, rubbing it in (that’s my interpretation). Nellie turns her back, shutting it out.

Daily fights.

Over the past few months this has degenerated into fights, sometimes several times in one day. Damage is only prevented because these fights only happen when the dogs are with the couple and they are sitting down. Someone is always there to grab them.

Reducing overall stress levels should help greatly. At present dog to dog play with Luna goes on for far too long unchecked. Human to dog play is far too vigorous also.

Giving Nellie individual attention with things she herself likes to do will help her, things like going for a walk or hunting for food. She’s not a dog that much wants cuddles.

They will cut down on the constant fussing of Luna too. The lady is having a baby soon so Luna will have to get used to this. We have a plan for preparing Nellie in particular for baby.

Common denominators leading up to a fight.

Nellie is jealous

Nellie

In analysing the fights there are certain common denominators. Fights only happen when the young lady is about, never the man alone or when the dogs are by themselves. Fights happen when the lady is sitting down (hence cuddling Luna).

I watched to see exactly what the dogs were doing – things that people hadn’t noticed. It began with some lip-licking from Luna and some displacement behaviour from Nellie – she licked herself. Someone passed the house and both dogs rushed to the window barking.

Nellie, now more unsettled walked about growling softly. She disappeared out of Luna’s view. The owners thought she was asking to go out, but no.

Nellie reappears, still growling on and off. Luna was stretching on her back. She looked at Nellie. Eyeballing and stillness. Then it exploded like the cork removed from a bottle of fizz.

The fight was immediately interrupted, not hard because Luna was already on a lap and could not leap onto the floor to get at Nellie.

After the interrupted fight.

It was about to erupt again a short while later – unfinished business. We put our plan into action.

As the fighting always involves eyeballing, I immediately put my clipboard between them, breaking eye contact. As the fighting never happens when either of them is walking about, the young man immediately got up and walked out of the room, calling Nellie who follows anyone moving about.

Where shouting may be necessary simply to interrupt them, I feel there are better ways which we discussed (not listed here because what works here may not be the best plan for other fighting dogs). Ideally they should nip it in the bud before it erupts. Better still, to help Nellie with her jealousy.

It’s like Nellie resents the ‘favourite child’ and like a jealous child this brings out the worst in her. One can see from her body language she’s not happy as she watches and licks her lips, or turns her back on them.

Practice makes perfect.

Unfortunately, the more this sort of thing is repeatedly practised, the more it becomes hardwired into the brain response, increasing the likelihood of the behaviour recurring. This is why things seldom get better by themselves but go on a downward spiral.

Our work will be like a jigsaw of bits to gradually put into place, concentrating mostly on Nellie. She will need positive associations with the baby from the beginning in order to avoid jealousy. They have two months before baby is due, so work starts now.

Some people dispute that dogs have feelings like jealousy which I find ridiculous. In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin noted that ‘everyone has seen how jealous a dog is of his master’s affection, if lavished on any other creature.’ See the Daily Telegraph article written by Sarah Knapton. To read more about dogs and jealousy, see Stanley Coren in Psychology Today.

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 Nellie and Luna 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 much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any forom of aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Deprived of Stimuli During First Year.

Cassie is a puzzle.

Everything about Cassie’s behaviour points to her having spent the first year of her life in a crate or very small space, deprived of stimuli. This is an educated guess only. When she was rescued three years ago (she’s now four) her posture was hunched.

Deprived of enrichment as a puppyOn entering the lady’s house, the young dog had immediately found a place in the room where she felt at home. She has mostly stayed there ever since. This is apart from trips to the garden and her walks – and occasionally venturing into the kitchen when their other very elderly dog is being hand-fed.

Cassie never barks.

For over a year she wouldn’t even go into the garden, though somehow the lady managed to walk her. Then the lady adopted Ronnie and immediately Cassie went outside with him into the garden.

Cassie had been fostered for several months with a couple experienced with dogs before the lady adopted her. This was probably her first experience of kind humans. The couple had several Border Collies. Cassie loves Collies.

Tiptoeing around her adopted dog has taken over the lady’s life.

She can no longer easily mix with people or enjoy her walks.

Cassie is a Cambrian Shepherd, cross between a Pyranian and a Welsh Sheepdog. A designer mix, I believe. She’s four years of age. Breeding beautiful dogs should take a lot more than just leaving them in cages, deprived of all enrichment.

The lady’s patience and love has really paid off to the extent that she can now walk Cassie nicely so long as she gives people a wide berth. However, she is very disheartened because she has now tried everything she can think of and progress has come to a standstill. Previous help she has been offered includes tying her to her waist and making her go everywhere with her. The lady gave up on this after a couple of hours, in tears, because Cassie was so unhappy.

It’s hard to read the beautiful dog’s emotional state. Her demeanour is not so much shut down as very careful. She doesn’t look scared or depressed. Nor particularly happy. She may give a slight twitch of her tail when the lady enters the room or a brief lick of her lips when uncomfortable.

I suspect this lying still on her bed for hours at a time is some sort of learned behaviour, programmed during that first, probably mainly confined, year of her life.

Very likely Cassie’s careful behaviour is being reinforced by the lady’s own careful demeanour around her. 

Deprived of life’s normal stimuli.

This beautiful dog’s being deprived of the normal things puppies and young dogs need during crucial developmental stages of her life will probably have altered the way her brain has developed. She is, however, capable of joy and play. She demonstrates this with certain other dogs when they are out and with the Border Collies in her foster home.

I can see no reason why this joyfulness can’t spread to being with the lady too.

In order to break the current stalemate, she will need to make some very slow and gentle changes. She will encourage Cassie from her comfort zone in such tiny steps she barely notices it.

Cassie, constantly watching from her ‘place’, will be a very good reader of the lady’s mood and emotions. I suggest the lady acts more casual and off-hand, not moving so carefully – ignoring Cassie while she is walking about.

She can slowly begin to alter the current rigid routines, developed for Cassie’s security, so that the dog learns to be a bit more flexible and resilient to change. Slowly is the key word here. Gently the dog can be taught to feel happy when the lady stands up and moves about – without racing back to her refuge as she normally would.

We looked at precise ways in which she can do this using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

Using a quiet “Good” followed by food, the lady will capture all subtle behaviours that point to Cassie engaging with her and putting a little effort in. Things such as orientating her body towards her, giving her eye contact or moving any part of her body even slightly towards where the lady sits on the sofa nearby. Eventually she will be standing up.

Out in the world of people and action.

Where the real world and meeting people is concerned, they can very gradually move nearer to places with more people about. She will associate people with good things and always allow Cassie choice to increase distance. Although deprived in her early life, I’m sure some real progress can be made with systematic work.

Feeling more free and comfortable with the equipment used should help when out on walks. Currently this is a choke chain and retractable lead. It is virtually impossible to get a harness on her at the moment as she drops flat onto the floor.

(The choke chain is not because she pulls – she doesn’t. A while ago she escaped from her harness and went missing for five days. The story of her recapture is really moving).

This has to be a really gradual process. A continuation of the extremely patient work the lady has already put in. It’s like she now dare do nothing to upset the status-quo, but status-quo doesn’t bring progress.

Very gently Cassie’s boundaries need to be eased outwards.

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 Cassie 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 much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. 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).

Compulsive Behaviour. ‘Stress Bucket’ Overflows.

Rottweiler Amber has a lovely temperament, friendly and confident. They have obviously come a long way with her compulsive shadow-chasing etc. in the two years since they adopted her at six months old. She was already doing it then. Her problems probably are due to a mix of genetics and what her life was before she came to live with them.

Unless all is still and quiet, Amber doesn’t settle.

The smallest thing prompts a compulsive sequence of chasing shadows, digging the floor or licking the carpet. She won’t leave their other dog alone.

Outside on walks she chases shadows – particularly those caused by people; she runs back and forth from the sun then digs and pants.

It’s distressing to see her become so frenzied with so little provocation.

Rottie with compulsive behaviourApart from this compulsive behaviour, Amber is a dream dog. A friendly, gentle Rottie that is good with other dogs and people. No trouble. She lives with people who give her plenty of time, training and enrichment.

From her constant patrolling and panting, it’s obvious that her internal stress levels are so high that frequently she simply can’t cope. Her ‘stress bucket‘ is ready to  overflow.

Stress accumulates and can last in the system for days, and dogs like Amber live in a constant ‘ready for action’ state.

It then erupts into certain patterns of compulsive behaviour that must give her relief in some way.

When she frantically digs, licks the floor or chases shadows etc, she completely focusses on something that is shutting out real life.

In a weird way it may give her some control.

The smallest thing starts her off. Over time these rituals become a habit – learned behaviour.

They have been using distraction, commands, gentle massage, food and so on. This attempts to deal with the situations as they happen, without getting to the root cause of the compulsive behaviour.

Shutting her in her crate is the only way to give both Amber and her humans a break at times. Interestingly, after a quiet night in her crate with hours to de-stress, she starts the day calm.

We will start by concentrating on one thing only – bringing down her arousal levels. Taking away as much pressure as possible. ‘Operation Calm’. They should make stress-reduction a priority.

Let’s then see what happens and reassess.

When I was there we found that a ball made a great pacifier. With a ball in her mouth she is a lot better, although she then persistently uses it to ‘tease’ by nudging with it without letting the person have it.

We also captured calm moments with clicker and food (until she stole my clicker!).

Over the next few days I have asked them to spot areas they might be able do something about, with a calmer Amber being their end aim.

They will look out for any things that stir her up (looking for lip-licking, panting, drooling etc.) and see if there is any way they can change them (there may not be).

Every little helps – every small piece of the jigsaw.

I’ve listed some of the things in Amber’s life I thought of that possibly cause elements of stress/arousal, even if at the same time she likes some of them. Can they think of any more?

  • People coming into the house.
  • Being shut in her crate when there is action outside it – she licks the crate and drools.
  • Hydrotherapy (she would probably prefer to swim free)
  • Being left in the van with the other dog while the man is at work. (Would left crated at home be less stressful?)
  • Riding in the car
  • Traffic
  • Walks. Would more comfortable walking equipment help?
  • The sight of cattle or horses
  • Something coming through the door (put up an outside letterbox?).
  • Very high value items like bones
  • Dog sports

If four weeks of effort doesn’t bring significant results, I believe it’s time to get medical help. Any human in this state wouldn’t be expected to cope without meds.

Increase in compulsive behaviours.

It’s distressing how many dogs I go to nowadays with repetitive, obsessive compulsive behaviours, dogs with owners who do all they can for them. Are dogs being bred for temperament suited to modern life? Is this getting worse or is it just me?

I quote Pat Miller: ‘One would expect that the rise of force-free training methods and the increased awareness of and respect for dogs as sentient creatures would make life easier for them. We should expect to see a corresponding rise in the number of calm, stable, well-adjusted dogs who are happily integrated into lifelong loving homes. But many training and behavior professionals note with alarm the large number of dogs in today’s world who seem to have significant issues with stress and anxiety, with high levels of arousal and low impulse control.

It’s quite possible this is a function of societal change. There was a time not so very long ago when life was pretty casual for our family dogs. They ran loose in the neighborhood day and night; ate, slept, played, and eliminated when they chose; and many had jobs that fulfilled their genetic impulses to herd some sheep or cows, or retrieve game felled by a hunter’s gun.

In contrast, life today is strictly regimented for many of our canine companions…..Owner expectations and demands are high. Dogs are told what to do from the moment they are allowed to get up in the morning until they are put to bed at night…..They have virtually no control over what happens in their world….’

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 Amber 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 much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. 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 at Inanimate Objects. Stress is the Trigger

 

Jester suddenly barks at inanimate objects. Why?

Something tips him over.

He looks about and he looks up. He spots a burglar alarm box high on the wall of a house or a security camera, a clock, a satellite dish, a street light or even the moon.

Barks at inanimate objectsJester barks uncontrollably.

He is a twelve-month-old Labrador Border Collie mix. He’s friendly, gentle and cooperative. His young owners have been very keen to do the best for him right from the start and in so many ways their love, training and hard work has paid off.

They give him plenty of brain games and enrichment in the house.

The problems started a couple of months ago when out. Jester began to bark at (silent) burglar alarm boxes on houses. Yellow ones and blue ones initially. This is interesting, as yellow and blue are the two colours dogs can see clearly.

Gradually the barking has spread from alarm boxes to other things.

He barks at inanimate objects; what triggers it?

The behaviour is often triggered by something sudden. A sound or sight that alarms or arouses him. A distant dog may bark, for instance.

He then immediately starts looking upwards like he’s searching for something to redirect his arousal onto. Where he first used to latch onto burglar alarms (blue or yellow), it can now be other things like street lights, fire alarms, lampshades and even the moon when he was particularly worked up.

We first need to deal with this at source by reducing Jester’s arousal and stress levels in every way possible. There are a few things to put in place that, when added together, should bring results.

Football in the park.

One key thing they are doing, with the best of intentions and because Jester loves it, is to kick a football for him in the park for about an hour a day. Instead of walks being something he’d be doing if alone – sniffing, exploring, meeting dog friends and mental activities – he is being pumped up. He loves it. Like any other addict, an adrenaline junkie can never get enough.

They will also work directly on what they themselves do when he barks at inanimate objects. As soon as something triggers the ‘looking upwards’ behaviour they will give him something else to do that is incompatible with looking up and barking frantically. He can’t, for instance, sit and look at them, forage for food or perhaps catch a ball, at the same time as looking up high and barking at something.

If they leave it too late and he does begin to bark, they should immediately redirect his energy onto a different activity like running in the opposite direction and then go home to calm down. That walk is now doomed.

This kind of ritual can easily become a learned behaviour, a default in response to arousal. It gives him some sort of relief. 

When he’s out on walks and more relaxed, they will encourage him to look at these things calmly, whether alarm boxes or a particular street lamp that gets him going – then to look away again, using food. The Labrador in Jester means he is very motivated by food!

Human-generated excitement.

Every day his arousal/excitement/stress levels are being topped up with human-generated excitement.

It’s like when he can’t cope with over-arousal he has to find something to redirect it onto. It can be general build up of arousal simply overflowing or something identifiable that sends him over. His ‘stress bucket‘ overflows.

Walks and play should be such that they reduce Jester’s arousal levels rather than increase them. I suggest putting an end to the football and instead allow him lots of sniffing and exploring time. Let him choose what he wants to do. He will need to go cold turkey on the football and so will they! This will mean sacrificing some of their own fun unfortunately.

It’s outside the house where the behaviour occurs. But then, most of the stressors happen outside the house. There are a number of things to work on or avoid altogether when out in order to help Jasper overcome this.

Fear of People. Separation Distress

Bentley has a fear of peopleBentley barks.

The little dog’s main fears and consequent barking is either directly, or indirectly, associated with his fear of people.

Bentley is an adorable and much-loved Coton de Tulear. In researching the breed, the first site I looked at said that they hate being on their own and that they like the sound of their own voices.

The first, distress at being alone, certainly applies but I don’t think Bentley barks and cries because he likes the sound of his own voice. 

The cause of his barking is his fear of people…

…and things associated with people.

This is whether someone just comes to the door, if someone comes into the house or when they see a person out on a walk. It’s the same with noises that people make, like slamming car doors and voices outside. (This dog that usually barks takes absolutely no notice at all of fireworks!).

His fear of people colours any trips to the vet or the groomer.

Changing his fear of people gets to the root of the barking problem and is the challenge. People should now be associated with things that Bentley likes and whenever possible on walks at a distance where he feels they are no threat to him. This threshold distance is important.

Here is a very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in on the subject (referring to encountering other dogs, but it’s the same principal). https://youtu.be/7HNv-vsnn6E

Most unusually, when I came to the house he barely barked at all, although he was still wary of me. This is because of how we set it up. They will now use the same technique with other callers.

How they actually respond to the barking will also help his fear of people and the sounds he can hear.

All alone, Bentley probably feels vulnerable.

This can only be guesswork, but he invariably toilets soon after he is left. He’s very attached to the lady and follows her everywhere. It’s most likely he feels safest when with her.

They will be getting a camera so they can watch what happens when he’s left. This will tell us more.

Separation problems are slow to work on, particularly if it can’t be done systematically due to people having to go out to work. However, the more Bentley associates their leaving with good things and their returning as no big deal, the better.

He currently has run of the house when left. I suggest keeping him away from the front door area. This is where scary people may come and go and where people have pushed items through a hole in the door.

The higher are Bentley’s general stress levels, the less he will be able to cope with his fear of people and being left. Lowering arousal/stress is key. This may sound a bit boring at times but over-exciting activities can be replaced with those that help him to be calmer and more confident.

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 Bentley 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 much 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).

Big Change in the Dogs’ Lives. From Free to Restricted.

So much change. The four dogs of interesting mixed breeds were flown over here from South African only two weeks ago and everything is different.

They have generally settled in really well to their new home.

A huge change in their lives.

Big change in the dogs' lives

Bella at the back and Dobby in front

The older two dogs have had previous experience of training, walks and probably traffic. They came from a rescue.

The two younger dogs have lived with the family since they were very young puppies.

Six-year-old Dobby, a cute Pekenese mix, was given to them at six weeks old. Bella, the youngest at fourteen months, was found on the street corner at just three weeks old. Some of her current behaviour is probably due to lack of the beneficial contact with her mother along with what she should have learnt from her siblings.

My client describes Bella as a typical African dog. She’s probably a mix of all sorts of things but looks quite like my little working Labrador in size and shape.

Previously they lived in a big house with a huge enclosed garden. Nobody came knocking on the door but a bell was rung from a distant gate.

The dogs ran free.

Free also to bark at anyone coming too close to their property. There was a lot of action and background noise about the place.

Now they live in a very nice but much smaller house over here. Everything is very quiet. The garden is not big and they are surrounded by neighbours who won’t appreciate barking.

The change from plenty of background noise to quiet means that any sounds tend to be sudden – and something to bark at.

There are two main issues for the family. The first is the noisy and alarmed way the dogs react to anyone knocking on the door and coming into the house. The other is the difficulty in walking the dogs together.

At the front door.

Never before have they had someone knocking on their door. It’s easy to understand how dogs don’t like this sudden banging.

When I arrived we had set it up that I would text outside the door, the dogs would be put out of the way, and only let out to join us when I was sitting in the kitchen. This worked a treat and there was no barking at all. Little Dobby would usually growl and bark at a person for about half and hour. There was one quiet growl and he was taking food from my hand.

This, then, is how I suggest they manage the ‘caller’ situation to start with.

They can get a doorbell which is less alarming I feel than sudden loud knocks. Over time they can systematically work on getting the dogs not to react to the bell. It can be the trigger for the dogs to go into another room, out of the way. A wireless doorbell with two push-buttons is ideal for working with frequent bell-rings. Success will depend upon many repetitions.

Then there will be less chaos when deliveries come.

All dogs were fine with my walking about but went mental when, having gone upstairs, I began to come down again. They have never had stairs before – another change. The way we set up my arrival worked very well. We need to work out something similar for when a person goes upstairs.

They bark also when a male family member comes downstairs, so I suggest for now the man sits on the top stair, calls the dogs up to him and they then can walk down together.

So the ‘manage callers’ part of their aims will be a mix of physically managing the situation along with systematically getting them used to the sound of a doorbell and also feeling good when they hear it.

Walking the dogs.

The ‘walking dogs’ part of their aims boils down to working with the two younger dogs individually until they are less reactive to other dogs and people. When aroused on walks and together, Bella will redirect onto Dobby. These two aren’t used to leads and probably not accustomed to much tarmac and paving, or traffic. The older two are fine.

Bella and Dobby have separate walking plans.

Bella pulls like mad and is very reactive to any dog she sees, even at a distance but is okay with people.

Dobby is hysterical with excitement before even leaving the house. He also pulls and the outside world experience sounds like it’s just too much for him. Whilst he’s okay with other dogs he freaks out when a person walks towards them.

Bella and Dobby, in time, can then be gradually integrated one at a time with the older two, then walked together as a pair, before trying to walk them all together. How quickly they achieve this will depend upon how much time they have to work on it.

Because the dogs have only been over here with them for just a couple of weeks, their behaviour may well change further as they adapt to their new environment over the next month or two.

The dogs are doing really well despite the huge upheaval and change. I’m sure this is because the family of four all work so well together on their dogs’ behalf.

Bored, Over-excitable and Looking for Trouble

German Shepherd Kerry is bored.

Bored German Shepherd

Kerry

Although it’s natural for adult dogs to sleep for up to seventeen hours a day, this is only so if the rest of the time is filled with stuff natural to the dog – and its breed. Sleep probably won’t be in long blocks of enforced inaction during the day, but dozing between doing other things.

Young dogs in particular need action and fulfilment (just like young humans) or they get bored.

Kerry is a beautiful eighteen-month-old German Shepherd living with another GSD, Lemmy, aged four. They are both gorgeous dogs with lovely, friendly basic temperaments.

Young Kerry, unfortunately, probably isn’t getting enough action in her life and she’s very easily aroused. I saw this by how the smallest thing results in her leaping at someone, me in this case – grabbing my clothes and even hair with her teeth. 

Hyperasousal.

There is only one thing on this illustration I didn’t see, and that’s because she’s a female.

We sat around the dining table, myself, the couple and their young adult son. Having demonstrated what to do, the lady (a natural) was now reinforcing Kerry for every smallest bit of desired behaviour, using a clicker (and food).

The lovely dog was very quick to catch on – so quick that she was soon working us! She started jumping up in order to go back down in order to be clicked for feet on floor in order to be fed.

We taught a quiet ‘Off’ and then just a small hand signal when her feet were on the table. We also waited until she worked it out for herself. Kerry wasn’t bored anymore.

Until now commands have been shouted and repeated over until she’s complied.

She obeys the man more because he is louder and more forceful and she seldom leaps at him with her mouth open. As is often the case, the lady is usually her main victim, when there isn’t a visitor like myself she can get at.

Eventually she was sitting by us and resisting the jumping. Lemmy, bless him, was polite throughout. We were giving Kerry the kind of attention she yearned for. She settled….until…..

Someone laughed, or someone moved or there was a noise somewhere. Immediately she was back jumping and grabbing, wth most of her focus upon myself.

Enrichment and freedom.

Loving dog owners get a clever, active breed of dog, little realising what they may be taking on or the time, training and commitment involved. Only yesterday I was muzzle-punched in the eye by another excitable, bored young Shepherd with the same jumping and grabbing behaviours.

Both yesterday’s dog and Kerry’s lives contain insufficient freedom and enrichment; much of their behaviour is due to boredom and frustration so they orchestrate their own action. Insufficient early training has resulted in their lack of freedom.

Being bored is almost certainly why she is destructive.

During the day when they are at work, Kerry is crated. Because she destroys all bedding, there can be no bed. The other day they decided, quite rightly, that she would be happier with run of the downstairs with Lemmy. Unfortunately after a couple of days they came home to a wrecked sofa. Now she’s back in the crate.

For a healthy mind, young dogs in particular need ‘dog things’ to do like sniffing, exploring and foraging.

For the dog to change, the humans have to change what they do.

Lemmy

The main change in the humans’ own behaviour should be resisting shouting and too many commands whilst looking out for and rewarding the behaviour they want. The dogs can begin to earn some of their food. This behaviour training can’t be done without food (play is also rewarding but with play comes the excitement).

As our dogs tend to reflect ourselves, acting calm will help.

When one person, usually the man, controls the dogs through strength and dominance, it often means that if another family member can’t do this the dog seems to take advantage. The dog, though ‘under control’ with the man who commonly says he finds the dog no trouble, will often be lacking self control around other people.

Talking to our dogs is lovely – we share our thoughts, problems and life stories. However, if they want Kerry’s brain in gear and to do something for them, the fewer words they use the better. A lot of things, like sitting before receiving food if that’s what they want, the dog will do anyway if they wait. Lots of talking simply stirs her up.

I suggest that every time the jumping and biting behaviour occurs, they look at what has happened immediately beforehand for the reason why. As we saw, it can be as little as someone laughing.

‘Operation calm’ is the starting point.

The lower Kerry’s general stress levels are, the more tolerant she will become of the current triggers.

Operation calm includes doing something about walks which currently do more to stir both dogs up than to relax them. Because they are big pullers, ready to lunge at cats and even birds and reacting to both dogs and approaching people, it takes two people to walk them together. For physical control, both dogs wear Dogmatic head halters on shortish leads.

They really do need a bit more freedom like on long lines in fields or woods. There is a good website with secure dog fields that can be rented by the hour.

They need to walk comfortably on longer, loose leads. I can’t see much progress being made with either pulling or their reactivity to people and dogs unless walked separately for now.

The daily hour-long walks will be different. A to B is unimportant. The walk is about the journey not the destination. With one dog at a time they can now go in different directions and begin to work on each dog’s reactivity without them bouncing off one another.

We get home from work tired, just wanting a break in front of the TV. We often don’t realise some young dogs like this will be such a big, time-consuming commitment if they are to be easy to live with.

While the humans are at home, they will now initiate more activity and brain work for Kerry.

Bored. The devil makes work for idle paws.

Boredom is a big problem for young, active working dogs – the devil makes work for idle paws!

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 Kayleigh and Lemmy 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. 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)

Guarding Food. Guarding Resources.

“We must show the dog who’s boss”.

Rex guards his food.

Guarding food and resources can be a contentious issue where human response is concerned.

Many conscientious dog owners, doing what they believe is best, follow dangerous, outdated notions.

These techniques can involve, right from the start as routine training, interfering with a puppy’s food while he’s eating and forcing objects out of his mouth. An easy-going puppy may simply tolerate it. Another may not. Instead of making the puppy back away from something he values, it can teach him to run off with the item and then, cornered, defend both the item and himself. I’ve seen this many times.

How might we ourselves react if someone tried to take bits of food off our plate or mugged us for something we had picked up?

There is that infamous clip of Cesar Millan ‘dominating’ a Labrador guarding food and his bowl. Guess what happened? Yes, the poor dog ultimately had no choice other than to bite after all his warning signals had been ignored. As a result of the uproar about this, he was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh which is interesting to watch.

Guarding food when someone is closeSomehow this ‘being the Alpha’ with our dog thing had became popular culture, but it’s been totally debunked over recent years. Not only was it based on false assumptions regarding wolf packs (and domestic dogs aren’t wild wolves), but that using force is the only way to create an obedient dog.

Even this word ‘obedience’ suggests dominance and forced compliance.

Just one problem with this approach to resource guarding is that a strong-minded and confident dog is likely to stand up for himself – eventually. Some dogs genetically are more wired to guard.

If a ‘dominated’ dog backs off due to being overpowered by a particular human, what happens when someone else tries it?

“Why should I want your food anyway”?

How much better and simpler in every way it is to teach the dog that you’re no threat to his food; if nobody wants his food, what’s the point of guarding food after all?

Giant Schnauzer Rex is a very intelligent and energetic adolescent dog. He’s on the go most of the time when people are about, back and forth looking for trouble. This includes nicking anything he can that may be of value to his humans. It triggers a chain of reactions.

He’s probably under-stimulated where appropriate enrichment is concerned, so he orchestrates his own action.

It’s only natural for us to try to control over-excited and aroused behaviour by trying to stop it. Unfortunately scolding and warnings, Uh-Uh and NO, introduce conflict and confrontation. Even conflict can be rewarding and reinforcing in a way (else why do humans enjoy certain sports so much?).

Rex’ owners will now be on the lookout for every little good or desired behaviour to reinforce instead.

It’s proven beyond doubt that removing reinforcement from unwanted behaviours and adding reinforcement to behaviours we DO want leads to success.

Interfering with Rex’ food while he’s eating.

Using the ‘interfering with his food’ technique seemed to work when Rex was a young puppy. Unfortunately, guarding and growling re-appeared big time when he started to be fed something that was, to him, of much higher value.

Instead of leaving him to eat in peace, various suggestions had been given including hand-feeding him, touching him while he was eating and taking his bowl away. Instead of feeding him somewhere out of the way, the bowl is deliberately put where people regularly have to pass by him.

He freezes. He growls. They reprimand him. This can only go in one direction.

He simply needs to know that nobody is interested in his food anymore. He will be fed somewhere out of the way.

After some weeks of this they may from time to time walk past him at a distance, not looking at him, and just chuck in the direction of his bowl something particularly tasty – maybe a leftover from their own meat dinner. The food must be something of higher value to him than his own food. They shouldn’t hover or speak to him.

‘I happen to be passing anyway so here’s something nice’.

Over time they can get a little closer. If he growls, they have got too close or maybe stood still, and will need to leave it for a few days and do it from further away the next time. Any approaching person will deliver something better than what he has.

This really is in case of emergency should later someone, without thinking, get too close to him. They should only do this from time to time – a random and casual thing.

Back in the day people would have said, ‘Leave the dog alone while he’s eating’. We expect a lot from our dogs today.

We may need to do some serious, systematic work on general resource guarding.

‘Operation Calm’ is the first priority.

Rex’ high arousal levels and restlessness make work on his guarding food and other items more difficult.

This is a huge challenge because it’s hard for us humans, like old dogs, to learn new tricks. It also means that Rex will initially become very frustrated when his usual attention-seeking tactics no longer work. He will try harder. They will hold their nerve and add as much appropriate enrichment to his life as possible, activities that don’t depend upon their ‘fielding’ the behaviour he throws at them but instead are initiated by themselves.

I suggest very regular short bursts of activity including mental enrichment, hunting, foraging and sniffing, particularly in the evenings when they sit down and he’s the most trouble. He then won’t need to be pestering for attention.

Guarding food becomes unnecessary.

If he feels it’s not under threat, Rex won’t need to be guarding food. If he has plenty of attention offered, he won’t need so desperately to indulge in the attention-seeking ploys that he knows get the most reaction.

Getting Rex calmer involves most aspects of his life and will be a gradual thing.

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 Rex 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 much 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 any aggression 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).

Other Dogs. Walks. Pulling on Lead. Canicross

 

They had two German Shorthaired Pointers, Douglas and Gracie with which the couple did Canicross. Sadly, Gracie developed cancer, had to have a leg amputated and can no longer run.

Four months ago they adopted two-year-old Louie.

They want to run with him also, but his reactivity to certain other dogs makes it difficult.

Outings fall into two categories.

There are general daily walks and there is Canicross which they do several times a week.

The downside of Canicross is the level of arousal that is built up – putting Louie in the wrong state of mind for being non-reactive around other dogs.

Canicross and reactivity to other dogs

Douglas and Louie

There are conflicting things involved.

Arousal and excitement seem to be part of Canicross.

But for learning to chill around other dogs, over-arousal is counter-productive.

For Canicross in a group, Louie will be close to other dogs.

For working with his being at ease near other dogs, distance is necessary.

For Canicross Louie needs to learn to pull – with a special harness.

But for walking in a relaxed fashion, enjoying the walk for it’s own sake, pulling and excitement are counter-productive.

One seldom sees calm dogs on a loose lead, sniffing, peeing and generally enjoying the walk and ‘clocking in’ with their owner being reactive when they see another dog.

Calm everyday walks; Canicross something different.

We will aim at using everyday loose-lead walks as a kind of antidote to Canicross where they are trying to get Louie to pull.

At present walks are about trying to stop him pulling by using a head halter and then walking somewhere in a determined manner for the sake of exercise. These walks will now be as stress-free, calm and comfortable as possible.

I would abandon the head halter and use a harness, but not of the Canicross type. The lead can hook onto the front. This will then feel completely different to the Canicross pulling harness.

What is a dog walk anyway?

Instead of trying to get somewhere, they can wander. The dogs use up so much energy with the running several times a week that walks need not be about exercise. They can give Louie full length of the training lead and let him stop whenever he likes. With the lead hooked on the chest he will be less inclined to pull. He will learn the difference.

The walk is about the journey, not the destination. If they have forty-five minutes, then they can fill that with something different each day and simply see what crops up.

Against this background, dealing with his reactivity to certain other dogs will be a lot easier. He should not be feeling restricted on tight lead and head halter when he sees another dog. They can associate dogs with good stuff – food and fun. They will make sure he doesn’t get any nearer than he’s comfortable with.

At present they are mainly avoiding other dogs on walks which will get them nowhere. In contrast, they then run with a group of dogs and this is too much. Louie may ignore the dogs when fired up with running and some he may for a while run shoulder-to-shoulder with. However, he may suddenly snap at them and bark at others.

Building up to Canicross in a group.

It’s not realistic to suggest they no longer do Canicross with Louie. However, they will go running with him alone to start with, then with a couple of dogs he gets along with and gradually build it up from there.

There is preparation work to be done at home. Two terriers live next door and they are enemies the other side of the fence. Louie patrols the garden, waiting for them to come out. While he’s rehearsing aggressive behaviour towards other dogs at home, they will make less progress when out. Working on his reactivity towards these dogs will be a good place to start.

The couple themselves need to be as relevant as they can so the dogs enjoy walking with them. Only this way they will get and hold Louie’s attention when needed.

I have never done Canicross myself (now there’s a surprise) but it seems a great thing for humans and suitable athletic dogs to do together. It’s a sport that humans have chosen.

It seems to me only fair that human and dog bond doing something that is more natural to the dog too – something the dog has chosen.

Here is a study where exercise was significantly reduced and the resulting positive effect on reactivity. Adding this to Louie’s life will hopefully counterbalance the general arousal of Canicross.

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 Louie 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. 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).