Guard Dog. Protective German Shepherd

I am sometimes contacted by people wanting to make their dog be a guard dog. These people aren’t happy because their friendly or fearful dog is useless at protecting them or their property.

Training dogs to behave with aggression isn’t my bag at all.

Taking the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog.

guard dogI do however often go to dogs with guard dog in their genes and that are excelling at the job, but whose owners don’t want this behaviour. We’re trying to take the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog, if you like. These are often, but by no means always, a Shepherd breed.

I have just met a beautiful year-old German Shepherd called Dexter who morphs from an affectionate pet into a fearsome guard dog if a person comes near the house. Particularly if they enter.

The couple took him in at nine months old and despite diligent hard work this behaviour has escalated over the past three months.

A confident dog bred to guard.

I see Dexter as a confident dog doing what he’s been bred to do – to guard. Understandably, this guarding behaviour has become stronger both as he has settled into his new home and as he’s matured.

The work on socialising him with lots of different people and other dogs should have begun at a few weeks old and been ongoing. If this had been the case, the couple, his second owners, would probably not be having problems now.

Dexter was even more highly aroused than usual when I met him. In order to get him as calm as possible when I came, they had taken him out for some vigorous exercise earlier which probably had the reverse effect. My arrival and the first attempts to find the best way of working with him will have caused him extra frustration and stress, so much so that he redirected onto poor Max. Max is their very easy-going young Labrador.

Keeping his stress levels as low as possible will help Dexter to exercise more restraint, be less reactive. Training alone hasn’t worked – they’ve worked with an excellent trainer. It’s the emotions driving the aggressive behaviour that need addressing.

If Dexter were scared of people, then because fear was driving the behavior we would be working on his becoming less scared of them.

Dexter isn’t scared. He seems supremely confident, at home anyway. He simply doesn’t want other people near him, particularly not in his house. He will try to do whatever it takes to send them away.

It took me a while to see clearly how best to approach this, then I had a light-bulb moment. Instead of our aim being for him to just tolerate people coming to his house, we need to get Dexter to positively welcome them.

What might Pavlov do?

Pavlov used a bell. Whenever he gave food to the dog, he also rang a bell. After a large number of repetitions of this procedure, he tried the bell on its own. As you might expect, the bell on its own now caused the dog to salivate.

So the dog had learned an association between the bell and the food and a new behavior had been learnt. His body reacted automatically. (To be all technical, because this response was learned – or conditioned, it’s called a conditioned response. The neutral stimulus, the bell, became a conditioned stimulus).

Why can’t we use a bell too, a wireless doorbell with two buttons? On bell push can be on the front door, the other somewhere in the house. They both trigger the same plug-in bell. Instead of food, Dexter can have fun. He’s much more motivated by play anyway.

They can repeatedly over time pair the sound of the bell with a short game of tug or throw him a ball. They can introduce new toys for extra impact and rotate them.

Happy hormones.

When play is triggered by the bell, Dexter’s brain should flood with ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin.

I quote from the article Canine Emotion by Victoria Stilwell: ‘Serotonin, for example, has a profound affect over emotions and is responsible for regulating mood, enhancing a positive feeling and inhibiting aggressive response. Dopamine helps to focus attention, promoting feelings of satisfaction….’

After a great may repetitions over time, Dexter should feel happy and think of play at the sound of the bell, even when no play follows (although it would be a good idea to keep topping it up). His brain will automatically fill with happy hormones at the sound of the bell.

Eventually, when there is a delivery person at the door, instead of thinking ‘Invader’, guard dog Dexter should think ‘Fun’!

When a friend visits, instead of thinking ‘terrorist’, our guard dog should be thinking ‘Tug Toy’!

To give this the best chance of success, Dexter’s underlying arousal levels need to be as low as possible. Long walks and vigorous exercise such as he’s getting now may surprisingly have the opposite effect to what is required, as beautifully explained by Stacy Greer.

The main areas that need working on are Dexter’s hostility towards people and other dogs when out, and people coming to their house.

Avoiding altogether both people coming to the house and seeing people and dogs on walks as they are doing now will get them nowhere. However, putting the dog over threshold (too close, too soon or too intense) will probably make things even worse.

It’s a delicate balance.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Dexter. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Barks with Excitement. Barks for Attention.

Bobby barks with excitement.

Gorgeous little Bobby barks with excitement and he barks for attention.

Cockerpoo barks with excitementI didn’t witness this at all – that often happens! It may have been because we were sitting down peacefully much of the time and people moving about can arouse a dog.

It also will have been because I frequently broke off to do things with him – little training games and a bit of clicker work. He had no need to bark to get attention.

The eleven-month-old Cockerpoo was adopted by my clients five days ago. I am helping to make sure he settles in well and they start as they mean to go on. Mostly it has been general tips but they have one main problem.

Barking.

They worry about the neighbours.

Bobby barks with excitement when they get ready to go out for a walk and may also run around barking when they get back.

Bobby barks with excitement while the man plays with him.

Bobby barks at them while they are eating their lunch.

Bobby barks at them for attention when they are busy.

Bobby barks with excitement while they prepare his food.

We look at why Bobby barks.

It’s caused by a mix of over-arousal, largely human generated, along with habit due to his having created noise successfully getting him attention in the past. If he barks with excitement before food or a walk, then, because the food or walk continues to deliver he will deduce that barking works. Excited barking, to Bobby, triggers food or walk.

People believe exciting play will result in a calmer dog but that’s not so. There is the belief that lots of exercise results in a calm dog, but it can be the opposite.

The gentleman will tone down play and avoid chasing games or games that are too repetitive which can fire Bobby up. Lots of mental stimulation, sniffing, hunting, doing ‘dog’ things interspersed with exercise produces the calm dog. This is a useful article: overexcitement, stress and exercise

Instead of ‘fielding’ and reacting to his barking, they will instigate short enriching activities or brain games instead – but when he’s quiet. Being calm and quiet should become more rewarding than barking.

Before they sit down to lunch, they will give him a stuffed and frozen Kong to keep him busy and quiet while they eat

At times when they know he’s going to be wired up, they can give him something else to take it out on and to wreck! This is a lot better than chewing their shoes or furniture. I suggest a ‘Box of Tricks’: a carton big enough for him to get into, where he can find empty food packets, old towels, cardboard tubes, plastic bottles etc. – with kibble hidden.

What a glorious mess he can make of that!

Barking before walks?

In just five days since they have had him, they have an established routine which Bobby has sussed. They should vary their routine. They can put his harness on well beforehand. A bit later they can casually walk around with his lead around their shoulders. Shoes can be put on earlier. Then, when he’s calm, just walk to the front door, pop the lead on and go out. They should avoid opening the door while he is barking but just wait in silence (commands are counter-productive).

Let him work out for himself what works now and what doesn’t.

If he seems wired up when they get back home, it’s likely the walk was ‘too much’ in some way. Too long? Too far? Too restricting on a shortish lead? They will now give him some freedom on a long line. If he needs cooling down when they get home, they can give him something to help him unwind – like sprinkling some food over the grass for him to concentrate on foraging.

It’s possible the excited barking will get worse before he gets better. As the noisy demanding will stop bringing the usual results, it wouldn’t be natural if he didn’t then try harder. In the past there will have been a breaking point where he eventually got the attention he wanted. No longer. Where barking used to work, it will now be met with failure.

Bobby won’t need to use barking now. He will gradually begin to get the idea, particularly as his new life will now contain so much more enrichment.

 

Bite! Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.

A cat can lie on its back and when you tickle its tummy it can yowl, grab you with it’s claws and BITE.

A dog can be approached when he doesn’t want to be touched. If he so much as growls in warning, let alone gives a snap or a bite, he’s probably in for trouble.

Being touched when he’s asleep.

Man petted him and received a biteThe affectionate little pup I went to yesterday is very happy to be touched most of the time – but not when he’s in his bed, particularly first thing in the morning.

Little Teddy is only five months old, a mix of small breeds and was born over here to a Romanian street dog in a shelter.

In every respect he has a lovely life with a family – a couple, their young adult son and daughter and lots of friends. They all adore him.

He soon proved himself to be a very clever and enthusiastic little dog with some clicker training that I taught the lady to do with him.

From the start Teddy has been a bit fearful of certain things, although with their help he is improving.

He is walked across a busy road each day to get to the park. Big traffic scares him.

The daughter wants to take him to where she keeps her horses. Unfortunately, he’s scared of horses also. He has spent considerable time recently barking at a horse in the field behind their garden, rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.

I’m sure given continued time and patience he will gain more confidence. The lady will keep him at a comfortable distance from traffic while she works on his fear. He will no longer be left outside barking at the horse.

One thing at a time.

Before he encounters the daughter’s horses (again from a comfortable distance) she will acclimatise Teddy to the environment itself – the smells, sights and other dogs in the yard. She will let him walk around the yard and nearby land on a long line. One thing at a time.

What really prompted their call is what has caused Teddy to bite the man twice and the son once – and these weren’t mere puppy nips. On each occasion the tall human had come into the kitchen, walked directly over to Teddy’s bed and bent over where he lay sleeping. Because of the layout of the house people can appear very suddenly in the gated doorway which doesn’t help.

Anyway, the pup bit him. Hard.

Bite!

Very unfortunately the man did what many people would do in the circumstances and that was to punish the puppy. He shouted and lightly smacked him. Teddy hid from him for some time under the table afterwards.

Probably feeling he shouldn’t allow the dog to win, the man did the same thing another day. He bent over the dog’s bed to stroke Teddy repeatedly on the nose. The little dog snarled this time before another bite.

He was punished again.

It has been proved beyond all doubt that using punishment to ‘teach the dog’ where any aggression is concerned can only make things worse, despite certain out of date nonsense still out there. The puppy’s reaction to being touched in his bed like this may have been partly reflex, some instinctive fearfulness or due to his simply not wanting to be touched. Whatever the reason or mix of reasons, it was valid.

Punishment like this always backfires in some way. It could later if continued possibly have spread to his guarding his personal space in other situations and places. It made the kindly man feel really bad afterwards too.

The solution is simple.

Nobody, ever, will again be going over to Teddy when he is lying in his bed. It’s quite fair that he should have a safe area that is his own, after all. All friends visiting must be told the same.

If people want to fuss him, they can sit at a distance from his bed and call him over. He can then choose. He’s such a friendly little thing I’m sure he will be all over them.

Totally secure in the knowledge that his space won’t be invaded when he’s in his bed, he will have no reason to feel defensive when someone comes near it in future.

He won’t now have any reason to bite ever again.

At all other times little Teddy is the sweetest-natured little dog you can imagine.

(Here is a great article about how dogs may feel about being approached directly).

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Teddy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Excited Barking Before Walks. Too Much Noise.

Many years ago I lived next door to a Golden Retriever that was left out in the garden all day. He barked non-stop. My son was studying for his A-levels at the time.

Whether you feel compassion for the dog or annoyance, persistent barking isn’t good for people or for the dog.

It’s certainly not good when it’s your own dogs that won’t stop barking.

Complaining to neighbours can be tricky. ‘Do you know that your dog barks all day’ didn’t work back then. They merely said the dog had to be left outside because he would otherwise toilet in the house.

Poor dog.

Excited barking before 7am.

The family I went to yesterday have had a polite complaint from a neighbour about the noise their dogs make, mostly when they are being taken out for their walk. This is early, at a time when many people still be in bed.

excited barking before walksMy clients are taking this very seriously and have called me for help.

Their nine-month-old Cocker Cavalier cross, Chester, and older Collie Labrador mix Jet are nearly beside themselves with excited barking before leaving the house on walks. They continue down the road, barking and squealing.

The barking itself isn’t the real problem but the symptom – the underlying causes are the problem.

The main cause is arousal. The excitement and anticipation overflows into the walk itself.

Another cause is to do with routine and habit.  The dogs will recognise much more subtle triggers than the boots going on and leads being picked up. 

Excited barking, simply, works.

Chester and Jet’s barking is also a learned behaviour. It’s successful. It works for them. They will believe that their barking actually causes the walk to happen.

The two dogs should begin to learn that excited barking no longer works. Being quiet is what brings results.

Some self-control is necessary!

The solution has its roots in other areas of their lives beyond walks, most particularly in the reduction of general stress and arousal levels. For instance, Chester gets into a frenzy of barking excitement as he chases Jet who is chasing the ball!

I believe that too much repetitive chasing simply encourages arousal levels to get out of hand, and this then spills over into other things – like walks.

So where do we start?

Barking won’t get the goodies.

Both dogs will need to learn that that barking doesn’t get the goodies – whether it’s a walk, food, being let out of the car or anything else.

Just as importantly, they will learn that quiet does get the goodies.

Here is a rundown of our walk procedure, designed for this particular case.

The start is to systematically desensitise the dogs to the triggers.

Touch the leads and excited barking begins. The lady does most of the walking. Now she will leave the leads about and regularly touch them or move them about.

She puts her boots on and the frenzy begins. So now she will, from time to time, put boots on and take them off again.

She will now be less predictable. Her usual morning routine means ‘the tail is wagging the dog’. The walks will be at more random times (she is home during the day so this is possible).

Instead of the dogs anticipating a walk to the fields, barking until they get there to be let off lead, she will now give them lots of short walks leading nowhere much.

Ready to go?

Collars and harnesses can be put on well before she plans to go out, walking boots also. She can leave the leads near the front door, dropping them on the floor in advance.

When it’s time to go, there will be no ‘Walkies’, calling the dogs, putting boots on, lifting leads and so on.

Don’t underestimate ultra slow-motion! It sends out calm vibes and also makes the dogs curious!

The lady will walk slowly and quietly to the front door. She can wait there in silence if the dogs aren’t with her – they will soon come!

Very slowly she will go to pick up the leads and if there is no barking, put them on. As soon as there is any excited barking, she will freeze and look away. If it carries on, she can drop the leads and walk away.

Actions speak a lot louder than words with dogs.

Slowly she can go to open the door – being ready to shut it again at any excited barking.

Walking out.

Still moving quietly and slowly, she won’t yet shut the door behind her – she may need to come back in. I suggest she starts by walking in a few circles around the front if they are quiet before going back to shut the door.

After a couple of starts in other directions, they can then walk quietly down the road in the direction of their favourite field.

You wouldn’t believe, from my photo, that these two dogs could ever be noisy!

Control – Carrot or Stick?

GSD lying down

Murphy

After a run of German Shepherds who are very reactive to anyone coming into their home, it was great to go to a Shepherd who welcomed me immediately.  Murphy and Mastiff-type Bailey are well socialised, well-trained and gentle with their children.

But it’s a tricky case of finding a compromise between two approaches – what the gentleman himself calls ‘carrot and stick’. He is the stick and the lady the carrot – not really an accurate description in that although he uses a certain amount of force and mild punishment in getting the dogs to do what he wants, I’m sure he would never hit them. He is extremely conscientious and loves them dearly. The carrot implies something dangled in front of the dog to entice him to comply, where the lady feels most comfortable using encouragement and reward.

Rottweiler cross

Bailey

People’s way of interacting with their dogs usually reflects their own personalities. The gentleman, by nature organised and routine-driven, feels he needs control over things around him. The lady is more relaxed, but she is unable to exert the control over the dogs that he can using his ways. So she needs the tools – different tools!

The couple well illustrates the divide between the methods of the past where the owner must be Alpha and ‘in control’, and modern science-based methods that enable dogs to develop ‘self-control’ by giving them encouragement, reinforcement and choices. One teaches the dog to avoid doing something ‘wrong’, and the other focusses on showing the dog how to do ‘right’.

Teaching self-control with reward and encouragement means that physical strength simply isn’t required in order to walk your dogs and manage encounters with other dogs. The young lady no longer dares to walk them on lead now, despite using head halters, after a final incident when she was pulled over as Murphy and Bailey charged excitedly towards a frightened puppy whose owner was not pleased.

The gentleman as a person needs routine, the upside of which has contributed to creating such beautifully mannered and friendly dogs. Where things are coming unstuck is that the lady is unable to match this. We are working on replacing some old routines with some different ones – based a little more on the psychology of dogs than on dominance. We want the dogs to use their brains and not rely on commands. I tried asking Murphy, gently, to sit and then lie down. Nothing. I had to ‘command’ him.

In my own life I have done a complete U-turn from the methods of control and force I, and nearly everyone else involved in training dogs, used many years ago. I can therefore well understand how it can take someone ‘old-school’ quite a lot to be convinced that reward-based, force-free methods work a lot better in the long run (and no thanks here to Cesar Millan). It needs a lot more patience and takes a bit longer as force can seem to produce ‘quick-fixes’, but the results are more permanent in the long run and our relationship with our dogs a whole lot more balanced.

So, now the lady will use different equipment for her walks – no more head halters but a front-fastening Perfect Fit harnesses – and she will take the dogs out one at a time for now. The deal is that if the gentleman doesn’t feel he can go through the necessary steps of letting the dogs walk freely on a longer looser lead, then he can stick with the old equipment. To the dogs, the harnesses should be associated only with a different kind of walking – and not ‘contaminated’. The lady will no longer need to be strong. The dogs will learn that walking on lead beside or near to her, focussing on her when necessary, can be fun and not a matter of ‘being under control’.

I hope that her results will speak for themselves and inspire the gentleman.

A note from the lady about five weeks later: ‘The very fact that I am enjoying my dog walks again is massive. Feeling very positive.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Murphy and Bailey, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good – as this case demonstrates. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Dominance? No! It’s Lack of Confidence.

They were told their dog was being dominant but they don’t see him like that and nor do I.

It’s so common for people to refer to a dog’s lunging, barking and jumping at people or other dogs as dominance. They interpret it as dominance through a lack of knowledge and understanding. There is still so much outdated information being peddled about on the internet, TV and social media.

Education proves it’s not dominance at all. In this case it’s a dog needing to stand up for himself in the only way he knows how against something he feels is a threat. He’s actually being brave. Other dogs feeling the same way may react by hiding.

People approaching him directly.

Albert is a large four-year-old Rottie, Mastiff, Labrador, Staffie mix. Such a gentle and friendly dog generally.

It's not dominance at allOut of the house, he is particularly unhappy when people approach him directly, especially joggers. This is common – take a look at the Pulse Project.

The other day he charged a jogger who appeared around a bend. He was off lead. Having a dog the size of Albert charging at you, barking and with raised hackles, must be daunting whether you’re a person or another dog.

“COME NO CLOSER”!

This isn’t dominance. It’s fear.

In a situation like this, in order to ‘safely control’ their dog people tend to hold him tightly on lead and even try to make him sit. Sitting is a big ask whilst so aroused and feeling trapped as the threat continues to approach.

The dog is doing all he knows to increase distance. The dog himself that should be removed to a comfortable distance instead.

Increasing distance also builds up vital trust in the person holding the lead.

Albert moved from busy town to quiet country area.

From a puppy Albert was extremely well socialised, going everywhere with the young couple. They lived in a busy town and constantly mingled with lots of people and dogs. Then they moved to a quiet area and after a while Albert began to react to approaching people and more recently to other male dogs also.

To make things worse, he was attacked by another dog.

Occasional people or dogs suddenly appearing and approaching directly are much more alarming to many dogs than being in a crowd. It’s the same with us, isn’t it.

My young clients so want enjoyable walks once more with their lovely dog, walks where he doesn’t bark and charge at approaching people or rush other dogs.

Off lead, Albert charges over to other dogs. He ignores all calls to get him back. This is unsurprising as he will ignore being called at home also – something to be worked on.

He doesn’t hurt the dog (and it’s not dominance!). Possibly he’s checking it out. Sometimes, though, the other dog or the owner will be scared. The other dog may be on lead for a reason. He returns when he’s ready.

Albert must be on a lead or a long line for now. No more freelancing. In the old days he seldom needed a lead.

The walk will now start off in a more relaxed fashion. At the moment he is straining to get down the drive, constantly pulling and on high alert. He’s tense and stressed. Nobody is enjoying the walk.

We did some walking near to their house with better equipment and a longer lead. Using my technique Albert was walking like a dream. He even walked out of the gate calmly which is never usually the case. In this calmer and more comfortable state, encountering approaching people will be a lot easier for him.

Has the ‘other dog’ problem been incubating at dog daycare?

Albert goes to daycare each day because the couple work a long day.

A few weeks ago the daycare reported that he was beginning to show dominance towards some of the other dogs – one male Golden Labrador in particular.

They sent a video.

The Labrador was behind a barrier with someone, ignoring Albert. Albert was being held on lead the other side of the barrier, lunging and barking with hackles up at the Labrador. I know it had been set up for the sake of the film, but it was hard to watch it being rehearsed.

This isn’t dominance. This is fear. What’s more, daycare is an active and exciting place. Albert’s stress/excitement levels will for sure be high.

How this has developed is impossible to say, but the behaviour is probably being incubated at daycare. The more it’s rehearsed the worse it becomes.

The only way to deal with it, preferably from the very start, would be to change how Albert feels about the Labrador in carefully monitored situations which would most likely need professional help.

It’s natural to simply try to manage aggressive behaviour through control. Putting a lid on it in this way can only result in the problem festering and getting worse.

The daycare does a good job, and it must be so hard looking after a mixed group of dogs belonging to other people. As well as keeping these two dogs strictly apart, I feel they should keep Albert as calm as they can, cutting short any excited play with other dogs a lot sooner. They can give him more time quietly by himself.

The more aroused he gets the more he can’t control himself. It’s in moods like this that he’s likely to hump a couple of the other dogs. This isn’t dominance either. It’s the over-flowing of stress that has to vent somehow.

Happy walks.

Key to their achieving happy walks is for the couple to be a bit more relevant and fun so that they can can keep his attention. They can engage with him. He should soon be walking near them because he likes being there not because he’s on a tight lead, just as he was out the front with us yesterday.

He should be allowed to wander, sniff and do dog things without the pressure of going a certain distance, of making it from A to B.

This about the journey, not the destination.

On a lead or long line, Albert should no longer have the opportunity to charge dogs or jump up at a jogger. According to the recent changes to the dog law, someone need only feel threatened, with no harm done, in order for both dog and owner to be in trouble.

Both at daycare and out on walks, Albert is using the theory ‘attack is the best form of defence’. It’s because he doesn’t feel safe. It’s our job to help our dog to feel safe and this is easier to do with knowledge and not simply by labelling the behaviour as dominance.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Albert. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Chewing and Destruction. Finding his Own Employment

Chewing everything, jumping up and toileting in the house.

Chewing everything

Marley

Chewing and toileting indoors are enough to drive a patient dog owner mad! These are the negatives. Marley is beautiful. He is affectionate, gentle, brainy and funny.

They have been very fortunate with their older dog, an unusually placid German Shepherd. When getting a second dog, they hadn’t bargained for a ball of energy like Marley.

The nine-month-old Cocker Spaniel is so much like my own Pickle at that age in temperament. I have first-hand experience of a working dog without sufficient employment. He too would have been finding his own things to do by way of chewing and destruction had I not done things differently. Despite having had many dogs, Pickle was a big learning curve for me. I had never lived with a dog that required so much mental stimulation.

I wasn’t prepared for having to spend quite so much time doing things with my dog in order to keep him ‘good’. This meant providing some of the fulfillment his working breed requires.

He’s an ongoing project. It never stops and he’s now six years old.

The first thing I learnt very quickly with Pickle was that ‘No’ made him worse (see here how ‘No’ doesn’t work). Even though I knew from both experience and learning, that ‘No’ only makes things worse in the long term, I’m only human and sometimes couldn’t help myself! It made me feel better.

I also learnt the importance to my sanity of adapting his environment.

I particularly understand the frustration for busy people who have a dog like Marley or Pickle.

Adapt the dog or adapt the environment?

Pickle – a pen didn’t work

Marley’s most infuriating trait is his constant need for chewing.

To my mind he has access to too much of the house and there are too many things for chewing about the place. He will chew just about anything and has demolished a couple of DVDs in the past two days. I saw the chewed leg of a nice piece of furniture.

People often try to adapt their dog to fit into their environment.

I recommend they do the opposite – adapt their environment around the dog by making significant but mostly temporary changes. This by lifting and removing everything tempting or chewable and providing a constant supply of chew items. By shutting doors and blocking areas.

Adapting the dog means constant vigilance. Adapting the environment means teaching the dog what is acceptable one thing at a time.

Although the goal of my visit is to stop Marley chewing everything (as well as toileting in the house and jumping up), these things are just symptoms. They are symptoms of a dog that needs more one-to-one time, providing even more enrichment than his good off-lead walk a day.

Some activities are mentally stimulating whilst also stress-reducing – like hunting, foraging ….and chewing. A long walk, particularly if spent chasing a ball, may have the opposite effect.

Chewing helps a dog to calm himself – as it does ourselves. We chew chewing gum for instance.

The destruction is about keeping himself busy and maybe also helping himself to calm if he’s over- stressed (aroused/excited/bored). Digging, chewing, wrecking things, humping and so on are all symptoms – of ‘stress’.

Dogs do what works.

If jumping up works in terms of getting anyone’s attention, then Marley will jump up.

The price we pay, if ‘not jumping up’ is important to us, is for everyone, both ourselves and visitors, to react in the same way. Take away the ‘reward’ – attention. Then and just importantly they show him what does work. It will need time and patience.

Maybe as his jumping up is light and doesn’t hurt, they should decide how important this is to them and to pick their battles?

My Pickle never jumps up and it’s not because he is highly ‘trained’ (he’s not). Right from the time he arrived as a four-month-old puppy jumping up simply didn’t work. No notice of him was taken if his feet were off the floor. Plenty off attention was given when his feet were on the floor.

If chewing things satisfies a need to relieve frustration, boredom or other stress, then Marley will chew anything he can find. He needs regular activities and enrichment provided by his humans, and not only when he’s doing something they don’t want him to do. Initiating activities when he’s relaxed and restful is making ‘calmness’ rewarding.

Sometimes the time and hard work needs to be shared a bit more equally between family members and then it doesn’t seem quite so bad.

Effort put in on Marley now will pay off big time later on. I would guarantee that if he was taken out daily with a ‘positive force-free’ gun dog trainer who worked him, he would have more self-control at home. He would no longer be chewing things, jumping on people and toileting indoors.

Unrealistic and impossible, I know. But we can do other things that fulfill our brainy, working dogs.

My attempts to catch a photo of Marley!

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Marley. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Go Away. She Barks. She Snaps. Go Away.

Abandoned by travellers.

Olive, now 10, was abandoned by travellers three years ago. My clients had gone to the rescue for a Staffie type dog and came home with the tiny Chichuahua Yorkie mix (the photo makes her look larger than she is). She was cowering in the corner behind her bed, shaking. They just couldn’t leave her there.

She wants people to go awayIt soon was apparent that she was in bad physical shape. She had luxating patellas in both knees which had to be dealt with one at a time, each meaning twelve weeks of restriction.

Olive was, and still is, extremely reactive to people either passing or coming into her house. She will bark fiercely at them. Go Away!

If anyone tries to touch her she snaps at the hand.

The young couple had begun to make some progress with Olive and then disaster struck. The tiny dog was attacked by a Lurcher. This sent her fragile confidence spiralling downhill.

Barking ‘Go Away’ works. People do go.

Olive has learnt, probably throughout most of her life, that if she barks ‘Go Away’ the person usually, eventually, will go away.

She barks from the front window at passing people and dogs to go away. They go. However, when someone actually comes into the house, she’s no longer successful in sending them away. She may have to try harder.

Olive has also learnt that if she snaps ‘Go Away’ at any hand coming towards her, the hand is immediately withdrawn. It’s impossible not to automatically recoil when a dog snaps!

For Olive, snapping is successful.

It is very likely that for the first seven years of her life she has been in some sort of pain. Hands may well have hurt her. She may always recoil from hands. If it keeps being put to the test with people putting their hands out to her with snapping working, it is less likely to improve.

What prompted them to get professional help now is that they are expecting a baby at the end of the year. They need her to be a lot more accepting of people coming to their house.

To achieve this, practising barking Go Away at people through the front window needs to stop. They will block her view.

She barks at children one side of their garden and a talkative man who pops his head over the fence the other side. They will work at getting Olive to feel better about the neighbours. We have a plan.

When people come to the house it would be better if Olive isn’t in a doorway that the person has to walk through, advancing upon her. They will get a gate.

All callers must be trained!

When the person comes in, they will drop a Kong with something tasty in it over the gate to Olive. Even if she ignores it until later, there is a message. A person coming into the house triggers the Kong.

They will explain the importance to the person of not putting their hand out to Olive. People simply can’t resist trying to ‘make friends’! I suggested a reminder with a yellow vest on the dog saying ‘No Hands’.

They can allow Olive to calm down a bit before letting her out. They will have her lead handy. The work will begin.

Now they need helpful friends and family to work with her.

Most walks are an ordeal.

She is often very reluctant to go out of the door for a walk. Our overall aim being to increase Olive’s confidence, I suggest they ‘ask her’ if she would like to be carried. She’s fine when in their arms. So instead of walking her they will from time to time put her down and ask her again if she wants to walk or to be carried. They will see her answer from her body language.

People are often worried that picking a tiny dog up isn’t the ‘right’ thing to do. I feel that, if the dog is scared, it’s essential. Here is a short video from Steve Mann about picking up a little dog: Small Dog Syndrome.

Once in the field Olive loves to run off lead – free. After the attack on her they are very careful. They can’t risk another bad encounter. Fortunately she never goes far and her recall is excellent.

Olive did get used to me after about ten minutes and came up to me. I made it easy for her with my own body language. She took food from my hand. If I moved my hand even a little towards her she suddenly snapped and of course I quickly recoiled.

She was more comfortable on a lead, a support line, almost like responsibility of dealing with me was removed from her, being taught to settle on a rug next to the lady where she feels safe.

Building up Olive’s confidence and associating people with good stuff is the way to go, along with giving her something to do when people come to the house that is incompatible with barking at them – settling on her blanket.

Ten days later – beginning to prepare dear little Olive for the baby.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Olive. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or aggression of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Resource Guarding Puppy. Meltdown

Resource guarding and still only a little puppy.

A week ago a very distressed young lady phone me in the early morning. The previous evening her Miniature Pinscher puppy, Rupert, only fifteen weeks old, had a total meltdown. He was an attacking, snarling, biting little resource guarding bundle of anger.

resource guarding puppyThe vet said he had not seen anything like it, but from what examination he achieved could find nothing wrong with him. The puppy stayed with the vet overnight. The only thing anyone could think of that could have pushed Rupert over the edge was he had eaten a cigarette end (he guards or eats anything he can find).

Could nicotine have tipped him over? Could there have been something else in the cigarette?

He’s just a little puppy, not yet four months old, but in the three and a half hours I was there he never rested, let alone slept. He’d not slept for a while before I came either.

He growls or flies at anyone who comes near to him when he has something of value (to him). Taking his lead on and off is a challenge. In addition to resource guarding he’s already started barking when hearing people walking past outside.

Was his total meltdown due to a build-up of events?

It is very unusual to find a puppy of Rupert’s age to resource guard items with such determination. On close questioning I feel that his scary meltdown on that day was the result of a build-up of events – trigger stacking. Three weeks ago he began to grumble when carried down the stairs to toilet outside (he lives in a flat) so now he walks. About ten days ago he was given a squeaky pig. He was dismembering it, as puppies do. When the lady went to pick up the stuffing, he went for her. He now might growl if he was approached when lying in his bed.

I do wonder whether the start of this had anything to do with a ‘fear period’.

Things went from bad to worse. More ‘triggers’ happened including, with the hot weather, the balcony doors being left open. He could see and hear people and dogs below. This triggered furious and constant barking.

Slowly, over a short period, his stress levels will have been building up. Finally, maintenance men did their regular weekly work in the building. Where before Rupert took little notice, this time he went ballistic.

Then he ate the cigarette end. They couldn’t take it off him.

This was the day that he turned into an ‘aggressive monster’. He had a meltdown. Tiny though he is, they were afraid of him.

Despite the checks the vet did, I’m not convinced that there isn’t more to this – a medical issue of some sort. If we make little progress, I would hope the vet is willing to take blood tests, including full range of thyroid tests and values. I would also hope the vet could help us with medication to help Rupert’s mental state, something easier to achieve in the US than here in the UK it seems.

This must be a distressing state for a puppy who should still be carefree at under 16 weeks. Being on high alert results in sleep deprivation, something else affecting his stress levels.

Aggressive resource guarding behaviour gets the desired result.

Rupert has learnt that his aggressive resource guarding behaviour has the desired effect, that of driving people away and leaving him with the item. This is a dilemma. If the item is then forcibly removed or he is cornered, he then will become even more of a guarder. If it’s left, he learns that his behaviour works.

Furthermore, he will now no longer do an exchange for anything – nothing is more valuable to him than the item he has in his mouth.

I look at the basic emotion driving the behaviour and what’s in it for Rupert. Resource guarding has to involve fear of losing something or insecurity, or else why would he feel the need to guard things or his own space?

The first step has to be for Rupert to know, whenever he is approached, that the person is a ‘giver’ and never a ‘taker’. That is fundamental.

Yawning

He is fed on what I consider excellent food – raw Nutriment, but I feel it’s worth trying some high quality kibble for a while. Sometimes a complete change in diet can change a dog.

The advantage of kibble over raw is that you can carry it in your pocket! Instead of being put down in a bowl, food can be used to emphasise the lady’s role as ‘giver’. Every time she has to walk towards or past Rupert she can just drop or throw food. Every time he has anything in his mouth such as a toy, she can drop him food whilst showing no interest in what he’s holding. Instead of guarding the item, afraid he’s going to be tricked into dropping it, he will soon learn he can put it down, eat the food and then pick it up again.

Two good games for dogs reluctant to let go or give.

I have two favourite games for a puppy with guarding issues:

Fetch, using two identical balls – they must be the same so the dog can’t prefer one over the other. Throw one but don’t throw the second ball until he drops the first. Throwing the second ball before the first is dropped is bribery. Throwing it afterwards is reinforcement.  If he decides to run off with the ball they will ignore it and ignore Rupert. Game over and fun finished. Battersea balls are unbreakable, a funny shape for random bounce, and light.

The Tuggy game played correctly is invaluable too for teaching ‘let go’ or ‘give’. Here are two very good videos from Victoria Stilwell: Teach a Dog to ‘Take It’ and ‘Drop It’  and then Teach Your Dog Proper Tug of War.

Amongst things Rupert picks up and guards are his lead, anything dropped on the floor or left within reach, stones and rubbish when out, sticks, a leaf….his own toys. Strangely, he doesn’t guard his food bowl.

Another problem is that when aroused, Rupert may fly at the lady. She has bites up her arms.  We have looked at ways to redirect his need to attack something onto wrecking a carton of recyclable rubbish with kibble dropped in it! It’s only happening because of his extremely high stress levels, of course.

The young lady is very switched on. She has already really helped Rupert with her research and patience. Had he gone to live with someone else, things could well be even worse. It is nothing to do with her. I suspect it’s primarily genetic, with maybe an element of early competing with his siblings for food and very possibly some sort of chemical imbalance in his own body.

Rupert is a project without a guaranteed outcome, but we will do our very best.

Five days have gone by. Things going in the right direction: My friend just came round who hasn’t seen Rupert in about a week and he said Rupert was the best behaved he’s ever been. No bite marks or anything. He even had a little nap whilst he was here and we were talking. 
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Rupert. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Fighting Saint Bernard and Boxer

Harry is a St.Bernard mix

Harry

Great Dane Blue and Boxer Sebastian lived happily together with their owners. Both dogs have their own traits – Blue is a bit needy probably due to health issues when he was a puppy, and Sebastian is very exuberant.

Then, about a year ago, they added Harry, a St.Bernard, to the mix. Things seemed to go very well until about four weeks ago when the St.Bernard and the Boxer had their first big fight. Since then,  as soon as they have come into each other’s presence there has been a big fight and damage, especially to Sebastian. The situation seemed to come out of the blue, but in hindsight the unchecked play between the two dogs was becoming extreme and should have been a warning sign. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I personally nip in the bud boisterous play between my own dogs the minute it looks like getting out of hand with any body-slamming or ‘hunting down’. The problem now with Harry and Sebastian is that their entry level is hackles, snarling and FIGHT.Great Dane and Boxer at the window. They now need to be kept apart

The ingredients seem to a mix of Blue, who keeps out of the way, but generally hypes up the atmosphere with excessive barking and anxiety especially if the lady of the house is out of sight, and Sebastian who tends to be over-excitable. One-year-old Great Dane Harry is a calmer dog, but is now an adolescent challenging Sebastian, and there is a lot of testosterone flying about.

In order to keep the two dogs separate means constantly moving dogs about the house like chess pieces, two in the garden while the third comes downstairs, one in the utility room while two are fed elsewhere, two upstairs while the third is let out into the garden – and so on. Very difficult. The people are incredibly patient and doing everything they can possibly find to remedy the situation between their beloved dogs, but are naturally extremely worried and wonder whether it will ever end.

Not having witnessed the fighting, I have to guess what triggers it. I suspect a cocktail of doggy personalities, over-excitement, stress and teenage testosterone. Most have kicked off in doorways.

We are working on the humans creating as calm an atmosphere as possible. Meanwhile, so that the humans will be able to relax when the rehabilitation process begins, both dogs will be introduced to muzzles in such a way that over the next two or three weeks they will learn to welcome them and happily be able to spend some time muzzled. Sebastian will probably get his off and eat it! However, Harry is the main aggressor and does the most damage.

Now, with a calmer environment, some rules in place and muzzles accepted, they need to work at re-introducing the dogs bit by bit, initially just walking one past the other a few times on lead at home, interrupting any eye-balling, along with parallel walking techniques out in the open. I sincerely hope that this works and that the two dogs, like some humans, do not now hate each other to the extent they simply can’t live together. Splitting up a St.Bernard fighting a large Boxer is no joke.

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Blue and Sebastian. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).