Scared of Young Children. He Barks and Lunges

How did Chester come to be scared of young children?

I believe something happened to him at just the wrong time.

The first fear period.

Two very young children ran noisily towards the little puppy very soon after they first got him. It scared him badly and has left a lasting mark which seems out of all proportion to the incident. This is, I’m sure, because it coincided with his first ‘fear period‘.

Since then Chester has been scared of young children. Otherwise he is friendly, gentle, loving and clever – the perfect pet for their teenage daughter.Hard to imagine him scared of young children

The matter came to a head recently when they were sitting in a coffee shop with the now fifteen-month-old Chester. Two tiny children came in and ran towards where he was sitting. Chester suddenly lunged and barked at them. The children were scared and the mother was not pleased.

Chester may also bark and lunge if he sees young children when he’s out on a walk if they come too close. He’s okay if he is following the children. It’s when they are coming towards him that he panics.

You can’t simply stop the lunging and barking at young children by training him out of it. We need to deal with the cause – the fear.

Children, fun and food.

From now on young children should be only associated with great things – fun and food. Chester should always feel he can escape and he should always be kept at a distance he finds comfortable while they work on making him feel better.

My first suggestion is for them to get Chester a harness. When he lunges it is sure to hurt his neck which immediately will add negative associations as he’s pulled back. We will be introducing only positive associations.

Then they will go looking for children! There is a school just around the corner and they can take Chester for a walk at playtime.

They need to keep their distance.

Chester having fun with the daughter

Chester can watch and hear the children running noisily about and playing behind the fence from a distance he feels safe. Becoming more relaxed, he can over time move a bit closer.

They can speed things up and completely change how Chester feels about children. They can add counter-conditioning. From the safe distance where he’s happy and will eat, they will feed, feed, feed him. They will have chosen some tiny bits of special food that Chester loves, chicken perhaps.

When Chester is aware of the children, the ‘chicken bar’ opens. When there are no children, it closes.

At the right distance from the children, they can keep feeding him or sprinkling food about the place. Gradually the distance will decrease, day by day, so long as he is never taken too close.

I guarantee if they don’t push ahead too fast he will eventually love being by that school playground fence.

Play also will stop Chester being scared of young children.

The family next door have little children which has been a problem. They can now take advantage of ‘tame children’ to work on! Chester can be on lead in the garden, as far away from the neighbour’s fence as possible to start with, and they can do same thing.

They have friends with young children who they can meet on walks. They will begin by following them to avoid approaching head on, walking at a distance, and then arc away until they pull up level. All the time they will feed Chester. Whether or not he will eat the chicken is a good guide to whether they are too close.

As Chester gets nearer, the children could also throw food to him.

He is a playful young dog, so very important now is to introduce play. His own family could play with him around children, making a game out of it – short game of tug or ball will associate the kids with fun as well as food. Eventually I’m sure that young children themselves will be playing with him, supervised of course.

It may take some time and hard work, but once Chester has broken through his fear barrier he will stop being scared of young children and begin to find them fun.

 

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 Chester. 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 any form of aggression is concerned and always where children are 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).

Running Off With Things and Guarding Them

Guarding behaviour is unecessaryThey had been told her guarding behaviour couldn’t be fixed which is pretty unbelievable really. They were told nothing would stop her picking up and guarding anything that was lying around.

The two main problems with beautiful and mostly loving Cockerpoo Nell are that she will steal things, run off with them and become aggressive when they try to take them from her. Also, she has bitten when she didn’t want to be touched.

The two things are related. Nell can feel uncomfortable or threatened when approached directly.

Things like this aren’t usually in isolation so there are one or two other things to be resolved also. I find when eventually each smaller thing is addressed the whole picture becomes clear and everything starts to fall into place.

‘Consequence drives behaviour’.

Nell does things because they work for her in some way.

On each occasion when she has snapped when touched, her space has been invaded. Biting makes the person back away. Bingo.

The guarding is much the same thing. To retrieve the item, her space is invaded. It scares her. It’s weird how dogs set themselves up to be scared like this, knowing what the consequence will be.

On my way home from their house yesterday I was listening to the radio. A young man who had been in prison several times being interviewed. He was talking about the adrenaline rush of the chase if police or householder were after him like it gave him a fix.

Perhaps this is how it is for the dog. She is creating her own excitement and danger.

It’s likely that the working breed in her isn’t getting sufficient fulfillment and she is giving herself an adrenalin rush.

The humans totally have it in their power to stop the behaviour from happening by how they react. They can also give her other activities that will provide her with the kind of stimulation she needs. This isn’t hours of exercise or manic ball play either. She needs to use her clever brain and her hunting and sniffing instincts. She’s a mix of Cocker Spaniel and Poodle after all!

What makes this relatively easy for Nell’s humans is that when she takes something she rarely damages it. It’s hard to know why they bother to go after it, setting her up to growl and guard, thus feeding her fix for excitement and fear.

What they have done for the three years of her life in reaction to her nicking things and guarding them clearly isn’t working or she wouldn’t be doing it anymore.

From now on I advise they totally ignore all guarding.

They will look away or walk out of the room. they will only retrieve the item when Nell isn’t about. What can she get out of it then?

The person who advised them before said it could never be fixed! Nonsense.

With the brain games they can teach her exchange and ‘give’. They will use more food as payment and reward so she is motivated and engaged.

An reaction when being suddenly touched can be solved similarly. She clearly doesn’t like her space invaded, not only if it’s to take something off her but also to take a thorn out of her fur or if she is patted in passing when she is resting.

Again, the humans need to do things differently. Nell’s reaction, growling and snapping, makes the person go away. It works! I suggest for a few weeks none of the family goes into her personal space at all. She lives in a bubble that mustn’t be burst.

If they want to touch her, they sit down a couple of feet away and call her. If she doesn’t want it, so be it. I guarantee she will start putting herself out a bit more for her humans and in time will be a lot more easygoing about it.

‘Trigger stacking’ again.

It’s another case of trigger stacking – where stressors build up and it erupts elsewhere. In Nell’s case with occasional reactivity to other dogs on walks for instance.

They may have been told that nothing can be done about the guarding behaviour but that is ridiculous. It’s not extreme and the solution is simple really. It’s to do the very opposite to what they have done in the past that hasn’t worked but only made things worse.

It also means giving her the stimulation and excitement she needs with appropriate alternative activites.

 

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 Nell. 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 any form of aggression is concerned. 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).

Trigger Stacking. The Perfect Storm

It was the perfect storm.

It was a clear example of trigger stacking. The day had been over-exciting. There had been lots of people in the house. The dogs had had too many treats. They will have done their usual barking at people in the park behind their garden.

Then a delivery man in Dayglo came to the door. A family member followed him back down the path where they talked over the gate.

Trigger stacking led to the bite

Boba

He had forgotten to shut the front door behind him.

Boba flew out of the house barking. He leapt high in the air at the man and caught his mouth. The bite required several stitches. Now, unsurprisingly, there is a court case pending.

Boba is a three-year-old Jack Russell mix who lived in a pound in Greece until he was eight months old. He’s a perky, affectionate little dog. He lives with Gibson, a Setter mix who was a Greek street dog and a super-soft and loving twelve-year-old Cocker Spaniel called Benson.

When I arrived Gibson went and hid, but the other two were very friendly and excited.

What alarms Boba is hearing or seeing people out the front in the street and people in the park out the back. All three dogs bark. Very likely, being dogs, they believe that it’s their barking that eventually drives the people away from their territory.

Although Boba is territorial when anyone is outside the gate, once a person enters the house he is usually very friendly. He has no history of biting.

He’s fine, too, when they meet people out on walks away from the house.

Management.

The first thing we discussed was management – precautions.

They will put a baby gate a few feet in from their front door that will be kept shut all the time. If it’s kept shut as a matter of habit, there will be a kind of air-lock making a repetition of the attack almost impossible.

They will also introduce Boba to a basket muzzle – just in case they need it. It could be a requirement of the court that he wears one.

Trigger stacking.

The second thing is to deal with is the trigger stacking, to reduce the continual topping up of arousal levels in all three dogs. They all fire one another up.

Each time a dog is over-excited or is caused stress, the adrenal and thyroid glands, testosterone and hypothalamus begin to increase their production. The output from these glands reach a peak 10-15 minutes after the incident, and takes between 3-5 days to return to the level they were at before the incident. Here is a nice visual explanation of trigger stacking.

Reducing arousal levels can be very boring. Greetings need to be calmer, rough play toned down with more brain games, more chewing, hunting and foraging instead. Friends and family need persuading to help by not being over-excited and winding them up.

Even the food they eat can make a big difference.

I believe that if Boba’s basic arousal levels had been a lot lower, then he would have had enough ‘to spare’ when he ran out of the front door to the delivery man at the gate. He would have been less likely to fly at him. It was one trigger too many.

Territorial barking.

Crucial to the whole thing is to deal with the dogs’ territorial barking. At present they have a dog flap which is left open all the time. Even when the owners are out their dogs can be barking in the garden at people they hear. Boba will be continually rehearsing territorial aggression so it’s little wonder he put it into practice on that fateful occasion.

Benson

Currently, like many people, they have tried water spray and anti-bark collars but this doesn’t stop the dog feeling angry or scared inside. The opposite in fact. They may ignore the barking until it gets too much and then shout at the dogs.

Barking is a trigger. It ignites a dog’s stress levels.

The humans are the ‘dog-parents’ so protection duty should be their job. They should intervene immediately and deal with it, thanking the dogs and calling them away. The dogs should come if interrupted quickly enough and rewarded with food. Blocking barking areas and shutting the dog flap will make this a lot easier.

When I was there I pre-empted barking a couple of times. I head a door slam and the dogs perk up, but before they had time to start I brightly said ‘Okay’. No barking.

Now, not only will Boba not be physically able to bite someone at the gate again, after a while he shouldn’t feel he needs to. He will be generally calmer as will all three dogs. He will be taught that follow-through isn’t his job.

 

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 Boba. 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 any form of aggression is concerned. 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).

Under Control, Self-Control and Being Relevant

under control

Obi and Leia

I was greeted by nine-month-old Cocker Spaniel, Leia, flying all over me in delight. It was largely my fault the two young dogs weren’t under control. Both Leia and fifteen-month-old Obi had been trained to go to their ‘place’ when someone comes in. Quite impressive for such excitable dogs. I had interrupted that.

They don’t, however, stay on their place for more than a second unless continually returned to it.

When not under control they have little self-control.

The two dogs have been going to training classes. They have also started gun dog training which should help to satisfy some of Obi’s unfulfilled instincts. Both dogs have a good vocab of ‘commands’ and enjoy training games.

‘Commands’ learnt in traditional training classes don’t always transfer to real life. One reason for this is arousal and another is distraction. It’s hard to keep a young dog like Leia sitting still somewhere, under control, when with her whole being she wants to fly all over the place in wild excitement!

Self-control is acquired by the dog working out what works by only reinforcing the wanted behaviour. She then understands what is required without having to be told. Modern classes now use clicker training, shaping etc. so dogs learn for themselves.

This wasn’t the actual purpose of my visit. The family would like to trust Obi around other dogs and also to come back when called.

He has become increasingly grumpy when approached by certain dogs though will never make the first move. He is fine if they leave him alone. It seems that it’s young dogs and puppies that are the problem.

The other day he pinned down and bit a young puppy.

There are two problems for Obi that I see.

One is that he is highly aroused and on a near-obsessive sniff and hunt all the time he’s out. Everything else is shut out including the person walking him. The other is that while he’s working hard at hunting and sniffing he doesn’t want to be interrupted, particularly by a young and bouncy dog.

Lost in his own world, Obi will totally ignore, probably doesn’t even hear, being called.

Since he began to be grumpy with other dogs about six months ago, Obi is mostly kept under control on lead. He strains against it, deprived of his sniffing ‘fix’.

Working to improve walks, the young man will be:

Getting and holding Obi’s attention by being relevant and motivating.

Changing the way walks with Obi are done.

Changing the way walks are done

If Obi were more engaged with his walker, the young man, he would be less fixated on his own activities all the time. It stands to reason that other dogs interfering with what he’s doing would be likely to worry him less.

It will be hard work because this ‘Spaniel’ sniffing is giving Obi’s brain something he really needs. It can’t be simply prevented. It needs to be controlled or replaced.

Walks now will be something altogether different from the time they leave the house. Instead of trying to control an Obi who is pulling him down the road from one sniff to another, the young man can work at making pavement walks something a bit unpredictable and more fun (I call them drunken walks!). He needs to make himself even more relevant (he already puts in a lot of effort with the training and a bit of added psychology should now help).

In open spaces Obi can no longer be trusted off lead. Like the off-lead dogs that run up to him ought to be, he is kept under control. On a long line he has a degree of freedom and they can work on recall.

Here is a very good link for people wanting to teach a busy spaniel to stay near them – quartering.

Just a change of tactic can make a big difference.

I’m sure the young man won’t mind my quoting the email he just sent me the following day, having tried really engaging with Obi on the morning walk. You can see that the lad is a star!

‘I took him for a drunken road walk this morning. And as if by magic! I think he started (pulling and sniffing) twice for about 10 seconds and I was able to get him back on attention. I felt a fool doing it but the way he looked at me on the walk made me forget about it. I wasn’t sure if he was looking at me as though I’d invented sliced bread or whether he thought I was so nuts that he felt he had to keep on eye on me. But, he didn’t pull, not once. We stopped halfway and went on the long line to do some smelling games on a small field, played some fetch and with the long line managed to get him bringing the ball back and dropping it, as his attention started to dwindle we called it a day and moved on. Next time I will move on before it starts to dwindle. I let him hold onto the ball during the walk and like you said, he was more interested in holding the ball than smelling. He was walking, but not like a spaniel, his head was up for most of the walk and flitting between looking at me and looking ahead. He was rarely ahead of me.’

Self control – not ‘under control’.

A good start.

 

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 Obi. 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 any form of aggression is concerned. 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).

 

Puppy Parenting Goldendoodle Puppy

This is the start of my Puppy Parenting journey…

Puppy parenting

Being such a good boy. Loving the clicker

…with the delightful Richie, a Goldendoodle puppy now age 14 weeks.

I usually like to start as soon as the puppy arrives in his new home but often, as in the case of Richie, people put in fantastic work with the toilet training and other training themselves, but aren’t prepared for puppy’s teeth!

They contact me when their attempts to discipline their wayward puppy are making things worse and they are growing desperate.

This is from the message I received when they first contacted me:

‘We got him at 8 weeks. He is very excitable at home and when meeting new people and dogs. He is very aggressive with his mouth and we can’t seem to stop him using his mouth when we play with him. We have taken him to a puppy class but he just doesn’t concentrate. All he wants to do is jump all over the other puppies. He gets what we call the crazies and he zooms around the house, biting our pants, socks, shoes, shoe laces, clothes – anything he can get his mouth on. He loses interest in toys very quickly and doesn’t play happily by himself for very long.’

He’s a puppy – being a puppy.

The most immediate thing to address is Richie’s way of, when thoroughly stirred up, flying at the lady and ‘attacking’ her.

What we soon realised was that this only happens when Richie is so excited that he can’t control himself. They also soon saw that his high state of arousal was sometimes caused by themselves. It’s like he’s clockwork and they wind a key in his side until …… off he goes!

One trigger time is when the man arrives home from work. The lady will excite the puppy with ‘daddy’s home’ when she hears his car. The man walks in the gate to give the aroused puppy a huge welcome.

Richie will then fly, not at the man but at the lady, biting her arms and grabbing her clothes.

They have already taught their clever puppy to sit, to lie down and a few other things. This makes people feel, quite rightly, that they have really achieved something. At just fourteen weeks Richie is fully toilet trained.

Just as important as training tricks where his humans are directing him, is the puppy working certain things out for himself.

He does this by experimenting with what works and what doesn’t work.

If jumping up and nipping gives fun and feedback – it works. If barking while the lady prepares his food ends in his getting the meal – it works. If jumping up gets the fuss – it works. If calmly waiting, sitting down or standing gets the feedback – that will work too.

That is the beauty of clicker training. It shows the puppy just what does work. He then starts to find ways of ‘being good’. If the clicker isn’t to hand, the word ‘yes’ will do because all the clicker means, really, is ‘yes’. 

Good recall is like having puppy on remote control.

Making a game of it, using food and constant repetition, Richie can soon be taught to come running when called.

He’s chewing the table leg? Instead of a loud NO, they can call him. He will come. They can then reward him and give him something better to chew.

Too much ‘No’ merely causes confusion, frustration – and wildness. ‘No’ is hard to avoid when we are pulling our hair out!

Puppies notoriously have a wild half-hour in the evening, zooming from room to room and flying all over the furniture. Dealing with the wild behaviour involves avoiding deliberately getting him stirred up, shutting doors as space encourages wildness, and redirecting this pent-up energy onto something acceptable that he can wreck or attack!

A Puppy can soon learn that ‘being good’ isn’t rewarding. Fun or gentle attention can sometimes be initiated when he’s awake but calm.

There are brain games, hunting games and there is clicker training – which to puppy should be a game. Here are some great ideas.

Our main catch phrase for now is ‘Change No to Yes’.

We have only just started. Puppy parenting is largely about pre-empting, diverting problems before they start and laying the foundations for happy walks and self-control.

Puppies can hard work!

 

Gunshots and Bangs. The Noise of Traffic

scared of gunshots and bangsLittle Jessie’s otherwise perfect life is blighted by fear of the sound of gunshots, bangs and certain other sounds.

It was rare for me not to hear a bark when I rang the doorbell. She was very friendly without being over-excited and didn’t appear to be a nervous dog at all.

The eight-year-old terrier has been scared of bangs outside the house since they took her in at two years old. Her fears of bangs, gunshots and bird-scarers in particular, are unfortunately getting worse.

Her owners are the kindest of people and have done everything they can think of. Jessie is a very happy little dog in every other respect. She loves people. She loves the grandchildren and she’s not a barker.

Jessie’s fears of gunshots and bangs are worse in the winter and after dark.

Her fearfulness is worst in open places with lots of sky. The lady likened her to Chicken Licken, afraid that the sky might fall in!

People often use food after the event. When there has been a distant bang and Jessie has reacted, they feed her afterwards, thinking they are rewarding her for calming down. This is missing the point.

If sufficiently scared, the dog won’t eat anyway. In order to reduce her fear, the food is used to help her to feel differently about the bangs while they happen.

How can they achieve this?

The only way is to actually pair food with the bangs. A bang triggering food gives the bang a whole different meaning.

Counter-conditioning a dog to noises she’s scared of is a slow and difficult job and Jessie’s fears need to be worked on at a level where she is aware of a sound but can still easily cope with it.

What they will do is to build up Jessie’s resilience. They need also to prepare her for the possibility of uncontrolled bangs.

Jessie is hesitant to go out to toilet after dark so, before they let her out, they can already have laced the garden with food. They can associate the garden after dark with something positive and reassuring.

Often she will refuse to walk, particularly when it’s dark or cold, fearing the possibility of a distant bang – something her humans won’t even hear. They can lace the front path with food in advance.

They will also give Jessie choice.

To give her a degree of freedom and choice they will increase the length of the lead. In open spaces where they dare not let her off for fear she may bolt for home, they will use a long line.

A walk where she’s scared is worse than useless anyway. If she turns to go back into the house, they will let her do so.

In order to build up resilience, the real work will be in setting up situations where they can have control. They have had little success with a DVD of bangs but this is because they haven’t used it to desensitise and counter-condition her. They just played it and Jessie was too worried even when it was at its softest.

They now know how to work with this to help Jessie.

One reason for Jessie’s spookiness outside after dark may be the hum of cars on the nearby dual carriageway. This is worse at night when the sound probably carries more clearly.

This gave an easy example of how to work on desensitising and counter-conditioning her.

To desensitise they find the distance from the road where Jessie is aware of the hum of traffic but not unduly worried. They now keep to this distance until she is so relaxed with it that they can move a few steps closer. She will then get used to that. Over time they can very gradually decrease the distance between themselves and the road, always watching her body language to make sure she’s not ‘over threshold’.

Counter-conditioning is the icing on the cake.

Now they add something Jessie loves at the same time as she is aware of the traffic. In her case this will be food. Not only will she get nearer the traffic faster, she will also actually begin to have positive emotions about the noise.

The bummer is that real life gets in the way. If while work is being done she is suddenly subjected to something like a gunshot, it sets things back. This can’t be avoided unless she were never to go out for a walk, and anyway she can even hear bangs from her own garden.

The difficulty with working with sudden noises is that something uncontrolled like a gunshot is sure to happen.

So, they will immediately turn for home if Jessie is scared. With the long line they can give her more choice.

If over time Jessie’s confidence is built up at home, both with a DVD or downloaded sounds and sounds out in the garden, she should have more leeway to cope when out.

Whatever happens, the gunshot sound or the bang must trigger food. She will have learned with the work at home that a bang triggers food.

It may be they will need to abandon all walks near home for a while and pop Jessie in the car, going to somewhere that has no associations with bangs and gunshots.

She is a different dog in the summer when the sky is light, the weather is warm and there is little danger of gunshots.

Here is a great webinar from the great Patricia McConnell: Building Resilience in Dogs

Dominant Alpha or Friend and Guardian?

Staffie Boxer mix Digby came out of his shell after a couple of hours. What a character.

This is yet another story that could make me cry. A young couple get themselves a puppy. They don’t do this lightly but ‘read all the books’ and look on the internet.

Digby was only six weeks old when they picked him up and it’s probable his fearfulness is partly genetic. He’s now two years old.

The Alpha myth.

Alpha dominance doesn't work on Digby

How can a new dog owner tell if a trainer who sets himself up as an authority won’t do more harm than good?

So concerned were they by Digby’s increasing fearfulness and barking at people that they had a trainer to their home to ‘teach’ them what to do. When the sensitive dog did something they didn’t like, they were shown to throw metal discs on the ground in front of him.

Digby can become very easily over-aroused and will then redirect quite roughly onto the young man in particular, grabbing his arm with his teeth. The poor young man just doesn’t know how to deal with it.

The trainer’s answer to this was to spray him with ‘bitter’ spray (surely also wiping out Digby’s number one sense, his sense of smell, for a long while).

This trainer, in the name of dominance and teaching an owner to be the Alpha, seems to think it’s okay to push the dog over the edge with over-arousal and then to punish it.

That’s just ridiculous. Why not instead limit the arousal so that this redirection onto someone’s arm isn’t necessary? Why not get to the bottom of why it’s happening and use healthy stimulation and calming activities instead?

Here is another thing – another ignored by Dibgy’s owners. Apparently he shouldn’t be allowed to settle in one place for too long before he’s moved to another room. How can an Alpha wolf be blamed for that?

Old wolf-pack theory dominance methods rely on superstitions and quick fixes that may work in the moment. I have been to countless cases demonstrating conclusively the long-term fallout.

So, after the ‘help’ from this individual, the young couple have felt increasingly unhappy about doing this dominance stuff with their beloved family pet but have known no alternative.

Digby goes out for a walk with his tail between his legs.

He shakes when his collar comes out. Out on the street he is scared of everything. In this state he may react by lunging and barking at a person or dog he sees. The trainer’s advice was to put him on a Gencon and basically force control onto him.

This same trainer had advised them not to shut Digby behind the gate anymore when people came to the house. A couple of days after his visit, Digby bit someone coming into the house.

He was in such a state of panic that he emptied his bowels right where he stood in the room.

Poor Digby. His young owners were beside themselves with distress for him.

Anyway, things are now changing.

For the first time since he was very young, a relaxed Digby was wandering around the sitting room and lying down beside a visitor. He began behind the kitchen gate, barking. We started with him brought into the room on lead and muzzled. As the couple relaxed and the lead was loosened, so did Digby relax. The lead was dropped. The muzzle came off. Then the lead was removed altogether.

Digby fished in my bag. He nuzzled me. I gave him food. He did a naughty dash upstairs (not allowed – he was called down and now rewarded for coming). The beautiful dog was so happy.

The power of positive methods unfolded before our eyes,

Looking ahead, all instruments of harshness will be abandoned in favour of rewards and positive reinforcement. Digby will get a comfortable harness and a longer lead. The restricting Gencon will be ditched.

They will be giving him two kinds of walks, field walks and road walks. He’s much more confident out in the fields and going by car. It’s leaving the house to walk along the road and pavements that scares him so much.

They will pop him in the car and walk him on a long line as often as they can.

Meanwhile they will get him happy just standing outside the gate to begin with. They can use his tail as a gauge! If his tail drops between his legs they will turn back.

How to be an Alpha Male according to wolves

 

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 Duke. 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 any form of aggression is concerned. 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).

Impulse Control Lacking, at Home and on Walks

Much of Blue’s early life was spent in a crate after he and his brother began to fight. He was rehomed. Next he was in another bad situation before being taken in by a rescue and fostered by someone with fifteen dogs.

Now introduced to a steady home life, it’s little wonder Blue is lacking impulse control. It must be a lot to get used to.

He is amazingly friendly and adaptable considering his life over the past three years.

I would sum Blue up as eager to please and biddable…

…and lacking in impulse control.

Lacking impulse controlThere is a good reason the photos are blurred! He was seldom still.

His new humans are incredibly tolerant, but when he becomes too much, Blue is put in the bathroom so they can have a break. He doesn’t make a fuss. He’s very accepting.

We had to put him away for a while because his jumping all over us meant he was such hard work that it was impossible to talk.

They want him to stop jumping all over friends and family who come to their house.

They are doing their best to ‘train’ him out of it, but commands may arouse him even more and also give him the attention he is craving. Also consistency is key – not sometimes with some people, but always with everyone – themselves included. It’s only fair for him to know what is expected of him.

Each time the dog did this to me I turned my head away and gently stood to tip him off. I then was nice to him when his feet were on the floor. He got the message. As he started to understand what was required of him, he began to show just a little impulse control.

They have now had Blue for four weeks and already he’s improved in some areas while maybe getting worse in others.

Blue is scared of the dark, particularly cars in the dark.

They can work on this fear in the safety of just outside their own front door, getting him used to being out at night time and the passing cars from a safe distance.

During the day he’s not too confident either. He will bark at other dogs when he’s on lead. This could well be made worse because when he barks, the lady holds him tightly on a chain lead, her own anxiety rippling down it.

Bit by bit they will help Blue to gain confidence and impulse control. Already he has been taught several cues. Now he needs to learn how to stop, listen and wait.

They will give him a good selection of things to work on and to wreck! Instead of chasing his tail, squirming noisily on his back on the floor, charging up the stairs, raiding surfaces, nibbling people and so on, they can give him alternatives to relieve his stress and frustrations.

A box of rubbish can give him something to attack!

Why throw the recycling rubbish away? Why not give it to the dog first! Milk or water bottles, toilet roll tubes and screwed up paper make a great free toy.

A marrow bone can give him something to literally get his teeth into and will calm him. He can hunt for his tea – see SprinklesTM. They will have tiny food rewards to hand to keep him motivated and to reinforce calm.

One of the first things I look at when a dog is so hyperactive is his diet. In this case the wonderful couple had beaten me to it – they have already put him on the best food they can find. His skin and coat have changed dramatically. When they first took him in four weeks ago his tummy was red and raw and his tail worn hairless. Now his coat is growing shiny and healthy.

Blue is at the start of a very good new life.

Calm Down. Less Excitement, less Reactivity to Dogs

Calm down, Louis!

Young Staffie Bulldog mix, Louis, is an excitable delight who finds it hard to calm down!

Surprisingly, he does with ease something requiring real self-control that many other dogs would find hard. When the doorbell rings, as they go to open the door he takes himself off into another room! No barking.

He was let out to join me and had a good sniff.

Then the jumping up began.

He seldom jumps up at his owners now but he will invariably jump up at any other people who call at the house.

This is not really about jumping up, is it. It’s about excited, friendly greetings with maybe a tinge of anxiety.

Face to face is where dogs think greetings happen.

Imagine how hard it is for an excitable dog that isn’t shown what the human protocol for welcomes is – in a way that he understands.

Why does he keep jumping up despite scolding? The result must be worthwhile in some way. He gets a result that hypes him up even more. This will be attention of some sort from either the visitor or the couple who feel they need to intervene.

Trying to calm down his excitement

Louis trying self-control while he has his photo taken!

For Louis to gain some self-control he needs to calm down. People need to help him by not reacting to the jumping up but by showing him and reinforcing the greeting behaviours the do want with the attention he craves.

There is a fine line to what they can do! The smallest touch or silent drop on the floor of food may have to be enough. Any more and he will be jumping up with excitement again.

Louis is such a biddable dog. He really does his best. I took the photo of him trying with all his might to sit still for long enough. Look at that ‘trying my damnedest to sit still and please you’ Staffie face!

Louis with his own humans is different to Louis with others.

He jumps up at people but not his own two humans.

However he may react to other dogs when on walks with his owners, particularly on lead, but he’s fine dogs when out with other people. (Louis runs free with other dogs three times a week with a dog walker and is no problem at all).

Their concern started with a fight between Louis and a dog they had walked him with for a couple of months.

The dog he knew, with issues of his own, was muzzled as usual. This time there were two smaller dogs in the group and all four dogs including the muzzled dog were off lead. There was a lot of ball-throwing (guaranteed to wire dogs up) and more humans in the mix than usual.

It was all too much. The excitement sparked trouble. It had gone past the point where they could calm down.

The larger muzzled dog eyeballed Louis who suddenly retaliated. The two dogs were immediately parted – with some minor damage to the human hands that were involved.

Once something has happened, owners very understandably get nervous.

Walks are never quite the same or as enjoyable again.

Now when Louis is on lead and sees another dog, he may lunge and bark. How much of this is generated by the tightening of the lead by his worried humans they can only guess. How near to the other dog that it happens can vary.

I suggested they have a ‘week off’. A complete break from worrying about encountering other dogs. To avoid them altogether for a week. Walks are to mean something different – not simply as much exercise as they can cram in for an hour going from A to B.

Both they and Louis can have time to calm down and enjoy wandering, mooching, going nowhere in particular. Take a look at this: Take time to smell the roses (or pee if you are the dog), by Steve Mann.

Louis, after all, is still socialising with his friends and other dogs three times a week with his walker who has not problems with him at all.

During this week they can rehearse and role-play what they will do when they see another dog. The couple will work on an escape procedure for if they are taken by surprise.

They can do more work on the desensitisation they have already begun – encountering dogs at a distance where he can cope – the threshold. They will now add counter-conditioning – associating other dogs with the good stuff. We have worked out quite a tight plan of exactly how to do this for real.

“Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

The couple say they have spotted Louis’ thresholds already but they have either kept advancing or avoided the dog altogether. This is just what most people do and why these things usually don’t improve.

Currently they may try to distract him. Although this may keep the peace, it doesn’t teach him anything. Louis needs to know the dog is there, that it’s at a comfortable and safe distance and that he’s not going to be forced too close for comfort.

Then he will be helped to start feeling good about it.

If he’s so relaxed and enjoying his walks as I predict he will be when he has managed to calm down, they may even need to point the dog out to him. This will avoid a sudden surprise. “Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

 

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 Louis. 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 any form of aggression is concerned. 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).

Elderly Dog Owner. Difficulty Walking the Dog

An elderly dog owner may no longer be able to walk their dog

How many an elderly dog owner or frail person has problems walking their pet due to a fear of being pulled over or losing control of their dog?

Elderly dog owner has difficulty walking her

Beautiful, biddable Sian

Today’s client homed the dear little Staffie six weeks ago. Stella is 6 years old.

Being in the ‘elderly dog owner’ category myself, I am aware of how especially important it is that the dog walks beside us because she wants to. Not because we need to use strength. It’s also vital we can trust her not to lunge if she sees another dog.

My client is an elderly dog owner and admits she sometimes finds balance difficult. She is light and frail in build and has some trouble holding onto the lead due to arthritis in her hands.

I can identify with this. Fortunately I am still strong and active. Hopefully experience compensates somewhat for age! I know how important it is not to fall over. A broken bone or hip could be the end of life as we know it.

Stella previously belonged to an old lady who could no longer keep her. That is so sad isn’t it. I would be devastated if that happened to me and as my own four dogs get older (as do I), I need to consider what to do next.

As soon as Stella is out of the gate she’s on alert. She pulls on the lead and the lady,having to use both hands, keeps her tightly next to her. This is largely for fear of Stella crossing in front of her and tripping her up.

Stella gets extremely excited to see another dog.

It’s obvious that Stella’s previous elderly owner had a lot of callers and friends because Stella is so chilled and friendly with all people. It’s also fairly obvious that she was seldom taken out and probably for several years will have encountered few other dogs.

There is no sign of aggression, no growling or barking. She lunges towards the dog and then, frustrated, spins and bucks on the lead which is attached to a half-check collar.

My first thoughts were that the lady needs to use much more helpful equipment. We both walked Stella around the garden and the pavement outside wearing a Perfect Fit harness.

I have an eight foot training lead which has a hook both ends.

We experimented with hooking the lead in two places. On a ring on the chest and ring on the top. We then experimented with attaching the lead at the chest only.

Stella needs to learn to walk on the same side and not cross over in front of the lady. We found that fastening the lead to just the chest worked best for now. There was too much untangling the lead from around her legs when she crossed sides otherwise! This requires a degree of agility.

The lady is going to walk Stella in the garden and near home with several very short sessions a day, teaching her that walks means a loose lead. Stella will walk beside the lady because she likes being there. If the lead goes tight, she will be taught to come back voluntarily and will be rewarded when she does so.

I’m not describing the exact process here because it’s been developed through trial and error especially for this particular lady and her dog. Something different may well work better for another elderly dog owner with a different dog.

Once the lady has the loose lead walking technique confidently under her belt (and if she were going to classes this could take several weeks), she will be ready to deal with the issue of other dogs.

Changing how Stella feels about dogs.

I believe Stella’s reactivity is that of a very friendly dog, excited and keyed up because everything is new. She wants to say hello or play but is also feeling a bit scared. If she were off lead with freedom of choice it could be a very different matter.

When they see a dog, instead of tightening the lead and advancing, or tightening the lead and immediately crossing the road, the lady will keep the leash loose. She will watch for Stella’s reaction.

On a loose lead everything will be very different for Stella.

The very moment she alerts or stiffens, before any lunging or spinning, they will increase distance away from the other dog.

When they have found the threshold where Stella knows the dog is there but is cool with it, the lady will associate the dog with something she loves. She will feed her frankfurter pieces maybe or scatter food on the ground. If Stella either won’t eat or if she snatches the food, they need to create still more distance.

The aim is to avoid Stella going over threshold at all costs. Here is very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long

Stella’s confidence should grow. When she trusts the person holding the lead to read her signals, she will get nearer to the other dog before she reacts. That person does not need physical strength.

There is another reason for using a harness and not attaching the lead to the collar. Whenever Stella has lunged or spun it will have caused discomfort to her neck – a negative association with other dogs.

From now on, all associations with other dogs must be positive.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail. 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 Stella. 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).