Shaker Can, Dominance and Being the Boss

Frenchies Mac and Mabel fight.

The lady has unfortunately been following outdated and harmful advice. A shaker can was in each room of the house.

This always seems so sad to me. Someone who loves her dogs dearly and is both distressed and frightened by their fighting seeks help, and is given outdated advice.

Every shaker can now gone.

Shaker can used to stop fighting

Mac

Scaring the dog with a shaker can with coins in it or pinning him down is never the answer.

Rattling a shaker can in the dogs’ faces to scare them doesn’t address the problem at all. It may immediately interrupt them, but it does nothing to deal with the cause.

A shaker can will only increase arousal, anger or stress – the cause of the fighting in the first place. We need instead to deal with the problem at source.

The first thing the lady very happily did was to go round her house and remove the cans.

Barking up the wrong tree.

The advice given has caused the lady to ‘bark up the wrong tree’ so to speak. How modern dog training and behaviour has got to where it is today by the great Ian Dunbar.

Assuming the problem is about dominance, only solvable by trying to force the two dogs into some sort of hierarchy with the human at the top, is a very common way of making things worse. It can mean favouring one dog over the other to give it ‘top dog’ position just because she’s the older and was there first, even if that’s not always her natural place.

I believe the aggression probably started with Mabel being able to bully Mac from a very early age. This has very likely programmed him to be a bully himself – with her. He cracked at about six months old and turned on her.

How can further bullying by the humans by way of shaker can or pinning down not make things worse?

Punishment.

A problem with the dominance method is that we then use punishment.  Shaker cans are ‘positive punishment’. Punishment doesn’t tell the dog what it should do. It causes frustration. Punishment can scare the dog which is bad for our relationship. Punishment causes bewilderment and frustration. It may even cause the dog to shut down. Punishment will always add to stress levels.

Mabel

I could go on and on.

Mac and Mabel fortunately are resilient by nature but without doubt it will have escalated their aggression problems and general arousal levels.

We will deal with this matter at source now – by reducing arousal levels. Let’s now remove all pressure possible. We discussed all the areas they can do this, including on walks.

Very important is to prevent any further rehearsal of behaviour that can lead to a fight. There are immediate triggers – mainly food or quarrelling over an item. On each occasion, however, the dogs were already excited or aroused by either some sort of change or by the presence of other people.

Management.

Management is key. The lady will now gate the kitchen.

She will be able to predict and prevent danger situations. Behind the gate isn’t ‘time-out’ in terms of punishment. It will be to give one dog, now over-aroused, a break with something to do or to chew that can help him, or her, to calm down. It will probably be the younger Mac, the more excitable of the two.

They can’t have chew items when together for fear of fighting. Separated by the gate they will be able to get rid of some of their frustration and arousal on a bone, a chew, some foraging or a toy. Their lives can be given more enrichment.

There have only been a couple of really major fights so far. If the lady uses the gate and splits them a lot sooner there should be no more. She knows the triggers. She knows the things that get them particularly wound up.

A shaker can? No! She will step in sooner to control play. She can call one dog away. She could stand over them or walk between them as a third dog might to split them. If left a bit too long, she can break their eye contact by shoving something between them – a cushion perhaps.

Keeping calm, she then will separate them, putting one each side of the gate with something else to do.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mac and Mabel. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Screams With Fear in Crowds. Scared of Traffic.

Archie gets so scared in crowds that he screams.

People tend to think that giving a dog lots of exposure will ‘get him used to it’. Fortunately, Archie’s owners realised when they first took him into a town a few days ago that they needed to do something to help him before doing so again. They do all they know to do everything right for their dear puppy.

Archie is a beautiful little Miniature Schnauzer, not yet ten months old. They live in quite a quiet area and he’s unaccustomed to crowds.

Early exposure to the real world.

Screams when scaredHe was the most timid puppy of the litter and his lack of confidence will probably be genetic. With hindsight, he would have benefited from being much more actively habituated to people, vacuum cleaners, new things, traffic and the bustle of real life in general – but in a structured way – from a few weeks old.

Archie is a delightful little dog. When I arrived I could see how torn he was between fearfulness and wanting to be friendly. Fortunately the ‘friendly’ soon won.

He’s sweetly affectionate without being pushy.

A lot of things scare him. Where other dogs might bark, poor little Archie screams and whimpers.

He daily has to run a ten-minute gauntlet beside a busy road in order to get to the field where they let him off lead. Daily exposure isn’t making him ‘get used to it’ and in fact his screams are getting worse. He will try also to chase the traffic. He is trapped, held tightly by lead and collar, so attack can be the only form of defence left to him.

Slow, systematic work

They will work at getting Archie as confident, least stressed and stable as possible in all areas of his home life. This will give the best basis for working on his fears of people, dogs and traffic when out.

They will teach him strategies that will enable them to get his attention. Screams and barks directed at something or someone are less likely to happen when the dog is looking elsewhere.

The work needs to be done in a very systematic way, starting at the beginning.

Bit by bit they will be habituating, desensitising and counter-conditioning him to those things that scare him.

Walks themselves should be a bit different. For now they will take him to the field only by car while they work on his fearful reactivity to people, dogs and traffic, gradually and systematically.

Lead walks will be near home where it’s quiet and the distance from these threats can be controlled. The more short planned sessions they can fit in, the faster they will make progress.

Panic pulling and screams

They will carefully introduce Archie to comfortable equipment (even introducing the harness will need to be done very gradually). We will look at loose lead walking rather than panic pulling.

No longer will Archie have to endure this terrifying path past people, dogs and vehicles, a gauntlet to run that he has to endure daily in order to get to the field.

Traffic watching

A successful approach to fear of traffic is to find a quiet side road and watch traffic passing by the end from a comfortable distance. Each vehicle will trigger food for Archie. The lead should be long and loose to allow him to feel he can escape if scared – by increasing distance. Bit by bit they will inch nearer to the traffic. On times I have done this, the dog is eventually walking happily along beside the traffic. How soon depends upon the frequency of the short sessions and how fearful the dog is to start with.

To Archie, the world out of his house is generally unsafe. When his panic and stress get simply too much, he screams. Fortunately he is fine with dogs he knows in environments he considers ‘safe’.

With time and patience he should ultimately be able to better cope with the world of people and traffic.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Archie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Resource Guards, Protects his Humans

It’s a tricky situation with Bertie hard to understand.

I first thought that his barking behaviour was driven by lack of confidence and some fearfulness, but as time went on I saw it wasn’t this at all.

The Spaniel mix was fine when I arrived, but when he had checked me out with a lot of sniffing, he barked at me like a warning.

Mixed-up

The more questions I asked of the couple, the more mixed-up Bertie seemed.

Resource guards his humansHe’s a mix of angry, territorial and affectionate. Most of all, he’s fiercely protective of his humans – or of anyone coming too close to them. It’s more than just protective – he resource guards them.

He would bark suddenly at the smallest thing and a moment later be friendly. It’s not that he was fearful of me or that he didn’t like me. He simply wanted to guard his resources – the couple.

We sat and talked. Some of the time he was beside me, friendly. Later he sat in front of the man, looking at me, being fussed by him. The smallest of movements from me triggered sudden aggressive-sounding barking.

I asked for his harness and lead to be put on because I couldn’t be sure that I was safe.

Bertie is completely different when the lady and gentleman aren’t with him. He stays with the father happily – until they come back when he immediately becomes aggressive with him. ‘Keep away from my humans – my food vendors!’. He resource guards them like they are something belonging solely to him and nobody else should come near.

Resource guards one from the other.

Even when the couple are sitting together, he resource guards one from the other. If he’s sitting with them on the sofa and one walks out of the room, he barks fiercely as he or she enters and walks towards them. He/she is MINE! We have quite a simple plan for this.

Like many dogs, Bertie’s not comfortable when someone walks directly towards him when out either. (See The Pulse Project) This is mainly when he’s on lead, so again, he probably resource guards the person holding the lead.

Bertie is now six years old and they adopted him a couple of years ago. Previously he had lived with a sick person who’d died. It’s not a big stretch of the imagination to think perhaps he was very protective of this person.

Bertie also has always had such bad separation issues that the man now works nights so that he can be at home when the lady works. He is never left alone. The three hours each day when neither can be at home, a dog sitter takes Bertie to her house – where he is quite happy with no resource guarding of humans.

They are making huge sacrifices to do their best for him. Very possibly some of these efforts to make him happy is unwittingly contributing to the reason he resource guards them.

Bertie is simply on high alert all the time he’s with his humans, looking out for them. 

Slaves

How the man and the lady behave towards Bertie has a large part to play. They obey his every whim and lavish him with food for doing nothing, pouring attention on him. They behave like his slaves. What are slaves? Slaves are those who are owned and do what they are told. They are belongings.

I believe this is how Bertie perceives them, as his possessions – so he resource guards them in much the same way as he might a big bone.

For all the attention, he appears uneasy and depressed. Always worried about losing them. He’s never playful. He would be a much happier dog if they could be very consistent and given some boundaries.

The start is for them to try to act like they themselves are the ‘protectors’ and not ‘resources’. They must stop feeding him all the time as all they have become are his personal food vendors, apart from making him overweight. It not only makes him possessive of them, constantly demanding food, but also takes away the value of food for the work we need to do.

They should now use food only for rewarding and thanking him – and his meals. Working for some of his meals with it either in Kongs or sprinkled around outside should be very good for him mentally.

Turn the tables.

This should start to turn the tables. If his humans don’t behave like his servants and food machines, he should stop regarding them as his servants and food vendors – the reason he resource guards them.

Bertie now needs things to be consistent and steady. All the work they will be doing should help make him a bit less angry, unsettled and demanding. It will be a bumpy ride to start with as things gradually change and and he tries harder.

There is a lot to do, and when they have made some good progress we will take a fresh look at the situation and begin to work on being able to leave him alone.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bertie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Unpredictable Explosions Predictable. Some Detective Work

I met a sweet little 11-month-old working Cocker Spaniel who greeted me at the door and promptly lay on his back. This was the first point where I felt his family may be jumping to conclusions and not quite understanding him.

They said ‘he wants a belly rub’.

I find this hard to believe from a dog that wasn’t over-confident and someone he has never met. It’s more likely to be his way of saying ‘be nice to me, I’m a good boy’. A dog rolling onto his back is not necessarily saying he wants his tummy tickled and sometimes the very opposite.

Unpredictable explosions

Quite a lot of conclusions have been jumped to regarding what they describe as Harvey’s ‘unpredictable explosions’. With some detective work they become much more predictable.

Aggression is predictableHarvey has a lovely life with his family of adult couple and two late-teenagers. He gets long off-lead walks, training, play and love.

The outbursts of aggression started quite recently.

They took him on a family picnic where they met up with another family dog. The dogs played for ages in a very over-excited way with Harvey pushing it. It ended, later, when Harvey was lying still, with his suddenly going for the other dog. Was it sudden, though? Was anyone watching him? What was his body language? Could this have been predictable?

They take him with them to the pub. On a couple of occasions he has shown what seems like sudden aggression, out of the blue, towards another dog. It’s a popular pub and always full and noisy. Harvey will by their table, held back on lead.

At training classes he has shown aggression two or three times, resulting on the last occasion with the lady being bitten on her leg. Was this a random thing that suddenly happened or was it predictable?

Common denominators.

Questions found certain common denominators to the ‘unpredictable aggression’. The main one is the presence of another dog or dogs. The ‘explosions’ are always directed at a dog.

Harvey has mostly been on lead.

On each occasion they have been in an active or noisy group of people.

Back-tracking to what leads up to each explosion we find a build up of arousal or excitement of some sort. From what I saw of Harvey, he’s a sensitive dog and it’s very likely that held tightly on lead he feels unsafe. Attack could be the best form of defence.

Another thing that happens is that when a dog is fired up ‘defending himself’ but held back on a lead, his frustration, fear, arousal etc. can then redirect onto the nearest person if he can’t get to the dog. I’m sure this is what happened when he bit the lady.

Reading his body language.

There is quite a lot that is very predictable when you know what’s happening. With more skill at reading Harvey’s body language they should, in fact, be getting some warning.

I have found it’s quite common for dogs to begin to become reactive to other dogs at around maturity. In Harvey’s case, it seems that he’s reactive due to a mix of things including fear and lack of self-control due to over-arousal.

The more a behaviour like this occurs – the more it’s rehearsed – the more likely it is to happen again. It’s like a door has opened that’s hard to close again.

For this reason, the scenario of excitement beforehand, a busy environment with several other people other dogs in close proximity and with Harvey on lead should be avoided. They can reduce excitement and arousal both immediately before social or training occasions and in life in general.

He should be allowed distance from other dogs, particularly when he’s on lead.

Off-lead Harvey mostly wants to play, though his dog to dog skills could be better. He doesn’t seem to know when to stop.

Work should be done to associate other dogs with good things happening (counter-conditioning) rather than allowing him to feel trapped and too close. At present it’s possible that, instead of other dogs nearby making good things happen, bad things in fact happen. He will be on collar and lead, sometimes a slip lead, because he doesn’t like his harness being put on. When a dog lunges and he’s pulled back or restrained, it will hurt his neck or at least be uncomfortable which is something people often don’t realise. This is the very opposite to what needs to happen.

Predictable? Yes.

They can now see it’s the combination of excitement and arousal; of people, other dogs – particularly if off lead with Harvey himself on lead – that triggers the explosions of aggression. These are all things that can be worked on.

Most important will be to have him in comfortable equipment and, when on he’s on lead, kept at a comfortable distance (for him) from other dogs until he’s ready.

Campervan Holiday With Barking Dogs.

A campervan holiday – perfect for the dogs. Or so you might think.

The holiday season is approaching and many people want to take their dogs. So they get a campervan.

I have just been to a second couple with a campervan and dogs that bark at approaching people.

The question is, how, in just a few weeks, can dogs who so frequently rehearse barking at people approaching their house be taught not to bark when people approach the campervan?

This time it’s Ruby, a rescue Lurcher, joined by Border Collie Mia who they’ve only had for three weeks. Both have wonderful long off-lead walks and are laid-back in the house.

People coming up the drive.

campervan not so laid backThe family share a common drive with other houses. Ruby literally leaps into action if anyone comes up that drive. She jumps the fence to warn both neighbours or deliveries away with aggressive barking. In her mind it works. It’s very intimidating for the people.

They are now raising the fence.

Sadly, the five-year-old Ruby won’t have been sufficiently habituated to different approaching people from the start, when she was a puppy and young dog. She is now accepting of people when out and once they are in the house so long as she’s left alone; she’s fine lying down in the pub with people approaching or walking past.

But their home is their castle. Their campervan is their mini-castle, also to be guarded. Constantly proving  at home that aggressive barking drives people away, Ruby does the same from the campervan, now joined by Mia.

People approaching the campervan.

At home, the couple will now need to work on getting the dogs to accept, welcome even, people coming towards their house.

They will also need to work on getting the dogs to accept people coming towards the campervan.

As with my last story, they can park the campervan in a variety of different places and ‘people-watch’. As with Billie and Shaun, other dogs aren’t a problem – it’s people.

Passing people provoke less reaction than people directly approaching, so that is where they will start.

The equivalent to the raised garden fence will be a board which they can put in the doorway of the campervan. When the door is open, the dogs, from inside, won’t see people approaching unless standing on their back legs.

Now, with sudden explosions dealt with by blocking the dogs’ view, they can deal with getting them to at least tolerate people approaching. They will do this in a sytematic and controlled way as per our plan.

Unwanted attention

At home the neighbours will help, I’m sure. Over time they will be associated with either food or fun.

The campervan is a different matter with different people about and the van itself parked up in different locations. Dogs are like a magnet to dog-lovers! I know the feeling but control myself.

We need to be quite forceful in protecting our dogs from unwanted attention.

It would be great if the dogs became so used to different people approaching and walking past the campervan that they ignored them. A big ask. They need a lot of weekends away!

Avoid People and Dogs When Out.

They have to avoid people and dogs? Really?

I found Billie and Shaun the most polite, friendly and chilled dogs anyone could wish to meet.

they avoid people and dogs on walksBillie is a Labradoodle who looks much more like a Labrador, and Shaun a Jack Russell mix. Both are three years of age.

There is a big difference between how the two dogs react to people and dogs passing their gate to how they behave when people are invited into the house. From the garden both will bark. Billie may charge wildly up and down the fence, barking.

Walks can be nightmare, so the couple simply avoid people and dogs when they go out.

The much bigger Billie, in particular, is variable. Some days she barely reacts at all and on others she’s nearly impossible to hold. They need her to be consistent.

They now have acquired a camper van and want to travel with their lovely dogs. At the moment it would be impossible.

To avoid people and dogs altogether will get them all nowhere. Forcing them too near, unprepared, is even worse.

Avoid people and dogs no longer. New strategies.

They have already come a long way since adopting the two dogs. Now it seems to have flat-lined and they need some new strategies to take things forward again.

As in most cases, it’s more than just attacking the problem itself head-on. There will be other contributory factors which my questions are designed to bring out.

Here there are three main areas to work on.

First is to make sure that both dogs are in the most stable state of mind possible as a ‘normal’ base level. There isn’t a lot to change in this respect.

Their relationship with food can change a bit however. Our work needs food and with meals already containing all the luxuries, what can they use?  We discussed a change which will give them a highly nutritious staple diet whilst leaving the most tempting stuff for reinforcement – for associating with people and dogs.

People-watching.

The second area is working towards the dogs being less reactive to people and dogs near to their own territory. They will work on passing people and dogs – and to people and dogs the dogs can hear or see from their house or garden.

Finally, systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning needs to take place away from home.

To avoid people and dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but to push them over-threshold could make things even worse.

Systematic work will start just outside the gate with one dog at a time, progressing to walking down the road.

Working sessions must be done one dog at a time. They will use the ‘engage-disengage’ game. This involves distance and – food.

Over time they will be able to encounter people and dogs more closely but in a controlled fashion.

Their ‘normal’ walks, consisting of going by car to somewhere they can avoid people and dogs altogether, can carry on as before.

From inside the camper van they do some ‘people-watching’, parking it in a carefully chosen location and working on the same principles. They can be ready to draw the curtain to block the view before people or dogs come too close.

They will continue to work in a systematic, incremental way, using this different approach to that they previously used which was simply to avoid people and dogs or to hang on tight if a dog or person suddenly appeared.

When progress has been made with the dogs individually, they can then work with them together.

This is a case of slowly slowly catchee monkey!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Billie and Shaun. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Pain Toileting. Poo Related Phobia and Rituals

Pain toileting after castration traumatised poor little Monty

Four weeks ago the 9-month-old Cavapoochon experienced traumatic pain whilst toileting. After that he got into a real state. He squealed and spun, dropping it behind him as he went. If they’re not quick enough, he eats it as he does it – something he never did before.

pain toileting after castrationJust why Monty ended up circling and screaming when pooing is impossible to prove. They assume it had something to do with the castration four weeks ago but maybe it’s not directly that, but the chain of events that followed.

Could it be the trauma of the operation being painful and at just the wrong time, coinciding with a fear period maybe? Combined with this, was it the affect of anaesthetic, the painkiller that upset him followed by wormer, resulting in diarrhoea for days and nights along with the panic of the frequent baths etc.?

Due to pain toileting – or probably now the memory of the pain toileting – poor Monty’s not wanting to walk. As soon as he needs the toilet, he sits down and won’t move.

He has had two very thorough checks by the vet and they can find no cause for pain. The vet suggested a behaviourist now.

It sounds to me like he was so scared with the pain toileting, that the whole poo process and everything associated with it now terrifies him. He even stopped wanting to go into the garden.

Trauma or pain toileting

I believe the little dog’s screaming and circling whilst pooing is a mix of trying to run away from it and trying to grab it out of himself. A cat of mine once, I remember, had difficult giving birth. She ran in cicrles, crying like she was trying to escape from from the kitten that was stuck on the way out. (I managed to catch her and help her, all was ok).

We can only guess at why Monty rushes to eat it, but I suspect he simply wants to quickly get rid of everything associated with his pastpain toileting. He’s not coprophagic (a poo-eater) as such.

The whole business of their little dog’s toileting has become a centre of huge concern for his owners. Where he would previously go at least twice a day, now it may not even be once.

What should be a natural process is now surrounded by extreme pressure in terms of anxiety, watching and persuasion. Even the fact they anxiously hover to prevent him eating it will add to the pressure.

An obsession with his bottom

For these past few weeks Monty also seems to have become obsessed with his bottom. He circles and tries to ‘catch’ it. His head frequently darts towards like he has a sudden itch.

What I observed was that the slightest bit of frustration, excitement or arousal triggered Monty’s head going round towards his bum. It didn’t seem to happen otherwise. It looks like the tiniest stress has become the trigger for this. He has developed a kind of ritual that gives him displacement behaviours when things get a bit too much for him. Because of his recent experiences lots of things get a bit too much for him at the moment.

The more he practises this behaviour, the more of a habit it becomes, like a default response now.

Is it something to do with humans? I suggest they record him to see if it happens when people aren’t about.

The main work will be to break this ritual by preventing things from getting too much for him – stress reduction. He also needs to be given something else that will serve the same purpose to him as the repetitive habit, that of a displacement activity which helps to calm him. Something incompatible with chasing his bum. I suggested they tried giving him something for his mouth – a yak chew perhaps.

Relaxation and freedom

Dealing with tension and stress is key. A less restricted type of walk will be a good place to start.

Neither Monty nor his owners really enjoy walks anymore because he pulls. Very conscientious with their training, they are struggling with this. I feel he needs a bit of freedom and relaxation in order to get his bowels working!

I suggested (probably for the first time ever because I don’t like them) that they use their old Flexilead from when he was younger – when walks had been relaxed fun. They can continue work on walking nicely as a separate exercise when ready.

He can do more sniffing and foraging in general. The little dog can walk from sniff to sniff and choose where to go. He can be semi-free on a 30-foot long line in open spaces. They will relax around his toileting. (The more they try to pounce on his poo before he does, the quicker he will be to get there first!).

Monty can be taught, as soon as he’s done his job, to run away from it instead whilst associating it with something nice – by their rolling tasty/smelly food past him. It will catch his eye and instinctively a dog will follow something moving. Later, if he still does it which I doubt, he can be taught to run to them instead.

I suggest the owners just try to take it a bit more easy. Their little dog’s dreadful distress has been horrible for them and their own anxiety will be now adding to the situation. If they do miss a bit, never mind. I feel the poo-eating won’t go on for ever. He doesn’t want it for its own sake – just to get rid of it and all it stands for.

To quote, ‘We just want our Monty back to how he was before the op. It is causing us a lot of anxiety to see him struggling so much’.

Six days later: Things are much better with Monty. We are so v pleased. By Thursday he had started squatting to poo again, the spinning & squealing have stopped & instead of eating it, He looks to us for sausage. He does still look behind while pooing.  Walks are much better & he has stopped sitting down. We had been mindful to walk him after he had poo’d in the garden though so he could relax & enjoy his walk. He did poo in public today on the beach & again there was no spinning on squealing. We have been mindful to keep things generally calmer for Monty & have definitely noticed him being calmer. The bottom checking is happening less. We are truly heart warmed at the difference in just 1 week. He is a much happier dog all round. 
Two weeks later: ‘I had a lovely time on the beach with Monty, I think it was wednesday afternoon & I remember feeling so grateful to you that we were able to go away as the week before, I really didn’t think it was going to be possible. He loved the beach, shame we don’t live a bit nearer!
So things are good with Monty, he has continued to be much happier. The toileting issue seems to be pretty much resolved…..He seems to be generally going for his bottom area a lot less’.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Monty. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Frantic Pulling. Nightmare. No Walks Now.

Hector’s frantic pulling on walks seemed hard to imagine when meeting him in the house.

He’s a sweet and sensitive dog, apart from what they say is excessive jumping up at people who come to the house. He wasn’t too bad with me because I kept him calm. 

It’s unfair.

Staffie frantic pulling on walksPeople come into the house and get the friendly dog highly aroused with excitable fuss. Then, when he can no longer control himself, he’s scolded.

Hector’s lack of self-control both when people come into the house and the frantic pulling on walks are due to much the same things. Over-arousal and I, believe, some anxiety too. As he now gets no exercise he must have an excess of energy and no outlet for other stresses.

If the visiting people can be persuaded to act differently, so will Hector.

No more walks due to frantic pulling

The main problem with Hector’s life is walks – or lack of walks.

His walks had become a total nightmare, both for Hector and for his humans. To try to stop the frantic pulling they use a Halti. Between straining, frantic pulling, panting and gasping, he desperately tries to scrape the thing off on the ground.

They used to walk him on the same circuit. He shot out of the front door and the frantic pulling began. Then he pulled all the way, like he was on a mission, until they got back home again. He would not stop even once for a sniff.

The man who did most of the walking, became increasingly frustrated and angry.

Walks had become a battle.

One can imagine how Hector might react if he spied another dog! Added to lunging he would rear up on his back legs, making a choking sound. The man would struggle to hold him.

Going back to the beginning.

Because Hector doesn’t get walks anyway, they can strip things back to the beginning. He has nothing to lose.

Even standing at the open front door will be a bonus.

Walks will be broken down into small stages. They will keep working on each little step until it is mastered before going on to the next.

The Halti won’t be needed. They will get a comfortable harness that attaches both front and top – a Perfect Fit. They will ditch the flexilead and use a double-ended training lead, at least six feet long.

Hector will be introduced to two new concepts on walks – freedom and choice.

Work will start with his simply wearing the harness around the house – not associating it with a walk at all. Next, when he’s calm, the lead can be popped on with no fuss.

They will stand at the closed door. Hector won’t walk calmly on a loose lead if he can’t even stand still on a loose lead!

A relaxed leash?

Steps to loose lead walking, no more frantic pulling, will move on to simply standing by the open front door and doing nothing. They will hang on and wait for the lead to slacken just a moment (as it will eventually) – then CLICK and feed something small and special.

(Some people tell me they bought a clicker but it doesn’t work. A clicker is nothing in itself. It’s how the clicker is used).

So Hector will now be learning that standing still, by the open front door on a loose lead is rewarding.

Next they can step outside and he can find that standing on the garden path on a loose lead is rewarding.

Opposite the house is a small grass area. They can then go and work the same magic there.

This could possibly take weeks but the more short sessions they can fit in the better. Currently anything outside the house is over-stimulating due to lack of acclimatisation. Because Hector sees so few now, people and dogs are a major event.

Going somewhere

Gradually they can walk a little way – but no more straight lines. No more predictable A to B. Hector will now start to enjoy his walk. It’s about information – smells and sounds. It should be about the journey, not the destination.

Hector will no longer expect to ‘get somewhere’. Frantic pulling will be unnecessary.  If they use encouragement, both dog and humans will begin to enjoy the walk for its own sake.

They can follow Hector sometimes – so long as the lead is slack. He can choose where he goes.

A special bonus will be going somewhere open and popping a long line on the back of the harness. Some freedom!

With loose lead walking under way and without the over-excitement and anxiety, they can work on what to do when he spots another dog. Very likely, due to his improved mental state, he will be less reactive.

They should make some really good progress if they take their time and are sufficiently patient.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Hector. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

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

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

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

A huge change in their lives.

Big change in the dogs' lives

Bella at the back and Dobby in front

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

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

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

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

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

The dogs ran free.

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

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

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

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

At the front door.

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

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

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

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

Then there will be less chaos when deliveries come.

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

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

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

Walking the dogs.

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

Bella and Dobby have separate walking plans.

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

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

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

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

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

Dog Behind the Fence. Barking Dog. Lunges

I have just been to a couple of Labradoodles, Sol and Cristal. What the owners would like to achieve is much less barking at home and, from Sol, on walks also. He may bark and lunge at other dogs but only when he’s on lead and when they get too close.

A big problem is a dog barking behind the fence on the corner of their road.

They have worked hard training their lovely dogs. The problems they are facing are, to my mind, less about training than about the emotions that drive the behaviour.

Emotions not obedience.

The older training methods don’t take account of the dogs’ emotional state but are more about ‘obedience’. Commands don’t really alter the feelings that drive the behaviour.

Labradoodle barks at dog behind the fence

Sol at the back, with Celeste

The ‘behaviour’ approach is holistic – covering all aspects of the dogs’ lives, because everything is connected like a jigsaw puzzle. The dogs now will be helped to make their own correct decisions without commands or correction. This is done by emphasising what they are doing right. Also by giving them choice, on walks in particular.

Anyway, in this story I am just picking one aspect of what we are working on. This is Sol barking and lunging at the dog behind the fence on the corner.

Sol and Crystal have lovely runs in the park with their doggy friends, but to get there they have to pass a house with a terrier that barks like mad from behind the fence. This dog had attacked the, now much bigger, Sol when he was a puppy.

Sol alerts well before he gets there, even when the dog isn’t out and behind the fence.

How can they get past without Sol barking and lunging? Commands and physical control aren’t helping at all. (The strategy for Sol isn’t the only way to work on this kind of thing, but having met Sol and his owners it seems the best fit).

First the two dogs should be walked separately for a while – the lady can for now make the journey to the park by car.

For working with Sol and the dog behind the fence she will take a clicker because I would prefer she doesn’t talk. Let Sol work things out for himself. (See here for an intro into what clicker is about).

The enemy behind the fence: ‘Engage’.

This is the game stage one:

They will start out calmly, letting Sol sniff and walk about a bit on a loose lead before heading towards the terrier’s garden.

As soon as Sol looks in that direction, engages, the lady will click and drop some food. This food is dropped rather than fed for two reasons. One, that the food should be associated with the terrier and not the lady. Secondly, dropping the food means Sol looks away and down at the ground, ready to look back up again and earn another click.

Slowly they can advance – clicking each time he looks in the direction of what may be the dog behind the fence, dropping food. If the terrier comes out it will bark and they will have to quickly retreat and start this game from a lot further back.

They will gradually work their way nearer the house on the corner. At some stage Sol will start to react as he looks for his enemy behind the fence. He will go stiff, stare, ‘get big’ with ears and tail rising.

He is now about to go over threshold. He’s too close.

They should back off a little to where Sol is comfortable again, and continue with the game. Bit by bit he will get closer.

This game should be played daily for five or ten minutes at a time – the more sessions the better. The main rule is not to push him over threshold – get too close. If they do, they are back to square one – a bit like going down a snake in snakes and ladders!  Listen to this very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long.

‘Disengage’.

Now for stage two.

Sol, after a two or three weeks of hard work, should now have the hang of the ‘engage’ game, even when the little dog is out and barking behind the fence if from sufficient distance .

They will stand still as before. Sol will look in the direction of the dog’s garden. Is his enemy behind the fence? But now the lady won’t click.

If Sol is ready for stage two in the game of ignoring the dog behind the fence, he will now look round, “Where’s my click and food?”.

Now the lady will click eye contact instead.

Stage two teaches Sol to look away from the dog behind the fence, even if he’s out and barking.

With patience they should soon be walking past that garden, the other side of the road is sensible. They will need to do some work with Celeste before walking them both together to the park to play, past the house with the dog barking behind the fence.

Sol may in the future regress, so they must top up again with a couple of days of the ‘engage/disengage’ game.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sol. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any form of fear or aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).