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).

Unexpected Sounds and People. He Barks.

Freddie, an adorable Cockerpoo, barks too much.

unexpected sounds make him barkThis does him no good at all and it makes life hard for his humans.

Ironically, he didn’t bark once during the three hours or so I was with him. This was probably because none of the things he normally barks at occurred.

The lady opened the door before I rang the bell and the bell always starts him off. Thoroughly aroused, he may continue barking, particularly if a man comes in.

He was just very interested in me and probably the smell of my own four dogs.

He associates the unexpected sounds with people nearby.

If he hears a car on the gravel outside or a door slam, he will bark. If he can hear a neighbour outside, Freddie will bark.

For the first few months of Freddie’s life they lived in London and because noise of passing people was constant, he was unaffected.

For the past two years they have lived in the country with just a couple of neighbours and some passing dog walkers.

Now if he hears any unexpected sound against this quiet backdrop Freddie, thoroughly alarmed, will bark. He can be sleeping one minute and acting like his world will end the next!

When on walks, a person can appear at quite a distance and he will immediately start to lunge and bark.

Reduced barking is our end goal.

That’s it really. There are no other problems. Freddie is very friendly with people he knows and quickly warms to those he doesn’t. He is also very cooperative when asked to do something. Absolutely gorgeous.

So, we looked into all aspects of Freddie’s life with a view to dealing with any areas that could possibly be relevant to his nervousness and barking at unexpected sounds or at people outside.

By nature he is alert and quick to react to things, so the goal is for him to be less easily alarmed and the barking to be short-lived, not to stop him barking altogether. Like people, some dogs are simply a lot more vocal than others!

We are approaching this from three angles.

One: Stress reduction

If we can we reduce his overall arousal/stress levels, he will be less reactive and have more tolerance in general. This will mean avoiding activities that stir him up unnecessarily and replace them with things that will help engage his brain and calm him down.

They have discovered that he is allergic to a lot of things – most meat, wheat and even grass. He will be permanently uncomfortable or itching which must be affecting his stress levels. With the help of their vet, they are now addressing this.

Two: How his humans react when he barks

It’s important for people with dogs that alarm bark at sudden unexpected sounds not to merely try to ‘stop the dog barking’. This includes scolding, shouting or worse – ‘anti-bark’ gadgets (never employed by Freddie’s owners).

For Freddie to gain confidence and trust in his humans, they will let Freddie know they are on the case so Freddie can quickly relax again.  We have discussed how.

Three: Reducing the fear that is driving the barking

The only way to reduce Freddie’s barking in the first place is to deal with and reduce the fear and emotion of alarm that is driving the barking. There are ways of getting him to feel a lot better about people driving up to the house, about men, about the neighbours and about people he sees on walks.

When out, pushing him into situations where he’s too close to people can make things worse but avoiding them altogether won’t advance things at all.

They now have a plan to follow that should help Freddie to gain confidence and build trust in them to keep him safe.

Agitated Dog. Excited, Alarmed, Relentless

agitated daschund

I could only catch a back view without him rushing to me!

The Miniature Wirehaired Daschund charged about barking, agitated whilst at the same time as ecstatic to see me. He flew all over me.

It was relentless. At my request we were all doing our best to ignore it.

I continually turned away and tipped him off.

I then asked the lady to show me what they usually did when someone came and he was barking like this. She pointed her finger at the agitated Monty and shouted NO a couple of times.

Monty stopped. Briefly. Then he focussed his barking on her.

Monty was also ready to bark at the smallest sound outside, but this time a different kind of bark. An alarmed bark.

The agitated Monty panted and scratched.

He scooted around the carpet – he has recurring anal gland problems that can only add to his stress (he has an appointment with the vet who will check him all over too). He chewed his feet.

Then he was flying around again. A stuffed Kong later on gave him and us a short respite.

It is so very hard for people to deal with this sort of thing and I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that, much as they love their adorable little dog, he is driving them nuts. They have spent money and they have taken advice. They are at their wits’ end.

The humans are agitated and the dog is agitated. A vicious circle.

Monty barks at people, he barks at planes or helicopters. He barks at church bells and things on TV. They can’t have friends round because from the moment he hears the doorbell he is jumping up, flying everywhere, agitated and barking frantically.

Some months ago an old-school dog trainer advised spraying him in the face with water. This did stop him – briefly.

There are two things particularly wrong with this.

Trying to terrorise an agitated dog does nothing for the underlying reasons for the barking. It undoubtedly makes them worse, whatever the cause of the barking.

The other very wrong thing is that the dog quickly gets immune to water spray, so then what?

They were advised to move on to an ‘anti-bark’ collar and other remote-controlled anti-bark devices. Here is my favourite video demonstrating how aversives can only add to stress and confusion.

Things have progressively got worse. They are people doing their very best with the information they can find. How do people know where to look? They are at their wits’ end.

They feel they have really tried everything.

Fortunately, they have not tried everything.

Not at all.

For a start, they haven’t tried doing everything they possibly can to cut down on Monty’s general arousal levels using only positive methods. Nobody has suggested that.

They’ve not tried helping him out with the alarm barking – basically thanking him instead of punishing him. Yes – thanking him – and using food!

The usual question then is, ‘am I not then rewarding my dog for barking?’.

Not if he’s alarm barking. They are addressing the fear that is causing the barking. Already with me being there they could see how that worked. A plane went over. He pricked up but didn’t bark. If they are sufficiently on the ball and can spot when he first hears something, they can catch it before he even starts – pre-empting barking.

Poor little friendly dog. What a state to be in.

People coming into his house cause a sort of total meltdown in Monty, to the extent that he may lose control of his bladder.

He did lie down a few times briefly. He lay in front of me on a stool and now that he wasn’t clamouring for attention anymore I slowly touched him. He lay still. I did it again and he charged off around the room once again.

Now when Monty is calm, instead of gratefully letting sleeping dogs lie, they will sometimes initiate activities. We looked at things that would both fulfill him and help to calm him down.

Getting to the underlying reason why he’s barking and dealing with that is the key. Any punishment is like putting a plaster on a festering wound. The wound continues to get worse underneath.

Now they have the tools for dealing with their beloved dog’s barking and agitated behaviour in a kind and positive way, they will be much happier.

And so will Monty.

Just one more thing – Monty is perfect out on walks. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t pull and he loves other dogs!

Enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel, Jumping Up, Pulling on Lead

enthusiastic cocker spanielUnlike so many of the dogs I go to, enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel Rudi has no reactivity problems at all towards other dogs.

He’s adorable and he is adored!

Rudi, 7, and has lived with the couple in their cottage in the country for eighteen months. What a lovely life he now has, with a big garden and the little two-year-old nephew the lady looks after. The two are inseparable.

Far too many dogs, like the little dog whose story I posted yesterday evening, are scared and reactive to other dogs. The fact my post has already received 418 views in half a day shows how big an issue this is.

Some dogs do seem to attract trouble from other dogs.

Those dogs already wary undoubtedly will have ‘victim’ somehow written on them for other dogs to read. Some dogs may just be ‘different’ in some way. In human terms we often hear of people who are a bit different being victimised or bullied. It could be to do with signals the walker is giving out also.

Enthusiastic Cocker Rudi is completely confident. He gets on well with all dogs. If a dog shows aggression towards him he ignores it, continuing to do his own thing which is being busy, spaniel-style. Nothing fazes him.

Where they do have trouble however is with his constant restlessness. At home he jumps up and may send a cup of tea flying. He pulls so much on lead that the lady can’t walk him.

A while ago someone advised a Gencon head halter, so he’s now walked on a shortish lead with pulling almost impossible. He hates it. They were even advised to tire him out with ball play in the garden before setting off. All this does is to fire him up further. Neither of these things address the actual problem. Frustration.

The enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel is insufficiently fulfilled.

He’s seldom able to be let off lead because when he sees a pheasant or Muntjack, there are lots where he lives, he’s off.

Just imagine how frustrated this busy dog must feel, walking in the open countryside on an uncomfortable head halter and short lead. He just can’t get to all those things his instinct is screaming at him to do. He has a strong need to run around and sniff when he’s out – he’s a Spaniel! He also has a need to chase and fetch things – he’s run run back with a live crow in the past.

They will get him a Perfect Fit harness and teach him loose leash walking. The lead doesn’t have to be short unless they are near the road. Why not a long line – 30 or 40 foot long – on the back of his new harness? His walker can soon learn not to become tangled up and to be a human flexilead.

The enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel can now have comfort on walks. He can have a degree of freedom to do Spaniel things. On the long line for safety, he can be taught to ‘chase’ a ball or food in the opposite direction to the pheasant or Muntjack. This can redirect his drive to chase onto something acceptable rather than suppress it. They can work hard at his recall.

I am sure that with this frustration out of the equation Rudi will be able to settle a bit more easily. He should be a little less excited at the prospect of action – any action (something wired into Cockers as I know from my own working Cocker Spaniel, Pickle!). With some work to teach him a better alternative, his jumping-up should be much more easily addressed.

Irresponsible Dog Owners and Off-Leash Dogs

I feel exasperated.

Yet again I have been to a dog that has been attacked not once, but three times in as many weeks, by off lead dogs that are not under control. 

Once again, it is irresponsible dog owners at fault.

irresponsible dog owners spoil life for herTheir dogs, as always, are just being dogs.

Dear Little Jack Russell Annie, now nine, was re-homed with my young lady client about ten weeks ago. There was no history of trouble with other dogs.

The lady walked her without incident for a week and she interacted fine with other dogs.

Then everything changed.

Annie was being walked on lead in the nearby field as usual – the lady didn’t trust her to come back yet. There were several off-lead dogs about.

A dog went for her.

Two weeks later, in the same field, another dog attacked her. The injuries to her face required a visit to the vet. As if that wasn’t enough, a third went for her a few days later causing another injury.

The young lady was now very anxious.

They were walking down the street, approaching a dog. She tightened the lead. This time Annie had a pop at the dog on the way past.

The lady was now given advice, ‘let her off lead and she will be fine’. This demonstrates the danger of giving advice with insufficient research.

In the same field, there were several dogs running around. The girl removed Annie’s lead.

Annie straight away went for another dog, presumably on the defensive, getting it before it could get her. With no lead, she couldn’t be caught.

Those three irresponsible dog owners’ dogs that have ‘infected’ Annie with reactivity, themselves may well have had similar things happening to them in the past. Other dogs may well have scared them or injured them.

Responsible owners only let their dogs off lead if their recall is good. They don’t to let them off at all if they can’t be trusted with other dogs.

There has been recent uproar where my local council has ruled that all dogs must be kept on lead in a large popular country park. I think it’s a good thing. There must be somewhere that dogs like Annie can be walked, on lead, in safety. 

Little Annie now needs to be rehabilitated and this could take a long time.

The young lady is distraught. She feels guilty for letting it happen although there was no way a novice dog owner could have prevented it.

She homed Annie dreaming of long walks and cottage holidays with her rescue dog. Instead she has work to do.

She will have to be very selective where she walks while she works on it. I wrote this blog on the subject.

Of course, in my local park with the off-lead ban, there are still those irresponsible dog owners who ignore it.

They love to see their dog running free. Isn’t it his right?

I’m Alright Jack

It is also the right of other dogs to enjoy the countryside unmolested and not intimidated or, worse still, injured.

What is wrong with a long line on a harness? It may be inconvenient, but managing a long line is an art. People can learn to be a sort of human flexilead and not get into a tangle.

Not contaminating another generation of dogs with dog to dog reactivity is a moral duty.

I no doubt will continue to bang on about this and nothing will change.

 

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 Annie. 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)

Scared of Everything – People, Dogs, Bins, New Things

Scared of everything

Odie

Little Odie seems scared of everything when he goes out. He is also frightened of people coming to his house and of sounds he hears coming from outside.

He is a sad little dog in my photo, very sore with a gland problem and not his usual self. Hence the collar to stop him licking it.

He is a Jack Russell Chihuahua mix, age about two and he has lived with the lovely family for about nine months. They have another rescue Jack Russell mix, Penny.

It is very likely that Odie hadn’t been introduced to much of the world outside a house before he came to live here.

The outside world is overwhelming for the timid little dog.

They have worked very hard indeed with their two little dogs and have built up considerable knowledge. However, with Odie they seem to have come to a full stop. The lady walks him, and nothing she tries seems to further reduce his fearfulness.

Odie is scared of everything when out on walks.

He tries to avoid his harness and lead being put on. Once out, he is on high alert. Different things or things in different places frighten him. Even static objects scare him, things that are always there. There is the ‘cat’ house where a black cat used to stare at him. Even though the cat is now long gone, Odie is still scared when approaching the house.

He is scared of wheelie bins.

He is particularly frightened of other dogs.

In order to help move things forward now with Odie, we took a fresh look at dealing with his fears.

Already the lady walks the two dogs separately which is good. Penny is very happy on walks, if a little over-excitable. Odie needs her full attention.

She will now do two different kinds of walks with him. Currently she walks along a road where he is encountering all the scary things, ending up at open fields where she puts him on a long line.

I suggest for starters she does a ten or fifteen minute road walk each day, keeping near to home and working on his fearfulness. She then can get in the car and drive him to the fields.

As he seems so scared of everything when out, how should she help him?

I suggest begin with static things – like wheelie bins.

Penny in a quiet moment

Penny in a quiet moment

She can practise her desensitising and counter-conditioning technique on wheelie bins! I suggest she avoids dogs and people meanwhile.

They can approach the stationery bin. She will walk slowly and watch Odie carefully. He will then notice it. If he doesn’t react she can slowly continue to advance. If he reacts in any way she must increase distance until once again he is comfortable.

He now knows the bin is there. He will realise he’s not being forced forward into danger, thus building trust. Now, at this comfortable distance, the ‘frankfurter sausage bar’ can open. Odie will love frankfurters.

If they go out of sight of the bin the bar will close. Back in sight, it opens again. They can slowly advance, once more ready to retreat at the first sign of anxiety. It won’t be long before Odie will be lifting his leg on this particular bin!

They can look for another bin. She could even point it out – ‘Look at That’! Then proceed with the same technique.

Next, on bin collection day, the lady can do exactly the same thing with other bins. With the technique under her belt she can do likewise when approaching the ‘cat’ house, garden statues or anything else that spooks him.

Eventually they will be ready to do start working with distant dogs.

This is a whole different thing of course because dogs are moving but the process is the same. She must always give herself room to increase distance.

What if she gets sandwiched between two dogs?

She picks Odie up.

He is very small. Everything must seem huge to him. Make a quick escape and remove him from danger immediately. The lady has been told ‘not to pick him up’. I wonder why people advise this? The only danger I can see is that a big dog may leap up in order to get to the little dog.

Here is a lovely training video from Steve Mann, teaching the little dog to ask when he would like to be lifted.

The very short and regular car trip to the fields should help Odie to feel better about the car too. On the long line he can do as much sniffing as he likes and the lady can be ready straight away to deal with anything that scares him. She already has a tabard for herself reading ‘My Dog Needs Space’ which she finds other dog walkers are taking note of.

Scared of everything when out, Odie needs to be ‘built up’ at home too.

This means reducing stress levels in every way possible so that he is less jumpy. This can be a bit more boring for (particularly male!) humans who like rough-house play etc.! Instead, there are plenty of hunting, foraging and brain games activities that, because they give appropriate stimulation, are stress-reducing.

Odie will learn to love his harness being put on – coming for it instead of running off.

Understanding how reducing fearfulness actually works is key to progress. I wrote one of my Paws for Thought blogs on Habituation, Desensitisation and Counter-Conditioning.

The family has been working so hard with their dear little dogs. They have taken advice, some of which was good and some not so good. The lady has involved them in agility and flyball but found that it stressed them out too much. Through reading and research they have now nearly conquered separation issues the dogs had.

Now they will be making some more headway with Odie’s being scared of everything. It will doubtless be slow. These things can’t be rushed.

 

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 Odie. 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 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)

 

Frustration, Arousal and Losing his Temper

frustration makes him biteHenry is a Miniature Bull Terrier. One source describes the breed as ‘Playful, Even Tempered, Energetic, Stubborn, Courageous, Loving’.

Energetic, loving and courageous Henry certainly is. Even-tempered he’s not.

He is very quickly aroused whereupon he then becomes demanding. Anything that works him up starts him off barking or pestering for attention. Not getting the attention he wants leads to him becoming quickly frustrated then angry.

He may grab their ankles when things are not going his way.

More recently he has bitten two people quite badly.

I was very nearly the third.

I have only visited a few dogs that start off very friendly and interested in me, if in an over-excitable way, but whose arousal then gradually escalates into something else.

Instead of calming down, as the minutes went by the more aroused Henry became. I believe he may not have liked being ignored. I wouldn’t normally be touching a dog when I enter his house but would wait for calm. Being left to make his own decisions was something different for Henry. He is usually held while the person strokes him ‘to calm him down’.

I took myself away to a high bar stool at the counter as his arousal levels soared. He was flying all over the sofa. We all continued chatting.

Henry is difficult to read. His face is fairly inscrutable. He barked at me and then became still. His eyes went hard as he stared at me. I looked away.

Then he flew at me. He grabbed my clothes, leaping high to get at my arm (fortunately heavy garments). I sat very still, and quietly asked the man to get his lead. He muzzled him.

Thwarted, Henry was in such a state now that had it not been for the muzzle I know I would have been badly bitten. He charged at me several times while I didn’t react before he was put away in another room for the rest of the evening.

This ‘attack’ had taken the couple completely by surprise – more than it did myself. Although he had recently bitten two people and caused injury, it was two different people who had been looking after him while the family was away. It had never happened to anyone in their own house or in their presence.

These things tend to get worse with each episode. It has escalated from grabbing their ankles to a couple of serious bites of which I could have been a third.

When frustration is making a dog angry, what can you do?

The gentleman himself admits that, in doing what he thought was best by copying Cesar Millan’s methods, he may have escalated things when Henry got rough. If a dog is highly aroused and getting angry, the sure way to make him worse is to pin him down or scruff him.

Because frustration is causing the anger that is causing the aggression, it’s the frustration that needs dealing with. We need to work on the source.

Reacting to the biting itself with any punishment simply doesn’t work long-term. The person who is strong enough to overwhelm and intimidate the dog has always to be on hand to deal with it. It may temporarily put a lid on it but in no way alters for the better how the dog is feeling.

The only real long-term safe solution is for Henry not to feel the need for frustration and anger.

Of prime importance is for their vet to do some very thorough checks to make sure there isn’t something wrong with Henry to cause the dog to explode so violently with so little provocation.

In one way I am pleased he directed the behaviour to myself.

They had not been present when he had gone for the other two people and they couldn’t imagine him doing so. Now they have seen it for themselves. They have seen what happens when their loving dog flies into a rage and how little provocation he needs.

It’s a good thing they have now witnessed it….

…because they have an eleven-month-old baby who will soon be mobile.

Henry has always been fine around the baby, showing no jealousy and not much interest, but the unexpected can happen as it did with me.

The couple are now making a little corner of the room into a safe ‘den’ for Henry, somewhere all good things happen and where he’s fed. It’s not punishment because he’s not ‘naughty’. He can’t help it. They will freely use his muzzle when he’s out of his den. They have started doing this out on walks already.

It’s a sad situation. The beautiful and well-loved dog is gentle and affectionate most of the time. It’s only when something stirs him up that the trouble starts.

They will now do all they can to teach him impulse control and to deal with the normal necessary frustrations that are part of any dog’s daily life. We made a list of the things that get him worked up and many can be avoided. They must get their vet on board for a much fuller check-up and take every practical precaution necessary including the barrier and the muzzle.

This is a cautionary tale. As a general rule, it’s best to remain still and look away from a dog that may bite. In the case of Henry, this wasn’t enough. My doing nothing was in itself part of the problem. He wasn’t used to that.

Here is an article well worth reading: My dog bit my child today.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle 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 Henry. 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)

 

Nervous Dog on Walks. Work Begins at Home

The story of Indie, a nervous dog I met yesterday, is a very common one. Her behaviour illustrates my belief that reactivity due to fearfulness out on walks has roots at home too.

Concentrating solely on walks is missing a big part of the picture.

nervous dogIndie is generally a nervous dog. She reacts when dogs get too near – but it’s not all dogs, not every time and not in every location. It’s variable. Near to her home she is worse.

On walks they will now do all the usual things that I advise.

However, a nervous dog that is fearfully reactive to other dogs on walks, is not fearful in a vacuum. It’s very seldom like a switch is flicked as soon as the dogs leaves the house, changing a calm, confident indoor dog to a nervous dog, jumpy that is wary out on walks.

We looked at her general stress levels. Each thing she is reactive to – and this can be over-excited or fearful – that sends her stress levels soaring.

This ‘trigger stacking’ is cumulative.

If her stress levels are near overflowing before even leaving the house, how will she cope when encountering another dog?

She has a routine ten-minute walk every morning and this is the most stressful walk of the day, the one when they meet the most dogs. This isn’t a good way to start her day. The stress that has managed to drain during the peaceful night will immediately be topped up again.

They will abandon that walk for now and Indie can go out in the garden. She has her main walk later in the day and that will be better controlled in order to help her.

If Indie is able to see passing dogs from windows or from the garden she will bark. She is rehearsing the behaviour they don’t want. What’s more, the passing dog will always move away so – success!

They will block her view where possible. They will help her out when she hears and barks at a barking dog, either the neghbour’s or a more distant dog, associating it with something she likes. She’s a Labrador so that will be food! (Spraying a nervous dog with water may scare her out of barking but will have the opposite effect to what they want).

At home the teenage daughter can be calmer with her, no more deliberately stirring her up because the dog seems to enjoy it. She will abandon rough and tumble type play and replace with more controlled play.

Even food can affect the dog’s mental state, so they will look into that too.

Recently there was a report about the link between some dogs going prematurely grey around the muzzle and hyperactivity or nervousness. Eight-year-old Indie’s muzzle started to go grey years ago.

 

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 Indie. 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 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)