Resource Guarding Puppy. Meltdown

Resource guarding and still only a little puppy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aggressive resource guarding behaviour gets the desired result.

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

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

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

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

Yawning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frustrated and Bored. Stealing and Biting

Another first! I have been to a Basenji mix before but not a pure Basenji, despite having helped thousands of dogs.

He’s frustrated. This drives Benji’s uncontrolled behaviour.

Benji is frustrated

Benji is born to hunt.

The adolescent Benji will steal anything he can find from table, shelves or floor. He runs of with it or destroys it.  This leads predictably to a chase with Benji cornered. He may then become aggressive when they try to get the item off him.

Benji, when thwarted or told off, can become very frustrated. For example, he may frantically dig the leather sofa. When told off, he then may charge around, jumping at the older lady, grabbing her clothes and biting her.

Seemingly out of the blue, he may do the same thing when she is busy – particularly when she’s moving around outside in the garden or wearing rubber gloves. Benji attack golves.

These things are not really out of the blue. His ‘erupting’ will be the result of a constant internal build-up of stress, invisible and unheard because Benji doesn’t bark. This arousal will result in frequent explosions.

The young lady has worked very hard with Benji from when he was a puppy. He was a very good puppy. When he was at a very formative age certain unfortunate and unavoidable things in their lives occurred. Benji’s behaviour changed.

It was immediately obvious to me that Benji has no physical boundaries where the young lady and Benji are temporarily staying. It’s impossible to escape from him.

I could see also that he must be over-aroused and stressed a lot of the time. He is frustrated. He was born to hunt and has no fulfillment. They dare not let him off lead (though have just recently found an enclosed field to hire on an hourly basis which will be great). 

They will no longer ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ when he’s peaceful!

Understandably they are thankful for the break,

Life with Benji is one of being on the constant lookout for him doing something wrong and trying to stop it. All his attention is generated in this way and he milks it.

No item, even if on the dining table, is out of his range. He simply stands on his back legs and gets it off. Among many other things, he’s ruined the edges of the PVC table protector by chewing it.

Another quote from Wikipedia: Basenjis often stand on their hind legs, somewhat like a meerkat, by themselves or leaning on something..

Benji runs up and down the boundary with the neighbour’s dog barking the other side. They felt this was good exercise and left him outside, unstopped. It couldn’t annoy anyone because Benji doesn’t bark. If he did bark they may see it as being very stressful for him, not fun.

To quote Wikipedia: The Basenji produces an unusual yodel-like sound commonly called a “baroo”, due to its unusually shaped larynx. This trait also gives the Basenji the nickname “soundless dog”.

Benji gets easily frustrated and this builds up. The more frustrated he feels, the more ‘naughty’ he becomes. Stress stacks up inside him – and they probably won’t even notice.

To change Benji’s behaviour we are getting to the bottom of why he does these things. He obviously gets something out of it. It will make him feel better in some way .

They now need to find acceptable things for him to do that also make him feel good.

They need to supply him with many suitable and varied activities to exercise his brain as well as his body. He will then become a lot less frustrated. Here is a great link: 33 Simple Ways to Keep Your Dog Busy Indoors

Instead of constantly fielding the unwanted stuff, they will consciously look out for and reward every little good thing he does whether it’s simply standing still, lying down – or looking at the table without putting his feet on it.

He can earn much of his food in this way.

They will work hard on getting him to come to them when they call him and make it really worth his while. This will be a lot better than cornering him when he runs off with something. They will never simply take things off him. Exchange will be worked on until he enjoys giving things up.

Just as with a puppy or toddler, they will need to be even more careful with leaving things about – he has a particular liking for remote controls, mobile phones or a wallet – all things that smell most of his humans.

Benji needs some physical boundaries.

They need to be able to walk away from him or place him somewhere with things to do.

They will put a gate in the doorway between sitting room and kitchen. They can give him alternatives to the table cloth, books in the bookshelf, remote, paper documents and so on that he manages to get hold of. Gated in the kitchen, he can get to work on a carton of rubbish from the recycle bin with food buried amongst the rubbish. Anything that gives him an acceptable outlet will result in a less frustrated dog.

Keeping him as calm as possible by avoiding situations that stir him up too much, managing the environment so he doesn’t have the opportunity to keep doing these things and adding a lot more enrichment to his life should turn the corner for Benji and his family.

It will take time. The hardest thing is for the humans to change their ways and to be patient!

It’s no good getting cross with the dog for just being a dog (whether a Basenji or anything else). We are the ones who must do things differently.

Dog Fight. Stress Loads the Gun.

A dog fight can erupt so suddenly.

Or it seems like that to us.

Then, in the heat of the moment, we may do exactly the wrong thing as did my client one week ago.

She put her arm into the fray to part them.

The family have three beautiful dogs. One dog is a Samoyed and the two that are fighting are both Eurasiers, a breed of dog of spitz type that originated in Germany. Ted is three years old and Diva, two.

I am sure the lady would agree that, if she didn’t show her dogs, all would probably still be okay between the two. Showing them is however her hobby and passion, one which she shares with her daughter.

Various things had built up to stoke this fire.

Bit by bit things started to unravel between the two dogs.

Diva and the dog fight

Diva. I have no photo of Ted

At a dog show some weeks ago there had been another dog becoming increasingly aggressive towards passing dogs.

In the ring Ted and this dog were eyeing one another up across the ring. As they got nearer they both simultaneously sprang at one another. Fortunately the handlers managed to hold on.

Diva was watching the whole thing. She and Ted were both highly aroused now. The whole show environment can be noisy and stressful.

The two dogs had always shared the small confines of a show trolley. In his heightened state Ted was put in to join Diva. Both dogs exploded into a full-blown dog fight. Probably their long coats saved any injury.

Things have gone downhill from here. When Diva was already in a small space like the car and Ted went to join her, she would show her teeth and growl at him. The lady and daughter abandoned putting them together in the show trolley.

The whole thing rumbled on. Then the lady went into hospital for a while and her absence stressed Diva in particular.

Soon after she was back home came the fateful day when Ted bit her arm. He was in the red zone. Things had kicked off in a corner of the sitting room. Possibly a toy was involved.

The lady phoned me.

My immediate advice was to keep the two dogs separate until I came. I would then carefully assess the situation.

With the uninvolved Samoyed in the room, we first had Ted with us for an hour or so. He was then put in his large crate in another room and Diva joined us for the second hour.

Then I wanted to see them together. The lady sat on the sofa at the other end of the room with Diva on lead. The daughter brought in Ted.

Then we got busy. I shan’t describe just what we did because in another context my plan may not be the best way to go about it. A situation involving aggression needs accurate assessment first.

The only way to reverse this sad situation is to get the dogs to feel differently about one another.

It is crucial to save the dogs from over-arousal. This could be very hard in the show environment. They camp in a caravan where the dogs will have to go back to being in very close quarters.

An added stress for Ted is that he is terrified of traffic – something else that must be addressed now.

They should watch for any ‘eye-balling’ between the two, breaking the gaze by calling a dog away and if possible remove the dog from the situation. They should watch out, too, for stillness

Another dog fight must be prevented at all costs.

With each incident another dog fight becomes more likely.

Just in case the worst does happen and they relax their guard, what should they do another time? What if the dogs become so over-aroused that another dog fight does kick off?

There are some things I would only ever do in the context of breaking up a fight to save oneself and the dogs from injury. They aren’t guaranteed to work.

Logic goes out of the window at the time, but it’s best to grab the back end rather than the teeth end. Try lifting the dog’s back legs so he or she does a ‘handstand’.

Other things include separating the dogs by shoving something down between them. (In the room where the recent fight had occurred there was a stiff mat that could have used). They could  throw something over them (there were throws on the sofas). Other things to try are ringing the doorbell, silly string – particularly if out, citronella spray or Pet Corrector.

I would worry just a little about the last three things being left about by someone who has read this story but follows outdated methods. The items would be ready for emergency use only. Used in the context of punishment rather than emergency would only make any bad situation much worse.

Here is a good article on Multi-Dog household aggression by Pat Miller in the Whole Dog Journal.

A cocktail of stress, frustration, fear and over-excitement are all at the root of this, I’m sure.

 

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 approach I have worked out for Diva and Ted and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Guarding Human Resource is Stressful Work

Hector sees her as his human resource

Hector guards his human resourceThe lady hadn’t seen this as the cause of his growling.

She has two adorable and adored French Bulldogs, brother and sister aged nine months, Hector and Annie.

As is often the case with siblings, their nature and behaviour is entirely different.  As one may grow more overbearing, the other goes in the opposite direction.

Like many people, the lady shares her bed with her dogs. I have nothing against this at all – so long as no aggression is involved.

I would usually say that if a dog growls at the person in their own bed, then the dog should sleep elsewhere. It’s the same if the dog growls at another dog on the human’s bed.

Sometimes however we have to work our way around things if the obvious solution isn’t an option.

What happens is that Hector climbs up the little steps onto her bed, put there especially for the dogs. He has to be first up. Annie will climb up and Hector growls at her.

Hector will lie right on top of the lady, on her neck, during the night. He will growl at her if she manually tries to move him. He will growl at Annie if she comes near the lady so she has to lie down the end.

Everything points to Hector regarding the lady as his human resource. She sleeps in room with a glass roof. Small things dropping onto it make a noise and lights reflect. Hector stares upwards. He barks at sounds. He is on alert at night time

What a difficult job it must be to be the owner a wayward human!

No wonder Hector is stressed.

AnnieIn order to keep the dogs on her bed without Hector’s guarding of his human resource getting worse, she needs a plan.

During the day she will play ‘bed training games’ with the dogs.

She will teach them ‘up’ and ‘down’ the steps individually using rewards. Fortunately she has a very wide bed against a wall and can put two dog beds on it.

She will teach Hector ‘Bed’ to go into his own bed and reward him. The same with Annie. With lots of daytime repetition they will go up the steps and into their beds when asked.

At bedtime Annie should go up first.

The dogs may not stay in their beds but Hector will be sent back to his bed any time he growls. It’s not punishment and will be done kindly with rewards. He’s not being naughty after all. He is doing his best to do the impossible job that he’s unintentionally been given. If he lies on top of the lady’s neck she can roll over or sit up to tip him off (he growls if manhandled). She can send him to his bed and he should take himself there happily if properly trained using food reinforcement.

It will be hard work but the necessary price she must pay if she wants to keep him on her bed.

It will surely ultimately be a great relief to Hector.

The lady behaves like his slave. He regards her as his human resource.

As I’m always saying, you get back what you give.

This is the only shadow on their otherwise perfect life.

She takes them both to work with her where they spend a lot of time outside having fun. The two little dogs sit on the seat beside her in her van. Hector is always lifted in first and growls at Annie when she is put in.

The same human resource guarding also happens here. She gives the man who works with her a lift. Hector is between him and the lady. He growls at the man as he gets in and goes for him every time he so much as moves his arm or hand.

The lady is adamant that she doesn’t want the dogs crated in the back, so again we have to work around the obvious solution by being more creative.

Hector will be put in the foot well where he seems to be more relaxed and further away from the lady. Annie should be lifted into the van first.

As the man gets in, to help Hector to feel good about him he will drop a piece of food.

If he still growls when the man gets in, the lady will need to lift her little dog out and let the man get in first.

In other aspects of his life we have discussed how the lady can to stop Hector regarding her as his human resource.

Resource guarding isn’t always food and bones of course. It can be over a person, a place or even the dog’s own personal space.

Guarding his human resource is a big job for a little dog! Hector will be a lot happier when relieved of it.

 

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 approach I have worked out for Hector and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. EVerything depends upon context. 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)

A Person Approaching he Finds Threatening

His reactivity to any person approaching him was triggered by something else.

Previously the well-socialised German Shepherd had been fine if there was a person approaching him. Recently Danny has begun to show aggression towards people on walks. He will pull, lunge, bark and jump at people.

It came to a head when recently, off lead, he rushed at a man and leapt up at him, snarling. The man, understandably, wasn’t pleased.

A person approaching upsets DannyThe dog law now declares that someone need only feel threatened by a dog for the owner to be prosecuted, regardless of any injury.

Two-year-old Danny’s story is a perfect example of how, when one really scary incident occurs, it can infect something else that is seemingly unrelated.

A short while ago the daughter had been walking him when she was stung by a hornet. She screamed. She panicked.

At the same time a jogger happened to be running towards them.

What has a hornet sting to do with aggression towards a person approaching?

Danny will very likely have connected the girl’s screaming with the approaching jogger. He is now particularly aggressive towards joggers. The reactivity has spread to barking, lunging and jumping up at any person approaching him.

I always myself avoid walking directly towards any dog as it can be perceived to be threatening. Each time I visit a house I ask that the dog is brought to join me instead of my walking directly into the dog’s space. I learnt this the hard way in my early days of doing this job when a gentleman opened his front door with his German Shepherd beside him. He said ‘Come in’, so I stepped towards them. The dog leaped and grabbed my arm. No harm done but a valuable early lesson learnt!

The work starts at home.

In all areas of Danny’s life they will now be rebuilding his confidence in unfamiliar people so a person approaching will no longer seem a threat to him.

When someone unfamiliar comes to the house, he will be left to calm down before joining them. The encounter will be associated with good things. With me, after a noisy start, he was confident, curious and polite. I came bearing the gift of a stuffed toy which he certainly liked – he dismembered it. Not a good choice!

Danny barks if he hears a person approaching up the gravel drive. Territorial barking is what you would expect of a dog, but it need not carry on for long. Bearing in mind he has guarding in his genes, this might be harder work than if he were, say, a Greyhound.

Currently on walks he is controlled with a head halter on a tight lead and corrected with a jerk when he pulls. This is conducive of feeling relaxed when he sees an approaching person. A calm dog walking comfortably on a loose lead will be far less likely to react in alarm. They will work on this.

How the family reacts when Danny spots the approaching person is key to his progress – and they will be working hard at this. Exact procedures differ with different situations so I don’t go into details here.

Here is one idea. If it’s a jogger running towards them, what should they do? A person approaching is what upsets him. A jogger approaching him upsets him even more. It may also fire him up to chase. As he’s okay with people coming from behind, why not turn around when a jogger appears and themselves jog too? When the jogger has overtaken them they can turn around and go on their way.

Jumping up aggressively at a person approaching him is a recent thing.

It shouldn’t yet be too much of an ingrained habit. With some work and appropriate response on the part of the people who walk him, he should learn to trust them not to force him any closer to a person approaching than he feels comfortable by arcing, going off at an angle or turning around. This distance should naturally reduce over time.

Should Danny be off lead now? I feel that universally when another dog or a person appears, a dog that won’t immediately come back when called shouldn’t have total freedom. It will never happen.

The dog law, tightened up last year (my slide show here), has no sympathy for a dog feeling threatened and reacting accordingly. If a person feels threatened however, that’s enough to cause big trouble.

 

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 approach I have worked out for Danny and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of ny kind is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Redirecting Onto His Brother

Redirecting onto Lincoln is how Lucas deals with arousal.

Lucas and Lincoln. Calm.

When someone new comes to the door, the two Dalmatians are shut away behind a gate and will be barking loudly as the person enters the house.

Lincoln is barking with excitement. Lucas’ excitement quickly spills over into redirecting onto poor Lincoln, attacking him.

I witnessed this for myself.

Fortunately Lincoln is very easygoing and has not retaliated – yet.

They settled quickly and were both fine when let out to greet me.

Things weren’t so good a few days ago when someone they didn’t know came to the house. While the dogs were still barking she put her hand over the gate. A mistake.

Bite!

The two brothers are now sixteen months old. Everything they do has been together. They are the best of buddies most of the time.

Their humans will now be working at two things in particular. They will be doing their best to lower both dogs’ arousal and stress levels in every way they can. They will be building up their own relationship with each individual dog rather than treating them as a pair.

Keeping arousal levels as low as possible is key. Stress builds up over days until the dog will be ‘ready to go’ and much more reactive than when calmer. Like a volcano, he will ultimately blow. See this video on ‘trigger stacking‘.

Lucas’ way of erupting is to take it out on poor good-natured Lincoln.

Lucas’ redirecting excitement and arousal is causing problems.

It’s a busy household. The two males like to stir the dogs up with rough play. The dogs also get over aroused when there is push and shove between the humans. All this results in Lucas redirecting either his own uncontrolled excitement onto Lincoln by going for him, or by reacting to Lincoln’s excitement in similar fashion.

As is often the case with two dogs, particularly siblings, it’s hard to leave them with toys or Kongs because it can either cause trouble between the dogs. This is a shame because chewing is one of the best ways they can self-calm.

Separating them one each side of a gate for short periods will mean they can chew without actually being separated. Instead of taking his feelings out on Lincoln, Lucas can take them out on a bone, Kong or Stagbar!

The redirecting happens on walks too and got so bad they muzzled Lucas. Once the dogs, always off-lead, are let out of the car and having built up a head of steam, Lucas goes for Lincoln, redirecting all his uncontrolled, built-up excitement onto the other dog. They have now recently started walking the two dogs separately.

Walks will be overhauled, starting with the right equipment (Perfect Fit harnesses recommended), loose lead walking and controlled exits from both house and car with plenty of recall work and the use of rewards. By not using food in training and for getting their dogs’ attention, they are missing their most valuable tool.

They will do everything they can to take away all opportunities for Lucas to rehearse redirecting his arousal, whether it’s fear, excitement or both, onto Lincoln. The less practice he gets, the less it will happen. With lower stress levels, the aggressive redirecting should lose its fuel so to speak; he simply won’t need to do it.

People asking for help usually ask for help with the behaviour itself – the symptom. It’s actually the emotion, the stress and excitement which is the cause of the behaviour that needs to be  dealt with.

The two Dalmations will now learn to be calm before getting the things they want whether it’s attention, a welcome, to be let out form behind their gate or out of the car, before getting their food and so on. 

Lucas and Lincoln will learn to earn what they want by offering calm behaviour.

At present hyper behaviour is being rewarded and unwittingly compounded by receiving all the attention.

We ourselves need to be what we want our dogs to be. If we want them to be happy, we can be happy ourselves. If we want them to be calm, we need to behave as calmly as possible ourselves.

 

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 approach I have worked out for Lucas and Lincoln and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of ny kind is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Calm People for a Calm Dog

I am getting a little run of cases involving dogs growling at the kids – probably a sign that it’s time for them to go back to schooPenny is fine when things are calml after six weeks at home with the dog!

Penny is a fifteen-month-old Beagle Jack Russell mix. She is a sweetie – friendly and bouncy if a bit lacking in self-control. She lives in a family household that at certain times can get her too aroused.

Along with over-arousal come the unwanted behaviours. She may steal something and run off with it. As a puppy they would chase her and corner her, forcing the item off her with no exchange. This can often develop into possessive behaviours as the dog gets a bit older, particularly if food isn’t routinely used for exchange and reward.

Calm people, calm dog.

Each incident they told me about seemed to be when the atmosphere was far from calm, which in a house with kids is often the case.

There are particular flash points during the day, the first when the children are getting ready for school which is a very common time for trouble with young, excitable dogs.  Another time when it’s not calm is in the evening when the young boy becomes noisy or erratic as his ADHD medication wears off. Penny may leap at the boy’s clothes and nip him. On these occasions she can be put behind the gate with something to chew.

Both children can learn about Penny’s ‘smelly bubble’. If she’s resting they must not burst this invisible bubble which is about a meter in diameter. If they do a revolting smell comes out – the young boy gave his suggestion as to what that might be! Mum will need to be quite alert and help Penny out when the children, particularly the boy, is too hyped up.

When the man arrived he gave Penny such an enthusiastic welcome that she peed.

Reunitings need to be calm also.

Penny’s good points outweigh any negatives. She is great on walks, so good that the young daughter can walk her and she’s not a big barker. She is extremely friendly and would be very willing and trainable giving sufficient motivation.

She’s not really aggressive either. She has been inadvertently taught to defend things that are in her mouth, particularly if she has pinched them. They will now actively do exchange games and never again take anything off her without swapping for something she likes better and if the item isn’t important they will walk away and ignore it. There will be no fun in that!

I was with them for over two hours and saw no sign of possessiveness. We kept things quite calm and I used food to reward her for everything I asked of her and she was like putty in my hands. I did ‘give and take’ using food, allowing her to keep the item at the end.

When she’s excited, as she will be when they have friends or family round, she may growl and snap if someone drops something then goes to pick it up – Penny will have got there first.

She may also nick something if she’s getting insufficient attention.

If she is resting or asleep and calm, when a child suddenly leans over the sofa back to touch her or goes over to fuss her, she may growl. And why not? Growllng is talking. She is saying ‘go away and leave me alone’. That’s okay surely.

So, Penny needs ‘protecting’ from the situation when there is too much noise and excitement by being removed with something to do, she needs to be left alone when she’s resting and she needs to know that no longer will anyone take something off her without giving her something in exchange.

Nicking things will become boring if ignored.

They, like me, will use food to thank her for her cooperation when they ask her to do something and I feel she will soon be a different dog.

Here is a great little article from 3LostDogs.com on the subject of resource guarding.

 

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 Penny and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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. 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)

 

Snapping at the Kids and Growling

Things are a whole lot more serious when children are involved.

Alfie lunging and snapping at child was a complete surpriseThis is from the original email the lady sent me: “Alfie has started growling around his food, toys and bed since June. He is very possessive and he bit me once as well. We have been trying to stop him from growling especially with his food, using technique like sit and stay before feeding him, stopping him when he is eating to give him treat, feeding him by hand. We really love Alfie, but because of his snapping I can’t relax when the kids want to play with him and I really don’t know how to stop him growling. I am concerned about my girls safety”.

Some weird advice had been given to them as I could see from the message. They were also told the dog had to be made to sit and watch them eat before being fed himself. Oh dear.

9-month-old Cockerpoo Alfie greeted me with enthusiasm and some jumping up – a little mouthing. A gorgeous, playful, friendly little dog. It was hard to see how he would ever be aggressive.

A couple of hours later, I saw it for myself.

If something suddenly changes in a dog’s behaviour, the first step is a full vet check. Their vet had given him a clean bill of health and advised them to get behaviour help.

The growling, lunging and snapping had started quite suddenly three months ago when he bit the lady’s arm. He had walked away from his still full food bowl, she had walked towards him and he flew at her, biting her arm and drawing blood. It was a huge shock as he had never shown any aggression previously.

After discussion and dissecting each incident it seems that, although food may sometimes be involved, it’s more about Alfie guarding entrances/doorways, mostly from the two little girls aged 6 and 8. It is also possible he’s guarding his own space. Maybe he is guarding the mum or dad who on several occasions had been beside him as a child approached and he growled. This was the case when I saw it happen myself. What a shock.

Being approached directly is what each incident has in common.

Alfie has been scolded for growling so he may now be taking it to the next stage – snapping. A couple of times he had sprung towards a child, growling and snapping at her arm. The change from friendly playmate to growling and snapping dog is sudden and unpredictable.  They can’t be looking at him all the time for subtle signs.

Fortunately no harm has been done yet. It’s still a warning. ‘Go away’.

There have also been a couple of incidents around food. I watched him eat his dinner and he kept breaking off to look around at where the children were playing.

On the first occasion it almost certainly was associated with over-arousal. The family had been away and Alfie had stayed with the doggy daycare. He normally is there for a couple of days a week but this time it was for five days and nights. Daytime there are around fifteen dogs, all loose in a field doing their own thing all day. We know that unsupervised dog play very often gets out of hand, particularly when there are lots of dogs involved.

What, too, about sleep deprivation and the ongoing effect this may have had? Most dogs in a ‘normal’ environment spend a great portion of the day asleep.

What else may Alfie be learning? He has been going there since he was three months old and was six months when the first incident happened.

He may well be learning or even copying behaviours involving guarding areas or resources along with protecting his personal space and probably his food. He also will have learnt that growling and snapping at the other dogs keeps them away. Being dogs and not children, they would understand and get the message.

Alfie’s arousal levels will have been through the roof after five days of this.

The more questions I asked the more it became evident that most of the episodes they could remember came after Alfie having stayed at the daycare.

The first step is to leave daycare and find a dog walker who will come once or twice a day, take him out with no more than two other dogs then bring him home again.

Because children are involved, the priority has to be their safety, so management must be put in place straight away. There is one doorway where could put a gate, allowing the dog to be separated from the kids and the lady to relax. It is putting a terrible strain upon her now.

Alfie suddenly flew out from under the table, snapping at the child’s arm.

I sat chatting at the kitchen table. All was peaceful, the little girls were upstairs amusing themselves. The couple were the other end of the table nearest to the door and Alfie was under the table between them.

The eight-year-old opened the door and walked in. With no warning that I could see (he was under the table), Alfie sprung out, growling, snapping at the child’s arm. Thank goodness no harm was done. This is a good example of how children may not always be safe even with their parents right beside them.

The man himself hadn’t actually witnessed more than growling before and now was understanding a lot better his wife’s anxiety and why she is constantly on edge.

BenbowAlfie1

Again, Alfie had been at daycare for several days and nights and the lady had only returned from overseas the day before I came. Alfie’s ‘stress bucket’ will have been full already. The children had been on school holidays for several weeks now so there was more excitement……and the I arrived!

After the gate, the second management thing is to wean Alfie into wearing a muzzle. Muzzling him for short periods at a time will allow the lady some respite. Alfie will certainly be picking up on her tension, adding to the stress. She is watching all the time ‘No Alfie!, No Alfie!’.

In addition to management, reducing Alfie’s stress levels in every way possible, working directly on Alfie’s guarding behaviour, the behaviour of the little girls has to be modified as well.

Instead of feeding him in the kitchen where everyone walks past, they will now feed him out of the way in the utility room – and leave him strictly alone. If anyone has to walk through, they will just drop something very nice either in or near to his bowl as they pass. No more silly tricks around food and meals.

They will work at getting him to give up and exchange things willingly. They will use food to motivate and reward him – something they don’t currently do.

As well as the work with Alfie, the little girls have their own tasks. Holding a child’s hand, I rehearsed walking towards an imaginary Alfie but in an arc or to the side of him, then with the dog himself, avoiding eye contact.

If he is lying or sitting very still, staring, they should turn around and go away. If he growls they should turn around and go away.

Before opening the gate they can call him over, drop him a treat (some will be on the shelf nearby) before opening it. This will break any staring; in addition Alfie should begin to feel good about the girls walking in the door. Mum can do some work with them too. Sitting facing a doorway with Alfie on lead, her little girls can rehearse over and over how they should walk in and past Alfie.

Child training! They are very young and will still need constant reminding.

Here is a video for them to watch.

I sincerely hope with no more bad habits and over-arousal from the daycare, with some positive training around resources and people coming through doorways, the much-loved Alfie will stop all growling and snapping, that he will go back to being the trustworthy, child-friendly dog he used to be only three months 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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Alfie and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are 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)

Food Aggression and Parading Bones

We all know what Pugnacious means!

Frank is a delightful, friendly and playful ten-month-old Pug French Bulldog mix. He is a typical teenager in that he likes to play his family up – he is a clever boy!

What I was called for is Frank’s behaviour around dropped food, bones and other edible resources. 

Food aggression can start with the breeder

From the moment they first got him Frank wolfed his food down as though in total panic – even faster if someone was nearby, like he was afraid they may steal it from him. Consequently they were advised to put the food on a plate which, because it slides around the floor, slows him down.

The breeder fed the litter all together from one bowl which we know can lead to competition Frank has some food aggressionover the food. It does not encourage eating confidently in the knowledge that the puppy can take his time with no fear of losing the food. This is where food aggression can start.

Food aggression is then unintentionally encouraged by owners who, thinking they are doing the right thing, force things off the puppy, either because it may be dangerous or maybe to make a point about who is boss. They don’t realise that even some of the games they play are nurturing guarding behaviour in certain dogs that may be that way inclined anyway due to either genetics or early life with litter-mates.

From the start, savvy dog owners actively encourage give and swap.

Frank has now snapped about five times at a hand that has got too near to dropped food or his bone. Once the little girl dropped something on the floor and when mum went to remove it Frank, who had his eye on it also, went for mum’s hand.

Like many people they felt they should be able just to take a bone off the dog. The young lady was snapped at so she withdrew. Because, to quote her, she ‘was not having that’, the next time she wore an oven glove and forcibly removed the bone from him, resulting in what would have been a much more severe bite had it not been for the glove.

An interesting display of minor guarding behaviour

I gave Frank a Stagbar (piece of reindeer antler) to chew and it was so interesting to watch him. For several minutes he paraded it, flaunting it around all the people there (there were seven of us including a little girl). “Look what I’ve got and you can’t have it” sort of thing! He then would drop it, as though tempting someone to try and pick it up.

Next he started rolling around the floor on top of the Stagbar. Sarah Whitehead would say that this is to spread his scent over it – to mark it as his possession.

Then he got down to some serious chewing.

They asked can they touch him or stroke him while he’s chewing?  NO! They must leave him strictly alone. He must be ignored. When he parades something they should look the other way. He can’t flaunt something if nobody is looking, can he.

From now onwards he will have a very different relationship with his family around food. They will no longer be seen as ‘takers’ but as ‘givers’.

They will get him a heavier slow bowl feeder so it won’t slide around the kitchen floor like the plate; it has bumps in it to sow him down whilst making eating less of a chase and race, less frustrating.

A thing I personally feel that dogs must find so frustrating is the common practice of being made to sit, wait and maybe do tricks before they can eat start to eat. It’s not natural. In the wild an animal wouldn’t sit back, wait and do tricks, giving other animals opportunity to get there first.

I prefer to hold the bowl and wait before putting it down, getting the dog’s attention in order to emphasise my role as ‘giver’. Then I put the food down. It’s his. I walk away and leave the dog to eat in peace.

Although Frank so far shows no food aggression when someone walks past while he’s eating his meals (if they bent down and put their hands near it would be a different matter), they can still help by silently chucking a bit of something better than his food – cooked chicken perhaps – in the direction of his bowl.

When I was there the little girl had an ice cream and dropped a bit on the floor – almost the same situation as one of the ‘incidents’. This time Frank was more interested in my Stagbar fortunately. Recently the lady was eating crisps on the sofa with Frank beside her, watching. She pushed him onto the floor and he snapped at her.

This needs to be taken very seriously, particularly when little children are about. They should not tempt fate by giving him any further opportunity to rehearse the behaviour again. A dog that has any hint of food aggression should be in another room when anyone is eating anything at all, even ice cream or crisps (due to the food aggression they do put him in his crate when they eat their meals).

Frank rolling on the Stagbar

Frank rolling on the Stagbar

Now there is some hard work to do so that should a situation accidentally arise Frank can be trusted not to attack a hand.

If he’s chewing a bone they must ignore him. He needs to build up trust that it won’t be taken from him and then he will have nothing to be protective about.

Preferably they should wait until he loses interest before taking the bone away. Alternatively they can swap it for a Kong stuffed with something tasty which they can remove when it’s empty and he’s lost interest. I wanted my Stagbar back before I left and dropped food on and beside it a couple of times, watching his body language carefully, and he let me pick it up – I rewarded him again with a little jackpot.

Teaching Frank to ‘Give’ can start with Tug of War. Tuggy done properly teaches a dog to ‘give’ as well as to avoid teeth on human flesh.

Frank’s humans will be Givers, not Takers.

Teaching him that his humans aren’t interested in stealing from him is one thing, teaching him to actively and happily give things up is another and needs working on.

I suggest they lift his toys. They can issue them one at a time, using the ‘exchange game’: offer it, don’t let go, say ‘Give’ and exchange for food. Do this a couple of times, then without food, ending in letting him keep it. The rule is that they never take anything off him unless he gets it back or its exchanged for something better than what he already has (better to him that is).

Another good teaching game is to have a range of objects and food in ascending order of value to Frank, and teach exchange starting with the lowest in value. They can leave him to keep the final most valuable item.

Food should also be used as payment – rewards for doing as asked. This will make him a lot more cooperative in general and again emphasise that his people are ‘givers’ and that he has to give something in return.

Our human instinct when met with food aggression or aggression of any sort from our dog is to respond in kind – we are aggressive back. We’re ‘not having that’. He mustn’t get away with it.  Its hard, but the very opposite approach is needed. Any growling or air snapping should not be met with punishment or anger. We need to look at the cause of the aggression and deal with that, not the snapping itself.

The snapping is, still, fortunately only a warning. Teach him not to give a warning and it can only escalate into real biting.

The very achievable goal is that when the adorable Frank has a bone or is near food, he should be relaxed and happy. He won’t need to immediately going onto the defensive lest someone should nick his bone or get to dropped food first.

An email two months later: Our main worry and concern was the food aggression. We have seen NO aggressions since our meeting and not even a slight indication of it. Frank happily bring bones to us all, will Give things he shouldn’t have if we have a treat in our hand to reward him handing it over etc. He seems all round a happier dog 🙂 

 

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 Frank and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are 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)

Eyeballing and Hostility Between Dogs

Eyeballing from one dog; looking away, whale-eye, lip curling and growling from the other.

Poppy's eyeballing may be a trigger

Poppy

The hostility between the two Springer Spaniel bitches seems to have suddenly started about three weeks ago.

It’s hard to see where the tension, eyeballing and snarling between the two dogs has come from. It seemed to be out of the blue – but was it? Both dogs had been happily living and playing together since they took on Poppy, now three years old, as a puppy. Tilly is ten years old.

Both Springers have a lovely life. They are trained and worked kindly as gun dogs, fulfilling what they were bred for. They only spend the mornings out in their kennels and for the rest of the time they are well-loved family pets living and sleeping in the house.

There is another dog, a female Jack Russell called Fern who may be escalating the tension. Fern tends to be reactive to sounds. Her barking upsets Poppy and sends her running for cover.

Three weeks ago, immediately after they had returned from a few days’ holiday with the two Springers, the man caught them eyeballing each other, then growling.

Could the sudden hostility have been triggered by the reuniting with a hyper and noisy Fern who had stayed behind with a friend, at a time when they will already have been aroused? Things with Fern have changed recently. She has been recovering from mammary cancer. Could this be relevant?

Anyway, the man had immediately grabbed both dogs and parted them, putting them briefly in different rooms. This was followed by ever more frequent episodes.

Fern

Fern

Things escalated until about five days ago there were three bouts within the space of one hour.

Things only haven’t developed into a full blown fight due to vigilance and the man separating them immediately. It’s now happened so many times that it could be becoming a learnt response – a habit, something the two dogs may automatically do as soon as they are anywhere close together other than out in the open on walks.

Since these final three episodes the two dogs have been kept apart.

The Springers take it in turns to be in the sitting room with the couple. They are in separate kennels in the mornings and instead of all being together in the kitchen at night, two have been in the kitchen and the other Springer in the back lobby. She cries. Nobody is happy.

Surprisingly however, all three dogs still all go out happily for their morning walk together just as they always used to. It seems away from the house and out in the open they are fine.

When I arrived just Fern was with us first and she did a lot of barking at me. This barking is unusual apparently which made me wonder if something more was going on with her. Maybe she has been more stressed since her recent treatment for cancer?

Poppy then joined us. She was very wary of me as she is with all people she doesn’t know, pacing about, tail between her legs, interested but backing away.

We set things up so I could see both dogs together for myself. To take Jack Russell Fern out of the equation, we put her out in the garden. The man put Poppy on lead and the lady went to fetch Tilly from the outside kennel, also on lead.

They sat well apart and I placed myself where I could see both dogs.

Tilly

Tilly

There was an immediate and surprising change in Poppy. She became a different dog. Bold. She was unconcerned by me now. She stared at Tilly.

Tilly, in turn, looked at Poppy out the corner of her eyes with her head turned away. A lip curl. then a growl. I sensed that Tilly was by far the more uncomfortable of the two dogs.

From my observations, instead of the aggression being a problem solely instigated Tilly as they had thought, it looked like it may be six of one and half a dozen of the other.

With strategies in place to keep the two dogs’ attention away from one another, I then let Fern in to join us. She was barking as she entered the room.

Immediately there was an altercation between her and Tilly in the doorway.

Could the reactive Fern be part of the problem? Possibly also something has changed with her since her cancer treatment.

Where do we start?

They will continue to manage the environment by keeping them separate. It’s possible that during the morning outside in their adjacent kennels things could be brewing with eyeballing and so on, so I suggested putting a board between them.

On leads in the house, in short sessions they will work on relieving the tension between them, teaching each dog things to do that are incompatible with eyeballing or challenging the other. It’s vital they get no more opportunities to further rehearse the behaviour.

Because the dogs are fine on walks, instead of afterwards immediately putting them away again in their separate areas, they will take the walked and satisfied dogs indoors still on lead, give them a drink (separate bowls just in case) and sit down for a few minutes. They can thus hopefully build upon the rapport the two dogs still have out on walks.

Finally, they will be helping Fern with her stress levels which could well be compounding the whole over-aroused situation.

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 Tilly, Poppy and Fern and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are 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)