Campervan Holiday With Barking Dogs.

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

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

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

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

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

People coming up the drive.

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

They are now raising the fence.

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

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

People approaching the campervan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unwanted attention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A huge change in their lives.

Big change in the dogs' lives

Bella at the back and Dobby in front

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

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

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

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

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

The dogs ran free.

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

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

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

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

At the front door.

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

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

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

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

Then there will be less chaos when deliveries come.

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

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

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

Walking the dogs.

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

Bella and Dobby have separate walking plans.

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

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

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

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

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

Large Hand Over her Head. She Barks at People

Rusti is a tiny 13-month-old Miniature Daschund. She is wary of people. Too often an approaching person means a large hand over her head.

She looks so cute people feel compelled to touch her.

A looming person. A large hand.

Rusti barks at people who come into her house. She barks at people who approach the man’s car. On walks she may bark at an approaching person.

scared when a large hand goes over her headThe man has held her up to help a person touch her. She will try to escape over his shoulder. She may growl or even nip the hand.

Because, as people do, they feel that she should allow a person who is being friendly to touch her, her reaction can be embarrassing to them.

Understandably, being that small, Rusti can feel unsafe when someone looms with large hand outstretched, particularly when she’s trapped. She is a lot better when free and off lead.

The man takes Rusti to work with him and she stays in the car. He has an active job where he can keep an eye on her and regularly return to let her out.

Though fine to be left in the car, she spends much of the day looking out for approaching people. She gets very aroused and barks frantically at them to go away. Very often they come over. Sometimes a large hand may even come through the open window towards her.

Looking at the world through Rusti’s eyes.

They will now look at the world from Rusti’s perspective. They are learning to read her signals.

Her humans will do their best to help her out and avoid anything that scares her whenever they possible can. They will get her an igloo dog bed for the car and a couple of window blinds like one might use to shield a baby from the sun.

People won’t see her and she won’t see them.

If they help to avoid people getting too close to her, particularly preventing them from touching her, she should become a lot less wary and then she will have less need to bark at them, “Go Away”. This will build up trust in her humans.

Human beings must be puzzling and scary to a tiny dog. They touch her when they feel like it, they cuddle her, they move her about whenever they wish. She shares their food but they get angry when she helps herself.

Confusing!

Someone she doesn’t know puts a large hand out to touch her. We ourselves wouldn’t like that, would we. When she defends herself by growling or nipping she gets told off.

We expect our dogs to understand us and fit into our world without realising just how little we try to understand them and allow them their own feelings and preferences.

We should act as our dogs’ advocates. Rusti’s feelings are a lot more important than the feelings of a person, usually a stranger, who may want to touch her.  Can I pet your dog and why it’s okay to say no

 

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 Rusti and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, 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. 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)

Wary of New People Unless on the Train. Puzzling!

Wary of people

Crumpet

Crumpet is a Cockerpoo. Crumpet (I just love her name) is three years old.

She scares easily – apart from the very times when most other dogs would be frightened. On trains, on the underground and on the busy streets of London she is absolutely fine!

At home where it’s quieter she is spooked by anything different or unusual and is very wary when a person appears. She may rush at them, barking.

She is like this also when someone calls at their house.

The lady takes her to work and Crumpet reacts in the same way when someone enters her office. Though tethered, she rushes at them, barking.

The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be

The very strange thing is that in a crowded train she is friendly! She will even go to people for a fuss and sit on the floor beside them. The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be.

It does seem like there is a territorial element to it and she feels more threatened by people near to or in her home – the same at the office. Commonly dogs are worse when a person is standing. Understandably this is particularly the case when she is in an enclosed space or on lead (train carriage and London streets excepted).

It’s an odd thing, but often the fewer people there are the more threatened the dog feels, particularly if they appear suddenly or move quickly. Perhaps this is the same with ourselves? We can feel invisible in a crowd.

Reading the dog.

Because of how I set things up when I arrived, she was fine with me from the start. However, it was a bit different when I got up to go. I saw for myself just how easily Crumpet scares. She was sitting on the lady’s lap and I was now standing up. As I talked to the lady, standing quite close to her, I watched Crumpet. My nearness and the fact I was standing started her lip-licking and yawning. Then there was a little growl. All were clear signs that she was feeling very uncomfortable.

Had I not taken heed and backed away, no doubt next she would have rushed barking at me too.

Is she being protective? It’s possible. Whatever the reasons behind it, Crumpet should be helped in situations like this. This means learning to read her subtle signals, before it gets to the rushing and barking stage if possible. They should save her from any unwanted attention or increase distance.

She looks so gorgeous that she is a magnet for ‘dog-lovers’!

Sometimes Crumpet can cope better than at other times.

Crumpet is variable. There are occasions when she is less wary and reactive than others. This can only be to do with her own mental state at the time. The calmer, less-stressed and more confident she is in all aspects of her life, the better she will be able to cope with the things that scare her.

The nearer to home she is the more wary of people in particular she seems to be.

We will be concentrating on lowering her stress and excitement levels whilst also counter-conditioning her to things she’s wary of – people in particular – by building up positive associations and doing everything to keep her feeling safe. If she no longer sees people as a threat, then she has no need to feel protective – if protectiveness is part of it.

Crumpet is in such a frenzy of excitement before she even leaves the house, barking her way down the road. In this state one wouldn’t then expect a calm and considered reaction to anyone she might meet.

Progress is fastest when things are broken down into small steps.

The lady will work on getting through the door with a quiet dog! I have invented a sequence, like kind of game, involving waiting for quiet by a door, opening it, walking through with a quiet dog and returning again – over and over. Starting with inside doors, then the back door and finally the front door.

Next she will progress to walking Bracken quietly away from the door a small way before turning back – until they get to the end of the road.

I’m still puzzled by why Crumpet is so comfortable in the train! Possibly it’s because there is no territorial element.

The little dog who spooks at a rubbish bag appearing on the footpath is unfazed by the hiss of closing underground train doors. The dog who rushes at a person walking towards them in their own road is untroubled by people packed into a carriage.

We need to bottle this and take it home and to the office!

 

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 Crumpet 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 fear or aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

Nips Legs. Barks at People. Walking Legs

Little Miniature Wire Haired Daschund, Ziggy, is scared of people he doesn’t know coming to his house. Particularly if they are standing up and even more so if they are walking about. He is a brave little dog. Instead of running, he faces his fear. He barks. He nips legs, particularly trousers.

Imagine how intimidating approaching and looming ‘walking legs’ can seem to a tiny dog.

Ziggy may react in much the same way if someone he already knows suddenly appears. If a child runs down the stairs and ‘explodes’ into the room, it will alarm him to the extent that he might rush to them and nip their legs.

A child was bitten on the leg.

Unfortunately this happened with a visiting child and, in the excitement, she received a bite to her leg.

This is a slippery slope. The more Ziggy’s reactive behaviour happens and seems to be successful (to his mind), the worse it will get. Ziggy barks at people as they come into the house through fear and probably some sense of territorial responsibility also. He behaves like he feels he must deal with them.

The adorable little dog is ten months old. He lives with an even smaller Miniature Wire Haired Daschund, Bea, a couple and their two boys.

Ziggy nips legs when people walk about.

His attempt to make people back off nearly always works because at the very least they may stop or recoil. When people and dogs pass by the garden fence he will believe it’s his barking that sends them on their way.

This is the way that matters inevitably snowball in the wrong direction.

To change the now-learned and well-rehearsed behaviour, Ziggy needs to be shown alternative, incompatible behaviours.

But this isn’t enough. Most crucially of all, his wariness of people he doesn’t know needs to be dealt with at source. He needs help to feel differently about them.

He always nips legs in a generally aroused environment. The calmer Ziggy can be general, the more successful the work will be. Calm isn’t so easy with children of around nine years old!

Management.

An important element for dealing with this sort of thing is management. With certain practical precautions in place they will simply make a recurrence of the biting incident with the visiting child impossible.

Practice makes perfect. An interesting read.

They can make the constant rehearsal of barking at their own children when they run downstairs and burst out through that door impossible – with a permanently shut baby gate that has to be opened. The time the kids have to take to open it, throwing food over first, will give Ziggy time to be prepared.

Use of the gate and of a lead will also physically manage Ziggy’s behaviour when visitors come.

Strategies for callers to the house include rolling food away from themselves for Ziggy – this immediately worked for me. He initially returned to barking between times but soon calmed down.

At any break in this barking, they can quickly say ‘Good’ and drop food, reinforcing quiet. This teaches him what they DO want. They can also reinforce him for looking at the person whilst being quiet – or doing anything else that they like.

Standing up and walking about.

I knew that the problem might start again when I stood up so I did so slowly – dropping food as I did so.

I carried on dropping food as I walked slowly about and he was fine.

Ziggy left the room. A minute later he came back in and I was still standing up. He went back to barking at me.

What worked best of all for Ziggy was, each time he began to bark at me, someone called him away brightly and rewarded him for doing so. They had Ziggy on good ‘remote control’. They were helping him out.

Every dog and every situation is different and it’s a question of finding the right individual approach. People probably need professional help for this.

With Ziggy, the physical barriers being in place like the gate will give his family the time, peace of mind and space to do the necessary behaviour work.

The little dogs have a lovely life with their family. No pressure. Nice walks. They have company most of the time and, to loosely quote, ‘they just live with us, keep us company, and have cuddles and love’. The fact that he nips legs demonstrates that things are not quite perfect for Ziggy just now.

 

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 Ziggy and I’ve not gone fully 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 fear issues of any kind are concerned – particularly anything involving children. 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)

Alarm Barking. They Worry he May Bite

Barney barks with alarm at any sound he hears that could mean someone is approaching the house. It can be a car or footsteps on the gravel.

If outside in the garden, he barks with alarm as someone he doesn’t know approaches the gate. As deliveries or the postman let themselves into the garden, he may sound more fierce.

They are worried he may one day bite.

Alarm barking at people

Barney

Once someone is in the house, they find a delightful, friendly three-year-old Cocker Spaniel. Barney is simply doing what the majority of dogs would naturally do. That is, to alarm bark when someone approaches their territory.

He has unintentionally been ‘given the job’ by his humans, by their allowing him to be out in the garden alone when someone comes through the gate.

It will be quite scary for him when a stranger approaches him, possibly carrying something.

Allowing him access to ‘look-out’ points at the sitting room windows isn’t good either. If he barks for long enough the person will eventually go away.

Success.

Both having him in the garden unsupervised and barking at people from the windows mean that he is rehearsing the very behaviour that they don’t want. It’s being constantly practised – so it can only increase.

Being very alert and responsive is in Barney’s genes, very like my own Cocker Spaniel, Pickle. Although I will never make Pickle a quiet and placid dog (I could wish!), how I deal with it is very different. He is never left to feel that alarm is his responsibility. It could never get to a stage where he might feel it necessary to growl or even bite in order to feel safe. I would either have intervened immediately to help him out, or he would be safely out of the way somewhere.

Barney’s young couple have four things to do. 

Over-arousal.

The first is to avoid stirring him up unecessarily. The calmer he is, the more able he will be to cope. Like many young people, they find it fun to wind him up in play and even tease him. They think he enjoys it. Possibly he does – in the way we might enjoy a scary ride at a fun fair.

There are plenty more constructive things they can do with him that will help him to be less reactive.

Rehearsal.

The second is to prevent rehearsal by removing opportunity in every way possible – drawing curtains, going outside with him and so on.

Getting Barney to feel differently.

Thirdly is getting him to feel differently about people approaching. For instance, if they are outside in the garden and a delivery is approaching the gate, they can throw him his ball. He loves the ball. They may also get the man to throw his ball to him.

For the ball to be effective they will ‘ball-starve’ him! Whenever he hears or sees an approaching person he gets to play with his ball. Whenever they go, ball play stops.

Their own response to his alarm barking.

‘QUIET!’ won’t help him. He is alarmed and scared!

Cuddling and comforting won’t help him. ‘Don’t worry about the man that has come to kill us all, have a cuddle instead!’.

They need to work on every little sound that causes him to alarm bark. They will condition him to come straight away when called brightly – for either special food reward or the ball.

When he barks they need to react immediately. ‘It’s Okay!’. Then call him. Even if he doesn’t come, he should be getting the message that people walking past or approaching the gate or door are not his responsibility.

He has back-up.

Getting him to feel differently about the things that alarm him should gradually get him to behave differently. He may well continue to bark, but not for so long or so urgently. He should never be put in a position where he could feel compelled to bite.

It would be a good idea to put a bell on the gate and lock it so people simply are unable to just walk in – maybe a combination padlock? Friends and family will know the number.

Prevention is a whole lot better than cure. Belt and braces.

 

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

Abandoned by travellers.

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

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

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

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

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

Barking ‘Go Away’ works. People do go.

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

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

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

For Olive, snapping is successful.

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

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

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

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

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

All callers must be trained!

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

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

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

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

Most walks are an ordeal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Five months later and baby has just been brought home: ‘Still early days obviously but so far Olive is being so good about the arrival of baby. She’s not overly interested and is happy to sit calmly besides us holding her. No barking at her which is lovely! !

 

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

New Rescue Dog. Reactivity to People Worsening

New rescue dogWith a new rescue dog I have seen this many times. When people first welcome their new dog into their life he is faultless. It’s not until he begins to settle in that unwanted behaviours begin to surface.

In many cases these will be behaviours that contributed to him being given up in the first place.

Unlike many new rescue dogs that find the adjustment from their old lives or rehoming kennels very hard indeed, beautiful Staffie-mix Murphy seemed to settle in easily. He was (and is) friendly and confident. He’s about two and a half years old.

It’s very common for the ‘real dog’ to begin to appear after a few weeks. People understandably don’t give all their reasons for giving up their dog as it may jeopardise finding a new home. Issues like Murphy’s are unlikely to emerge in a kennel environment.

Three trouble-free weeks went by.

The first signs of problems began about three weeks later when the, up to now, very friendly Murphy barked at someone.

Next, and it probably wasn’t brilliant timing for him, they took him away. This now was another new house to get used to in just a few weeks. Unlike at home, he could see people walking past the window. He began to bark at them. They went on their way. Success.

Then, worse, a couple of little children arrived at the house. Murphy went crazy with barking at them. It took them all by surprise. Their new rescue dog didn’t like little children so close to him at all. He was very upset.

On the face of it and from what I saw when he barked at me, the barking isn’t fearful. He was angry. He was loudly shouting GO AWAY.

A few days ago, back home and now on a downward spiral, he then grabbed (almost bit) the arm of a man who came to work in the house. This was someone he’d already met and befriended a few days previously.

In every other respect Murphy really is the perfect dog. He is affectionate and biddable. He gets on beautifully with their other dog, an older female Labrador called Millie.

New rescue dog Murphy is now settling in.

As Murphy gets to feel more at home he seems to be becoming increasingly protective of his humans – and Labrador Millie. I briefly fussed her and this immediately generated a renewed outbreak of barking at me.

I guess it’s logical that the more a place becomes the new rescue dog’s home the more territorial he may become and his new humans also something to protect.

We experimented with various strategies in response to his barking at myself. Each case is different and it’s important to get it right. Food wasn’t appropriate because we weren’t dealing with reducing fear but more with anger. There was no snarling or growling, so not extremely aggressive, but he was making his point. GO!

Driving me away was clearly what he wanted. Instead, we had the lady calmly walking him, Murphy, away instead each time he began to bark. We repeatedly did this, advance – retreat, so he clearly understood the consequence of his barking at me was the opposite to what he was wanting. She didn’t need his protection. He understood and had total control over the situation. It’s important that no force is involved – he willingly walked out with her.

After little more than five minutes of doing this, he settled.

His lead came off and all was well. I could move around with no further reaction from Murphy.

I have found that one of my own dogs, my German Shepherd, may sometimes need me to be decisive in a situation she’s unable to handle (that’s another story for another time). She simply can’t cope with making all her own decisions when she is in a state over something. It seemed that making the immediate decisions about what to do when he barked worked with Murphy.

Now, not before, was the time for food – to associate me with good stuff. I dropped food. I asked him to sit and fed him and I threw food at him to catch. I sprinkled it about.

He was now relaxed and happy.

 

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 Murphy. 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 aggressive behaviour 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).

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).

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.