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.

Agitated Dog. Excited, Alarmed, Relentless

agitated daschund

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

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

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

I continually turned away and tipped him off.

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

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

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

The agitated Monty panted and scratched.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two things particularly wrong with this.

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

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

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

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

They feel they have really tried everything.

Fortunately, they have not tried everything.

Not at all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so will Monty.

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

Fearful Barking at People, Especially Children

Dave was picked up from the person who bred him at ten weeks old. It’s obvious that before this he had met few people and probably no dogs other than those he had lived with.

Another red flag should have been the aggressive unfriendliness of the male German Shepherd that was Dave’s father.

His young gentleman owner does all he can and it’s not his fault. The seeds were already sown.

A cocktail of under-socialisation and ignorant breeding.

German Shepherd pup fearful barking at peopleA cocktail of under-socialisation and genetics – ignorant breeding – has produced a five month old puppy who already does fearful barking at people he doesn’t know and has nipped a child.

Dave will bark at anyone approaching him, particularly if they look at him or he feels they may touch him.

He’s is taken to work with the young man so life for him should be good as he spends little time alone. Work is a retail outlet with staff and with the public coming and going.

Dave is tethered under the man’s desk and is okay there so long as he’s ignored.

When he grows to be a large adult German Shepherd, if Dave continues his fearful barking at people this will be a big problem. The new dog law of 2015 states that a dog need only cause someone to feel intimidated for the owner to be in trouble.

Dave barked at me from the moment I arrived, hackles up, and continued to do so on and off for much of the evening. This barking wasn’t the sort of fear that meant he was backing away or wanting to hide – it was full on barking in my face. GO AWAY!

Despite himself, he was friendly from time to time. Because he’s just a puppy I didn’t feel at all intimidated with the barking right in my face. I was more concerned about how to help him and we made a start. I shan’t document here just how, as assessment is so important in cases like this so that we get it right.

In the three hours Dave lay down just twice, for only a minute. He was restlessly pacing and reacting to noises or my own movements all the time. From time to time he took himself out of my sight, only to start barking again as soon as he came back and saw me again like I had suddenly arrived.

Being on high alert during the day too, the puppy must be seriously sleep-deprived which can’t be helping his emotional state.

As I explained, it’s not the barking itself that’s the real problem – it’s a symptom. We need to work on the emotion that is driving the fearful barking at people. Over time he needs to be helped to feel people are good news.

Unfortunately, the young man, desperate, had been introduced to Cesar Millan’s programmes by a friend and he manages to stop the barking – by scruffing the pup. This can’t possibly help the feelings of fear that drive the behaviour. The very opposite in fact.

But scruffing works. Temporarily. It scares him. The pup dare not bark.

Scruffing also looks to anybody watching like he’s doing something about it. ‘Disciplining’ his dog.

I pointed out that because Dave is scared of people, if his owner then turns on him too, people will be even worse bad news. (If he had a child scared of dogs, say, then physically punished him for screaming with fear, scaring him further, would that child feel better or worse about dogs?).

The other problem with physical punishment is that as Dave grows bigger it will take more than scruffing to stop him. The stakes will have to rise. Where does this lead? In some cases a meek dog may just shut down. In a dog like Dave it can only end up with increasingly aggressive behaviour, maybe even directed at the source of the punishment, the man himself.

I was called out because the young man wanted a dog that would share his life. The fearful barking at people, especially children, isn’t what he expected and he’s out of his depth. He wants to learn how to help him and has now already made a start.

Our project is to help Dave to feel better about people. There is only one way to do this and it’s by forming positive associations. This will be a long and hard road requiring patience, understanding and consistency.

Certain precautions need to be taken, Dave needs to be muzzled when children are about. At work he will be either behind a barrier or on a harness and lead. He will wear a yellow vest with ‘I Need Space’ on it to discourage people approaching to pet the cute pup. He will be given a quiet store room leading off the office where he can spend time peaceful and safe. Hopefully he will relax and sleep for part of the day.

I go to many German Shepherds who bark aggressively at me when I go into their homes, that have to be kept muzzled, on lead or even left out of the room. I don’t remember going to a German Shepherd with fearful, aggressive-sounding barking as extreme as Dave’s at just five months old.

But, with the dedicated young man on his side, his outlook is good.

Here is a good article by Linda Michaels: Puppy socialisation and vaccinations belong together. Left too late, as in the case of Dave, the horse has bolted so to speak and now we are playing catch-up.

 

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 Dave. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)

Barking at People on Walks. Barking in the Car.

Carin mix barking at people on walksYesterday I met Bailey, a cross between a Cairn Terrier an something else. He is two years old and they have had him for one year.

At home he’s the model dog. He soon gets used to someone new coming into his house and is friendly – though it can take longer with a man, particularly if he’s tall or loud.

As time goes by Bailey is becoming more and more of a barker when out, particularly barking at people on walks.

He also barks at bikes, scooters, motorbikes and big stationary vans. He may circle a child on a bike, barking, which is very intimidating.

Bailey goes absolutely mad in the car when he sees bikes and motorbikes in particular, also people, very distracting on journeys.

The barking at people on walks is variable.

His barking at people on walks can be a bit variable. It may depend upon the person and it may also depend upon the mental state he’s already in and whether he has already encountered arousing or scary things and can simply not cope with more.

If the person is a man and if he is walking towards them it’s a lot worse. Retreating men and most women cause Bailey no problem.

The window cleaner is a huge challenge. Seen through the eyes of the dog, what is this man doing waving at the windows and wielding something that looks like a stick outside his house?

The couple belong to the local bowls club and like to take Bailey with them. He’s fine with some people but there are a couple of men in particular he just can’t take to. It upsets one man who does all he can to make friends with him. This may be the problem. If he ignored him or looked away, particularly if he sat down, it would help.

It is likely that Bailey wasn’t sufficiently exposed to the outside world when he was really young. Possibly he was seldom taken out.

Now they must do all they can to desensitise him – and counter-condition him to things he’s wary of. In this way the lady can help him with things that worry him when out and work on the barking at people on walks.

Put very simply, desensitisation is as much exposure to the thing as possible but only at a distance Bailey is comfortable with – his threshold or comfort zone.

Counter-conditioning is adding in something he likes – usually food.

Combining both desensitisation and counter-conditioning works best.

The lady always walks Bailey. She now will keep as much distance as she can from the things he fears. Avoiding them altogether will get them nowhere, but at a comfortable distance she can then feed Bailey some tiny favourite little snacks to get him feeling more positive about something he feels scared of when closer.

If he won’t eat or if he snatches, it’s telling her she is still too close so she needs to increase the distance further.

It’s hard for people to change walking routines so that instead of going from A to B regardless, they fill the same time with doing distance work which involves advancing and retreating.

Nearly all Bailey’s barking problems are when he actually sees the threat.

In the car he simply must be put somewhere he can’t see out to bark at bikes, motorbikes and people. The lady, like many, doesn’t like the idea of caging her dog but I feel it’s vital in some cases. Calling it a ‘crate’ or ‘den’ helps. A crate in the boot can be made into a comfy den and sprinkled with food. They can start with short journeys and build up from there.

Where the window cleaner is concerned, Bailey simply should not be in the house. Alternativel,he should be in a room with no windows to be cleaned.

When out at their club, Bailey must be protected from unwelcome advances. He looks so sweet people are drawn to him! They should sit in a corner with Bailey behind them and be his advocate to protect him. A yellow ‘I Need Space‘ shirt would be helpful.

Is Bailey too emotionally attached to the lady?

There is one other element to this and that is Bailey’s increasing protectiveness towards the lady. She adores him. That’s understandable – look at him!

Does she perhaps need him too much? He may feel that she’s reliant upon him and this could put pressure on him. Allowing Bailey to be more independent by fussing him a bit less could help him.

addisonbailey2Things came to a head recently. Bailey was off lead and a jogger suddenly appeared. He charged at the man, barking. The man gave the lady an earful and then Bailey chased him out of the park, returning to the lady, to quote her, ‘pleased with himself’!

She walks him only on lead now.  It’s a Flexilead which, by how it works, always has tension on it. She tightens it further when she sees a person approaching which will convey her own anxiety to Bailey.

Now she will use a longish, loose lead and instead of anxiously reining him in, increase distance and remain upbeat. They probably bounce off one another emotionally.

Barking at people on walks can only be resolved with time and hard work. The more consistent they can be, the more over time Bailey’s confidence should grow.

 

Barks at People She Doesn’t Know.

Maya barks at people

Maya

Maya barks at people she doesn’t know.

A while ago they moved from a busy place to the country. Her nervousness at encountering an unfamiliar person on a walk is getting worse now that now she meets fewer people.

Maya is a sweet Cocker Spaniel age nine and she lives with another adorable Cocker, Tia, who is a year younger. The two dogs get on famously. Fortunately Tia hasn’t caught Maya’s fear and doesn’t bark at people.

Maya also barks at people she doesn’t know who come to the house.

Her barking generates a response from her humans that could be increasing her anxiety, not helping her at all.

At the door it is, to quote the lady, bedlam!

A person arriving generates a confusing range of commands and scolding from both the man and the woman. The humans undoubtedly will be contributing to the mayhem.

Now they will train the dogs to go into another room when the bell rings. They will feed them for doing so in order to build up positive associations.

They will also train their visitors (often a challenge!). The person’s language and behaviour can help Maya greatly.

Most of all, they themselves will keep quiet. When they resort to repeated commands or scolding, they merely compound Maya’s fears. It will seem like unfamiliar people are making them upset too.

I always ask people of dogs that get very excited or that are wary (but not likely to bite), to take no notice of them when I come in and for a few minutes. It’s surprising how hard people find this. They are often surprised how unusually quiet their dog initially is with me.

This actually is not because I have any strange powers. It’s largely to do with the owners acting relaxed themselves and the dog picking up on it! 

Walks are something of a ritual.

The lucky dogs are daily walked about three miles by the gentleman. They have a very strict route and routine.

The first and last part of the walk is on lead. Then, off lead, they do their own thing with a couple of clever ‘check points’ where they meet up so that he never loses them.

Then there is a place where they stop for fifteen minutes of ball play.

When he calls them back they come – ninety-nine percent of the time. It’s that one percent when Maya sees a person that she won’t come back. The time when it’s most important.

She will rush the person, barking intimidatingly. GO AWAY. If they were to put a hand out she may well bite. She’s scared.

If, on lead, they encounter an unfamiliar person, the man will hold the dogs tightly beside him. He may put himself between which may help. However, he will allow the person to come far too close for Maya and she is trapped.

A walker should engage with the dogs.

Day after day the walks are on automatic, punctuated by meeting a dog or person. The man does his own thing and the dogs do theirs, coming together at prearranged times and places.

I suggest he becomes unpredictable!  This way the dogs will take more notice of him.

Tia – what eyelashes!

He needs to react a lot sooner when he sees a person, taking his lead from Maya. Tightening the lead immediately can only make matters worse, The lead should be long and loose and he should remain at a comfortable distance.

He can then feed her or have a game.

Off lead, if he only calls the dogs at the prearranged ‘check-in’ places or when he sees another person, Maya will have wised-up long ago that being called means someone is about!

By engaging more with his dogs, keeping their attention, they will be walking with him. He should call them at random times throughout the walk and vary what he offers them when they return. It can be food or fun.

Out of sight, out of mind.

I would discourage allowing Maya and Tia out of sight.

With a bit of imagination he will much more easily be able to get Maya back well before she barks at people.

If he helps Maya to associate meeting people with with good things, over time her confidence should grow and she will no doubt get nearer before she panics. Ultimately I can see no reason why they can’t walk past or stop to chat to a person she’s not met before. It will be his job to make sure they don’t invade her space.

Barking at the Window. Coming When Called

Barking at the window and coming when called sound like two separate issues but are they?

Jack Russell Candy is a near-perfect little dog.

barking at the window causes stressThe lady has had her for about four months because her owner, an elderly man, moved into a home.

She is divine. In the photo I made a little noise and immediately she opened her eyes and the little tail started wagging furiously. So friendly.

Since moving in to the lady’s home the little dog has started barking at the window as people walk past and it’s getting worse as time goes by.

Sometimes the lady just ignores it, sometimes she will loudly go SHHHHH and sometimes the little dog’s barking at the window gets her cross – understandably.

To stop or reduce the barking two things should happen.

First, the environment can be managed better.

Secondly, we need to look at why the dog is barking and deal with that. Barking at the window is a symptom of something else.

All this barking at the window simply raises Candy’s stress levels.

Raised stress levels cause her to – BARK!

Barking at the window will be reduced, obviously, if Candy can’t see out.

Why does she do it?

Candy will be barking at the window because she feels that in some way passing people are a threat. GO AWAY! And they nearly always do – unless it’s the postman.

Like many dogs, she particularly hates a postman.

I ask people how they would react if their child suddenly screamed ‘there’s a man with a gun coming down the path who may shoot us all dead’!

Would we ignore the child and leave him to get on with it alone? Would we crossly tell him to be quiet?

No! We would help him out.

The lady should react in such a way that shows Candy that she has some support.

Helping Candy out will involve reassurance and calling her away. This is where reliable recall comes in.

When the lady calls her, Candy must know that abandoning her self-appointed job of guarding the house, trusting the lady to deal with it, is worth her while. If the lady calls her and gives her nothing, it will soon be like ‘crying wolf’ and she will be ignored.

Having called Candy, the lady can reward her and then decide what to do next. She may investigate or take her somewhere else. She may even have a game with her.

“Candy – Come!” should bring Candy running.

This means she can be called away from barking at the window. She can be called in straight away from the garden.uttleycandy

It means that eventually the lady should be able to let her off lead. She would dearly love to see her running free. A while ago she had let go of the lead accidentally and Candy was off! Eventually she came back but not sufficiently near to be grabbed before running off again.

The lady will continue to walk Candy on the long line, but will actively work on recall when out also.

Candy didn’t bark at the window at all when the lady first had her. Once it started, the barking has got worse and worse – as things do. With a different approach both dog and human will be a lot more relaxed.

 

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 Candy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)

Barking at People at Home and on Walks

Hector, the little wire haired miniature dachshund, is absolutely adorable.

His young lady has made every effort to do the very best for him from the start, but at about seven months old he began the barking at people.

Once he starts his barking at people he’s unstoppable.

Barking at people who come to the house. Barking at people on walks.  Even barking at people in the distance.

Believing from their advBarking at peopleertising that they were the best people to help her, Hector’s young owner called in Barkbusters. As soon as he started to bark, the person, who said he was scared, made a loud BAH noise. Why would you want to make a noise like that at a scared dog? Wouldn’t that make him even more scared?

To quote Hector’s lady, he was so petrified of of the Barkbusters person that he was quiet. However, when she herself tried to implement the techniques Hector, predictably, didn’t take any notice of her.

Now this is the trouble with punishment. When something stops working because the dog gets used to it, the punisher has to be increased to be effective. She went on to try a citronella collar that squirts stuff the dog hates up his nose – stuff that lingers long after the barking stops – and then collars that vibrate or make a noise.

She realised that this was just making his barking worse. Why associate people he’s barking at with something so unpleasant. Surely this will increase his fear?

In trying to punish the barking, often don’t see it as it really is. Barking is the symptom of what’s making the dog bark. Usually fear has a lot to do with it. In punishment they merely make the fear worse. A collar squirting citronella up his nose when he barks is merely putting a temporary lid on the noise, it’s making how he feels a lot worse.

Hector’s barking at people means she can’t have anyone to her house.

Because of his barking at people when out also, she doesn’t enjoy walking him either.

The poor girl simply doesn’t know what to do.

I find the situation quite heartbreaking really because she has tried so hard to do her very best for Hector right from the beginning. She received some very bad advice that started her down the punishment route.

I call it punishment, but people who advocate these methods would probably call it ‘correction’. It’s ‘positive punishment’.

Hector’s barking at me was relentless to start with. I worked with him. We had enough breaks in the noise to cover all my questions and to teach the little genius dog something incompatible with barking. We taught him to touch both the lady’s hand and my own using clicker – and he’d never been clicker trained!

One minute he was enjoying a clicker game, running between us to touch our hands, and the next he was barking at me again.

Puzzling.cundallhector2

His initial response was fearful undoubtedly, but not for long. It’s like he simply keeps barking at people until something happens – this ‘something’ will more recently have been punishment of some sort.

He is really a curious and friendly little dog. He wanted my attention and barked for that also! If he doesn’t get what he wants he may then bark because he’s frustrated.

When I got back home I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I wasn’t satisfied that I had fully covered the problem. I had been treating it as mainly fear driven.

Suddenly it dawned on me.

I arranged to go straight back the next evening. This time I was there for just fifteen minutes with a different strategy that worked a lot better.

Basically, barking at people had given him something that made barking at people rewarding to him. It’s impossible to know just what, but he seems to enjoy it. It dawned on me that we should now respond with something completely different, something that has never happened before in response to his barking at people.

She will walk him out of the room straight away when he barks. He has a nice comfortable harness so there will be no discomfort involved.

I went back and found that worked. He really didn’t want to miss all that food on the floor and and he really wanted to be with me. His barking being a learnt response meant Hector and his young lady walked in and out of the room quite a few times before he got the message.

This isn’t the protocol I would use if the barking was simply fear. Because I suggest removing him from something he actually wants – me – this would be termed ‘negative punishment’. I would handle it a bit differently if he was really fearful.

This is a good example of why it’s not wise for me to go into too much detail in my stories. Even I hadn’t got it quite right the first time round. The protocols have to be tailored to the individual dog. Like other stuff people find on the internet, it could do more harm than good otherwise.

The basic principles we are using is to address both the barking at people in the home and people out on walks.

The young lady will now use willing friends as human Guinea pigs, dropping in for about twenty minutes at a time initially.

Over time, as Hector relaxes and learns to enjoy their company quietly, the young lady should be able to enjoy having her friends round again.

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. 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)

Barking at Me. Why?

Cocker Spaniel Archie’s barking at me was erratic and a little puzzling.

As soon as Archie was let out of the sitting room to where I was in the hallway, he was barking at me loudly, jumping up at me and although I was aware of his mouth he stopped short of nipping.

Taking a break from barking at meI initially assumed he may be scared but by both watching him and talking to the lady it soon became obvious that he was mostly protective and possessive of her. I guess that is fear in a way – fearful of losing a resource.

This analysis is backed up by the fact that Archie is looked after by the lady’s parents every morning. He is much less reactive to people coming to their own house.

What did the beautiful two-year-old dog hope to gain with all the barking at me? It’s safe to assume an element of it was telling me to go away. As this didn’t succeed he would surely be getting increasingly anxious, cross and frustrated.

We look to see ‘what’s in it for him’ when deciding on treatment and this is hard. The only function that could be served for him by this behaviour was attention from the lady herself and an outlet from his own emotions.

He soon stopped barking at me and became very friendly, encouraging me to fuss him. Really sweet. A different dog.

Then he would suddenly break out into barking again.

I can only think of a couple of occasions when I was there that he hadn’t placed himself between me and the lady.

My standing up was guaranteed to start him off barking at me again.

I experimented with desensitisation. When he was quiet, I began by standing and feeding as I did so, thinking if I did this over and over he would feel better about it. This didn’t work.

Next, I called him (he came happily) then asked him to sit so as to give him warning and take the sudden element out of it. I then slowly stood up and fed him as I did so. I tried half standing and feeding him. It became apparent that trying to desensitise him this way was doing no good at all – increasing his stress even.

As soon as I moved, he was barking at me.

So, what to try next?

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Reinforcing calm and something he can do instead of barking

Until he calms down and gains confidence in the presence of visitors, he will need a comfortable harness and lead on him so he can be held back from people with no discomfort or interaction with lady whatsoever. How she does things is important. It’s vital he doesn’t pick up signals from her that he can interpret as either backing him up or anxiety.

She can walk him out of the room and bring him back in again when he’s quiet – he won’t be left alone because we don’t want to stress him further.

She can show him the benefits of being quiet. This can be done by using clicker and food. Because in between sessions of barking at me he might pick up a toy – likely trying to self-calm himself – offering him something special to chew will help him.

In order to teach him something else he can do instead of barking, the lady will work on a kind of ‘drill’, a silent sequence of behaviours that, when she gives the signal, he can instantly fall into and perform that gives him something to concentrate on that is both fun and reinforcing for him and incompatible with barking at someone.

This is a very interesting case because the lady herself has done a lot of research, is very well informed and has tried many things. It’s hard to see how her own behaviour is influencing Archie’s behaviour as one might expect.

My visit was about seeing things objectively through different eyes and trying to come up with something else.

I looked at the bigger picture – not just the barking – and we have different angles to work on.

Very important is keeping Archie’s general overall stress levels down as much as possible.

The relationship between the lady and Archie needs to change so that he comes to feel more independent of her, thus altering the emotion driving the possessive behaviour. By getting him to use his brain for her and by discouraging him to constantly be at her heels when she’s with him, she can show him that it’s her job to make decisions and to protect him and not the other way around.

Eventually this should give him a sense of release.

We are working on actual tactics and techniques to help Archie cope with encountering people, most particularly when they come into their house but also when out.

Sweet Dog Undersocialised and Scared

Three of the last four dogs I have been to have been scared of me. Although they all barked at me I’m not taking it personally. Each one, almost certainly, has been inadequately socialised at a sufficiently young age.

Rescues are full of undersocialised dogs. Without sufficient happy encounters with lots of different people in the first weeks of the dog’s life, the puppy of about three months old will very likely begin to be fearful. The clock can’t be put back.

People often think someone may have been actively cruel to their adopted dog but usually that’s not the case. There has even been research to prove that the brain of a dog that has been undersocialised deUndersocialised Cocker Spaielvelops a bit differently. What’s more, fearful dogs may pass on these fear genes to their puppies. It really is a big problem.

A dog that has been with one person, loved but not exposed to people and real life from a very young age, is condemned to a challenging life. So many people I go to have re-homed a dog like this, like the family I went to today.

Cocker Spaniel Millie, 3, is very happy with her family. She is pretty good with other dogs too. However, she does not like other people.

When someone comes into her house she will bark at them in a fearful way. The people have a ritual that may keep her barking under control but it’s not actually changing how Millie feels about people. Today I asked them not to do what they usually did, which unsettled her, actually making her worse. This may happen to begin with.

What was apparent is that the fear element reduced with the help of food but she still barked at me on and off. I feel it’s become a habit that always brings the same predictable result that may be rewarding or reassuring – a certain reaction from the family. She may even be getting a little bit cross. So often it’s a mix of things.

We have a plan for working on this involving food which fortunately she loves and multiple short sessions. They will have the environment already laced with food before Millie joins the visitor who will be sitting still and not looking at her. They will take it from there, trying different things. Some things work better with some dogs than others.

Millie’s not keen of people she meets on walks either. It is tempting to get the dog to sit as a person passes, but I prefer to keep on the move, making a bit of an arc rather than approaching head-on, keeping the dog’s attention and feeding as the person goes by. This is great practice at a level she can cope with to make her feel a bit better about people.

Millie barking at me

Millie barking at me

Millie’s general stress levels are permanently being topped up during the day by various things – she’s very alert to noises or anything sudden. There are many small things that can be done that could contribute to reducing stress from diet to preventing post being pushed through the door.

There are also things dogs can do for themselves to help them to self-calm.

Millie has had over three years in fear of people, so it will be a slow process. Every small step will be an achievement. The gentleman said that a trainer had told him that teaching Millie something new was not possible as it would be like trying to teach a 35-year-old human something new. That’s ridiculous. I am learning all the time.

Anyway, this isn’t about ‘learning’ as about ‘feeling’. There is no age limit to changing emotions.

The physical effect on Millie’s brain isn’t about ‘learning’ either. It is hard-wired and will always be there and even, once ‘cured’, she could revert if faced with a situation she can’t cope with. With continuing help she will bounce back.

When they first had Millie it looked like she had no tail. For days it was clamped between her legs and under her body. Even despite her unease with me, that didn’t happen. Later in my presence she was positively enjoying the clicker work the young lady was doing with her.

With kindness and patience they have come a long way in the eighteen months that they have had her. Now it’s time to push a bit further forward.

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 Millie. 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 which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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 Get Help page)