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)

 

The Dog is Fearful of Men

Greyhound Saluke Lurcher fearful of men

What a beautiful boy! He is lying in his corner beside the lady and well away from the gentleman.

Initially we were discussing the possible reasons why Greyhound Saluki mix Reuben could possibly be scared of the kind and friendly man. Did he remind him of someone who had scared him either by how his work clothes smelt perhaps or his voice? Had the two-year-old an early experience in the company of the man that scared him when they first got him from the rescue?

Even now after six months Reuben gives the man a wide berth. He is only happy to be near him when his back is turned.

It soon became apparent that he’s mostly scared of him simply because he’s a man. It’s not personal.

Men’s body language may be seen as more threatening along with a deeper voice. A recent study reported in Scientific American Mind as to one reason why many dogs may be more fearful of men and it’s to do with how they walk.

Understandably, the man tries his hardest to get Reuben at ease with him. He talks to him, plays with him (the dog allows this outside in the garden so long as he’s running away after a toy); the man watches him, subconsciously responds to his everything action and does everything he can to please him. The dog is having none of it.

When Reuben is in the garden he won’t come back in unless the lady calls him. He would happily stay hiding down the end of the garden for hours rather than come in to the man.

I have been to several cases like this before. It’s hurtful to a man because the bond is ever closer with the lady which, unintentionally, pushes the man out. Because the lady comforts Reuben when he is looking at the man, it can seem like they are in cahoots.

Indoors, his bolt-hole from the man or from callers is in a bedroom where he spends a lot of time. Outside, his sanctuary is down the end of the garden.

When I rang the bell on the gate and the lady came out and down the garden to open it, Reuben came running out with her, barking at me and obviously scared. When people come, if he’s not already in the garden he will be let out. They have regular visitors, many of them men due to the man’s work. This is giving the dog constant practice in barking at people who come through their garden, reinforcing his fear of approaching men.

We have a plan! There are three areas where his being fearful of men must be slowly addressed. Because it’s fear of men in general it has to be all men he encounters. These three areas are: encountering men out on walks, encountering people coming to their property (women as well as men) and fear of the gentleman himself.

The rule is: don’t force Reuben to go closer to a man than he feels comfortable. This applies to any and every man including his male owner. The longer they can keep him at a distance where he’s happy enough to take food and they can work on reducing his fear in the ways we discussed, the more progress they will make.

Firstly outside on walks. Instead of holding the barking dog tight to prevent him lunging at passing men, the lady should immediately create distance. Her idea of a ‘walk’ may need to be a bit different for now. One good idea for Reuben who seems better behind a man than being approached, is to follow one at a comfortable distance whilst plying him with food to give positive associations.

Secondly – the garden. Reuben, to my mind, should not have so much run of the garden for now, free to react in a fearful manner to men (and women) coming to the gate, much as he likes being out there. Again, if on their property Reuben can be at a distance from a man where he feels sufficiently safe, he can be plied with the special food.

If his fear of men in general isn’t addressed, progress with the gentleman owner himself will be compromised.

Thirdly, the man himself. The naturally warm and chatty man is going to find it very hard indeed, but for ten days or so he’s going to avoid all eye contact, speaking, efforts to entice Reuben to be friendly and resist outside play even if initiated by the dog. He’s going to remove all pressure on Reuben to interact with him in any way at all. Instead, he’s going to run a ‘chicken bar’ – Reuben loves chicken.

Every time Reuben has to pass a bit too near the man like going through the kitchen to the back door, chicken drops on the floor. Each time when the man is sitting in his chair the dog has to walk past to get to the lady, he drops a piece of chicken. Every time the man gets up and walks about and Reuben is nearby, he drops chicken. That is all.  When the man’s not about the chicken bar closes.

Reuben’s loves his food but his meals will be relatively boring so all the good stuff will now be associated with men.

I would be very surprised if, after the ten days is up and if the man can manage it, Reuben’s not walking happily and calmly past the man, trusting him not to try to touch him, no more taking a wide berth or making a run for it. Then, with great care, the man can add things one at a time. For a few days, as he drops the food but with no eye contact, he can gently say ‘Good Boy’. After a few days of that he could add eye contact, ever ready to drop back to the previous stage if pushing ahead too fast, and so on.

If they are sufficiently patient I can see Reuben eventually coming happily and confidently to the man when he calls him over for a piece of chicken. That will be the first step towards allowing himself to be touched. Then, no longer fearful of him, he will dare to come in from the garden when the man calls and so on.

This issue of being fearful of men is deeply ingrained in poor Reuben and could even have a hereditary element. It will take as long as it takes.

Here is an update from an email after about 8 weeks, demonstrating how their patience is paying off: Everything with Reuben seems to be progressing pretty well.  (My husband) is now able to feed him from an open hand, whilst sitting on the floor, and Reuben is much more relaxed in his company now.  Reuben will sometimes sit with us in the sitting room, while we’re watching TV, and quite happily follows (my husband) around in the garden – sitting on the grass a few feet away, and has even ventured into the workshop…….The traffic problem is improving too……
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 Reuben. 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)

Overprotective Dog Causes Problems

Swiss Shepherd is overprotectiveAn overprotective dog can take over a person’s life, as is the case with the young lady and her stunning two-year-old White Swiss Shepherd, Jake.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but had he had more intensive socialisation at a much younger age things could be different. As it is, the lady only had him living with her from the age of six months and since then she has moved with him from a home overseas with lots of open countryside where they met few people and dogs to life in a town.

It’s tragic that the dog into which she has put in so much training, effort and love is also spoiling her life. His reactivity to both people and other dogs means she can’t freely go out with him or meet friends and it makes people coming to her house difficult because she has to watch him all the time. When she chose him it was to have a companion that could share all her activities, not a bodyguard.

Jake had been barking at me from his crate as I stood beside the lady who was making us coffee, probably in a panic because he was powerless to protect her from a stranger, Let out, he now followed at her heels, panting, as she moved around the kitchen. We had sat down for a while and in order that he would associated me with good stuff, I threw food well away from myself onto the floor. He ate my food but ignored me completely.  Without looking at him I then casually held my hand down with a piece of food in it. He came over to take the food and as he did so I heard the lady quickly draw breath – and Jake heard it too. He very suddenly barked at me and snapped – not making contact.

It’s easy to underestimate the effect of a human’s state of anxiety upon her dog. There is an invisible cord between dog and lady, the dog as much on high alert to her every signal as she is to his. Because she’s on tenterhooks her overprotective dog could sense vulnerability I’m sure.

This was one very confident dog doing his job, that of protecting the lady. He was in no way fearful of me.

Bearing in mind that consequence drives behaviour, what does he gain by barking at someone? It will usually result in withdrawal of some sort. It will always result in attention from the lady.

Jake’s reactivity and unpredictability out on walks is all part of the same overprotective thing with an added component – he is trapped on the end of a lead, helpless against other dogs who may come too near and be a threat to his human or to himself. It’s understandable that he ‘goes berserk’.

Being overprotective is at the root of everything. The young owner has a friend who walks Jake and visits her house. When she’s not there he is apparently a different dog. As soon as she comes home he changes his behaviour towards the friend and goes into bodyguard mode.

The lady knows of nowhere else to walk before and after work when time is short but the local park and there are always dogs in the park. Even when just walking the streets she can’t avoid other dogs. She has made great headway with getting Jake used to passing people when they are out, but dogs are another matter. You can’t control other people’s dogs (wouldn’t it be great if we could!).

It is simply impossible to work on a proper counter-conditioning programme in uncontrolled situations as finding that ‘threshold’ distance from another dog is crucial. The only solution is to find a place to go by car made impossible by time constraints. There must somehow be a way.

Dealing with the whole issue of Jake being overprotective rather than dealing specifically with his reactivity to dogs and people should help. Primarily, this means reducing his need to constantly protect the lady which requires a change of emphasis in their relationship with one another. The more opportunities she can find to be the ‘protector’ and decision-maker and the more she can act independently of him when they are together, making breaks in that invisible cord connecting them, the better.

People Who Suddenly Appear

Two young Spanish Water Dogs

Polo and Rolo

People who suddenly appear upsets Spanish Water Dog Polo and this can even be someone with whom he is familiar before he realises who they are.

When a dog is wary of people it can affect so many areas of his owners’ life.

Polo is not yet two years old and lives with a more confident year-old Spanish Water Dog, Rolo who is confident and very friendly. They are a stunning pair and look and feel a bit like sheep!

Polo’s problems with the arrival of someone are usually over within a minute or two and then he’s quite accepting of them unless, perhaps, they walk out and then suddenly appear again a short while later.

Until recently the couple used to take both dogs to work with them. Polo knows the regular workers but other people, including deliveries and post, may suddenly appear also. Shut in their office with them, it can mean Polo barks at the sounds of people opening doors and walking about outside, and someone may suddenly open the office door.

His reactivity has built up and he now has nipped a couple of unfamiliar people at the workplace.

Where do these things start? One unpleasant experience followed by another can soon take hold. Right from young he will have rehearsed his scared barking at the neighbour who would suddenly appear in his garden and, like many people with a barking dog next door, become riled so has compounded matters by shouting at him and kicking the fence.

Dog is wary of people suddenly appearing

Perro

Another run of unpleasant experiences which probably have contributed is a man they frequently see when out – a strange person that spooks Polo and who also shouts back at him for barking.

It’s got to the stage that it’s hard for the couple to have people round to their house because unless initially restrained Polo will fly at them, barking, which can scare them.

They can no longer take him to work on account of the aggressive-sounding barking and charging at people and he can’t be allowed to wander around freely anymore now that he’s actually nipped a couple of people.

We looked at each situation where Polo reacts to a person and have developed a plan for working on each in easy stages with desensitisation and counter conditioning. He’s to learn that people, herald good stuff and are no threat – he’s particularly reactive to men which isn’t unusual. Anyone who could indeed be a threat in terms of maybe shouting at him or scaring him needs to be religiously avoided for now.

In order to move things forward, I suggest Polo is taken back into work for half an hour a day, on a long lead, starting at times when it’s quiet and everyone is familiar. A special ‘food bar’ can open – a bar that only dispenses a particular favourite food and only when people are about. Lots and lots of very small bits will be required.

Having established a happy dog who is relaxed around these people when they are moving about, the dogs can begin to stay in the office for short periods, but only when the man or lady has time to give Polo full attention if necessary.

A gate in the office doorway will mean the dogs will more aware of approaching people and taken less by surprise. Polo will be aware of all movement outside the office and this can be more opportunity for the continuing counter-conditioning work. The pairing of people with the good stuff must continue.

On a nice day at home, they can take Polo’s special ‘people’ food into the garden and work on that neighbour also.

Here is an illustration local to myself of how, once a fear gets under a dog’s skin, it can spread – beyond that particular dog even. Just down the road from where I live there are a couple of Boxers loose in the front garden. Whenever anyone with a dog goes past, these two go mental, to the extent that they then, in their frustration, attack one another. This is unfortunately the only route to the best local dog walk. Gradually, over the weeks, other dogs who weren’t reactive before have started barking back. Still aroused, these usually friendly dogs will now bark at the next dog they meet who in turn, taken by surprise, barks back, and so it goes. The whole area is a bit noisier just now, and just imagine the behaviour that those two Boxers are rehearsing. I may get a call soon!!

I use this as an example of how a wide berth needs to be taken around scary things. The dog may survive one encounter so long as you move away and on quickly, some maybe two or three, but eventually there will doubtless be a reaction and the more exposure the worse it will get. A dog may start to anticipate this bedlam from the top of the road or before even leaving the house. There is nothing to be gained whatsoever in forcing a dog to confront things he’s unable to deal with in any other way than in self-defense – lunging and ferociously barking in order to chase them off and keep himself safe.

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 Polo. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly where aggression is involved. One size does not fit all. 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).

Bark Bark Bark

Welsh TerrierAs I came in the door, Welsh Terrier Taffy was behind the kitchen gate – barking. The lady was embarrassed but she need not have been – this is something not uncommon for me to walk into.

The five-year-old dog was then brought into the sitting room on lead to join us – barking. He barked and barked as we experimented with various things that might give us a break that didn’t involve shutting him away (he would probably have continued barking from there anyway).

We tried repeatedly taking him out of the room which stopped him briefly but he started as soon as he was back so had to go back out again.

What halted the barking most effectively was the lady getting up and walking out of the room, leaving him behind. He would stop for a couple of minutes before starting again.

Was he simply barking for attention of some sort? He barked at me in exactly the same way as he barked at the lady and her daughter. I detected no fear and no aggression. When he barked at me it wasn’t like he wanted to get rid of me. It was almost like he was frantically trying to get an important message across – VERY LOUDLY!

Within a few minutes of my arrival it was obvious that he didn’t need to be held back on a lead. He was actually quite friendly between bouts of barking – in fact in the photo he’s lying across my lap. He really did seem to be wanting attention of some sort.

For some reason this barking has escalated over the past couple of months. He will now, in the evening, obsessively bark at ‘nothing’, facing into the corners of rooms.

Trying to watch TV in the evenings is near impossible. He barks at them all the time they are eating so has to be bribed with their food. As soon as all is quiet, the barking into corners will start. He will eventually settle down, but someone only has to move and off he goes again. They have a supply of toys filled with food and other things, but these distractions only work for a very short while.

He has bitten family members a few times in the past – not badly. If someone makes a sweeping action with a hand or a foot he may bite it. Sweeping actions are things we do without thinking, so he needs to be desensitised to this for peoples’ safety. He jumps at any sudden movement and hates people cuddling. Amongst other things he goes frantic when the lady tries to lift the black bin liner out of her rubbish bin.

He is one mixed-up little dog.

After about an hour and a half of mixed success I got my clicker out. We ignored as much barking as possible with the lady walking out when it simply got too much in order to give us that break. Every small lull, looking away, sitting down or hint of relaxation we clicked and then fed him.

A dog that is quite so aroused is incapable of learning anything much so it took time, but after about two hours from my arrival, as though a cloud suddenly lifted from him, Taffy stopped panting, sat down and then lay down. Peace.

Phew.

The rubbish bin can be worked on very gradually, desensitising him over time. He needs to be relieved of the barking into corners compulsion. Catching it before he gets started is the best thing.

What will probably be the best therapy of all is the list of very short and non-exciting activities that we have drawn up – little hunting games, gentle training sessions, foraging for bits of food, sniffs walk round the block and so on. For no more than two or three minutes at a time but at very regular intervals whenever they are home the lady and her daughter can initiate these things – picking moments when he happens to be quiet. This way, his fulfillment and attention should be addressed but not in response to barking and he will get plenty of it. There will be no need to crave it.

This isn’t going to be quick and it will take hard work. The barking could well get even worse before it starts to get better.

It’s all a great shame because he’s such a good little dog in other ways. He walks nicely and has no problems with people when out – or with other dogs.

This is the start of a long journey. A couple of days later I received this very empowering email – empowering to myself and to anyone using old-fashioned methods of force and punishment:
“Since your visit I have been looking at books, websites etc that you recommended and I have found them very enlightening. I really think that for Taffy its an escalation of lots of things over time which have filled his stress bucket to overflowing.
The major thing for me is the removal of the terms “dominance” and “pack” leader. As a first time dog owner I  tried to make sure I was doing the right thing and felt that these words were the things I should be striving for and imposing on Taffy. I used methods recommended which I now realise were ill advised. Water sprays, loud noises such as tins filled with keys to stop undesirable behaviour, pinning down and citronella collars are amongst these. When I contacted you I was was at my wits end, having tried so many things I no longer knew what to do for the best for Taffy.
We are starting to use the methods you gave us and yesterday I distracted and avoided and there was no barking in corners – hooray!
My regret now is that I did not find you and these methods sooner in Taffys life, and that positive training is not advocated as the norm for every dog. I am looking forward to enjoying my lovely little dog now I understand him better.”

Runs at People Entering the Door

Young chocolate labrador on his bedThe work with young Chocolate Labrador Chester is a little different to most others I work with.  Although he sleeps in the house at night, the rest of his life is in and around a farm, with a large working barn and an office the far end. His lady owner works in the office. This gives ‘home visit’ a slightly different dimension.

Chester is now ten months old and his charging and aggressive-sounding barking at people entering the barn door is causing concern. They have another, very elderly dog, who has always barked at people though in a less threatening manner and it’s very likely Chester is now following suit.

The inside of the building is huge and stocked with produce. From the back where the office is, the door people enter by is quite a distance from where Chester is likely to be – with the lady in the office. All will be quite peaceful until suddenly the far door opens and someone appears. It could be a worker, a customer or family. Chester will then rush at the person, barking, only stopping if it’s someone he knows and is comfortable with.

It’s understandable how in a farm environment dogs run freely and guard the place, but it’s hard to teach them to be selective especially when we are dealing with fear.

‘Sudden’ is one of the problems. In a mainly quiet environment there is no warning that someone is about to open that door. If people were constantly coming in and out I’m sure Chester would be cool with it.

When I arrived, although Chester charged at me, barking and with hackles raised, he immediately took food from my hand – he is a Labrador after all – and apart from one more spooked bark when I gave him eye contact a little too soon, he was a real softy.

In every other respect Chester really is perfect and amazingly calm and well-behaved for an adolescent. He has reliable basic obedience. All the work needs to revolve around changing his fear of people.

To start with it would be helpful if Chester was given some warning when a person was about to enter, so I suggest a bell. That alone won’t be enough – it repeatedly needs to be paired with food so that, with a special training ritual, Chester is conditioned such that he hears the bell and runs away from the door and to the lady in the office – for food. She can then train him to stay on his bed, or she can make the decision to keep him beside her and release him to greet the person when and if she (not Chester) so chooses.

Callers will be instructed to throw a tennis ball from a box outside as they walk into his view. Chester adores balls and the lady is fairly convinced that once he’s holding a ball he will relax. When they leave he has to give up the ball so he only gets it in the presence of a caller, the idea being that he eventually will welcome callers when he realises they are his only access to the special balls. If that doesn’t work they can use food.

Callers will be instructed to avoid eye contact and not to put hands out to touch him unless, later, he decides he’s comfortable enough to make friends. If they are people who are just passing through or if they are not keen on dogs, Chester can stay behind the gate in the office, on his bed and out of harm’s way.

The new dog laws now are such that in an environment like theirs, if a dog is even deemed to be a threat though never having bitten, the owner can be prosecuted. Apart from that, a dog that scares customers isn’t good for business.

Chester has problems, too, with people he sees out on walks. In a rural area and mostly on their own farmland, if they see someone it’s very noticeable. Both dogs and humans can understandably feel more exposed when isolated and it’s understandable why he feels unsafe and runs and barks at people. He could feel very different if ‘merging into the crowd’,

Instead of throwing Chester’s ball for him throughout the walk, they can reserve it for if they see a person. Not only will the ball get his attention, it will help to pair the sight of a person with something he really loves and also, if thrown in the opposite direction, it introduces a behaviour the very opposite of running towards them.

They have found that in a busy environment Chester is only reactive to people who come right up to him and try to touch him. They will deal with that appropriately now whilst exposing him to the busier outside world more regularly – but only at a level he can handle.

I am sure that with help, patience and work Chester’s confidence will now grow.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, 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 Chester. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. 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).

The Puppies are Littermates

White German Shepherd puppy

Buster

They brought their two beautiful cream-coloured German Shepherd brothers home a couple of months ago at eight weeks old, believing they would be great company for one another thus making life easier and not realising it could actually be a lot more work.

They soon were given information that littermates could well become overly reliant upon one another, even to the extent of not bonding as fully with their humans as they might. One puppy can become overshadowed by the other and not reach his full potential. Puppy play can, as the pups mature, turn into full-blown fighting. This isn’t inevitable – I have been to siblings who are the best of friends – but it is possible that things could turn out not so well unless fairly special measures are taken. They called me in for professional guidance.

Already they have Samson and Buster, now sixteen weeks old, sleeping in separate crates. They walk them separately and they feed them separately. They will need individual training sessions. They have been having more one-on-one time with their humans than they have with each other which is perfect.

When I was there and for my benefit the two puppies were together more than they usually would be. We were in the conservatory watching them playing in the garden. It wasn’t long before play became unequal – even at four months old. Samson was becoming a bit too rough and Buster was getting scared. Their relative personalities are already very clear with Samson more nervous, more excitable and more bossy.

six month old white German Shepherd puppy

Samson

I was quite amazed actually at just how well-behaved the two dogs were for such young puppies and the hard work is paying off already. They are fully house trained and they don’t do chewing damage anywhere. There is a bit of jumping up from just Samson and they have already discovered that ‘get down’ doesn’t work. Their owners have, from the start, gradually weaned the two puppies into being left apart and all alone for reasonable periods of time.

There are a couple of ‘flags’ I feel they need to be aware of that could develop into problems. Prevention is a lot better than cure. Already Samson is barking in a scared fashion at people and other dogs when out, and Buster barks at dogs. Possibly, because they are currently held tight on short leads to try to stop them pulling, they feel trapped and uncomfortable.

The two dogs need as much socialising as possible. I know from personal experience that too many German Shepherds can be reactive and aggressive towards callers to their homes if the don’t regularly meet people from an early age. Plenty of people coming through the door would be good if they can find volunteers, and they should be associated with food or play.

With one dog at a time and the other shut away, we did very successful loose lead walking around the garden and the front of the house. We used a longer lead and using my technique the puppy simply walks around beside or following the person holding the lead. One of the puppies even had a pee when on lead, something they never do, and I suggest this is because he felt sufficiently comfortable and relaxed.

Samson likes to play tug of war with the lead, but reacting with reward when he stops rather than reacting with scolding or tension while he’s tugging will soon cure this.

The play between the two dogs needs careful monitoring, and terminating as soon as it ‘turns’.

With two soon-to-be large dogs, the owners need some sort of ‘remote control’, particularly in public, so the dogs will learn to respond instantly to their own names, to ‘come’ and to other cues like ‘sit’, ‘down’ and ‘stay’ requested gently and just the once. Over the next few weeks and months we will have a lot of fun!

My advice to them is to treat their puppies like one lives next door – for the forseeable future. They can meet frequently and be friends, but ‘live’ apart. Fortunately the couple has a good-sized house and the gentleman works from home, so logistically it’s possible. The couple have already researched and are well prepared to do whatever it takes.

When Every Meal is Dish of Treats

German Shepherd lying by doorIt may be a little late in the day, but they want to prepare the stunning German Shepherd as best they can for a smooth transition into his new life. It is not uncommon for me to go to someone who is ‘caretaking’ a dog for someone until they can take him or her back.

Max has been loved and wonderfully looked after for the past eight months by a lady and gentleman who have never lived with a dog before.

In a month’s time the four-year-old will be going to a new life that will include a young child and a baby on the way.

My caring clients want to hand him over as well-equipped as possible.

I found out immediately that Max was simply not interested in food – even the special tasty little treats I brought. Without food it’s much more difficult to reward a dog meaningfully or to desensitise to things he’s uneasy about.  ‘Good dog’ is seldom sufficient, talking can convey the owner’s underlying anxiety even if the words themselves are positive and a favourite game like tuggy is often inconvenient and just too long-winded.

The reason became apparent when we discussed his eating habits. He has four meals a day – you could almost say ‘banquets’. Breakfast is tuna or tripe, lunch is chopped ham, tea is boiled rice with chicken, liver or heart and dinner is kibble. In addition he may get biscuits when he asks for them. When his regular food contains all the best things and in such quantity, what is there left of sufficient value for earned treats?

When I arrived I had been prepared for a barking dog, so he was on lead. Helping him with his reactivity to people coming to the house is one of their priorities. However, when they let me in following my instructions, Max was chilled! He sniffed me. We sat down – and he delicately and calmly helped himself to the Stagbar that I carry in my bag!

Work will be a lot easier if they are able to use food in order to deal appropriately with his barking at passing people and dogs, and his frenzy when someone comes to the door. They need food to help him to feel comfortable with visitors. They need food so that he pays them attention when necessary. They need to be able to reward him for sitting or lying down when asked so that he is under control when necessary. If in his new life he shows too much interest in the baby or they are at all worried that he may be uneasy around the child, they need to know that he will come to them when asked.

At the moment all the best goodies are showered upon him for free and he has to work for nothing. Now he needs to work for the best food. They will gradually reduce the variety offered in meals till his diet is more basic and he ends up with two ‘normal’ meals a day. If they are worried he’s not eating, he can still be earning and working for tasty stuff but outside his mealtimes.

Max needs to put a bit of effort in order to get what he wants. I’m sure that just like us, dogs value more the stuff they have had to put a bit of effort into acquiring – and perhaps take more note of those people whose attention they have to try a bit harder for?

Some things they simply won’t have time to address in the short time they still have him, like his manic barking in the car at everything that passes. This could make things difficult in the future with children in the car too. Their simplest option is to get a crate for the car and prevent him from seeing out – fortunately he was crate-trained.

One other thing they can help him with in the next four weeks is his very close attachment to the lady. He became visibly anxious when she left the room although the gentleman was still with us. He panted and paced. It will be hard for her as she loves him dearly, but she may need to help him to become a bit more independent of her.

I really hope that I will be called upon to continue to help this dog in his new life, and to put the caring couple’s mind at rest that all their efforts to invest in Max’ future are being built upon.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, 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 Max. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. 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).

Insecure Dog Barks at Son

Mastiff Staffie mis lying down

Alfie

Alfie is a seven-year-old Mastiff Staffie mix who spent the first eleven weeks of his life in a shed with other dogs but no human contact. When they picked him up he was riddled with worms, had mange and colitis. He was a very sick puppy with no socialisation whatsoever. It’s hardly any wonder that, despite supreme efforts on their own part without which he would undoubtedly be a lot worse, he has grown to be a dog wary of people and insecure about being left. They have since adopted a greyhound, Kenny, who gives him a bit more security when the dogs are left alone.

When we arrived and he was let in the room to join us, Alfie was immediately barking at us. I tried gently rolling a piece off food towards him which he broke off barking to eat. That was a little clue. If he was really as upset as he sounded he would not have taken the food. He’s been doing this behaviour for seven years so some of it may well be learned behaviour – a habit. Although he sounds fierce, he has never bitten anyone.  We continued to roll food at him until he was eating from our hands and being touched. Fortunately he is a very food-motivated dog.

I suggested they now keep back much of Alfie’s dry food for him to earn – and also that they feed him better food. To quote Pat Miller in The Whole Dog Journal, ‘Poor quality protein can interfere with a dog’s ability to make use of the serotonin that occurs naturally in his system. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood ….. Foods containing high-quality protein can contribute to your dogs’ behavioral health and physical health’.

After a while I stood up and it started Alfie barking again, but he soon relaxed as I dropped food whilst standing. The plan will be for anyone who comes to the house to gradually, using food, go from sitting, to standing and then to walking slowly about whilst dropping his food. Gradually the food can be reduced and ultimately stopped altogether.

It’s not only people coming into their house which can cause Alfie to bark ferociously. He also barks at the young son who is unable to go up and down stairs freely without someone first grabbing Alfie and putting him into the kitchen. The couple themselves are unable to go upstairs together without Alfie creating – unless the man goes first and the lady follows a bit later. The dog is ruling their lives. The son can never have his friends to stay.

Mastiff mix and greyhound lying down together

Kenny and Alfie

I suggested the boy got up and walked out of the door towards the gated stairs, dropping food as he went. No barking. He carried on up the stairs, throwing food over onto the floor. On the way down he did the same thing. I had him doing this over and over. No barking. He can gradually feed less and on the way down he can later wait on the stairs for Alfie to be calm and quiet before throwing one bit of food and continuing down – changing over from desensitising him to rewarding him for being quiet.

Slowly Alfie’s panic at the boy leaving and going upstairs – whatever the reason – should disappear as it is associated with something he likes – food, and at the same time the habits of his lifetime will be broken.

I take a ‘holistic’ approach, so over the next few weeks there are several other things the family should be putting in place so that Alfie becomes a calmer and less insecure dog in general. Normally he is constantly pacing and looking for trouble. It was great to see him lie down and relax several times while we were there, demonstrating by our own behaviour and by ‘conducting’ the behaviour of the other people, that he can do it if the humans around him do things in a different way.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for the complicated Alfie, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here of the methods to be used. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

German Shepherd Barks at People

nualaThough she’s not completely comfortable with having her photo taken, Nuala and I made friends very quickly! What a stunning dog the two-year-old cream-coloured German Shepherd is.

She lives alone with a lady in a quiet country cottage, where anyone even coming up the path is a major event. Like so many German Shepherds that I go to, she is very reactive to people who come near to her. Her response is to lunge at them, jumping and barking. She has never bitten.

Nuala is very good with other dogs – she has mixed more with dogs than with people. The lady began by taking her to puppy classes and then, due to an operation for elbow dysplasia, the young dog was confined for quite a long time. Since then her dog walker has taken her out with other dogs and the lady also takes her on Big Walkies. Like many dogs, if the humans have dogs with them Nuala is fine.

The situation has come to a head because the lady is having to spend several days at a time at her daughter’s house, looking after her seven grandchildren.Nuala1 Where, strangely, Nuala gets on fine with the smaller children, there are five teenagers who are as scared of her as she is of them – understandably. As soon as one enters the room, if not caught fast enough she flies towards the child, barking.

The lady could see from how quickly Nuala calmed down when I arrived just how the few other people who do come into her house should be asked to act.

The two main challenges for a dog like this are people entering the room and people getting up and moving about – even people the dog has met before. Often the dog is worse with men.

The teenage grandchildren are very cooperative and not over-noisy. They will do their best to help, so we have devised a plan. Unfortunately they live too far away for me to visit their house too, else I would do so.

‘Safety First’ is vital. Even with the younger children the lady should be looking out for signs of any stress from Nuala – lip-licking, yawning, looking away etc. It’s easy to assume a dog is enjoying a fuss when really she may only be tolerating it.

The older children will do lots of walking in and out of the room through different doors. Nuala will be on a lead (I decided against asking her to sit or lie down as not only could this put more pressure on her, the ultimate ubject is to have her walking freely and happily about). As they do so the lady will feed her something especially tasty. The child will walk in quietly – not burst in! Soon the children could be throwing her food as they walk in. If it happens enough times and they blitz her with comings, goings and food, I’m sure Nuala will become sufficiently desensitised for the leash to be dropped – until possibly after a period of quiet like when the kids suddenly appear again having been at school when they will need to do some more desensitising.

The older kids will also teach her to be happy while they stand up and move about. Again, bit by bit, moving slowly and so Nuala remains comfortable whilst also being on lead, they can work on this. They can be taught the best way to move and the body language to use.

When the lady comes back to her own home she can spend a couple of weeks weaning Nuala into wearing a muzzle – just as something to fall back on and so everyone can relax a bit next time. She should regularly take her somewhere a bit more busy to get her used to people. They can start at quiet times of day and the other side of the road from a passing person at a distance that doesn’t stress her, and gradually go at busier times as Nuala’s confidence grows.

In my experience, in many of the cases where a German Shepherd barks at people it’s because the dog hasn’t been adequately socialised with people in the first few vital weeks of her life – well before she has even left the breeder – so we are playing catch-up. It can be a big challenge requiring a lot of hard work.

PS. Here is an excerpt from a recent paper which scientifically backs up the importance of early socialisation where German Shepherds in particular are concerned: http://www.journalvetbehavior.com

One month later and the lady has decided to upgrade to my ‘lifetime’ option: ‘Nuala and I are making progress and are an on-going project and I am very aware of that.  I am so delighted with the consultation and plan and have been recommending you to everyone. I do wish to take up your continuing support.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Nuala, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. 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).