Fear of People. Separation Distress

Bentley has a fear of peopleBentley barks.

The little dog’s main fears and consequent barking is either directly, or indirectly, associated with his fear of people.

Bentley is an adorable and much-loved Coton de Tulear. In researching the breed, the first site I looked at said that they hate being on their own and that they like the sound of their own voices.

The first, distress at being alone, certainly applies but I don’t think Bentley barks and cries because he likes the sound of his own voice. 

The cause of his barking is his fear of people…

…and things associated with people.

This is whether someone just comes to the door, if someone comes into the house or when they see a person out on a walk. It’s the same with noises that people make, like slamming car doors and voices outside. (This dog that usually barks takes absolutely no notice at all of fireworks!).

His fear of people colours any trips to the vet or the groomer.

Changing his fear of people gets to the root of the barking problem and is the challenge. People should now be associated with things that Bentley likes and whenever possible on walks at a distance where he feels they are no threat to him. This threshold distance is important.

Here is a very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in on the subject (referring to encountering other dogs, but it’s the same principal). https://youtu.be/7HNv-vsnn6E

Most unusually, when I came to the house he barely barked at all, although he was still wary of me. This is because of how we set it up. They will now use the same technique with other callers.

How they actually respond to the barking will also help his fear of people and the sounds he can hear.

All alone, Bentley probably feels vulnerable.

This can only be guesswork, but he invariably toilets soon after he is left. He’s very attached to the lady and follows her everywhere. It’s most likely he feels safest when with her.

They will be getting a camera so they can watch what happens when he’s left. This will tell us more.

Separation problems are slow to work on, particularly if it can’t be done systematically due to people having to go out to work. However, the more Bentley associates their leaving with good things and their returning as no big deal, the better.

He currently has run of the house when left. I suggest keeping him away from the front door area. This is where scary people may come and go and where people have pushed items through a hole in the door.

The higher are Bentley’s general stress levels, the less he will be able to cope with his fear of people and being left. Lowering arousal/stress is key. This may sound a bit boring at times but over-exciting activities can be replaced with those that help him to be calmer and more confident.

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 Bentley because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Repetitive Behaviour. Working Dog. No Job.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees. Oscar is a dog, like many of our dogs, living in a world that he’s not been bred for. The couple do all they know to give him a good life, particularly by way of long daily walks, but it’s not enough unfortunately.

Oscar resorts to a ritual of repetitive behaviour.

The way to improve his life involves lots of changes. They want a family pet that is affectionate, reliable, companionable and to be trusted around children. Oscar’s primary needs are different.

There are so many things to deal with from his diet through to feeding his clever brain. Each little change links to the next so it is impossible to simplify things and extract just two or three things for them to concentrate on. It’s complicated.

repetitive behaviour

Oscar getting no reaction during his ritual

Oscar is a beautiful Border Collie, age five. They have had him since he was a year old and they were already his third home.

He is extremely easily agitated and aroused. Things that wire him up include noises outside, animals and sounds on TV, bangs and young children.

He tries to bite when they brush his long hair. He paws persistently and painfully for attention – which he always eventually gets in some form. When the phone rings he goes mental. These are just a few of the daily challenges the retired couple face with Oscar.

Staring the dog down

Unfortunately, the man believed in advice that dominating him by staring him down would make him respect them and change his behaviour. This, to my mind, will have made things worse and actually caused him to bite those few times. He has only gone for people who have challenged him like this – the man, their son and another man they met when out.

The start of the sequence – staring and licking his lips

I saw how arousal affects Oscar and causes his repetitive behaviour during the three hours I was there. People talking or his simply being ignored triggers the start of a ritual.

He runs to the window and starts to stare like he’s seen a fly to chase – he’s an obsessive fly-chaser. He then starts barking and scratching at the door. This is the start of a repetitive behaviour sequence. It results in the man getting up and letting him out – every time.

However, it’s not as simple as just letting him out. He is told ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ before the door is opened otherwise he will jump at the man, barking.

Once out, Oscar’s ritual involves running exactly the same circuit of the small garden, across a little path and then back to the door again. The man then gets up again and lets him in. This earns a ‘Good Boy’.

By the third time of exactly the same sequence in a short time it was obvious Oscar couldn’t possibly need to toilet again. I could see this was a repetitive behaviour – a ritual that probably gives him some control over his own life and over those around him.

Breaking the cycle

I asked the man not to get up. Let’s see what happens.

This triggered lots of frustrated door scraping and loud barking and we braved it. Oscar stopped briefly. Immediately I quietly said ‘Good’ and dropped a tiny bit of food. He went back to scratching and barking and I repeated this process many times. Eventually he walked away from the window.

‘Good’, then food.

A short break to lie down. ‘Good’.

He then went and lay down. ‘Good’ and more food. Any more chatting to him would simply arouse him again.

A few peaceful minutes would go by then Oscar would be back to the start of the routine of repetitive behaviour again, scratching the window and barking. The man, on automatic, started to get up. I stopped him.

This happens repeatedly when they are sitting down in the evening, punctuated by barking at TV and pawing for attention.

His very failure to get the man to engage in his routine of repetitive behaviour was now frustrating in itself.

Understandably, when he is peaceful they breathe a sigh of relief. Let sleeping dogs lie!

Oscar is generating all his action by pestering and getting no reinforcement or action in return for being calm and non-demanding. This needs to be reversed.

Clever brain

I gave them a list of suggestions of things to exercise Oscar’s clever brain and enriching activities that include scenting, sniffing, hunting and so on. I shall go back and do clicker work. He will love the problem-solving.

Oscar has long walks but this isn’t enough – in fact, when he returns he is sometimes more aroused and demanding than when he left. This indicates that even the walks should be done a bit differently.

The first challenge is to bring his stress levels down as low as possible. Only then will they make significant headway. Robbed of his rituals of repetitive behaviour, he needs other things added to his life to bring him enrichment and action.

Unfortunate incident involving a child

With lower general stress levels, Oscar should be better able to cope with the things that scare or intimidate him like staring men and little children. Very unfortunately a child came from behind him and hit him with a stick when he was lying beside them in an outdoor cafe. Before this he had no problem with children. Unless and until they manage to change how he feels around them – yet more work for them to do – he should be muzzled when kids are about just in case. The law never takes the side of the dog even if he’s provoked.

There is a lot to deal with. Oscar, born on a farm in Wales and now living with a retired couple in a bungalow, is bred for a different kind of life. They are very committed to doing the best they can for him. It’s not by chance that Border Collies are the dog of choice for trainers who work hard with their dogs and get them to do amazing things.

Here’s a strange thing. After a couple of weeks in kennels when they go away he is a lot more relaxed. It does him good. Is it because the rituals of repetitive behaviour that he himself creates to make ‘things happen’ in themselves stress him? Is it because the usual triggers such as TV and telephones won’t be there? In the kennels he has an enforced break.

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 Oscar and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 fearfulness or aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

All Alone, he Howls Cries Shakes. Life Without Daisy.

 

Nine years ago Banjo came to live with their other Jack Russell, Daisy. She was four years old at the time and all his life Badger lived with her and relied upon her. Daisy was the in charge.

Daisy has died.

Badger never before had been left all alone.

His young couple have to go out to work and Badger howls and cries. The young lady sneaked up to the window and looked in when he was quiet. He was sitting on the rug, shaking. This was the rug where he had last seen Daisy when the vet came to put her to sleep a couple of weeks previously.

unhappy left all alone

His life has been torn apart in more ways than just being all alone when his humans go out. Daisy was the dominant dog of the pair. All Badger’s life he has been used to following her and now he’s alone. It has left a big void with both her humans and with Badger and I’m sure he feels insecure without her. The separation problem is part of the bigger picture.

Without Daisy beside him, the previously calm dog is now on alert when out on walks.

Without this strong influence, Badger is lost. He is, in his way, grieving.

All alone without Daisy

He is now on window guard-duty alone. He has to deal with the invasion of post through the letterbox alone. They will block his view, put up an outside mailbox and help him out when he becomes alarmed.

The lower his stress levels are in general (I keep banging on about stress levels don’t I), the better he will be able to cope with this huge change in his life.

You might think now that they take him out everywhere with them – something they couldn’t do with Daisy – it would compensate for life without her.

Banjo needs time.

Introducing him to activities that suit his brain should help to enrich his new life without his strong-willed companion to control him – things to do with sniffing, foraging. He doesn’t play.

Helping to get him used to being all alone is tricky when they both work. They have arranged cover for the next couple of weeks and after that will take him to doggy daycare twice a week. He can then be without Daisy but somewhere he’s never had her with him – he loves other dogs.

A controlled and systematic plan.

A slowly slowly plan involving desensitising him to the triggers that precede their going out is fundamental. They will repeatedly go through each thing individually, coats on, checking the house, lifting keys etc. and then the whole sequence without actually going out of the door to begin with. Then they will add going out of the door – for one minute only initially. They will use food.

They can watch him from through a camera and an app their phones. This will enable them to time their returns, to be back before he panics.

When they are gone they can leave Badger a stuffed Kong and a chew, though it’s likely in his state he won’t yet be interested in food when all alone. Departures should be associated with good things and returns fairly boring.

There are other things things they can try that may help to comfort him when left:

  • Thundershirt. It works brilliantly with some dogs and not at all with others. First associate wearing it with calm and happy times. so that it doesn’t become yet another trigger ‘oh heck, they are leaving me all alone now are they?’.
  • Pet Remedy plug-in Watch this video explaining it.
  • Dog Music – downloadable. Why does Through a Dogs Ear music work to relieve canine anxiety?
  • Song for Daisy and see this explanation.
  • Continual boring talking like a speaking book is said to keeps some dogs company and calm.

We can review the situation in a couple of weeks. We may need to get the vet involved. The fact Badger will still have to be left all alone for several hours some days will unfortunately slow things down, but it is what it is.

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 Badger and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 as not all separation issues are the same. 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)

 

Barks When Left. Separation Panic. Over Interdependent.

Max barks when left. Even before the door has closed he begins to bark.

This used not to be the case and questions unearthed some clues. They moved house a couple of months ago and this coincided with a family tragedy that caused great distress. He now barks when left alone.

Max barks when left – by the lady.

Barks when leftHe seldom barks when the man is last to leave. He just barks when left by the lady.

Yorkie Max is three years old. He’s a gorgeous little dog. His lady owner absolutely adores him. Loving him and touching him makes her happy. To quote her, ‘He makes my heart melt’. Could this level of constant devotion be a bit too much pressure?

The more dependent upon him she gets, the more dependent upon her he becomes. They are over interdependent. We know that dogs read and reflect their humans’ emotions.

That he barks when left mainly by the young lady has to be because of their relationship. She does everything Max wants, when he wants it – particularly if he barks.

Barking works.

Basically, by always obeying, they have taught him to bark whenever he wants something. If he wants the lady to come back home, it’s logical that he will bark until she returns.

Each day a sitter keeps him company for an hour or two but, although he isn’t barking, Max is quite plainly waiting for her to go and for the lady to come back. He either ignores the sitter, lying somewhere away with his back to her, or takes himself off to the bedroom! I’m sure he has learnt that his owner never comes back while the sitter is still there.

Because the young lady behaves a bit like Max’ servant or slave, it’s unsurprising he thinks he owns her. He could well feel he might lose her or that she, his resource, may come to some harm.

As his possession she’s a nightmare to keep track of – she keeps going walkabout!

This is a big burden for a little dog. When I came he was uncharacteristically scared. The first thing he did was to mark all around the pouffe on which the lady was sitting. Insecurity?

Barking will now no longer work.

They will now no longer respond to barking each time Max wants something. It will probably be a difficult few days while he tries harder.

They can change things by sometimes getting him to do things for them.  The lady will teach him to come to her when she calls him. On walks he decides where to go and how far to go – which is very nice in a way and I feel most dogs should be given more choice.  She will now give him time on each walk where she doesn’t do what he wants, five minutes to either get him to come where she wants or simply to stand still for a few minutes until she is ready to continue.

Instead of responding to barking, the lady in particular can regularly initiate activities when she feels like it. They will hide the ball – the thing that he most uses to get them to obey him – and get it out for short sessions when he’s quiet, before putting it away again.

She will make a real effort not to smother Max. He needs to gain some independence from her so that he’s less needy. When he’s on her lap, she will give him 5-minute breaks from being touched.

Freedom to be able to stand on his own four little legs!

Changing their relationship so that they free him to be a bit more independent is the way to go, along with getting him used to the lady walking out on him and shutting the door. Show that she’s not reliant upon him and she always will come back.

Each time she leaves the room she will follow the same ritual of good things happening and each time she comes back she will make it a minor event. She will do her best only to open the door when he’s not barking.

I hope they will be able to film him. We will see then if there is more to it than I have diagnosed. We know that he is barking at the door when she leaves. Does he move about? Does he settle at all? The neighbour says he barks all day but that can’t be quite accurate as the sitter comes daily. To a neighbour it may seem continuous.

A couple of weeks have gone by: ‘I think we’ve turned a small corner with Max I can now leave confidently for an hour and know that there won’t be any barking. I’m slowly extending that period of time each time by about 5-10 minutes at a time. It really is a little bit more weight off my shoulders each time I return to hear nothing.’ 
Two more weeks later: ‘I think Max is doing absolutely brilliantly! I can leave him for a few hours while I go to work and my sister still pops in same time everyday but there has been no barking whatsoever. The neighbour downstairs hasn’t heard a peep out of him. There are most days now where he honestly does not move from his position when I come home he just lifts his head and plops it back down again paying no attention to me at all.
He also now when I am home is no longer climbing on me or laying/sitting on me all the time. He’s quite happy to be in the bedroom away from me or on 1 of his beds.  It truly is like having a completely different dog.’
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Max and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. 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)

Angry Barking. Frustrated and Stressed

Oh, Gus, please stop your angry barking at me!

The French Bulldog burst out of the utility room and charged at me where I was sitting at the kitchen table, sending his water bowl flying. There wasn’t time to think.

He was out like a rocket.

They quickly grabbed his lead which was already attached to his harness.

But it gave me a clue. If Gus was simply afraid he would more likely have hung back and barked – or at least hesitated to see who I was before flying at me. As it was, it didn’t matter who the person was – the door opened and he charged, running across the kitchen and slamming into me.

Angry barking at meHe could have bitten but he didn’t.

Gus also behaves like this initially when familiar people and family come to the house.

I would say the angry barking is due mostly to frustration. He spends a lot of the day watching for people going past the house and barking at them. He barks at people he hears from the garden too. What do these people do in response to his angry barking? They move on sooner or later.

I didn’t.

Fear does actually come into it as well. Being protective by definition means the dog is afraid something might happen to a resource or to himself. Guarding something means that the dog becomes angry if he fears that thing, or person, is under threat.

Interestingly, if someone comes into the house when the couple aren’t there, he’s a different dog.

Genetic?

I am sure his behaviour has a genetic component. What won’t have helped is that Gus broke his leg at the age of four months and was out of action for several weeks at this crucial time for socialisation.

Gus has a lovely home with people who have always done their very best for him. He is treated very kindly. It’s distressing for them to see the state he gets into and it means they can’t freely have their friends round. They’ve not had anyone he doesn’t already know in the house for a long time.

One approach when the dog barks to get rid of somebody is to remove him instead, so that the opposite happens. This unfortunately can increase frustration so things can get worse before they get better. Also, it’s hard to do when the dog, despite harness and lead, is very resistant. Although Gus is large for a Frenchie, the man was able to lift him. He alternated walked Gus out of sight as soon as he barked at me and brought him straight back when he wasn’t barking.

The breaks in the barking were really only long enough for him to draw breath.

This was tiring work and constant. In the end we put him in the utility room for a while before having another go later on.

The good things happen to a quiet dog.

The other side to this is that when (if) he is quietly in my presence, it has to be a good place to be – food, petting and attention. But no food, no petting, no attention unless he’s quiet.

They should limit sessions to five minutes at a time before giving him a break in the utility room to quieten down.  They should first perfect their technique with familiar people as his barking at them is nowhere near as extreme.

I have found with a few dogs who behave like this one other thing that is worth a try first. It may or may not work for Gus. They will experiment with a family member who visits them regularly. They won’t let him ring the doorbell but ask him to text a short way from the house to make sure Gus doesn’t know he’s there.

Then they can leave Gus alone in the sitting room and go out to get the caller. There is nobody left to guard. The important thing is for them then to lead the man into the room – they must be in front. They should talk to each other and ignore Gus.

Working on the emotion that drives the behaviour.

Dealing with the actual angry barking at people is one thing. The frustration if someone doesn’t go away another. We really need to get to the bottom, underlying cause. The barking is a symptom. Fearfulness of something happening to resources belonging to him (his humans) means they need to show him over time that protection duty is their job and not his.

Anger and frustration happen when things are out of Gus’ control.

I believe that when all the bits and pieces are fitted together, most importantly reducing the barking at passing people, they will have a calmer dog with less need for angry barking and he will be easier to work with.

I couldn’t take the photo but look at that face!

 

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 Gus and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Barks. Barking at Everything. Constant High Arousal

Barney barks at anything and everything.

he barks at everythingThe Wirehaired Fox Terrier came to live with the lovely lady ten weeks ago, a companion for her Welsh Terrier, Lily.

Barney barks for attention and simply won’t stop until he gets it. He barks at the slightest thing he may hear or see. He barks at anyone who might come to the house and this will continue, on and off, all the time they are there. He barks with excitement, he barks with frustration and he barks when he’s scared. He barks non-stop in the car.

Barney barks at Lily when he’s aroused and this can upset her. He also barks at Lily when the lady pays her attention of any sort.

Over-arousal. Habit.

There are two underlying things to be dealt with that are relevant to the excessive barking, the main one being Barney’s severely high stress levels. Even in this calm environment they are permanently so high that the smallest thing tips him over. He is constantly having to find ways to release the build-up.

The other underlying thing that’s relevant is habit. He’s learnt to rely upon barking. It’s a learned behaviour that has been reinforcing to him in some way, probably for most of his seven years.

Whenever he’s barked for attention he will have received it in some form or other, even if only to be shouted at (not by his new lady owner, I must add).

Barking may simply make him feel better (like we might feel better by screaming, shouting or crying if we had no other way to relieve our feelings of frustration, fear, anger or excitement).

His barking was worse than usual when I was there. Normally it’s just the three of them and things are more peaceful. We sat talking, sometimes in a fairly animated way. The lady was giving me her attention and not Barney. This kept him restless.

It was good that I was able to see everything at its worst.

Cold turkey.

I would liken Barney’s need for attention a bit to that of an addict’s need for drugs. The only way to reduce this is for attention barking not to work; he will need to go through a kind of ‘cold-turkey’. Things could get worse before getting better.

The antidote without veterinary intervention is plenty of attention and reinforcement being given for quiet and for calm along with various stress-reducing activities to fill his life with instead.

Where barking will get him nothing in the way of attention, stopping barking or even a momentary break in the barking will be reinforced. The idea is to teach him that not barking works a lot better than barking does.

Barking isn’t the only thing he does to relieve his stress. He may scoot along the floor or rock on his bottom. He may pester Lily. He drinks excessively and constantly licks his lips and nose. He pants.

He is using Lily to redirect his emotions by barking at her too. She tries to chase him off. I advised immediately calling him away as it upsets her.

When they did play, it quickly developed into Monty body slamming – see here. I’m told that when he is relatively calm they play nicely.

Gaps and empty spaces leave a void that needs to be filled.

I read something the other day which I like: ‘You don’t stop behaviours without replacing with new ones. Gaps, empty spaces, have a void that needs to be filled’.

The lady will be looking at more alternative activities to help him de-stress, involving chewing, foraging and so on. She had already made a good start. Anything that is currently happening in Monty’s life that works him up will be reduced as much as possible.

He will be taken into the garden on lead until he learns not to charge out, barking frantically as he goes. He won’t have unattended access to outside. The lead-up to walks and meals will be done differently for maximum calm.

We went through lots of things, ways to reduce his stress levels whilst looking for acceptable ways in which he can vent his overflow of stress for himself that will replace the barking.

A bit like the Tesco slogan ‘every little helps’, lots of small things should add together to help Barney. This in turn should, over time, reduce his barking.

 

Barks with Excitement. Barks for Attention.

Bobby barks with excitement.

Gorgeous little Bobby barks with excitement and he barks for attention.

Cockerpoo barks with excitementI didn’t witness this at all – that often happens! It may have been because we were sitting down peacefully much of the time and people moving about can arouse a dog.

It also will have been because I frequently broke off to do things with him – little training games and a bit of clicker work. He had no need to bark to get attention.

The eleven-month-old Cockerpoo was adopted by my clients five days ago. I am helping to make sure he settles in well and they start as they mean to go on. Mostly it has been general tips but they have one main problem.

Barking.

They worry about the neighbours.

Bobby barks with excitement when they get ready to go out for a walk and may also run around barking when they get back.

Bobby barks with excitement while the man plays with him.

Bobby barks at them while they are eating their lunch.

Bobby barks at them for attention when they are busy.

Bobby barks with excitement while they prepare his food.

We look at why Bobby barks.

It’s caused by a mix of over-arousal, largely human generated, along with habit due to his having created noise successfully getting him attention in the past. If he barks with excitement before food or a walk, then, because the food or walk continues to deliver he will deduce that barking works. Excited barking, to Bobby, triggers food or walk.

People believe exciting play will result in a calmer dog but that’s not so. There is the belief that lots of exercise results in a calm dog, but it can be the opposite.

The gentleman will tone down play and avoid chasing games or games that are too repetitive which can fire Bobby up. Lots of mental stimulation, sniffing, hunting, doing ‘dog’ things interspersed with exercise produces the calm dog. This is a useful article: overexcitement, stress and exercise

Instead of ‘fielding’ and reacting to his barking, they will instigate short enriching activities or brain games instead – but when he’s quiet. Being calm and quiet should become more rewarding than barking.

Before they sit down to lunch, they will give him a stuffed and frozen Kong to keep him busy and quiet while they eat

At times when they know he’s going to be wired up, they can give him something else to take it out on and to wreck! This is a lot better than chewing their shoes or furniture. I suggest a ‘Box of Tricks’: a carton big enough for him to get into, where he can find empty food packets, old towels, cardboard tubes, plastic bottles etc. – with kibble hidden.

What a glorious mess he can make of that!

Barking before walks?

In just five days since they have had him, they have an established routine which Bobby has sussed. They should vary their routine. They can put his harness on well beforehand. A bit later they can casually walk around with his lead around their shoulders. Shoes can be put on earlier. Then, when he’s calm, just walk to the front door, pop the lead on and go out. They should avoid opening the door while he is barking but just wait in silence (commands are counter-productive).

Let him work out for himself what works now and what doesn’t.

If he seems wired up when they get back home, it’s likely the walk was ‘too much’ in some way. Too long? Too far? Too restricting on a shortish lead? They will now give him some freedom on a long line. If he needs cooling down when they get home, they can give him something to help him unwind – like sprinkling some food over the grass for him to concentrate on foraging.

It’s possible the excited barking will get worse before he gets better. As the noisy demanding will stop bringing the usual results, it wouldn’t be natural if he didn’t then try harder. In the past there will have been a breaking point where he eventually got the attention he wanted. No longer. Where barking used to work, it will now be met with failure.

Bobby won’t need to use barking now. He will gradually begin to get the idea, particularly as his new life will now contain so much more enrichment.

 

Excited Barking Before Walks. Too Much Noise.

Many years ago I lived next door to a Golden Retriever that was left out in the garden all day. He barked non-stop. My son was studying for his A-levels at the time.

Whether you feel compassion for the dog or annoyance, persistent barking isn’t good for people or for the dog.

It’s certainly not good when it’s your own dogs that won’t stop barking.

Complaining to neighbours can be tricky. ‘Do you know that your dog barks all day’ didn’t work back then. They merely said the dog had to be left outside because he would otherwise toilet in the house.

Poor dog.

Excited barking before 7am.

The family I went to yesterday have had a polite complaint from a neighbour about the noise their dogs make, mostly when they are being taken out for their walk. This is early, at a time when many people still be in bed.

excited barking before walksMy clients are taking this very seriously and have called me for help.

Their nine-month-old Cocker Cavalier cross, Chester, and older Collie Labrador mix Jet are nearly beside themselves with excited barking before leaving the house on walks. They continue down the road, barking and squealing.

The barking itself isn’t the real problem but the symptom – the underlying causes are the problem.

The main cause is arousal. The excitement and anticipation overflows into the walk itself.

Another cause is to do with routine and habit.  The dogs will recognise much more subtle triggers than the boots going on and leads being picked up. 

Excited barking, simply, works.

Chester and Jet’s barking is also a learned behaviour. It’s successful. It works for them. They will believe that their barking actually causes the walk to happen.

The two dogs should begin to learn that excited barking no longer works. Being quiet is what brings results.

Some self-control is necessary!

The solution has its roots in other areas of their lives beyond walks, most particularly in the reduction of general stress and arousal levels. For instance, Chester gets into a frenzy of barking excitement as he chases Jet who is chasing the ball!

I believe that too much repetitive chasing simply encourages arousal levels to get out of hand, and this then spills over into other things – like walks.

So where do we start?

Barking won’t get the goodies.

Both dogs will need to learn that that barking doesn’t get the goodies – whether it’s a walk, food, being let out of the car or anything else.

Just as importantly, they will learn that quiet does get the goodies.

Here is a rundown of our walk procedure, designed for this particular case.

The start is to systematically desensitise the dogs to the triggers.

Touch the leads and excited barking begins. The lady does most of the walking. Now she will leave the leads about and regularly touch them or move them about.

She puts her boots on and the frenzy begins. So now she will, from time to time, put boots on and take them off again.

She will now be less predictable. Her usual morning routine means ‘the tail is wagging the dog’. The walks will be at more random times (she is home during the day so this is possible).

Instead of the dogs anticipating a walk to the fields, barking until they get there to be let off lead, she will now give them lots of short walks leading nowhere much.

Ready to go?

Collars and harnesses can be put on well before she plans to go out, walking boots also. She can leave the leads near the front door, dropping them on the floor in advance.

When it’s time to go, there will be no ‘Walkies’, calling the dogs, putting boots on, lifting leads and so on.

Don’t underestimate ultra slow-motion! It sends out calm vibes and also makes the dogs curious!

The lady will walk slowly and quietly to the front door. She can wait there in silence if the dogs aren’t with her – they will soon come!

Very slowly she will go to pick up the leads and if there is no barking, put them on. As soon as there is any excited barking, she will freeze and look away. If it carries on, she can drop the leads and walk away.

Actions speak a lot louder than words with dogs.

Slowly she can go to open the door – being ready to shut it again at any excited barking.

Walking out.

Still moving quietly and slowly, she won’t yet shut the door behind her – she may need to come back in. I suggest she starts by walking in a few circles around the front if they are quiet before going back to shut the door.

After a couple of starts in other directions, they can then walk quietly down the road in the direction of their favourite field.

You wouldn’t believe, from my photo, that these two dogs could ever be noisy!

Dominance? No! It’s Lack of Confidence.

They were told their dog was being dominant but they don’t see him like that and nor do I.

It’s so common for people to refer to a dog’s lunging, barking and jumping at people or other dogs as dominance. They interpret it as dominance through a lack of knowledge and understanding. There is still so much outdated information being peddled about on the internet, TV and social media.

Education proves it’s not dominance at all. In this case it’s a dog needing to stand up for himself in the only way he knows how against something he feels is a threat. He’s actually being brave. Other dogs feeling the same way may react by hiding.

People approaching him directly.

Albert is a large four-year-old Rottie, Mastiff, Labrador, Staffie mix. Such a gentle and friendly dog generally.

It's not dominance at allOut of the house, he is particularly unhappy when people approach him directly, especially joggers. This is common – take a look at the Pulse Project.

The other day he charged a jogger who appeared around a bend. He was off lead. Having a dog the size of Albert charging at you, barking and with raised hackles, must be daunting whether you’re a person or another dog.

“COME NO CLOSER”!

This isn’t dominance. It’s fear.

In a situation like this, in order to ‘safely control’ their dog people tend to hold him tightly on lead and even try to make him sit. Sitting is a big ask whilst so aroused and feeling trapped as the threat continues to approach.

The dog is doing all he knows to increase distance. The dog himself that should be removed to a comfortable distance instead.

Increasing distance also builds up vital trust in the person holding the lead.

Albert moved from busy town to quiet country area.

From a puppy Albert was extremely well socialised, going everywhere with the young couple. They lived in a busy town and constantly mingled with lots of people and dogs. Then they moved to a quiet area and after a while Albert began to react to approaching people and more recently to other male dogs also.

To make things worse, he was attacked by another dog.

Occasional people or dogs suddenly appearing and approaching directly are much more alarming to many dogs than being in a crowd. It’s the same with us, isn’t it.

My young clients so want enjoyable walks once more with their lovely dog, walks where he doesn’t bark and charge at approaching people or rush other dogs.

Off lead, Albert charges over to other dogs. He ignores all calls to get him back. This is unsurprising as he will ignore being called at home also – something to be worked on.

He doesn’t hurt the dog (and it’s not dominance!). Possibly he’s checking it out. Sometimes, though, the other dog or the owner will be scared. The other dog may be on lead for a reason. He returns when he’s ready.

Albert must be on a lead or a long line for now. No more freelancing. In the old days he seldom needed a lead.

The walk will now start off in a more relaxed fashion. At the moment he is straining to get down the drive, constantly pulling and on high alert. He’s tense and stressed. Nobody is enjoying the walk.

We did some walking near to their house with better equipment and a longer lead. Using my technique Albert was walking like a dream. He even walked out of the gate calmly which is never usually the case. In this calmer and more comfortable state, encountering approaching people will be a lot easier for him.

Has the ‘other dog’ problem been incubating at dog daycare?

Albert goes to daycare each day because the couple work a long day.

A few weeks ago the daycare reported that he was beginning to show dominance towards some of the other dogs – one male Golden Labrador in particular.

They sent a video.

The Labrador was behind a barrier with someone, ignoring Albert. Albert was being held on lead the other side of the barrier, lunging and barking with hackles up at the Labrador. I know it had been set up for the sake of the film, but it was hard to watch it being rehearsed.

This isn’t dominance. This is fear. What’s more, daycare is an active and exciting place. Albert’s stress/excitement levels will for sure be high.

How this has developed is impossible to say, but the behaviour is probably being incubated at daycare. The more it’s rehearsed the worse it becomes.

The only way to deal with it, preferably from the very start, would be to change how Albert feels about the Labrador in carefully monitored situations which would most likely need professional help.

It’s natural to simply try to manage aggressive behaviour through control. Putting a lid on it in this way can only result in the problem festering and getting worse.

The daycare does a good job, and it must be so hard looking after a mixed group of dogs belonging to other people. As well as keeping these two dogs strictly apart, I feel they should keep Albert as calm as they can, cutting short any excited play with other dogs a lot sooner. They can give him more time quietly by himself.

The more aroused he gets the more he can’t control himself. It’s in moods like this that he’s likely to hump a couple of the other dogs. This isn’t dominance either. It’s the over-flowing of stress that has to vent somehow.

Happy walks.

Key to their achieving happy walks is for the couple to be a bit more relevant and fun so that they can can keep his attention. They can engage with him. He should soon be walking near them because he likes being there not because he’s on a tight lead, just as he was out the front with us yesterday.

He should be allowed to wander, sniff and do dog things without the pressure of going a certain distance, of making it from A to B.

This about the journey, not the destination.

On a lead or long line, Albert should no longer have the opportunity to charge dogs or jump up at a jogger. According to the recent changes to the dog law, someone need only feel threatened, with no harm done, in order for both dog and owner to be in trouble.

Both at daycare and out on walks, Albert is using the theory ‘attack is the best form of defence’. It’s because he doesn’t feel safe. It’s our job to help our dog to feel safe and this is easier to do with knowledge and not simply by labelling the behaviour as dominance.

 

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 Albert. 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 or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

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

Abandoned by travellers.

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

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

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

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

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

Barking ‘Go Away’ works. People do go.

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

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

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

For Olive, snapping is successful.

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

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

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

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

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

All callers must be trained!

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

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

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

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

Most walks are an ordeal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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