Frustration, Arousal and Losing his Temper

frustration makes him biteHenry is a Miniature Bull Terrier. One source describes the breed as ‘Playful, Even Tempered, Energetic, Stubborn, Courageous, Loving’.

Energetic, loving and courageous Henry certainly is. Even-tempered he’s not.

He is very quickly aroused whereupon he then becomes demanding. Anything that works him up starts him off barking or pestering for attention. Not getting the attention he wants leads to him becoming quickly frustrated then angry.

He may grab their ankles when things are not going his way.

More recently he has bitten two people quite badly.

I was very nearly the third.

I have only visited a few dogs that start off very friendly and interested in me, if in an over-excitable way, but whose arousal then gradually escalates into something else.

Instead of calming down, as the minutes went by the more aroused Henry became. I believe he may not have liked being ignored. I wouldn’t normally be touching a dog when I enter his house but would wait for calm. Being left to make his own decisions was something different for Henry. He is usually held while the person strokes him ‘to calm him down’.

I took myself away to a high bar stool at the counter as his arousal levels soared. He was flying all over the sofa. We all continued chatting.

Henry is difficult to read. His face is fairly inscrutable. He barked at me and then became still. His eyes went hard as he stared at me. I looked away.

Then he flew at me. He grabbed my clothes, leaping high to get at my arm (fortunately heavy garments). I sat very still, and quietly asked the man to get his lead. He muzzled him.

Thwarted, Henry was in such a state now that had it not been for the muzzle I know I would have been badly bitten. He charged at me several times while I didn’t react before he was put away in another room for the rest of the evening.

This ‘attack’ had taken the couple completely by surprise – more than it did myself. Although he had recently bitten two people and caused injury, it was two different people who had been looking after him while the family was away. It had never happened to anyone in their own house or in their presence.

These things tend to get worse with each episode. It has escalated from grabbing their ankles to a couple of serious bites of which I could have been a third.

When frustration is making a dog angry, what can you do?

The gentleman himself admits that, in doing what he thought was best by copying Cesar Millan’s methods, he may have escalated things when Henry got rough. If a dog is highly aroused and getting angry, the sure way to make him worse is to pin him down or scruff him.

Because frustration is causing the anger that is causing the aggression, it’s the frustration that needs dealing with. We need to work on the source.

Reacting to the biting itself with any punishment simply doesn’t work long-term. The person who is strong enough to overwhelm and intimidate the dog has always to be on hand to deal with it. It may temporarily put a lid on it but in no way alters for the better how the dog is feeling.

The only real long-term safe solution is for Henry not to feel the need for frustration and anger.

Of prime importance is for their vet to do some very thorough checks to make sure there isn’t something wrong with Henry to cause the dog to explode so violently with so little provocation.

In one way I am pleased he directed the behaviour to myself.

They had not been present when he had gone for the other two people and they couldn’t imagine him doing so. Now they have seen it for themselves. They have seen what happens when their loving dog flies into a rage and how little provocation he needs.

It’s a good thing they have now witnessed it….

…because they have an eleven-month-old baby who will soon be mobile.

Henry has always been fine around the baby, showing no jealousy and not much interest, but the unexpected can happen as it did with me.

The couple are now making a little corner of the room into a safe ‘den’ for Henry, somewhere all good things happen and where he’s fed. It’s not punishment because he’s not ‘naughty’. He can’t help it. They will freely use his muzzle when he’s out of his den. They have started doing this out on walks already.

It’s a sad situation. The beautiful and well-loved dog is gentle and affectionate most of the time. It’s only when something stirs him up that the trouble starts.

They will now do all they can to teach him impulse control and to deal with the normal necessary frustrations that are part of any dog’s daily life. We made a list of the things that get him worked up and many can be avoided. They must get their vet on board for a much fuller check-up and take every practical precaution necessary including the barrier and the muzzle.

This is a cautionary tale. As a general rule, it’s best to remain still and look away from a dog that may bite. In the case of Henry, this wasn’t enough. My doing nothing was in itself part of the problem. He wasn’t used to that.

Here is an article well worth reading: My dog bit my child today.

 

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

 

Frustrated and Bored. Stealing and Biting

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

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

Benji is frustrated

Benji is born to hunt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Understandably they are thankful for the break,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He can earn much of his food in this way.

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

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

Benji needs some physical boundaries.

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

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

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

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

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

Redirecting Onto His Brother

Redirecting onto Lincoln is how Lucas deals with arousal.

Lucas and Lincoln. Calm.

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

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

I witnessed this for myself.

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

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

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

Bite!

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

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

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

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

Lucas’ redirecting excitement and arousal is causing problems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Management Comes First

Their aims: for both their Cockerpoos to be calmer.

Cockerpoo's environment needs better management

Eddie

I pushed in past the two barking dogs.

Both young Cockerpoos were so worked up I felt one or both weren’t far short of biting me but instead, black Harry redirected his anger, fear or frustration onto young golden Eddie and a minor fight ensued.

The house was full of people. Family members were moving about. Kids were on their mobiles. I sat at the dining table and we made a start.

It soon became obvious from my first questions that over-arousal and lack of boundaries was at the root of all sorts of problems.

Where do we start?

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Management.

Management in this case means gating off the front door and stairs so the dogs are contained in the sitting room and kitchen area. They will then have a physical boundary.

Management of this area will make it impossible for them to near-attack people at the front door and prevent Harry from chasing delivery men to the gate where a bite is only a matter of time.

Management means keeping them away from the stairs so that Harry will now no longer regularly pee on the upstairs landing.

Harry

Harry

Management of the environment means that first thing in the morning when they are let out of the utility room, they can’t start off the day in a manic manner, charging upstairs like battering rams at the bedroom doors, waking people.

Another gate can be put in the space between kitchen and dining/sitting room.

Management then means the dogs can’t jump at people when they are eating their food. They can’t jump at the surfaces when cooking is going on. Management means they can be put the other side of the barrier with something to do.

Management means moving the box that gives them lookout duty from the front windows, the lower part of which can also be frosted. They won’t then spend much of the day winding themselves up by barking.

There is so much going on it’s hard to know where to start with the behaviour work, but the priority has to be all things that will lower their arousal levels.

Then we can see what we have got left.

When they are no longer little volcanoes ready to erupt, it will be easier to deal with things like Harry’s nervousness. Instead of constantly being at each other in play which can deteriorate, something stress seems to trigger, they can be given more constructive activities.

We might then work on impulse control, training them to settle, loose lead walking, coming back when called before they can go off barking at and intimidating another dog – and much more.

However, management and boundaries must be in place first. The dogs’ levels of stress must be lowered.

Then we should get somewhere!

Eventually they will get more of this!

Eventually they will get more of this!

A Dog Has Feelings Much Like Us

Their dog has feelings similar to their own.

When I arrived, the man had Cocker Spaniel Danny in the shower. The dog had just come back from his favourite occupation – swimming in a muddy brook. The wet dog then greeted me – confident, curious and friendly.Dog has feelings too

I had been called to help an anxious dog and they want him to be happier. He seemed quite happy to me – if a bit unsettled. He did, however, have strange short bouts of what I can only call shaking shutdown. He would stand still head and tail down, and tremble. There are a few clues as to why he might be doing this based on what is happening beforehand (which was nothing apart from our sitting around a table, talking and taking no notice of him) and the reaction it gets (it generates sympathy and cuddles from the man).

They will be taking him to the vet to investigate further for possible physical causes.

This dog has a great life. He loves their three young children and lives with a calm little Cockerpoo. He has freedom to run in woods and fields and do ‘spaniel’ things (one thing I shall be helping them with later is loose lead walking – currently Danny would rather carry the lead!).

Where Danny’s anxiety is concerned, it manifests around certain vehicles; he also gets anxious and growly when there are too many people in the house, particularly children.

Chatting began to uncover the problem. Old-school attitudes tend to believe the dog should be disciplined and kept in line according to his lower place in the ‘pack’. This doesn’t imply cruelty but it doesn’t recognise that the dog has feelings and reacts to things very much in the same way as we would. People like this family don’t feel comfortable with this approach, but  do things because they feel they should and that it’s the right way. It isn’t. A dog doesn’t need dominating but understanding.

There has been considerable scientific research recently that has proved beyond all doubt that a dog has feelings and emotions like our own. Eminent people have exposed the old dominance, alpha wolf, pack theory as a myth.

It’s a funny thing that someone who loves their dog so much, cuddles and comforts him, can at the same be insensitive to some of his fears.

If the dog is scared of something, the old way could well be to make him face it. If he growls and particularly if he bites, the old view is that this should be punished.

When Danny was scared of the ride-on mower as a young puppy, the man lifted him onto his knee as he mowed and too late he knew this was the wrong thing to do. The puppy was absolutely terrified. The dog now, six years later, still panics if the man even walks towards the shed the mower is kept in. The fear has generalised to other vehicles.

If this had been a fearful child they would undoubtedly have taken it slowly and patiently, helping him to learn to like the mower.

Now Danny has bitten a child.

It happened because nobody was paying attention to how he was feeling even though he did his best to tell them. He was punished in several ways. He was then sent away to stay with someone else for a couple of days.

Surprisingly, he isn’t yet showing any signs of the fallout which will surely come unless they now listen to what their dog is desperately trying to tell them.

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Imagine if the story was about a child and not a dog.

Here is the same incident put into a human context.

Imagine that you are a child who wants to be left alone in peace to do your own thing and there are lots of people in your house. You find refuge in your own bedroom, but a bigger boy follows you in there and he won’t leave you alone. You politely tell him to go away but he pushes you, so you shout at him. Mum hears and she asks the boy to leave you alone.

Behind you mum’s back, the boy then comes back to your room to annoy you. You ask the boy to go away again; you yell at him and he continues to goad you. So you push him away. You feel scared. He won’t stop pestering you. You snap, you scream and then you hit him.

Now what happens?

Your world falls in.

The boy yells. People come running into your room shouting at you; your dad, who you trust, for some reason out of the blue attacks you. Later, after you thought it was all over, he comes back; he grabs you by the scruff of your neck and roughly throws you out of the house whilst attacking you again. You start to cry so loudly that he opens the door and chucks cold water over you to shut you up. You stifle your sobs, shivering and confused.

The next day they send you away to live somewhere else (you don’t know if you will ever come back home again).

You have learnt two things: that bigger kids are bad news and that you can’t trust your dad to help you out either. You have learnt that asking nicely doesn’t work. You have learnt that your bedroom isn’t a safe place. You have learnt that your dad is unpredictable and can be scary.

Punishment may work in the moment, but there is always long-term fallout.

The bond is very close between man and dog to the point over of over-dependence, which no doubt makes inconsistent or unprovoked behaviour very confusing for Danny. No wonder that at times he is anxious. Here he is in this picture, worrying as the man walks away and down the garden path.

I was called out so he would become a ‘happier dog – less anxious’, and we have found the key: understanding that the dog has feelings just like us, and dealing with his fears in the same way as we would our child’s fears.

Building up the dog’s confidence will require patience and lots of positive reinforcement, from the man in particular, so that he can rectify any damage previously done to their relationship. If there is no physical reason for his ‘shaking shutdowns’ then this approach should stop them also.

One month later: I visited again today. Danny has virtually stopped all shaking and growling and her humans have worked hard to stick by the new rules. I have just received this feedback: Could not recommend Theo highly enough. She visited us and our dog and with her depth of knowledge and skill made many recommendations. Training is on-going however the difference was noticeable within days. We have a much happier and far less stressed 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 Danny. 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 fearfulness 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 Get Help page)

 

Is This What We Call Biting?

Beagle's biting is for attentionHow does one really define biting? Is it engagement of teeth or is it to do with the intent behind the engagement of teeth?

From what I had been told on the phone I was going to a dog that repeatedly bit people, especially the man, and I was expecting an aggressive dog.

That very day, the lady had told me, his biting had lost them his daycare.

When I arrived, at my request the one-year-old Beagle was wearing a soft muzzle with a lead attached to his harness. It was unnecessary. I sat down and the muzzle was removed. Benson was immediately all over me, much more interested in the food in my pocket than he was in me.

From when they first got him he was a very nippy/mouthy puppy. Unfortunately, instead of the mouthing being discouraged in an appropriate fashion from the start, it was unintentionally encouraged. Pushing him away and playing hand games was something the men did and until he got bigger it didn’t hurt too much. Loud squeals got him even more excited.

The older he grew, the more he used biting to get the attention he craved and the more it hurt.

As he gets ‘stuck in’, Benson quickly works himself up to a stage where he looses control of himself as his arousal levels simply overwhelm him. He then gets rough and frustrated. He will paw, hump and leap as high as a person’s head. Add to this the human response by way of confrontation, scolding and maybe shouting or grabbing him, he becomes a powder keg waiting to explode.

In a particularly highly aroused state this has, a couple of times, tipped him over into real aggression. Hence the loss of his daycare.

The couple’s life revolves around ‘fielding’ the jumping up, biting and pawing Benson throws at them. When he’s quiet they are so relieved to get some peace they understandably leave him alone. They have now resorted to muzzling him when he gets too much.

As the young dog is seldom offered attention when he’s being good and quiet lest they start him off again, what does this teach him?

The real challenge is that he’s now had nearly a year rehearsing and strengthening his biting skills. It’s become learned behaviour – a habit. It could be a difficult habit to break. The only way to achieve that is to do exactly the opposite to what has been done so far. They are now going to concentrate on teaching him the behaviour they DO want, reinforcing everything that pleases them (we started this with a clicker), pre-empt when possible and divert his attention if caught soon enough onto other items that he can freely chew.

There must be ZERO TOLERANCE for biting from now on. They have to do something to protect themselves from injury so this it’s very fortunatel he seems to like that muzzle and comes to put his nose into it without being asked. I believe it may act a bit like a calming band because he settles but without shutting down completely which wouldn’t be good.

He should not get away with even two or three bites before they react. NO bites are acceptable. Anything else just gives mixed messages.

At first feel of mouth or teeth they should immediately turn away and withdraw all interaction with him, looking away and ignoring him. At this point he may well begin a very loud bark. Having made it clear by turning away that they don’t want the bite, if he does it a second time the muzzle goes on with no fuss and no words.

Unlike previously, the muzzle should be left on only for as short a time as necessary and can come off again in five minutes or when his arousal levels have dropped sufficiently for them to give him something else to do.

Most importantly, we have made a list of rewarding activities with which they can punctuate their time with him in frequent short sessions which will use his brain or give him gentle exercise without hyping him up, rewarding him for being quiet or for exercising self-restraint instead of as it is at present with the great majority of the attention he receives generated by himself – rewarding and reinforcing his antics.

Basically, the young couple will be replacing the excitement he self-generates by biting, pawing, barking and sometimes humping with healthy stimulation generated by themselves. They will need to make liberal use of food.

They are prepared for this to take some time and a lot of patience! Dear little 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 Benson. 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 Helppage).

On Lookout Duty

Border Terrier sitting at the windowRalph barks at people and dogs going past his house, spending most of the day sitting on the back of the sofa by the window on lookout duty.

They have deliberately left a gap in their hedge at the back of the garden which overlooks the park, so he can watch dogs and people from there also.

He likes it. Yes….but……

The Border Terrier is now five years old and whilst he’s great with people once they are in the house, particularly the children’s friends, he has been doing this window-watching for much of his life. He goes mental when the postman comes up the path and will wreck the post if he gets to it. Rehearsing this behaviour constantly at home, it is little wonder that he continues to react like this to people and dogs in other places. A while ago he bit a postman.

Meeting the dear and much-loved little dog in his house, it’s hard to believe.

What’s more, the lookout duty, the guarding and the barking will mean his stress levels are probably permanently raised, and as more things happen during a typical day they can get to tipping point.

He gets so aroused when they meet some dogs out on walks that he has bitten the lady several times as she held him back – her leg just happened to be in the way and he redirected onto the nearest thing.

There is nothing at all to be gained by getting that near to another dog when your own dog is reacting quite so desperately. More distance must be put between them if at all possible at the very first sign of any reaction.

Border Terrier looking out of the windowFortunately in some ways, Ralph is obsessed with his tennis ball. If, instead of constantly throwing it for him both at home and on walks, they were to reserve it for when he sees another dog, it could not only give him something to redirect onto but in time dogs will be associated with something good. The downside to current constant ball play is that it adds to a dog’s already high arousal levels. Withhold it and the ball will gain even more value as a training tool.

Like so many dogs who are reactive to other dogs when out, he will be feeling tension from a lead hooked to a collar. As soon as they spot a dog, they tighten the lead resulting in inevitable neck discomfort. It would be so much better if, instead of a shortened lead on a collar and holding their ground, the lead were loose and attached to a harness with which they can make a comfortable diversion around the other dog.

The territorial problem is highlighted at their caravan by the coast. He doesn’t like dogs or people coming too near. The final straw was recently when a man cut between the caravans a bit too close for Ralph and Ralph bit him.

Both at the caravan and at home, management should be in place such as blocking Ralph’s view from the window (he will need other, more healthy kinds of stimulation to fill the vacuum) and blocking the shortcut between the caravans. Serious work can then be done on changing Ralph’s feelings about other dogs and about people approaching his property.

They can start by working at those dogs already at a safe distance in the park out the back, through that hole in their hedge, desensitising and counter-conditioning him using food and ball play.

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 Ralph. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Child Bitten in the Face

From the moment they can communicate, baby humans put their arms out for a cuddle or for comfort. It’s the human way of demonstrating love, possibly also something to do with us having hands and arms. I believe monkeys do the same.

Hugging, cuddling and stroking isn’t, however, the natural way for a dog to demonstrate affection so not all dogs want too much physical petting. The nearest thing would be humping which is most likely to do with control or over-arousal of some sort. It’s a wonder that so many dogs actually put up with being hugged, particularly when it means being disturbed from their dreams in what should be the peace of their own bed.

In a situation quite similar to the lady in my last story, it’s a young girl age ten this time who has such overwhelming love for her beautiful dog, an adorable nine-month-old Springer Spaniel called Freckles, that she simply can’t leave the dog alone and this has now resulted in the child getting a bite on her mouth. It could have been a lot worse if Freckles had really intended to hurt her rather than merely get her to back off.

I can imagine that the already slightly nervous dog feels under siege by the little girl in particular and her defensive, growly behaviour is mostly directed at the child and is now spreading to some guarding of resources when approached. Over the months she will have done her best to give all sorts of signals that she feels uncomfortable or has had enough – looking away, yawning, licking her lips, freezing and so on – but as is so often the case the signs have been ignored or mis-read so she went on to growling. This, too, wasn’t sufficiently heeded.

It took one moment the other day when the little girl was bending down over the dog’s bed, touching the already growling dog, when in getting ready to stand up she bent further forward. The dog probably mis-read this, snarled and bit her on the mouth.

With a child bitten in the face, life for the family and for the dog will never be quite the same again.

Freckles has now discovered that the reliable way to make a child back off is to snap.

The other ingredient in the situation is excitement. The young children can get very excited around the dog, as children do, and Freckles also becomes highly aroused. In this state she has a lot less self-control and like many young dogs when over-excited she will charge about like a mad thing, jumping up and grabbing clothes.

The situation is tragic really because the child’s feelings are deeply hurt. In order to keep their adored dog little girl, in particular, has to change the way she behaves around Freckles. She wants total involvement in every aspect of the dog’s life, and a dog – particularly a working dog rather than bred as a lap dog – is an independent spirit and needs space.

Firstly, certain safety-management strategies will be in place like having a room Freckles can be in where she’s not freely with the children or their friends when they are not carefully supervised – I suggest it’s gated so that she’s not totally cut off from the company and the fun.

Secondly everything needs to be done to keep Freckle’s stress levels down with ploys to occupy both her and the children at certain explosive times of day like when they arrive home from school with a lot of excitement and squeals when welcoming of Freckles.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the young girl needs a different way of interacting with Freckles that still gives her involvement with her beloved dog. How are we going to stop her forgetting herself and going over to the dog in a rush of emotion and affection?

I asked her to pretend the dog was lying in the corner of the room and show me how near she could get before the dog would start to growl. it was about four feet. So, Freckles will be surrounded by an invisible bubble of four-foot diameter which must not be broken by the children (we can imagine a revolting smell escaping or lots of spiders!). It is, however, fine for Freckles to walk out of her bubble and approach the children. If she comes to them of her own choice then they will have nothing to worry about because Freckles can escape if she wants to.

The child can set up hunting games which aren’t hands-on or too exciting and which Freckles, being a spaniel, will love.

I suggested the dear little girl could also write a journal by hand or on computer. Her dad said he would love to read it and so would I. She can report what happens on a daily basis with Freckles and how she feels about it. She can list the things she does which are good and things she realises she could do differently, along with any ideas for activities that don’t involved stirring Freckles up or handling her.

The lady puts a lot of time and love into training and giving quality to young dog’s life and is deeply upset at the possibility of having to give her up. In a couple of year’s time both dog and children will be older and less excitable. Some dogs simply don’t like being handled too much, and this has to be respected throughout their lives.

I have received this email one week later: ‘I must just say, that since your visit, Freckles has not growled once at any of us – a real achievement. It’s amazing how much a little training and better understanding on behalf of the humans can impact so massively on the dog’s behaviour’.
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 Freckles. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Preparing Dogs for Baby Twins

Three miniature schnauzers

Dinky, Arthur and Pippin

The three Miniature Schnauzers have been the centre of the couple’s family life for years – the oldest, Albert, is now ten years old. The little dogs’ lives are soon to be turned upside down because they are expecting not one, but two babies in October.

The dogs really are the sweetest, most gentle little things, each with their own traits. Albert is probably the most sensible – he is the oldest. Nine-year-old Dinky, the girl, is a little more sensitive. Pippin is the youngest at just three and more challenging than the other two. He likes to be ahead of the others and wants to control what they have and do – which is no problem. They give in to him.

It’s because of Pippin that I was called. There has been a very recent incident, particularly worrying with the coming arrivals in mind. He nipped a toddler. The child was sitting on the floor at the dog minder’s house where the dogs stay from time to time, ‘doing nothing’. The lady and gentleman were in the room with the baby grandchild.  We don’t know where the other dogs were, but for some reason (we will never know what), Pippin just came running into the room and bit the child through its nappy, resulting in a bruise. One could speculate. Maybe a toy was involved. It was certain that at the time Pippin was already highly excited and stressed with a lot of comings and goings to the house and he’s not used to children. What the trigger was we will never know, but it was certainly completely out of his usual character.

Miniature schnauzers sitting on sofa

Arthur in front, Pippin then Dinky

The minders are fortunately still happy to look after the dogs and say they will keep them and their grandchild apart now. Pippin apparently was following the child around ‘quite happily’, or so they thought. Perhaps the incident was over a toy. Anyway, I suggest the couple carefully weans him into wearing a soft muzzle just in case, so nobody need then worry.

They have about four months to get their dog used to living a rather different kind of life. The couple will stop stirring them up unnecessarily with things such as feeding into Arthur’s toy-chasing obsession which winds Pippin up too, not pumping them up with excitement when it’s food time or when they come home from work.

There will be lots of visitors after they have had the babies, so from now on people coming to the house should be less exciting. They can gradually tone down their own greetings over time so it’s not a shock. Callers will become more mundane if they don’t take too much notice of the dogs initially – so they need training too. Sometimes the dogs are so hyped one may pee.

Several things that happen and cause no problems whatsoever now need to gradually change before the babies come. They have plenty of time. It’s so much better than several cases I have been to who haven’t considered how their dog might feel and its extreme reaction has taken them completely by surprise.

They can buy a puppy pen and teach the dogs that this is their special den, a place where only good things happen. When the babies arrive either dogs or babies can be in the pen – a perfect way to keep them safe and the dogs included in family life.

Looking ahead to when the babies are in high chairs with food (and dropping it deliberately!) they can already start teaching the dogs to keep their distance while people eat.

In the car the dogs won’t be able to jump freely all over the back seat when the babies are on it, so best to get them used to being contained behind a barrier in the back now.

There are plenty of YouTube clips of babies crying and screaming. They can expose the dogs to short sessions, starting soft, pairing crying with food so the sound of babies screaming becomes good news! They can do silly baby talk to a cushion or toy – feeding the dogs at the same time (that would make a good YouTube clip itself!). They can introduce the dogs to the smell of babies. Whenever the dogs see, hear or smell babies – the ‘food bar’ opens.

Bringing the twins home can be planned to avoid easily predictable problems. The dogs will have been staying with the dog minders for a while beforehand, so the babies will already be home. My advice to the couple is try to choose a time when infants are asleep and quiet, safely in the dog pen or behind a gate if it looks like the dogs might be territorial over the pen – so they aren’t being cuddled and so that the dogs can have the couple’s full attention. They should be given time to calm down before everyone goes to the babies. Then the ‘food bar’ opens.

It is very likely that the dogs will take two noisy, crying, sniffling, grunting and deliciously smelling infant humans entering their lives in their stride as so many dogs do, but preparing these dogs for baby twins after years of being the centre of attention is kindest on them – and safest all round.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Pippin, Dinkie and Arthur, which is why I don’t go into all 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Really Bites Out of the Blue?

Last week three-year-old Cocker Spaniel Pete had been booked in to be putCocker Spaniel's behaviour had resulted in an appointment to have him put to sleep, now cancelled to sleep.

Fortunately the lady phoned me first. Her dog had bitten her quite badly and it wasn’t the first time. She told me the many time he bites out of the blue – for no reason at all.

I suggested that she asked her vet to give Pete a thorough check including bloods and a physical examination to rule out pain and any other condition that could make him have a short fuse. Unfortunately the vet refused, saying he could see the dog was fine and then gave confusing and outdated behaviour advice.

Pete was jumping at me and grabbing my sleeves as I walked in the door. He does the same with the lady. Yet – if she steps on him by mistake, tries to touch his feet or, as she did once, tripped and fell by him, he bites her.

Should not respect for personal space go both ways?

All the bites and near-bites she listed for me can actually be explained. Most were around resources of some sort and the others around Pete’s not wanting to be touched or moved. There is a strong suggestion that at least a couple of those could involve pain of some sort.

Positive reward-based methods aren’t just some modern fad but based on sound scientific research described in all the up-to-date literature, yet still some people hang on to the old notions.

I would agree in principle that the lady should take control of her dog and be ‘in charge’, but that doesn’t mean acting like a ‘dominant Alpha’ which would undoubtedly make things far worse.  In fact, guarding behaviour often starts when people take the puppy’s food away to show ‘who’s boss’. Why do they do that! If he thinks you’re about to steal his food, wouldn’t it actually cause food guarding?

Leadership as in good parenting means building a bond of understanding and mutual respect, whereby the owner is the provider, the protector and the main decision-maker. All this is done kindly using praise and rewards, being motivational so that Pete is willing and cooperative.

I demonstrated the power of food while I was there, showing the lady how to use a clicker and chicken to get Pete eagerly working for her. What a gorgeous dog.

Nearly all conflict between owners and dogs is so unnecessary because dogs so love to please if they are rewarded and appreciated – just like ourselves.  This isn’t bribery.  At the end of a consultation when I’m paid, have they have bribed me to do my job? No. I willingly and happily do my work for them, knowing I then receive my earned reward – payment.

Unless Pete is vet-checked properly we can’t rule out anything physical and invisible, but all the same it usually is very much a relationship issue too when a dog bites out of the blue. It would be a tragedy if Pete’s life were to be ended when with consistent, kind boundaries and getting him to earn much of his food in return for cooperation and learning things, the lady could slowly gain confidence in him.

It will take time.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Pete, which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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).