Bored, Over-excitable and Looking for Trouble

German Shepherd Kerry is bored.

Bored German Shepherd

Kerry

Although it’s natural for adult dogs to sleep for up to seventeen hours a day, this is only so if the rest of the time is filled with stuff natural to the dog – and its breed. Sleep probably won’t be in long blocks of enforced inaction during the day, but dozing between doing other things.

Young dogs in particular need action and fulfilment (just like young humans) or they get bored.

Kerry is a beautiful eighteen-month-old German Shepherd living with another GSD, Lemmy, aged four. They are both gorgeous dogs with lovely, friendly basic temperaments.

Young Kerry, unfortunately, probably isn’t getting enough action in her life and she’s very easily aroused. I saw this by how the smallest thing results in her leaping at someone, me in this case – grabbing my clothes and even hair with her teeth. 

Hyperasousal.

There is only one thing on this illustration I didn’t see, and that’s because she’s a female.

We sat around the dining table, myself, the couple and their young adult son. Having demonstrated what to do, the lady (a natural) was now reinforcing Kerry for every smallest bit of desired behaviour, using a clicker (and food).

The lovely dog was very quick to catch on – so quick that she was soon working us! She started jumping up in order to go back down in order to be clicked for feet on floor in order to be fed.

We taught a quiet ‘Off’ and then just a small hand signal when her feet were on the table. We also waited until she worked it out for herself. Kerry wasn’t bored anymore.

Until now commands have been shouted and repeated over until she’s complied.

She obeys the man more because he is louder and more forceful and she seldom leaps at him with her mouth open. As is often the case, the lady is usually her main victim, when there isn’t a visitor like myself she can get at.

Eventually she was sitting by us and resisting the jumping. Lemmy, bless him, was polite throughout. We were giving Kerry the kind of attention she yearned for. She settled….until…..

Someone laughed, or someone moved or there was a noise somewhere. Immediately she was back jumping and grabbing, wth most of her focus upon myself.

Enrichment and freedom.

Loving dog owners get a clever, active breed of dog, little realising what they may be taking on or the time, training and commitment involved. Only yesterday I was muzzle-punched in the eye by another excitable, bored young Shepherd with the same jumping and grabbing behaviours.

Both yesterday’s dog and Kerry’s lives contain insufficient freedom and enrichment; much of their behaviour is due to boredom and frustration so they orchestrate their own action. Insufficient early training has resulted in their lack of freedom.

Being bored is almost certainly why she is destructive.

During the day when they are at work, Kerry is crated. Because she destroys all bedding, there can be no bed. The other day they decided, quite rightly, that she would be happier with run of the downstairs with Lemmy. Unfortunately after a couple of days they came home to a wrecked sofa. Now she’s back in the crate.

For a healthy mind, young dogs in particular need ‘dog things’ to do like sniffing, exploring and foraging.

For the dog to change, the humans have to change what they do.

Lemmy

The main change in the humans’ own behaviour should be resisting shouting and too many commands whilst looking out for and rewarding the behaviour they want. The dogs can begin to earn some of their food. This behaviour training can’t be done without food (play is also rewarding but with play comes the excitement).

As our dogs tend to reflect ourselves, acting calm will help.

When one person, usually the man, controls the dogs through strength and dominance, it often means that if another family member can’t do this the dog seems to take advantage. The dog, though ‘under control’ with the man who commonly says he finds the dog no trouble, will often be lacking self control around other people.

Talking to our dogs is lovely – we share our thoughts, problems and life stories. However, if they want Kerry’s brain in gear and to do something for them, the fewer words they use the better. A lot of things, like sitting before receiving food if that’s what they want, the dog will do anyway if they wait. Lots of talking simply stirs her up.

I suggest that every time the jumping and biting behaviour occurs, they look at what has happened immediately beforehand for the reason why. As we saw, it can be as little as someone laughing.

‘Operation calm’ is the starting point.

The lower Kerry’s general stress levels are, the more tolerant she will become of the current triggers.

Operation calm includes doing something about walks which currently do more to stir both dogs up than to relax them. Because they are big pullers, ready to lunge at cats and even birds and reacting to both dogs and approaching people, it takes two people to walk them together. For physical control, both dogs wear Dogmatic head halters on shortish leads.

They really do need a bit more freedom like on long lines in fields or woods. There is a good website with secure dog fields that can be rented by the hour.

They need to walk comfortably on longer, loose leads. I can’t see much progress being made with either pulling or their reactivity to people and dogs unless walked separately for now.

The daily hour-long walks will be different. A to B is unimportant. The walk is about the journey not the destination. With one dog at a time they can now go in different directions and begin to work on each dog’s reactivity without them bouncing off one another.

We get home from work tired, just wanting a break in front of the TV. We often don’t realise some young dogs like this will be such a big, time-consuming commitment if they are to be easy to live with.

While the humans are at home, they will now initiate more activity and brain work for Kerry.

Bored. The devil makes work for idle paws.

Boredom is a big problem for young, active working dogs – the devil makes work for idle paws!

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 Kayleigh and Lemmy 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. 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)

Adolescent German Shepherd. Excitable. Biting

Adolescent German Shepherd Knight is a challenge. He is now nearly nine months old, wilful and strong. His owners do all they know to give him a good life – they walk him, feed him and love him.

Unfortunately, living the life of a much-loved family pet just isn’t enough. Knight is a working dog without work to do. Much of how he is will be genetic.

Adolescent German ShepherdThe poor lady showed me the bruises up her arms and a bite mark.

He is big, bold and confident – and a bit of a bully. Unfortunately he missed out on early training because the couple both had fallen ill when they first got him at eight weeks old and things have basically got out of hand as he’s got bigger and become adolescent.

The family of five adults sat opposite me. Knight repeatedly targeted the two youngest, jumping on them with his mouth open. He also did the same with me.

Throughout the time I was there we were rescuing one another. Telling him off only fired him up further, as it does, so I had a person across the room calling him away and giving him something else to do. Diversion only lasted briefly.

I did some clicking for calm which gave us some respite. I lent him a Stagbar to chew and then an Ancoroot. Both kept him occupied for about five minutes.

He was already trailing a lead, but there was simply nowhere to put him away from us. There was no door between the two downstairs rooms and the gap was too wide for any gate. Even the garden isn’t secure.

It was hard to know where to start with improving the situation for both the family and for Knight. 

So – getting down to basics first.

The biting is unacceptable.

When I was ready to leave, the young lady took Knight into the back garden on the lead – just as they do for a toilet visit. I needed to pick up my Stagbar and Ancoroot with him out of the way as he guards resources – even his own poo. We said goodbye.

As the door shut behind me I heard “He’s attacking my sister!” and loud screams from the back garden.

She was very shaken, her arm was bright red but thankfully the skin wasn’t broken. The whole morning had been very arousing for Knight with so many people all together for so long and, unfortunately, she got the fallout.

On the plus side if there is one, although the biting is dreadful, the adolescent and angry dog was actually able to show a some degree bite-inhibition and self-control.

Control and management

The challenge will be in implementing new boundaries without using force or confrontation which can only make things worse whilst also enriching his life. He needs more happening – more constructive stuff. This will be a big undertaking.

The times and places where the behaviour is most likely to occur are predictable and must now be controlled using management and change in routine – or Knight muzzled.

For instance, they always have trouble with him leading up to his meals. He won’t leave them alone while they themselves eat (there is nowhere in the house to shut him apart from a crate) and he gets more and more rough and hyped up until he’s fed.

I suggest now that they break the routine and feed him first – in the crate, and leave him there until they have eaten and cleared up.

This isn’t the problem solved for the future, but it’s managed for now.

Control and management also means making it impossible for the behaviour with some physical restrictions. Physical restrictions are hard in a small house with no doors, and gaps too wide for a gate.

We considered anchor points with cable attached and at making the crate a place he loves to be.

Free use must be made of the muzzle. He knows he can control them by using his teeth and he can sense their own fear. With a muzzle they can relax and no longer give in to him.

The more the adolescent biting, grabbing and bullying is rehearsed, the more of a learnt behaviour, a habit, it becomes.

Adolescent, frustrated and bored.

Knight has little space at home, is at present unable to be outside off-lead in the garden and can’t be trusted off-lead when out. The lack of freedom must add to an adolescent’s frustration. Something needs to be done about this along with working on his recall (we will look at this later). Meanwhile, maybe they could perhaps sometimes hire a safe field so he has a chance to run.

Knight’s roughness and biting is all about controlling people but he wouldn’t do it if it had never worked. There are times when he’s gentle and peaceful, but once aroused – frustrated or angry…off he goes.

They should now add as much fulfillment to his life as they possibly can. Getting the fine line between enrichment and stirring him up will be tricky.

Earning some of his food.

They were a little resistant to using food. It’s almost impossible to train without food unless you use force, old-school style. Then it would all be about dominating the dog and his complying only to avoid punishment. The result of this approach would likely be real aggression, particularly when the person exerting this control wasn’t present to keep him under check. I’ve met many dogs like this.

Positive methods are the only way to go. Barking Up the Wrong Tree for 110 years, by Ian Dunbar.

Knight can earn the food he would anyway eat – it’s not treating him, it’s payment. Food is also for reinforcing the desired behaviour – positive reinforcement. The end result, with sufficient time and effort, is a biddable and cooperative dog.

There is a lot more to cover over the weeks I shall be working with them. Walking on a long line in the park, they can work on recall whilst giving him some freedom. They can teach him to settle on a mat when he’s calmed down a bit. Work needs to be done on his resource guarding and also separation problems.

Finally, they have a cat. Just hearing the cat at the door gets him going.

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 Knight 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, particularly where 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)

Uncontrolled Excitement. Biting Arms. Attacking Feet.

A dog’s uncontrolled excitement is a challenge to deal with.

They let Tia out of the utility room and into the kitchen where I was standing. She flew at me, grabbing my arm with her teeth. She repeatedly jumped up.

There was no malice in her at all, but it can hurt! It was uncontrolled excitement with possibly some anxiety thrown in.

She can’t help herself.

uncontrolled excitement

Butter wouldn’t melt!

The young Staffie was simply so aroused she couldn’t help herself. Meeting all people triggers uncontrolled excitement, particularly those coming to her house.

When the doorbell goes, Tia goes mental.

When I arrived we had set things up so that when I rang the bell she was already out of the way in the utility room wearing her harness. They fortunately had my favourite harness – a Perfect Fit – so they could hook a lead to the chest.

I instantly had to start working on her to save my arms! I stood on the lead. She was physically unable to jump now.

I got out my clicker and little tub of food. I repeatedly clicked and rewarded firstly moments when her body relaxed and she wasn’t trying to jump. Before long she briefly sat. I gave her a little more rope and carried on. Fairly soon I dropped the lead and she had got the message and calmed down. (A special note here – the clicker itself isn’t magic! It’s about knowing how to use it).

Changing No to Yes.

It’s amazing how sometimes a clicker, used in the right way, can open lines of communication. It changes ‘no – don’t do that’ to ‘yes – this is what we want’.

Usually when someone comes to the house it’s a physical fight as they try to hold her on a short lead in order to protect the person from her rough excitement. It’s a fight to get her away from the door. There will be commands and chaos! The lady describes her as being plugged in the mains.

When I arrived we were all quiet and calm. Nobody reacted to all this uncontrolled excitement.

It was little more than fifteen minutes before she went and lay down. She stayed in her bed now until I was ready to go, relaxed.

The ten-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier is all the time extremely wired up and ready to go. Meeting people fires her up most of all, but so do other things like her humans walking about carrying something. She will then go for their feet.

In the evening they can be sitting quietly watching TV and one of them gets up. The uncontrolled excitement kicks in. She barks and attacks feet.

I am sure Tia is genetically predisposed to over-excitement. Too often dogs are bred for looks over temperament and Tia is certainly a stunning dog. She is also friendly, biddable and affectionate. She may be more sensitive than one might imagine. There are several things that scare her.

Clockwork dog.

Like most people, they have been trying to calm her down by doing things that will actually be having the opposite effect, wiring her up even more.

Surely physically tiring her out should calm her down? It’s almost impossible to exhaust her and on coming home she’s ready to chase feet in the garden.

They give her long walks with repeated ball chasing and don’t understand why, however much of this they do, she doesn’t change. It’s like the dog is clockwork with a key in her side, and she’s being fully wound up daily.

I am certain that just giving her the kind of walking she would be doing if by herself, mooching, sniffing, chasing leaves, maybe digging, will alone will get rid of some of her uncontrolled excitement.

They can change those things that lead up to the biting sessions and they are quiet easy to determine.

Also they can change the things they do afterwards in response to her flying at their feet.

They will work on the ‘doorbell game’. First the will ring the bell so many times that it no longer heralds anything special. Then it will be the cue for Tia to take herself into the utility room. It will take hard work and patience – and food.

Jumping, biting, attacking feet are symptoms only – of uncontrolled excitement.

To get at the root of all this, they will do everything they can to calm Tia down. She is permanently so aroused and stressed that it takes very little indeed to send her over the edge. See trigger stacking.

Currently it’s impossible to ignore her rough and hyper approaches – thus rewarding it with attention. Instead, they now will themselves introduce short regular activity sessions throughout the evening, doing things that use Tia’s brain. She will no longer need to do things for attention.

They should no longer respond to barking but initiate things when Tia is calm. This way they reinforce calm rather than demanding, uncontrolled excitement – of which there should be less anyway.

It will take a lot of patience and effort, but will be worth it in the end for their beautiful dog. I just love her!

 

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 Tia and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where wild or uncontrolled behaviour. 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)

Food Guarding, Resource Guarding. Biting Works.

Food guarding dogTelyn, the Sprolly, is a friendly and polite dog. She is a lucky dog also – living in a lovely family with three teenage girls who all play an active part in her life.

However, Telyn has bitten several times. The biting has included family members and other people.

It happens around one thing only – something that, to her, is edible.

When very young she had genetic meningitis (she’s now had it twice) and, when on steroids, was constantly ravenous. This is probably where the food guarding started.

Each time she bites, fear is involved – that of losing something. Food items she’s bitten for have ranged from a complete Christmas ham joint, to a treat a man was giving his own dog, to something on the floor nobody even saw.

She may also attack another dog over a food item. 

Biting works.

The result for Telyn most times has been the same.

The person backs off and she gets to keep the item. Success.

Very unfortunately, recent advice they were given will have escalated her fear issues badly. It can only have added to her existing terror of machinery noises – anything from vacuum cleaner to power tools to traffic. It will also have affected her trust and relationship with her humans.

They were advised to deal with her barking due to the noise of several months’ building work being done on their house, by waving a power tool at her each time she barked!

In Telyn’s case it’s the very worst thing anyone could do.

How can making her terrified help in any way?

Things have come to a head. Telyn’s first full panic attack was triggered a couple of weeks after the work had finished – by the vacuum cleaner.

Telyn managed to leap the high fence in her panic.

They eventually managed to catch her. They raised the fence. She then found another place to jump out a couple of days later.

Interestingly, Telyn has just spent the past couple of weeks in kennels. She has come back much calmer. What has been the difference? Less arousal in terms of exciting play, no encountering traffic on walks and no machine-type noises perhaps?

Their house itself may now be ‘contaminated’ with fear from building noises or even that power tool. At the kennels Telyn has had a break. Hopefully as they follow my plan they will be able to build on her calmer state.

A more relaxed dog is less likely to guard resources. Using a power tool to deal with barking or guarding has to be the very worst thing they could have been told to do. Fortunately they weren’t happy with it and stopped.

Her family now will constantly reinforce their role as ‘givers’ and not potential ‘takers’. From now on, in addition to never taking anything off her, when she has anything at all in her mouth and if they are nearby, they should drop food as they walk past her.

Food guarding. How can they make biting not work?

It’s pointless guarding something that nobody wants!

So, from now on anything Telyn picks up in her mouth they should ignore. If nobody wants it she can’t guard it. Even better, if they’re walking past they can drop her something tasty (‘have this too!’) without going too close.

They should avoid forcibly taking things off her even in play. Being chased and cornered even with a ball then having it forcibly removed from her mouth, is teaching her the wrong things. Tug of war is a great game for teaching exchange and ‘give’ if done properly.

There is a very good book called ‘Mine’ by Jean Donaldson, worth reading.

Practical measures need to be taken also, to make it as impossible as they can for Telyn to bite again. She will be introduced gradually to a muzzle, vital if young children are about who may unthinkingly bend to pick up a dropped food item, for instance.

When out and about, they will either muzzle her or put her or on a long line, just in case. She could even wear a florescent yellow vest with appropriate wording for a food guarding dog – along the lines of ‘Keep Food Away’. People might think she has a medical condition but it could achieve the desired result!

They may never be able to trust Telyn 100% or let their guard down altogether, but with work they can make the likelihood of her food guarding and biting much reduced.

 

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 Telyn and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression issues of any kind are concerned. As can advice advocating punishment, as seen here. 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)

Unpredictable Humans so Unpredictable Pup

Unpredictable pupSometimes, just sometimes, things don’t work out as we would like. This through absolutely no fault of our own.

It could be a mismatch or an environment not best suited for a puppy.

There can be all sort of reasons, including lack of company with people being out at work all day.

In the case of 7-month old French Bulldog Ezra, it’s not lack of company that is the problem. It’s too much. Too many people at times. Too unpredictable. Too noisy.

What puppies need more than anything else is predictability (like children). It makes them feel safe and allows them to learn self-control and to be predictable themselves.

Unpredictable. Too noisy, too much happening.

In Ezra’s case, it’s his exposure to unpredictability and occasional chaos that has led him to biting. It’s the only way he can get any control over things that are simply too much for him.

The family is large and extended. One of the younger children has issues that make him unpredictable and noisy.

The other day Ezra bit him on the lip. The ten-year-old was taken to A & E.

The boy himself explained the run-up to this and it included noise, people, loud TV which Ezra hates. The dog was already over-aroused. He had jumped onto the floor probably to get away and the child had slid off the sofa onto the floor beside him. He had pushed his face into the little dog’s and stared into his eyes. He has a sort of compulsion to do those things he knows will upset Ezra.

BITE

Another family member, a young man, had a couple of weeks previously been bitten on the nose quite badly. He said he was doing nothing, but questions revealed a sequence. The dog will undoubtedly have high stress levels to start with. The doorbell had rung, making him very excited. He had been chewing bones. He then jumped up on the young man’s lap (why do people always think this means the dog wants to be touched?). The TV may have been too loud. The man had his hand on Ezra’s back.

Then, for seemingly no reason at all, Ezra flew at his face.

Unpredictable? I’m sure there will have been warnings. Possibly Ezra will have frozen. He is now learning the only way to get away from unwanted attention is to bite.

A habit is forming which started with nipping. Each time he attacks it in effect gives him respite so the more of a learned behaviour it becomes – the more likely it is to happen again unless the various criteria that lead to the behaviour are changed.

Dogs need choice – a say in the matter.

Does he want to be touched just now? Does he want to be left alone just now?

In addition to altering these criteria which won’t be easy (creating calm, choice and predictability) the situation needs to be safety-managed.

A muzzle is good as a safety thing in emergency, but using it so that people can be free to do as they like around Ezra would be very wrong.

Since speaking to me on the phone the other day when Ezra had bitten the boy, the lady has had the pup in a crate in the dining room when the younger kids are about. She will be locking the doors to the room when she’s not in there – Ezra safely shut away with plenty to do.

(This sounds like Ezra is now shut away all the time but that isn’t the case. They are managing to juggle things so that he has plenty of attention and outings).

Dedication, kindness and patience.

The lady is treating Ezra with the same dedication, kindness and patience she treats all the family which includes several young people she has taken under her wing.

The younger family members will be changing their own behaviour where possible as will the older ones. We are looking at ways of using clicker and food to create a more useful relationship between Ezra and the boy.

It may be at the end of the day that they aren’t the right home for Ezra. This happens.

They will know that they’ve not left any stone unturned. Where you can’t fully control the humans and have to rely solely upon management there is always the risk that, in an unguarded moment, management falls down. A door can be left unlocked.

At the end of the day these kind people will be making the right decision for both Ezra and their family.

 

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 Ezra and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are 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)

No Impulse Control Around People. Jumps and Bites.

Beau has no impulse control around peopleAbsolutely no impulse control around people, that is the problem.

Beautiful Beau is a big strong Chocolate Labrador. He’s 9 months of age and his teeth hurt. With no impulse control, his biting and grabbing of my clothes would have been nearly constant had not the lady held him back. It was a struggle for her.

I have to call it ‘biting’ because he was using his teeth with some force, but there was no aggression behind it. No growling or hostility. There wasn’t fear either though possibly the level of his arousal involved more than just pleasure to see me. He will have been uncertain as well.

Jumping, biting and no impulse control has become his default response for dealing with the excitement he feels.

Both the lady and her adult son are accustomed to being bitten when Beau gets too excited. He bites sufficiently hard to bruise but not to break skin. He was an unusually nippy and bitey puppy. Like many people, they will unwittingly have encouraged teeth on human flesh through play – contact sports using their hands.

No impulse control.

A stitch in time saves nine, as they say. If, from the outset when Beau was a little puppy, both jumping up and grabbing with teeth were consistently and persistently met with no reinforcement but an acceptable alternative offered, he wouldn’t be doing it now.

Tug of war played properly is a much better game. Puppy has to learn that if teeth even unintentionally touch flesh, all fun immediately stops. He then learns to be careful.

Usually dogs like this will have very high stress levels and constantly be ready to ‘explode’. This doesn’t seem the case with Beau. His home is calm. Generally he’s no more excited than any other 9-month-old Labrador, but when he does get aroused, it’s always teeth.

Beau is given plenty of enrichment and he’s not left alone for too long. He doesn’t do the usual things that build stress in a dog such as excessive barking, getting over-excited before a walk and panicking when left alone.

It’s all around people

He has no impulse control around people. When someone comes to his house or if they meet people when out on a walk he morphs into a different dog.

Why does he find people quite so stimulating, I wonder? He has been very well socialised from the start.

The lady so much wants to have social walks with her lovely dog and to invite friends round, but she can’t because he bites them! Things are getting worse. Could this be that she herself is becoming increasingly anxious? As I sat with her in the kitchen, I could feel her very understandable tension and anxiety. If I could feel it, then so would Beau.

Having been rehearsing the biting and jumping for months since he was a small puppy, it will now be learned behaviour – a habit.

How can we break it?

Learned behaviour – a habit.

What we have to work on is both the cause of the behaviour as well as the behaviour itself – and this cause is over-excitement around people and no self-control when aroused.

To succeed, Beau must be prevented from rehearsing the biting anymore in every way possible. It simply has to be made impossible. Without an experienced professional actually living with them with nothing else to do than work with Beau, I can see no other way than extensive use of a basket muzzle to begin with. When he gets his ‘rough’ times at home with his family, when friends visit and when he’s out and likely to encounter people, his mouth has to be taken out of action.

This will be much better than banishing him.

A basket muzzle is best because he has freedom open and close his mouth, to drink and to eat treats. If introduced properly so that it’s always associated with good things, he shouldn’t mind it too much. I know this could be controversial.

Without now being hurt, they must now teach him different habits and better ways of getting attention. He also needs better ways of relieving his quick-building arousal and frustration levels. In removing the ability to bite from his repertoire, they need to supply replacement activities and outlets.

I suggested a gate for the kitchen so at times when he’s likely to use his teeth or when people come, he can go behind it with something acceptable to chew until he has calmed down. Use of ‘No’ and ‘Down’ can only increase his frustration whilst in a way being reinforcing to him as well.

Self control.

When I was there, Beau held lead on harness to prevent the biting of me, we constantly used his food to reinforce every moment of desired behaviour.  He sat, he got food. He lay down and was silently rolled a piece of his kibble.

The emphasis must now be on reinforcing the behaviour that they DO want. People, when out, will be kept at whatever distance is necessary while they work on his self-control using positive reinforcement. He will learn that sitting or standing calmly brings dividends but this is only possible when not too close.

Jumping and biting is simply Beau’s default both when aroused or when feeling unsure of himself – both at home and when out on walks.

We shouldn’t underestimate the effectiveness of a dog having something in his mouth where the teeth are, whether it’s a ball, something that squeaks or even a bone! It all depends – all dogs are different.

What actually is excitement anyway and is it always pure joy? Wouldn’t we feel excited on a Big Dipper? Wouldn’t we be feeling scared before a bungee jump and isn’t that part of the buzz?

As Beau gains some self control and is helped to calm down around people, the muzzle can be used less and less until it’s no longer necessary.

 

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 Beau. 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. The muzzle idea may be totally inappropriate in another case. 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).

 

Rough Behaviour. Jumping. Scratching. Biting. Why?

I came to help with Honey’s rough, uncontrolled behaviour but it soon became apparent that their other dog, 8-year-old Bonnie, was one of the main triggers.

Both are Cocker Spaniels. Honey is already large for a Cocker and still only nine months old.

Rough and uncontrolled when aroused.

some rough behaviour due to over-excitement

Honey

Honey is a delightfully friendly dog but loses control of herself very quickly – and any efforts to try to impose control only make her worse.

When aroused (which is much of the time if anyone is moving about), she jumps up constantly. When excited or frustrated she usually picks on the lady. She will fly at her and grab her arms – she has bruises to show for it. If ignored, she scratches frantically at arms. It hurts.

Honey makes it impossible for the lady to get ready for work in the morning. She also attacks the hairdryer.

She did try the same things on me but I always wear tough clothes, just in case. There is no aggression behind it as such. Just an overflowing of arousal and frustration.

I was able to ignore it and start to reinforce any small moments of calm behaviour.

Eventually she was lying peacefully beside the man. Silently so as not to stir her up again, he dropped a piece of food to her.

Everything was going very well apart from Bonnie’s near-constant barking. She could see my car out of the window. She could see movement. She could hear things we couldn’t hear.

We tried everything to stop her but she was in such a state that the best we could do was for the lady to have her on her lap, well away from windows. For a while she quietened down.

Then she heard something else and erupted into a renewed frenzy of barking.

Immediately the now peaceful young Honey jumped up. She was clearly in a state of panic, rushing about, back and forth from Bonnie, licking her face, panting, jumping at us. It was actually quite pitiful.

Bonnie holds the trigger to the starter pistol.

The first obvious thing feeding into the jumping up, mouthing, biting and scratching are Honey’s extreme and near-permanent arousal/stress levels.

There will be such a build-up inside her that it’s like she’s ready to erupt at the slightest thing. People simply moving around or being busy is sufficient to start her off.

Everything will now be done to calm her down.

One main trigger is obviously Bonnie and her own panic barking, so although I was called for Honey, we need to deal with this at source – with Bonnie. Another is the over-enthusiastic behaviour of her humans towards her. They reap what they sow.

The other thing feeding the rough behaviour is that it always, but always, brings a result of some kind. It hurts so people react.

Bonnie

To make things harder, jumping up is strongly reinforced. She is nearly always fussed when she jumps up at them. At other times she’s told to get down. There is no consistency.

Inconsistency adds to frustration..

The couple are out all day but have a dog walker. Each lunch time she takes the dogs out for a lovely walk with other dogs. But still, like many people, they feel guilty having to leave the dogs alone for hours.

Out in the garden after work, the lady, trying to play ball with her, is literally mugged by her.

Protective clothing and ‘money’.

I suggest the lady has a tough jacket to hand to protect her arms. Honey must now realise that all play stops and all attention stops as soon as the rough jumping up and biting begins.

They should also have food on them all the time – to pay Honey for the behaviour they do want.

Honey should be given more appropriate stimulation – encouraging self control and calm. The morning routine can change so the dogs are downstairs with a chew each while the lady gets ready for work. They can then be given a short ‘sniff’ walk around the block before being shut in the kitchen instead of excitable play.

The people will keep actively reinforcing the behaviour they want. I reinforced feet on the floor and then lying or sitting down. Honey soon got the message with myself (until Bonnie set her off again).

The man made a good point. The behaviour is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is ‘wanted’ or ‘unwanted’ behaviour – so we reinforce wanted behaviour only.

Triggers can come from unexpected quarters. Calming Bonnie’s barking will indirectly have a big impact on Honey’s rough behaviour.

This case brought home to me two things. One, it illustrated that the triggers for a dog’s behaviour are often not obvious, especially to the humans closest to the dog. An objective, outside view is necessary.

Scondly it illustrated how important it is with behaviour issues to see the dog in his or her own environment. Had I not been in their own home I would not have realised just what an impact Bonnie’s mental state has on Honey’s.

 

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

Bites a Friend. The Result of High Arousal

One of their little dogs bites a friend entering the house. Everything changes.

He is now muzzled when people come and when he’s out.

The whole situation is very stressful for everyone in the family. The first goal, before doing anything else, is to see how much we can calm things down.

He bites a lady

Luka

‘Operation calm’

With calmer little dogs should come a less stressed lady. She and her husband have a lot on their plate with a teenage daughter who needs round the clock care.

The dogs help the girl to feel happy. Some alarm barking makes her feel safe. Unfortunately the barking is uncontrollable.

We sat at the kitchen table and the two dogs rushed into the room, barking. Luka, a 21-month-old Jack Russell Chihuahua mix, was muzzled. Jack Russell Sasha, 5, was friendly and soon stopped her barking.

Luka’s muzzle was removed. He seemed okay with me for a while and then began to bark again. The muzzle was put back on – they are understandably nervous.

The muzzle actually seemed to calm him right down as I have found can sometimes be the case with a certain kind of muzzle. It may work like a calming band. When it came off he was friendly and chilled for a while.

I took my photos when the dogs were being held – the only time they were sufficiently still!

The dogs barked at the slightest sound. They leapt all over us, springing up from the floor, even onto the table itself.

Because the lovely daughter is unable to pick them up, it’s necessary that they jump. They jump onto her lap when she’s in her wheelchair and they leap onto her bed where she spends quite a lot of time. They sleep on her bed with her.

When highly aroused, Luka may also redirect onto Sasha.

This is a case of picking our battles. We will forget about the jumping up as working on that could cause even more stress for all concerned.

My first goal is to calm everything down. A stressed owner creates stressed dogs and visa versa.

Life changes when our dog bites.

One can imagine how distressing it is when our much-loved dog bites someone. A lady friend was walking into the house. The dogs somehow got out of the kitchen.

It is absolutely certain that this would not have happened were it not for stress. Stress builds up to the point where all self control goes out of the window and one final, sometimes minor, trigger is the last straw.

They have had building work for the past few weeks which has led to constant barking. The highly aroused dogs somehow got out of the kitchen. The person was carrying food. They were jumping all over her – Luka barking. She fussed them. The lady owner will have been extremely anxious. The jumping up may have aggravated Luka’s knee problem.

The lady takes a step forward.

Luka goes for her.

He bites the lady – twice.

They will now gate the kitchen doorway so they have a bit more control over where the dogs go.

The dogs can be helped to calm down with something to chew or do, marrow bones or a stuffed Kong each, for instance. To avoid trouble between them they will be one each side of the gate.

The family has so much on their plate just now that simply calming things down has to be the place to start. After all, arousal and stress is at the bottom of both the barking and bites.

 

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

Angry When Suddenly Woken. He Bites.

Diego is a cute and characterful Shih Tzu, two and a half years old. He lives with a young lady, her mother and her grandmother. Three generations.

Angry? Diego? You wouldn’t believe it.

He wakes up angryDiego (what a great name) is the youngest lady’s dog. As she is out at work all day, her mother in particular is involved with looking after him.

The elderly lady is scared of him.

The main reason I was called in is due to Diego’s seemingly instinctive angry and aggressive reaction when suddenly woken or disturbed.

He flies at the two older ladies. They have bites to show for it.

The grandmother has a stool on which she puts her feet. Diego’s favourite sleeping place is on the floor by the footstool. If the lady so much as moves her foot Diego may wake and fly at her.

The mother also has bites from when she has moved suddenly.

If it’s the young lady who moves, Diego doesn’t go for her, she goes for one of the others!

She told me that sometimes she whistles to warn Diego. That gave me my idea.

They will buy three cheap plastic whistles and wear them around their necks. Regularly then can whistle and immediately drop something particularly tasty for Diego. In time they can build up a conditioned response: whistle-food.

They can then do the same when he is sleeping – if they want to move. It will give him warning. Waking suddenly, he will look for the food instead of flying at them, angry.

The lady can then move freely.

Diego is much worse in the evening.

I believe from other things they told me that stress is building up in Diego during the day. He is on high alert for outside sounds to bark at.

The ‘angry waking’ is much worse in the evening. His stress build-up accelerates with the young lady coming home from work. She gives Diego a rapturous and exciting greeting.

She then takes him for a lovely walk – but surely too stimulating. They may meet lots of other dogs in the park and he will play frantically. Playing with more than two or three dogs, some much larger than himself, must be very arousing – slightly scary even.

He comes back home highly aroused and then it’s tea time. At about 7.30pm they  understandably want to settle down, but Diego has only just started! Now he begins the stealing of items, hoarding and guarding them.

Dealing with the over-arousal and resource guarding which I’m helping them with will undoubtedly mean that Diego will be better relaxed when he rests. We ourselves know that we don’t sleep well when over-stressed. Better quality sleep must surely help his angry waking problem.

The young lady has made herself very well-informed and it was a pleasure to work with her. She understood what I was talking about as we discussed solutions and ways of de-stressing Diego. For a start, she will ‘redesign’ walks to give him much more time sniffing and exploring in peace.

It’s probably been going on for a couple of years now so waking angry will be a habit – a learned behaviour. By calming him down in general, dealing with the resource guarding and giving him warning when they are about to move, I am hopeful the behaviour will die.

Their three months with me has now come to an end and I have received this lovely email: I really just wanted to drop you a line to thank you – the help and guidance you provided has really helped. The difference in Diego (and me!) from when we first met is astonishing. I firmly believe he is a much happier dog, I know I am a much happier human.
Diego is now happy and balanced enough, that starting daycare didn’t phase him at all. He had his first session and the man who runs it was so impressed at how Diego behaved with his dogs (5 St Bernards) and the other boarders. In fact when I brought Diego home you would never have known he spent 7 hours somewhere new – I firmly believe he wouldn’t have been able to handle that situation 4 months ago. So all in all we’re all a lot happier and most importantly, Diego is happier. It really is lovely to see him smile so much again! 
Five months after we met: I thought you’d like an update on how Diego is doing. For a start we’ve found a lovely dog sitter for him. Diego now spends usually a day a week with 4 St Bernards (the owners) and a few other dogs that are being looked after. He’s been so well behaved (apart from showing off how quick he can slip his collar), the gentleman who looks after him says he’s as good as gold.
On and even bigger note, Diego also had his first holiday last week. We stayed for 2 nights at a lovely dog friendly b&b – he was spoilt rotten with eggs and bacon for breakfast.  We were so pleased at how well he handled himself in an unfamiliar environment and with all the car travel – 2 hours! I know for a fact if we hadn’t called you in we wouldn’t have been able to take him away.
Our knowledge of his stress levels is so much better now and we’re always checking and adjusting depending on his needs. Diego really seems like a much happier dog now 🙂
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle 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 Diego. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

 

Puppy Parenting Goldendoodle Puppy

This is the start of my Puppy Parenting journey…

Puppy parenting

Being such a good boy. Loving the clicker

…with the delightful Richie, a Goldendoodle puppy now age 14 weeks.

I usually like to start as soon as the puppy arrives in his new home but often, as in the case of Richie, people put in fantastic work with the toilet training and other training themselves, but aren’t prepared for puppy’s teeth!

They contact me when their attempts to discipline their wayward puppy are making things worse and they are growing desperate.

This is from the message I received when they first contacted me:

‘We got him at 8 weeks. He is very excitable at home and when meeting new people and dogs. He is very aggressive with his mouth and we can’t seem to stop him using his mouth when we play with him. We have taken him to a puppy class but he just doesn’t concentrate. All he wants to do is jump all over the other puppies. He gets what we call the crazies and he zooms around the house, biting our pants, socks, shoes, shoe laces, clothes – anything he can get his mouth on. He loses interest in toys very quickly and doesn’t play happily by himself for very long.’

He’s a puppy – being a puppy.

The most immediate thing to address is Richie’s way of, when thoroughly stirred up, flying at the lady and ‘attacking’ her.

What we soon realised was that this only happens when Richie is so excited that he can’t control himself. They also soon saw that his high state of arousal was sometimes caused by themselves. It’s like he’s clockwork and they wind a key in his side until …… off he goes!

One trigger time is when the man arrives home from work. The lady will excite the puppy with ‘daddy’s home’ when she hears his car. The man walks in the gate to give the aroused puppy a huge welcome.

Richie will then fly, not at the man but at the lady, biting her arms and grabbing her clothes.

They have already taught their clever puppy to sit, to lie down and a few other things. This makes people feel, quite rightly, that they have really achieved something. At just fourteen weeks Richie is fully toilet trained.

Just as important as training tricks where his humans are directing him, is the puppy working certain things out for himself.

He does this by experimenting with what works and what doesn’t work.

If jumping up and nipping gives fun and feedback – it works. If barking while the lady prepares his food ends in his getting the meal – it works. If jumping up gets the fuss – it works. If calmly waiting, sitting down or standing gets the feedback – that will work too.

That is the beauty of clicker training. It shows the puppy just what does work. He then starts to find ways of ‘being good’. If the clicker isn’t to hand, the word ‘yes’ will do because all the clicker means, really, is ‘yes’. 

Good recall is like having puppy on remote control.

Making a game of it, using food and constant repetition, Richie can soon be taught to come running when called.

He’s chewing the table leg? Instead of a loud NO, they can call him. He will come. They can then reward him and give him something better to chew.

Too much ‘No’ merely causes confusion, frustration – and wildness. ‘No’ is hard to avoid when we are pulling our hair out!

Puppies notoriously have a wild half-hour in the evening, zooming from room to room and flying all over the furniture. Dealing with the wild behaviour involves avoiding deliberately getting him stirred up, shutting doors as space encourages wildness, and redirecting this pent-up energy onto something acceptable that he can wreck or attack!

A Puppy can soon learn that ‘being good’ isn’t rewarding. Fun or gentle attention can sometimes be initiated when he’s awake but calm.

There are brain games, hunting games and there is clicker training – which to puppy should be a game. Here are some great ideas.

Our main catch phrase for now is ‘Change No to Yes’.

We have only just started. Puppy parenting is largely about pre-empting, diverting problems before they start and laying the foundations for happy walks and self-control.

Puppies can hard work!

From an email about seven weeks later: ‘We are doing great and Richie is becoming a totally different dog to the puppy we struggled with. Your help teaching us to be calm with him has been invaluable….. I don’t have much to add to the plan to be honest, as we have moved on a lot.   The only thing I can think of is Richie is alarm barking, especially from our own garden when he hears noises etc. but we will work on this. I am very pleased with how we and Richie are progressing.  All our friends and family are being calm with him and he is such a good boy around them.  He is growing up fast!