Under Control, Self-Control and Being Relevant

under control

Obi and Leia

I was greeted by nine-month-old Cocker Spaniel, Leia, flying all over me in delight. It was largely my fault the two young dogs weren’t under control. Both Leia and fifteen-month-old Obi had been trained to go to their ‘place’ when someone comes in. Quite impressive for such excitable dogs. I had interrupted that.

They don’t, however, stay on their place for more than a second unless continually returned to it.

When not under control they have little self-control.

The two dogs have been going to training classes. They have also started gun dog training which should help to satisfy some of Obi’s unfulfilled instincts. Both dogs have a good vocab of ‘commands’ and enjoy training games.

‘Commands’ learnt in traditional training classes don’t always transfer to real life. One reason for this is arousal and another is distraction. It’s hard to keep a young dog like Leia sitting still somewhere, under control, when with her whole being she wants to fly all over the place in wild excitement!

Self-control is acquired by the dog working out what works by only reinforcing the wanted behaviour. She then understands what is required without having to be told. Modern classes now use clicker training, shaping etc. so dogs learn for themselves.

This wasn’t the actual purpose of my visit. The family would like to trust Obi around other dogs and also to come back when called.

He has become increasingly grumpy when approached by certain dogs though will never make the first move. He is fine if they leave him alone. It seems that it’s young dogs and puppies that are the problem.

The other day he pinned down and bit a young puppy.

There are two problems for Obi that I see.

One is that he is highly aroused and on a near-obsessive sniff and hunt all the time he’s out. Everything else is shut out including the person walking him. The other is that while he’s working hard at hunting and sniffing he doesn’t want to be interrupted, particularly by a young and bouncy dog.

Lost in his own world, Obi will totally ignore, probably doesn’t even hear, being called.

Since he began to be grumpy with other dogs about six months ago, Obi is mostly kept under control on lead. He strains against it, deprived of his sniffing ‘fix’.

Working to improve walks, the young man will be:

Getting and holding Obi’s attention by being relevant and motivating.

Changing the way walks with Obi are done.

Changing the way walks are done

If Obi were more engaged with his walker, the young man, he would be less fixated on his own activities all the time. It stands to reason that other dogs interfering with what he’s doing would be likely to worry him less.

It will be hard work because this ‘Spaniel’ sniffing is giving Obi’s brain something he really needs. It can’t be simply prevented. It needs to be controlled or replaced.

Walks now will be something altogether different from the time they leave the house. Instead of trying to control an Obi who is pulling him down the road from one sniff to another, the young man can work at making pavement walks something a bit unpredictable and more fun (I call them drunken walks!). He needs to make himself even more relevant (he already puts in a lot of effort with the training and a bit of added psychology should now help).

In open spaces Obi can no longer be trusted off lead. Like the off-lead dogs that run up to him ought to be, he is kept under control. On a long line he has a degree of freedom and they can work on recall.

Here is a very good link for people wanting to teach a busy spaniel to stay near them – quartering.

Just a change of tactic can make a big difference.

I’m sure the young man won’t mind my quoting the email he just sent me the following day, having tried really engaging with Obi on the morning walk. You can see that the lad is a star!

‘I took him for a drunken road walk this morning. And as if by magic! I think he started (pulling and sniffing) twice for about 10 seconds and I was able to get him back on attention. I felt a fool doing it but the way he looked at me on the walk made me forget about it. I wasn’t sure if he was looking at me as though I’d invented sliced bread or whether he thought I was so nuts that he felt he had to keep on eye on me. But, he didn’t pull, not once. We stopped halfway and went on the long line to do some smelling games on a small field, played some fetch and with the long line managed to get him bringing the ball back and dropping it, as his attention started to dwindle we called it a day and moved on. Next time I will move on before it starts to dwindle. I let him hold onto the ball during the walk and like you said, he was more interested in holding the ball than smelling. He was walking, but not like a spaniel, his head was up for most of the walk and flitting between looking at me and looking ahead. He was rarely ahead of me.’

Self control – not ‘under control’.

A good start.

 

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 Obi. 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).

 

Enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel, Jumping Up, Pulling on Lead

enthusiastic cocker spanielUnlike so many of the dogs I go to, enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel Rudi has no reactivity problems at all towards other dogs.

He’s adorable and he is adored!

Rudi, 7, and has lived with the couple in their cottage in the country for eighteen months. What a lovely life he now has, with a big garden and the little two-year-old nephew the lady looks after. The two are inseparable.

Far too many dogs, like the little dog whose story I posted yesterday evening, are scared and reactive to other dogs. The fact my post has already received 418 views in half a day shows how big an issue this is.

Some dogs do seem to attract trouble from other dogs.

Those dogs already wary undoubtedly will have ‘victim’ somehow written on them for other dogs to read. Some dogs may just be ‘different’ in some way. In human terms we often hear of people who are a bit different being victimised or bullied. It could be to do with signals the walker is giving out also.

Enthusiastic Cocker Rudi is completely confident. He gets on well with all dogs. If a dog shows aggression towards him he ignores it, continuing to do his own thing which is being busy, spaniel-style. Nothing fazes him.

Where they do have trouble however is with his constant restlessness. At home he jumps up and may send a cup of tea flying. He pulls so much on lead that the lady can’t walk him.

A while ago someone advised a Gencon head halter, so he’s now walked on a shortish lead with pulling almost impossible. He hates it. They were even advised to tire him out with ball play in the garden before setting off. All this does is to fire him up further. Neither of these things address the actual problem. Frustration.

The enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel is insufficiently fulfilled.

He’s seldom able to be let off lead because when he sees a pheasant or Muntjack, there are lots where he lives, he’s off.

Just imagine how frustrated this busy dog must feel, walking in the open countryside on an uncomfortable head halter and short lead. He just can’t get to all those things his instinct is screaming at him to do. He has a strong need to run around and sniff when he’s out – he’s a Spaniel! He also has a need to chase and fetch things – he’s run run back with a live crow in the past.

They will get him a Perfect Fit harness and teach him loose leash walking. The lead doesn’t have to be short unless they are near the road. Why not a long line – 30 or 40 foot long – on the back of his new harness? His walker can soon learn not to become tangled up and to be a human flexilead.

The enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel can now have comfort on walks. He can have a degree of freedom to do Spaniel things. On the long line for safety, he can be taught to ‘chase’ a ball or food in the opposite direction to the pheasant or Muntjack. This can redirect his drive to chase onto something acceptable rather than suppress it. They can work hard at his recall.

I am sure that with this frustration out of the equation Rudi will be able to settle a bit more easily. He should be a little less excited at the prospect of action – any action (something wired into Cockers as I know from my own working Cocker Spaniel, Pickle!). With some work to teach him a better alternative, his jumping-up should be much more easily addressed.

Puppy Farm Dogs Used for Breeding

The lady was, to quote her email, at ‘such a low ebb’ as she described what was happening with her two recently adopted puppy farm dogs.

ex puppy farm dogs

Marty and Meggie

Considering the mental condition of the dogs she has taken on, she has already worked miracles. However, without support, she can’t herself see the progress that has really been made or just what to do next.

All these two little dogs have known is confinement in a dark puppy farm building. They probably had never seen the sky, never walked on grass. They may have been forced to mate. Their contact with humans will not have been tactile, loving or friendly.

Then, one day, the puppy farm dogs were released.

They were taken to a shelter. They were handled by staff and a vet. They were neutered. They were ‘ready for adoption’.

Their existence may have been terrible but it was the only life they knew and probably the only life their parents had known also.

The grim buildings would have been their security.

It’s hard to imagine how it must be when every little thing in their lives is new, from obvious things like a vacuum cleaner or traffic to birds flying free or music playing.

Four months ago the lady took on Maggie, a Jack Russell age about four. For the first four weeks the little dog seldom moved from the corner of the settee. She was frozen. Because she was so miserable, the rescue encouraged the lady also to take puppy farm breeding dog Marty, a Cocker Spaniel, about seven years old.

When Marty arrived the real nightmare started. The moment Maggie met him it was as if a cork had been pulled from a bottle of fizz. She was bouncing off the walls and this went on for weeks.

Marty on the other hand was totally shut down – too terrified to go outside at all and when a bit later he dared, would cower and run back indoors at the slightest thing. He has cataracts, his hearing is defective and he has a heart murmer. He came covered all over in fleas. Total neglect. Why hadn’t she been told these things first?

The main problem that has been driving the lady to despair is the marking and urinating everywhere, on furniture, up curtains, on the seat and back of the sofa. She is constantly cleaning. The marking intensifies when there is any change or stress.

She was at her wits’ end. She has large incontinence pads all over the floor and all over the chairs.

Over the three months that she has had Marty, the lady has gradually encouraged him into the garden to toilet. I watched her. He follows as she drops food and she always goes to the same place. She is extremely perceptive and patient. Her environment is perfect because the dogs have a room that with an open door or gate which means they lie in a chair together and can see into the kitchen and the garden without fear of being approached by anyone apart from the lady whose body language is perfect (she lives alone).

She has thankfully resisted friends who say ‘just do it’…..

….meaning grab the dog, force him outside or force the harness on him. If she did that she would blow it all. She is slowly building the trust of both dogs.

She had been looking for guidance on the internet and in books, and came across Lisa Tenzin Dolma’s book Charlie, the Dog Who Cam in from the Wild. This was exactly the kind approach she wanted and through Lisa’s books she found me.

As I discovered when I was with them the other day, the indoor marking was already beginning to reduce and now for regular toileting Marty is taking himself outside. The lady has just told me that he has now had a dry, marking-free day! This is huge progress. Imagine seven years most likely in an enclosure with other male dogs, making claim to his space with marking. After all this time it will be a strong habit to simply empty himself wherever he is, so you could say it’s not much short of miraculous that he’s now learning to go outside.

The lady’s slowly slowly approach is paying off. The two little dogs will lie beside her on the sofa in their ‘garden room’. Maggie even likes her tummy tickled but Marty, who now likes to lie close to her, immediately moves away if even her finger touches him.

She now feels that she has reached a standstill which is why she contacted me and with my help we will slowly advance things with them all.

I watched from the kitchen table as the two dogs, in the chair together, began to play – a very recent development. I am told that the next day Marty himself initiated the play.

Happiness!

It brings a lump to my throat. Marty is at last beginning to feel safer in his immediate world, safe enough to play.

Any small change has to be handled very slowly and carefully or he simply regresses into urinating and looking scared. Maggie then also regresses to bouncing off the walls.

The areas we are now starting on is Marty’s stressing when the lady leaves the dogs – the downside of developing an attachment. We are working on his fear of any human touch, even the lady’s. She will slowly be teaching Marty to go over to her and touch her outstretched hand whilst trusting her not to try to touch him back. It will be entirely his own choice.

She will need to hold back because where her human instinct is to reach out to him physically, to love and reassure, for him this would amount to punishment.

She can’t of course take the dogs out at all – she’s unable get a collar, harness or lead anywhere near Marty in particular. Walks themselves aren’t important though a visit to the vet might be. These two dogs have never had a walk so even the smallish garden is a new world of smells and adventure to them and more than sufficient for now.

Sometimes when we so deeply want to help and encourage a fearful dog it’s hard not to actually put on pressure. It’s a delicate balance.  Perhaps now that huge strides have been made the lady can relax a little and try a little less hard. I did suggest she no longer rushed to clean up those yellow patches on the pads but to wait a while – best of all do it while Marty is out in the garden. To strictly leave him be when he lies next to her and not to be tempted to put out even a finger towards him.

Everything that we normally take for granted is a challenge for these two ex puppy farm dogs, Marty in particular – and a great challenge for the lady too. She is feeling happier now that I have proved to her why her instinct not to push things, to give the dogs time against the pressure of ‘other people’, is the way to get results in the long-term.

Update a couple of weeks later: The poor lady is battling against building noises from next door – sudden and loud and high drilling whining – all of which is very difficult for the dogs. However, I have just received this message, ‘Tuesday I went out for just under 3 hrs, leaving them with Kongs and I’m very pleased to report NO MARKING, simply two dogs pleased to see me.  I am …also going upstairs for different lengths of time – I do feel this is helping with the separation anxiety …. and I have a bit more time to do my own things! Marty is really coming out of his shell Theo, which is soooo uplifting for me to see.  He is often the one to initiate play.  Just like the peeling of an onion, the stressed, fearful layers are beginning to fall away from him ….. I think we may see a bit of a character emerge!’
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 Marty and Meggie 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 fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

Choice on Walks Gives Confidence

I met Willow a couple of years ago when she was nine months old. The original problems I helped with have all but disappeared but they have relaxed a bit as people do. Here is the situation back then.

Two days ago I met her again. She is a much calmer dog now but over the time two new issues have been developing.

Choice on walks is what Willow need

Willow won’t walk and Willow won’t eat.

.

Willow is increasingly scared and reluctant to go on walks

The strange thing is that when they go away on holiday or out for the day, well away from home territory, Willow is a joyful little dog running around with tail wagging and ears flapping. They showed me this video.

They also showed me a video of Willow on one of the walks near home. She hesitates. Her tail goes down. She stops. She wants to go back to the car.

They then do all they can to make her move. The lady will talk to her, encourage, entice or bribe her; she may then get impatient and try to pull her to walk with them. To quote the man, they want her to ‘toughen up’.

When not going by car she’s okay past the first couple of houses. Then she starts sniffing, but not in the way a dog normally will sniff – with full concentration on the job in hand. As she sniffs she has her eyes turned to the lady, watching her. The lady feels like Willow is challenging her. I wonder whether she is buying time.

A few yards down the road Willow will start to look scared. Her tail goes down and she hesitates. At this stage the lady (who does most of the dog-walking) actively tries all she can to get Willow to walk on. The young man who sometimes walks her may pick her up and carry her for some way and then put her down again. They may get cross. It is a major issue.

After much cajoling the lady finally gives up and it’s making her unhappy because she believes, perhaps rightly, that Willow isn’t truly happy without walks and she wants Willow to be happy more than anything else. The whole thing seems to have got out of hand.

They feel they have tried everything, but they haven’t. What they haven’t tried is giving Willow choice on walks.

I feel it’s about the dog-human relationship. I sense the lady is too involved and worried about Willow (can someone love their dog too much?). The dog needs to be released from all pressure thus allowing her full choice on walks, choice of when she wants to stop and come home and choice as to whether she goes out at all. Then I’m sure everything will change given time.

I advised the lady to stand and let Willow sniff for as long as she likes, but not to watch her or to talk to her. Just let her get on with it.

Willow wants to go back to the car

Willow wants to go back to the car

Choice on walks starts at home.

Some time ago Willow was attacked by a Boxer. She came to no harm but was terrified. Possibly the human reaction was over the top. Possibly this incident has infected all familiar walks. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they walk from the house or go by car. Possibly it has nothing at all to do with the Boxer as she is friendly with most dogs.

The behaviour actually starts before they leave the house. Willow tries to hide when the harness comes out. There is a lot of persuasion and a certain amount of force used to get harness and lead on.

Just as I believe they should be giving Willow choice on walks, I believe she should also have choice before leaving the house (or at least letting Willow believe she has choice. We can be cunning!).

The man will now put Willow’s harness on before going to work so that it is on already for the lady who can then simply pop the lead on when she’s ready and if Willow ducks away just drop the lead on the floor and try again later. Use food. Stop the talking and pressure!

The lady will walk Willow to the spot a couple of houses down where she starts to feel uncomfortable and then turn and come home. She will do this several times a day – several very short walks. She will lace the environment by sprinkling food on the ground ahead of her, on the outward journey (never on the way home).

Willow will have complete control of whether she continues walking or not. No pressure.

When a willing Willow who is given choice on walks eventually gets to the fields, the Rucksack Walk will be a great thing for them to do with her.

Her seeming reluctance to do what the lady wants her to do is spilling over onto her eating. Her refusal to eat worries the lady so much that she entices and persuades. With all that attention she may even find it rewarding to refuse to eat.

Now if she doesn’t eat much from her bowl it doesn’t matter as she can be fed nourishing stuff like chicken out on walks.

Already by putting down very small meals and ignoring her, knowing that she won’t starve, and with other members of the family feeding her and not just the lady – she is eating.

A couple of days have past and I received this email:

‘Yesterday, Willow ate 3 little meals – (the man) served her a couple of times and amazingly she ate most of the food offered! We wandered about outside the house sniffing a number of times and went back in and on the last walk she quite happily walked further down the road to the grassy area – I laid a little trail of food – then she wandered about sniffing and then headed home – no hesitancy at all!’

I hope that within a few weeks by being allowed choice on walks Willow will be as happy walking on familiar territory as she is when she’s away from home – with ears flapping and tail wagging!

Two weeks later: ‘Everything going really well with Willow! Eating is amazing now, clean dishes every time! Walking improving all the time, steering clear of the most negative walk at the moment. Really pleased with her progress’.

 

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 Willow 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. 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)

Obsessing, Stressing, Panting, Licking

Obsessing; pacing; compulsively licking the floor.

The root to everything is down to Cocker Oli’s permanently aroused and stressed state – he only gets respite at night or when shut away during the day.

If he’s not compulsively bringing things to be thrown he is licking the floor (I suspect this will have started because his own shadow moves) or pouncing on imaginary things outside.

He paces. He pants. He is constantly obsessing on something. His stress infects the other two Cocker Spaniels, Charlie and the younger Billy. There is no respite for him.

Slow massage when the other dogs were out of the way seemed to calm him briefly.

He is offered zoopharmacognosy (the process by which animals in the wild naturally forage and select plants to self-medicate) which is helping him.

If we can get him to relax more, other things will fall into place. His arousal builds up to such an extent that in the evening it boils over. Several times he has suddenly gone into the red zone and attacked one of the other dogs for simply being too near either the lady or gentleman when he’s standing or sitting beside them.

On a couple of occasions he has attacked the lady as she has walked towards him. Such a highly aroused dog in his state of constant obsessing will have little control of himself.

Adjustment by his humans of their own actions is also necessary in order to reduce the excitement and stress in all the dogs – to create a calmer atmosphere.

‘Project Calm’

We are putting in place ‘Project Calm’ and already, in one day, the couple have made great strides.

also affected by Oli's obsessing

Billy and Charlie

There are trigger points throughout the day when the dogs get much too excited and noisy. When let outside first thing in the morning, when coming back in because breakfast follows. Then manic excitement because a walk always follows this with mayhem at 5.30am as they get to the car.

Now the man will come downstairs, put the kettle on, ignore them. Wait for calm before letting them outside – putting Billy’s lead on so he doesn’t tear around the garden barking anymore. Back in, he won’t feed them immediately but wait for calm again. Finish his cuppa!

Then they have a calm method for getting dogs into the car,.

The dogs have ‘their room’ during the day and in here Oli is calm. Although the lady works from home she has found that Oli is much more at peace in there with the other dogs. When they are let out there is bedlam again as they charge out of the door into the garden to greet the lady. Now before letting them out they will ‘Lace the grass’ with food. The dogs can then spend five minutes’ food-hunting and foraging which will take the edge off their excitement.

The couple will break the connection between returning home or letting them out and immediately going out for a walk.

They are changing routine now and these simple procedures are already working. At night-time when it’s time to let the dogs out, they do a very slow robot walk to the back door. When they get there they wait for no jumping up before slowly opening the door.

Robot-walking does wonders for creating calm!

A smallish crate in the corner may well help him too – somewhere that contains him. They can give him a special tasty filled Kong he never gets at any other time. At first indication he wants to come out they will open the door. If he knows he is never shut in there against his will he should be happier for longer periods of time. It’s certainly worth a go – in effect saving him from himself – and giving the other dogs a break from him.

They could also try very soft ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ music in there. It can be downloaded, or an iCalm Dog which is expensive but very portable and works brilliantly with some dogs.

Because the lady walking towards him seems to be a trigger for sudden eruption, she will get him to like it! Being a Cocker Spaniel I’m sure he’s good at catching things, so she will start from a distance and advance on him, throwing food as she goes until she is popping a piece in his mouth. She can do this in various places, particularly if he is near to the man.

The dogs should be treated as individuals sometimes. One at a time they can come out of their room and have a bit of quality time with the lady while she works during the day.

Instead of just ‘coping with Oli’ in the evenings when he is at his worst, they will plan activities. Healthy stimulation needs to be introduced – activities that will help him to de-stress himself and to use his brain. It’s impossible to be in a cognitive state and an emotional state at the same time.

He can have zoopharmo sessions; they can let the dogs out of the kitchen individually or in pairs for special attention; Oli can have a hunting game in the garden hiding something smelly; he could take a trip on lead around the block etc. etc.

He needs a little something to fulfill his breed drives but not feeding his obsessing. A short ball game in the garden – maximum 5 throws with a ball that appears from nowhere as though by magic and disappears again afterwards. After the 5th throw they can chuck some food over the grass so he can unwind.

As with many over-stressed dogs genetics is certain to play a big part, but people have to be at the heart of the problem too, so how the humans behave is crucial. He is at peace during the night away from them and, they are sure, during the day when shut in the dogs’ room (I shall ask for a video).

When eventually a much great degree of calm is achieved and Oli is able to settle for himself, other things may well come to the fore that we may need to deal with, but at the moment we can’t see past poor Oli’s arousal levels and obsessing which is also affecting the lives of the other two dogs.

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 Oli 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)

Punish her and she will Learn

“If we punish her she should learn not to do it again”.

A few weeks ago nine-month-old Dandie Dinmont for the first time went for the older, gentle Cocker Spaniel, Mimi (12). She grabbed her ear and wouldn’t let go. Mimi was screaming. Pandemonium followed. The lady yelled at the dogs. She tried to pull the two bitches apart. She cried ‘Get a bucket of water’. Water didn’t make Dandie, Suzie, let go, in fact it probably fired her up further. Panic.

Flo

Flo

Eventually a handful of food broke it up.

Suzie was punished.

Now, to me, this first attack wasn’t really too serious. No blood was drawn. Suzie could have damaged Mimi’s ear badly but no blood was drawn. If she was really in the red zone, would she have stopped for food?

Human reaction, noise and panic will, over a few more similar incidents, have escalated the whole thing into another sphere, resulting in Mimi finally turning on Suzie. The man, caught in the action, was badly bitten, ending up in hospital with a bad bite that went septic.

Suzie wants to control not to kill. The man has now experienced what happens when the dog really means it.

With hindsight the first attack should have been taken as a big warning that something was going wrong with the relationship between the two dogs.

I shan’t here go into the various techniques of breaking up a fight once it has begun as there is no universal solution – one size fit all. It’s so easy to say ‘keep calm’ but experienced dog people who deal with this sort of thing on a regular basis wouldn’t panic. The aim now is to make absolutely sure it can’t happen again.

I wonder where it all started? The seeds will have been sown well before that first attack on Mimi. It will have been brewing. The little Dandie Dinmont was becoming increasingly growly when Mimi was fussed and would react badly if not given treats first. Mimi’s own weakness may well have brought out the worst in Suzie. Hindsight, again, is a wonderful thing, but this is the point at which teenage Suzie’s bullying of Mimi should have been addressed.

Its a nightmare for the whole family as they adore their dogs. They so badly want to keep Suzie (the breeder will have her back) that they accept they will need to do things differently now.

They were disbelieving when I suggested that punishing Suzie would only make things worse and I knew I had a challenge explaining why. 

To punish a dog opens a can of worms.

It damages our relationship with the dog.  Countering violence with violence can only make aggression worse and this is very well documented. If positive punishment, physical or otherwise, did work, instead of escalating there would have been no further incidents.

The (very understandable) human anger has had fallout. I doubt whether punishment will, to the dog, be directly related to the attack itself for several reasons. One is that punishment continues after the fight has stopped (the dog will have been hit after she had let go).

Another big factor is that both dogs will now associate the other dog with something terrifying – her humans losing it and becoming, to them, unpredictable monsters. Each time one dog looks at the other her emotions will be poisoned with this association.

I suspect this human contribution will have had far more impact than any pain or fear either dog has inflicted upon the other.

Scared

Scared Mimi

Both dogs are wary in their own way. It’s sad to see Mimi so scared, not only of Suzie but of her humans, after twelve years of happiness. Even Suzie is very appeasing. In the context she offered it, I don’t feel her constantly dropping to the floor and lying on her back is solely to invite a tummy rub.

The situation must now be reversed and it will take time and patience. Relationship-building between humans and dogs is now a priority. It should involve one-to-one time – walks, training, play – with each dog individually, earning her trust by motivating her, being consistent and predictable.

At present the two dogs tend to focus mainly on one another. The focus of each dog should now be more upon their humans.

Now each dog also needs to be helped to associate the other with pleasant stuff only.

We discussed the common denominators around the incidents. Doorways was one of them. Each time Suzie grabbed Mimi it was her ear – not a killer grab.  Each time it unleashed a tsunami of human panic and reaction.  The final time Mimi turned.

Punish leading to appeasement

Tummy rub or appeasing?

Everyone must play safe for now. Belt and braces. They will put up two gates. Both dogs will be introduced to muzzles as a standby.

Instead of having them mostly together (with Mimi now hiding) and separating them when they feel it’s necessary (if they remember), they should make the default being ‘dogs apart’. They will only have them together in a controlled and planned way when everything is calm, away from any doors to the outside.

We are looking at management and controlling the environment for the foreseeable future.

We are looking to build a stronger relationship between each dog individually with her humans.

We are looking at changing how each dog feels towards the other dog.

* Used here in the sense of ‘positive punishment’ not ‘negative punishment’.
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 Flo and Lly and I’ve not gone into exact 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)

Barking at Me. Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he would suddenly break out into barking again.

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

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

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

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

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

So, what to try next?

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Reinforcing calm and something he can do instead of barking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eventually this should give him a sense of release.

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

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)

 

Adolescent Unemployed Working Dog

Working dog chewing a bone

Anchored beside us chewing a bone

Young working dog without a job.

I have just met Sam who is seven months of age. Sam is so very like my own Working Cocker Spaniel, Pickle.

I have had over five years with Pickle, learning how to give my alert and energetic working dog a sufficiently fulfilled life so that he’s not bored, naughty or too noisy without actually working him. Despite all my own training and practical experience, Pickle has been a challenge for me – and I adore him.

One thing is certain, the more stern people become with a dog like Pickle and Sam, the worse the dog will get. Admittedly, with sufficient force and punishment a more timid dog could be cowed into submission as demonstrated by Cesar Millan. A confident, ‘up-for-anything’ dog like Sam will surely eventually respond to ‘firm discipline’ with defiance.

That can only go one way – it’s the slippery slope towards frustration, anger and aggression. The man gets most of the defiance because he is more firm.

But how else other than through ‘discipline’ will they stop Sam leaping onto the table, stealing food from their hands while they eat, jumping up at small children, flying over the furniture, repeatedly barking for things he wants, tearing things up, raiding the fire grate, and so on?

Food and constant ‘payment’ and rewarding the dog for doing what you want him to do is the answer, and it’s best started as soon as a puppy is old enough to respond.

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Are they the right home for a young working dog?

This is the question Sam’s owners are asking themselves. They would be heartbroken to lose him, but because they love him they want the best for him.

My reply is that few pet dogs are really fulfilling what they have been bred for and people are finding other ways. Sam’s situation is as good if not a not better than many. It would be hard to find somewhere ‘ideal’ as that would be a life of working either sniffing drugs or explosives or being trained to retrieve birds for a hunter. Few dogs today actually live these lives. Too many gun-dog trainers still use the kind of harsh training methods that other modern trainers would never inflict upon dogs today.

It’s important for me to add that Sam’s owners have never been harsh or unkind with him. They are simply normal, loving dog owners doing what they perceive to be the best in order to curb some of Sam’s ‘wildness’ and impose some rules.

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There are ways of fulfilling the dog’s breed requirements.

My Pickle at the same age

There are also ways of teaching what we DO want without force.

‘Discipline’ implies being heavy-handed (something these people are not) but surely it really means having certain rules that are consistently adhered to. The method of applying these rules is to teach the dog using positively reinforcing methods just what we do want, as we would a young child.

Clever Sam was deliciously responsive to finding ways to please us for reward!

With a dog like Sam (and my Pickle) management is vital. He needs to be physically unable to do certain things. It’s pointless giving him access to the dining table, for example, just for him to keep jumping onto it when clearly telling him to get off or even pulling him off doesn’t teach him anything and just gets him and his humans increasingly cross.

I eventually put a harness on him to which I attached a longish lead and then hooked him onto the banister rail beside me with something to chew. Without this I could have spent the entire two-and-a-half hours working on his table-jumping, pen-stealing, counter-surfing tricks!

Using barriers, gates, anchor points and even attaching the lead to one’s waist as we walk about removes opportunities to do many of the undesired things.

We look at what the dog is bred for. With a Spaniel, scenting is a big part of it. Hunting and foraging games can help to offer him fulfillment. He can expend his daily bouts of manic energy onto a carton filled with junk rather than shredding important paperwork and eating socks.

Chewing is vital to help him to calm himself, so he can have bones, Kongs etc.

Over time he needs to learn to settle peacefully. He needs to learn to sit quietly behind a gate before it’s opened. He attends classes but what he learns there isn’t translating much to home life. With Sam, it works a lot better just to wait for the behaviour you want with no more than one gentle reminder rather than to bombard him with commands.

Every time Sam does something good like sitting and looking into their eyes, he gets a reward of some sort – attention or food – depending upon what is likely to be most valuable to him at that moment.

This way he uses his brain and while we are thinking ‘what a clever boy’, Sam is basking in approval.

When their dog is peaceful people tend to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ and leave him be. It takes a lot of effort, but it’s better to teach him that being calm and quiet is what earns him attention and not unruly and demanding behaviour.

Looking for the good and rewarding calm and manners whilst preventing through management the ‘bad’ – or ignoring it where possible – is the way to go.

This is going to be hard work for Sam’s people, but oh so rewarding. He is a clever, affectionate and wonderful dog whose good points far outweigh any bad points.

Here is the story of a very similar Cocker Spaniel I went to eighteen months ago called Willow. On reading about Sam, his owner message me: Reminds me so much of Willow! I now know we go for ‘smells’ rather than ‘walks’! What I have discovered in the last two years, is what an amazingly intelligent and quick learner she is! She is still challenging sometimes, but we try to preempt her e.g. Making sure we don’t leave dining chairs pulled out otherwise she gets up on the dining table too! Willow and I are still ‘learning’ but it’s been so much fun!

Sweet Dog Undersocialised and Scared

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millie barking at me

Millie barking at me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Millie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)