Too Much Excitement. Too Much Lots of Things

‘Too much’ results in stress.

Ollie’s stress levels are at the root of the problems. This said, not all stress is bad and a lot is associated with fun – but it’s too much of everythiToo much excitementng that’s the trouble.

So many things add up during the day. The eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo has to have the lady in sight all the time and panics when left alone. He barks at every sound outside. He can’t control himself when other dogs are about.

Their young children are often excited around him. Too much arousal, too much petting (and too vigorous), too much prolonged, rough or repetitive play, too much physical contact. They believe it makes him happy and it does, in a way. But it’s too much.

It was evening, the children had gone to bed and Ollie gradually settled. I watched him go and snuggle on the sofa beside the man who immediately began touching him. Ollie licked his lips, then licked his nose, then yawned. A little uncomfortable? To me it suggested the dog wanted the closeness but wasn’t asking to be touched. He soon jumped down.

When they walk past him, he will roll onto his back. They assume it’s because he wants a tummy rub. Really? It will depend upon context, but often it will be appeasement. “Please leave me alone.”

Why should Ollie be so stressed?

I saw for myself how easily he becomes anxious. Sadly, as a twelve-week-old puppy, right in the middle of his first fear period, he had a painful medical problem that resulted in his being confined for six weeks.

Ollie is a lovely friendly dog. He should be having a lovely life. He has love, attention, play, walks and the best food, so why should he be stressed? It’s about everything in moderation. There is, simply, too much.

There may however be ‘too little’ of the things he really needs – down time, sniffing time, closeness without necessarily being touched, peace and quiet without being alone, brain work, healthy stimulation.

So, I would say that cutting down on the intensity of everything will make a big difference. This has to be the starting point. At the same time, we will introduce activities that help him to reduce stress and to use his brain, instead of working him up into a frenzy of excitement.

One very interesting thing they told me is that Ollie loves a tight-fitting garment they dressed him up in for an occasion last year. Recently, sniffing a box, he dug down and dragged it out. He then he took it off and lay on it. Apparently, when he was wearing it Ollie seemed calm and happy which is why they felt he liked it. This started me thinking. How does he react when his harness goes on, I asked? He’s calmer then also.

From this I just guess that there’s a good chance of him being one of those dogs a Thundershirt or Ttouch wrap could help.

Other dogs send him onto a high

Here is another strange thing. Ollie is only aggressive to other dogs when his humans are eating! If there is dog food or bones about he’s okay.

He has only ever shown aggression to humans when other dogs are around.

Ollie’s arousal levels shoot through the roof when he’s near dogs. He is so desperate to play that he overwhelms them. In his uncontrolled way, he charges about, jumping over them and has nearly bowled over a couple of owners who were not pleased. The presence of other dogs gives Ollie such a high that he’s uncontrollable. The lady is now anxious about walking him.

First things first

Number one priority, then, is to calm him down a bit. Then after two or three weeks I will go again and see what we then have and what we need to do next.

 

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

Wary of New People Unless on the Train. Puzzling!

Wary of people

Crumpet

Crumpet is a Cockerpoo. Crumpet (I just love her name) is three years old.

She scares easily – apart from the very times when most other dogs would be frightened. On trains, on the underground and on the busy streets of London she is absolutely fine!

At home where it’s quieter she is spooked by anything different or unusual and is very wary when a person appears. She may rush at them, barking.

She is like this also when someone calls at their house.

The lady takes her to work and Crumpet reacts in the same way when someone enters her office. Though tethered, she rushes at them, barking.

The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be

The very strange thing is that in a crowded train she is friendly! She will even go to people for a fuss and sit on the floor beside them. The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be.

It does seem like there is a territorial element to it and she feels more threatened by people near to or in her home – the same at the office. Commonly dogs are worse when a person is standing. Understandably this is particularly the case when she is in an enclosed space or on lead (train carriage and London streets excepted).

It’s an odd thing, but often the fewer people there are the more threatened the dog feels, particularly if they appear suddenly or move quickly. Perhaps this is the same with ourselves? We can feel invisible in a crowd.

Reading the dog.

Because of how I set things up when I arrived, she was fine with me from the start. However, it was a bit different when I got up to go. I saw for myself just how easily Crumpet scares. She was sitting on the lady’s lap and I was now standing up. As I talked to the lady, standing quite close to her, I watched Crumpet. My nearness and the fact I was standing started her lip-licking and yawning. Then there was a little growl. All were clear signs that she was feeling very uncomfortable.

Had I not taken heed and backed away, no doubt next she would have rushed barking at me too.

Is she being protective? It’s possible. Whatever the reasons behind it, Crumpet should be helped in situations like this. This means learning to read her subtle signals, before it gets to the rushing and barking stage if possible. They should save her from any unwanted attention or increase distance.

She looks so gorgeous that she is a magnet for ‘dog-lovers’!

Sometimes Crumpet can cope better than at other times.

Crumpet is variable. There are occasions when she is less wary and reactive than others. This can only be to do with her own mental state at the time. The calmer, less-stressed and more confident she is in all aspects of her life, the better she will be able to cope with the things that scare her.

The nearer to home she is the more wary of people in particular she seems to be.

We will be concentrating on lowering her stress and excitement levels whilst also counter-conditioning her to things she’s wary of – people in particular – by building up positive associations and doing everything to keep her feeling safe. If she no longer sees people as a threat, then she has no need to feel protective – if protectiveness is part of it.

Crumpet is in such a frenzy of excitement before she even leaves the house, barking her way down the road. In this state one wouldn’t then expect a calm and considered reaction to anyone she might meet.

Progress is fastest when things are broken down into small steps.

The lady will work on getting through the door with a quiet dog! I have invented a sequence, like kind of game, involving waiting for quiet by a door, opening it, walking through with a quiet dog and returning again – over and over. Starting with inside doors, then the back door and finally the front door.

Next she will progress to walking Bracken quietly away from the door a small way before turning back – until they get to the end of the road.

I’m still puzzled by why Crumpet is so comfortable in the train! Possibly it’s because there is no territorial element.

The little dog who spooks at a rubbish bag appearing on the footpath is unfazed by the hiss of closing underground train doors. The dog who rushes at a person walking towards them in their own road is untroubled by people packed into a carriage.

We need to bottle this and take it home and to the office!

 

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 Crumpet 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 is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

Barks in Panic When She Leaves Him

Barks in panic when left

Murphy

There has been a big change in young Cockerpoo Murphy’s life recently. They moved into a new house two weeks ago.

The lady was able to go out without any problems before. Now he barks in panic as she walks out of the door.

She comes home to a panting and distressed little dog.

She put Murphy, along with her other Cockerpoo, Missy, in kennels for a week – to save them from the upheaval of the move itself. Could this have something to do with his fear of being left now?

To better understand the different kinds of separation distress, imagine a bitch and her puppy. If we separate them, the mother will suffer from separation anxiety, unable to see, and therefore protect, her puppy. The puppy suffers from abandonment anxiety because he is missing his point of reference and safety. 

Murphy barks in panic, “Don’t leave me!”

I believe it’s abandonment Murphy’s feeling. He barks in panic at the door even as she leaves, “don’t leave me!”. It’s not like he’s alone for a little while and then begins to get uneasy. It’s immediate.

Missy

This case is a good example of the importance of asking questions and not jumping to conclusions. I was about to go when something occurred to me. The lady works at home and would go out a couple of times a week, for two or three hours.

I asked her, what time of day do you go out? She said it always used to be in the morning. What time of day have you been going out over the past couple of weeks? Afternoon.

What time of day do you usually walk the dogs? Afternoon.

Hmmm. I wonder whether Murphy barks in panic, due to abandonment, because he expects to go out with her as he always would in the afternoon? It’s possible. Wasn’t that his old routine after all?

Murphy’s separation plan divides into two separate areas for the lady to work on at the same time. Departures, and the triggers that signal her departure.

Departures and triggers.

Working on departures will be in steps, beginning with just closing the dog gate on him and walking away for a moment, building up to being able to walk out of the back door.

She may need to break the stages we worked out into even smaller increments, keeping on each step until Murphy is relaxed and happy before going onto the next.

She should do these exercises many times until Murphy is convinced beyond any doubt that when she departs she always comes back.

Working on the triggers will include putting outdoor shoes on and off regularly, leaving her bag about, walking around with her keys, taking the keys out of the back door and so on.

Every time the lady walks out on Murphy, however briefly, she will drop food. The idea is that her departures are associated with good stuff (food) and her returns are fairly boring.

She can add calming music. Noise from TV or radio may actually be too varied and stimulating. Through a Dogs Ear music can relieve anxiety.

When she starts actually going out of the house she will do so in the morning.

I suggest she has a camera so that she can see Murphy from her phone. She should always come back in before he starts to show signs of distress.

Murphy may well still associate the afternoons with walks, regardless of whether he’s already been walked in the morning. Returning to her old routine may well speed things up.

 

Barks with Excitement. Barks for Attention.

Bobby barks with excitement.

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

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

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

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

Barking.

They worry about the neighbours.

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

Bobby barks with excitement while the man plays with him.

Bobby barks at them while they are eating their lunch.

Bobby barks at them for attention when they are busy.

Bobby barks with excitement while they prepare his food.

We look at why Bobby barks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a glorious mess he can make of that!

Barking before walks?

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

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

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

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

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

 

Running Off With Things and Guarding Them

Guarding behaviour is unecessaryThey had been told her guarding behaviour couldn’t be fixed which is pretty unbelievable really. They were told nothing would stop her picking up and guarding anything that was lying around.

The two main problems with beautiful and mostly loving Cockerpoo Nell are that she will steal things, run off with them and become aggressive when they try to take them from her. Also, she has bitten when she didn’t want to be touched.

The two things are related. Nell can feel uncomfortable or threatened when approached directly.

Things like this aren’t usually in isolation so there are one or two other things to be resolved also. I find when eventually each smaller thing is addressed the whole picture becomes clear and everything starts to fall into place.

‘Consequence drives behaviour’.

Nell does things because they work for her in some way.

On each occasion when she has snapped when touched, her space has been invaded. Biting makes the person back away. Bingo.

The guarding is much the same thing. To retrieve the item, her space is invaded. It scares her. It’s weird how dogs set themselves up to be scared like this, knowing what the consequence will be.

On my way home from their house yesterday I was listening to the radio. A young man who had been in prison several times being interviewed. He was talking about the adrenaline rush of the chase if police or householder were after him like it gave him a fix.

Perhaps this is how it is for the dog. She is creating her own excitement and danger.

It’s likely that the working breed in her isn’t getting sufficient fulfillment and she is giving herself an adrenalin rush.

The humans totally have it in their power to stop the behaviour from happening by how they react. They can also give her other activities that will provide her with the kind of stimulation she needs. This isn’t hours of exercise or manic ball play either. She needs to use her clever brain and her hunting and sniffing instincts. She’s a mix of Cocker Spaniel and Poodle after all!

What makes this relatively easy for Nell’s humans is that when she takes something she rarely damages it. It’s hard to know why they bother to go after it, setting her up to growl and guard, thus feeding her fix for excitement and fear.

What they have done for the three years of her life in reaction to her nicking things and guarding them clearly isn’t working or she wouldn’t be doing it anymore.

From now on I advise they totally ignore all guarding.

They will look away or walk out of the room. they will only retrieve the item when Nell isn’t about. What can she get out of it then?

The person who advised them before said it could never be fixed! Nonsense.

With the brain games they can teach her exchange and ‘give’. They will use more food as payment and reward so she is motivated and engaged.

An reaction when being suddenly touched can be solved similarly. She clearly doesn’t like her space invaded, not only if it’s to take something off her but also to take a thorn out of her fur or if she is patted in passing when she is resting.

Again, the humans need to do things differently. Nell’s reaction, growling and snapping, makes the person go away. It works! I suggest for a few weeks none of the family goes into her personal space at all. She lives in a bubble that mustn’t be burst.

If they want to touch her, they sit down a couple of feet away and call her. If she doesn’t want it, so be it. I guarantee she will start putting herself out a bit more for her humans and in time will be a lot more easygoing about it.

‘Trigger stacking’ again.

It’s another case of trigger stacking – where stressors build up and it erupts elsewhere. In Nell’s case with occasional reactivity to other dogs on walks for instance.

They may have been told that nothing can be done about the guarding behaviour but that is ridiculous. It’s not extreme and the solution is simple really. It’s to do the very opposite to what they have done in the past that hasn’t worked but only made things worse.

It also means giving her the stimulation and excitement she needs with appropriate alternative activites.

 

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 Nell. 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).

Unexpected Sounds and People. He Barks.

Freddie, an adorable Cockerpoo, barks too much.

unexpected sounds make him barkThis does him no good at all and it makes life hard for his humans.

Ironically, he didn’t bark once during the three hours or so I was with him. This was probably because none of the things he normally barks at occurred.

The lady opened the door before I rang the bell and the bell always starts him off. Thoroughly aroused, he may continue barking, particularly if a man comes in.

He was just very interested in me and probably the smell of my own four dogs.

He associates the unexpected sounds with people nearby.

If he hears a car on the gravel outside or a door slam, he will bark. If he can hear a neighbour outside, Freddie will bark.

For the first few months of Freddie’s life they lived in London and because noise of passing people was constant, he was unaffected.

For the past two years they have lived in the country with just a couple of neighbours and some passing dog walkers.

Now if he hears any unexpected sound against this quiet backdrop Freddie, thoroughly alarmed, will bark. He can be sleeping one minute and acting like his world will end the next!

When on walks, a person can appear at quite a distance and he will immediately start to lunge and bark.

Reduced barking is our end goal.

That’s it really. There are no other problems. Freddie is very friendly with people he knows and quickly warms to those he doesn’t. He is also very cooperative when asked to do something. Absolutely gorgeous.

So, we looked into all aspects of Freddie’s life with a view to dealing with any areas that could possibly be relevant to his nervousness and barking at unexpected sounds or at people outside.

By nature he is alert and quick to react to things, so the goal is for him to be less easily alarmed and the barking to be short-lived, not to stop him barking altogether. Like people, some dogs are simply a lot more vocal than others!

We are approaching this from three angles.

One: Stress reduction

If we can we reduce his overall arousal/stress levels, he will be less reactive and have more tolerance in general. This will mean avoiding activities that stir him up unnecessarily and replace them with things that will help engage his brain and calm him down.

They have discovered that he is allergic to a lot of things – most meat, wheat and even grass. He will be permanently uncomfortable or itching which must be affecting his stress levels. With the help of their vet, they are now addressing this.

Two: How his humans react when he barks

It’s important for people with dogs that alarm bark at sudden unexpected sounds not to merely try to ‘stop the dog barking’. This includes scolding, shouting or worse – ‘anti-bark’ gadgets (never employed by Freddie’s owners).

For Freddie to gain confidence and trust in his humans, they will let Freddie know they are on the case so Freddie can quickly relax again.  We have discussed how.

Three: Reducing the fear that is driving the barking

The only way to reduce Freddie’s barking in the first place is to deal with and reduce the fear and emotion of alarm that is driving the barking. There are ways of getting him to feel a lot better about people driving up to the house, about men, about the neighbours and about people he sees on walks.

When out, pushing him into situations where he’s too close to people can make things worse but avoiding them altogether won’t advance things at all.

They now have a plan to follow that should help Freddie to gain confidence and build trust in them to keep him safe.

Snapping, But Only at Family Members

I met Theo today!

Theo is a ten-month-old Cockerpoo who lives with another Cockerpoo, Otto, who is six years and much more sensible!

snapping at family members

Theo with a new haircut

Theo is a live wire, friendly, affectionate and funny.

For some reason, though, there are times when he snaps. They feel that he’s unpredictable, but on looking more closely, the snapping can actually be predicted – at least, the triggers can.

The snapping began immediately after he was castrated.

It was the second day after he’d been castrated a couple of months ago. They had taken his ‘lampshade’ off because he couldn’t eat with it on. It was when they went to put it back on that he went for them.

Things went downhill after this with Theo’s snapping.

Looking back one can understand at the time he may still have been suffering from the anaesthetic and the collar must have been a great annoyance. He simply didn’t want to by pulled about anymore. He snapped.

It took them totally by surprise.

One thing he will have quickly learnt is that snapping makes people recoil and back off. Now, whenever he doesn’t want to be touched or pulled about, he air snaps. Snapping works. They stop.

Very fortunately he’s not yet drawn blood but the direction things are going it’s only a matter of time before the snapping becomes real biting if something isn’t done.

It’s a shame because he is such a friendly little dog. He loves self-initiated cuddles. When out in crowds he seems to revel in lots of attention and being touched. The snapping has only happened to family members so far.

The incidents can be grouped into snapping when he’s been touched whilst resting or sleeping and most particularly if it’s come as a surprise; snapping when they try to take something off him; snapping when he’s pulled about in some way and simply doesn’t want it – like having his back legs toweled.

Like other people I have been to recently, Theo’s family is another that doesn’t regularly use food for reinforcement so they, too, are missing their trump card.

If the dog sees hands as the transporters of food, hands will be a lot more welcome!

One good thing is that he is fed on Bakers! Yes – this is good! It’s good because immediately they should be able to improve Theo’s mood by feeding him on something with healthier ingredients and without all those additives – better brain food.

Otto

Otto

They need to prevent any further rehearsal of the snapping. They now know his flash points and must avoid them.

No touching him when he’s resting because sometimes he snaps. No touching him when he’s sitting beside them on the sofa – because sometimes he snaps.

He sleeps on their bed. Inadvertently the other night, the lady put her hand on him and he flew at them in their own bed. He was wild, snapping repeatedly as they held up the duvet to protect themselves.

They will now shut him out of their bedroom.

They will no longer try to take anything off him. If something is dropped on the floor and he looks like he wants it, they will no longer simply bend over and pick it up – just in case he snaps at their hand!  

This is all well and good for now

It’s not a way to live into the future and it’s not realistic to expect people to be on high alert all the time, so work needs to be done.

I concocted some exercise and set-ups for the family to work through Theo’s issues with him. In brief these include:

Getting him to touch their hands when they ask him to with some clicker training.

When he’s lying on the sofa, sitting down away from him and calling him over. If he comes to them he gets a reward and a brief fuss. If he doesn’t they leave him be.

They will swap an item he’s holding for food, admire it, making a game of it, giving it back.

They will then swap items for food and sometimes keep them.

Because they are afraid to pick up dropped items without Theo snapping, they will deliberately drop things he might find interesting – little bits of rubbish and point it out to him – ‘Look!’. Having thanked him and exchanged for something better, if it’s something he would like they can give it to him.

Snapping is rarely totally unpredictable unless the dog is asleep and taken by surprise, which is predictable in a way with a dog like Theo. He will give some subtle warning. Maybe little signs in quick succession which with more knowledge they will pick up on. They can check when he does come over to him that touching is what he wants. Does your dog want to be petted – consent test

It’s a bit strange that Theo’s change in behaviour came on so suddenly. I’m told that in the past he has twitched or sort of hiccuped at times, and I noticed he made a few twitches like little spasms when he was on his back. If things don’t greatly improve with the snapping, he will go back to the vet for more extensive tests.

Being Theo myself, going to a Theo was funny!

I called him “Theo, Come! and gave him a treat. Reinforcement is vital.

If someone called me “Theo, come!” and when I got there the person simply shrugged and said ‘”nothing”, I would probably ignore them another time!

I would like Cadbury’s Wholenut Chocolate please.

TheoIt’s two-and-a-half months now: We are so pleased with Theo.  He is such a different dog to the one you met.  The best thing is that, with your help and guidance, it has all come about through kindness and understanding, which is how we have always wanted it to be.The more affection he gets, the more he wants.  He will often come and sit at my feet, asking for his tummy to be tickled, or will just come and rest his chin on my lap.  He walks around the house wagging his tail.  Theo is such a bright dog; we just love being with him each day. We seem to have reached a very happy understanding of one another and we have a routine that works for all of us. Thank you so much for all your help.  We are so grateful.
Three weeks after my visit: We have had another super week with Theo. No flashpoints, just a lovely happy dog. This morning I walked the dogs with a friend and her sensible Labrador. We let them all of the leads as we were on a track surrounded by fields. Theo was brilliant; he stayed on the footpath and came straight back whenever I called him, no matter how far ahead or behind he was.
Two weeks have gone by and I have received email feedback ending: “We are really pleased with progress far.  Your guidance has been invaluable.  Within the first week, we were all just feeling relieved at the improvement in his behaviour (and probably ours!) and we felt we could at least live with him.  Now, at the end of two weeks, I can honestly say it is a pleasure to be with him.  He is having fun, he is affectionate and more relaxed. We realise that we need to be aware of our actions and his possible reactions, but it is so rewarding to work with him”.
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 Theo and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of ny kind is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Snapping at the Kids and Growling

Things are a whole lot more serious when children are involved.

Alfie lunging and snapping at child was a complete surpriseThis is from the original email the lady sent me: “Alfie has started growling around his food, toys and bed since June. He is very possessive and he bit me once as well. We have been trying to stop him from growling especially with his food, using technique like sit and stay before feeding him, stopping him when he is eating to give him treat, feeding him by hand. We really love Alfie, but because of his snapping I can’t relax when the kids want to play with him and I really don’t know how to stop him growling. I am concerned about my girls safety”.

Some weird advice had been given to them as I could see from the message. They were also told the dog had to be made to sit and watch them eat before being fed himself. Oh dear.

9-month-old Cockerpoo Alfie greeted me with enthusiasm and some jumping up – a little mouthing. A gorgeous, playful, friendly little dog. It was hard to see how he would ever be aggressive.

A couple of hours later, I saw it for myself.

If something suddenly changes in a dog’s behaviour, the first step is a full vet check. Their vet had given him a clean bill of health and advised them to get behaviour help.

The growling, lunging and snapping had started quite suddenly three months ago when he bit the lady’s arm. He had walked away from his still full food bowl, she had walked towards him and he flew at her, biting her arm and drawing blood. It was a huge shock as he had never shown any aggression previously.

After discussion and dissecting each incident it seems that, although food may sometimes be involved, it’s more about Alfie guarding entrances/doorways, mostly from the two little girls aged 6 and 8. It is also possible he’s guarding his own space. Maybe he is guarding the mum or dad who on several occasions had been beside him as a child approached and he growled. This was the case when I saw it happen myself. What a shock.

Being approached directly is what each incident has in common.

Alfie has been scolded for growling so he may now be taking it to the next stage – snapping. A couple of times he had sprung towards a child, growling and snapping at her arm. The change from friendly playmate to growling and snapping dog is sudden and unpredictable.  They can’t be looking at him all the time for subtle signs.

Fortunately no harm has been done yet. It’s still a warning. ‘Go away’.

There have also been a couple of incidents around food. I watched him eat his dinner and he kept breaking off to look around at where the children were playing.

On the first occasion it almost certainly was associated with over-arousal. The family had been away and Alfie had stayed with the doggy daycare. He normally is there for a couple of days a week but this time it was for five days and nights. Daytime there are around fifteen dogs, all loose in a field doing their own thing all day. We know that unsupervised dog play very often gets out of hand, particularly when there are lots of dogs involved.

What, too, about sleep deprivation and the ongoing effect this may have had? Most dogs in a ‘normal’ environment spend a great portion of the day asleep.

What else may Alfie be learning? He has been going there since he was three months old and was six months when the first incident happened.

He may well be learning or even copying behaviours involving guarding areas or resources along with protecting his personal space and probably his food. He also will have learnt that growling and snapping at the other dogs keeps them away. Being dogs and not children, they would understand and get the message.

Alfie’s arousal levels will have been through the roof after five days of this.

The more questions I asked the more it became evident that most of the episodes they could remember came after Alfie having stayed at the daycare.

The first step is to leave daycare and find a dog walker who will come once or twice a day, take him out with no more than two other dogs then bring him home again.

Because children are involved, the priority has to be their safety, so management must be put in place straight away. There is one doorway where could put a gate, allowing the dog to be separated from the kids and the lady to relax. It is putting a terrible strain upon her now.

Alfie suddenly flew out from under the table, snapping at the child’s arm.

I sat chatting at the kitchen table. All was peaceful, the little girls were upstairs amusing themselves. The couple were the other end of the table nearest to the door and Alfie was under the table between them.

The eight-year-old opened the door and walked in. With no warning that I could see (he was under the table), Alfie sprung out, growling, snapping at the child’s arm. Thank goodness no harm was done. This is a good example of how children may not always be safe even with their parents right beside them.

The man himself hadn’t actually witnessed more than growling before and now was understanding a lot better his wife’s anxiety and why she is constantly on edge.

BenbowAlfie1

Again, Alfie had been at daycare for several days and nights and the lady had only returned from overseas the day before I came. Alfie’s ‘stress bucket’ will have been full already. The children had been on school holidays for several weeks now so there was more excitement……and the I arrived!

After the gate, the second management thing is to wean Alfie into wearing a muzzle. Muzzling him for short periods at a time will allow the lady some respite. Alfie will certainly be picking up on her tension, adding to the stress. She is watching all the time ‘No Alfie!, No Alfie!’.

In addition to management, reducing Alfie’s stress levels in every way possible, working directly on Alfie’s guarding behaviour, the behaviour of the little girls has to be modified as well.

Instead of feeding him in the kitchen where everyone walks past, they will now feed him out of the way in the utility room – and leave him strictly alone. If anyone has to walk through, they will just drop something very nice either in or near to his bowl as they pass. No more silly tricks around food and meals.

They will work at getting him to give up and exchange things willingly. They will use food to motivate and reward him – something they don’t currently do.

As well as the work with Alfie, the little girls have their own tasks. Holding a child’s hand, I rehearsed walking towards an imaginary Alfie but in an arc or to the side of him, then with the dog himself, avoiding eye contact.

If he is lying or sitting very still, staring, they should turn around and go away. If he growls they should turn around and go away.

Before opening the gate they can call him over, drop him a treat (some will be on the shelf nearby) before opening it. This will break any staring; in addition Alfie should begin to feel good about the girls walking in the door. Mum can do some work with them too. Sitting facing a doorway with Alfie on lead, her little girls can rehearse over and over how they should walk in and past Alfie.

Child training! They are very young and will still need constant reminding.

Here is a video for them to watch.

I sincerely hope with no more bad habits and over-arousal from the daycare, with some positive training around resources and people coming through doorways, the much-loved Alfie will stop all growling and snapping, that he will go back to being the trustworthy, child-friendly dog he used to be only three months ago.

 

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 Alfie 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)

Management Comes First

Their aims: for both their Cockerpoos to be calmer.

Cockerpoo's environment needs better management

Eddie

I pushed in past the two barking dogs.

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

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

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

Where do we start?

.

Management.

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

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

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

Harry

Harry

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

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

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

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

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

Then we can see what we have got left.

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

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

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

Then we should get somewhere!

Eventually they will get more of this!

Eventually they will get more of this!

Barks and Howls in the Night

Cockerpoo lying down with his toyAs a puppy Cockerpoo Monty would settle well in his crate at night. Gradually he has become more and more unsettled until now, at three years old, his owners have every night interrupted three or four times by Monty who initially gives a bark as though to say ‘did anyone hear me?’. Then he starts to howl.

If left, he may stop after a few minutes before starting again a short while later, and so it continues. They worry about their son upstairs who is studying for exams and about disturbing their closest neighbour.

So, they go down to him.

Monty did have one night in the teenage daughter’s bedroom but he was no quieter than when left downstairs in the small room. For the last couple of nights the lady has slept downstairs on the sofa with him. This hasn’t been enough though. He still barks and howls!

Wherever he is now, he howls in the night.

Possibly he wants the mum and dad to both be with him together. A clue could be out on family runs when they run off in different directions, Monty charges around in a frantic panic trying to catch up with one and then the other .

On looking at all aspects of Monty’s life, the roots of this behaviour seem to be in various places. The most obvious reason, in addition to pining when away from them, is that he does it because it works. If he does it for long enough, even when they think they have just ‘left him’ to cry, eventually someone does come to him.

I believe another reason for his unsettled nights is that in their quest to tire him out they are actually over-stimulating him. They run him for several miles some days. There is a saying ‘a tired dog is a good dog’, but that means healthily tired – not exhausted and highly aroused.

Highly aroused dogs are stressed. Stress causes physical changes in the body which releases certain stress hormones into the bloodstream. These stress hormones don’t just instantly dissipate. They hang around and build up.

We have discussed punctuating Monty’s usually sleepy evenings with very short bouts of gentle owner-induced activity – things like hunting, quiet training games, going outside for a few minutes on a ‘sniff’ walk and foraging for food to name a few, so he can go to bed ‘healthy tired’.

Undoubtedly the barking and howling has now become learned behaviour. At night-time he goes happily into the small room and it’s the same routine. One person says good night and shuts the door. A little later the other opens the door, says good night and shuts the door again. They go up to bed. Then, no sooner than they lie down than they hear the first bark.

To break the habit aspect I suggest that they change the routine and that Monty now sleeps in a totally different place – somewhere less easily heard from the bedrooms or by the neighbour. He used to love his crate and still has one in the car, so they are going to get a crate back and put it the kitchen. The rule has now to be that nobody ever comes down to him again in that location unless he’s quiet.

The other alternative of course, but which like many people they understandably don’t want, is to have Monty sleeping in their bedroom.

Monty has some general separation issues and these will need working on. He barks or howls if a door is shut on him even when he still has someone in the room with him. We looked at all the other things in his day that could be wiring him up for a restless night, including boisterous play, the long walks and runs, a late meal and the barking at noises etc. that could be dealt with in a better way. They will double-check for any physical discomfort.

In their efforts to control him better they have tried everything they can think of, most recently withdrawing a lot of their attention. No longer does he get his cuddles on the sofa which makes everyone unhappy. I say bring back cuddles on the sofa!

There are several other pieces of the jigsaw that I feel will help Monty but basically the learned behaviour aspect has to be overcome, the separation aspect needs working and he needs more suitable fulfillment and less over-stimulation.

If you have a dog that howls in the night, the solutions I planned for Monty may well not be appropriate or relevant to your own situation, which is why having an experienced professional to assess and help you and your own dog is essential.

Monty is a beautiful dog with a wonderful home. Given time, consistency and perseverance all will be well in the end, I’m sure.

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