Street Dog to Couch Potato. Still Fearful.

Gracie is a street dog from Hungary. The lady adopted the little black terrier ten months ago and has made terrific progress in transforming the truly terrified little dog into a dog that can cope better.

Coping is the word. She is still fearful of many things in the real world and runs to hide behind the lady at the smallest thing.

Time to start climbing up the second ladder.

She was a street dog form HunagryIt’s like the lady has climbed one long and steep ladder to the point they are now at and doesn’t know how to progress further. I am helping them onto the next ladder towards increasing Gracie’s confidence further and getting her to better accept certain things that make going out on the street a nightmare – like children, sudden sounds, balls and life outside the house in general.

It’s strange that a street dog should find the most scary things she meets out on the street. She is perfectly fine off lead in a field. She has shown her playful and carefree side when playing with her terrier friend and it would now be nice to see more of this.

Gracie is a gorgeous, gentle little dog who settled quickly and lay spread out on her back on the sofa beside the lady. When at home with nobody else about, she is a real couch potato.

The lady needs to wean her away a little from her over-dependence so she’s more able to stand on her own four feet! Being so dependent makes her vulnerable and it gives the lady no freedom. One exercise the lady will do, while Gracie is attached to her heels or under her feet, is to drop food and walk away. When the little dog catches up, repeat and so on – making a game of it.

We will deal with some of her fears, one at a time in an organised fashion, using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

Put very simply, desensitisation means plenty of exposure to the thing ex street dog Gracie is fearful of but at a comfortable distance and counter-conditioning means then, at that comfortable distance or intensity, adding something she likes (food).

Getting the little street dog used to our ‘real’ world.

Here are a few examples:

Outside her front door in the real world of people, children, traffic and sudden noises. They will take this in easy stages and be very patient. Slowly slowly catchee monkey! They will start by walking around the house until Gracie is happy and relaxed.

Next they will step outside the front door where, surprise surprise, Gracie will find the environment already laced with food! They can stand about. At anything scary, chicken will rain down from the sky (not from the lady – she needs to keep herself out of the picture). At the first sign of Gracie’s tail dropping they will go back in.

They will work on the parasol in the garden that blows in the wind, frightening Gracie.

They will work on children. She’s terrified of children. There are kids next door that they can work on. Children make a noise and ‘chicken rain’ falls. Starting indoors where Gracie feels safe, she will slowly work towards being outside in the garden with children noise from next door.

They will work on footballs. It’s hard not to encounter people kicking balls on their walks and Gracie is terrified of them.

The lady will get a football. Gracie will go into the garden to discover a ball already placed by the fence and she will discover food. When she’s okay with this, she will start going out to find the ball in different places. The lady can then just try putting her foot on it and moving it slightly, dropping food. Gradually build up to rolling it then gently kicking it…….and so on.

The plan must be fluid.

The plan should be fluid and may need to be adjust to keep within Gracie comfort threshold. Sometimes it will take longer and sometimes she will be a surprise and get over a fear quickly.

Her new life is a huge adjustment for a street dog, particularly one that has probably spent her puppy-hood on the streets undoubtedly in the company of other dogs.

They have both done very well so far. Now let’s push it forward a bit.

 

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

Feels Unsafe. She Runs for Home.

Eight weeks ago Holly came from a pound in Cyprus to live with my lady client. Holly is a Beagle mix, three years of age.

Holly feels unsafe with sudden soundsAlthough initially spending a lot of time in her bolthole under the kitchen table, she didn’t start off particularly spooked by sudden sounds. This is may have been because, trying to adjust, she was simply shut down.

Whilst becoming more confident at home, over the time she has become increasingly spooked outside.

With hindsight things should have been taken a lot more gradually, one new thing at a time, but she seemed to be coping. I believe things have been stacking up to a level where she’s lost her resilience.

It was, and still is, a world of new and unpredictable things. There will have been the cage for the aircraft, the flight, the car journey and then arriving to a house. Had she ever lived in a house before?

She was then taken out for walks. On lead, she was very scared of traffic, particularly lorries. She is scared of all wheels.

To start with the lady would let her off lead in the nearby park and she ran free. She was in her element.

Holly was waiting at the front door.

Then, after just a few weeks, she had run out of sight. The lady, in a panic, called and called, but Holly didn’t reappear.

With much more sensitive ears, Holly must have heard something the lady didn’t hear. It sent her running in panic.

She had run across roads and was waiting at the front door. There were scratch marks on it as she tried desperately to get in to where it felt safe.

It soon became apparent that she was becoming increasingly scared of sudden sounds.

As Holly adapts to her lovely new, but very different, life, increasingly she feels unsafe. Having run for home a second time she now has to remain on lead. A dog that feels unsafe will feel even more so trapped on a lead. It’s most likely, whatever her history, that she will have spent some of her life either as a stray or on the streets. No leash.

Now she is resisting going out on walks. The lady had been carrying her to the car and trying to find new places, not associated with previous fears. She’s now wriggling to escape from her arms.

When I arrived she quietly took herself off out of sight, to one of her sanctuary places.

She did appear eventually and was actually very friendly. ‘Holly-Come’ brought her running for food. People aren’t the problem. ‘Sudden’ things are, noises in particular – and they don’t have to be loud or nearby to spook her.

Poor Holly feels unsafe most of the time when out of the house.

We sat out in the garden, some distance away from the open back door. Holly joined us.

All was well for a minute or two and then there was a noise from a neighbour. It sounded a bit like a metal ladder being moved. It wasn’t loud. Holly turned and slinked across the garden and indoors.

She came back out. This is a brave little dog.

She was aware of other, softer noises and I immediately rained food around her. Fortunately she is very food motivated. If I heard something that she didn’t actually react to, it still produced food.

A little later I tried tapping my hand softly on the metal table, ready to throw food. It wasn’t softly enough and sent her running indoors again. It demonstrated clearly to both of us how, to work on this, we have to begin at an extremely low level.

“Desensitization consists of exposing a subject to the thing they fear in graded exposures, starting with a form that is dilute and non threatening, and working up to full exposure to the scary thing. Counter-conditioning consists of changing an emotional response (usually from fear to neutrality or to a positive response), by pairing the trigger of the undesirable response with something that evokes a desirable emotional response. Combining these two methods creates a non-threatening but very effective way to alter phobic fear responses.” Eileen Anderson

There will be two kinds of sudden sounds, those that the lady generates herself and those uncontrolled sudden sounds that occur in the environment.

Sudden sounds generated by the lady. 

She can control both intensity and the timing. I suggested she sits near the open kitchen door if in the garden. Holly’s feeling safe depends upon an escape route.

She can tap on the table. The tap has to be even softer than mine was. Simultaneously with the tap, she can gently say ‘Yes’ and drop some food. Saying ‘Yes’ with every sound is helpful because it’s not always possible to be sufficiently immediate with food alone.

The lady can gradually increase the heaviness of the tap to gentle bang. She will watch very carefully not to send Holly over her threshold. If she does so, then they go back to a level Holly that happily tolerates before ending the session.

Over the days and weeks this can be expanded to someone else making sounds in another room. They can download or buy sound effects and use it in the same manner – in another room and very softly indeed initially.

Sudden sounds that she has no control over.

Like the neighbour moving the ladder, sounds that ‘just happen’ are a lot more tricky.

If poor Holly feels unsafe in her own garden when there is a fairly gentle noise over the fence and an open kitchen door, imagine how she must feel when out on a walk and something like a bird scarer goes off or a motorbike roars past.

As soon as there is any sudden sound, however soft and even if Holly seems fine, the lady should say ‘Yes’ and drop food. It will undoubtedly take her some practice to perfect her timing and to be consistent.

She will hold back from walks for a while. A walk is useless when the dog feels unsafe. It does more harm than good.

Because of the ladder incident Holly now may be a bit scared of the garden.

Sprinkles! Unseen by Holly, the lady will sprinkle food all over the grass and then let her out, leaving the door open so she always has an escape route. The environment, not the lady, will be delivering the food.

Holly feels unsafe on walks.

It will be like starting all over again, gradually building up Holly’s confidence. Several very short sessions a day will work best, not going beyond the garden. If she is spooked, the lady should stop straight away.

She will begin by walking Holly around the house – being encouraging – and using rewards.

Next they will go around the garden. The door should be open and if there is any sign of fear the lady should say ‘Yes’, drop food and drop the lead.

When it’s going well, she can open the back gate. They can step through it and come back in again, many times, making a bit of a game of it…and so it goes on.

All the time the lady will keep counter-conditioning bangs and anything sudden with chicken raining around Holly!

This is just the start of the plan. How long will it take before she can walk to the park? When getting a rescue dog from a completely different life, people don’t dream of challenges like this. Realistic expectations are vital. It could take a long time to build up Honey’s confidence. There is no quick fix.

 

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 Holly. 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. 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).

Scared of Young Children. He Barks and Lunges

How did Chester come to be scared of young children?

I believe something happened to him at just the wrong time.

The first fear period.

Two very young children ran noisily towards the little puppy very soon after they first got him. It scared him badly and has left a lasting mark which seems out of all proportion to the incident. This is, I’m sure, because it coincided with his first ‘fear period‘.

Since then Chester has been scared of young children. Otherwise he is friendly, gentle, loving and clever – the perfect pet for their teenage daughter.Hard to imagine him scared of young children

The matter came to a head recently when they were sitting in a coffee shop with the now fifteen-month-old Chester. Two tiny children came in and ran towards where he was sitting. Chester suddenly lunged and barked at them. The children were scared and the mother was not pleased.

Chester may also bark and lunge if he sees young children when he’s out on a walk if they come too close. He’s okay if he is following the children. It’s when they are coming towards him that he panics.

You can’t simply stop the lunging and barking at young children by training him out of it. We need to deal with the cause – the fear.

Children, fun and food.

From now on young children should be only associated with great things – fun and food. Chester should always feel he can escape and he should always be kept at a distance he finds comfortable while they work on making him feel better.

My first suggestion is for them to get Chester a harness. When he lunges it is sure to hurt his neck which immediately will add negative associations as he’s pulled back. We will be introducing only positive associations.

Then they will go looking for children! There is a school just around the corner and they can take Chester for a walk at playtime.

They need to keep their distance.

Chester having fun with the daughter

Chester can watch and hear the children running noisily about and playing behind the fence from a distance he feels safe. Becoming more relaxed, he can over time move a bit closer.

They can speed things up and completely change how Chester feels about children. They can add counter-conditioning. From the safe distance where he’s happy and will eat, they will feed, feed, feed him. They will have chosen some tiny bits of special food that Chester loves, chicken perhaps.

When Chester is aware of the children, the ‘chicken bar’ opens. When there are no children, it closes.

At the right distance from the children, they can keep feeding him or sprinkling food about the place. Gradually the distance will decrease, day by day, so long as he is never taken too close.

I guarantee if they don’t push ahead too fast he will eventually love being by that school playground fence.

Play also will stop Chester being scared of young children.

The family next door have little children which has been a problem. They can now take advantage of ‘tame children’ to work on! Chester can be on lead in the garden, as far away from the neighbour’s fence as possible to start with, and they can do same thing.

They have friends with young children who they can meet on walks. They will begin by following them to avoid approaching head on, walking at a distance, and then arc away until they pull up level. All the time they will feed Chester. Whether or not he will eat the chicken is a good guide to whether they are too close.

As Chester gets nearer, the children could also throw food to him.

He is a playful young dog, so very important now is to introduce play. His own family could play with him around children, making a game out of it – short game of tug or ball will associate the kids with fun as well as food. Eventually I’m sure that young children themselves will be playing with him, supervised of course.

It may take some time and hard work, but once Chester has broken through his fear barrier he will stop being scared of young children and begin to find them fun.

 

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 Chester. 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 and always where children are involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Licking the Baby. Confused and Worried.

Chip was licking the baby’s face as she sat on the floor. Now that baby is becoming mobile, Chip is becoming increasingly troubled by her when she moves or makes a noise.

Her licking the baby is compulsive.

When baby is sitting on the floor at the same level as Chip, the dog simply can’t relax or leave her alone. There is no stillness or growling, simply concern. She keeps licking her face.

It doesn’t take a dog expert to read Chip’s worry in the photo as she watches the baby from the sofa.

Each time she started licking baby’s facelicking the baby, stressed and confused, mum or dad told her ‘No!’. They are understandably on edge all the time the two are together. Chip is a very well-loved dog and it’s hard.

A calm dog licking the baby in passing is very different to a seriously aroused dog repeatedly licking the baby on the face.

I’m sure the couple’s anxiety and constant necessary ‘nagging’ of Chip is contributing to the situation.

I immediately began calling Chip away from the baby, rewarding her for coming. Soon we introduced the clicker.

After a while Chip was just looking at the baby and voluntarily turning away – which we marked with a click and food.

However, stress builds up and Chip’s arousal level became such that she became increasingly slow in responding to being called away. She was snatching the food when she did come.

Well before things are able to get to this stage the two should be separated, but how?

The environment needs to be better managed.

There was nowhere to put dear little Chip apart from excluding her from the room behind a door.

Before the baby arrived, the four-year-old Jack Russell went everywhere with them. Their jobs involve touring and staying in different places. They always took Chip. She was given plenty of attention by all the people they met and loves people – if not so good with other dogs.

With the arrival of the baby a year ago, Chip’s life has been turned upside down. The couple are unable to enjoy her in the way they did and her own life is very different.

One simple thing can change Chip’s compulsively licking the baby. It will change everything. They will all be able to relax.

They will get a small dog pen.

Chip has been used to a pen from an early age when they travelled. They can put all her toys in it along with other special things for her to do and to chew. They can sprinkle her food in there.

Within the safety of the pen, they can build up strong and positive associations with the baby. Chip won’t have to be excluded.

It seems she feels possessive or protective of the baby. This is born out when other dogs approach the buggy – she does tend to guard things form other dogs.

Possibly some of the licking is about covering the frequently washed baby’s face with her own scent? That’s just a guess.

As baby gets even more mobile it’s important she’s unable to corner Chip who must always have a baby-proof bolt-hole. A pen can be opened out and adapted.

Chip’s signals of unease are very clear when you know what you’re looking for.

Baby was upstairs for a while and her crying came through the baby monitor. Chip licked her lips. Uneasy. Worried. This is an opportunity to give her a little bit of food. Every time she looks at the baby or hears her, they can pair it with food. She need not eat all her meals in bowls – her food can be used for something more useful for now.

Though they are able to give her quality time when the baby is in bed, Chip’s walks aren’t what they used to be. It’s hard to negotiate some of the best walks pushing a buggy and it’s also hard to beat a hasty retreat if a bouncy young dog comes running up, jumping all over her and around the buggy. Chip never has liked her space invaded by other dogs.

A positive approach by the couple, replacing scolding and anxiety when Chip is near the baby with reward and encouragement, should transform things.

Physical management is vital – the pen. I also suggest a soft harness and longish lead for when they are somewhere else. This way Chip can be comfortably restrained, called away from the baby, rewarded – and then gently kept away instead of constantly being watched.

With management in place they will be able to work on getting Chip happier and more relaxed around the baby. She should then also become less stressed in general.

Chip can get some of her old life back.

 

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 Chip. 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 babies or young children are 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)

Nipping and Barking at Other Dogs

The problems they want to resolve are for Shadow to stop nipping them and to stop barking at other dogs. Both issues are really just symptoms.

The nipping is a symptom of over-excitement.

The beautiful German Shepherd is nearly seven months old and still really just a puppy. She is already big.

She jumped up at me and mouthed. The excitement of my arrival triggered more behaviour. When the man sat down she flew all over him, climbing onto the back of the sofa rather like a cat!

ellis-creaseshadow2As a younger puppy, the lady and the two boys took Shadow to excellent training classes for several weeks. She knows all the basics.

Understanding the request or cue (I don’t like the word ‘command’) and actually doing it are two different things though. That’s where motivating her comes in.

Shadow’s a typical teenager.

In the picture she has been asked to lie down – something she knows well. I suggested not repeating the word ‘Down’ but just waiting. The lady points at the floor.

Just see Shadow ignoring her!

The lady outlasted her and after about a minute the dog did lie down. She then rewarded her with something tiny and special.

The lady then tried again, and sufficiently motivated this time, Shadow lay down straight away.

This isn’t bribery or luring because the payment wasn’t produced until after she had done as asked.

As the day wears on Shadow becomes more hyper.

She has two walks a day and plenty of exercise but even that can backfire. Walks should be just that – walks. Walking and sniffing and doing dog things, not an hour or so of ball play after which she arrives home more excited than when she left.

It’s then that she may charge all over the sofas and anyone that happens to be sitting on them – nipping or mouthing the younger boy by in particular – he’s twelve.

He may simply be watching TV and ignoring her. She stares at him. If he continues not to react, she will start yipping. Then she will suddenly pounce on him and start nipping him.

She now has the attentions she craves.

He often behaves like an excited puppy with her, so understandably that’s how she regards him.

If they don’t want to be jumped up at, mouthed and nipped, the family needs to sacrifice some of the things they like doing and help teach her some self-control. They need to tone down they ways they interact with her and exercise her brain a bit more.

Shadow is another dog generating its own attention and we will deal with it in a similar way to the last dog I visited, Benji.

Barking at other dogs is a symptom also.

In Shadow’s case it’s a symptom of fear, following a very unfortunate incident at exactly the wrong time in her life. It will have coincided with a fear period when, like a human baby may suddenly start to cry when picked up by a stranger, the puppy can become fearful of things.

they need her to stop nippingWhen Shadow was a young puppy, a much larger dog broke through the fence and chased her round her garden. This happened twice.

She was terrified. The garden was no longer a safe place for her.

She now increasingly barks at dogs she hears from her garden and there are dogs living all round them. She barks at other dogs on walks – particularly on days when she’s already stirred up.

To add to the problem, the next door neighbour got a new puppy recently.

Shadow rushes out of the house barking now. If he’s out, she runs up and down the fence barking at him.

She is in danger of having the same effect on the poor puppy as the invading dog had on her.

They will only let her out on lead now – the one and only good use for a flexilead. As soon as she barks they will thank her and call her in – maybe encouraging her with the lead. They will reward her as she steps through the door. 

All the surrounding dogs can actually be used to Shadow’s advantage.

They can work on her fear of other dogs at home. This should help how she feels about other dogs out on walks.

They can have ‘dogs mean food’ sessions in the garden.

When she’s in a calm mood, they can pop her lead on and go out into the garden with her for a few minutes. Every time a dog barks they can sprinkle food on the ground. Fortunately Shadow is very food orientated. She also loves a ball so they could throw that sometimes too.

Even if she alerts and they themselves hear nothing, her much better ears may have heard a distant dog – so they should drop food.

When next door’s puppy is out in the garden they will work hard, with food and fun, so that she will eventually come to welcome his presence. It would be nice to think the puppy’s owner could be doing the same thing the other side of the fence.

If Shadow barks, she will be brought straight in. She will learn that if she’s out there and quiet good things happen. If she does bark at the puppy, she will come straight in and the fun stops.

Shadow has grown up quickly into a big dog. They were able to accept nipping, mouthing, jumping up and barking at other dogs from their puppy. These things are becoming a problem for them now that she’s an adult-size German Shepherd.

Some feedback seven weeks later: 
We are doing short daily training with Shadow both inside and outside, going well.
She is barking less out in the garden.
She doesn’t pull towards other people or bikes when out walking as much so going in the right direction.
We are playing with her when she is good so please with this.
Walking to heel so much better and barking less to dogs outside.
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 Shadow 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. Everything depends upon context. 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)

Other Dogs. Confront, Avoid or Something Else?

Reactive to other dogs

Muffin

The family have now had Manchester Terrier Muffin for five years and they were the seven-year-old’s fourth home. She didn’t have a good start in life and they have come a long way with her. Some of her past included being locked up day and night and time in rescue surrounded by other dogs barking.

Muffin has problems meeting other dogs when out.

It’s not all other dogs though and it’s variable. She has her dog friends.

Muffin is a highly-strung dog in general. She is initially anxious and noisy when people come to her house. She, with a little help from their other dog, Cocker Spaniel Sparky, is on high alert for sounds.

For much of the day she is on sentry duty at the front window.

Muffin is looking out for other dogs.

As soon as she sees other dogs walking past, she will start to bark.

It’s more of a problem on walks. Muffin has slipped collars and harnesses. She then runs off and ‘terrorises’ other dogs or may rush at people, barking and jumping at them. A child could be scared.

Muffin has a wide neck and a small head and she simply backs out of collars. She neatly draws her front legs back out of harnesses too. Then she’s off.

One of her previous homes had given up on her because she was an escape artist.

My clients are responsible dog owners and have tried every bit of equipment they can find. The only way the gentleman who does the dog walking can feel confident that she can’t escape by backing out is by using a prong collar.

When they get too close to other dogs, unable to back out of her restraints, Muffin will rear up, hackles, barking and lunging. This simply has to be painful. Dogs’ necks are made much the same as our own.

Bin the prong collar!

Pain will merely add to negative feelings she already has about the other dog. We need to do the very opposite, to associate other dogs with as much good stuff as possible.

I would defy any dog to get out of a Perfect Fit harness if fitted properly. Muffin will be getting one and they will ditch the prong collar.

It’s vital that when Muffin sees other dogs that only good things happen.

To move things forward, the man had decided to expose Muffin to other dogs whenever he could. This isn’t improving things. She needs to feel differently about them – and flooding her will merely make her feel a lot worse. She’s trapped on lead, so as she gets closer will be feeling a degree of panic – and pain too as she rears up on her back legs.

Avoiding other dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but close badly managed encounters are even worse.

When she sees other dogs, the man will now watch her carefully. She focuses on a dog from a distance, becoming oblivious to anything else. Pushing ahead until she rears up and has to be forcibly held back does no good at all. This can in one stroke undo any good work already done.

It’s like a game of snakes and ladders.

I did one of my Paws for Thought blogs on the subject.

Working with other dogs at a comfortable distance, using food or fun as instructed, takes the dog up a ladder.

Unmanaged encounters with other dogs, either dogs that suddenly appear or dogs that come too close, will send her back down the next snake.

The snakes are a lot longer than the ladders! That’s life for you.

It’s a set-back. But this happens all the time because we live in the real world with other dog owners being less responsible. So, pick it up again and search for more ladders to go up – dogs at a distance she can cope with and is relaxed enough to associate with good things like food.

Progress.

Because Muffin’s reaction to other dogs is affected by how aroused or stressed she already is, it’s important they help her to be calmer in general.

This means blocking her view out of front windows. No more watching out for other dogs to bark at and rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.

Her walking equipment will be comfortable and over time, if no longer forced too close and sliding down too many snakes, she will happily carry on walking when near other dogs. If the other dog itself has problems, they should increase distance for his sake as well as Muffin’s.

The practical details will vary per dog, but here I describe the general principal. This approach is backed up by science.

From a message three weeks later: ‘Thankyou so much for your support, we are astounded by how well the little things are making such a big difference’.
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 Muffin 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 or aggression of any kind is concerned. Everything depends upon context. 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)

 

Separation Anxiety – or is it?

I was welcomed by two beautiful, friendly dogs, Border Collie Jack who is seven years old and Izzy, an eight-month-old Tibetan Terrier.Without Izzy, Jack has separation anxiety

Jack has become increasingly anxious since last March when the lady’s other Border Collie, Charlie died. She is worried about his separation anxiety. He cries and leaves a puddle of drool by the door when she goes out and leaves him. Because losing his companion was a major change in his life everyone has understandably assumed this to be the reason for his subsequent separation anxiety.

But is it?

Are we jumping to conclusions?

At around the time when the old dog died Jack had a frightening encounter with a Rottweiler a few houses down. There are, in all, eight dogs in this property that bark ferociously and jump at the gate whenever anyone passes their house. Sometimes the gate isn’t properly shut as was the case when the Rottweiler got out.

Where he used to be okay, Jack is now constantly intimidated by these dogs. He is walked past them nearly every morning. He is constantly reminded of them, hearing them from his garden and even from inside his house. I watched his reaction each time we heard barking.

How will this be for him when he’s all alone? I strongly suspect that Jack feels constantly a little unsafe and possibly it’s worse for him now without the backup of the older dog, Charlie. This anxiety isn’t simply separation anxiety. It’s as though these neighbouring dogs are increasingly ‘contaminating’ his area and to a certain extent the rest of Jack’s life as well. Every walker wanting to go on the nice walk has to run the gauntlet of these dogs and this is affecting other dogs as well.

Jack

Jack

I have found a similar thing here at home. There are a couple of Boxers lunging at a gate an then fighting one another that walkers have to pass. My own dog Pip ignored them the first few times and gradually became more reactive while I had to work harder, until he was anticipating them well before reaching the gate, whether they were out or not. Many passing dogs, having become aroused or scared by them, are already more aroused and reactive when it comes to meeting other dogs on walks which is spoiling things for a lot of people. (Before this could spill over into his attitude to other dogs he might meet I have stopped taking Pip that way altogether).

There were no problems when Charlie was alive and with questioning, it seems it may actually be Izzy he misses and not the lady – but why, we can’t say.

When the lady goes out alone leaving Izzy behind, Jack seems to have been fine. She shows Izzy and goes to classes with her so has to leave Jack behind. Whether or not it’s Izzy in particular she misses or just the company of another dog in general can only be guessed at, but when the lady goes out and leaves her at home with Jack, he has no separation anxiety. When she takes Izzy with her he stresses.

It’s therefore safe to assume there is a connection with Jack’s separation anxiety, being without Izzy and his feeling unsafe.

I am certain having watched Jack in the house that the separation anxiety, which he’d never previously, could well be influenced by the frequent sound of those dogs barking and his not feeling safe when alone – and Izzy’s company seems to to help him.

I am hoping the lady will be able to video him when she is out, both with Izzy and without her, just to make sure. 

So if separation anxiety isn’t the real problem, what is?

Maybe it’s those dogs down the road that are the real problem.

Izzy

Izzy

As it’s not missing the lady alone that makes Jack drool and cry when left alone but when she removes Izzy, it makes working on the problem a lot easier because we can be more specific.

We will work directly on desensitising and counter-conditioning him to those other dogs. We start by getting him to associate the sound of their barking from the house and garden with food that is so nice that he evntually gets to look for the food when he hears them instead of being scared.

Slowly slowly the lady will work outside her house, always keeping at a distance from those dogs where Jack feels safe, slowly slowly getting him to relax when he hears the dogs. Inch by inch getting nearer over a period of weeks or maybe months. This involves a loose lead, reading his body language and allowing him full choice as to whether he carries on or not. Each afternoon the lady always pops both dogs in the car and takes them for a run somewhere nice, so missing exercise won’t be a problem.

As she walks the dogs separately each morning, he is parted from Izzy daily for about fifteen minutes and will get plenty of practice. We will work on getting him to actually enjoy Izzy’s short departures whilst also working on his not feeling intimidate by those other dogs. Even if my theory happens to be wrong, our plan of action should transform Jack’s life anyway.

The lady really ‘got it’ and could see how the methods of desensitising and counter-conditioning can be transferred to other things that Jack is uneasy about. The principal is well explained in this video.

Izzy, fortunately, is incredibly laid back and just takes life as it comes.

 

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 Jack and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. This is a perfect example of how 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. An experienced and objective analysis is needed. 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)

People Walking Away, the Dog Attacks

People walking away from him causes Barney to lose it.

Barney’s lady owner had been so sure that due to his odd behaviour he had something either wrong with his brain or a chemical imbalance in his body, that he has undergone extensive tests including an MRI scan. All is clear.

People walking away from him cause Harvey to attack them

Harvey

His behaviour however is troubling. I suspect this is because he himself is troubled – an upsetting thought for his dedicated lady owner.

Six-year-old Hungarian Vizsla Barney is very well-trained as a gun dog, but training alone doesn’t make a well-adjusted and happy dog. In fact, I have been to dogs where the opposite is the case. Sometimes the owners just try too hard.

The lady is an exceptionally conscientious dog owner and has structured her life around Barney. They have been more or less inseparable for the past four years. He has always been panicked by his people walking away so she has avoided it as much as she can.

People walking away from Barney triggers an attack. One can safely assume this is in an effort to prevent them from leaving.

When they shut the boot of the car and walk away, even if only to go to the driver’s door, Barney goes wild with barking and panic. The whole car rocks.

Recently the lady has gone back to work full time and Barney is getting worse.

He does other odd things. Each evening he will have a lengthy bout of staring and fixating at the garden window, drooling. He will then do the same to his humans. They don’t let him out, they ignore it believing it to be the right thing to do. It’s almost like a contest where he must not win.

If a child were behaving in this troubled fashion, the parents would help him out. If they don’t want the dog to rush out barking at pigeons or trying to kill a hedgehog (he has come back in covered in blood), they can call him away and do something else with him. Currently he’s so fixated he may not even be aware of them calling, but fortunately he’s food driven and we found when I was there that it was easy to get his attention with food.

Having called him away, they can give him something else to do, incompatible with his obsessing. They will cover the lower part of the windows.

The ordeal of going out

At present when they need to go out they have a ritual. Amazingly, having watched the picking up of keys and all the other signals that they are about to go and when the front door is opened, Barney has been successfully taught to go to his bed in the sitting room. They then go back and give him a carrot (the one time when food is used to motivate him) and rush out of the room and out of the front door.

However, if he finishes the carrot before they are out of the door they have to try again.

For now the problem can be temporarily managed by the use of a gate in the sitting room doorway. They can also make the carrot-eating slower by stuffing it into a Kong.

For Barney’s mental health and general stress levels the panic and emotions that drive him to behave like this need to be worked on, slowly and gradually, desensitising and counter-conditioning until he accepts and ultimately even enjoys people walking away.

They believe he is fine once they have gone, but I’m not convinced and have asked them to video the first fifteen minutes or so. A dog walker calls daily and he’s the same with her when she goes.

‘Operation Calm’

Life must be a bit confusing for the highly-strung dog. He is ruled by commands whilst at the same time being worshipped. I would reverse both. I would work on motivating him by using food so he makes more of his own choices with fewer commands, and I would advise worshipping him less!

Humans relax. Stop watching and worrying over him.

He was beside me staring out of the window. He lay down, still staring. Then his head dropped onto his bed. I silently fed him. Each time he relaxed I did this. He now needs positive guidance into how to relax.

I’m sure the very caring lady will herself also feel a big sense of release and relief if she can let go a bit and stop worrying so much. Instead of stressing because Barney is stressing, they can work on Operation Calm, silently feeding when he relaxes and settles. They will give him activities that will help him to calm himself down including chewing and foraging. He has three walks a day – could this actually be too much?

I am sure that if they now use motivation and food and work hard at teaching him that people walking away from him results in him getting something nice – and that they always come back – they won’t need that gate in the doorway for ever. Here is a great little video about motivation.

One strong influence is the lady’s following of breed-specific Facebook groups which has coloured her life with Barney. These groups spread the idea that a Vizsla isn’t the same as other dogs, like it’s a different species. Individuals in these groups can give mis-information and outdated training advice still unfortunately prevalent in the gun dog world.

Primarily Barney is an animal. Secondarily he’s a dog. The fact he’s a Vizsla and a gun dog doesn’t affect the basic principals of behaviour, that positive reinforcement teaches a dog what we want in a way that is most successful both in terms of him understanding what is wanted and in his feeling of fulfillment.

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 Barney 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)

Fear Barking at Children and the Neighbour

The two beautiful Romanian dogs are a tribute to their family.

They are both now eleven months old and were adopted separately about eight months ago.

Charlie is a very small Border Collie type and Ylva a Whipetty mix.

Ylva

Ylva

Ylva is very playful whilst also being very laid back – an absolute dream to own. Charlie is adorable also, but more highly strung. I managed to catch him lying still just for a moment so I could take his photo!

Both young dogs are absolutely beautiful. They are lively, affectionate and playful.

We are dealing with Charlie’s increasing reactivity and fear barking along with his pulling on lead.

He barks at children, particularly a child that may suddenly appear. He shows reactivity with fear barking at people he doesn’t know coming to the house. People walking in on him in the doorway he finds very intimidating – the late teenage sons have some very tall friends!

There is a considerable amount of fear barking at the neighbour when he’s out in his garden.

However Charlie was pleased to see me when I arrived at the house because of some forward planning. No fear barking at all. I had arranged for him to be put in the kitchen when I rang the bell and then to join me once I was sitting down. He was curious and friendly.  It’s far easier on a wary dog to be introduced to a caller after they have come in and sat down.

Desensitising and counter-conditioning is the answer to the fear barking.

The neighbour problem and Charlie’s reactivity to small children is a matter of desensitisating and counter-conditioning him. I would usually use food but Charlie isn’t very food-motivated. However, like may Border Collies, he is very toy and ball motivate indeed.

I suggest a special, new, ball to bring out only when the neighbour is in his garden. Neighbour comes out and game starts. Initially it can be as far from his fence as possible but they can gradually move nearer. I’m sure it will be no time at all before the neighbour is joining in the ball game from the other side of the fence. When neighbour goes in, the ball disappears.

Charlie displays fear of children when out and may suddenly lunge and bark at them – even if they are standing still. Recently he caught the tummy of a small boy in a crowded place when the child suddenly ran from behind. Without warning Charlie grabbed him.

Fear barking at chldren

Charlie

This is what prompted them to get some help before it escalated further.

Just like the neighbour, they will now associate children with good stuff. Again, perhaps a special toy – maybe something with a squeak which he loves. They can play with him outside a school playground at playtime – at a distance he feels comfortable. On walks, when the person holding the lead sees a child, he or she can say to Charlie ‘Look – a CHILD’ in an excited voice, then throw him his ball and go off in another direction.

So far as loose lead walking is concerned it’s  largely to do with technique, teaching the dog that we have a much slower walking pace, using the right equipment, patience and some work. The current ‘no-pull’ lead is nonsense in my opinion. We want him to walk on a loose lead through choice, not by being physically restrained. Feeling physically restrained could be contributing to his reactivity to children.

Charlie is only eleven months old and the problem isn’t bad – yet. After the incident when the young boy was nipped, they will introduce him to a muzzle for those times when things may be too crowded or stressful for him.

I’m sure they have nipped things in the bud and with some work there will be no more fear barking and lunging at young children, people coming to the house or the neighbour in his garden.

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 Charlie 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)

 

 

Not an Easy First Dog

Lucy must have once before been loved.

Not an easy dog for first time dog ownersIn the few days since German Shepherd mix Lucy moved in with the young couple she has been through several stages as she begins to settle into a very different new life. She is their first dog so it’s a big adjustment for them also.

For the past six months the young dog has been living in a very ‘basic’ kennel situation. A chaotic and bleak place.

For six months she has had to toilet in the same place where she slept and ate, so it’s not surprising she initially had a couple of accidents in the house. Being their first dog that was something they’d not anticipated.

The young lady contacted me a couple of days after they had picked Lucy up because they were having difficulties on walks with the pulling, with her jumping about and her general excitability. She ‘wouldn’t listen’. She had growled at a friend coming in the front door. She’s their first dog and they weren’t quite prepared for this.

I visited on Lucy’s fifth day. She had already calmed down a bit. All toileting was now outside unless she was scared.

Her fearful reactivity to people coming into the house was increasing however.

When I arrived she barked at me loudly. I didn’t react in any way and, unusually, she didn’t pee with fear. I rBEautiful dog for first time dog ownersestrained the young couple from fussing her as this can transfer their own anxiety and I sat down. Lucy stopped barking. I dropped her a piece of food and she took another from my hand.

Then the beautiful dog came and sat on my foot. She rested with her head lovingly beside my knee.

My heart melted.

Over the next few weeks I shall be helping these new dog owners to field anything that Lady may happen to throw at them as they work through the ‘honeymoon period’. We are working on loose lead walking, a suitable diet, leaving her alone happily and other things.

.

We want to nip the fearful reaction in the bud.

The young lady contacted me this morning (the day after my visit) to tell me Lucy is now barking more at people and even cars that pass. The sitting room has a long picture window looking out over the road. Each day it gets worse.

The more frequently Lucy engages in this barking the more of a habit it will become, so now is the time to act. People’s instinct, particularly if it’s their first dog, is to try to stop the dog barking by letting the dog know she’s ‘doing wrong’.

In my opinion the only truly efficient way to change the barking is to change the emotions in Lucy that are driving her to bark. It is certainly fear in her case. There may be a touch of instinctive guarding or territorial emotion too.

When she barks – or better still if they can pre-empt the barking – they need to reassure her and call her away, rewarding her for doing so. If this doesn’t work, they will need to go over to her, help her and remove her. Any scolding will just make her feel worse about whatever she is barking at.

Why not, however, get to the root of the barking – change how Lucy is feeling about the people and cars going past?

I suggest they take her out the front on lead with a pocket of her food.

Stand. Watch. Listen.

With everything that goes past, feed her. If she’s reluctant to eat she needs tastier food and they may need to stand further back, inside the open front door. They can scatter food on the ground so she associates the scary area where she watches people approaching the house with something good.

Then they can come indoors and do the same thing from the sitting room window – watching and feeding, listening and feeding.

They may need to do this exercise very regularly for weeks and any time in the future when she looks like reverting.

It’s easy to see how Lucy’s fear of people both passing the house and approaching the house is linked to her fear of people entering the house. It may also be linked to her having been trapped in a kennel for the best part of each day for six months, unable to escape when someone walked towards her and entered.

With different management of visitors and Lucy feeling differently about  people approaching or passing the house, the fear of callers shouldn’t be too hard to crack. She is wonderfully friendly and affectionate once she’s feeling safe.

She should certainly no longer have access to the view out of that picture window.

Lucy’s reaction to people coming to the house could snowball into a bigger problem if not caught straight away. It’s unlikely that people with their first dog will have sufficient knowledge of systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning without some help.

 

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 Lady. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog along with listening to friends can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, making sure that we are dealing with the real causes. I also provide moral support which people will probably need for a while. 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 My Help page)