Fearful of People but Needs Socialising. Conflict.

Lottie is fearful of people.

Fearful of peopleBeing fearful of people is unusual in a puppy of just three months old. It’s very sad to see.

Lottie is already growling when someone looks at her or approaches her, and it’s getting worse.

The beautiful Golden Retrieve puppy is also scared of noises and of anything new.

It’s hard to trace just why this is. Her family had done all the research possible over a long period of time before choosing her and she came from a good environment – from a family home, living with her mother.

She was the last of the litter and they found her lacking confidence from the start.

A puppy of eight weeks old should be confident and fearless.

Perhaps something occurred to make the already sensitive puppy so fearful of people, something during the puppy’s crucial fear period.  Something that nobody was aware of.

Lottie’s fearfulness may simply be genetic.

She should have had early socialising with different people from a few weeks old. She should have had habituating to daily life, people, other dogs and so on. Unfortunately they have been caught in that common trap of believing they can’t take her out to mix until her vaccinations are finished.

Now, at three months old, she’s ‘allowed’ to go out and they are playing catch up. This is what Linda Michaels says about this situation: Puppy socialisation and vaccinations belong together.

Conflict. A dilemma.

Finding the best way to go about helping Lottie creates a dilemma – a conflict between the two things she most needs. One is time to build confidence around people and the other plenty of positive encounters as early as possible.

The need for patience and time to grow her confidence must come first, because without this, encounters are unlikely to be positive for her. They need to go very slowly so that she can get used to the scary world one thing at a time

Combining the two needs will best be done by as many encounters with people as possible but from a ‘safe’ distance, and associated with good things.

I suggest for a start that they put her in a comfortable harness and attach a long lead. They can simply take her to the end of their drive and let her watch the world go by, well back from any cars or people.

With every sound they will drop food. Every car that passes they can drop food. Every distant person she sees – drop food. Any dog she sees – drop food. If she’s scared, the lead is long and loose and she can run back to the house.

If this is still too much for her, they may need to start further back by the front door. It’s vital she’s allowed to choose her own pace.

People must not be allowed to crowd her or touch her. Believing they were doing the right things, they had been carrying her to allow people to touch her. She shook. From now on, getting near to a person must be her own choice and it doesn’t look like this will happen for a while.

They will start to invite people to their house – under strict instructions.

A typical happy Golden Retriever puppy!

Lottie’s not scared all the time however! In her home with her family she can be a typical happy little puppy tornado! She may suddenly race around with things going flying. She chews and she nips when excited! This is a lot easier and more normal to deal with.

 

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 Lottie and I’ve not gone fully 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 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 (click here to 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)

 

 

Frustration Redirected on Nearest Human

The first few weeks of a dog’s life can have lifelong impact.

Sally and Pepper are two adorable and friendly Shih Tzus, ages five and eighteen months respectively.

They came from different breeders and this is reflected in their general confidence and sociability to other dogs. Sally is quite happy carrying her ball and playing games when out. Pepper, on the other hand, is on permanent alert to sounds….and to dogs.

No frustration from the two dogs now

Sally and Pepper

Pepper left his mother and litter a bit early and hadn’t been well cared for, very different to Sally’s start in life.

Walks can be difficult for the young lady in particular. She’s actually scared now when walking little Pepper. When held back from attacking another dog, he has redirected his frustration three times now, resulting in bites.

It’s easy to assume that this is just something to do with ‘training’ out on walks.

I see it as part of a much bigger picture that if they first get all the groundwork in place at home and understand how to approach the ‘other dog’ problem by seeing things through Pepper’s eyes, things should dramatically improve.

Pepper will then have no need for frustration.

 

Frustration constantly rehearsed by Pepper even within his own home

There are two dogs living next door with just a wall between the houses, one dog in particular is very noisy.

Barking is heard intermittently throughout the day, upon which the younger Shih Tzu, Pepper, will immediately react and run around the house barking ineffectually, trying to get to the barking dog the other side of the wall.

Imagine his frustration at failing every time. This may happen many times a day.

Cheeky Sally, too, may give one bark to set him off!

Worse, a while ago the two male dogs would regularly ‘fence-fight’ with much snarling and leaping at the fence from both sides. The large dog had knocked down the old fence and his leaping at the new fence has already exposed gaps at the bottom.

Although Pepper is no longer free to go outside in his own garden, whenever he is let out he’s on high alert. Even from the kitchen French window he can hear the other dog the other side of the fence, and this room is where he and Pepper are left when they go out.

Bouts of frustration will be recurring.

So, it’s against this background at home that makes Pepper’s behaviour out on walks all the more understandable.

Helping him needs to be approached from three angles.

The first is management in order to make Pepper’s environment as helpful as possible – like gating him away from the back window and only letting him out on a lead.

The second is to get Pepper to feel differently so that he no longer feels he needs to bark through the wall and protect himself outside in his garden. This can only be done by desensitising and counter-conditioning.

We made a start, as you can see from the picture. I took the photo when both dogs were sitting in front of me while noises went on from next door.

Changing the emotions that drive him to being so reactive to other dogs also involves reducing Pepper’s stress levels in general so that he becomes a calmer dog.

When he’s no longer reacting to the barking through the wall, they can move on to working in the garden. With time and effort they should have him ignoring the dog behind the fence. Without Pepper retaliating, the next door dog will be quieter.

 

What about encountering dogs on walks, though?

How his humans behave when out on walks and another dog appears is crucial.

At present they hold Pepper tight as they advance on the dog – they may pick him up – and all he wants to do is to get at it. He lunges, snarls and, to quote, ‘barks ballistically’.

At proximity he will never learn to feel differently. It’s how he’s feeling that is driving how he’s behaving.

Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere, though I do suggest a couple of dog-free weeks to build upon. Why?

Then, as with the dogs next door, it’s slow, patient work that is required so he is never pushed beyond his comfort threshold and eventually comes to feel differently about them.

Thirdly, after management and working on changing how Pepper feels, comes teaching him actions that are incompatible with the unwanted behaviour (like ‘sit’, ‘come’, ‘stay’ and so on) or removing himself from trouble if the neighbour’s dog is in their garden.

Within a few minutes yesterday, using appropriate harness and lead, they were walking a much calmer dog on a loose lead down the road. Pulling against a tight lead causing discomfort to the neck from a collar is not conducive of a relaxed walk. When he lunges at a dog it will hurt his delicate little neck. From now on, if another dog suddenly appears and they can’t react in time, he will feel no discomfort.

He will be taken to what he considers is a safe distance. If they watch him he, he will let them know where this distance is.

At this distance the work they will have been doing with the dog next door can be replicated out on the walk.

In all areas of Pepper’s life they will do their best to keep his arousal levels down. Stress and frustration go hand in hand. Being on constant alert also means he could well be sleep-deprived, which will not be helping his stress levels either.

The ‘stress circle’: barking creates stress and stress creates barking! Stress creates more reactivity to other dogs and reactivity to other dogs creates more stress…. and so on.

 

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 Pepper. I don’t go into detail. 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 or fearfulness is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Desensitising or Flooding?

Is it desensitising or is it over-exposure?

Tibetan needs desensitising

Ellie

Ellie, her siblings and other Tibetan Terriers were picked up from a breeder in a dreadful state of neglect, with matted fur and no socialisation. They had no exposure to life outside the shed where they were kept.

Lucky Ellie was re-homed to my clients three months ago. She is now nine months old. She lives with a calmer and slightly older Tibetan called Bailie.

Her family took her on holiday a couple of months later and it was a nightmare.

Ellie became increasingly terrified of traffic and people – particularly children. From the beginning of each day one scary new thing after another would have added to her accumulating stress as, with the best of loving intentions, they included the previously unsocialised small dog in their holiday activities.

They have actually come a long way in three months in some respects and are already doing many of the things I usually suggest. However they admit that her reactivity to people, traffic and any new environment is getting worse.

I feel there are a couple of things being done by Ellie’s humans, in the mistaken belief that they are helping her and being kind, that they can now do differently.

For hours Ellie occupies what the lady calls her ‘sentry point’ on the back of the sofa, watching the ‘scary’ things go past their house. It won’t have taken long for her to get the idea that it was her barking which was chasing those enemies, who kept on moving past, away.

Instead of this regular exposure acclimatising and desensitising her to new things as they thought, it is doing the opposite.

Ellie with Bailie

Ellie with Bailie

Each barking bout will be adding to her already rapidly rising stress levels. Daily she is repatedly rehearsing the very behaviour towards people and traffic that they are trying to change.

The other thing that is actually making her worse is a common belief that desensitising a dog to the things she fears – cars, bicycles, children, plastic bags, anywhere new – involves active exposure by way of as many encounters as possible all at once in order to ‘get her used’ to them.

Over-exposure has the reverse effect to desensitising.

 

Over-exposure is flooding and the very opposite to desensitising.

Controlling Ellie’s environment is the way to go here. They have already removed Ellie’s access to her ‘sentinel’ point and will be helping both dogs as soon as they start to bark at anything (the neighbours will be thankful).

Then, very slowly, they will begin the desensitising and counter-conditioning she needs in order to see those things she fears in a different light whilst getting used to them gradually.

Before they can take her on any more outings beyond their gate and past traffic, past people and into shops, they must surely first get her to feel better about the world immediately outside their gate. On a long, loose lead she should be given a choice whilst they work on proper desensitisation.

She will herself let them know what she’s ready to do. Only when she feels safe enough to herself choose to venture out should they make their way further afield, very gradually.

‘Proper’ outings for now will need to be by car to transport her and Bailie directly to somewhere ‘safe’ and open.

This will take multiples sessions. The greater the number of very short desensitisation outings they do, the more progress they should make.

It’s best if they can work on things one at a time. Take fear of plastic bags – something easy to control unlike a child running up from nowhere. First a bag can be at a distance that Ellie finds okay and she can be given food each time she looks at it. She can also be rewarded with food or by increasing distance each time she deliberately looks away from it (making a ‘good’ decision).

They can put Ellie indoors, remove the plastic bag, lace with food the ground where the bag had been so the area is associated with good stuff. Then let Ellie back out to forage where the bag had been. Next, with Ellie back out of the way, they can replace the bag – and so on.

One thing at a time, we can work out appropriate procedures. Desensitising to children can be worked on in the same sort of way at a comfortable distance from a school playground at playtime.

Considering her deprived beginnings, Ellie could be a lot worse and in many respects they have come a long way. It’s the fearfulness of things and people new to her that has increased.

With the best of intentions, they are doing things back to front. Here is a very good article with a couple of great short videos about the sort of time and patience needed for desensitising and counter-conditioning a dog to something that really scares it.

With slow and gradual exposure whilst avoiding pushing Ellie over her comfort threshold they will build up her trust. She should eventually be able to go on holiday with them again and enjoy it this time.

Message received a couple of days later: ‘I learned something interesting about Ellie today. I opened the front door and stood just inside our covered porch with her on a long training lead and with the front door open so that she could retreat if she wanted to. Rather than flying out of the door and being desperate to go on a walk (which has been my previous impression of her), given the option, she stayed close to me or even backed up back into the house. This makes me realise she was flying out of the door to bark/be protective/banish passers by.
We’ve sat outside three times today now, with me feeding her little titbits whenever a car or person passes by. I’ll carry on little and often until she’s confident to go beyond the front garden without reacting (here’s hoping!!!)…..
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 Ellie. 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. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Wary of People in Their Home

Two dogs who were picked up as strays

Basil and Rosie

The two stunning dogs of mixed breed, Basil and Rosie, recently came back to the UK with the couple who adopted them in Hong Kong where they had been picked up as strays or possibly street dogs. It’s a pity I didn’t get a better photo of them together.

As you can see, although they were now not barking or backing off anymore, both were looking away as I pointed my phone at them which I was trying to do whilst looking the other way.

As I entered the house, the gentleman was trying to corral the dogs down the passageway into the sitting room whilst also trying to keep them quiet – living in a flat they are conscious of their neighbours. I gave my rather large bag to the lady to carry as carrying a bag (like wearing a hat) can contribute to upsetting some dogs.

The barking stopped very quickly as I sat down, but they were both extremely wary. For a short while Basil was ready to bark again at me whilst Rosie backed away. I won them round with food and by making no effort to touch them when they did, soon, come to me.

The owners are particularly concerned because their dogs’ aggressive-sounding barking means that several friends simply won’t visit anymore. There is one close male friend in particular that the dogs don’t like. Apparently he always wears a baseball cap and he’s very tall which apart from the fact that dogs can be more scared of men anyway could perhaps contribute to their unease.

I suggested they had ‘people-food’ ready-prepared, small and tasty bits of food that they only use for when people come to the flat so the only way the dogs get access to this special treat is when people come in or move about.

By trying various different things we worked on a technique whereby I could walk about the room and the dogs would remain relaxed. They can then now do the same things when the friend comes this evening.

This involves, before the person starts to move, one of the owners maintaining their dogs’ attention by calling them over, asking them to sit in front of them and then gently holding onto them whilst feeding them ‘people-food’. By facing their owner the dogs would be turning their backs to the other person. Now the person can move freely about.

I found that once I was up and walking around the room the owner could release the dogs after a second or two and they were fine. This same technique would need to be used for a few seconds each time the person, having been sitting down, moved.

Fortunately these two dogs were not nearly as wary of people in their home as many dogs I go to and this wouldn’t work in more severe cases. It just suited these two. Every case and situation is a bit different.

brown dog

Basil

As always, the guests need training too. They should be asked to move slowly and casually, to give no eye contact to the dogs and when they arrive not to walk too directly or deliberately towards them or the owner. Instead, the owner should turn around and take the dogs with him so that the person follows. Until the dogs get comfortable with someone, they should try not to move too suddenly and to give warning before they stand up. The guest can drop or roll pieces of food.

In a very short while both dogs were actually eating out of my hand.

The barking and anxiety starts with the intercom bell. This is something they can work on easily. Repeatedly one of them can go downstairs and ring the bell while, as soon as the dogs hear it, they get food from the other person. Every time one of the owners either goes out or comes in, they can ring the bell. Because the bell will then only very occasionally mean someone is visiting it will no longer be a trigger, so when a caller is let in the door the dogs aren’t already pre-aroused.

Like everything to do with desensitising and counter-conditioning it takes a lot of repetitions and work. Unless they have a regular run of callers to get the dogs thoroughly at home with people coming and going, it may always need working on to some extent.

Their second issue which I shan’t discuss in much detail now is that Basil, in particular, ignores all calls to come back when he’s on a hunt. The other day he nearly got killed when a chase after a muntjac deer took him across a busy road, followed by Rosie. As a stray who probably had to rely upon hunting for food he will most likely have the chase in his blood.

They have only two safe options really which is hard because dog walks to many people are something where the dogs run free, getting plenty of exercise and doing their own thing. Now they should only ever let Basil off lead in places where there is no escape. If they want him to come back when called, they will need to put in months and months of recall work with Basil. What, after all, is in it for Jack to come back before he’s finished what he is doing? The man’s tone of voice wasn’t such that I, if I were a dog, would find sufficiently inspiring to tempt me to come back! I may not even hear him.

Recall is about much more than just training; it’s also about the dog’s relationship with the person who wants him to come back. To a dog with a high prey drive, it’s quite a challenge for someone to be more relevant, exciting and rewarding than a running muntjac or rabbit!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an aspect. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be very different to the approach I have worked out for Basil and Rosie. 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 specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

The Young Dog Chases Traffic

German Shepherd with ballWe understand roads, but do our dogs? A roaring, smelly monster either approaches him head-on or bears down on him from behind. How can the dog know that the vehicle won’t plough into him and his human?

With each car that passes he becomes more highly aroused. Each vehicle could annihilate him and so he has to chase it off. He is successful this time, but the next one that comes along – will he manage to get rid of that one also?

A vehicle approaches and the dog lunges and barks, so what happens next? The vehicle goes away. I’m sure he feels the vehicle’s departure is the direct consequence of his barking and lunging. To make matters worse, the person on the other end of the lead who he should be able to trust doesn’t help him, but traps him and may even join in the ‘car rage’.

No wonder Harry dreads walks

German Shepherd avoiding coming inThe German Shepherd is now nine months old and he lives an otherwise wonderful life in a rural area. Down the lane cars are sudden happenings.

I was called because of traffic chasing but that isn’t the actual problem. Anyone using enough force could physically prevent a dog from chasing a vehicle. The real problem, the cause of the behaviour, is fear, and this is what Harry’s humans need to deal with.

Harry is now so worried about leaving the safety of his house and garden that they only have to call him in from outside and he becomes suspicious that they may want to put his harness on – and that would mean having to confront cars. Top left is happy Harry as he usually is. On the right he has his harness on and is suspicious we may want to put his lead on also, so he’s not coming in.

Getting Harry to be chilled around traffic will need to be taken in tiny steps with work, patience and persistence which I know his owners have. They have had several German Shepherds over the years but none of the things they have tried have cracked the problem of a dog that chases traffic, so they need a different approach.

Step one, before they can do anything else, is for Harry to come happily to have his harness and lead put on. The only way to do that will be for the equipment to not be a precursor of going out and to be associated with food and fun at home.

As soon as they step out through the door Harry is pulling and barking should any car dare pass by the end of their long drive. Going out through the door itself must be conquered for starters until they achieve a happy and relaxed dog within just a few feet of the house.

There should be no more close encounters at all with cars for now while they work on him. Fortunately Harry is fine when inside a car so he will be taken to traffic-free places for his outings whilst the intensive desensitisation work is done near home and in places where moving vehicles are at a ‘safe’ distance.

I have shown them an emergency procedure should an unexpected vehicle appear, whereby Harry’s humans will take decisive and logical (to Harry) action and he will see the monster disappear into the distance without his having chased it away.

NB. The best approach to use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Harry, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here. One size does not fit all. For help with your own dog, I suggest you find an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).

 

Westie Barks at the TV

Westies sleeping togetherIsla, now fifteen months old, started life having been left out in a garden for much of the time, barking. Consequently when the lady took her into her family six months ago the little dog had learnt to bark non-stop. The other Westie, Hamish, began to join in!

Although things are not nearly so bad now after the work the lady has already put in, the most disruptive part of Isla’s barking repertoire is barking at the TV.

She’s wary when the TV is on, but if she sees or hears and animal on TV she goes mental. Hamish backs her up by joining in. In a way, so do the family when they shout at the dogs to stop.

The barking in other aspects of the dogs’ lives should be addressed appropriately so they cease to get so much practice! If barking gets the gentleman to open the door in the morning, then barking is proved to work. If barking when something comes through the door drives the postman away (or so they think), then again, barking works. If barking at a neighbour when they are in the garden results in them being told BE QUIET and maybe chased around the garden, then barking is reinforced.

I take a psychological approach. If barking is an alarm call, should not we, as the ‘parents’, be taking responsiblity for the perceived danger rather than scolding or joining in?

Westies look upHamish is fine with the TV when Isla is out of the room, so it’s Isla who needs a great deal of desensitisation. This takes patience so would best be done during the day by the lady when the family isn’t wanting to watch TV.  Nothing is more infuriating when you want to watch something and a dog barks at the TV.

It’s surprising how many more dogs I go to that do bark at the TV now – the huge HD screens I believe are the problem.

To start with the lady can work on just the picture – no sound and no animals. Then introduce sound. Then silent animals. Then no picture but animal sounds. Then very soft sounds with pictures and animals…. and so on. It could be a long job.

At present the dear little dog deliberately looks away from the TV. This needs to be rewarded. She also may take herself off to her crate in the other room. I would like to try her crate in the sitting room but out of view of the TV, and to teach her to take herself into it when she feels anxious.

The two young dogs have plenty of exercise and sensible stimulation and they love to play together. They are fed the best nutrition available and everything else is in their favour, so I’m sure they will conquer little Isla’s fears of the ‘monsters in the box’ if takcochranen slowly.

Lovely message and photo on Facebook – seven months later:  ‘This is my two watching tv right now. Actually I’m watching and they’re snoozing. Theo, you’ll remember how reactive Isla was when you came to us a few months ago.

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

Golden Retriever is happy

To Stop Barking When Left Alone

The lady called me because she wanted her beautiful eight-year-old Golden Retriever, Harvey, to ‘stop barking’ when she goes out. One friend suggested she tried an ultrasonic sound device (he ignores it) and another a muzzle to keep his mouth shut.

It’s not gaLoving look from Goldiedgets that are needed, but time and patience. Harvey’s barking needs to be looked at in a completely different way. Stop barking? The distress that is causing the barking needs to be addressed. The actual barking itself isn’t the problem (though it may be so for the neighbours).

Harvey is the most friendly, stable and well-adjusted dog you could want to meet in every respect apart from his fear of being parted from the lady. As a young dog he had been more or less abandoned, underfed and neglected, so it’s a big tribute to her care and love for him. He really is the perfect companion for her. On the right he is looking adoringly up at her (and she was eating a biscuit too!).

It seems that it’s not so much a fear of being left alone itself as a fear of losing the lady. Although he was very friendly with me, he became anxious within a few seconds when she walked out of the room and shut the door, as you can see on the left. It’s very possible that he feels he should be lookAnxious aloneing after her as she has a medical condition that he will pick up on.

He will certainly sense her emotions when she has to leave him, never for more than two or three hours, and that will merely add to his distress because he can’t possibly realise the reason she herself feels anxious – and guilty.

In addition to desensitising Harvey to being away from her and counter-conditioning him to feel her departures are nothing to worry about, the lady herself can change a few other things that will help. If she can behave in some respects a little more like ‘guardian’ in terms of who protects whom in particular. She can then come and go as she pleases without being accountable to Harvey. Departures should be breezy, happy and good news. Coming back home should be boring and no big deal. At the moment it’s the opposite.

The desensitising requires a huge number of comings and goings, starting with duration and places that are very easy for Harvey and gradually ramping it up, over a period of probably many weeks. The counter-conditioning, at the same time, should gradually have him feeling happy when left rather than distressed.

The lady is prepared to ‘give it a go’. She will ‘try’. I have found that the people who succeed are those who stick at it until they do succeed for however long it takes – and don’t give up after giving it a try if things don’t show much improvement after just two or three weeks, as proved by another lady and her dog who I went to quite recently – read here.

Four weeks have gone by and the slow approach is working.  ‘I feel we are getting on slowly but well. Harvey can be left happily for about ten minutes now and went to my immediate neighbours for an hour with no fuss apart from barking at the front door briefly as I left and he was quite happy. Next week we will be gradually extending the time. Fingers crossed!!!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Harvey, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet 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 specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Cocker Spaniel feels threatened

Suddenly Aggressive Behaviour

When the elderly gentleman walks into the room, Bella changes personality. She growls, she barks and the other day she flew at him and bit him.

Bella is a typical happy, sometimes demanding, young Cocker Spaniel. She is generally friendly and loving towards the man so this is completely out of character so far as I could immediately see.  I now needed to get to know her a bit better.

As I had no personal history with her she didn’t play me up at all, and she was soon happily dropping things for me (something she may not usually do) and waiting without barking (which was also unusual). She showed me her training tricks after just one, soft request.

Hopefully it is motivating for people to actually see what is possible if their relationship with the dog is a bit different.

Having asked lots of questions and found out as much about Bella as I could, from what she is fed on to how she is out on walks and much more, I then looked into the circumstances surrounding the uncharacteristic barking and aggressive behaviour towards the gentleman.

For starters, Bella only behaves like this towards the man in two particular rooms in the house, a small narrow study and an even smaller ironing room. Secondly, she only behaves like this when the lady is in one of these two rooms too.

We then set the scene so that I could see exactly what happens.

The lady sat at her desk in the little study with Bella beside her. I hovered beside the doorway. The gentleman walked through the door and approached the dog in a friendly manner. Bella licked her lips. He looked at her and talked to her as he usually did, hand outstretched – leaned over her. She barked furiously.

Bingo – I could see what was happening. She felt trapped in the small room and to her he seemed to be bearing down on her. It looked like he was looming (he’s unable to lower himself due to a hip problem). From a dog’s perspective his body language, his full-on approach, his gaze and outstretched arm whilst she was trapped in a very small space simply was threatening.

It seems the man never has cause to go in either of these two small rooms unless the lady is already in there. Was the problem because of the man’s body language and because the space was small alone, or was the lady’s presence something to do with it? We experimented with the gentleman walking into the room with me in there instead of the lady and Bella was fine.

Whilst the lady and Bella were both in the little study, the gentleman practised on the coal scuttle in the other room – the coal scuttle was Bella!  The man rehearsed walking past the coal scuttle (Bella) with the least threatening body language possible, not looking down and

Black Cocker Spaniel lying by the fire

not walking directly at her. All the time he would be dropping food.

Then we tried it for real.  I had first put some little bits of food on the shelf in the study. The man walked into the room, picked up some food near the door, didn’t look at or talk to Bella and moved slowly past her, slightly sideways, until he reached his wife, dropping food all the time. All Bella was interested in was the food.

We then did the same thing in the ironing room, the little room where the man had been bitten. No barking.

When he approaches the room, the gentleman will announce himself with some words or sound so his appearance in the doorway isn’t sudden. If the dog does happen to bark, then the lady needs to take control and teach the dog to come to her and lie down whenever the man enters the room, but I don’t think it will come to that.

His instructions are, for the next few weeks, to ignore Bella totally in these two small rooms – apart from dropping food. They will set up lots of sessions and Bella should soon be thrilled to see him in the doorway!

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