Excited Barking Before Walks. Too Much Noise.

Many years ago I lived next door to a Golden Retriever that was left out in the garden all day. He barked non-stop. My son was studying for his A-levels at the time.

Whether you feel compassion for the dog or annoyance, persistent barking isn’t good for people or for the dog.

It’s certainly not good when it’s your own dogs that won’t stop barking.

Complaining to neighbours can be tricky. ‘Do you know that your dog barks all day’ didn’t work back then. They merely said the dog had to be left outside because he would otherwise toilet in the house.

Poor dog.

Excited barking before 7am.

The family I went to yesterday have had a polite complaint from a neighbour about the noise their dogs make, mostly when they are being taken out for their walk. This is early, at a time when many people still be in bed.

excited barking before walksMy clients are taking this very seriously and have called me for help.

Their nine-month-old Cocker Cavalier cross, Chester, and older Collie Labrador mix Jet are nearly beside themselves with excited barking before leaving the house on walks. They continue down the road, barking and squealing.

The barking itself isn’t the real problem but the symptom – the underlying causes are the problem.

The main cause is arousal. The excitement and anticipation overflows into the walk itself.

Another cause is to do with routine and habit.  The dogs will recognise much more subtle triggers than the boots going on and leads being picked up. 

Excited barking, simply, works.

Chester and Jet’s barking is also a learned behaviour. It’s successful. It works for them. They will believe that their barking actually causes the walk to happen.

The two dogs should begin to learn that excited barking no longer works. Being quiet is what brings results.

Some self-control is necessary!

The solution has its roots in other areas of their lives beyond walks, most particularly in the reduction of general stress and arousal levels. For instance, Chester gets into a frenzy of barking excitement as he chases Jet who is chasing the ball!

I believe that too much repetitive chasing simply encourages arousal levels to get out of hand, and this then spills over into other things – like walks.

So where do we start?

Barking won’t get the goodies.

Both dogs will need to learn that that barking doesn’t get the goodies – whether it’s a walk, food, being let out of the car or anything else.

Just as importantly, they will learn that quiet does get the goodies.

Here is a rundown of our walk procedure, designed for this particular case.

The start is to systematically desensitise the dogs to the triggers.

Touch the leads and excited barking begins. The lady does most of the walking. Now she will leave the leads about and regularly touch them or move them about.

She puts her boots on and the frenzy begins. So now she will, from time to time, put boots on and take them off again.

She will now be less predictable. Her usual morning routine means ‘the tail is wagging the dog’. The walks will be at more random times (she is home during the day so this is possible).

Instead of the dogs anticipating a walk to the fields, barking until they get there to be let off lead, she will now give them lots of short walks leading nowhere much.

Ready to go?

Collars and harnesses can be put on well before she plans to go out, walking boots also. She can leave the leads near the front door, dropping them on the floor in advance.

When it’s time to go, there will be no ‘Walkies’, calling the dogs, putting boots on, lifting leads and so on.

Don’t underestimate ultra slow-motion! It sends out calm vibes and also makes the dogs curious!

The lady will walk slowly and quietly to the front door. She can wait there in silence if the dogs aren’t with her – they will soon come!

Very slowly she will go to pick up the leads and if there is no barking, put them on. As soon as there is any excited barking, she will freeze and look away. If it carries on, she can drop the leads and walk away.

Actions speak a lot louder than words with dogs.

Slowly she can go to open the door – being ready to shut it again at any excited barking.

Walking out.

Still moving quietly and slowly, she won’t yet shut the door behind her – she may need to come back in. I suggest she starts by walking in a few circles around the front if they are quiet before going back to shut the door.

After a couple of starts in other directions, they can then walk quietly down the road in the direction of their favourite field.

You wouldn’t believe, from my photo, that these two dogs could ever be noisy!

Trigger Stacking. The Perfect Storm

It was the perfect storm.

It was a clear example of trigger stacking. The day had been over-exciting. There had been lots of people in the house. The dogs had had too many treats. They will have done their usual barking at people in the park behind their garden.

Then a delivery man in Dayglo came to the door. A family member followed him back down the path where they talked over the gate.

Trigger stacking led to the bite

Boba

He had forgotten to shut the front door behind him.

Boba flew out of the house barking. He leapt high in the air at the man and caught his mouth. The bite required several stitches. Now, unsurprisingly, there is a court case pending.

Boba is a three-year-old Jack Russell mix who lived in a pound in Greece until he was eight months old. He’s a perky, affectionate little dog. He lives with Gibson, a Setter mix who was a Greek street dog and a super-soft and loving twelve-year-old Cocker Spaniel called Benson.

When I arrived Gibson went and hid, but the other two were very friendly and excited.

What alarms Boba is hearing or seeing people out the front in the street and people in the park out the back. All three dogs bark. Very likely, being dogs, they believe that it’s their barking that eventually drives the people away from their territory.

Although Boba is territorial when anyone is outside the gate, once a person enters the house he is usually very friendly. He has no history of biting.

He’s fine, too, when they meet people out on walks away from the house.

Management.

The first thing we discussed was management – precautions.

They will put a baby gate a few feet in from their front door that will be kept shut all the time. If it’s kept shut as a matter of habit, there will be a kind of air-lock making a repetition of the attack almost impossible.

They will also introduce Boba to a basket muzzle – just in case they need it. It could be a requirement of the court that he wears one.

Trigger stacking.

The second thing is to deal with is the trigger stacking, to reduce the continual topping up of arousal levels in all three dogs. They all fire one another up.

Each time a dog is over-excited or is caused stress, the adrenal and thyroid glands, testosterone and hypothalamus begin to increase their production. The output from these glands reach a peak 10-15 minutes after the incident, and takes between 3-5 days to return to the level they were at before the incident. Here is a nice visual explanation of trigger stacking.

Reducing arousal levels can be very boring. Greetings need to be calmer, rough play toned down with more brain games, more chewing, hunting and foraging instead. Friends and family need persuading to help by not being over-excited and winding them up.

Even the food they eat can make a big difference.

I believe that if Boba’s basic arousal levels had been a lot lower, then he would have had enough ‘to spare’ when he ran out of the front door to the delivery man at the gate. He would have been less likely to fly at him. It was one trigger too many.

Territorial barking.

Crucial to the whole thing is to deal with the dogs’ territorial barking. At present they have a dog flap which is left open all the time. Even when the owners are out their dogs can be barking in the garden at people they hear. Boba will be continually rehearsing territorial aggression so it’s little wonder he put it into practice on that fateful occasion.

Benson

Currently, like many people, they have tried water spray and anti-bark collars but this doesn’t stop the dog feeling angry or scared inside. The opposite in fact. They may ignore the barking until it gets too much and then shout at the dogs.

Barking is a trigger. It ignites a dog’s stress levels.

The humans are the ‘dog-parents’ so protection duty should be their job. They should intervene immediately and deal with it, thanking the dogs and calling them away. The dogs should come if interrupted quickly enough and rewarded with food. Blocking barking areas and shutting the dog flap will make this a lot easier.

When I was there I pre-empted barking a couple of times. I head a door slam and the dogs perk up, but before they had time to start I brightly said ‘Okay’. No barking.

Now, not only will Boba not be physically able to bite someone at the gate again, after a while he shouldn’t feel he needs to. He will be generally calmer as will all three dogs. He will be taught that follow-through isn’t his job.

 

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

Under Control, Self-Control and Being Relevant

under control

Obi and Leia

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

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

When not under control they have little self-control.

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are two problems for Obi that I see.

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

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

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

Working to improve walks, the young man will be:

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

Changing the way walks with Obi are done.

Changing the way walks are done

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

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

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

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

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

Just a change of tactic can make a big difference.

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

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

Self control – not ‘under control’.

A good start.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Obi. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

 

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)

Humping. Problem or Symptom?

The three Lurchers I have just been to live in Dog Heaven!

In a fairly small environment they are allowed a great deal of enrichment in terms of things to chew and explore with no owner panic if they make a mess!  I have to persuade many people to give their dogs things to do, chew or wreck to keep them busy and to calm them down as it can require quite a bit of clearing up afterwards.

Zak

Zak

Nor is undue pressure put upon the three Lurchers in terms of training or correction. If they have dismembered the stuffed tiger, so be it – it is repaired.

The lady has had Cassie since she was a puppy twelve years ago. Zak, a Lurcher with collie in him has lived with her for two years and young Jerry, eighteen months old, she has had for just ten days.

There is underlying pressure on Zak in particular in terms of stress build-up. This beautiful Lurcher whose life is ongoing rehabilitation from a dreadful past is particularly in tune with the lady. If she is excited, anxious or down, he will pick up on it.

The first prerequisite for a calm dog is for us to be calm ourselves. Even if we don’t feel calm inside (and the dog may not be completely fooled), we need to behave calm.

Humping is the way Zak vents his stress.

Remains of the humping tigerHe has calmed down a lot since the lady adopted him. He used to regularly hump a huge stuffed tiger (dismembered yesterday by one of the dogs and not for the first time). Mostly unchecked, humping has become a well-rehearsed behaviour that has helped him to cope in some way.

There will now be an element of habit to it. It’s his default when over-aroused.

His new target is Jerry.

The past couple of days had been particularly hard on the lady and she has been feeling very emotional. She had discovered there was something badly wrong with young Jerry’s hip and the vet at first feared cancer. It turns out to be an old injury to his hip joint, the femoral head. This is a relief but will involve extensive crate rest after an operation.

So when I arrived Zak had a head of steam where arousal is concerned. He’s still getting used to the energetic but sweet Jerry. He is picking up on the stressed lady’s own emotions and then I, a visitor, arrives.

His head goes over the back of Jerry. He moves his body around and he starts humping.

Jerry

Jerry

It seems that Jerry, by just being Jerry when he’s moving about, is the trigger. He has only been there for ten days. He is he settling in to his new environment and he is understandably quite excitable himself.

When unable to cope with build up of ‘stuff’, Zak now redirects his arousal and frustrations into humping him – possibly also to control him by stopping him moving about.

Humping must be the very last thing Jerry’s hip needs at the moment so we are in a situation where it’s not good to forcibly pull a dog off but it’s even worse for him to continue. Calling him off for food didn’t work. Once he got started he became deaf. Now as soon as he simply turned towards Jerry we worked on calling him, marking and rewarding as soon as he turned to us instead. Pre-empting is the answer coupled with removal of opportunity which isn’t easy.

It’s hard to redirect him onto something else – something to chew for instance – because it could possibly cause competition between the dogs. A gate should solve that.

Having together managed to get Zak away from him, Jerry would then move back to Zak! Both dogs were now on lead. When the lady is alone how will she cope?

Various management strategies are already being put in place including a gate between kitchen and sitting room. Zak needs a different outlet for his arousal but most importantly, the arousal itself needs addressing.

The lady herself is the key. At important times there will be less loud, excitable talking to the dogs; she will move about much more slowly. This doesn’t mean she can’t generally be her chatty, cheerful self at other times. Dogs, like people, listen and learn a whole lot better when all is quiet, something I made good use of years ago when I was the music teacher in a boys’ school.

Act calm and you start to feel calmer, don’t you.

It’s working already.

Jerry asleep on the stair

Jerry asleep on the stair

A while ago I wrote one of my short Paws for Thought blogs about the subject: Humping – What Is It Really About? To quote Marc Bekoff in Psychology Today, humping is ‘a displacement behavior, meaning that it’s a byproduct of conflicted emotions. For some dogs a new visitor to the house could elicit a mixture of excitement and stress that could make for a humping dog’.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Zak and Jerry 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. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Obsessing, Stressing, Panting, Licking

Obsessing; pacing; compulsively licking the floor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Project Calm’

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

also affected by Oli's obsessing

Billy and Charlie

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

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

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

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

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

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

Robot-walking does wonders for creating calm!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Oli and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

No No and No Doesn’t Teach a Dog

NO isn’t conveying to Buster what they do want of him

The word No didn't work. Clicker and food and Beagle is attentive.No No is a sure route to making an already confused dog even more bewildered – and frustrated too.

They picked up Beagle mix Buster from a rescue just a few days ago and though totally in love with him they are a little overwhelmed.

I find it hard to believe that he’s been there for two months and not quickly adopted. He’s beautiful with the softest coat imaginable. Possibly he wasn’t snapped up sooner because of his jumping up and excitability. He is only eleven months old.

You can imagine how an energetic young dog when released from two months confinement might react to being let loose in a house and garden!

He jumps up at people and the more they push him down and say No, the more wound up he gets, eventually using his mouth, teeth and claws on the hands that are pushing him away.

He jumps up at the sides in the kitchen while they prepare food. No No just winds him up.

He has mad tearing about sessions which can result on his leaping onto them or grabbing articles and wrecking them. No No!

They have a hamster in a cage at his head height. He is very curious. No No.

 

Turning No into Yes

Starting right now they will concentrate on three things – strategies to calm him down generally, removing temptation where they can, and turning No into Yes.

People can be quite surprised when I suggest a high rate of food reinforcement for everything they ask the dog to do and even to mark moments when the dog is being ‘good’ – not doing things they don’t want him to do. (This isn’t quite the same as doing things that they do want him to do).

People can also find the idea of constantly carrying food on them a challenge. This isn’t extra food which would merely make the dog fat. Why feed him all his food at mealtimes? Why not let him earn it throughout the day?

You can see from my photo how focused he became when I started working with my clicker and tiny food rewards. I had asked him to Sit (which he knows) and Wait (which I’m sure he doesn’t know) – and he did it!

Buster needs to constantly be shown what IS required of him. If jumping on the sides is not wanted, what is? Feet on the floor. But – what’s in it for him? Jumping up at the sides, the chaos it can cause and the possibility of a stolen snack is very rewarding to him. No No is just background noise.

This is my favourite video demonstrating the confusion No can cause and the success of Yes instead.

I suggest a sort of swear box. Whenever anyone says No to Buster they have to put 50p in the box. They can then treat themselves to a meal out. If they do very well, it might only be a coffee!

Enjoyable Walks Begin at Home

Enjoyable walks with Izzy can be better if she’s calmer before leaving

Enjoyable walks with Old English Izzy Izzy, a stunning 14-month Old English Sheepdog, is extremely friendly, very bouncy and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the all the attention she gets.

When I arrived she came to the door and gave one Woof. Thinking she may have been uneasy because I was taking no notice of her (something she wasn’t used to) I said hello. This stressed her sufficiently to make her do a small tiddle on the floor.

She very quickly relaxed however. There was a bit of jumping up but she was so friendly and biddable. A delight.

 

Izzy is treated like she’s the centre of their world (which she probably is!)

Izzy is adored by four ladies and other family members including young children. Whenever she wants attention she gets loads of it. To look at her you can see how hard she must be to resist. However, it does leave her with little incentive to give them her attention when they want it.

She has constant access to food, so food isn’t a sufficiently valuable currency for rewarding and paying her for doing as asked. She could instead be working for some of her food.

What prevents enjoyable walks is Izzy’s pulling like a train on lead and going ‘deaf’ when called if she’s engaged in something she would prefer to be doing, like running off to play with another dog.

She is wild with excitement before the walk even starts.

The lady, having been pulled over by her, will no longer walk her alone, so one of her three adult daughters will come after work and accompany her.

There is a massively exciting greeting at the door when the daughters arrive, possibly with grandchildren too, to the extent that Izzy will pee on the floor. In the normal way of things it would take quite a while for the effects of this degree of excitement to subside and they immediately go out for the walk.

Soon Izzy will learn that ‘good things come to a calm dog’ while they give her time before leaving, doing their best not to wind her up in the first place. Enjoyable walks should then be a lot easier.

Walking equipment needs to be changed away from that which depends upon physically restraining the dog to equipment that encourages her to walk comfortably and willingly beside them. I use a good harness with D-ring at the chest (Perfect Fit) and a loose training lead. Equally important is that they all practise the correct walking technique.

I demonstrated with the lead on Izzy’s collar. She was excited when I picked up my lead so I sat down and waited. Then I called her to me (reward) and asked her to sit quietly – once. After a moment she did so and I attached the lead to the collar so that it hung from the front under her chin. I then walked around the house with her following me on a loose lead.

To make my point I now turned the collar so the lead attachment on top of her neck. Izzy immediately pulled due to the ‘opposition reflex‘.

I rested my case.

‘Coming back when called’ also begins at home. If she won’t come in from the garden until she is ready she certainly won’t when there is something exciting to run off after on a walk.

So, with a mix of a calm start, better equipment, a technique where she walks nicely because she wants to, being conditioned until coming when called is a habit along with a slightly different overall relationship with her humans at home, enjoyable walks should be achieved before too long.

 

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 Izzy. 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)

Too Much Excitement

Young English BulldogJess is a very friendly one-year-old English Bulldog. Although bold and friendly with people and other dogs, she is unfortunately becoming increasingly fearful of certain things, with new fears being added to the list as time goes by. Just the other day on her walk she bolted when she saw a plane flying above with a vapour trail. She hates traffic. Now she’s become scared of the microwave beeping.

Their adult daughter was leaving as I arrived and had just been engaged in some rough and tumble play with the dog.  I can’t prove this, but I would be willing to bet that Jess’ jumping up at me would have been lot less persistent and frantic had this kind of play not just taken place.

Even happy excitement is stress of a kind and, overdone, fills the brain with an increase in adrenaline and cortisol. Fear is also a kind of stress and does just the same thing to the system. Because stress builds up, not only continuing to flood the brain even for a short while after the arousal has happened, these chemicals can take days to dissipate – particularly when they are constantly being topped up.

Although on the face of it seemingly something  quite different, one can see how too much rough or exciting play can directly affect a dogs fearfulness and nervousness. We know with ourselves that if we are in a highly emotional state we are for more vulnerable to tears, fears, hysterics and so on!

When Jess did eventually calm down she was peaceful. In many ways, if she were allowed she could be quite a placid dog. She is very accepting of certain things that might upset more highly-strung dogs.

This brings me to the next difficulty for this family. There are three young grandsons who come round every day after school. The youngest in particular loves to wind Jess up and he has even been injured – by mistake. She jumps on him and they roll around the floor. They treat Jess like an animated fluffy toy. From the moment they arrive there is a daily injection of high excitement.

The retired couple themselves strike just the right balance with the kind of attention they give Jess. With some new rules in place for visiting family she should be in a better state of mind where the work with desensitising to traffic and other scary things is concerned.

I suggested they made a chart for the little boy so he can earn stars or whatever kids nowadays like to earn – for keeping Jess calm. The children need positive reinforcement just as much as the dog.

It will be most logical to start by getting Jess okay with things in the house like the microwave and the noise made by builders across the road.

Where previously the lady felt that making Jess walk by a busy road would ‘get her used to the traffic’, it’s proved not to work, with her growing increasingly fearful. They will now be finding places where Jess is at a comfortable distance from vehicles and begin the strategies which will get her to feel differently about traffic. It may mean changing routines for now to something less convenient and it may not be quick – but it’s what works!

8 months later – review on Yell:  We nervously contacted Theo, The Dog Lady to help us with our English Bulldog puppy.Jess would drag us along the road, completely out of control. She didn’t enjoy her walkies and was terrified of just about everything. Traffic was a nightmare for her, everyday she adopted a new fear. One day while we were out walking, she became terrified of vapor trails from planes in the sky. She completely freaked out! Theo totally ignored Jess until she had calmed down, and no longer jumping up. The advise she gave us was invaluable, from changing her harness and lead which would give us more control, to suggesting a different food and how to use food from her daily allowance to use as treats. Every time we heard a car when on a walk Theo suggested throwing food on the ground so that she associated cars as something good. It has taken a while but Jess is a delight. She walks beautifully and although she is still nervous around traffic she no longer drags me along.Thank you so much Theo!
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 Jess. 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).

Chasing Shadows and Lights

Bichon Frise looking for shadows

Looking at the wall for shadows

It’s really strange how it all started.  They have had the little Bichon Frise for just a few weeks – he came over from Ireland with an unknown past – and the young lady quite unwittingly bought him a laser light thinking that he would enjoy chasing it.

Just a few minutes triggered something in the adorable and affectionate Buddy that has been unstoppable since.

The slightest shadow or reflection starts him off, as even do flying birds. On a walk recently some swallows swooping about overhead had him leaping about and barking frantically.

The behaviour seems to be triggered by stress and excitement as well as any actual shadow or light. When I was there, someone coming back into the room was enough to start him off again. If there is no shadow to see, the young dog will look for it.

It follows a three-stage sequence which starts with Buddy prowling about, his eyes up at the walls. Next he becomes more agitated, to the extent that by now he is deaf to any calling or distractions. Finally he erupts into a wild fit of barking, charging about from room to room and now it’s hard to catch him.

They have tried everything they can think of including putting him in another room which seems to settle him.

This is particularly hard to deal with, mainly because with most behaviours that we want to eliminate we arrange the environment so the dog has less opportunity to rehearse them. In this case the shadows may not actually exist in order for him to start fixating.

It was evident early in our meeting, by listening to the lovely family and watching the little dog, that he spends much of his life far too aroused. They feel that he was probably neglected in the past and bless them they are doing all they can to compensate for this now. They feel guilty when they leave him alone so make a big issue of their comings and goings. He has more or less constant attention. He may have four walks a day, one possibly for as long as an hour and a half.

When he gets home from walks he can be in a hyper state which tells me that the walk hasn’t really done what it’s meant to do. Over-exercise and stimulation is possibly little better than too little.

They have had him for three months now and want to make his life as fun as possible, so, like many people, they stir their dog up intentionally in the belief that exciting him is the way to make him happy.

I suspect that everything is simply too much. Probably the contrast with his former life is also simply too much also.

Our approach is to tone down everything. Lower, softer voices, gentler petting, no deliberately exciting him before going out, short and calmer walks where he can do a lot of sniffing.

Play should be careful. At present it’s far too exciting. He grabs something and ‘loves to be chased about’. Toys and balls are thrown for him to run after which can simply be fuelling his fixation with moving things. We looked at calm games that will exercise his mind like hunting and foraging.

We did some gentle clicker training, the aim being to get him to touch a hand – a way of calling him away from shadows before he gets stuck in. Using a clicker, we also marked and rewarded him each time he chose to take a break from looking about, before he got too carried away. There may be other things he can be taught to do that are incompatible with chasing shadows – like settling somewhere or looking away at something else instead.

The environment needs to be made as helpful as possible. If doors are shut he can do less charging about when he’s in a frenzy. If he’s less stimulated by letters coming through the door and so on, there will be fewer triggers.

Finally they need to step in a lot sooner than they have when taking him out of the situation to calm down. The ‘quiet room’ is a room where he’s happy to be alone – a spare bedroom. It can be dark, with soft music especially produced for calming dogs.

It’s sad when everything has been done to give him a great life by his new family that it’s backfired on them so badly. Over-exciting him hadn’t occurred to them as part of the problem.

It’s very possible that the laser light merely woke a latent behaviour in him that he had done in his previous life. We will never know. I am convinced the key is to get him calmer and more relaxed on all counts which means that his humans must be calmer and quieter around him too.

Each shadow-chasing dog does it his own way, so I don’t go into complete detail here as to our approach. Anyone with a dog who fixates needs professional help. A clicker isn’t a magic tool, it’s just a bit of plastic. It’s worse than useless unless used properly.

It would be a good idea if these laser lights sold in pet shops for cats, came with a written health warning.