Running Off With Things and Guarding Them

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

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

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

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

‘Consequence drives behaviour’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From now on I advise they totally ignore all guarding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Trigger stacking’ again.

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

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

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

 

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

Possessive and Agitated; Puppy, Toys and Food

Ollin is a Xoloitzcuintli. I have never even heard of a Xoloitzcuintli before let alone visited one.

Where did the possessive behaviour come from?

possessive over food and toys

Ollin

Ollin has been perfectly happy with her humans touching something she’s eating should they need to. She lets them take her toys.

She’s having none of it however with Toto, the eleven week old Xolo puppy they picked up from the breeder a few days ago.

This possessive, guarding behaviour seems to have come out of nowhere. It’s aimed solely at Toto.

The two dogs play continuously – perhaps a bit too much – and it’s Ollin who intitiates it. They sleep curled up together. With the toys all been put away they get on famously – until food appears.

I watched as the gentleman prepared the two dogs’ meals in the utility room behind a baby gate – puppy Toto in there with him. Ollin was in the kitchen with us, watching through the gate.

Ollin’s demeanor had completely changed.

Looking at Toto through the gate while the food was being prepared, the gentle, delicate and friendly little dog was growling and getting increasingly agitated. She became even more fierce when she saw Toto’s bowl put down.

Then the door was shut on Toto. Ollin’s own food was put down on the kitchen floor. She walked back and forth from the utility room door and her food bowl in an agitated manner a few times. She then took a few bits of food out of her bowl and took it around the corner out of sight of the utility room. Jumping on the sofa, she ate them there.

Xoloitzcuintli puppy

Toto

A very happy dog usually, she wasn’t happy now.

It was useful to watch. A different routine should over time stop Ollin being possessive over Toto’s food – food that she’s unable to get to. This is roughly how it will go:

Because they are feeding Toto four times a day, they will divide Ollin’s food into four also. She will then get as many meals as he does.

Because she gets so agitated while the food is prepared and when Toto’s bowl is put down, I had an idea. For now they will prepare the following meal as soon as the dogs have finished the previous one. The dishes will then be ready to put down straight away next mealtime without causing Ollin the build-up of possessive panic.

Ollin’s food will go down first and then they will put Toto’s over the gate. They will shut the door.

She will be hearing him eating the dry food from his metal bowl the other side of the door. All the time they will drop tiny bits of chicken into Ollin’s bowl while she is eating. She needs to associate Toto eating food with herself receiving something.

She must not think that he is getting something that she is not.

As time goes by they can open the door and move the bowls closer – still one each side of the gate. Hopefully they can eventually be fed together in the same room.

Ollin was with the breeder until she was several months old and all the puppies were fed out of one large dish. This encourages competition, guarding and can make dogs become possessive.

On the phone I had advised them to lift all toys until I came. They are now issuing them two or three at a time and supervising both dogs. Sitting on the sofa yesterday, one each side of the lady, both dogs chewed the toys. They swapped.

All will be well.

Feedback nine days later: ……we have had such a great improvement and seen fantastic results from what we have implemented. I cannot thank you enough for making us aware of our mistakes and amazed how such small changes to our approach has reflected so positively on Ollin. 

 

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 Ollin and Toto 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)

 

Snapping at the Kids and Growling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being approached directly is what each incident has in common.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BenbowAlfie1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a video for them to watch.

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

 

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

Food Aggression and Parading Bones

We all know what Pugnacious means!

Frank is a delightful, friendly and playful ten-month-old Pug French Bulldog mix. He is a typical teenager in that he likes to play his family up – he is a clever boy!

What I was called for is Frank’s behaviour around dropped food, bones and other edible resources. 

Food aggression can start with the breeder

From the moment they first got him Frank wolfed his food down as though in total panic – even faster if someone was nearby, like he was afraid they may steal it from him. Consequently they were advised to put the food on a plate which, because it slides around the floor, slows him down.

The breeder fed the litter all together from one bowl which we know can lead to competition Frank has some food aggressionover the food. It does not encourage eating confidently in the knowledge that the puppy can take his time with no fear of losing the food. This is where food aggression can start.

Food aggression is then unintentionally encouraged by owners who, thinking they are doing the right thing, force things off the puppy, either because it may be dangerous or maybe to make a point about who is boss. They don’t realise that even some of the games they play are nurturing guarding behaviour in certain dogs that may be that way inclined anyway due to either genetics or early life with litter-mates.

From the start, savvy dog owners actively encourage give and swap.

Frank has now snapped about five times at a hand that has got too near to dropped food or his bone. Once the little girl dropped something on the floor and when mum went to remove it Frank, who had his eye on it also, went for mum’s hand.

Like many people they felt they should be able just to take a bone off the dog. The young lady was snapped at so she withdrew. Because, to quote her, she ‘was not having that’, the next time she wore an oven glove and forcibly removed the bone from him, resulting in what would have been a much more severe bite had it not been for the glove.

An interesting display of minor guarding behaviour

I gave Frank a Stagbar (piece of reindeer antler) to chew and it was so interesting to watch him. For several minutes he paraded it, flaunting it around all the people there (there were seven of us including a little girl). “Look what I’ve got and you can’t have it” sort of thing! He then would drop it, as though tempting someone to try and pick it up.

Next he started rolling around the floor on top of the Stagbar. Sarah Whitehead would say that this is to spread his scent over it – to mark it as his possession.

Then he got down to some serious chewing.

They asked can they touch him or stroke him while he’s chewing?  NO! They must leave him strictly alone. He must be ignored. When he parades something they should look the other way. He can’t flaunt something if nobody is looking, can he.

From now onwards he will have a very different relationship with his family around food. They will no longer be seen as ‘takers’ but as ‘givers’.

They will get him a heavier slow bowl feeder so it won’t slide around the kitchen floor like the plate; it has bumps in it to sow him down whilst making eating less of a chase and race, less frustrating.

A thing I personally feel that dogs must find so frustrating is the common practice of being made to sit, wait and maybe do tricks before they can eat start to eat. It’s not natural. In the wild an animal wouldn’t sit back, wait and do tricks, giving other animals opportunity to get there first.

I prefer to hold the bowl and wait before putting it down, getting the dog’s attention in order to emphasise my role as ‘giver’. Then I put the food down. It’s his. I walk away and leave the dog to eat in peace.

Although Frank so far shows no food aggression when someone walks past while he’s eating his meals (if they bent down and put their hands near it would be a different matter), they can still help by silently chucking a bit of something better than his food – cooked chicken perhaps – in the direction of his bowl.

When I was there the little girl had an ice cream and dropped a bit on the floor – almost the same situation as one of the ‘incidents’. This time Frank was more interested in my Stagbar fortunately. Recently the lady was eating crisps on the sofa with Frank beside her, watching. She pushed him onto the floor and he snapped at her.

This needs to be taken very seriously, particularly when little children are about. They should not tempt fate by giving him any further opportunity to rehearse the behaviour again. A dog that has any hint of food aggression should be in another room when anyone is eating anything at all, even ice cream or crisps (due to the food aggression they do put him in his crate when they eat their meals).

Frank rolling on the Stagbar

Frank rolling on the Stagbar

Now there is some hard work to do so that should a situation accidentally arise Frank can be trusted not to attack a hand.

If he’s chewing a bone they must ignore him. He needs to build up trust that it won’t be taken from him and then he will have nothing to be protective about.

Preferably they should wait until he loses interest before taking the bone away. Alternatively they can swap it for a Kong stuffed with something tasty which they can remove when it’s empty and he’s lost interest. I wanted my Stagbar back before I left and dropped food on and beside it a couple of times, watching his body language carefully, and he let me pick it up – I rewarded him again with a little jackpot.

Teaching Frank to ‘Give’ can start with Tug of War. Tuggy done properly teaches a dog to ‘give’ as well as to avoid teeth on human flesh.

Frank’s humans will be Givers, not Takers.

Teaching him that his humans aren’t interested in stealing from him is one thing, teaching him to actively and happily give things up is another and needs working on.

I suggest they lift his toys. They can issue them one at a time, using the ‘exchange game’: offer it, don’t let go, say ‘Give’ and exchange for food. Do this a couple of times, then without food, ending in letting him keep it. The rule is that they never take anything off him unless he gets it back or its exchanged for something better than what he already has (better to him that is).

Another good teaching game is to have a range of objects and food in ascending order of value to Frank, and teach exchange starting with the lowest in value. They can leave him to keep the final most valuable item.

Food should also be used as payment – rewards for doing as asked. This will make him a lot more cooperative in general and again emphasise that his people are ‘givers’ and that he has to give something in return.

Our human instinct when met with food aggression or aggression of any sort from our dog is to respond in kind – we are aggressive back. We’re ‘not having that’. He mustn’t get away with it.  Its hard, but the very opposite approach is needed. Any growling or air snapping should not be met with punishment or anger. We need to look at the cause of the aggression and deal with that, not the snapping itself.

The snapping is, still, fortunately only a warning. Teach him not to give a warning and it can only escalate into real biting.

The very achievable goal is that when the adorable Frank has a bone or is near food, he should be relaxed and happy. He won’t need to immediately going onto the defensive lest someone should nick his bone or get to dropped food first.

An email two months later: Our main worry and concern was the food aggression. We have seen NO aggressions since our meeting and not even a slight indication of it. Frank happily bring bones to us all, will Give things he shouldn’t have if we have a treat in our hand to reward him handing it over etc. He seems all round a happier 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 Frank 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)

Stress. It’s All Down to Stress

Stress. Is it cause or is it symptom?

It’s like merry-go-round. Chicken and egg.

Barking for attention = stress = barking for attention

Barking at the neighbour’s dog = stress = barking at the neighbour’s dog

Shredding the mail = stress = shredding the mail

Wild excitement before meals = stress = wild excitement before meals

Barking in late evening when people gathering outside the pub next door = stress = barking in late evening

Attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher = stress = attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher

Attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal = stress = attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal

Guarding behaviour = stress = guarding behaviour

Growling when approached with lead = stress = growling when approached with lead

Barking non-stop for attention = stress = barking non-stop for attention

Stealing things for attention = stress = stealing things for attention

Wrecking things = stress = wrecking things

Humping her bed = stress = humping her bed

Fear of bangs = stress = fear of bangs

Stomach issues = stress = stomach issues

Pulling on lead, discomfort to her neck = stress = pulling on lead

Obsessive chasing balls and sticks = stress = obsessing

Lunging at dogs = stress = lunging at dogs

Wrecking toy to relieve her stressNoodle barked and barked. She barked because she knew there was food in my bag. The barking got her into a real state.. The increased stress made her – BARK!

Because people eventually for their own sanity give in to barking if she carries on for long enough, she’s in effect been taught to do it.

The couple have had Noodle for eight years, since she was a puppy, and have given her everything a well-loved dog could wish for. There will be a genetic component to her problems.

The common thread running through everything is stress and over-arousal. If we can reduce the eight-year-old Jack Russell’s general stress levels, the resulting behaviours should largely take care of themselves.

In over three hours that I was there Noodle didn’t settle once.

Apart from short sessions spent upstairs to give us and herself a break, she barked for most of the time unless I was focusing my full attention on her, teaching her an incompatible behaviour to barking whilst reinforcing quietness. This is something that will need to be worked on over weeks.

The only real relief for both her and for us was while she determinedly employed herself at dismembering a toy I produced. I could see by the way she was frantically going at it just how much she needed to vent all the pent-up stress inside her.

In order to get Noodles’ stress levels down, anything that stirs her up too much must be reduced in every way possible. Control and management will play a big part in saving Noodle from herself and putting an end to rehearsal of certain behaviours.

We looked at ways they can regularly initiate healthy stimulation to keep her mind busy with stuff that, instead of being arousing, will calm her down and help her to feel fulfilled so that she’s less likely to resort to stealing things, destroying things and guarding things.

We also looked at ways to help her to calm herself down. Chewing, foraging and hunting are all great ways to achieve this.

Her tendency to guarding behaviour will be worked at. She will play fun games that require exchanging objects for something else.

With a dog like this it’s less about dealing with the behaviours themselves beyond putting in management like blocking views out of windows, installing an outside mailbox and using a baby gate, and more about changing the dog’s inner emotions that drive the behaviours.

We discussed how they can make her feel better about the sounds she hears outside – people chatting outside the pub and the dog opposite – by associating them with food. They had only thought about trying to stop her noise, not trying to address the emotions which were causing the noise.

“Surely if you feed her when she’s barking are you not teaching her to bark?”, the man said.

Yes and no.

Next day - in gainful employment!

Next day – in gainful employment!

‘Yes’ if you are feeding to reinforce a behaviour like begging for food and ‘no’ if you are feeding to change an emotion, like the fear which is causing her to bark at sounds.

Feed a behaviour and you make it more likely – that way you can successfully teach a dog to bark. This has in effect happened with the ‘I want something’ barking.

Pair food with an emotion like fear (starting at the mildy uneasy stage where she will still eat) and you reduce the fear and that way reduce the barking too. This way we are dealing with the behaviour at source.  See this ‘Can you reinforce your dog’s fear‘.

 

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 Noodle 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)

Adolescent Unemployed Working Dog

Working dog chewing a bone

Anchored beside us chewing a bone

Young working dog without a job.

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

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

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

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

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

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

.

Are they the right home for a young working dog?

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

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

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

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

My Pickle at the same age

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scared Spaniel Barks at People

guarding

Nico with his little hoard

‘Wary’ is the word I would use to best describe little two-year-old working Cocker Spaniel, Nico. He has lived with the couple in his new home for three months now.

It is a very good bet that his problems stem from having not been adequately socialised from a puppy onwards. There is also a strong possibility that some of his wariness is genetic. He must have been well-loved because a lot of time has been put into training him and he knows a lot of ‘tricks’. Whatever caused the family to have to rehome him must have been very upsetting for them.

When I sat down he stopped barking, encouraged by my giving him bits of food which he dared take from my hand whilst in a ‘ready to run’ position. Throughout the evening he continued to show many signs of stress and uneasiness – including yawning, licking his nose and looking away. At one stage, quite frantically, he chewed up a large rawhide bone that he had had for quite a while and had barely touched. Chewing, of course, is a valuable mechanism to help a dog calm himself down.

Lookaway

Next Nico collected the various chewable objects that he could find, and hoarded them. As you can see from the sequence of pictures, it was quite clear that they were ‘his’, but although he looked like he might growl if someone walked past he didn’t do so. I wondered (just guessing really) whether this might be some sort of displacement activity, giving him something ‘safe’ onto which to focus his attention that he had control over.

When he is alone with the young couple and is his normal self he likes to run off with things, therefore I suggested they remove all items he may regard as resources so that he no longer rehearses any guarding behaviour which could potentially escalate, and to allow him one item at a time, offering it in such a way that he is taught to take and let go again and that nothing is ever taken off him without either being returned or exchanged for something better.

stresed dog yawning

Yawning

On walks he is scared of other dogs, particularly when he’s on lead, and he barks at people approaching too directly. His wariness has resulted in a couple of occasions when, already very stressed, he has bitten the hand of someone grabbing his collar (something that’s not a good idea with any dog – a harness is a lot better).

A strange thing is that despite having made good progress with Nico’s lead walking – it seemed like he had never been on a lead before – and despite all their loving efforts, he is actually becoming more nervous in general. I do wonder whether this is due to too much stress or arousal in his very different new life. After a half-hour morning walk with intense ball play with the lady (he has become quite obsessed with the ball), the man then takes him to work. He barks at people coming in and out of the office and this is getting worse.

As Nico seems to be quite happy when left alone at home with the cat, I suggest he spends half the day chilled at home and the other half at the office where the man can make use of the people at work in a desensitisation programme, leaving a pot of food outside the door and asking them chuck some to Nico whenever they open it – maybe also stopping to throw him food even when they are just passing.

At the moment the dog could be feeling he has to guard the doorway. His open crate containing his bed is currently by the office door. It would be better beside or behind the desk where the man can ‘protect’ him and he, too, can work hard at desensitising the dog when people come into the room.

The young lady and gentleman are gentle and kind with their new little dog, and I know they will have the patience to help him grow in confidence and get used to life in their world.

A fortnight later and still very early days: ‘Nico seems a lot more confident and I think that is because we are clearer about how we should be acting with him. He doesn’t bark as much at loud noises and he is getting much better while out walking. The neighbour who I meet has even noticed a difference.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Nico, 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 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).

On Lookout Duty

Border Terrier sitting at the windowRalph barks at people and dogs going past his house, spending most of the day sitting on the back of the sofa by the window on lookout duty.

They have deliberately left a gap in their hedge at the back of the garden which overlooks the park, so he can watch dogs and people from there also.

He likes it. Yes….but……

The Border Terrier is now five years old and whilst he’s great with people once they are in the house, particularly the children’s friends, he has been doing this window-watching for much of his life. He goes mental when the postman comes up the path and will wreck the post if he gets to it. Rehearsing this behaviour constantly at home, it is little wonder that he continues to react like this to people and dogs in other places. A while ago he bit a postman.

Meeting the dear and much-loved little dog in his house, it’s hard to believe.

What’s more, the lookout duty, the guarding and the barking will mean his stress levels are probably permanently raised, and as more things happen during a typical day they can get to tipping point.

He gets so aroused when they meet some dogs out on walks that he has bitten the lady several times as she held him back – her leg just happened to be in the way and he redirected onto the nearest thing.

There is nothing at all to be gained by getting that near to another dog when your own dog is reacting quite so desperately. More distance must be put between them if at all possible at the very first sign of any reaction.

Border Terrier looking out of the windowFortunately in some ways, Ralph is obsessed with his tennis ball. If, instead of constantly throwing it for him both at home and on walks, they were to reserve it for when he sees another dog, it could not only give him something to redirect onto but in time dogs will be associated with something good. The downside to current constant ball play is that it adds to a dog’s already high arousal levels. Withhold it and the ball will gain even more value as a training tool.

Like so many dogs who are reactive to other dogs when out, he will be feeling tension from a lead hooked to a collar. As soon as they spot a dog, they tighten the lead resulting in inevitable neck discomfort. It would be so much better if, instead of a shortened lead on a collar and holding their ground, the lead were loose and attached to a harness with which they can make a comfortable diversion around the other dog.

The territorial problem is highlighted at their caravan by the coast. He doesn’t like dogs or people coming too near. The final straw was recently when a man cut between the caravans a bit too close for Ralph and Ralph bit him.

Both at the caravan and at home, management should be in place such as blocking Ralph’s view from the window (he will need other, more healthy kinds of stimulation to fill the vacuum) and blocking the shortcut between the caravans. Serious work can then be done on changing Ralph’s feelings about other dogs and about people approaching his property.

They can start by working at those dogs already at a safe distance in the park out the back, through that hole in their hedge, desensitising and counter-conditioning him using food and ball play.

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 Ralph. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Nipping Makes People Back Away

Jack RussellThis is Finley. Finley has quite obviously discovered, wherever he lived before and he has no history, that nipping makes people back off.

The lady has had the six-year-old Jack Russell for one month now. Alone with her, Finley is the model dog. He is biddable and affectionate. He is absolutely adorable – most of the time!

When someone comes to the house – particularly if it’s a man – Finley is liable to jump up and nip them on the hand with no barking or growling first. I expect this is because they put their a hand out to him. Out on a walk he has now bitten a woman on the leg when his new owner stopped to chat with her and Finley sat quietly beside her. All the woman had done was to raise her hand to her hair. Possible Finley had misinterpreted the action and he immediately flew at her leg, breaking the skin.

I was showing the lady how to have Finley walking on loose lead in the front garden when a friend came to the fence – someone who Finley knows. He looked happy and friendly as she said ‘Hello Finley’ and ran over to her, trailing the lead. As soon as she put her hand out over the fence however he leapt up and bit the sleeve of her coat. She narrowly missed a damaged hand and it took me by surprise also. It was like a quick ‘”Back Off – No Hands in My Territory”.

He was lovely with me from the moment I entered the door – but, then, I would never dream of putting my hand out to a dog at that stage. I would stand still and let him sniff me – which he did – probably learning all about my own four dogs!  I also know not to walk towards the owner. Before I move I always say “I’ll follow you” so that the person turns around and leads me into the room, the dog following.

From chatting to the lady and watching him, I’m sure the nipping behaviour is because the dog is becoming increasingly protective of her and his new territory.

What can she do about this?

Firstly, if she behaves like his slave, jumping to his every demand, topping up his food bowl and fussing him constantly, he may well feel she’s some sort of resource belonging to him that he will want to guard. In every way possible she should be showing Finley that she is there to protect him and not the other way around.

She should show him, too, who is the protector when he barks at sounds and passing people and dogs by how she reacts. If he’s at the window barking at passing people and particularly dogs whenever they pass, he is surely just getting better at barking at people and dogs. He’s firing himself up to drive people away. To him the barking always works because whoever it is does go away if he keeps barking until they do.

If Finley spends much of the day on guard duty, waiting for a dog to pass, it’s hardly surprising that he’s a handful on walks when they sees a dog.

Where food is concerned, she should, instead of allowing him to graze all day, leave the best stuff for him to earn – for work around barking, people approaching – and other dogs on walks.

At home the groundwork should be in place and then, out on walks, everything done to associate other dogs with nice stuff and not with discomfort or panic. Currently he’s on a retractable lead on a thin collar. If he lunges, on reaching the end of the lead the jerk will hurt his neck. So now the other dog causes him pain to his neck as well. I would prefer a longish normal lead, long enough so he feels some freedom – and a harness (not the sort of ‘no pull’ harness that causes pain by tightening under the arms when the dog pulls).

Already she is taking Finley for three short walks a day as any more she herself finds it too stressful. She is a retired lady and is happy to give him even more even shorter outings. They can come straight home as soon as he has been stressed by something. Each subsequent thing he encounters will add to his build-up of stress as he becomes increasingly out of control.

The day’s barking in the garden or at the window will mean he starts the walk a stressed dog. Unlike humans who can warn you when they are reaching their breaking point, dogs are silent; they talk more with their bodies but often we simply can’t read them.

This case is a good example of how much of what a person does at home with her dog can influence what happens out on walks. She can work at getting and keeping his attention, at getting him to come to her straight away whenever she calls him and at motivating him with food and fun. Boundary and window barking at people and dogs should be controlled and he can be desensitised instead.

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 Finley. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Welcoming the New Puppy

Black Maltese puppyThey had picked up thirteen week old Maltese, Oakley, the day before I came. He now lives with a couple and their two young sons aged eleven and eight.

About a month ago I had been to see the grandparents who live next door and the puppy lives with the young boy who was bitten by Asha and who has been doing so well in learning to understand her. He has even been training his friends.

My job is to help them to make sure all goes well from the start with little Oakley and the boys, and to help with the tricky situation of introducing the two Shitzus next door to the new puppy. One little dog, Gizzy, should be fine. Asha, however, is not at all good with other dogs and it’s important she doesn’t frighten the new puppy.

There is a gate between the two properties which both dogs and children freely go through. For now the gaps have been blocked although there is still a space underneath – a space large enough for little noses and for barking.

Although not house trained by the breeder, Oakley is taking to it naturally, and will even go to the door when he needs to toilet.  When I was there, however, this coincided with the two Shitzus being out in their garden. Asha barked and little Oakley barked and came dashing back into the safety of the kitchen. The younger boy sat on the swing while the puppy was outside and this scared him too.

It’s important that nothing frightens him outside else he won’t be so willing to go out to toilet. We don’t want him having to run the gauntlet past that gate which may have an aggressive-sounding Asha barking underneath it.

When little Oakley has settled I shall go back and work out a plan for integrating the new puppy with the other two dogs. We can start with the more relaxed and dog-friendly Gizzy first. Meanwhile, they should block the gap under the gate and both sides should be ready to start throwing tasty bits of food on the ground when dogs and puppy are aware of each other – far enough away from the gate and fence that they are not so aroused they won’t eat.

This way the dogs will begin to associate each other with something good – food.

We looked at the other basic ‘puppy parenting’ aspects such as gradually teaching Oakley that being all alone is fine (he had a good first night fortunately) in order to pre-empt separation problems, teaching the boys how to deal with puppy nipping, not to over-excite him and to give him space.

We looked at what is good food and what is not so good. I showed them how to lure him into sitting but suggested leaving any more training for now and allow him to settle in before putting any pressure on him. I stressed, as I always do, the importance of appropriate and non-scary acclimatisation to people, other dogs, appliances, traffic and everyday life outside the home.

One boy took a feather off him that he had found in the garden. This was a good opportunity to explain the importance of never just ‘taking’ something – but to exchange (and also not to remove things that don’t matter!). This then pre-empts any resource guarding behaviour.

I am really looking forward to my next visit when Oakley is properly settled. One boy is keen to learn to clicker train Oakley. We will then look at the best way to work on getting that gate between the gardens open again.

It took a while, but a couple of months later here are all three dogs happily together.casey