Impulse Control Lacking, at Home and on Walks

Much of Blue’s early life was spent in a crate after he and his brother began to fight. He was rehomed. Next he was in another bad situation before being taken in by a rescue and fostered by someone with fifteen dogs.

Now introduced to a steady home life, it’s little wonder Blue is lacking impulse control. It must be a lot to get used to.

He is amazingly friendly and adaptable considering his life over the past three years.

I would sum Blue up as eager to please and biddable…

…and lacking in impulse control.

Lacking impulse controlThere is a good reason the photos are blurred! He was seldom still.

His new humans are incredibly tolerant, but when he becomes too much, Blue is put in the bathroom so they can have a break. He doesn’t make a fuss. He’s very accepting.

We had to put him away for a while because his jumping all over us meant he was such hard work that it was impossible to talk.

They want him to stop jumping all over friends and family who come to their house.

They are doing their best to ‘train’ him out of it, but commands may arouse him even more and also give him the attention he is craving. Also consistency is key – not sometimes with some people, but always with everyone – themselves included. It’s only fair for him to know what is expected of him.

Each time the dog did this to me I turned my head away and gently stood to tip him off. I then was nice to him when his feet were on the floor. He got the message. As he started to understand what was required of him, he began to show just a little impulse control.

They have now had Blue for four weeks and already he’s improved in some areas while maybe getting worse in others.

Blue is scared of the dark, particularly cars in the dark.

They can work on this fear in the safety of just outside their own front door, getting him used to being out at night time and the passing cars from a safe distance.

During the day he’s not too confident either. He will bark at other dogs when he’s on lead. This could well be made worse because when he barks, the lady holds him tightly on a chain lead, her own anxiety rippling down it.

Bit by bit they will help Blue to gain confidence and impulse control. Already he has been taught several cues. Now he needs to learn how to stop, listen and wait.

They will give him a good selection of things to work on and to wreck! Instead of chasing his tail, squirming noisily on his back on the floor, charging up the stairs, raiding surfaces, nibbling people and so on, they can give him alternatives to relieve his stress and frustrations.

A box of rubbish can give him something to attack!

Why throw the recycling rubbish away? Why not give it to the dog first! Milk or water bottles, toilet roll tubes and screwed up paper make a great free toy.

A marrow bone can give him something to literally get his teeth into and will calm him. He can hunt for his tea – see SprinklesTM. They will have tiny food rewards to hand to keep him motivated and to reinforce calm.

One of the first things I look at when a dog is so hyperactive is his diet. In this case the wonderful couple had beaten me to it – they have already put him on the best food they can find. His skin and coat have changed dramatically. When they first took him in four weeks ago his tummy was red and raw and his tail worn hairless. Now his coat is growing shiny and healthy.

Blue is at the start of a very good new life.

A message five weeks later from a couple who have worked very hard with their new dog – and this is just the beginning: He is getting so good he puts himself in the bathroom when the door knocks and on walks if we wee or hear another dog he looks to me for a treat and calms down a lot quicker than at first.

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)

Jumps Up, Bites, Barks and Digs

EBT Staff mix‘Jumps up, bites, barks and digs’ – this is how the lady described their 8-month-old English Bull Terrier/Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix in their first message to me.

If he doesn’t get the attention he wants he may either bark, or go on the rampage, tearing about from room to room and all over the forbidden furniture. If he is thwarted or disciplined, he may leap up and nip quite roughly in a way one could almost call biting.

His digging in the garden is driving them mad also.

It’s hard not to treat life with an adolescent dog such as Sam like some sort of battle. He is non-stop throwing things at them that they have to ‘stop’ him doing. Our own emotions get in the way as we become increasingly exasperated. We believe that we should be ‘disciplining and controlling’ the dog. This makes him defiant. Confrontational or dominant behaviour from the humans is a slippery slope that too often ends badly.

After about ten minutes of countering his jumping up until he had stopped (as with most dogs that jump up, if the usual pushing them and telling them to get down actually worked they wouldn’t be jumping up anymore), I tried to sit down, but he was on the go all the time and we couldn’t get on. I had a deer antler chew in my bag and gave it to him. He chewed frantically on this for the next two and a half hours with barely a break. EBT mix Chewing Stagbar

If any dog needs a way to unwind, it’s Sam.

I suspect that some of his highly strung nature is genetic, but they are unwittingly responding in such a way that makes him worse.

When he is quiet they are understandably so thankful that they leave him be, so he only gets attention when he is ‘naughty’ so the undesirable behaviour is constantly reinforced.

LIke most responsible dog owners, they feel they must ‘control’ him, but what Sam totally lacks is self control. In order to control him they have become angry. They do this not because they don’t love him – they do, but because they are at their wits’ end with his behaviour.

The first thing they need to do is to completely change things about so that they are watching out for Sam being good, not bad. When you look for good you find there is a lot more of it than you had realised! Each even short moment of calm or self-control should be rewarded – he can earn some of his daily food this way.

Not much can be done until he’s less hyper and frustrated, so he needs proper stimulation of a healthy kind. The days and evenings should be punctuated with the sort of activities that don’t hype him up or make him frustrated, like short sniff walks, hunting games, foraging for food, gentle training games, brief ball play or tuggy and so on. They should only be initiated when Sam is calm and quiet – never as a result of his demanding behaviours.

The gentleman walks him daily on a short lead – and this is ‘power walking’ to keep himself fit. When he comes home Sam is still in an aroused state, not as satisfied as a dog should be after a nice walk and still needing to unwind. On a couple of occasions during the walk he has suddenly leapt at the man and bitten him quite hard. A little clue that this kind of walk not being quite what Sam needs is that he is less keen on the outward journey and he only pulls on the way back home which is unusual.

For the walk to be beneficial to Sam, I suggest the man stops for several five-minute breaks when he can lengthen the lead so that Sam can sniff and do his own thing for a while.

It’s hard, but with some imagination they need to treat every thing Sam does ‘wrong’ as having in it the seed of an idea for something good.

For instance, if he jumps on the sofa (which is out of bounds), the man currently pushes him off and is cross, so there is a stand-off where Sam then may stand and bark at him or may even fly at him. Then it is battle stations. But this can be done differently. The man can stand up, go to Sam’s bed and call him off the sofa and to his own bed, and when he gets there ask him to lie down and reward him. He can them give him a bit of quality time teaching him to stay. When the man goes and sits down again Sam will undoubtedly go back and jump on the sofa again, so patience is needed. The third time Sam can be put in the kitchen for a few minutes – but with something to chew or do – it’s not punishment. It’s to allow him to calm down.

Another example of an unwanted behaviour having in it the seed of a better idea is the digging in the garden (no pun intended). They can get a child’s covered sandpit and bury toys in it. If he starts to dig the earth, they can direct him to the sandpit, perhaps burying something new in there for him to find. If he keeps going back and they repeatedly have to say ‘don’t dig there – dig here instead’, instead of getting cross they can either bring him in or have a tie-out cable to fix him to for a short while so he simply can’t do it.

Being positive doesn’t mean being permissive. Boundaries can be introduced and maintained kindly.

Based on how frantically he chewed that bone, Sam needs chewables at the ready for times when he’s particularly stressed – something for him to redirect all that boredom and frustration onto.

With imagination, patience and foresight, frantic sessions can mostly be preempted. Doors can be shut, routines can be changed, the dog can be given a rummage box full of rubbish to ‘attack’ and so on.

If everything is done calmly and kindly, if he is recognised and rewarded for all the good things he does, and if a sense of humour can be mustered, Sam will become a lot more cooperative.

It takes time, patience and imagination but the eventual rewards in terms of their relationship with their lovely dog will be immeasurable.

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 Sam. 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).

Chaos with Hyperactive Dog

Hyperactive Staffordshire Bull TerrierJumping all over people, flying behind them around the backs of the sofa, leaping up at faces when they are standing, stealing things then destroying or eating them, tail-chasing round and round, and suckling his blanket, Staffie Marley is a loveable but exhausting, hyperactive dog.

However, when they are out and he is all alone, Marley sleeps.

As is usually the case, his hyper and stressed behaviour is largely influenced by his human’s own behaviour, completely unwittingly of course. He wants their attention constantly and it seems the more people there are together, the worse he is; this isn’t unusual actually. There were three generations of people in the room. The more that people have their attention on something else – whether it’s talking to someone, on the phone or even watching TV – the more wild Marley gets. The more wild he gets, the more attention in some form or other, he gets – even if it’s to be shouted at or chased.

Marley was taken away from mother at four weeks old and was removed from the next place by someone who saw him being seriously abused at just eight weeks old. What a terrible start. He is now three. His family feel they are paying for ‘over-compensating’ by spoiling him, but I’m not so sure. If the poor puppy had not received lots of love, things could be a lot worse than they are now.

He is obviously highly stressed and confused. This is not helped by the various methods used to ‘control’ him nor by the fact he no longer goes for regular walks. The young man gets impatient and also feels he must be the boss, so is inclined to shout and be rather harsh at times. He feels that his mother, on the other hand, is ‘too soft’.

I am pleased for all of them that they are now getting some help and will now be working together. The young man has taught Marley many tricks and is very concerned for him. He is a clever dog. They have done their very best as they know it, but over the past six months his behaviour has escalated into something new – reacting aggressively when somebody he doesn’t know comes into the house.

I myself did not see so much of the Marley that I describe, because I orchestrated the occasion carefully – as I do!

Marley joined us when I was settled and he was friendly from the start. He had bouts of tearing all over the place, jumping all over us all, but apparently not nearly as severe as usual. In every way possible we created a calm atmosphere, to show him by our behaviour that leaping on us was not to be rewarding in terms of attention – whilst reinforcing the behaviour we did want instead. He had one short bout of tail-chasing and actually did lie down for some of the time – unheard of. He then looked so adorable that it made us want to cuddle and fuss him, but more than a very casual, gentle touch would merely start him off again.

Because he destroys and even swallows anything he can find, he doesn’t have toys and they dare not give him bones, but I found a Stagbar did the trick. It was something more or less indestructible onto which to direct some of his angst. Chewing and sucking are calming activities for dogs – just as they are for humans.

This case is a good example of the manifested behaviour that they wanted help for – that of his deteriorating attitude to people he doesn’t know coming into the house – being really a symptom of other underlying things. An active, clever three-year-old Staffie needs occupying, so daily outings are a must. They need not always be long walks, two or three short trips and loose-lead walking work or casual ‘sniff’ walks would make a huge difference to his well-being, along with evenings being punctuated by other owner-initiated activities, training and play.

With stress-levels through the roof, all sorts of problems can develop. Lowering stress is key. Everything should be done to give him some realistic boundaries in the kindest way possible.

The young man did ask shortly before I left, in reference to not shouting or being ‘firm’ with Marley anymore, ‘So this really means that we no longer try to control him?’ I don’t think he expected me to agree, but my answer was, ‘Yes, because he will be learning self-control instead. He has begun already’.

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

 

They Come Home to Destruction

Staff mix is destructive and bored

Lola

The young couple, with their dog, are caught up in a downward spiral of manic behaviour, destruction, scolding and nearly tearing their hair out. The young lady is reduced to tears.

They have a well-behaved but slightly odd Staffie called Saxon, 5, and Border Collie/Staffie Mix, Lola – a one-year-old adolescent behaving badly.

I say Saxon is odd, because his normal lying position is with his back to people, and every now and then, whatever he is doing, he may freeze or shake. These are thing which we can look into later, but at the moment their main issue is with Lola.

Saxon lies with his back to people

Saxon

Over time, in addition to wrecking other furniture, Lola has destroyed one sofa and has now started digging a big hole under the cushions of the new one. This has happened when they are out. She is bored and alone despite the company of Saxon, and if she’s feeling restless (which she is much of the time) she will start to chew furniture.  It could also now have become a habit.

Yesterday she started chewing on the bottom stair while the lady was upstairs – the stair gate was open and she was free to follow. Once Lola starts a ‘project’ she will continue!

When they go out she is left with food in various places with the intention of keeping her busy, but she starts on it before they have even left and has finished it all soon after they are out of the door. They have videoed her.

They have a little girl age three and the young man works shifts, so finding time to give Lola the amount of daily stimulation and exercise she needs is difficult.  It’s not safe for the lady to walk Lola if she has the child with her.

Lola is constantly on the move. She may prance about and make little growly sounds if someone is on the floor playing with the little girl and ignoring her. Saxon takes as little notice of her as he can! In this state she is just constantly looking for ‘trouble’ – stuff to occupy her and to release some of her stress. At my suggestion they will now have a gate on the sitting room doorway so Lola can be removed if necessary to avoid possible accidental danger to the little girl (a child who gives the dogs space and who both are very good with).

While I was there we ignored jumping up – looking away and tipping her off, whilst constantly rewarding calm behaviour. She became more settled than they had ever seen her. As often happens, the day after I left she was so much calmer and happier, and so were the people. Then the next day, yesterday, she chewed the stair carpet. Then they had an excitable visitor and the day continued to go downhill.

There is a common pattern where things start off brilliantly then go rapidly downhill for a couple of days. This is the time that people must hold firm and keep faith – and consistently stick to the plan until they work their way through this until things start to improve steadily, if slowly. There are all sorts of other related things to be dealt with at the same time that when established should influence the eventual outcome.

Because the lady goes to work a couple of days a week, Lola has to be left alone and logistically there is nowhere else other than the sitting room to leave the dogs. Whenever she is left they could either come home to destruction or to no damage at all. I suggest for now leaving her all sorts of items she can chew and destroy – cardboard cartons, toilet roll tubes, empty water bottles with lids removed, maybe stuffed calcium bones. I am always wary of dogs being injured by chewing on things left for them, but in this case stuff around the room could be a lot more dangerous. I so hope that this helps while they work on her.

I have also lent them a crate. I have known very restless dogs who, when crated, settle. They won’t be able to use it straight away though. If they can spend the next couple of weeks getting Lola to love that crate (and it is possible if taken slowly enough and associated with fun and food), they can start to leave her shut in there for the shorter absences.

If Lola is happy in the crate they can relax. If she is given more exercise and stimulation this will help her mental state – and they will have to find a way somehow if they want to improve the situation. If she simply has no opportunity to chew inappropriate things for long enough, she should get out of the habit too.

It is going to be hard work.

A week has gone by and I received this message: ‘We are really good, feeling a lot more positive and actually enjoying our dogs which is great, dont get my wrong we still have a long way to go but the change in a week has been amazing!  Since Tuesday the dogs have been left on there own on the Thursday, Friday, Tuesday and today. Now I do not want to jinx anything however so far no damage at all.  
Lola and saxon are left in the lounge with the babygate closed. They have a box of toys and chew left the room, I have found if I leave it in the box lola likes to help her self its more exciting for her, we also leave milk cartons with a few biscuits in (no lid) and the odd toilet roll etc. we also put our ironing board and washing basket on the sofa and our washing airer in front of  it to stop them jumping up.  We have had a couple of sucessful trips in the car without any dribbling or sick ( this is a true turning point for her)’.

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

 

Cockerpoo Stealing and Guarding

Confrontational techniques cause Cockerpoo to guard thingsThere is one word that best describes delightful one-year-old Cockerpoo Joe – unruly!

He is clever, affectionate and dearly loved. A lot of time and effort is spent on him as his owners do their very best for him in every way they know how.

Using confrontational tactics in trying to get a dog to stop wild behaviours including stealing and guarding things, always backfires in some way.  The kind of methods promoted by a certain well-known TV dog trainer, when copied, have actually caused the behaviour in many of the dogs I go to.

Joe steals things and what happens? Because they feel they should be dominant over him, a chase game follows and then he is cornered. Whatever he has, even if only a tissue, is forced out of his mouth. People can’t let the dog WIN! It’s due to this approach to stealing that he guards things.

Then what happens? Starting when a puppy, the dog learns to protect his ‘trophy’. The man has now been bitten several times which is totally unnecessary. The dog has merely been indirectly taught to protect a resource. It becomes a sort of scary chase game where he gets a lot of attention.

Joe seems more Cocker by nature than Poodle. He is a very energetic dog, flying all over the place and jumping up at people – perhaps grabbing clothes or humping them if he is frustrated at getting insufficient attention. The usual response of getting angry and exasperated simply fuels the behaviour.

This lovely dog has never actually been taught how to be calm or how to exercise some self-control. He also needs much more ‘regulated’ stuff happening in his life – activities initiated by his humans and not himself. He has recently started agility which he adores. At home he needs to learn that his antics get no result – and if he steals something they would do best by simply walking away.  Anything valuable or dangerous will now be the subject of exchange – for something of higher value to him. No more confrontation and he will eventually lose interest.

Exchange really does need working at, whether it is to get him to let them have a ball without a fight so they can throw it again or to let go of a tug toy at the end of a game. It can be fun. A range of different items starting with something of not much value to him being exchanged for something of slightly higher value, and that exchanged for something of higher value still and so on, can teach him the concept of giving things up willingly.

Joe will be earning some of his food now – for good behaviour. We sat at the table and he kept jumping up at it. It is quite hard for people to ignore this and not constantly scold and give commands. They soon saw, though, that if the only attention he got was when his feet were back on the floor whereupon a piece of his food was promptly given to him, it worked a whole lot better. He was soon sitting down, lying down, having another try at jumping up and learning for himself this wasn’t nearly as rewarding in terms of attention as having his feet on the floor.

We worked on a list of short, controlled activities to punctuate his evenings in particular – when he is at his most demanding. It’s best to pre-empt trouble if possible. He always goes for a short walk at about 7pm (putting the harness on is like fighting a whirling dervish) and when he gets home he’s at his most manic. To calm him down they can put his harness on earlier, just before they put the food bowl down when he knows he’s not going out straight away. Then they can make it part of his routine to go straight into his pen for fifteen minutes (where he’s happy to be) immediately he gets home – with something special to chew so he can calm himself down. He then should be less demanding and hyper when they let him out again.

I broke off halfway through writing my story of Joe because I had an appointment with an advisor at my bank. We soon deviated from financial matters to dogs (a whole lot more interesting!). The young man said he had a Cocker Spaniel that could do with my help. I said, let me guess? Does he steal things? Does he guard them? Does he act aggressively when cornered? Have you been bitten? The answer to all was, ‘Yes’.

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

Cocker is Simply Too Excitable

Cocker Spaniel was pacing, rushing about, panting, drinking, wanting to go out, clamouring for attention, chewingOllie just kept on going! Pacing, rushing about, panting, drinking, wanting to go out, clamouring for attention, chewing…….

Being excitable may be an emotion and part of a dog’s personality – but it can be a learnt behaviour too when it’s constantly reinforced.

Dogs very often mirror their humans. Calm and quiet people very often have calmer dogs, and excitable people dogs that are more reactive themselves. This could of course be because people choose the breeds of dogs that suit their own characters.

Ollie is a two-and-a-half year old Cocker Spaniel, and as the owner of a Cocker myself I know how excitable they can be. In Ollie’s case, his excitement is unwittingly being reinforced. He will always eventually get the attention he wants while excited, demanding or barking. Like many excitable dogs, he can’t be given toys because he then directs his energy to wrecking them, though he was very busy with my unbreakable Stagbar.

When guests come ‘he calms down once they make a fuss of him’.  It might be more accurate to say that ‘he remains excited until they make a fuss of him’!

When I arrived he was very bouncy, tearing about, jumping up on me, going and having a drink, rushing about again and so on.

I said, ‘Let’s ignore what we don’t want – what is it we do want?’  I gave him a tiny bit of biscuit with a quiet ‘Yes’ each time he stopped still even briefly, then when he happened to sit or lie down. His brain was working!

Throughout the evening he was pushing one of the men to respond to him. This gentleman would I’m sure agree that he’s something of a pushover. The downside is that a dog can be less respectful and tries to control him in other ways too. The man can’t walk downstairs without Ollie trying to grab his feet and ankles.At last Ollie lay down briefly

Ollie is over-stimulated in one way and under-stimulated in another.  There is too much exciting stimulation and too little healthy stimulation by way of brain work and breed-specific stuff like nose work. He needs to be left quietly to work things out for himself like ‘good things come to calm dogs‘. He needs to actually be taught how to be calm.

I must say that it’s due to all the good things the men have done with him that Ollie is so friendly, confident and biddable. Absolutely gorgeous. Ollie’s good points far outweight any bad ones he may have. All his problems come down to over-excitement. Now that his owner realises that quietly restraining himself with Ollie will help him, that should help the dog to learn self-restraint.

When Ollie’s excited antics no longer get the attention he craves he will then start to learn. Meanwhile he won’t give up easily I fear. While he still believes excitement and demanding always works in the end, in the short-term he may simply increase his efforts.

They may be in for a rough few days during which they must occupy him with activities and calm attention but under their own terms – and when he’s not hyped up!

He will learn so long as his humans are consistent.

Six weeks later: ‘ Ollie is definitely a lot calmer and ongoing work will definitely give further rewards. The penny has finally dropped that if the ball is thrown and he brings it back and drops it then it gets thrown again …this is his current most favourite thing but we don’t overdo it!  Thanks for all your support over the last few months…Ollie is definitely a work in progress and I’m sure we’ll be in touch!’

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

How Can Terrier Gain Self-Control?

Parsons Terrier uncharacteristically calm sitting in his bedWho could fail to love Riley! He can be rather too much though! He’s a one year old Parsons Russell Terrier; he flies all over people and is extremely excitable. Stimulating a dog like this with even more exercise and play can backfire. It all depends upon the quality of the exercise and play.

Out running in fields, doing his own thing, sniffing, chasing and playing with other dogs until he’s really tired is perfect – or would be if his recall was good enough. Pulling down the road on lead, straining to jump up at all the people he passes and panting to go and play with other dogs while he chokes himself must be very frustrating for him, and have the reverse effect to a healthy, tiring walk.

It’s the same with play. Rough house, rolling around, chasing and getting him wild is going to make him far worse. Thinking games, impulse-control games, ‘come when called’ games and hunting games are what he needs.

He is super-excited before going out, he’s excited before meals and he’s very excited when they come home or when anyone comes to the house. All this excitement is, unwittingly, encouraged and fed into by his humans because it always results in what he wants. It needs to be controlled behaviour that gets the results he wants.

The problem that bothers the young couple the most is his uncontrollable behaviour when friends and family come to the house. This is an issue not to be addressed head-on alone. He first needs to learn to control his urge to fly all over his own people when they sit down, and not to launch himself at them when they arrive home. They can teach him this with lots of short comings and goings, welcoming him calmly only when his feet are on the floor. If ‘Get Down’ worked, he wouldn’t be doing it any more!

They have just found out that at the doggy daycare Riley has been tied to a post with a head halter. From the photo I assume it was to keep him under control. On the last day the minder also talked of sedating him and he came back with a cut on his face, from forcing his way out of a crate. If daycare couldn’t cope with him (and I wouldn’t blame them for that at all) they should have said, but he won’t be going back there.

Firstly these ‘trigger’ occasions need to become less exciting, and only his humans can do anything about that. Then he needs to find quiet behaviour and feet on the floor a lot more rewarding. Finally, he needs to learn some alternative behaviour that is incompatible with what he currently does in order to redirect his inner eagerness. It will take a while.

He’s such a lovely, friendly and sociable little dog, and it will be good when at last they can freely have him in the room with them when their friends and their children, or family and baby neice, come to the house.

Two Little Daschund Firecrackers

Lying down at last

Alfie

Alfie only settles down when it is quiet in the evening

Alfie

Here they are – lying down at last! Miniature Daschund Alfie on the left and Eddie on the right. Both around four years old.

Barking, excitement, peeing indoors, nipping, jumping up, easily spooked, scared of people……it’s a long list all coming back to one thing – stress.

Alfie was very scared of me, barking and hanging back, but eventually I could walk about, give him treats and even tickle him under the chin. Eddie constantly jumped at me and barked and tried to get attention – becoming increasingly nippy until we put a lead on him. It surprising how high he can leap on his little short legs! They see this behaviour with callers as happy friendliness, but I don’t agree. Looking at the body language and behaviour, I saw a brave and anxious little dog.

Both dogs live on the edge – ready to explode, like little firecrackers and only settle for quiet cuddles when all is calm in the evening.

The teenage son, who adores them, misguidedly teases and winds them up. They go mental at barking on TV and computer games which makes people laugh. It’s not really funny though. It is distressing for the dogs. Play is too exciting with too much chasing and tugging for a dog that already grabs and nips. Tug-of-war is only a good game when done properly because it teaches letting go rather than grabbing, and it also teaches very careful control of teeth.

The actual reason I was called is that the two little dogs both constantly pee in the house – all over the place. I see this as a symptom of stress as much as an issue in itself. The door to the garden is always open but it makes no difference. It’s an old building with nooks and crannies and the dogs simply have too much freedom. The people need to go back and do as they should have done originally when the dogs were puppies, restricting them to a really small area unless with them in the room where they can be watched for prowling, sniffing and disappearing behind things.  The dogs are rewarded for peeing outside but it’s being done after they come indoors – too late. I have given various strategies and ideas which, with time and patience along with working on the general stress and over-excitement should do the trick. One symptom of stress is excessive drinking – which of course will lead to more peeing.

I believe if the dogs are taught a bit of self-control by way of learning to wait calmly for things and getting fuss and fun when calm and not when hyper and demanding, this self-control will eventually extend to the toileting as well. After about four years it is an entrenched habit, so it won’t be quick.

Everything must be done to calm these two dear little dogs down as much as possible. They will be a lot happier for it – and so will their family.

Two Cocker Spaniels and Over-Excitement Causing Problems

Cockers do have a trait for being excitable and very vocal, as we Cocker owners well know!

There are two Cockers in the household I visited yesterday that I shall name Eric and Ernie – not their real names because for a reason they prefer their dogs to be anonymous.

The main symptom of the underlying excitement problem is that the dogs have spats, mostly due to their redirecting onto one another when particularly hyped up. At other times they get on famously.

My ‘plan’ for them has a recurring theme, ‘do all you can to calm things down’.

From the moment I walked in the door they were jumping up at me and continued to do so when I sat down. It’s like they are competing for attention. We have a plan to teach them that it’s calm behaviour with feet on the floor that gets them the attention.

Bedtime is manic with Ernie having to be carried while Eric sreams as he runs up ahead. We have a plan for a calm bedtime.

First thing in the morning is manic from the moment the man puts his foot on the floor to get out of bed. We have a plan for a calm start to the day.

Feeding is hyper with dogs jumping up and barking as the meals are prepared. We have plan for a calm feeding routine.

Getting into the car is a screaming contest as is getting out of the car the other end. We have a plan for the car.

The dogs ‘explode’ out into the garden, screaming and barking and sometimes redirecting onto one another. We have a plan for calm exits.

If they hear something outside or if there is a bird in the garden, Ernie starts the barking backed up by Eric. We have a plan for that!

The dogs are walked separately, because otherwise Eric screams all the way down the road. Calm needs to be established at home, before the door is opened.

The people will need to be very patient and outlast the dogs. The dogs have learnt that ‘shouting’ gets them what they want and it is continually being reinforced. The couple will need to change the order in which they do things because the noise and excitement starts in anticipation of a regular event. Every time the man lets them into the garden they think he is going to play with them and they go ballistic. The dogs will get time out in their crates with something to chew (they love their crates) when they are getting over excited.

Making things calmer is only one side of the issue. There is too much stimulation of the wrong kind – stuff that winds them up further involving lots exercise, agility, fly-ball and excitable play. Moreover, it’s excited, manic and noisy behaviour that gets them the attention. They need to be working their clever brains more! I am encouraging the couple to use clicker training with their dogs, one dog at a time, to get the dogs really working and doing something useful for their attention. This should help them to learn some impluse control too.