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)

Eyeballing and Hostility Between Dogs

Eyeballing from one dog; looking away, whale-eye, lip curling and growling from the other.

Poppy's eyeballing may be a trigger

Poppy

The hostility between the two Springer Spaniel bitches seems to have suddenly started about three weeks ago.

It’s hard to see where the tension, eyeballing and snarling between the two dogs has come from. It seemed to be out of the blue – but was it? Both dogs had been happily living and playing together since they took on Poppy, now three years old, as a puppy. Tilly is ten years old.

Both Springers have a lovely life. They are trained and worked kindly as gun dogs, fulfilling what they were bred for. They only spend the mornings out in their kennels and for the rest of the time they are well-loved family pets living and sleeping in the house.

There is another dog, a female Jack Russell called Fern who may be escalating the tension. Fern tends to be reactive to sounds. Her barking upsets Poppy and sends her running for cover.

Three weeks ago, immediately after they had returned from a few days’ holiday with the two Springers, the man caught them eyeballing each other, then growling.

Could the sudden hostility have been triggered by the reuniting with a hyper and noisy Fern who had stayed behind with a friend, at a time when they will already have been aroused? Things with Fern have changed recently. She has been recovering from mammary cancer. Could this be relevant?

Anyway, the man had immediately grabbed both dogs and parted them, putting them briefly in different rooms. This was followed by ever more frequent episodes.

Fern

Fern

Things escalated until about five days ago there were three bouts within the space of one hour.

Things only haven’t developed into a full blown fight due to vigilance and the man separating them immediately. It’s now happened so many times that it could be becoming a learnt response – a habit, something the two dogs may automatically do as soon as they are anywhere close together other than out in the open on walks.

Since these final three episodes the two dogs have been kept apart.

The Springers take it in turns to be in the sitting room with the couple. They are in separate kennels in the mornings and instead of all being together in the kitchen at night, two have been in the kitchen and the other Springer in the back lobby. She cries. Nobody is happy.

Surprisingly however, all three dogs still all go out happily for their morning walk together just as they always used to. It seems away from the house and out in the open they are fine.

When I arrived just Fern was with us first and she did a lot of barking at me. This barking is unusual apparently which made me wonder if something more was going on with her. Maybe she has been more stressed since her recent treatment for cancer?

Poppy then joined us. She was very wary of me as she is with all people she doesn’t know, pacing about, tail between her legs, interested but backing away.

We set things up so I could see both dogs together for myself. To take Jack Russell Fern out of the equation, we put her out in the garden. The man put Poppy on lead and the lady went to fetch Tilly from the outside kennel, also on lead.

They sat well apart and I placed myself where I could see both dogs.

Tilly

Tilly

There was an immediate and surprising change in Poppy. She became a different dog. Bold. She was unconcerned by me now. She stared at Tilly.

Tilly, in turn, looked at Poppy out the corner of her eyes with her head turned away. A lip curl. then a growl. I sensed that Tilly was by far the more uncomfortable of the two dogs.

From my observations, instead of the aggression being a problem solely instigated Tilly as they had thought, it looked like it may be six of one and half a dozen of the other.

With strategies in place to keep the two dogs’ attention away from one another, I then let Fern in to join us. She was barking as she entered the room.

Immediately there was an altercation between her and Tilly in the doorway.

Could the reactive Fern be part of the problem? Possibly also something has changed with her since her cancer treatment.

Where do we start?

They will continue to manage the environment by keeping them separate. It’s possible that during the morning outside in their adjacent kennels things could be brewing with eyeballing and so on, so I suggested putting a board between them.

On leads in the house, in short sessions they will work on relieving the tension between them, teaching each dog things to do that are incompatible with eyeballing or challenging the other. It’s vital they get no more opportunities to further rehearse the behaviour.

Because the dogs are fine on walks, instead of afterwards immediately putting them away again in their separate areas, they will take the walked and satisfied dogs indoors still on lead, give them a drink (separate bowls just in case) and sit down for a few minutes. They can thus hopefully build upon the rapport the two dogs still have out on walks.

Finally, they will be helping Fern with her stress levels which could well be compounding the whole over-aroused situation.

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 Tilly, Poppy and Fern 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)

Replace Bad Habit With Good Habit

Anything repeated often enough can become a habit.

I totally fell in love with scruffy ten-month-old Jack Russell mix Max yesterday. I had the perfect evening with him and his humans.

It began with just me and the daughter who is in her late teens. Then mum arrived followed by twSitting still is a better habit than jumping abouto male school friends of the girl’s and later a man – all people closely involved in the dog’s life. Lucky little dog!

As each person joined us I was working with Max. He had jumped up at me in a madly friendly fashion as I walked in the door and I immediately showed him that this didn’t work with me if it was my attention he wanted. More importantly, I concentrated on showing him what did work.

As more people arrived and as I worked with him, instead of jumping up at them, becoming increasingly excited and silly as would normally be the case, he was becoming more and more settled.

When finally the man joined us, he said Max must be another dog.

It won’t take much of this to build up a new habit when people arrive, so long as everyone is consistent. They have a lot of people coming and going so training the humans is the main problem here!

All I did was to consistently reinforce the behaviour I wanted. As you can see from the photo, Max became FOCUSED! He was sitting looking up at me as we all chatted. From time to time I reinforced the continued calm behaviour with Yes or a click and the tiniest bit of food.

Now he can develop a new habit, that of sitting at someone’s feet looking adorable in order to get his attention fix!

BanceMax1I then tried him on an antler chew. Chewing is such a great and natural way for a dog to relieve stress and to occupy himself. Max worked away at it for maybe an hour after which he simply lay down and settled.

Just like so many dogs I go to, Max generates nearly all his own attention with tactics like constantly asking to be let out and then back in again, jumping up behind people, mouthing, digging the sofa – anything he can think of.

If instead his humans initiate frequent short activities that he finds rewarding and that exercise his brain, he will no longer be driven into goading them for the attention and action he craves.

 

They can convert any unwanted habit into a good habit.

The small dog has fantastic humans in his life who have put time and effort into teaching him training tricks. Now they need to incorporate work on keeping him a bit calmer and making the desirable habits the rewarding ones.

At last he settles

At last he settles

Here are a few examples where his bad habit can be changed into a good habit.

Before bed and before they go to work, like so many dogs Max will refuse to come in from the garden. With a bit of management by way of a long lead so he can no longer rehearse the behaviour and food so that he’s motivated, this habit can soon be changed to him running in as soon as they call him.

While they eat their dinner, he has a habit of sitting on the back of the sofa behind them and trying to get their food! This habit can be changed with a mix of management and training. So he can no longer rehearse this behaviour he can be put somewhere else while they eat. He can then be taught a much better habit instead.

Whenever he sees a person out on a walk he will jump up at them. This habit can be changed through a mix of management and teaching him something better that earns him fuss.

Even pulling on lead is a habit. He is forced to walk beside them and the short lead is tight so that pulling against it is constantly rehearsed on every daily walk. A new habit can be established using management – better equipment – and a loose leash that is repeatedly reinforced by earning him forward progress along with plenty of encouragement, attention and reward.

Near the end of our session yesterday I put one of my Perfect Fit harnesses on Max and attached a training lead. Within a few minutes the now calm Max was walking beautifully for me and then for the daughter outside the front of the house.

Already a new and much better walking habit has been born.

It was quite touching how he was with me by the time I was ready to leave and we had removed the harness. He lay beside me, his head on my foot. What had I done to him?

We had a mutual understanding. Max felt quietly understood.

 

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 Max. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

 

Too excited, over-aroused

Too excited, arousal and raised stress levels.

Some dogs and certain breeds of dogs, as we all know, are a lot more prone to being too excited than others (with many exceptions of course).

Jack Russell gets too excited

Jill

I went to the sweetest pair of Jack Russells yesterday – I’ll call them Jack and Jill. Jill is four years old and Jack eighteen months. We love our perky, bright and quick little dogs but because they are so reactive to things their stress levels easily rocket and this high state of arousal spreads tentacles that can adversely affect many areas of the dogs’ (and their owners’) lives.

A bit like the swan analogy of serene above water but paddling frantically underneath, even when dogs like this that get too excited appear peaceful or asleep, the adrenaline and arousal chemicals are still circulating inside their bodies.

It can take several days for the increased cortisone levels raised by a sudden shock or high excitement to fully go away but this will seldom happen because the next lot will come flooding in. It doesn’t take much to increase the heart rate of an already innately excitable dog – ball play, mail landing on the doormat,  encountering another dog when out or even someone dropping a spoon can trigger a flood of adrenaline and cortisone.

We obviously don’t want our dogs to be comatose, but continually being ‘too excited’ isn’t healthy either.

With Jack and Jill’s arousal levels lowered a bit, it will affect most areas of their lives.

JR who can be too excited, calm on his bed

Jack

When they are prevented from looking out of the front window, Jill in particular will no longer get into a barking frenzy when the children pass by on their way to and from school.

When upon coming home their humans allow the dogs to calm down before giving them too much fuss, Jack’s arousal levels will no longer drive him to leap about and grab hands.

When the key goes to unlock the back door, the dogs currently yo-yo up and down, barking and scratching the door, winding themselves up massively and ready to burst out. They no doubt believe their excitable behaviour actually causes the door to open. It will no longer happen.

When, on letting the dogs out, they attach a long lead to Jack for the first couple of minutes until his excitement abates a little, he won’t in an overflow of arousal redirect onto poor Jill who may then, equally wound up, snap at him.

By doing all they can to avoid the dogs getting too excited needlessly, they will help Jill to become generally calmer and less jumpy. She will be less fearful. Being less fearful, she will be more relaxed with people entering her house. Being less jumpy and fearful she will be less reactive to sudden sounds. She will bark less. Jack will bark less.

The dogs will gradually learn to calm themselves; they will work it out that calm now works best.

A calmer backdrop will in itself, over time, transform the walks for both Jack and Jill, and their humans. No longer will young Jack be so excited that he pulls in a barking frenzy as soon as he see another dog, joined by a hyped-up Jill who may then snap at him.

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

Their Dog Suddenly Bites Them

Three-year-old Jack Russell Monty has bitten three family members. Each time it was so sudden and quick they were left stunned. This is a rare case where it really did seem to be without warning. It is possible that gradual build-up of stress to the point where he exploded was a warning of sorts if they had known what to look for.

Having a dog that may suddenly bite means you can no longer relax. They are living on a knife-edge.

The first bite was about two months ago when he was about to go out for a walk. The lady went to the back door with Monty who sat as usual. She bent down to attach his lead to his collar.

Monty went for her.

He was hanging from her hand as the lady screamed for help. The injury was so severe that the hospital feared she may need plastic surgery.

A month ago it was the gentleman’s turn to get bitten. As with the lady, he bent to pop his lead on to go for a walk – a slip lead now. The man hadn’t yet put his shoes on unfortunately. Monty snarled and attacked first one foot and then the other. There was a lot of blood.

Since then he has had to wear the slip lead constantly because nobody dares go near enough to take it off him. Unfortunately where the tag is stops it from hanging loose.

Monty has gone for the man’s feet since, but sensibly he now always wears his shoes in the house. The family adore the little dog they have had since a puppy and the poor man is deeply upset. Since that time Monty attacked his feet, he growls each time he moves.

Beyond the expected screaming out and turmoil after the bites, Monty hasn’t been punished. They aren’t angry, they are hurt and terrified that he may end up having to be put to sleep. Understandably they don’t know what to do.

The first more minor incident was about six months ago. Before that he was fine. Monty had nipped or bitten two or three other people on the hand – people who tried to pet him thinking, wrongly, that his jumping up at them was friendly.

Because of the sudden escalation a couple of months ago we need to look at what may have changed in his life at that time. Had anything happened? it’s important to rule out a medical cause. They did take Monty to the vet and he had to be sedated before they could touch him, but no thorough examination was done unfortunately. The vet believes it is behavioural while I feel that extensive bloods and X-rays should always be taken to rule out a medical cause for such a sudden and major decline in behaviour.

As Monty paced around the room, trying to get people to throw balls (unsuccessfully for a change), to watch him it was hard to believe the damage this little dog had done – though I did stay sitting and kept my hands to myself!

Jack Russell on kitchen tableFrom the behaviour angle, I feel there are two things they need to concentrate on. One is to lower Monty’s stress levels as much as possible in every way they can. He is constantly so hyped up that he’s like a volcano ready to erupt and they feed this with constant ball play. There are four adults in the family and someone is at home most of the time – throwing his balls for him.

When they are out, he may be on the kitchen table where he gets a good view out of the window, waiting for things to bark at. They will make this impossible now.

He only settles later in the evening.

The second is that he, in effect, has four human slaves. He isn’t fed dog food but pandered to. There is nothing of any value they could use for rewarding him as he gets it anyway — in abundance. In fact he turns his nose up at much of it, knowing they will fall over backwards to add more or create more variety.

So, my second assignment is for them to toughen up around food. For ‘meals’ they can feed him the best quality dog food (no additives or e-numbers or cheap fillers, all of which can effect behaviour). The ‘good stuff’ like chicken and liver can be cut up very small and fed constantly to him during the day – but only for doing things they ask him to do or for rewarding him when he chooses to do something they like – like lying down instead of pacing or hunting for hidden balls still not removed.

If he wants to be let out, instead of just opening the door they can ask him to sit, then reward him and then let him out. They can regularly call him to them and reward him for coming. They can do some of the training tricks he learnt when younger, and reward him. They can call him away when he’s barking at something, and reward him.

All balls should be lifted. They can then initiate short sessions with the ball, when they feel like it, and then they put the ball away again – giving Monty food when they do so.

If he has to start to work for the special food, he will start to value it – and more importantly, he should start to value his humans and their wishes too.

I feel that only then should they try to get that lead off him (he’s perfectly happy to trail it about by the look of it). They need to have formed a rather different relationship with him. They then will need to take it in very small stages – using the special food of course. If they take him for a walk, they can attach a second lead to the handle of the slip lead, keeping well away from his head – using food. They can keep well away from the door and scene of bites when they do so – sitting in the kitchen maybe. They can call him, once, and if he doesn’t come he misses the walk or they can try again later.

If he wants things of them, he will need to put in a little bit of effort himself! I feel it is very important for this little dog that they get the upper hand. He isn’t enjoying life now and nor are his very upset humans. Doing things for them and achieving success, earning praise and food, will make little Monty a lot happier.

I am worried that there is a medical issue behind it all, particularly as the change in behaviour came on so suddenly, and I shall be writing a report for the vet. My own belief is that some of it has a behaviour aspect – many dogs, however unwell or in pain, would not be a dog that suddenly bites. Monty just possibly could be pushed over the edge due to pain or even suffer from something like hypothyroidism. Not being a vet, I don’t know enough about this.

"This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, thanks to you"

“This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, no lead on, thanks to you”

A month later, to quote from a couple of emails: “TODAY I have taken the slip rope off! Yahoo I thought he was going to wear it for the rest off his life….when I got home after his walk I just get hold of the lead and pulled gently over his head and he was fine. Then he rolled around everywhere in excitement and rubbing his neck. Whenever we go out and come back we’ve never had any nasty feelings from him he’s always happy and upbeat. He was even excited to see (my husband) yesterday who had been away all week”.
It could also be something to do with the painkillers the vet (who can’t get near him) prescribed at my request in order to see whether pain could be involved. I suspect there may be something around his neck area that has been making him ultra sensitive and reactive.
At the end of a month: “I wanted to let you know that everything is still going well with our little Monty, he even sat on my husband’s lap yesterday! We can’t thank you enough for the advise on those small but very relevant changes that have made such a big difference.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. 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).

Aggressive When People Leave

Jack Russell on alertThe dear little Jack Russell has a lovely home with a lady who cares for him deeply, but he is highly stressed much of the time.

The lady met me at the door with Paddy on lead – this being the only way she could open it without her little dog running out. As I walked in he was bouncing off the floor, barking at me, leaping at me, biting my clothes and nipping my arms.

This frenzy didn’t last too long once the lady gave me the tiny bits of chicken she had prepared for me. Very much like the last dog I went to, English Bull Terrier Millie, Paddy quite soon got the idea that staying on the floor was a lot more fulfilling than jumping up and barking at me. If he was shouting at me to go away I was going nowhere.

Paddy has three main issues – all part of the same problem – the extreme stress that results in him being super-reactive and constantly on high alert.

The first issue I discovered was that he scratches himself raw. The vet has prescribed all sorts of things to no avail. I guess most dogs are stressed at the vet so it would be harder to tell, but in his home environment it was obvious stress was at least involved. As soon as he had got over a bout of barking or there was any pressure on him, he was scratching himself.

He can’t be allowed to harm himself, but stopping him with a command or a distraction, or holding his foot to restrain him will be adding to his stress. I suggested trying a dog T-shirt with sleeves. He could then scratch without harming himself and the lady could relax about it. She is very motivated to help her dear little dog and I’m sure that as she works on everything else the scratching will reduce or even stop.

Jack Russell lying on back of sofaThe second problem is his constant barking at every sound. How can someone get a dog like this to stop barking? He’s already in a panic so trying to scare him out of it will only make it worse.

There are predictable triggers. They live near a school and so for half and hour each morning and half an hour each evening Paddy’s going mental in the garden. He is furious at letters coming through the door. There is a car park out the front and he reacts to every car door shutting by running back and forth from kitchen to front door and then into the garden.

While I was there he barely barked at all – and that is because we really worked on it. At every sound, even before he could bark if possible, I reassured him with ‘Okay’ and dropped him a bit of chicken. Car doors slammed outside and the lady couldn’t believe that Paddy wasn’t reacting. On the couple of occasions when he rushed out into the garden, we called him in immediately before he had time to get really started. Because we were so quick he came in and was rewarded. We shut the door.

If the lady keeps her eye on the ball and cuts down on his barking opportunities, she will find things very different. If I were her, I would put up an outside letterbox. I would keep him shut in the sitting room away from the front at start and end of the school day. I wouldn’t give him access to the garden where he barks at the gate unless I was at hand to help him out. When I went out and left him alone, it would in the quietest place – the sitting room – with no access to anywhere else.

The last big issue I discovered towards the end of my visit. Having been sitting down for a while, I stood up. He thought I was leaving. He changed in a flash from this little dog who was doing so well with me into a dervish. He barked ferociously – much worse than at the start, flying at me and biting my clothes. Standing still and using my original technique I eventually calmed him down again and all was well for a while until, still seated, I picked up my keys to see what he would do. He went frantic once more.

The lady understandably wanted to know why he did this when people got up to leave, and my best guess is that he has a need to control comings and especially goings. He will be picking up on the lady’s understandable anxiety. The need to be so controlling must be due to underlying insecurity which is a sort of fearfulness. It’s complicated. He has actually bitten the lady a few times at the gate or at the door, when she has taken his collar to remove him during one of his ‘sessions’.

Many years ago I inherited a labrador from an old lady (we bought her house when she went into a home and her dog remained). He was welcoming to everyone who came to the house, but I used to say that he would rather kill someone than let them leave.

So, all in all, I believe just by reducing the barking alone the lady will cut down a lot of Paddy’s stress. The visitor situation, most particularly being aggressive when people leave, needs to be managed completely differently.

Last, but not least, Paddy needs more exercise and freedom to be a terrier – away from the confines of a small bungalow. When he goes out it is with a short, tight lead attached by his collar. He will feel a lot better when the lady gets a harness and a long training line. He will have thirty or more feet of freedom to sniff and to explore. The lady can feel secure that he won’t escape and she now has some things she can do when people or other dogs appear.

NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Paddy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly ones that involve punishment. 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).

Aggression to Dogs on Walks

Hugo is so reactive to other dogs they can no longer walk himThe reason I was called to meet and help Hugo was his aggression to dogs on walks being such that they now feel they can’t walk him anymore.

However, I soon realised that this was just one symptom of a much wider issue than being aggressive to dogs on walks – the six-year-old Jack Russell’s general anxiety and stress levels.

He lives with two young ladies who each do things very differently. One gives him firm boundaries and even carries discipline a bit too far in my mind. The other lady, who he actually belongs to, is very soft with him, does just what he wants whenever he wants, and encourages his general excitement with wild greetings and reinforcing behaviours like jumping up on people, lots of barking for attention and to get what he wants and so on.

Like with many people I go to, some of it’s about getting the people to do things the same way – drink from the same water bowl so to speak, and consistency. One is pushing him off the sofa and the other is encouraging him up.  One will entice him to give up stolen items where the other will force things off him then tap him on the nose for being naughty and has been bitten in the process.

This little dog needs to be a lot calmer at home before he can have sufficient self-control when encountering other dogs. They will work hard on loose lead walking around the house and garden, and lots of trips down the garden path and no further – standing still while he does as much sniffing as he wants. If done many, many times the outside world will become less overwhelming and then they can gradually start to go further.

I am trying something a bit different with the manic jumping up and barking, and this is for the sake of his lady owner as well as the dog. I would usually say that from now on he must know that barking and jumping up get no attention at all where feet on the floor and no barking get especially nice stuff.  However, I think they may have to wait too long and meanwhile the frustration could lead to Hugo becoming even more stressed, and because he tugs at her heartstrings the lady herself will not be able to outlast him. Consequently I suggest they work on it in stages.

When he’s jumping and barking at the back door to be let out, instead of opening it immediately as they normally would, I suggest they wait for a slight improvement – feet briefly on the floor or a break in the barking, before opening the door. They can also use ‘Yes’ and food to mark those moments. When he’s used to that, they can wait till his feet are firmly on the floor even if still barking, then they can wait for a second of quiet also….and so on.

It will be the same when the lady comes home. Instead of the rapturous and frenzied greeting he gives her and to which she responds in a similar manner, she can hold back for just a second initially, and then gradually over time, day by day, wait for and reward a bit more calm, until Hugo has better control of himself and can greet quietly with feet on the floor. This way the lady, too, will be able to learn different behaviour!

Dogs do, so clearly, reflect their owners sometimes.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Hugo, 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 in cases where aggression is involved. 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).

 

Neighbours’ Complaints About Barking

Freda barks all day when left

Freda

Access to the garden all day makes the Jack Russell's barking worse

Chester

People often feel, if they are out all day, that their dogs need a lot of space along with access to the garden.

I frequently go to dogs that spend a lot of the long day barking, and often this results in complaints about barking from neighbours as is the case with the two little dogs I went to yesterday. Even though it’s probably only in fits and starts, it can seem continuous if you live next door.

Parsons Jack Russell Freda on the left is now eight years old, and Jack Russell Chester two. Although Chester is the more nervous of the two, Freda is the bigger barker, and suffers more when left.

When left all alone it is most likely that the two dogs eventually settle, but they will be vulnerable to all the sounds from outside which will keep starting them off again. Whenever they hear the neighbours feet crunch on her gravel path or a car slowing down outside, the dogs bark. They go quite frantic when someone comes up the path to put something through the letterbox and they can see out through a front window.

Giving the dogs access to the garden will be making things a lot worse in my opinion.  It’s no wonder they feel insecure, left all alone all day with run of the house and garden, having to deal with such a lot of guard duty. Instead of settling the will be alert to every sound, charging in and out of the dog flap barking and getting themselves into a state, with no owners about to reassure them that all is well.

Shutting the dogs comfortably in the large kitchen should be a lot easier on them, although to start with they may be frustrated – barking to get outside through the dog flap because this is what they have been accustomed to. The people can rig up a camera and have a word with the neighbour.

When family members come home it is to give the dogs a huge fuss. I’m sure if they tone down their greetings to make their coming and goings less of a major event, and if the lady can pop home at lunch time for half an hour, these little dogs will soon quieten down when left alone.

The second issue is about both dogs, Freda in particular, ignoring their humans when called out on walks. There are five family members and the dogs get everything they want upon demand by way of attention. While this is the case and while food isn’t used for rewards but given for doing nothing, the humans don’t have much leverage! They need to be more relevant in terms of getting and holding their dogs’ attention and work on this at home before expecting the dogs to give them attention out on walks – particularly ‘coming when called’ when there is something far more exciting to do like chasing a rabbit!

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

 

Rescue Dog Settling In

VinnieI suggested they start all over again just as though Vinnie had never been walked before!

They have had the young Jack Russell for just over one week now and he is a rescue dog slowly finding his feet.

It’s very likely that he had seldom been outside his home and garden during the 2 1/2 years of his life which was apparently with a terminally ill person. He is another dog that reacts badly when seeing other dogs and where the groundwork needs to be put in at home first.

Each day he becomes more relaxed with them and although he’s an independent little dog he now will enjoy a cuddle.

He has a couple of strange little quirks.  He is completely quiet when anyone comes up the front path, rings on the doorbell, delivers a package or comes in the front door. However, when there is any noise from out the back – a dog barking or a car door slamming, he will rush out barking.

He’s very reactive to anything sudden, even someone coughing (they will gradually desensitise him to that in very small stages and using food). I do wonder whether the general background noise in his previous home may have been higher. One can only speculate. Now he lives with quiet people in a quiet area and against this background most sounds may well seem sudden.

The other strange thing is that from time to time he stands still, almost trance-like with his eyes closing. I did wonder whether it was because he was anxious, but there were no other indications such as lip licking or yawning. I took a video. On advice, I have suggested they get this checked out with their vet.

They will first start walking Vinnie in the garden until both humans and dog have the technique and a loose lead. As they go along they will work on getting and keeping his attention.

Only then they will venture out of the gate – but they won’t be going very far!

Bit by bit they will build on this until he is walking happily down the road on a loose lead. Only now will they be ready to work on dogs and Vinnie should be a lot more confident. They must do their best to keep at a distance where Vinnie isn’t too uncomfortable to take food or to give his humans his attention.

The secret to success, particularly with a rescue dog, is being prepared to put in the necessary effort and put in the necessary time – as I know Vinnie’s people are (see my ‘Reality Check’ page).

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Vinnie which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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).