She Barks at People Despite Being Well Trained

Goldie probably already had the seeds of timidity before they got her as a young puppy. If she had encountered many more people sufficiently early it would have helped, but they were caught in that trap of having to wait for vaccinations before taking her out (another matter I frequently write about). She’s now fourteen months old.

She barks at people.

Goldie barks at certain people when out, not everyone. She barks at people she doesn’t know who come into her she barks at peoplehouse.

One thing is for certain, if they had not been the dedicated owners they are, putting in so much love and training, the small gun dog Golden Labrador could now be a great deal worse.

It didn’t take her long to stop barking at me. It was a treat to visit such an gentle, friendly and well-trained dog.

Goldie has a lovely life, just tarnished by her fearfulness of certain people in certain situations.

Training alone doesn’t address this fear.

When out she will walk nicely, looking up and engaging with whoever is holding the lead. Keeping and holding attention is very valuable for managing situations but it it doesn’t get her to feel differently about an advancing person. It merely takes her attention away from them.

(It’s common for dogs to feel uneasy when approached. See the pulse project).

For what we want to achieve, Goldie needs to change how she feels. Distracting her by getting her to look at them instead is avoidance. It’s like telling a child who has seen a masked man at the window to pay attention to his Xbox.

Emotions drive behaviour. She barks at certain people. This is driven by fear.

To help to address this fear, she needs to register the person. Direct approaches are intimidating so they should always arc. They should keep at a distance where Goldie is aware but not reacting.

Looking at the person will then trigger goodies. Food can rain down.

Training her to keep attention on the handler is perfect if caught unprepared or too close, but it won’t change how Goldie feels. It’s merely management. They want to be able to relax and trust her to react calmly by herself. She won’t unless she loses her fear.

People invading her space.

Another responsibility of the owner is to protect their dog from unwelcome attention – who doesn’t want to touch a beautiful Labrador, after all. A yellow ‘I Need Space’ vest should help greatly.

Off-lead Goldie is less likely to react to an approaching person as is usually the case. She will have freedom to increase distance, something she doesn’t have when someone comes to the door of her house. At home the stranger is walking directly towards her.

They could of course train her to settle on a mat away from the door when someone comes in, but this is a big ask when she’s scared and reacts with barking rather than hiding.

Training will have its place later. For now she should be kept away from the door when someone arrives. Standing people are more threatening, so she can join them when the person is sitting down. They can then work on the person ‘triggering goodies’. It worked well with me.

They can desensitise her to the knocker too. Starting with Goldie at the door beside them and letting her see them knock whilst dropping food. They can do various kinds of knocks: short, multiple, loud and soft. Then can then have a family member the other side of the door knocking while another feeds her inside. Gradually they can increase distance and later make the knocks unpredictable. This will need hundreds of repetitions over a period of time.

When she eventually becomes more confident and relaxed, training her to go and lie on her bed away from the door when there is a knock on the door would be reasonable.

One last thing. They would like to take her places like the pub or a cafe without fearing she may suddenly have a bout of aggressive-sounding barking when a person approaches.

Goldie should end up with the ideal mix. Emotional stability and great training.

 

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 Goldie and I’ve not gone fully into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (click here to see my Help page)

Nervous Dog on Walks. Work Begins at Home

The story of Indie, a nervous dog I met yesterday, is a very common one. Her behaviour illustrates my belief that reactivity due to fearfulness out on walks has roots at home too.

Concentrating solely on walks is missing a big part of the picture.

nervous dogIndie is generally a nervous dog. She reacts when dogs get too near – but it’s not all dogs, not every time and not in every location. It’s variable. Near to her home she is worse.

On walks they will now do all the usual things that I advise.

However, a nervous dog that is fearfully reactive to other dogs on walks, is not fearful in a vacuum. It’s very seldom like a switch is flicked as soon as the dogs leaves the house, changing a calm, confident indoor dog to a nervous dog, jumpy that is wary out on walks.

We looked at her general stress levels. Each thing she is reactive to – and this can be over-excited or fearful – that sends her stress levels soaring.

This ‘trigger stacking’ is cumulative.

If her stress levels are near overflowing before even leaving the house, how will she cope when encountering another dog?

She has a routine ten-minute walk every morning and this is the most stressful walk of the day, the one when they meet the most dogs. This isn’t a good way to start her day. The stress that has managed to drain during the peaceful night will immediately be topped up again.

They will abandon that walk for now and Indie can go out in the garden. She has her main walk later in the day and that will be better controlled in order to help her.

If Indie is able to see passing dogs from windows or from the garden she will bark. She is rehearsing the behaviour they don’t want. What’s more, the passing dog will always move away so – success!

They will block her view where possible. They will help her out when she hears and barks at a barking dog, either the neghbour’s or a more distant dog, associating it with something she likes. She’s a Labrador so that will be food! (Spraying a nervous dog with water may scare her out of barking but will have the opposite effect to what they want).

At home the teenage daughter can be calmer with her, no more deliberately stirring her up because the dog seems to enjoy it. She will abandon rough and tumble type play and replace with more controlled play.

Even food can affect the dog’s mental state, so they will look into that too.

Recently there was a report about the link between some dogs going prematurely grey around the muzzle and hyperactivity or nervousness. Eight-year-old Indie’s muzzle started to go grey years ago.

 

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

Deaf Dog, Old Dog, New Tricks

Golden Labrador Sadie is thirteen years old and the only problems she now has are physical. She used to be anxious and jumpy around loud or sudden noises, but her loss of hearing has taken care of that.

Deaf dog’s quality of life to be the best possible.

The nearly deaf dog is adored by her lady owner who wants to give her what she considers to be the very best quality of life right to the end. She wants to enrich her life as much as she can bearing in mind Sadie’s physical restrictions. Sadie is friendly and interested despite various health problems and medication. She is massaged daily and also has two swims a day which are keeping her relatively mobile.

Deaf dogThe main issue is her deafness. Not being able to get her attention is getting in the way of communication between the lady and her dog.

The lady would also like Sadie to come to her when asked. It could keep her safe.

‘Eye contact’ and ‘coming when called’ were never particularly successful even when Sadie had full use of her ears! I put this down to lack of motivation.

So now the deaf dog can learn a new prompt that makes coming to the lady very motivating indeed. It is vital that any work should be rewarding and fun for both her and for her owner.

Sadie is never on lead. There is no need because she doesn’t go very far and she’s very slow. The old dog chooses where she wants to go and the lady follows which is absolutely fine. Occasionally she may go after a scent, probably where a cat has been, and then may panic because she thinks she is lost.

A little brain work could be good for Sadie – particularly now physical movement is no longer so easy. Sessions should be very short and should be terminated immediately Sadie shows any reluctance or tiredness.

The overriding thing is that Sadie should enjoy it.

She must choose to engage in the gentle training – we will call it ‘play session’ – and she must also have the choice to stop at any time.

It should be with full regard to Sadie’s physical comfort. She spends a lot of time lying down – more comfortable for her than sitting – and the groundwork can be done while she’s down. The other work will be done when she is already standing up and active. She won’t be encouraged to get up unless standing is something she has herself offered.

Sadie, at her advanced age, will be introduced to the idea of earning food. She is a Labrador so this shouldn’t be too hard, particularly if these ‘play’ sessions are before meals!

First the lady will work on getting eye contact from Sadie – using a very gentle remote-control vibration. This will be a very slow and gradual process starting with the deaf dog being introduced to the smell and look of the equipment – using constant food reinforcement. Next it will be just held against her so she can gently feel the buzz and paired with food until she is actively looking for food when she feels the vibration, leading eventually to giving eye contact.

I shan’t go into the process in detail here because this isn’t a ‘how to’ manual for other dogs. What will work best for Sadie may not be appropriate for another dog with perhaps a different temperament but here are some general instructions on how to introduce a vibrating collar. We are going to experiment with the gently vibrating box stitched against her body in a soft harness – somewhere less sensitive than her neck. We will see.

When the lady reliably gets Sadie’s attention and eye contact, what next?

It seems the useful thing is for Sadie to come when ‘called’. For this the lady will teach her to come and touch her nose on an outstretched hand. It will be nice and clear from a short distance.

Again, it will be a slow and gradual process using the clicker technique (a gentle finger-flick ‘yes’ on the dog instead of a click which she wouldn’t hear. A light flash may have been another way of telling her ‘yes’ but I have reasons not to use that).

Over time and only if it’s going well, the lady can put the two new skills together – the remote vibration for attention and the hand out to get her to come to her.

They can then progress outside into the garden. She can then try it when Sadie is walking ahead of her, off lead, as she always does.

With lots of rewards, keeping sessions short, only expecting Sadie to move when she’s up and active anyway, they will hopefully have created a new game appropriate to Sadie’s twilight life stage.

 

Eating Plaster off the Walls, but Why?

Five year old Golden Labrador Milly has to be just about as near the perfect dog any family could wish for. She is sweet and gentle with their four-year-old boy who, thanks to his parents, treats her with unusual respect for such a young child. She is perfect apart from just one thing.

Eating plaster.

Milly is making holes in the walls.

The young family moved into a brand new house six months ago. There are two holes each side of the front door, one by the back door and damage to the plaster in various rooms both upstairs and downstairs.

Why is a dog that seems so happy and well-adjusted eating plaster?

My detective work could only deduce that it could be any or all of several possible reasons.

My first suspicion before arriving was that it could be something like calcium lacking in Milly’s diet. As soon as I entered the kitchen I saw a bowl of Bakers Complete on the floor.

This immediately gave weight to my first thoughts about nutrition. A good food should have the required amount of everything in it. Bakers for all it’s pretty colours and extra flavouring, is rubbish.

The first time Milly started eating plaster was the day their first baby was born. It would be safe to assume that it was due to stress. She had been left at home alone a lot longer than usual while everyone was at the hospital. It was a one-off.

Then a couple of years elapsed until at a BBQ Milly swallowed what I think was a bamboo skewer. It punctured both her intenstines; she was in vet hospital for days and nearly died. This was undoubtedly a huge upset for everyone.

The eating plaster habit then began.

On the day of their new baby’s arrival, five weeks ago, the plaster eating escalated.

All but one of the incidents occurred on occasions when Milly had been left alone for eight hours – and it didn’t happen every time. Some days it was after she’d had a long morning walk with lots of ball play but other days she has no walk at all. It’s possible that either too much arousal on walks (ball throwing) or no walk at all on the day of the chewing or the previous day may be a factor also.

Possibly she has mild separation issues when left for hours? Could it be boredom? Taking a video could be difficult as she roams the house although they will now restrict her to part of downstairs. Frustration at being shut in one place may cause more trouble, so we won’t risk it.

result of dog eating plaster

Milly’s does have one other fault. She pulls on lead. The young lady is unable to walk her whilst carrying or pushing the baby (something we are addressing). For Milly to be healthy in both mind and body she does need a daily outing and some days walks are missed. I say ‘outing’ because she needs time outside to do dog things. She doesn’t need to be stirred up with too much ball-chasing.

Milly is a sensitive dog and will pick up emotions from her humans who have been through a lot of change recently. Stress builds up and perhaps eating plaster ‘does the job’ for Milly.

Being scolded scares her, isn’t working, and may well be adding to whatever emotions are driving her to do it in the first place. Sadly today she showed fear when they come in the front door.

Eating plaster. What apart from the obvious does Milly get out of it?

Does it just make her feel better? Is it build up of stress? Is she suffering from separation problems? Does it supplement her diet? Does it relieve her boredom? Is it to do with exercise? Is it a habit?

Is it simply a mix of some or all of these things?

As a precise diagnosis into why she is eating plaster is impossible, we will try to cover all possibilities.

HoarMilly1Her food is already being changed in case plaster eating is due to lack of calcium in her diet. Low quality nutrition isn’t good brain food either.

Stress will be reduced in every way possible.

The humans will no longer scold if they again come home to find damage.

Milly will be given regular walks whilst not over-stimulating her and also teach her to walk nicely so that the young lady can walk her with the baby.

Any possible separation issues will be worked on.

She will be left with plenty of stuff to do and chew when they go out, including a marrow bone – lots of calcium – much better than eating plaster!

They are going to make arrangements for Milly not to be left alone for so long on certain days.

Maybe eating plaster is now becoming a habit?

If we cover all angles the behaviour should cease. If it doesn’t, then I suggest she has a thorough vet check to make sure she’s not got anything else going on inside her.

Three weeks have gone by. From an email: She is doing much better on the loose lead, it does take a lot of patience but it’s definitely better. We are just taking it slow but it’s good to see the progress…. It works best leaving Milly in the lounge when we are out. I will video again this week. But I am happy to say no more damages walls…. She is now eating both her meals and seems to like the duck with rice. (Their little boy) loves getting involved too and helping Milly, he really loves her 🙂

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 Milly and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all. 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)

Successful Integration of a Third Dog

Integration of the new dog needs some forward planning.

This is just Chapter One of a story that I’m sure will have a very happy ending, even if there are one or two challenges along the way.

Integration of Chocolate Labrador

Max

The gentleman is doing his best to foresee every possible eventuality.

A family member is no longer able to care for three-year-old Chocolate Labrador, Max, and in a week or so the young dog is moving in with his own two very elderly dogs, Oscar and Ellie.

The oldest, Oscar, is now fifteen years old, a Labrador Collie mix. He’s a gorgeous old boy but is now losing his sight and hearing and is on a high dose of pain meds for arthritis and other things. He walks slowly.

Ellie, thirteen, is more lively and still has a mind of her own – having overtaken Oscar in this respect.

Both dogs are understandably fixed in their ways. They have their favourite lying-down places and their established eating places. They have a routine for when they are left and a routine for night time – Oscar can no longer make it up the stairs.

There is something enchanting about an old dog.

Ellie historically has had a couple of fallings-out with other dogs so it’s not a foregone conclusion that she will take immediately to an energetic young interloper.

The integration will initially require Max to be safely separate when the dogs are left at home alone, at night time and when eating. This means the old dogs’ routines will necessarily be changing a bit.

Ellie and Oscar

It’s a lot better to do this in advance so that it reduces the upheavel when the time comes. It’s only fair to disrupt the old dogs’ to the minimum at this stage in their lives.

So, they will now have a week or so acclimatising to a few changes. They will now remain sitting room behind a gate when left alone and at night – they had freedom before. One dog will need to get used to eating in a different place so that Max can be fed by himself. Neither dog wears a collar indoors but Ellie may later need something to get hold of, so she can wear hers for a few days to get her used to that.

.

We discussed ‘Integration Day’ in detail.

In addition to preparing the ground beforehand, we have planned that first meeting and then what happens after with the three dogs actually living together in the same house.

I am very fortunate to have friends in the ISCP who have spent years involved in fostering older dogs and I have drawn on their experience to get the initial introductions right.

Oscar

Oscar

Because Oscar can’t walk far, it presented problems regarding my usual method of dogs meeting in an open and neutral space. However, it can be done near home, outside the house. The meeting will be carefully choreographed, the dogs not only introduced in a certain order and in a rehearsed way, but also returning back into the house in a particular order also.

What happens then? It depends.

If all is well the dogs will go straight out into the garden together, calmly supervised, to continue getting to know one another.

It’s probable Max may be little too boisterous and need gentle restraining – we mustn’t forget it’s a big unpheavel for him as well. I suspect Oscar will be exhausted. We will see.

If all doesn’t go so well for some reason, then they have two gated rooms and the dogs can pass behind gates and get used to one another more gradually.

I will be back with Chapter Two to tell you how the introduction did go and how the three dogs are fitting in together.

  Six days later – the introduction  

 

 

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 these three dogs. I don’t go into detail. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, making sure that we are dealing with the real causes of barking. I also provide moral support and they will probably need it for a while. 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)

Allowing the Dog to Work Things Out

Two Labradors lying on sofaWhat a great evening I had with a lovely family and two wonderful Labradors. Black Lab Joey, four years old, is probably one of the calmest and most easy-going Labradors I have met. Golden Milly, also a rescue, is just one year old and a lot more bouncy.

Her lady owner is very committed to Milly’s training, taking her to regular classes with plenty of socialising and doggy daycare. Milly is a very bright and loves learning.

Sometimes there can be a bit of conflict, in my opinion, between what is learnt in formal training classes and the sort of behaviour that is needed for real life. My views may not be popular with everyone.

I myself prefer the dog to be allowed to work things out for herself rather than being given ‘commands’ to get her to do regular daily things. Commands (I prefer ‘requests’ or ‘cues’), have their value in situations where the dog is unable to make the right choice by herself in order to fit in with life alongside us humans.

A dog who is allowed to work things out for herself will become a lot more attentive without repeated commands thrown at her and, importantly, the dog will feel she has choice.

If one were to add up the number of times Milly has been told to sit and wait at the door before stepping out, it must run into hundreds. Does she still need to be told? If sitting at the door is what she wants, the lady simply needs to wait and after all this time Milly will sit eventually I’m sure. She may need to open the door slowly and be prepared to close it again if Milly gets up too soon – but she no longer needs to be told.

It’s the same with the jumping up. Conventional ‘training’ will probably teach the word ‘Off’ or else ask the dog to sit. I wonder how many times Milly has either been told to get down, to sit or been pushed down. Hundreds? Sure, she may get down in the moment but she will still jump up the next time and with the next person. This is causing problems when they have guests and when they meet someone when out. Milly only jumps up because it’s still rewarding to her in some way. If people only making it really rewarding when her feet are on the floor, she will work it out for herself.

The lady wants Milly to sit on a mat beside the stairs instead of jumping up at the stairgate and then onto her when she comes down in the morning.  About five stairs from the bottom she says ‘Mat’. To get her to stay there she has to keep repeating ‘Mat’ until she gets to the bottom.

How many times will she have said ‘Mat’ as she comes down the stairs, I wonder. Hundreds?

I’m sure, if she just waits, Milly will do as she has now been repeatedly taught. The desired behaviour needs reinforcing – the lady can drop food over the rail to Milly as she descends all the time she stays on the mat. If Milly gets up, the lady can step backwards and start again. She need not talk – in fact words will probably distract Milly.

Without my help the lady is already doing brilliantly with Milly. She’s a dog to be proud of.  I hope, however, that changing the emphasis to from obeying commands to encouraging the dog to learn some self-control and allowing her to work things out for herself will contribute that bit extra richness to their relationship.

Imagine how annoying it would be for you if every time you walk out of the room the same person says ‘Shut the door!’. You’ve got it!  You are going to shut that door! If you keep being nagged maybe you will rebel and stop shutting it!

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

Another Dog Scared of People

Today I met yet another dog who wasn’t happy to see me. This time, though, it was more straightforward. It was fear alone Black Labrador with a little Border Collie in the mix– there is nothing territorial or protective about Alfie’s behaviour.

Alfie is an eighteen-month-old mix of mostly Labrador with a little Border Collie in there somewhere. It’s hard to understand where the fear comes from. He was born into a family home and had plenty of human contact from the start. Perhaps it’s simply in his nature to be a bit timid. He is playful and loving and absolutely fine with people he has known since he was a puppy.

Isn’t he beautiful!

Alfie’s young owner, still at school, has done brilliantly with Alfie. She started by taking him to puppy classes and she has kept up the work conscientiously since. She is his chief walker and apart from his wariness of some people he meets when out, walks are good. He’s great with other dogs.

People are the problem. When someone new comes to the house (like myself) Alfie barks at them whilst backing off with his hackles up. I had arranged it so that I was settled and sitting down before he was brought in so he only gave a couple of barks at me. Without looking at him I was rolling small bits in his direction of the chicken that they had prepared for me in advance. Should he bark or should he eat the chicken? He is mostly greedy Labrador after all! It was not long before he was eating from my hand. I could even stand up and walk around without much reaction.

When I went to the loo I took the tub of cheese with me so that when I re-entered the room I could help him out. It’s hard to be fearful and chase bits of rolling cheese at the same time! When he then started to woof I pointed to pieces of cheese he had missed.

I am sure with more practice and plenty of tasty little morsels that Alfie’s being scared of people coming into his house will improve.

Outside things need to change a bit. Though he has never bitten anyone he is muzzled just in case. It may not look handsome but I was pleased to find they had a basket muzzle – he can still drink and pant. I suggested cutting some of the front out so he could eat too. He wouldn’t be able to bite anyone unless they were silly enough to put their hand in (he never has bitten anyone after all), but it means he can forage for food scattered on the ground when someone walks past or when they may want to stop to talk.

They find the muzzle is more a deterrent to keep people away. A Yellow Dog Champaign fluorescent vest reading ‘I Need Space’ could also help to repel those ‘dog lovers’ who bear down on dogs (‘Oh I love dogs, all dogs love me’).Labrador Border Collie mix with head on girl's shoulder.

There was one unfortunate incident the other day which prompted them to call me.Two little girls were playing in the road near Alfie’s house. One saw Alfie, who had just come out to the car, and started running towards him screaming ‘Alfie, Alfie’. He barked at her ferociously, hackles up, and frightened the child. Unfortunately his humans did a very ‘human’ thing. They were very cross with Alfie. If children were bad news to him before, they will be worse bad news now.

The family now understands that it’s not actually the barking at people who needs to be addressed – it’s the emotion that causes the barking which is fear. Punishing or scolding fear can’t help at all. Reducing the fear with positive associations is the way to go!

Reduce the fear and the fear-induced behaviour will reduce also.

About seven weeks later: ‘Overall we are seeing much calmer behaviour. He is much less aggressive/fearful in response to strangers’.

 

NB. The exact protocols to best and most safely use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Alfie, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here of the strategies I used. One size does not fit all. With this kind of issues, I suggest you find help sooner rather than later from an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).
Young black labrador lying down

Aggression Around Food Bowl

Millie is a gorgeous five-and-a-half month old Labrador of working stock. Apart from some jumping up she really was the model dog when I was there, biddable and affectionate. She has a lovely family who do everything good dog-owners should.

Twice every day, when she has her meals, her stress levels rocket and afterwards she is so aroused and wild that she is chewing furniture, jumping around the place, humping her bed, stealing things and being quite a challenge.

From the moment the lady or gentleman goes to the cupboard to get her food out of the bin she is becoming fired up. I saw this for myself. I didn’t see what usually follows as I suggested we put the food somewhere high and went back into the other room until she had calmed down.

What happens is, as the food goes down Millie starts to snarl and her hackles rise. Her whole demeanour completely changes. As she gulps the food down she sounds ferocious. They have tried many of the most usual things suggested for food guarding and she merely gets worse. Trying to add good stuff to the bowl as is often suggested – even throwing it from a distance – may cause her to launch herself at them.

One thinFive and a half month old black labradorg that was a little clue to me is that, when she’s finished eating, she attacks the metal bowl and throws it about. I suspect this is as much about the bowl as it is about the actual food. When given a treat, for instance, although she may be a bit snatchy there is no aggression. She was like this more or less from the start and it’s getting worse and worse. She was the smallest puppy in the litter of eight. Food guarding problems can start when the puppies are all fed together out of one bowl and one is pushed out.

The family hadn’t fed her so we worked out a plan. They now had the food out of the cupboard ready (in future they will get the food out in advance). Millie had calmed down and we went back to the kitchen. I watched the lady over the breakfast bar as she followed my suggestions, to see if I had indeed hit upon a workable tactic.

(NB. If you have a dog with these sort of issues, please don’t assume that this approach as suitable for your own dog. It may be the very worst things you can do. It’s important to get professional help so that strategies are based on diagnosis of your dog’s own specific behaviour in context).

The lady was to feed her at the furthest corner from the door and away from any people passing, directly onto the floor.  Millie was calm. A container with her food (not her own bowl) was on the surface beside the lady who had her hands behind her back and was facing this corner. Millie was thinking – what’s this about? Where’s my food? She looked the lady in the eye who immediately said ‘Yes’ and dropped a small handful of the food on the floor in front of her. Millie ate it calmly. The lady waited. Millie looked into her eyes again, ‘Yes’ and more food went down. This carried on until the last handful whereupon the lady walked out and left Millie to it. She shut the gate behind her to pre-empt any wild behaviour being taken into the sitting room. There was none.

They will do this for at least a couple of weeks before upping the ante. Millie should be a lot calmer in general without these manic bouts twice a day and I reckon small signs of aggression that are developing in other areas will disappear.

The next step in the process will be to drop the food onto a flat place mat rather than directly onto the floor and see how that goes. There is no rush. After a week or two they can try something with shallow sides like a tray, moving onto a low-sided heavy baking dish, eventually using a large, heavy porcelain dog bowl and not the small metal bowl she now has.

There are other things to put into place also, but I believe the jigsaw will eventually be complete if they are sufficiently patient and try not to hyper her up to much in general.

Five weeks later: “I’m pleased to report that Millie is definitely showing improvement in most areas, including growling over her food. We are still feeding her onto a place mat but when it spills off the side I can reach down and push it back onto the mat without any reaction from her at all, which is good. We are doing what we can to keep her stress levels down and it’s definitely making a difference to her overall behaviour. “

NB. The precise protocols to best and most safely use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Millie, which is why I don’t go into exact detail details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good, causing danger even. 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).

Barking Dogs Getting Used to New Life

The three dogs bark The dogs’ barking is a problem.

Previously the lady had lots of land where her four dogs could run free, and she spent a large part of the day outside with them and her horses. The dogs lived in a conservatory with access to the outside.  Living out in the country, the dogs’ barking was no problem and was actually welcomed for the security it offered. It was fine life that suited everyone very well.

Then the lady’s circumstances changed, and a couple of months ago she moved to somewhere smaller with just a garden – and near neighbours.

To start with the dogs were left in the conservatory as before, with access to the garden, but their barking caused problems with neighbours. There were, after all, many new sounds to alarm the dogs. Consequently, their environment has necessarily become increasingly small to limit barking. They will now live in the kitchen where they will hear fewer sounds and any barking will be muffled.

At the moment their life is neither one thing or another. On one hand, gone are the freedoms and outdoor activities of the old life, but on the other hand it has not been replaced by any alternative.  Where they before had outdoor freedom and stimulation and plenty of company, they now have much less of both.

They now need to learn to be polite house dogs and the lady can build her bond with them accordingly.

One of the dogs, four-year-old black Labrador Bramble, is a nervous dog.  She was hand-reared as a puppy, her mother and siblings having died, and she has not been exposed in her early months to enough people and everyday things like traffic so she is scared. She barks Wary of people and too much barkingconstantly in the car at everything she sees. She has snapped a few times when someone has gone to touch her. Her lunging at traffic makes her hard to handle, so these things, along with the barking, are what we will be working on.

On the right was the best picture I could take of Bramble – she didn’t like being photographed!

The lady has two more Labradors, one aged fourteen and the other a strong two-year-old Chocolate  elevn year old Springer SpanielLabrador. She also has an eleven-year old Spaniel (I couldn’t resist taking this picture of him!). Because of their behaviour on walks which now have to be mostly on lead and where they encounter more people, dogs and traffic than they are accustomed to, she is unable to walk more than one dog at a time.

She now therefore has quite a complicated daily dog-walking rota which she admits has become a tedious chore where once being outside with her dogs and horses was a joy.

Because of the constant worry about the barking dogs upsetting the neighbours every time they hear something along with the walks being challenging, neither the lady nor her dogs are enjoying life together quite as they used to.  Dog problems can become quite overwhelming at times, but changing objectives and doing things a bit differently will change all that.

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

Won’t Come Back When Called

Labrador Marley doesn't come back when calledWhen they opened the door for me to go, Marley simply walked out and down the road, coming back home about fifteen minutes later. We may have done some loose-lead walking but he didn’t consider that to be his morning walk, so he went by himself.

The previous dog I went to, a mixed breed called Milly (see previous story), looked like a Labrador but wasn’t – Marley is the real thing.

Needless to say, one of the two problems I was called to help with is the fact he just won’t come back when called. I had seen it for myself. As we all called him, he looked round at us, grinned, and ran around a corner leading to the field.

The other issue is pulling on lead. They want walks to be enjoyable and have tried ‘traditional’ training which involves correction and holding the lead tight, with no success at all.  With a different mental approach and different equipment, we walked Marley about the front of the property on a loose lead.

Just like Milly, Marley is two and a half. They have had him for six months before which he lived on a farm and one can guess he had a fair amount of freedom. Another thing he has in common with Milly is that his only problems occur outside.

Marley has come a long way in the past six months. They have resolved many issues including begging for food and jumping up on people. Like many Labradors he is simply full of life and enthusiasm. He needs a good run and chase which he can’t do anymore due to his running off and ignoring them.

Working on the recall will be a lot longer process because things have happened the wrong way around. My feelings are that puppies should have very restricted physical boundaries and freedom should be introduced gradually (with a bit of reining in again when the dog becomes adolescent) so that ‘not coming back when called’ simply never becomes an option. In Marley’s past life, due to the freedom he very likely had, he expects to freelance. The only way to deal with this is for him to lose freedom for as long as it takes while they work on it, using a very long line, so he has no option of escaping.  At present he’s on a retractable lead which by definition is never slack. We can’t do proper work on recall if the dog doesn’t feel free.

At the moment calling Marley in the usual way is a waste of energy. To him whether he comes or not is optional.  They will now use a whistle – first charging it like battery so running to them immediately for something especially tasty becomes an automatic response when he hears it.  For the forseeable future they will not use it unless they are sure he will come or unless he’s on the long line and has no choice.

The loose lead walking is more of a technique to teach a dog to do something that doesn’t come naturally – to walk at a human pace when he is eager to get somewhere or play with another dog, and to walk near his humans because he wants to and not because he is forced to.

I predict that it will be months before they dare let him off, even briefly. If meanwhile he gets the opportunity to run off again they will set things right back.

This isn’t merely a matter of training though. Marley already has ‘learnt’ what coming when called means. He simply doesn’t do it.

Why would that be? Because what he wants to do is far more relevant and exciting to him than coming back to his humans. In general he gets their attention whenever he asks for it, rather than the other way around – his humans getting HIS attention when they ask for it.  In order of relevance to Marley when he is out, his humans come way down the list.  With people to greet, smells to explore and dogs to play with, it’s a no-brainer to Marley!

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).