No Impulse Control Around People. Jumps and Bites.

Beau has no impulse control around peopleAbsolutely no impulse control around people, that is the problem.

Beautiful Beau is a big strong Chocolate Labrador. He’s 9 months of age and his teeth hurt. With no impulse control, his biting and grabbing of my clothes would have been nearly constant had not the lady held him back. It was a struggle for her.

I have to call it ‘biting’ because he was using his teeth with some force, but there was no aggression behind it. No growling or hostility. There wasn’t fear either though possibly the level of his arousal involved more than just pleasure to see me. He will have been uncertain as well.

Jumping, biting and no impulse control has become his default response for dealing with the excitement he feels.

Both the lady and her adult son are accustomed to being bitten when Beau gets too excited. He bites sufficiently hard to bruise but not to break skin. He was an unusually nippy and bitey puppy. Like many people, they will unwittingly have encouraged teeth on human flesh through play – contact sports using their hands.

No impulse control.

A stitch in time saves nine, as they say. If, from the outset when Beau was a little puppy, both jumping up and grabbing with teeth were consistently and persistently met with no reinforcement but an acceptable alternative offered, he wouldn’t be doing it now.

Tug of war played properly is a much better game. Puppy has to learn that if teeth even unintentionally touch flesh, all fun immediately stops. He then learns to be careful.

Usually dogs like this will have very high stress levels and constantly be ready to ‘explode’. This doesn’t seem the case with Beau. His home is calm. Generally he’s no more excited than any other 9-month-old Labrador, but when he does get aroused, it’s always teeth.

Beau is given plenty of enrichment and he’s not left alone for too long. He doesn’t do the usual things that build stress in a dog such as excessive barking, getting over-excited before a walk and panicking when left alone.

It’s all around people

He has no impulse control around people. When someone comes to his house or if they meet people when out on a walk he morphs into a different dog.

Why does he find people quite so stimulating, I wonder? He has been very well socialised from the start.

The lady so much wants to have social walks with her lovely dog and to invite friends round, but she can’t because he bites them! Things are getting worse. Could this be that she herself is becoming increasingly anxious? As I sat with her in the kitchen, I could feel her very understandable tension and anxiety. If I could feel it, then so would Beau.

Having been rehearsing the biting and jumping for months since he was a small puppy, it will now be learned behaviour – a habit.

How can we break it?

Learned behaviour – a habit.

What we have to work on is both the cause of the behaviour as well as the behaviour itself – and this cause is over-excitement around people and no self-control when aroused.

To succeed, Beau must be prevented from rehearsing the biting anymore in every way possible. It simply has to be made impossible. Without an experienced professional actually living with them with nothing else to do than work with Beau, I can see no other way than extensive use of a basket muzzle to begin with. When he gets his ‘rough’ times at home with his family, when friends visit and when he’s out and likely to encounter people, his mouth has to be taken out of action.

This will be much better than banishing him.

A basket muzzle is best because he has freedom open and close his mouth, to drink and to eat treats. If introduced properly so that it’s always associated with good things, he shouldn’t mind it too much. I know this could be controversial.

Without now being hurt, they must now teach him different habits and better ways of getting attention. He also needs better ways of relieving his quick-building arousal and frustration levels. In removing the ability to bite from his repertoire, they need to supply replacement activities and outlets.

I suggested a gate for the kitchen so at times when he’s likely to use his teeth or when people come, he can go behind it with something acceptable to chew until he has calmed down. Use of ‘No’ and ‘Down’ can only increase his frustration whilst in a way being reinforcing to him as well.

Self control.

When I was there, Beau held lead on harness to prevent the biting of me, we constantly used his food to reinforce every moment of desired behaviour.  He sat, he got food. He lay down and was silently rolled a piece of his kibble.

The emphasis must now be on reinforcing the behaviour that they DO want. People, when out, will be kept at whatever distance is necessary while they work on his self-control using positive reinforcement. He will learn that sitting or standing calmly brings dividends but this is only possible when not too close.

Jumping and biting is simply Beau’s default both when aroused or when feeling unsure of himself – both at home and when out on walks.

We shouldn’t underestimate the effectiveness of a dog having something in his mouth where the teeth are, whether it’s a ball, something that squeaks or even a bone! It all depends – all dogs are different.

What actually is excitement anyway and is it always pure joy? Wouldn’t we feel excited on a Big Dipper? Wouldn’t we be feeling scared before a bungee jump and isn’t that part of the buzz?

As Beau gains some self control and is helped to calm down around people, the muzzle can be used less and less until it’s no longer necessary.

 

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 Beau. 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. The muzzle idea may be totally inappropriate in another case. 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).

 

Bites a Friend. The Result of High Arousal

One of their little dogs bites a friend entering the house. Everything changes.

He is now muzzled when people come and when he’s out.

The whole situation is very stressful for everyone in the family. The first goal, before doing anything else, is to see how much we can calm things down.

He bites a lady

Luka

‘Operation calm’

With calmer little dogs should come a less stressed lady. She and her husband have a lot on their plate with a teenage daughter who needs round the clock care.

The dogs help the girl to feel happy. Some alarm barking makes her feel safe. Unfortunately the barking is uncontrollable.

We sat at the kitchen table and the two dogs rushed into the room, barking. Luka, a 21-month-old Jack Russell Chihuahua mix, was muzzled. Jack Russell Sasha, 5, was friendly and soon stopped her barking.

Luka’s muzzle was removed. He seemed okay with me for a while and then began to bark again. The muzzle was put back on – they are understandably nervous.

The muzzle actually seemed to calm him right down as I have found can sometimes be the case with a certain kind of muzzle. It may work like a calming band. When it came off he was friendly and chilled for a while.

I took my photos when the dogs were being held – the only time they were sufficiently still!

The dogs barked at the slightest sound. They leapt all over us, springing up from the floor, even onto the table itself.

Because the lovely daughter is unable to pick them up, it’s necessary that they jump. They jump onto her lap when she’s in her wheelchair and they leap onto her bed where she spends quite a lot of time. They sleep on her bed with her.

When highly aroused, Luka may also redirect onto Sasha.

This is a case of picking our battles. We will forget about the jumping up as working on that could cause even more stress for all concerned.

My first goal is to calm everything down. A stressed owner creates stressed dogs and visa versa.

Life changes when our dog bites.

One can imagine how distressing it is when our much-loved dog bites someone. A lady friend was walking into the house. The dogs somehow got out of the kitchen.

It is absolutely certain that this would not have happened were it not for stress. Stress builds up to the point where all self control goes out of the window and one final, sometimes minor, trigger is the last straw.

They have had building work for the past few weeks which has led to constant barking. The highly aroused dogs somehow got out of the kitchen. The person was carrying food. They were jumping all over her – Luka barking. She fussed them. The lady owner will have been extremely anxious. The jumping up may have aggravated Luka’s knee problem.

The lady takes a step forward.

Luka goes for her.

He bites the lady – twice.

They will now gate the kitchen doorway so they have a bit more control over where the dogs go.

The dogs can be helped to calm down with something to chew or do, marrow bones or a stuffed Kong each, for instance. To avoid trouble between them they will be one each side of the gate.

The family has so much on their plate just now that simply calming things down has to be the place to start. After all, arousal and stress is at the bottom of both the barking and bites.

 

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 Luka and Sasha. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any form of aggressive behaviour 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).

Punishment and Deprivation v. Reward and Enrichment

Punishment and deprivation? Is this the way to get compliance?

It’s hard picking up the pieces when a conscientious and well-meaning dog owner has been following old-fashioned, dominance-based advice using punishment and intimidation through ignorance, believing someone who sets himself up as an authority saying it’s the way to do things.

It’s also extremely upsetting for the owner when their eyes are opened. Fortunately, things can only get better now.

A short while ago German Shepherd Banjo returned from a £2,000 four weeks at a board-and-train establishment.

He returned obedient – and cowed.

Bit by bit he’s returning to his former ways and their punitive methods, necessarily intensified for ongoing effectiveness, are now ceasing to work as he grows immune to them.

The young lady took on a painfully thin one-year-old a couple of years ago, his third home.

For the first few weeks things went well. He would walk past people, dogs and traffic as though they weren’t there.

Bit by bit he became more reactive.

The history of the next couple of years after this is complicated and Banjo’s behaviour to people he didn’t know in particular worsened. The lady then had to move house.

To save Banjo from the upheaval of the move whilst also doing something about his aggression to people and other difficult behaviours, he was sent to to the board and train establishment.

What a great idea, one might think.

The lady brought Banjo home with a list of instructions.

All toys must be removed.

He must be given no chews of bones.

When walking he should not be allowed to stop and sniff.

Any stepping out of line had to result in punishment.

She must use a slip lead and yank him back if he stepped in front of her.

She should spray him with water and shout if he barked at anything.

He no longer could have breakfast – one meal a day only.

He must not be be given food rewards. No extras apart from this one meal.

She may not play with him.

Within a couple of weeks, having yanked him with the slip lead to the point where he nearly passed out, the lady ditched it and got a harness. She started to allow him to sniff once more on walks. Walks being Banjo’s only ‘allowed’ activity, she takes him out as much as she can despite the problems.

Any reactive encounter with a dog or a person would however still result in punishment by means of water being sprayed in his face.

She has been following advice, believing it to be the only way to help him. She cares for him deeply.

The level of punishment is no longer sufficient.

Because they couldn’t stop his barking at people passing the window, the response of the trainer when contacted was to get a Pet Corrector can of compressed air – ‘that would fix him’.

It did to begin with. Then it stopped working. It made him worse. Is that surprising?

It’s so distressing to see conscientious, responsible dog owners being led to believe by a so-called ‘expert’, totally ignorant of behavioural science, that this is the thing to do. The lady thought she had researched the best help possible.

Banjo operates on ‘bite first, think later’. He charged into the room, muzzled, and launched himself at my arm. Had I not been prepared I would have received multiple serious bites.

Working at a distance from the lady who had the muzzled Banjo on lead and by her feeding him through the muzzle each time he looked at me from across the room, Banjo was soon lying down relaxing which was a big surprise to them.

In behaviour work we look at what ‘function’ a Punishment isn't gong to make Blade like humans any betterbehaviour serves the dog. Why does it work for him? The function served here is obvious. Lunging to bite drives the person away. They will recoil. That’s just what he wants.

He doesn’t have good associations with people he doesn’t know. This will doubtless have started when he was a tiny puppy, under-socialised or else not socialised kindly.

Add to this the sort of experience and punishment to ‘train’ him that he will have suffered at the hands of this trainer, it’s little wonder he simply wants to get people out of his space asap.

Off with the old and on with the new.

To make any real difference we need to get Banjo to feel differently about people. Punishment for reacting can only make it worse.

When he’s at his most upset, the very humans he should be able to trust for some reason turn on him.

They will now reverse everything that trainer imposed, ditching punishment, water bottles, compressed air cans and slip leads, and adding plenty of positive stuff.

They will use food in training. Why should I use food in training?

Now they will either give Banjo two meals a day or use some of his food for brain work and reward – making him work for it.

Instead of trying to intimidate him when he barks at people walking past, rehearsing his aggressive reactions to them, they will address the root cause.

They will bring out all his toys again. When he’s shut away they will give him things to chew and do like stuffed Kongs. They will play ‘find it’ games and he can forage for some of his dry food. They will find ways of enriching his life.

He will now have a comfortable harness and a longer lead to experience some freedom.

Muzzled for everyone’s safety, all encounters with people will be dealt with in an encouraging and positive fashion at a comfortable distance. He will get help with his reactivity to traffic, not punishment.

Now Banjo’s owners can relax and treat the beautiful, intelligent, affectionate three-year-old German Shepherd as a family member with the right to make some of his own choices in a life which offers some enrichment, not as a slave.

Punishment and deprivation are ways of forcing slaves to comply.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Banjo and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression is concerned. 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)

Punish her and she will Learn

“If we punish her she should learn not to do it again”.

A few weeks ago nine-month-old Dandie Dinmont for the first time went for the older, gentle Cocker Spaniel, Mimi (12). She grabbed her ear and wouldn’t let go. Mimi was screaming. Pandemonium followed. The lady yelled at the dogs. She tried to pull the two bitches apart. She cried ‘Get a bucket of water’. Water didn’t make Dandie, Suzie, let go, in fact it probably fired her up further. Panic.

Flo

Flo

Eventually a handful of food broke it up.

Suzie was punished.

Now, to me, this first attack wasn’t really too serious. No blood was drawn. Suzie could have damaged Mimi’s ear badly but no blood was drawn. If she was really in the red zone, would she have stopped for food?

Human reaction, noise and panic will, over a few more similar incidents, have escalated the whole thing into another sphere, resulting in Mimi finally turning on Suzie. The man, caught in the action, was badly bitten, ending up in hospital with a bad bite that went septic.

Suzie wants to control not to kill. The man has now experienced what happens when the dog really means it.

With hindsight the first attack should have been taken as a big warning that something was going wrong with the relationship between the two dogs.

I shan’t here go into the various techniques of breaking up a fight once it has begun as there is no universal solution – one size fit all. It’s so easy to say ‘keep calm’ but experienced dog people who deal with this sort of thing on a regular basis wouldn’t panic. The aim now is to make absolutely sure it can’t happen again.

I wonder where it all started? The seeds will have been sown well before that first attack on Mimi. It will have been brewing. The little Dandie Dinmont was becoming increasingly growly when Mimi was fussed and would react badly if not given treats first. Mimi’s own weakness may well have brought out the worst in Suzie. Hindsight, again, is a wonderful thing, but this is the point at which teenage Suzie’s bullying of Mimi should have been addressed.

Its a nightmare for the whole family as they adore their dogs. They so badly want to keep Suzie (the breeder will have her back) that they accept they will need to do things differently now.

They were disbelieving when I suggested that punishing Suzie would only make things worse and I knew I had a challenge explaining why. 

To punish a dog opens a can of worms.

It damages our relationship with the dog.  Countering violence with violence can only make aggression worse and this is very well documented. If positive punishment, physical or otherwise, did work, instead of escalating there would have been no further incidents.

The (very understandable) human anger has had fallout. I doubt whether punishment will, to the dog, be directly related to the attack itself for several reasons. One is that punishment continues after the fight has stopped (the dog will have been hit after she had let go).

Another big factor is that both dogs will now associate the other dog with something terrifying – her humans losing it and becoming, to them, unpredictable monsters. Each time one dog looks at the other her emotions will be poisoned with this association.

I suspect this human contribution will have had far more impact than any pain or fear either dog has inflicted upon the other.

Scared

Scared Mimi

Both dogs are wary in their own way. It’s sad to see Mimi so scared, not only of Suzie but of her humans, after twelve years of happiness. Even Suzie is very appeasing. In the context she offered it, I don’t feel her constantly dropping to the floor and lying on her back is solely to invite a tummy rub.

The situation must now be reversed and it will take time and patience. Relationship-building between humans and dogs is now a priority. It should involve one-to-one time – walks, training, play – with each dog individually, earning her trust by motivating her, being consistent and predictable.

At present the two dogs tend to focus mainly on one another. The focus of each dog should now be more upon their humans.

Now each dog also needs to be helped to associate the other with pleasant stuff only.

We discussed the common denominators around the incidents. Doorways was one of them. Each time Suzie grabbed Mimi it was her ear – not a killer grab.  Each time it unleashed a tsunami of human panic and reaction.  The final time Mimi turned.

Punish leading to appeasement

Tummy rub or appeasing?

Everyone must play safe for now. Belt and braces. They will put up two gates. Both dogs will be introduced to muzzles as a standby.

Instead of having them mostly together (with Mimi now hiding) and separating them when they feel it’s necessary (if they remember), they should make the default being ‘dogs apart’. They will only have them together in a controlled and planned way when everything is calm, away from any doors to the outside.

We are looking at management and controlling the environment for the foreseeable future.

We are looking to build a stronger relationship between each dog individually with her humans.

We are looking at changing how each dog feels towards the other dog.

* Used here in the sense of ‘positive punishment’ not ‘negative punishment’.
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 Flo and Lly and I’ve not gone into exact 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)

Pica? Swallow Could End in Tragedy

The dictionary definition of pica in medicine is the “pathological craving for substance unfit for food”  Dictionary.com.

Does he suffer from Pica?

Wilson – one pale eye and one dark eye

I would hardly interpret Wilson’s ingesting of inappropriate items as a ‘craving’. It’s not constant. From my questioning the behaviour is likely to happen under certain circumstances.

Five weeks ago the wonderful young Bernese Mountain Dog had to be cut open for a second time to remove a buildup of things he had swallowed – a child’s sock and a dummy.

Just fourteen months old, Wilson suffers from IBD in the small intestine. He was referred to a specialist vet for his stomach issues and is on daily steroids. For medical reasons they won’t be able to open him up again.

If he gets another blockage it will be curtains for the wonderful Wilson.

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Are there degrees of pica?

If from time to time the swallowing of inappropriate objects is pica, then that’s what Wilson has. However, if pica is defined by being a craving, it may not actually be pica.

Not being a vet or expert in this I can’t say. Perhaps someone will enlighten me. There is a list of possible medical causes for pica of which IBD is one.

Malnutrition or vitamin deficiency is another – pica can be caused by lack of nutrition. In this case it does seem a bit chicken and egg. The dog has a delicate stomach so can only eat certain things without an upset so his diet could be better and possibly he doesn’t digest it properly.

In addition to this, I can see a strong behavioural element. Mainly it’s when Wilson becomes frustrated, bored or stressed that the lifting of anything he can put in his mouth objects is triggered. He lives in a family with two very young boys. Noise and excitement could well cause Wilson to steal toys and any rubbish.

The walk situation gives a big clue to the main trigger.

Because he is mostly walked by the lady with a buggy, the big dog’s pulling could be disastrous. He wears a Halti. He hates it. All the way until he’s is let off lead he is trying to scrape it off on the ground.

To see him so unhappy with it is distressing for the lady also.

One can imagine that when he does get the instrument of torture and restriction removed, Wilson will be brimming with frustration and built-up tension.

He is free! The lady may well then be paying attention to the little children. Not to Wilson. About six weeks ago he took the tiny boy’s sock as it dangled from his foot, ran off with it and swallowed it. Later he picked up the child’s dummy from the ground and ate it. Neither items passed through.

Hence the final operation.

When Wilson is walked minus children he is less inclined to pick things up. So long as they call him soon enough he will usually come back. He now has to be much more motivated to listen to them and come away from things every time when called, rewarding to him in terms of food, fun or both.

I suggest they train him to the whistle – something a lot more piercing. Even if the walks have to be shorter, one of them should walk him alone more often and give him their full attention.

They must abandon that Halti. With a bit of practice he will walk a lot better on a Perfect Fit harness with a training lead fastened front and top than he does on a head halter, and they will have just as much physical control. Wilson will then arrive at the park happy and in a good state of mind.

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A muzzle is a must.

As it’s so vital he swallows nothing else that might get stuck, if they are walking with the children or any other time they can’t give him their full attention, they must muzzle Wilson so that he simply can’t pick things up.

I feel that, medical issues aside, psychologically Wilson is trying to find some fulfillment in one way that he has control over – by swallowing things. It’s exacerbated by frustration and boredom. It earns attention of a sort. He’s a clever dog lacking sufficient mental activity. This vacuum in his life needs to be filled by his humans with activities that provide him with healthy stimulation.

One walk a day may not be enough. Two shorter ones may be better.

To help him de-stress he needs lots of ‘allowed’ things to chew – marrow bones, Stagbars, stuffed Kongs and so on. They can be rotated to retain novelty value. He needs plenty of games and training in bringing things, ‘give’, ‘drop’ and exchanging things.

With plenty of company and loving owners you would think Wilson had a perfect life, but it’s mostly about fitting in with the family and children. In essence, while he’s young and energetic, Wilson needs more ‘Wilson’ time.

Then he will become a more fulfilled dog with less need to find inappropriate ways of fulfilling himself.

 

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 Wilson and I’ve not gone into exact 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 health issues of any kind are concerned where consulting a vet is vital. 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)

Eating Rubbish

Red and White King Charles Spaniel who likes eating rubbishLittle Chutney, an adorable six-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, at twelve weeks of age became very ill. What was probably kennel cough quickly developed into pneumonia and he ended up in veterinary hospital and was on various drugs for a couple of months. He nearly died. Normal puppyhood was suspended.

He is now catching up.

Understandably his owners are inclined to mollycoddle him and panic, particularly when he picks something up like a twig or a piece of paper. They had initially wrongly believed his illness had been due to inhaling something, and their understandable reaction to his running off with a twig for example – chasing him, enticing him, bribing him then maybe forcing the item off him – is now actually making his ‘scavenging’ for things like twigs, leaves and bits of paper and eating rubbish a lot worse.

The chase that ensues will be stimulating and maybe even a little scary and he is responding with the beginnings of resource guarding behaviour.

I’ve not myself come across a dog that has suffered though swallowing a small piece of paper or tissue though there may be isolated cases, unless the dog has a serious pica disorder. Usually if a tiny twig is swallowed it’s chewed up first and passes through – though certainly could harm if swallowed whole. If chewing twigs, paper and non-poisonous leaves regularly killed puppies, there would be a lot of dead puppies.

Chutney’s owners will need to relax if he’s to change because the longer he rehearses the ‘scavenge/chase/retrieve the item’ cycle the more entrenched it becomes. Management is the first thing. Already they are taking him outside to toilet on lead. They could introduce him to a tiny basket muzzle for the garden – he can drink and pant but not pick things up. They probably have already checked their garden for any poisonous plants or leaves.

Indoors they should no longer give him free run. For now he should be in the same room as themselves or shut in his crate where he is perfectly happy, with something to do. Anything obviously worrying should be lifted (as it is already).Chutney2

The next and most difficult thing for this lovely couple is to make an assessment as to whether the object could really harm Chutney and if not to ignore it. If it’s a tissue, so be it. He may well intensify his efforts when he no longer gets the predicted result so they could try walking out on him and shutting the door briefly rather than reacting.

Because he is still a puppy and at last feeling well enough to make up for lost time, they should give him plenty of things that he can chew and not just commercial items. He can have milk cartons, toilet roll tubes and plastic water bottles with kibble in, for instance. If they are not left down they will have some novelty value.

The last challenge is how to get things off him that may be dangerous. The more he knows they want the item, the more valuable it becomes to him and the more likely he is to swallow it to make sure that they don’t get it! Scattering food on the floor works well – it may need to be strong-smelling – so that he drops the item to get the food giving time to lift the item with no fuss.

Running off with things needs to be replaced with exchanging them. I do this from the start with my own dogs. When puppy has a toy in his mouth I say Give and feed him in return. I will admire the toy and then give it back to him. My dogs love giving me things! The secret, when taking something away, is to offer the dog something of higher value to him until ‘Give’ is firmly established.

If one of my dogs has something that I want in his or her mouth, they will always drop the item into my hand when I ask for it and I always, without fail, say thank you with a piece of kibble I have in my pocket (though I understand not everybody is like me, carrying dog food around all the time!).

They can set him up with a game that has several items in order of value to him, then offer the lowest and exchange for the next one up and so on, allowing him to keep the last, most valuable one – probably a food item. Tug of war is a great game for playing Take’ and ‘Give’. ‘Leave it’ is useful too when you happen to see the dog about to pick something up.

The other challenge with Chutney is that he may ignore them when they call him.

Eventually and with some hard work on his recall and ‘Give’, when Chutney has something inappropriate in his mouth they will be able to call him to them. He will come straight away and give it up willingly, being rewarded for doing so.

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 Chutney. 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).

Condemned to Death – For What?

Sharpei

Bobbie with her head on my leg

The vet said ‘bring her in tomorrow at 11am to be put down’. Condemned to death solely based on the behaviour in the vet’s room of a terrified dog who hates being touched by strangers. She was so frantic she managed to tear off the muzzle.

I was initially a little wary of the two-year-old Bobbie, but only based on what I had been told. It’s hard to read the face or tail of a Shar-Pei. She didn’t bark when I arrived and was simply interested in sniffing me. I could see no hint of a dangerous dog. I knew that she doesn’t like to be touched by strangers and why should she? Do we? It could be that she lacks some peripheral vision due to the wrinkles and gets no warning of an approaching hand.

Bobbie (name and details altered) hasn’t actually bitten anyone!

Her behaviour had changed dramatically over the past three months, coinciding with changes in other circumstances and with a male friend now coming in daily to take the dog out for walks. He may over-excite her and thinks teasing is a game. There had been few unpredictable happenings to badly scare her.

At about the same time Bobbie began to change towards the 14-year-old daughter also. From being an affectionate dog he started grumbling at her, walking away when she approached. It came to a head when the girl touched Bobbie while he was lying between her and her mum. The lady had been petting Bobbie. The dog jumped on the girl, pinning her, snarling into her face.

The fact she didn’t bite when she could have done in fact shows considerable inhibition. What suddenly made her feel so angry? Was it pain? A vet check is very difficult at the moment. Was it jealousy – “go away, she’s mine”? Her hand may have been moving over the dog towards the lady – was it protectiveness? My own feelings are that because of the heightened, stressed and confused state Bobbie has been in for the past three months, it would only need something very small to finally tip her over the edge.

The lady has done a lot of great work training Bobbie. She is very perceptive where her beloved dog is concerned so it’s surprising that, when out on the walk which she fits in at the start of her very busy day, she gives Bobbie little opportunity to make her own choices or relax on a longer, looser lead, controlling even her toileting which must be in a chosen place and on command. She is under tight control and the lady has a strict routine. The man on the other hand doesn’t try to control her at all but may be erratic and inconsistent.

They need to put things back to where they were three months ago before all this started. The lady is happy for the man not to call in any more to walk the dog when she is at work so that things can be more calm and consistent.

She will try to relax a little where walks are concerned and let go of her tight schedule a little, bearing in mind that a dog walk should be fulfilling the dog’s needs. So long as she spends the same length of time out, how this time is filled can be more flexible. Poor Bobbie can be a bit obsessive about things and wants to constantly mark when out. The fact she is forcibly prevented from doing so could well make her need to do so all the greater.

This is not an easy start to the day for a dog and it may be more of a coincidence that the incident with the daughter took place in the morning, after Bobbie’s walk.

The lady wrote me a long list of things that stress, over-excite or scare Bobbie and dealing with these is our starting point. Giving Bobbie self-calming things to do will also help. Her dislike of being approached directly and touched by people she doesn’t know well should be respected. Work now needs to be done in a calm and consistent way where her reactivity to other dogs is concerned and she needs to trust the person on the other end of the lead. Trust is so important.

Gradually Bobbie should start to relax back to her old self. It has been heartbreaking for the lady who has read and researched in order to do her best. It can be hard to see things objectively that you live in the middle of.

AND – they will change vet! Bobbie can be walked into the waiting room many times over the next few weeks and there she can be given treats. The lady, who has done so much great training with her dog, can work on weaning her into happily wearing the muzzle. A good vet will take his or her time to help Bobbie relax before touching 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 Bobbie. 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).

Poppy Doesn’t Like Being Touched

Border Collie with German Shepherd EarsPoppy is a Border Collie with German Shepherd ears. Look at them – and at that face!

Just as not all of us like too much fussing, pulling about and excitement, Poppy is a sensitive and somewhat fearful dog who isn’t keen on being touched unless she so chooses (to many of my friends a weekend of being pampered and massaged at Champneys would be heaven but to me it would be hell. I, unlike Poppy, have free will and can refuse).

There have been several biting incidents, on family members, and all have involved her being touched in some way when she doesn’t want to be touched – having touching forced upon her. All bites have also involved her already being in a highly aroused and stressed state.

She belongs to a couple with the man’s mum, a warm, effervescent and tactile lady who plays a big part in Poppy’s life, living just down the road. Unhappily, she is the receiver of the worst bites and understandably it upsets her greatly. Her manner is simply ‘too much’ for Poppy who probably feels overwhelmed.

Each incident has taken place when Poppy was already stirred up by something. She has undoubtedly given plenty of warnings over her three years which have been unheeded or punished. Sadly they have been watching the popular TV trainer who advocates dominance and pinning down and they are suffering the fallout.

The final and worst incident is an absolutely perfect example of how one thing leads to another as fuel is added to the fire, until some sort of explosion is inevitable.

Every day at lunch time the mother comes to the couple’s house to walk Poppy. Poppy may initially stay up the stairs growling at her. The lady does everything she can to get her to coax her down – and then the drama starts.

She takes Poppy out for a walk while the couple are at work. It is always the same ritual and route. The dog bolts out of the gate to the car. She is so wild in the car that in order to stop her redirecting her stress onto chewing the upholstery the lady muzzles her. At the field, she removes the muzzle and immediately throws Poppy a stick, otherwise she will attack the car tyres.

On this particular occasion she had her two grandchildren with her (8 and 10 – she never growls at them) who will, being children, have been playful and talkative – just as the lady is herself! They reached the river to find some excitable kids in a boat on the usually quiet river. Then a bird-scare gun went off. Poppy dropped to the ground. The lady bent over her to comfort her and she grumbled, but that was all. Then there was a second bang, the lady cuddled Poppy who immediately bit her on the hand which is now black and bruised. The dog then lay there and shook.

The lady, though scared by now, pinned Poppy to the ground – because she, like so many others taken in by the showmanship of this TV man, believed it was the right and only thing to do in the circumstances.

When she let go of her, Poppy bit her other arm.

A totally different approach is needed.

So today I was on the end of the phone with the lady and we did lunchtime differently. The emphasis was on quiet and calm with no pressure whatsoever being put on Poppy. She came in the front door and ignored Poppy grumbling up the stairs. No jolly, excited hellos or trying to entice her down – just ‘Hi, Poppy’ and walking on into the kitchen.

We had played a ‘Come when Called’ game yesterday and the lady did this from the kitchen with exactly the same words and tone of voice as we had used. Poppy came willingly for her – a first. She was learning that she was rewarded with a tiny bit of food instead of noisy enthusiasm and touching (which to her, because it seems to intimidate her, amounts to punishment not reward). Already she was choosing to come to the lady and be with her rather than lurking, grumbling upstairs.

As Poppy gets two other walks during the day, we have decided it’s best for the lady not to walk her for now, so we have thought up some calm home activities for lunchtimes with some mental stimulation but no excess excitement.

What if Poppy were a deer not a dog?. The lady would move slowly, speak quietly and not try to touch it because if she did the deer would run off.

She is feeling happy because already their relationship, based on better understanding, is improving.

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 Poppy. 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).

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).

Bad Start with New Rescue Dog

Malamute Alaska injured new rescue Shar-pei's faceShar-pei Yoko had been in her new home for one day when she received a bad injury to her face from Malamute Alaska, requiring many stitches. But it wasn’t a fight as such.

What a sad situation. It had started so well. Both dogs had been walked together several times before bringing Yoko home and they had got on well.

What the lady hadn’t been told was that not only did Yoko have a bad ear infection, but in addition to a skin problem she was also in season. So, here was a very stressed dog trying to adapt to home life after nine months in rescue with physical problems as well.

Alaska, the most polite and confident dog with people who you can imagine, was only castrated recently. Yoko presented herself to him and he started to do what male dogs do. Unfortunately he has a bad hip problem and he will have been in pain also. Things were stacked up against them.

Anyway, the outcome was a sudden angry response from Yoko as she tried to escape, followed by the same from Alaska and at the same time he must have grabbed her face. There is a big discrepancy in the two dogs’ size and possibly because of her baggy skin, what may otherwise have been a puncture wound was a tear, probably caused when they were pulled apart. She has a good number of stitches.

The lady has a £400 vet bill and got off to a very bad start with her new rescue dog.

The final really sad thing about this is that the lady, a very conscientious and caring person who chose the two dogs specifically for their seemingly calm temperament in the kennels and not their breed, worries that she may never be able to trust them together again. She is now so anxious that she keeps the dogs apart unless Alaska is muzzled.

So this is the situation I arrived to. Should she or should she not keep Yoko?Alaska  is accepting of the muzz.e

Alaska himself had been in rescue for over a year before she adopted him last year. He has a few problems which we will work on, including marking in certain parts of the house and being a bit of a bully with off-lead dogs.

There are some very positive things also.

Because she has two children, the young lady has always played very safe. She gradually taught Alaska to welcome wearing a muzzle just in case it was ever needed  – it’s a bit too big and he looked so comical I had to take the photo.

She is a gentle person and the household is calm. Alaska is a quietly confident dog. When I arrived he was lying in the hall and I simply walked past him.

Both dogs showed no animosity to one another and although they are now let outside separately, they walk past each other with no reaction.

New rescue Sharpei,unknown when they fetched, is pregnant

Yoko

At the moment Yoko is very uptight.  Understandably.  When she joined us and a muzzled Alaska in the sitting room, she l ay with her back to us for much of the time.  I then suggested we put Alaska on lead and removed the muzzle. When Yoko was walking about, the only sign of any trouble between the two was when Alaska sniffed her bum and she growled softly.

When the three guinea pigs that are kept in a large cage in the kitchen got active, Yoko became extremely agitated. She began to pace, cry and stress. It takes her a long time to calm down again.

The eleven-year-old daughter did some great calming work with Yoko that I showed her, reinforcing her whenever she sat, lay down or settled.

Whether or not Yoko stays will depend upon how she turns out when she settles in and what behaviours come to the fore. She has so many new things to adjust to.

Whether or not she stays will depend upon how the two dogs get on once her season is over and her body healed.

Whether or not she stays will also depend upon whether the young lady, who lives alone with the two children, ever feels she can relax again and leave the two dogs together – her house is quite small.  She got another dog to be company for Alaska.

If Yoko can’t stay, she won’t be abandoned back to the rescue. The young lady, bless her, has already decided she will get their permission to find the dog she already loves a good home – but not until she is fully healed and is in much better physical condition.

A week later it became apparent that Yoko was already pregnant. She had two puppies and the story goes on. The lady has managed the situation with Yoko and Alaska beautifully and they get on fine. However, she couldn’t find homes with people she felt she could trust for the two puppies so she still has them. Life is hard but she is doing her very best in difficult circumstances.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Yoko and Alaska, 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).