Frightened of His Own Poo. How Did That Happen?

Alfie, a Jack Russell Beagle mix is now in his fourth home and he’s only three years old.

Frightened of his own toiletingThis home will, I’m absolutely certain, be his last home. The young couple who adopted him three months ago are doing brilliantly with him. I was called because of his behaviour towards other dogs which is more controlling than anything else. He may jump on them and pin them down – but not all dogs. Nothing too unusual about this.

Having had three other homes you would expect some fallout. If life had been perfect, he wouldn’t have been abandoned.

One thing though is particularly unusual.

Alfie is frightened of his own poo.

He won’t toilet, pee or poo, in the garden either. Absolutely not. He can hold on for an incredibly long time and sometimes has to do so because he’s frightened of rain as well.

They have to take him for toilet walks.

As soon as he has performed he backs away from what he has done. On his lead, he digs into the ground with his front feet, desperate to back away from it.

His young owners now drop the lead so he can escape. He sits a few feet away and they tell him to wait while they pick up, which he does bless him.

How on earth could this have happened? One can only guess, but a couple of times I have seen hints of something similar where the owner has been insistent their dog only goes in an allocated place. I have also seen anxiety in dogs not allowed to go on lawns where the family children play which is fair enough. 

Punishment has fallout.

Some people somehow expect the dog to understand that the location of his toileting is important. This without sufficient training and positive reinforcement for getting it right. Punishment for getting it wrong is dreadful.

I know this is only conjecture, but I bet that I am right about Alfie and a punishment scenario.

What form could this punishment have taken? One can only guess something like a shock collar, pain that comes from nowhere and without warning either during or just after he has done his job in the ‘wrong place’.

The trouble with positive punishment is it can contaminate other things at the same time. It easily generalises. In Alfie’s case, being so frightened has not only contaminated the garden location but the faeces itself. It may have contaminated rain. It means that he doesn’t feel safe enough to toilet in his garden and would probably hang on till he nearly explodes.

Another thing about punishment is that it need happen only once to do terrible damage. Perhaps it had been raining at the time. 

‘Unringing the bell’

Annie Phenix has a chapter in her brilliant book The Midnight Dog Walkers called  ‘Unringing the bell’ which is what counter-conditioning is all about. Pavlov and all that.

They need to take this very slowly in tiny increments.They must be very careful that he’s in no way frightened.

When he has finished his business as usual, they will let him go as they do already but throw a piece of food to him as well. Fortunately he is very food motivated.

After a few days, instead of throwing him the food, the can drop several bits of food but on the grass between him and the poo – not too near it. Gradually they will see if they can get him to fetch the food a bit nearer. He has choice.

Next, as soon as he has finished his business, they can drop the food around it and at the same time add a soft cue word (‘Go Poo’?).

Gradually, whenever he does his business, the cue word can be quietly and gently added while he performs and food dropped or sprinkled around it as soon as he’s finished.

Finally, they can say the cue word in advance and, bingo, so long as he wants to go anyway, he has gone on cue!

It’s not too much stretch of the imagination to hope he will then, in time, on cue and for food, go in the garden.

Frightened of rain too.

They can unring the bell where rain is concerned also – whatever it was that has caused him to be frightened of it. They can, unseen by Alfie, start by sprinkling food in the garden for him. The rainy environment will be laced and will offer the good stuff, starting with fine drizzle of rain and so on (see SprinklesTM).

Dear little Alfie is a wonderful, friendly and bright dog. With the continuing help of his lovely young owners I’m sure he will learn that other dogs aren’t out to get him unless he deals with them first.

He may even be toileting in his own garden in a few months time – in the rain. They will take their time.

 

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 Alfie. 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).

Fearful Barking at People, Especially Children

Dave was picked up from the person who bred him at ten weeks old. It’s obvious that before this he had met few people and probably no dogs other than those he had lived with.

Another red flag should have been the aggressive unfriendliness of the male German Shepherd that was Dave’s father.

His young gentleman owner does all he can and it’s not his fault. The seeds were already sown.

A cocktail of under-socialisation and ignorant breeding.

German Shepherd pup fearful barking at peopleA cocktail of under-socialisation and genetics – ignorant breeding – has produced a five month old puppy who already does fearful barking at people he doesn’t know and has nipped a child.

Dave will bark at anyone approaching him, particularly if they look at him or he feels they may touch him.

He’s is taken to work with the young man so life for him should be good as he spends little time alone. Work is a retail outlet with staff and with the public coming and going.

Dave is tethered under the man’s desk and is okay there so long as he’s ignored.

When he grows to be a large adult German Shepherd, if Dave continues his fearful barking at people this will be a big problem. The new dog law of 2015 states that a dog need only cause someone to feel intimidated for the owner to be in trouble.

Dave barked at me from the moment I arrived, hackles up, and continued to do so on and off for much of the evening. This barking wasn’t the sort of fear that meant he was backing away or wanting to hide – it was full on barking in my face. GO AWAY!

Despite himself, he was friendly from time to time. Because he’s just a puppy I didn’t feel at all intimidated with the barking right in my face. I was more concerned about how to help him and we made a start. I shan’t document here just how, as assessment is so important in cases like this so that we get it right.

In the three hours Dave lay down just twice, for only a minute. He was restlessly pacing and reacting to noises or my own movements all the time. From time to time he took himself out of my sight, only to start barking again as soon as he came back and saw me again like I had suddenly arrived.

Being on high alert during the day too, the puppy must be seriously sleep-deprived which can’t be helping his emotional state.

As I explained, it’s not the barking itself that’s the real problem – it’s a symptom. We need to work on the emotion that is driving the fearful barking at people. Over time he needs to be helped to feel people are good news.

Unfortunately, the young man, desperate, had been introduced to Cesar Millan’s programmes by a friend and he manages to stop the barking – by scruffing the pup. This can’t possibly help the feelings of fear that drive the behaviour. The very opposite in fact.

But scruffing works. Temporarily. It scares him. The pup dare not bark.

Scruffing also looks to anybody watching like he’s doing something about it. ‘Disciplining’ his dog.

I pointed out that because Dave is scared of people, if his owner then turns on him too, people will be even worse bad news. (If he had a child scared of dogs, say, then physically punished him for screaming with fear, scaring him further, would that child feel better or worse about dogs?).

The other problem with physical punishment is that as Dave grows bigger it will take more than scruffing to stop him. The stakes will have to rise. Where does this lead? In some cases a meek dog may just shut down. In a dog like Dave it can only end up with increasingly aggressive behaviour, maybe even directed at the source of the punishment, the man himself.

I was called out because the young man wanted a dog that would share his life. The fearful barking at people, especially children, isn’t what he expected and he’s out of his depth. He wants to learn how to help him and has now already made a start.

Our project is to help Dave to feel better about people. There is only one way to do this and it’s by forming positive associations. This will be a long and hard road requiring patience, understanding and consistency.

Certain precautions need to be taken, Dave needs to be muzzled when children are about. At work he will be either behind a barrier or on a harness and lead. He will wear a yellow vest with ‘I Need Space’ on it to discourage people approaching to pet the cute pup. He will be given a quiet store room leading off the office where he can spend time peaceful and safe. Hopefully he will relax and sleep for part of the day.

I go to many German Shepherds who bark aggressively at me when I go into their homes, that have to be kept muzzled, on lead or even left out of the room. I don’t remember going to a German Shepherd with fearful, aggressive-sounding barking as extreme as Dave’s at just five months old.

But, with the dedicated young man on his side, his outlook is good.

Here is a good article by Linda Michaels: Puppy socialisation and vaccinations belong together. Left too late, as in the case of Dave, the horse has bolted so to speak and now we are playing catch-up.

 

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 Dave. 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 aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)

Barking at People at Home and on Walks

Hector, the little wire haired miniature dachshund, is absolutely adorable.

His young lady has made every effort to do the very best for him from the start, but at about seven months old he began the barking at people.

Once he starts his barking at people he’s unstoppable.

Barking at people who come to the house. Barking at people on walks.  Even barking at people in the distance.

Believing from their advBarking at peopleertising that they were the best people to help her, Hector’s young owner called in Barkbusters. As soon as he started to bark, the person, who said he was scared, made a loud BAH noise. Why would you want to make a noise like that at a scared dog? Wouldn’t that make him even more scared?

To quote Hector’s lady, he was so petrified of of the Barkbusters person that he was quiet. However, when she herself tried to implement the techniques Hector, predictably, didn’t take any notice of her.

Now this is the trouble with punishment. When something stops working because the dog gets used to it, the punisher has to be increased to be effective. She went on to try a citronella collar that squirts stuff the dog hates up his nose – stuff that lingers long after the barking stops – and then collars that vibrate or make a noise.

She realised that this was just making his barking worse. Why associate people he’s barking at with something so unpleasant. Surely this will increase his fear?

In trying to punish the barking, often don’t see it as it really is. Barking is the symptom of what’s making the dog bark. Usually fear has a lot to do with it. In punishment they merely make the fear worse. A collar squirting citronella up his nose when he barks is merely putting a temporary lid on the noise, it’s making how he feels a lot worse.

Hector’s barking at people means she can’t have anyone to her house.

Because of his barking at people when out also, she doesn’t enjoy walking him either.

The poor girl simply doesn’t know what to do.

I find the situation quite heartbreaking really because she has tried so hard to do her very best for Hector right from the beginning. She received some very bad advice that started her down the punishment route.

I call it punishment, but people who advocate these methods would probably call it ‘correction’. It’s ‘positive punishment’.

Hector’s barking at me was relentless to start with. I worked with him. We had enough breaks in the noise to cover all my questions and to teach the little genius dog something incompatible with barking. We taught him to touch both the lady’s hand and my own using clicker – and he’d never been clicker trained!

One minute he was enjoying a clicker game, running between us to touch our hands, and the next he was barking at me again.

Puzzling.cundallhector2

His initial response was fearful undoubtedly, but not for long. It’s like he simply keeps barking at people until something happens – this ‘something’ will more recently have been punishment of some sort.

He is really a curious and friendly little dog. He wanted my attention and barked for that also! If he doesn’t get what he wants he may then bark because he’s frustrated.

When I got back home I couldn’t stop thinking about them. I wasn’t satisfied that I had fully covered the problem. I had been treating it as mainly fear driven.

Suddenly it dawned on me.

I arranged to go straight back the next evening. This time I was there for just fifteen minutes with a different strategy that worked a lot better.

Basically, barking at people had given him something that made barking at people rewarding to him. It’s impossible to know just what, but he seems to enjoy it. It dawned on me that we should now respond with something completely different, something that has never happened before in response to his barking at people.

She will walk him out of the room straight away when he barks. He has a nice comfortable harness so there will be no discomfort involved.

I went back and found that worked. He really didn’t want to miss all that food on the floor and and he really wanted to be with me. His barking being a learnt response meant Hector and his young lady walked in and out of the room quite a few times before he got the message.

This isn’t the protocol I would use if the barking was simply fear. Because I suggest removing him from something he actually wants – me – this would be termed ‘negative punishment’. I would handle it a bit differently if he was really fearful.

This is a good example of why it’s not wise for me to go into too much detail in my stories. Even I hadn’t got it quite right the first time round. The protocols have to be tailored to the individual dog. Like other stuff people find on the internet, it could do more harm than good otherwise.

The basic principles we are using is to address both the barking at people in the home and people out on walks.

The young lady will now use willing friends as human Guinea pigs, dropping in for about twenty minutes at a time initially.

Over time, as Hector relaxes and learns to enjoy their company quietly, the young lady should be able to enjoy having her friends round again.

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 Hector 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 of any kind 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)

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)

That’s Not Punishment, is it?

What exactly is punishment?

This is not the place to get all technical with semantics and the definitions of punishment. It’s enough to say here that it’s anythinPunishment can be as subtle as disapprovalg the dog doesn’t like, done by us, in order to stop him doing something we don’t want him to do – correction.

Punishment doesn’t have to be wielded with obvious things like a stick, shock collar, water spray or shouting. To a sensitive dog, a warning tone of voice or even a certain look could be punishment. Some might say that psychological punishment is worse than physical punishment, anyway.

Basically, anything imposed on the dog that he doesn’t like, is, to that particular dog, punishment. Being thrown into the river would be traumatic for one of my dogs but heaven to my Cocker Spaniel!

In the case of delightful Collie Staffie cross Banjo, there are things that his humans would never have regarded as ‘punishment’ at all which have been punishing to Banjo. They love him dearly and would never hurt him.

Why is it that today, despite all the evidence, many people still reject the regular use of food for reinforcement when getting their dogs to do what they want and still rely on correction?

One problem with anything aversive is that it can contaminate other things present at the time – or things the dog may associate with the scary event.

Here an illustration of this – not related to Banjo. A wellington boot is dropped by mistake or thrown in anger, scaring the dog; he could then become frightened of all wellington boots, or of anything dropped or thrown, or of the room it happened in, or the washing machine which happened to be on at the time or even of anybody wearing wellington boots.

 

People can be surprised when they realise something they do is, in fact, punishment

Surely punishing a dog would be something physical – or at the very least, shouting?

‘Punishment’ can be a lot more subtle and the fallout from subtle things that are aversive can be a loss of confidence in general.

Using positive, reward-based and force-free methods doesn’t mean we have a dog without boundaries that can run wild. It just means that the dog learns to enjoy the behaviour that we want because it works best for him, rather than just hitting upon the desired behaviour because it’s the one that doesn’t lead to unpleasant consequences.

Three-year-old Banjo comes over as a rather worried dog. He is easily effected by the emotions of his humans and it’s quite a volatile household with the lady and her two adult sons. Each one is different with Banjo. One son is the disciplinarian and has done a great job with teaching him training tricks, the other son is more sensitive and probably less consistent, and the lady is a pushover! They find it hard to agree on how to treat the dog and this predictably leads to disputes.

One can imagine how this can be confusing to a dog, particular one that doesn’t like raised voices.

Maksad2

Banjo is generally obedient but rewards are seldom used. He is taught to avoid the consequences of being disobedient and even though few dog owners would class these consequences as ‘punishment’, to Banjo they can be.

Of late the young man has introduced ‘time-out’ when Banjo does something unwanted or doesn’t do something he is told to do. Are we sure that Banjo actually knows what it is that he shouldn’t be doing? The man counts down “3-2-1” and then Banjo is shut in the porch.

Apart from learning that the countdown ends up with his being sent to the porch, I doubt whether Banjo always knows why – or is actually learning what he should be doing. Because the counting will sound threatening, he will no doubt stop anything he happens to be doing whatever it is; the counting alone will have quite a high ‘punishment rating’ to a dog like Banjo.

One of the probable fallouts from this ‘time-out’ process is this: Banjo has become scared when the younger brother comes home from work and initially runs and hides. He then behaves in an appeasing manner before settling back to his normal friendly and excitable self. My guess is it’s because he has been on imposed ‘time-outs’ in the porch on one or two occasions when the young man has came in through the front door from work. Negative associations.

Punishment or correction can seem to come from nowhere – out of the blue.

How do we feel when with an unpredictable person who is loving one minute and angry with us the next? I have lived with someone like this and it’s like treading on eggshells and you can’t relax. (Take another look at my favourite video – the poor man doesn’t know when the next punishment is coming or what it’s for).

There is another more obvious example where fallout of punishment (which they may not have regarded as punishment) has affected Banjo. It is probably responsible for his more recent wariness of children.

A young child and her mother came to stay with them for a few days over Christmas. Banjo seemed fine with the child initially – if he was uneasy they didn’t read the signs. The child wasn’t actively supervised all the time and would be pestering him. Banjo growled. Everyone reacted angrily and Banjo would have been frightened.

The dog will not have understood why, despite all his polite warnings, he was eventually forced to growl in order to protect himself. The result, to him, was his humans suddenly acted irrationally and in a way that scared him.

It’s not a big step to conclude that his fear of children approaching him when they are out since this episode is fallout from this ‘punishment’. He has built up a negative association.

They had Banjo from eight weeks of age, and very early on one of the adult sons played light-chasing games. He still regularly ‘entertains’ Banjo by nudging the lampshade to make shadows dance around the walls and floor. Each time someone picks up their mobile phone the dog starts looking for a light to chase, as a mobile phone light has been used for chasing games.

It’s such a shame. Sensitive dogs so quickly get OCD-type obsessions.

The young men will now do all they can to avoid light chasing games and anything else that stirs up their sensitive dog or scares him.

With a more positive and consistent approach by his humans, with all three ‘drinking from the same water bowl’ so that they become more predictable, Banjo is sure to become more confident.  More confidence will affect his whole life, particularly when out on walks.

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

 

A Dog Has Feelings Much Like Us

Their dog has feelings similar to their own.

When I arrived, the man had Cocker Spaniel Danny in the shower. The dog had just come back from his favourite occupation – swimming in a muddy brook. The wet dog then greeted me – confident, curious and friendly.Dog has feelings too

I had been called to help an anxious dog and they want him to be happier. He seemed quite happy to me – if a bit unsettled. He did, however, have strange short bouts of what I can only call shaking shutdown. He would stand still head and tail down, and tremble. There are a few clues as to why he might be doing this based on what is happening beforehand (which was nothing apart from our sitting around a table, talking and taking no notice of him) and the reaction it gets (it generates sympathy and cuddles from the man).

They will be taking him to the vet to investigate further for possible physical causes.

This dog has a great life. He loves their three young children and lives with a calm little Cockerpoo. He has freedom to run in woods and fields and do ‘spaniel’ things (one thing I shall be helping them with later is loose lead walking – currently Danny would rather carry the lead!).

Where Danny’s anxiety is concerned, it manifests around certain vehicles; he also gets anxious and growly when there are too many people in the house, particularly children.

Chatting began to uncover the problem. Old-school attitudes tend to believe the dog should be disciplined and kept in line according to his lower place in the ‘pack’. This doesn’t imply cruelty but it doesn’t recognise that the dog has feelings and reacts to things very much in the same way as we would. People like this family don’t feel comfortable with this approach, but  do things because they feel they should and that it’s the right way. It isn’t. A dog doesn’t need dominating but understanding.

There has been considerable scientific research recently that has proved beyond all doubt that a dog has feelings and emotions like our own. Eminent people have exposed the old dominance, alpha wolf, pack theory as a myth.

It’s a funny thing that someone who loves their dog so much, cuddles and comforts him, can at the same be insensitive to some of his fears.

If the dog is scared of something, the old way could well be to make him face it. If he growls and particularly if he bites, the old view is that this should be punished.

When Danny was scared of the ride-on mower as a young puppy, the man lifted him onto his knee as he mowed and too late he knew this was the wrong thing to do. The puppy was absolutely terrified. The dog now, six years later, still panics if the man even walks towards the shed the mower is kept in. The fear has generalised to other vehicles.

If this had been a fearful child they would undoubtedly have taken it slowly and patiently, helping him to learn to like the mower.

Now Danny has bitten a child.

It happened because nobody was paying attention to how he was feeling even though he did his best to tell them. He was punished in several ways. He was then sent away to stay with someone else for a couple of days.

Surprisingly, he isn’t yet showing any signs of the fallout which will surely come unless they now listen to what their dog is desperately trying to tell them.

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Imagine if the story was about a child and not a dog.

Here is the same incident put into a human context.

Imagine that you are a child who wants to be left alone in peace to do your own thing and there are lots of people in your house. You find refuge in your own bedroom, but a bigger boy follows you in there and he won’t leave you alone. You politely tell him to go away but he pushes you, so you shout at him. Mum hears and she asks the boy to leave you alone.

Behind you mum’s back, the boy then comes back to your room to annoy you. You ask the boy to go away again; you yell at him and he continues to goad you. So you push him away. You feel scared. He won’t stop pestering you. You snap, you scream and then you hit him.

Now what happens?

Your world falls in.

The boy yells. People come running into your room shouting at you; your dad, who you trust, for some reason out of the blue attacks you. Later, after you thought it was all over, he comes back; he grabs you by the scruff of your neck and roughly throws you out of the house whilst attacking you again. You start to cry so loudly that he opens the door and chucks cold water over you to shut you up. You stifle your sobs, shivering and confused.

The next day they send you away to live somewhere else (you don’t know if you will ever come back home again).

You have learnt two things: that bigger kids are bad news and that you can’t trust your dad to help you out either. You have learnt that asking nicely doesn’t work. You have learnt that your bedroom isn’t a safe place. You have learnt that your dad is unpredictable and can be scary.

Punishment may work in the moment, but there is always long-term fallout.

The bond is very close between man and dog to the point over of over-dependence, which no doubt makes inconsistent or unprovoked behaviour very confusing for Danny. No wonder that at times he is anxious. Here he is in this picture, worrying as the man walks away and down the garden path.

I was called out so he would become a ‘happier dog – less anxious’, and we have found the key: understanding that the dog has feelings just like us, and dealing with his fears in the same way as we would our child’s fears.

Building up the dog’s confidence will require patience and lots of positive reinforcement, from the man in particular, so that he can rectify any damage previously done to their relationship. If there is no physical reason for his ‘shaking shutdowns’ then this approach should stop them also.

One month later: I visited again today. Danny has virtually stopped all shaking and growling and her humans have worked hard to stick by the new rules. I have just received this feedback: Could not recommend Theo highly enough. She visited us and our dog and with her depth of knowledge and skill made many recommendations. Training is on-going however the difference was noticeable within days. We have a much happier and far less stressed dog.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Danny. 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 fearfulness is 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 Get Help page)

 

Scared Dog Indoors

Poor Boris looked uneasy all the time.

His family, unable to read his subtle signals just hadn’t realised how his uneasiness went a lot further than the problem I was there for – his fear of going near particular pieces of furniture and on certain routes through the house.

When they first adopted him a month ago he was very reluctant to enter the house at all.

He may be a very scared dog indoors, but outside Boris is a different dog. He loves to be outside in the garden.

The three-year-old Labrador Boxer mix has now landed on his feet with a couple, their two young daughters and a lovely home.

As soon as I arrived, the young girls cuddled and fussed him, probably for my benefit. Neither they nor mum could see that with his looking away, lip licking and even freezing he wasn’t enjoying it at all. He was wagging his tail, but taken in context this was more in appeasement than joy. Then Dad arrived home and welcomed him with rather vigorous stroking and again he looked away and licked his lips. I would say he was simply enduring the fuss.

Boris sleeps and eats in a utility room at the back of the house, but won’t go through the kitchen and down a short passage to get in there. He will only walk around the outside of the house and in the back door.

We sat in the kitchen – another room where he’s not happy – and because we were all there he did venture in. As he crept through the door, warily, he wouldn’t turn around but would then back out again. Reading him, he seemed to want the company without the fussing. He eventually quietly sat between the gentleman and the lady, away from me, but his eyes were constantly darting.

Each doorway or corner to another area seems to hold terror for Boris.

His behaviour looks to me very much like that of a dog that has been punished by someone unpredictable, not knowing when something might happen and why, which may tie in with what is known of his past. His body language and the backing away is symptomatic of the use of a remote-controlled electric shock collar – a beep comes out of the blue to the dog followed by a zap if he doesn’t comply. Possibly as a puppy he had been shocked to stop him chewing furniture or zapped for going into forbidden areas.

I usually avoid conjecture but want to explain what it looks like. One can only guess and the past is the past, but his behaviour is typical of fallout from the use of excessive or unpredictable punishment of some sort. Whatever it was will only ever have happened has caused  indoors which would explain why he’s so much more comfortable outside.

His new family’s kindness and wish to make him happy has resulted in rather a lot of added pressure on him. The enticing in an excited voice to encourage him out of his room and through the passageway is making things worse as is too much fussing in general. We listed the things where he may be feeling pressure, and they need working on.

When nobody is about he has, on a couple of occasions, ventured out of his room and they have found him at the front door when they arrived home. He has never, though, gone back into his room from indoors.

That route from hall to his back room needs ‘exorcising’. I have suggested they lace the area, starting near the door where he’s least wary, with his favourite food chopped up small. They should scatter it there with him out of the way and then leave him to discover it, always with an escape route back into the hall. This way it is the room and the floor that is offering him the food, not his humans using bribery. (See more about Sprinkles TM here).

Eventually, if taken gradually enough, they should be able to lay a trail down that passage so long as they themselves keep out of the way.

If this psychological approach is very slow, then we have another tack using clicker training – a way in which he won’t suspect that he’s being lured into ‘danger’.

Boris’ body language must be respected and I have sent a couple of excellent videos for the children to watch – mum and dad too, helping them to read dogs. As little pressure as possible should be put on him while he builds up trust in humans and in the safety of his environment. This will take time because things that may have happened to him at a young age will be fairly well implanted in him now. There may be a genetic element to this, but I’m am pretty sure that humans have not always been nice to him. It’s a big tribute to his lovely nature that it’s not resulted in aggression.

Feeling unsafe overwhelms everything else. It’s a survival thing. An animal that feels unsafe won’t even eat. Changing this is a priority. Over time he should be getting his trust back in humans.

In some areas they have already made some great progress in the month he’s been with them.

Barking and Biting

chipoo

Dobby

The family has two adorable little Poodle Chihuahua mixes they believe originally came from a dubious breeder or puppy farm about three years ago and who are both highly strung. Although it looks surprising from my photos, the smallest thing winds them up.

I was called out because of their barking and biting – Dizzy’s barking and Dobby’s biting which has been getting worse over the past few weeks.

Dizzy instigates the barking at anyone who passes the house and any dog he sees on walks – most particularly when he is on lead – and Dobby joins in. They get too much practice of their ‘barking at people skills’ at home. It’s not surprising that dogs who spend a lot of their time looking out of the front window, waiting for people and dogs to walk past to bark at, become very short-fused.

Chipoo

Dizzy

Human reaction is to shout at them which may work in the moment but only make things worse long-term. If shouting worked, why are the dogs still barking so much?

Dobby never has liked being touched – unless he chooses, and he has used growling to say so since he was a puppy. Some family members scold him for growling.

There have now been about five episodes where he has snapped at someone – including a person who insisted on touching him when they were out, a neighbour and a friend – all people who reached out to touch him when he didn’t want to be touched.

Human reaction was to be very cross. People understandably feel ‘this sort of behaviour can’t be accepted or go unpunished’. The little dog should see his humans as ‘protectors’, but it must seem like all his efforts to tell people how he feels by way of body language and then growling are ignored or scolded. So now he’s forced to take it to the next level to make the person entering his personal space go away, so he snaps. Then it must seem like his own humans attack him. These are the same humans who love him dearly and give him so many cuddles at other times.

Just as with the barking, the growling and snapping should be treated completely differently. As Dobby is fearful, what should they be doing about that? For starters, they should make sure he’s able to be at a distance from people where he feels safe even if it does seem rude. They should be helping him out and not getting cross. Growling is good! Teach a dog not to growl and you teach him to bite.

We wouldn’t like people coming up to us and touching us. If we turned away or said ‘I don’t want you to touch me’ we would expect that to be respected. What would we do if the touching didn’t stop? Slap the person?

Interestingly, with the groomer who also may look after them in her own home, they are completely different dogs. They don’t bark, they run around happily with other dogs and there is no growling from Dobby. This seems to confirm that if their own family does things a bit differently, the dogs could be behave differently also.

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 two. 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).

 

Positive Associations With Children

Chocolate English Working CockerHow strange. My very next appointment after having written my Paws for Thought on Citronella anti-bark collars was a dog who had been trained not to bark using one.

The two-year-old English Working Cocker Spaniel (isn’t he beautiful) lives with his young lady in a flat and when he was a puppy there were complaints about his noise. It’s hard when someone has to go out to know best solution when the choice could be either lose your dog or lose your flat.

What is certain is that although unable to bark, he will feel just as anxious inside, probably more so if rendered helpless, and will need to find other ways to express this.

At home Henry won’t bark now even without the collar, but I have seen the pattern before. Maybe now the empty collar will be sufficient to remind him, but in time he will surely bark at something and find there is no spray. Then the citronella will need to be added again. He may well learn to tolerate the spray and bark through it which then renders it useless too, and solving the emotion which drives the barking will be a lot harder now. It’s nearly always the same with quick-fix ‘punishment’ methods. There will be fallout somewhere. ‘Punishment’ being the administering of something unpleasant in order to stop the dog from doing something you don’t want him to do, rather than showing him what it is you do want him to do.

The fallout is because whatever he is feeling that is the cause of the barking is simply stifled and will be erupting elsewhere.

Cocker Spaniel looking up at his ownerThe young lady, like so many, is an avid watcher of a TV trainer who advocates ‘correction’ with constant interrupters like ‘Tch Tch’  – sounds that say ‘no no’ –  in order to control the dog. Because of so much exposure, many people take this as the accepted way to behave towards their dogs.

Modern, enlightened behaviourists and trainers, however, do things very differently. People who were not up to date with modern practice are surprised at how biddable and obedient a positively trained dog can be, and there is an important extra ingredient – simply the dog’s joy at working for and with their person.

The reason I have started this story with my thoughts about dominance methods and punishment is because it’s relevant to the main issue I was called out for. Henry, so friendly in every other way, doesn’t like children. It’s almost certain that in the first few months of his life he won’t have come across kids. When they come running up to him when they are out he will growl in warning which is fair enough. He is trying to say that he feels uncomfortable and wants more space. Unfortunately the young lady, not wanting to seem rude, will then scold or correct him – ‘Tch Tch’.

The biggest alarm was the other day when a friend brought a six-month-old baby to visit. All was well until they all went to sit on a bench in the garden. The owner sat beside the friend who had the baby on her lap. She remembers that Henry came and stood, quiet and still, between her friend with the baby and herself. Nobody took any notice of him while they probably talked to the baby in the way one does.

The baby waved his arms about and towards Henry – who snapped the air.

Oh dear. There was big drama afterwards. If Henry was unsure of the infant before, he certainly was now. Whatever he was feeling about the baby (anxiety? jealousy?) will have been compounded by what will, to him, have been a totally irrational and scary reaction from the humans.

This is a case of desensitising Henry to children and babies. Next time when the friend visits with her baby, Henry’s owner won’t sit next to them but a little way away. Henry will be on a loose lead. All the time he’s around the baby he will be fed or dropped little bits of food. There will be absolutely no ‘Uh-Uh’ or ‘leave’. If the lady is worried at any stage, she can kindly call Henry to her – ‘Come’ – followed by food. This way she can begin to wipe out the previous bad association with possibly the first baby Henry had ever met.

Henry needs lots of positive associations with children. When out the young lady can start desensitising him at a comfortable distance around the local school playground at playtime, where no child can actually get to him nor him to them. She can then work on him in the park, but be ready to increase distance and to be firm if children run up to him. It’s not a time to be polite – we have to look out for our dog and keep children safe. We need to be our dogs’ advocate and not care what others think (easier for me at my age – just one of the very few advantages of getting old!).

Later, when he’s ready, children can invite him to them so he has a choice, then they can drop food or throw his ball – he would probably like that. With the patience, time and effort the young lady has always given him but now using positive methods, she will get there I’m sure.

She has worked extremely hard with her beautiful dog to good effect. It’s not that correction and punishment don’t work at all. They do. However, for permanent success and relaxed and happy dogs, a little more time and effort using force-free methods pays off big time long-term. It’s far better for our relationship of trust with our dog.

The young lady will be surprised at how much more she can achieve by just using rewards and encouragement.

NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Henry. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly ones that involve punishment. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Pootalian Now Goes For Other Dogs

NedAnother first for me. I went to an Italian Greyhound Poodle mix and on looking it up I find this is called a Pootalian!

Ned seems to be much more Italian Greyhound than Poodle. My source said, ‘This breed is best for homes with a fenced yard’. It also says that they are ‘easily trained and fast learners’ and lack of training may be at the route of Ned’s main problem in terms of immediately coming back when called and both trusting and focussing on the person who is walking him when required.

He is now five. He was initially very well socialised indeed, both with other dogs and with people. Then they moved to a quieter area and they let it slip.

A couple of months ago the delicate small dog raced across a field to ‘attack’ another dog that was on lead – for no apparent reason, and although there was no damage done it was a big shock to the gentleman.

After this the very caring and concerned owners tried taking him to a trainer, but he was too frightened to do anything.

The couple have been in their new house for only three weeks and already Ned has ‘gone for’ the dog next door, getting through a hole in the fence. To deal with the barking the lady has used a water spray which seems to have ‘worked’. The trouble with quick fixes is that they work in the present but the fallout comes later. What effect might trying to scare a nervous dog out of barking have on both his existing fear of other dogs and his relationship with his owners?

On walks Ned pulls on a lead attached to a thin collar. He is now increasingly straining, lunging, hackles up and barking to get at any dog he sees. Walks aren’t enjoyable. Like so many people would, the gentleman holds him tightly beside him and continues to walk towards the other dog which unintentionally must cause discomfort if not pain to a delicate neck.

The solution isn’t quick. There is no quick fix. It’s a question of looking at things in a different way. They hadn’t regarded the tactics they are using when Ned is near another dog as punishment (positive punishment if we want to get all technical). Anything that is painful – even just uncomfortable or frightening in any way that is caused by ourselves – amounts to punishment and this includes spray bottles and pain in the dog’s neck.

Punishment usually looks like it works at the time but it’s a patch over a wound that is still festering. The underlying wound itself, the emotion driving the behaviour is what needs to be dealt with otherwise it will just keep getting worse each time it happens. The only way to deal with Ned’s fear of other dogs or of people is to change the emotion and get rid of the fear. Punishing fear can only make it worse – or make the dog quiet because it shuts down.

Because unpleasant things happening when Ned sees another dog is making him worse, it stands to reason that the reverse is the way to go. We need to do the opposite – make sure that when he sees another dog only pleasant things happen.

As I see it, the process starts at home. They first need Ned to feel more secure in them to protect him at home, else how can he do so when they are out? No more open dog flap and boundary barking at the neighbour’s dog or sitting on the bed for a good view of anyone passing by to bark at. Who should be in charge of protection after all – Ned or his humans? He also needs lots of practise in coming immediately when called around the house, else how can they expect him to do so when he sees another dog?

While the home things are being put in place, they will be getting used to much more comfortable walks – loose lead walking with a harness. They won’t be ready to encounter other dogs for a while. There must be no more forcing him to pass them because that will have destroyed a lot of Ned’s trust and that needs to be built up again. They will do anything that is necessary to help their adorable dog.

When the time comes to work on his fear of other dogs, they can start at a distance where Ned can cope and work from there. Over time this distance will reduce if handled properly. His recall needs to be spot-on so that once again he can be free to run and let off steam in a way that a miniature greyhound should.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ned, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own 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).