Dominant Alpha or Friend and Guardian?

Staffie Boxer mix Digby came out of his shell after a couple of hours. What a character.

This is yet another story that could make me cry. A young couple get themselves a puppy. They don’t do this lightly but ‘read all the books’ and look on the internet.

Digby was only six weeks old when they picked him up and it’s probable his fearfulness is partly genetic. He’s now two years old.

The Alpha myth.

Alpha dominance doesn't work on Digby

How can a new dog owner tell if a trainer who sets himself up as an authority won’t do more harm than good?

So concerned were they by Digby’s increasing fearfulness and barking at people that they had a trainer to their home to ‘teach’ them what to do. When the sensitive dog did something they didn’t like, they were shown to throw metal discs on the ground in front of him.

Digby can become very easily over-aroused and will then redirect quite roughly onto the young man in particular, grabbing his arm with his teeth. The poor young man just doesn’t know how to deal with it.

The trainer’s answer to this was to spray him with ‘bitter’ spray (surely also wiping out Digby’s number one sense, his sense of smell, for a long while).

This trainer, in the name of dominance and teaching an owner to be the Alpha, seems to think it’s okay to push the dog over the edge with over-arousal and then to punish it.

That’s just ridiculous. Why not instead limit the arousal so that this redirection onto someone’s arm isn’t necessary? Why not get to the bottom of why it’s happening and use healthy stimulation and calming activities instead?

Here is another thing – another ignored by Dibgy’s owners. Apparently he shouldn’t be allowed to settle in one place for too long before he’s moved to another room. How can an Alpha wolf be blamed for that?

Old wolf-pack theory dominance methods rely on superstitions and quick fixes that may work in the moment. I have been to countless cases demonstrating conclusively the long-term fallout.

So, after the ‘help’ from this individual, the young couple have felt increasingly unhappy about doing this dominance stuff with their beloved family pet but have known no alternative.

Digby goes out for a walk with his tail between his legs.

He shakes when his collar comes out. Out on the street he is scared of everything. In this state he may react by lunging and barking at a person or dog he sees. The trainer’s advice was to put him on a Gencon and basically force control onto him.

This same trainer had advised them not to shut Digby behind the gate anymore when people came to the house. A couple of days after his visit, Digby bit someone coming into the house.

He was in such a state of panic that he emptied his bowels right where he stood in the room.

Poor Digby. His young owners were beside themselves with distress for him.

Anyway, things are now changing.

For the first time since he was very young, a relaxed Digby was wandering around the sitting room and lying down beside a visitor. He began behind the kitchen gate, barking. We started with him brought into the room on lead and muzzled. As the couple relaxed and the lead was loosened, so did Digby relax. The lead was dropped. The muzzle came off. Then the lead was removed altogether.

Digby fished in my bag. He nuzzled me. I gave him food. He did a naughty dash upstairs (not allowed – he was called down and now rewarded for coming). The beautiful dog was so happy.

The power of positive methods unfolded before our eyes,

Looking ahead, all instruments of harshness will be abandoned in favour of rewards and positive reinforcement. Digby will get a comfortable harness and a longer lead. The restricting Gencon will be ditched.

They will be giving him two kinds of walks, field walks and road walks. He’s much more confident out in the fields and going by car. It’s leaving the house to walk along the road and pavements that scares him so much.

They will pop him in the car and walk him on a long line as often as they can.

Meanwhile they will get him happy just standing outside the gate to begin with. They can use his tail as a gauge! If his tail drops between his legs they will turn back.

How to be an Alpha Male according to wolves

 

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 Duke. 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 or 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).

Barks at People, Distant or Near

By coincidence I have just seen a second dog in three days that is scared of people – even when they are mere specks in the distance.

Robbie’s hackles rise and he barks at people.

He barks at people

People often don’t see things from their dog’s point of view until it’s pointed out. There seems no alternative but to keep walking towards the thing the dog is scared of, perhaps crossing the road. They buy equipment that enables them to physically manage their scared and pulling or lunging dog.

Although they may do their best to avoid people, turning right around and going somewhere else or even going back home isn’t an option. Walkers like their walks to go from A to B.

Sometimes the people, seeing he’s a Labrador, put their hand out to him. He doesn’t like that and he’s snapped a few times.

Robbie has a new harness that says ‘Nervous’. I’m not sure this is direct enough for the person who ‘loves dogs’ and may try to comfort him.

The Yellow Dog Company makes dayglo dog coats that say ‘I Need Space’. Plain florescent yellow coats are easy to obtain. We could make our own with a marker pen to say ‘Please don’t touch me’, making it quite clear to people.

It is very likely that Robbie had inadequate socialisation with new and different people as a young puppy. Possibly some of his problem is genetic. He had one terrifying experience involving a man when he was a young dog from which time things got a lot worse. He’s now five years old and is particularly scared of men which isn’t uncommon.

When I arrived at the house Robbie ran to me, hackles up, barking.

I had a soft dog toy – a squeaky duck in the top of my bag I knew a Labrador would like – and held it out to him.

Robbie took it and he became a different dog!

He paraded the duck, wagging his tail, showing me and the couple his prize. He squeaked it. “What have you got, Robbie?” I said to him. All was well.

The people said this was a very different first encounter than usual with their dog that barks at people who enter the house.

It seems that Robbie, influenced by fear, only barks at people when he can actually see a person. Hearing alone doesn’t seem to worry him.

I noticed that his way of showing he was worried about anything was to go still and look away. Out of sight, out of mind?joneslisa

At home they will work on getting him to look into their eyes the instant they gently say his name. Then, when they are out and he sees someone, they will have the power to get him to look away from the person and to them instead. That will be the first step.

They will make the whole walking experience less stressful. They will teach him to walk comfortably on a loose lead – we practised this in the house – and get rid of the head halter.

He will start to enjoy a lead walk rather than it being the frustration and discomfort of constantly fighting against the restraint. It’s unsurprising that a scared dog, already feeling this tension and stress, barks at people.

I suggest avoiding people altogether on walks for a couple of weeks.

It will allow him to let him settle. They can work on their loose leash technique and learn how to change the emotions inside him that make him a dog that barks at people.

Later and after some work, when he sees anyone, if not too close “Robbie!” should immediately get his attention. They then move onto the next step. This is either feeding him, giving him a toy or throwing something; they will turn around, increase as much distance as they have to and have a party.

Robbie’s humans should keep totally relaxed when they see a person. Calm confidence needs to run down that lead. When Robbie tenses up – as soon as and not before – they then set the wheels in motion to associate the people he barks at – or used to bark at – with only great things.

They may eventually even point the person out to him before going straight into their happy routine, ‘Look- a person!’.

If everyone coming into his house greets him with a special toy that can be given to them in advance, he should begin to associate callers with good stuff too, just as he did me when I gave him my soft squeaky duck.

Robbie is a lovely dog with owners who really care. In time, if his need for distance is respected, he will be comfortable closer to people and may even ignore them. He’s not a particularly tactile dog and this must be respected. He will learn to trust the people holding the lead not to push him over his threshold and then he should no longer be a dog that barks at people.

Feedback five weeks later: The harness came (I had recommended Perfect Fit) and you’re right it’s really good, he barely pulls with it on so walks have been much better and fairly loose on the lead. We continue to practice the calling his name and rewarding with kibble when he looks at us and off the lead he’s been much better at recall. We’ve had a few occasions walking him having seen people, being ready to turn round and go in the other direction but he hasn’t reacted. I was even able to talk to a neighbour as we walked past and he didn’t react at all, all good progress I think!
Three months later: Robbie is still doing great and we are managing his anxiety as you showed us to which makes life so much easier particularly when visitors come to see us.
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 Robbie 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 fear 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)

Eyeballing and Hostility Between Dogs

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

Poppy's eyeballing may be a trigger

Poppy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fern

Fern

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tilly

Tilly

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do we start?

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

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

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

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

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

Giving the Dog Choice

They will be giving Joey more choiceGiving a fearful dog choice

Joey, the four-year-old Collie Labrador mix, came over from Ireland at a year old. Isn’t he gorgeous.

Over the past three years his family has done great things with him. A lot of the general day to day stuff I usually recommend they do already. He is very well trained and regularly goes to agility which he loves.

The one downside to ‘training’ can be that the humans are making the choice for the dog by using a command to guide his actions. It’s not necessarily the answer where fear-based reactions are concerned. A command is no substitute for the dog learning how to make the right choice in response to a situation for himself. A command is unlikely to address what the dog is feeling inside – fear. The dog will only make the right choice if he’s given the ‘tools’.

Joey’s problems are quite clearly all to do with his need to feel safe.

The two times he reacted worst of all were at the vet, trapped in the room, held down by three people while he had his injection and when he was cornered in a small place by a child. In each case he was robbed of all choice. His reasonable warnings and requests had been ignored so, to him, he had no choice but to react ‘aggressively’.

(Where vet procedures are concerned, with techniques worked on over time a dog’s choices can be part of the process. See how Chirag Patel does it using clicker).

Clicker training is ‘choice training’ and is unbeatable where giving an animal freedom of choice is concerned. Joey caught on almost immediately.

 

The walk starts way before leaving the house.

Joey’s fearfulness is causing problems when they go for walks and encounter people, particularly men, and other dogs. He’s also scared of unusual things in different places.

He gets very excited before they start out, jumping about, crying and howling. They try to get him to sit at the door for his lead to go on. What happens back at home is the start of the walk and they are not even out of the door yet. Before anything happens he has a choice. It’s simple. When he’s still and quiet, they can leave. There is no rush – people can wait. Until he is calm and quiet they go nowhere. It’s his choice.

Because of his pulling he wears a head harness. This prevents pulling. He has no choice. With a front-fastening Perfect Fit harness he will soon be walking beside them through choice.

So, Instead of starting his walk in a wild state and in considerable discomfort, feeling restricted, already he should feel more calm and free – in a much better state of mind for encountering people and dogs.

When he spots a dog he should also be given choice. At a distance where he’s happy, they can pair the other dog with something Joey loves. He loves his ball. He can have a choice whether to hold, catch or chase his ball or whether to react to the dog. By keeping sufficient distance we set him up so it’s in effect Hobson’s Choice!

Which brings me to ball-throwing (again!). Constant ball chasing is not necessary when the dog has an hour in the fields to do doggy things. Why fire him up with a ball? They can give the ball much more value by no longer spending most of the walks chucking it to a ball-obsessed dog. By starving Joey of the ball they will have a potent tool for counter-conditioning.

An approaching man may make Joey uneasy. By allowing Joey to choose, they can let him decide how much space he wants to make. One way of doing this is to watch him carefully and reward him for any sign of avoiding trouble by breaking contact – looking away, looking at his human, sniffing, scratching, yawning – and to reward him for making the right choice by increasing the distance from what scares him. Thus choosing avoidance rather than barking gets the prize – more distance and safety, a game of ball perhaps or food.

If Joey knows it’s his choice how near he goes to something or somebody, it’s certain that over time he will choose to go nearer.

I am sure that when Joey knows he has a choice as to how close he goes and with scary things paired with great things – balls and special food – he will gain greatly in confidence.

 

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 Joey. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned, as the case needs to be assessed correctly which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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)

Sweet Dog Undersocialised and Scared

Three of the last four dogs I have been to have been scared of me. Although they all barked at me I’m not taking it personally. Each one, almost certainly, has been inadequately socialised at a sufficiently young age.

Rescues are full of undersocialised dogs. Without sufficient happy encounters with lots of different people in the first weeks of the dog’s life, the puppy of about three months old will very likely begin to be fearful. The clock can’t be put back.

People often think someone may have been actively cruel to their adopted dog but usually that’s not the case. There has even been research to prove that the brain of a dog that has been undersocialised deUndersocialised Cocker Spaielvelops a bit differently. What’s more, fearful dogs may pass on these fear genes to their puppies. It really is a big problem.

A dog that has been with one person, loved but not exposed to people and real life from a very young age, is condemned to a challenging life. So many people I go to have re-homed a dog like this, like the family I went to today.

Cocker Spaniel Millie, 3, is very happy with her family. She is pretty good with other dogs too. However, she does not like other people.

When someone comes into her house she will bark at them in a fearful way. The people have a ritual that may keep her barking under control but it’s not actually changing how Millie feels about people. Today I asked them not to do what they usually did, which unsettled her, actually making her worse. This may happen to begin with.

What was apparent is that the fear element reduced with the help of food but she still barked at me on and off. I feel it’s become a habit that always brings the same predictable result that may be rewarding or reassuring – a certain reaction from the family. She may even be getting a little bit cross. So often it’s a mix of things.

We have a plan for working on this involving food which fortunately she loves and multiple short sessions. They will have the environment already laced with food before Millie joins the visitor who will be sitting still and not looking at her. They will take it from there, trying different things. Some things work better with some dogs than others.

Millie’s not keen of people she meets on walks either. It is tempting to get the dog to sit as a person passes, but I prefer to keep on the move, making a bit of an arc rather than approaching head-on, keeping the dog’s attention and feeding as the person goes by. This is great practice at a level she can cope with to make her feel a bit better about people.

Millie barking at me

Millie barking at me

Millie’s general stress levels are permanently being topped up during the day by various things – she’s very alert to noises or anything sudden. There are many small things that can be done that could contribute to reducing stress from diet to preventing post being pushed through the door.

There are also things dogs can do for themselves to help them to self-calm.

Millie has had over three years in fear of people, so it will be a slow process. Every small step will be an achievement. The gentleman said that a trainer had told him that teaching Millie something new was not possible as it would be like trying to teach a 35-year-old human something new. That’s ridiculous. I am learning all the time.

Anyway, this isn’t about ‘learning’ as about ‘feeling’. There is no age limit to changing emotions.

The physical effect on Millie’s brain isn’t about ‘learning’ either. It is hard-wired and will always be there and even, once ‘cured’, she could revert if faced with a situation she can’t cope with. With continuing help she will bounce back.

When they first had Millie it looked like she had no tail. For days it was clamped between her legs and under her body. Even despite her unease with me, that didn’t happen. Later in my presence she was positively enjoying the clicker work the young lady was doing with her.

With kindness and patience they have come a long way in the eighteen months that they have had her. Now it’s time to push a bit further forward.

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 Millie. 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 which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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)

 

Wary of People in Their Home

Two dogs who were picked up as strays

Basil and Rosie

The two stunning dogs of mixed breed, Basil and Rosie, recently came back to the UK with the couple who adopted them in Hong Kong where they had been picked up as strays or possibly street dogs. It’s a pity I didn’t get a better photo of them together.

As you can see, although they were now not barking or backing off anymore, both were looking away as I pointed my phone at them which I was trying to do whilst looking the other way.

As I entered the house, the gentleman was trying to corral the dogs down the passageway into the sitting room whilst also trying to keep them quiet – living in a flat they are conscious of their neighbours. I gave my rather large bag to the lady to carry as carrying a bag (like wearing a hat) can contribute to upsetting some dogs.

The barking stopped very quickly as I sat down, but they were both extremely wary. For a short while Basil was ready to bark again at me whilst Rosie backed away. I won them round with food and by making no effort to touch them when they did, soon, come to me.

The owners are particularly concerned because their dogs’ aggressive-sounding barking means that several friends simply won’t visit anymore. There is one close male friend in particular that the dogs don’t like. Apparently he always wears a baseball cap and he’s very tall which apart from the fact that dogs can be more scared of men anyway could perhaps contribute to their unease.

I suggested they had ‘people-food’ ready-prepared, small and tasty bits of food that they only use for when people come to the flat so the only way the dogs get access to this special treat is when people come in or move about.

By trying various different things we worked on a technique whereby I could walk about the room and the dogs would remain relaxed. They can then now do the same things when the friend comes this evening.

This involves, before the person starts to move, one of the owners maintaining their dogs’ attention by calling them over, asking them to sit in front of them and then gently holding onto them whilst feeding them ‘people-food’. By facing their owner the dogs would be turning their backs to the other person. Now the person can move freely about.

I found that once I was up and walking around the room the owner could release the dogs after a second or two and they were fine. This same technique would need to be used for a few seconds each time the person, having been sitting down, moved.

Fortunately these two dogs were not nearly as wary of people in their home as many dogs I go to and this wouldn’t work in more severe cases. It just suited these two. Every case and situation is a bit different.

brown dog

Basil

As always, the guests need training too. They should be asked to move slowly and casually, to give no eye contact to the dogs and when they arrive not to walk too directly or deliberately towards them or the owner. Instead, the owner should turn around and take the dogs with him so that the person follows. Until the dogs get comfortable with someone, they should try not to move too suddenly and to give warning before they stand up. The guest can drop or roll pieces of food.

In a very short while both dogs were actually eating out of my hand.

The barking and anxiety starts with the intercom bell. This is something they can work on easily. Repeatedly one of them can go downstairs and ring the bell while, as soon as the dogs hear it, they get food from the other person. Every time one of the owners either goes out or comes in, they can ring the bell. Because the bell will then only very occasionally mean someone is visiting it will no longer be a trigger, so when a caller is let in the door the dogs aren’t already pre-aroused.

Like everything to do with desensitising and counter-conditioning it takes a lot of repetitions and work. Unless they have a regular run of callers to get the dogs thoroughly at home with people coming and going, it may always need working on to some extent.

Their second issue which I shan’t discuss in much detail now is that Basil, in particular, ignores all calls to come back when he’s on a hunt. The other day he nearly got killed when a chase after a muntjac deer took him across a busy road, followed by Rosie. As a stray who probably had to rely upon hunting for food he will most likely have the chase in his blood.

They have only two safe options really which is hard because dog walks to many people are something where the dogs run free, getting plenty of exercise and doing their own thing. Now they should only ever let Basil off lead in places where there is no escape. If they want him to come back when called, they will need to put in months and months of recall work with Basil. What, after all, is in it for Jack to come back before he’s finished what he is doing? The man’s tone of voice wasn’t such that I, if I were a dog, would find sufficiently inspiring to tempt me to come back! I may not even hear him.

Recall is about much more than just training; it’s also about the dog’s relationship with the person who wants him to come back. To a dog with a high prey drive, it’s quite a challenge for someone to be more relevant, exciting and rewarding than a running muntjac or rabbit!

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

 

Another Dog Scared of People

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

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

Isn’t he beautiful!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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).

Reinforcing Good Behaviour

Maltese is scared and hides

Lingling

Chihuahua Yorkie mis protects the lady and bites ankels

Benjie

Until the lady picked her up, Lingling (left) was either hiding under the table or peering round the corner licking her lips, yawning and lifting her paw. A scared little dog.

Benjie was protecting the lady.

They are both very reactive to anything happening outside their home and bark madly. Both dogs are frightened of people they don’t know.

They have bitten ankles. Benjie doesn’t like people approaching the lady.

With such a friendly and outward going owner, it’s hard to understand why the two dogs are so wary of people until one looks into their early life.

Maltese LingLing, now three years old, came from a puppy farm and was in a terrible physical state. A year ago Chihuahua-Yorkie mix Benjie joined them. He had been taken from his mother and litter mates too early.

I would guess in both cases they will have inherited unstable genes from fearful parents along with inadequate or non-existent early socialising.

The lady lives in a flat and their barking is causing problems. She has tried everything she can think of, including collars that shoot compressed air at them when they bark and a bottle of stones to shake at them. Because the barking stops for a moment it’s easy to think this ‘works’.

The lady adores her two little dogs and realises that punishing fear is inappropriate and can only make things worse which is why she called me. To them it must be like the very person that they should be able to trust has turned on them.

Now we began to reward quiet instead. Reinforcing good behaviour – or, I should say, reinforcing the behaviour we want, makes the dog much happier and it makes owners happier too.

From his protective position beside the lady, Benjie wasn’t so much barking as grumbling and growling at me. Here is a very short video of the two dogs. Benjie is anxiously lifting a paw and grumbling at me, and Lingling is hiding behind the lady.

Each time he stopped even for a moment, the lady gave him cheese.

She was surprised how calm Benjie became. He eventually lay down and settled.

Benjie eventually lay down and settled peacefully

Benjie

There were noises outside and neither dog barked. She rewarded them.

She will now save some of their food quota to use specifically to reinforce not barking or growling.

A wonderful thing about reinforcing the behaviour you do want as opposed to punishing the behaviour you don’t want is that it makes you feel good. It rests so much easier with people who love their dogs than does punishment and correction.

As the lady said the next morning having changed the way she does things for just a few hours, ‘I feel so happy with myself’ and more recently, about six weeks later, ‘We have had a few weeks just being a quiet family. Benji has been much better at home. Much less barking .’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lingling and Benjie, which is why I don’t go into the exact details of your plan here. 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).

Their Dog Bit Someone

Beagle Molly barks fearfully both at people she doesn't know coming to the house and people she sees out on walkA couple of days ago to the total horror of the young couple who own her, their dog bit someone.

Their reaction was very natural but to the more enlightened completely inappropriate and can only encourage further aggression, and things now are definitely heading in the wrong direction unless the way her humans behave with her is completely reversed.

Little Beagle Molly is fifteen months old. On the left is her in her favourite look-out place for barking at passing people and dogs, and on the right briefly taking a break after going through all her attention-seeking repertoire and relaxing happily after some clicker work.

I need to say before I go any further what great and dedicated owners little Molly has. They recognise they’ve not got the knowledge and things are going wrong, and they are making big sacrifices to put this right. This is the mark of good dog parents.

They love Molly to bits, but simply don’t know how to ‘bring up’ a dog. She is totally confused. She can receive cuddles, shouting at her, rough and tumble play, scMolly is confusedolding, kissing, more cuddling and punishment all from the same person.

Like so many people I go to, they say ‘everyone tells us different things’ and seldom are any of these things helpful as they are mostly dominance based and involved punishment. They are at their wits’ end. In the evenings all Molly does is to run rings around them in order to get attention, and apart from over-boisterous hands-on play that encourages the mouthing and nipping, it is No, No and No. She nicks the remote or she will steal the man’s shirt and the way they retrieve the items invites defiance.

Wouldn’t it be great if people could attend positive ‘dog-parenting’ classes before they picked up a puppy or new dog? They would then start off using positive methods and reading the right books, they would know how to give their dogs the right amount of stimulation and exercise (not too much and not too little), and I would bet dogs treated like this from the start would never bite and their carers would be a lot happier.

Molly is becoming increasingly scared of people and it’s no wonder. She will be associating them with her humans’ anxiety and anger rather than with good stuff. She barks fearfully both at people she doesn’t know coming to the house and people she sees out on walks. The barking at the window will only be making this worse.  She is punished for being scared. People don’t realise what they are doing. The bite occurred when they were out and a woman came up behind them unexpectedly and put her hand down to Molly. It was dark. Fortunately the skin wasn’t broken. The reaction of all the people involved was very unfortunate. One even said she should be put to sleep. Unbelievable.

The couple were absolutely devastated.

Things now will turn a corner, I know. These people are totally committed to changing things around, and after we looked at things from Molly’s perspective it was a like a light came on. I showed the young man how to use a clicker, starting with a simple exercise which Molly picked up almost immediately, and during the evening he was constantly clicking her for doing good things.  For instance, instead of yelling at her for putting her feet up on the table, he waited until the moment her feet touched the floor and clicked and rewarded that – teaching her what he did want instead of scolding. And best of all, he really enjoyed it.

She was using her brain to seek ways of being ‘good’!

This is going to be very hard work because several areas of the dog’s life need an overhaul, but I am sure they will get there and I shall continue to help them in every way I can for as long as they need me. From now on it’s going to be Yes Yes Yes.

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