Dominance? No! It’s Lack of Confidence.

They were told their dog was being dominant but they don’t see him like that and nor do I.

It’s so common for people to refer to a dog’s lunging, barking and jumping at people or other dogs as dominance. They interpret it as dominance through a lack of knowledge and understanding. There is still so much outdated information being peddled about on the internet, TV and social media.

Education proves it’s not dominance at all. In this case it’s a dog needing to stand up for himself in the only way he knows how against something he feels is a threat. He’s actually being brave. Other dogs feeling the same way may react by hiding.

People approaching him directly.

Albert is a large four-year-old Rottie, Mastiff, Labrador, Staffie mix. Such a gentle and friendly dog generally.

It's not dominance at allOut of the house, he is particularly unhappy when people approach him directly, especially joggers. This is common – take a look at the Pulse Project.

The other day he charged a jogger who appeared around a bend. He was off lead. Having a dog the size of Albert charging at you, barking and with raised hackles, must be daunting whether you’re a person or another dog.

“COME NO CLOSER”!

This isn’t dominance. It’s fear.

In a situation like this, in order to ‘safely control’ their dog people tend to hold him tightly on lead and even try to make him sit. Sitting is a big ask whilst so aroused and feeling trapped as the threat continues to approach.

The dog is doing all he knows to increase distance. The dog himself that should be removed to a comfortable distance instead.

Increasing distance also builds up vital trust in the person holding the lead.

Albert moved from busy town to quiet country area.

From a puppy Albert was extremely well socialised, going everywhere with the young couple. They lived in a busy town and constantly mingled with lots of people and dogs. Then they moved to a quiet area and after a while Albert began to react to approaching people and more recently to other male dogs also.

To make things worse, he was attacked by another dog.

Occasional people or dogs suddenly appearing and approaching directly are much more alarming to many dogs than being in a crowd. It’s the same with us, isn’t it.

My young clients so want enjoyable walks once more with their lovely dog, walks where he doesn’t bark and charge at approaching people or rush other dogs.

Off lead, Albert charges over to other dogs. He ignores all calls to get him back. This is unsurprising as he will ignore being called at home also – something to be worked on.

He doesn’t hurt the dog (and it’s not dominance!). Possibly he’s checking it out. Sometimes, though, the other dog or the owner will be scared. The other dog may be on lead for a reason. He returns when he’s ready.

Albert must be on a lead or a long line for now. No more freelancing. In the old days he seldom needed a lead.

The walk will now start off in a more relaxed fashion. At the moment he is straining to get down the drive, constantly pulling and on high alert. He’s tense and stressed. Nobody is enjoying the walk.

We did some walking near to their house with better equipment and a longer lead. Using my technique Albert was walking like a dream. He even walked out of the gate calmly which is never usually the case. In this calmer and more comfortable state, encountering approaching people will be a lot easier for him.

Has the ‘other dog’ problem been incubating at dog daycare?

Albert goes to daycare each day because the couple work a long day.

A few weeks ago the daycare reported that he was beginning to show dominance towards some of the other dogs – one male Golden Labrador in particular.

They sent a video.

The Labrador was behind a barrier with someone, ignoring Albert. Albert was being held on lead the other side of the barrier, lunging and barking with hackles up at the Labrador. I know it had been set up for the sake of the film, but it was hard to watch it being rehearsed.

This isn’t dominance. This is fear. What’s more, daycare is an active and exciting place. Albert’s stress/excitement levels will for sure be high.

How this has developed is impossible to say, but the behaviour is probably being incubated at daycare. The more it’s rehearsed the worse it becomes.

The only way to deal with it, preferably from the very start, would be to change how Albert feels about the Labrador in carefully monitored situations which would most likely need professional help.

It’s natural to simply try to manage aggressive behaviour through control. Putting a lid on it in this way can only result in the problem festering and getting worse.

The daycare does a good job, and it must be so hard looking after a mixed group of dogs belonging to other people. As well as keeping these two dogs strictly apart, I feel they should keep Albert as calm as they can, cutting short any excited play with other dogs a lot sooner. They can give him more time quietly by himself.

The more aroused he gets the more he can’t control himself. It’s in moods like this that he’s likely to hump a couple of the other dogs. This isn’t dominance either. It’s the over-flowing of stress that has to vent somehow.

Happy walks.

Key to their achieving happy walks is for the couple to be a bit more relevant and fun so that they can can keep his attention. They can engage with him. He should soon be walking near them because he likes being there not because he’s on a tight lead, just as he was out the front with us yesterday.

He should be allowed to wander, sniff and do dog things without the pressure of going a certain distance, of making it from A to B.

This about the journey, not the destination.

On a lead or long line, Albert should no longer have the opportunity to charge dogs or jump up at a jogger. According to the recent changes to the dog law, someone need only feel threatened, with no harm done, in order for both dog and owner to be in trouble.

Both at daycare and out on walks, Albert is using the theory ‘attack is the best form of defence’. It’s because he doesn’t feel safe. It’s our job to help our dog to feel safe and this is easier to do with knowledge and not simply by labelling the behaviour as dominance.

 

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 Albert. 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 or fear of any kind is involved. 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).

Scared of Everything – People, Dogs, Bins, New Things

Scared of everything

Odie

Little Odie seems scared of everything when he goes out. He is also frightened of people coming to his house and of sounds he hears coming from outside.

He is a sad little dog in my photo, very sore with a gland problem and not his usual self. Hence the collar to stop him licking it.

He is a Jack Russell Chihuahua mix, age about two and he has lived with the lovely family for about nine months. They have another rescue Jack Russell mix, Penny.

It is very likely that Odie hadn’t been introduced to much of the world outside a house before he came to live here.

The outside world is overwhelming for the timid little dog.

They have worked very hard indeed with their two little dogs and have built up considerable knowledge. However, with Odie they seem to have come to a full stop. The lady walks him, and nothing she tries seems to further reduce his fearfulness.

Odie is scared of everything when out on walks.

He tries to avoid his harness and lead being put on. Once out, he is on high alert. Different things or things in different places frighten him. Even static objects scare him, things that are always there. There is the ‘cat’ house where a black cat used to stare at him. Even though the cat is now long gone, Odie is still scared when approaching the house.

He is scared of wheelie bins.

He is particularly frightened of other dogs.

In order to help move things forward now with Odie, we took a fresh look at dealing with his fears.

Already the lady walks the two dogs separately which is good. Penny is very happy on walks, if a little over-excitable. Odie needs her full attention.

She will now do two different kinds of walks with him. Currently she walks along a road where he is encountering all the scary things, ending up at open fields where she puts him on a long line.

I suggest for starters she does a ten or fifteen minute road walk each day, keeping near to home and working on his fearfulness. She then can get in the car and drive him to the fields.

As he seems so scared of everything when out, how should she help him?

I suggest begin with static things – like wheelie bins.

Penny in a quiet moment

Penny in a quiet moment

She can practise her desensitising and counter-conditioning technique on wheelie bins! I suggest she avoids dogs and people meanwhile.

They can approach the stationery bin. She will walk slowly and watch Odie carefully. He will then notice it. If he doesn’t react she can slowly continue to advance. If he reacts in any way she must increase distance until once again he is comfortable.

He now knows the bin is there. He will realise he’s not being forced forward into danger, thus building trust. Now, at this comfortable distance, the ‘frankfurter sausage bar’ can open. Odie will love frankfurters.

If they go out of sight of the bin the bar will close. Back in sight, it opens again. They can slowly advance, once more ready to retreat at the first sign of anxiety. It won’t be long before Odie will be lifting his leg on this particular bin!

They can look for another bin. She could even point it out – ‘Look at That’! Then proceed with the same technique.

Next, on bin collection day, the lady can do exactly the same thing with other bins. With the technique under her belt she can do likewise when approaching the ‘cat’ house, garden statues or anything else that spooks him.

Eventually they will be ready to do start working with distant dogs.

This is a whole different thing of course because dogs are moving but the process is the same. She must always give herself room to increase distance.

What if she gets sandwiched between two dogs?

She picks Odie up.

He is very small. Everything must seem huge to him. Make a quick escape and remove him from danger immediately. The lady has been told ‘not to pick him up’. I wonder why people advise this? The only danger I can see is that a big dog may leap up in order to get to the little dog.

Here is a lovely training video from Steve Mann, teaching the little dog to ask when he would like to be lifted.

The very short and regular car trip to the fields should help Odie to feel better about the car too. On the long line he can do as much sniffing as he likes and the lady can be ready straight away to deal with anything that scares him. She already has a tabard for herself reading ‘My Dog Needs Space’ which she finds other dog walkers are taking note of.

Scared of everything when out, Odie needs to be ‘built up’ at home too.

This means reducing stress levels in every way possible so that he is less jumpy. This can be a bit more boring for (particularly male!) humans who like rough-house play etc.! Instead, there are plenty of hunting, foraging and brain games activities that, because they give appropriate stimulation, are stress-reducing.

Odie will learn to love his harness being put on – coming for it instead of running off.

Understanding how reducing fearfulness actually works is key to progress. I wrote one of my Paws for Thought blogs on Habituation, Desensitisation and Counter-Conditioning.

The family has been working so hard with their dear little dogs. They have taken advice, some of which was good and some not so good. The lady has involved them in agility and flyball but found that it stressed them out too much. Through reading and research they have now nearly conquered separation issues the dogs had.

Now they will be making some more headway with Odie’s being scared of everything. It will doubtless be slow. These things can’t be rushed.

 

Three months have now gone by: When walking Odie over the moor he is not at the end of the long line, he is sniffing and relaxed and open mouthed. At home Odie will sometimes take himself to his crate, sleep on the bed in the living room, sleep on the floor rather than always looking for a lap. Poppy and Odie play together more frequently. Odie sometimes asks to play.
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 Odie. 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)

 

Stops and Sits. Rolls Onto her Back. Won’t Move

The young Golden Retriever stops on walks.

She sits. She won’t move. When they go to get her, she rolls onto her back.

on the way home she simply stopsThe people I went to see yesterday have just emailed me with something different (Goldie is wary of new things). Their neighbour has had a trampoline erected in their back garden today. Goldie is barking at it – it’s something new that she can see.

The lady has been going out with food and the clicker. She is clicking and rewarding many times while Goldie is being quiet but clearly aware of the trampoline.

I replied, ‘Clicking for quiet is a good way to deal with the trampoline. You are ‘training’ her to be quiet. However, a better way would be to deal with the problem at source –  changing how she feels about it. This would involve, with every look at the trampoline whether she is barking or not, chucking food on the ground or feeding Goldie.’

The case of Goldie going on strike is puzzling.

Since she first went out at three months of age she would sit down and refuse to move. She was little so they were able to pick her up. Now she’s a fully grown Golden Retriever it’s not possible anymore to lift her when she stops.

I would like to deal with this at source too – but where does it come from?

There are a few facts: It’s always on the way home that she stops – after exercise. She has an uncanny sense of knowing when they are on the return journey home or to the car. Putting the lead on at random and going a different way doesn’t fool her.

Her ears go back and, from the sound of it, I would interpret this as looking scared or wary. Why would this be? The rolling onto her back could well be to appease. I’m assured she’s never been punished for it though there has been a lot of enticing and bribing and exasperation for sure.

Goldie is fourteen months old so it will now be well ingrained behaviour – a default response when she feels a certain way.

What way is she’s feeling, though?

The other day things took a turn for the worse. She had sat down and as usual rolled over onto her back, making it difficult to get her up. The lady grabbed her harness to try to make her move.

Suddenly Goldie leapt up and at the woman’s face.

Mouth open. Snarling.

It’s happened two or three times within the past few days. The lady is very upset and scared to walk her now.

Why is it Goldie has, since she first went out, stopped and refused to move? We considered various possibilities:

  • She stops because she doesn’t want to go home (that doesn’t work because she always does go home).
  • Or she stops because, when small, she was picked up and carried and she liked it.
  • She stops because it gives her attention.
  • Or she stops because the arousal previously created in her system from her walk has been too much for her.
  • She stops because after exercise she may be uncomfortable in some way.

Each time the only result it’s generated for her is to be made to move.

Recently Goldie has started to do other things she used not to do. She has begun to dig in the garden and to hump the lady. She is whining in the night.

She was spayed shortly before these things started. Could there be a connection? They visit their vet next week who can check.

In the context of the past few weeks there are indications that she has, for some reason, been more stressed in general. She’s a sensitive dog. Something has recently pushed her over the edge. To quote the lady, she’s flipped.

Either Goldie has been unable to handle the frustration of the walk coming to an end and has lost her temper. This is what the owners assume and is very likely.

Or, just possibly, instead of not wanting something to stop (the walk), she doesn’t want something to start (going home) and it’s scaring her.

Her stress levels could come from unexpected quarters, both at home and when out. They could include the fallout from extreme exercise – running free and hunting, being restrained, being forced to do something against her will. Many little things could contribute to the build-up. She doesn’t like the sound of metal on metal, for instance.

Although I can so far only guess at the cause, we can create a plan that should be appropriate anyway.

Our plan uses stress-reduction as a basis to work on, along with relationship building.

We’ll focus on the walker being much more motivating and rewarding.

If she wants to be with her humans more than anything else, then she should want to continue walking with them.

Walks will be done a bit differently in order to try to interrupt the learned sequence.

They will do lots of work walking back and forth near to the house, loose lead, making it fun and with bits of her meal dropped from time to time – but only when in the direction of home. The same thing can then be done on a long line in open places.

The parallel with my trampoline advice is this:

It may be possible to train her to get up and move if they had sufficient time, using a clicker and rewarding. They would need to click and reward every small movement like rolling onto her front, sitting up, then looking ahead, then sitting higher and then standing – then taking a step and so on. This could take much too long in the middle of a field in the dark or on a busy pavement!

However, if they can stop her feeling she needs to sit, roll over and go on strike and prefer to keep walking, they will have dealt with the problem at source.

 

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 Goldie 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)

 

Puppy Farm Dogs Used for Breeding

The lady was, to quote her email, at ‘such a low ebb’ as she described what was happening with her two recently adopted puppy farm dogs.

ex puppy farm dogs

Marty and Meggie

Considering the mental condition of the dogs she has taken on, she has already worked miracles. However, without support, she can’t herself see the progress that has really been made or just what to do next.

All these two little dogs have known is confinement in a dark puppy farm building. They probably had never seen the sky, never walked on grass. They may have been forced to mate. Their contact with humans will not have been tactile, loving or friendly.

Then, one day, the puppy farm dogs were released.

They were taken to a shelter. They were handled by staff and a vet. They were neutered. They were ‘ready for adoption’.

Their existence may have been terrible but it was the only life they knew and probably the only life their parents had known also.

The grim buildings would have been their security.

It’s hard to imagine how it must be when every little thing in their lives is new, from obvious things like a vacuum cleaner or traffic to birds flying free or music playing.

Four months ago the lady took on Maggie, a Jack Russell age about four. For the first four weeks the little dog seldom moved from the corner of the settee. She was frozen. Because she was so miserable, the rescue encouraged the lady also to take puppy farm breeding dog Marty, a Cocker Spaniel, about seven years old.

When Marty arrived the real nightmare started. The moment Maggie met him it was as if a cork had been pulled from a bottle of fizz. She was bouncing off the walls and this went on for weeks.

Marty on the other hand was totally shut down – too terrified to go outside at all and when a bit later he dared, would cower and run back indoors at the slightest thing. He has cataracts, his hearing is defective and he has a heart murmer. He came covered all over in fleas. Total neglect. Why hadn’t she been told these things first?

The main problem that has been driving the lady to despair is the marking and urinating everywhere, on furniture, up curtains, on the seat and back of the sofa. She is constantly cleaning. The marking intensifies when there is any change or stress.

She was at her wits’ end. She has large incontinence pads all over the floor and all over the chairs.

Over the three months that she has had Marty, the lady has gradually encouraged him into the garden to toilet. I watched her. He follows as she drops food and she always goes to the same place. She is extremely perceptive and patient. Her environment is perfect because the dogs have a room that with an open door or gate which means they lie in a chair together and can see into the kitchen and the garden without fear of being approached by anyone apart from the lady whose body language is perfect (she lives alone).

She has thankfully resisted friends who say ‘just do it’…..

….meaning grab the dog, force him outside or force the harness on him. If she did that she would blow it all. She is slowly building the trust of both dogs.

She had been looking for guidance on the internet and in books, and came across Lisa Tenzin Dolma’s book Charlie, the Dog Who Cam in from the Wild. This was exactly the kind approach she wanted and through Lisa’s books she found me.

As I discovered when I was with them the other day, the indoor marking was already beginning to reduce and now for regular toileting Marty is taking himself outside. The lady has just told me that he has now had a dry, marking-free day! This is huge progress. Imagine seven years most likely in an enclosure with other male dogs, making claim to his space with marking. After all this time it will be a strong habit to simply empty himself wherever he is, so you could say it’s not much short of miraculous that he’s now learning to go outside.

The lady’s slowly slowly approach is paying off. The two little dogs will lie beside her on the sofa in their ‘garden room’. Maggie even likes her tummy tickled but Marty, who now likes to lie close to her, immediately moves away if even her finger touches him.

She now feels that she has reached a standstill which is why she contacted me and with my help we will slowly advance things with them all.

I watched from the kitchen table as the two dogs, in the chair together, began to play – a very recent development. I am told that the next day Marty himself initiated the play.

Happiness!

It brings a lump to my throat. Marty is at last beginning to feel safer in his immediate world, safe enough to play.

Any small change has to be handled very slowly and carefully or he simply regresses into urinating and looking scared. Maggie then also regresses to bouncing off the walls.

The areas we are now starting on is Marty’s stressing when the lady leaves the dogs – the downside of developing an attachment. We are working on his fear of any human touch, even the lady’s. She will slowly be teaching Marty to go over to her and touch her outstretched hand whilst trusting her not to try to touch him back. It will be entirely his own choice.

She will need to hold back because where her human instinct is to reach out to him physically, to love and reassure, for him this would amount to punishment.

She can’t of course take the dogs out at all – she’s unable get a collar, harness or lead anywhere near Marty in particular. Walks themselves aren’t important though a visit to the vet might be. These two dogs have never had a walk so even the smallish garden is a new world of smells and adventure to them and more than sufficient for now.

Sometimes when we so deeply want to help and encourage a fearful dog it’s hard not to actually put on pressure. It’s a delicate balance.  Perhaps now that huge strides have been made the lady can relax a little and try a little less hard. I did suggest she no longer rushed to clean up those yellow patches on the pads but to wait a while – best of all do it while Marty is out in the garden. To strictly leave him be when he lies next to her and not to be tempted to put out even a finger towards him.

Everything that we normally take for granted is a challenge for these two ex puppy farm dogs, Marty in particular – and a great challenge for the lady too. She is feeling happier now that I have proved to her why her instinct not to push things, to give the dogs time against the pressure of ‘other people’, is the way to get results in the long-term.

Update a couple of weeks later: The poor lady is battling against building noises from next door – sudden and loud and high drilling whining – all of which is very difficult for the dogs. However, I have just received this message, ‘Tuesday I went out for just under 3 hrs, leaving them with Kongs and I’m very pleased to report NO MARKING, simply two dogs pleased to see me.  I am …also going upstairs for different lengths of time – I do feel this is helping with the separation anxiety …. and I have a bit more time to do my own things! Marty is really coming out of his shell Theo, which is soooo uplifting for me to see.  He is often the one to initiate play.  Just like the peeling of an onion, the stressed, fearful layers are beginning to fall away from him ….. I think we may see a bit of a character emerge!’
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 Marty and Meggie 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)

 

Shaking With Fear

As I sat down I glanced at Adi. He was shaking with fear.

Romanian rescue dog shaking with fear

Adi was shaking with fear

The dog was shaking with fear just because I had walked into the room where he lay.

Usually he runs out of the room and hides. Possibly my asking the man to walk into the room ahead of me may have helped just a little as did the fact I didn’t even let him see me look at him. I moved slowly and I left him be.

The couple doesn’t know the eight-year-old Adi’s history, apart from his being a Romanian rescue. They have had him for a year now. It took him some weeks to get used to them and they are still the only people he feels comfortable with. He didn’t move the whole time I was there – nearly three hours, and he was shaking on and off.

During this year Adi hasn’t been anywhere at all but their bungalow and small garden. They did try but it freaked him out.

He has never even been to the vet (who I shall be phoning).

A while ago they did manage to get a collar onto him. It shows how far they have come with their caring and understanding treatment that he had began to allow the man to groom him. Unfortunately, he then tried to attach a lead while he was brushing which sent Adi running and that now has now ‘infected’ the grooming with fear.

Their aim in calling me is simply to be able to take a willing and happy Adi out. It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it They had reckoned with how long this may take.

It’s a strange relationship they have with their dog. They do all they know to help him but they get little back. They feed him on the very best food available. As you can see he has luxuriously comfortable bed. Apart from wandering around the garden and eating his meals he does nothing much. He lies around. He’s not interested in playing though will come over from time to time for a short fuss. He has a little burst of energy first thing in the morning when he runs from room to room, probably when he has had the night to de-stress, but that is all.

How can they spice up his life a little without stressing or scaring him?

They dearly want to take him out and about with them as they did their other dogs.

.

How will they be able to get a lead on him and get him out of the house?

Something needs to be done about his extreme fear of people. He is a very quiet dog. I suspect he doesn’t dare to bark and his way of keeping safe is to lie low.

The man erected a strip of trellis in the garden for him hoping he would want to see through to the world outside. They can accompany him to the trellis at busier times of day and associate everything that happens beyond it with food, to actively de-sensitise him and acclimatise him so he can eventually, when he has accepted harness and lead, pass through the trellis.

Each time, at the trellis, he sees a passing car they will give him food; any person walking past – give him food; hearing a dog bark – give him food; a slamming door – food. Perhaps sprinkle it on the ground. They may later be able to move the trellis forward and continue the work nearer to the road.

Meanwhile, they need a harness because they must keep away from his neck. The collar has already been ‘infected’ when the lead was attached and very likely he was originally caught with a catch-pole accounting for his terror of humans. A soft and comfortable Perfect Fit harness is the answer. They then have the option of attaching the lead to the top of his back or at his chest – or both – and well away from his neck.

Adi won’t know what the harness is so they will build on that. I have broken the process down into tiny increments and devised a step-by-step plan where they spend several days on each step, beginning by leaving the harness in various corners of the house with food hidden in it for him to discover. Nobody should be seen to hold it so he gets no suspicion that it might be a trap.

Adi stopped shaking with fear and lifted his head

Adi stopped shaking but was very still

Through various other steps the harness can eventually be put down with his food while he eats. This will lead, through more stages, to when he comes for a fuss, touching or stroking him with the harness whilst treating him. Bit by bit the harness can be rested briefly on top of him, then just his nose through it for food.

In case he doesn’t like the sound of the clips, they can be repeatedly done up and undone again, initially at a distance, while the other person gives him food.

It is a long-winded confidence-building process. We may use a clicker at later date but he was far too scared of me and all he felt safe doing was to lie still.

Once the harness is on, the process needs to be repeated with the lead.

I hope that after a couple of months of hard work Adi will be wearing the harness and accepting the lead. It could take a lot longer. He may also be relaxed with things just immediately outside his gate.

Getting to this point will be a big achievement. We can then walk him on lead around the house and the garden. Then take a step through the trellis, stand still and see what happens, giving him full length of the lead and the option to run back in.

Now the outside world!

Apart from knowing he’s terrified of people to the extent that he shakes, they don’t know how he is with day-to-day things like other dogs, wheelie bins, bikes, traffic….and cats.

There will be no normal ‘going for a walk’ for a long while, I fear.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Adi. I don’t go into detail. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear 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.

Importance of Early Socialisation

Canaan puppies

The other three ears should come up soon!

I have just been to two five-month-old siblings. Before the family picked them up about four weeks ago, despite being brother and sister each puppy had had a very different life.

They are Canaans, a rare and ancient breed. Lapidos is confident and friendly, Leah is afraid of everything – of people and anything new, noisy or sudden.

Lapidos had been bullied by the other puppies in the kennel, so was brought into the house to live with the family.

Leah had remained outside with the other puppies. All her physical needs were met but I would guess she had little interaction with the normal things of daily life at that very crucial time before about thirteen weeks old when the ‘fear period’ kicks in. She is such a clear demonstration of the importance of early socialisation.

These puppies are are settling in well with a lovely family with four very young little children in a well-organised environment. Leah has made considerable progress thanks to the love and patience of her new family so far as relaxing with them is concerned.

But she is very scared of anyone new.

She is often too frightened to go out into the garden, particularly during the day – but strangely she is more courageous outside after dark. She shies at gusts of wind, sounds, anything moving, anything new or sudden.

Leah lying where she feels safe

The two pups lived exclusively in the utility room which is off their large kitchen and they had not been allowed into the house. They are quite content to be in there without crying to come out and join the family, probably because that’s how it’s been from the start. All their encounters with the little children and other people have either been in that room, out in the garden or on walks.

There are downsides to this. When friends and even the children go into their utility room Leah, in particular, has nowhere to escape to if scared unless the back door is open which she is sometimes too anxious to go through anyway. When I came I was immediately introduced to the dogs in the utility room and Leah ran to the furthest bed, the best she could do to hide. Other people who don’t know better will no doubt try to approach and befriend her.

After I had been there a while they opened the gate so the dogs could join us in the kitchen. Lapidos was in with us straight away, friendly, curious and testing new boundaries. Leah ventured in and kept running back out again. I rolled food to her which she ate and at one stage she dared come near to me as I sat still and looked the other way.

I suggested that the dogs now have monitored sessions in the kitchen, both separately and together, where they can begin to learn a few cues and interact with their humans and with new people in a calmer environment than the garden and in a less trapped environment than the utility room.

The kids should be taught to read how the dogs are feeling and whether, at any particular moment, they want to be touched or approached. From what I saw from their body language with the very little girl who joined us, both dogs, even Leah, welcomed her proximity. Dogs and children should never be left alone together unsupervised.

Leah with the dog food they will be returning

If Leah can’t gradually socialise with new people in an environment where she feels safe, it will make things very difficult for them all as she grows older. Now that they understand the way to deal with a fearful dog, they will no longer make her go anywhere she doesn’t want to go but give her time and always an escape route.

When out, these unusual and beautiful puppies are like a magnets to people and Leah can’t escape the scary attention. It’s the owners’ job to protect her as they would their children.

If something scary happens to a dog when one of their humans happens to be present, the dog can associate the person with the fear even though they had nothing to do with it. There was an incident where a child tied Lapidos’ lead to a chair in the garden and went away. The pup pulled the chair over which terrified him and the lady was nearby and rescued him. For the following week he tried to avoid her.

We looked at all aspects of the puppies’ lives to make sure they get off to the best start, including diet. In the picture is Leah, venturing out of the utility room and past a new large pack of Baker’s Complete dog food. Diet affects the dogs both physically and mentally, and food like this is made to be tasty and pretty, but contains little proper nutrition and even some harmful stuff and additives. They will return it.

So, we have made a start. The purpose of having me to help are for the humans to be able to teach the pups basic training cues, to walk nicely on lead and for the beautiful Leah to gradually grow in confidence. Finally, and understandably with such young children playing outside, they would like the dogs to toilet in one area only in the garden.

When People Come to Front Door

Chocolate Labrador mixKiki, a Chocolate Labrador mixed with a small bit of something else – Doberman perhaps – has had several homes in her two-and-a-half years. At one she had been tied up most of the time and muzzled – most likely to prevent her from chewing anything including herself.

She is a lovely, gentle dog which is quite surprising in the circumstances and what a very different life she has now! Much of her unruliness has now been resolved due to the efforts of her new owners. They have had her for nine months, and in this time she has been to training classes, become very well socialised with other dogs and is taken for at least one long walk every day.

They have transformed Kiki to a happy dog from a frightened, fretful little thing, overweight by 10kg & with mange where she had tried to scratch the muzzle off.

It is just possible, in my mind, that she’s getting too much stimulation now because at times when you would think she should be tired, she relapses into attention-seeking behaviours where she can control and predict her humans’ reactions. Her favourite is to steal things from the kitchen. She then runs them a merry dance until they corner her and remove the item. This is where many dogs become defensive and a bit scared, leading to growling or biting but fortunately this just isn’t in Kiki’s nature at all.

What the lady is still struggling with the most is Kiki’s behaviour when someone comes to the front door. She gets very excited indeed, barking frantically, obviously fearful and she may pee. Her hackles go up. Her previous foster carers used a shaker bottle and then water spray, but Kiki’s new owners quickly abandoned that unkind approach, knowing that it simply made her more stressed. They have tried feeding her and more recently, unsuccessfully, to get her to sit and stay back from the door when they open it.

When I arrived they held onto her collar because she may also decide to run off down the road. She calmed down very quickly indeed as she became engrossed in sniffing me for the smell of my own dogs and I just stood still until she had relaxed. She was then a dream.

The problem with all the things that they have tried is they don’t take consideration of the emotions inside Kiki that are driving her to behave like this. The behaviour itself isn’t the real problem. If it’s fear, then punishing fear with a shaker bottle can only make it worse. If it’s fear or extreme arousal of any kind, then sitting quietly is an unreasonable ask.

I take a more psychological approach. People arriving at the door, particularly people a dog doesn’t know well, can be very stressful. A dog could be feeling that they should be ‘vetting’ the intruder. A lot of incidents happen in doorways from over-excited dogs jumping up at people to dogs controlling entrances so another dog may not dare walk through, to over-aroused dogs redirecting onto one another and fighting when someone walks through the door, and so on.

Kiki’s humans should, in my mind, to take full responsibility for comings and goings to their house. They are the ‘parents/protectors’ after all. We know that she gets very stressed if shut behind a door where she can’t see people, so I suggest a gate in the kitchen doorway where she can see who is arriving but not get to the front door.

First they can teach her, using family members, that when she hears the doorbell she goes into the kitchen where she’s rewarded and the gate is closed.

To start with there is no doubt that she will intensify her barking from behind the gate when she finds she’s unable to get to the person, but if they are steadfast they will overcome.

Now her fear and anxiety can be worked on properly. She can learn to associate callers with good stuff. Food can be  dropped over the gate. She can learn that she’s let out to join them in the hall when she has calmed down. People will be asked not to reach out to her while gets used to them. Once relaxed, she a wonderfully friendly dog.

Kiki is very scared of vehicles stopping outside her house and she used to be especially scared of the sound of the ice cream van. Every time she heard the jingle the family went out and bought her an ice cream. It wasn’t long before she began to LOVE the ice cream van jingle. This is the principal for Kiki’s family to use with people coming to the door – to associate them with good stuff and they have already experienced for themselves just how well this approach works.

If their eventual aim in the future is for Kiki to sit politely and calmly away from the door when someone arrives, that should be possible when she feels differently about it. This could be in several months’ time. It can be taken in very easy stages. First it will be sitting calmly behind the closed gate, then the open gate, then on a mat just in front of the gate and so on.

Whether or not they end up with a calm dog in the kitchen when someone arrives, or a calm dog standing or sitting back away from the front door, is not important in my opinion – what is important is that Kiki is happy and not scared or stressed, which will then be reflected in her behaviour.

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 Kiki.  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).

 

Welcoming the New Puppy

Black Maltese puppyThey had picked up thirteen week old Maltese, Oakley, the day before I came. He now lives with a couple and their two young sons aged eleven and eight.

About a month ago I had been to see the grandparents who live next door and the puppy lives with the young boy who was bitten by Asha and who has been doing so well in learning to understand her. He has even been training his friends.

My job is to help them to make sure all goes well from the start with little Oakley and the boys, and to help with the tricky situation of introducing the two Shitzus next door to the new puppy. One little dog, Gizzy, should be fine. Asha, however, is not at all good with other dogs and it’s important she doesn’t frighten the new puppy.

There is a gate between the two properties which both dogs and children freely go through. For now the gaps have been blocked although there is still a space underneath – a space large enough for little noses and for barking.

Although not house trained by the breeder, Oakley is taking to it naturally, and will even go to the door when he needs to toilet.  When I was there, however, this coincided with the two Shitzus being out in their garden. Asha barked and little Oakley barked and came dashing back into the safety of the kitchen. The younger boy sat on the swing while the puppy was outside and this scared him too.

It’s important that nothing frightens him outside else he won’t be so willing to go out to toilet. We don’t want him having to run the gauntlet past that gate which may have an aggressive-sounding Asha barking underneath it.

When little Oakley has settled I shall go back and work out a plan for integrating the new puppy with the other two dogs. We can start with the more relaxed and dog-friendly Gizzy first. Meanwhile, they should block the gap under the gate and both sides should be ready to start throwing tasty bits of food on the ground when dogs and puppy are aware of each other – far enough away from the gate and fence that they are not so aroused they won’t eat.

This way the dogs will begin to associate each other with something good – food.

We looked at the other basic ‘puppy parenting’ aspects such as gradually teaching Oakley that being all alone is fine (he had a good first night fortunately) in order to pre-empt separation problems, teaching the boys how to deal with puppy nipping, not to over-excite him and to give him space.

We looked at what is good food and what is not so good. I showed them how to lure him into sitting but suggested leaving any more training for now and allow him to settle in before putting any pressure on him. I stressed, as I always do, the importance of appropriate and non-scary acclimatisation to people, other dogs, appliances, traffic and everyday life outside the home.

One boy took a feather off him that he had found in the garden. This was a good opportunity to explain the importance of never just ‘taking’ something – but to exchange (and also not to remove things that don’t matter!). This then pre-empts any resource guarding behaviour.

I am really looking forward to my next visit when Oakley is properly settled. One boy is keen to learn to clicker train Oakley. We will then look at the best way to work on getting that gate between the gardens open again.

It took a while, but a couple of months later here are all three dogs happily together.casey

The Young Dog Chases Traffic

German Shepherd with ballWe understand roads, but do our dogs? A roaring, smelly monster either approaches him head-on or bears down on him from behind. How can the dog know that the vehicle won’t plough into him and his human?

With each car that passes he becomes more highly aroused. Each vehicle could annihilate him and so he has to chase it off. He is successful this time, but the next one that comes along – will he manage to get rid of that one also?

A vehicle approaches and the dog lunges and barks, so what happens next? The vehicle goes away. I’m sure he feels the vehicle’s departure is the direct consequence of his barking and lunging. To make matters worse, the person on the other end of the lead who he should be able to trust doesn’t help him, but traps him and may even join in the ‘car rage’.

No wonder Harry dreads walks

German Shepherd avoiding coming inThe German Shepherd is now nine months old and he lives an otherwise wonderful life in a rural area. Down the lane cars are sudden happenings.

I was called because of traffic chasing but that isn’t the actual problem. Anyone using enough force could physically prevent a dog from chasing a vehicle. The real problem, the cause of the behaviour, is fear, and this is what Harry’s humans need to deal with.

Harry is now so worried about leaving the safety of his house and garden that they only have to call him in from outside and he becomes suspicious that they may want to put his harness on – and that would mean having to confront cars. Top left is happy Harry as he usually is. On the right he has his harness on and is suspicious we may want to put his lead on also, so he’s not coming in.

Getting Harry to be chilled around traffic will need to be taken in tiny steps with work, patience and persistence which I know his owners have. They have had several German Shepherds over the years but none of the things they have tried have cracked the problem of a dog that chases traffic, so they need a different approach.

Step one, before they can do anything else, is for Harry to come happily to have his harness and lead put on. The only way to do that will be for the equipment to not be a precursor of going out and to be associated with food and fun at home.

As soon as they step out through the door Harry is pulling and barking should any car dare pass by the end of their long drive. Going out through the door itself must be conquered for starters until they achieve a happy and relaxed dog within just a few feet of the house.

There should be no more close encounters at all with cars for now while they work on him. Fortunately Harry is fine when inside a car so he will be taken to traffic-free places for his outings whilst the intensive desensitisation work is done near home and in places where moving vehicles are at a ‘safe’ distance.

I have shown them an emergency procedure should an unexpected vehicle appear, whereby Harry’s humans will take decisive and logical (to Harry) action and he will see the monster disappear into the distance without his having chased it away.

NB. The best approach to use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Harry, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here. One size does not fit all. For help with your own dog, I suggest you find an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).