Snapping, But Only at Family Members

I met Theo today!

Theo is a ten-month-old Cockerpoo who lives with another Cockerpoo, Otto, who is six years and much more sensible!

snapping at family members

Theo with a new haircut

Theo is a live wire, friendly, affectionate and funny.

For some reason, though, there are times when he snaps. They feel that he’s unpredictable, but on looking more closely, the snapping can actually be predicted – at least, the triggers can.

The snapping began immediately after he was castrated.

It was the second day after he’d been castrated a couple of months ago. They had taken his ‘lampshade’ off because he couldn’t eat with it on. It was when they went to put it back on that he went for them.

Things went downhill after this with Theo’s snapping.

Looking back one can understand at the time he may still have been suffering from the anaesthetic and the collar must have been a great annoyance. He simply didn’t want to by pulled about anymore. He snapped.

It took them totally by surprise.

One thing he will have quickly learnt is that snapping makes people recoil and back off. Now, whenever he doesn’t want to be touched or pulled about, he air snaps. Snapping works. They stop.

Very fortunately he’s not yet drawn blood but the direction things are going it’s only a matter of time before the snapping becomes real biting if something isn’t done.

It’s a shame because he is such a friendly little dog. He loves self-initiated cuddles. When out in crowds he seems to revel in lots of attention and being touched. The snapping has only happened to family members so far.

The incidents can be grouped into snapping when he’s been touched whilst resting or sleeping and most particularly if it’s come as a surprise; snapping when they try to take something off him; snapping when he’s pulled about in some way and simply doesn’t want it – like having his back legs toweled.

Like other people I have been to recently, Theo’s family is another that doesn’t regularly use food for reinforcement so they, too, are missing their trump card.

If the dog sees hands as the transporters of food, hands will be a lot more welcome!

One good thing is that he is fed on Bakers! Yes – this is good! It’s good because immediately they should be able to improve Theo’s mood by feeding him on something with healthier ingredients and without all those additives – better brain food.

Otto

Otto

They need to prevent any further rehearsal of the snapping. They now know his flash points and must avoid them.

No touching him when he’s resting because sometimes he snaps. No touching him when he’s sitting beside them on the sofa – because sometimes he snaps.

He sleeps on their bed. Inadvertently the other night, the lady put her hand on him and he flew at them in their own bed. He was wild, snapping repeatedly as they held up the duvet to protect themselves.

They will now shut him out of their bedroom.

They will no longer try to take anything off him. If something is dropped on the floor and he looks like he wants it, they will no longer simply bend over and pick it up – just in case he snaps at their hand!  

This is all well and good for now

It’s not a way to live into the future and it’s not realistic to expect people to be on high alert all the time, so work needs to be done.

I concocted some exercise and set-ups for the family to work through Theo’s issues with him. In brief these include:

Getting him to touch their hands when they ask him to with some clicker training.

When he’s lying on the sofa, sitting down away from him and calling him over. If he comes to them he gets a reward and a brief fuss. If he doesn’t they leave him be.

They will swap an item he’s holding for food, admire it, making a game of it, giving it back.

They will then swap items for food and sometimes keep them.

Because they are afraid to pick up dropped items without Theo snapping, they will deliberately drop things he might find interesting – little bits of rubbish and point it out to him – ‘Look!’. Having thanked him and exchanged for something better, if it’s something he would like they can give it to him.

Snapping is rarely totally unpredictable unless the dog is asleep and taken by surprise, which is predictable in a way with a dog like Theo. He will give some subtle warning. Maybe little signs in quick succession which with more knowledge they will pick up on. They can check when he does come over to him that touching is what he wants. Does your dog want to be petted – consent test

It’s a bit strange that Theo’s change in behaviour came on so suddenly. I’m told that in the past he has twitched or sort of hiccuped at times, and I noticed he made a few twitches like little spasms when he was on his back. If things don’t greatly improve with the snapping, he will go back to the vet for more extensive tests.

Being Theo myself, going to a Theo was funny!

I called him “Theo, Come! and gave him a treat. Reinforcement is vital.

If someone called me “Theo, come!” and when I got there the person simply shrugged and said ‘”nothing”, I would probably ignore them another time!

I would like Cadbury’s Wholenut Chocolate please.

TheoIt’s two-and-a-half months now: We are so pleased with Theo.  He is such a different dog to the one you met.  The best thing is that, with your help and guidance, it has all come about through kindness and understanding, which is how we have always wanted it to be.The more affection he gets, the more he wants.  He will often come and sit at my feet, asking for his tummy to be tickled, or will just come and rest his chin on my lap.  He walks around the house wagging his tail.  Theo is such a bright dog; we just love being with him each day. We seem to have reached a very happy understanding of one another and we have a routine that works for all of us. Thank you so much for all your help.  We are so grateful.
Three weeks after my visit: We have had another super week with Theo. No flashpoints, just a lovely happy dog. This morning I walked the dogs with a friend and her sensible Labrador. We let them all of the leads as we were on a track surrounded by fields. Theo was brilliant; he stayed on the footpath and came straight back whenever I called him, no matter how far ahead or behind he was.
Two weeks have gone by and I have received email feedback ending: “We are really pleased with progress far.  Your guidance has been invaluable.  Within the first week, we were all just feeling relieved at the improvement in his behaviour (and probably ours!) and we felt we could at least live with him.  Now, at the end of two weeks, I can honestly say it is a pleasure to be with him.  He is having fun, he is affectionate and more relaxed. We realise that we need to be aware of our actions and his possible reactions, but it is so rewarding to work with him”.
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 Theo 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 ny 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)

Snapping at the Kids and Growling

Things are a whole lot more serious when children are involved.

Alfie lunging and snapping at child was a complete surpriseThis is from the original email the lady sent me: “Alfie has started growling around his food, toys and bed since June. He is very possessive and he bit me once as well. We have been trying to stop him from growling especially with his food, using technique like sit and stay before feeding him, stopping him when he is eating to give him treat, feeding him by hand. We really love Alfie, but because of his snapping I can’t relax when the kids want to play with him and I really don’t know how to stop him growling. I am concerned about my girls safety”.

Some weird advice had been given to them as I could see from the message. They were also told the dog had to be made to sit and watch them eat before being fed himself. Oh dear.

9-month-old Cockerpoo Alfie greeted me with enthusiasm and some jumping up – a little mouthing. A gorgeous, playful, friendly little dog. It was hard to see how he would ever be aggressive.

A couple of hours later, I saw it for myself.

If something suddenly changes in a dog’s behaviour, the first step is a full vet check. Their vet had given him a clean bill of health and advised them to get behaviour help.

The growling, lunging and snapping had started quite suddenly three months ago when he bit the lady’s arm. He had walked away from his still full food bowl, she had walked towards him and he flew at her, biting her arm and drawing blood. It was a huge shock as he had never shown any aggression previously.

After discussion and dissecting each incident it seems that, although food may sometimes be involved, it’s more about Alfie guarding entrances/doorways, mostly from the two little girls aged 6 and 8. It is also possible he’s guarding his own space. Maybe he is guarding the mum or dad who on several occasions had been beside him as a child approached and he growled. This was the case when I saw it happen myself. What a shock.

Being approached directly is what each incident has in common.

Alfie has been scolded for growling so he may now be taking it to the next stage – snapping. A couple of times he had sprung towards a child, growling and snapping at her arm. The change from friendly playmate to growling and snapping dog is sudden and unpredictable.  They can’t be looking at him all the time for subtle signs.

Fortunately no harm has been done yet. It’s still a warning. ‘Go away’.

There have also been a couple of incidents around food. I watched him eat his dinner and he kept breaking off to look around at where the children were playing.

On the first occasion it almost certainly was associated with over-arousal. The family had been away and Alfie had stayed with the doggy daycare. He normally is there for a couple of days a week but this time it was for five days and nights. Daytime there are around fifteen dogs, all loose in a field doing their own thing all day. We know that unsupervised dog play very often gets out of hand, particularly when there are lots of dogs involved.

What, too, about sleep deprivation and the ongoing effect this may have had? Most dogs in a ‘normal’ environment spend a great portion of the day asleep.

What else may Alfie be learning? He has been going there since he was three months old and was six months when the first incident happened.

He may well be learning or even copying behaviours involving guarding areas or resources along with protecting his personal space and probably his food. He also will have learnt that growling and snapping at the other dogs keeps them away. Being dogs and not children, they would understand and get the message.

Alfie’s arousal levels will have been through the roof after five days of this.

The more questions I asked the more it became evident that most of the episodes they could remember came after Alfie having stayed at the daycare.

The first step is to leave daycare and find a dog walker who will come once or twice a day, take him out with no more than two other dogs then bring him home again.

Because children are involved, the priority has to be their safety, so management must be put in place straight away. There is one doorway where could put a gate, allowing the dog to be separated from the kids and the lady to relax. It is putting a terrible strain upon her now.

Alfie suddenly flew out from under the table, snapping at the child’s arm.

I sat chatting at the kitchen table. All was peaceful, the little girls were upstairs amusing themselves. The couple were the other end of the table nearest to the door and Alfie was under the table between them.

The eight-year-old opened the door and walked in. With no warning that I could see (he was under the table), Alfie sprung out, growling, snapping at the child’s arm. Thank goodness no harm was done. This is a good example of how children may not always be safe even with their parents right beside them.

The man himself hadn’t actually witnessed more than growling before and now was understanding a lot better his wife’s anxiety and why she is constantly on edge.

BenbowAlfie1

Again, Alfie had been at daycare for several days and nights and the lady had only returned from overseas the day before I came. Alfie’s ‘stress bucket’ will have been full already. The children had been on school holidays for several weeks now so there was more excitement……and the I arrived!

After the gate, the second management thing is to wean Alfie into wearing a muzzle. Muzzling him for short periods at a time will allow the lady some respite. Alfie will certainly be picking up on her tension, adding to the stress. She is watching all the time ‘No Alfie!, No Alfie!’.

In addition to management, reducing Alfie’s stress levels in every way possible, working directly on Alfie’s guarding behaviour, the behaviour of the little girls has to be modified as well.

Instead of feeding him in the kitchen where everyone walks past, they will now feed him out of the way in the utility room – and leave him strictly alone. If anyone has to walk through, they will just drop something very nice either in or near to his bowl as they pass. No more silly tricks around food and meals.

They will work at getting him to give up and exchange things willingly. They will use food to motivate and reward him – something they don’t currently do.

As well as the work with Alfie, the little girls have their own tasks. Holding a child’s hand, I rehearsed walking towards an imaginary Alfie but in an arc or to the side of him, then with the dog himself, avoiding eye contact.

If he is lying or sitting very still, staring, they should turn around and go away. If he growls they should turn around and go away.

Before opening the gate they can call him over, drop him a treat (some will be on the shelf nearby) before opening it. This will break any staring; in addition Alfie should begin to feel good about the girls walking in the door. Mum can do some work with them too. Sitting facing a doorway with Alfie on lead, her little girls can rehearse over and over how they should walk in and past Alfie.

Child training! They are very young and will still need constant reminding.

Here is a video for them to watch.

I sincerely hope with no more bad habits and over-arousal from the daycare, with some positive training around resources and people coming through doorways, the much-loved Alfie will stop all growling and snapping, that he will go back to being the trustworthy, child-friendly dog he used to be only three months ago.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Alfie 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)

Food Aggression and Parading Bones

We all know what Pugnacious means!

Frank is a delightful, friendly and playful ten-month-old Pug French Bulldog mix. He is a typical teenager in that he likes to play his family up – he is a clever boy!

What I was called for is Frank’s behaviour around dropped food, bones and other edible resources. 

Food aggression can start with the breeder

From the moment they first got him Frank wolfed his food down as though in total panic – even faster if someone was nearby, like he was afraid they may steal it from him. Consequently they were advised to put the food on a plate which, because it slides around the floor, slows him down.

The breeder fed the litter all together from one bowl which we know can lead to competition Frank has some food aggressionover the food. It does not encourage eating confidently in the knowledge that the puppy can take his time with no fear of losing the food. This is where food aggression can start.

Food aggression is then unintentionally encouraged by owners who, thinking they are doing the right thing, force things off the puppy, either because it may be dangerous or maybe to make a point about who is boss. They don’t realise that even some of the games they play are nurturing guarding behaviour in certain dogs that may be that way inclined anyway due to either genetics or early life with litter-mates.

From the start, savvy dog owners actively encourage give and swap.

Frank has now snapped about five times at a hand that has got too near to dropped food or his bone. Once the little girl dropped something on the floor and when mum went to remove it Frank, who had his eye on it also, went for mum’s hand.

Like many people they felt they should be able just to take a bone off the dog. The young lady was snapped at so she withdrew. Because, to quote her, she ‘was not having that’, the next time she wore an oven glove and forcibly removed the bone from him, resulting in what would have been a much more severe bite had it not been for the glove.

An interesting display of minor guarding behaviour

I gave Frank a Stagbar (piece of reindeer antler) to chew and it was so interesting to watch him. For several minutes he paraded it, flaunting it around all the people there (there were seven of us including a little girl). “Look what I’ve got and you can’t have it” sort of thing! He then would drop it, as though tempting someone to try and pick it up.

Next he started rolling around the floor on top of the Stagbar. Sarah Whitehead would say that this is to spread his scent over it – to mark it as his possession.

Then he got down to some serious chewing.

They asked can they touch him or stroke him while he’s chewing?  NO! They must leave him strictly alone. He must be ignored. When he parades something they should look the other way. He can’t flaunt something if nobody is looking, can he.

From now onwards he will have a very different relationship with his family around food. They will no longer be seen as ‘takers’ but as ‘givers’.

They will get him a heavier slow bowl feeder so it won’t slide around the kitchen floor like the plate; it has bumps in it to sow him down whilst making eating less of a chase and race, less frustrating.

A thing I personally feel that dogs must find so frustrating is the common practice of being made to sit, wait and maybe do tricks before they can eat start to eat. It’s not natural. In the wild an animal wouldn’t sit back, wait and do tricks, giving other animals opportunity to get there first.

I prefer to hold the bowl and wait before putting it down, getting the dog’s attention in order to emphasise my role as ‘giver’. Then I put the food down. It’s his. I walk away and leave the dog to eat in peace.

Although Frank so far shows no food aggression when someone walks past while he’s eating his meals (if they bent down and put their hands near it would be a different matter), they can still help by silently chucking a bit of something better than his food – cooked chicken perhaps – in the direction of his bowl.

When I was there the little girl had an ice cream and dropped a bit on the floor – almost the same situation as one of the ‘incidents’. This time Frank was more interested in my Stagbar fortunately. Recently the lady was eating crisps on the sofa with Frank beside her, watching. She pushed him onto the floor and he snapped at her.

This needs to be taken very seriously, particularly when little children are about. They should not tempt fate by giving him any further opportunity to rehearse the behaviour again. A dog that has any hint of food aggression should be in another room when anyone is eating anything at all, even ice cream or crisps (due to the food aggression they do put him in his crate when they eat their meals).

Frank rolling on the Stagbar

Frank rolling on the Stagbar

Now there is some hard work to do so that should a situation accidentally arise Frank can be trusted not to attack a hand.

If he’s chewing a bone they must ignore him. He needs to build up trust that it won’t be taken from him and then he will have nothing to be protective about.

Preferably they should wait until he loses interest before taking the bone away. Alternatively they can swap it for a Kong stuffed with something tasty which they can remove when it’s empty and he’s lost interest. I wanted my Stagbar back before I left and dropped food on and beside it a couple of times, watching his body language carefully, and he let me pick it up – I rewarded him again with a little jackpot.

Teaching Frank to ‘Give’ can start with Tug of War. Tuggy done properly teaches a dog to ‘give’ as well as to avoid teeth on human flesh.

Frank’s humans will be Givers, not Takers.

Teaching him that his humans aren’t interested in stealing from him is one thing, teaching him to actively and happily give things up is another and needs working on.

I suggest they lift his toys. They can issue them one at a time, using the ‘exchange game’: offer it, don’t let go, say ‘Give’ and exchange for food. Do this a couple of times, then without food, ending in letting him keep it. The rule is that they never take anything off him unless he gets it back or its exchanged for something better than what he already has (better to him that is).

Another good teaching game is to have a range of objects and food in ascending order of value to Frank, and teach exchange starting with the lowest in value. They can leave him to keep the final most valuable item.

Food should also be used as payment – rewards for doing as asked. This will make him a lot more cooperative in general and again emphasise that his people are ‘givers’ and that he has to give something in return.

Our human instinct when met with food aggression or aggression of any sort from our dog is to respond in kind – we are aggressive back. We’re ‘not having that’. He mustn’t get away with it.  Its hard, but the very opposite approach is needed. Any growling or air snapping should not be met with punishment or anger. We need to look at the cause of the aggression and deal with that, not the snapping itself.

The snapping is, still, fortunately only a warning. Teach him not to give a warning and it can only escalate into real biting.

The very achievable goal is that when the adorable Frank has a bone or is near food, he should be relaxed and happy. He won’t need to immediately going onto the defensive lest someone should nick his bone or get to dropped food first.

An email two months later: Our main worry and concern was the food aggression. We have seen NO aggressions since our meeting and not even a slight indication of it. Frank happily bring bones to us all, will Give things he shouldn’t have if we have a treat in our hand to reward him handing it over etc. He seems all round a happier dog 🙂 

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Frank 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)

Personal Space, the Dog and the Child

Consideration of Personal space is a one-way street for Dijon!

Cavapoo Dijon is a confident little dog in most respects. He knows what he wants – and usually gets it. The one respect in which he’s not so confident is when the lady is about but he can’t get to her. He stresses.

Caverpoo doesn't like the child invading his personal space Fourteen-month-old Dijon is increasingly treating the lady like some sort of resource belonging to himself when the 5-year-old daughter is near to her mother.

Dijon may fly at the child, snapping, if she goes to her for a cuddle.

Dijon has now bitten the little girl’s nose and this was when the lady wasn’t even in the room. She had left dog and child together on her bed for just a moment when the child screamed.

It seems the little girl ‘won’t be told’ where putting her face up close to Molly’s is concerned. She may also invade the dog’s space and he’s a little dog that likes control of his own personal space – though he has no regard whatsoever to the personal space of humans, whether family or people he’s not met before! He flies all over them.

I suggested that just as we are looking for ways to reinforce Dijon for the behaviours that we like, we need to get the child on board in the same way. Her parents say they just can’t get her to listen (much the same as people say about their dogs!).

Motivation is the key.

Dijon on his bedroom sofa

Dijon on his bedroom sofa

One suggestion I use to help young children to observe their dog’s personal space is to pretend that the dog lives in his own personal bubble. They can perhaps draw a picture of what it looks like. If they burst the bubble a terrible smell escapes – children can use their horrid imaginations!

The little girl must not burst Dijon’s bubble. Only Dijon can step out of his bubble and when he does so there is no smell!

She must keep her distance when Dijon is lying down or doing his own thing. They could make little picture stickers for the Dijon’s favourite sleeping places as reminders: ‘Dijon’s Bubble’. It’s much better to be able to remind the child ‘Remember Dijon’s Bubble’ than to have to keep nagging ‘leave Dijon alone’.

So, positive reinforcement for her also. Whenever she is seen observing Dijon’s bubble she should be praised or rewarded in some way and eventually it will become a habit.

It’s fine to touch theBerridgeBubble dog if he himself chooses to come out of his bubble and to the child, but even then the child should learn what sort of touching the dog likes (and doesn’t like).

There are videos for her the parents to watch with her like this and how to kiss a dog.

To ‘cure’ this problem at source needs Dijon to feel better about the child being near her mother, so two things should happen. His relationship with the lady needs to be a bit different so that she is no longer regarded by Dijon as a something belonging to him, and he needs to feel differently about the child herself.

 

The two humans involved, the lady and her little girl, can change things with Dijon

The lady needs to help release Dijon who currently follows her everywhere, all the time. He sleeps in their bedroom or on their bed and doesn’t always take kindly to the child running into the room and jumping on the bed to cuddle her parents.

They will gate the stairs so there is now somewhere that the lady can go without being followed. She should be able to come and go out of sight without it being an issue, starting slowly with very short breaks. Walking out on him can be associated with something nice.

Dijon can be invited upstairs only at bedtime.

When in the bedroom he will learn that he no longer gets on their bed at all.

I’m not against dogs being on beds if that’s what people like unless the dog reacts negatively to any other person (or dog) on the bed.

Keeping him off can be done kindly because there is a comfortable sofa in their bedroom that Dijon also sleeps on. For the child’s safety, management by way of physical precautions is vital. Dijon can be anchored to the sofa area by a lead so he simply can’t chase the child or leap on the bed.

Loving Dijon without bursting bubble

Loving Dijon without bursting bubble

The alternative is to leave him downstairs. They are reluctant to do this because of the panic he gets himself into.

The other thing that needs to happen, in addition to Dijon feeling a bit more independent of the lady’s comings and goings, is for Dijon to feel differently about the child herself.

The little girl is going to learn about counter-conditioning!

When she comes home after school, Dijon jumps all over them with no regard at all for their personal space! They want this to stop. Ignoring him isn’t enough and the little child finds this impossible anyway. She can’t be sufficiently calm and quiet either. Instead, she will be shown something that she can do. She will be given pieces of his dry food. When his feet are on the floor she will drop food. When he’s jumping up she can wait for his feet to be on the floor again. She might even earn a little reward herself.

When she wants a cuddle with her mum, the little girl can tell Dijon. ‘I want to cuddle Mummy’ and as she does so throw a handful of his dry food onto the rug. She can have a tub of ‘cuddle food’ to hand. This will not only help Dijon to associate the occasion with something nice, it will also send him away to the rug – away from leaping up at the her, air-snapping or nipping.

The stair gate is a must. Even when we are in the same room we can’t watch dog and child every second. Shutting a door on Dijon isn’t yet an option. There needs to be somewhere in the house where the little girl is 100% safe and need not be watched.

Like all my stories, this is nowhere near a complete report. I pick an aspect.

A week later I have visited again – with a photo of Dijon printed on a piece of paper. The little girl drew me a picture of ‘Dijon’s bulbble’ around his picture and of herself outside it. Mum will laminate copies of it and put by Dijon’s resting places as a reminder. All off her own bat, the little girl drew hearts, love, from herself to Dijon without breaking his bubble.

 

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 Dijon. 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 aggression or fearfulness is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Barks at People but Only at Home

He barks at people coming into his home. He loves people when he’s out.

Border Collie barks at peopleBorder Collie Bud is friendly and relaxed with everyone when out of the house. He likes to say hello.

At home he is a different dog. When someone he doesn’t know comes to the door he barks and gets very agitated.

As he’s not scared of people per se, there has to be a protective, territorial element to this. On and off during the day he’s on look-out duty on the front room window sill, watching for passing people and kids – no doubt believing that his barking is the reason they move on. He’s chasing them off.

Bud may think that when he barks at people coming into the house he can chase them off too.

.

Whose job is protection duty, anyway?

A guard dog is unlikely to be a good family pet. Guard duty is the job of the adult humans.

If people are not at home, a worried dog should be somewhere well away from the front of the house. When they are at home they need to help Bud to feel safe. The response of a ‘protector’ would not be to just leave him to bark or else tell him to shut up. I myself thank my dogs, call them to me and reward them for coming away. I may need to investigate.

It’s not surprising that a dog that barks at people going past may well be even more concerned when, from the window, he can see a stranger actually comes into the house.

Bud barks madly when the doorbell goes. If it’s someone he doesn’t know, they will shut him in his crate before letting the person in and he will continue barking at them. When let out, it takes him a while to settle. He has air-snapped at the children and nipped adults a couple of times. If the children have friends they have to go upstairs and keep out of the kitchen.

Barking at people coming to the house is a common problem; sometimes the dog is fearful and sometimes angry that they are invading his territory. He may even be protective like his humans are resources belonging to him. With Bud I feel it’s a mix. He isn’t wary or protective unless people are coming into his house.

Where ‘stranger danger’ is concerned, having had guard duty lifted from him he can learn to associate people coming to the house with something he especially likes. He can be taught to do something incompatible with barking at people. The kids can play the ‘doorbell game’. One rings the bell and another feeds the dog, over and over, until the doorbell now predicts food not danger.

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A Border Collie is a sensitive dog and things can easily become ‘too much’.

Bud’s nipping occurs when things get too exciting or arousing.

There are many ways in which they can cut down on Bud’s stress levels and this should help him to be more tolerant of day-to-day things like people coming to the house and excited children.

They can help him to self-calm rather than stir him up. Chewing is one such way. Unfortunately, he has been doing so much chewing on bones that he has already, at eighteen months of age, worn his teeth down. This proves just how badly he is in need of something to de-stress himself. We looked at various other calming activities that should help him, but his humans not winding him up would help a lot!

The man can cut down on some of the rough and tumble and chase games that men so love and do brain games and hunting games with Bud instead. Not so much fun for the man but much better for the dog.

A child that becomes too excited may end up bad-tempered or in tears. What about a dog?

In every other respect Bud is a brilliant dog. He has been well and lovingly trained. His barking at people coming into the house, however, isn’t a purely a matter of ‘training’. To get him to behave differently when people come to the house, he needs to feel differently about people coming into the house. This also involves feeling he can trust his humans to protect the home.

Bud’s humans will now do all they can to let him know he’s ‘off duty’ and to keep him from becoming unnecessarily stirred up.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bud. 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 aggression or fearfulness is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Barking and Biting

chipoo

Dobby

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

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

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

Chipoo

Dizzy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Why Did Their Dog Bite a Child

In truth, the little Shih tzu has snapped at two grandchildren and one of their friends this last week. Her teeth caught the nose of the last child.

There is absolutely no way she can be called an aggressive dog. She is beautiful and friendly. It is clear that at times things simply get too much for her. Too much noise, too many people and too much pulling about by children.

Schitzu

Boy learning to touch Asha so she feels comfortable

On each occasion the atmosphere was charged with excitement so her arousal and stress levels will have been getting higher and higher until she, literally snapped. On a couple of occasions she had taken herself off to lie down in peace, and the child had gone and disturbed her.

As you can imagine, the family are deeply upset to the extent they were even fearing losing Asha. They adore their little dog but they can’t have their grandchildren or their friends bitten.

We need to look into why would their dog bite a child, and deal with that.

Having questioned the very helpful nine-year-old boy in detail who had been present on each occasion and he himself one of the victims, the reason this has escalated so fast became clear. They simply did not recognise the signs that Asha was sending out, trying to communicate that she was uncomfortable and had had enough and she was almost forced into taking things further. Some breeds’ faces are more inscrutable than others, but there probably was some yawning or looking away. The boy told me she licked her nose.

Unaware of what the little dog was trying to tell him he carried on touching her, so she now growled. Unfortunately he took no notice of that either. So, she snapped. The child recoiled and, bingo, Asha succeeded in what she had been trying to achieve from the start, which was to be left alone.

The second time it sounds like she gave just a quick growl that was ignored before snapping. The child backed off. Job done. The final time, she went straight to the snapping stage, leaping at the child’s face with no prior warning.

Asha had, in the space of just one week, learnt what worked.

Three things need to be done straight away.

Firstly, the opportunity to rehearse this behaviour ever again has to be removed. Each time snapping succeeds in giving her the space she needs, the more of a learned response it will become.

If the atmosphere is highly charged or several children come to play – they have a swimming pool so things get noisy – then the dog should be shut away (something she is perfectly happy with).

Secondly, all children coming to their house must be taught ‘the rules’ and how to ‘read Asha’. The grandson who helped me so well is going to be her ‘Protector’ and teach the other children. I have sent a couple of videos for them to watch. The dog’s ‘den’ – an area under the stairs – must be isolated and totally out-of-bounds to kids. The boy is going to make a poster!

Here are their Golden Rules:

Don’t approach and touch Asha when she’s lying down, particularly when asleep.
Let Asha choose. Wait till she comes over to you. Don’t go over to her.
Don’t go near a dog that is eating anything.
Dogs don’t like hands going over their heads. Chest is best.
If you want to run around and have noisy fun, do it away from the dogs
If you see lip-licking, yawning or if you see the whites of her eyes. STOP. Move away.
If the dog keeps looking away. STOP. Move away.
If the dog goes very still STOP. Move away.
If you hear a growl. STOP. Move away.

Because kids, being kids, may forget the ‘no touching unless she comes over to you’ rule,  I suggest when children are in the house that Asha wears something to remind them, maybe a yellow bandana or little jacket with ‘give me space’ or something similar.

The other thing in common between all three snapping incidents is that Asha was in a highly stressed state, so the third thing is helping to keep her stress levels down. There are quite a few trigger points in her life where things could be dealt with differently to help avoid stress accumulating which will mean she is a lot more tolerant and less ready to explode. I read somewhere a good saying: ‘Stress loads the gun’.

They fortunately are nipping this in the bud (no pun intended!) before it can develop further. I’m sure that with the children educated in ‘dog manners’, with any warnings heeded and things not allowed to get too exciting or overwhelming around her, Asha will feel no need to bite a child ever again.

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

 

Living with the Weimerana is a Battle

DiefenAs I walked in, 6-year-old Weimerana Dudley was jumping up at the child gate near the front door, barking somewhat scarily. Following the young lady into the living room, he leapt up at my face. I just kept turning away until he got the message and sat down and then I briefly tickled his chest just to show him I appreciated a polite and controlled greeting. I quickly discovered that positive feedback for desired behaviour was lacking. When he is quiet and good they quite understandably and literally ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ so as not to start him off again.

Dudley has been staying with his young lady owner’s parents for several weeks and he has turned their lives upside down. They are doing very best to meet the challenge. His owner is trying to sell her house and because of his behaviour can’t have Dudley there when she is showing people around. In fact I was the first guest the parents had dared have to their house in the weeks they had had him there.

There were such a catalogue of things that need dealing with that it was hard to know where to start without overwhelming them. They all fed into Dudley’s almost obsessive need to control them. With their attention not on him, he whined constantly knowing they all have a breaking point and will give in – I watched him whine at the lady until gave up her place on the sofa to him.

Dudley whines for them in the middle of the night if he hears any movement, he whines if they are talking or on the phone, when he shares the lady’s bed he will bark at her if she moves her legs, he guards the door to stop people leaving. In addition to his own meals, he whines while they are eating so they give him some of their own food.

He’s not as brave as you’d think, though. He backs away and shakes when approached with his collar or lead, and is likely to snap if they’re not careful. They use a Gentle Leader head halter to control his pulling – you can see the mark on his muzzle in my photo (I find it hard to see how this is ‘gentle’ but he is extremely strong and heavy; I hope he will soon be walking nicely without it).

Worst of all, Dudley has bitten several times, drawing blood. He bit the father a couple of times while guarding something he considered a resource, he has suddenly bitten ‘out of the blue’ when stroked, he has bitten the mother on a walk when she bent to untangle the lead from his legs. He may lean his heavy body on them, growling and grabbing an arm or sleeve if he thinks they may be going out somewhere, and may attack the door handle.  ‘Commanding’ him invites defiance. Using rewards can be difficult because he mugs the hand with the food in it.

His behaviour took a dramatic turn for the worse after he had been left with a dog sitter for a week a couple of years ago. One can fairly safely guess that this person used ‘dominant’, punishment-based methods on him in order to force him to comply. It seems that poor Dudley is totally confused and it is all about STOPPING him from doing things. It’s a battle. I started by suggesting they control his food and control his access to certain parts of the house. I got them to completely ignore all the whining because he would have to take a break eventually, and we then immediately and in silence dropped tiny treats on the floor in front of him. We did the same whenever he sat down quietly, whenever he lay down – in fact, whenever he did something good. I called him quietly, rewarded him, asked him to lie down which he did, and I worked him. I used gentle ‘requests’, not ‘commands’, and simply waited until he did what I had asked. Then I demonstrated how to get him to take a treat from my hand politely.

Dudley was focussed; a different dog. He needs more fulfilment in life so that he no longer needs to create his own.

This beautiful boy is going to be a big challenge and they will need to be determined, patient and consistent. They have shown already how committed they are. I shall keep closely in touch with them until they feel they have turned the corner. Understanding the things he SHOULD do will take a huge weight from him and he should become a lot more relaxed and cooperative.

 

It’s Easy to Jump to Conclusions

Stress takes dogs in different ways. Mungo finds relief in humping. Old-fashioned views would simply write humping off as ‘dominance’.  He’s three years old and probably a Springe/Pointer cross. He came over from Ireland as a puppy, was adopted for a while and ended up at The Dogs Trust in kennels for a year. Although they did a lot of work with him, it’s not like being in a home and part of real life.

It’s a huge adjustment for him and progress has been made over the past couple of months. He gets distressed when people are standing up, particularly moviMungo finds relief form stress in humpingng around or standing talking. He humps the lady if she stands and talks on the phone. Having barked in a scared manner at me when I arrived, he was soon humping me. Previous advice had been to push him off, but after two months of this tactic he still does it. He’s not being taught an alternative and his stress levels which are at the root of it aren’t being taken into consideration.

Over the past week or so the behaviour has intensified as has his barking at people and his refusing to come in when requested

It would be easy to think just standing still and looking at them is stubborness, but I think not. I feel any sort of pressure put on him makes him feel just a little threatened. He has snapped a couple of times when a person has approached him and put out a hand. He seems somewhat aloof. His lady owner, because he won’t come over to her, goes over to his bed to fuss him, assuming that he will appreciate her loving kindness. I believe that if her people hang back, give him time and space, use rewards at every opportunity to mark the right behaviours, he will come around more quickly.

I myself learnt a lesson. As he did not appear to be nervous and thinking that clicking him for unwrapping his paws from my leg, I brought out my clicker, and he was scared of it. He froze and then took himself off to the other room. His reaction showed clearly that we shouldn’t assume anything.

When he returned and resumed humping me, I quietly used the word ‘Yes’ instead of clicking. Mungo quickly learnt the connection between ‘Yes’ and letting go – to the extent that the clever dog was soon humping me in order to afterwards get the treat! At last he understands what he should be doing. Now it’s a matter of getting him to go down and stay down, making a ‘stop’ hand signal when seeing him approach with ‘that look’ – and rewarding him when he resists.

Most importantly, the root cause – the stress he is trying to relieve – needs dealing with.

Due to his strange past life, he is surprisingly good with some things. On the other hand, very reactive to people and dogs when he is trapped on lead. Off lead, although he doesn’t go far, he may not come back when called.  Like charity, recall starts at home.

Mungo is with a loving couple who are prepared to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to give him the life he deserves.

8 Months Old and Left With the Vet to be Put to Sleep

The young Staffie/Dogue de Bordeaux had been dropped off at the surgery anonymously to be put to sleep The young Staffie/Dogue de Bordeaux had been dropped off at the surgery anonymously with a story of his owners splitting up and no rescue centre willing to take him. Fortunately the veterinary nurse, a past client of mine, took him home with her. She found him a new home with friends.

His new family of three days, a lovely couple with their two daughters, have called him Frankie.

Frankie is in good shape physically but he is hand-shy. He has air-snapped at a couple of people who have put their hand out to him. This has been preceded by growling but because this was ignored the ‘go away’ warning was naturally stepped up a little. Then he was scolded. A mistake. Warnings shouldn’t be discouraged. We should listen to what the dog is saying and deal with the underlying reason – usually fear.

Frankie has quickly got used to his new family but he is becoming increasingly growly and fearful with other people who come to the house. He is much better out in the garden where possibly he feels more free – so long as he’s not approached with an outstretched hand.

Very wisely the new family have called for help early on, so hopefully we can nip in the bud behaviours which may have caused him to have been abandoned in the first place.

I myself demonstrated how to teach Frankie first of all to relax with me, and then to come to my hand instead of avoiding it; within a while he had changed from growling at me to happily touching my hand when I held it out in front of him and even above his head. They will need to work on this with family members to start with. It needs to be taken slowly and gradually. He needs to associate people with nice stuff. He also seems to have some problems with being left alone and he pulls on lead. These things can be addressed with patience and understanding, two qualities his new family have.

Frankie is a clean slate at the moment and they are slowly getting to know him as he settles in and displays his real self.