Impulse Control Lacking, at Home and on Walks

Much of Blue’s early life was spent in a crate after he and his brother began to fight. He was rehomed. Next he was in another bad situation before being taken in by a rescue and fostered by someone with fifteen dogs.

Now introduced to a steady home life, it’s little wonder Blue is lacking impulse control. It must be a lot to get used to.

He is amazingly friendly and adaptable considering his life over the past three years.

I would sum Blue up as eager to please and biddable…

…and lacking in impulse control.

Lacking impulse controlThere is a good reason the photos are blurred! He was seldom still.

His new humans are incredibly tolerant, but when he becomes too much, Blue is put in the bathroom so they can have a break. He doesn’t make a fuss. He’s very accepting.

We had to put him away for a while because his jumping all over us meant he was such hard work that it was impossible to talk.

They want him to stop jumping all over friends and family who come to their house.

They are doing their best to ‘train’ him out of it, but commands may arouse him even more and also give him the attention he is craving. Also consistency is key – not sometimes with some people, but always with everyone – themselves included. It’s only fair for him to know what is expected of him.

Each time the dog did this to me I turned my head away and gently stood to tip him off. I then was nice to him when his feet were on the floor. He got the message. As he started to understand what was required of him, he began to show just a little impulse control.

They have now had Blue for four weeks and already he’s improved in some areas while maybe getting worse in others.

Blue is scared of the dark, particularly cars in the dark.

They can work on this fear in the safety of just outside their own front door, getting him used to being out at night time and the passing cars from a safe distance.

During the day he’s not too confident either. He will bark at other dogs when he’s on lead. This could well be made worse because when he barks, the lady holds him tightly on a chain lead, her own anxiety rippling down it.

Bit by bit they will help Blue to gain confidence and impulse control. Already he has been taught several cues. Now he needs to learn how to stop, listen and wait.

They will give him a good selection of things to work on and to wreck! Instead of chasing his tail, squirming noisily on his back on the floor, charging up the stairs, raiding surfaces, nibbling people and so on, they can give him alternatives to relieve his stress and frustrations.

A box of rubbish can give him something to attack!

Why throw the recycling rubbish away? Why not give it to the dog first! Milk or water bottles, toilet roll tubes and screwed up paper make a great free toy.

A marrow bone can give him something to literally get his teeth into and will calm him. He can hunt for his tea – see SprinklesTM. They will have tiny food rewards to hand to keep him motivated and to reinforce calm.

One of the first things I look at when a dog is so hyperactive is his diet. In this case the wonderful couple had beaten me to it – they have already put him on the best food they can find. His skin and coat have changed dramatically. When they first took him in four weeks ago his tummy was red and raw and his tail worn hairless. Now his coat is growing shiny and healthy.

Blue is at the start of a very good new life.

Calm Down. Less Excitement, less Reactivity to Dogs

Calm down, Louis!

Young Staffie Bulldog mix, Louis, is an excitable delight who finds it hard to calm down!

Surprisingly, he does with ease something requiring real self-control that many other dogs would find hard. When the doorbell rings, as they go to open the door he takes himself off into another room! No barking.

He was let out to join me and had a good sniff.

Then the jumping up began.

He seldom jumps up at his owners now but he will invariably jump up at any other people who call at the house.

This is not really about jumping up, is it. It’s about excited, friendly greetings with maybe a tinge of anxiety.

Face to face is where dogs think greetings happen.

Imagine how hard it is for an excitable dog that isn’t shown what the human protocol for welcomes is – in a way that he understands.

Why does he keep jumping up despite scolding? The result must be worthwhile in some way. He gets a result that hypes him up even more. This will be attention of some sort from either the visitor or the couple who feel they need to intervene.

Trying to calm down his excitement

Louis trying self-control while he has his photo taken!

For Louis to gain some self-control he needs to calm down. People need to help him by not reacting to the jumping up but by showing him and reinforcing the greeting behaviours the do want with the attention he craves.

There is a fine line to what they can do! The smallest touch or silent drop on the floor of food may have to be enough. Any more and he will be jumping up with excitement again.

Louis is such a biddable dog. He really does his best. I took the photo of him trying with all his might to sit still for long enough. Look at that ‘trying my damnedest to sit still and please you’ Staffie face!

Louis with his own humans is different to Louis with others.

He jumps up at people but not his own two humans.

However he may react to other dogs when on walks with his owners, particularly on lead, but he’s fine dogs when out with other people. (Louis runs free with other dogs three times a week with a dog walker and is no problem at all).

Their concern started with a fight between Louis and a dog they had walked him with for a couple of months.

The dog he knew, with issues of his own, was muzzled as usual. This time there were two smaller dogs in the group and all four dogs including the muzzled dog were off lead. There was a lot of ball-throwing (guaranteed to wire dogs up) and more humans in the mix than usual.

It was all too much. The excitement sparked trouble. It had gone past the point where they could calm down.

The larger muzzled dog eyeballed Louis who suddenly retaliated. The two dogs were immediately parted – with some minor damage to the human hands that were involved.

Once something has happened, owners very understandably get nervous.

Walks are never quite the same or as enjoyable again.

Now when Louis is on lead and sees another dog, he may lunge and bark. How much of this is generated by the tightening of the lead by his worried humans they can only guess. How near to the other dog that it happens can vary.

I suggested they have a ‘week off’. A complete break from worrying about encountering other dogs. To avoid them altogether for a week. Walks are to mean something different – not simply as much exercise as they can cram in for an hour going from A to B.

Both they and Louis can have time to calm down and enjoy wandering, mooching, going nowhere in particular. Take a look at this: Take time to smell the roses (or pee if you are the dog), by Steve Mann.

Louis, after all, is still socialising with his friends and other dogs three times a week with his walker who has not problems with him at all.

During this week they can rehearse and role-play what they will do when they see another dog. The couple will work on an escape procedure for if they are taken by surprise.

They can do more work on the desensitisation they have already begun – encountering dogs at a distance where he can cope – the threshold. They will now add counter-conditioning – associating other dogs with the good stuff. We have worked out quite a tight plan of exactly how to do this for real.

“Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

The couple say they have spotted Louis’ thresholds already but they have either kept advancing or avoided the dog altogether. This is just what most people do and why these things usually don’t improve.

Currently they may try to distract him. Although this may keep the peace, it doesn’t teach him anything. Louis needs to know the dog is there, that it’s at a comfortable and safe distance and that he’s not going to be forced too close for comfort.

Then he will be helped to start feeling good about it.

If he’s so relaxed and enjoying his walks as I predict he will be when he has managed to calm down, they may even need to point the dog out to him. This will avoid a sudden surprise. “Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

 

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 Louis. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Elderly Dog Owner. Difficulty Walking the Dog

An elderly dog owner may no longer be able to walk their dog

How many an elderly dog owner or frail person has problems walking their pet due to a fear of being pulled over or losing control of their dog?

Elderly dog owner has difficulty walking her

Beautiful, biddable Sian

Today’s client homed the dear little Staffie six weeks ago. Stella is 6 years old.

Being in the ‘elderly dog owner’ category myself, I am aware of how especially important it is that the dog walks beside us because she wants to. Not because we need to use strength. It’s also vital we can trust her not to lunge if she sees another dog.

My client is an elderly dog owner and admits she sometimes finds balance difficult. She is light and frail in build and has some trouble holding onto the lead due to arthritis in her hands.

I can identify with this. Fortunately I am still strong and active. Hopefully experience compensates somewhat for age! I know how important it is not to fall over. A broken bone or hip could be the end of life as we know it.

Stella previously belonged to an old lady who could no longer keep her. That is so sad isn’t it. I would be devastated if that happened to me and as my own four dogs get older (as do I), I need to consider what to do next.

As soon as Stella is out of the gate she’s on alert. She pulls on the lead and the lady,having to use both hands, keeps her tightly next to her. This is largely for fear of Stella crossing in front of her and tripping her up.

Stella gets extremely excited to see another dog.

It’s obvious that Stella’s previous elderly owner had a lot of callers and friends because Stella is so chilled and friendly with all people. It’s also fairly obvious that she was seldom taken out and probably for several years will have encountered few other dogs.

There is no sign of aggression, no growling or barking. She lunges towards the dog and then, frustrated, spins and bucks on the lead which is attached to a half-check collar.

My first thoughts were that the lady needs to use much more helpful equipment. We both walked Stella around the garden and the pavement outside wearing a Perfect Fit harness.

I have an eight foot training lead which has a hook both ends.

We experimented with hooking the lead in two places. On a ring on the chest and ring on the top. We then experimented with attaching the lead at the chest only.

Stella needs to learn to walk on the same side and not cross over in front of the lady. We found that fastening the lead to just the chest worked best for now. There was too much untangling the lead from around her legs when she crossed sides otherwise! This requires a degree of agility.

The lady is going to walk Stella in the garden and near home with several very short sessions a day, teaching her that walks means a loose lead. Stella will walk beside the lady because she likes being there. If the lead goes tight, she will be taught to come back voluntarily and will be rewarded when she does so.

I’m not describing the exact process here because it’s been developed through trial and error especially for this particular lady and her dog. Something different may well work better for another elderly dog owner with a different dog.

Once the lady has the loose lead walking technique confidently under her belt (and if she were going to classes this could take several weeks), she will be ready to deal with the issue of other dogs.

Changing how Stella feels about dogs.

I believe Stella’s reactivity is that of a very friendly dog, excited and keyed up because everything is new. She wants to say hello or play but is also feeling a bit scared. If she were off lead with freedom of choice it could be a very different matter.

When they see a dog, instead of tightening the lead and advancing, or tightening the lead and immediately crossing the road, the lady will keep the leash loose. She will watch for Stella’s reaction.

On a loose lead everything will be very different for Stella.

The very moment she alerts or stiffens, before any lunging or spinning, they will increase distance away from the other dog.

When they have found the threshold where Stella knows the dog is there but is cool with it, the lady will associate the dog with something she loves. She will feed her frankfurter pieces maybe or scatter food on the ground. If Stella either won’t eat or if she snatches the food, they need to create still more distance.

The aim is to avoid Stella going over threshold at all costs. Here is very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long

Stella’s confidence should grow. When she trusts the person holding the lead to read her signals, she will get nearer to the other dog before she reacts. That person does not need physical strength.

There is another reason for using a harness and not attaching the lead to the collar. Whenever Stella has lunged or spun it will have caused discomfort to her neck – a negative association with other dogs.

From now on, all associations with other dogs must be positive.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail. 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 Stella. 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. 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).

Context. Why It’s So Important

Seeing things clearly and objectively in context can be hard from the inside.

This consultation has lead me somewhat away from a story about the beautiful dog herself and down another path. The Dog's behaviour not taken in contextyoung Staffie – isn’t she a poppet – and her young owners with their new baby have been doing brilliantly.

Just a couple of things have recently arisen that trouble them and that they want to nip in the bud. One issue is on walks where she seems to have lost her recall. She has run into fields of cows to chase them and she may sometimes be a bit unruly with other dogs. Now the lady is walking with the baby also, she has even more reason to be able to trust Nahla.

Nahla upon seeing another dog may also lie down and refuse to move! This can be a challenge when the young lady is carrying her baby in a sling. She has to wait it out.

We now have a plan for walk difficulties. They will make coming to a whistle a reflex action by constant repetition at home and when out before letting her off a long line. She loves a ball so they will keep it in their pockets and only throw it after blowing the whistle. Pavlov would love this.

The other more distressing problem is, to quote, ‘Nahla’s guarding behaviour’ around their baby when they visit the young lady’s mother. Her mum has three dogs, a Labrador and two Rotties, one of which, Hector, has been Nahla’s puppy playmate.

Nahla is ‘showing aggression and jealousy’ towards Hector when he’s near the baby.

Nahla, they say, was their first baby! She’s now twenty months old. The are the perfect dog parents. She has had kind, positive training, she eats nutritious food and she shares all aspects of their lives. She is friendly and loving, and at home really the perfect dog.

Baby came along six weeks ago. Everything is fine, due both to Nahla’s lovely nature and to her owners forward planning and love for her.

How can the dog I was with be guarding or aggressive?

Ignoring the context leads to jumping to wrong conclusions. Jumping to wrong conclusions means we won’t be dealing with the issue appropriately – we may not be dealing with the real problem at all but with something else entirely.

Naming something the dog does ‘guarding behaviour’ is only a step away from labeling the dog ‘an aggressive dog’.

Give a dog a bad name.

Without even seeing it for myself, knowing the dog I would stake my life on Nahla’s sudden growling and snapping at Hector having nothing to do with guarding at all. It is so important not just to look at what a dog is doing at the time, but also the build-up, what other things are going on at the time and the whole context including the input of the humans involved.

With a little delving I worked out that this is probably more or less what actually happens:

People obviously are extremely protective and anxious when four large dogs are crowding around a new baby. There will be a certain amount of tension.

The couple, carrying tiny grandson, enter mum’s house with Nahla. Her three dogs, the two Rotties and Labrador, are over-the-top excited to see Nahla who tries to wrestle her way through them to excitedly greet mum. Mum is trying to tell her to get down and to control her dogs using commands. I assume they are ignoring her.

The couple sit down, holding baby, and all three bigger dogs want to have a sniff and hello – they have absolutely no problems with the baby, just curiosity and general excitement.

Obviously a Labrador and two somewhat slobbery Rottie’s (mine was slobbery anyway!) are a bit too much around the baby so mum, who is anxious now, repeatedly shouts at her dogs Leave, Leave, Leave.

Human stressing or scolding can often be the tipping point.

Nahla now has a pop at Hector.

The whole thing is too much for her, she’s not used to all this excitement. Highly aroused and maybe a little anxious too because the dogs aren’t behaving in the peaceful way around baby she herself has been taught, Nahla then redirects her frustrations onto Hector.

I don’t know what happens next, but I guess Nahla, misunderstood, is told off. One can begin to see the direction where this will now be heading if not handled differently.

My advice, then, is either for all dogs to meet out on a walk first and get the excitement out of their system first. Alternatively, when they arrive at mum’s, mum’s dogs can be shut in another room to start with. Nahla can then get over her excitement at seeing mum. The other dogs can then join them one at a time, waiting for calm first.

In this calmer setting, if a dog is too close to baby for comfort, he can be gently called away and rewarded for doing so.

Looked at the affair in context, would we call this pop at Hector guarding behaviour or aggression? I wouldn’t. The wrong diagnosis leads to the wrong treatment. In this case it’s the over-arousal that needs dealing with.

Here is a really good piece by Pat Miller about incidents in a multi-dog household and the importance of finding the stressors, which is much the same thing as examining the context.

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 Nahla 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, as this case illustrates perfectly.  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)

Elderly Dog Can Unlearn Old Tricks

An elderly dog, he still has plenty of life in him

An elderly dog, twelve year old StaffI went to a delightful elderly Staffie yesterday, twelve-year-old Barney. I was told that his jumping up was a big problem, particularly for the little grandchildren, and that his pulling on lead was so bad he’d not been walked for nearly two years and that he had now started to destroy the house when they were out.

Prepared, I left my equipment bag in the hallway, safely away from being raided, just bringing with me my notes, treats, pen and mobile. I need not have worried.

Barney was in the living room, sitting at the man’s feet. He hadn’t heard me! So – obviously he’s a bit deaf.

When he did notice me he came over, very friendly, but no jumping up. The elderly dog was more interested in sniffing a day in the life of my own dogs on my clothes.

As so often happens, he had been particularly good in the days since they had booked their appointment. It’s like he knew! I believe that owners, perhaps subconsciously, examine their own behaviour a bit more carefully in preparation for a visit and without having received any advice, the behaviour work is already beginning to take effect!

 

Jumping up and scaring the grandchildren will be easily addressed.

The two little children and the elderly dog get on beautifully once he has calmed down.

There is a history of family members coming in and making a huge fuss of Barney. One young man particularly fires him up with fuss and play. To quote the lady, ‘Barney doesn’t know when to stop’.

Of course he doesn’t. If this were a child he would be in tears by now or else in hysterics or having a tantrum. It will probably take him hours to properly calm down. I know I am a spoilsport but this has to stop if they want to achieve their goals.

If Barney jumps up on adults, family and visitors, then he will jump around the little children too.

Telling him to get down and pushing him whilst at other times playing or fussing him when his feet are on them, teaches him exactly what they don’t want. He will now learning that that feet on the floor works best.

This is the first ‘old trick’ that elderly dog Barney can unlearn. He has, in effect, been taught to jump up.

 

He’s not been out beyond the small garden for eighteen months.

an elderly dog, 12 year old Staff

Camera shy

Everything became harder for Barney when their other elderly dog, another Staff, died a couple of years ago.

He used to get uncontrollably excited even when the drawer containing lead and harness was opened. By the time he was launching himself out of the front door he was so aroused that he was beside himself. His pulling was so severe that the lady said it simply hurt her and with his lunging at any dog he saw, walks became a nightmare. They gave up.

They had taught him the ‘old trick’ of getting excited when going to the drawer by letting him know that a walk would follow. He may even have believed that his manic behaviour was causing the walk. Now they will open and shut the drawer countless times until it’s no big deal. The same process will be used for lifting the lead and harness and then putting them on.

Having not been out on a walk for eighteen months they can have a fresh start.

Barney walked beautifully on a loose lead around the house with me and then with the lady. He needs the right equipment so that he has nothing to pull against and he needs encouragement and praise.

In the past pulling has still resulted in forward-progress, so this is another old trick that can be learnt even by an elderly dog.

When Barney does eventually get to go out, in his new state of mind he will be able to cope a lot better with the appearance of another dog. No longer will the man force him forward, holding him tight – maybe even picking him up. They will increase distance and start to get him feeling good about dogs so long as they are not too close for comfort. Each dog is an individual and Barney has his own things that will help with this which I shan’t share here.

With help he can ‘unlearn’ reactivity to other dogs also. Knowing that he’s not expected to make friends or get too close to them if he doesn’t want to even if they have to go another route, the elderly dog can relax and they can all start to enjoy walks together.

They will change his diet away from Bakers Complete – known to have an adverse effect on the behaviour of dogs.

At home they will train him to the whistle in order to compensate for his reduced hearing. Eventually the elderly dog may even be able to go off lead – or at least on a very long line – and enjoy some freedom to sniff, relax and do doggy things.

The lovely family’s elderly dog will have a new lease of life!

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

 

 

Young Staffie’s Wild Behaviour

Eight month old StaffieThere is just something about a young Staffie! Butter may not melt at the moment but you can almost see him working out what mischief he can get up to next.

Bolt, well-named, is an eight month old bundle of energy who is fearless and ready for anything. (It’s a nice change just now for me to go to a really confident dog).

The couple have a great seven-year-old son who is really on board. He was very quick to pick up the idea of looking for Bolt doing good things and rewarding with Yes or click and food for the briefest of moments when the dog was either calm or not jumping at the table where we sat which he did relentlessly, using our chairs to get onto it if we stood up.

When excited, Bolt will chase the boy, grabbing his clothes and biting his feet. The child understands that for now it would be best if he didn’t run around the garden while Bolt is out there or on walks, where Bolt is at his worst. For now he should walk beside his mum and dad. It’s a shame and it’s hard because he is only seven after all, but more space in conjunction with fast movement brings out Bolt’s wild behaviour. It’s not forever. Bolt, being just a teenager, will grow up and meanwhile he should get no more opportunity to rehearse his boy-targeted wildness.

What a great kid! He will be a big part of Bolt’s training and he was taking written notes throughout in immaculate writing. He will do brain games with Bolt like hunting for things with Bolt and he has a good grasp of using clicker for marking good behaviour. Next time I shall teach him how to clicker train Bolt to do other things – very good exercise for the brain of an active dog who will then get attention for achieving success rather than causing trouble.

He has a lovely home but, unlike the child, has been given few rules and boundaries. They now have to leave him outside in the garden with the shelter of a kennel when they go out because he wrecks the kitchen and raids the table. His jumping up when they get in is relentless and it’s a big problem when they have friends to the house. There’s not one bit of malice in Bolt, but it’s like being hit by a whirlwind.

He’s another dog where the people unintentionally stir him up thinking enthusiastic welcomes are necessary. This of course makes the jumping up all the worse. To change this they have no choice but to ignore him when his feet are off the floor and make sure to reinforce with attention feet on the floor – but gently! Anything enthusiastic will start Bolt leaping about again as would commands like Sit just yet which is success for Bolt in terms of attention after all.

We know that diet can effect hyperactivity, and at present he’s fed raw which is excellent but it’s mixed with a certain well advertised brand of complete food, full of colourings, e-numbers and bulked out with unsuitable grains. This will be changed.

There are difficulties on walks and he chases their two cats, but this first visit is all about getting a calmer baseline to work from. It’s sometimes hard to know just where to start.

Some boundaries are being set such as a gate on the kitchen door. This will prevent Bolt from getting to the front door and mugging people coming in and from chasing the boy up the stairs in rough and playful excitement, grabbing him as he does so. The lady is expecting a baby in the spring and a Staffie flying all over people and sofas isn’t a good idea.

With the help of this very insightful child, I’m sure Bolt will gradually find that being well-mannered and calmer is a lot more rewarding than his current wild behaviour and the boy will have a great pal as he grows up.

She Was Attacked by Another Dog

Staffie having a cuddle Staffie back viewNothing is more important on a walk than for a dog than to feel safe.

A few months ago the young Staffie Boxer mix was attacked by another dog. She was sitting beside the gentleman minding her own business, and off-lead dogs ran up to them. It ended in a fight, followed by angry shouting from the owner of the off lead dogs – which is so often the case!

Shortly afterwards, Roxy was attacked by another dog and she was ready this time – she fought back.

People with uncontrolled, off-lead dogs have so much to answer for. What can conscientious dog owners do to protect their dogs? They have to avoid certain places and times, which is unfair.

The couple have only had Roxy for nine months. She had been picked up as a stray. To start with she mixed well with dogs and there were no problems on walks apart from the pulling on lead.

Roxy no longer feels safe, though it may not be as bad as her owners think because they now keep their distance. Although she has several doggie friends that she plays with, they very understandably feel wary themselves now. As soon as they see a dog, even if Roxy isn’t reacting at all, the lead tightens on the Halti as they make their escape. What message is this giving her? That all dogs she doesn’t know are potential trouble. Along with her humans she needs to learn that just because two dogs have been bad news, both with a reputation locally, most dogs are fine.

They had been advised to food reward Roxy when she’s stopped barking. Fair enough, but I prefer to feed before she gets to the barking stage, when she is aware of the other dog but at a ‘safe’ distance. This then eases the emotion of anxiety and associates other dogs with good stuff. If food-motivated Roxy won’t take chicken, then they are too close. She is ‘over threshold’. Whilst avoiding other dogs altogether gets them nowhere, pushing her too close too soon will only make things worse. By ‘reading’ Roxy’s signals and reacting in response to how she is feeling and not preempting, they may even now possibly pass near many dogs with no reaction at all.

The tricky thing is that Roxy may react differently at different times. One day she could get quite near to a dog before reacting and the next day she may bark when she sees the same dog at a distance. The main variable will be the level of her accumulated stress levels at the time and all sorts of things can contribute to this.

So – the groundwork is to reduce stress in all areas of Roxy’s life, to make sure the equipment they use causes her no discomfort and the lead should be loose. This can take time.

The end aim is for Roxy to clock in with her human when she sees another dog and then trust him/her to make the best decision. Even if sometimes ‘life happens’ and things go wrong, both dog and humans should have sufficient bounce-back to dust themselves off so to speak and carry on. Even in times of war a good leader keeps going, is trusted and keeps calm.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Roxy, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Chaos with Hyperactive Dog

Hyperactive Staffordshire Bull TerrierJumping all over people, flying behind them around the backs of the sofa, leaping up at faces when they are standing, stealing things then destroying or eating them, tail-chasing round and round, and suckling his blanket, Staffie Marley is a loveable but exhausting, hyperactive dog.

However, when they are out and he is all alone, Marley sleeps.

As is usually the case, his hyper and stressed behaviour is largely influenced by his human’s own behaviour, completely unwittingly of course. He wants their attention constantly and it seems the more people there are together, the worse he is; this isn’t unusual actually. There were three generations of people in the room. The more that people have their attention on something else – whether it’s talking to someone, on the phone or even watching TV – the more wild Marley gets. The more wild he gets, the more attention in some form or other, he gets – even if it’s to be shouted at or chased.

Marley was taken away from mother at four weeks old and was removed from the next place by someone who saw him being seriously abused at just eight weeks old. What a terrible start. He is now three. His family feel they are paying for ‘over-compensating’ by spoiling him, but I’m not so sure. If the poor puppy had not received lots of love, things could be a lot worse than they are now.

He is obviously highly stressed and confused. This is not helped by the various methods used to ‘control’ him nor by the fact he no longer goes for regular walks. The young man gets impatient and also feels he must be the boss, so is inclined to shout and be rather harsh at times. He feels that his mother, on the other hand, is ‘too soft’.

I am pleased for all of them that they are now getting some help and will now be working together. The young man has taught Marley many tricks and is very concerned for him. He is a clever dog. They have done their very best as they know it, but over the past six months his behaviour has escalated into something new – reacting aggressively when somebody he doesn’t know comes into the house.

I myself did not see so much of the Marley that I describe, because I orchestrated the occasion carefully – as I do!

Marley joined us when I was settled and he was friendly from the start. He had bouts of tearing all over the place, jumping all over us all, but apparently not nearly as severe as usual. In every way possible we created a calm atmosphere, to show him by our behaviour that leaping on us was not to be rewarding in terms of attention – whilst reinforcing the behaviour we did want instead. He had one short bout of tail-chasing and actually did lie down for some of the time – unheard of. He then looked so adorable that it made us want to cuddle and fuss him, but more than a very casual, gentle touch would merely start him off again.

Because he destroys and even swallows anything he can find, he doesn’t have toys and they dare not give him bones, but I found a Stagbar did the trick. It was something more or less indestructible onto which to direct some of his angst. Chewing and sucking are calming activities for dogs – just as they are for humans.

This case is a good example of the manifested behaviour that they wanted help for – that of his deteriorating attitude to people he doesn’t know coming into the house – being really a symptom of other underlying things. An active, clever three-year-old Staffie needs occupying, so daily outings are a must. They need not always be long walks, two or three short trips and loose-lead walking work or casual ‘sniff’ walks would make a huge difference to his well-being, along with evenings being punctuated by other owner-initiated activities, training and play.

With stress-levels through the roof, all sorts of problems can develop. Lowering stress is key. Everything should be done to give him some realistic boundaries in the kindest way possible.

The young man did ask shortly before I left, in reference to not shouting or being ‘firm’ with Marley anymore, ‘So this really means that we no longer try to control him?’ I don’t think he expected me to agree, but my answer was, ‘Yes, because he will be learning self-control instead. He has begun already’.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Marley, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Moving In Together

StaffieSasha

Sasha

She has four children, he has two dogs and they are moving in together.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier Suzie is on the left and Ben below  They are beautiful, friendly dogs but too excitable and not a little unruly!

Both dogs jump all over the sofas and all over people. Ben jumps up at the children and can knock the younger ones over.

The 3-year-old child has to be watched because she wants to hug the dogs and they don’t like it.

What worries their mother most is Suzie’s way of snatching food. She is rightly concerned that if a child is walking around with a biscuit for example, that it could unintentionally be bitten.

When I held a tiny treat in my fist, Suzie was absolutely frantic to get it.  It’s like she’s starving hungry. I have seldom seen anything quite like it.

Ben

I’m sure there is more to this although a vet has previously said she’s okay.

Although Suzie eats just the same amount as solid Buster, she is extremely thin. They have much more to pick up after her in the garden than from Ben, so food must be passing through her. She is given very little exercise so she shouldn’t really be so skinny. If a change in diet doesn’t work quickly, then another visit to the vet is called for.

Dog walks have become more and more infrequent for various reasons. These two dogs will be a lot more settled with regular exercise and healthy stimulation to compensate for the hours they spend alone during the day.

I showed the couple how to start a walk without the dog charging out of the door and pulling frantically down the passage. Suzie caught on really fast. This is not easy when a walk has become an exciting rarity. The couple will make themselves a do-able schedule of ‘little and often’ for the dogs involving walks and basic training.

The children also have their own things to learn. The youngest needs to be taught not to hug dogs. Safety first, a gate should be between kitchen and sitting room so that dogs and children can be separated either when any food is about or when an adult hasn’t their eye on them.

With work, I’m sure that these lovely dogs will then calm down and learn some self-control. It’s all up to their humans. It’s great that they love the children.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sasha and Ben, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, most particularly where children are involved also. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

Fight When the Man is at Home

When the man comes home Rufus becomes demanding and insecure

Rufus

If Tibetan Stoker is to have some time in the sitting room with the lady, the man has to go upstairs with Rufus.

Stoker

When they are alone – or just with the lady, these two dogs get on famously, but when the man is at home which due to work is only three days a week, the dogs fight ferociously and Rufus becomes demanding and insecure – not letting the man out of his sight, whilst poor Stoker has to be shut away.

They only fight when the man is at home.

This is one of my ‘distance help’ Skype cases. The case of 8-year-old Tibetan, Stoker and Staffie Rufus (age 3) is about the clearest illustration I have ever come across of dogs’ behaviour being the consequence of their humans’ behaviour.

It wasn’t hard for the man to see that because all this only happens around him, he needs to be doing some things differently.

He agrees that from the moment he arrives home with a wild greeting for Rufus, he is the dog’s slave. Rufus follows him everywhere and cries outside any door that shuts him out of the man’s presence.  Because the dogs have to be kept apart, if Stoker is to have some time in the sitting room with the lady, the man has to go upstairs with Rufus.

Letting the dogs outside is a management challenge of moving dogs up and downstairs so that they don’t meet.

Both humans and the two dogs can never spend a nice evening together. But, when the man goes away again for four days a week, both dogs are back in the sitting room. They both then sleep in the same room. They then go outside together. They play together nicely.

One other puzzling thing is that the dogs are okay going for walks together with both their humans. They all get into one car (one dog and human in the front when the other dog is brought out) and there is no trouble between the dogs when walking in the fields.

For four days a week the lady is unable to walk Rufus so this needs working on. But when the man comes home, Rufus has three days of two-hour-walks. He is played with constantly, and pesters and barks to keep the man’s attention on him. He is fed from his plate. They play wrestling games. If Rufus spots Stoker he gets angry – keep away from ‘my’ man! Stoker promptly retaliates. There have been some quite scary fights.

The poor gentleman is going to forego some of his fun for the greater good. Calm is going to be rewarded with attention – and with food taken from the dog’s daily quota. All attention isn’t going to be Rufus-generated from now on! Overdoing the walks just makes him even more hyped-up when they get home; he needs his exercise spread throughout the week somehow. Most importantly, the man needs to work on going out of sight briefly – and on getting Rufus to Sit and Stay while gradually, over time, he can disappear without Rufus following him or barking.

When the man has done his groundwork, getting the dogs back together again could start after a walk. Instead of bringing them back indoors one at a time as they have to now, they could walk them back into the house together before separating them – and gradually advance from there, using lots of praise and reinforcement whilst also watching carefully for any signs of tension between the dogs.

As these two dogs aren’t really enemies – they are fine together for half the time – the outcome should be good, provided that the humans can be consistent with the new rules and boundaries (rules and boundaries that are as much for the gentleman as for the dogs!).

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rufus and Stoker, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).