Nervous Dog. New Puppy. Early Exposure.

What is it with so many Staffies? Is it a genetic tendency I wonder? Nervous dog Tom is yet another Staffie who is fearful of the outside world and reluctant to walk.

Tom drools when he is scared. He does a lot of drooling on walks.

A new Staffie puppy

The other day they brought home a new Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy. Buster is a nine week old heart-breaker with a coat of grey velvet.

New puppy with nervous dogThey first brought home something that smelt of the puppy to introduce his scent to Tom. Tom drooled.

When puppy arrived, the poor nervous dog was really scared of him. Tom drooled continuously.

Over the past three days he has improved but still likes to keep out of the enthusiastic puppy’s way.

One surprising development is that Tom himself sometimes now initiates play. Strangely he’s not a nervous dog with Buster when they play. He bows and barks to Buster to get him to chase him.

There is only so much he can take though, and then he’s back to his nervous, quiet self and retires.

Buster follows him into the corner and Tom then drools or tries to escape. It’s like he is expecting to be told off or punished when the puppy is near him (something which definitely isn’t happening).

The big outside world.

They have had the four-year-old Tom for five months now and it’s clear he didn’t get the best start when he was Buster’s age. With my help they will make sure Buster is properly introduced to the outside word of dogs, people, vehicles, wheelie bins, paper bags, buggies and so on. All the experiences should be positive.

They should start this right away. The clock is ticking. Buster needs plenty of early exposure before he is fully vaccinated and ready to put down on the ground. They will have to carry him.

Poor Tom is scared of so many things, particularly when out of the house.

The main priority at present is to get the nervous dog’s stress levels down. To build up his confidence. Then he will be in a better state of mind to cope with Buster and to enjoy his company.

Every time Tom has to face things he is scared of without the opportunity to escape, it makes him worse. Every day he has to face the ordeal of a walk, particularly as it means going under a scary underpass if they are gong to get to the green. This is much too big a price to pay for exercise.

Building confidence in the nervous dog.

They will go back to basics with him and build up the nervous dog’s confidence immediately outside the house, going no further for now. Without this daily stress Tom should then become more resilient around Buster.

Buster fortunately seems a very confident puppy though he hates being alone. After all, he had lots of siblings and had never been alone before. He has adopted a bean bag as his favourite sleeping place, snuggling into it like it’s a pile of puppies.

Patiently and gradually they will wean him into being alone. Over the next six weeks I shall be helping them with all the usual puppy things, a mix of settling into his new life and pre-empting any future possible problems. We will start loose lead walking and basic training.

Confident little Buster may well, in the future, be a real confidence booster to nervous dog Tom – and even bring out the inner, carefree puppy in 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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tom and Buster and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 fearfulness 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)

 

Aggressive Towards Dogs. A Not-So-Brave New World

‘Aggressive towards other dogs but a perfect dog at home’. How many times do I hear that.

Aggressive is only a word. It can mean a lot of things. In Lottie’s case it’s probably a belief that if she reacts quickly and strongly enough, she will remain safe. It looks like she’s never learnt the right way to interact with other dogs. It’s not a desire to attack or do harm.

Aggressive towards other dogs?

With Lottie it’s all about feeling unsafe. Self-preservation.

aggressive towards other dogsShe has never actually hurt a dog but she can sound and look pretty fierce. This is hard to believe when you meet the quiet and affectionate dog at home.

It’s a problem they didn’t know about when they picked up the four-year-old Staffie mix from a rescue five months ago.

It began with a sudden encounter with a little dog in a narrow alleyway. She pinned it down but did no damage beyond frightening it.

This was on her very first day with them. It was a totally new world.

From the kind of things she reacts to, it’s doubtful she had encountered many other dogs, nor bikes, scooters, pushchairs and so on. The things she doesn’t react to are surprising. She loves running beside their ride-on mower – very likely she had met one of these before. Off-lead in a field of horses she will ignore them completely, like she’s very used to horses.

Left to do her own thing?

It’s an educated guess that Lottie will have previously lived in a country environment with plenty of space to run free. What she loves best is to hunt. She is kind of uneducated in how to behave towards other dogs and those she has been allowed to get to she will ‘run into exhaustion’. Very likely dogs haven’t been part of her previous life.

At home she hates any shut doors. Leave all doors in the house open and she’s happy. This all suggests she’s unused to any physical boundaries indoors or outside.

The bottom line is that she seems really happy in her new home but she doesn’t feel safe when out – unless free in the open countryside and off-lead. Then she comes into her own.

Many people think the way to solve a dog’s problems with something is to expose them to lots. They did this with bikes by taking her to a cycle pathway. She went mental. If not handled right, too-close encounters with things that scare the dog will actually sensitise her rather than desensitise her. This is the way in which things go downhill.

People seldom think to call a behaviourist until later on and they can no longer cope, so it’s not nipped in the bud and unknowingly they are continuing to further sensitise the dog. So often they are not warned by the rescue to take introducing the dog to his or her new world very slowly.

A large, living teddy bear.

The other issue is that they are constantly having to watch the little girl, age three, who treats Lottie like a large teddy bear. She squeezes her in hugs and sits on her. Lottie will take herself off upstairs to keep out of the way.

There are too many stories of dogs that are gentle and good-natured just like Lottie, one day turning on the child. Children often get bitten in their faces as usually the child has his or her face in the dog’s face.

A picture by another little girl of her dog in his bubble

and a bubble by a little girl called Molly, showing herself smiling outside the bubble

They already are using reward stickers with the little girl. Now Lottie will live in her ‘bubble’ that the little girl will learn not to burst. Mum will draw pictures of Lottie and the little girl can draw bubbles around her. Then they can stick them round the house as reminders.

When the child remembers Lottie’s bubble, she will get a reward. Positive reinforcement for the little girl as well as for Lottie.

Going back to the beginning.

Very fortunately they have access to a paddock and another dog, a Labrador, that Lottie gets on with. She can still have her runs in safety.

Road walking in her new world away from the open countryside is the challenge. They will go back to the beginning and work on loose lead walking, desensitising her to bicycles, scooters, buggies – and helping her with other dogs. Walks will be slow with a lot of standing about. They will build up positive associations with the scary things whilst keeping sufficient distance.

If these things had been part of her daily life from a very young age, she would ignore bikes and scooters just as she does horses and not feel the need to appear aggressive towards dogs.

They will now be playing catch-up. Lottie’s a lucky dog to be living with such conscientious people in her new world. I’m sure she will ultimately have other playmates like the Labrador if they are introduced correctly.

 

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 Lottie and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Uncontrolled Excitement. Biting Arms. Attacking Feet.

A dog’s uncontrolled excitement is a challenge to deal with.

They let Tia out of the utility room and into the kitchen where I was standing. She flew at me, grabbing my arm with her teeth. She repeatedly jumped up.

There was no malice in her at all, but it can hurt! It was uncontrolled excitement with possibly some anxiety thrown in.

She can’t help herself.

uncontrolled excitement

Butter wouldn’t melt!

The young Staffie was simply so aroused she couldn’t help herself. Meeting all people triggers uncontrolled excitement, particularly those coming to her house.

When the doorbell goes, Tia goes mental.

When I arrived we had set things up so that when I rang the bell she was already out of the way in the utility room wearing her harness. They fortunately had my favourite harness – a Perfect Fit – so they could hook a lead to the chest.

I instantly had to start working on her to save my arms! I stood on the lead. She was physically unable to jump now.

I got out my clicker and little tub of food. I repeatedly clicked and rewarded firstly moments when her body relaxed and she wasn’t trying to jump. Before long she briefly sat. I gave her a little more rope and carried on. Fairly soon I dropped the lead and she had got the message and calmed down. (A special note here – the clicker itself isn’t magic! It’s about knowing how to use it).

Changing No to Yes.

It’s amazing how sometimes a clicker, used in the right way, can open lines of communication. It changes ‘no – don’t do that’ to ‘yes – this is what we want’.

Usually when someone comes to the house it’s a physical fight as they try to hold her on a short lead in order to protect the person from her rough excitement. It’s a fight to get her away from the door. There will be commands and chaos! The lady describes her as being plugged in the mains.

When I arrived we were all quiet and calm. Nobody reacted to all this uncontrolled excitement.

It was little more than fifteen minutes before she went and lay down. She stayed in her bed now until I was ready to go, relaxed.

The ten-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier is all the time extremely wired up and ready to go. Meeting people fires her up most of all, but so do other things like her humans walking about carrying something. She will then go for their feet.

In the evening they can be sitting quietly watching TV and one of them gets up. The uncontrolled excitement kicks in. She barks and attacks feet.

I am sure Tia is genetically predisposed to over-excitement. Too often dogs are bred for looks over temperament and Tia is certainly a stunning dog. She is also friendly, biddable and affectionate. She may be more sensitive than one might imagine. There are several things that scare her.

Clockwork dog.

Like most people, they have been trying to calm her down by doing things that will actually be having the opposite effect, wiring her up even more.

Surely physically tiring her out should calm her down? It’s almost impossible to exhaust her and on coming home she’s ready to chase feet in the garden.

They give her long walks with repeated ball chasing and don’t understand why, however much of this they do, she doesn’t change. It’s like the dog is clockwork with a key in her side, and she’s being fully wound up daily.

I am certain that just giving her the kind of walking she would be doing if by herself, mooching, sniffing, chasing leaves, maybe digging, will alone will get rid of some of her uncontrolled excitement.

They can change those things that lead up to the biting sessions and they are quiet easy to determine.

Also they can change the things they do afterwards in response to her flying at their feet.

They will work on the ‘doorbell game’. First the will ring the bell so many times that it no longer heralds anything special. Then it will be the cue for Tia to take herself into the utility room. It will take hard work and patience – and food.

Jumping, biting, attacking feet are symptoms only – of uncontrolled excitement.

To get at the root of all this, they will do everything they can to calm Tia down. She is permanently so aroused and stressed that it takes very little indeed to send her over the edge. See trigger stacking.

Currently it’s impossible to ignore her rough and hyper approaches – thus rewarding it with attention. Instead, they now will themselves introduce short regular activity sessions throughout the evening, doing things that use Tia’s brain. She will no longer need to do things for attention.

They should no longer respond to barking but initiate things when Tia is calm. This way they reinforce calm rather than demanding, uncontrolled excitement – of which there should be less anyway.

It will take a lot of patience and effort, but will be worth it in the end for their beautiful dog. I just love her!

 

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 Tia and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, 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 wild or uncontrolled behaviour. 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)

Spooked by Bangs. On High Alert.

I had a lovely greeting from Staffie Rio. Too lovely, really, considering he had never met me before. Exaggerated welcomes, particularly with people the dog doesn’t know, may not be pure pleasure but involve some anxiety. Rio went back and forth, wagging his tail and sitting between my legs. He may go onto his back, tail still wagging. I feel this is about winning approval – appeasing

When I first arrived Rio started retching, bringing up phlegm. He coughed and retched for quite a while. He does this when excited, apparently, but not as much as this (he is regularly going to the vet for another matter so they will get it checked).

Spooked by bangs

Rio doesn’t need words to say he’s unsure about having his photo taken

Why could it have been so bad today? I soon got a clue. Today is Sunday.

I was called because Rio is badly spooked by bangs, even bangs out on the common which he can still hear from inside the house.

On Sunday mornings at this time of year people go out shooting animals for sport.

Rio’s extreme reaction to my coming into his house was undoubtedly the result of ‘trigger stacking‘. Things that arouse or scare him build up, one thing after another as they say. By the time I arrived this Sunday morning Rio was already highly stressed – spooked by the early morning shooting.

Spooked by bangs.

Rio, now seven, has been spooked by bangs for several years now, since a firework went off while he was out on a walk.

Now he will mostly refuse to walk from the house – unless he goes in the car. He is on high alert and easily spooked by anything.

This we will work on. A few other things will help like a change in diet and activities that calm him rather than stir him up.

There are two kinds of bang situations. There are unavoidable bangs that happen in the environment and bangs they can generate and control themselves.

From now on, bangs should be the triggers for something wonderful. Chicken?

BANG……chicken immediately rains down. If he is spooked by the bang being too loud or too close he will run or freeze. He will ignore the chicken.

Generating their own bangs.

Generating bangs means they control the intensity of the sound and the nearness. They can throw chicken straight away.

They can start with a gentle tap (with dropping chicken) on various surfaces. Then gentle bangs. Then one person banging in another room – gradually louder. Download sounds or DVD, pairing bangs with chicken. Over time they can work up to pulling party poppers or crackers upstairs.

If they keep under the threshold where Rio is spooked and he is looking for food when he hears the bang, they should make gradual progress.

Bangs that ‘just happen’.

Life happens and this is frustrating.

They know Sunday mornings at this time of year gunshots will happen. They can start raining chicken down from inside the house where, though a bit spooked, he will probably eat. Perhaps they need to work in the middle of the house where bangs will be softer.

They can gradually work towards standing or sitting in the front garden waiting for bangs. Leaving the door open would be good – giving him an escape route.

As the bangs will be unpredictable and they may not have chicken on them, they will need to ‘buy time’ while they go to the chicken tub. They need a ‘bridge’ – something they can say straight away which tells Rio that chicken will follow. I suggest a bright ‘Okay’ (no chatter) and then fetch and throw the chicken.

For the next few weeks we have a plan. They need a lightweight longish lead so Rio feels freedom. 

This is between Rio and the environment.

Rio is on high alert as soon as he gets out of the door. They will start by getting him less stressed in the environment immediately outside their home. When they get to the path, they should just stand still. Be quiet. Wait. No fussing. At present the young lady will cuddle, fuss him and try to persuade him to walk – sitting on the pavement to do so.

His humans should keep out of it. Their job is simply to be calm and confident. To be there. To allow him to work things out for himself.

They will have their chicken to hand – to drop at anything that alarms Rio. At least a couple of times a day would be good. Suzanne Clothier has a great video on thresholds and doing nothing.

If Rio goes on strike they should ignore him. Wait with him. At any small sound he alerts to, drop chicken. Any big bang, drop several bits – immediately.

If he wants to go back to the house, let him. If he wants to come back and try again, let him.

He wants to walk?  Great. Go for it. I predict this will happen more and more. They should always be ready with chicken for bangs.

Don’t push it!

Even if on these early walks he seems to have coped well, after the first bang they should turn and go home for now. A second bang? A second bang will have more effect on him, maybe sending him over threshold. A third bang more impact still. ‘Trigger stacking’.

Patience and consistency will pay off in the end. There will be setbacks to slow things down when life throws an unexpected and unavoidable bang.

 

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 Rio and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Agitated. Anxious When They Talk to People

Trevor, an absolute sweetie, was extremely agitated by my being there. He is a small, very young-looking black Staffie age ten.

He never stopped pacing, chewing and panting all the time I was there. Two-and-a-half hours.

This is how he behaves when anyone comes to the house. When alone with the couple he is relaxed and calm. No pacing or panting, that’s for sure. Apart from when the grandchildren are there, who Trevor adores, it’s a quiet life.

Was it scenting?

Interestingly, as soon as I arrived he wound himself vigorously around my legs like a cat for a while which I suspect was about putting his scent on me. Possibly he feels more secure when people coming to his house smell like ‘family’? My own dogs certainly showed more interest than usual in the scent on my trousers when I got home.

Agitated

Never stopped moving for a photo

Although very friendly, he became increasingly agitated over the time I was there. This is the opposite to what normally happens though many dogs don’t settle, not used to people simply sitting still and talking to each other in an intense kind of way for this length of time.

As soon as I left they tell me he settled, lay down and went to sleep. He was exhausted.

Trevor on walks is the perfect dog, just as he is at home. He is good with all dogs, he comes back when called, he doesn’t pull. The only problem is when they stop to speak to someone. Poor Trevor’s tail goes between his legs and he shakes. He becomes very agitated.

Could it be something to do with his previous life?

For the first six years of his life Trevor lived with a younger couple. They had obviously loved him and trained him well.

Then they split up. Neither could take him.

He has lived with my clients for four years now.

It is pure speculation, I admit, but is it possible that in his past life animated conversation sometimes ended in a row which scared him? (If the man forgets himself and shouts at TV, Trevor is terrified).

Agitated and anxious. Worse recently.

Sticking to facts, he is a relaxed and calm dog when alone with the couple. He loves his off-lead walks but is not happy if they meet someone and the humans start talking. He becomes very agitated when anyone, including family, comes to the house.

Recently it has become worse. This has coincided with the lady retiring. It suggests a change in routine is unsettling the sensitive dog.

No longer going out to work, the lady has friends coming to the house to see her more often. This will mean there is more animated talking going on.

Trevor paces, he pants, he frantically chews something. He stops briefly to be touched (I tried gentle massage but he couldn’t stay still) and then moves again. Round and round. He licks his lips. With nothing to chew, he may chew his feet.

For starters, we want to get Trevor back to how he was until a few weeks ago when the lady retired and his agitation and anxiety accelerated. He always has been agitated with people about, but not this bad.

They will try to make his routine more like what it used to be where possible. They will avoid things that obviously stir him up where they can and give him activities that help to calm him. There are things like Thundershirt, special music, a plug-in and a calming collar that they could try as well.

I am hoping that, as a certain supermarket says, ‘every little helps’ and that things added together produce results.

No talking.

When friends come round, they will experiment with silence, with the person being very calm and trying ‘no talking at all’ from time to time. Is it talking that’s the problem? I didn’t try five minutes’ silence myself because the possible connection with talking only dawned on me as I left. Like so many cases, it’s about detective work.

When they meet someone out on a walk, the lady can stand Trevor further away. With more distance he should feel safer. The lady can drop food for him, he is fortunately very food motivated, so that he can begin to associate his humans stopping to chat with something good. Over time this should replace any possible previous negative associations.

They will involve the vet, both to check Trevor has no developing medical problem and maybe to back up the behaviour work with medication. In cases like this we should not forget complementary therapies.

Our end aim is for Trevor to stop being agitated when they are talking to someone whether this is at home or out on a walk. This fear is blighting the sweet dog’s life.

From an email three weeks later: ‘Just a quick update. Had a friend round last week. Before she came Trevor was out in the garden searching for “sprinkles” for about thirty minutes, I used Pet Remedy spray before she arrived and I put his Thundershirt on him as well. She commented on his behaviour as soon as she arrived, as to how much calmer he was. Before very long Trevor was lying on the sofa next to her, just like he does in the evenings with me.’

 

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 Trevor and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

New Rescue Dog. Reactivity to People Worsening

New rescue dogWith a new rescue dog I have seen this many times. When people first welcome their new dog into their life he is faultless. It’s not until he begins to settle in that unwanted behaviours begin to surface.

In many cases these will be behaviours that contributed to him being given up in the first place.

Unlike many new rescue dogs that find the adjustment from their old lives or rehoming kennels very hard indeed, beautiful Staffie-mix Murphy seemed to settle in easily. He was (and is) friendly and confident. He’s about two and a half years old.

It’s very common for the ‘real dog’ to begin to appear after a few weeks. People understandably don’t give all their reasons for giving up their dog as it may jeopardise finding a new home. Issues like Murphy’s are unlikely to emerge in a kennel environment.

Three trouble-free weeks went by.

The first signs of problems began about three weeks later when the, up to now, very friendly Murphy barked at someone.

Next, and it probably wasn’t brilliant timing for him, they took him away. This now was another new house to get used to in just a few weeks. Unlike at home, he could see people walking past the window. He began to bark at them. They went on their way. Success.

Then, worse, a couple of little children arrived at the house. Murphy went crazy with barking at them. It took them all by surprise. Their new rescue dog didn’t like little children so close to him at all. He was very upset.

On the face of it and from what I saw when he barked at me, the barking isn’t fearful. He was angry. He was loudly shouting GO AWAY.

A few days ago, back home and now on a downward spiral, he then grabbed (almost bit) the arm of a man who came to work in the house. This was someone he’d already met and befriended a few days previously.

In every other respect Murphy really is the perfect dog. He is affectionate and biddable. He gets on beautifully with their other dog, an older female Labrador called Millie.

New rescue dog Murphy is now settling in.

As Murphy gets to feel more at home he seems to be becoming increasingly protective of his humans – and Labrador Millie. I briefly fussed her and this immediately generated a renewed outbreak of barking at me.

I guess it’s logical that the more a place becomes the new rescue dog’s home the more territorial he may become and his new humans also something to protect.

We experimented with various strategies in response to his barking at myself. Each case is different and it’s important to get it right. Food wasn’t appropriate because we weren’t dealing with reducing fear but more with anger. There was no snarling or growling, so not extremely aggressive, but he was making his point. GO!

Driving me away was clearly what he wanted. Instead, we had the lady calmly walking him, Murphy, away instead each time he began to bark. We repeatedly did this, advance – retreat, so he clearly understood the consequence of his barking at me was the opposite to what he was wanting. She didn’t need his protection. He understood and had total control over the situation. It’s important that no force is involved – he willingly walked out with her.

After little more than five minutes of doing this, he settled.

His lead came off and all was well. I could move around with no further reaction from Murphy.

I have found that one of my own dogs, my German Shepherd, may sometimes need me to be decisive in a situation she’s unable to handle (that’s another story for another time). She simply can’t cope with making all her own decisions when she is in a state over something. It seemed that making the immediate decisions about what to do when he barked worked with Murphy.

Now, not before, was the time for food – to associate me with good stuff. I dropped food. I asked him to sit and fed him and I threw food at him to catch. I sprinkled it about.

He was now relaxed and happy.

 

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 Murphy. 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 aggressive behaviour 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).

Dominant Alpha or Friend and Guardian?

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

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

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

The Alpha myth.

Alpha dominance doesn't work on Digby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway, things are now changing.

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

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

The power of positive methods unfolded before our eyes,

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

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

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

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

How to be an Alpha Male according to wolves

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Duke. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

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.

A message five weeks later from a couple who have worked very hard with their new dog – and this is just the beginning: He is getting so good he puts himself in the bathroom when the door knocks and on walks if we see or hear another dog he looks to me for a treat and calms down a lot quicker than at first.

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.