Trigger Stacking. The Perfect Storm

It was the perfect storm.

It was a clear example of trigger stacking. The day had been over-exciting. There had been lots of people in the house. The dogs had had too many treats. They will have done their usual barking at people in the park behind their garden.

Then a delivery man in Dayglo came to the door. A family member followed him back down the path where they talked over the gate.

Trigger stacking led to the bite

Boba

He had forgotten to shut the front door behind him.

Boba flew out of the house barking. He leapt high in the air at the man and caught his mouth. The bite required several stitches. Now, unsurprisingly, there is a court case pending.

Boba is a three-year-old Jack Russell mix who lived in a pound in Greece until he was eight months old. He’s a perky, affectionate little dog. He lives with Gibson, a Setter mix who was a Greek street dog and a super-soft and loving twelve-year-old Cocker Spaniel called Benson.

When I arrived Gibson went and hid, but the other two were very friendly and excited.

What alarms Boba is hearing or seeing people out the front in the street and people in the park out the back. All three dogs bark. Very likely, being dogs, they believe that it’s their barking that eventually drives the people away from their territory.

Although Boba is territorial when anyone is outside the gate, once a person enters the house he is usually very friendly. He has no history of biting.

He’s fine, too, when they meet people out on walks away from the house.

Management.

The first thing we discussed was management – precautions.

They will put a baby gate a few feet in from their front door that will be kept shut all the time. If it’s kept shut as a matter of habit, there will be a kind of air-lock making a repetition of the attack almost impossible.

They will also introduce Boba to a basket muzzle – just in case they need it. It could be a requirement of the court that he wears one.

Trigger stacking.

The second thing is to deal with is the trigger stacking, to reduce the continual topping up of arousal levels in all three dogs. They all fire one another up.

Each time a dog is over-excited or is caused stress, the adrenal and thyroid glands, testosterone and hypothalamus begin to increase their production. The output from these glands reach a peak 10-15 minutes after the incident, and takes between 3-5 days to return to the level they were at before the incident. Here is a nice visual explanation of trigger stacking.

Reducing arousal levels can be very boring. Greetings need to be calmer, rough play toned down with more brain games, more chewing, hunting and foraging instead. Friends and family need persuading to help by not being over-excited and winding them up.

Even the food they eat can make a big difference.

I believe that if Boba’s basic arousal levels had been a lot lower, then he would have had enough ‘to spare’ when he ran out of the front door to the delivery man at the gate. He would have been less likely to fly at him. It was one trigger too many.

Territorial barking.

Crucial to the whole thing is to deal with the dogs’ territorial barking. At present they have a dog flap which is left open all the time. Even when the owners are out their dogs can be barking in the garden at people they hear. Boba will be continually rehearsing territorial aggression so it’s little wonder he put it into practice on that fateful occasion.

Benson

Currently, like many people, they have tried water spray and anti-bark collars but this doesn’t stop the dog feeling angry or scared inside. The opposite in fact. They may ignore the barking until it gets too much and then shout at the dogs.

Barking is a trigger. It ignites a dog’s stress levels.

The humans are the ‘dog-parents’ so protection duty should be their job. They should intervene immediately and deal with it, thanking the dogs and calling them away. The dogs should come if interrupted quickly enough and rewarded with food. Blocking barking areas and shutting the dog flap will make this a lot easier.

When I was there I pre-empted barking a couple of times. I head a door slam and the dogs perk up, but before they had time to start I brightly said ‘Okay’. No barking.

Now, not only will Boba not be physically able to bite someone at the gate again, after a while he shouldn’t feel he needs to. He will be generally calmer as will all three dogs. He will be taught that follow-through isn’t his job.

 

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 Boba. 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.

Unexpected Sounds and People. He Barks.

Freddie, an adorable Cockerpoo, barks too much.

unexpected sounds make him barkThis does him no good at all and it makes life hard for his humans.

Ironically, he didn’t bark once during the three hours or so I was with him. This was probably because none of the things he normally barks at occurred.

The lady opened the door before I rang the bell and the bell always starts him off. Thoroughly aroused, he may continue barking, particularly if a man comes in.

He was just very interested in me and probably the smell of my own four dogs.

He associates the unexpected sounds with people nearby.

If he hears a car on the gravel outside or a door slam, he will bark. If he can hear a neighbour outside, Freddie will bark.

For the first few months of Freddie’s life they lived in London and because noise of passing people was constant, he was unaffected.

For the past two years they have lived in the country with just a couple of neighbours and some passing dog walkers.

Now if he hears any unexpected sound against this quiet backdrop Freddie, thoroughly alarmed, will bark. He can be sleeping one minute and acting like his world will end the next!

When on walks, a person can appear at quite a distance and he will immediately start to lunge and bark.

Reduced barking is our end goal.

That’s it really. There are no other problems. Freddie is very friendly with people he knows and quickly warms to those he doesn’t. He is also very cooperative when asked to do something. Absolutely gorgeous.

So, we looked into all aspects of Freddie’s life with a view to dealing with any areas that could possibly be relevant to his nervousness and barking at unexpected sounds or at people outside.

By nature he is alert and quick to react to things, so the goal is for him to be less easily alarmed and the barking to be short-lived, not to stop him barking altogether. Like people, some dogs are simply a lot more vocal than others!

We are approaching this from three angles.

One: Stress reduction

If we can we reduce his overall arousal/stress levels, he will be less reactive and have more tolerance in general. This will mean avoiding activities that stir him up unnecessarily and replace them with things that will help engage his brain and calm him down.

They have discovered that he is allergic to a lot of things – most meat, wheat and even grass. He will be permanently uncomfortable or itching which must be affecting his stress levels. With the help of their vet, they are now addressing this.

Two: How his humans react when he barks

It’s important for people with dogs that alarm bark at sudden unexpected sounds not to merely try to ‘stop the dog barking’. This includes scolding, shouting or worse – ‘anti-bark’ gadgets (never employed by Freddie’s owners).

For Freddie to gain confidence and trust in his humans, they will let Freddie know they are on the case so Freddie can quickly relax again.  We have discussed how.

Three: Reducing the fear that is driving the barking

The only way to reduce Freddie’s barking in the first place is to deal with and reduce the fear and emotion of alarm that is driving the barking. There are ways of getting him to feel a lot better about people driving up to the house, about men, about the neighbours and about people he sees on walks.

When out, pushing him into situations where he’s too close to people can make things worse but avoiding them altogether won’t advance things at all.

They now have a plan to follow that should help Freddie to gain confidence and build trust in them to keep him safe.

Agitated Dog. Excited, Alarmed, Relentless

agitated daschund

I could only catch a back view without him rushing to me!

The Miniature Wirehaired Daschund charged about barking, agitated whilst at the same time as ecstatic to see me. He flew all over me.

It was relentless. At my request we were all doing our best to ignore it.

I continually turned away and tipped him off.

I then asked the lady to show me what they usually did when someone came and he was barking like this. She pointed her finger at the agitated Monty and shouted NO a couple of times.

Monty stopped. Briefly. Then he focussed his barking on her.

Monty was also ready to bark at the smallest sound outside, but this time a different kind of bark. An alarmed bark.

The agitated Monty panted and scratched.

He scooted around the carpet – he has recurring anal gland problems that can only add to his stress (he has an appointment with the vet who will check him all over too). He chewed his feet.

Then he was flying around again. A stuffed Kong later on gave him and us a short respite.

It is so very hard for people to deal with this sort of thing and I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that, much as they love their adorable little dog, he is driving them nuts. They have spent money and they have taken advice. They are at their wits’ end.

The humans are agitated and the dog is agitated. A vicious circle.

Monty barks at people, he barks at planes or helicopters. He barks at church bells and things on TV. They can’t have friends round because from the moment he hears the doorbell he is jumping up, flying everywhere, agitated and barking frantically.

Some months ago an old-school dog trainer advised spraying him in the face with water. This did stop him – briefly.

There are two things particularly wrong with this.

Trying to terrorise an agitated dog does nothing for the underlying reasons for the barking. It undoubtedly makes them worse, whatever the cause of the barking.

The other very wrong thing is that the dog quickly gets immune to water spray, so then what?

They were advised to move on to an ‘anti-bark’ collar and other remote-controlled anti-bark devices. Here is my favourite video demonstrating how aversives can only add to stress and confusion.

Things have progressively got worse. They are people doing their very best with the information they can find. How do people know where to look? They are at their wits’ end.

They feel they have really tried everything.

Fortunately, they have not tried everything.

Not at all.

For a start, they haven’t tried doing everything they possibly can to cut down on Monty’s general arousal levels using only positive methods. Nobody has suggested that.

They’ve not tried helping him out with the alarm barking – basically thanking him instead of punishing him. Yes – thanking him – and using food!

The usual question then is, ‘am I not then rewarding my dog for barking?’.

Not if he’s alarm barking. They are addressing the fear that is causing the barking. Already with me being there they could see how that worked. A plane went over. He pricked up but didn’t bark. If they are sufficiently on the ball and can spot when he first hears something, they can catch it before he even starts – pre-empting barking.

Poor little friendly dog. What a state to be in.

People coming into his house cause a sort of total meltdown in Monty, to the extent that he may lose control of his bladder.

He did lie down a few times briefly. He lay in front of me on a stool and now that he wasn’t clamouring for attention anymore I slowly touched him. He lay still. I did it again and he charged off around the room once again.

Now when Monty is calm, instead of gratefully letting sleeping dogs lie, they will sometimes initiate activities. We looked at things that would both fulfill him and help to calm him down.

Getting to the underlying reason why he’s barking and dealing with that is the key. Any punishment is like putting a plaster on a festering wound. The wound continues to get worse underneath.

Now they have the tools for dealing with their beloved dog’s barking and agitated behaviour in a kind and positive way, they will be much happier.

And so will Monty.

Just one more thing – Monty is perfect out on walks. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t pull and he loves other dogs!

Dog Fight. Stress Loads the Gun.

A dog fight can erupt so suddenly.

Or it seems like that to us.

Then, in the heat of the moment, we may do exactly the wrong thing as did my client one week ago.

She put her arm into the fray to part them.

The family have three beautiful dogs. One dog is a Samoyed and the two that are fighting are both Eurasiers, a breed of dog of spitz type that originated in Germany. Ted is three years old and Diva, two.

I am sure the lady would agree that, if she didn’t show her dogs, all would probably still be okay between the two. Showing them is however her hobby and passion, one which she shares with her daughter.

Various things had built up to stoke this fire.

Bit by bit things started to unravel between the two dogs.

Diva and the dog fight

Diva. I have no photo of Ted

At a dog show some weeks ago there had been another dog becoming increasingly aggressive towards passing dogs.

In the ring Ted and this dog were eyeing one another up across the ring. As they got nearer they both simultaneously sprang at one another. Fortunately the handlers managed to hold on.

Diva was watching the whole thing. She and Ted were both highly aroused now. The whole show environment can be noisy and stressful.

The two dogs had always shared the small confines of a show trolley. In his heightened state Ted was put in to join Diva. Both dogs exploded into a full-blown dog fight. Probably their long coats saved any injury.

Things have gone downhill from here. When Diva was already in a small space like the car and Ted went to join her, she would show her teeth and growl at him. The lady and daughter abandoned putting them together in the show trolley.

The whole thing rumbled on. Then the lady went into hospital for a while and her absence stressed Diva in particular.

Soon after she was back home came the fateful day when Ted bit her arm. He was in the red zone. Things had kicked off in a corner of the sitting room. Possibly a toy was involved.

The lady phoned me.

My immediate advice was to keep the two dogs separate until I came. I would then carefully assess the situation.

With the uninvolved Samoyed in the room, we first had Ted with us for an hour or so. He was then put in his large crate in another room and Diva joined us for the second hour.

Then I wanted to see them together. The lady sat on the sofa at the other end of the room with Diva on lead. The daughter brought in Ted.

Then we got busy. I shan’t describe just what we did because in another context my plan may not be the best way to go about it. A situation involving aggression needs accurate assessment first.

The only way to reverse this sad situation is to get the dogs to feel differently about one another.

It is crucial to save the dogs from over-arousal. This could be very hard in the show environment. They camp in a caravan where the dogs will have to go back to being in very close quarters.

An added stress for Ted is that he is terrified of traffic – something else that must be addressed now.

They should watch for any ‘eye-balling’ between the two, breaking the gaze by calling a dog away and if possible remove the dog from the situation. They should watch out, too, for stillness

Another dog fight must be prevented at all costs.

With each incident another dog fight becomes more likely.

Just in case the worst does happen and they relax their guard, what should they do another time? What if the dogs become so over-aroused that another dog fight does kick off?

There are some things I would only ever do in the context of breaking up a fight to save oneself and the dogs from injury. They aren’t guaranteed to work.

Logic goes out of the window at the time, but it’s best to grab the back end rather than the teeth end. Try lifting the dog’s back legs so he or she does a ‘handstand’.

Other things include separating the dogs by shoving something down between them. (In the room where the recent fight had occurred there was a stiff mat that could have used). They could  throw something over them (there were throws on the sofas). Other things to try are ringing the doorbell, silly string – particularly if out, citronella spray or Pet Corrector.

I would worry just a little about the last three things being left about by someone who has read this story but follows outdated methods. The items would be ready for emergency use only. Used in the context of punishment rather than emergency would only make any bad situation much worse.

Here is a good article on Multi-Dog household aggression by Pat Miller in the Whole Dog Journal.

A cocktail of stress, frustration, fear and over-excitement are all at the root of this, I’m sure.

 

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

Snapping at the Kids and Growling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Being approached directly is what each incident has in common.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BenbowAlfie1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a video for them to watch.

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

 

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

Eating Plaster off the Walls, but Why?

Five year old Golden Labrador Milly has to be just about as near the perfect dog any family could wish for. She is sweet and gentle with their four-year-old boy who, thanks to his parents, treats her with unusual respect for such a young child. She is perfect apart from just one thing.

Eating plaster.

Milly is making holes in the walls.

The young family moved into a brand new house six months ago. There are two holes each side of the front door, one by the back door and damage to the plaster in various rooms both upstairs and downstairs.

Why is a dog that seems so happy and well-adjusted eating plaster?

My detective work could only deduce that it could be any or all of several possible reasons.

My first suspicion before arriving was that it could be something like calcium lacking in Milly’s diet. As soon as I entered the kitchen I saw a bowl of Bakers Complete on the floor.

This immediately gave weight to my first thoughts about nutrition. A good food should have the required amount of everything in it. Bakers for all it’s pretty colours and extra flavouring, is rubbish.

The first time Milly started eating plaster was the day their first baby was born. It would be safe to assume that it was due to stress. She had been left at home alone a lot longer than usual while everyone was at the hospital. It was a one-off.

Then a couple of years elapsed until at a BBQ Milly swallowed what I think was a bamboo skewer. It punctured both her intenstines; she was in vet hospital for days and nearly died. This was undoubtedly a huge upset for everyone.

The eating plaster habit then began.

On the day of their new baby’s arrival, five weeks ago, the plaster eating escalated.

All but one of the incidents occurred on occasions when Milly had been left alone for eight hours – and it didn’t happen every time. Some days it was after she’d had a long morning walk with lots of ball play but other days she has no walk at all. It’s possible that either too much arousal on walks (ball throwing) or no walk at all on the day of the chewing or the previous day may be a factor also.

Possibly she has mild separation issues when left for hours? Could it be boredom? Taking a video could be difficult as she roams the house although they will now restrict her to part of downstairs. Frustration at being shut in one place may cause more trouble, so we won’t risk it.

result of dog eating plaster

Milly’s does have one other fault. She pulls on lead. The young lady is unable to walk her whilst carrying or pushing the baby (something we are addressing). For Milly to be healthy in both mind and body she does need a daily outing and some days walks are missed. I say ‘outing’ because she needs time outside to do dog things. She doesn’t need to be stirred up with too much ball-chasing.

Milly is a sensitive dog and will pick up emotions from her humans who have been through a lot of change recently. Stress builds up and perhaps eating plaster ‘does the job’ for Milly.

Being scolded scares her, isn’t working, and may well be adding to whatever emotions are driving her to do it in the first place. Sadly today she showed fear when they come in the front door.

Eating plaster. What apart from the obvious does Milly get out of it?

Does it just make her feel better? Is it build up of stress? Is she suffering from separation problems? Does it supplement her diet? Does it relieve her boredom? Is it to do with exercise? Is it a habit?

Is it simply a mix of some or all of these things?

As a precise diagnosis into why she is eating plaster is impossible, we will try to cover all possibilities.

HoarMilly1Her food is already being changed in case plaster eating is due to lack of calcium in her diet. Low quality nutrition isn’t good brain food either.

Stress will be reduced in every way possible.

The humans will no longer scold if they again come home to find damage.

Milly will be given regular walks whilst not over-stimulating her and also teach her to walk nicely so that the young lady can walk her with the baby.

Any possible separation issues will be worked on.

She will be left with plenty of stuff to do and chew when they go out, including a marrow bone – lots of calcium – much better than eating plaster!

They are going to make arrangements for Milly not to be left alone for so long on certain days.

Maybe eating plaster is now becoming a habit?

If we cover all angles the behaviour should cease. If it doesn’t, then I suggest she has a thorough vet check to make sure she’s not got anything else going on inside her.

Three weeks have gone by. From an email: She is doing much better on the loose lead, it does take a lot of patience but it’s definitely better. We are just taking it slow but it’s good to see the progress…. It works best leaving Milly in the lounge when we are out. I will video again this week. But I am happy to say no more damages walls…. She is now eating both her meals and seems to like the duck with rice. (Their little boy) loves getting involved too and helping Milly, he really loves 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 Milly and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all. 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)

Humping. Problem or Symptom?

The three Lurchers I have just been to live in Dog Heaven!

In a fairly small environment they are allowed a great deal of enrichment in terms of things to chew and explore with no owner panic if they make a mess!  I have to persuade many people to give their dogs things to do, chew or wreck to keep them busy and to calm them down as it can require quite a bit of clearing up afterwards.

Zak

Zak

Nor is undue pressure put upon the three Lurchers in terms of training or correction. If they have dismembered the stuffed tiger, so be it – it is repaired.

The lady has had Cassie since she was a puppy twelve years ago. Zak, a Lurcher with collie in him has lived with her for two years and young Jerry, eighteen months old, she has had for just ten days.

There is underlying pressure on Zak in particular in terms of stress build-up. This beautiful Lurcher whose life is ongoing rehabilitation from a dreadful past is particularly in tune with the lady. If she is excited, anxious or down, he will pick up on it.

The first prerequisite for a calm dog is for us to be calm ourselves. Even if we don’t feel calm inside (and the dog may not be completely fooled), we need to behave calm.

Humping is the way Zak vents his stress.

Remains of the humping tigerHe has calmed down a lot since the lady adopted him. He used to regularly hump a huge stuffed tiger (dismembered yesterday by one of the dogs and not for the first time). Mostly unchecked, humping has become a well-rehearsed behaviour that has helped him to cope in some way.

There will now be an element of habit to it. It’s his default when over-aroused.

His new target is Jerry.

The past couple of days had been particularly hard on the lady and she has been feeling very emotional. She had discovered there was something badly wrong with young Jerry’s hip and the vet at first feared cancer. It turns out to be an old injury to his hip joint, the femoral head. This is a relief but will involve extensive crate rest after an operation.

So when I arrived Zak had a head of steam where arousal is concerned. He’s still getting used to the energetic but sweet Jerry. He is picking up on the stressed lady’s own emotions and then I, a visitor, arrives.

His head goes over the back of Jerry. He moves his body around and he starts humping.

Jerry

Jerry

It seems that Jerry, by just being Jerry when he’s moving about, is the trigger. He has only been there for ten days. He is he settling in to his new environment and he is understandably quite excitable himself.

When unable to cope with build up of ‘stuff’, Zak now redirects his arousal and frustrations into humping him – possibly also to control him by stopping him moving about.

Humping must be the very last thing Jerry’s hip needs at the moment so we are in a situation where it’s not good to forcibly pull a dog off but it’s even worse for him to continue. Calling him off for food didn’t work. Once he got started he became deaf. Now as soon as he simply turned towards Jerry we worked on calling him, marking and rewarding as soon as he turned to us instead. Pre-empting is the answer coupled with removal of opportunity which isn’t easy.

It’s hard to redirect him onto something else – something to chew for instance – because it could possibly cause competition between the dogs. A gate should solve that.

Having together managed to get Zak away from him, Jerry would then move back to Zak! Both dogs were now on lead. When the lady is alone how will she cope?

Various management strategies are already being put in place including a gate between kitchen and sitting room. Zak needs a different outlet for his arousal but most importantly, the arousal itself needs addressing.

The lady herself is the key. At important times there will be less loud, excitable talking to the dogs; she will move about much more slowly. This doesn’t mean she can’t generally be her chatty, cheerful self at other times. Dogs, like people, listen and learn a whole lot better when all is quiet, something I made good use of years ago when I was the music teacher in a boys’ school.

Act calm and you start to feel calmer, don’t you.

It’s working already.

Jerry asleep on the stair

Jerry asleep on the stair

A while ago I wrote one of my short Paws for Thought blogs about the subject: Humping – What Is It Really About? To quote Marc Bekoff in Psychology Today, humping is ‘a displacement behavior, meaning that it’s a byproduct of conflicted emotions. For some dogs a new visitor to the house could elicit a mixture of excitement and stress that could make for a humping dog’.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Zak and Jerry and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. 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)

Obsessing, Stressing, Panting, Licking

Obsessing; pacing; compulsively licking the floor.

The root to everything is down to Cocker Oli’s permanently aroused and stressed state – he only gets respite at night or when shut away during the day.

If he’s not compulsively bringing things to be thrown he is licking the floor (I suspect this will have started because his own shadow moves) or pouncing on imaginary things outside.

He paces. He pants. He is constantly obsessing on something. His stress infects the other two Cocker Spaniels, Charlie and the younger Billy. There is no respite for him.

Slow massage when the other dogs were out of the way seemed to calm him briefly.

He is offered zoopharmacognosy (the process by which animals in the wild naturally forage and select plants to self-medicate) which is helping him.

If we can get him to relax more, other things will fall into place. His arousal builds up to such an extent that in the evening it boils over. Several times he has suddenly gone into the red zone and attacked one of the other dogs for simply being too near either the lady or gentleman when he’s standing or sitting beside them.

On a couple of occasions he has attacked the lady as she has walked towards him. Such a highly aroused dog in his state of constant obsessing will have little control of himself.

Adjustment by his humans of their own actions is also necessary in order to reduce the excitement and stress in all the dogs – to create a calmer atmosphere.

‘Project Calm’

We are putting in place ‘Project Calm’ and already, in one day, the couple have made great strides.

also affected by Oli's obsessing

Billy and Charlie

There are trigger points throughout the day when the dogs get much too excited and noisy. When let outside first thing in the morning, when coming back in because breakfast follows. Then manic excitement because a walk always follows this with mayhem at 5.30am as they get to the car.

Now the man will come downstairs, put the kettle on, ignore them. Wait for calm before letting them outside – putting Billy’s lead on so he doesn’t tear around the garden barking anymore. Back in, he won’t feed them immediately but wait for calm again. Finish his cuppa!

Then they have a calm method for getting dogs into the car,.

The dogs have ‘their room’ during the day and in here Oli is calm. Although the lady works from home she has found that Oli is much more at peace in there with the other dogs. When they are let out there is bedlam again as they charge out of the door into the garden to greet the lady. Now before letting them out they will ‘Lace the grass’ with food. The dogs can then spend five minutes’ food-hunting and foraging which will take the edge off their excitement.

The couple will break the connection between returning home or letting them out and immediately going out for a walk.

They are changing routine now and these simple procedures are already working. At night-time when it’s time to let the dogs out, they do a very slow robot walk to the back door. When they get there they wait for no jumping up before slowly opening the door.

Robot-walking does wonders for creating calm!

A smallish crate in the corner may well help him too – somewhere that contains him. They can give him a special tasty filled Kong he never gets at any other time. At first indication he wants to come out they will open the door. If he knows he is never shut in there against his will he should be happier for longer periods of time. It’s certainly worth a go – in effect saving him from himself – and giving the other dogs a break from him.

They could also try very soft ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ music in there. It can be downloaded, or an iCalm Dog which is expensive but very portable and works brilliantly with some dogs.

Because the lady walking towards him seems to be a trigger for sudden eruption, she will get him to like it! Being a Cocker Spaniel I’m sure he’s good at catching things, so she will start from a distance and advance on him, throwing food as she goes until she is popping a piece in his mouth. She can do this in various places, particularly if he is near to the man.

The dogs should be treated as individuals sometimes. One at a time they can come out of their room and have a bit of quality time with the lady while she works during the day.

Instead of just ‘coping with Oli’ in the evenings when he is at his worst, they will plan activities. Healthy stimulation needs to be introduced – activities that will help him to de-stress himself and to use his brain. It’s impossible to be in a cognitive state and an emotional state at the same time.

He can have zoopharmo sessions; they can let the dogs out of the kitchen individually or in pairs for special attention; Oli can have a hunting game in the garden hiding something smelly; he could take a trip on lead around the block etc. etc.

He needs a little something to fulfill his breed drives but not feeding his obsessing. A short ball game in the garden – maximum 5 throws with a ball that appears from nowhere as though by magic and disappears again afterwards. After the 5th throw they can chuck some food over the grass so he can unwind.

As with many over-stressed dogs genetics is certain to play a big part, but people have to be at the heart of the problem too, so how the humans behave is crucial. He is at peace during the night away from them and, they are sure, during the day when shut in the dogs’ room (I shall ask for a video).

When eventually a much great degree of calm is achieved and Oli is able to settle for himself, other things may well come to the fore that we may need to deal with, but at the moment we can’t see past poor Oli’s arousal levels and obsessing which is also affecting the lives of the other two dogs.

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 Oli and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Stress. It’s All Down to Stress

Stress. Is it cause or is it symptom?

It’s like merry-go-round. Chicken and egg.

Barking for attention = stress = barking for attention

Barking at the neighbour’s dog = stress = barking at the neighbour’s dog

Shredding the mail = stress = shredding the mail

Wild excitement before meals = stress = wild excitement before meals

Barking in late evening when people gathering outside the pub next door = stress = barking in late evening

Attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher = stress = attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher

Attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal = stress = attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal

Guarding behaviour = stress = guarding behaviour

Growling when approached with lead = stress = growling when approached with lead

Barking non-stop for attention = stress = barking non-stop for attention

Stealing things for attention = stress = stealing things for attention

Wrecking things = stress = wrecking things

Humping her bed = stress = humping her bed

Fear of bangs = stress = fear of bangs

Stomach issues = stress = stomach issues

Pulling on lead, discomfort to her neck = stress = pulling on lead

Obsessive chasing balls and sticks = stress = obsessing

Lunging at dogs = stress = lunging at dogs

Wrecking toy to relieve her stressNoodle barked and barked. She barked because she knew there was food in my bag. The barking got her into a real state.. The increased stress made her – BARK!

Because people eventually for their own sanity give in to barking if she carries on for long enough, she’s in effect been taught to do it.

The couple have had Noodle for eight years, since she was a puppy, and have given her everything a well-loved dog could wish for. There will be a genetic component to her problems.

The common thread running through everything is stress and over-arousal. If we can reduce the eight-year-old Jack Russell’s general stress levels, the resulting behaviours should largely take care of themselves.

In over three hours that I was there Noodle didn’t settle once.

Apart from short sessions spent upstairs to give us and herself a break, she barked for most of the time unless I was focusing my full attention on her, teaching her an incompatible behaviour to barking whilst reinforcing quietness. This is something that will need to be worked on over weeks.

The only real relief for both her and for us was while she determinedly employed herself at dismembering a toy I produced. I could see by the way she was frantically going at it just how much she needed to vent all the pent-up stress inside her.

In order to get Noodles’ stress levels down, anything that stirs her up too much must be reduced in every way possible. Control and management will play a big part in saving Noodle from herself and putting an end to rehearsal of certain behaviours.

We looked at ways they can regularly initiate healthy stimulation to keep her mind busy with stuff that, instead of being arousing, will calm her down and help her to feel fulfilled so that she’s less likely to resort to stealing things, destroying things and guarding things.

We also looked at ways to help her to calm herself down. Chewing, foraging and hunting are all great ways to achieve this.

Her tendency to guarding behaviour will be worked at. She will play fun games that require exchanging objects for something else.

With a dog like this it’s less about dealing with the behaviours themselves beyond putting in management like blocking views out of windows, installing an outside mailbox and using a baby gate, and more about changing the dog’s inner emotions that drive the behaviours.

We discussed how they can make her feel better about the sounds she hears outside – people chatting outside the pub and the dog opposite – by associating them with food. They had only thought about trying to stop her noise, not trying to address the emotions which were causing the noise.

“Surely if you feed her when she’s barking are you not teaching her to bark?”, the man said.

Yes and no.

Next day - in gainful employment!

Next day – in gainful employment!

‘Yes’ if you are feeding to reinforce a behaviour like begging for food and ‘no’ if you are feeding to change an emotion, like the fear which is causing her to bark at sounds.

Feed a behaviour and you make it more likely – that way you can successfully teach a dog to bark. This has in effect happened with the ‘I want something’ barking.

Pair food with an emotion like fear (starting at the mildy uneasy stage where she will still eat) and you reduce the fear and that way reduce the barking too. This way we are dealing with the behaviour at source.  See this ‘Can you reinforce your dog’s fear‘.

 

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