Born to Guard. Big Burden for a Family Pet.

guard dogBaloo is born to guard. His entire life centres around guarding his family. He’s ‘on duty’ all the time.

I sat down at the kitchen table and they opened the door. The most enormous dog charged towards me giving a giant rumbling WOOF.

He stopped short of me (fortunately!). He’s a lot bigger than he looks here – they say he weighs about 11 stone. Continue reading…

Aggressive When People Leave

Polly is aggressive when people leave. I had been sitting on their sofa for a couple of hours and had slowly made friends with Polly.
Then I stood up.

The dog thought I was leaving. She changed in a flash into a snarling, barking, biting dervish.

There is a lot more to it, however

The lady met me at the door with Polly on lead — this being the only way she could open it without her dog running out. As I walked in, Polly bounced off the floor, barking at me, leaping up at me and biting my clothes.

This frenzy didn’t last too long once the lady gave me the tiny bits of chicken I’d asked her to prepare for me. Polly soon got the idea that staying on the floor was a lot more fulfilling than jumping up and barking at me.

Her extreme arousal levels result in poor Polly being super-reactive and constantly on high alert. Stress levels have fallout in other areas. They are a large part of the reason she goes mental when people leave.

Polly scratches herself raw

The vet has prescribed all sorts of things to no avail. I guess most dogs are stressed at the vet so it would be harder to tell, but watching her in her home environment, it was obvious stress was involved to large degree.

As soon as she had got over a bout of barking or there was any pressure on her, Polly scratched.

The lady tries to stop her with a command or a distraction — or by holding her foot to restrain her. As Polly only scratches to try to relieve her stress. stopping her without providing an alternative only adds to it.

I suggested a dog T-shirt with sleeves. She could then scratch without harming himself and the lady could relax about it while working to help relieve Polly’s stress.

Bearing in mind that the lady is so upset by the situation, anything that helps her will help Polly, and visa versa. Our own emotions can have a big effect on our dog.

I was sure that as she worked on everything else, the scratching would reduce or even stop altogether. I was right.

Constant barking

The next problem is constant barking at every sound. How can someone stop a dog like this from barking?

A previous trainer had suggested spraying water at her. She’s already in a panic. How can scaring an already aroused and panicking dog not make her even more frantic?

There are predictable triggers. They live by a school. For half an hour each morning and half an hour each evening Polly goes mental in the garden.

She goes mental with barking when letters drop through the front door.

There is a public car park out the front and she reacts to every car door she hears shutting. She runs back and forth from kitchen to front door and then into the garden, barking.

While I was there she barely barked at all — and that is because I worked on it.

At every sound, even before she could bark if possible, I reassured her with ‘Okay’, called her and dropped her a bit of chicken.

Car doors slammed outside and the lady couldn’t believe — Polly wasn’t reacting. On the occasions when she rushed out into the garden I called her in immediately. I called her before she had time to get stuck in — and rewarded her. We shut the door.

Simple management

If the lady keeps her eye on the ball and cuts down on all barking opportunities, she will find things very different. It will be hard work and every little bit helps.

She will immediately install an outside letterbox. She will keep Polly shut away from the front of the house at school-run times.

I also advised her not to give Polly free access to the garden unless she is at hand to help her out.

When she goes out and leaves Polly alone, it should in the quietest place — the sitting room — well away from the front of the house, passing people and slamming doors.

Aggressive when people leave

The third big issue I discovered towards the end of my visit. Having been sitting down for a while, I stood up.

Polly thought I was leaving. She changed in a flash from this little dog who was doing so well with me, into a dervish.

She barked ferociously — even worse than at the start when I arrived. The little dog flew at me, grabbing my clothes. She was in total panic.

Standing still and using my original technique, I eventually calmed her down again. All was well for a while until, still seated, I slowly picked up my keys to see what she would do. That was enough. She went frantic once more.

The lady understandably wanted to know why her dog does this whenever someone gets up to go. Why is she so aggressive when people leave? What memory might it trigger?

Who knows what the rescued dog’s previous life had been like.

It’s complicated.

In her panic, Polly has bitten the lady several times at the gate or at the front door. She had gone to move Polly during one of her ‘mad sessions’.

(Many years ago I inherited an old Labrador when we had bought a house from an elderly lady who went into a home. Her dog stayed. I used to say that Angus would rather kill someone than let them leave).

Back then I didn’t know what I know now.

Cutting down on Polly’s stress levels is the key

So, all in all, just by reducing the barking alone the lady will cut down a lot of Polly’s stress.

Cutting down on her stress will contribute to her not being aggressive when people leave.

Polly needs more exercise and freedom to be a terrier — away from the confines of a small bungalow. Her walks aren’t daily. They are currently along the roads on a short, tight lead attached to her collar.

She will feel a lot better when the lady gets her a comfortable harness and a long training line and takes her somewhere more open. She will have thirty or more feet of freedom to sniff and to explore. This way she won’t escape whilst having some enrichment in her life.

I visited this dog two months before writing this article. Polly now is a lot less excitable when someone comes to the house. She still barks but it lacks the panic and the lady, who has worked very hard, can reassure her so she stops. She seldom scratches.

Best of all, when she has a caller and they get up to go, Polly is chilled. She has learnt to associate people leaving with two good things — play and food.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. 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. Click here for help

Leash Wrestles. Lead Grabs. Tugs Wildly

Five-and-a-half-month-old Harry leash wrestles; he tugs and bites it. It’s in one set of circumstances only.  At the end of his walk, when they they get to the entrance of the park, Harry goes into some sort of frenzy. Flying about nipping, he attacks the lead and tugs at it as he swings about, growling.

Recent change in behaviour

Always excitable and a jumper, he has only started this ‘wild’ behaviour where he wrestles the lead in the last couple of weeks. The lady is actually scared. Harry suddenly changes character. She feels like he’s attacking her. Continue reading…

Ignores Come when Called. Overwhelms Other Dogs when Out.

Ignores Come when calledNala ignores Come when called when she sees another dog to run up to and jump on! That’s their only problem really apart from some jumping up due to over-excitement.

Nala is an unusual-looking dog. Stunning, large and fluffy.  She is a very friendly mix of Leonberger and Giant Poodle.

They have worked hard with training the two–year-old. The problem isn’t severe – yet.  She has good recall mostly but she ignores Come when she’s called when they most need it. They are doing the right thing getting help before it escalates into anything more.

Continue reading…

Anxious Dog. Permanently Hypervigilant. Pants. Paces.

The smallest thing sets anxious Cas off.  If he settles for a moment, just the intake of breath from someone is enough to cause him to leap to his feet again. Then he rushes about, mouth wide open, panting. 

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier may settle again – briefly. Then a sound from outside starts him off again. When suddenly alarmed, his response may be to charge at somebody, mouth open, and jump on them – usually the young man.

No aggression until the other day.

Continue reading…

Impossible to Groom him Without Force. Remove Tangles and Matts

Groom problemOllie won’t let anyone groom him. He absolutely hates it.  The Border Collie has developed tangles inside his back legs and behind his ears which need to be cut out.

The only way a groomer can work on him is to muzzle him and then use force. The otherwise very friendly dog completely changes personality. He becomes aggressive, snarling and showing his teeth.

His last visit to a groomer was a year ago now.

Within a few minutes of being with them, I discovered two things that may be relevant. He had been jumping at me in a very friendly fashion. When his feet were on the floor I gently put my hand out to touch him behind his ears.

Immediately I saw his teeth. He growled, backing away.

Oh! I didn’t expect that.

Continue reading…

Wild Behaviour is Unwittingly Fuelled

Wild behaviour from a dog the size of the adolescent Newfoundland can be scary.

When Beau leaped at the kitchen table she knocked the coffee mugs flying!

Taking a break from wild behaviour

Seven-month-old Beau was chosen from the litter as the most bold and pushy puppy. She organised the others, I am told, by barging them and stirring up trouble – and then sitting back to enjoy the results!

She was a mouthy, nippy puppy. This wasn’t countered immediately or correctly. Hand games and chasing her for things she stole added fuel to her wild behaviour.

As she got bigger and things became more painful, they have had to use more physical force to push her off them, to remove her away from things and to extract things from her mouth. She will do nothing when simply asked.

They can’t have her in the lounge with them for more than a few minutes before she goes wild and has to be put in the kitchen. Her worst wild episodes as so often is the case happen where she has more space – out in the garden. There have been a couple of occasions when the little girl hasn’t been safe.

In the belief that the more exercise and interaction she has, the better behaved she will be, each day starts off with too much stimulation – a prolonged welcome fuss before breakfast followed by ball play in the garden, excitement before getting in the car to take the child to school and then a walk which is probably too long for a pup of seven months.

Anyway, as she got older puppy Beau became defiant when she didn’t get her own way.

The young dog may get angry when thwarted. Several times now she has snarled, showed her teeth and lunged. Her eyes ‘looked funny’.

This is the consequence of using methods of force on a determined and strong dog. How frustrating it is for a dog not to know what she should be doing. (Please take a look at my favourite video showing the power of Yes versus No).

I showed them how we would create a willing and happy dog exercising self-control by using the power of Yes, by keeping Beau as calm as possible, by giving her suitable mental stimulation and by removing opportunities for rehearsing the wild behaviour.

By motivating her.

Almost immediately Beau began to respond to reinforcement for the right behaviour. She was becoming a lot calmer than she had been for a long time, particularly with the little girl present.

This is a typical case of owners getting through the days by fielding everything the dog throws at them so it becomes No No NO Stop, push away, drag off, shut away … and so on, and ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’ when the dog is quiet.

Look at this wonderful face!

It’s just amazing just how quickly a dog responds to Yes Yes Yes and being ‘bigged up’ for each good thing she does so she knows what is required.

Each time the wild behaviour kicked off again we dealt with it by giving the big adolescent other, incompatible things to do instead, making it clear to her what we did want of her.

We soon had Beau coming to us, offering us certain behaviours with little prompting. We had her walking from one of the four of us to another when called gently. We had her responding to understandable instructions and she was loving it.

We used the clicker. The little girl also clicked Beau for sitting – with perfect timing.

Action should be immediate.

It’s no good allowing the dog to rehearse jumping and biting by letting it happen even twice before reacting. It needs to be wiped out completely.

Immediately she jumps she must lose all communication with that person. Immediately she jumps at the table someone must get up, call her off, reward what she should be doing instead and move her onto a different behaviour that is incompatible with jumping at the table.

It takes a huge amount of effort.

Pre-empting and dealing with things before they happen is best of all.

Boosting her for every desirable thing she does must also be immediate – when she sits voluntarily, when she lies down, when she sighs and relaxes. A couple of times she looked at the table which had my smelly treats on it and resisted jumping up. A first! That deserved a jackpot but it must be immediate.

It could help greatly if the little girl didn’t arouse the dog quite so much as the wild behaviour is always far worse when the child is about. She could touch her less, try not to run into the room waving arms, dance around her or do handstands in Beau’s presence. These things quickly send the dog wild.

But this is like asking the little girl not to be a little girl!

Even if the child can cut back a little on these things it will help and she will be clicker trained too! They will use the word ‘Good’ and she can collect stars. She will now ask her mum to call Beau inside before going out into the garden – and she will make a poster for the door to remind herself

The next morning I received a lovely message from the lady which is proof if any is needed of the powers of positive reinforcement and calmness:

“I am so excited to tell you that we have had the most relaxed morning since we have got Beau. Last night she came into the lounge and not once did she bite. She tried to get on the sofa once but with a little distraction she came away and lay down. 

This morning has been the shocker for me. She has been like a different dog. We have made an extra effort to be calm and relaxed and Beau has been the same. She hasn’t bitten, jumped up, barked…nothing! ……She is now laying peacefully….I know she may relapse and I’m prepared for it but she’s shown me this morning that she is more than capable of being the loving Newfoundland that she should be……I knew she had it in her but to see it is another thing. I am so happy!”

Message received three weeks later: ‘I am so happy to tell you that we have a considerably well behaved dog. She has not had an “aggressive moment” since the clicker incident on the first week. There have been times where I have stopped stroking her and she goes to mouth my hand and then realises and stops before her mouth touches me, which I reward….. I can honestly say, I can’t remember the last time she jumped up! She’s learnt to play with her toys by herself and doesn’t ram them in my hand followed by a bite like before. Overall I am delighted with the way things are going. I am still prepared for her to slip back to her old ways but she is surprisingly proving me wrong. I actually think she listens to me now!’
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 Beau and I’ve not gone into exact 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 or fearfulness is concerned and most especially when it involves children. 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)

Vocal. Very Excitable. Easily Aroused. Permanently Stressed

I rang the doorbell bell. Betty barked – as most dogs do. I sat down, she barked at me. She continued to be vocal on and off for most of the time I was there.

At first I thought she wanted to chase me away, but it soon became apparent that she was excited by my presence in a friendly sort of away.  They seldom have callers and to Betty I was therefore a major event.  If I touched her she went quiet but then would bark at me for more when I stopped.

Betty is an extremely vocal little dog.

Very vocal little dogI couldn’t however get on with my job and pet her all the time. By doing so I was merely reinforcing here for being loudly vocal. If we had put her in another room she would have continued to bark and I didn’t want her even more stressed. Continue reading…

Alarm Barking. How ‘Stopping’ the Barking Can Make Barking Worse.

It was hard to imagine as I sat with Cocker Spaniels George and Rupert that the problem is alarm barking. Having had a sniff of me they simply settled down for the evening.

These two dogs have a very good life! They want for nothing. They go to a very good daycare while the couple are at work. They are taken on holiday with them and are very much loved.

Neighbours have complained.

Continue reading…

Reinforcing Unwanted Behaviour. Rewarding Barking.

They do what they can to stop young Basset Hound Bentley doing unwanted things like jumping at the table and barking for attention.

In fact, they are instead reinforcing these very things.

Whilst reinforcing the unwanted behaviour by ultimately giving Bentley what he’s asking for, they also try discipline – ‘NO’.

Confused, Bentley can get cross.

Continue reading…