Antisocial With Dogs. Insufficient Early Habituation and Socialisation.

His young lady owner refers to him as antisocial – towards other dogs in particular.

Gunther is yet another young dog that has lacked the right kind of early socialisation or sufficient habituation. He should have encountered a variety of people, other dogs and been exposed to life in general during the second, third and fourth months of his life – before he came. It’s little wonder he’s antisocial at times.

The 8-month-old Dachshund I met wanted to be friendly but he’s torn between friendliness and fearfulness.  He barked at me for a while before, quite suddenly, becoming my best friend.

His ‘antisocial’ behaviour is progressively worsening. There are, however, inconsistencies. 

His antisocial behaviour depends largely upon where he is.

antisocial with dogsGunther’s young lady owner works in a shop and takes him to work with her. He has a pen at the back. Other people work there too and members of the public are constantly coming in and out.

Gunther, watching them from the sanctuary of his pen, is absolutely fine.

At home he is different. He’s very antisocial when someone he doesn’t know first comes in.

When I arrived he was loose in the room as I walked through the door. A huge human walking directly into his space can be very intimidating for a tiny dog – or any dog really.

Gunther has a similar pen at home to the one at work where he’s very happy. Had the lady put him in there first, I’m sure he would have felt less intimidated and been less antisocial with me. He could then have come out to join me when I was sitting down.

Worse close to home

The further away from home or shop he gets, the more relaxed Gunther is. I suspect, as he gets older, there is a territorial element to the antisocial barking.

Standing on the lady’s lap as she sat beside me, he barked at me.

Then, suddenly, he decided I was okay and had his nose in my ear (a nose shaped for the job!).

Gunther also barks frantically at things that he should have been habituated to early on, preferably before the lady got him at fourteen weeks of age. He is scared of bikes, pushchairs and so on – anything with wheels.

Now they are going to play catch-up.

It’s a matter of doing two things: systematically desensitising him (getting him used to these things and to people and dogs when out without pushing him over his comfort threshold) and counter-conditioning him (adding something he likes to level out that fear).

See-saw

I liken it to a see-saw. The little Dachshund sees something that scares him, so his end of the see-saw drops. Immediately the lady now must give him more distance and introduce something he likes, special food for instance. His end starts to rise as the other end goes down until it has levelled out. It may even be that ultimately the other end of the metaphorical see-saw is on the ground and his end of it is happily in the air!

The lady has a little girl age three. She and the dog are wonderful together though perhaps the little girl, being a little girl, gets Gunther too excited at times.

We devised a pushchair game for the child. She can wheel her buggy about slowly, pushing a tub of Gunther’s food. One piece at a time, she can drop food on the ground as she moves along. She will be counter-conditioning him to wheels.

Underpinning everything is lowering Gunther’s permanently high arousal/stress levels. They are constantly being topped up with every excitement or bout of fearful barking.

It’s okay to carry him

At work, the lady needs to take Gunther out regularly for toilet breaks, but in order to succeed with the behaviour plan she must protect him from close encounters with things he can’t cope with. It’s a busy area and for now she must accept that he is antisocial. Fortunately he’s small enough to carry if necessary. She can then put him down on his favourite piece of toilet grass and carry him back.

If she sees someone approaching, the young lady must protect him from unwanted attention. He’s a people magnet! She may also find an I Need Space vest useful. (The Yellow Dog Company do bandannas and leashes with the wording, but if someone is able to read the small words they will be much too close).

The young lady will introduce him to more ways of de-stressing by chewing, foraging, doing ‘dog’ things and using his brain.

Different kind of walk

She will give him a different kind of short daily walk. Currently he encounters all the things that cause him to be reactive or antisocial as he walks near home and near the shop.

In the car, she will stop off on the way home from work to somewhere free of dogs, people and wheels. Here he can mooch and sniff on the end of a longer lead for a little while, recharging his batteries.

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

Scared Barking. Fearful. Barks Constantly on Walks

I heard scared barking as I knocked on the door.

too much scared barking

Sid is gorgeous and I was expecting a Cavapoo. I don’t believe he is a Cavapoo though. The scared barking came from a dog looking more like a newly trimmed Cockerpoo.

There is definitely something fishy about his start in life, where they got him from at eleven weeks and the fact he was already incubating kennel cough.

The ‘breeder’ wouldn’t give her address until they were on the road. When they got there Sid was handed over to them straight away. There was a small Cavalier KC that they said was Sid’s father and a small black poodle that they said was his mother. No other dogs.

My suspicion is that this smart house was a front and very likely Sid had been shipped there from somewhere else.

Quarantined with kennel cough

Unfortunately, the couple lost even more time in acclimatising him to the real world because of the kennel cough. He had to be isolated for a couple more weeks.

I met a very fearful dog. Fortunately the scared barking stopped and I soon won him round with food.

I had to assure his lovely humans, first-time dog owners, that the fear issues were in no way caused by themselves. He’s now twenty-one months old and is a tribute to how well they have done generally.

Sid’s way of dealing with things is with frantic scared barking. It can be anything from a bird, to an approaching dog to a squeaking metal gate. He’s quite brave really.

Imagine what everything in the world must be like for a puppy that hasn’t had positive exposure to different people or dogs. Even those he has encountered may not have been the most pleasant experiences.

Sid doesn’t feel safe

Everything is a potential danger. In his highly-strung state he directs scared barking at anything and everything.

His arousal levels before he even starts a walk are such that he’s already set up not to cope. People and dogs he meets, bangs he hears and everything else around him is simply too much for him. So he reacts with continual scared barking.

He barks all the time they are out.

Sid barks loudly before even getting out of the car. This starts as soon as they slow down. It will be a mix of excited anticipation and scared barking I would imagine.

There is one bit of grass about fifty yards from the front of his house where he will toilet. He doesn’t even feel safe there. He looks all around first, then he does his business quickly and then runs away from it fast.

Taking things back to the beginning.

The work starts before they even leave the house (Sid’s sanctuary).

Before they open the door he is already getting stressed. He is scared of the harness and over-excited by the routine leading up to going out. They will work on the harness problem and change the routine. Slowly they will wait for calm.

He will never feel safe further afield if he doesn’t feel safe immediately outside their house, so near home is the place we must start.

They can lace the nearby grass where he feels so unsafe but where he must toilet with food – something he loves to help neutralise something he fears.

For the first couple of weeks they can spend lots of short sessions standing about outside, counter-conditioning him to all the sounds and sights that alarm him.

There is unlikely to be much traffic. They can use a long line so he can run for home should he wish to. An escape route is essential.

Walks are doomed

Meanwhile, they will need to go to further off-lead places by car. However, because of the state he gets into when getting out of the car, these walks are already doomed. I suggest they leave this, too, for at least a couple of weeks while they work closer to home.

Our next priority will be a quiet exit from the car to reduce scared barking and control over-excitement. People naturally resort to scolding; words like ‘enough’ may give a short break. This will only work in the moment and do nothing to improve the emotions that cause the scared barking – probably make it worse.

When he’s ready, we will look at teaching Sid what we DO want (quiet) rather than what we DON’T want (barking).

Clicker training will be the way to go so we can ‘capture’ the briefest of silences initially, gradually extending how long the quiet periods last for.

Though the scared barking is the problem for Sid’s humans, the barking itself isn’t the real problem. It’s a symptom. The problem is the emotion that causes him to bark.

They unfortunately can never make up for lost time or the ‘socialisation‘ Sid should have received ideally between three and thirteen weeks. They can, however, make a huge difference.

If never a social butterfly, he can become a lot more confident – given time and patience.

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

Independent. Learn to be Alone. Separation Anxiety. Panic

Why aren’t puppies, right from the start, taught to be independent – to be alone for short periods?

85% of dogs!

This seems a no-brainer considering the statistics. The TV series Dogs, Their Secret Lives on Channel 4 in 2013, discovered that a huge 85% of dogs show signs of not coping to some extent when left alone. In many cases their owners aren’t even aware of it.

Why isn’t independence given the same priority in preparing puppy for the world as socialisation and toilet training?

With their constant attention and adoration, the don’t encourage divine little Piper to be independent. The opposite in fact. She craves attention and they love giving it to her.

It’s understandable how a dog becomes over-dependent upon company and interaction. If a puppy is acclimatised from the start to being left her to own devices more often, separation wouldn’t be such a difficult issue to treat. It possibly wouldn’t be an issue at all.

Their worlds revolve around their little dog.

She will learn to be more independentPiper is constantly with someone until they have to go out. The two young daughters dote on her.

In a way, being so central to their lives puts pressure on the little Border Terrier. Had she learnt to be independent and to amuse herself more, two years ago as a puppy, the disappearance of her humans wouldn’t be so devastating.

Human attention is both addictive and sometimes stressful for her. She repeatedly brings them a ball to throw her or deliberately loses it under something so that someone then has to get it out for her! If ignored she is very persistent.

Learning to be more independent comes first

Over time Piper will need to learn to stand better on her own four feet if our incremental and systematic separation work is to be successful.

Teaching her to be a little more independent needs to be done gradually. It will be hard for both the family and for Piper to get into different habits. For instance, now if someone leaves the room for just a couple of minutes (leaving Piper with company), they greet her when they return.

With so much focus on her, they are unintentionally making her vulnerable. In fact, I suspect it goes two ways. Over her two years, the humans also are dependent upon Piper – the focus, fun, cuddles and happiness she brings to their lives.

I suggest they spend our first couple of weeks in helping Piper to be just a little more independent of them. People can walk out and shut doors on her while there is still someone with her.

The root of the problem

Piper is over-reliant on interaction with her family and this is where her separation problems mainly stem from.

A useful exercise will be simply teach her to lie down and to stay, retreating a few paces only. Currently she never stays anywhere with someone backing away – she always follows. They can work slowly towards retreating further.

They will work on an incremental, systematic plan of gradually increasing the time they are out of sight. The family will associate all departures with something she loves.

Currently Piper is beside herself with ecstasy when they come home. Her family members are likewise with her. While their coming home is such a major event, she will surely wait in some sort of eager anticipation all the time they are out.

Returns should now be causual non-events. (People come. People go. Shrug).

Calming down

Piper is the sweetest-natured, gentlest little dog. She is funny and clever. They have socialised her wonderfully.

For her own sake she needs to be able to relax more. When her ‘stress bucket‘ (or maybe ‘arousal-bucket’ would be a better term) is full, she becomes more and more demanding.

Calming her down and teaching her to be independent will require less human attention and more natural dog-enrichment activities. Instead of throwing her ball, they will give her more sniffing, hunting, exploring and foraging. More of the things that a young dog would naturally do if happily left to her own devices. She got stuck into the yak chew I gave her.

Everything the family can do to lower her arousal levels will help in the end. There are lots of small things that individually will make little difference, but when added together should bring results.

Their first priority should be to begin disentangling themselves so she becomes less needy of them.

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

Early Exposure. Appropriate Acclimatisation to Life. Flooding

Another dog, a puppy this time, having lacked the right kind of early socialising and exposure in the earlier weeks, before she was twelve weeks of age.

Mia is now nearly four months old, a beautiful Catalan Shepherd puppy.

Little or no exposure to the real world

little or no exposure to the real worldPoor little Mia is extremely fearful of people. She is generally jumpy and is terrified of traffic.

They picked her up three weeks ago from a breeder with a great number of dogs in her house. Mia’s socialisation will have been great with other dogs but I suspect she had no exposure to anything outside the house.

Mia’s mother was scared of Mia’s new humans when they picked Mia up. That should have been a red flag. They are first time dog owners and simply wouldn’t have known what to look for.

A fearful mother will pass fearfulness on.

When they got Mia home they went straight into walking her three times a day. They took her to places believing it would help her. They encouraged people to ‘say hello’. This ended in a village fate with lots of people and a fairground and Mia froze.

This is flooding.

Since she arrived, rather than gaining confidence, Mia was becoming increasingly scared of going out.

Over the days, with all the new things to which she had had no early exposure, her stress levels will have mounted until she could no longer cope. Now they have a bigger problem than they had initially.

Bit by bit, where possibly she could have coped with one thing introduced at a time, the under-prepared puppy became overwhelmed with simply too much of everything. They must not blame themselves – anyone apart from an expert would have done exactly as they did. It’s not a normal situation.

Really it’s the breeder’s job to give a new dog owner the right information. It’s such a shame that many don’t recognise the importance of exposure – particularly to other dogs, to people and to traffic.

Puppies need early exposure

Puppy needs handling by various people from a young age. She needs taking out and about, exposure to different kinds of people, to shops and traffic, ideally well before her injections. She needs to travel in a car.

They have a large open kitchen and sitting room area. Little Mia remained as far as possible from me with the odd venture nearer to pick up food I threw. She barked at me and retreated.

I have personal experience with this with my own German Shepherd Milly. Ten years ago I brought the terrified puppy home from a client when she fourteen weeks of age. She came from a puppy farm and had had no exposure to anything whatsoever. It took her about three weeks before she would come anywhere near me.

I, however, didn’t push it. I took her nowhere and I left her alone. Bit by bit she got braver. Like Mia, she was fine with dogs and at the time I had three.

My Milly will never be a social butterfly but she has the tools to cope. 

Feeling safe

In order to learn to live life happily, Mia needs to feel safe. At the moment, if she sees anyone apart from the family or if she’s out of the house and garden, she’s terrified.

It was lovely to see how happy she could be when the teenage son went over to her. We want a lot more of that!

Like my Milly, she is no trouble at all. She’s not relaxed enough to be playful, nippy or naughty though I’m sure that will come now. Earlier in the evening she had had a little race around the garden having dug a hole. She had dug up a stone which she was having fun throwing about. A very good sign.

They must take things one at a time now. By avoiding exposure to things that scare her unless at a comfortable distance, they should slowly build her confidence and trust. This requires her having an escape route. At a distance, they will associate the things she’s scared of, most particularly people and traffic, with food (counter-conditioning).

If she won’t eat, they are still too close or it’s getting too much for her. They should stop.

Taking things one at a time

The plan involves breaking things down.

A harness will make sure she is comfortable. They will start by introducing her to this carefully, using food. She shrinks from the lead, knowing that she will then have to go out, so the lead needs working on, with no association with walks.

Next they will work on the threshold, the doorway. At the moment they have to carry Mia out of the door and down the road before they put her down because she’s so scared she pulls back for home.

By ‘lacing the environment’ just outside and leaving the door open with Mia on a long lead, they can work on this. She can run back in if she wants. She should soon feel safe enough to walk out of the door.

The next problem is her terror of traffic. With the door open and well back for the road, on a long lead so she can run back in, they will now pair passing traffic with food.

Being in the car is scary – Mia drools and shakes. They will briefly put her in the car, offer food and lift her out again. Lots of times. When they do drive her, it will be for one minute down the road to the woods which she fortunately finds okay.

They must prevent people from crowding the scared puppy.

It’s going to be a slow old business.

Take it easy – err on the cautious side. 

I have been to so many cases of both puppies and older dogs, from rescue in particular, where the people flood their new dog with too many new experiences.

I would say, however confident and calm the dog seems, take it easy. Introduce new things one at a time. It’s a whole lot better to err on the safe side.

So now, unless they really have to, I advise them to resist taking Mia out until she is ready. A little later they might carry her to the car and drive her to wood or park. A short journey to somewhere nice may help her to accept the car.

Once she does go out, they should constantly apply distance and counter-conditioning when she sees a person. If she is scared by something, then it’s is ‘too much’ or she is too close. They should abandon the walk and come home straight away.

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 it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Frantic Barking. Littermates. Not Prepared For Real Life.

I walked in the door to be met with frantic barking.

Brave Luna, with frantic barking, came right up to me. Her sister backed her up but with less enthusiasm.

Frantic barking at people and sounds

Luna

Luna and Bear are same-sex siblings. They are two-year-old Cavapoo Collies. What a mix! They were a bit smaller than I expected.

Walks are a nightmare due to the dogs’ reactivity to everything, their frantic barking and pulling. Consequently, the family don’t walk them regularly.

Their frantic barking at every sound when at home is annoying the neighbours. The lady has tried all sorts of things to stop the barking, some not pleasant for the dogs. None worked.

Addressing the root of the problem is the only way to get lasting improvement.

Clever dogs need variety, exercise and enrichment but their behaviour makes taking them out impossible. The family can’t walk them separately as the two little dogs won’t be separated.

Luna is the most stressed of the two and she is the more bossy one. This is often the way. One will overshadow the other. Bear, however, is more relaxed and without Luna may well have adjusted better to life.

Lack of exposure in crucial early weeks

Three main points have been working against the family.

Bear

The first is that the dogs, in the vital first twelve weeks of their lives, didn’t get the required socialisation and habituation to daily life all dogs need. Early socialisation and habituation.

They picked the puppies up at sixteen weeks old.

They were not prepared for meeting people, other dogs, bikes, sounds, vacuum cleaner…..all sorts of things. The real world is a scary nightmare.

The second point is that they are littermates which brings its own challenges.

The third is probably genetics. They tell me that the dogs’ brother is even more scared and reactive than Luna.

I didn’t list these things to discourage them, but so that they are realistic about what they are up against. It’s also important that they don’t in any way blame themselves.

Stress reduction

There is just one of these three things that they can actually do something about. That is what people call socialisation but which is really systematic desensitisation, habituation and counter-conditioning.

For their dogs to react differently, they need to work on their fear and stress levels.

Every time they take them out, every time they take them in the car where they simply shake with fear, the dogs are ‘flooded’. Flooding does them no good at all. Everything is too much.

Stress, fear, excitement/over-arousal is at the root of their behaviour. They haven’t been properly prepared at a sufficiently young age for the real world. Too many things both at home and out stress Luna in particular.

Living in a war zone

Just imagine being terrified every time you go out. It would be like living in a war zone.

Stress needs reducing in every way possible. Each time the dogs are alarmed and react with frantic barking, their stress levels go through the roof. With exploding stress levels, they bark and react even more. It’s Catch-22.

Stress reduction underpins everything we will do. The family will work on calming the dogs constantly and in every way possible.

So, against a calmer background, we need a plan of baby steps. We need to break things down into the tiniest of increments to desensitise and counter-condition the dogs to one thing at a time.

One dog at a time

Progress will be impossible with both dogs together. They will simply keep bouncing off one another rather than relating to their humans.

So, the first challenge here is to get them to accept being apart for just a minute or two to start with. Baby steps.

The family will start with a barrier or gate across the room so the dogs, whilst together, are separated. They can give each dog something to chew so it’s a positive experience. Bit by bit they can extend the time.

Then they can take one dog out of sight of the other.

The dogs must be comfortable with one step before going on to the next.

Eventually one dog can be on a long and loose lead by the open front door. Now the frantic barking at sounds and sights of the outside world, of passing people and so on, need working on.

Just being at the open front door is too much

How can the dog go for a happy walk when even being at the open front door is too much?

It’s impossible to say what progress they will make or how fast. Frequent short sessions in tiny increments will be a lot better than one long session.

Walks can currently only do more harm than good to the dogs. They are a nightmare for all due to the frantic barking at everything and the pulling.

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 dogs it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Early Habituation. Socialisation. Variety

Lack of early habituation to people and life in general has a lot to answer for in a great number of the cases I go to.

This is neither sufficiently early habituation and socialisation, nor sufficiently comprehensive habituation.

Early habituation or socialisation?

We tend to say ‘socialisation’ when we mean ‘habituation’. What is the difference? The puppy needs exposure from a few weeks old and lots of early handling. The puppy needs early habituation to all sorts of people and situations – all without scaring her.

she lacked early habituation to peopleSpringer Spaniel Luna is a naturally happy and enthusiastic dog, so it’s a great shame her life is blighted by her fear of people she doesn’t know. This is particularly the case if they try to touch her. The fifteen-month-old dog doesn’t like people moving fast either, whether it’s jogging, on a bike or a child on a scooter.

Luna came from a gun dog breeder just like my own working Cocker, Pickle. Until he was three months old, Pickle lived in a pen in a barn with lots of other working-type spaniels and Labradors grouped in pens.

Outings were into a field out the back with the other puppies and dogs. There was no early socialisation or variety. Pickle met very few people nor did he encounter everyday things like vacuum cleaners or traffic.

I’m pretty sure that at the root of Luna’s problems is not having left the gun dog breeder until she was twelve weeks old. There will have been no early habituation or socialisation. She won’t have been taken out anywhere to meet a variety of people nor introduced to the outside world while still young enough to take it in her stride. She’s fine with other dogs however.

Never left all alone

The other thing that overshadows Luna’s happiness is her distress when left alone, even though it’s never for more than three hours.

Until they picked her up, Luna, like my Pickle, will never have been left all by herself. There will always have been the other dogs. This is another fallout from lack of early habituation – to being all alone for short periods.

By twelve weeks of age the window is closing.

They will now work on Luna’s fear of people by associating both those she hears from the garden and those she meets when out with something really special – a treat she loves which won’t be used for anything else.

Protecting her from unwanted attention

They will be more assertive about keeping people from touching her – an I Need Space vest should help. Beautiful young dogs like Luna are like magnets to ‘dog lovers’!

If the person is running or on a bike, they will use a ball – which they will now save specifically for this. She is ball-obsessed. They now will put balls away and only bring one out when there is a moving person triggering fear. The moving person can now trigger the ball instead, redirecting to movement in the opposite direction – and fun.

Luna is unusual in that she is less scared when on lead than when running free. She may rush up to people and bark at them, which can be alarming. For this reason it’s essential, if she’s to be off lead and free, that they have spot-on recall. Meanwhile they should keep her on a long line.

Luna’s separation problems aren’t extreme and sometimes she may even finish her stuffed Kong. If she were frantic she wouldn’t want to eat. However, she often cries and howls. They will film her.

There are a few ideas they could try. If my guess is right about the company of other dogs being sufficient for her, Dog TV may fill the void. Luna is fascinated by dogs on TV.

Leaving her somewhere ‘safe’.

They shut Luna in the hallway where her bed is when they go out. I feel the hallway is a place she may feel vulnerable. She will hear people going past and have to cope with mail coming through the door. Getting her used to being shut in the back room would be better – initially just leaving the door open so she makes her own choice. If I were her I would choose the sofa!

Once Luna had warmed up to me it was hard to imagine her scared of things. She was cheeky and playful. Unfortunately, probably due to insufficiently early habituation, she is easily spooked. She is upset by quite a list of everyday things. They will deal with each thing that upsets her using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

The net result will be a more confident dog. They will be compensating for her lack of early habituation and socialisation. Luna will be more able to deal with the things that currently scare her.

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 it can do more harm than good, particularly where fear issues are concerned. Click here for help

Separation Distress. Insecurity. Panic When Away from the Lady

Darcy watches the lady all the time.

When she’s out of sight he pants and he paces. Even when left at home with the gentleman, he whines and stresses. Separation specifically and only from the lady freaks him out.

Strangely, he shows no sign of being possessive of her nor does he seem jealous. The daughter can hug her and she can hold the baby without Darcy doing more than continue to watch her.

Suffers separation distress when away form the ladyDarcy is nine-year-old of mixed breed, probably Patterdale and Labrador. After a bad first year which he came out of extremely fearful, he has lived the past eight years in a very loving home with a retired couple.

From the start he has had to cope with separation from the lady. More recently she had an operation and had to leave him for five days. Perhaps that made his separation distress worse.

Two things happened towards the end of my visit that brought Darcy’s behaviour into focus.

The first was when he jumped and started to run for cover when the man moved. The chair had made a sudden noise, that’s all.

Licking his lips and nose.

The second was observing Darcy watching the lady when she saw me off. He was quietly behind her, licking his lips and nose continuously. Very worried and anxious, fearing the possible brief separation if she went out of the door. They hadn’t realised what this licking meant. See this: What your dog is desperately trying to tell you!

Darcy is quickly reactive in an instinctive survival way to sudden sounds. His reactions, being automatic, can’t be controlled beyond helping his stress levels so he feels as calm and settled as possible.

In a permanent state of worry and stress, he will naturally be a lot more reactive, just as we ourselves would be.

Daily Darcy constantly worries and watches over the lady. Daily he goes into a meltdown when the postman walks up the path and pushes mail through the door.

He seems more indifferent to the gentleman although he walks and feeds him. He seems to feel more secure with him and for some reason his fear of separation from the lady is causing acute insecurity which he doesn’t feel with the man. He will run to the man for protection when alarmed.

I don’t believe this is a matter of Darcy being ‘the lady’s dog’ as they say, or of his loving her more than the man. It’s more that the lady is ‘Darcy’s human’! He watches and worries over her constantly like she’s his responsibility.

I came to see them because he had bitten the same child in the face, twice. He had bitten adult family members a couple of times also, most likely around a sudden action and possibly involving food.

Lightening his burden

Lightening some of his burden and reducing his stress levels in every way possible should brighten Darcy up a bit. This will include installing an outside letterbox to spare him that daily panic. In a calmer and more confident state of mind he will be much less reactive.

Biting the little girl will have caused considerable fallout for Darcy as well as the child. No doubt the easily scared dog will have been scolded and banished. There will have been a general panic that will have freaked him out. This could well have resulted in his being wary of children – or little girls in particular – leading to the second bite.

It is very probable that the child had put her face in his while he was keeping his usual wary eye on the lady. Constantly fearing separation, his state of mind would make him react instinctively. If he had really wanted to damage her it would have been multiple bites.

In a more secure state of mind however, the previous instances of his snapping or biting may not have happened.

In a calmer and generally more confident state of mind he should now also be able to cope better with the very gradual, systematic and brief separations the lady will be working on. Whenever a door is shut on him, she will drop food. Fortunately he’s very food motivated – perhaps the Labrador in him!

We can’t ever ‘cure’ the biting but we can make it a lot less likely. 

Protecting baby and Darcy from himself

If someone isn’t constantly watching for Darcy displaying signs of unease, young children and Darcy should be physically kept apart, either with a lead or baby gate. Just being in the same room isn’t sufficient. They have a one-year-old grandson who is now crawling. Why just supervising dogs and children doesn’t work.

Poor Darcy. The gentleman takes him for a nice walk each morning and he doesn’t want to go. Even though he must know after all these years that he will come back home to her, he doesn’t want the separation from the lady. If popped in the car and taken further afield he feels better, so that’s what will happen now for a while.

One thing they aren’t making use of is food. The gentleman frequently shares his own food but the dog never earns it. This will now change. He will have some fun hunting for and working for his food.

Food will be used to make him feel better about things when he’s worried. The man can use food on walks to motivate him. Food puts a positive association to events and makes the brain produce endorphins – happy hormones.

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 it can do more harm than good. Not all separation problems are the same. Click here for help

Defensive. Unfortunate Incidents. Reactive to Certain Dogs

Poor little Teddy is now on the defensive. He is very small, weighing only about 5kg. The three-year-old is a cross between a Shih Tsu and, surprisingly, a Border Collie – they saw his mother.

The friendly and confident little dog has had two setbacks recently.

Other dogs had never before bothered him.

Two unfortunate incidents

A while ago, the large, friendly and boisterous dog next door had jumped over the fence into Teddy’s garden. He jumped on him, terrifying Teddy. Now Teddy races up and down the fence, boundary barking.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, about to jump into the car, he had an altercation with two larger passing dogs. They jumped on him. They pinned him down and he was bitten on the neck. Teddy screamed and screamed. The young lady says it was one of the most awful experiences of her life.

Since then Teddy has been on the defensive.

They are really worried this may have scarred him for life. Their well-behaved little dog is now tense and reactive. To quote the lady, ‘I’m so upset about it I just done know what to do’.

on the defensive with other dogsWhere before he would walk past a house down the road with barking dogs at the gate, he now barks before he even gets there. He is on the defensive irrespective of whether the dogs are out or not.

Teddy’s defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs is totally understandable as it is all about basic survival and feeling safe. Bad experiences have fallout – a sort of PTSD.  Although the ‘disaster’ itself can be very brief, the effect can take considerable time to recover from. Sometimes it will be permanent unless the dog, like a human, gets specialist help.

Teddy lives in a family of three generations and they all totally adore him! Although they spoil him rotten – he doesn’t actually behave spoilt. They have taken time and trouble training him. He’s beautiful.

Sadly, he has become increasingly territorial and nervous since these incidents.

There is more involved than just dealing with defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs itself. I have broken the work down into about four areas.

A calmer dog

Firstly, if they can keep Teddy as calm as possible it will give him a greater tolerance and he will be less jumpy. This means moderating some of the things they currently do with him that make him wildly excited.

Food

Secondly, key to the whole thing is being able to use food. Food is available all the time to Teddy. His humans share their food with him. He gets chews that are, relative to his size, huge. Food simply has no value as rewards.

This will be a big challenge for one family member in particular!

They will now save the very best food for working with. For instance, if they already add cooked chicken to his meals, what good will cooked chicken be for making him feel better about something he’s scared of? If he’s already full of food and snacks, if he can also help himself to dry food whenever he wants, why would he take any notice of the food they need to use?

Protective

Thirdly, he needs help with his territorial and guarding behaviour which, because the incidents happened so near home, has intensified. They will show him that it’s not his job to protect the garden. This means he shouldn’t for now have free access unless someone is around to help him out.

His humans, the young lady in particular who witnessed the second incident, are themselves nervous. She is not acting like the ‘protector’ that Teddy needs. He will sense everything that she is feeling. She needs to work on acting strong and cool.

Finally, what can they actually do?

What do they do about the big dog next door that jumped over the fence into his garden and terrified him? About the house with the barking dogs that send him into a frenzy of defensive barking when they walk past? What do they do about those dogs and situations they may meet when out?

The work is done using desensitisation and counter-conditioning. This involves keeping within Teddy’s comfort zone – and I would say the young lady’s also. When they near another dog or the garden with barkers, they need to watch him carefully. At the first sign of unease they will increase distance from what is troubling him, before he becomes defensive and starts to bark. It could involve turning around and changing their plans.

This is when food having value becomes vital. Pairing something he should love (food) with something he is uneasy or defensive towards (certain other dogs too close) is the way to go.

Together with the neighbour, they can work on their dogs each side of the now raised fence, using leads, distance and food (or play).

I hope it’s not too long before little Teddy becomes less defensive and can all feel safe on walks and in his own garden again.

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 it can do more harm than good. Click here for help.

 

Distressed, Trembles, Whimpers at Bedtime.

Millie is a Beagle, a Lemon Beagle, ten years of age. She has lived with my lady client for eighteen months.

She is a sweet and gentle dog but she carries some baggage. Three things in particular make her very distressed. Her bedtime behaviour, her panic when left alone and continuous barking and crying when being driven in the car.

Distressed at bedtime

distressed at bedtimeBedtime is a puzzle. Last thing at night Millie is asleep on the sofa beside the lady and very comfortable. She has to be woken and goes out into the garden calmly.

The lady then fetches Millie’s bed and takes it into her bedroom, followed by Millie. She gets ready for bed then gives the dog a treat for getting into her own bed. She goes to bed herself.

Immediately everything changes. Millie jumps onto the lady’s bed.

She trembles. She whimpers, jumps on and off. Obviously very distressed, she drools.

This can go on for a couple of hours before she gives up. She has done it from the day the lady brought her home eighteen months ago.

Millie has sometimes asked to be let out and then does nothing but mooch around the garden. She doesn’t need to toilet. There is nothing in the bedroom that is different from daytime apart from the fact the lady is in bed. Leaving the light on makes no difference.

Meanwhile the lady is repeatedly saying, ‘Go to bed, Millie’. Understandably she is tired and will be getting a little cross and stressed, unable to do anything about her dog’s distress.

Eventually, after an hour or two, Millie settles on her own bed on the floor. 

The ‘why’.

The same ritual is followed every night and will now be a pattern of learned behaviour. Normally if we can deal with the ‘why’, the behaviour improves. We are doing a bit of detective work along with trial and error in an effort to get to the bottom of why she gets so distressed, so immediately and every night.

The night-time behaviour will most likely have its roots in her past history. (While I am writing this I wonder whether it could be something perfumed on the lady st bedtime that Millie can smell with her Beagle nose. Something she associates with a past terrifying experience).

One thing is certain, if the lady carries on doing exactly what she’s doing now, so will Millie.  Changing the ritual has to be a place to start.

I suggest the lady lets Millie out to toilet a bit earlier and then lets her go back to the sofa for another hour or two. She can ditch her whole bedtime ritual and just get herself ready for bed. Millie can choose for herself what she wants to do.

Shutting her out of the room isn’t an option. The second major problem the lady has with Millie is separation – another matter we will be working on. She can’t let the lady out of her sight.

It will be hard, but I suggest that the lady tries turning over and ignoring all Millie’s distressed pacing, whining and drooling. Her constant trying to tell her to settle doesn’t help at all. It’s just possible that her constant agitation and ‘Go to bed, Millie’ is in some strange way reinforcing.

Could pain be involved?

We also noticed that Millie looks a bit awkward when she sits and when she lies down. She was spayed recently and nothing picked up, but I wonder whether she has pain in her hips. Her distressed behaviour at night is certainly panic, but maybe it’s pain as well. Pain always affects behaviour

The separation problems will also be baggage she brought with her. The way forward is to deal with the emotions she is feeling – the panic – and gradually get her to feel differently about being left.

Getting into such a distressed state at night time and again about four times a week when she is left alone for a few hours, Millie’s stress levels must be constantly raised. Added to this is the car ordeal. This happens daily as they have to drive somewhere for her walks.

Although Millie looked calm and slept while I was there, there will be more going on inside.

All her problems are due to fear in one way or another. Each thing we can do to build up the lovely, gentle dog’s confidence and reduce her stress levels will have a knock-on effect.

A month has gone by and real progress made: ‘An update for you: the night time routine is going well (no more trembling, whimpering or distress). Even when I come home late and go back to the old routine she only stresses for a short time before she settles, so that is good…I am pleased to say that I have been out a few times recently and there hasn’t been any tiddles, I leave her as you said and with a kong….She is much better with other dogs now, if I think a dog is one she doesn’t like I go in a different direction and give her a treat! So things are definitely improving and hopefully her stress levels are beginning to go down.'[divider type=”white”]
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. Fears need professional help. Click here for help.

Puppy Joyfulness Lost. Tail Between Legs. Acts Careful

Hettie is an adorable Cockerpoo puppy, now sixteen weeks old.

Why has she lost her puppy joyfulness?

For the first four weeks that Hettie was with them (eight to twelve weeks old), she was a typical confident, happy and energetic puppy. She would fly around in puppy joyfulness, grab things and cause the usual puppy chaos.

she used to be filled with puppy joyfulness

Before getting her, they had already booked their holiday. While they were away, they left her in what they believed was the best place possible. This was a well respected daycare and kennels.

From what I observed of Hettie’s new careful, tail-down behaviour, something must have happened while they were away. She had come back a different puppy. Not to be too dramatic, it’s like something had broken her spirit. She had lost her joyfulness.

Her tail goes between her legs even when the lady owner appears.

It could have been that this holiday care was totally the wrong environment for a young puppy. Too many dogs all at once and too much noise, perhaps.

It can only be guesswork.

Hettie’s not scared of dogs, however. It’s people she’s wary of now; she’s generally reserved and what I can only call careful.

Sensitive period for socialisation

The damage done resulting in her fear of humans won’t have been anything deliberate.

To quote Dr. Sophia Yin: ‘From about 3 weeks to about 3 months of age, puppies are primed for bonding to other animals and individuals, for learning that objects, people, and environments are safe, and for learning what the body cues and signals of others mean. It is their sensitive period for socialization and it is the most important socialization period in a dog’s life. …….but what types of interactions should puppies actually have? ……it’s important to actually make sure that the puppy is having a positive experience and learning something good.’

For the first four weeks the family did all the right things, exposing Hettie gradually to the outside world of traffic, noise, people and other dogs.

During her stay away there could have been one or two single incidents that were negative and scary to Hettie. It could be that the whole thing – the number of big dogs and the barking may have just been too much for her.

Could this explain why Hettie has lost her puppy joyfulness?

Building up her confidence with people

The priority now is to build her confidence in every way possible. They will always use encouragement and avoid scolding. They will put no pressure on her. When the lady approaches she will throw food to the puppy; I’m sure her tail won’t be between her legs for long.

Most importantly, they must train all visitors. Knowing what to expect, I had avoided walking towards her. When I did move, it wasn’t directly. I avoided eye contact and spoke quietly. As I moved about, I leaked food from my hand onto the floor.

Hettie was very soon quite literally eating out of my hand.

What we would love to see is a return of the enthusiastic, excited puppy she had been before they went away. A return of a her puppy joyfulness.

PS: From an email that evening: ‘Hettie has been much more ‘naughty’ this evening and stolen lots of items from the sitting room plus made a break for upstairs – quite a relief after such a withdrawn persona earlier on’.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. Click here for help.