Triggers Stacking. One Thing After Another

Stunning Flo is nine months old. She was rescued from Romanian streets at 5 months old – an Akbash – a Turkish sheep guarding dog.

I believe a series of unfortunate events has most likely coincided with a particularly vulnerable period in Flo’s life – a fear period. Had these same things happened a bit earlier (or later) and maybe not in such quick succession, all would have been okay.

Triggers stacking up.

A bang triggers panicThe fears started just 2 weeks ago, before which Flo was confident and playful. The first of the triggers happened when the lady lifted her arms to shut the car boot door on her. It has happened many times before, but this time Flo panicked. The same thing happened a week later and now she wouldn’t get back into the car to go home.

The next of the triggers was a few days later – a bird scarer in the fields.

Then a motorbike revving scared her so this was added to the triggers.

Then another bang from the bird scarer. Flo was too close. She pulled the lead out of the lady’s hand and ran. Then, adding to the triggers, a boy on a bike made her jump.

Finally 10 days ago, off lead, another big bang. Flo ran off and was missing for 2 hours.

All these triggers stacking up over a short period of time has reuslted in Flo being in the state she’s now in.

Jumpy and stressed.

When I arrived, their other dog, Golden Retriever Zak, was out on a walk. Flo was scared of me. She startled when the gentleman happened to push the cutlery draw shut.

Then Zak came home. Flo was transformed. She was suddenly wriggly, confident and friendly!

Our work covers two areas: doing all they can to keep Flo’s general stress levels as low as possible and working on the triggers themselves – the bangs and other scary things.

This means no walks as Flo knows them just for now. Already on my advice they are leaving her at home when walking Zak.

Every time she’s out and caught unprepared by a bang of some sort – and now other things like a revving motorbike – it will merely make things worse.

Systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

They will manufacture their own bangs at home. These will start with soft taps leading to bangs eg: spoon on the table, saucepan lids gently somewhere out of the room or that cutlery drawer. They can build up to distant party poppers or cap gun – the other end of the house or way down the garden.

Recorded sounds may or may not work but worth a try. They can control the volume.

Flo can hear the bird scarer from inside their house if the wind is in the right direction. This will apparently carry on for another week so they can turn it into an advantage and work on it.

Exposing Flo carefully to bangs (desensitising), isn’t alone enough however. It’s what happens when the bang occurs that’s important – this is the counter-conditioning bit. A bang must trigger something good – in Flo’s case little bits of turkey will rain down (it has to be turkey as chicken doesn’t agree with Zak). The bang triggers turkey irrespective of what Flo is doing or feeling – whether she’s alarmed or whether she’s ignoring it.

They should have turkey to hand all the time so that unexpected ‘real life’ bangs always trigger turkey. We also looked into what to do if there had to be a short delay between bang and food.

Flo gets ball play in the garden for exercise and they are now starting to walk her again but near to home. Unfortunately Zak’s company on walks doesn’t help her reactivity to those triggers as it did with me in the house.

Human emotions.

It’s just possible that Flo is also picking up on her owners’ own emotions. The lady is understandably very upset for Flo who had done so well after a difficult start in life. The effect our own emotions have on our dog.

Slowly slowly catchee monkey.

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

Guarding Food. Guarding Resources.

“We must show the dog who’s boss”.

Rex guards his food.

Guarding food and resources can be a contentious issue where human response is concerned.

Many conscientious dog owners, doing what they believe is best, follow dangerous, outdated notions.

These techniques can involve, right from the start as routine training, interfering with a puppy’s food while he’s eating and forcing objects out of his mouth. An easy-going puppy may simply tolerate it. Another may not. Instead of making the puppy back away from something he values, it can teach him to run off with the item and then, cornered, defend both the item and himself. I’ve seen this many times.

How might we ourselves react if someone tried to take bits of food off our plate or mugged us for something we had picked up?

There is that infamous clip of Cesar Millan ‘dominating’ a Labrador guarding food and his bowl. Guess what happened? Yes, the poor dog ultimately had no choice other than to bite after all his warning signals had been ignored. As a result of the uproar about this, he was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh which is interesting to watch.

Guarding food when someone is closeSomehow this ‘being the Alpha’ with our dog thing had became popular culture, but it’s been totally debunked over recent years. Not only was it based on false assumptions regarding wolf packs (and domestic dogs aren’t wild wolves), but that using force is the only way to create an obedient dog.

Even this word ‘obedience’ suggests dominance and forced compliance.

Just one problem with this approach to resource guarding is that a strong-minded and confident dog is likely to stand up for himself – eventually. Some dogs genetically are more wired to guard.

If a ‘dominated’ dog backs off due to being overpowered by a particular human, what happens when someone else tries it?

“Why should I want your food anyway”?

How much better and simpler in every way it is to teach the dog that you’re no threat to his food; if nobody wants his food, what’s the point of guarding food after all?

Giant Schnauzer Rex is a very intelligent and energetic adolescent dog. He’s on the go most of the time when people are about, back and forth looking for trouble. This includes nicking anything he can that may be of value to his humans. It triggers a chain of reactions.

He’s probably under-stimulated where appropriate enrichment is concerned, so he orchestrates his own action.

It’s only natural for us to try to control over-excited and aroused behaviour by trying to stop it. Unfortunately scolding and warnings, Uh-Uh and NO, introduce conflict and confrontation. Even conflict can be rewarding and reinforcing in a way (else why do humans enjoy certain sports so much?).

Rex’ owners will now be on the lookout for every little good or desired behaviour to reinforce instead.

It’s proven beyond doubt that removing reinforcement from unwanted behaviours and adding reinforcement to behaviours we DO want leads to success.

Interfering with Rex’ food while he’s eating.

Using the ‘interfering with his food’ technique seemed to work when Rex was a young puppy. Unfortunately, guarding and growling re-appeared big time when he started to be fed something that was, to him, of much higher value.

Instead of leaving him to eat in peace, various suggestions had been given including hand-feeding him, touching him while he was eating and taking his bowl away. Instead of feeding him somewhere out of the way, the bowl is deliberately put where people regularly have to pass by him.

He freezes. He growls. They reprimand him. This can only go in one direction.

He simply needs to know that nobody is interested in his food anymore. He will be fed somewhere out of the way.

After some weeks of this they may from time to time walk past him at a distance, not looking at him, and just chuck in the direction of his bowl something particularly tasty – maybe a leftover from their own meat dinner. The food must be something of higher value to him than his own food. They shouldn’t hover or speak to him.

‘I happen to be passing anyway so here’s something nice’.

Over time they can get a little closer. If he growls, they have got too close or maybe stood still, and will need to leave it for a few days and do it from further away the next time. Any approaching person will deliver something better than what he has.

This really is in case of emergency should later someone, without thinking, get too close to him. They should only do this from time to time – a random and casual thing.

Back in the day people would have said, ‘Leave the dog alone while he’s eating’. We expect a lot from our dogs today.

We may need to do some serious, systematic work on general resource guarding.

‘Operation Calm’ is the first priority.

Rex’ high arousal levels and restlessness make work on his guarding food and other items more difficult.

This is a huge challenge because it’s hard for us humans, like old dogs, to learn new tricks. It also means that Rex will initially become very frustrated when his usual attention-seeking tactics no longer work. He will try harder. They will hold their nerve and add as much appropriate enrichment to his life as possible, activities that don’t depend upon their ‘fielding’ the behaviour he throws at them but instead are initiated by themselves.

I suggest very regular short bursts of activity including mental enrichment, hunting, foraging and sniffing, particularly in the evenings when they sit down and he’s the most trouble. He then won’t need to be pestering for attention.

Guarding food becomes unnecessary.

If he feels it’s not under threat, Rex won’t need to be guarding food. If he has plenty of attention offered, he won’t need so desperately to indulge in the attention-seeking ploys that he knows get the most reaction.

Getting Rex calmer involves most aspects of his life and will be a gradual thing.

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

Separation Problems. Leaving the Dogs Alone.

Yesterday I met Cockerpoo Marnie and Springerpoo (Springerdoodle Sproodle?) Luna. The are adorable friendly and polite little dogs – a real tribute to their owners.

They have just moved to a new house with much closer neighbours and have become aware that the dogs cry and bark when left alone. They hadn’t realised there were separation problems. Not wanting to upset anyone, the lady, who no longer works, now feels she can’t go out unless the man is home.

In addition to not wanting them annoying neighbours with barking or crying, they don’t don’t want their beloved dogs to be unhappy.

Breaking a habit takes time.

Separation problems when left alone

Luna and Marnie

They agree that it’s more than likely the dogs cried and stressed with separation problems in their old house. If that’s the case it will be a habit too. Something that they have always done.

Another aspect is that they may believe their crying gets their humans back home eventually – because it always has.

I was able to see a short video of the dogs having been left. It wasn’t like the kind of panic I have seen in some other videos. They showed their separation distress by whining, whimpering, looking at the door and occasional barking. They spent much of the time just standing still and quiet by the door. The real barking started only when they heard the man’s car draw up, in anticipation of his walking in.

With some questioning it soon became apparent that the dogs don’t have enough ‘happening’ in their lives. Everything revolves around their humans being with them in the house. They are seldom taken out. When the couple goes out and leaves them, their only enrichment and fun goes out too.

They lose their whole world.

With no humans at home, there is no activity, a vacuum. Luna is obsessed with the ball – so her ball-thrower has disappeared! The action and excitement begins again as soon as they come home.

I feel the dogs need much more enrichment of the right kind – things they can do by themselves like foraging, hunting and chewing. They need much more than repetitive ball play and cuddles. The obsessive dropping of the ball to be thrown should be stopped and other activities offered that will stimulate their brains instead. Here are 35 simple ways to keep your dog busy indoors.

Instead of associating their humans’ departure with losing everything that matters, they should feel more fulfilled in general. The absence of their humans should be filled with good things as well.

Changing how Luna and Marnie feel about the front door being shut on them will take slow and patient work.

Against a background of a more enriched life including outings if only to mooch about near to home, the couple will then work on the separation itself.

A systematic programme for their separation problems.

They will start by shutting doors on them in the house. Dropping food as they shut an inside door on the dogs, they will turn around and come straight back in again. They will do that multiple times, varying doors and then doing the same with the front door.

Gradually, a second at a time, they will extend the time they spend the other side of the door. Then they will walk a short way away. Always they will aim to come back in before the dogs begin to stress, and for this they have a camera and app on their mobile.

Never again should the dogs think making a fuss brings them back.

When they begin to leave the dogs for a bit longer, they will set up the environment for success with special music to help separation problems, a calming plug-in and stuffed Kongs.

Absent humans won’t leave a vacuum anymore. When they do come back, their return shouldn’t herald fun. They should be boring.

The special exercises worked out for Marnie and Luna will be done many times until the two dogs are convinced beyond any doubt that when their humans go out, they always come back. (I don’t go into too much detail of the whole procedure here, because one size doesn’t fit all).

Now Marnie and Luna should no longer feel that when the lady and gentleman both go out that their whole world has gone with them.

They will have other enriching and stimulating things in their lives also.

A couple of months later: Our two dogs are sooooo much calmer now.They could possibly tune into our unsettled feelings?Luna is no longer mad for a ball. I am able to leave them now for 2 to 3 hrs at a time.

 

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

Spooked by Bangs. On High Alert.

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

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

Spooked by bangs

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

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

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

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

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

Spooked by bangs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Generating their own bangs.

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

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

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

Bangs that ‘just happen’.

Life happens and this is frustrating.

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

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

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

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

This is between Rio and the environment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don’t push it!

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

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

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rio and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Gunshots and Bangs. The Noise of Traffic

scared of gunshots and bangsLittle Jessie’s otherwise perfect life is blighted by fear of the sound of gunshots, bangs and certain other sounds.

It was rare for me not to hear a bark when I rang the doorbell. She was very friendly without being over-excited and didn’t appear to be a nervous dog at all.

The eight-year-old terrier has been scared of bangs outside the house since they took her in at two years old. Her fears of bangs, gunshots and bird-scarers in particular, are unfortunately getting worse.

Her owners are the kindest of people and have done everything they can think of. Jessie is a very happy little dog in every other respect. She loves people. She loves the grandchildren and she’s not a barker.

Jessie’s fears of gunshots and bangs are worse in the winter and after dark.

Her fearfulness is worst in open places with lots of sky. The lady likened her to Chicken Licken, afraid that the sky might fall in!

People often use food after the event. When there has been a distant bang and Jessie has reacted, they feed her afterwards, thinking they are rewarding her for calming down. This is missing the point.

If sufficiently scared, the dog won’t eat anyway. In order to reduce her fear, the food is used to help her to feel differently about the bangs while they happen.

How can they achieve this?

The only way is to actually pair food with the bangs. A bang triggering food gives the bang a whole different meaning.

Counter-conditioning a dog to noises she’s scared of is a slow and difficult job and Jessie’s fears need to be worked on at a level where she is aware of a sound but can still easily cope with it.

What they will do is to build up Jessie’s resilience. They need also to prepare her for the possibility of uncontrolled bangs.

Jessie is hesitant to go out to toilet after dark so, before they let her out, they can already have laced the garden with food. They can associate the garden after dark with something positive and reassuring.

Often she will refuse to walk, particularly when it’s dark or cold, fearing the possibility of a distant bang – something her humans won’t even hear. They can lace the front path with food in advance.

They will also give Jessie choice.

To give her a degree of freedom and choice they will increase the length of the lead. In open spaces where they dare not let her off for fear she may bolt for home, they will use a long line.

A walk where she’s scared is worse than useless anyway. If she turns to go back into the house, they will let her do so.

In order to build up resilience, the real work will be in setting up situations where they can have control. They have had little success with a DVD of bangs but this is because they haven’t used it to desensitise and counter-condition her. They just played it and Jessie was too worried even when it was at its softest.

They now know how to work with this to help Jessie.

One reason for Jessie’s spookiness outside after dark may be the hum of cars on the nearby dual carriageway. This is worse at night when the sound probably carries more clearly.

This gave an easy example of how to work on desensitising and counter-conditioning her.

To desensitise they find the distance from the road where Jessie is aware of the hum of traffic but not unduly worried. They now keep to this distance until she is so relaxed with it that they can move a few steps closer. She will then get used to that. Over time they can very gradually decrease the distance between themselves and the road, always watching her body language to make sure she’s not ‘over threshold’.

Counter-conditioning is the icing on the cake.

Now they add something Jessie loves at the same time as she is aware of the traffic. In her case this will be food. Not only will she get nearer the traffic faster, she will also actually begin to have positive emotions about the noise.

The bummer is that real life gets in the way. If while work is being done she is suddenly subjected to something like a gunshot, it sets things back. This can’t be avoided unless she were never to go out for a walk, and anyway she can even hear bangs from her own garden.

The difficulty with working with sudden noises is that something uncontrolled like a gunshot is sure to happen.

So, they will immediately turn for home if Jessie is scared. With the long line they can give her more choice.

If over time Jessie’s confidence is built up at home, both with a DVD or downloaded sounds and sounds out in the garden, she should have more leeway to cope when out.

Whatever happens, the gunshot sound or the bang must trigger food. She will have learned with the work at home that a bang triggers food.

It may be they will need to abandon all walks near home for a while and pop Jessie in the car, going to somewhere that has no associations with bangs and gunshots.

She is a different dog in the summer when the sky is light, the weather is warm and there is little danger of gunshots.

Here is a great webinar from the great Patricia McConnell: Building Resilience in Dogs

A couple of months later: I am reluctant to ‘big up’ too much as we do take some backwards steps. But whether it is the daylight or the training Jessie is certainly more relaxed and enjoying her life more. Yessss! We are determined to keep up with your suggestions and hope that we can see steady progress over the coming months. At least we know what we should be doing whenever the stress levels begin to rise. I’m even applying the theory to myself!!!!

Marking or Housetraining?

When the couple go out, they usually come back to small amounts of yellow pee in various parts of the kitchen.

marking in the house

Buddy – with Marley peeping in the background

Recently this had begun to happen at night too.

So they had gone back to ‘housetraining’ the little terrier with frequent visits to the garden. Adorable Buddy is now two years old.

The only thing that has so far made any difference has been putting him back in his crate at night where he used to sleep when he was younger.

Buddy crated – no urine.

The peeing never happens in the day if people are at home. However, if they go out and leave the two dogs alone for just a short while they come back to urine.  They will be videoing them to see exactly what happens during the day when they are out. Now that Buddy is in his crate during the night there is no urine – so we can be sure the marking is not Marley.

This is not actually a housetraining problem as it never happens when the dogs have access to their humans. The cause of the marking has to be Buddy’s feelings when left.

To compound the problem, it’s only recently that the dogs have been left alone, downstairs in the kitchen, at night time.

It’s not just peeing to empty his bladder. It’s marking.

The other dog, also two years old, is a beautiful Sprocker called Marley. Now left in the kitchen with Buddy at bedtime, he too is very stressed. He cries all night and scratches at the door. He wants to sleep upstairs on their bed like he used to.

The young lady has recently moved into her boyfriend’s house and they have decided that from now on the dogs will sleep downstairs. Previously they had slept on her bed with her – both where she lived previously and upstairs in this house. Now they are shut in the kitchen.

She has left Marley to cry for a couple of nights. This obviously is upsetting and tiring for her but imagine what state the sensitive Marley will be in after a whole night of crying.

Separation is the real problem. Marking is a symptom.

They may, understandably, be cross with Buddy when they come home which can only add to anxiety which is the cause of the whole problem. Because by definition ‘marking’ is about being noticed, in case he does see any connection with their crossness and the marking which is doubtful, they should ignore it and clear up when the dogs are both outside.

Because he has always marked when left alone there is also bound to be an element of habit to it which can now be broken.

Some days the dogs are left home alone in the kitchen for nine hours. Add to this their no longer being allowed in the bedroom for the night, it does mean a lot of time apart from the couple who adore the dogs and want them to be happy.

What can they do?

Buddy and Marley

They will need somehow to make sure the long days are broken up with someone coming in the middle of the day.

Some days the young man has been working from home. He says he will now take them to work in his office when he can. They have friends who may be able to help out on other days.

Left for shorter periods, they can perhaps keep alternating crating Buddy with leaving him free in the kitchen with Marley. When he’s in the crate he won’t pee. Both dogs can be left with a stuffed Kong to work on – something not wise if both are loose together just in case there are arguments over the food. (Take a look at this: Ode to a Kong).

They can also leave toys and other things for them to do. Background music especially created for dogs could help keep them calm.

They can gate the stairs so from now onwards both dogs no longer expect to go upstairs ever again. At present they can still be upstairs in the bedroom with the couple during the day and evening but have to go to the kitchen at night.

There are some other problems we are addressing. Sprocker Marley is constantly active, running about, leaping over things, sniffing and being busy and no doubt needs more to do. The little terrier is noisy, reactive and prone to obsessing over moving shadows and reflections. They have two kittens which over-excite Buddy. General strategies to lower their stress levels along with appropriate healthy stimulation will undoubtedly help with everything.

When people work hard with only so many hours in the day, something somewhere has to give. In this case with the young man is really on board with helping his girlfriend’s dogs and I am sure they will make the changes necessary to give them more healthy mental stimulation, less arousal and less time alone.

 

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 Buddy and Marley 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 fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Little Dogs. Treat as Big Dogs?

Most people who choose little dogs treat them very differently to how people usually treat bigger dogs, carrying them everywhere and keeping them closely on lead – but not so the couple I went to last night.

Daisy

Daisy

Little dogs are ‘proper dogs’.

Their two little dogs, tiny Chihuahua Jack Russell mixes, have deliberately been given the same ‘proper dog’ life as larger dogs in every way possible.

Surrounded by love and care, they have been kindly trained to do the important things like come back when called and to wait. Twice a day the lady takes them somewhere by car so they can run free. The little dogs are seldom carried.

Although both Daisy and Poppy are fourteen months of age, they came from different places. Poppy, the smaller of the two, is much more robust mentally. Daisy is more nervous, easily upset, and it’s for her that I was called out.

Both little dogs get on very well apart from the occasional pop when Daisy gets over-aroused and redirects onto Poppy. Daisy’s general arousal and stress levels are something we will be working on.

They called me in with the aim for Daisy ‘not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’.

Why should little dogs not object to their personal space being invaded?

Upon discussion, I feel that it is totally acceptable for Daisy to tell another dog – a dog that will probably be a lot larger than herself – to keep its distance. She ignores dogs unless they are in her face, it’s the same with young children, and that is the end game many people would be happy to achieve.

This is where treating little dogs exactly the same as big dogs falls down.

Little dogs and big dogs aren’t the same. Little dogs are a lot more vulnerable. Just imagine what the world and other dogs must look like through their eyes! Anything approaching would loom. Just imagine also how little dogs may appear to a big dog, particularly a dog of a hunting breed.

Twice a day the two little dogs are taken, by car, to a large open park or to the woods. Both come back when called and, always off lead, they have plenty of freedom. Daisy in particular stays close. Of late, the more nervous Daisy has shown reluctance to go for the second walk but that’s okay, the lady allows her choice – she also allows her choice if she doesn’t want to get out of the car the other end. I love that, but why the reluctance in the first place?

I’m sure Daisy is torn between loving the walk and feeling unsafe. Once a day is enough for her at present.

If the lady is anywhere she can’t see other dogs coming, she is taking a risk.

Little dogs on the beach

On the beach

A short while ago the two little dogs were chased by a Rottweiler and another big dog that suddenly appeared out of the trees. The Rottie was after the braver Poppy who, when she eventually came back, leapt into the lady’s arms terrified, urinating and shaking. She may have been lucky.

They talked to their vet about Daisy’s attitude to other dogs. The advice given? Not to pick her up because she may then become protective of the lady!

How ridiculous in this context.

Just as behaviourists are not vets and I would always refer for anything medical, few vets are experienced, up-to-date behaviourists and often give outdated advice or may not have had time to see the whole picture.

The two aspects we are concentrating on are Daisy’s general stress levels and confidence, and making sure she feels safe on walks. This means doing things just a bit differently. It means choosing locations carefully.

Making sure the little dogs not only feel safe on walks but are actually safer too means regularly calling them back even if there is no other dog about so the two things are not associated. It means regularly picking one or other dog up and getting her used to being carried for a short distance, regardless of the approach of another dog.crisis. Why?

Little dogs simply are not big dogs and they have to be protected

The owner needs to be the little dogs’ safety net and trusted always to keep them safe. If, then, a big dog approaches, Daisy can opt to jump into the lady’s arms – better than simply scooping her up unless in emergency. If she knows she has backup, she may feel less need to defend herself anyway.

Little dogs in the mirror

Who are those dogs in the mirror?

See this lovely video ‘Small Dog Syndrome‘ from Steve Mann with his own little dog, a Chihuahua.

The lady will watch Daisy’s body language carefully and keep sufficient distance between her and other dogs. She can be assertive with other owners and parents of young children. She already has a yellow top for herself that says ‘My dog needs space’. I suggest one for Daisy too – ‘I need space’.

If the other dog leaves her alone, Daisy is chilled. She can even sit within a couple of feet of a dog she doesn’t know if the lady stops to chat, so long as it leaves her alone. What more can we ask for?

Would we like a giant stranger looming over us and putting his scary face right into our own? No. He would deserve a complaint if not a slap. We ask a lot of our dogs.

So, we have changed the aim of my visit from ‘For Daisy not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’ to ‘Helping Daisy to feel safe when other dogs get too close’.

Little Daisy will then trust the lady to keep her safe and I’m sure she will soon be happily choosing to go out for the second walk.

 

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 the little dogs Daisy and Poppy 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)

Attack Prompted by Doorbell

When someone knocks on the door, Willow morphs into a little monster.

This gentle, affectionate 20-month-old Cocker Spaniel goes into a sudden frenzy when someone comes to the front door resulting in an attack on the nearest person including the twelve-year-old son. Willow has drawn blood.

The question is, why?

We know that the immediate trigger for attack is when she either sees someone coming up the path from her perch on the sofa arm or when she hears the doorbell or someone knocks. An attack may even happens if it’s a family member approaching the door.

Her arousal is so extreme and so sudden that she flies at the nearest person, teeth barred.

Attack on owner when someone comes to doorAttack is the only way she knows to vent the level of arousal she is feeling. She has to redirect it somewhere.

Her uncontrolled stress at someone coming to the door is the immediate ‘why’, but it should be seen in a bigger context. How does she come to be so trigger-happy when otherwise she’s so sweet?

On asking lots of questions it became apparent that there were other pieces of the jigsaw that could be contributing, so we need to take a holistic approach.

She was initially a bit scared of me though that didn’t last long and she showed me no aggression at all – but a degree of fear will be involved.

She’s unfulfilled for a working dog. Like so many dogs living with busy people, they don’t really have sufficient time for her. With the best will and all the love in the world people often simply don’t realise when they get their puppy the amount of time required for many years into the future. (It’s not like the dog gets no stimulation or attention – it’s just either the wrong kind or not enough and this is due to lack of awareness. She is a much-loved dog).

Willow’s days alone by herself, despite a short visit at lunchtime, are too long. The two boys get home first and want to go on their X boxes, not play with the dog. The adults are tired when they get home a bit later, so she gets just a short walk in the week and sometimes no walk at all.

Then they want to settle for a peaceful evening. Understandably. Life is challenging with full-time jobs, a house to run, two active boys with their own requirements – and a little red Cocker Spaniel who wants some action!

It’s easy to imagine how Willow must be brimming with invisible frustration. I suggested one of the lads imagine how he might feel if he was locked in a room for hours on end, day by day, without his phone or his X Box!

We have looked at various ways of giving Willow work to do – working for her food using a Kong and a treat ball, and sprinkling her dinner over the grass. She needs more things to chew as chewing relieves stress. She loved the Stagbar I lent her.

In the evening, instead of only responding when she’s a nuisance, barking at them or stealing something, could they not initiate regular short activities?

How about ‘Advert-Time Fun’? Five minutes at a time during advert breaks on TV doing things like a walk around the block, standing out in the road just sniffing and watching the world go by, a training game, ‘Find-It’ game, tug or ball game and so on. They can take it in turns. We have a list. We need to motivate the boys too.

How can they prevent a further attack?

I have worked out a plan to gradually desensitise Willow to people coming to the front door. If they do this many times, over and over, they should get to the stage that when she hears the bell she happily runs away from the window and into the kitchen. Anything is possible given sufficient time and effort. This is another thing they can do in 5-minute advert breaks.

They can help matters by blocking part of the window with frosting and installing an outside mailbox.

The plan involves coming when called. People often expect their dogs to comply without giving them motivation. If someone said to me ‘Theo, come here’, and I came, then all they said was ‘Nothing’ or ignored me altogether, it wouldn’t be long before I stopped coming! Willow’s food can be earned. I don’t mean commercial treats full of additives – I mean her regular food – or special real food like chicken for something particularly impressive.

I reinforced Willow with tiny bits of food all the time I was there and a couple of people did come to the door. She started her barking. I immediately called OKAY and ‘Willow Come’ before she had time to get stuck in. She came. Okay, she went back again a couple of times to bark but came back immediately I called her. She soon stopped and there was no redirected frustration at all in terms of aggression.

I succeeded because I was immediate, because I used a high bright voice and because I FED her when she came to me.

The formula for Willow’s success is this: more to do, more to chew, more proactive play – but not rough over-arousing stuff, and more exercise. Exercise in terms of duration so she has more time off lead and time to sniff – not exercise in terms of pulling on a short lead around the roads or covering too much distance with too much ball play which would have the opposite effect to de-stressing.

I wonder whether a daily dog walker would be part of a solution.

If they don’t have much time, they could do a daily Rucksack Walk.

Against a background of better fulfillment, they can much more successfully teach her the alternative thing to do when someone comes to the door – something incompatible with going into a frenzy and attacking someone. This is because they will be dealing with her whole underlying emotional state, the full ‘reason why’, as well as dealing with the actual behaviour itself.

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 Willow 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 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)

Never Goes Out Beyond the Garden

Benji is just seven months old and never goes out beyond their garden.

The dog never goes out beyond the gardenThe German Shepherd, Standard Poodle mix lived in a barn on the farm where he was born until he was four months old when he went to the young couple.

He had never encountered the real world of cars, noises, lots of people or other dogs beside the farm dogs and so on. He’d not been walked on lead.

As might be expected from a pup that had not being in a house until four months of age, he still has toilet accidents indoors.

He is scolded for this. They have a cat which he may want to chase but generally he is good with, and again he is scolded for going near it. He may steal socks or other clothes and chew them, which makes the young man angry with him.

A lot is expected of him.

His lifestyle isn’t ideal for a large, clever and active young dog but he is surprisingly good-natured. He greeted me with friendly interest.

At seven months he should be seeing sights and sounds outside and, most of all, he needs the exercise. He would love to play with another dog I am sure.

I suggested to the young man that Benji was probably going out of his mind with boredom and it’s surprising that the worst he does is to occasionally chew up clothes. Can he imagine being shut in all day with no TV or mobile phone and with nobody to talk to who understands him?

Even while Benji never goes out they can do a bit more about fulfilling his needs with appropriate activities and things to chew and do. The house is small and the garden isn’t big either, but they can feed him in a treat ball and sprinkle it all over the grass so that even meals can be used to give him some release.

It’s probably the lack of stimulation for Benji and the resulting stress that leads to some slightly worrying behaviours.

Besides drinking a lot he gets very excited around his water bowl, which is odd. If after a couple of weeks when his general stress levels should be lower this doesn’t change, then they will need to somehow get him to the vet. This is hard while he never goes out.

He pants, he scratches and nibbles himself and he sometimes chases his tail. He has some Punter3patches of skin showing.

The only way the man has managed to get him out at all has been to drag him by collar and lead, but he doesn’t want to do that again. He did once take him out with no lead at all – very risky.

Like all people who call me, they do it for love of their dog and wanting to do their best, and it’s a question of pointing them in the right direction.

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Benji simply refuses to go outside the front door or garden gate.

They will now use comfortable equipment – a harness and a longer lead. The first step is to acclimatise him to the equipment around the house, associating with good things and food.

We have a plan of tiny increments involving, over the days and maybe weeks, holding the lead inside the door and then dropping it, touching the door handle, opening the door and standing in the doorway, letting him listen and look – and eat. Then stepping out. Then at the garden gate and so on – always leaving the front door open so he can bolt back if necessary.

From now onwards he must be allowed to make his own choice about going out – no more force. This is the only way to change a dog who never goes out into a dog who loves his walks.

When he’s no longer a pup that never goes out but a dog that can happily walk down the road and run around the fields, his life and general health should be transformed, but it could well take time. How will he be with other dogs after all this time? How will he be with traffic?

Most importantly, they can now see the benefits of reinforcing Benji with food for doing what they want instead of scolding The young man saw for himself how he himself can cause the dog’s behaviour. He stared at Benji in a ‘warning’ sort of way and the dog immediately ran to find the cat!

I could sum it up my advice in a few words: kindness works best.

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 Benji 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. 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)

Personal Space, the Dog and the Child

Consideration of Personal space is a one-way street for Dijon!

Cavapoo Dijon is a confident little dog in most respects. He knows what he wants – and usually gets it. The one respect in which he’s not so confident is when the lady is about but he can’t get to her. He stresses.

Caverpoo doesn't like the child invading his personal space Fourteen-month-old Dijon is increasingly treating the lady like some sort of resource belonging to himself when the 5-year-old daughter is near to her mother.

Dijon may fly at the child, snapping, if she goes to her for a cuddle.

Dijon has now bitten the little girl’s nose and this was when the lady wasn’t even in the room. She had left dog and child together on her bed for just a moment when the child screamed.

It seems the little girl ‘won’t be told’ where putting her face up close to Molly’s is concerned. She may also invade the dog’s space and he’s a little dog that likes control of his own personal space – though he has no regard whatsoever to the personal space of humans, whether family or people he’s not met before! He flies all over them.

I suggested that just as we are looking for ways to reinforce Dijon for the behaviours that we like, we need to get the child on board in the same way. Her parents say they just can’t get her to listen (much the same as people say about their dogs!).

Motivation is the key.

Dijon on his bedroom sofa

Dijon on his bedroom sofa

One suggestion I use to help young children to observe their dog’s personal space is to pretend that the dog lives in his own personal bubble. They can perhaps draw a picture of what it looks like. If they burst the bubble a terrible smell escapes – children can use their horrid imaginations!

The little girl must not burst Dijon’s bubble. Only Dijon can step out of his bubble and when he does so there is no smell!

She must keep her distance when Dijon is lying down or doing his own thing. They could make little picture stickers for the Dijon’s favourite sleeping places as reminders: ‘Dijon’s Bubble’. It’s much better to be able to remind the child ‘Remember Dijon’s Bubble’ than to have to keep nagging ‘leave Dijon alone’.

So, positive reinforcement for her also. Whenever she is seen observing Dijon’s bubble she should be praised or rewarded in some way and eventually it will become a habit.

It’s fine to touch theBerridgeBubble dog if he himself chooses to come out of his bubble and to the child, but even then the child should learn what sort of touching the dog likes (and doesn’t like).

There are videos for her the parents to watch with her like this and how to kiss a dog.

To ‘cure’ this problem at source needs Dijon to feel better about the child being near her mother, so two things should happen. His relationship with the lady needs to be a bit different so that she is no longer regarded by Dijon as a something belonging to him, and he needs to feel differently about the child herself.

 

The two humans involved, the lady and her little girl, can change things with Dijon

The lady needs to help release Dijon who currently follows her everywhere, all the time. He sleeps in their bedroom or on their bed and doesn’t always take kindly to the child running into the room and jumping on the bed to cuddle her parents.

They will gate the stairs so there is now somewhere that the lady can go without being followed. She should be able to come and go out of sight without it being an issue, starting slowly with very short breaks. Walking out on him can be associated with something nice.

Dijon can be invited upstairs only at bedtime.

When in the bedroom he will learn that he no longer gets on their bed at all.

I’m not against dogs being on beds if that’s what people like unless the dog reacts negatively to any other person (or dog) on the bed.

Keeping him off can be done kindly because there is a comfortable sofa in their bedroom that Dijon also sleeps on. For the child’s safety, management by way of physical precautions is vital. Dijon can be anchored to the sofa area by a lead so he simply can’t chase the child or leap on the bed.

Loving Dijon without bursting bubble

Loving Dijon without bursting bubble

The alternative is to leave him downstairs. They are reluctant to do this because of the panic he gets himself into.

The other thing that needs to happen, in addition to Dijon feeling a bit more independent of the lady’s comings and goings, is for Dijon to feel differently about the child herself.

The little girl is going to learn about counter-conditioning!

When she comes home after school, Dijon jumps all over them with no regard at all for their personal space! They want this to stop. Ignoring him isn’t enough and the little child finds this impossible anyway. She can’t be sufficiently calm and quiet either. Instead, she will be shown something that she can do. She will be given pieces of his dry food. When his feet are on the floor she will drop food. When he’s jumping up she can wait for his feet to be on the floor again. She might even earn a little reward herself.

When she wants a cuddle with her mum, the little girl can tell Dijon. ‘I want to cuddle Mummy’ and as she does so throw a handful of his dry food onto the rug. She can have a tub of ‘cuddle food’ to hand. This will not only help Dijon to associate the occasion with something nice, it will also send him away to the rug – away from leaping up at the her, air-snapping or nipping.

The stair gate is a must. Even when we are in the same room we can’t watch dog and child every second. Shutting a door on Dijon isn’t yet an option. There needs to be somewhere in the house where the little girl is 100% safe and need not be watched.

Like all my stories, this is nowhere near a complete report. I pick an aspect.

A week later I have visited again – with a photo of Dijon printed on a piece of paper. The little girl drew me a picture of ‘Dijon’s bulbble’ around his picture and of herself outside it. Mum will laminate copies of it and put by Dijon’s resting places as a reminder. All off her own bat, the little girl drew hearts, love, from herself to Dijon without breaking his bubble.

 

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 Dijon. I don’t go into detail. 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. 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)