Bark Bark Bark

Welsh TerrierAs I came in the door, Welsh Terrier Taffy was behind the kitchen gate – barking. The lady was embarrassed but she need not have been – this is something not uncommon for me to walk into.

The five-year-old dog was then brought into the sitting room on lead to join us – barking. He barked and barked as we experimented with various things that might give us a break that didn’t involve shutting him away (he would probably have continued barking from there anyway).

We tried repeatedly taking him out of the room which stopped him briefly but he started as soon as he was back so had to go back out again.

What halted the barking most effectively was the lady getting up and walking out of the room, leaving him behind. He would stop for a couple of minutes before starting again.

Was he simply barking for attention of some sort? He barked at me in exactly the same way as he barked at the lady and her daughter. I detected no fear and no aggression. When he barked at me it wasn’t like he wanted to get rid of me. It was almost like he was frantically trying to get an important message across – VERY LOUDLY!

Within a few minutes of my arrival it was obvious that he didn’t need to be held back on a lead. He was actually quite friendly between bouts of barking – in fact in the photo he’s lying across my lap. He really did seem to be wanting attention of some sort.

For some reason this barking has escalated over the past couple of months. He will now, in the evening, obsessively bark at ‘nothing’, facing into the corners of rooms.

Trying to watch TV in the evenings is near impossible. He barks at them all the time they are eating so has to be bribed with their food. As soon as all is quiet, the barking into corners will start. He will eventually settle down, but someone only has to move and off he goes again. They have a supply of toys filled with food and other things, but these distractions only work for a very short while.

He has bitten family members a few times in the past – not badly. If someone makes a sweeping action with a hand or a foot he may bite it. Sweeping actions are things we do without thinking, so he needs to be desensitised to this for peoples’ safety. He jumps at any sudden movement and hates people cuddling. Amongst other things he goes frantic when the lady tries to lift the black bin liner out of her rubbish bin.

He is one mixed-up little dog.

After about an hour and a half of mixed success I got my clicker out. We ignored as much barking as possible with the lady walking out when it simply got too much in order to give us that break. Every small lull, looking away, sitting down or hint of relaxation we clicked and then fed him.

A dog that is quite so aroused is incapable of learning anything much so it took time, but after about two hours from my arrival, as though a cloud suddenly lifted from him, Taffy stopped panting, sat down and then lay down. Peace.


The rubbish bin can be worked on very gradually, desensitising him over time. He needs to be relieved of the barking into corners compulsion. Catching it before he gets started is the best thing.

What will probably be the best therapy of all is the list of very short and non-exciting activities that we have drawn up – little hunting games, gentle training sessions, foraging for bits of food, sniffs walk round the block and so on. For no more than two or three minutes at a time but at very regular intervals whenever they are home the lady and her daughter can initiate these things – picking moments when he happens to be quiet. This way, his fulfillment and attention should be addressed but not in response to barking and he will get plenty of it. There will be no need to crave it.

This isn’t going to be quick and it will take hard work. The barking could well get even worse before it starts to get better.

It’s all a great shame because he’s such a good little dog in other ways. He walks nicely and has no problems with people when out – or with other dogs.

This is the start of a long journey. A couple of days later I received this very empowering email – empowering to myself and to anyone using old-fashioned methods of force and punishment:
“Since your visit I have been looking at books, websites etc that you recommended and I have found them very enlightening. I really think that for Taffy its an escalation of lots of things over time which have filled his stress bucket to overflowing.
The major thing for me is the removal of the terms “dominance” and “pack” leader. As a first time dog owner I  tried to make sure I was doing the right thing and felt that these words were the things I should be striving for and imposing on Taffy. I used methods recommended which I now realise were ill advised. Water sprays, loud noises such as tins filled with keys to stop undesirable behaviour, pinning down and citronella collars are amongst these. When I contacted you I was was at my wits end, having tried so many things I no longer knew what to do for the best for Taffy.
We are starting to use the methods you gave us and yesterday I distracted and avoided and there was no barking in corners – hooray!
My regret now is that I did not find you and these methods sooner in Taffys life, and that positive training is not advocated as the norm for every dog. I am looking forward to enjoying my lovely little dog now I understand him better.”

Big Dog Scared of the Puppy

Maisie in her ‘safe’ corner

Here is two-year old Dogue de Bordeaux, Maisie, in her favourite safe place, under a chair in the corner of the kitchen.

Maisie is frightened of a lot of things and particularly scared of the puppy. Little Molly is also a Dogue de Bordeaux and she is just eight weeks old. Absolutely adorable of course. She’s not a wild sort of puppy – not yet anyway – but even so, Maisie is very unhappy with her.

The big dog has no bolt hole – nowhere she can escape this new intruder who grabs her tail.

It’s impossible to say why Maisie is such a scared dog. She lives with a lovely and caring family. Possibly because she is a sensitive soul things may be a bit too noisy for her?  She was fine as a young puppy but over the course of her two years she has gradually got worse.

When I arrived she cowered away from the door. She did venture near me eventually but that was interrupted by Molly’s sudden appearance. She caught me looking at her and licked her lips. She is a walking demo of anxiety signals.

Puppy Molly has been the final straw.

What is most surprising is that out in the garden Maisy is entirely different with the puppy. They play! She play bows and invites Molly and they chase one another. She lets Molly leap all over her.

Dogue de Bordeaux puppy


Out on walks and on lead Maisie is her fearful self, particularly when approached by someone. Off lead she is a different dog.

This is all about Maisie not feeling safe. For some reason she feels trapped in the house, particularly when other people are about. She can’t escape from Molly. She also feels trapped on walks when she’s on lead.

They have already ordered a puppy pen for the sitting room along with a gate for the kitchen door. This way the two dogs can interact and Maisie can relax. I’m sure it won’t be long before they are snuggling up together.

The family will be doing all they can to give Maisie confidence in them to keep her safe. They love her to bits and are prepared to follow the plan to the letter. Because she is so stressed, they need to drop out play fighting and stuff that arouses her too much, particularly anything with a scary element to it. They do these things because they love her and feel stirring her up makes her happy. Everything will be toned down. She will always have access to a bolt hole.

On walks they will be changing the equipment so that Maisie feels less restricted. They will also acknowledge she is fearful of being approached by people and help her out. She will necessarily be on a tight lead near traffic and is terrified of walking by a busy road. This will need to be gradually addressed.

We humans often behave in ways we feel are appropriate but mean something very different to our dogs.  Holding a dog tightly on lead when a person approaches is a good example. We think we are ‘in control’ but the dog feels we are preventing escape. It is so much better to walk in an arc around them, increase distance or stand back if we want to chat. We need to be our dog’s advocate and protect her from unwanted attention.

The use of a loud NO is another such example of the message we think we are sending is not necessarily what the dog is receiving. If a puppy is shouted at for chewing a table leg – will she realise this is what has suddenly made the human she should trust suddenly bark at her in anger? Will she perhaps think it’s her being in that area that makes the human angry? She may even think it’s because she is too near to the human which makes him angry.

Whatever way you look at it, it’s not good for the relationship. Using a harsh tone with a puppy can have massive and unseen fallout when we, as mere humans, are doing what we believe is best to help the puppy we love so much to grow to be a stable and well–mannered dog.

A good rule of thumb when we want to get our puppy to stop doing something is to consider how we would teach a toddler. We would speak kindly and guide him onto something else. We would be willing to persist and we would arrange the environment so that it was safe until he grew a bit older.

The man has dreams of walking with two beautiful and confident mastiffs through the fields, one each side of him. With patience and a bit of understanding of the ‘dog mind’ I’m sure that dream will be realised.

And six weeks later: IMG_3665

Young Staffie’s Wild Behaviour

Eight month old StaffieThere is just something about a young Staffie! Butter may not melt at the moment but you can almost see him working out what mischief he can get up to next.

Bolt, well-named, is an eight month old bundle of energy who is fearless and ready for anything. (It’s a nice change just now for me to go to a really confident dog).

The couple have a great seven-year-old son who is really on board. He was very quick to pick up the idea of looking for Bolt doing good things and rewarding with Yes or click and food for the briefest of moments when the dog was either calm or not jumping at the table where we sat which he did relentlessly, using our chairs to get onto it if we stood up.

When excited, Bolt will chase the boy, grabbing his clothes and biting his feet. The child understands that for now it would be best if he didn’t run around the garden while Bolt is out there or on walks, where Bolt is at his worst. For now he should walk beside his mum and dad. It’s a shame and it’s hard because he is only seven after all, but more space in conjunction with fast movement brings out Bolt’s wild behaviour. It’s not forever. Bolt, being just a teenager, will grow up and meanwhile he should get no more opportunity to rehearse his boy-targeted wildness.

What a great kid! He will be a big part of Bolt’s training and he was taking written notes throughout in immaculate writing. He will do brain games with Bolt like hunting for things with Bolt and he has a good grasp of using clicker for marking good behaviour. Next time I shall teach him how to clicker train Bolt to do other things – very good exercise for the brain of an active dog who will then get attention for achieving success rather than causing trouble.

He has a lovely home but, unlike the child, has been given few rules and boundaries. They now have to leave him outside in the garden with the shelter of a kennel when they go out because he wrecks the kitchen and raids the table. His jumping up when they get in is relentless and it’s a big problem when they have friends to the house. There’s not one bit of malice in Bolt, but it’s like being hit by a whirlwind.

He’s another dog where the people unintentionally stir him up thinking enthusiastic welcomes are necessary. This of course makes the jumping up all the worse. To change this they have no choice but to ignore him when his feet are off the floor and make sure to reinforce with attention feet on the floor – but gently! Anything enthusiastic will start Bolt leaping about again as would commands like Sit just yet which is success for Bolt in terms of attention after all.

We know that diet can effect hyperactivity, and at present he’s fed raw which is excellent but it’s mixed with a certain well advertised brand of complete food, full of colourings, e-numbers and bulked out with unsuitable grains. This will be changed.

There are difficulties on walks and he chases their two cats, but this first visit is all about getting a calmer baseline to work from. It’s sometimes hard to know just where to start.

Some boundaries are being set such as a gate on the kitchen door. This will prevent Bolt from getting to the front door and mugging people coming in and from chasing the boy up the stairs in rough and playful excitement, grabbing him as he does so. The lady is expecting a baby in the spring and a Staffie flying all over people and sofas isn’t a good idea.

With the help of this very insightful child, I’m sure Bolt will gradually find that being well-mannered and calmer is a lot more rewarding than his current wild behaviour and the boy will have a great pal as he grows up.

Controls the Front Door Area

Kerry Blue Terrier controls the front door area

Fudge and Tara the black dog on the right

Tara controls the front door and acts like she feels responsible for comings and goings.

She is a beautiful three-year-old Kerry Blue Terrier who has lived with them for seven months now, and is a companion for the very youthful Lakeland Terrier Fudge, age 13.

Tara has nipped visitors several times, all in the vacinity of the front door.

She tries to control Fudge also. He’s not allowed attention without her intervening and if he has food or a toy she thinks that should be hers.

There is a lot of barking from both dogs which results in the atmosphere being highly charged at times which won’t be helping.

Where Tara will bark more frantically when people come to the door, Fudge barks at everything – especially for attention and food – and in order to make him quiet they give him what he wants. They realise they have actually taught him to bark!

There is only one way out of this and this is to show him it no longer works and that he will get stuff for being quiet instead. Unfortunately he won’t like this, so the neighbours will be warned that the barking is very likely to get worse before it gets better.

Lakeland Terrier controls the front door


Against a calmer and less stressful background they should better be able to change Tara’s behaviour around the arrival of people to the house. She’s like two dogs. After five minutes and so long as the people don’t go near the front hall, she’s friendly and happy. She allowed me to walk around the kitchen with no reacting, but when I walked into the hallway she rushed in front of me, stood by the front door and staring at me, barking fiercely.

I would have been asking for a nip had I advanced.

The reason the dogs bark so much in general is that it works so well! They have constant access to the view out of the front window and as people pass they bark. What happens? The people pass by. The postman comes up the path and they bark frantically. What happens? The postman, having put the letters through the door, goes away.

The dogs’ barking, they are convinced, is successfully driving unwanted people away from their territory.

The lady needs peace because she works from home. The dogs bark and she feeds them treats to keep them quiet. They now bark for treats and what happens? They get them! Fudge even stands and barks by the cupboard and sure enough, sooner or later, someone will open the door and give him food.

We have worked out a strategy for when people come. The knocker will be changed for a bell and the dogs will be taught that when they hear the bell they run into the kitchen. Only when callers are settled will the dogs join them – Tara initially on lead. They will gate the kitchen door and people should then be able to move about more freely.

I suggest Tara is weaned into happily wearing a muzzle – just in case. If the family are at all concerned, a muzzle will help all relax and if done properly it will be acceptable to Tara.

Currently when someone knocks Tara is shut away but Fudge will be at the door, barking and jumping excitedly at people. Knowing she has lost control of Fudge as well as the front door will, I’m sure, be making poor Tara even more upset. The dogs should be shut in the kitchen together.

I’m sure it’s insecurity behind Tara’s controlling behaviours and I am also sure that the lovely family will help her to become more confident and chilled.

With new management in place the teenage kids should be able to bring their friends home again, the lady in particular will be less stressed and the dogs will slowly learn what works and what no longer works – and given time Tara should relinquish her control of the front door.

From email received just over three weeks later: “Just wanted to share with you that we’ve had two great, stress-free days! Fudge and Tara are now both coming to me immediately on ‘OK’ at alarm barking, we then go into the kitchen to calm down. ….The Sprinkles game is so enjoyed that both dogs ignored next door’s dogs barking today and just happily foraged in the garden……..I can’t believe how unstressed I feel and how good the dogs have been, I’m so happy!…..3 weeks ago I was at the end of my tether and it was me or the dogs. I didn’t know how to stop all the barking, dreaded callers to the house and generally wondered why on earth I had dogs. It has been hard, the first 10 days or so was stressful trying to remember all the things to do, I lost my temper, I shouted, the dogs seemed worse than ever before but now I am seeing results, it feels good, I feel good. The dogs are brilliant, I love them again.
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 Tara and Fudge. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see myGet Help page).

When People Come to Front Door

Chocolate Labrador mixKiki, a Chocolate Labrador mixed with a small bit of something else – Doberman perhaps – has had several homes in her two-and-a-half years. At one she had been tied up most of the time and muzzled – most likely to prevent her from chewing anything including herself.

She is a lovely, gentle dog which is quite surprising in the circumstances and what a very different life she has now! Much of her unruliness has now been resolved due to the efforts of her new owners. They have had her for nine months, and in this time she has been to training classes, become very well socialised with other dogs and is taken for at least one long walk every day.

They have transformed Kiki to a happy dog from a frightened, fretful little thing, overweight by 10kg & with mange where she had tried to scratch the muzzle off.

It is just possible, in my mind, that she’s getting too much stimulation now because at times when you would think she should be tired, she relapses into attention-seeking behaviours where she can control and predict her humans’ reactions. Her favourite is to steal things from the kitchen. She then runs them a merry dance until they corner her and remove the item. This is where many dogs become defensive and a bit scared, leading to growling or biting but fortunately this just isn’t in Kiki’s nature at all.

What the lady is still struggling with the most is Kiki’s behaviour when someone comes to the front door. She gets very excited indeed, barking frantically, obviously fearful and she may pee. Her hackles go up. Her previous foster carers used a shaker bottle and then water spray, but Kiki’s new owners quickly abandoned that unkind approach, knowing that it simply made her more stressed. They have tried feeding her and more recently, unsuccessfully, to get her to sit and stay back from the door when they open it.

When I arrived they held onto her collar because she may also decide to run off down the road. She calmed down very quickly indeed as she became engrossed in sniffing me for the smell of my own dogs and I just stood still until she had relaxed. She was then a dream.

The problem with all the things that they have tried is they don’t take consideration of the emotions inside Kiki that are driving her to behave like this. The behaviour itself isn’t the real problem. If it’s fear, then punishing fear with a shaker bottle can only make it worse. If it’s fear or extreme arousal of any kind, then sitting quietly is an unreasonable ask.

I take a more psychological approach. People arriving at the door, particularly people a dog doesn’t know well, can be very stressful. A dog could be feeling that they should be ‘vetting’ the intruder. A lot of incidents happen in doorways from over-excited dogs jumping up at people to dogs controlling entrances so another dog may not dare walk through, to over-aroused dogs redirecting onto one another and fighting when someone walks through the door, and so on.

Kiki’s humans should, in my mind, to take full responsibility for comings and goings to their house. They are the ‘parents/protectors’ after all. We know that she gets very stressed if shut behind a door where she can’t see people, so I suggest a gate in the kitchen doorway where she can see who is arriving but not get to the front door.

First they can teach her, using family members, that when she hears the doorbell she goes into the kitchen where she’s rewarded and the gate is closed.

To start with there is no doubt that she will intensify her barking from behind the gate when she finds she’s unable to get to the person, but if they are steadfast they will overcome.

Now her fear and anxiety can be worked on properly. She can learn to associate callers with good stuff. Food can be  dropped over the gate. She can learn that she’s let out to join them in the hall when she has calmed down. People will be asked not to reach out to her while gets used to them. Once relaxed, she a wonderfully friendly dog.

Kiki is very scared of vehicles stopping outside her house and she used to be especially scared of the sound of the ice cream van. Every time she heard the jingle the family went out and bought her an ice cream. It wasn’t long before she began to LOVE the ice cream van jingle. This is the principal for Kiki’s family to use with people coming to the door – to associate them with good stuff and they have already experienced for themselves just how well this approach works.

If their eventual aim in the future is for Kiki to sit politely and calmly away from the door when someone arrives, that should be possible when she feels differently about it. This could be in several months’ time. It can be taken in very easy stages. First it will be sitting calmly behind the closed gate, then the open gate, then on a mat just in front of the gate and so on.

Whether or not they end up with a calm dog in the kitchen when someone arrives, or a calm dog standing or sitting back away from the front door, is not important in my opinion – what is important is that Kiki is happy and not scared or stressed, which will then be reflected in her behaviour.

Later: Theo revolutionised our approach with our rescue dog. She helped us connect with her & changed my ideas of ‘obedience’. After much input Kiki now rolls over for tummy tickles & sleeps upside down. The biggest change is in walks – instead of it being an obedience test we now both enjoy walks with her off lead in places & loving sniffing out her ‘messages’ from other dogs. Sometimes letting your dog choose is so rewarding & a different relationship builds. Thanks Theo
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 Kiki.  Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).


Everything New, she Feels Unsafe

Young chocolate labradorTilly was picked up from a barn in Wales six days ago. She is the most beautiful two-year-old Chocolate Labrador that you can imagine, beautiful both in looks and in temperament.

Although she has had very little contact with the ‘real world’, if it were a puppy farming outfit then surely they wouldn’t have kept her until she’s two, unspayed, without having bred from her. I feel she hasn’t been ill-treated, but apparently never taken beyond the confines of the barn where she was living with a few other dogs, and the woods behind.

She wore no collar and it seems she’s not been on lead before. That she survived the long journey home from Wales without total panic says a lot for her temperament. She has been plunged into a totally different world, a world of houses, streets, doors, machinery, people and different dogs. Even little sounds like the fridge clicking on and off alarm her.

Their first and most pressing problem is that Tilly has never been all alone. She’s always had the company of the other dogs. They tried leaving her in the kitchen the first night and she howled and barked so much that the lady came and slept downstairs with her. After speaking to me a couple of days ago, they now have her upstairs in the bedroom, on her own bed on the floor.

If the lady eventually wants to have her sleeping away from the bedroom, then she shouldn’t fuss and give Tilly attention when she is in there. She needs to be weaned gently away from constant contact, particularly with the lady who she has already grown very attached to.

Over time the bed can be moved onto the landing, and eventually back to the kitchen – the same place where Tilly is left when they go out.

With plenty of ‘separation’ work over the next few weeks, Tilly should soon be happy left for a couple of hours in the kitchen. First, however, she needs to be happy with a door shut on her and the person out of the room for just a couple of minutes.

Even with the shortest absence the departure should be associated with something nice – food in the case of a Labrador!

This brings me onto food and ‘hand-feeding’. Hand-feeding doesn’t mean pandering to a dog and treating her like a princess. In the case of a dog that needs a lot of desensitising and counter conditioning around things that make her fearful, the food can be used as a sort of tool. It can also be scattered on the floor. Foraging and searching is incompatible with spooking or barking.

Why put all her food in a bowl to be scoffed in half a minute when it can be spread throughout the day, helping her to get used to situations where she currently feels unsafe?

Eventually the hand-feeding can be dropped as she gets used to things.

Here is one little example. I went upstairs and Tilly is scared of the sound of feet on the stairs, particularly coming down. As I walked back into the room Tilly was quiet and I could see that the couple were feeding her, unprompted.

Although she lived with certain dogs, Tilly quite obviously hasn’t met different dogs. On walks she is very reactive – and to people – so she will growl, bark and lunge on the lead which is attached to her new collar, most likely the only way she knows of trying to drive them away. For the first time in her life she will be trapped on a lead – making her feel even more unsafe. This discomfort to her neck will be having the very opposite effect to what we are aiming to achieve with the hand-feeding.

When approaching something their dog is reactive to, a human’s common reaction is to tighten the lead or hang onto the dog’s collar while the ‘danger’ gets nearer and nearer until it has passed by. This, in my mind, is the very opposite to what they should be doing unless caught out in an emergency. They need to immediately move to a distance the dog feels safe, keep the lead long and loose so she feels ‘free’, and then work hard with the hand-feeding, scattering or play.

If a Labrador won’t eat, then they are still too close!

It goes against the grain for most humans to turn around and go back the way they have come or even to escape from a situation that’s not helping the dog as it’s like ‘giving in’. To them, a walk is more about getting from A to B and being boss, less about the journey. Old-fashioned dominance and force methods die hard, not aided by one or two TV trainers.

That was a general comment – Tilly’s people immediately caught on to my approach. In fact, they had made gentle progress already in these first six days. They wouldn’t dream of being anything but kind to her. Now that they have more tools, they realise that comforting her when too near a dog or person won’t work when distance is what Tilly needs.

They realise that helping Tilly to catch up with the world outside a barn in Wales could take a long time.

Lucky Tilly.

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 Tilly. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).


Child Bitten in the Face

From the moment they can communicate, baby humans put their arms out for a cuddle or for comfort. It’s the human way of demonstrating love, possibly also something to do with us having hands and arms. I believe monkeys do the same.

Hugging, cuddling and stroking isn’t, however, the natural way for a dog to demonstrate affection so not all dogs want too much physical petting. The nearest thing would be humping which is most likely to do with control or over-arousal of some sort. It’s a wonder that so many dogs actually put up with being hugged, particularly when it means being disturbed from their dreams in what should be the peace of their own bed.

In a situation quite similar to the lady in my last story, it’s a young girl age ten this time who has such overwhelming love for her beautiful dog, an adorable nine-month-old Springer Spaniel called Freckles, that she simply can’t leave the dog alone and this has now resulted in the child getting a bite on her mouth. It could have been a lot worse if Freckles had really intended to hurt her rather than merely get her to back off.

I can imagine that the already slightly nervous dog feels under siege by the little girl in particular and her defensive, growly behaviour is mostly directed at the child and is now spreading to some guarding of resources when approached. Over the months she will have done her best to give all sorts of signals that she feels uncomfortable or has had enough – looking away, yawning, licking her lips, freezing and so on – but as is so often the case the signs have been ignored or mis-read so she went on to growling. This, too, wasn’t sufficiently heeded.

It took one moment the other day when the little girl was bending down over the dog’s bed, touching the already growling dog, when in getting ready to stand up she bent further forward. The dog probably mis-read this, snarled and bit her on the mouth.

With a child bitten in the face, life for the family and for the dog will never be quite the same again.

Freckles has now discovered that the reliable way to make a child back off is to snap.

The other ingredient in the situation is excitement. The young children can get very excited around the dog, as children do, and Freckles also becomes highly aroused. In this state she has a lot less self-control and like many young dogs when over-excited she will charge about like a mad thing, jumping up and grabbing clothes.

The situation is tragic really because the child’s feelings are deeply hurt. In order to keep their adored dog little girl, in particular, has to change the way she behaves around Freckles. She wants total involvement in every aspect of the dog’s life, and a dog – particularly a working dog rather than bred as a lap dog – is an independent spirit and needs space.

Firstly, certain safety-management strategies will be in place like having a room Freckles can be in where she’s not freely with the children or their friends when they are not carefully supervised – I suggest it’s gated so that she’s not totally cut off from the company and the fun.

Secondly everything needs to be done to keep Freckle’s stress levels down with ploys to occupy both her and the children at certain explosive times of day like when they arrive home from school with a lot of excitement and squeals when welcoming of Freckles.

Thirdly, and most importantly, the young girl needs a different way of interacting with Freckles that still gives her involvement with her beloved dog. How are we going to stop her forgetting herself and going over to the dog in a rush of emotion and affection?

I asked her to pretend the dog was lying in the corner of the room and show me how near she could get before the dog would start to growl. it was about four feet. So, Freckles will be surrounded by an invisible bubble of four-foot diameter which must not be broken by the children (we can imagine a revolting smell escaping or lots of spiders!). It is, however, fine for Freckles to walk out of her bubble and approach the children. If she comes to them of her own choice then they will have nothing to worry about because Freckles can escape if she wants to.

The child can set up hunting games which aren’t hands-on or too exciting and which Freckles, being a spaniel, will love.

I suggested the dear little girl could also write a journal by hand or on computer. Her dad said he would love to read it and so would I. She can report what happens on a daily basis with Freckles and how she feels about it. She can list the things she does which are good and things she realises she could do differently, along with any ideas for activities that don’t involved stirring Freckles up or handling her.

The lady puts a lot of time and love into training and giving quality to young dog’s life and is deeply upset at the possibility of having to give her up. In a couple of year’s time both dog and children will be older and less excitable. Some dogs simply don’t like being handled too much, and this has to be respected throughout their lives.

I have received this email one week later: ‘I must just say, that since your visit, Freckles has not growled once at any of us – a real achievement. It’s amazing how much a little training and better understanding on behalf of the humans can impact so massively on the dog’s behaviour’.
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 Freckles. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Jumps Up, Bites, Barks and Digs

EBT Staff mix‘Jumps up, bites, barks and digs’ – this is how the lady described their 8-month-old English Bull Terrier/Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix in their first message to me.

If he doesn’t get the attention he wants he may either bark, or go on the rampage, tearing about from room to room and all over the forbidden furniture. If he is thwarted or disciplined, he may leap up and nip quite roughly in a way one could almost call biting.

His digging in the garden is driving them mad also.

It’s hard not to treat life with an adolescent dog such as Sam like some sort of battle. He is non-stop throwing things at them that they have to ‘stop’ him doing. Our own emotions get in the way as we become increasingly exasperated. We believe that we should be ‘disciplining and controlling’ the dog. This makes him defiant. Confrontational or dominant behaviour from the humans is a slippery slope that too often ends badly.

After about ten minutes of countering his jumping up until he had stopped (as with most dogs that jump up, if the usual pushing them and telling them to get down actually worked they wouldn’t be jumping up anymore), I tried to sit down, but he was on the go all the time and we couldn’t get on. I had a deer antler chew in my bag and gave it to him. He chewed frantically on this for the next two and a half hours with barely a break. EBT mix Chewing Stagbar

If any dog needs a way to unwind, it’s Sam.

I suspect that some of his highly strung nature is genetic, but they are unwittingly responding in such a way that makes him worse.

When he is quiet they are understandably so thankful that they leave him be, so he only gets attention when he is ‘naughty’ so the undesirable behaviour is constantly reinforced.

LIke most responsible dog owners, they feel they must ‘control’ him, but what Sam totally lacks is self control. In order to control him they have become angry. They do this not because they don’t love him – they do, but because they are at their wits’ end with his behaviour.

The first thing they need to do is to completely change things about so that they are watching out for Sam being good, not bad. When you look for good you find there is a lot more of it than you had realised! Each even short moment of calm or self-control should be rewarded – he can earn some of his daily food this way.

Not much can be done until he’s less hyper and frustrated, so he needs proper stimulation of a healthy kind. The days and evenings should be punctuated with the sort of activities that don’t hype him up or make him frustrated, like short sniff walks, hunting games, foraging for food, gentle training games, brief ball play or tuggy and so on. They should only be initiated when Sam is calm and quiet – never as a result of his demanding behaviours.

The gentleman walks him daily on a short lead – and this is ‘power walking’ to keep himself fit. When he comes home Sam is still in an aroused state, not as satisfied as a dog should be after a nice walk and still needing to unwind. On a couple of occasions during the walk he has suddenly leapt at the man and bitten him quite hard. A little clue that this kind of walk not being quite what Sam needs is that he is less keen on the outward journey and he only pulls on the way back home which is unusual.

For the walk to be beneficial to Sam, I suggest the man stops for several five-minute breaks when he can lengthen the lead so that Sam can sniff and do his own thing for a while.

It’s hard, but with some imagination they need to treat every thing Sam does ‘wrong’ as having in it the seed of an idea for something good.

For instance, if he jumps on the sofa (which is out of bounds), the man currently pushes him off and is cross, so there is a stand-off where Sam then may stand and bark at him or may even fly at him. Then it is battle stations. But this can be done differently. The man can stand up, go to Sam’s bed and call him off the sofa and to his own bed, and when he gets there ask him to lie down and reward him. He can them give him a bit of quality time teaching him to stay. When the man goes and sits down again Sam will undoubtedly go back and jump on the sofa again, so patience is needed. The third time Sam can be put in the kitchen for a few minutes – but with something to chew or do – it’s not punishment. It’s to allow him to calm down.

Another example of an unwanted behaviour having in it the seed of a better idea is the digging in the garden (no pun intended). They can get a child’s covered sandpit and bury toys in it. If he starts to dig the earth, they can direct him to the sandpit, perhaps burying something new in there for him to find. If he keeps going back and they repeatedly have to say ‘don’t dig there – dig here instead’, instead of getting cross they can either bring him in or have a tie-out cable to fix him to for a short while so he simply can’t do it.

Being positive doesn’t mean being permissive. Boundaries can be introduced and maintained kindly.

Based on how frantically he chewed that bone, Sam needs chewables at the ready for times when he’s particularly stressed – something for him to redirect all that boredom and frustration onto.

With imagination, patience and foresight, frantic sessions can mostly be preempted. Doors can be shut, routines can be changed, the dog can be given a rummage box full of rubbish to ‘attack’ and so on.

If everything is done calmly and kindly, if he is recognised and rewarded for all the good things he does, and if a sense of humour can be mustered, Sam will become a lot more cooperative.

It takes time, patience and imagination but the eventual rewards in terms of their relationship with their lovely dog will be immeasurable.

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 Sam. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Puppy Parenting 10-Week Akita

This ten-week-old puppy has a big name to live up to. Thor, the God of Thunder. Fortunately he doesn’t yet seem to be to suited to his name! As the day Thursday is named after Thor, perhaps it was appropriate that the day I met him yesterday it was a Thursday.

I soon found that, despite Thor being only ten weeks old, in their determination to get things right the first time puppy owners had taken him to a puppy class where they were instructed to use a ‘firm voice’ when they wanted him to do something. He came home with a scratch on his nose. This trainer was their only role-model so far.

Thinking on down this route, where could using the ‘firm voice’ technique ultimately lead? If the dog doesn’t obey then no doubt the voice becomes firmer still and the command repeated. Soon the dog is being shouted at. What then?

We all know if something happens too much we become accustomed to it or we learn to switch off and it will be no different for dogs. Quiet people have other people listening to them! Do we ultimately then have to move on to some sort of physical force or intimidation to get the dog to comply? What choices then does the dog then have? A confrontational approach with an adolescent dog could possibly result in defiance leading to aggression, or instead in intimidation and submission. Either way this is not a healthy relationship to have with our dog.

Fortunately these things won’t happen with Thor. The lady in just a few days had already, with great patience and kindness, taught little Thor to sit in an open doorway and not follow through it which demonstrates just how teachable he is. The gentleman was already teaching him to walk nicely beside him around the house.

For first-time dog owners they had started off brilliantly, so it was unfortunate they temporarily got themselves ‘tarnished’ by this dog trainer’s archaic methods. With the right approach and the family’s level of commitment I reckon they will be quickly back on track, so long as each family member ‘drinks out of the same water bowl’ so to speak.

My first and most important task was to win them around to the basic principles of good puppy parenting using the modern, reward-based approach. It didn’t take many minutes to demonstrate with the wonderfully biddable puppy how I could get him to come to me immediately by just saying ‘Thor – COME’, once, in a kind voice. I asked him to sit, speaking gently (they had taught him this already but with a firm ‘command’ and by pushing his bum down). I waited. Thor sat – reward. I then showed them how to teach him to lie down voluntarily with no repeated commands or firm voice – or pushing him, and then how to take food gently from my hand.

It is so good to be able to demonstrate the power of gentle words and motivation. Anyone who is still in the dark ages and ‘doesn’t believe in food rewards’ is suggesting they regard a dog as some sort of slave.

The teenage son will be alone with Thor during the day for the next couple of months until he goes off to uni and while the parents are at work. A big responsibility rests on his shoulders because how he behaves with the puppy could shape the Akita’s future. No more ‘firm’ commands. No more rough play involving Thor using his mouth because the puppy then understandably thinks it’s okay to be rough with the young daughter also and she gets scared.

They should bear in mind that Thor will grow up to be a large dog!

Using force-free methods doesn’t mean the puppy has no discipline or boundaries. In fact it’s the opposite. Thor’s environment needs more boundaries. He needs to learn that it’s fine to be left alone for short periods of time. There should be rules around food and rules around the front door.

I shall be reminding them all the time to think in terms of teaching their adorable puppy those things they do want him to do, replacing ‘correcting’ those puppy behaviours that they don’t want – and to make these alternatives so rewarding that he wants to keep doing them.

NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Thor. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).


Aggressive to Callers

Black German Shepherd Kody on the left does not like people coming to her house


 Kody on the left does not like people coming to her house and she makes that very clear with a lot of barking. While white GSD Portia is less reactive, she will join in.

The evening didn’t start like this, with two calm and happy dogs.

After a very noisy start in the sitting room with both dogs on lead barking at me, I went back outside, rang the doorbell and started again. This time we went into the kitchen and sat at the breakfast bar with a bowl of tasty tit-bits prepared and to hand.

The dogs were then let in to join us.

As you can see, both dogs are happy and this was achieved very quickly. Portia is sitting beside me waiting for another piece of cheese, and Kody also was eating out of my hand. Usually she would have been barking at someone’s slightest movement and she has nipped people in the house.

White GSD Portia is sitting beside me waiting for another piece of cheese


I go to a great number of German Shepherds in particular that behave in an aggressive to callers coming into their homes. I believe one very big part of it starts in early puppyhood. These dogs need socialising with plenty of people (and dogs) from about six weeks of age, getting as much as possible in in before four months old. Even then it’s never ‘job done’.

Maintainance is key.

Meeting people and other dogs needs continue to be a regular feature of the dog’s life else they will lose their sociability. Sometimes people at work all day simply don’t have time, but they pay the price.

I have personal experience of all this with my own German Shepherd, Milly. She used to belong to a client who bought her from what was to all intents and purposes a puppy farm. The lady didn’t even see Milly’s mother, and Milly herself had met nobody at all apart from the person who fed them all until she was twelve weeks old. A recipe for disaster. The poor lady who bought her couldn’t ‘bond’. Milly was scared of absolutely everything and everybody – including the couple who bought her.

When the dog growls and barks at people most owners try everything they can to stop her – scolding, restraining and maybe threatening with something. It might ‘control’ the dog, but this is only a temporary fix and makes things even worse the next time. One reason we show anger to our barking and snarling dog is that we feel we somehow owe it to the person who is the brunt of it.  We need to get over that and put the dog first. We need to try to understand the underlying reason why she’s doing it, and deal with that, so she doesn’t need the aggressive behaviour to callers that she hopes will send them away.

If they continue to keep Kody and Portia away from all people, things will never change. As I say to owners, the only way you will change your dogs’ behaviour is to change what you do yourselves. In this case each dog needs to be worked on separately, outside in the real world where people can be seen from a non-threatening distance, and they need ‘obedient’ visitors!

The bottom line is, it depends how much we want something. If it’s important enough we’ll do it.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Kody and Portia, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).