Another Dog that Growls and Barks at People

he growls and barks at peopleAnother puzzle insofar as it’s impossible to work out just why miniature English Bull Terrier Vinnie’s behaviour changed so drastically three years ago.

The growls and barks began upon his reaching maturity

A couple of things may have contributed to it. They moved house to somewhere a bit more busy, and Vinnie, now four, was reaching sexual maturity. I do find that some dogs who had previously been relaxed with other dogs and with people may change in adolescence or upon reaching maturity.

Vinnie growls and barks aggressively at people he doesn’t know coming into the house.

When I walked in he sounded quite scary. He has not yet bitten anyone and his owners didn’t describe the noise as fierce and warning but as barking ‘in an excited, naughty way’. It didn’t sound like that to me.

He also growls and barks at people and some dogs when they walk their usual walking routes near to home.

He’s a different dog away from home

Another part of his mystery is that at the lady’s mother’s house he doesn’t bark at people at all. Nor does he on holiday. Neither does he bark or stress when in the car and people and dogs pass by.

When he goes out for walks Vinnie drags his heels. He ‘will only walk one particular route’. He is reluctant to move – worse for the young lady although at home he follows her about. The gentleman puts pressure on him if he dawdles.

Then, at a certain distance from the house, Vinnie perks up and starts to take an interest in the walk, only to revert to his noisy growls and barks at people when on the way back and in sight of home.

More and more puzzling. If either the lady or gentleman takes him out alone, he doesn’t bark much although he still shows reluctance. When they walk him together he growls and barks at people he sees.

My best guess is that it’s to do with being protective and territorial. He shows none of the usual body language signs associated with fear or anxiety, and is very easily distracted with food.

Really scared dogs or really angry dogs are unlikely to eat.

What does the behaviour actually do for him?

Whatever the reasons, our plan is based around the principal that reinforcement drives behaviour. Dogs don’t do something for no reason at all.

We can try to look at what is actually happening rather putting interpretations on it. Just the specifics. We look at what result, in his mind, he gets out of the behaviours. That is what needs to be changed and alternative incompatible behaviours put in their place.

People often don’t realise that they are unintentionally giving their dogs most attention for doing unwanted behaviours in the form of commands and scolding. He growls and barks at people and he gets a result. They will give him much more attention by way of encouragement and reward for desired behaviours.

PS. I spoke to colleague, behaviour trainer, author and close friend of mine Lisa Tenzin-Dolma about this puzzling case and she feels that it’s the house itself needing to be examined. They could look into its history. Could it perhaps have been built on landfill? Would the radon levels be worth checking? The couple are going to do some research. One must bear in mind that a dog’s senses are many times more acute than our own. One other strange thing came to light. A previous owner some years ago had been stabbed to death across the road. Believing in the psychic may be a step too far for some, but who knows.

Ten days have gone by: “We feel that Vinnie is listening to us more and is quicker to respond to us as well as seems calmer, we are very surprised to be honest as we feel everything we have done has been very easy and was expecting it to be harder some how but we have been doing just about everything you suggested. i feel that we have also changed and are calmer and reward Vinnie much more which he is responding to”.

Malinois/Collie

Malinois Collie crossThis is beautiful Lexy. She is a cross between a Malinois and a Collie. Lexy is eight years old and until the beginning of this year had lived all her life since she was a puppy with a very elderly couple until they could manage her no longer. They did well with her but they were unable to take her out for walks.

Lexy is a very polite dog if a little timid. Once her lead is brought out however, she becomes very excited, and once they are out of the door she pulls down the road to the extent her new gentleman owner, a big strong man, now has an injured shoulder. They have resorted to a Gentle Leader head collar which Lexy doesn’t like at all.

When she sees other dogs she may be playful or she may be fear aggressive. She may freeze and refuse to go further or she may lunge towards them. There is no telling what she will do though it does seems that her reactivity is mainly directed towards female dogs. Off lead she will mix with a group of dogs in an excited manner, rounding them up and jumping on them inappropriately. In my mind she does very well considering that for the majority of her eight years she never had interraction with other dogs on walks.

Her new owners are now trying to make up for all those years without walks with long walks daily. I am persuading them that, for a few days or a couple of weeks at most, no long walks will do her no harm while they go back to basics and start all over again with the lead walking, several times a day, for just a few minutes at a time near home. I demonstrated my usual technique with Lexy and she immediately followed me about on a loose lead with no trouble at all – so it will be with the owners when they get the knack!

Owners can always unlearn their old ways, and an older dog is never too old to teach new tricks,

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Bearded Collie/GSD Crosses

Beardie GSD mix

poppy on the left with Jasper

Jasper and Poppy are Beardie/German Shepherd mixes. They look entirely different though, and their personalities are completely different too. Poppy is dark and largely Shepherd, and Jasper is pale and much more like a Beardie to look at. Poppy is just eight months old, and Jasper is eleven years old.

Jasper always was extremely laid back – or was until Poppy arrived. He takes most things in his stride – or did until recently. Poppy is much more highly strung and generally a bit skittish.  She is scared of new people coming to her house, and scared of people when out.

Walks are becoming a big problem because Jasper has developed aggression to other dogs. He used to be fine, but this started a couple of years  ago. It may be because he was attacked, or even perhaps because he’s a bit older now and may feel a little vulnerable. He has become very protective of Poppy, and trouble can start if she goes to see another dog.  Out on walks he tends to initiate the barking, and Poppy joins in. Her hackles rise and she is scared. Their lady owner is slight in build and the joint weight of the two dogs pulling and lunging is more than her own.

So, it’s the same old problem. Reactivity to other dogs out on walks and to some people also. So many dogs I go to are fine in the dog training class, but totally different out in the real world. Traditional training doesn’t always address the problems and it needs to be approached in a completely different way – without the use of correction or force, but calm leadership techniques.

Both dogs are very well trained in ‘obedience’ and Poppy still goes to classes. What they need is something a bit more basic. I describe obedience training as the icing on the cake. You need to get the cake right. Both Jasper and Poppy need a bit more faith in their owners who are already doing most of the right things, but need a few extra tricks up their sleeves, and for each member of the family to be behaving in the same way – drinking from the same water bowl!

Here is some typical early feedback from a client: I had my first “close encounter” with another dog last night.  But for the first time I didn’t panic or tense up.  Jake was on lead and two dogs were quite a distance away.  I kept walking towards them and as soon as he clocked them I stopped and turned to walk the other way, he just followed!!  In the past he would of stood his ground and not moved.  Then to top it all there was another one coming the other way, so did exactly the same.  I did put him in the car (didn’t feel quite ready to deal with 3 dogs off lead running around) told him to sit and I stood in front the window facing the dogs.  They came bounding up to me so I just turned my back on them, Jake didn’t move – normally he would have barked!!  Made of fuss of a couple of them, Jake just sat there.  I can’t believe how in control I felt.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.