Frustration builds up all day, flooding his brain with stress hormones

Beautiful Finnish Lapphund Teemu is now nine months old. If things continue in the direction they are going, they worry that either the lady or one of the children will be hurt. So far blood hasn’t been drawn, but if things continue as they are it is only a matter of time.

He gave me an excited welcome with some jumping up – no more than many adolescent dogs that I go to.

However, quite soon it became apparent just how stressed he is. He paced, he panted, he looked for trouble and he kept barking to be let out, then barking with frustration when the door wasn’t opened.

The problem is – CATS.

They sit up on the fence, staring down at him as he goes berserk. They come into his garden and stare brazenly through the window at him.

Teemu goes mental.

All day he is stressing through the French windows over cats.  If no cat is there, he is waiting for one. If he sees a cat he would break the window down if he could and the noise of his barking blocks out everything.

When he’s let out, even if there are no cats Teemu won’t come back in just in case one might appear.

They stay just out of reach, teasing him.

Hour by hour as the day progresses he becomes more stressed. Then the kids come home and boom – it’s all stacked up and he explodes. He has pinned the lady to the wall, snarling. Mornings can be over-exciting too. The other day before school he turned on the little girl though stopped short of biting – this time. She was throwing his ball and he lost his temper.

He calms down in the evening. At first I thought it may be because the kids have gone to bed, but probably it’s because, when it’s dark, he can no longer see out of the window so he has a break from cat-lookout.

Management is the first step and should make a huge difference.

Frustration building up he watches out of the window

A CAT!

I predict that three simple things, nothing to do with training or behaviour therapy, will make a big difference and enable them to make real progress with the work we need to do.

Firstly, if Teemu can’t see out of the window he can’t be on ‘cat-watch’, can he.

As soon as I left they were going out to buy some plastic window frosting which can go on the lower part of the French windows.

Secondly, you can get prickly plastic thingies to put on top of fences that make it too uncomfortable for a cat to sit on the fence.

Thirdly, for now when they let him out it can be on a retractable lead – the only good use for one! – the handle perhaps shut in the door. As soon as he barks or sees a cat, in he comes before he has a chance to get too wound up.

Teemu shouldn’t be labelled ‘aggressive’. The behaviour is redirected frustration.

Down the road from me there are two Boxers left out all day in a front garden. They bark madly when another dog passes and then, because they can’t get at their real target – the passing dog – one Boxer dog goes for the other and it ends in a fight. Why the man lets it happen I really don’t know.

This is the sort of thing that is happening with Teemu. He can’t get to his real target so he redirects onto something else, but not something stronger than himself like the very tall man. The lady is petite and the children are small.

Reynolds3He has already had some good puppy training and they have used clicker. With the clicker his humans can now reinforce the behaviours that they want – all the good things Teemu does.

They will work on doing things calmly at certain trigger points – for instance, when people come down in the morning, when their cat is about (their cat stands up for himself and Teemu would like to play), when callers come to the house and so on.

If they can drastically reduce his frustration and stress, he will have nothing to redirect. He should become a lot more accepting of things he doesn’t much like – such as being groomed.

With management in place, a pot of good food, a clicker, the good exercise he already gets and plenty of patience along with a list of healthy activities that aren’t too arousing, they will win! They will have a calmer dog and a dog that they can trust.

I checked to see how they were doing six months after I first met Teemu, and this is the reply: We are doing great thank you. I can’t believe it has been six months already. Teemu has been amazing and incredibly well behaved. He has his moments (as we all do) but they are very short lived. We revert back to your plan to refresh our minds every now and again and even the children are still following your advice. We’re very grateful for your follow up to check how we’re doing, it’s lovely that you still care so much. We have ourselves a lovely, affectionate four legged member of the family and we are indebted to you for all your help.
Message to me the next morning: So far so good. The children were brilliant this morning before school and Teemu was just as good. We have had a foraging game in the garden and a packed Kong and he is now relaxing. The window covers are amazing and have had an immediate effect. We cannot thank you enough. There has been no frantic barking either. 
Later the same evening (day two): Just an update from our first full day of implementing “Plan Calm” (as we’ve called it), and it has been really positive. Today has been the first day in I don’t know how long that Teemu has not bitten myself or the girls. He had a few minutes a couple of times when I had to turn away at his barking but other than that he has been incredibly calm and has responded well to the changes. I know there will be times when he tries to push the boundaries again but today has given me more confidence with how to deal with those times if/when they occur. He is currently exhausted from all the foraging and finding today and is sprawled across our feet fast asleep on the floor! As far as Day 1 has gone, we are thrilled. Huge Thank yous are sent your way.
Telephone conversation 5 days after my visit: They have had a great week. No biting. He is a different dog. The children can already move about freely and they, too, are being wonderful. The lady had her best walk ever yesterday with no pulling. It’s like they have found the key. Very pleased. It’s not often that things begin to work so quickly but in this case it’s purely because the dog was misunderstood.
Over three weeks have now gone by:  Overall, I think we’re doing great! We have a much happier household, the children are confident around Teemu now and have all done incredibly well with not over exciting him. We have not experienced any biting at all since your visit and I feel that Teemu now has respect for us all and not just the males in the family.
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 Teemu. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area or wouldlike an online consultation, I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)