Safe Place. Safe Haven. Cocker Spaniel Scared of Toddler

She seldom feels completely safe. Lucy’s fearfulness affects everything.

So many things she fears

With fear being at the root of all the issues that are a problem for the seven-year-old Cocker Spaniel’s owners, general fearfulness is what we must address.

Cocker Spaniel seldom feels really safeSpecific fears include alarm barking at every sound which ruins the lady’s day with her toddler daughter. She panics when left alone – shaking with fear as they get ready and goes frantic, circling and crying when they leave. They go out for a couple of hours most days.

Lucy barks at anything sudden, whether it’s the appearance of a person when out or any sound when indoors. She is scared of people she doesn’t know coming into the house. She  is totally terrified of the dishwasher.

The most urgent problem is Lucy’s fear of the tiny child.

Lucy needs desensitising and counter-conditioning to life in general. This involves doing their best to keep her feeling at a safe distance whilst pairing things she doesn’t like with something she loves. As the worried dog is not interested in play, this has to be food.

It also involves doing their best to rescue her from situations she can’t cope with, avoiding scary situations altogether if possible.

There are lots of small things that they can do a bit differently which, when all added together, should make a difference.

Medical help.

If with hard work there is no real improvement in a month or so, then we must talk again to their vet. No human would be expected to live in this state of anxiety without medical help but I do find sometimes vets are reluctant to prescribe.

Lucy was a fearful puppy from the start which indicates that her fearfulness has a genetic component.

When their little girl runs too close to her or approaches her bed, she may growl. Scolding growling and general anxiety can only make things worse.

It’s the same with the alarm barking at sounds. It is fear driven, so it’s the fear that needs working rather than the barking itself.

Lucy simply doesn’t feel safe. This is what must be addressed.

Because Lucy follows them everywhere, she’s always in the way when the little girl is toddling about doing her own thing. This creates anxiety also for the parents who may tell her ‘No’.

This isn’t the way.

Lucy is good at coming to them when they call her, so they can have her on remote control. Instead of saying ‘No’, they will now call her kindly to them at any time they are worried – and reward her. Instead of waiting for her to growl, they will now read her body language for signs of unease like looking away or licking her lips.

Growling is valuable. Teaching a dog not to growl merely makes it more likely she will ultimately feel forced to take it to the next stage  – a snap.

A safe haven

Trusting Lucy around the little girl largely involves management. They will make the dog a safe haven where nobody goes – not even themselves. Around her bed they will place a puppy pen. They will face the pen opening to the corner of the room so she feels safe and they will leave it open. They will give her lots of good things in her safe ‘den’ to encourage her to use it.

I suggest a chalk ring on the floor all around it, about a foot away. A sort of halo. They will teach the little girl not to step over it. The child can have a game of throwing food to Lucy over or through the bars. Lucy, safe from the child coming too close, could learn to welcome her approach.

Finally, Lucy sleeps on their bed which is fine. She feels safe during the night. However, in the morning when the little girl joins them, if the child goes near to her she growls.

They will teach Lucy, kindly and gently and with food, to jump off the bed before the child gets on.

All in all our whole plan is about making Lucy feel more safe. We will specifically concentrate on two things – Lucy with the little girl and her panic at being left. Any little bit of improvement is a step in the right direction.

The couple see their dog now through different eyes and understand her better.

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

Bark Less. Reinforce Calm Quiet Behaviour

They want their Cocker Spaniel to bark less.

Nearly all action and activity in Woody’s world is generated by Woody. Much of it as a result of barking.

The two-and-a-half-year-old barks to get attention. He simply carries on relentlessly until it works. Some days they must take him out on his lead over ten times (they have no garden).

Recent changes in behaviour

bark less at everythingOver the past few months he has also become nervous of new people and certain other dogs. He barks when they pass the house; he barks at dogs on TV and at other dogs on walks.

These behaviours are recent.

It is all such a great shame because the couple did everything they should when he was a puppy and young dog. Woody was well trained and taken everywhere with them.

He had always been brilliant with other dogs – so much so that daycare introduced him first to new dogs on trial. Then he went for a dog he already knew. Sadly daycare is unwilling to take him anymore.

The couple have had him very thoroughly vet checked to make sure his change in behaviour isn’t due to something physical like pain.

Change in circumstances

Their circumstances have recently changed dramatically.

About a year ago, the couple had moved in with parents for eight months. It was a busy household with three other dogs. Woody would have had lots of excitement, attention and action.

Four months ago they moved out and into their own home. Their baby was born very soon afterwards. Woody’s behaviour dipped at about the same time.

For eight months he had joined their other dogs, no doubt, in barking at people and dogs passing the house. He now does this at home.

Has that eight months of more arousal and attention (people and other dogs) set him up for his current general over-reactivity, particularly the attention-seeking barking? When worked up in any way – he barks.

Bark less, or quiet more?

When I arrived, Woody was scared of me. He barked but soon recovered. Then he began to bark at the young lady. He simply stood, barking at her, waiting for her to do something.

They go through all the usual things people do when they want their dog to stop barking. They ignore it, they give him what they think he wants or they get cross with him.

Eventually they give him time out in the kitchen. Then they let him out and reward him for being quiet with a chew.

To me this is all back to front. It’s not about getting the dog to ‘stop barking’ at all. It’s about the dog being quiet – or to bark less.

Giving him something to chew after he is quiet defeats the purpose. Chewing helps him to calm down. If they give him time alone in the kitchen, it should be with something to chew.

While I was there I showed Woody how rewarding it was to be quiet. I simply captured any quiet, calm, sitting or lying down moments with a click and food.

Now, in order to get the attention he craved, he found that sitting still, looking at me quietly, worked. Then he lay down.

A calmer base

The first and most important thing to do is to reduce Woody’s stress/arousal levels in every way possible. From a calm base he will be able to cope with everything a lot better and hence bark less.

At the moment he is reacting noisily to nearly everything. Sometimes it’s excitement, sometimes it’s to get attention or action and at other times it’s because he’s scared.

He now needs to learn that demand barking doesn’t work. They can ignore him or walk out of the room. They will no longer take him out ten or more times a day as a result of his barking! Everyone must be consistent.


Not responding to the barking along with reinforcing quiet isn’t enough though.

Just as important if they want Woody to bark less is enrichment. They already do well with this but he needs more fulfilment.  Possibly, after eight months of being used to more action, he’s bored. Boredom is stressful. They inevitably give a lot of attention to the baby.

They will instigate short ‘Woody-activities’ very regularly, but only when he’s not barking. Things that stimulate his mind but don’t get him fired up. It’s so tempting to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’!

They will pre-empt times they know he will get barky by doing something with him before he begins to bark. They know the usual things that trigger him. 

Too much lying down quietly?

I had an email next day. ‘We’ve noticed that he continuously lies down in front of us to receive treats. How often should we be dropping food for him? As I’m sure he will lie here all day waiting!”

They would rather he was lying down quietly than non-stop barking, surely.

For now they shouldn’t worry about Woody spending too long lying quietly in front of them for food. Over time they will space the food out more. He can earn some of his daily food quota so as not to make him fat.

All the time they are reinforcing quiet. Woody will be getting out of one habit (barking) and learning a better one.

I read somewhere, ‘You don’t stop behaviours without replacing with new ones. Gaps, empty spaces have a void that needs to be filled’.

It will be a lot easier to later wean him off lying down quietly waiting for food than to stop him barking!

This will be like a jigsaw. There are a number of small things to put in place that, when all together, should start to make a proper difference. Woody then will bark less. There won’t be any point.

As a calmer dog, he’s likely to go back to being his old relaxed self around other dogs too.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Not all separation issues have the same cause and so need different approaches and proper assessment. Click here for help

Poo, Pee Indoors. Dachshund Alone. More Questions than Answers.

Poo and peeing indoors.

Invariably during the night, alone downstairs in the kitchen, Meg has diarrhoea. When she is left alone during the day she is likely to do the same.pee and poo when left

The challenge here is in separating facts from assumptions.

Meg is a twelve-year-old Dachshund – the longest sausage I have seen! She and her sibling Mini came to live with the couple at eight weeks old and had never been apart.

The facts

These are the facts without jumping to the inevitable conclusion that Meg is suffering from some kind of separation anxiety.

Six months ago, Mini died.

For several weeks Meg, the more confident of the two, hardly seemed to miss her. Life carried on as before. There was no poo or pee indoors either at night or when they went out and left her.

They then went away for a couple of short breaks and Meg went to the dog ‘hotel’ where she and Mini had been many times before. They reported that she was happy.

When she came home there were a couple of indoor accidents. That’s all.

Next they took Meg away in their camper van and this was at the time when there were near-hurricane winds. Terrified Meg was in and out with diarrhoea all night.

When they came back home she was toileting in the house when they left her. This then spread to night times and now it’s virtually every night.

Most times when left in the daytime for more than a couple of hours there is pee and poo. They have watched her on camera and she paces, barks and whines. She may settle for a moment before barking again.

So far there is no proof it’s anything to do with losing Mini, though they are assuming it’s a delayed reaction (which of course it could be).

They have taken her to be checked by their vet but I’m not convinced it was sufficiently thorough.

Poo and pee when alone. More facts:

They follow a strict routine both when leaving her alone (which is never for more than three or four hours) and at bed time. It’s always the same.

At bed time she’s perfectly happy when they leave her to go upstairs.

Most nights it’s both pee and poo. They know it’s in the early hours. She is quiet until about 5.30am when she whines and the lady gets up.

This is an interesting one: days start with firm poo (after she has fasted for about twelve hours) and it gets runnier as the day progresses into the night.

Finally, whenever she barks for something, she always gets it.

So far we are shooting in the dark. It’s easy to assume that she is missing her sister and that she’s having separation issues. Maybe. Possibly not.

There are questions.

After their camping holiday, is the poo and pee when they returned home connected with the terrifying wind when they were away or is it a coincidence?

Could it be a health problem? Could it be age-related? Should they demand a more thorough vet check?

Could it be to do with what she eats – both the food itself and the timing of her meals?

How soon usually after she’s left alone either during the day or at night does she toilet? Is it at the same time; is there a pattern and if so, is there a trigger?

They will video several consecutive days and nights as well in order to see if there are common factors. I would like to watch the videos and Meg’s body language.

Things they can do anyway.

Although we can’t know yet what we are really dealing with, there are things they can do anyway which should help. These fall into four areas:

Implement some general life changes including reducing all stress, altering rituals and changing Meg’s diet.

Exercises for the gentleman in particular who is home during the day and to whom Meg is most attached. He will work hard at normalising his comings and goings, associating short absences with things that Meg likes.

Ideas for when he has to leave her including a different ritual just in case the current sequence is triggering some panic resulting in poo and pee.

Things to experiment with.

He can try simply leaving her in her bed in the sitting room and walking out, rather than going through the usual routine of putting her in the kitchen and so on.

In case during the day it’s the sound of him driving off that is a trigger, he can park somewhere further away.

He goes out of the back door to work in his shed several times a day and Meg is fine with this. When he goes out for real he could try the back door.

When leaving her, instead of dropping a small biscuit he could leave something that will keep her occupied for longer, like a frozen Kong.

Examining a run of videos should give some answers

What does Meg actually DO? Is the problem causing toileting, pacing and crying pure distress at being alone or anxiety at being parted from the man specifically. Is she missing the company of Mini or is it anxiety triggered by the need to poo or pee. Can it be something in the environment or is it a medical problem? We don’t yet know.

It is possible that both Meg and Mini had some degree of anxiety when left alone of which the couple weren’t aware. Meg, now alone, may have suffered distress before she began the toileting. Many people simply don’t know how their dogs feel about being left and are shocked to find out. See BBC Channel 4 Dogs – Their Secret Lives and

We will review the situation in a couple of weeks in the light of some video footage.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Not all separation issues have the same cause and so need different approaches and proper assessment. Click here for help

Excitable Dalmatian. Loses Self-Control. Humans Wind Him Up

excitable DalmatianExcitable Dalmatian Milo can get from zero to a hundred in a second!!

He barks persistently at people coming into the house- though didn’t at me. I’m calm and the lady and her adult son were asked to ignore him initially. Nobody was stirring him up. It was in the morning and there had not (yet) been any build-up of excitement. Milo was still relatively calm.

He has recently become a little bad-tempered when approached by another dog on a walk. This has only happened a few times but it’s spoiling walks for the lady who is now on the constant look-out.

Milo now barks at dogs on TV – even at the theme music introducing Supervet. He barks at dogs passing his house.

He has always been great with dogs and regularly goes on ‘Dally Rallies’. The three-year-old dog has a couple of particular dog friends he meets and plays with every week.

Telling another dog ‘Go Away’

The first incident occurred when the excitable Dalmatian and his special dog friend were playing. A young dog ran up to them and Milo saw it off. The owner wasn’t pleased but no harm was done.

The other couple of occasions have each been when another dog has come up close – a big dog. On one occasiona he and an approaching Boxer had to be pulled apart. It’s such a rare occurrence so far that I’m convinced it’s to do with the excitable Dalmatian’s arousal levels at the time making him grumpy. As we know, stress levels stack up.

The lady fears he will be labelled as aggressive locally which he plainly isn’t. He is, however, sometimes much too quick to react.

Winding up the excitable Dalmatian

For instance, when Milo meets this dog friend, another Dalmatian, the lady gets him excited with eager anticipation before even leaving the house. She says ‘we are going to see Benji!’ and the excitable Dalmatian is already beside himself before the two dogs even meet up.

Key to their success both with the occasional ‘other dog’ issue and with his reactivity to people coming into the house is not stirring him up. It may seem fun at the time, but the fallout comes later in some form or other and is inevitable.

Over-excitement and self-control are incompatible

These two things are incompatible: over-excitement and self-control. They simply don’t go together.

If they want the end result badly enough, then the son in particular needs to sacrifice some of his own fun.

I had given Milo a couple of chew items to help him calm while we chatted. This worked until the young man began to use these same items to generate a game. He feigned throwing the antler chew until the dog was really excited and then skidded it along the wooden floor. Milo then took it back for more.

Result: loss of self-control.

The chew items are meant to be associated with calm. Chewing is a major way the excitable Dalmatian can calm himself down. If they then use the antler for play instead of for calming him, it will do the opposite. Milo will demand continued throwing until people have had enough of him.

Then, like a pressure cooker, he blows.

The dog then raids the bin and jumps to see what he can siphon off the counters. He can’t help himself.

This ends in commands and scolding.

Enriching activities using brain and nose

The family can replace this arousal with the kind of activities that are enriching to Milo and require him to use his brain or nose. This is, actually, a lot kinder.

He is a beautiful boy – and clever. The lady worked hard on his training and now the family should work together for calm. Without a concerted effort to keep Milo’s arousal levels down it’s hard to see how they will make progress. Excitement and over-arousal are the main emotions driving the barking at people coming into the house, the dogs on TV and the reactivity to some dogs on walks.

We discussed how the lady can enjoy walks again without worrying about whether her excitable Dalmatian will be reactive towards an approaching dog. When calmer, he’s more tolerant.

Milo’s recall is excellent, but what they can’t control is the behaviour of other dogs.

Stress builds up over time so it’s not only what the lady does immediately before they leave the house. When everyone replaces winding him up with giving him calming, sniffing, chewing, foraging and brain activities they should find things improve. (Maybe more boring for a young man – but a lot better for Milo).

The key is simple. It’s about keeping their excitable Dalmatian calmer which will allow him to gain self-control. 

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

Left Alone. Separation Distress. Rescue Greyhound Panics

It’s not really surprising that newly adopted young greyhound Max panics when left alone.

I’m sure he was a useless racer – good for him because it’s given him such a great reprieve! 

A huge change

Panics when left aloneThe two-year-old has spent all his life in kennels. Now he lives in a house with a young couple. It’s quite amazing how well they have done in just six weeks, integrating him into life living with people in a home. For the first weeks he paced and panted, showing anxiety in general as he became acclimatised. Now he has settled down beautifully….

…apart from one thing.

The couple both work. Nobody checked on that when ‘vetting’ them and in their naivety they’d not anticipated separation problems. They very soon discovered that Max couldn’t be left alone. They came back to a wrecked sofa and carpet. To protect their house they now use a crate which he managed to get out of on one occasion.

BBC Channel 4 Dogs – Their Secret Lives documented how common separation problems are.

In Max’ case it may well not be separation from them in particular or even people in general. It may well simply be isolation. It’s very likely he always had the company of at least one other dog, so fear of being isolated is most likely the real issue.

Max’s panic when left alone for even a very short while has become a huge problem for them. They juggle dropping him off at the crack of dawn with parents a couple of days, with another parent driving miles to keep him company at home another day and with the lady’s work shifts. This still leaves days when he just has to be left.

With all the adjustment Max has had to make in such a short time, it’s understandable he has problems with being left alone.


How can he know that they will ever come back? The systematic and gradual plan involves lots of short absences, so that it proves to him beyond all doubt that when they follow a certain procedure they always return. It will normalise departing.

Apart from the separation issues, Max is the model house dog. He lies about, he’s easy with people he doesn’t know and he’s also very easy to motivate as was demonstrated with teaching him Touch using a clicker. Clever boy.

The separation problems soon brought home to the couple just what a big thing they had taken on. Wondering how they would cope with a dog that can’t be left alone, they considered returning him to the rescue but they had quickly fallen in love with him. Max is unusually perfect in all other aspects.

Avoiding Max being left alone while work in progress

We have worked out a systematic plan which amongst other things involves shutting doors on him briefly, starting on doors he finds easy before moving to the outside door. Departures will be associated with food and returns boring. It needs to be done multiple times. Very gradually they will increase the time they are away or out of sight. They will use a camera with phone app to make sure they return each time before he becomes anxious.

It can be a long, slow job. Because of how fast Max has adjusted in other respects, I’m hoping it will eventually be the same with his being left alone for just a few hours. In all other respects he is so easygoing and placid.

We discussed other ways of meanwhile filling in the gaps where he still has to be left alone. There is a local person with two greyhounds they meet – perhaps she will help. It’s possible also that the man will sometimes be able to take the polite and friendly dog to work with him.

If the couple don’t have to leave him alone while the work progresses, they will get there a lot faster.

It is very early days and Max has adjusted amazingly to so many new things already.

They have a gem in Max.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Not all separation issues have the same cause and so need different approaches. Click here for help

Cocker Spaniel Won’t Play With People. Will Play With a Dog

Rocco is a young Cocker Spaniel who won’t play. Unusually, he’s not at all interested in chasing something that is thrown for him.

He does, however, get a huge buzz out of charging, barking, at approaching people.

He won’t play tug games either with his humans, though loves to tug something with their other dog.

Why won’t Rocco play?

Won't playRocco is now two years old and they brought him home from another family at six months old. My guess is that the family couldn’t cope.

My other guess is that, with kids’ toys about the place, they had strongly discouraged puppy Rocco from picking up any item – punished him even. A demanding puppy nicking things, young children including a new baby born soon after they got Rocco, could well have been too much for them.

I imagine they will have shut the puppy out of the way for long periods.

Rocco’s play situation is unusual in that whilst he’s not interested in playing tug and won’t hold a toy for a human, if he has a bone or large chew he likes the lady to hold it while he chews. He will share this with someone where he won’t a toy.

His owners give him a life full of enrichment, exercise, training and interest. They are extremely conscientious. The lady offers most of the training and attention – along with attempts at play.

I came to see them because he’s become increasingly grumpy. His issues are in no way extreme but need to be nipped in the bud.

Reactive only off leash.

Another unusual thing is his reactivity to people on walks. It’s unusual because he doesn’t do it at all when on lead. He gets fired up only when off lead and free.

When he sees a person approaching he charges at them barking. It’s the same if he sees horses or cows, even if they are at a distance in another field. This is a recent development.

It seems that the act of charging, barking at them, gives him a buzz that he’s sort of become addicted to. He’s unable to do this when restricted on lead so doesn’t try. He’s simply not bothered by them at all when restricted.

The first part of dealing with this problem is, as soon as a person appears, to teach him to default back to their side. His recall isn’t good. He’s not good at coming when called at home either, so they will work on ‘Come’ when called and motivation. They will work with a whistle too. The whistle isn’t a magic fix and needs practice first, pairing it with food, hundreds of times, in order to build up an automatic response. Only then should they use it for real.

The second part of dealing with the problem is to find a rewarding activity to replace the chasing at people. Something on which he can redirect his chase drive. Unfortunately he won’t play tug or chase anything they throw – yet.

He needs an alternative and incompatible behaviour that gives him the same kind of buzz. They will teach him how he can get similar satisfaction from chasing a ball, toy or a prey dummy. Rocco is also now going to Acer Gundog Training classes so will for sure be working on this there.


When already aroused or stressed, Rocco becomes impatient if physically moved or confronted to do something he doesn’t want to do.

Recently a child grabbed his collar to move him away from a hole he was digging and he nipped her. This was a first. Why did he do it? He was in someone else’s house, there were young children with excitement, he had spent time shut in the car and he had missed his tea. Digging the hole was very likely his way of relieving some of his stress.

Rocco has started to show aggression towards their other dog when the lady is fussing her. He has nipped the man also when he was trying to impose something on Rocco that he didn’t want.

So, they should now keep Rocco’s general stress levels as low as they can. There is good stress and bad stress. Whilst to play a good game of tug or a controlled game of fetch is exciting, it would benefit him I’m sure. Here is a great little video from Steve Mann about inspiring the dog to play with a frisbee and bring it back.

They will apply some management – like using a long line when out while working on Rocco’s recall. In this way they will simply prevent him from further rehearsing the people-chasing whilst teaching him to come running back to them instead whenever he sees someone.

At times when a child might grab him without thinking, they can remove Rocco’s collar so there is nothing to get hold of.

Dealing with signs of aggression

It’s hard for people to know how to react when they see signs of aggression in their dog. Their instinct is to stamp it out immediately.  We would never expect a person to put up with something they don’t like being pushed upon them – particularly if they had already given warning. We do expect this of our dog.

If we counter aggression with aggression ourselves, it can only make things worse. Moreover it’s too late anyway when the incident has already happened. We need to be a lot better at reading the signs that the dog is uncomfortable and unhappy – and then help him out.

Punishment can only work while the person who administers it is present because it’s based on intimidation. The only real way to make Rocco trustworthy again is to work on his underlying emotions. What is he feeling? Punishment or scolding can only make them worse. It stands to reason.

Rocco seems uncooperative at times – they call it stubborn. I say they simply don’t motivate him sufficiently. It’s not for lack of trying, but they’ve not yet found the key. As play and fun hasn’t been rewarding, it’s had to be food.

In a weird way they could actually be reinforcing his ‘stubbornness’ when, the more he refuses to move, the more the lady in particular tries and entices! I suggest she calls his bluff. If she wants him to come to have his lead on for instance, she can give him just one chance – one call. Then walk away and go out without him (if briefly).

Teaching Rocco to play will give them an appropriate tactic to use with the chase behaviour. I think then that everything else will begin to fall into place.

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

Antisocial With Dogs. Insufficient Early Habituation and Socialisation.

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

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

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

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

His antisocial behaviour depends largely upon where he is.

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

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

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

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

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

Worse close to home

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

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

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

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

Now they are going to play catch-up.

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


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

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

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

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

It’s okay to carry him

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

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

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

Different kind of walk

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

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

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

Scared Barking. Fearful. Barks Constantly on Walks

I heard scared barking as I knocked on the door.

too much scared barking

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

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

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

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

Quarantined with kennel cough

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

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

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

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

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

Sid doesn’t feel safe

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

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

He barks all the time they are out.

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

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

Taking things back to the beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walks are doomed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guard Dog German Shepherd. Family Pet. Compatible?

“I was born to be a guard dog. I am an entire male German Shepherd now reaching my prime – eighteen months old. I am ‘The Bodyguard’. My job is to keep my humans safe and to keep safe the environment around them.

‘Go Away!’

guard dogWhen we are out, if someone comes too close I warn them Go Away. Lunging and barking has worked so far, but I may need to take it a step further one day.

Sometimes the person will look at me and make admiring noises. A hand will come out to over me. How dare they! This is my space. I’m not here to make friends but to protect. 

Back at home, intruders are a worse problem for a guard dog. ‘Go Away’ when a person is already in and sitting down is less effective. My own humans may shout too. (Are they shouting at me, or at the intruder?).

All I can do is to reduce the threat to my humans. If the intruder moves, I shall react. If push comes to shove I will need to bite.


A behaviourist lady came to our house yesterday. She sat still and initially I trusted her not to be a threat to my humans. She offered me food which I took and dropped. Does she think she can bribe me to accept her? After a time she took too many liberties. Quite enough, I felt. I charged at her barking. She withdrew. Job done.

I can relax from my duties when my humans are not about. What they now want is me to be off guard duty when they are about!  But I’m their guard dog.

They now want me to trust them with the protection job! 

Not only do they want me to step down – they want me to be friendly!”

To be or not to be – a guard dog

Encouraging Bentley to be a guard dog on the one hand, and on the other hand not wanting him to be a guard dog in certain circumstances, means compromise.

If they have a guard dog that is a family pet also, he needs to ‘stand down – off duty’ unless told otherwise.

This is their challenge. It’s not for me to impose things on the people that are against their wishes, so I must accept that he is to be a guard dog. Normally I would do all I could to reduce the guarding behaviour.

Bentley, I believe, is a supremely confident dog. There is no fear involved. To the manner born, he is well in charge of his environment and territory with free run day and night and to a certain extent of his humans too. He is brilliant with the little boy, gentle and playful.

The threat is ‘other people’.

On walks he ignores people and other dogs, sticking close to his human. He only becomes reactive and protective if someone walks too close and stops, particularly if they move to touch him.

Arousal is cumulative and ‘loads the gun’.

It was an interesting evening from a ‘trigger stacking’ point of view. My arrival will have sent stress hormones racing into Bentley’s system, topping up those already there. Ignored and brought in on lead, he calmed down a bit. Then they let their excitable smaller dog in which stirred things up.

Next, Bentley was returned to the kitchen for a short while so I could move out of my seat. When he came back in he rushed at me, barking just briefly. He was now fired up.

A little later I moved my hand to get something from my bag beside me. Bentley exploded.

If I had continued rummaging in it rather than quickly withdrawing and keeping still, its possible he would have felt the need to go to the next stage – to bite.

It’s only a matter of time if things don’t change. At the very least, management must be in place with Bentley restrained on lead.

Bentley needs a job

So that he’s more tolerant, the first thing is to do all they can avoid his arousal levels from stacking up.

In addition, Bentley needs to use his brain more to do things for his humans when they ask him to. Working him at home with more training and channelling his guard dog instincts will help to have him under better control when people are about. They will teach him some alternative behaviours.

Finding some specialised training in something useful like, possibly, detection work could be perfect for him.

Apart from this it’s all about management. People also need managing – both those coming to their house and those they meet when out. Each time he barks, lunges or nips even, in a way he is successful. He is rehearsing the behaviour thus making it more likely to happen again.

The dog law now states that if a person feels threatened, even if not bitten, they could be in trouble. It would be a great shame if Bentley be muzzled and on lead only when out.

Living in the sticks, they need a guard dog to protect them and their property. If they also want a family pet – to trust a dog with such strong guard dog instincts as Bailey around other people, it’s a challenge. He has to learn when to be off duty and his humans have to step up to the job themselves.

This means a complete turn-around for Bentley. 

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

Independent. Learn to be Alone. Separation Anxiety. Panic

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

85% of dogs!

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

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

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

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

Their worlds revolve around their little dog.

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

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

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

Learning to be more independent comes first

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

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

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

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

The root of the problem

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

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

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

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

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

Calming down

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

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

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

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

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

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