Human Control v. Self Control
Because Pug-Jack Russell mix Freddie wasn’t being ‘controlled’, he was all over the place. He was waiting to be told what to do – or more what not to do. Like so many people, they do their best to control his behaviour by using NO and constant commands like ‘Get Down’, so Freddie is seldom left to work things out for himself and it’s not surprising that he lacks self control.
This isn’t to suggest for one minute that he’s not well treated – he is adored by the whole family who do the best they know how. The bottom line is, though, that if what they currently do worked they wouldn’t need help, so they need to be doing something different.
While I was there Freddie did all sorts of things ‘he never does anymore’, like jumping up behind me on the sofa and humping my arm, chewing my ear and grabbing and pulling at my sleeve.
I allowed this to happen to show them how to teach Freddie the behaviour that we do want, not because I feel these are in any way desirable behaviours. I needed him to do the unwanted behaviour so I could show him that it got no reaction or attention whatsoever and to show him how much more rewarding it is when he’s not doing it! I used clicker for marking every moment his behaviour was even momentarily what we wanted and both Freddie and the three family members caught on really fast. We can look at teaching him alternative acceptable behaviours when he’s in a calmer state.
He has an almost OCD ritual when he goes out into the garden – he is frequently asking to go out. He flies up at the door handle until it’s opened, then he spins, barking, just outside the door, followed by running a barking circuit of the garden. Then he may either toilet or want to come in again.
Teaching two-year-old Freddie self control and self calm is going to take time and stress reduction is the priority. All evening he was pacing, panting, drinking, asking to go out, barking at TV when it was on briefly, humping me or grabbing my clothes and back to pacing, and so on. Not getting his usual responses was very hard on him so the behaviour intensified. He only settled briefly twice – and we made sure we marked and rewarded those moments whilst not setting him off again.
His high stress levels are at the root of all the things they want to eliminate, his barking at TV, his reactivity to people and dogs on walks, his fear of traffic, his jumping up and so on. Telling him off for barking or sending him to his bed doesn’t help him at all.
He needs to be allowed to work out for himself what works and what doesn’t. Already the 16-year-old lad who is very involved with the little dog has shown him that the door opens when he’s not jumping at the handle – simply by waiting until he’s sitting, saying ‘yes’ immediately and quickly opening the door. He then accompanied the dog out – walked Freddie well away from the door, thus breaking the sequence of his spinning ritual.
Freddie’s reactivity is inconsistent – the main variable being, I’m sure, his stress levels at the current time. In the mornings he is a lot calmer both at home and on his walk, having had the night for the stresses of the previous day to subside a bit. As the day wears on, things simply build up. Only when the whole family finally settles will he, too, settle – so long as there’s nothing to bark at on TV.
The ultimate goal is for Freddie to live happily with the daughter’s dog when the two families move in together. Introducing the two dogs will need to be done very carefully and only after Freddie has made considerable headway.
Five days have gone by and the family is really pulling together. They have a long way to go, but today’s news is really encouraging and they have been doing their best to keep Freddie as calm as possible. They sent me this lovely photo and message: ‘Freddie chilled with me TV quite noisy, he’s had a lot of praise today’.
Two weeks later: ‘I am curious that over the last few days Freddie has started to sniff and stop more when we are walking,walking along sniffing the floor not pulling.I am taking this to mean he is less agitated and therefore more curious about his surroundings.This morning I chose to walk along by the road away from the path on the grass about 10ft from road.He was sniffing and searching.This totally distracted him from the passing cars,I also praised him for this and gave him chicken. He alerted to one dog although I turned around and he was fine’.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freddie, which is why I don’t go into 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 dog (see my Get Help page).