Redirects Frustration. Can’t Reach Cat, Turns on Owner.

Redirects frustration

Letting sleeping dogs lie

Lurcher Rufus is a wonderful dog whose only problems are as a result of over-arousal. He then redirects frustration, using his teeth.

The two-year-old had been picked up, abandoned, eight months ago and has settled into his new life beautifully.

A lovely, friendly dog, he’s confident and curious. Rufus can get very excited when he sees people. He was unusually calm when I arrived – but I didn’t fire him up! He sniffed me thoroughly and gave me a little ‘kiss’ in the ear. I began to respond with some attention and he quickly became excited. I felt his mouth on my hand.

His lady and gentleman are finding it hard to stop him mouthing their hands and their arms – sometimes quite roughly. The more aroused he becomes, the rougher he gets.

Rufus redirects frustration using his teeth.

If he’s not getting attention, he will demand it using his mouth. If he is thwarted or ignored, he redirects frustration using his teeth.

The biggest problem however is cats! Their house is surrounded by cats that seem hell-bent on winding up Rufus. He may be controllable past one or two, but by the time he’s encountered the third that may be waiting in his drive as they arrive back home from a walk, his chase instinct is in full gear.

The other day when he lunged at a cat, his lady owner held on as tightly as she could. Rufus’ head swung round and she received a nasty bite on her arm.

Holding on tightly with a harness that tightens as he pulls may save the day at the time, but isn’t a way to change the behaviour of a dog that redirects frustration onto you. The frustration itself has to be addressed and this takes time. The people themselves must be able to get and hold their dog’s attention, taking action before he gets anywhere near this state of arousal.

This is easy to say, but not always so easy to put into practice.

Better equipment will give better control.

The first thing they will do is to get a harness where a longer lead can hook both front and back. They will then have more control in emergency and the dog will be more comfortable. Then they should keep those walks near home where they may encounter cats very short indeed to avoid ‘trigger stacking’. This is where his stress and excitement builds up until he explodes and he redirects frustration onto the person holding the short lead.

Instead of being held tight, the dog actually needs to feel free while they work on their own relevance and teaching him behaviours that are incompatible with lunging at cats.

This work will start at home. There should be no more reinforcement of any kind for the rather excessive and uncomfortable mouthing which is quite obviously a habit and his default when aroused. You could say that he’s ‘mouth happy’. The more stressed he becomes, the harder the grip with his teeth. I don’t like to call this a bite.

When it happens they need to be immediate. They recognise the signs. Even as his mouth approaches they must withdraw themselves and look away. No more scolding or ‘No’. Currently when they may leave their hand in his mouth before removing it. They need to change their own habits and respond a lot more promptly.

It must be hard being a dog, having no hands, only mouth and teeth!

It looks like Rufus generates much of his attention by mouthing or bringing toys to throw or tug. The man has a nasty bite on his thumb he received while playing with him – it was a mistake. Rufus has not learnt to be careful with his teeth. From now onwards all play instantly stops if teeth or even open mouth are felt.

The tuggy game played properly is a great way to teach this.

Just as important is to regularly offer him plenty of interaction when he’s calm. Already his humans they have started hunting nose-games games with him.

Although he has bitten a few times, I would never label Rufus an ‘aggressive dog‘. A dog that redirects frustration is a dog that is unfulfilled. In Rufus’ case, when out, it’s his drive to chase that’s unfulfilled.

They will get a long line so Rufus can have a degree of freedom when they take him by car to more interesting places where he can sniff and explore. Chase and recall can be worked on too. Always restrained on a short lead must in itself be frustrating for him.

They have strategies now to help Rufus to calm himself down and they know how to handle the mouthing. Communication with humans must be frustrating for a dog too – with no hands and with no language that humans seem able to understand!

He must gradually learn that it’s times he’s not using his mouth that things happen. It’s not always a good idea to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ if there is nothing in it for them!

Like charity, impulse control starts at home. Over time and with work, they should be able to manage the cat situation too.

Ten days have gone by, during which time poor Rufus was attacked by another dog and has two sizeable gashes in his side. Despite this, great progress already: Rufus seems much more relaxed in his new harness and I am gaining confidence with it too. We went to Milton Park yesterday and had a very pleasant walk together. The park has open spaces and woods also lakes.He saw coots with chicks and just watched them calmly: not interested in pulling to get nearer or show any interest in chasing.Friends have been most understanding and cooperative when visiting and I can see improvements with Rufus. He has also improved in not mouthing or nipping so much.Considering  we have only been putting your instructions in place for just over a week (and him being bitten into the bargain), I feel Rufus has made a promising start.
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Rufus. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Context. Why It’s So Important

Seeing things clearly and objectively in context can be hard from the inside.

This consultation has lead me somewhat away from a story about the beautiful dog herself and down another path. The Dog's behaviour not taken in contextyoung Staffie – isn’t she a poppet – and her young owners with their new baby have been doing brilliantly.

Just a couple of things have recently arisen that trouble them and that they want to nip in the bud. One issue is on walks where she seems to have lost her recall. She has run into fields of cows to chase them and she may sometimes be a bit unruly with other dogs. Now the lady is walking with the baby also, she has even more reason to be able to trust Nahla.

Nahla upon seeing another dog may also lie down and refuse to move! This can be a challenge when the young lady is carrying her baby in a sling. She has to wait it out.

We now have a plan for walk difficulties. They will make coming to a whistle a reflex action by constant repetition at home and when out before letting her off a long line. She loves a ball so they will keep it in their pockets and only throw it after blowing the whistle. Pavlov would love this.

The other more distressing problem is, to quote, ‘Nahla’s guarding behaviour’ around their baby when they visit the young lady’s mother. Her mum has three dogs, a Labrador and two Rotties, one of which, Hector, has been Nahla’s puppy playmate.

Nahla is ‘showing aggression and jealousy’ towards Hector when he’s near the baby.

Nahla, they say, was their first baby! She’s now twenty months old. The are the perfect dog parents. She has had kind, positive training, she eats nutritious food and she shares all aspects of their lives. She is friendly and loving, and at home really the perfect dog.

Baby came along six weeks ago. Everything is fine, due both to Nahla’s lovely nature and to her owners forward planning and love for her.

How can the dog I was with be guarding or aggressive?

Ignoring the context leads to jumping to wrong conclusions. Jumping to wrong conclusions means we won’t be dealing with the issue appropriately – we may not be dealing with the real problem at all but with something else entirely.

Naming something the dog does ‘guarding behaviour’ is only a step away from labeling the dog ‘an aggressive dog’.

Give a dog a bad name.

Without even seeing it for myself, knowing the dog I would stake my life on Nahla’s sudden growling and snapping at Hector having nothing to do with guarding at all. It is so important not just to look at what a dog is doing at the time, but also the build-up, what other things are going on at the time and the whole context including the input of the humans involved.

With a little delving I worked out that this is probably more or less what actually happens:

People obviously are extremely protective and anxious when four large dogs are crowding around a new baby. There will be a certain amount of tension.

The couple, carrying tiny grandson, enter mum’s house with Nahla. Her three dogs, the two Rotties and Labrador, are over-the-top excited to see Nahla who tries to wrestle her way through them to excitedly greet mum. Mum is trying to tell her to get down and to control her dogs using commands. I assume they are ignoring her.

The couple sit down, holding baby, and all three bigger dogs want to have a sniff and hello – they have absolutely no problems with the baby, just curiosity and general excitement.

Obviously a Labrador and two somewhat slobbery Rottie’s (mine was slobbery anyway!) are a bit too much around the baby so mum, who is anxious now, repeatedly shouts at her dogs Leave, Leave, Leave.

Human stressing or scolding can often be the tipping point.

Nahla now has a pop at Hector.

The whole thing is too much for her, she’s not used to all this excitement. Highly aroused and maybe a little anxious too because the dogs aren’t behaving in the peaceful way around baby she herself has been taught, Nahla then redirects her frustrations onto Hector.

I don’t know what happens next, but I guess Nahla, misunderstood, is told off. One can begin to see the direction where this will now be heading if not handled differently.

My advice, then, is either for all dogs to meet out on a walk first and get the excitement out of their system first. Alternatively, when they arrive at mum’s, mum’s dogs can be shut in another room to start with. Nahla can then get over her excitement at seeing mum. The other dogs can then join them one at a time, waiting for calm first.

In this calmer setting, if a dog is too close to baby for comfort, he can be gently called away and rewarded for doing so.

Looked at the affair in context, would we call this pop at Hector guarding behaviour or aggression? I wouldn’t. The wrong diagnosis leads to the wrong treatment. In this case it’s the over-arousal that needs dealing with.

Here is a really good piece by Pat Miller about incidents in a multi-dog household and the importance of finding the stressors, which is much the same thing as examining the context.

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 Nahla and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, as this case illustrates perfectly.  If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)