Excitement or fear? Barking at Dogs. Wants Play? Scared?

Other dogs - excitement or fear?Excitement or fear – it can begin as one and change to the other.

Reuben barks at other dogs – but not always.

Sometimes he gets excited and wants to play – but it’s not always that.  Sometimes he’s afraid. Then he barks at the other dog to go away.

Mostly he runs freely with other dogs, playing happily. Just occasionally on these occasions things get too much for him or another dog upsets him. Then he may show aggression. He has punctured a dog’s ear.  Excitement or fear – it can begin as one and change to the other.

Even dogs who are mostly fine with other dogs have their moments. Then the owner can be affected out of all proportion, making walks a worry instead of a joy. Continue reading…

Aggression Towards Other Dogs Began Six Months Ago

Aggression towards other dogs when out on walks might be the problem but the causes probably have tentacles in other areas of her life.

Reactivity is always as a result of some sort of stress – fear being the most likely. Stress isn’t a thing that is there one minute and gone the next. The surprise or shock may be sudden, but the effects linger. We know with ourselves that once things start to go wrong nothing seems to go right. We get into a progressively touchy mood. Stress builds up. Continue reading…

Big Change in the Dogs’ Lives. From Free to Restricted.

So much change. The four dogs of interesting mixed breeds were flown over here from South African only two weeks ago and everything is different.

They have generally settled in really well to their new home.

A huge change in their lives.

Big change in the dogs' lives

Bella at the back and Dobby in front

The older two dogs have had previous experience of training, walks and probably traffic. They came from a rescue.

The two younger dogs have lived with the family since they were very young puppies.

Six-year-old Dobby, a cute Pekenese mix, was given to them at six weeks old. Bella, the youngest at fourteen months, was found on the street corner at just three weeks old. Some of her current behaviour is probably due to lack of the beneficial contact with her mother along with what she should have learnt from her siblings.

My client describes Bella as a typical African dog. She’s probably a mix of all sorts of things but looks quite like my little working Labrador in size and shape.

Previously they lived in a big house with a huge enclosed garden. Nobody came knocking on the door but a bell was rung from a distant gate.

The dogs ran free.

Free also to bark at anyone coming too close to their property. There was a lot of action and background noise about the place.

Now they live in a very nice but much smaller house over here. Everything is very quiet. The garden is not big and they are surrounded by neighbours who won’t appreciate barking.

The change from plenty of background noise to quiet means that any sounds tend to be sudden – and something to bark at.

There are two main issues for the family. The first is the noisy and alarmed way the dogs react to anyone knocking on the door and coming into the house. The other is the difficulty in walking the dogs together.

At the front door.

Never before have they had someone knocking on their door. It’s easy to understand how dogs don’t like this sudden banging.

When I arrived we had set it up that I would text outside the door, the dogs would be put out of the way, and only let out to join us when I was sitting in the kitchen. This worked a treat and there was no barking at all. Little Dobby would usually growl and bark at a person for about half and hour. There was one quiet growl and he was taking food from my hand.

This, then, is how I suggest they manage the ‘caller’ situation to start with.

They can get a doorbell which is less alarming I feel than sudden loud knocks. Over time they can systematically work on getting the dogs not to react to the bell. It can be the trigger for the dogs to go into another room, out of the way. A wireless doorbell with two push-buttons is ideal for working with frequent bell-rings. Success will depend upon many repetitions.

Then there will be less chaos when deliveries come.

All dogs were fine with my walking about but went mental when, having gone upstairs, I began to come down again. They have never had stairs before – another change. The way we set up my arrival worked very well. We need to work out something similar for when a person goes upstairs.

They bark also when a male family member comes downstairs, so I suggest for now the man sits on the top stair, calls the dogs up to him and they then can walk down together.

So the ‘manage callers’ part of their aims will be a mix of physically managing the situation along with systematically getting them used to the sound of a doorbell and also feeling good when they hear it.

Walking the dogs.

The ‘walking dogs’ part of their aims boils down to working with the two younger dogs individually until they are less reactive to other dogs and people. When aroused on walks and together, Bella will redirect onto Dobby. These two aren’t used to leads and probably not accustomed to much tarmac and paving, or traffic. The older two are fine.

Bella and Dobby have separate walking plans.

Bella pulls like mad and is very reactive to any dog she sees, even at a distance but is okay with people.

Dobby is hysterical with excitement before even leaving the house. He also pulls and the outside world experience sounds like it’s just too much for him. Whilst he’s okay with other dogs he freaks out when a person walks towards them.

Bella and Dobby, in time, can then be gradually integrated one at a time with the older two, then walked together as a pair, before trying to walk them all together. How quickly they achieve this will depend upon how much time they have to work on it.

Because the dogs have only been over here with them for just a couple of weeks, their behaviour may well change further as they adapt to their new environment over the next month or two.

The dogs are doing really well despite the huge upheaval and change. I’m sure this is because the family of four all work so well together on their dogs’ behalf.

Impulse Control Comes First

She may ignore her humans and lacks impulse control.

Eighteen-month-old German Shepherd Diva is a great personality. She is friendly, confident and fearless.

She is also very demanding. They have had several German Shepherds in the past, but never one like Diva.

Juno lacks impulse controlShe has become increasingly hostile to other dogs. In order to achieve their end goal of Diva becoming less reactive and coming back when called (she will, but when she feels like it), these matters of impulse control and paying attention need first to be addressed at home.

I saw a Diva who was actually more aroused and lacking in self control than she usually is. That was my own doing.

I had prevented people from giving in to her. She became increasingly frustrated by not getting what she wanted – attention under her own terms. Her methods, not addressed when she was a puppy and now harder to undo, are jumping on people – she’s very big – leaping onto their chair behind them, mouthing, nipping and grabbing – and then yipping and barking endlessly when the other tactics don’t work, until put out of the room.

She now will be given as little opportunity as possible to rehearse these behaviours (I don’t go into detail here because what works with one dog may not work with another).

I was called in for what seemed a relatively straightforward if time-consuming problem – that of halting Diva’s increasing antipathy towards other dogs like they shouldn’t be in her vicinity. The issue is actually far more complex.

Matters came to a head the other day when she ran after a very small dog she had spied in the distance, possibly thinking it was prey because she ignored a larger dog. Sadly, it resulted in the little dog needing veterinary treatment for its injuries.

As soon as Diva spotted the dog, her human called her. She halted, looked back as though to consider whether to obey or not, and decided no.

When I was there the lady called Diva, the dog looked her in the eye and then turned around and walked away. If she does this at home, what is likely to happen when, off lead, she sees another dog.

This highlights the two main underlying issues which are allowing the behaviour. Firstly, her humans are not sufficiently relevant to her so she’s insufficiently motivated to do as they ask. What’s in it for her? After all, they always do just what she wants if she is sufficiently pushy, so why should she do what they want?

Secondly, she acts on impulse at home so she is unlikely to have impulse control when out where the stakes are far greater.

Another important contributor to her behaviour is the dog next door.

From the start Diva has been confident and a bit bossy with other dogs. She then had her first season and she became more assertive. How much this has to do with the dog next door, both dogs barking and snarling at one another as they tear up and down their own sides of the fence, I don’t know. One sure thing is she’s daily been rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want – aggression towards another dog.

As I drove home I tried to work out the best place to start.

.

 

Changing too much at once could well make her even more stressed so would be self-defeating.

The first couple of weeks should be dedicated to showing her that she only gets things she wants when she is calm and to reducing her stress/arousal levels in every way possible. Her humans owe it to her not to stir her up unecessarily.

Humans and dog wOrchardJuno2ill need to go cold turkey!

Before the lead goes on she should be calm. Before the door is opened she should be calm. She can get no greetings until she isn’t jumping up and nipping. Training her the necessary alternative incompatible behaviours will be taught in the next stage.

Basically, Diva will learn that her pushy behaviour isn’t going to get results.

She will learn the behaviours that will work for her.

Bit by bit, against a calmer background, they can introduce impulse control exercises, training that requires patience like Stay and lots of coming when called or whistled around the house and garden. Here is a nice little video from Tony Cruse with an impulse control game.

They will also do their best to prevent any further rehearsal with the dog next door and in fact use it to their advantage. They will begin teaching her that good things happen when she ignores it and gives them her attention instead. Meanwhile she simply must not be off lead alone in the garden when the dog is likely to be out there. It’s a nuisance, but not impossible.

Out on walks Diva should no longer have complete freedom until she can be trusted to come back. She will need to be kept on a long line.

This case is such a good example of the benefits of taking a holistic type of approach. If we had gone straight in to the ‘stop her reactivity towards other dogs’ without dealing with her lack of impulse control, basic training manners and the relationship she has with her humans, I don’t think she would ever be able to go off lead again and they would never again be able to walk calmly past other dogs.

When they have got through the first few difficult days with Diva very likely becoming increasingly frustrated when her wild attempts for attention no longer bring results, they will then have a firm basis to build upon in order to achieve the original goals, that of enjoying their walks with their stunning Shepherd and being able to trust her.

 

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 Juno and I’ve not gone into exact 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, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. 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)

Rehomed Older Dog

Oldies Club Border Terrier

Max

As is often the case with a rehomed older dog, it’s impossible to know how that dog will be when he has had time to settle into his new home and a totally different lifestyle. When a dog has probably spent his recent years shut indoors, it is hardly surprising when there are issues around other dogs.

Dear little Max, age eleven, has been rehomed by Oldies Club. Like many older dogs, he has been the loved pet of a person who through age or infirmity has no longer been able to look after him properly. Max now has a new lease of life living with an active couple and their other Border Terrier, thirteen year old Katie.

Elderly Border Terrier

Katie

Because there were dogs that he was fine with, it was assumed he would be okay with all dogs. The new owners got a shock when, soon after they had brought him home, Max and a relative’s small dog, as soon as they clapped eyes on one another, broke into a fight. Since then there have been some other incidents resulting in walks not being enjoyable and the couple now having to curtail some of the previous activities they had enjoyed with the placid and dog-friendly Katie.

Having asked lots of questions to get a good feel for the situation against a background of the great many dogs and people I have been to, I got a clear picture of what needs to be done.

Like so many dogs, the issue may be of other dogs on walks, but there are things to put in place first at home in order to optimise their strategies when out. I likened it to a tripod – three ‘legs’ to hold firm and ‘other dogs out on walks’ to then be placed on top (house built on rock, not sand).

The first thing is to address the barking at dogs from his own home. There is a truly aggressive-sounding dog the other side of the fence so there is a lot of boundary running and barking from the two of them, filling Max with fear and honing his dog-aggression skills. He also is on watch at the front window from the back of the sofa. Not only can the couple take responsibility for danger and lookout duty, they can also do some serious desensitisation and counter-conditioning work in their own garden.

The second thing is that both dogs are overfed with food left down all the time. We preferably want to be able to work with food so Max has to be a bit more hungry and food needs more value – so they have work to do rationing food and making it harder to come by.

Thirdly is to keep his general stress levels as low as possible. They have already noticed that his ‘aggression’ episodes have taken place after a run of minor things has occurred that will have gradually stacked up – loading the gun so to speak.

With these things in place, they can now work on the ‘other dogs’ issue. We have a step-by-step plan.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Max, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog 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).

A Little Angel – Till he Sees Another Dog

Cavachon1Considering that little ‘Cavachon’ Chauncey was an impulse buy from a pet shop a couple of years ago at the age of about eight weeks old, he has turned out remarkably well. This is tribute to the hard work and dedication of his lady owner.

Little Chauncey is very friendly if initially slightly wary of men. If they take him out anywhere, to the pub for example, he revels in the attention……until another dog enters. Then he quickly morphs into a barking, lunging and snarling little monster!

Very unfortunately there are a couple of larger dogs that are often running loose in the country area where they live, and Chauncey was first attacked by one of them at about a year old. The other ran through the open door and attacked Chauncey in the house.  Understandably, he changed from being confident and friendly with dogs to being fiercely on the defensive with other dogs.

Chauncey is most reactive to things that happen suddenly – especially dogs suddenly appearing. Paradoxically, he has been walked with several dogs by a dog walker and is perfectly happy, and he mingles with other dogs at the groomers. He also has doggy friends that he plays with.

It is hard to desensitise a dog to the point where he will stop believing other dogs are a threat, given past history, because the reality is that some are indeed a threat. This is where the owner or walker must play their part.  It’s up to them to build up trust and simply ensure, by hook or by crook, that their dog is safe – and that he knows it.

It is very tempting to scold our dog and apologise when he goes off on one at another dog.  It’s embarrassing.  However, we must act as advocate for him, unapologetically keeping unwanted canine advances at bay without worrying whether the owner may find us rude. A Yellow Dog shirt with words like ‘In Training’ or ‘I Need Space’ can help explain why we may suddenly be walking away from another dog owner without explanation.

It could also mean putting in some effort to find ‘safe’ places to walk, or places where any other dogs should be on lead.

Little Chauncey hasn’t been walked at all for several weeks now, so they can start again from scratch. Instead of the constant stress of pulling and being corrected, he will have a loose lead from the start. By whatever means necessary he must not be allowed any nearer to another dog than he can tolerate. This is where the intensive work will start, and a carefully structured plan especially for Chauncey is now in place.

It is so important not to push ahead too fast and take things at the dogs own pace. It is human nature to want measurable and fast progress. However, the more relaxed we are and the less hard we try, the better it will go. To quote Grisha Stewart: The less you are able to ‘want’ progress — the more of it you will have.

Two months later and they are doing well – though still very much work in progress as one would expect: ‘We have donned our yellow jackets and have been going for a great walk every morning through fields and woodland. He’s loving it! Lots to sniff and follow. I saw a couple of dogs this morning going walking 2 large dogs off lead. The man saw my yellow jacket from a distance and turned and walked another way but Chauncey saw them, I kept his attention and fed him and he didn’t react at all.  We are loving our walks and getting fit in the process.
Gradually I am getting him settled into enjoying and being relaxed in the open fields and introducing him at distance to other walkers and dogs.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chauncey, which is why I don’t go into all 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).

Roaming Free, Now on Lead

Elderly rescue dog

Charlie

Two little dogs were strays on the streets in Romania

Bonnie and Elma

Two of these little dogs had been fending for themselves on the streets of Romania.

The two girls, black and white Bonnie with little terrier Elma (both on the right) were probably abandoned pets.

The lady is an experienced dog owner – particularly with rescue dogs. She took on much older Charlie, left, seven months ago and the other two only three months later.

The three are extraordinarily well-adjusted in the circumstances. The lady has worked hard.

Sometimes it’s hard to see one’s own situation clearly and she needs some help to take things to the next stage.

Bonnie is very reactive to other dogs. With her history of roaming free on the streets and considering how quickly she fitted in with the other two dogs, I strongly suspect her reactivity has been getting worse because she is on lead.

She’s not free any more.

Nor can she be let off lead. Shortly after she arrived she disappeared for two hours.

The solution to this is largely about groundwork. The work doesn’t simply start when out on walks and they meet a dog. Fundamental is getting her full attention at home at the sound of her name along with getting instant recall when she is called around house and garden. These things need to become an automatic response.

She needs to learn how to walk nicely. Only then will the lady be ready to work on other dogs, finding the threshold distance where she still feels safe – and building up her confidence. She can help Bonnie to feel more free by making sure the lead is always slack. This is a time-consuming business and has to be taken slowly.

Over time Bonnie should begin to associate other dogs with nice stuff, instead of fear and feeling trapped on lead with a tense human holding it tight with resulting discomfort to her neck.

Fortunately neither of the other two dogs has these problems, so the lady will work on Bonnie by herself until gradually doubling her up with one of the others and then all three together.

Recall will be worked at for as long as it takes before Bonnie is ever let off lead again.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Charlie, Bonnie and Elma, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Barking, Fear of Dogs and Can’t be Left

Coco can't be left alone

Coco

Two absolutely adorable little dogs!

Shih Tzu Coco on the left, now seventeen months, has been with the lady from five months old, and Titch, a Yorkie cross she has had for four weeks. He is two years old.

They are friendly little dogs, very good with all people. Titch is very reactive to noise and barks a lot and Coco is reactive and scared of other dogs. The dogs are infecting one another.

The lady lives in a flat so is very worried about the barking. While I was there and showing her how to deal with it, the amount of barking from Titch was minimal and perfectly reasonable. He is on his third home now having been given up twice previously due to the barking.

Friendly little dogs, very good with people

Coco and Titch

With no garden, the dogs need to be walked several times a day to toilet, and each walk brings with it the hazard of meeting another dog, which sets Coco off rearing, lunging and barking furiously at it (GO AWAY!). Titch who was previously friendly with all dogs is now becoming a little fearful also.

Can’t be left alone

The third problem is that Coco can’t be left. He is never, ever left alone. On the one occasion the lady tried it she left a tape recorder, and his crying upset her so much she never did it again. She has weekly hospital appointments and puts the dogs into a nice kennel where Coco has the company of the owner. She has to do her food shopping online.

Because Coco can’t be left, the lady is unable to walk the dogs one at a time which makes working with Coco’s fears a little more difficult.

With time and patience, beginning by not letting the dogs follow her everywhere around the house all the time, then going out very briefly when someone else is in the house and then for half a minute or so when she is alone, gradually increasing the time along with some other strategies – over a period of weeks or months these little dogs should be happily left at home together for reasonable lengths of time, confident in the knowledge that she always comes back.

Seriously, I could have dognapped Titch! He has had no training at all apparently, but within a few minutes he was doing Sit, Down, Rollover and Stand – all with luring and treating. Clever little dog.

Why Not Positive Training Methods, Using Praise and Rewards, for Gundogs?

Lakeland Whisky is giving the Labrador 'that look'Little Lakeland Terrier Whisky is seriously reactive to other dogs. As soon as she sees a dog she begins to scream, and if she can get to it she will attack, grabbing its neck and holding on.

She lives with a lovely 2 year old Labrador, training to be a gun dog. Bramble also has felt those teeth. They are getting on reasonably well now because Bramble has learnt that, when Whisky gives her ‘that look’ (see picture on the left), she’s to back off!

I have certain issues with the training methods used with Bramble and which are also now applied to Whisky. Bramble is taken to gun dog training classes. There is a lot of ‘correction’ and negative stuff like ‘Leave’, ‘Down’, ‘Off’ and ‘No’ rather than positives – what they should be doing along with praise and reward. In fact their trainer says don’t use food rewards at all.  Would you happily work for nothing? Here is just a small example of how it goes – the lady ‘commanded’ Whisky to sit several times and eventually had to touch her back to get her to do so. I later asked her to sit, quietly, just the once, and waited. And waited. Whisky sat. Then I rewarded her. After that she was totally focused on me. If she were my dog and I built on that bond and relationship, I am sure I could make progress when out where Whisky and other dogs are concerned, because she would be focusing on me and trusting me.

Whisky lying on her bed

Whisky

I don’t know if it’s a gun dog thing, but commands like ‘Sit’ are also accompanied by peeps on the whistle – like Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music getting his family into line.

They also have problems with both dogs’ recall – especially when there is another dog about. Bramble wants to play, Whisky is scared stiff, screaming and ready to attack. If I were a dog I would be much more likely to come back when called if I were called in an inviting voice rather than  ‘ordered’ and if I knew that there was something in it for me.

Behavioural theory has proved beyond any doubt that positive and reward-based training is more effective – and it works just as well for gun dogs, traditionally trained in the old-fashioned way using a degree of force and even aversives. Positive methods help to form a healthy and trusting bond between human and dog.

German Shepherd Trying to Fit in to his New Home

Charlie is settling in to his new homeCharlie has had quite a few ups and down in his two years of life. As soon as I saw him he reminded me so much of my Milly who also had a difficult start. At some point somebody must have cared because he has been taught quite a few commands, but he was discovered somewhere left to starve, then kennelled and then fostered. Considering all this he’s doing brilliantly.

He has been in his new home for one week now, and one or two disturbing things are surfacing. He is very reactive and aggressive towards other dogs when out – something they’d not been warned about. Also, some occasional growling at the family is starting. With resources it’s all about owning them and hanging onto them, and when he has a toy or a bone he will parade it, growling.

Most of the time I was there Charlie was trying really hard to calm himself down, bless him. The family interpreted his behaviour around people as friendliness where I see a large element of anxiety. He’s not hyper at all, but more like the swan gliding on water and paddling furiously underneath, so the signs are not too bovious. They hadn’t read his somewhat obsessive licking of people, yawning, lip-licking, pacing, foot lifting and general restlessness as stress. The adult son asked me how could I know what these things meant. I said I can understand Charlie’s body language just as he can read another person’s face when they smile or frown. It’s through training and experience.

Where walking is concerned, so long as they patiently follow the plan, just like so many of my other clients with similar problems who have stuck at it, the family will ultimately have their daily long walks – and walks will be a joy and not something to dread.

The lady says she feels it’s cruel not to going for daily long walks. I say what is cruel is to have a highly stressed dog, pulling painfully on the lead, being forcibly held or corrected, wearing a muzzle which he is constantly trying to scrape off, trying to chase traffic, watching out for danger all the time – and when he sees another dog it’s a nightmare. That is cruel. It’s what many people with the best will in the world subject their dogs to, day in and day out.

Charlie is a wonderful dog. At last he is with the sort of family he deserves, who want to understand him and do their best of him.