Sees Another Dog. Tail up, Freezes, Stares

When he sees another dog from a distance, he freezes, stands tall and his tail goes up. He stares.  If too close, he will rear up on his back legs.

Boycie is huge – a two-year-old Cane Corso weighing over eight stone. Where the man is stronger and not so concerned, the lady owner is petite. She’s a lot lighter than Boycie.

Calm and interested

I found a confident and polite dog. They have worked very hard with the beautiful boy from the start.

Boycie’s attitude towards me was ‘calm and interested’ rather than overly-friendly. This is exactly how they would like him to be with other dogs – when he’s on lead in particular.

Stares and freezes when seeing another dogWhen younger, Boycie used to be enthusiastically friendly when he saw another dog, rushing over to it. Ten stone of muscle charging at them may not be funny for a small dog – or the human. They have worked hard training his recall which is now great so he spends a lot of his time off lead.

His change of attitude towards another dog, when he himself is on lead, has gradually worsened over the past year or so. No particular event they can recall triggered it but are determined for it not to get any worse.

He started also to obsess with constant marking when out and even licking other dogs’ pee. They had him castrated a short while ago which seems to have stopped this, but may not have been helpful where is attitude towards another dog is concerned. (Castration has been proved not to be the universal quick fix for aggression that was previously thought).

Changing how he actually feels about another dog.

Now they have some hard work to do which I know they will approach with the same dedication they did his recall.

They will work on changing how Boycie feels when he spots another dog while he’s trapped beside them on lead. It’s not about ‘stopping’ what he does, but changing the emotion that makes him do it in the first place. Dealing with it at source.

Boycie’s whole attitude is one of not wanting that dog too close. On lead he’s denied that choice of increasing distance if he feels it’s necessary. He has become increasingly reactive.

To work on this there are one or two other things to do at home that may well help. One is taking responsibility for protection duty. This doesn’t mean he shouldn’t bark at all, but that they deal with it in a certain way. If he doesn’t rely upon them to make the decisions regarding safety and protection at home, he’s less likely to do so on walks.

With a dog this size, ‘dominating’ and controlling him isn’t feasible. In this day and age when we know better, it’s also not ethical. Instead, the dog can learn to make his own correct decisions.

The first thing is that he should get as little opportunity as possible to rehearse the behaviour. The more he does it, the more of a habit it becomes.

Trust in his humans

Boycie needs to trust the person holding his lead to make the right decisions when he’s trapped beside them. He is saying ‘Go away’ when he sees another dog because he wants to increase distance. To his mind the dog, for whatever reason, could be a threat. He freezes as soon as he spots it, however distant. He is unmovable. If another dog gets too close, he rears on his back legs to lunge.

Boycie needs to trust them to increase distance to a comfortable point (for him) immediately.  After a while he should realise that he doesn’t have to make so much fuss when he sees another dog. His humans will be attuned to him.

With time, patience and help, they will change the way he feels about other dogs. He will begin to associate them with good things – fun or food. After some weeks of following our plan, he should be able to get close without reacting. He will either ignore the dog completely or engage with his person with instead.

‘Calm and interested’ is our ultimate goal when he sees another dog too.

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 Boycie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression 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 Help page).

Other Dogs. Confront, Avoid or Something Else?

Reactive to other dogs

Muffin

The family have now had Manchester Terrier Muffin for five years and they were the seven-year-old’s fourth home. She didn’t have a good start in life and they have come a long way with her. Some of her past included being locked up day and night and time in rescue surrounded by other dogs barking.

Muffin has problems meeting other dogs when out.

It’s not all other dogs though and it’s variable. She has her dog friends.

Muffin is a highly-strung dog in general. She is initially anxious and noisy when people come to her house. She, with a little help from their other dog, Cocker Spaniel Sparky, is on high alert for sounds.

For much of the day she is on sentry duty at the front window.

Muffin is looking out for other dogs.

As soon as she sees other dogs walking past, she will start to bark.

It’s more of a problem on walks. Muffin has slipped collars and harnesses. She then runs off and ‘terrorises’ other dogs or may rush at people, barking and jumping at them. A child could be scared.

Muffin has a wide neck and a small head and she simply backs out of collars. She neatly draws her front legs back out of harnesses too. Then she’s off.

One of her previous homes had given up on her because she was an escape artist.

My clients are responsible dog owners and have tried every bit of equipment they can find. The only way the gentleman who does the dog walking can feel confident that she can’t escape by backing out is by using a prong collar.

When they get too close to other dogs, unable to back out of her restraints, Muffin will rear up, hackles, barking and lunging. This simply has to be painful. Dogs’ necks are made much the same as our own.

Bin the prong collar!

Pain will merely add to negative feelings she already has about the other dog. We need to do the very opposite, to associate other dogs with as much good stuff as possible.

I would defy any dog to get out of a Perfect Fit harness if fitted properly. Muffin will be getting one and they will ditch the prong collar.

It’s vital that when Muffin sees other dogs that only good things happen.

To move things forward, the man had decided to expose Muffin to other dogs whenever he could. This isn’t improving things. She needs to feel differently about them – and flooding her will merely make her feel a lot worse. She’s trapped on lead, so as she gets closer will be feeling a degree of panic – and pain too as she rears up on her back legs.

Avoiding other dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but close badly managed encounters are even worse.

When she sees other dogs, the man will now watch her carefully. She focuses on a dog from a distance, becoming oblivious to anything else. Pushing ahead until she rears up and has to be forcibly held back does no good at all. This can in one stroke undo any good work already done.

It’s like a game of snakes and ladders.

I did one of my Paws for Thought blogs on the subject.

Working with other dogs at a comfortable distance, using food or fun as instructed, takes the dog up a ladder.

Unmanaged encounters with other dogs, either dogs that suddenly appear or dogs that come too close, will send her back down the next snake.

The snakes are a lot longer than the ladders! That’s life for you.

It’s a set-back. But this happens all the time because we live in the real world with other dog owners being less responsible. So, pick it up again and search for more ladders to go up – dogs at a distance she can cope with and is relaxed enough to associate with good things like food.

Progress.

Because Muffin’s reaction to other dogs is affected by how aroused or stressed she already is, it’s important they help her to be calmer in general.

This means blocking her view out of front windows. No more watching out for other dogs to bark at and rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.

Her walking equipment will be comfortable and over time, if no longer forced too close and sliding down too many snakes, she will happily carry on walking when near other dogs. If the other dog itself has problems, they should increase distance for his sake as well as Muffin’s.

The practical details will vary per dog, but here I describe the general principal. This approach is backed up by science.

From a message three weeks later: ‘Thankyou so much for your support, we are astounded by how well the little things are making such a big difference’.
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 approach I have worked out for Muffin 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or aggression of any kind is concerned. Everything depends upon context. 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)

 

Little Dogs. Treat as Big Dogs?

Most people who choose little dogs treat them very differently to how people usually treat bigger dogs, carrying them everywhere and keeping them closely on lead – but not so the couple I went to last night.

Daisy

Daisy

Little dogs are ‘proper dogs’.

Their two little dogs, tiny Chihuahua Jack Russell mixes, have deliberately been given the same ‘proper dog’ life as larger dogs in every way possible.

Surrounded by love and care, they have been kindly trained to do the important things like come back when called and to wait. Twice a day the lady takes them somewhere by car so they can run free. The little dogs are seldom carried.

Although both Daisy and Poppy are fourteen months of age, they came from different places. Poppy, the smaller of the two, is much more robust mentally. Daisy is more nervous, easily upset, and it’s for her that I was called out.

Both little dogs get on very well apart from the occasional pop when Daisy gets over-aroused and redirects onto Poppy. Daisy’s general arousal and stress levels are something we will be working on.

They called me in with the aim for Daisy ‘not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’.

Why should little dogs not object to their personal space being invaded?

Upon discussion, I feel that it is totally acceptable for Daisy to tell another dog – a dog that will probably be a lot larger than herself – to keep its distance. She ignores dogs unless they are in her face, it’s the same with young children, and that is the end game many people would be happy to achieve.

This is where treating little dogs exactly the same as big dogs falls down.

Little dogs and big dogs aren’t the same. Little dogs are a lot more vulnerable. Just imagine what the world and other dogs must look like through their eyes! Anything approaching would loom. Just imagine also how little dogs may appear to a big dog, particularly a dog of a hunting breed.

Twice a day the two little dogs are taken, by car, to a large open park or to the woods. Both come back when called and, always off lead, they have plenty of freedom. Daisy in particular stays close. Of late, the more nervous Daisy has shown reluctance to go for the second walk but that’s okay, the lady allows her choice – she also allows her choice if she doesn’t want to get out of the car the other end. I love that, but why the reluctance in the first place?

I’m sure Daisy is torn between loving the walk and feeling unsafe. Once a day is enough for her at present.

If the lady is anywhere she can’t see other dogs coming, she is taking a risk.

Little dogs on the beach

On the beach

A short while ago the two little dogs were chased by a Rottweiler and another big dog that suddenly appeared out of the trees. The Rottie was after the braver Poppy who, when she eventually came back, leapt into the lady’s arms terrified, urinating and shaking. She may have been lucky.

They talked to their vet about Daisy’s attitude to other dogs. The advice given? Not to pick her up because she may then become protective of the lady!

How ridiculous in this context.

Just as behaviourists are not vets and I would always refer for anything medical, few vets are experienced, up-to-date behaviourists and often give outdated advice or may not have had time to see the whole picture.

The two aspects we are concentrating on are Daisy’s general stress levels and confidence, and making sure she feels safe on walks. This means doing things just a bit differently. It means choosing locations carefully.

Making sure the little dogs not only feel safe on walks but are actually safer too means regularly calling them back even if there is no other dog about so the two things are not associated. It means regularly picking one or other dog up and getting her used to being carried for a short distance, regardless of the approach of another dog.crisis. Why?

Little dogs simply are not big dogs and they have to be protected

The owner needs to be the little dogs’ safety net and trusted always to keep them safe. If, then, a big dog approaches, Daisy can opt to jump into the lady’s arms – better than simply scooping her up unless in emergency. If she knows she has backup, she may feel less need to defend herself anyway.

Little dogs in the mirror

Who are those dogs in the mirror?

See this lovely video ‘Small Dog Syndrome‘ from Steve Mann with his own little dog, a Chihuahua.

The lady will watch Daisy’s body language carefully and keep sufficient distance between her and other dogs. She can be assertive with other owners and parents of young children. She already has a yellow top for herself that says ‘My dog needs space’. I suggest one for Daisy too – ‘I need space’.

If the other dog leaves her alone, Daisy is chilled. She can even sit within a couple of feet of a dog she doesn’t know if the lady stops to chat, so long as it leaves her alone. What more can we ask for?

Would we like a giant stranger looming over us and putting his scary face right into our own? No. He would deserve a complaint if not a slap. We ask a lot of our dogs.

So, we have changed the aim of my visit from ‘For Daisy not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’ to ‘Helping Daisy to feel safe when other dogs get too close’.

Little Daisy will then trust the lady to keep her safe and I’m sure she will soon be happily choosing to go out for the second walk.

 

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 the little dogs Daisy and Poppy 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. 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 Help page)

Trigger Stacking

Sassy was fetched on Sunday and on Wednesday I was there with her, the couple and their two children.

Forward planning.

They had done some perfect forward planning in advance of getting their rescue dog home from the shelter.

They are not a family that took a dog into their lives upon impulse. Absolutely the opposite. Over a few weeks they had visited the two-year-old mixed breed several times. She particularly bonded with the little girl, aged 8.

They were told that Sassy is a German Shepherd Husky mix but I can’t for the life of me see any Husky. Staffie maybe. She’s smaller than a GSD – much the size and shape of Zara, my mini Labrador.

There is one particular cloud on the horizon and that is her possible ‘aggression’ to other dogs. This is based on one incident. In order to show the family how Sassy was with other dogs, the shelter staff brought three dogs into the area, one at a time.

The first dog she ignored. They tell me she took no notice of it at all. It’s unusual for a dog to truly ignore another dog suddenly entering her immediate environment. I suspect she may deliberately have looked away from it as dogs do when they feel uneasy about something.

The second dog was large and noisy. It was aggressive and scary but Sassy managed well.

The third dog was brought in, a peaceful Staffie. Sassy hurled herself at it and pinned it down – no actual injury.

This to me spells ‘trigger stacking’, where the events add up.

Already she will have been aroused by being with her visitors and probably a couple of shelter staff. Coming out of her kennel in itself will have been exciting.

To quote Sally Hopkins, each time a dog is over excited or is caused stress, the adrenal and thyroid glands, testosterone and hypothalamus begin to increase their production. The output from these glands reach a peak 10-15 minutes after the incident, and takes between 3-5 days to return to the level they were at before the incident.

trigger stacking

This is why certain dogs can become aggressive for no apparent reason when meeting another dog; they are still experiencing the rush of adrenaline etc. from a build up of small things or an incident that happened 10-15 minutes beforehand (thank you Dog Games for the diagram).

 

Trigger stacking

Trigger stacking will also have been happening from the moment Sassy was let out of her kennel to be taken to her new life.

Just imagine how arousing entering a new home must be to a dog, particularly a dog that has had little variety for months.

First the lead is attached and she’s led away from the place she knows well. Then into the car with the new smells and sounds.

Then into the house. A total bombardment of new smells from all quarters. Her new humans hovering about even if consciously trying to leave her alone. Then where should she toilet? She explores but every now and then meets a barrier – a correction of some sort. She is learning.

She’s very reactive to birds in the garden. I wonder how long it has been since she sat and watched birds? She worries when she hears a dog bark – unsurprising when she had been surrounded by so much barking. There are further new people coming into the house.

I will have barely touched upon all the things she will have been experiencing and processing over the past three days, things that will slowly have been adding to her stress levels. Trigger stacking. She responded initially by having a crazy, manic few hours before settling down a bit.

Such was their forward planning that despite being at work all day they had already made arrangements so Sassy wouldn’t be left for more than a couple of hours at a time. They had also spoken to me and booked me well in advance.

I have given them a few suggestions to get them started off on the right foot and will go again in a couple of weeks when she has settled in and may just perhaps be less acquiescent and accepting.

She is quickly getting the idea of not jumping on the sides and they will now be making what they do want her to do -resisting or getting back down – rewarding.

There are a couple of restrictions that she may balk against eventually.

They have a a small white rug in front of the sofa and they don’t want her on this. It keeps her away from sitting beside them while they watch TV but this may be a big missed opportunity for bonding.

The other rule that may be a challenge is they want her to toilet only in a very small patch of stones behind the shed. They always accompany her at the moment and have so far been successful. They will need not to let her out without them for a while if they want this to become a habit and also reward her actually on the ground as she finishes to emphasise the location. I suggested they put the toileting on cue with special words – ‘be clean’ perhaps.

Apart from some pacing and panting, Sassy seems to be settling down brilliantly. I gave her a bone to chew which she worked on enthusiastically – chewing being a great ‘unwinder’.  She was lying stretched out on the floor in no time, oblivious of people walking around her, like she was exhausted.

I am very happy that the family are keeping the dog in the garden and just outside the gate for now while she adjusts – well away from any other dogs – to give her stress levels time to go right down. A new home is a huge adjustment.

They are not over-fussing her. The children are doing their bit.

In a couple of weeks, in a calm and stable state she can start to be gradually re-introduced to the world outside their immediate environment with as little opportunity for ‘trigger stacking’ as possible.

I wonder what will come to the fore in a couple of weeks time when the ‘real dog’ comes out of her shell?

 

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 Sassy 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. Every dog is different. 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)

Overprotective Dog Causes Problems

Swiss Shepherd is overprotectiveAn overprotective dog can take over a person’s life, as is the case with the young lady and her stunning two-year-old White Swiss Shepherd, Jake.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but had he had more intensive socialisation at a much younger age things could be different. As it is, the lady only had him living with her from the age of six months and since then she has moved with him from a home overseas with lots of open countryside where they met few people and dogs to life in a town.

It’s tragic that the dog into which she has put in so much training, effort and love is also spoiling her life. His reactivity to both people and other dogs means she can’t freely go out with him or meet friends and it makes people coming to her house difficult because she has to watch him all the time. When she chose him it was to have a companion that could share all her activities, not a bodyguard.

Jake had been barking at me from his crate as I stood beside the lady who was making us coffee, probably in a panic because he was powerless to protect her from a stranger, Let out, he now followed at her heels, panting, as she moved around the kitchen. We had sat down for a while and in order that he would associated me with good stuff, I threw food well away from myself onto the floor. He ate my food but ignored me completely.  Without looking at him I then casually held my hand down with a piece of food in it. He came over to take the food and as he did so I heard the lady quickly draw breath – and Jake heard it too. He very suddenly barked at me and snapped – not making contact.

It’s easy to underestimate the effect of a human’s state of anxiety upon her dog. There is an invisible cord between dog and lady, the dog as much on high alert to her every signal as she is to his. Because she’s on tenterhooks her overprotective dog could sense vulnerability I’m sure.

This was one very confident dog doing his job, that of protecting the lady. He was in no way fearful of me.

Bearing in mind that consequence drives behaviour, what does he gain by barking at someone? It will usually result in withdrawal of some sort. It will always result in attention from the lady.

Jake’s reactivity and unpredictability out on walks is all part of the same overprotective thing with an added component – he is trapped on the end of a lead, helpless against other dogs who may come too near and be a threat to his human or to himself. It’s understandable that he ‘goes berserk’.

Being overprotective is at the root of everything. The young owner has a friend who walks Jake and visits her house. When she’s not there he is apparently a different dog. As soon as she comes home he changes his behaviour towards the friend and goes into bodyguard mode.

The lady knows of nowhere else to walk before and after work when time is short but the local park and there are always dogs in the park. Even when just walking the streets she can’t avoid other dogs. She has made great headway with getting Jake used to passing people when they are out, but dogs are another matter. You can’t control other people’s dogs (wouldn’t it be great if we could!).

It is simply impossible to work on a proper counter-conditioning programme in uncontrolled situations as finding that ‘threshold’ distance from another dog is crucial. The only solution is to find a place to go by car made impossible by time constraints. There must somehow be a way.

Dealing with the whole issue of Jake being overprotective rather than dealing specifically with his reactivity to dogs and people should help. Primarily, this means reducing his need to constantly protect the lady which requires a change of emphasis in their relationship with one another. The more opportunities she can find to be the ‘protector’ and decision-maker and the more she can act independently of him when they are together, making breaks in that invisible cord connecting them, the better.

From Street Dogs to Pets

Rocky and Flossie were born on the streets in a small coastal town in BulgaDogs from streets of Kavanaria around two years ago from mothers also born on the streets. For the past year or so they have lived in a house with a couple who have done remarkably well with them, transforming them from street dogs to settled house dogs.

The one respect in which they are, if anything, getting worse is when out on walks and particularly when encountering other dogs.

Outside the house – more their natural habitat one might think – they are finding things harder.

Initially there were no problems with other dogs. When picked up they had no scars or evidence of fighting and they had lived happily and free around the other street dogs. Now when they encounter a dog, Rocky in particular is scared and Flossie is getting worse. Rocky shrinks and lowers himself and as they get nearer he resorts to lunging and barking, not wanting the other dog to get any closer.

This is where humans need to start thinking ‘dog’. It really doesn’t matter whether a destination is reached, it’s about the journey. What does matter is that they mimic as closely as possible what a free dog would do to feel safe. If the dog wants to increase distance then that’s what must happen. It could mean turning around. For now it could mean avoiding narrow passages and taking different routes. It could in some cases mean starting walks with a car journey to somewhere appropriate and safe.

In his past life, unleashed, Rocky could have chosen to turn and go the other way.  Both dogs would have had free choice as to whether to interact with other dogs or not. Now Flossie and Rocky are, necessarily, trapped on the end of leashes even when away from the roads. If let off lead, Rocky will take himself off for an hour or two and Flossie may well go home.

The lady in particular is finding walking the dogs increasingly nerve-wracking. She is afraid Rocky in particular might harm another dog.

There are three elements we discussed to help these two lovely dogs. The first is, when they are out, for them to feel as free and comfortable as possible. From having no restriction at all they are now on the end of retractable leads which, by the very way they work, always have tension. They thankfully wear harnesses but even these could be more comfortable.

The next thing is that the dogs need to be walked separately for a while because each needs full attention and their ways of reacting aren’t the same so they could well be firing one another up.

Thirdly, their reactivity needs to be worked on – carefully. Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but even worse is to push them too close, beyond their comfort threshold so that they feel forced to defend themselves. The human at the end of the lead, watching their own dog carefully and increasing distance the instant there is any sign of discomfort or fear will, over time, build up trust. If Rocky knows he’s being ‘listened to’ then he should gradually dare go a bit closer.

Now desensitisation can begin. The appearance of another dog can start to be associated with good things like scattered food – but from a ‘safe’ distance.

When the dogs are in open places they are currently restricted on the end of just ten feet or so of retractable lead. They could be on 15 metre long, loose training lines, able to run, sniff and explore. If an off-lead dog does happen to run up, whilst escape strategies have been discussed, the dog should feel he has some choice. On the end of long lines their recall can really be worked on.

Both dogs are understandably nervous of new things, certain sudden sounds and people who look ‘different’. The best tool to change this is for every single time either Rocky or Flossie encounters something even slightly scary or anxious-making, something good should happen. This can be food or fun – the more rewarding to the dog the better.

Helping the dogs to feel safe is the priority. It’s the most important thing – more important to them than food even. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t be interested in food. Right from puppyhood these two would have been free to follow their instincts in order to keep themselves safe. In their new life, because trapped in effect, they need total trust in their humans to keep them safe instead.

So much of the stuff I normally advise is already in place for these dogs at home including a perfect diet and kind, positive training techniques from caring and knowledgeable people. It will be great when (and it will take as long as it take), the walks become relaxed and enjoyable too.

Sent Away For Dog Training

GSD had been sent away to boot camp but  came back worseTwo-year-old German Shepherd Fonz is a beautiful, friendly German Shepherd. His lady owner has worked very hard with him and is very much on his wavelength – that is until other dogs enter the equation.

He left his litter and mother too young – at six weeks old, and had a couple of early bad encounters with other dogs that was not a good start. Before he was a year old the lady had a one-to-one trainer in to help her with walking him around other dogs. No improvement.

Then, last summer, he was sent away for dog training for three whole weeks. They advocated a choke chain and old-fashioned training methods. All was OK while he was there – he had no choice – but when he came home and his lady walked him, there was no improvement at all – in fact, if anything, his recall was worse.

This is proof to me that it’s not to do with the dog, it’s to do with the humans. What has been lacking all along has been an understanding of why he reacts so hysterically and violently to other dogs, and instead of forcing him to comply, looking at it from his point of view.

He is scared. He is certainly not a naturally aggressive or territorial dog that wants to dominate. When there is a dog about he experiences discomfort as the collar is tightened around his neck, anxious vibes from the lady zip down the lead as she beats a hasty retreat, and loud scolding and jerking as he lunges if this is left too late.

Surely the only way to conquer the fearful behaviour is to conquer his fears, and this has to be done slowly. It’s far too late for ‘socialising’. He needs to feel comfortable with the equipment used. The situation needs working at from whatever distance necessary for him not to feel threatened; his human, his owner, like a good parent or guide should be the one who teaches him confidence without pushing him beyond his threshold, without bullying, and to behave like the leader/parent she is with him in other respects. Avoiding dogs altogether for ever contains the situation but doesn’t advance it.

‘Training’ of various kinds hasn’t worked so there really is no choice but to have a totally different approach if Fonz is ever to be relaxed in the vicinity of other dogs. It will be a slow business requiring considerable patience and sensitivity which I know this lady has. Being sent away for dog training can make little difference when it’s the humans who need most of the training.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Fonz, 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).

 

Jumping up on People. Lunging at Other Dogs

problems with lunging at other dogsBonnie (2) is mostly Border Collie, and Bruce (1) probably a Boxer mix. They have had Bonnie from a puppy.  After at least two previous homes, Bruce was rehomed with them four months ago. He is a bit fearful of new things, probably not having previously encountered much of the outside world.

Lunging at other dogs

The main problem they want to resolve is Bonnie’s ‘aggression’ to other dogs when they are out and Bruce’s over-excitement (anxiety perhaps also) causing him to lunge at them barking. The couple would also like the dogs to walk nicely on lead, and for Bruce to take notice of them when they call him.

There are many areas where things are going well and the two dogs get on very well, but one other problem is persistent jumping up.

I believe that we need to get things right at home in order to properly succees when we are out – house built on sand and all that. The dogs both should be taking more notice of their owners at home before they can be expected to do so with distractions like other dogs and people when outside.

The jumping up needs to be tackled immediately. At present they actually actively encourage it at times, whilst not wanting them to jump up at other people.  Telling them to get down just doesn’t work. They were quite persistent when I was there, even though I was sitting at the dining table. To cure this there really has to be nothing in it for them. Everyone as well as the couple must comply, the son, friends and family. Attention happens when the dogs feet are on the floor only – or if they are sitting.

Walking the dogs separately

In order to teach the dogs to walk nicely they need to be separated initially. Several five-minute session a day each will do the trick. If the person jerks the lead or holds the dog tight when they see a dog approaching, what message is that giving to the dog? Whether it is excitement or fear, it’s is the humans who should be taking charge of the situation. If they relax, use encouragement and rewards, turn away and put a bit more distance between them, ideally before Bruce or Bonnie can start lunging at other dogs or barking, things will start to improve. The required distance will lessen over time until the dogs can walk past each other. Each time the dogs rehearse this reactive behaviour they get better at it.

How quickly they see an end result on walks will depend upon how frequently they take each dog out. The more relevant the owners are at home and the more the dogs take notice of them there, the more relevant they will be to them when out; the more confidence jumpy Bruce will have in them.

Professionals like myself can often see how important relevance and respect is when we demonstrate with a dog. Because of our own behaviour (and we have no past history) the dog may behave completely differently for us to how he or she behaves with the owners.

We often can walk a dog on a loose lead or in the vicinity of another dog where the owner can’t. This is a relationship thing that needs working on at home too.

Feels Unsafe Around Other Dogs

Roots is a delightful and friendly three year old Collie/Husky cross – with stunning pale eyes outlined in black.feels unsafe around other dogs She had to be removed from her mother at six weeks old and they have worked very hard with her. She was the star of her puppy obedience classes.

Increasingly reactive to other dogs

However, as time has gone by and despite their efforts, she has developed more and more reactivity to other dogs, This is any dog in fact that shows any reaction to her whatsoever, friendly or otherwise, particularly if she is on lead.

She’s okay with dogs that totally ignore her and with some dogs when she is off lead. Otherwise her hackles rise, she lunges and if she could she would attack. The lady has been bitten on the leg for being in the way. Roots feels unsafe.

Changing how Roots feels about walks

The whole walk scenario needs to be changed. In order to give better control she now wears a ‘Gentle Leader’. As soon as she sees it come out, she backs away.

The lead that is attached is a retractable lead which by its very nature is always tight. So, Roots walks down the road, held tight beside them on this contraption and one can imagine how it must be for her when they see another dog.

No wonder, trapped, she feels unsafe. The lead will tighten. It will be uncomfortable on her face – especially if she lunges and is dragged past.

This is a clear case of the presence of another dog being associated with all the wrong things. Owner tension, discomfort, and from the young man an angry reaction when she acts in what is to her, self-defence – going for the other dog before it gets her. She simply feels unsafe.

Cat-watch

Because Roots is okay with some dogs, this situation isn’t as bad as it may seem. Some days she will already be more wound up than others and therefore more reactive.

From the moment she leaves the house she’s on ‘cat-watch’ – cats really hype her up. This needs to be tackled. She needs to be stirred up less at home so she is in a calmer state of mind in general; she needs to be comfortable in the equipment used and her walker needs to be relaxed and in control. Roots needs to associate other dogs with nice stuff and not with discomfort, panic or anger.

I sometimes wonder why that head halter is called a ‘Gentle Leader’. As people mainly use them to physically pevent dogs from pulling there isn’t much ‘Gentle’ about it – and ‘Leader’? Jerking the lead on a head collar is hardly leading, is it.

Border Terrier a Bundle of Worry

Border Mitzy is a highly stressed little dogLittle Mitzy is a seven-year-old Border Terrier. Mitzy is a bundle of worry.

I watched her shaking, regularly lifting her paw and licking her lips like she was taking a bite of air.

I was called because they no longer take her for walks due to her ‘aggression’ towards other dogs. This I’m sure is due to terror, and she nearly strangles herself lunging at them.

Mitzy is in a state before she even leaves the house. She shakes when her harness is put on. She pulls down the road, already highly stressed, and that’s before she even sees a dog. Even though she has never actually harmed a dog on a walk, they were so worried that they had been muzzling her which would have increased her feeling of helplessness.

We have listed all the things that stress poor Mitzy and these need working on. Reducing her anxiety at home must be a start, because if she is permanently aroused she’s in no a fit state to face the scary outside world.

The lady and her two daughters are going to go back to basics with the walking and break it down into tiny steps. Any walking at all – even five minutes two or three times a day – is a lot better than she’s getting now.

First she needs a comfortable harness. Nothing more should happen until she is happy having it put on and wearing it – no shaking. – so she may need it left on for a few days. Then they need to walk her in the garden where she feels relatively safe, teaching her how pleasant it is when the lead is loose, treats and encouragement are used and they themselves are relaxed. This could take weeks! Next step is to venture through the gate. Only when she can do that calmly should they try walking outside. She won’t be ready for ‘other dogs’ yet! I myself sometimes use a ‘stooge’ dog – a realistic stuffed boxer I call Daisy that I can place at a distance. This can be done with real distant dogs, but Daisy is predictable and stands still!  The people can then remain relaxed whilst rehearsing their procedure for meeting dogs. They need to manage the environment and choose quiet times. Having an unscheduled close encounter would set things back at this stage.

The lady and her two teenage daughters are very committed to helping Mitzy and I”m sure they will give it as long as it takes which could be many months. Mitzy will start to enjoy walks. There is no reason why, after she can negotiate going out as far as the car calmly and happily, they should not drive her to somewhere open and dog-free, put her on a long line, no muzzle, and give her some freedom.