Campervan Holiday With Barking Dogs.

A campervan holiday – perfect for the dogs. Or so you might think.

The holiday season is approaching and many people want to take their dogs. So they get a campervan.

I have just been to a second couple with a campervan and dogs that bark at approaching people.

The question is, how, in just a few weeks, can dogs who so frequently rehearse barking at people approaching their house be taught not to bark when people approach the campervan?

This time it’s Ruby, a rescue Lurcher, joined by Border Collie Mia who they’ve only had for three weeks. Both have wonderful long off-lead walks and are laid-back in the house.

People coming up the drive.

campervan not so laid backThe family share a common drive with other houses. Ruby literally leaps into action if anyone comes up that drive. She jumps the fence to warn both neighbours or deliveries away with aggressive barking. In her mind it works. It’s very intimidating for the people.

They are now raising the fence.

Sadly, the five-year-old Ruby won’t have been sufficiently habituated to different approaching people from the start, when she was a puppy and young dog. She is now accepting of people when out and once they are in the house so long as she’s left alone; she’s fine lying down in the pub with people approaching or walking past.

But their home is their castle. Their campervan is their mini-castle, also to be guarded. Constantly proving  at home that aggressive barking drives people away, Ruby does the same from the campervan, now joined by Mia.

People approaching the campervan.

At home, the couple will now need to work on getting the dogs to accept, welcome even, people coming towards their house.

They will also need to work on getting the dogs to accept people coming towards the campervan.

As with my last story, they can park the campervan in a variety of different places and ‘people-watch’. As with Billie and Shaun, other dogs aren’t a problem – it’s people.

Passing people provoke less reaction than people directly approaching, so that is where they will start.

The equivalent to the raised garden fence will be a board which they can put in the doorway of the campervan. When the door is open, the dogs, from inside, won’t see people approaching unless standing on their back legs.

Now, with sudden explosions dealt with by blocking the dogs’ view, they can deal with getting them to at least tolerate people approaching. They will do this in a sytematic and controlled way as per our plan.

Unwanted attention

At home the neighbours will help, I’m sure. Over time they will be associated with either food or fun.

The campervan is a different matter with different people about and the van itself parked up in different locations. Dogs are like a magnet to dog-lovers! I know the feeling but control myself.

We need to be quite forceful in protecting our dogs from unwanted attention.

It would be great if the dogs became so used to different people approaching and walking past the campervan that they ignored them. A big ask. They need a lot of weekends away!

Assistance Dog. Assistance Human. Companion.

The young owner and her dog have a special partnership. Her aim is for the 21-month-old Beagle, Lulu, to become her trained assistance dog, particularly giving her confidence where meeting people when out is concerned.

A Beagle for an Assistance Dog?

Beagles are renowned for being friendly, gentle and affectionate. They aren’t however renowned for great recall – genetically bred to hunt. However, over the past few months Lulu’s young owner has been studying dog behaviour and is already very switched-on. She has been working very hard. Lulu’s recall is great.

Beagle as assistance dogThere are some hurdles to overcome.

Where Lulu may not be so typically Beagle is where her wariness of people is concerned. This is something that will need to be resolved if she’s to make a good assistance dog. The young owner has already made great progress with people approaching directly or coming too close, but there is a way to go.

Most of us know how difficult it is to stop a determined ‘dog lover’ from coming up to our dog, looming over and putting a hand out to touch her. She will need to become accepting of this. A ‘Dog in Training’ vest should help.

Her role as assistance dog will also require Lulu to be fairly bomb proof to sudden noises and appearances. It will require that she is much more chilled about people coming into her home.

My job as a general behaviourist is to help the young owner to build up Lulu’s confidence. From there they will get more specialised help from someone who works specifically with this kind of assistance dog.

Arousal

Recently the young owner moved back home where Lulu joins two other dogs, Nettie, a Labrador Staffie mix, and a little terrier.

With three dogs and five people in the household, there is a lot more excitement.

Callers coming to the house are posing a problem at the moment, with both dogs barking initially and again if the person gets up and moves about. Strangely, Nettie didn’t do this before Lulu came to live with them. Now Nettie starts it off!

When the two dogs regularly bark at passing people and other dogs from the window or the garden, they are, to their minds, chasing people and dogs away. It works. Where Lulu reacts to people, Nettie reacts to other dogs.They are rehearsing the very behaviour that’s unwanted when they are out.

Underpinning everything is for all three dogs to be a lot calmer. This can only happen if the humans themselves are calmer with them.

Reducing barking is a large part of the calming down process. Family members can help too by not playing hands-on vigorous games, along with not getting the dogs excited when they return home. It’s not necessary. We humans don’t greet one another in that way after a few hours apart, do we.

Out on walks

Lulu’s assistance dog role will be needed most when they go out.

Both dogs pull on lead and are usually walked separately. When she has calmed down, however, Lulu can walk nicely – I have seen videos.

The road walks will begin with just hanging around near to the house and waiting for calm. Now Lulu needs two things. She needs to learn to walk nicely beside the girl when ‘on duty’. She also needs ‘Lulu time’.

I suggest more frequent very short walks to work on technique, with a Perfect Fit harness (D-rings on both back and chest) and double-ended training lead. Lulu can learn to feel the difference between how the harness is used when being asked to walk nicely and when she can have a bit of freedom – ‘off duty’.

Walking nicely beside the girl can be prompted by attaching the lead both to the front and chest. After a few minutes of this, one end of the lead can be unclipped and left on either front or back only. Lulu can now be given full length and the girl can allow Lulu to lead her where she wants (within reason). Lulu can choose.

Because her recall is so good, Lulu can then be taken to somewhere open where she can be free to let off steam, run around and sniff.

Where encountering people is concerned, they will continue to work with Lulu’s wariness of approaching people using the ‘Engage/Disengage Game‘ which involves keeping as much distance as is required.

Operation Calm

So, it’s ‘Operation Calm’ to start with, to establish firm foundations.

Both the girl and her lovely Beagle can help one another by sending currents of confidence up and down the lead when approached by someone, rather than tingles of anxiety

Lulu may soon be in training to become a proper Assistance Dog; the girl is already Lulu’s Assistance Human!

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 Lulu and the other dogs and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. 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 as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or 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)

 

She Barks at People Despite Being Well Trained

Goldie probably already had the seeds of timidity before they got her as a young puppy. If she had encountered many more people sufficiently early it would have helped, but they were caught in that trap of having to wait for vaccinations before taking her out (another matter I frequently write about). She’s now fourteen months old.

She barks at people.

Goldie barks at certain people when out, not everyone. She barks at people she doesn’t know who come into her she barks at peoplehouse.

One thing is for certain, if they had not been the dedicated owners they are, putting in so much love and training, the small gun dog Golden Labrador could now be a great deal worse.

It didn’t take her long to stop barking at me. It was a treat to visit such an gentle, friendly and well-trained dog.

Goldie has a lovely life, just tarnished by her fearfulness of certain people in certain situations.

Training alone doesn’t address this fear.

When out she will walk nicely, looking up and engaging with whoever is holding the lead. Keeping and holding attention is very valuable for managing situations but it it doesn’t get her to feel differently about an advancing person. It merely takes her attention away from them.

(It’s common for dogs to feel uneasy when approached. See the pulse project).

For what we want to achieve, Goldie needs to change how she feels. Distracting her by getting her to look at them instead is avoidance. It’s like telling a child who has seen a masked man at the window to pay attention to his Xbox.

Emotions drive behaviour. She barks at certain people. This is driven by fear.

To help to address this fear, she needs to register the person. Direct approaches are intimidating so they should always arc. They should keep at a distance where Goldie is aware but not reacting.

Looking at the person will then trigger goodies. Food can rain down.

Training her to keep attention on the handler is perfect if caught unprepared or too close, but it won’t change how Goldie feels. It’s merely management. They want to be able to relax and trust her to react calmly by herself. She won’t unless she loses her fear.

People invading her space.

Another responsibility of the owner is to protect their dog from unwelcome attention – who doesn’t want to touch a beautiful Labrador, after all. A yellow ‘I Need Space’ vest should help greatly.

Off-lead Goldie is less likely to react to an approaching person as is usually the case. She will have freedom to increase distance, something she doesn’t have when someone comes to the door of her house. At home the stranger is walking directly towards her.

They could of course train her to settle on a mat away from the door when someone comes in, but this is a big ask when she’s scared and reacts with barking rather than hiding.

Training will have its place later. For now she should be kept away from the door when someone arrives. Standing people are more threatening, so she can join them when the person is sitting down. They can then work on the person ‘triggering goodies’. It worked well with me.

They can desensitise her to the knocker too. Starting with Goldie at the door beside them and letting her see them knock whilst dropping food. They can do various kinds of knocks: short, multiple, loud and soft. Then can then have a family member the other side of the door knocking while another feeds her inside. Gradually they can increase distance and later make the knocks unpredictable. This will need hundreds of repetitions over a period of time.

When she eventually becomes more confident and relaxed, training her to go and lie on her bed away from the door when there is a knock on the door would be reasonable.

One last thing. They would like to take her places like the pub or a cafe without fearing she may suddenly have a bout of aggressive-sounding barking when a person approaches.

Goldie should end up with the ideal mix. Emotional stability and great training.

 

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 Goldie and I’ve not gone fully 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, particularly where fear issues of any kind are 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 (click here to see my Help page)

A Person Approaching he Finds Threatening

His reactivity to any person approaching him was triggered by something else.

Previously the well-socialised German Shepherd had been fine if there was a person approaching him. Recently Danny has begun to show aggression towards people on walks. He will pull, lunge, bark and jump at people.

It came to a head when recently, off lead, he rushed at a man and leapt up at him, snarling. The man, understandably, wasn’t pleased.

A person approaching upsets DannyThe dog law now declares that someone need only feel threatened by a dog for the owner to be prosecuted, regardless of any injury.

Two-year-old Danny’s story is a perfect example of how, when one really scary incident occurs, it can infect something else that is seemingly unrelated.

A short while ago the daughter had been walking him when she was stung by a hornet. She screamed. She panicked.

At the same time a jogger happened to be running towards them.

What has a hornet sting to do with aggression towards a person approaching?

Danny will very likely have connected the girl’s screaming with the approaching jogger. He is now particularly aggressive towards joggers. The reactivity has spread to barking, lunging and jumping up at any person approaching him.

I always myself avoid walking directly towards any dog as it can be perceived to be threatening. Each time I visit a house I ask that the dog is brought to join me instead of my walking directly into the dog’s space. I learnt this the hard way in my early days of doing this job when a gentleman opened his front door with his German Shepherd beside him. He said ‘Come in’, so I stepped towards them. The dog leaped and grabbed my arm. No harm done but a valuable early lesson learnt!

The work starts at home.

In all areas of Danny’s life they will now be rebuilding his confidence in unfamiliar people so a person approaching will no longer seem a threat to him.

When someone unfamiliar comes to the house, he will be left to calm down before joining them. The encounter will be associated with good things. With me, after a noisy start, he was confident, curious and polite. I came bearing the gift of a stuffed toy which he certainly liked – he dismembered it. Not a good choice!

Danny barks if he hears a person approaching up the gravel drive. Territorial barking is what you would expect of a dog, but it need not carry on for long. Bearing in mind he has guarding in his genes, this might be harder work than if he were, say, a Greyhound.

Currently on walks he is controlled with a head halter on a tight lead and corrected with a jerk when he pulls. This won’t help him feel relaxed when he sees an approaching person. A calm dog walking comfortably on a loose lead will be far less likely to react in alarm. They will work on this.

How the family reacts when Danny spots the approaching person is key to his progress – and they will be working hard at this. Exact procedures differ with different situations so I don’t go into details here.

Here is one idea. If it’s a jogger running towards them, what should they do? A person approaching is what upsets him. A jogger approaching him upsets him even more. It may also fire him up to chase. As he’s okay with people coming from behind, why not turn around when a jogger appears and themselves jog too? When the jogger has overtaken them they can turn around and go on their way.

Jumping up aggressively at a person approaching him is a recent thing.

It shouldn’t yet be too much of an ingrained habit. With some work and appropriate response on the part of the people who walk him, he should learn to trust them not to force him any closer to a person approaching than he feels comfortable by arcing, going off at an angle or turning around. This distance should naturally reduce over time.

Should Danny be off lead now? I feel that universally when another dog or a person appears, a dog that won’t immediately come back when called shouldn’t have total freedom. It will never happen.

The dog law, tightened up last year (my slide show here), has no sympathy for a dog feeling threatened and reacting accordingly. If a person feels threatened however, that’s enough to cause big trouble.

 

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 Danny 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 aggression of ny kind is concerned. 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)