Head Halter. Restricted. Uncomfortable.

Beautiful Golden Retriever, Monty, really is the perfect family pet despite having a sad start to life. He’s now five.

reactive to dogs when on lead with head halterMy visit was triggered by his attacking another dog on a walk a short while ago.

It was so uncharacteristic that, from hearing all the circumstances before and during the event, I come to the conclusion that it was due to a build up of arousal – including excitement.

Trigger stacking‘.

Without going into the exact circumstances, things probably came to a head and a fairly minor thing was the last straw. This resulted in Monty attacking a dog and injuring his ear. They want to make sure this never happens again, so they contacted me.

Head halter. Restricted and uncomfortable.

Monty is absolutely fine with all other dogs when he is off lead, which is much of the time.

When he’s on lead however it can be a different matter. He wears a head halter which he hates but he’s a big dog and he pulls. The lead is held tight, especially when they approach another dog.

He feels uncomfortable, trapped and understandably on the defensive when another dog barks at him.

Off lead he’s fine, free to avoid anything that worries him.

Actually he’s fine with most dogs even when on lead. The dogs he reacts to with lunging and barking are those who themselves are reactive.

Many walks start with Monty having to run the gauntlet of two or three barking dogs behind gates. He is held tight and walked on, experiencing discomfort from the head halter.

His stress levels will already be rising.

Added to this, at home he can hear a couple of these same dogs from his garden and will bark at them.

This reactivity is undoubtedly due to fear or at least his feeling acutely uncomfortable and vulnerable with proximity to certain dogs.

From now on Monty should have no more opportunity to rehearse barking at dogs he hears, so garden access will be controlled while they work on it. Dogs he’s uncomfortable with will now be associated with good stuff at a distance he can cope with.

Walking comfortably on loose lead from a harness rather than head halter means that Monty will feel less restricted. Already he should feel a lot more confident when encountering those other dogs.

Starting at home where there are few distractions.

We all walked him around the garden on a Perfect Fit harness, loose lead hanging from the front. The idea is for him to learn to walk near them wherever they want to go, like there is no lead at all.

Loose lead walking work will start in the house and garden where there are few distractions.

Soon Monty will get back to walking down the road, but on a loose lead. There should be no more walking past the barking dogs behind gates until he is ready. A comfortable distance from them can always be achieved even if they have to turn around and go back the way they came.

It may be necessary to pop him in the car for now for the five minute walk to where he can be let off lead.

The problem seems fairly straightforward. They will give Monty the feeling of freedom and not force him out of his comfort threshold where proximity to other dogs is concerned.

At this distance they will work hard at getting him to feel differently about those reactive dogs that may be barking and upsetting him. They will teach him what to do, rather than what not to do.

I hate to see frustrated and uncomfortable dogs trying to rub a head halter off on the ground. Without the need for one anymore, I’m sure walks will be transformed for the otherwise perfect Monty, and for anyone walking him.

 

Freedom and Who Pays the Price

They love to see their dog running free, charging about and having fun.

Freedom may come at a price.

They adopted Boxer Bella sixteen months ago and she is having a wonderful life. Being with her for three hours it was hard to imagine her to be anything other than a sweet, soft and gentle dog.

For me she showed none of her usual over-excitement when people visit.

I tend to get back what I give. Calm confidence attracts calm confidence (just as excitement attracts excitement).

There is a price to be paid for all Bella’s freedom however

She has too much freedomAnd it’s not always Bella who pays it.

She lives with a family where, again, the men like to get her excited. When the man gets up in the morning she immediately bounces about. She rushes downstairs to get a toy. Man and dog, they chase around the house and then around the garden.

She loves it, but are the adrenalin highs that good a way to start the day?

Their perceived problem is out on walks where Bella is becoming increasingly aggressive to other dogs. This is both when off lead as well as on lead.

The gentleman, who is the main walker, needs to be able to have her under better control, so their own relationship needs to be a bit more regulated in general.

He can slowly tone down the manic mornings a bit at a time so it’s that not too much of a shock to either of them. He can introduce brain games and things that require some self-control. Stirring her up from the beginning isn’t the best way to start a day, particularly if you want a dog to react to things calmly later on.

They live just a few minutes’ walk from where she’s let off lead. She pulls madly to get there.

Then, off lead, she’s away.

Freedom!

She may run around madly, carry huge logs or disappear, sometimes for several minutes at a time. It’s all high activity stuff where learning to sniff and ‘shoot the breeze’ on a long line may do her just as much good if not more.

She’s stone deaf to being called when on a mission.

Once a dog is used to freelancing, there is little one can do to get her back until she’s finished what she’s doing.

Bella herself paid a price for her freedom a while ago.

The man heard screaming and ran over to find some young girls with a couple of Staffordshire Bull Terriers both on top of Bella. Bella will have been the instigator, she ran over to them after all and they were on leads minding their own business. It was a bad experience for the girls, the Staffies and for Bella who had injuries.

Things have gone downhill since then but still her freedoms haven’t been curbed. They feel their fit and lean Boxer needs the exercise and understandably they love the joy freedom gives her

Anything could happen. The price paid so far is bad, but it could become a lot worse. According to the recent change in the dog law, someone may only need to feel threatened by a dog now for the owner to be prosecuted. This could end up with Bella permanently on lead and wearing a muzzle.

The catalyst for calling me was recently, again out of sight of the man, Bella went for a small dog. The owner was extremely upset and scared as was the little dog.

Dog-to-dog reactivity is like a disease that spreads.

Now it’s likely the little dog may cause trouble with other dogs, particularly larger dogs, due to its own fear.

With each thing that happens, it simply gets worse, but still Bella is being given her freedom. She freelances.

It’s sometimes hard to convince people who want the very best for their dog, as they certainly do, that the only answer is for her to lose her freedom.

For now I strongly advise Bella to be kept on a long line, dropped perhaps so she can play with familiar dogs. Recall needs to be blitzed for several months at least.

When encountering other dogs the gentleman will himself take responsibility for what happens next. When, on the long line, they see a dog, he will call her and reward her. Maybe this would be a good opportunity for one of his fun chasing games, keeping it short?  She may now associate the other dog with fun times.

Whether on walking lead or long line, he will maintain a comfortable distance between Bella and other dogs and work on her. He will no longer keep walking on towards the other dog, holding her tight as she tries to lunge, hackles up and barking,

Bella’s ideal default over time should be to check in with the man every time she sees another dog. She must learn to keep within a certain distance from him and never go out of sight.

Dog walks would be better for everyone if all owners restricted their dogs’ freedom, if all dogs automatically checked in when they saw another dog and if recall really did mean ‘come’. See this nice little video about recall from Steve Mann.

It is so much harder to reverse a situation like this than not to have let it happen in the first place. I would say a new dog or puppy has no freedom initially and is granted it gradually in a controlled fashion when ready.

Recall is as much about the kind of relationship the dog has with the owner as anything else. This needs working on in all areas of the Bella’s life.

We get what we give.

If we want calm and attentiveness, we act calm and give our full attention.  Encouraging calm and attentiveness, we have better control.

In curbing freedom the dog doesn’t have to feel trapped like a prisoner. We make ourselves relevant so that being near us is just where our dog wants to be. It can take a lot of effort.

 

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 Bella 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 any 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)

 

 

 

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)

Jack Russell With Big Ears

Jack Russell attacked a dogNot being able to trust your dog can ruin walks. The human is anxious all the time and the dog loses freedom.

Little Jack Russell Rags is nearly 4 years old now, and he has lived with the lady since he was one. To date there have now been four episodes culminating in Rags attacking a dog that he knew.

Each incident had seemingly been over a resource of some sort – a ball or food. From how the lady describes it, it’s probable that in the most recent and worst incident with the friend’s dog that she herself was the resource.

I noticed that wherever we were standing Rags carefully placed himself between us, watching me.

In the most recent and worst incident the lady was with a friend in the other lady’s kitchen. The dogs had met a couple of times out on walks previously and had been fine together. The two ladies were chatting and both dogs were under the table between them. Suddenly Rags went for the other dog’s throat. Being long-haired, the much bigger dog wasn’t hurt and he didn’t retaliate, but it really upset Rag’s lady. She decided she needed to do something about it.

Already she has started to put into place some of my advice over the phone regarding encountering dogs on walks and the situation is getting a lot better. The hackling, lunging and barking has reduced dramatically.

It can seem unfriendly and embarrassing when meeting a person with their dog if you simply walk away from them! For this reason I suggest a ‘dog in training’ yellow vest for Rags. This may help a little too with those off-lead uncontrolled dogs whose owners give one an earful when our own on-lead dog responds to being approached!

The lady now needs to address the issue of Rags’ possessiveness of herself, including guard duty in general. She will work on a couple of training exercises to get and keep his attention and give him a bit more mental stimulation.

One month later: ‘walking is going well. I am feeling more relaxed. “Look at me” is wonderful. He knows” find it” . i am better at “reading” Rags now.

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

‘Happened Out of the Blue’?

PoppyMonty2

Monty

Poppy attacked a Whippet for ‘no reason’. Out of the blue.

It usually takes a crisis of some sort to make us face up to a gradually worsening problem.

PoppyMonty1

Poppy

Monty the Viszla is four, and Poppy on the right is two years old.

Over the past few months Poppy has become increasingly touchy with other dogs when out. The owners admit that this is a vicious circle as they themselves become more tense. It’s a hard cycle to break without outside objective help.

What has brought it to a head is that out on a walk a few days ago Poppy went for the Whippet, seemingly for no reason at all.  The on-lead dog was approaching with a lady and gentleman. Poppy was called and put on lead and she took no notice of them as they passed. However, when let off lead of short while later, she simply doubled back and bit the poor dog on the back leg.

There was screaming from the dog and distress from the owners.

Poppy’s owners were gutted.

In Poppy’s case we could think of several factors, and we would be able to find more if we could get inside Poppy’s head. The lady owner who normally walks her was away, she’s scared of going through the back gate, she may have been excited by their children, possibly she had previously been barking at the gate at home, grandfather had arrived which may have excited her, one child was hanging back playing with Monty and a large stick when the Whippet passed which may have made her anxious.

She really is a dream at home as is Monty apart, that is, from when callers suddenly appear through the gate or let themselves in the house. She has become paranoid about the noise of the gate latch to the extent that she is reluctant to go through it at the start of a walk. She has nipped caller’s legs several times now. This too is getting worse. PoppyMonty

The initial adjustments to be made are to do with non-family members being unable to simply walk in. No door or gate should be left unlocked and the dogs should be somewhere else for now when people first enter. She’s happy and friendly once they are in. She needs to be on a long line for now when out, so that she still has a certain amount of freedom.

The visitors also need some instructions – and that can be hard!

The lady has already done some clicker training with Poppy and she’s a bright little dog. The two children participate in feeding, play and training.

So I believe the whippet incident was really just the culmination of several things. There are several other issues that need addressing including walking on a loose lead. When added together, things will gradually fall into place.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Poppy and Monty, 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, most particularly where anything to do with aggression is concerned. 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).