Stressful Walks. Other Dogs. Polite Happy Dog at Home.

Stressful walksIt’s hard to imagine they could have stressful walks or any trouble at all with Badger.

The two-year-old Border Collie quietly watched me walk towards his house through the glass door. He greeted me with polite interest.

A Border Collie could be a challenge for a first dog and the family have done brilliantly. He is happy, well-trained and biddable.

Unfortunately Badger is becoming ‘difficult’ when they are out and meeting other dogs. It’s not all dogs and he walks with doggy friends. He seems to have been targeted by a few dogs and yapping smaller dogs increasingly upset him.

Recently a couple of off-lead German Shepherds went for him and, according to the man, he ‘gave as good as he got’. Rehearsing this kind of thing isn’t good at all.

Out of the blue?

A short while ago the stressful walks came to a head when he saw a smaller dog appear and ‘suddenly’ charged at it. This wasn’t really so sudden. It was against a background of the young man having come home after two weeks away and great excitement. He had the ball thrower and he was repeatedly throwing the ball.

All this will have increasingly wound Badger up.

Then, in full ‘chase’ mode, the little dog appeared. He charged after that instead. He did no damage, but the dog and owner were upset. Badger, whose recall is fine normally, won’t have even heard their calls.

This wasn’t actually out of the blue at all. It will have been the direct result of ‘trigger stacking‘.

Home work

There are a few things they can do at home. Badger should be in the best state of mind possible for being self-controlled and calm around other dogs when they are out. The more stable and unstressed Badger is in general, the better he can cope with the arousal caused by the proximity of another dog.

Like many Border Collies, he loves the movement of a ball. He continually drops it at their feet and those of anyone who comes to see them. Anything quite so repetitive over such a period of time isn’t natural. Anything that’s not natural will fire him up.

They will now save balls for when they see another dog, to gain his attention and to associate the other dog with something he loves. (We thought we had collected all the balls and he would find another!).

To fill the void left by no ball-kicking they will give him things to chew and to forage for. Already well trained, they will give him more activities that exercise his clever brain.

Spot-on recall

A big problem they are finding that contributes to the stressful walks is the number of off-lead dogs that suddenly appear.

Even if they can’t control other people and their dogs, they can control Badger. Reliable recall is key.

Stressful walks would be less stressful if they could get, and keep, Badger’s attention. If he is to be safely off lead they need to get him back immediately.

They will change to a whistle to get his attention, working at whistle recall first at home. They will condition Badger to come, without thinking, when he hears the whistle.

To change how Badger behaves and reacts towards other dogs requires his humans also to change how they behave and react.

They need now to help Badger associate other dogs with only positive and good things. If his human tenses up, so will he.

Negative things have a far greater impact than positives. Something scary has a much longer lasting effect than something good. That’s just life unfortunately.

Avoiding stressful walks

To expect Badger to be relaxed and non-reactive when off-lead dogs rush up to him, particularly if they show aggression or are very noisy, is unreasonable. Unfortunately, each time Badger is (justifiably) forced to react by a dog being too close for him, he rehearses the very behaviour they don’t want.

There should be no more discomfort to Badger’s neck as they change to using a harness. They should avoid him feeling unsafe by no longer holding him tightly beside them while another dog approaches. Instead they should give him more space.

Comfortable distance, relaxed humans and only valuable, positive things like food and his beloved ball should now be associated with other dogs.

Unplanned and scary encounters will add to any dog’s wariness to the extent that he may eventually go for other dogs just in order to maintain distance. He’s given no choice.

Change can be hard

People can avoid the tension of stressful walks by considering carefully where they go. They should avoid narrow alleys where increasing distance is hard without turning around. People don’t like turning round and going back the way they came. They also understandably don’t like to seem rude by turning away from a potentially too-close encounter with another dog.

Badger’s confidence needs building again as does his trust in them to respond appropriately (to him) when he’s feeling uneasy or vulnerable.

Stressful walks with their dogs can overshadow people’s lives. My advice here is to do all they can to avoid putting Badger in a position where he feels he may need to defend himself. To keep his excitement levels down so that he is more tolerant.

Meanwhile they can work on other dogs in more controlled environments – or at least in places where they can beat a retreat if necessary. So far he’s very good with the majority of dogs, but it’s going in the wrong direction.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Too Much Excitement. Too Much Lots of Things

‘Too much’ results in stress.

Ollie’s stress levels are at the root of the problems. This said, not all stress is bad and a lot is associated with fun – but it’s too much of everythiToo much excitementng that’s the trouble.

So many things add up during the day. The eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo has to have the lady in sight all the time and panics when left alone. He barks at every sound outside. He can’t control himself when other dogs are about.

Their young children are often excited around him. Too much arousal, too much petting (and too vigorous), too much prolonged, rough or repetitive play, too much physical contact. They believe it makes him happy and it does, in a way. But it’s too much.

It was evening, the children had gone to bed and Ollie gradually settled. I watched him go and snuggle on the sofa beside the man who immediately began touching him. Ollie licked his lips, then licked his nose, then yawned. A little uncomfortable? To me it suggested the dog wanted the closeness but wasn’t asking to be touched. He soon jumped down.

When they walk past him, he will roll onto his back. They assume it’s because he wants a tummy rub. Really? It will depend upon context, but often it will be appeasement. “Please leave me alone.”

Why should Ollie be so stressed?

I saw for myself how easily he becomes anxious. Sadly, as a twelve-week-old puppy, right in the middle of his first fear period, he had a painful medical problem that resulted in his being confined for six weeks.

Ollie is a lovely friendly dog. He should be having a lovely life. He has love, attention, play, walks and the best food, so why should he be stressed? It’s about everything in moderation. There is, simply, too much.

There may however be ‘too little’ of the things he really needs – down time, sniffing time, closeness without necessarily being touched, peace and quiet without being alone, brain work, healthy stimulation.

So, I would say that cutting down on the intensity of everything will make a big difference. This has to be the starting point. At the same time, we will introduce activities that help him to reduce stress and to use his brain, instead of working him up into a frenzy of excitement.

One very interesting thing they told me is that Ollie loves a tight-fitting garment they dressed him up in for an occasion last year. Recently, sniffing a box, he dug down and dragged it out. He then he took it off and lay on it. Apparently, when he was wearing it Ollie seemed calm and happy which is why they felt he liked it. This started me thinking. How does he react when his harness goes on, I asked? He’s calmer then also.

From this I just guess that there’s a good chance of him being one of those dogs a Thundershirt or Ttouch wrap could help.

Other dogs send him onto a high

Here is another strange thing. Ollie is only aggressive to other dogs when his humans are eating! If there is dog food or bones about he’s okay.

He has only ever shown aggression to humans when other dogs are around.

Ollie’s arousal levels shoot through the roof when he’s near dogs. He is so desperate to play that he overwhelms them. In his uncontrolled way, he charges about, jumping over them and has nearly bowled over a couple of owners who were not pleased. The presence of other dogs gives Ollie such a high that he’s uncontrollable. The lady is now anxious about walking him.

First things first

Number one priority, then, is to calm him down a bit. Then after two or three weeks I will go again and see what we then have and what we need to do next.

 

I went back to see Ollie yesterday, a couple of months after my first visit. He’s a changed dog. I introduced his lady owner to clicker training and the lady and clever Ollie mastered a hand touch on cue in about fifteen minutes. Here they are.
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 Ollie and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  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 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)

Exercise. Can a Dog Have Too Much?

ThVery fit dog gets lots of exercisee couple both have full time jobs and two very young children. My own daughter can barely manage this and is exhausted a lot of the time. Imagine adding a young dog that needs his own time and attention too.

This is the case of the young couple I have just started working with. They have a beautiful Greyhound Labrador mix called Dexter. Dexter is two years old.

As time has gone by, the training games and mental stimulation they used to offer Dexter have decreased. Now it can sometimes seem more of a duty to look after and exercise him that has to fit into their busy day.

These things can creep up on us.

To ‘multi-task’, they combine their own running for fitness with ‘walking the dog’. When not running, they are chucking a ball for him.

Exercise has created a super-fit, souped-up machine!

Dexter pulls from home to the place where he is let off lead. On lead he is agitated and on the lookout for cats. He is ready to bark and lunge at any dog he might meet. The young lady in particular gets really cross and frustrated with him – understandably – and her lead corrections do no good at all.

The problem is that this lovely dog, polite, child-friendly and sweet at home, becomes a bit of a devil when out and especially when encountering smaller dogs.

Except when he has a ball stuffed in his mouth!

Off lead, Dexter submits to bigger dogs. Smaller dogs he may see as prey, something to chase at least. It starts with stalking. Then he charges them.

He has now slammed into a King Charles Cavalier and, the other day, a Cockerpoo puppy.

The scared little dog is bowled over and then Dexter gives it multiple little nips. No physical damage done, but a very frightened little dog that now himself may become reactive to dogs and a justifiably upset owner.

Dexter gets ‘nibbly’ when aroused, as I experienced for myself when left alone with him for a short while and I was fussing him. It seems a logical conclusion that if extremely aroused he may become more nibbly.

Instead of giving Dexter a calm and controlled base from which to encounter other dogs, they are doing the very opposite. Like many people, they wrongly believe that physically tiring out the dog with exercise should cure all problems.

The opposite is often the case. Too much exercise can do more harm than good.

The dog is bonded with the ball, not his humans.

When not running with him, they are relying on a ball. He loves his ball. The young man bounces it as he walks down the path which stops the dog pulling.

Dexter’s relationship is largely with the ball, not them. When he carries it in his mouth it shuts him down – like a dummy. It blocks out everything around him.

Once at the field and Dexter let off lead, the ball is thrown – repeatedly. Imagine the dog is clockwork with a key. Repeated ball throwing is like winding him up until over-wound.

Then what?

The ball is a gift really. I now suggest they only use it for associating other dogs with good things, for redirecting his urge to chase – but only when needed. No more firing him up with it. They can use it as a dummy or plug in his mouth in emergency only.

It goes without saying that when Dexter sees another dog, off lead and with no ball in his mouth, he is highly aroused. He is ready for the chase.

The chase drive has been constantly conditioned by all that ball play and running.

When he gets to a ball he grabs it. What should he do with a small dog? He doesn’t want to kill it like prey, but he can’t play with it either. He is highly aroused. What next? It seems he repeatedly nibbles at it.

It’s about living in the moment, not stressing to get running or chasing.

They will be working hard on engaging with him more, both at home and when out, so that they can get his attention when it’s most needed. He will be taught to walk on a loose lead because he wants to be near them.

Meanwhile, they must prevent further rehearsal of the unwanted behaviour. Each time he does it he gets better at it. A puppy may then be condemned to a life of being scared of bigger dogs which isn’t fair.

A mix of far less physical arousal but more mental stimulation and enrichment along with ‘engaging’ with him more, should make a big difference, given time.

It can be hard to convince people that less is more where exercise is concerned. Looking at what the dog would be doing when out, without humans involved, seems the logical way to approach at it.

Street dogs can decide just what they do and when. Little of the day is actually spent running or chasing, even in hunting or herding breeds.

With so little time, they don’t need to spend much longer on Dexter than they do already.

They can be doing something different in the time they already spend.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Dexter. 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 any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Giving the Dog Choice

They will be giving Joey more choiceGiving a fearful dog choice

Joey, the four-year-old Collie Labrador mix, came over from Ireland at a year old. Isn’t he gorgeous.

Over the past three years his family has done great things with him. A lot of the general day to day stuff I usually recommend they do already. He is very well trained and regularly goes to agility which he loves.

The one downside to ‘training’ can be that the humans are making the choice for the dog by using a command to guide his actions. It’s not necessarily the answer where fear-based reactions are concerned. A command is no substitute for the dog learning how to make the right choice in response to a situation for himself. A command is unlikely to address what the dog is feeling inside – fear. The dog will only make the right choice if he’s given the ‘tools’.

Joey’s problems are quite clearly all to do with his need to feel safe.

The two times he reacted worst of all were at the vet, trapped in the room, held down by three people while he had his injection and when he was cornered in a small place by a child. In each case he was robbed of all choice. His reasonable warnings and requests had been ignored so, to him, he had no choice but to react ‘aggressively’.

(Where vet procedures are concerned, with techniques worked on over time a dog’s choices can be part of the process. See how Chirag Patel does it using clicker).

Clicker training is ‘choice training’ and is unbeatable where giving an animal freedom of choice is concerned. Joey caught on almost immediately.

 

The walk starts way before leaving the house.

Joey’s fearfulness is causing problems when they go for walks and encounter people, particularly men, and other dogs. He’s also scared of unusual things in different places.

He gets very excited before they start out, jumping about, crying and howling. They try to get him to sit at the door for his lead to go on. What happens back at home is the start of the walk and they are not even out of the door yet. Before anything happens he has a choice. It’s simple. When he’s still and quiet, they can leave. There is no rush – people can wait. Until he is calm and quiet they go nowhere. It’s his choice.

Because of his pulling he wears a head harness. This prevents pulling. He has no choice. With a front-fastening Perfect Fit harness he will soon be walking beside them through choice.

So, Instead of starting his walk in a wild state and in considerable discomfort, feeling restricted, already he should feel more calm and free – in a much better state of mind for encountering people and dogs.

When he spots a dog he should also be given choice. At a distance where he’s happy, they can pair the other dog with something Joey loves. He loves his ball. He can have a choice whether to hold, catch or chase his ball or whether to react to the dog. By keeping sufficient distance we set him up so it’s in effect Hobson’s Choice!

Which brings me to ball-throwing (again!). Constant ball chasing is not necessary when the dog has an hour in the fields to do doggy things. Why fire him up with a ball? They can give the ball much more value by no longer spending most of the walks chucking it to a ball-obsessed dog. By starving Joey of the ball they will have a potent tool for counter-conditioning.

An approaching man may make Joey uneasy. By allowing Joey to choose, they can let him decide how much space he wants to make. One way of doing this is to watch him carefully and reward him for any sign of avoiding trouble by breaking contact – looking away, looking at his human, sniffing, scratching, yawning – and to reward him for making the right choice by increasing the distance from what scares him. Thus choosing avoidance rather than barking gets the prize – more distance and safety, a game of ball perhaps or food.

If Joey knows it’s his choice how near he goes to something or somebody, it’s certain that over time he will choose to go nearer.

I am sure that when Joey knows he has a choice as to how close he goes and with scary things paired with great things – balls and special food – he will gain greatly in confidence.

 

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 Joey. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned, as the case needs to be assessed correctly which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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)

Stressed Border Collie

Highly stressed Border Collie Coco is panting

Coco

Coco looks a little like Basil Brush, with one ear up and the other down! She’s an unusual colour for a Border Collie. This is the best photo I could manage, because she was pacing  all the evening.

She lives with a much calmer Border Collie, Shep. The fact the two of them are exactly the same age though from different backgrounds and both treated the same by their owner, just shows the importance of stable genetic makeup.

Apparently I saw Coco at her worst as she was already unusually hyped up before I arrived. She had had a particularly stimulating walk involving lots of ball play, and there was Trick or Treat out in the street. There may have been other happenings during the day contributing to the build up of her stress levels. Once things get to this stage there is little one can do. From the moment we mentioned the ‘W’ word in conversation, she was pacing to and from the door, whining, panting and jumping onto people. This carried on for over three hours. Restraining her in any way simply made her worse, or made her redirect onto poor Shep.

The  perpetual stress results in her being reactive to dogs and scared of people, chasing traffic, barking in the car at anything moving and being especially frantic around small children who visit. Consequenlty her owner is anxious, and clever Coco will know this.

Where it’s tempting to spray with a water pistol to simply stop her barking at children, or to physically scold and hold her back from moving vehicles, this is not dealing with the problem. Techniques like this will only associate children and traffic with more unpleasant stuff.

The problem has to be dealt with at source by removing all stress possible, and looking at the sort of rules and boundaries that would make a dog feel secure. Often things that dogs seem to love like prolonged ball play, walks preceeded by frantic excitement and lots of running about in general, can prove just too much. Coco loves brain work and I feel this is healthier stimulation for her at the moment. At home, although well trained so far as commands are concerend, she has few restrictions, and may feel safer with some physical boundaries and rules.

I would prefer a stable dog with little formal training to an unstable dog that that is highly trained. ‘Training’ is the icing on the cake. We need to get the cake right first. Collies like Coco who came from a farm, being extremely intelligent working dogs who are no longer doing what they are bred for, can be a challenge. People so often think that hours of running around and stimulation can replace hours of waiting patiently beside a shepherd, running off when commanded to do their job, and then returning when instructed. Where they go and what they do is controlled by their master and the relationship between the two is clearly defined. What Coco does and where she goes is largely controlled by herself, and the relationship between her and her owner is not sufficiently defined to give Coco confidence in her.

So, giving Coco fair, consistent physical boundaries and working on reducing excitement and lowering her stress levels will do wonders for her I am sure.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
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