Two Miniature Schnauzers, Scared of People. Go Away!

MiniSchnauzerAlbert1Go Away, Go Away, Go Away, they bark!

Whilst Bill barks and backs off, Little Ben (now one year old) charges at people coming to the house. The person then recoils of course, and Ben achieves his result – the person backs away. Now he is actually making contact with his teeth.

Both dogs barked frantically for a long time when I arrived – I didn’t recoil when Ben made contact! We tried various strategies. I took no notice of them. I looked away. I stayed sitting down. I moved slowly. Eventually I dropped treats gently onto the floor. Any sudden movement made them jump away.

This isn’t aggression at all – it is pure fear.

I asked the owners to show me what they did when people came. Like many people, they have reinforced the behaviour, maybe sitting on the floor with them and petting them while they growl and bark Go Away – in effect backing them up in their belief that the ‘intruder’ is an enemy. Then, having had enough, they will loudly command them to be quiet. How it is currently dealt with must be confusing for the dogs. Reinforcing them for NOT barking makes more sense.

These little dogs nMiniSchnauzerBarnabyeed to learn that visiting people mean good stuff – calm owners, nice treats and eventually fun, but being removed when things become too much for them. The people also need more ‘guinea pigs’ to the house to work with.

Because they have few visitors it’s a vicious circle. The more reactive their dogs are to visitors, the less the owners feel able to involve their friends and family.

Unsurprisingly this fearful and noisy reactivity, barking Go Away, extends to people on walks – and to dogs.

The wrong type of dog training

I would say that old-fashioned formal dog training classes have made things worse, especially with Ben. I felt really sad to hear that, because of his barking, he had been pinned down in the middle of the hall and forced to lie there while the other owners and dogs walked around him. It’s hardly surprising he believes people and dogs are bad news!

Knowledge of what makes dogs tick and how to train them positively based on scientific fact has advanced hugely over the last few years, but unfortunately a lot of existing trainers simply haven’t kept up. Old-fashioned dog trainers just keep on doing what they always have done, and dog owners, in their ignorance, believe in them.

Staffie May Redirect onto Whippet

Staffie Maddie has extremely high stress levels

Maddie

Over the months the stress both in and between these two 9-year-old dogs has been building up.

Staffie Maddie is almost impossibly noisy, pushy, barking and jumping up when the lady owner has guests – if she is allowed to join them at all – and little Misty, a Terrier Whippet cross, is also very vocal but with more obvious fear. People can’t hear themselves speak. The way they try to calm Maddie is to do as she demands and keep stroking her as she lies beside them. Not only is it giving her a very good reason to behave like this, but also, even while she is being given the attention she’s demanding, she is getting more and more worked up!

When I initially arrived Misty came through alone and she was quiet, relaxed and sniffing. It was only when Maddie rushed in that she, too, started to bark at me. Once little Misty has stopped barking, she watches Maddie. Sometimes she shakes. Maddie intimidates her when she’s like this. See how anxious she looks.

Misty is intimidated by Maddie

Misty

Maddie’s stress levels are extreme much of the time. Small things set her off. This is now increasingly being redirected onto Misty and there have been a couple of incidents, one resulting in blood.

Ten days ago I went on a fascinating weekend seminar by Dr. Susan Freidman about behaviour, consequences and reinforcement. It was like she was sitting on my shoulder. The more noise Maddie makes, the more attention she gets – sometimes scolding sometimes petting – but reinforcement either way. The more anxious Misty becomes, the more attention and fussing that earns also.

As soon as the lady comes downstairs in the morning, Maddie starts the day by rushing at the gate separating her from Misty and giving her a loud, warning bark. When she comes in from the garden, she noisily demands her breakfast – which she gets. Quite simply, barking works.

Maddie excelled at dog training classes. This is another example where traditional dog training is largely irrelevant, especially if it doesn’t take into consideration the home dynamics. Commands don’t reduce stress. In fact, ‘silence is golden’. Both dogs get a lot of excercise with lovely long country walks.

Whilst I was there Maddie was learning very quickly that the only attention she got from me was when she was still and quiet. She tried so very hard, bless her. She was distracting herself with a bit of displacement scratching and chewing in her efforts to keep calm while she was beginning to understand what was required. I, too, was learning just what level of gentle attention was enough not to break through that fine line and fired her up again. She is so eager to please and only needs to understand what is required, and then for all the humands to be consistent.

It can be so hard for us humans to break our own old habits.

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