Benjie and Bella sitting still at last

Springer Siblings Like a Hurricane

Having two young dogs can be a challenge. Having litter mates can be a challenge. Having young working Springer Spaniels without a job to do can be the biggest challenge of all.

The lady admits that when they picked up the two bundles of fluff they had no idea that later they would be driven to the brink of despair when they became adolescents.

Eight month old brother and sister Benjie and Bella are absolutely beautiful both in nature and to look at, but they are certainly hard work! One reason the are such hard work is because insufficient work is done with them.

Benjie is a big barker for attention. Bella is a guarder – she guards resources from Benjie so, following some fights where the lady has been bitten when splitting them up, they can’t be left with toys or chews any more. They are bored. Both dogs fly all over people and they treat the sofas and coffee table like an assault course.

The lady had been advised by the breeder (my heart often sinks when I hear this because breeders are seldom qualified in behavour or training) who said to use a shaker bottle when they are naughty. Not only is scarinBenjie and Bella playingg dogs not good for our relationship with them, they soon get immune to that and you have to try something even more scary. Worst of all, it doesn’t give the dogs a clue as to what IS required of them so can simply hype them up further.

The whole family including three children were very involved which I love.

Instead of shouting NO at the dogs, I showed them how to used food rewards and praise. It took a long time before we could really start to talk, but eventually it was beautiful to see them eagerly sitting. I then taught them to lie down (clever dogs crying out for healthy stimulation), and then even got them to sit and stay for a short while which required a huge amount of self-control from them.

The dogs spend too much of the day together in a crate, with just a visit at lunch time, and walks aren’t as fulfilling as they could be because of the terrible pulling. When people are home and the dogs become too much, they end up back in the crate. The younger daughter wrote a list of suggestions of things they could do with the dogs, individually, to give their lives more interest. They will gate their kitchen door so Bella and Benjie can sometimes be kept apart, and then each dog can have their own box of goodies – things to chew and play with – which must be lifted before they are back together again.

To get them walking nicely they will have to be walked separately to start with. For exercise they will need to be popped in the car to go to an open space. When there, they can only be let off lead one at a time and recall needs some serious work.

The more hours these two dogs are left alone, unoccupied, the more mileage they will get out of any action that is happening when people are home – and if nothing is happening they will make it happen! So, the priority is to reduce stress levels and only do things for the dogs when they are calmer and quieter whilst filling their time more productively. They will get the message if people are patient and consistent. The second important thing which is connected with the stress is to remove any opportunity for Bella to practise her growling at Benjie when she has a resource of some sort. Finally, they need to get to grips with the walking so the Springer Spaniels can sniff and run and chase, what Springers are bred for.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Benjie and Bella, which is why I don’t go into 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).

 

Freddie is scared of bangs and TV

Can TV be Causing Dog’s Problems?

As I sat down they turned off their TV (as people do).

Freddie was friendly but restless whilst doing some quite determined nudging and nosing for attention before sitting and scratching and chewing himself. The vet wants to investigate further but for now he is on anti-histamine tablets.

After about twenty minutes he settled down, to stretch out peacefully on the floor.

The daughter, on her way out, popped her head round the door and remarked how calm Freddie was. This is quite unusual in the evening.

The five-year-old Border Collie was picked up as a stray in Ireland three years ago and thanks to the care of his loving owners he has fitted into their life really well. He is friendly and gentle, gets on really well with their two cats and is great with other dogs.

Freddie watching for animals on TV

TV has been turned on

Freddie’s two problems are that he is very reactive to animals on TV and he is scared of bangs. He hates the wind because it makes things clatter about. On walks he frequently bolts on hearing a gunshot or bird-scarer. He is a shaking mess with fireworks. Indoors he will suddenly begin to spook at something he has heard outside, inaudible to the humans.

In order that I could see how he was with animals on TV, I asked them to turn it on. Although there were no animals yet, within a couple of minutes he was no longer lying stretched out and relaxed. He was becoming increasingly agitated and beginning to chew himself. Then he looked at the TV, saw an animal, crouched, growled and then launched himself at it.

They turned the TV off again.

It took another twenty minutes before he was once more lying relaxed on the floor. The couple were amazed. It was such a graphic demonstration of the amount of stress TV was causing their dog, and like many people they have it on all the time they are sitting down in the evening.

We had tried turning the volume off, but by then he had seen the animal. I believe that the mere sound of the TV tells him that at any minute these beasts may be invading his room. It is possible that high background noise of the TV that we ourselves can’t hear may also trouble him. The TV makes him feel unsafe in his own home.

What can they do? They understandably didn’t feel that watching no more TV was an option, and besides, that would never address the problem. He needs to be desensitised carefully at a level he can handle, and counter-conditioned to accepting it. He already has a crate in the room, out of sight of the TV and where he happily goes at night, so to start with they can have the TV quiet and as soon as he shows any reactivity they can call him into his crate and give him something very special to chew – something like a favourite bone that he never has at any other time.

I strongly suspect that the raw skin condition due to his constant biting and scratching will also resolve itself as his stress levels reduce. With Freddie in a generally calmer state, they should more easily be able to work on the bang problem when they are out – starting by merely sitting on a bench somewhere he is reasonably comfortable, attached to a long line so he can’t bolt, and feeding him – ready to return to the car before things get too much for him.

Avoiding things altogether will get them nowhere, but he can make no progress, not even accept food, while he feels unsafe.

They will take their time and he will learn to trust them to keep him safe.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freddie, which is why I don’t go into 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).

Little Dogs and Too Much Barking

Poodle sisters Squirrel and Teddy

Squirrel and Teddy

20-month old Poodles Squirrel and Teddy were joined a couple of months ago by little Westie/Bichon cross Lily who is now 5 months old.

Their family runs a children’s nursery. As our meeting progressed, they kept saying, ‘I can’t believe this is just the same as we would do with the children. Why didn’t we think of that’?

Instead, they had been reading books and stuff on the internet. With so much conflicting information it’s not surprising that some of it was a bit unwise – stuff to do with dominance and trying to stop behaviours they DON’T want, rather than positive reinforcement for behaviours that they DO want.

Too much barking

The problem manifests as much too much barking. The Poodles were not too bad until Lily joined them. Lily barks and reacts to everything. Little sounds outside, birds in trees, animals on TV, other dogs and nearly everything when out on walks, and in the middle of the night the sound of one of the cats walking over the floorboards outside the room.

Squirrel

All three dogs charge down the stairs barking, they charge out into the garden barking, they suddenly rush around the house barking at a sound. Teddy barked persistently at me when I came, obviously fearful. The two Poodles had a little spat as a result of built-up stress. We worked out a strategy for Teddy’s lady owner to take control of the situation and then we tackled his fear using food.

There are quite a few ways that the barking opportunities can be reduced through simple management and then they need to approach the problem differently. If more doors are kept shut the dogs can’t charge around the house like a noisy doggy whirlwind. They agreed that their usual ‘Be Quiet’, ‘Shh’ and getting cross simply haven’t worked. In fact, saying ‘Shh’ while the dogs are actually barking is probably labelling the noise with ‘Shh’, in effect telling them to bark and not to be quiet! ‘Shh’ needs to label NO barking for a long time before it can be effectively used to mean ‘be quiet’.

Each time the dogs start barking they need reassurance that there is nothing to be alarmed about because the owners take charge of the situation.

Using food

too much barking

Lily

The humans are missing big opportunties by not using food.  Jean Donaldson in The Culture Clash says this:

‘Exploit the most potent motivator in animal training. If you have puritanical misgivings about food as a reinforcer, get over them and fast. He has to eat anyway. ….it is like saying, “Yeah, but if your employer pays you for working, won’t you always expect it?” ….. Suffice to say that you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you deprive yourself of food training and expect to compete with the rest of the environment using your personal charm only. (Food training) enhances your bond by associating you with one of the most potent reinforcers on the planet. The alternative to training with positive reinforcement is training with aversives (punishment). Choose and stop agonizing”.

So now the family will be concentrating on reinforcing the behaviour that they want and on dealing with unruliness, and Lily and Teddy’s fears in the same sort of way they they would children in their care.