Obsession With Small Child. Fixated. Reactive.

She has obsession over the childMaddie, a delightful seven-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, has an obsession – the little grandson, now aged four.

I met a confident, relaxed and friendly little dog. I had left her alone to sniff and investigate me without trying to touch her until she was ready. Also, I was already seated before she joined us.

A new person walking directly towards a dog in a doorway, looming, can be intimidating.

Maddie is a very friendly and well socialised little dog, great with most people. She is particularly reactive to children however.

Her main problem is the little grandson – we will call him Jack.

Jack is a very good with Maddie. He treats her with respect. They have known each other since he was born.

He is now getting fed up with her behaviour towards him – even a a bit scared.

Maddie has an obsession: Jack.

As soon as he arrives Maddie is running at him, jumping up and barking. It’s excitement to see him for sure, but is it pure pleasure? I doubt it.

This generates a lot of human excitement and understandable scolding. The dog is getting worse.

All the time Jack is moving about, Maddie is barking at him. She rushes up the stairs ahead of him, barking down at him. When he goes downstairs she rushes ahead of him, barking up at him.

When he sits down she stops barking but she sits right beside him, staring at him.

He may now be able to move about slowly – though she will be at his heels. If he runs, as children do, she will begin to bark again.

Maddie is very agitated.

So far I haven’t actually seen this for myself. My assessment is from close questioning rather than observation. They have some groundwork to put in place first before having Jack round again.

It is obvious that Maddie has some sort of fascination for Jack. She seems excited and scared of him in equal measure. It sounds like she seems to want to control him, herd him. The herding theory is plausible. Schnauzers and Miniature Schnauzers were originally used as cattle herding dogs.

Being a child, Jack will naturally be somewhat unpredictable. He has become Maddie’s obsession.

The plan is for them to have a well-rehearsed short visit with Jack, dealing with Maddie completely differently but without me there to complicate things or cause any extra excitement.

Then Jack will make second visit with me already there.

An unused trump card.

Instead of trying to stop Maddie from behaving like this using scolding and restraint, they will be upbeat. They will sound encouraging and reward her for being quiet instead. They will reinforce her when she looks away from him – with food. They’ve not tried using food for reward and reinforcement so they have a big, unplayed, trump card!

They will now think in terms of helping her out rather than disciplining her. This will mean putting her on ‘remote control’ by working on a solid, bright and encouraging ‘Maddie Come!’ so that she immediately comes away from Jack when asked to. This is part of the groundwork.

Setting the scene.

Most importantly, the scene needs to be set in the best way to help Maddie, so that when she comes into Jack’s presence she’s not already highly aroused and barking.

Managed in this way, both Jack and the adult humans will be a lot calmer and less anxious, which Maddie should pick up on.

She will be out of the way when Jack arrives. He will already be sitting down when, much calmer, she is brought in to join him. She will then be given things to occupy her mind and help her to calm – she would love a Kong or a chew. The session will be kept very short.

After this initial ‘trial’ session, I will be there for the second session to see for myself what is now happening. I can make sure we are using the very best tactics for both Jack and Maddie.

Email couple of weeks later: I’m pleased to let you know we had Jack round for a couple of hours and the difference was immense. Did exactly as you asked and it worked very well. Jack enjoyed hiding her food as well.

 

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 Maddie 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, particularly where fear or aggression issues of any kind are concerned – particularly anything involving children. 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)

New Rescue Dog. Reactivity to People Worsening

New rescue dogWith a new rescue dog I have seen this many times. When people first welcome their new dog into their life he is faultless. It’s not until he begins to settle in that unwanted behaviours begin to surface.

In many cases these will be behaviours that contributed to him being given up in the first place.

Unlike many new rescue dogs that find the adjustment from their old lives or rehoming kennels very hard indeed, beautiful Staffie-mix Murphy seemed to settle in easily. He was (and is) friendly and confident. He’s about two and a half years old.

It’s very common for the ‘real dog’ to begin to appear after a few weeks. People understandably don’t give all their reasons for giving up their dog as it may jeopardise finding a new home. Issues like Murphy’s are unlikely to emerge in a kennel environment.

Three trouble-free weeks went by.

The first signs of problems began about three weeks later when the, up to now, very friendly Murphy barked at someone.

Next, and it probably wasn’t brilliant timing for him, they took him away. This now was another new house to get used to in just a few weeks. Unlike at home, he could see people walking past the window. He began to bark at them. They went on their way. Success.

Then, worse, a couple of little children arrived at the house. Murphy went crazy with barking at them. It took them all by surprise. Their new rescue dog didn’t like little children so close to him at all. He was very upset.

On the face of it and from what I saw when he barked at me, the barking isn’t fearful. He was angry. He was loudly shouting GO AWAY.

A few days ago, back home and now on a downward spiral, he then grabbed (almost bit) the arm of a man who came to work in the house. This was someone he’d already met and befriended a few days previously.

In every other respect Murphy really is the perfect dog. He is affectionate and biddable. He gets on beautifully with their other dog, an older female Labrador called Millie.

New rescue dog Murphy is now settling in.

As Murphy gets to feel more at home he seems to be becoming increasingly protective of his humans – and Labrador Millie. I briefly fussed her and this immediately generated a renewed outbreak of barking at me.

I guess it’s logical that the more a place becomes the new rescue dog’s home the more territorial he may become and his new humans also something to protect.

We experimented with various strategies in response to his barking at myself. Each case is different and it’s important to get it right. Food wasn’t appropriate because we weren’t dealing with reducing fear but more with anger. There was no snarling or growling, so not extremely aggressive, but he was making his point. GO!

Driving me away was clearly what he wanted. Instead, we had the lady calmly walking him, Murphy, away instead each time he began to bark. We repeatedly did this, advance – retreat, so he clearly understood the consequence of his barking at me was the opposite to what he was wanting. She didn’t need his protection. He understood and had total control over the situation. It’s important that no force is involved – he willingly walked out with her.

After little more than five minutes of doing this, he settled.

His lead came off and all was well. I could move around with no further reaction from Murphy.

I have found that one of my own dogs, my German Shepherd, may sometimes need me to be decisive in a situation she’s unable to handle (that’s another story for another time). She simply can’t cope with making all her own decisions when she is in a state over something. It seemed that making the immediate decisions about what to do when he barked worked with Murphy.

Now, not before, was the time for food – to associate me with good stuff. I dropped food. I asked him to sit and fed him and I threw food at him to catch. I sprinkled it about.

He was now relaxed and happy.

 

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 Murphy. 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 any form of aggressive behaviour 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).

Fear Barking at Children and the Neighbour

The two beautiful Romanian dogs are a tribute to their family.

They are both now eleven months old and were adopted separately about eight months ago.

Charlie is a very small Border Collie type and Ylva a Whipetty mix.

Ylva

Ylva

Ylva is very playful whilst also being very laid back – an absolute dream to own. Charlie is adorable also, but more highly strung. I managed to catch him lying still just for a moment so I could take his photo!

Both young dogs are absolutely beautiful. They are lively, affectionate and playful.

We are dealing with Charlie’s increasing reactivity and fear barking along with his pulling on lead.

He barks at children, particularly a child that may suddenly appear. He shows reactivity with fear barking at people he doesn’t know coming to the house. People walking in on him in the doorway he finds very intimidating – the late teenage sons have some very tall friends!

There is a considerable amount of fear barking at the neighbour when he’s out in his garden.

However Charlie was pleased to see me when I arrived at the house because of some forward planning. No fear barking at all. I had arranged for him to be put in the kitchen when I rang the bell and then to join me once I was sitting down. He was curious and friendly.  It’s far easier on a wary dog to be introduced to a caller after they have come in and sat down.

Desensitising and counter-conditioning is the answer to the fear barking.

The neighbour problem and Charlie’s reactivity to small children is a matter of desensitisating and counter-conditioning him. I would usually use food but Charlie isn’t very food-motivated. However, like may Border Collies, he is very toy and ball motivate indeed.

I suggest a special, new, ball to bring out only when the neighbour is in his garden. Neighbour comes out and game starts. Initially it can be as far from his fence as possible but they can gradually move nearer. I’m sure it will be no time at all before the neighbour is joining in the ball game from the other side of the fence. When neighbour goes in, the ball disappears.

Charlie displays fear of children when out and may suddenly lunge and bark at them – even if they are standing still. Recently he caught the tummy of a small boy in a crowded place when the child suddenly ran from behind. Without warning Charlie grabbed him.

Fear barking at chldren

Charlie

This is what prompted them to get some help before it escalated further.

Just like the neighbour, they will now associate children with good stuff. Again, perhaps a special toy – maybe something with a squeak which he loves. They can play with him outside a school playground at playtime – at a distance he feels comfortable. On walks, when the person holding the lead sees a child, he or she can say to Charlie ‘Look – a CHILD’ in an excited voice, then throw him his ball and go off in another direction.

So far as loose lead walking is concerned it’s  largely to do with technique, teaching the dog that we have a much slower walking pace, using the right equipment, patience and some work. The current ‘no-pull’ lead is nonsense in my opinion. We want him to walk on a loose lead through choice, not by being physically restrained. Feeling physically restrained could be contributing to his reactivity to children.

Charlie is only eleven months old and the problem isn’t bad – yet. After the incident when the young boy was nipped, they will introduce him to a muzzle for those times when things may be too crowded or stressful for him.

I’m sure they have nipped things in the bud and with some work there will be no more fear barking and lunging at young children, people coming to the house or the neighbour in his garden.

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 Charlie 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 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 (see my Help page)

 

 

German Shepherd Barks at People

nualaThough she’s not completely comfortable with having her photo taken, Nuala and I made friends very quickly! What a stunning dog the two-year-old cream-coloured German Shepherd is.

She lives alone with a lady in a quiet country cottage, where anyone even coming up the path is a major event. Like so many German Shepherds that I go to, she is very reactive to people who come near to her. Her response is to lunge at them, jumping and barking. She has never bitten.

Nuala is very good with other dogs – she has mixed more with dogs than with people. The lady began by taking her to puppy classes and then, due to an operation for elbow dysplasia, the young dog was confined for quite a long time. Since then her dog walker has taken her out with other dogs and the lady also takes her on Big Walkies. Like many dogs, if the humans have dogs with them Nuala is fine.

The situation has come to a head because the lady is having to spend several days at a time at her daughter’s house, looking after her seven grandchildren.Nuala1 Where, strangely, Nuala gets on fine with the smaller children, there are five teenagers who are as scared of her as she is of them – understandably. As soon as one enters the room, if not caught fast enough she flies towards the child, barking.

The lady could see from how quickly Nuala calmed down when I arrived just how the few other people who do come into her house should be asked to act.

The two main challenges for a dog like this are people entering the room and people getting up and moving about – even people the dog has met before. Often the dog is worse with men.

The teenage grandchildren are very cooperative and not over-noisy. They will do their best to help, so we have devised a plan. Unfortunately they live too far away for me to visit their house too, else I would do so.

‘Safety First’ is vital. Even with the younger children the lady should be looking out for signs of any stress from Nuala – lip-licking, yawning, looking away etc. It’s easy to assume a dog is enjoying a fuss when really she may only be tolerating it.

The older children will do lots of walking in and out of the room through different doors. Nuala will be on a lead (I decided against asking her to sit or lie down as not only could this put more pressure on her, the ultimate ubject is to have her walking freely and happily about). As they do so the lady will feed her something especially tasty. The child will walk in quietly – not burst in! Soon the children could be throwing her food as they walk in. If it happens enough times and they blitz her with comings, goings and food, I’m sure Nuala will become sufficiently desensitised for the leash to be dropped – until possibly after a period of quiet like when the kids suddenly appear again having been at school when they will need to do some more desensitising.

The older kids will also teach her to be happy while they stand up and move about. Again, bit by bit, moving slowly and so Nuala remains comfortable whilst also being on lead, they can work on this. They can be taught the best way to move and the body language to use.

When the lady comes back to her own home she can spend a couple of weeks weaning Nuala into wearing a muzzle – just as something to fall back on and so everyone can relax a bit next time. She should regularly take her somewhere a bit more busy to get her used to people. They can start at quiet times of day and the other side of the road from a passing person at a distance that doesn’t stress her, and gradually go at busier times as Nuala’s confidence grows.

In my experience, in many of the cases where a German Shepherd barks at people it’s because the dog hasn’t been adequately socialised with people in the first few vital weeks of her life – well before she has even left the breeder – so we are playing catch-up. It can be a big challenge requiring a lot of hard work.

PS. Here is an excerpt from a recent paper which scientifically backs up the importance of early socialisation where German Shepherds in particular are concerned: http://www.journalvetbehavior.com

One month later and the lady has decided to upgrade to my ‘lifetime’ option: ‘Nuala and I are making progress and are an on-going project and I am very aware of that.  I am so delighted with the consultation and plan and have been recommending you to everyone. I do wish to take up your continuing support.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Nuala, 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).