Big Change in the Dogs’ Lives. From Free to Restricted.

So much change. The four dogs of interesting mixed breeds were flown over here from South African only two weeks ago and everything is different.

They have generally settled in really well to their new home.

A huge change in their lives.

Big change in the dogs' lives

Bella at the back and Dobby in front

The older two dogs have had previous experience of training, walks and probably traffic. They came from a rescue.

The two younger dogs have lived with the family since they were very young puppies.

Six-year-old Dobby, a cute Pekenese mix, was given to them at six weeks old. Bella, the youngest at fourteen months, was found on the street corner at just three weeks old. Some of her current behaviour is probably due to lack of the beneficial contact with her mother along with what she should have learnt from her siblings.

My client describes Bella as a typical African dog. She’s probably a mix of all sorts of things but looks quite like my little working Labrador in size and shape.

Previously they lived in a big house with a huge enclosed garden. Nobody came knocking on the door but a bell was rung from a distant gate.

The dogs ran free.

Free also to bark at anyone coming too close to their property. There was a lot of action and background noise about the place.

Now they live in a very nice but much smaller house over here. Everything is very quiet. The garden is not big and they are surrounded by neighbours who won’t appreciate barking.

The change from plenty of background noise to quiet means that any sounds tend to be sudden – and something to bark at.

There are two main issues for the family. The first is the noisy and alarmed way the dogs react to anyone knocking on the door and coming into the house. The other is the difficulty in walking the dogs together.

At the front door.

Never before have they had someone knocking on their door. It’s easy to understand how dogs don’t like this sudden banging.

When I arrived we had set it up that I would text outside the door, the dogs would be put out of the way, and only let out to join us when I was sitting in the kitchen. This worked a treat and there was no barking at all. Little Dobby would usually growl and bark at a person for about half and hour. There was one quiet growl and he was taking food from my hand.

This, then, is how I suggest they manage the ‘caller’ situation to start with.

They can get a doorbell which is less alarming I feel than sudden loud knocks. Over time they can systematically work on getting the dogs not to react to the bell. It can be the trigger for the dogs to go into another room, out of the way. A wireless doorbell with two push-buttons is ideal for working with frequent bell-rings. Success will depend upon many repetitions.

Then there will be less chaos when deliveries come.

All dogs were fine with my walking about but went mental when, having gone upstairs, I began to come down again. They have never had stairs before – another change. The way we set up my arrival worked very well. We need to work out something similar for when a person goes upstairs.

They bark also when a male family member comes downstairs, so I suggest for now the man sits on the top stair, calls the dogs up to him and they then can walk down together.

So the ‘manage callers’ part of their aims will be a mix of physically managing the situation along with systematically getting them used to the sound of a doorbell and also feeling good when they hear it.

Walking the dogs.

The ‘walking dogs’ part of their aims boils down to working with the two younger dogs individually until they are less reactive to other dogs and people. When aroused on walks and together, Bella will redirect onto Dobby. These two aren’t used to leads and probably not accustomed to much tarmac and paving, or traffic. The older two are fine.

Bella and Dobby have separate walking plans.

Bella pulls like mad and is very reactive to any dog she sees, even at a distance but is okay with people.

Dobby is hysterical with excitement before even leaving the house. He also pulls and the outside world experience sounds like it’s just too much for him. Whilst he’s okay with other dogs he freaks out when a person walks towards them.

Bella and Dobby, in time, can then be gradually integrated one at a time with the older two, then walked together as a pair, before trying to walk them all together. How quickly they achieve this will depend upon how much time they have to work on it.

Because the dogs have only been over here with them for just a couple of weeks, their behaviour may well change further as they adapt to their new environment over the next month or two.

The dogs are doing really well despite the huge upheaval and change. I’m sure this is because the family of four all work so well together on their dogs’ behalf.

Barking at the Door. Anxiety? Something Else?

At last, after going to several dogs reactive to visitors, here were dogs that were pleased to see me!

Two Border Collies greeted me, two of the most polite, chilled and friendly dogs I’ve met for a while. Absolutely beautiful.

It was hard to imagine one of these dogs barking at the door, disturbing the neighbours.

When looking at a problem, I ask myself ‘what does the dog get out of it’?

Barking at the door – what’s in it for the dog?

What can Forrest, aged two, get out of standing at the front door and barking? What does the younger Luna get out of wrecking things? Often the answer is that because of the dog’s state of mind the behaviour simply helps him or her to feel better – to vent.

barking at the door when left

Forrest – my treat box is beside me!

These two dogs are quiet dogs. There was no barking when I rang the bell and they greeted me calmly.

Before ten-month-old Luna arrived there was no barking at the door. Forrest never barked when left. Puppy Luna was more of a challenge.  She would cause wreckage including digging in the carpet. The dogs also had access to the garden where she would dig and then bring the mud indoors.

They tried various things including, more recently, crating her. This seems to be when the barking at the door began.

It seems that, from the crate, she would whine – maybe bark. The assumption is that she is either bored or unhappy at being left.

I wonder.

In the crate she was, unlike previously, separated from Forrest who had free run of the downstairs. She may well have wanted to join him. Even when they abandoned the crate the two dogs were now left in different rooms. Luna continued to bark and whine.

The noise however that has got the neighbour unhappy is Forrest’s barking at the front door which had only started since they began to confine Luna due to the damage she was causing. This also coincided with when the dogs were no longer left freely together.

Things may not always be what they seem.

That dogs barking when left alone are suffering from straightforward separation problems is an obvious assumption to make.

Could it be that Luna’s crying when unable to join him started the whole thing by unsettling Forrest?

Could it be that the very neighbour who is worried by the barking has himself actually taught Forrest to bark at the front door?

Both dogs can hear him doing things down the side of his own house. They can hear when he’s about. Forrest, with access to the front door through which people enter, barks.

What has the neighbour (who, incidentally, loves the dogs) done?

He has come to the front door with Forrest behind it, let himself in, no doubt made a big fuss of the dogs – and then taken them for a long walk!

It is very likely that Forrest’s barking at the door eventually brings the neighbour round. The result is a walk.

Bingo!

I asked the question, does Forrest bark after the neighbour puts the dogs back after the walk? They think not, but will check. If the answer is no, it adds weight to my argument.

Luna

Luna may be different. She is a young dog and inseparable from her humans. She is only ever alone if they are out, so she could well be anxious, particularly if separated also from Forrest.

Separation could be the cause of damage but so also could boredom and frustration generated by Forrest barking at the door where she can’t join him. It could be a mix of all three.

We try the most likely and obvious things first. (We will look at separation distress of some kind if Forrest is still barking later when he realises barking at the door no longer results in a walk). They have a camera and have watched him on their phone and that’s all he is doing – barking at the door. No pacing or other signs of distress. This is what they tell me, they haven’t recorded it.

He could of course get worse before things improve. If barking has always resulted in an exciting walk, he’s not easily going to give up trying!

Changing the environment.

Keeping Forrest well away from the front door is essential as is leaving both dogs together. If nothing else, the barking will be more muffled in the kitchen. Giving Luna plenty to do and to chew will help any boredom and chewing will help any stress.

If we are very lucky, leaving Forrest and Luna in the kitchen with no access to either back or front door may be different enough for Forrest to be less persistent at barking at the door as a way of getting a walk. Of course, the neighbour could spoil that very quickly by entering the house while Forrest is barking! I suggest he doesn’t walk the dogs at all for a couple of weeks and after that only enters the house when it’s silent.

Looking at the overall picture of the dogs’ lives.

The dogs are a great tribute to the way their family care for them. There are however a few other things they can do a bit differently that should help any underlying stress which may or may not be compounding the problem but would be good for them anyway. I like to take a holistic view.

These include getting Luna used to not following them everywhere by sometimes shutting doors; by changing diet, by providing more brain work and less physically arousing stuff.

They give their dogs at least two wonderful long walks daily, one being immediately before they leave them – which is never for very long. The walk is meant to tire them out physically, but would it be better to have the kind of walk that would relax them? The dogs, off lead, have the environment and all its smells – what more could they need? See Worshipping the God of Exercise Walks.

So let’s see what happens.

They family will first get the dogs used to being left together in the kitchen for short periods with something nice to do, like a stuffed Kong each. They will film and record them this time. It will be interesting to see how Forrest reacts after a few days when he can’t get to the front door and realises that barking from the kitchen, away from the front door, never results in a walk.

Progress! ‘I’ve waited to message as I wanted to be sure but we are now into the 3rd week of sticking to the routine and both dogs seem calmer and happier when left. Keeping regular checks but fingers x all seems ok.’

 

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 Forrest and Luna and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, 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. 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)

 

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)

 

 

When Every Meal is Dish of Treats

German Shepherd lying by doorIt may be a little late in the day, but they want to prepare the stunning German Shepherd as best they can for a smooth transition into his new life. It is not uncommon for me to go to someone who is ‘caretaking’ a dog for someone until they can take him or her back.

Max has been loved and wonderfully looked after for the past eight months by a lady and gentleman who have never lived with a dog before.

In a month’s time the four-year-old will be going to a new life that will include a young child and a baby on the way.

My caring clients want to hand him over as well-equipped as possible.

I found out immediately that Max was simply not interested in food – even the special tasty little treats I brought. Without food it’s much more difficult to reward a dog meaningfully or to desensitise to things he’s uneasy about.  ‘Good dog’ is seldom sufficient, talking can convey the owner’s underlying anxiety even if the words themselves are positive and a favourite game like tuggy is often inconvenient and just too long-winded.

The reason became apparent when we discussed his eating habits. He has four meals a day – you could almost say ‘banquets’. Breakfast is tuna or tripe, lunch is chopped ham, tea is boiled rice with chicken, liver or heart and dinner is kibble. In addition he may get biscuits when he asks for them. When his regular food contains all the best things and in such quantity, what is there left of sufficient value for earned treats?

When I arrived I had been prepared for a barking dog, so he was on lead. Helping him with his reactivity to people coming to the house is one of their priorities. However, when they let me in following my instructions, Max was chilled! He sniffed me. We sat down – and he delicately and calmly helped himself to the Stagbar that I carry in my bag!

Work will be a lot easier if they are able to use food in order to deal appropriately with his barking at passing people and dogs, and his frenzy when someone comes to the door. They need food to help him to feel comfortable with visitors. They need food so that he pays them attention when necessary. They need to be able to reward him for sitting or lying down when asked so that he is under control when necessary. If in his new life he shows too much interest in the baby or they are at all worried that he may be uneasy around the child, they need to know that he will come to them when asked.

At the moment all the best goodies are showered upon him for free and he has to work for nothing. Now he needs to work for the best food. They will gradually reduce the variety offered in meals till his diet is more basic and he ends up with two ‘normal’ meals a day. If they are worried he’s not eating, he can still be earning and working for tasty stuff but outside his mealtimes.

Max needs to put a bit of effort in order to get what he wants. I’m sure that just like us, dogs value more the stuff they have had to put a bit of effort into acquiring – and perhaps take more note of those people whose attention they have to try a bit harder for?

Some things they simply won’t have time to address in the short time they still have him, like his manic barking in the car at everything that passes. This could make things difficult in the future with children in the car too. Their simplest option is to get a crate for the car and prevent him from seeing out – fortunately he was crate-trained.

One other thing they can help him with in the next four weeks is his very close attachment to the lady. He became visibly anxious when she left the room although the gentleman was still with us. He panted and paced. It will be hard for her as she loves him dearly, but she may need to help him to become a bit more independent of her.

I really hope that I will be called upon to continue to help this dog in his new life, and to put the caring couple’s mind at rest that all their efforts to invest in Max’ future are being built upon.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, 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 Max. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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).