Enrichment. Brain Work. Self-Control

Yesterday I met Max, a twenty-one-month-old German Shepherd who was very pleased to see me. It’s a treat for me to go to a friendly GSD that shows neither aggression nor fear.

Enrichment for a working dogWith the family having a couple of teenage sons, he has no doubt been used to plenty of comings and goings, probably why he’s so well socialised.

Recent problems however are arising when he encounters other dogs on walks. Continue reading…

Distraction or Counter-Conditioning? Look – A Dog!

Distraction isn't helping Distraction is helpful if the dog is taken by surprise. Distraction however doesn’t help him to cope with the appearance of another dog.

Oaky is a sensitive little Border Terrier. He has lived with the lady for a couple of years and not too much is known about his past. A perfect dog in his loving home, the lady isn’t enjoying her walks with him due to his barking and pulling towards any other dog he sees.

Anxious and embarrassed

Oaky wears a half-check collar. The lady pulls him to the side and holds onto him tightly as the dog passes. She may say ‘Watch Me’ as a distraction. She admits to feeling both anxious and embarrassed; he will doubtless feel this down the lead to his sensitive neck. Continue reading…

Insecure. Feels Vulnerable when Left alone and Encountering Dogs.

insecure when left aloneFeeling insecure is at the root of little Jasper’s problems.

Outside, he barks and lunges at other dogs, rearing up on his hind legs with all his tiny weight.

When left alone, he cries and barks. It has got so bad the lady, who lives in a flat, even wondered whether she could keep him.

She has had the dear little Yorkie for six months now. His first owner had died, he ended up in a pound and then he spent time in a rescue before coming to the lovely home he now has. It’s little wonder he feels insecure.

Continue reading…

Reduce Arousal. Over-Excitement. Barks at Dogs on TV

Reduce arousal. Stress and excitement are at the root of their problems with Kevin and being alert, energetic and reactive is simply part of his basic nature, I’m sure.

Kevin is Kevin – and he’s wonderful! As an adolescent he will be at a difficult stage anyway.

One-year-old Kevin was born in kennels in Romania then had probably been adopted by someone over here who couldn’t cope with his boisterous nature. He ended up in rescue kennels again.

They found him online. The kennels simply brought him out and handed him over.

Continue reading…

Go Away! Dogs Too Close. People at the Door.

Milo barks Go AwayThere are two aims to achieve with little Cavachon, Milo. One is for him to be more tolerant of dogs coming near him. The other is to ensure that no other person coming to the door is bitten by him.

In both cases he barks Go Away. This is constantly well rehearsed as he lies looking out of the window barking at people and dogs going by.

Milo barks. People and dogs go away.

Some people don’t go away immediately though, mainly those invaders who are carrying things – deliveries and the postman. They come to the door. The door is opened. It takes a lot of ‘Go Away’ barking to get rid of them.

The four-year-old Milo is shut in another room when someone comes to the door. Or he should be. With several people in the house there is always the risk of a mistake and one day recently that mistake happened. One family member opened the door. Another was in the garden with Milo but the kitchen door was opened.

As soon as he heard the knock he was from the garden to the front door in a flash, pushing out and latching onto the man’s leg.

They will be working on making Milo feel better about people coming to the door. Most importantly, on preventing further barking Go Away to passing people and dogs – by no longer allowing him to see out of the front window. The more he does it, the better at it he gets.

They will also get a gate for the passage near the front door. If this is shut before the door is opened it will prevent a further crisis. Belt and braces.

Milo wants nothing to do with other dogs.

His attitude to other dogs is interesting. A lot of my clients would be pleased to achieve a dog who behaves around other dogs like Milo does. He ignores them. He stays near the lady although seldom on lead and wants nothing to do with them.

Unfortunately they don’t always get the message. When they come to close he barks ferociously Go Away, Go Away. He looks and sounds like he will attack them (hard to believe, looking at him). He’s worst with large dogs and one day he might meet his match.

It’s unrealistic to expect him to want to socialise with all, or many, other dogs. A fair eventual goal would be to tolerate them closer to him but there must be an escape procedure before he becomes overwhelmed.

Milo also barks at dogs on TV which actually is an opportunity – an opportunity, in a controlled situation, to help him to feel better about dogs in his proximity (counter-conditioning him).

Two Chocolate Labradors.

The real reason they want him to be better dogs now is to do with two particular dogs. Two Chocolate Labradors. They have a nearby friend with the two dogs who is soon moving to the West Country. They want to be able to go and stay with her, taking Milo.

For a dog that doesn’t like another dog anywhere near to him, it seems a big step to getting him living happily in the same house. To make it harder, there are two dogs.

The three dogs will now, before the lady moves away, be introduced on walks – carefully.

The friend will walk her two energetic Labradors first to get rid of some of their natural exuberance. Then they will all meet up at opposite sides of a field. The Labradors will both be on lead. They will then all walk in parallel – in the same direction. The distance between Milo and the Labs will be close enough for Milo to know that they are there, but far enough for him to be comfortable.

Each time they all get to the edge and turn around, they come a little closer. The lady will watch Milo all the time. She can even feed him chicken while he looks at the other dogs to help associate their presence with good stuff.

At some point Milo will be close enough to show signs of stress. Before he can start barking Go Away, the lady will stop. The two big dogs can go on ahead and Milo and the lady will follow. Following is always easier.

What happens next depends. They can gradually start to catch up a little. I suggest calling it a day while Milo is still happy.

After several goes I would be surprised if Milo, who is always off lead, has not caught up with the Labradors and they can then all walk together.

New friends?

Going on from here, in time they could walk back home together and enter a garden. Due to Milo’s territorial behaviour, the easygoing Labradors’ garden would be best. They are very friendly dogs – if a bit boisterous. From there they may even get inside the house without problems.

All the time Milo should be given choice. If he’s not ready they will stop. Choice gives him power.

With patient work, perhaps Milo will be sufficiently confident to go on holiday with new Chocolate Labrador friends before the summer is out.

 

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 Milo. 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 aggression of any kind is involved. 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).

Nervous Dog on Walks. Work Begins at Home

The story of Indie, a nervous dog I met yesterday, is a very common one. Her behaviour illustrates my belief that reactivity due to fearfulness out on walks has roots at home too.

Concentrating solely on walks is missing a big part of the picture.

nervous dogIndie is generally a nervous dog. She reacts when dogs get too near – but it’s not all dogs, not every time and not in every location. It’s variable. Near to her home she is worse.

On walks they will now do all the usual things that I advise.

However, a nervous dog that is fearfully reactive to other dogs on walks, is not fearful in a vacuum. It’s very seldom like a switch is flicked as soon as the dogs leaves the house, changing a calm, confident indoor dog to a nervous dog, jumpy that is wary out on walks.

We looked at her general stress levels. Each thing she is reactive to – and this can be over-excited or fearful – that sends her stress levels soaring.

This ‘trigger stacking’ is cumulative.

If her stress levels are near overflowing before even leaving the house, how will she cope when encountering another dog?

She has a routine ten-minute walk every morning and this is the most stressful walk of the day, the one when they meet the most dogs. This isn’t a good way to start her day. The stress that has managed to drain during the peaceful night will immediately be topped up again.

They will abandon that walk for now and Indie can go out in the garden. She has her main walk later in the day and that will be better controlled in order to help her.

If Indie is able to see passing dogs from windows or from the garden she will bark. She is rehearsing the behaviour they don’t want. What’s more, the passing dog will always move away so – success!

They will block her view where possible. They will help her out when she hears and barks at a barking dog, either the neghbour’s or a more distant dog, associating it with something she likes. She’s a Labrador so that will be food! (Spraying a nervous dog with water may scare her out of barking but will have the opposite effect to what they want).

At home the teenage daughter can be calmer with her, no more deliberately stirring her up because the dog seems to enjoy it. She will abandon rough and tumble type play and replace with more controlled play.

Even food can affect the dog’s mental state, so they will look into that too.

Recently there was a report about the link between some dogs going prematurely grey around the muzzle and hyperactivity or nervousness. Eight-year-old Indie’s muzzle started to go grey years ago.

 

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 Indie. 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 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)

Family Dog, Consistency is Key

The importance of consistency.

I sat with the family – parents with late-teens son and daughter – and their dear little Tibetan Terrier, Archie.

Tibetan Terrier in need of consistency

My first question was, as always, ‘What would you like to achieve from my help?’  The answer was for Archie to be more relaxed around other dogs and to be trusted to come back when called.

Exactly the same aim as so many people I go to.

This sounds simple and straightforward but it isn’t. It’s unlikely to be just a question of going out on a few walks with someone. For a dog to be relaxed around other dogs he must feel safe and this has a lot to do with his relationship with his humans.

Poor Archie was attacked by two dogs a couple of months which has not only upset Archie but it’s really shaken the lady who had him at the time.

In order to feel safe the dog should not feel trapped and helpless on the end of a tight lead, particularly one attached uncomfortably to a collar, held by someone he may not completely trust to keep him safe (in his mind). In order not to feel trapped he should learn to walk in a more relaxed fashion on a loose lead. In order to walk on a loose lead he should no longer expect to make progress when the lead is tight; in order to walk on a loose lead he shouldn’t be too excited before starting out. In order to trust his humans when out, they themselves need to be confident; they need to show him who protects him and motivates him back at home.

In order for him to come when called when off lead, he must take notice of them at home and reliably come when called around the house and in from the garden etc. etc. Each family member must be consistent.

It’s anything but simple.

It’s great to go to a family where all four members pull together with a walking rota. Archie gets two walks a day.

For a plan to work, each walker must have the same walking system. Each needs to wait for calm before leaving. Each needs to use the same technique for teaching loose lead walking. Each needs to react in exactly the same way when Archie sees a dog – he alerts, he may pull and then he drops down flat. It’s vital none of them use force.

Each should carry food on walks.

Each should give Archie their full attention for that twenty minutes and not be occupied with something else like a phone.

 

A ‘walk’ now mean something different.

Walks will occupy the same amount of time as before but no longer go from A to B. It will be about the journey, not the destination. So what if the dog wants to sniff for five minutes? Whose walk is it? A dog that is pulling with a walker who is in a rush is bound to be reactive to things. A dog having a relaxed sniff walk on a loose lead with someone who is relaxed is much more likely to walk past other dogs without a reaction.

It was fun to see the family begin to see why Archie actually does things – what functions his actions have for him. Why does he jump up? It gets him the attention he wants. Why does he run off with a sock? It starts a game. Why does he pull on lead? It gets him somewhere. Why does he bark at people who walk past? It chases them away. Why does he keep scratching at the door? It makes someone get up.

He can learn that something they prefer will give him the same result. Sitting and not jumping will get attention. Stealing a sock gets ignored but a toy may start a game. Pulling on lead will get him nowhere, but a loose lead will. Scratching the door doesn’t get him let out, but sitting politely may and so on.

Why does Archie sometimes get cross when made to go out at night? Because gentle force is used and there is nothing in it for him. He will happily do as asked when they work on his ‘coming when called’ routine at home, using food.

Getting him to earn some of some of his food (and that doesn’t mean commercial rubbish treats or anything large that fills him up, but tiny bits of real food) is a recipe for a motivated and happy dog.

This brings us back to his mild reactivity to some dogs when out on walks. Whatever he is doing, whether it is dropping down, pulling to the dog or barking at it, he does it because it has a function for him, probably that of keeping the dog at a greater distance – or giving himself some control at the very least, particularly if he’s being held close on a tight lead.

What if he was given something more acceptable to do that provided the same function? Turning to look at the handler for instance? Or perhaps standing still and not lying down? Or looking away from the other dog and down at the ground to forage for food? The handler should be sufficiently on the ball to sense the distance t which Archie has clocked the dog but isn’t yet reacting.

Archie would learn that the alternative behaviour would be grant him his wish, that of increasing distance, whilst associating the other dog with something positive and nice.

Another reason they should be alert is that sometimes Archie, depending upon his mood and upon the dog, may ignore it and walk past. Other times he may want to play. The response has to be appropriate to the occasion and well-timed, and this takes practice.

I would err on the safe side in favour of too much distance rather than too little.

Sadly, when your dog has been attacked and injured by another dog that has just appeared, off-lead, out of the blue, walks may never be quite so enjoyable again.

Barking, Fear of Dogs and Can’t be Left

Coco can't be left alone

Coco

Two absolutely adorable little dogs!

Shih Tzu Coco on the left, now seventeen months, has been with the lady from five months old, and Titch, a Yorkie cross she has had for four weeks. He is two years old.

They are friendly little dogs, very good with all people. Titch is very reactive to noise and barks a lot and Coco is reactive and scared of other dogs. The dogs are infecting one another.

The lady lives in a flat so is very worried about the barking. While I was there and showing her how to deal with it, the amount of barking from Titch was minimal and perfectly reasonable. He is on his third home now having been given up twice previously due to the barking.

Friendly little dogs, very good with people

Coco and Titch

With no garden, the dogs need to be walked several times a day to toilet, and each walk brings with it the hazard of meeting another dog, which sets Coco off rearing, lunging and barking furiously at it (GO AWAY!). Titch who was previously friendly with all dogs is now becoming a little fearful also.

Can’t be left alone

The third problem is that Coco can’t be left. He is never, ever left alone. On the one occasion the lady tried it she left a tape recorder, and his crying upset her so much she never did it again. She has weekly hospital appointments and puts the dogs into a nice kennel where Coco has the company of the owner. She has to do her food shopping online.

Because Coco can’t be left, the lady is unable to walk the dogs one at a time which makes working with Coco’s fears a little more difficult.

With time and patience, beginning by not letting the dogs follow her everywhere around the house all the time, then going out very briefly when someone else is in the house and then for half a minute or so when she is alone, gradually increasing the time along with some other strategies – over a period of weeks or months these little dogs should be happily left at home together for reasonable lengths of time, confident in the knowledge that she always comes back.

Seriously, I could have dognapped Titch! He has had no training at all apparently, but within a few minutes he was doing Sit, Down, Rollover and Stand – all with luring and treating. Clever little dog.

Schnauzer fearful of dogs and children.

Look at this for a face! Hector is an eight month old Miniature Schnauzer who looks like a teddy bear. He is a remarkably calm pup most of the time. He is intelligent and biddable. He has been given sensible boundaries from the start, but is now quietly testing them as teenagers do! It is amusing to see how much he can get his unsuspecting humans to do for him, on his own terms, and how he chooses just what he does for them on their terms. He knows exactly hminiature schnautzer Hector looks like a teddy bearow far to push it!

This is typical puppy stuff which makes owners wonder whether it will ever end, and even causes some to give up.

The problem with Hector is his fearfulness. He is a very confident little dog when at home with his family, but when someone new comes into his house he barks at them and backs away.  Out on walks when on lead he is likely to bark at people and dogs. The worst is that he barks at children. When young children come to the house from time to time he is very scared, and if they are toddling or walking about he barks incessantly at them and this sounds aggressive and scary. He is very reactive to children playing outside or riding past on bikes.

It is natural for a dog to be wary of small children. They move suddenly and upredictably, they can be noisy, and they often approach in what the dog perceives a threatening manner, directly and staring, and most likely with arms outstretched. The owners then get anxious or cross when the dog is barking or growling, which compounds the problem. If there isn’t opportunity to acclimatise the dog to young children every day or so over a period of time, then he needs to be protected and to have a ‘safe haven’ where the children can’t go. In Hector’s case I suggested putting a gate on the kitchen doorway to keep the dog in and the children out. Maybe the child can throw little bits of the dogs dry food through the bars – but only if Hector is sufficienlty relaxed and not barking – so that he associates children with something nice.

Whether the dog is frightened of children, people, other dogs, traffic or anything else, it needs to be worked on gradually in a controlled way. Complete avoidance to start with and then introducing the trigger slowly and gradually whilst dealing with it the right way – never forcing the dog out of his comfort zone and being ready to retreat. Complete avoidance gives no opportunity to rehabilitate, but pushing ahead too fast can even result in shut down or aggression.

Hector is only eight months old, and with the right guidance and responses from his owners, over time he should gain his confidence.

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

Five Month Old Labrador Barks at People

puppyoscar2It is sad to see a dog of only five months old that is scared of people. Archie, a young black labrador, is also scared of other dogs. Fear makes him bark, which the owners understandably find embarrassing, and they are worried that if someone tries to touch him he may bite them. He barks at people and dogs on walks, and he barks at people coming to his house. His hackles go up.  He may continue barking at them for half an hour.

Archie soon settled down when I visited – much more quickly than usual. This was due to how I behaved and my own calming body language. The owners were able to relax with worrying about me and he will have picked up on this too.

Archie came from a gun dog breeder having been with his litter mates until he was nine weeks old. This would seem a good start in life apart from the fact he didn’t live in the ‘real’ world, a world of lots of people, different dogs and living in a house. By the time he had his injections and could go out, he will have been about three months old, having missed the most effective time to socialise a dog – between six and twelve weeks.  On his first walks he would sit down and refuse to move. He went to puppy classes and had to be hidden behind a desk where he couldn’t see the other dogs and bark at them. He hasn’t played with another dog since he left his littermates.

Archie needs his confidence building up – and also his confidence in his owners to protect him. 6 months old is very young to carry the burden of protecting himself and also his family. He needs exposure to the things that scare him in a controlled and manageable way rather than the random, potentially volatile meetings that occur on daily walks, never pushing him beyond what he can easily cope with. In this way he will learn to trust people. Using force, pushing him into scary situations he’s not ready for and even using a spray collar for when he barks at people on walks as ‘a friend said’ they should, will have the very opposite effect to what they want him to grow up to be – a relaxed, friendly and confident adult dog. Punishing fear is a dreadful idea and can only make it worse.

Archie is only a puppy still, and if walks become no longer a stressful thing of pulling and choking, of being held back, corrected and scolded when he sees a person or another dog, he will soon be in a much more relaxed state of mind, ready to encounter new things, people and dogs more confidently.

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