Wary of New People Unless on the Train. Puzzling!

Wary of people


Crumpet is a Cockerpoo. Crumpet (I just love her name) is three years old.

She scares easily – apart from the very times when most other dogs would be frightened. On trains, on the underground and on the busy streets of London she is absolutely fine!

At home where it’s quieter she is spooked by anything different or unusual and is very wary when a person appears. She may rush at them, barking.

She is like this also when someone calls at their house.

The lady takes her to work and Crumpet reacts in the same way when someone enters her office. Though tethered, she rushes at them, barking.

The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be

The very strange thing is that in a crowded train she is friendly! She will even go to people for a fuss and sit on the floor beside them. The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be.

It does seem like there is a territorial element to it and she feels more threatened by people near to or in her home – the same at the office. Commonly dogs are worse when a person is standing. Understandably this is particularly the case when she is in an enclosed space or on lead (train carriage and London streets excepted).

It’s an odd thing, but often the fewer people there are the more threatened the dog feels, particularly if they appear suddenly or move quickly. Perhaps this is the same with ourselves? We can feel invisible in a crowd.

Reading the dog.

Because of how I set things up when I arrived, she was fine with me from the start. However, it was a bit different when I got up to go. I saw for myself just how easily Crumpet scares. She was sitting on the lady’s lap and I was now standing up. As I talked to the lady, standing quite close to her, I watched Crumpet. My nearness and the fact I was standing started her lip-licking and yawning. Then there was a little growl. All were clear signs that she was feeling very uncomfortable.

Had I not taken heed and backed away, no doubt next she would have rushed barking at me too.

Is she being protective? It’s possible. Whatever the reasons behind it, Crumpet should be helped in situations like this. This means learning to read her subtle signals, before it gets to the rushing and barking stage if possible. They should save her from any unwanted attention or increase distance.

She looks so gorgeous that she is a magnet for ‘dog-lovers’!

Sometimes Crumpet can cope better than at other times.

Crumpet is variable. There are occasions when she is less wary and reactive than others. This can only be to do with her own mental state at the time. The calmer, less-stressed and more confident she is in all aspects of her life, the better she will be able to cope with the things that scare her.

The nearer to home she is the more wary of people in particular she seems to be.

We will be concentrating on lowering her stress and excitement levels whilst also counter-conditioning her to things she’s wary of – people in particular – by building up positive associations and doing everything to keep her feeling safe. If she no longer sees people as a threat, then she has no need to feel protective – if protectiveness is part of it.

Crumpet is in such a frenzy of excitement before she even leaves the house, barking her way down the road. In this state one wouldn’t then expect a calm and considered reaction to anyone she might meet.

Progress is fastest when things are broken down into small steps.

The lady will work on getting through the door with a quiet dog! I have invented a sequence, like kind of game, involving waiting for quiet by a door, opening it, walking through with a quiet dog and returning again – over and over. Starting with inside doors, then the back door and finally the front door.

Next she will progress to walking Bracken quietly away from the door a small way before turning back – until they get to the end of the road.

I’m still puzzled by why Crumpet is so comfortable in the train! Possibly it’s because there is no territorial element.

The little dog who spooks at a rubbish bag appearing on the footpath is unfazed by the hiss of closing underground train doors. The dog who rushes at a person walking towards them in their own road is untroubled by people packed into a carriage.

We need to bottle this and take it home and to the office!


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 Crumpet 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 is 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)


‘Go Away’ he Barks. Often it Works. They Pass By.

Go Away!

The big dog stands on the chair looking out of the window. When someone goes past he barks ‘Go Away!’. They go. Success.

Go Away, he barkedHe prances and jumps around a jogger and they run away. Success.

Why is Einstein like this? Great name, isn’t it, probably reflecting the Poodle component of his mix which includes Rottweiler and Doberman.

There is guard dog in his genes but there is more to it. In a yard with guard dogs is where Einstein spent the formative first five months of his life. He will undoubtedly have been taught by them to bark ‘Go Away’ at anyone daring to come into the yard.

I found two-year-old Einstein’s barking at me rather curious. It’s like he wasn’t serious. It sounded quite fierce but his heart wasn’t really in it. He isn’t as emotional as he sounds. His body language didn’t back up his vocals.

If he was really intent on guard duty he wouldn’t take a break to sniff around for a bit of dropped food.

It’s tribute to the work and love of his young owners that, considering his start in life, he’s not a lot worse. He is affectionate and friendly to people he knows and okay with people when out so long as they don’t invade his space and aren’t running.

Behaviour learned from when he was a young puppy.

Experiences, particularly early ones, actually change the brain: see Changing behaviour from the neurobiological perspective.  It will be difficult to break.

The way to deal with Einstein’s Go Away barking involves a ‘jigsaw’ of pieces that, when added together, should help the situation. Here are some:

His bed is placed against the front door – the most important guarding location in the house. I suggest they move it. They will prevent him looking out of the window to bark Go Away at passing people. They will get their neighbour to throw him a ball (Einstein barks for him to go away too).

When he sees a jogger, instead of barking Go Away he will be given something different to do.

Gradually people coming to the house should become a positive thing. At present they have few visitors for obvious reasons. They now need plenty of people calling to their house.

Using myself as a guinea pig we devised a plan. When I arrive I never have a dog like this in the room. I like to sit down first and then the dog is brought in. A sitting person is less of a threat.

He soon found that his initial bout of barking brought no result. I didn’t go away. I was relaxed and casually threw a couple of bits of food away from me. He ate them. There was none of the usual fuss and comforting he might get from his lady owner who was holding his lead. 

Reinforcing him for not barking.

At each break in barking she now clicked and dropped food. She clicked when he briefly sat and settled. He was up again and barking. She clicked and fed when he stopped.

Now it was obvious that he wasn’t seriously aroused – it was like he did it out of a sense of duty, so when he started again I asked her to immediately walk him out of the room. In and out. In and out. The fifth time he no longer looked at me when he came back in. Click and treat. Settle, click and treat.

Like many dogs with this behaviour, if he is out of the room for a few minutes it’s like he’s forgotten the person is there so he starts again. They can take advantage of this with their guinea-pig guests by leaving him out for five minutes and bringing him back in, then going through the whole procedure again.

Interestingly, he is fine at a couple of other houses where he spends time. The only occasion when there was an incident with a person arriving there was when the lady owner was present. Very possibly he’s protective of her also. She will no longer ‘pander’ to his barking at people with fuss and comfort. He’s not scared after all. It’s like she’s in cahoots with him. She should act cool and unconcerned!

Einstein should be left to work out for himself what works (quiet – click and food) and what doesn’t work (you want ‘Go Away’? Ok, but it’s you who leaves).

This two-year-old big teddy bear really is a gorgeous dog. He has so many good qualities. He’s great with other dogs, he is biddable, he comes back when called. He is cuddly and affectionate.

They just don’t want or need a guard dog, that’s all.


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 Einstein 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. As in this case, it’s could be very easy to jump to the wrong conclusions.  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)


Not an Easy First Dog

Lucy must have once before been loved.

Not an easy dog for first time dog ownersIn the few days since German Shepherd mix Lucy moved in with the young couple she has been through several stages as she begins to settle into a very different new life. She is their first dog so it’s a big adjustment for them also.

For the past six months the young dog has been living in a very ‘basic’ kennel situation. A chaotic and bleak place.

For six months she has had to toilet in the same place where she slept and ate, so it’s not surprising she initially had a couple of accidents in the house. Being their first dog that was something they’d not anticipated.

The young lady contacted me a couple of days after they had picked Lucy up because they were having difficulties on walks with the pulling, with her jumping about and her general excitability. She ‘wouldn’t listen’. She had growled at a friend coming in the front door. She’s their first dog and they weren’t quite prepared for this.

I visited on Lucy’s fifth day. She had already calmed down a bit. All toileting was now outside unless she was scared.

Her fearful reactivity to people coming into the house was increasing however.

When I arrived she barked at me loudly. I didn’t react in any way and, unusually, she didn’t pee with fear. I rBEautiful dog for first time dog ownersestrained the young couple from fussing her as this can transfer their own anxiety and I sat down. Lucy stopped barking. I dropped her a piece of food and she took another from my hand.

Then the beautiful dog came and sat on my foot. She rested with her head lovingly beside my knee.

My heart melted.

Over the next few weeks I shall be helping these new dog owners to field anything that Lady may happen to throw at them as they work through the ‘honeymoon period’. We are working on loose lead walking, a suitable diet, leaving her alone happily and other things.


We want to nip the fearful reaction in the bud.

The young lady contacted me this morning (the day after my visit) to tell me Lucy is now barking more at people and even cars that pass. The sitting room has a long picture window looking out over the road. Each day it gets worse.

The more frequently Lucy engages in this barking the more of a habit it will become, so now is the time to act. People’s instinct, particularly if it’s their first dog, is to try to stop the dog barking by letting the dog know she’s ‘doing wrong’.

In my opinion the only truly efficient way to change the barking is to change the emotions in Lucy that are driving her to bark. It is certainly fear in her case. There may be a touch of instinctive guarding or territorial emotion too.

When she barks – or better still if they can pre-empt the barking – they need to reassure her and call her away, rewarding her for doing so. If this doesn’t work, they will need to go over to her, help her and remove her. Any scolding will just make her feel worse about whatever she is barking at.

Why not, however, get to the root of the barking – change how Lucy is feeling about the people and cars going past?

I suggest they take her out the front on lead with a pocket of her food.

Stand. Watch. Listen.

With everything that goes past, feed her. If she’s reluctant to eat she needs tastier food and they may need to stand further back, inside the open front door. They can scatter food on the ground so she associates the scary area where she watches people approaching the house with something good.

Then they can come indoors and do the same thing from the sitting room window – watching and feeding, listening and feeding.

They may need to do this exercise very regularly for weeks and any time in the future when she looks like reverting.

It’s easy to see how Lucy’s fear of people both passing the house and approaching the house is linked to her fear of people entering the house. It may also be linked to her having been trapped in a kennel for the best part of each day for six months, unable to escape when someone walked towards her and entered.

With different management of visitors and Lucy feeling differently about  people approaching or passing the house, the fear of callers shouldn’t be too hard to crack. She is wonderfully friendly and affectionate once she’s feeling safe.

She should certainly no longer have access to the view out of that picture window.

Lucy’s reaction to people coming to the house could snowball into a bigger problem if not caught straight away. It’s unlikely that people with their first dog will have sufficient knowledge of systematic desensitisation and counter conditioning without some help.


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 Lady. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog along with listening to friends can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, making sure that we are dealing with the real causes. I also provide moral support which people will probably need for a while. 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 Get My Help page)

Fearful Jack Russell Barks at people

Jack Russell Rosie is a well behaved little dog when not stressedHere is Rosie, a two-year-old Jack Russell re-homed from Wood Green a couple of weeks ago.

She has landed on her feet with a lady who is very empathetic to her needs and who instinctively understands the balance between loving Rosie and giving her space.

Previously Rosie had been living much of the time in a crate, muzzled. Because of how she drinks water in a strange way with her head on one side, she must have worn the tight muzzle for a long time.

She is an extremely well-behaved little dog when not stressed. She’s not demanding, she is polite around food, she doesn’t bark at passers by, she can be left alone without crying, she never damages things, she never toilets in the house and, as you can see, she is beautiful!

However, she is very scared of people. She barks frantically at anyone coming into her house and has now nipped a guest. When I arrived she was barking and growling from behind the gate. We worked on this until, by the end, I was walking around the room without a reaction. You can see she was now quite relaxed!

She needs to be gradually desensitised. They need plenty of callers who are willing to behave exactly as requested, friends popping in for half an hour whilst the lady follows our plan. There is a thin line between pushing Rosie beyond what she can cope with, whilst stretching her a little. I know her new owner will be getting this right.

Rosie has similar problems when encountering people out on walks, and dogs. She’s not consistent however. She is worse at the end of a walk – an indication that the walk is too stimulating or too long.

With work, patience and given sufficient time, I am sure that Rosie will eventually be happy for people to come into the house and that outside she will not react adversely to people and other dogs.

Here is an email I have recived two days later: ‘Now, a remarkable walk this morning.  I put Rosie on a long lead like the one you showed me.  I held it loose and Rosie did not pull.  As we got to the end of the Chinese Bridge we were approached by two people and two greyhounds.  Still on the loose lead Rosie did not show any calming signals.  As we got nearer she did then prick up her ears and so I did the arc movement.  Amazing, she then walked past the dogs without looking at them!!  … I kept her on the loose lead whilst we walked.  Two dogs in the distance both on long leads.  She showed no interest.  When they had gone, I let her off the lead and we played with a frisbee type toy.  … as you suggested I called come and each time she came I rewarded her for the ‘come’ rather than asking her to sit.  It works!!  Heading back home we came across two more dogs, both on long leads.  Rosie seemed calmer and only ‘looked’ and as she moved forward again I used the arc movement.  Miraculous.  I know it is early days, but I cannot even explain how much better this makes me feel.  It is so demoralizing to have an aggressive dog, but today was a pleasure’. I replied to be prepared for there to be many lapses. It would indeed be an unusual miracle if a permanent corner were turned quite so easily, but you never know, a combination of appropriate strategies and the lady’s own karma may be the perfect mix!
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.