Cocker Spaniel Won’t Play With People. Will Play With a Dog

Rocco is a young Cocker Spaniel who won’t play. Unusually, he’s not at all interested in chasing something that is thrown for him.

He does, however, get a huge buzz out of charging, barking, at approaching people.

He won’t play tug games either with his humans, though loves to tug something with their other dog.

Why won’t Rocco play?

Won't playRocco is now two years old and they brought him home from another family at six months old. My guess is that the family couldn’t cope.

My other guess is that, with kids’ toys about the place, they had strongly discouraged puppy Rocco from picking up any item – punished him even. A demanding puppy nicking things, young children including a new baby born soon after they got Rocco, could well have been too much for them.

I imagine they will have shut the puppy out of the way for long periods.

Rocco’s play situation is unusual in that whilst he’s not interested in playing tug and won’t hold a toy for a human, if he has a bone or large chew he likes the lady to hold it while he chews. He will share this with someone where he won’t a toy.

His owners give him a life full of enrichment, exercise, training and interest. They are extremely conscientious. The lady offers most of the training and attention – along with attempts at play.

I came to see them because he’s become increasingly grumpy. His issues are in no way extreme but need to be nipped in the bud.

Reactive only off leash.

Another unusual thing is his reactivity to people on walks. It’s unusual because he doesn’t do it at all when on lead. He gets fired up only when off lead and free.

When he sees a person approaching he charges at them barking. It’s the same if he sees horses or cows, even if they are at a distance in another field. This is a recent development.

It seems that the act of charging, barking at them, gives him a buzz that he’s sort of become addicted to. He’s unable to do this when restricted on lead so doesn’t try. He’s simply not bothered by them at all when restricted.

The first part of dealing with this problem is, as soon as a person appears, to teach him to default back to their side. His recall isn’t good. He’s not good at coming when called at home either, so they will work on ‘Come’ when called and motivation. They will work with a whistle too. The whistle isn’t a magic fix and needs practice first, pairing it with food, hundreds of times, in order to build up an automatic response. Only then should they use it for real.

The second part of dealing with the problem is to find a rewarding activity to replace the chasing at people. Something on which he can redirect his chase drive. Unfortunately he won’t play tug or chase anything they throw – yet.

He needs an alternative and incompatible behaviour that gives him the same kind of buzz. They will teach him how he can get similar satisfaction from chasing a ball, toy or a prey dummy. Rocco is also now going to Acer Gundog Training classes so will for sure be working on this there.


When already aroused or stressed, Rocco becomes impatient if physically moved or confronted to do something he doesn’t want to do.

Recently a child grabbed his collar to move him away from a hole he was digging and he nipped her. This was a first. Why did he do it? He was in someone else’s house, there were young children with excitement, he had spent time shut in the car and he had missed his tea. Digging the hole was very likely his way of relieving some of his stress.

Rocco has started to show aggression towards their other dog when the lady is fussing her. He has nipped the man also when he was trying to impose something on Rocco that he didn’t want.

So, they should now keep Rocco’s general stress levels as low as they can. There is good stress and bad stress. Whilst to play a good game of tug or a controlled game of fetch is exciting, it would benefit him I’m sure. Here is a great little video from Steve Mann about inspiring the dog to play with a frisbee and bring it back.

They will apply some management – like using a long line when out while working on Rocco’s recall. In this way they will simply prevent him from further rehearsing the people-chasing whilst teaching him to come running back to them instead whenever he sees someone.

At times when a child might grab him without thinking, they can remove Rocco’s collar so there is nothing to get hold of.

Dealing with signs of aggression

It’s hard for people to know how to react when they see signs of aggression in their dog. Their instinct is to stamp it out immediately.  We would never expect a person to put up with something they don’t like being pushed upon them – particularly if they had already given warning. We do expect this of our dog.

If we counter aggression with aggression ourselves, it can only make things worse. Moreover it’s too late anyway when the incident has already happened. We need to be a lot better at reading the signs that the dog is uncomfortable and unhappy – and then help him out.

Punishment can only work while the person who administers it is present because it’s based on intimidation. The only real way to make Rocco trustworthy again is to work on his underlying emotions. What is he feeling? Punishment or scolding can only make them worse. It stands to reason.

Rocco seems uncooperative at times – they call it stubborn. I say they simply don’t motivate him sufficiently. It’s not for lack of trying, but they’ve not yet found the key. As play and fun hasn’t been rewarding, it’s had to be food.

In a weird way they could actually be reinforcing his ‘stubbornness’ when, the more he refuses to move, the more the lady in particular tries and entices! I suggest she calls his bluff. If she wants him to come to have his lead on for instance, she can give him just one chance – one call. Then walk away and go out without him (if briefly).

Teaching Rocco to play will give them an appropriate tactic to use with the chase behaviour. I think then that everything else will begin to fall into place.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Guard Dog German Shepherd. Family Pet. Compatible?

“I was born to be a guard dog. I am an entire male German Shepherd now reaching my prime – eighteen months old. I am ‘The Bodyguard’. My job is to keep my humans safe and to keep safe the environment around them.

‘Go Away!’

guard dogWhen we are out, if someone comes too close I warn them Go Away. Lunging and barking has worked so far, but I may need to take it a step further one day.

Sometimes the person will look at me and make admiring noises. A hand will come out to over me. How dare they! This is my space. I’m not here to make friends but to protect. 

Back at home, intruders are a worse problem for a guard dog. ‘Go Away’ when a person is already in and sitting down is less effective. My own humans may shout too. (Are they shouting at me, or at the intruder?).

All I can do is to reduce the threat to my humans. If the intruder moves, I shall react. If push comes to shove I will need to bite.


A behaviourist lady came to our house yesterday. She sat still and initially I trusted her not to be a threat to my humans. She offered me food which I took and dropped. Does she think she can bribe me to accept her? After a time she took too many liberties. Quite enough, I felt. I charged at her barking. She withdrew. Job done.

I can relax from my duties when my humans are not about. What they now want is me to be off guard duty when they are about!  But I’m their guard dog.

They now want me to trust them with the protection job! 

Not only do they want me to step down – they want me to be friendly!”

To be or not to be – a guard dog

Encouraging Bentley to be a guard dog on the one hand, and on the other hand not wanting him to be a guard dog in certain circumstances, means compromise.

If they have a guard dog that is a family pet also, he needs to ‘stand down – off duty’ unless told otherwise.

This is their challenge. It’s not for me to impose things on the people that are against their wishes, so I must accept that he is to be a guard dog. Normally I would do all I could to reduce the guarding behaviour.

Bentley, I believe, is a supremely confident dog. There is no fear involved. To the manner born, he is well in charge of his environment and territory with free run day and night and to a certain extent of his humans too. He is brilliant with the little boy, gentle and playful.

The threat is ‘other people’.

On walks he ignores people and other dogs, sticking close to his human. He only becomes reactive and protective if someone walks too close and stops, particularly if they move to touch him.

Arousal is cumulative and ‘loads the gun’.

It was an interesting evening from a ‘trigger stacking’ point of view. My arrival will have sent stress hormones racing into Bentley’s system, topping up those already there. Ignored and brought in on lead, he calmed down a bit. Then they let their excitable smaller dog in which stirred things up.

Next, Bentley was returned to the kitchen for a short while so I could move out of my seat. When he came back in he rushed at me, barking just briefly. He was now fired up.

A little later I moved my hand to get something from my bag beside me. Bentley exploded.

If I had continued rummaging in it rather than quickly withdrawing and keeping still, its possible he would have felt the need to go to the next stage – to bite.

It’s only a matter of time if things don’t change. At the very least, management must be in place with Bentley restrained on lead.

Bentley needs a job

So that he’s more tolerant, the first thing is to do all they can avoid his arousal levels from stacking up.

In addition, Bentley needs to use his brain more to do things for his humans when they ask him to. Working him at home with more training and channelling his guard dog instincts will help to have him under better control when people are about. They will teach him some alternative behaviours.

Finding some specialised training in something useful like, possibly, detection work could be perfect for him.

Apart from this it’s all about management. People also need managing – both those coming to their house and those they meet when out. Each time he barks, lunges or nips even, in a way he is successful. He is rehearsing the behaviour thus making it more likely to happen again.

The dog law now states that if a person feels threatened, even if not bitten, they could be in trouble. It would be a great shame if Bentley be muzzled and on lead only when out.

Living in the sticks, they need a guard dog to protect them and their property. If they also want a family pet – to trust a dog with such strong guard dog instincts as Bailey around other people, it’s a challenge. He has to learn when to be off duty and his humans have to step up to the job themselves.

This means a complete turn-around for Bentley. 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Early Exposure. Appropriate Acclimatisation to Life. Flooding

Another dog, a puppy this time, having lacked the right kind of early socialising and exposure in the earlier weeks, before she was twelve weeks of age.

Mia is now nearly four months old, a beautiful Catalan Shepherd puppy.

Little or no exposure to the real world

little or no exposure to the real worldPoor little Mia is extremely fearful of people. She is generally jumpy and is terrified of traffic.

They picked her up three weeks ago from a breeder with a great number of dogs in her house. Mia’s socialisation will have been great with other dogs but I suspect she had no exposure to anything outside the house.

Mia’s mother was scared of Mia’s new humans when they picked Mia up. That should have been a red flag. They are first time dog owners and simply wouldn’t have known what to look for.

A fearful mother will pass fearfulness on.

When they got Mia home they went straight into walking her three times a day. They took her to places believing it would help her. They encouraged people to ‘say hello’. This ended in a village fate with lots of people and a fairground and Mia froze.

This is flooding.

Since she arrived, rather than gaining confidence, Mia was becoming increasingly scared of going out.

Over the days, with all the new things to which she had had no early exposure, her stress levels will have mounted until she could no longer cope. Now they have a bigger problem than they had initially.

Bit by bit, where possibly she could have coped with one thing introduced at a time, the under-prepared puppy became overwhelmed with simply too much of everything. They must not blame themselves – anyone apart from an expert would have done exactly as they did. It’s not a normal situation.

Really it’s the breeder’s job to give a new dog owner the right information. It’s such a shame that many don’t recognise the importance of exposure – particularly to other dogs, to people and to traffic.

Puppies need early exposure

Puppy needs handling by various people from a young age. She needs taking out and about, exposure to different kinds of people, to shops and traffic, ideally well before her injections. She needs to travel in a car.

They have a large open kitchen and sitting room area. Little Mia remained as far as possible from me with the odd venture nearer to pick up food I threw. She barked at me and retreated.

I have personal experience with this with my own German Shepherd Milly. Ten years ago I brought the terrified puppy home from a client when she fourteen weeks of age. She came from a puppy farm and had had no exposure to anything whatsoever. It took her about three weeks before she would come anywhere near me.

I, however, didn’t push it. I took her nowhere and I left her alone. Bit by bit she got braver. Like Mia, she was fine with dogs and at the time I had three.

My Milly will never be a social butterfly but she has the tools to cope. 

Feeling safe

In order to learn to live life happily, Mia needs to feel safe. At the moment, if she sees anyone apart from the family or if she’s out of the house and garden, she’s terrified.

It was lovely to see how happy she could be when the teenage son went over to her. We want a lot more of that!

Like my Milly, she is no trouble at all. She’s not relaxed enough to be playful, nippy or naughty though I’m sure that will come now. Earlier in the evening she had had a little race around the garden having dug a hole. She had dug up a stone which she was having fun throwing about. A very good sign.

They must take things one at a time now. By avoiding exposure to things that scare her unless at a comfortable distance, they should slowly build her confidence and trust. This requires her having an escape route. At a distance, they will associate the things she’s scared of, most particularly people and traffic, with food (counter-conditioning).

If she won’t eat, they are still too close or it’s getting too much for her. They should stop.

Taking things one at a time

The plan involves breaking things down.

A harness will make sure she is comfortable. They will start by introducing her to this carefully, using food. She shrinks from the lead, knowing that she will then have to go out, so the lead needs working on, with no association with walks.

Next they will work on the threshold, the doorway. At the moment they have to carry Mia out of the door and down the road before they put her down because she’s so scared she pulls back for home.

By ‘lacing the environment’ just outside and leaving the door open with Mia on a long lead, they can work on this. She can run back in if she wants. She should soon feel safe enough to walk out of the door.

The next problem is her terror of traffic. With the door open and well back for the road, on a long lead so she can run back in, they will now pair passing traffic with food.

Being in the car is scary – Mia drools and shakes. They will briefly put her in the car, offer food and lift her out again. Lots of times. When they do drive her, it will be for one minute down the road to the woods which she fortunately finds okay.

They must prevent people from crowding the scared puppy.

It’s going to be a slow old business.

Take it easy – err on the cautious side. 

I have been to so many cases of both puppies and older dogs, from rescue in particular, where the people flood their new dog with too many new experiences.

I would say, however confident and calm the dog seems, take it easy. Introduce new things one at a time. It’s a whole lot better to err on the safe side.

So now, unless they really have to, I advise them to resist taking Mia out until she is ready. A little later they might carry her to the car and drive her to wood or park. A short journey to somewhere nice may help her to accept the car.

Once she does go out, they should constantly apply distance and counter-conditioning when she sees a person. If she is scared by something, then it’s is ‘too much’ or she is too close. They should abandon the walk and come home straight away.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Resource Guards, Protects his Humans

It’s a tricky situation with Bertie hard to understand.

I first thought that his barking behaviour was driven by lack of confidence and some fearfulness, but as time went on I saw it wasn’t this at all.

The Spaniel mix was fine when I arrived, but when he had checked me out with a lot of sniffing, he barked at me like a warning.


The more questions I asked of the couple, the more mixed-up Bertie seemed.

Resource guards his humansHe’s a mix of angry, territorial and affectionate. Most of all, he’s fiercely protective of his humans – or of anyone coming too close to them. It’s more than just protective – he resource guards them.

He would bark suddenly at the smallest thing and a moment later be friendly. It’s not that he was fearful of me or that he didn’t like me. He simply wanted to guard his resources – the couple.

We sat and talked. Some of the time he was beside me, friendly. Later he sat in front of the man, looking at me, being fussed by him. The smallest of movements from me triggered sudden aggressive-sounding barking.

I asked for his harness and lead to be put on because I couldn’t be sure that I was safe.

Bertie is completely different when the lady and gentleman aren’t with him. He stays with the father happily – until they come back when he immediately becomes aggressive with him. ‘Keep away from my humans – my food vendors!’. He resource guards them like they are something belonging solely to him and nobody else should come near.

Resource guards one from the other.

Even when the couple are sitting together, he resource guards one from the other. If he’s sitting with them on the sofa and one walks out of the room, he barks fiercely as he or she enters and walks towards them. He/she is MINE! We have quite a simple plan for this.

Like many dogs, Bertie’s not comfortable when someone walks directly towards him when out either. (See The Pulse Project) This is mainly when he’s on lead, so again, he probably resource guards the person holding the lead.

Bertie is now six years old and they adopted him a couple of years ago. Previously he had lived with a sick person who’d died. It’s not a big stretch of the imagination to think perhaps he was very protective of this person.

Bertie also has always had such bad separation issues that the man now works nights so that he can be at home when the lady works. He is never left alone. The three hours each day when neither can be at home, a dog sitter takes Bertie to her house – where he is quite happy with no resource guarding of humans.

They are making huge sacrifices to do their best for him. Very possibly some of these efforts to make him happy is unwittingly contributing to the reason he resource guards them.

Bertie is simply on high alert all the time he’s with his humans, looking out for them. 


How the man and the lady behave towards Bertie has a large part to play. They obey his every whim and lavish him with food for doing nothing, pouring attention on him. They behave like his slaves. What are slaves? Slaves are those who are owned and do what they are told. They are belongings.

I believe this is how Bertie perceives them, as his possessions – so he resource guards them in much the same way as he might a big bone.

For all the attention, he appears uneasy and depressed. Always worried about losing them. He’s never playful. He would be a much happier dog if they could be very consistent and given some boundaries.

The start is for them to try to act like they themselves are the ‘protectors’ and not ‘resources’. They must stop feeding him all the time as all they have become are his personal food vendors, apart from making him overweight. It not only makes him possessive of them, constantly demanding food, but also takes away the value of food for the work we need to do.

They should now use food only for rewarding and thanking him – and his meals. Working for some of his meals with it either in Kongs or sprinkled around outside should be very good for him mentally.

Turn the tables.

This should start to turn the tables. If his humans don’t behave like his servants and food machines, he should stop regarding them as his servants and food vendors – the reason he resource guards them.

Bertie now needs things to be consistent and steady. All the work they will be doing should help make him a bit less angry, unsettled and demanding. It will be a bumpy ride to start with as things gradually change and and he tries harder.

There is a lot to do, and when they have made some good progress we will take a fresh look at the situation and begin to work on being able to leave him alone.

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 Bertie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any 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).

Fear of People. Separation Distress

Bentley has a fear of peopleBentley barks.

The little dog’s main fears and consequent barking is either directly, or indirectly, associated with his fear of people.

Bentley is an adorable and much-loved Coton de Tulear. In researching the breed, the first site I looked at said that they hate being on their own and that they like the sound of their own voices.

The first, distress at being alone, certainly applies but I don’t think Bentley barks and cries because he likes the sound of his own voice. 

The cause of his barking is his fear of people…

…and things associated with people.

This is whether someone just comes to the door, if someone comes into the house or when they see a person out on a walk. It’s the same with noises that people make, like slamming car doors and voices outside. (This dog that usually barks takes absolutely no notice at all of fireworks!).

His fear of people colours any trips to the vet or the groomer.

Changing his fear of people gets to the root of the barking problem and is the challenge. People should now be associated with things that Bentley likes and whenever possible on walks at a distance where he feels they are no threat to him. This threshold distance is important.

Here is a very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in on the subject (referring to encountering other dogs, but it’s the same principal).

Most unusually, when I came to the house he barely barked at all, although he was still wary of me. This is because of how we set it up. They will now use the same technique with other callers.

How they actually respond to the barking will also help his fear of people and the sounds he can hear.

All alone, Bentley probably feels vulnerable.

This can only be guesswork, but he invariably toilets soon after he is left. He’s very attached to the lady and follows her everywhere. It’s most likely he feels safest when with her.

They will be getting a camera so they can watch what happens when he’s left. This will tell us more.

Separation problems are slow to work on, particularly if it can’t be done systematically due to people having to go out to work. However, the more Bentley associates their leaving with good things and their returning as no big deal, the better.

He currently has run of the house when left. I suggest keeping him away from the front door area. This is where scary people may come and go and where people have pushed items through a hole in the door.

The higher are Bentley’s general stress levels, the less he will be able to cope with his fear of people and being left. Lowering arousal/stress is key. This may sound a bit boring at times but over-exciting activities can be replaced with those that help him to be calmer and more confident.

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 Bentley because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much 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. 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).

Barks Go Away at People. Fearful Puppy.

As I walk in the door, the puppy barks as he backs away. He barks Go Away to me.

It is suggested that taking a puppy from his mother and siblings a bit too early may, in special circumstances, be actually be better than leaving him a bit later than usual. This depends upon what the breeder is doing.

Rough and tumble with siblings can teach puppy to be gentle, give and take and so on. If, until he is ten weeks old, puppy sees nobody apart from the other dogs and a couple of family members in the breeder’s house in the middle of nowhere, the outcome can be a lot more serious than a nippy puppy.

A puppy needs early habituating to the outside world and to a variety of people including children. For psychological reasons, the earlier this begins the better despite vaccinations not complete.

Four month old Bear is a typical case in point. They picked him up to join their other Miniature Poodle, Teddy, at ten weeks of age. He is very gentle, not a nippy puppy at all and perfect with Teddy.

The four-month-old puppy barks Go Away.

However, Bear is very scared of people. He even initially barks Go Away to familiar people coming into his home.

he barks Go Away at people


Normally they stop him with a mix of saying Shhh and fuss. I asked them to leave him which meant he carried on a lot longer.

Now the work started. He was going to learn not to be scared of me.

The lady had my clicker and some grated cheese. Each time Bear looked at me he got a click then, a moment later, cheese.

Each time he barked, as soon as there was a break she clicked. Then cheese. Soon she was clicking and I was delivering the cheese.

It was complicated a little by the need to give Teddy cheese as well, but that is the rule of clicker. The click is always followed by food. We may want to give Teddy some clicker fun at a later date. The room was small and there was nowhere else for him to go, and Teddy loves his food so can’t be left out.

Joy and laughter.

Teddy and Bear give their retired owners great happiness and loads of laughter. The little dogs have wonderful lives with them. Understandably, they want Bear’s life to be as good as it possibly can be which means his becoming less fearful of people, including children.


This can only be done by associating them with ‘good stuff’. It needs lots of patient work from his humans who will do their best not to push him ‘over threshold’ by getting so close that he then barks Go Away.

They have actually made good headway on walks and he can now accept several people he knows without barking. The big difference when out in the park is that he’s off lead and free to escape.

They can use the people he meets on walks to build up his confidence by pairing his looking at them with food. The lady may find the clicker one thing too many to handle – as well as two dogs, leads, poo bags and treats – so she will say ‘Yes’ instead.

They will find a bench at a comfortable distance from the kids’ play area and get out the clicker and cheese. We are using tiny bits of cheese for working on people because he likes it better than anything else. The only way he can now get cheese is when he sees a person.

Rehearsing Go Away barking.

The more Bear barks Go Away at people, particularly as they nearly always do go away, the more he’s going to do it.

When people go past the house, he barks Go Away – and they go. Success. When the mail comes through the door, he barks Go Away – and the postman goes. Success.

The view out of the window will be blocked and an outside letterbox installed. The constant daily rehearsal of succesfully barking at people to go away must be reduced.

When I got up to go, I wanted to get out without any of the usual barking from Bear. I did it in small stages starting by gathering my things. The lady clicked and fed as he watched me. As I slowly stood up she did it again. As I slowly walked to the door she continued.

I let myself out.

No barking!

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 Bear because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear 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)



Aggressive Barking at People. Fear or Anger?

Two-year-old Belgian Malinois Jake’s home is now with people who have considerable experience and knowledge as dog owners. I’m sure if Jake had gone to them as a puppy they would have nurtured him into a reliable and friendly adult dog.

Physical neglect and domestic abuse

Poor Jake spent the first year of his life suffering severe physical neglect and domestic abuse.

This is a far cry from the life he should have had – one where he was loved, given kind training and most of all, socialised with people.

In all respects Jake received the opposite.

My clients have made considerable headway with him, particularly with respect to training. There is nothing they won’t do in order to help him.

Their main problem is Jake’s antipathy to people, demonstrated by his aggressive barking at them.

When out, his lunging and barking has a fear component too. From the moment he leaves the house he is on high alert for people. He is necessarily muzzled and, for control, they use a head halter underneath it.

This is Catch 22. He must be under control to keep people safe, but he’s going to feel trapped and uncomfortable. They can’t do anything about the muzzle, but they can use better handling equipment where they have just as much control should they need it and with Jake feeling comfortable.

Aggressive barking and two attacks

He has attacked a couple of people and only didn’t cause injury because he was wearing the muzzle at the time. On both occasions, to his humans, it seemed without warning.

Jake is constantly ‘living on the brink’ due to his invisible internal arousal levels. On both these occasions there will have been a build-up. One was at the end of a walk with all it’s challenges and the other he was in a situation that was far too much for him. It only takes one small extra frustration to send a dog like this over the edge (see ‘trigger-stacking‘).

When anyone calls to the house, Jake is always shut away. It makes having friends or family visiting very difficult. Catch 22 again. Without encountering people how will he ever change?

Due to the lady’s work, many people do actually come and go. He will bark from behind the kitchen door; he will bark at people and other dogs through the long windows.

This daily and frequent aggressive barking at people in or outside his house, people he can’t get to, will be very frustrating for him. It is also constant rehearsal of the aggressive barking which, he will undoubtedly believe, drives people away in the end.

When I visited yesterday we set things up carefully. I needed to see for myself whether fear was involved or if it was simply rage that another person was in his house. 

It looked like rage.

To Jake, his job was to get rid of me.

They had him muzzled up ready in the kitchen when I arrived, with a training lead hooked to both front and back of a harness and the man for company. I had announced my arrival on my mobile so as not to ring the doorbell. We wanted his arousal levels to be as low as possible.

I sat at a table as far from the door as possible. I could see through the open door and down the short passage from the kitchen.

The lady had instructions not to talk to Jake but just to walk him towards the room. As soon as he barked she was to turn around and walk him out of sight just round the corner.

As soon as Jake caught sight of me he exploded. He barked ferociously, lunging on the lead. The lady had to use her strength to remove him but because of the harness it would cause him no discomfort (discomfort would be yet another reason for him to hate me).

I asked her now to say ‘Jake – come’ each time she turned around and as he got a hang of the process he became less resistant.

Soon Jake was looking at me without barking.

After several attempts there was a distance outside the door where he could see me without any aggressive barking. He was quiet. The lady had worked previously on eye contact and he was looking at her all the time which she rewarded. I now suggested she waited until he looked at me, said ‘Yes’ and then fed him.

We worked on the lady approaching a step at a time, continually reinforcing Jake each time he looked at me. It didn’t take long before she could sit on a chair already placed some way away from me near the door beside the man, and Jake very soon lay down quietly.

After a while I tested this. I moved my legs. I stood up. Nothing. I got up and moved about a little and he was still relaxed.

aggressive barking at people

Jake for the short time his muzzle was off

I suggested the lady, hanging on to the lead, took his muzzle off.

He was fine and I even manged to take this photo (whilst looking the other way). I also chucked him food from time to time. This doesn’t look like a frightened dog, does it.

All went very well until something small happened.

I think the man got up to do something. This little bit of extra arousal suddenly sent Jake over the edge again and he lunged at me with aggressive barking as before. I was doing nothing.

It was almost like he realised he had forgotten himself and his job to get rid of me!

The lady took him straight back out.

We rehearsed the procedure again and then left him in the kitchen. We rehearsed it one more time before I left. Both times we finished at a point where it was going well.

They will now need frequent callers to work on.

Reducing Jake’s stress levels underpins everything.

Unless they can do lots of things to reduce Jake’s stress levels so that he is calmer in general, nothing will change. In this state he’s unable to exercise self-control. They then will be able to introduce activities to a calmer Jake that are incompatible with aggressive barking and lunging, maybe a ritual of some sort.

I did what I call a complete ‘behaviour health check’, looking for all areas where they could reduce excitement, arousal, fear, frustration levels. Accumulating stress levels can make his ‘explosions’ unpredictable – and inevitable.

In those most important very early months of his life, Jake had missed out on socialisation – encountering different people. When he should have been treated kindly and trained using force-free methods for the first year of his life, he received the very opposite.

They are now picking up the pieces. If anyone can do this, they can.


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 Jake. 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 or fear 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 (click here to 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)


She Barks at People Despite Being Well Trained

Goldie probably already had the seeds of timidity before they got her as a young puppy. If she had encountered many more people sufficiently early it would have helped, but they were caught in that trap of having to wait for vaccinations before taking her out (another matter I frequently write about). She’s now fourteen months old.

She barks at people.

Goldie barks at certain people when out, not everyone. She barks at people she doesn’t know who come into her she barks at peoplehouse.

One thing is for certain, if they had not been the dedicated owners they are, putting in so much love and training, the small gun dog Golden Labrador could now be a great deal worse.

It didn’t take her long to stop barking at me. It was a treat to visit such an gentle, friendly and well-trained dog.

Goldie has a lovely life, just tarnished by her fearfulness of certain people in certain situations.

Training alone doesn’t address this fear.

When out she will walk nicely, looking up and engaging with whoever is holding the lead. Keeping and holding attention is very valuable for managing situations but it it doesn’t get her to feel differently about an advancing person. It merely takes her attention away from them.

(It’s common for dogs to feel uneasy when approached. See the pulse project).

For what we want to achieve, Goldie needs to change how she feels. Distracting her by getting her to look at them instead is avoidance. It’s like telling a child who has seen a masked man at the window to pay attention to his Xbox.

Emotions drive behaviour. She barks at certain people. This is driven by fear.

To help to address this fear, she needs to register the person. Direct approaches are intimidating so they should always arc. They should keep at a distance where Goldie is aware but not reacting.

Looking at the person will then trigger goodies. Food can rain down.

Training her to keep attention on the handler is perfect if caught unprepared or too close, but it won’t change how Goldie feels. It’s merely management. They want to be able to relax and trust her to react calmly by herself. She won’t unless she loses her fear.

People invading her space.

Another responsibility of the owner is to protect their dog from unwelcome attention – who doesn’t want to touch a beautiful Labrador, after all. A yellow ‘I Need Space’ vest should help greatly.

Off-lead Goldie is less likely to react to an approaching person as is usually the case. She will have freedom to increase distance, something she doesn’t have when someone comes to the door of her house. At home the stranger is walking directly towards her.

They could of course train her to settle on a mat away from the door when someone comes in, but this is a big ask when she’s scared and reacts with barking rather than hiding.

Training will have its place later. For now she should be kept away from the door when someone arrives. Standing people are more threatening, so she can join them when the person is sitting down. They can then work on the person ‘triggering goodies’. It worked well with me.

They can desensitise her to the knocker too. Starting with Goldie at the door beside them and letting her see them knock whilst dropping food. They can do various kinds of knocks: short, multiple, loud and soft. Then can then have a family member the other side of the door knocking while another feeds her inside. Gradually they can increase distance and later make the knocks unpredictable. This will need hundreds of repetitions over a period of time.

When she eventually becomes more confident and relaxed, training her to go and lie on her bed away from the door when there is a knock on the door would be reasonable.

One last thing. They would like to take her places like the pub or a cafe without fearing she may suddenly have a bout of aggressive-sounding barking when a person approaches.

Goldie should end up with the ideal mix. Emotional stability and great training.


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 Goldie and I’ve not gone fully 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 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 (click here to see my Help page)

Barks at People She Doesn’t Know.

Maya barks at people


Maya barks at people she doesn’t know.

A while ago they moved from a busy place to the country. Her nervousness at encountering an unfamiliar person on a walk is getting worse now that now she meets fewer people.

Maya is a sweet Cocker Spaniel age nine and she lives with another adorable Cocker, Tia, who is a year younger. The two dogs get on famously. Fortunately Tia hasn’t caught Maya’s fear and doesn’t bark at people.

Maya also barks at people she doesn’t know who come to the house.

Her barking generates a response from her humans that could be increasing her anxiety, not helping her at all.

At the door it is, to quote the lady, bedlam!

A person arriving generates a confusing range of commands and scolding from both the man and the woman. The humans undoubtedly will be contributing to the mayhem.

Now they will train the dogs to go into another room when the bell rings. They will feed them for doing so in order to build up positive associations.

They will also train their visitors (often a challenge!). The person’s language and behaviour can help Maya greatly.

Most of all, they themselves will keep quiet. When they resort to repeated commands or scolding, they merely compound Maya’s fears. It will seem like unfamiliar people are making them upset too.

I always ask people of dogs that get very excited or that are wary (but not likely to bite), to take no notice of them when I come in and for a few minutes. It’s surprising how hard people find this. They are often surprised how unusually quiet their dog initially is with me.

This actually is not because I have any strange powers. It’s largely to do with the owners acting relaxed themselves and the dog picking up on it! 

Walks are something of a ritual.

The lucky dogs are daily walked about three miles by the gentleman. They have a very strict route and routine.

The first and last part of the walk is on lead. Then, off lead, they do their own thing with a couple of clever ‘check points’ where they meet up so that he never loses them.

Then there is a place where they stop for fifteen minutes of ball play.

When he calls them back they come – ninety-nine percent of the time. It’s that one percent when Maya sees a person that she won’t come back. The time when it’s most important.

She will rush the person, barking intimidatingly. GO AWAY. If they were to put a hand out she may well bite. She’s scared.

If, on lead, they encounter an unfamiliar person, the man will hold the dogs tightly beside him. He may put himself between which may help. However, he will allow the person to come far too close for Maya and she is trapped.

A walker should engage with the dogs.

Day after day the walks are on automatic, punctuated by meeting a dog or person. The man does his own thing and the dogs do theirs, coming together at prearranged times and places.

I suggest he becomes unpredictable!  This way the dogs will take more notice of him.

Tia – what eyelashes!

He needs to react a lot sooner when he sees a person, taking his lead from Maya. Tightening the lead immediately can only make matters worse, The lead should be long and loose and he should remain at a comfortable distance.

He can then feed her or have a game.

Off lead, if he only calls the dogs at the prearranged ‘check-in’ places or when he sees another person, Maya will have wised-up long ago that being called means someone is about!

By engaging more with his dogs, keeping their attention, they will be walking with him. He should call them at random times throughout the walk and vary what he offers them when they return. It can be food or fun.

Out of sight, out of mind.

I would discourage allowing Maya and Tia out of sight.

With a bit of imagination he will much more easily be able to get Maya back well before she barks at people.

If he helps Maya to associate meeting people with with good things, over time her confidence should grow and she will no doubt get nearer before she panics. Ultimately I can see no reason why they can’t walk past or stop to chat to a person she’s not met before. It will be his job to make sure they don’t invade her space.