Their Dog Bit Someone

Beagle Molly barks fearfully both at people she doesn't know coming to the house and people she sees out on walkA couple of days ago to the total horror of the young couple who own her, their dog bit someone.

Their reaction was very natural but to the more enlightened completely inappropriate and can only encourage further aggression, and things now are definitely heading in the wrong direction unless the way her humans behave with her is completely reversed.

Little Beagle Molly is fifteen months old. On the left is her in her favourite look-out place for barking at passing people and dogs, and on the right briefly taking a break after going through all her attention-seeking repertoire and relaxing happily after some clicker work.

I need to say before I go any further what great and dedicated owners little Molly has. They recognise they’ve not got the knowledge and things are going wrong, and they are making big sacrifices to put this right. This is the mark of good dog parents.

They love Molly to bits, but simply don’t know how to ‘bring up’ a dog. She is totally confused. She can receive cuddles, shouting at her, rough and tumble play, scMolly is confusedolding, kissing, more cuddling and punishment all from the same person.

Like so many people I go to, they say ‘everyone tells us different things’ and seldom are any of these things helpful as they are mostly dominance based and involved punishment. They are at their wits’ end. In the evenings all Molly does is to run rings around them in order to get attention, and apart from over-boisterous hands-on play that encourages the mouthing and nipping, it is No, No and No. She nicks the remote or she will steal the man’s shirt and the way they retrieve the items invites defiance.

Wouldn’t it be great if people could attend positive ‘dog-parenting’ classes before they picked up a puppy or new dog? They would then start off using positive methods and reading the right books, they would know how to give their dogs the right amount of stimulation and exercise (not too much and not too little), and I would bet dogs treated like this from the start would never bite and their carers would be a lot happier.

Molly is becoming increasingly scared of people and it’s no wonder. She will be associating them with her humans’ anxiety and anger rather than with good stuff. She barks fearfully both at people she doesn’t know coming to the house and people she sees out on walks. The barking at the window will only be making this worse.  She is punished for being scared. People don’t realise what they are doing. The bite occurred when they were out and a woman came up behind them unexpectedly and put her hand down to Molly. It was dark. Fortunately the skin wasn’t broken. The reaction of all the people involved was very unfortunate. One even said she should be put to sleep. Unbelievable.

The couple were absolutely devastated.

Things now will turn a corner, I know. These people are totally committed to changing things around, and after we looked at things from Molly’s perspective it was a like a light came on. I showed the young man how to use a clicker, starting with a simple exercise which Molly picked up almost immediately, and during the evening he was constantly clicking her for doing good things.  For instance, instead of yelling at her for putting her feet up on the table, he waited until the moment her feet touched the floor and clicked and rewarded that – teaching her what he did want instead of scolding. And best of all, he really enjoyed it.

She was using her brain to seek ways of being ‘good’!

This is going to be very hard work because several areas of the dog’s life need an overhaul, but I am sure they will get there and I shall continue to help them in every way I can for as long as they need me. From now on it’s going to be Yes Yes Yes.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Molly, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

Airedale Bites Hands

Airedale Jessie doesn't like hands aproaching from above herAlex is a young man who likes to take his five-year-old Airedale, Jesse, to the pub with him. It sounds perfect, doesn’t it. However, he has a big problem. Jessie doesn’t like people to enter her space, bend over her and touch her, and in a pub atmosphere this is sometimes hard to prevent!

The other day she bit a man she knows well. He was standing at the bar beside her owner and she was between them. All he did was casually drop his hand onto her head and suddenly her teeth were in him. As he withdrew, she bit again – as though to make sure he really was going away.

Jesse has always been uneasy about being approached, never willingly coming over for attention unless under her own terms when she wants something and the only way the man can show her affection is if he goes over to where she is lying – and then she may growl at him. The biting of people really started a while ago when someone ignored all her signals and repeatedly kept coming back to touch her. You can understand why – she looks like a big teddy bear! Eventually she was so provoked that she went for him. Unfortunately he had learning difficulties and should have been protected – as should Jesse, but telling people to back off can seem unfriendly and rude in the best of circumstances. From that time she has been a lot more unpredictable. Unheeded warnings have proved pointless, so she goes straight into the bite.

If it weren’t sad, how she treats her male owner would be quite comical. She sits with her back to him and I can only call it disdain. She ignores him. To quote him – she’s ‘indifferent’. The only times she does willingly communicate with him are to get him to jump to her tune.

Making all the decisions is no better for a dog living in a human environment than it is for a child.

I saw Jesse come to life towards the end of my visit when I called her over (she came promptly instead of the usual repeated calls followed by causal sauntering up sniffing things on the way!), and asked her to do a few things for me, quietly and just the once. She became focussed and looked very happy. I see with many dogs I visit how they love to work for someone when they understand exactly what it is they should be doing and when they find it rewarding. This is the sort of relationship the man needs with his dog. It’s easy for me because I have no past history and can start with a dog the way I mean to go on.

My expectation is for Jesse to cooperate, the owner’s expectation is to be ignored. The respective tones of voice and attitudes are self-fulfilling.

As her ‘guardian/leader’ it’s up to the owner to protect his dog from unwanted attention – and as politely as possible to be forceful. This is something I now find a lot easier than I did at his age! I am sure that when Jesse feels less defensive when people are nearby, less important and more relaxed, she will become much more tolerant of the occasional mistaken hand placed on top of her head, even if never really enjoying it.

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

Cocker Spaniel Nicks Things and Guards

Black Cocker Spaniel, TiaTia is absolutely beautiful, and for the great majority of the time she is biddable, well-behaved and gentle.

However, over the past few months she has gradually been developing a behaviour that is not good at all.

It probably started when she was comfortably asleep in the evening and they wanted her to go into the garden before they went to bed and Tia didn’t want to go. She started growling.

This escalated until one evening she bit the gentleman.

Soon she was stealing things – usually personal items like underwear and slippers – and taking them into her bed and guarding them. Gradually she started to do this in other places she likes to sleep.

Tia herself doesn’t really enjoy this game, because she frightens herself. She is tempting fate, if you like, because although she started it she is scared when approached or cornered.

Her family give her attention whenever she wants it. They are going to play a little ‘harder to get’ so that she begins to value them and their attention a bit more, and work on their leadership skills. As she never damages things that she takes, there is no reason for them to play her game. They are going to completely ignore the whole thing rather than always taking things off her as they do now. They should also remove her access to tempting objects.

So far as going outside last thing is concerned, they can outwit her, I’m sure, and avoid all confrontation. She will be going out willingly. If they command her to go her outside or try to drag her out of her bed, they invite defiance. There are other ways!

Coincidentally I have been to several Spaniels of late who take things and guard them. I fostered a resource guarding Springer Spaniel a couple of years ago whose previous lady owner had many bites, and she never did it with and I found her a lovely home with an existing client of mine who knew what to do.

Tia will stop in time I am sure if nobody is willing to play, if she gets no attention out of it, and if the family change their own behaviour with her just a little!

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

Little dog Living in a Tent

Pip is a dear little scruffy-haired Jack RussellScruffy Jack Russell lying in front of the wood burner, one year of age, who has been in his new home for one month. Home is a Mongolian Yurt – a round tent. It was minus 5 degrees last night and I went expecting to be cold, but with a log burner in the middle it was snug and warm and surprisingly spacious.

After a rather excitable start, Pip settled down in front of the fire.

When he arrived a month ago Pip was totally hyper. He leapt and flew all over the place, grabbing and mouthing. Patience and hard work has really calmed him down at home although there is still a way to go, but he is after all little more than a puppy.

It is out on walks that the problems really  start.

He behaves almost like he has never been on a lead before. He pulls frantically. At the sight of another dog he is very unpredictable and I believe he feels insecure – as well he might, held tightly by an anxious human with no freedom to escape. At other dogs he tends to bark, rear up and go frantic. He has nipped two or three times. The final straw was when he got himself so worked up that he wound his lead around the lady’s legs, and when she accidentally trod on him he bit her – totally out of character but indicating just how fired up and stressed he was.

Certain TV programmes promote extreme exercise as the way to deal with problems such as this – long hikes, treadmills and the like. Apart from anything else, this is not what a terrier has been bred for. I have found time and time again that long walks, unless calm and happy, can over-stimulate a dog. It is no surprise that so many incidents happen at the end of a walk when he the dog is supposed to be tired out.

When I can get people to trust me and to see this, to go back to basics with several very short expeditions whilst teaching loose-lead walking and the joy of stress-free walking with a ‘leader’, dogs like Pip eventually are a dream to take out. It can take a lot of time. Unfortunately too many people give up too soon – or are persuaded by well meaning ‘experts’  and ‘dog-loving friends’ that they should be taking their dogs for long walks to to tire them out. Would you put a disturbed or hyperactive child on a treadmnill to tire it into compliance? No! I rest my case.

Pip’s owner was already very switched on before I visited, so it will be interesting to chart Pip’s progress.

She has worked very hard for the past six or seven weeks, two steps forward and one back. The yurt is not soundproofed which means that Pip hears all the night time noises. Here is the latest email: “Things here are ticking along ok and I am realising that my mood effects Pip. Had a family dinner at my uncles and ended up taking pip home….. Definitely only pip with the family at small calm gatherings for now.  On a positive note Pip is really good in the yurt and garden i love him in these situations he’s so good and often just sits and sun bathes!! he’s learning lots of new tricks has plenty to entertain himself with and at least now when I hear him barking I call him and he comes back in the yurt. We had no nighttime barking since we spoke, fingers crossed for tonight!”
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.