Growls When Touched and Cuddled in his Bed.

Star is a beautiful and unusual mix. He looks like a black Labrador. The Dalmation in him is given away by his white spotty chest and a couple of white spotty feet.

He’s been very well socialised with people and other dogs from an early age. He is friendly and mostly confident.

Over the past few months he has however become increasingly growly.

People aren’t listening to him.

growls n his bedHe growls when someone touches him when he’s lying in his bed. When he’s asleep on the sofa and someone wants to move him he growls. He now also growls at some dogs they encounter on walks – those he doesn’t already know. This is all quite recent.

The behaviour seemed to begin at doggy day-care where maybe he sometimes wanted his own space from the other dogs and was unable to get it.

There is a belief that growls make a bad dog. In fact, I think it’s the opposite.

Unless dogs are to be our ‘slaves’ they surely should be allowed choice where being touched is concerned. See this consent test. Affectionate humans so often assume that dogs can be fussed any time they choose to go over to them. If they don’t like it, there is something wrong with them. There can be no other animal – including humans – that is touched as much as a dog. A cat perhaps, but a cat can more easily escape – or bite – when it’s had enough.

Part of Star’s bedtime ritual is, having been out to toilet, being sent to his bed with a biscuit. Then they fuss him there – possibly for several minutes.

Star growls.

It probably starts with a simple look-away, a clear ‘go away’ to another dog, which isn’t noticed by Star’s humans. So, he next growls – softly. This will be like a gentle whisper of ‘no thanks, not now’.

This is ignored. There is still an old-school notion that the dog should be dominated and that we mustn’t back down or ‘growling works’. Over time the growling has got louder – he’s now in effect having to shout.

They carry on touching him in his bed, despite the increasing growls. Other people touch him in his bed and he growls. He has now snapped, once.

This can only ultimately go in one direction. When he has really had enough there is only one way left to him to show them. That is by snapping.

Star has actually shown great tolerance and amazing bite-inhibition. Few humans would have been that patient when their repeated requests for someone to leave them alone were ignored.

Star’s bed will become a ‘no-go zone’ for humans.

If from now on he is left strictly alone when in his bed or lying asleep, he should become less defensive. (No more ‘oh dear here they come again’). This means that should someone unknowingly go to his bed he should have a lot more tolerance.

If they want him off the sofa, they need not manhandle him. They can call him off and thank him with food.

His worsening reaction to certain other dogs on walks may be part of the same thing – not wanting his personal space invaded. Nearly always this has been when he is ‘trapped’ on a lead.

Again, instead of listening to what he has to say which is that he needs a bit more space, the lead is tightened. He is walked on. When he growls and then barks, he may be scolded.

This makes it sound like his owners aren’t sensitive to him but the opposite is the case. They give him a great life and are very conscious of fulfilling his needs. Theirs is a universal misunderstanding by many people of what you should do when your dog growls. There are certain TV programmes that perpetuate this dangerous nonsense.

Allowing Star to be himself and respecting his wish not to be disturbed in his bed etc. should make a big difference all round.

Work on walks also requires observing his feelings. Looking out for how he feels when they approach another dog, taking note and acting accordingly if necessary.

Growls are communications and should be listened to. Whatever is causing the growl should be immediately addressed. Growls should work.

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 Star. 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. 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).

Like a Big Teddy Bear…..With Teeth

When I arrived the jumping up and mouthing with teeth was manic – Misty is already a big dog. She was incredibly persistent and it was quite painful!

8-month-old LabradooLabradoodle lying down at lastdle Misty came to them a couple of weeks ago. Not much about her previous life is known, but I would be willing to bet that she was either removed from mother and siblings at too young an age or was an only puppy. Her total lack of bite inhibition points to this. I would guess her first owners couldn’t cope with it because the one thing we do know is that she most of her life in a crate.

Bit by bit and with the help of a lead and harness (it had to be a thin chain lead I carry with me because she would have been chewed through a normal lead immediately) she calmed down. I started working on showing her what behaviour would get my attention as opposed to that which wouldn’t.

I can guess that Misty has spent a puppyhood of being told off and scolded; nobody has shown her what she should be doing. Her default was to approach with mouth open and grab. All the time while she was being polite I fed her tiny bits of food. For now she can earn some of her daily food quota for good behaviour.

Misty is so gorgeous I have to show you three pictures. She eventually settled down with the Stagbar I carry – the sequence of picture shows her gradually relaxing!Now she stretches out

In her eight months she has had very little time spent on her. The neglect is evident in her knotted coat as well as behaviour. She has now landed well on her feet with very understanding pLabradoodle fully relaxedeople who accept her as she is, have rearranged their house and garden accordingly and who are prepared to go the extra mile for her. Her new owners may be skipping ahead too fast, especially with the walking; the missing groundwork needs to be filled in first.

She is highly excitable when she sees people and especially other dogs. She’s clearly had little socialisation. Even her own image in a mirror causes her alarm. She literally helps herself to their food while they eat at the table. She so obviously has come from an impoverished environment.

Greatly in her favour is she has not an ounce of aggression. She is an affectionate teddy bear. I know that she will be very eager to please when she knows what it is people do want of her, not just what they don’t want of her.

Sprocker Jumps Up, Nips, Steals

Sprocker Milo is a very good natured and friendly dog - but he is a handfulMilo is a beautiful 14 month old Cocker-Springer mix. His family adopted him from Wood Green three months ago at eleven months of age. It became obvious very soon just why his previous owners had given up on him, but fortunately the members of his new family are giving it all they can and have already made progress.

Milo didn’t have a good start in life because his mother died when he was born and consequently he was hand-reared. It is almost impossible for a human to replace the lessons taught by his mother. From his behaviour it also seems likely that he didn’t have the rough and tumble, give and take and bite inhibition lessons learnt from being reared with siblings.

He’s a very good natured and friendly dog – but he is a handful! His ‘crimes’ include jumping up, mouthing and nipping; stealing things for the attention and the chase; nip-biting when examined or groomed, and grabbing a hand that takes his collar; jumping up at work tops to steal food; he jumps all over visitors and they are afraid to have their young nephews and neices visit them. At the start of walks he is flying about, leaping up and grabbing the lead, nipping arms and maybe humping the person holding it. Basically he lacks self control or any form of impulse control.

His is a perfect example of reinforcement driving behaviour.  Attention of any sort will do! When looked at like that the solutions become clearer. We unintentionally reinforce unwanted behaviour so need to reinforce with attention desired behaviour only. This may be easier said than done – which is where I come in with strategies.

Milo has some very good traits. He is affectionate. He never barks for attention and is peaceful in his crate – very necessary when they aren’t about to watch him! Neither is he a big barker generally. The things that most stimulate him need reducing so that he can calm down. It’s not a good idea to play tug games or chase games with a dog that mouths, nips and grabs, or who steals things and runs off with them – winding you up for a chase.

He needs rules and boundaries in terms that he understands – provided more by the actions of his humans than by words and commands. Good self-controlled behaviour needs to become more rewarding than bad behaviour.

About 5 weeks later – some good progress with lead walking: ‘We see lots of progress compared to where we were and are confident your plan is working.  One proud moment yesterday was when we watched our son taking Milo out for a short walk. The whole process was a result of the training plan – Milo allowed him to fit the harness without any fuss, he sat and waiting while the lead was attached.  He remained calm, and followed my son out of the door with a slack lead, we watched them go off down the driveway, Milo walking at his side, lead slack and a general confident look.  Matt had a treat for him and he certainly deserved it!.

Puppy Jumps Up, Nips, Bites and Guards

What a beautiful face Springer Pebbles has Pebbles is six months old. Her mother is her father’s daughter – which isn’t a good thing! This means her father, a Springer Spaniel, is her grandfather – but fortunately her grandmother was a Border Collie so there are some new genes in the mix.

I absolutely loved her! Look at that face!

Before I went I assumed that in-breeding would be the main cause of her problems, but I think not now. She parted from her siblings too young and consequently never learnt bite inhibition. She gets excited and rough to easily, and she jumps up persistently on people – maybe grabbing and nipping also. She guards things that she steals and also her food.

I believe that a lot of this unwittingly has to do with the home circumstances.

The problem has been allowed to escalate because, although she is fortunate to have company during the day, while the family is at work she is alone with the old lady who is neither mobile nor active enough to respond appropriately. Unfortunately Pebbles has bitten her twice – quite badly. She’s not bitten anyone else – yet.Springer Pebbles with a toy

This is a difficult situation because the lady loves Pebbles and wants to touch and spoil her. We have to play safe for Pebbles’ sake as well as the lady’s. For now I hope Pebbles will be left behind the gate and that the lady will not let her through when she is alone in the house. They can all then work on being calm, consistent, quiet and firm. Only when Pebbles has calmed down, learnt some rules and boundaries, stopped being possessive and using her teeth, should she again be in the same rooms as the old lady when nobody else is there to help.

To deal with jumping up and nipping in a way that doesn’t cause things to escalate or develop into aggression or defiance, one needs to be fairly agile, to be consistent and to react fast. Anything confrontational like scolding or saying NO only encourages her, as does waving hands about and trying to push her away.

I taught Pebbles to respect me by how I reacted to her jumping up and soon she was virtually eating out of my hand. You could see how happy she was being taught rules and boundaries in terms she understood. I concentrated on showing her what I DID want instead of the jumping. Not once did anyone tell her off, say ‘No’ or tell her ‘Down’.

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