Growling Warning Ignored. Springer Spaniel Bit Man’s Face

Jonny is a gorgeous, friendly dog – looking and behaving a lot younger than his supposed ten years. The elderly couple who had him previously could no longer keep him.

He has a lovely home now with activity and enrichment.

His two problems are around guarding, growling warning and chasing shadows – or just charging about chasing nothing.

Continue reading…

Dog Bite. No Warning. Re-homed Dachshund

dog bite with no warning

Millie

I wonder who would ever say that a dog bite could have been a good thing! This time it may have been so.

The elderly couple have had two-year-old Millie for just a couple of weeks. They wanted company for Wirehaired Pip, age four; the two dogs get on famously.

Very rarely would a dog bite with no warning at all. Usually there will be a subtle signal at least – if you know what you are looking for. Not so with Dachshund Millie.

This is what happened.

They had her in another room with Pip until I had settled at the kitchen table.

The dogs were let out

Pip

Millie made no noise. She rushed into the kitchen. Without even stopping to look or sniff who I was, she flew up at my arm and bit me.  Because the elderly couple couldn’t catch her quickly enough, she attempted another couple of quick bites to my legs.

I always wear tough clothes just in case, so my legs were protected. It’s too hot however to wear a thick top. Just a bruise and a nick on my upper arm. Entirely my own fault because I was there on account of Millie having bitten the daughter who had walked in the door. The lady had been standing, looking down at the new rescue dog.

That won’t have been a dog bite without any warning – there would have been signs if you knew what to look for.

Usually if a person is sitting and already in the room and ignoring the dog, it’s a lot easier on the dog. I took what I thought was a calculated but very low risk.

A dog bite a good thing?

In a way it’s a good thing it happened! Someone else would undoubtedly very soon have been bitten who probably wouldn’t know how to react. It could have been the grandson. Now at least we know exactly what were are dealing with.

She now sat on the lady’s lap, lead on and her harness held tightly. She reacted aggressively when I moved and would certainly have bitten me again if she could. Meanwhile the lady was trying to pacify her which I feel could be perceived by Millie as anxious rather than calming. She would be transmitting her own feelings to the dog.

I’m pretty sure Millie is being increasingly protective and territorial. Possibly this is partly genetic – maybe her mother or father had been the same. Apparently she had previously lived in the middle of a confrontational relationship that had broken down and there may have been some violence.

I took refuge on the kitchen table

That was a first! They had shut Millie out of the room for a while with something to chew and wanted to let her back in. They had removed the lead.

Not quite sure that she wouldn’t wriggle through the gap in the door before they could catch her and fly at me again, I took refuge on the table!

Insecurity

Becoming increasingly protective suggests fear of losing something. Unsurprising, as in her short life she’s had four living situations already. She has lived with the original couple before they split, then with the lady alone, then in rescue and now with my clients.

She’s a lot more protective of the lady than the man as a little experiment demonstrated. He took the dog and I moved about and she didn’t react at all.

It looks very likely that with each day she’s with them this guarding and protecting will intensify, unwittingly encouraged by the lady. Instead of encouraging dependence, they should consciously break some of the ties that are growing. She won’t let the lady out of her sight, for instance. Everything possible needs to be done now, before any more time goes by, to stop her increasingly feeling she must guard her new humans. The same applies for her new territory.

A muzzle and a gate

There is little they can do about the actual biting itself, apart from management. They will physically prevent anyone receiving a dog bite by muzzling her. This they will introduce gradually. They will also put a gate in the kitchen doorway. This way anyone coming into their house will be safe.

Any biting, particularly a dog bite without time to see any warning, needs to be dealt with at source. We need to deal with the state of mind that causes her to do it. She was certainly not scared of me. She had very confident body language.

The outcome

They still don’t really know what they have got with Millie. Things tend to surface over a period of weeks as the new dog settles in.

The very worst scenario is that she will continue to be affectionate with the couple in her lovely new home and a great playmate for Pip. When people including family and grandchild are about she is either muzzled or behind a gate. She would be muzzled when out also.

The best scenario is that, with work on their part, she can let people into their house. That they could walk past people when out – though they may not be able to invade her space.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. it’s obvious professional help is needed in a case like this of a dog bite with no warning. Click here for help.

Guarding Food. Guarding Resources.

“We must show the dog who’s boss”.

Rex guards his food.

Guarding food and resources can be a contentious issue where human response is concerned.

Many conscientious dog owners, doing what they believe is best, follow dangerous, outdated notions.

These techniques can involve, right from the start as routine training, interfering with a puppy’s food while he’s eating and forcing objects out of his mouth. An easy-going puppy may simply tolerate it. Another may not. Instead of making the puppy back away from something he values, it can teach him to run off with the item and then, cornered, defend both the item and himself. I’ve seen this many times.

How might we ourselves react if someone tried to take bits of food off our plate or mugged us for something we had picked up?

There is that infamous clip of Cesar Millan ‘dominating’ a Labrador guarding food and his bowl. Guess what happened? Yes, the poor dog ultimately had no choice other than to bite after all his warning signals had been ignored. As a result of the uproar about this, he was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh which is interesting to watch.

Guarding food when someone is closeSomehow this ‘being the Alpha’ with our dog thing had became popular culture, but it’s been totally debunked over recent years. Not only was it based on false assumptions regarding wolf packs (and domestic dogs aren’t wild wolves), but that using force is the only way to create an obedient dog.

Even this word ‘obedience’ suggests dominance and forced compliance.

Just one problem with this approach to resource guarding is that a strong-minded and confident dog is likely to stand up for himself – eventually. Some dogs genetically are more wired to guard.

If a ‘dominated’ dog backs off due to being overpowered by a particular human, what happens when someone else tries it?

“Why should I want your food anyway”?

How much better and simpler in every way it is to teach the dog that you’re no threat to his food; if nobody wants his food, what’s the point of guarding food after all?

Giant Schnauzer Rex is a very intelligent and energetic adolescent dog. He’s on the go most of the time when people are about, back and forth looking for trouble. This includes nicking anything he can that may be of value to his humans. It triggers a chain of reactions.

He’s probably under-stimulated where appropriate enrichment is concerned, so he orchestrates his own action.

It’s only natural for us to try to control over-excited and aroused behaviour by trying to stop it. Unfortunately scolding and warnings, Uh-Uh and NO, introduce conflict and confrontation. Even conflict can be rewarding and reinforcing in a way (else why do humans enjoy certain sports so much?).

Rex’ owners will now be on the lookout for every little good or desired behaviour to reinforce instead.

It’s proven beyond doubt that removing reinforcement from unwanted behaviours and adding reinforcement to behaviours we DO want leads to success.

Interfering with Rex’ food while he’s eating.

Using the ‘interfering with his food’ technique seemed to work when Rex was a young puppy. Unfortunately, guarding and growling re-appeared big time when he started to be fed something that was, to him, of much higher value.

Instead of leaving him to eat in peace, various suggestions had been given including hand-feeding him, touching him while he was eating and taking his bowl away. Instead of feeding him somewhere out of the way, the bowl is deliberately put where people regularly have to pass by him.

He freezes. He growls. They reprimand him. This can only go in one direction.

He simply needs to know that nobody is interested in his food anymore. He will be fed somewhere out of the way.

After some weeks of this they may from time to time walk past him at a distance, not looking at him, and just chuck in the direction of his bowl something particularly tasty – maybe a leftover from their own meat dinner. The food must be something of higher value to him than his own food. They shouldn’t hover or speak to him.

‘I happen to be passing anyway so here’s something nice’.

Over time they can get a little closer. If he growls, they have got too close or maybe stood still, and will need to leave it for a few days and do it from further away the next time. Any approaching person will deliver something better than what he has.

This really is in case of emergency should later someone, without thinking, get too close to him. They should only do this from time to time – a random and casual thing.

Back in the day people would have said, ‘Leave the dog alone while he’s eating’. We expect a lot from our dogs today.

We may need to do some serious, systematic work on general resource guarding.

‘Operation Calm’ is the first priority.

Rex’ high arousal levels and restlessness make work on his guarding food and other items more difficult.

This is a huge challenge because it’s hard for us humans, like old dogs, to learn new tricks. It also means that Rex will initially become very frustrated when his usual attention-seeking tactics no longer work. He will try harder. They will hold their nerve and add as much appropriate enrichment to his life as possible, activities that don’t depend upon their ‘fielding’ the behaviour he throws at them but instead are initiated by themselves.

I suggest very regular short bursts of activity including mental enrichment, hunting, foraging and sniffing, particularly in the evenings when they sit down and he’s the most trouble. He then won’t need to be pestering for attention.

Guarding food becomes unnecessary.

If he feels it’s not under threat, Rex won’t need to be guarding food. If he has plenty of attention offered, he won’t need so desperately to indulge in the attention-seeking ploys that he knows get the most reaction.

Getting Rex calmer involves most aspects of his life and will be a gradual thing.

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 Rex 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 any aggression 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).

Repetitive Behaviour. Working Dog. No Job.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees. Oscar is a dog, like many of our dogs, living in a world that he’s not been bred for. The couple do all they know to give him a good life, particularly by way of long daily walks, but it’s not enough unfortunately.

Oscar resorts to a ritual of repetitive behaviour.

The way to improve his life involves lots of changes. They want a family pet that is affectionate, reliable, companionable and to be trusted around children. Oscar’s primary needs are different.

There are so many things to deal with from his diet through to feeding his clever brain. Each little change links to the next so it is impossible to simplify things and extract just two or three things for them to concentrate on. It’s complicated.

repetitive behaviour

Oscar getting no reaction during his ritual

Oscar is a beautiful Border Collie, age five. They have had him since he was a year old and they were already his third home.

He is extremely easily agitated and aroused. Things that wire him up include noises outside, animals and sounds on TV, bangs and young children.

He tries to bite when they brush his long hair. He paws persistently and painfully for attention – which he always eventually gets in some form. When the phone rings he goes mental. These are just a few of the daily challenges the retired couple face with Oscar.

Staring the dog down

Unfortunately, the man believed in advice that dominating him by staring him down would make him respect them and change his behaviour. This, to my mind, will have made things worse and actually caused him to bite those few times. He has only gone for people who have challenged him like this – the man, their son and another man they met when out.

The start of the sequence – staring and licking his lips

I saw how arousal affects Oscar and causes his repetitive behaviour during the three hours I was there. People talking or his simply being ignored triggers the start of a ritual.

He runs to the window and starts to stare like he’s seen a fly to chase – he’s an obsessive fly-chaser. He then starts barking and scratching at the door. This is the start of a repetitive behaviour sequence. It results in the man getting up and letting him out – every time.

However, it’s not as simple as just letting him out. He is told ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ before the door is opened otherwise he will jump at the man, barking.

Once out, Oscar’s ritual involves running exactly the same circuit of the small garden, across a little path and then back to the door again. The man then gets up again and lets him in. This earns a ‘Good Boy’.

By the third time of exactly the same sequence in a short time it was obvious Oscar couldn’t possibly need to toilet again. I could see this was a repetitive behaviour – a ritual that probably gives him some control over his own life and over those around him.

Breaking the cycle

I asked the man not to get up. Let’s see what happens.

This triggered lots of frustrated door scraping and loud barking and we braved it. Oscar stopped briefly. Immediately I quietly said ‘Good’ and dropped a tiny bit of food. He went back to scratching and barking and I repeated this process many times. Eventually he walked away from the window.

‘Good’, then food.

A short break to lie down. ‘Good’.

He then went and lay down. ‘Good’ and more food. Any more chatting to him would simply arouse him again.

A few peaceful minutes would go by then Oscar would be back to the start of the routine of repetitive behaviour again, scratching the window and barking. The man, on automatic, started to get up. I stopped him.

This happens repeatedly when they are sitting down in the evening, punctuated by barking at TV and pawing for attention.

His very failure to get the man to engage in his routine of repetitive behaviour was now frustrating in itself.

Understandably, when he is peaceful they breathe a sigh of relief. Let sleeping dogs lie!

Oscar is generating all his action by pestering and getting no reinforcement or action in return for being calm and non-demanding. This needs to be reversed.

Clever brain

I gave them a list of suggestions of things to exercise Oscar’s clever brain and enriching activities that include scenting, sniffing, hunting and so on. I shall go back and do clicker work. He will love the problem-solving.

Oscar has long walks but this isn’t enough – in fact, when he returns he is sometimes more aroused and demanding than when he left. This indicates that even the walks should be done a bit differently.

The first challenge is to bring his stress levels down as low as possible. Only then will they make significant headway. Robbed of his rituals of repetitive behaviour, he needs other things added to his life to bring him enrichment and action.

Unfortunate incident involving a child

With lower general stress levels, Oscar should be better able to cope with the things that scare or intimidate him like staring men and little children. Very unfortunately a child came from behind him and hit him with a stick when he was lying beside them in an outdoor cafe. Before this he had no problem with children. Unless and until they manage to change how he feels around them – yet more work for them to do – he should be muzzled when kids are about just in case. The law never takes the side of the dog even if he’s provoked.

There is a lot to deal with. Oscar, born on a farm in Wales and now living with a retired couple in a bungalow, is bred for a different kind of life. They are very committed to doing the best they can for him. It’s not by chance that Border Collies are the dog of choice for trainers who work hard with their dogs and get them to do amazing things.

Here’s a strange thing. After a couple of weeks in kennels when they go away he is a lot more relaxed. It does him good. Is it because the rituals of repetitive behaviour that he himself creates to make ‘things happen’ in themselves stress him? Is it because the usual triggers such as TV and telephones won’t be there? In the kennels he has an enforced break.

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 Oscar and 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fearfulness or aggression 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)

Alarm Barking. They Worry he May Bite

Barney barks with alarm at any sound he hears that could mean someone is approaching the house. It can be a car or footsteps on the gravel.

If outside in the garden, he barks with alarm as someone he doesn’t know approaches the gate. As deliveries or the postman let themselves into the garden, he may sound more fierce.

They are worried he may one day bite.

Alarm barking at people

Barney

Once someone is in the house, they find a delightful, friendly three-year-old Cocker Spaniel. Barney is simply doing what the majority of dogs would naturally do. That is, to alarm bark when someone approaches their territory.

He has unintentionally been ‘given the job’ by his humans, by their allowing him to be out in the garden alone when someone comes through the gate.

It will be quite scary for him when a stranger approaches him, possibly carrying something.

Allowing him access to ‘look-out’ points at the sitting room windows isn’t good either. If he barks for long enough the person will eventually go away.

Success.

Both having him in the garden unsupervised and barking at people from the windows mean that he is rehearsing the very behaviour that they don’t want. It’s being constantly practised – so it can only increase.

Being very alert and responsive is in Barney’s genes, very like my own Cocker Spaniel, Pickle. Although I will never make Pickle a quiet and placid dog (I could wish!), how I deal with it is very different. He is never left to feel that alarm is his responsibility. It could never get to a stage where he might feel it necessary to growl or even bite in order to feel safe. I would either have intervened immediately to help him out, or he would be safely out of the way somewhere.

Barney’s young couple have four things to do. 

Over-arousal.

The first is to avoid stirring him up unecessarily. The calmer he is, the more able he will be to cope. Like many young people, they find it fun to wind him up in play and even tease him. They think he enjoys it. Possibly he does – in the way we might enjoy a scary ride at a fun fair.

There are plenty more constructive things they can do with him that will help him to be less reactive.

Rehearsal.

The second is to prevent rehearsal by removing opportunity in every way possible – drawing curtains, going outside with him and so on.

Getting Barney to feel differently.

Thirdly is getting him to feel differently about people approaching. For instance, if they are outside in the garden and a delivery is approaching the gate, they can throw him his ball. He loves the ball. They may also get the man to throw his ball to him.

For the ball to be effective they will ‘ball-starve’ him! Whenever he hears or sees an approaching person he gets to play with his ball. Whenever they go, ball play stops.

Their own response to his alarm barking.

‘QUIET!’ won’t help him. He is alarmed and scared!

Cuddling and comforting won’t help him. ‘Don’t worry about the man that has come to kill us all, have a cuddle instead!’.

They need to work on every little sound that causes him to alarm bark. They will condition him to come straight away when called brightly – for either special food reward or the ball.

When he barks they need to react immediately. ‘It’s Okay!’. Then call him. Even if he doesn’t come, he should be getting the message that people walking past or approaching the gate or door are not his responsibility.

He has back-up.

Getting him to feel differently about the things that alarm him should gradually get him to behave differently. He may well continue to bark, but not for so long or so urgently. He should never be put in a position where he could feel compelled to bite.

It would be a good idea to put a bell on the gate and lock it so people simply are unable to just walk in – maybe a combination padlock? Friends and family will know the number.

Prevention is a whole lot better than cure. Belt and braces.

 

Food Guarding, Resource Guarding. Biting Works.

Food guarding dogTelyn, the Sprolly, is a friendly and polite dog. She is a lucky dog also – living in a lovely family with three teenage girls who all play an active part in her life.

However, Telyn has bitten several times. The biting has included family members and other people.

It happens around one thing only – something that, to her, is edible.

When very young she had genetic meningitis (she’s now had it twice) and, when on steroids, was constantly ravenous. This is probably where the food guarding started.

Each time she bites, fear is involved – that of losing something. Food items she’s bitten for have ranged from a complete Christmas ham joint, to a treat a man was giving his own dog, to something on the floor nobody even saw.

She may also attack another dog over a food item. 

Biting works.

The result for Telyn most times has been the same.

The person backs off and she gets to keep the item. Success.

Very unfortunately, recent advice they were given will have escalated her fear issues badly. It can only have added to her existing terror of machinery noises – anything from vacuum cleaner to power tools to traffic. It will also have affected her trust and relationship with her humans.

They were advised to deal with her barking due to the noise of several months’ building work being done on their house, by waving a power tool at her each time she barked!

In Telyn’s case it’s the very worst thing anyone could do.

How can making her terrified help in any way?

Things have come to a head. Telyn’s first full panic attack was triggered a couple of weeks after the work had finished – by the vacuum cleaner.

Telyn managed to leap the high fence in her panic.

They eventually managed to catch her. They raised the fence. She then found another place to jump out a couple of days later.

Interestingly, Telyn has just spent the past couple of weeks in kennels. She has come back much calmer. What has been the difference? Less arousal in terms of exciting play, no encountering traffic on walks and no machine-type noises perhaps?

Their house itself may now be ‘contaminated’ with fear from building noises or even that power tool. At the kennels Telyn has had a break. Hopefully as they follow my plan they will be able to build on her calmer state.

A more relaxed dog is less likely to guard resources. Using a power tool to deal with barking or guarding has to be the very worst thing they could have been told to do. Fortunately they weren’t happy with it and stopped.

Her family now will constantly reinforce their role as ‘givers’ and not potential ‘takers’. From now on, in addition to never taking anything off her, when she has anything at all in her mouth and if they are nearby, they should drop food as they walk past her.

Food guarding. How can they make biting not work?

It’s pointless guarding something that nobody wants!

So, from now on anything Telyn picks up in her mouth they should ignore. If nobody wants it she can’t guard it. Even better, if they’re walking past they can drop her something tasty (‘have this too!’) without going too close.

They should avoid forcibly taking things off her even in play. Being chased and cornered even with a ball then having it forcibly removed from her mouth, is teaching her the wrong things. Tug of war is a great game for teaching exchange and ‘give’ if done properly.

There is a very good book called ‘Mine’ by Jean Donaldson, worth reading.

Practical measures need to be taken also, to make it as impossible as they can for Telyn to bite again. She will be introduced gradually to a muzzle, vital if young children are about who may unthinkingly bend to pick up a dropped food item, for instance.

When out and about, they will either muzzle her or put her or on a long line, just in case. She could even wear a florescent yellow vest with appropriate wording for a food guarding dog – along the lines of ‘Keep Food Away’. People might think she has a medical condition but it could achieve the desired result!

They may never be able to trust Telyn 100% or let their guard down altogether, but with work they can make the likelihood of her food guarding and biting much reduced.

 

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 Telyn 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 issues of any kind are concerned. As can advice advocating punishment, as seen here. 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)

Unpredictable Humans so Unpredictable Pup

Unpredictable pupSometimes, just sometimes, things don’t work out as we would like. This through absolutely no fault of our own.

It could be a mismatch or an environment not best suited for a puppy.

There can be all sort of reasons, including lack of company with people being out at work all day.

In the case of 7-month old French Bulldog Ezra, it’s not lack of company that is the problem. It’s too much. Too many people at times. Too unpredictable. Too noisy.

What puppies need more than anything else is predictability (like children). It makes them feel safe and allows them to learn self-control and to be predictable themselves.

Unpredictable. Too noisy, too much happening.

In Ezra’s case, it’s his exposure to unpredictability and occasional chaos that has led him to biting. It’s the only way he can get any control over things that are simply too much for him.

The family is large and extended. One of the younger children has issues that make him unpredictable and noisy.

The other day Ezra bit him on the lip. The ten-year-old was taken to A & E.

The boy himself explained the run-up to this and it included noise, people, loud TV which Ezra hates. The dog was already over-aroused. He had jumped onto the floor probably to get away and the child had slid off the sofa onto the floor beside him. He had pushed his face into the little dog’s and stared into his eyes. He has a sort of compulsion to do those things he knows will upset Ezra.

BITE

Another family member, a young man, had a couple of weeks previously been bitten on the nose quite badly. He said he was doing nothing, but questions revealed a sequence. The dog will undoubtedly have high stress levels to start with. The doorbell had rung, making him very excited. He had been chewing bones. He then jumped up on the young man’s lap (why do people always think this means the dog wants to be touched?). The TV may have been too loud. The man had his hand on Ezra’s back.

Then, for seemingly no reason at all, Ezra flew at his face.

Unpredictable? I’m sure there will have been warnings. Possibly Ezra will have frozen. He is now learning the only way to get away from unwanted attention is to bite.

A habit is forming which started with nipping. Each time he attacks it in effect gives him respite so the more of a learned behaviour it becomes – the more likely it is to happen again unless the various criteria that lead to the behaviour are changed.

Dogs need choice – a say in the matter.

Does he want to be touched just now? Does he want to be left alone just now?

In addition to altering these criteria which won’t be easy (creating calm, choice and predictability) the situation needs to be safety-managed.

A muzzle is good as a safety thing in emergency, but using it so that people can be free to do as they like around Ezra would be very wrong.

Since speaking to me on the phone the other day when Ezra had bitten the boy, the lady has had the pup in a crate in the dining room when the younger kids are about. She will be locking the doors to the room when she’s not in there – Ezra safely shut away with plenty to do.

(This sounds like Ezra is now shut away all the time but that isn’t the case. They are managing to juggle things so that he has plenty of attention and outings).

Dedication, kindness and patience.

The lady is treating Ezra with the same dedication, kindness and patience she treats all the family which includes several young people she has taken under her wing.

The younger family members will be changing their own behaviour where possible as will the older ones. We are looking at ways of using clicker and food to create a more useful relationship between Ezra and the boy.

It may be at the end of the day that they aren’t the right home for Ezra. This happens.

They will know that they’ve not left any stone unturned. Where you can’t fully control the humans and have to rely solely upon management there is always the risk that, in an unguarded moment, management falls down. A door can be left unlocked.

At the end of the day these kind people will be making the right decision for both Ezra and their family.

I received this email out of the blue nine months later: Life is good we have had a long journey with **** & Ezra but we have found some compromise & middle ground. Zones, gates, time out for all & listening to the ladder of communication mean that we are living together peaceful most of the time. Thank you for all your help to find a solution that has enabled us to care for everyone safely & has meant that Ezra can remain with us.
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 Ezra 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 aggression 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 (see my Help page)

Bite! Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.

A cat can lie on its back and when you tickle its tummy it can yowl, grab you with it’s claws and BITE.

A dog can be approached when he doesn’t want to be touched. If he so much as growls in warning, let alone gives a snap or a bite, he’s probably in for trouble.

Being touched when he’s asleep.

Man petted him and received a biteThe affectionate little pup I went to yesterday is very happy to be touched most of the time – but not when he’s in his bed, particularly first thing in the morning.

Little Teddy is only five months old, a mix of small breeds and was born over here to a Romanian street dog in a shelter.

In every respect he has a lovely life with a family – a couple, their young adult son and daughter and lots of friends. They all adore him.

He soon proved himself to be a very clever and enthusiastic little dog with some clicker training that I taught the lady to do with him.

From the start Teddy has been a bit fearful of certain things, although with their help he is improving.

He is walked across a busy road each day to get to the park. Big traffic scares him.

The daughter wants to take him to where she keeps her horses. Unfortunately, he’s scared of horses also. He has spent considerable time recently barking at a horse in the field behind their garden, rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.

I’m sure given continued time and patience he will gain more confidence. The lady will keep him at a comfortable distance from traffic while she works on his fear. He will no longer be left outside barking at the horse.

One thing at a time.

Before he encounters the daughter’s horses (again from a comfortable distance) she will acclimatise Teddy to the environment itself – the smells, sights and other dogs in the yard. She will let him walk around the yard and nearby land on a long line. One thing at a time.

What really prompted their call is what has caused Teddy to bite the man twice and the son once – and these weren’t mere puppy nips. On each occasion the tall human had come into the kitchen, walked directly over to Teddy’s bed and bent over where he lay sleeping. Because of the layout of the house people can appear very suddenly in the gated doorway which doesn’t help.

Anyway, the pup bit him. Hard.

Bite!

Very unfortunately the man did what many people would do in the circumstances and that was to punish the puppy. He shouted and lightly smacked him. Teddy hid from him for some time under the table afterwards.

Probably feeling he shouldn’t allow the dog to win, the man did the same thing another day. He bent over the dog’s bed to stroke Teddy repeatedly on the nose. The little dog snarled this time before another bite.

He was punished again.

It has been proved beyond all doubt that using punishment to ‘teach the dog’ where any aggression is concerned can only make things worse, despite certain out of date nonsense still out there. The puppy’s reaction to being touched in his bed like this may have been partly reflex, some instinctive fearfulness or due to his simply not wanting to be touched. Whatever the reason or mix of reasons, it was valid.

Punishment like this always backfires in some way. It could later if continued possibly have spread to his guarding his personal space in other situations and places. It made the kindly man feel really bad afterwards too.

The solution is simple.

Nobody, ever, will again be going over to Teddy when he is lying in his bed. It’s quite fair that he should have a safe area that is his own, after all. All friends visiting must be told the same.

If people want to fuss him, they can sit at a distance from his bed and call him over. He can then choose. He’s such a friendly little thing I’m sure he will be all over them.

Totally secure in the knowledge that his space won’t be invaded when he’s in his bed, he will have no reason to feel defensive when someone comes near it in future.

He won’t now have any reason to bite ever again.

At all other times little Teddy is the sweetest-natured little dog you can imagine.

(Here is a great article about how dogs may feel about being approached directly).

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Teddy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Redirects Frustration. Can’t Reach Cat, Turns on Owner.

Redirects frustration

Letting sleeping dogs lie

Lurcher Rufus is a wonderful dog whose only problems are as a result of over-arousal. He then redirects frustration, using his teeth.

The two-year-old had been picked up, abandoned, eight months ago and has settled into his new life beautifully.

A lovely, friendly dog, he’s confident and curious. Rufus can get very excited when he sees people. He was unusually calm when I arrived – but I didn’t fire him up! He sniffed me thoroughly and gave me a little ‘kiss’ in the ear. I began to respond with some attention and he quickly became excited. I felt his mouth on my hand.

His lady and gentleman are finding it hard to stop him mouthing their hands and their arms – sometimes quite roughly. The more aroused he becomes, the rougher he gets.

Rufus redirects frustration using his teeth.

If he’s not getting attention, he will demand it using his mouth. If he is thwarted or ignored, he redirects frustration using his teeth.

The biggest problem however is cats! Their house is surrounded by cats that seem hell-bent on winding up Rufus. He may be controllable past one or two, but by the time he’s encountered the third that may be waiting in his drive as they arrive back home from a walk, his chase instinct is in full gear.

The other day when he lunged at a cat, his lady owner held on as tightly as she could. Rufus’ head swung round and she received a nasty bite on her arm.

Holding on tightly with a harness that tightens as he pulls may save the day at the time, but isn’t a way to change the behaviour of a dog that redirects frustration onto you. The frustration itself has to be addressed and this takes time. The people themselves must be able to get and hold their dog’s attention, taking action before he gets anywhere near this state of arousal.

This is easy to say, but not always so easy to put into practice.

Better equipment will give better control.

The first thing they will do is to get a harness where a longer lead can hook both front and back. They will then have more control in emergency and the dog will be more comfortable. Then they should keep those walks near home where they may encounter cats very short indeed to avoid ‘trigger stacking’. This is where his stress and excitement builds up until he explodes and he redirects frustration onto the person holding the short lead.

Instead of being held tight, the dog actually needs to feel free while they work on their own relevance and teaching him behaviours that are incompatible with lunging at cats.

This work will start at home. There should be no more reinforcement of any kind for the rather excessive and uncomfortable mouthing which is quite obviously a habit and his default when aroused. You could say that he’s ‘mouth happy’. The more stressed he becomes, the harder the grip with his teeth. I don’t like to call this a bite.

When it happens they need to be immediate. They recognise the signs. Even as his mouth approaches they must withdraw themselves and look away. No more scolding or ‘No’. Currently when they may leave their hand in his mouth before removing it. They need to change their own habits and respond a lot more promptly.

It must be hard being a dog, having no hands, only mouth and teeth!

It looks like Rufus generates much of his attention by mouthing or bringing toys to throw or tug. The man has a nasty bite on his thumb he received while playing with him – it was a mistake. Rufus has not learnt to be careful with his teeth. From now onwards all play instantly stops if teeth or even open mouth are felt.

The tuggy game played properly is a great way to teach this.

Just as important is to regularly offer him plenty of interaction when he’s calm. Already his humans they have started hunting nose-games games with him.

Although he has bitten a few times, I would never label Rufus an ‘aggressive dog‘. A dog that redirects frustration is a dog that is unfulfilled. In Rufus’ case, when out, it’s his drive to chase that’s unfulfilled.

They will get a long line so Rufus can have a degree of freedom when they take him by car to more interesting places where he can sniff and explore. Chase and recall can be worked on too. Always restrained on a short lead must in itself be frustrating for him.

They have strategies now to help Rufus to calm himself down and they know how to handle the mouthing. Communication with humans must be frustrating for a dog too – with no hands and with no language that humans seem able to understand!

He must gradually learn that it’s times he’s not using his mouth that things happen. It’s not always a good idea to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ if there is nothing in it for them!

Like charity, impulse control starts at home. Over time and with work, they should be able to manage the cat situation too.

Ten days have gone by, during which time poor Rufus was attacked by another dog and has two sizeable gashes in his side. Despite this, great progress already: Rufus seems much more relaxed in his new harness and I am gaining confidence with it too. We went to Milton Park yesterday and had a very pleasant walk together. The park has open spaces and woods also lakes.He saw coots with chicks and just watched them calmly: not interested in pulling to get nearer or show any interest in chasing.Friends have been most understanding and cooperative when visiting and I can see improvements with Rufus. He has also improved in not mouthing or nipping so much.Considering  we have only been putting your instructions in place for just over a week (and him being bitten into the bargain), I feel Rufus has made a promising start.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Rufus. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Trigger Stacking. The Perfect Storm

It was the perfect storm.

It was a clear example of trigger stacking. The day had been over-exciting. There had been lots of people in the house. The dogs had had too many treats. They will have done their usual barking at people in the park behind their garden.

Then a delivery man in Dayglo came to the door. A family member followed him back down the path where they talked over the gate.

Trigger stacking led to the bite

Boba

He had forgotten to shut the front door behind him.

Boba flew out of the house barking. He leapt high in the air at the man and caught his mouth. The bite required several stitches. Now, unsurprisingly, there is a court case pending.

Boba is a three-year-old Jack Russell mix who lived in a pound in Greece until he was eight months old. He’s a perky, affectionate little dog. He lives with Gibson, a Setter mix who was a Greek street dog and a super-soft and loving twelve-year-old Cocker Spaniel called Benson.

When I arrived Gibson went and hid, but the other two were very friendly and excited.

What alarms Boba is hearing or seeing people out the front in the street and people in the park out the back. All three dogs bark. Very likely, being dogs, they believe that it’s their barking that eventually drives the people away from their territory.

Although Boba is territorial when anyone is outside the gate, once a person enters the house he is usually very friendly. He has no history of biting.

He’s fine, too, when they meet people out on walks away from the house.

Management.

The first thing we discussed was management – precautions.

They will put a baby gate a few feet in from their front door that will be kept shut all the time. If it’s kept shut as a matter of habit, there will be a kind of air-lock making a repetition of the attack almost impossible.

They will also introduce Boba to a basket muzzle – just in case they need it. It could be a requirement of the court that he wears one.

Trigger stacking.

The second thing is to deal with is the trigger stacking, to reduce the continual topping up of arousal levels in all three dogs. They all fire one another up.

Each time a dog is over-excited or is caused stress, the adrenal and thyroid glands, testosterone and hypothalamus begin to increase their production. The output from these glands reach a peak 10-15 minutes after the incident, and takes between 3-5 days to return to the level they were at before the incident. Here is a nice visual explanation of trigger stacking.

Reducing arousal levels can be very boring. Greetings need to be calmer, rough play toned down with more brain games, more chewing, hunting and foraging instead. Friends and family need persuading to help by not being over-excited and winding them up.

Even the food they eat can make a big difference.

I believe that if Boba’s basic arousal levels had been a lot lower, then he would have had enough ‘to spare’ when he ran out of the front door to the delivery man at the gate. He would have been less likely to fly at him. It was one trigger too many.

Territorial barking.

Crucial to the whole thing is to deal with the dogs’ territorial barking. At present they have a dog flap which is left open all the time. Even when the owners are out their dogs can be barking in the garden at people they hear. Boba will be continually rehearsing territorial aggression so it’s little wonder he put it into practice on that fateful occasion.

Benson

Currently, like many people, they have tried water spray and anti-bark collars but this doesn’t stop the dog feeling angry or scared inside. The opposite in fact. They may ignore the barking until it gets too much and then shout at the dogs.

Barking is a trigger. It ignites a dog’s stress levels.

The humans are the ‘dog-parents’ so protection duty should be their job. They should intervene immediately and deal with it, thanking the dogs and calling them away. The dogs should come if interrupted quickly enough and rewarded with food. Blocking barking areas and shutting the dog flap will make this a lot easier.

When I was there I pre-empted barking a couple of times. I head a door slam and the dogs perk up, but before they had time to start I brightly said ‘Okay’. No barking.

Now, not only will Boba not be physically able to bite someone at the gate again, after a while he shouldn’t feel he needs to. He will be generally calmer as will all three dogs. He will be taught that follow-through isn’t his job.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Boba. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).