Bites hands. Aggressive Barking. Territorial. Protective.

Frenchie bites handsBetty is another French Bulldog that barks loudly at anyone coming into her house. “Go Away!”

Sometimes she bites hands.

I have just looked back through my more recent stories of French Bulldogs. I am surprised how many cases have been about territorial and protective aggressive behaviours towards people coming into their home.

As a behaviourist, I only visit those Frenchies with problems. Of these problems, most have protectiveness and barking aggressively at people in common. Continue reading…

Going For Feet. Then for Face. Sudden Aggression.

Going for feet is recent. They have come a long way with their four-year-old rescue English Bull Terrier in the year or so they have had him. He no longer pulls on lead and is a lot better when they meet other dogs.

However, this behaviour has developed in the last couple of months. Possibly it’s something resurfacing that he did in his previous two homes.

Casper started going for feet. Now it’s faces too. He’s not yet drawn blood but it is only a matter of time.

We need to look at why he does it, and deal with that.

Unpredictable?

It seems that when he’s sufficiently aroused he just can’t help himself. Like a pressure cooker, he explodes.

going for feet and facesWe looked at each and every episode to try to find a pattern. It seemed to them that he was unpredictable, but when analysed there are two clear things in common.

One is that he only attacks feet when other people are in their house. He then goes for feet of both both his owners and the visitors.

The other common denominator is that every time, without exception, he has been petted and fussed by the people. On one occasion a caller even continued to fuss him while Casper was repeatedly going for his sturdy work boots.

It’s possible he is being mis-read. He may lie on his back and this is taken for an invitation for a tummy tickle. This very often isn’t the case.

The fussing and touching, combined with people moving about, preparation of food and metallic kitchen noises which he hates can be the final straw. Then a visitor just coming down the stairs may send him over the edge.

If the ancestors of an English Bull Terrier, like other bullies, were originally bred for fighting other dogs as well as bull baiting, possibly when he loses it Casper defaults to breed instinct by going for feet and faces.

I also believe that it’s not caused only by what happens immediately before the incidents, but by the build-up of stress from one, two or more days beforehand. 

No more rehearsing going for feet.

In order to work on this he must not be allowed to rehearse going for feet anymore. For now this will involve keeping him on lead or muzzled when people come, behind a gate or tied to an anchor point.

They can train him something incompatible with going for feet when people move about, like lying down with something to chew.

Most importantly, all guests including family must be asked not to fuss and touch him at all for now.

They will need lots of friends to act as guinea-pigs, coming and going, until Casper realises that people coming to his house is no big deal and nothing to get worked up about.

 

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 Casper 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 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)

Resource Guarding Puppy. Meltdown

Resource guarding and still only a little puppy.

A week ago a very distressed young lady phone me in the early morning. The previous evening her Miniature Pinscher puppy, Rupert, only fifteen weeks old, had a total meltdown. He was an attacking, snarling, biting little resource guarding bundle of anger.

resource guarding puppyThe vet said he had not seen anything like it, but from what examination he achieved could find nothing wrong with him. The puppy stayed with the vet overnight. The only thing anyone could think of that could have pushed Rupert over the edge was he had eaten a cigarette end (he guards or eats anything he can find).

Could nicotine have tipped him over? Could there have been something else in the cigarette?

He’s just a little puppy, not yet four months old, but in the three and a half hours I was there he never rested, let alone slept. He’d not slept for a while before I came either.

He growls or flies at anyone who comes near to him when he has something of value (to him). Taking his lead on and off is a challenge. In addition to resource guarding he’s already started barking when hearing people walking past outside.

Was his total meltdown due to a build-up of events?

It is very unusual to find a puppy of Rupert’s age to resource guard items with such determination. On close questioning I feel that his scary meltdown on that day was the result of a build-up of events – trigger stacking. Three weeks ago he began to grumble when carried down the stairs to toilet outside (he lives in a flat) so now he walks. About ten days ago he was given a squeaky pig. He was dismembering it, as puppies do. When the lady went to pick up the stuffing, he went for her. He now might growl if he was approached when lying in his bed.

I do wonder whether the start of this had anything to do with a ‘fear period’.

Things went from bad to worse. More ‘triggers’ happened including, with the hot weather, the balcony doors being left open. He could see and hear people and dogs below. This triggered furious and constant barking.

Slowly, over a short period, his stress levels will have been building up. Finally, maintenance men did their regular weekly work in the building. Where before Rupert took little notice, this time he went ballistic.

Then he ate the cigarette end. They couldn’t take it off him.

This was the day that he turned into an ‘aggressive monster’. He had a meltdown. Tiny though he is, they were afraid of him.

Despite the checks the vet did, I’m not convinced that there isn’t more to this – a medical issue of some sort. If we make little progress, I would hope the vet is willing to take blood tests, including full range of thyroid tests and values. I would also hope the vet could help us with medication to help Rupert’s mental state, something easier to achieve in the US than here in the UK it seems.

This must be a distressing state for a puppy who should still be carefree at under 16 weeks. Being on high alert results in sleep deprivation, something else affecting his stress levels.

Aggressive resource guarding behaviour gets the desired result.

Rupert has learnt that his aggressive resource guarding behaviour has the desired effect, that of driving people away and leaving him with the item. This is a dilemma. If the item is then forcibly removed or he is cornered, he then will become even more of a guarder. If it’s left, he learns that his behaviour works.

Furthermore, he will now no longer do an exchange for anything – nothing is more valuable to him than the item he has in his mouth.

I look at the basic emotion driving the behaviour and what’s in it for Rupert. Resource guarding has to involve fear of losing something or insecurity, or else why would he feel the need to guard things or his own space?

The first step has to be for Rupert to know, whenever he is approached, that the person is a ‘giver’ and never a ‘taker’. That is fundamental.

Yawning

He is fed on what I consider excellent food – raw Nutriment, but I feel it’s worth trying some high quality kibble for a while. Sometimes a complete change in diet can change a dog.

The advantage of kibble over raw is that you can carry it in your pocket! Instead of being put down in a bowl, food can be used to emphasise the lady’s role as ‘giver’. Every time she has to walk towards or past Rupert she can just drop or throw food. Every time he has anything in his mouth such as a toy, she can drop him food whilst showing no interest in what he’s holding. Instead of guarding the item, afraid he’s going to be tricked into dropping it, he will soon learn he can put it down, eat the food and then pick it up again.

Two good games for dogs reluctant to let go or give.

I have two favourite games for a puppy with guarding issues:

Fetch, using two identical balls – they must be the same so the dog can’t prefer one over the other. Throw one but don’t throw the second ball until he drops the first. Throwing the second ball before the first is dropped is bribery. Throwing it afterwards is reinforcement.  If he decides to run off with the ball they will ignore it and ignore Rupert. Game over and fun finished. Battersea balls are unbreakable, a funny shape for random bounce, and light.

The Tuggy game played correctly is invaluable too for teaching ‘let go’ or ‘give’. Here are two very good videos from Victoria Stilwell: Teach a Dog to ‘Take It’ and ‘Drop It’  and then Teach Your Dog Proper Tug of War.

Amongst things Rupert picks up and guards are his lead, anything dropped on the floor or left within reach, stones and rubbish when out, sticks, a leaf….his own toys. Strangely, he doesn’t guard his food bowl.

Another problem is that when aroused, Rupert may fly at the lady. She has bites up her arms.  We have looked at ways to redirect his need to attack something onto wrecking a carton of recyclable rubbish with kibble dropped in it! It’s only happening because of his extremely high stress levels, of course.

The young lady is very switched on. She has already really helped Rupert with her research and patience. Had he gone to live with someone else, things could well be even worse. It is nothing to do with her. I suspect it’s primarily genetic, with maybe an element of early competing with his siblings for food and very possibly some sort of chemical imbalance in his own body.

Rupert is a project without a guaranteed outcome, but we will do our very best.

Five days have gone by. Things going in the right direction: My friend just came round who hasn’t seen Rupert in about a week and he said Rupert was the best behaved he’s ever been. No bite marks or anything. He even had a little nap whilst he was here and we were talking. 
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 Rupert. 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).

No Impulse Control Around People. Jumps and Bites.

Beau has no impulse control around peopleAbsolutely no impulse control around people, that is the problem.

Beautiful Beau is a big strong Chocolate Labrador. He’s 9 months of age and his teeth hurt. With no impulse control, his biting and grabbing of my clothes would have been nearly constant had not the lady held him back. It was a struggle for her.

I have to call it ‘biting’ because he was using his teeth with some force, but there was no aggression behind it. No growling or hostility. There wasn’t fear either though possibly the level of his arousal involved more than just pleasure to see me. He will have been uncertain as well.

Jumping, biting and no impulse control has become his default response for dealing with the excitement he feels.

Both the lady and her adult son are accustomed to being bitten when Beau gets too excited. He bites sufficiently hard to bruise but not to break skin. He was an unusually nippy and bitey puppy. Like many people, they will unwittingly have encouraged teeth on human flesh through play – contact sports using their hands.

No impulse control.

A stitch in time saves nine, as they say. If, from the outset when Beau was a little puppy, both jumping up and grabbing with teeth were consistently and persistently met with no reinforcement but an acceptable alternative offered, he wouldn’t be doing it now.

Tug of war played properly is a much better game. Puppy has to learn that if teeth even unintentionally touch flesh, all fun immediately stops. He then learns to be careful.

Usually dogs like this will have very high stress levels and constantly be ready to ‘explode’. This doesn’t seem the case with Beau. His home is calm. Generally he’s no more excited than any other 9-month-old Labrador, but when he does get aroused, it’s always teeth.

Beau is given plenty of enrichment and he’s not left alone for too long. He doesn’t do the usual things that build stress in a dog such as excessive barking, getting over-excited before a walk and panicking when left alone.

It’s all around people

He has no impulse control around people. When someone comes to his house or if they meet people when out on a walk he morphs into a different dog.

Why does he find people quite so stimulating, I wonder? He has been very well socialised from the start.

The lady so much wants to have social walks with her lovely dog and to invite friends round, but she can’t because he bites them! Things are getting worse. Could this be that she herself is becoming increasingly anxious? As I sat with her in the kitchen, I could feel her very understandable tension and anxiety. If I could feel it, then so would Beau.

Having been rehearsing the biting and jumping for months since he was a small puppy, it will now be learned behaviour – a habit.

How can we break it?

Learned behaviour – a habit.

What we have to work on is both the cause of the behaviour as well as the behaviour itself – and this cause is over-excitement around people and no self-control when aroused.

To succeed, Beau must be prevented from rehearsing the biting anymore in every way possible. It simply has to be made impossible. Without an experienced professional actually living with them with nothing else to do than work with Beau, I can see no other way than extensive use of a basket muzzle to begin with. When he gets his ‘rough’ times at home with his family, when friends visit and when he’s out and likely to encounter people, his mouth has to be taken out of action.

This will be much better than banishing him.

A basket muzzle is best because he has freedom open and close his mouth, to drink and to eat treats. If introduced properly so that it’s always associated with good things, he shouldn’t mind it too much. I know this could be controversial.

Without now being hurt, they must now teach him different habits and better ways of getting attention. He also needs better ways of relieving his quick-building arousal and frustration levels. In removing the ability to bite from his repertoire, they need to supply replacement activities and outlets.

I suggested a gate for the kitchen so at times when he’s likely to use his teeth or when people come, he can go behind it with something acceptable to chew until he has calmed down. Use of ‘No’ and ‘Down’ can only increase his frustration whilst in a way being reinforcing to him as well.

Self control.

When I was there, Beau held lead on harness to prevent the biting of me, we constantly used his food to reinforce every moment of desired behaviour.  He sat, he got food. He lay down and was silently rolled a piece of his kibble.

The emphasis must now be on reinforcing the behaviour that they DO want. People, when out, will be kept at whatever distance is necessary while they work on his self-control using positive reinforcement. He will learn that sitting or standing calmly brings dividends but this is only possible when not too close.

Jumping and biting is simply Beau’s default both when aroused or when feeling unsure of himself – both at home and when out on walks.

We shouldn’t underestimate the effectiveness of a dog having something in his mouth where the teeth are, whether it’s a ball, something that squeaks or even a bone! It all depends – all dogs are different.

What actually is excitement anyway and is it always pure joy? Wouldn’t we feel excited on a Big Dipper? Wouldn’t we be feeling scared before a bungee jump and isn’t that part of the buzz?

As Beau gains some self control and is helped to calm down around people, the muzzle can be used less and less until it’s no longer necessary.

 

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 Beau. 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. The muzzle idea may be totally inappropriate in another case. 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).

 

Bites When Touched in his Bed. Warning Growl.

He bites when touched in his bed.

It’s hard to believe!

Will is the most adorable, soft, fluffy, friendly and gentle Pug Poodle mix – a Pugapoo I believe. While I was there it was impossible to see any hint of what I had been called for – growling and biting his two lady owners.

He has a lot of attention and is seldom left alone. He has been to several puppy training sessions and he’s fed on the best food.

This escalated about five weeks ago though he had growled when in his bed and approached before that. 

They didn’t heed his growling

Now one lady has two bite wounds on her hands.

I likened it to my standing in a queue with someone uncomfortably close to me. I would move away. The person then moves near again. I might give them a dirty look (the dog may freeze). If that doesn’t work I might tell the person ‘Back Off’ (the dog would growl). Then, if the person moves right close and touches me despite all this, would I not be justified in slapping the hand away? (The dog snaps).

Then, what if I was accused of assault? Would that be fair?

Will is then scolded ‘No No Naughty!’.

Will only bites when touched in his sleeping place, and mostly when it’s for something he doesn’t want, getting him outside at bedtime or taking off his collar.

We worked on “Will, Come!” back and forth all over the room. This is the key. When sufficiently motivated with food he will do whatever they want. Nobody needs to invade his space.

The other issue is food. He’s a fussy eater and this worries the ladies greatly. Food is left down all the time and he is enticed with chicken. This leaves them nothing for ‘payment’ and motivation. He has a running buffet and his favourite is used for regular meals. Rewards need to be of especially high value whilst also being nutritious. We looked into what to do about this.

One other problem – Will is car sick.

He bites when touched in his bedHe drools as soon as he is put in which to me suggests fear – maybe in anticipation of the motion. We have a plan. First the car will be parked about 50 yards down the road and on the way back from their regular walks he can be popped in the car and driven home – taking about half a minute. After several days he should know exactly what to expect and feel chilled with this. No drooling.

Next I suggest that at the start of the walk they pop him into the car and drive this fifty yards, park the car and, again, pick it up on the way home.  When he’s happy they can increase distances and go further.

It’s so hard to believe that the adorable Will bites when touched in his bed. He clearly, in dog language, says what he’s feeling. His body language is misread. Growls aren’t taken seriously. Just because he has rolled onto his back  it doesn’t mean he’s asking for a tummy tickle. He’s much more likely thinking ‘uh-oh, I don’t want to be fussed just now, please, I give in, no…..!’.

As ignoring his signals continues, the dog can become increasingly defensive. I’m sure if Will’s lady humans now no longer approach him to touch him but wait till he comes to them instead, he will become more relaxed about it.

Who can resist touching a little dog who looks and feels like this, after all!

 

Bites a Friend. The Result of High Arousal

One of their little dogs bites a friend entering the house. Everything changes.

He is now muzzled when people come and when he’s out.

The whole situation is very stressful for everyone in the family. The first goal, before doing anything else, is to see how much we can calm things down.

He bites a lady

Luka

‘Operation calm’

With calmer little dogs should come a less stressed lady. She and her husband have a lot on their plate with a teenage daughter who needs round the clock care.

The dogs help the girl to feel happy. Some alarm barking makes her feel safe. Unfortunately the barking is uncontrollable.

We sat at the kitchen table and the two dogs rushed into the room, barking. Luka, a 21-month-old Jack Russell Chihuahua mix, was muzzled. Jack Russell Sasha, 5, was friendly and soon stopped her barking.

Luka’s muzzle was removed. He seemed okay with me for a while and then began to bark again. The muzzle was put back on – they are understandably nervous.

The muzzle actually seemed to calm him right down as I have found can sometimes be the case with a certain kind of muzzle. It may work like a calming band. When it came off he was friendly and chilled for a while.

I took my photos when the dogs were being held – the only time they were sufficiently still!

The dogs barked at the slightest sound. They leapt all over us, springing up from the floor, even onto the table itself.

Because the lovely daughter is unable to pick them up, it’s necessary that they jump. They jump onto her lap when she’s in her wheelchair and they leap onto her bed where she spends quite a lot of time. They sleep on her bed with her.

When highly aroused, Luka may also redirect onto Sasha.

This is a case of picking our battles. We will forget about the jumping up as working on that could cause even more stress for all concerned.

My first goal is to calm everything down. A stressed owner creates stressed dogs and visa versa.

Life changes when our dog bites.

One can imagine how distressing it is when our much-loved dog bites someone. A lady friend was walking into the house. The dogs somehow got out of the kitchen.

It is absolutely certain that this would not have happened were it not for stress. Stress builds up to the point where all self control goes out of the window and one final, sometimes minor, trigger is the last straw.

They have had building work for the past few weeks which has led to constant barking. The highly aroused dogs somehow got out of the kitchen. The person was carrying food. They were jumping all over her – Luka barking. She fussed them. The lady owner will have been extremely anxious. The jumping up may have aggravated Luka’s knee problem.

The lady takes a step forward.

Luka goes for her.

He bites the lady – twice.

They will now gate the kitchen doorway so they have a bit more control over where the dogs go.

The dogs can be helped to calm down with something to chew or do, marrow bones or a stuffed Kong each, for instance. To avoid trouble between them they will be one each side of the gate.

The family has so much on their plate just now that simply calming things down has to be the place to start. After all, arousal and stress is at the bottom of both the barking and bites.

 

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 Luka and Sasha. 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 any form of aggressive behaviour 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).

Is This What We Call Biting?

Beagle's biting is for attentionHow does one really define biting? Is it engagement of teeth or is it to do with the intent behind the engagement of teeth?

From what I had been told on the phone I was going to a dog that repeatedly bit people, especially the man, and I was expecting an aggressive dog.

That very day, the lady had told me, his biting had lost them his daycare.

When I arrived, at my request the one-year-old Beagle was wearing a soft muzzle with a lead attached to his harness. It was unnecessary. I sat down and the muzzle was removed. Benson was immediately all over me, much more interested in the food in my pocket than he was in me.

From when they first got him he was a very nippy/mouthy puppy. Unfortunately, instead of the mouthing being discouraged in an appropriate fashion from the start, it was unintentionally encouraged. Pushing him away and playing hand games was something the men did and until he got bigger it didn’t hurt too much. Loud squeals got him even more excited.

The older he grew, the more he used biting to get the attention he craved and the more it hurt.

As he gets ‘stuck in’, Benson quickly works himself up to a stage where he looses control of himself as his arousal levels simply overwhelm him. He then gets rough and frustrated. He will paw, hump and leap as high as a person’s head. Add to this the human response by way of confrontation, scolding and maybe shouting or grabbing him, he becomes a powder keg waiting to explode.

In a particularly highly aroused state this has, a couple of times, tipped him over into real aggression. Hence the loss of his daycare.

The couple’s life revolves around ‘fielding’ the jumping up, biting and pawing Benson throws at them. When he’s quiet they are so relieved to get some peace they understandably leave him alone. They have now resorted to muzzling him when he gets too much.

As the young dog is seldom offered attention when he’s being good and quiet lest they start him off again, what does this teach him?

The real challenge is that he’s now had nearly a year rehearsing and strengthening his biting skills. It’s become learned behaviour – a habit. It could be a difficult habit to break. The only way to achieve that is to do exactly the opposite to what has been done so far. They are now going to concentrate on teaching him the behaviour they DO want, reinforcing everything that pleases them (we started this with a clicker), pre-empt when possible and divert his attention if caught soon enough onto other items that he can freely chew.

There must be ZERO TOLERANCE for biting from now on. They have to do something to protect themselves from injury so this it’s very fortunatel he seems to like that muzzle and comes to put his nose into it without being asked. I believe it may act a bit like a calming band because he settles but without shutting down completely which wouldn’t be good.

He should not get away with even two or three bites before they react. NO bites are acceptable. Anything else just gives mixed messages.

At first feel of mouth or teeth they should immediately turn away and withdraw all interaction with him, looking away and ignoring him. At this point he may well begin a very loud bark. Having made it clear by turning away that they don’t want the bite, if he does it a second time the muzzle goes on with no fuss and no words.

Unlike previously, the muzzle should be left on only for as short a time as necessary and can come off again in five minutes or when his arousal levels have dropped sufficiently for them to give him something else to do.

Most importantly, we have made a list of rewarding activities with which they can punctuate their time with him in frequent short sessions which will use his brain or give him gentle exercise without hyping him up, rewarding him for being quiet or for exercising self-restraint instead of as it is at present with the great majority of the attention he receives generated by himself – rewarding and reinforcing his antics.

Basically, the young couple will be replacing the excitement he self-generates by biting, pawing, barking and sometimes humping with healthy stimulation generated by themselves. They will need to make liberal use of food.

They are prepared for this to take some time and a lot of patience! Dear little dog.

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 Benson. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly where aggression is involved. 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 dog (see my Get Helppage).

Their Dog Suddenly Bites Them

Three-year-old Jack Russell Monty has bitten three family members. Each time it was so sudden and quick they were left stunned. This is a rare case where it really did seem to be without warning. It is possible that gradual build-up of stress to the point where he exploded was a warning of sorts if they had known what to look for.

Having a dog that may suddenly bite means you can no longer relax. They are living on a knife-edge.

The first bite was about two months ago when he was about to go out for a walk. The lady went to the back door with Monty who sat as usual. She bent down to attach his lead to his collar.

Monty went for her.

He was hanging from her hand as the lady screamed for help. The injury was so severe that the hospital feared she may need plastic surgery.

A month ago it was the gentleman’s turn to get bitten. As with the lady, he bent to pop his lead on to go for a walk – a slip lead now. The man hadn’t yet put his shoes on unfortunately. Monty snarled and attacked first one foot and then the other. There was a lot of blood.

Since then he has had to wear the slip lead constantly because nobody dares go near enough to take it off him. Unfortunately where the tag is stops it from hanging loose.

Monty has gone for the man’s feet since, but sensibly he now always wears his shoes in the house. The family adore the little dog they have had since a puppy and the poor man is deeply upset. Since that time Monty attacked his feet, he growls each time he moves.

Beyond the expected screaming out and turmoil after the bites, Monty hasn’t been punished. They aren’t angry, they are hurt and terrified that he may end up having to be put to sleep. Understandably they don’t know what to do.

The first more minor incident was about six months ago. Before that he was fine. Monty had nipped or bitten two or three other people on the hand – people who tried to pet him thinking, wrongly, that his jumping up at them was friendly.

Because of the sudden escalation a couple of months ago we need to look at what may have changed in his life at that time. Had anything happened? it’s important to rule out a medical cause. They did take Monty to the vet and he had to be sedated before they could touch him, but no thorough examination was done unfortunately. The vet believes it is behavioural while I feel that extensive bloods and X-rays should always be taken to rule out a medical cause for such a sudden and major decline in behaviour.

As Monty paced around the room, trying to get people to throw balls (unsuccessfully for a change), to watch him it was hard to believe the damage this little dog had done – though I did stay sitting and kept my hands to myself!

Jack Russell on kitchen tableFrom the behaviour angle, I feel there are two things they need to concentrate on. One is to lower Monty’s stress levels as much as possible in every way they can. He is constantly so hyped up that he’s like a volcano ready to erupt and they feed this with constant ball play. There are four adults in the family and someone is at home most of the time – throwing his balls for him.

When they are out, he may be on the kitchen table where he gets a good view out of the window, waiting for things to bark at. They will make this impossible now.

He only settles later in the evening.

The second is that he, in effect, has four human slaves. He isn’t fed dog food but pandered to. There is nothing of any value they could use for rewarding him as he gets it anyway — in abundance. In fact he turns his nose up at much of it, knowing they will fall over backwards to add more or create more variety.

So, my second assignment is for them to toughen up around food. For ‘meals’ they can feed him the best quality dog food (no additives or e-numbers or cheap fillers, all of which can effect behaviour). The ‘good stuff’ like chicken and liver can be cut up very small and fed constantly to him during the day – but only for doing things they ask him to do or for rewarding him when he chooses to do something they like – like lying down instead of pacing or hunting for hidden balls still not removed.

If he wants to be let out, instead of just opening the door they can ask him to sit, then reward him and then let him out. They can regularly call him to them and reward him for coming. They can do some of the training tricks he learnt when younger, and reward him. They can call him away when he’s barking at something, and reward him.

All balls should be lifted. They can then initiate short sessions with the ball, when they feel like it, and then they put the ball away again – giving Monty food when they do so.

If he has to start to work for the special food, he will start to value it – and more importantly, he should start to value his humans and their wishes too.

I feel that only then should they try to get that lead off him (he’s perfectly happy to trail it about by the look of it). They need to have formed a rather different relationship with him. They then will need to take it in very small stages – using the special food of course. If they take him for a walk, they can attach a second lead to the handle of the slip lead, keeping well away from his head – using food. They can keep well away from the door and scene of bites when they do so – sitting in the kitchen maybe. They can call him, once, and if he doesn’t come he misses the walk or they can try again later.

If he wants things of them, he will need to put in a little bit of effort himself! I feel it is very important for this little dog that they get the upper hand. He isn’t enjoying life now and nor are his very upset humans. Doing things for them and achieving success, earning praise and food, will make little Monty a lot happier.

I am worried that there is a medical issue behind it all, particularly as the change in behaviour came on so suddenly, and I shall be writing a report for the vet. My own belief is that some of it has a behaviour aspect – many dogs, however unwell or in pain, would not be a dog that suddenly bites. Monty just possibly could be pushed over the edge due to pain or even suffer from something like hypothyroidism. Not being a vet, I don’t know enough about this.

"This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, thanks to you"

“This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, no lead on, thanks to you”

A month later, to quote from a couple of emails: “TODAY I have taken the slip rope off! Yahoo I thought he was going to wear it for the rest off his life….when I got home after his walk I just get hold of the lead and pulled gently over his head and he was fine. Then he rolled around everywhere in excitement and rubbing his neck. Whenever we go out and come back we’ve never had any nasty feelings from him he’s always happy and upbeat. He was even excited to see (my husband) yesterday who had been away all week”.
It could also be something to do with the painkillers the vet (who can’t get near him) prescribed at my request in order to see whether pain could be involved. I suspect there may be something around his neck area that has been making him ultra sensitive and reactive.
At the end of a month: “I wanted to let you know that everything is still going well with our little Monty, he even sat on my husband’s lap yesterday! We can’t thank you enough for the advise on those small but very relevant changes that have made such a big difference.
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 Ralph. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Poppy Doesn’t Like Being Touched

Border Collie with German Shepherd EarsPoppy is a Border Collie with German Shepherd ears. Look at them – and at that face!

Just as not all of us like too much fussing, pulling about and excitement, Poppy is a sensitive and somewhat fearful dog who isn’t keen on being touched unless she so chooses (to many of my friends a weekend of being pampered and massaged at Champneys would be heaven but to me it would be hell. I, unlike Poppy, have free will and can refuse).

There have been several biting incidents, on family members, and all have involved her being touched in some way when she doesn’t want to be touched – having touching forced upon her. All bites have also involved her already being in a highly aroused and stressed state.

She belongs to a couple with the man’s mum, a warm, effervescent and tactile lady who plays a big part in Poppy’s life, living just down the road. Unhappily, she is the receiver of the worst bites and understandably it upsets her greatly. Her manner is simply ‘too much’ for Poppy who probably feels overwhelmed.

Each incident has taken place when Poppy was already stirred up by something. She has undoubtedly given plenty of warnings over her three years which have been unheeded or punished. Sadly they have been watching the popular TV trainer who advocates dominance and pinning down and they are suffering the fallout.

The final and worst incident is an absolutely perfect example of how one thing leads to another as fuel is added to the fire, until some sort of explosion is inevitable.

Every day at lunch time the mother comes to the couple’s house to walk Poppy. Poppy may initially stay up the stairs growling at her. The lady does everything she can to get her to coax her down – and then the drama starts.

She takes Poppy out for a walk while the couple are at work. It is always the same ritual and route. The dog bolts out of the gate to the car. She is so wild in the car that in order to stop her redirecting her stress onto chewing the upholstery the lady muzzles her. At the field, she removes the muzzle and immediately throws Poppy a stick, otherwise she will attack the car tyres.

On this particular occasion she had her two grandchildren with her (8 and 10 – she never growls at them) who will, being children, have been playful and talkative – just as the lady is herself! They reached the river to find some excitable kids in a boat on the usually quiet river. Then a bird-scare gun went off. Poppy dropped to the ground. The lady bent over her to comfort her and she grumbled, but that was all. Then there was a second bang, the lady cuddled Poppy who immediately bit her on the hand which is now black and bruised. The dog then lay there and shook.

The lady, though scared by now, pinned Poppy to the ground – because she, like so many others taken in by the showmanship of this TV man, believed it was the right and only thing to do in the circumstances.

When she let go of her, Poppy bit her other arm.

A totally different approach is needed.

So today I was on the end of the phone with the lady and we did lunchtime differently. The emphasis was on quiet and calm with no pressure whatsoever being put on Poppy. She came in the front door and ignored Poppy grumbling up the stairs. No jolly, excited hellos or trying to entice her down – just ‘Hi, Poppy’ and walking on into the kitchen.

We had played a ‘Come when Called’ game yesterday and the lady did this from the kitchen with exactly the same words and tone of voice as we had used. Poppy came willingly for her – a first. She was learning that she was rewarded with a tiny bit of food instead of noisy enthusiasm and touching (which to her, because it seems to intimidate her, amounts to punishment not reward). Already she was choosing to come to the lady and be with her rather than lurking, grumbling upstairs.

As Poppy gets two other walks during the day, we have decided it’s best for the lady not to walk her for now, so we have thought up some calm home activities for lunchtimes with some mental stimulation but no excess excitement.

What if Poppy were a deer not a dog?. The lady would move slowly, speak quietly and not try to touch it because if she did the deer would run off.

She is feeling happy because already their relationship, based on better understanding, is improving.

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 Poppy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Jumps Up, Bites, Barks and Digs

EBT Staff mix‘Jumps up, bites, barks and digs’ – this is how the lady described their 8-month-old English Bull Terrier/Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix in their first message to me.

If he doesn’t get the attention he wants he may either bark, or go on the rampage, tearing about from room to room and all over the forbidden furniture. If he is thwarted or disciplined, he may leap up and nip quite roughly in a way one could almost call biting.

His digging in the garden is driving them mad also.

It’s hard not to treat life with an adolescent dog such as Sam like some sort of battle. He is non-stop throwing things at them that they have to ‘stop’ him doing. Our own emotions get in the way as we become increasingly exasperated. We believe that we should be ‘disciplining and controlling’ the dog. This makes him defiant. Confrontational or dominant behaviour from the humans is a slippery slope that too often ends badly.

After about ten minutes of countering his jumping up until he had stopped (as with most dogs that jump up, if the usual pushing them and telling them to get down actually worked they wouldn’t be jumping up anymore), I tried to sit down, but he was on the go all the time and we couldn’t get on. I had a deer antler chew in my bag and gave it to him. He chewed frantically on this for the next two and a half hours with barely a break. EBT mix Chewing Stagbar

If any dog needs a way to unwind, it’s Sam.

I suspect that some of his highly strung nature is genetic, but they are unwittingly responding in such a way that makes him worse.

When he is quiet they are understandably so thankful that they leave him be, so he only gets attention when he is ‘naughty’ so the undesirable behaviour is constantly reinforced.

LIke most responsible dog owners, they feel they must ‘control’ him, but what Sam totally lacks is self control. In order to control him they have become angry. They do this not because they don’t love him – they do, but because they are at their wits’ end with his behaviour.

The first thing they need to do is to completely change things about so that they are watching out for Sam being good, not bad. When you look for good you find there is a lot more of it than you had realised! Each even short moment of calm or self-control should be rewarded – he can earn some of his daily food this way.

Not much can be done until he’s less hyper and frustrated, so he needs proper stimulation of a healthy kind. The days and evenings should be punctuated with the sort of activities that don’t hype him up or make him frustrated, like short sniff walks, hunting games, foraging for food, gentle training games, brief ball play or tuggy and so on. They should only be initiated when Sam is calm and quiet – never as a result of his demanding behaviours.

The gentleman walks him daily on a short lead – and this is ‘power walking’ to keep himself fit. When he comes home Sam is still in an aroused state, not as satisfied as a dog should be after a nice walk and still needing to unwind. On a couple of occasions during the walk he has suddenly leapt at the man and bitten him quite hard. A little clue that this kind of walk not being quite what Sam needs is that he is less keen on the outward journey and he only pulls on the way back home which is unusual.

For the walk to be beneficial to Sam, I suggest the man stops for several five-minute breaks when he can lengthen the lead so that Sam can sniff and do his own thing for a while.

It’s hard, but with some imagination they need to treat every thing Sam does ‘wrong’ as having in it the seed of an idea for something good.

For instance, if he jumps on the sofa (which is out of bounds), the man currently pushes him off and is cross, so there is a stand-off where Sam then may stand and bark at him or may even fly at him. Then it is battle stations. But this can be done differently. The man can stand up, go to Sam’s bed and call him off the sofa and to his own bed, and when he gets there ask him to lie down and reward him. He can them give him a bit of quality time teaching him to stay. When the man goes and sits down again Sam will undoubtedly go back and jump on the sofa again, so patience is needed. The third time Sam can be put in the kitchen for a few minutes – but with something to chew or do – it’s not punishment. It’s to allow him to calm down.

Another example of an unwanted behaviour having in it the seed of a better idea is the digging in the garden (no pun intended). They can get a child’s covered sandpit and bury toys in it. If he starts to dig the earth, they can direct him to the sandpit, perhaps burying something new in there for him to find. If he keeps going back and they repeatedly have to say ‘don’t dig there – dig here instead’, instead of getting cross they can either bring him in or have a tie-out cable to fix him to for a short while so he simply can’t do it.

Being positive doesn’t mean being permissive. Boundaries can be introduced and maintained kindly.

Based on how frantically he chewed that bone, Sam needs chewables at the ready for times when he’s particularly stressed – something for him to redirect all that boredom and frustration onto.

With imagination, patience and foresight, frantic sessions can mostly be preempted. Doors can be shut, routines can be changed, the dog can be given a rummage box full of rubbish to ‘attack’ and so on.

If everything is done calmly and kindly, if he is recognised and rewarded for all the good things he does, and if a sense of humour can be mustered, Sam will become a lot more cooperative.

It takes time, patience and imagination but the eventual rewards in terms of their relationship with their lovely dog will be immeasurable.

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 Sam. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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 dog (see my Get Help page).