Distraction or Counter-Conditioning? Look – A Dog!

Distraction isn't helping Distraction is helpful if the dog is taken by surprise. Distraction however doesn’t help him to cope with the appearance of another dog.

Oaky is a sensitive little Border Terrier. He has lived with the lady for a couple of years and not too much is known about his past. A perfect dog in his loving home, the lady isn’t enjoying her walks with him due to his barking and pulling towards any other dog he sees.

Anxious and embarrassed

Oaky wears a half-check collar. The lady pulls him to the side and holds onto him tightly as the dog passes. She may say ‘Watch Me’ as a distraction. She admits to feeling both anxious and embarrassed; he will doubtless feel this down the lead to his sensitive neck. Continue reading…

Independent. Learn to be Alone. Separation Anxiety. Panic

Why aren’t puppies, right from the start, taught to be independent – to be alone for short periods?

85% of dogs!

This seems a no-brainer considering the statistics. The TV series Dogs, Their Secret Lives on Channel 4 in 2013, discovered that a huge 85% of dogs show signs of not coping to some extent when left alone. In many cases their owners aren’t even aware of it.

Why isn’t independence given the same priority in preparing puppy for the world as socialisation and toilet training? Continue reading…

Fear of Harness. Fear of Lead

Fear of harness is overshadowing his otherwise perfect life.

Little Reggie is a delightful, friendly little Border Terrier, ten months of age.

fear of harness is overshadowing his life

He has a lovely life in every way bar one. In order to go out for walks he has to have his harness and lead put on.

As soon as they are brought out he runs away.

They then go and pick him up to put the harness on and he shakes.

He was scared of his lead from the very start as a little puppy. They have tried various harnesses but it makes no difference.

Once on, his fear of harness is such that he tries to escape from it. With lead attached he leans sideways.

Out on the road he may pull. This could well be eagerness to get to the nearby park or field where, off lead, he is rid of the restriction.

A strange thing is that, if not pulling, he is constantly marking. I wonder whether this is some sort of displacement behavour to take his mind off his fear of harness and lead.

They try to keep him walking. I say, let him sniff and mark as much as he needs.

Reggie loves his food.

We can use this to our advantage. I carry with me Ziwipeak which most dogs adore. It’s dry and it’s smelly! Reggie certainly loved it.

For now they will reserve Ziwipeak for when the harness and lead are brought out.

Reggie has a Perfect Fit harness and for now they will attach the lead to the front only – it has a D-ring on the chest as well as the back. He should feel less restricted that way.

I thought I would demonstrate how well a dog walks on a loose lead if it hangs loosely from the chest by clipping it to his collar with the ring under Reggie’s chin.

I was expecting some sort of reaction. I called him to me and gave him Ziwipeak.

I let him sniff the lead. Ziwipeak. No reaction.

I took his collar. Ziwipeak. No reaction.

I hooked the lead to the collar. Ziwipeak. No reaction.

Soon I was walking around the room with the little dog on a loose lead, regularly putting bits of food on the floor beside my foot. Then the lady took over.

They couldn’t believe it.

Such is the power of food to reduce fear.

If the dog refuses to eat, then his fear is too great and they need to start things at a level or distance where the dog can cope.

Reggie was coping!

They will change their routine now and put the harness on in a different room. They will use the same technique as I used with the lead, feeding with every movement or click of fastenings.

I suggest they leave his harness on all day for now. They may remove it and put it on again several times during the day – plenty of practice using food. The only time she gets Ziwipeak will be in association with harness and lead.

The next step is to attach the lead and walk around the house and garden. Then in and out of the gate and finally down the road.

If he wants to mark and they make no progress, they should just let him do so. Assuming that he’s scared by the feeling of restriction, choice is important.

They can pop him in the car for a few days for his off-lead walks.

I am sure by associating the harness with food and disconnecting it from the walking routine, his fear of harness and lead will disappear. They can put it on earlier and they will only do so while Reggie is willing and happy about it.


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 approach I have worked out for Reggie. 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 issues are concerned. Everything depends upon context. 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)



Constant High State of Arousal

AndersonMontyBorder Terrier, Monty, has a range of issues that his lovely owners want to resolve. Actually, they all stem from just one thing, over-arousal. He is a clever and perky little dog, amenable and friendly (due to the angle, he looks a lot bigger in this photo than he is).

The day starts as it ends, with two-year-old Monty being let outside into the large garden. He charges out of the door like a ball shot from a cannon and rushes around barking “I’m here! I’m here!” and doing multiple boundary runs.

The next thing in his day is his walk. With his pulling and being on the lookout for other dogs to lunge and bark at, he comes home more wound up than when he left and instead of having a drink and flopping down, satisfied, he is in a highly charged state needing to unwind somehow.

Although the lady stays at home, other family members go to work or school, and Monty watches them go down the path from the window, barking in some sort of panic. He will spend the days whining for something or in the garden (barking at people going past and the neighbour’s equally noisy dog).

When someone comes to the door, because of the layout of the house, a barking Monty is there also, being held back by his collar and so aroused that when released he not only jumps up but also grabs their clothes with his teeth. This is in no way aggressive, more that he just can’t control himself. He will then probably fetch a toy – something better for his mouth to be doing.

Although extremely well socialised with other dogs, all this is now spilling over onto reactivity with other dogs on walks.

In order to make any progress at all, the start must be management – making it impossible for Monty to rehearse these downward-spiraling behaviours any longer. For now he can be let out in the garden only on the end of a long line while the response to his barking which we discussed is implemented immediately he starts and he is brought back indoors. People commonly think that it’s fun for their dog to watch people going past, gives him something to do and that preventing free access to these places is unkind. I believe the opposite. Monty’s view from the window of departing family members down the path should be blocked and somehow there must be a way to shut him away from the front door before it is opened.

He needs help with a lot of things or else kept away from them – including vacuum cleaner, brooms, wheelie bins and the lady’s daily clean-out of the guinea pigs, something that makes him very anxious indeed.

From a ground base of a dog with much lower levels of arousal, this clever little dog can start learning that being quiet is rewarding and that he gets more attention and reinforcement for being calm than when barking! They can instigate all sorts of games, training and activities that will focus his brain and help him to calm. A more relaxed dog should find his walks more satisfying and encountering other dogs less stressful.

It’s so hard for his people who love their dog dearly and do all they can for him not also to become very stressed themselves when he’s in a permanent state of arousal – apart from late evening and night-time when at last he’s at peace for a few hours.

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 Monty. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Rehomed Older Dog

Oldies Club Border Terrier


As is often the case with a rehomed older dog, it’s impossible to know how that dog will be when he has had time to settle into his new home and a totally different lifestyle. When a dog has probably spent his recent years shut indoors, it is hardly surprising when there are issues around other dogs.

Dear little Max, age eleven, has been rehomed by Oldies Club. Like many older dogs, he has been the loved pet of a person who through age or infirmity has no longer been able to look after him properly. Max now has a new lease of life living with an active couple and their other Border Terrier, thirteen year old Katie.

Elderly Border Terrier


Because there were dogs that he was fine with, it was assumed he would be okay with all dogs. The new owners got a shock when, soon after they had brought him home, Max and a relative’s small dog, as soon as they clapped eyes on one another, broke into a fight. Since then there have been some other incidents resulting in walks not being enjoyable and the couple now having to curtail some of the previous activities they had enjoyed with the placid and dog-friendly Katie.

Having asked lots of questions to get a good feel for the situation against a background of the great many dogs and people I have been to, I got a clear picture of what needs to be done.

Like so many dogs, the issue may be of other dogs on walks, but there are things to put in place first at home in order to optimise their strategies when out. I likened it to a tripod – three ‘legs’ to hold firm and ‘other dogs out on walks’ to then be placed on top (house built on rock, not sand).

The first thing is to address the barking at dogs from his own home. There is a truly aggressive-sounding dog the other side of the fence so there is a lot of boundary running and barking from the two of them, filling Max with fear and honing his dog-aggression skills. He also is on watch at the front window from the back of the sofa. Not only can the couple take responsibility for danger and lookout duty, they can also do some serious desensitisation and counter-conditioning work in their own garden.

The second thing is that both dogs are overfed with food left down all the time. We preferably want to be able to work with food so Max has to be a bit more hungry and food needs more value – so they have work to do rationing food and making it harder to come by.

Thirdly is to keep his general stress levels as low as possible. They have already noticed that his ‘aggression’ episodes have taken place after a run of minor things has occurred that will have gradually stacked up – loading the gun so to speak.

With these things in place, they can now work on the ‘other dogs’ issue. We have a step-by-step plan.

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

Aggressive Encounters with Older Dogs

Bear is relaxed at home but can't be trusted with other dogs out on walks


Bear on the left is a 4-year-old mix of Jack Russell, Springer Spaniel and Shitzu! He lives with JR Nellie and an older Border Terrier.

All three dogs are very friendly without being pushy and life would be fine if Bear could be trusted with other dogs when out on walks. Unpredictably, he can mix with some other dogs when they are all off lead, but more often he is reactive and aggressive, particularly when either he or the other dog is on lead.

Friendly Jack Russell Nellie


It probably all started when Bear was a very young dog; he would race up and down the fence with the neighbour’s very dog-aggressive larger dog doing the same thing the other side.  There would have been lots of barking and snarling. With hindsight it would have been a lot better if Bear had not been allowed to do this because he was already honing his hostile dog-to-dog skills – learning from the older dog.

Bear has attacked a couple young dogs out on walks which may well be doing them the harm that the big dog next door did to Bear.  It’s important that he never has the opportunity to do this again.

In order for Bear to learn reliable recall, working for food is the easiest and most efficient incentive (play and praise also can be used).

One might think that the work starts outside the house, but no.  A dog that is pandered to where food is concerned isn’t going to want to work for it. Bear won’t eat his very good food unless extra fish is added. I offered him a piece of cheese and he just  walked away!

Soon he will eat what he is given, he will go to his bowl rather than having it brought to him and he will eat it up without tasty extras added. Only then he will begin to value the more tasty stuff and they can then start to work on his dog-reactivity.

It is essential that he comes when called – not just when he feels like it but when there is another dog about. If he ignores them at home when they call him or want him to do something, he certainly won’t come running back when called if he’s spotted another dog.

When food gains value as a currency and they themselves gain more relevance so he more willingly does their bidding, they can then be using the special tasty stuff for rewards and reinforcement rather than bribes added to his food to make him eat!


Jumping up on People. Lunging at Other Dogs

problems with lunging at other dogsBonnie (2) is mostly Border Collie, and Bruce (1) probably a Boxer mix. They have had Bonnie from a puppy.  After at least two previous homes, Bruce was rehomed with them four months ago. He is a bit fearful of new things, probably not having previously encountered much of the outside world.

Lunging at other dogs

The main problem they want to resolve is Bonnie’s ‘aggression’ to other dogs when they are out and Bruce’s over-excitement (anxiety perhaps also) causing him to lunge at them barking. The couple would also like the dogs to walk nicely on lead, and for Bruce to take notice of them when they call him.

There are many areas where things are going well and the two dogs get on very well, but one other problem is persistent jumping up.

I believe that we need to get things right at home in order to properly succees when we are out – house built on sand and all that. The dogs both should be taking more notice of their owners at home before they can be expected to do so with distractions like other dogs and people when outside.

The jumping up needs to be tackled immediately. At present they actually actively encourage it at times, whilst not wanting them to jump up at other people.  Telling them to get down just doesn’t work. They were quite persistent when I was there, even though I was sitting at the dining table. To cure this there really has to be nothing in it for them. Everyone as well as the couple must comply, the son, friends and family. Attention happens when the dogs feet are on the floor only – or if they are sitting.

Walking the dogs separately

In order to teach the dogs to walk nicely they need to be separated initially. Several five-minute session a day each will do the trick. If the person jerks the lead or holds the dog tight when they see a dog approaching, what message is that giving to the dog? Whether it is excitement or fear, it’s is the humans who should be taking charge of the situation. If they relax, use encouragement and rewards, turn away and put a bit more distance between them, ideally before Bruce or Bonnie can start lunging at other dogs or barking, things will start to improve. The required distance will lessen over time until the dogs can walk past each other. Each time the dogs rehearse this reactive behaviour they get better at it.

How quickly they see an end result on walks will depend upon how frequently they take each dog out. The more relevant the owners are at home and the more the dogs take notice of them there, the more relevant they will be to them when out; the more confidence jumpy Bruce will have in them.

Professionals like myself can often see how important relevance and respect is when we demonstrate with a dog. Because of our own behaviour (and we have no past history) the dog may behave completely differently for us to how he or she behaves with the owners.

We often can walk a dog on a loose lead or in the vicinity of another dog where the owner can’t. This is a relationship thing that needs working on at home too.

Ollie Needs Help in Getting Used to the New Baby

Border Terrier is worried and chewing helpsOllie has to get used to the new babyWe need a plan for integrating Border Terrier Ollie happily back into a new family life which now includes a baby who cries, grunts, smells interesting, that is carried and who is cuddled and kissed – like Ollie himself used to be.

I originally visited Ollie over four years ago, long before I started my ‘stories’ on this website.

His young lady owner was in hospital for a few weeks with her baby and her parents had been looking after Ollie. A couple of days ago he was dropped back home.

Ollie was very uneasy, especially when the baby cried or was cuddled and they feared Ollie might jump on him or nip him. Their anxiety will have been picked up by Ollie, only increasing his stress. So, the parents had taken him back home with them again. They realised they needed help.

Ollie must get used to the baby and the baby must be kept safe.

Yesterday, in advance of my visit, he was brought back again. When I arrived baby was asleep in his pram and Ollie was quietly behind the kitchen gate which led off the sitting room. All was peaceful.

I brought Ollie into the room on a longish lead, keeping it as loose as possible.Each time he looked in the direction of the pram, I treated him. The lady then lifted her baby out and sat down with him – and treats for Ollie. Each time the baby stirred or Ollie looked at him, the lady gave Ollie a treat. Ollie’s lead stopped just short of allowing him to reach baby. Everyone could relax.

We hooked the lead over something so that no emotions could be transmitted down it – and then baby started to cry. Ollie didn’t like this at all and gave some loud ‘yips’, lunging in the direction of the baby. As the lead was only attached to a thin collar, this unfortunately will have been very uncomfortable to his neck.

Before they can go further they need a harness so that Ollie never associates baby with any  discomfort. Only nice things must happen for Ollie around the baby. He was reasonably relaxed so long as baby wasn’t crying. I gave him a Stagbar to chew whilst the baby was awake but not crying and he chewed it fervently like he was shutting out baby noises – see the picture! Our strategy is to walk him back to the kitchen if something obviously bothers him like when baby cries, and to work slowly. No scolding. Encouragement only. It was quite clear when he was worried as he would lift a paw and lick his lips, so they need to watch for these signs.

The couple were very surprised at the progress we had made in such a short time. Fortunately the parents live nearby and can take him back home so that he can be exposed for an hour or so at a time while the hustband is at home also, until a crying baby is just a normal part of his life – something to be ignored.

Ollie was himself, until recently, their baby!

Subdued at Home, a Tiger on Walks

Border Terrier Willow is a little subdued at homeLittle Willow is four years old, and has been in her new home for seven months. She is exceptionally small for a Border Terrier. Just imagine seeing this tiny dog out on a walk, pulling on a short lead, being constantly corrected, and wearing a muzzle along with an electric collar. This isn’t because her owners don’t love her – it’s because they are doing the best they know how and are at their wit’s end over her aggression towards other dogs.

At home Willow is angelic – but a bit too quiet in my mind. She seems subdued and with little enthusiasm. It’s like she’s being careful. She constantly lifts her paws and licks her lips.

It is unusual that I feel owners of small dogs in particular are overdoing ‘leadership’, but I feel that in doing their very best with Willow they are using a sledge-hammer to crack a nut. They are avid followers of a certain TV dog gentleman. People think that because he’s on TV and charismatic, what he says must be right. It’s all about dominance and who is ‘boss’, not about reward and encouragement. They have been told to rebuff all friendly approaches by her. Whilst it’s not good to always obey a dog’s every wish for attention, there is a happy balance. These old-fashioned notions were reinforced at dog training classes they attended where Willow would bark at other dogs, obviously extremely stressed, and when spraying water at her didn’t work they were told to pin her down. Why didn’t a so-called ‘dog-training professional’ try to understand why Willow was behaving in this manner instead of using force? Fortunately the owners have been uneasy with this and, seeing Willow getting worse rather than better, realise that their tactics are simply not working.

The problem is that when our dog’s behaviour really annoys or bothers us, our own behaviour is suspect. We do whatever works most quickly and gives the best immediate result. The more exasperating the dog’s behaviour, the more concerned we become. Hence shock collars, citronella collars, pinning down etc. Unfortunately these things don’t work well in the long run. The best long-term results come from strategies that work slowly, requiring patience and encouragement. The ‘fallout’ from bullying methods is well documented. Whenever the dog becomes acclimatised to a certain level it has to be increased in order to keep working. The dog probably doesn’t really understand where the punishment comes from or why. Where does it lead? Some dogs end up by shutting down completely. Others may even turn on the source of their suffering.

Fortunately Willow’s owners had already begun to ‘see the light’ which is why they called me.

Email a week or so later: “Good to see Willow appearing more relaxed and definitely more playful within a week of starting this plan”. Six weeks in: I visited little Border Terrier Willow again today. The best news is she is that with encouragement and rewards she is a lot more trusting and cheerful at home. Progressing into the outside world is slow, but the young couple are working very hard and she now walks beautifully on a loose lead in the garden and around the garage area. Beyond there she still has a meltdown at any noise or person, let alone a dog. We have a plan to desensitise her a bit faster, and that is to have sessions that aren’t walks at all – for them to pick her up and carry her around their quiet housing estate (carrying a dog is something I have never advised before). Willow can then get a bit more used to sounds like doors closing and distant dogs barking, and to cars and people – but held safely in their arms and maybe even inside their jacket also. She still just feels far too vulnerable on the end of a lead. It’s Catch 22, if she isn’t exposed to things she never will get used to them, but when she is exposed to them it sets he back because she panics.

Border Terrier a Bundle of Worry

Border Mitzy is a highly stressed little dogLittle Mitzy is a seven-year-old Border Terrier. Mitzy is a bundle of worry.

I watched her shaking, regularly lifting her paw and licking her lips like she was taking a bite of air.

I was called because they no longer take her for walks due to her ‘aggression’ towards other dogs. This I’m sure is due to terror, and she nearly strangles herself lunging at them.

Mitzy is in a state before she even leaves the house. She shakes when her harness is put on. She pulls down the road, already highly stressed, and that’s before she even sees a dog. Even though she has never actually harmed a dog on a walk, they were so worried that they had been muzzling her which would have increased her feeling of helplessness.

We have listed all the things that stress poor Mitzy and these need working on. Reducing her anxiety at home must be a start, because if she is permanently aroused she’s in no a fit state to face the scary outside world.

The lady and her two daughters are going to go back to basics with the walking and break it down into tiny steps. Any walking at all – even five minutes two or three times a day – is a lot better than she’s getting now.

First she needs a comfortable harness. Nothing more should happen until she is happy having it put on and wearing it – no shaking. – so she may need it left on for a few days. Then they need to walk her in the garden where she feels relatively safe, teaching her how pleasant it is when the lead is loose, treats and encouragement are used and they themselves are relaxed. This could take weeks! Next step is to venture through the gate. Only when she can do that calmly should they try walking outside. She won’t be ready for ‘other dogs’ yet! I myself sometimes use a ‘stooge’ dog – a realistic stuffed boxer I call Daisy that I can place at a distance. This can be done with real distant dogs, but Daisy is predictable and stands still!  The people can then remain relaxed whilst rehearsing their procedure for meeting dogs. They need to manage the environment and choose quiet times. Having an unscheduled close encounter would set things back at this stage.

The lady and her two teenage daughters are very committed to helping Mitzy and I”m sure they will give it as long as it takes which could be many months. Mitzy will start to enjoy walks. There is no reason why, after she can negotiate going out as far as the car calmly and happily, they should not drive her to somewhere open and dog-free, put her on a long line, no muzzle, and give her some freedom.