Attacks the Man. Resource Guarding. Bites.

Pomeranian attacks the manSadie attacks the man. It sometimes looks like she attacks out of the blue. At other times I swear the little dog, a 10-month-old Pomeranian, sets him up!

She mainly targets him, though sometimes the lady too.

The little dog shares their bed and attacks them when they try to get in. She will do the same if one of them has to get up during the night.

She attacks them when they get ready to go out. Sadie will go for the man’s feet and hands even if he’s putting his shoes on to take her out for a walk.

Worst of all is her behaviour around resources.

They leave her food down all the time. She will take a piece of her dry food and jump with it onto the sofa, next to the man. Then, there is only one way of describing it, she taunts him with it! If he moves, she attacks him.

She also treats the lady as a resource and attacks him if he so much as leans towards her.

The poor man has bite marks over his hands and arms. It’s fortunate she not a bigger dog. They’ve had several dogs before, but never one like this. Continue reading…

Adolescent German Shepherd. Excitable. Biting

Adolescent German Shepherd Knight is a challenge. He is now nearly nine months old, wilful and strong. His owners do all they know to give him a good life – they walk him, feed him and love him.

Unfortunately, living the life of a much-loved family pet just isn’t enough. Knight is a working dog without work to do. Much of how he is will be genetic.

Adolescent German ShepherdThe poor lady showed me the bruises up her arms and a bite mark.

He is big, bold and confident – and a bit of a bully. Unfortunately he missed out on early training because the couple both had fallen ill when they first got him at eight weeks old and things have basically got out of hand as he’s got bigger and become adolescent.

The family of five adults sat opposite me. Knight repeatedly targeted the two youngest, jumping on them with his mouth open. He also did the same with me.

Throughout the time I was there we were rescuing one another. Telling him off only fired him up further, as it does, so I had a person across the room calling him away and giving him something else to do. Diversion only lasted briefly.

I did some clicking for calm which gave us some respite. I lent him a Stagbar to chew and then an Ancoroot. Both kept him occupied for about five minutes.

He was already trailing a lead, but there was simply nowhere to put him away from us. There was no door between the two downstairs rooms and the gap was too wide for any gate. Even the garden isn’t secure.

It was hard to know where to start with improving the situation for both the family and for Knight. 

So – getting down to basics first.

The biting is unacceptable.

When I was ready to leave, the young lady took Knight into the back garden on the lead – just as they do for a toilet visit. I needed to pick up my Stagbar and Ancoroot with him out of the way as he guards resources – even his own poo. We said goodbye.

As the door shut behind me I heard “He’s attacking my sister!” and loud screams from the back garden.

She was very shaken, her arm was bright red but thankfully the skin wasn’t broken. The whole morning had been very arousing for Knight with so many people all together for so long and, unfortunately, she got the fallout.

On the plus side if there is one, although the biting is dreadful, the adolescent and angry dog was actually able to show a some degree bite-inhibition and self-control.

Control and management

The challenge will be in implementing new boundaries without using force or confrontation which can only make things worse whilst also enriching his life. He needs more happening – more constructive stuff. This will be a big undertaking.

The times and places where the behaviour is most likely to occur are predictable and must now be controlled using management and change in routine – or Knight muzzled.

For instance, they always have trouble with him leading up to his meals. He won’t leave them alone while they themselves eat (there is nowhere in the house to shut him apart from a crate) and he gets more and more rough and hyped up until he’s fed.

I suggest now that they break the routine and feed him first – in the crate, and leave him there until they have eaten and cleared up.

This isn’t the problem solved for the future, but it’s managed for now.

Control and management also means making it impossible for the behaviour with some physical restrictions. Physical restrictions are hard in a small house with no doors, and gaps too wide for a gate.

We considered anchor points with cable attached and at making the crate a place he loves to be.

Free use must be made of the muzzle. He knows he can control them by using his teeth and he can sense their own fear. With a muzzle they can relax and no longer give in to him.

The more the adolescent biting, grabbing and bullying is rehearsed, the more of a learnt behaviour, a habit, it becomes.

Adolescent, frustrated and bored.

Knight has little space at home, is at present unable to be outside off-lead in the garden and can’t be trusted off-lead when out. The lack of freedom must add to an adolescent’s frustration. Something needs to be done about this along with working on his recall (we will look at this later). Meanwhile, maybe they could perhaps sometimes hire a safe field so he has a chance to run.

Knight’s roughness and biting is all about controlling people but he wouldn’t do it if it had never worked. There are times when he’s gentle and peaceful, but once aroused – frustrated or angry…off he goes.

They should now add as much fulfillment to his life as they possibly can. Getting the fine line between enrichment and stirring him up will be tricky.

Earning some of his food.

They were a little resistant to using food. It’s almost impossible to train without food unless you use force, old-school style. Then it would all be about dominating the dog and his complying only to avoid punishment. The result of this approach would likely be real aggression, particularly when the person exerting this control wasn’t present to keep him under check. I’ve met many dogs like this.

Positive methods are the only way to go. Barking Up the Wrong Tree for 110 years, by Ian Dunbar.

Knight can earn the food he would anyway eat – it’s not treating him, it’s payment. Food is also for reinforcing the desired behaviour – positive reinforcement. The end result, with sufficient time and effort, is a biddable and cooperative dog.

There is a lot more to cover over the weeks I shall be working with them. Walking on a long line in the park, they can work on recall whilst giving him some freedom. They can teach him to settle on a mat when he’s calmed down a bit. Work needs to be done on his resource guarding and also separation problems.

Finally, they have a cat. Just hearing the cat at the door gets him going.

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 Knight 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, particularly where aggression is 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)

Cocker Spaniel a Naughty Dog?

Yesterday I visited a 9-month-old Cocker Spaniel called Willow.  Wonderful!  My own irrepressible Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, has given me some good practice.

Here is a list of things Willow does: Jumping up on people, excessive licking of people’s faces, jumping at the table and sides, barking (answering) back when told off, too much noise generally, steaCocker Spaniel Willow's white tailling any items she can get hold of and running off with them, leading the lady a merry dance and getting cross when cornered, humping people, fixating and barking at certain objects, jumping over people and furniture, racing at speed round and round the room and growling when eventually caught and restrained, shoving toys at her people to make them play with her, pulling on lead and, finally, chasing the cat. Oh – and running back to the car on walks.

All this may sound amusing to read, but it can be exasperating and has reduced the poor lady to tears and it’s no wonder she thinks Willow is just a naughty dog.Bored Cocker Willow does everything she can think of to get attention

Willow really is adorable as you can see – and see the white tail? She is a soft, affectionate little girl, However, two or three walks where she’s encouraged to keep moving and not sniff too much, just isn’t sufficient for her. She is not a naughty dog. She is a BORED dog.

The family is on the back foot, trying to ‘field’ the things that Willow throws at them rather than themselves being proactive. She is a clever, working dog with insufficient appropriate stimulation so she is constantly finding ways to fulfil herself. She spends quite bit of time in the ‘naughty’ room.

‘No’ is a much used word.  In the three hours I was there we consistently looked for ways of saying ‘Yes’, and rewarding her with food. The lady was becoming really good at looking for the good rather than the bad and Willow was getting the message, becoming really focussed.

It is only fair on a dog to let her know what you don’t want in a language she really understands. ‘No’ and ‘Get Down’ or pushing are very confusing messages when the dog wants attention, because they ARE attention.

If a dog is jumping all over me I consider how another dog would make his feeling clear to a bouncy adolescent. Would not a stable dog look away, turn away, maybe tip her off and walk away? The other dog would probably signal when he saw her coming, making his feelings clear from the start. Showing the behaviour isn’t wanted is only part of the exercise. Just as importantly we then need to follow-up by showing her just what we do want. If it’s ‘feet on the floor’ we want, then that is when she gets the attention.

Giving Willow a more fulfilled life requires being creative and offering alternative incompatible behaviours instead of scolding or ‘no’, and constantly reinforcing the desired behaviours. They will need to go cold turkey on the barking for attention whilst scheduling into the day the sort of activities that satisfy her canine Spaniel instincts – mostly nose-based. She needs plenty to keep her busy. When the family want to watch TV in peace, they need to instigate short bursts of activity themselves – during the advert breaks perhaps. She could have a hunting game, training games, a short ‘sniff’ walk around the block or a toy or chew kept aside especially.

Gradually, over time and with the help of food rewards, Willow will be looking for ways to get attention by pleasing them.  A different mindset for owners – looking for the good instead of the bad – can really help.

It’s the next day and I have just received this email: ‘We found all you said made absolute sense and we are now looking at interacting with Willow with fresh eyes.  Some things are so obvious it is almost embarrassing to have not realised it! Today we went for a couple of walks and it was so much more relaxed letting Willow do as much sniffing as she wanted rather than thinking she shouldn’t be doing it and trying to get her to walk on.  Also, I did as advised re meal times and she ate the meals!  Amazing! We have bought her a Stagbar and some other toys for playing with in the evening.  At the moment she is lying quieting asleep – perhaps dreaming of the fun day she’s had today! There is obviously a lot of work to do and reinforce but I feel much more confident and relaxed’!
And four weeks after my visit: ‘The advice you gave us has been invaluable and has changed so many things we were doing with Willow and have already seen some good improvement’.
Here is a message eighteen months after I met Willow: I now know we go for ‘smells’ rather than ‘walks’! What I have discovered in the last two years, is what an amazingly intelligent and quick learner she is! She is still challenging sometimes, but we try to preempt her e.g. Making sure we don’t leave dining chairs pulled out otherwise she gets up on the dining table too! Willow and I are still ‘learning’ but it’s been so much fun!
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Willow, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Adolescent Flat Coated Retriever

Flatcoat Barney is simply creating his own fun and ways of getting attentionBarney is a wonderful 7-month-old Flat Coated Retriever. His family are first-time dog owners and like many inexperienced people getting a puppy they make assumptions regarding their puppy’s needs based on their own human perceptions of what a person might need.

Comparing the dog to a young child would be better. One wouldn’t give a little child too much freedom indoors or outside; one wouldn’t leave food available to a small child like a running buffet; we would keep a young child out of trouble by removing everything that might be dangerous or damaged; If the child was bored, we would be giving him things to do.

Because Barney has free run of the downstairs, when he’s bored or not getting attention he steals spectacles, pens, garments and so on – or he wrecks his blanket. When someone comes in the front door he is there. He jumps all over them and sometimes runs out. His food is left down for him to eat when he feels like it. He hasn’t been shown from the start that grabbing and biting hands and clothes simply isn’t fun. He has been running off lead since he was little. Puppies stay close and come when called – adolescents don’t!  During the evening Barney continually asks to go outside and they will be up and down doing his bidding – something they would never do for a child!

When the children’s friends come to the house things are very difficult. Barney is extremely excited and jumps all over them if they sit on the settee. One child in particular is too scared to come any more. It would have been easiest if they had taught Barney right from the start that he gets up on sofas by invitation only but now they should teach him to stay on the floor.

It’s Christmas in three days’ time! Lots of people including children will be there. I have suggested dog gates in a couple of doorways so they can have him under some sort of physical control without banishing him altogether. After Christmas that they will have time to do some real work with him.

Barney is simply creating his own fun and ways of getting attention and his people are ‘fielding’ his attempts to get them to do what he wants, rather than being proactive. He is a working breed. He needs more to do – to stimulate his brain, but in shorter doses because he is very easily over-excited which triggers the very behaviour that they don’t want. A long over-stimulating run for a dog of this age while the man jogs would be much better replaced with two or three shorter walks. At home he can be kept busy with things to chew, hunting for food, being taught to bring things back and let them go and so on.

I found he learnt very quickly that jumping up at me was no fun at all but that listening carefully to me and watching me brought satisfaction (and food). It is much easier for me because I have so much experience and it comes naturally, but people can copy me when I show them.

Barney is a really cracking, beautiful dog. Gates, removing things and wearing ‘sensible’ clothes that don’t temptingly flap about won’t be necessary for ever. The more consistent they all are now the faster they will be able to ditch these things. He has the perfect home, and he will be the perfect family dog.