Boundary Bark. Boundary Chasing

One year old Cocker Spaniel Lucky will chase people walking past the fence and boundary bark. He is a lovely dog, doing exactly what most other dogs in his position would do. Particularly a working Cocker Spaniel with loads of energy both mental and physical.

Boundary bark

Give a dog free access to fences, where people with their dogs walk past, he will very likely boundary bark and chase. No doubt from Lucky’s perspective he believes he is chasing them away – they always go, after all.

With each time he does it, the behaviour becomes more established.

They have had him for three months now. He’s landed on his feet with a wonderful home, and they have got themselves a wonderful dog.

I was called in order to do something about his general excitement and the boundary barking.

Uncontrolled arousal

Boundary bark and chase dogs and peopleFrom the point of view of Lucky’s stress levels, this frequent charging from gate, up the side fence and back to the gate is not good. He gets so frantic he tries to dig out underneath.

The gentleman’s way of dealing with this is to chase after him with a slip lead and corner him. In such an aroused state Lucky sometimes gets to a stage where he can no longer control himself. On a couple of occasions he has redirected his frustration onto the man and bitten him.

It’s a bit like a child having a tantrum kicking out.

With frequently topped-up stress levels, Lucky will be much more nervous and jumpy in general, just as we would ourselves. Things that we consider may be fun for the dog – like repetitive or exciting hands-on play – can actually be adding to his general arousal levels. This will build up and remain in his system for days. Trigger Stacking.

Enrichment and fulfilment

A working dog needs breed-appropriate things to direct his energy onto. I understand this well, having a working Cocker Spaniel myself. He needs to hunt, forage, explore and to use his brain. Adding this kind of enrichment will tire him out in a much healthier way than simply exercise and physical play. It’s a lot harder work however than just letting the dog run around freely, doing his own thing.

A large aspect of Lucky’s life will be frustration. He will boundary bark but be unable to actually get to the person or dog.

As they can’t let him off lead on walks for fear that he would go off on a chase and not come back, walks must be frustrating for him also. Currently he is held close on a slip lead. With no freedom there will constantly be things out of reach that he can’t get at or sniff. I suggest giving him time on a long thirty-foot line in the woods or fields where he can make his own choices – and the man can follow him. This should enrich Lucky’s life greatly.

The line should be attached to a harness – a tightening collar could badly damage his neck.

Management gives less work to do

The first priority where the boundary chasing itself is concerned is to manage the situation better and to remove opportunity.

Allowing Lucky access to that gate when they aren’t right there on hand to deal with it immediately is simply asking for more trouble. Lucky has an anchor cable in the garden which gives him a lot of scope but keeps him away from the gate where the barking ritual kicks off. They should use this more. They may also be able to fence off the front part of their garden. 

Chasing the dog

When Lucky does boundary bark, it needs to be dealt with appropriately. The man may be able to catch him eventually, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem at all. It won’t stop happening. It will intensify.

The humans should show Lucky that it’s their own job to protect him and the territory, not his. Their role of ‘protector’ can’t be just when they feel like it so they must be consistent and ready to react immediately he starts. If they delay he will have become so aroused that he will unresponsive and not even hear them.

Chasing and cornering him is the worst thing you can do with a dog. Lucky’s family will now work hard at getting him to come to them as soon as they call him.

They will condition Lucky to come to a whistle immediately and make it very worthwhile for him. As soon as he charges down to the gate they can whistle. Then, instead of chasing him, he will come to them. They can experiment with what works best as a reward. It could be a special treat, it could be scattering food around the place or it could be throwing him a ball.

Then, as well as relieving him of any boundary duty, passing people and dogs will be associated with something happy. This will result in them becoming less troubling to Lucky.

In time, if they do this every single time, he will be hearing someone approach and instead of chasing come straight to his humans for a reward instead – without having to be called.

Summing up

So, Lucky boundary barks and chases which is the behaviour they want to stop. As well as approaching this directly there are other things to do. They won’t excite him unnecessarily. They’ll enrich Lucky’s life as much as they can. Importantly, they will use management to prevent free access to that gate whilst reacting to any boundary barking appropriately.

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

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).

A Dog and a New Baby

WestieAlfieNine-year-old Westie Alfie’s predictable life has been turned on its head – the couple’s first grandchild has arrived on the scene.

The new baby grunts, snuffles and cries. The family that previously saved all their cuddles for him, now instead cuddle and hold this strange-smelling alien – an animal maybe?

Alfie is fixated with small prey, and squirrels live in the trees by their home. He spends much of his day on ‘squirrel-watch’ when not watching out for the disembodied human heads that pass behind the fence at the back of the garden.

Alfie barks and he barks. Squirrels and people always go away when he barks. It works in the end. But barking doesn’t work in driving away this new being – and it’s not for lack of trying.

If the people don’t do something, they will lose out on visits with their baby granddaughter whose mother is understandably concerned. They initially tried ‘comforting’ and spoiling Alfie which made no difference at all, and now they scold and put him out of the room.

Alfie is part of their family and they don’t want to exclude him. They don’t like to see him so distressed.

Actually, little Alfie normally calls the tune and this has been no problem at all – until now.  He now needs to dance to their tune a little! He needs to cooperate willingly and be taught happy things to do that are incompatible with barking at baby.

We chopped up small bits of cheese.

Alfie morphed into a focussed and willing little dog when he realised there was something in it for him! You’d never believe that he hadn’t been asked to do things for years. He loved it.

They have foundation work to put in before actually working with the baby. The brainwork, the exercises and the food rewards will together help him to associate baby with good stuff.

He also needs to be prevented from so much ‘go-away’ barking in general. They need to keep him away from squirrel-watch (which he ‘enjoys’) and boundary barking as far as possible, and when he does break into barking they will deal with it immediately in a positive fashion. After all, barking at the baby isn’t so very different.

We have a plan broken into small increments to get him accepting the baby, starting with a crying doll that they have. He shouldn’t be pushed beyond what he can cope with. It takes as long as it takes. The baby lives nearby and can be introduced very slowly for very short periods – starting when she’s asleep and in her pram.  Nice things will happen when Alfie is near the pram with the sleeping baby, thus building up positive associations (anxiety and scolding having done just the opposite).  As soon as the baby stirs they will implement those exercises that they  have been working on.

They need to keep Alfie under threshold, meaning that they do their best to pre-empt any reactivity by separating baby and dog. He won’t be ready for the baby to be carried around or nursed – or crying – for a while, but they will get there with patience.  Whilst playing safe, all humans must remain relaxed or Alfie will pick up on their anxiety.

Slowly slowly, little and often should do the trick.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Alfie, 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 – most particularly where babies or young children are 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 Help page).

Once Friends, Now the Dogs Fight

Whenever tiny Yorkie is out in her garden, she runs up and down by the fence, in a frenzy of barking

Mia

Both little dogs got on beautifully until Coco matured and then the conflict started – with a fight over a chew. Things escalated until tiny Mia was badly injured. They are now enemies.

Now the dogs have to be kept apart.

Tiny miniature Yorkie Mia, left, is now 6. When she was three years old they got a puppy – Wire Haired Daschund Coco. They are much loved little dogs.

Coco lives with the couple and their young children, and Mia lives next door with her parents. They dogs used to have a special hole in the fence so that they could go freely from one house to the other, but no more.  Their hole is now blocked.

A lot of problems can be averted if we learn to read our dogs

Coco

Whenever Mia is out in her garden, she runs up and down by the fence, in a frenzy of barking and trying to dig under it to get to Coco. It’s very similar to behaviour she does when the air blower is on. I videoed it. http://youtu.be/jUr_x1Lj79U. They thought Mia  enjoyed the action because her tail is wagging and she looks up at them. I feel, to this tiny dog, it’s like a puffing monster at nose level behind the wall, and she is frantic to make it go away; she is looking at them for help.

People often think that tail wagging means happy but it’s not necessarily so. It means aroused in some way. Another misreading is when Coco lies on her back with the little 2-year-old boy. They think she is asking for him to tickle her tummy. She may be saying ‘I give in, I’ve had enough’.

A lot of problems can be averted if we learn to read our dogs.

We have a plan to get the two dogs back together. Everyone knows that it could take a long time and they are up for the effort and self-sacrifice. Both little dogs are extremely excitable and think it’s their job to protect their homes and gardens. This needs to be addressed. They need to value food more so that it can be used for working with them (not left down all the time). Over time they will learn to come whenever they are called and to be each side of the fence calmly.

The plan is that eventually two much calmer dogs who no longer feel that guard duty is their responsibility will meet out on neutral territory, starting with walking parallel at a comfortable distance. We will take it from there.

Over-exciting and hands-on play with a dog would equate to tickling and ruffling a young child who would doubtless end up in tears. Egging a child on in the way people wind up their dogs, wrongly believing they find it fun, would probably end in a temper tantrum with a child.  Just as good parents create a reasonably calm, safe and controlled atmosphere for their kids, we need to do the same for our dogs.

I am sure the eventual outcome will be the two dogs back together. But their humans must never go back to their old ways or so will the dogs.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mia and Coco, 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 dogs (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

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

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!

 

Hates Dogs When On-Lead, Fine Off-Lead

German Shepherd Holly with her large earsHolly is a German Shepherd with an impressive pedigree of champions – and with very big ears! A beautiful girl. She has been well trained by careful and caring owners.

I was called in to see them because of Holly’s reactivity to other dogs when she is on lead – seemingly changing character, snarling, lunging and acting scary and I saw her react in a similar way when the paper boy put the newspaper through the door. She is also very protective of her home territory which is a breed thing anyway but she is a bit extreme. She patrols the boundary of the property which is surrounded by a footpath, barking frantically if the person has a dog.

The lady feels she no longer is strong enough to walk her so the man is the dog walker. He was already making progress before I came, and being more confident than the lady he lets Holly off lead and has discovered that, off lead, Holly is a different dog. She may be a little wary of a dog and drop down, she may run wanting to play, she investigates and she will come away when called.

Like most people who phone me, they start off by listing their dog’s good qualities, feeling disloyal when they start to list problems. It is very common for me to hear ‘she is no trouble at all at home – it’s only out on walks’. As with Holly, I usually discover that there are relevant issues at home. Her good points indeed far outweigh any negatives. However, she persistently jumps at people whether they are sitting or standing, especially visitors, and she gets in quite a panic at people going past with dogs, the postman and even squirrels.

Holly is a good example of where training alone doesn’t provided the answer. For example, she understands No and Off but she will jump up again if she feels like it. Holly’s recall is usually good and she has been trained to ‘come’, but she will ignore it if she is boundary barking. She could possibly be stopped with a training gadget like an air collar – but this wouldn’t get to the root of the problem. It would be a quick fix and probably make things worse – like a plaster keeping a festering wound out of sight. It is the same when they encounter other dogs. No amount of ‘training’ would stop her feeling as she does. This is a psychological behavioural issue requiring calm, patient and consistent leadership – not commands.

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