Fights. New Home Living With Other Dog. Stress

An elderly family member is no longer able to look after her dog and he now has a new home. Cairn Terrier Ben has gone to live with the couple and their dog Bonnie.

Bonnie is a Labrador Cocker Spaniel mix (the Labrador next door called to visit the mother dog!). She’s small, no bigger than a Cocker. 

A couple of fights

Each dog is great individually but being together is a challenge for both. In the short while that Ben has been living with them, there have been a couple of fights and another few altercations that they have interrupted.

Six-year-old Bonnie is used to being the only dog in the household. She’s extremely well behaved and obedient. However, Ben stirs her up and as soon as there is any arousal in the air it upsets her. She growls at him.  Although Ben submits and appeases, once she goes for him he retaliates and she comes off worse.

One of the fights resulted in a hundred-pound vet bill for damage around Bonnie’s eye.

Ben’s life has changed dramatically.

Ben has a lot of habituating to daily life and getting used to things. He lived in a very quiet place with an old lady.

He is terrified of home things like the vacuum cleaner, lawn mower and hose. On walks he is scared of vehicles and bicycles.

Because of the built-up effect of stress and tension, at the moment he will be in permanent aroused state inside.

Fights when arousedIt’s his inner stressed state and fears that Bonnie is probably picking up on. This makes her reactive.

There was graphic evidence when I was there. The cat who had been keeping out of Ben’s way, got too close to Ben. She jumped up onto the kitchen side in a panic. Bonnie’s immediate reaction was of aggression towards the cat. This never normally happens as she and the cat get on very well.

Bonnie can’t cope with Ben’s arousal and this is causing the fights.

The incidents happen at predictable times when there is excitement or barking. She will hump Ben. I feel she’s attempting to relieve her own inner stress whilst trying to get some control over him.

When the humans are out of the way however the dogs relax. They sleep. When the couple goes out, they come back to drowsy dogs.

A child is coming to live with them

Another factor makes it vital that there are no more fights. They have a friend with an eight-year-old boy coming to live with them in the very near future. The child is wary of dogs.

So, we will work on the root cause of the problem that is causing the fights. Ben’s state of mind. He needs desensitising and counter-conditioning to all those fears he’s having to cope with.

The couple should, for now, completely avoid those that they can – like vacuum cleaner and hose. There is enough other stuff to deal with.

Enjoying walks is a priority, so they will work on his fear of traffic. From a distance from them that Ben’s comfortable, they will associate moving vehicles with special tasty food.

Without the deadline and concerns about the child coming, they could have relaxed and taken their time. But this puts a bit of urgency into the situation. However, it’s important they take things a step at a time and don’t rush it (a stitch in time saves nine and all that).

When should the dogs be together?

When Ben first arrived the dogs were freely together. Then there were the couple of fights.

Next the dogs were kept totally apart if not on lead.

Just before I came this had progressed back to the dogs being together – separated if there were signs of trouble. I am worried this could be too late.

In addition to helping Ben, there are the usual flash points of arousal that could result in fights. These include when someone comes to the house, if they rush out into the garden barking and if someone walks past the fence.

Resources cause fights, so no balls, toys or food should be about when the two dogs are together.

Dogs separated by a gate unless all is calm.

I prefer for now keeping the two apart at times when they can’t be sure things will be fairly calm. ‘Apart’ should be the new default with ‘together’ only at selected and safe times. Until the child and his mother have settled in anyway.

It’s vital the two dogs no longer rehearse the behaviour. Removing rehearsal will help to remove fights from their repertoire rather than the opposite.

I witnessed just how good they are with one another in the short periods when nothing was stirring them up. In many cases dogs can’t be in the same room – or even look at one another – without breaking into an attack of rage.

It’s a good sign.

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. any form o aggression needs professional help. Click here for help.

Barking at People on Walks. Barking in the Car.

Carin mix barking at people on walksYesterday I met Bailey, a cross between a Cairn Terrier an something else. He is two years old and they have had him for one year.

At home he’s the model dog. He soon gets used to someone new coming into his house and is friendly – though it can take longer with a man, particularly if he’s tall or loud.

As time goes by Bailey is becoming more and more of a barker when out, particularly barking at people on walks.

He also barks at bikes, scooters, motorbikes and big stationary vans. He may circle a child on a bike, barking, which is very intimidating.

Bailey goes absolutely mad in the car when he sees bikes and motorbikes in particular, also people, very distracting on journeys.

The barking at people on walks is variable.

His barking at people on walks can be a bit variable. It may depend upon the person and it may also depend upon the mental state he’s already in and whether he has already encountered arousing or scary things and can simply not cope with more.

If the person is a man and if he is walking towards them it’s a lot worse. Retreating men and most women cause Bailey no problem.

The window cleaner is a huge challenge. Seen through the eyes of the dog, what is this man doing waving at the windows and wielding something that looks like a stick outside his house?

The couple belong to the local bowls club and like to take Bailey with them. He’s fine with some people but there are a couple of men in particular he just can’t take to. It upsets one man who does all he can to make friends with him. This may be the problem. If he ignored him or looked away, particularly if he sat down, it would help.

It is likely that Bailey wasn’t sufficiently exposed to the outside world when he was really young. Possibly he was seldom taken out.

Now they must do all they can to desensitise him – and counter-condition him to things he’s wary of. In this way the lady can help him with things that worry him when out and work on the barking at people on walks.

Put very simply, desensitisation is as much exposure to the thing as possible but only at a distance Bailey is comfortable with – his threshold or comfort zone.

Counter-conditioning is adding in something he likes – usually food.

Combining both desensitisation and counter-conditioning works best.

The lady always walks Bailey. She now will keep as much distance as she can from the things he fears. Avoiding them altogether will get them nowhere, but at a comfortable distance she can then feed Bailey some tiny favourite little snacks to get him feeling more positive about something he feels scared of when closer.

If he won’t eat or if he snatches, it’s telling her she is still too close so she needs to increase the distance further.

It’s hard for people to change walking routines so that instead of going from A to B regardless, they fill the same time with doing distance work which involves advancing and retreating.

Nearly all Bailey’s barking problems are when he actually sees the threat.

In the car he simply must be put somewhere he can’t see out to bark at bikes, motorbikes and people. The lady, like many, doesn’t like the idea of caging her dog but I feel it’s vital in some cases. Calling it a ‘crate’ or ‘den’ helps. A crate in the boot can be made into a comfy den and sprinkled with food. They can start with short journeys and build up from there.

Where the window cleaner is concerned, Bailey simply should not be in the house. Alternativel,he should be in a room with no windows to be cleaned.

When out at their club, Bailey must be protected from unwelcome advances. He looks so sweet people are drawn to him! They should sit in a corner with Bailey behind them and be his advocate to protect him. A yellow ‘I Need Space‘ shirt would be helpful.

Is Bailey too emotionally attached to the lady?

There is one other element to this and that is Bailey’s increasing protectiveness towards the lady. She adores him. That’s understandable – look at him!

Does she perhaps need him too much? He may feel that she’s reliant upon him and this could put pressure on him. Allowing Bailey to be more independent by fussing him a bit less could help him.

addisonbailey2Things came to a head recently. Bailey was off lead and a jogger suddenly appeared. He charged at the man, barking. The man gave the lady an earful and then Bailey chased him out of the park, returning to the lady, to quote her, ‘pleased with himself’!

She walks him only on lead now.  It’s a Flexilead which, by how it works, always has tension on it. She tightens it further when she sees a person approaching which will convey her own anxiety to Bailey.

Now she will use a longish, loose lead and instead of anxiously reining him in, increase distance and remain upbeat. They probably bounce off one another emotionally.

Barking at people on walks can only be resolved with time and hard work. The more consistent they can be, the more over time Bailey’s confidence should grow.


Scared of the Puppy

CairnBella1Ben (we will call him Ben) is terrified of the puppy – a tiny eighteen-week-old Cairn Terrier.

His mother has always been scared of dogs and this is part of the problem. There are four boys altogether and none of them like Bella much. It was the dad who wanted her. They have now had her for ten days.

It is often fearful dogs that I go to. In this unusual case it is a bright, strong ten-year-old boy.

Fear is no less real because it’s irrational

For someone like myself it’s impossible to imagine being scared of this puppy, but I do know what fear is like. It eats into one. Like nearly every other puppy, Bella will nip, jump up and chase feet. She has lots of indoor ‘accidents’.

The people don’t realise what a fantastic stable personality the little dog has. She seems unfazed. Whenever the younger boys are about she is shut outside by herself in the garden. She doesn’t fuss.  As soon as I arrived she peed on the floor and immediately she was scolded. The lady said ‘but I was told to be cross and rub her nose in poo’. The family told me that all day they were ‘having’ to say No, No Bella, Stop Bell, No!

How can Bella know what chewing is allowed and what isn’t unless she is shown? How can she know to toilet outside unless she regularly accompanied out there (they had put a dog flap in so she could take herself out)? How can she learn people don’t like being jumped on or grabbed unless she is shown what they DO like?

First I showed them how much more could be achieved by showing the little dog just what we DO want – by using a clicker. No more “No”!

Bella learnt so quickly! In no time I had her touching my hand wherever I held it out. Next I handed he clicker to Ben who was sitting safely on a high stool out of Bella’s reach. He was going to click the moment Bella touched my hand while I delivered the treat. His timing was brilliant. Soon he came and stood on the floor in front of where I was sitting, a big achievement, and I held his hand out in mine. Bella was actually touching Ben’s hand now and he wasn’t panicking. Twice she put her feet up on him and he clicked the moment they were back on the floor. Then he even found the courage to treat her himself but that was the point where he became anxious so, just as we would do with a fearful dog, we retreated.

What a good start. Dad then took over and taught Bella to sit using just the same method. He was a natural also. In the picture she is sitting for a click and cheese.

They now have a puppy pen so that Bella can be in the large kitchen with them and no longer banished to the garden. She will be more contained which will help the toilet training. Her continual presence in the room whilst being safely unable to jump or nip should gradually begin to habituate Ben. I suggested he should be getting rewards too!

I predict that it won’t be long before Ben is a dog-loving clicker expert and mum realises that she loves the puppy after all!

Two weeks later:  Ben is doing really really well. Growing in confidence every day.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ben and Bella, 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 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Re-Visit to Biting Red Cairn Terrier

Red Cairn Terrier is a good dog if his owners behave properlyA couple of years ago, before I started this blog site, I visited Ben, a beautiful Red Cairn Terrier, then age 7. His (or his owners’) problem was that Ben would bite. If anyone put a hand out near him he would bite. He would catch men’s trouser legs as they walked by and he bit the vicar when he called! He is aloof and not at all affectionate – there is no cuddling him. He won’t allow it.

I worked out a plan with them and for the first two months they did brilliantly. Ben was a changed dog. Then things started to fall apart and the problems came back. I worked with them again and our final communication ended with the lady saying “We relaxed a little as Ben was so good and I thought he would keep this behaviour up.” I replied: “He will only keep up the behaviour if you do. If you go back to your old ways – so will Ben. He might even be worse.” That was the last I heard until a couple of days ago when the lady phoned to say he had bitten a lady and drawn blood, that she was afraid for children they might meet out on a walk and that they were having Ben put to sleep.

Anyway, they decided to give it one more go and I went to see them again last night. In nearly every respect they were ignoring my instructions of a couple of years ago – it was almost like I had never been or spent weeks following up and supporting them. Poor Ben was getting mixed messages – a doting lady owner and a man who, though doting also, was impatient and given to shouting.

As Victoria Stillwell says: Most dog problems have nothing to do with dogs, they are people problems. This is certainly the case with little Ben. He is looked after from time to time by a lady and Ben loves to sit on her lap. He loves her to cuddle him. He never bites when with her. At the groomers he is an angel, allowing her to touch him and pull him about. It is with his owners that he’s the problem dog.

Though Ben seems aloof and withdrawn – apart from mad barking sessions particularly if someone comes to the door, his stress is evident by his frequent air-snapping. I really so hope that this time, last chance saloon, they will consistently put in the required effort and change their ways and not just for a few weeks. It must continue for the rest of his days. It will need great patience and self-control from the gentleman, and more quietness, calm, fewer commands and less scolding from the lady. If they communicate with him properly he should soon enjoy being touched by them also.

The bottom line is, and already proven, if they carry on as they are, so will Ben. The only way to change Ben’s behaviour is to change their own. I can show them how, but I can’t do it for them!

 I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.

Cairn Terrier Chasing Shadows and Biting

Cairn Terrier Charlie looks worried Cairn Terrier Charlie is stressedDuring the whole time that I was there, poor little two year old Cairn Terrier Charlie never settled.

First of all, my arrival stirred him up.  He did a lot of jumping up.  Then he started looking for shadows and reflections and was obessively chasing them barking and growling at them.  He was very restless all evening. He even had to be held still so I could take a photo of him.

Charlie had always been a rather highly strung little dog but a few weeks ago his behaviour took a turn for the worse.  He started to behave in a very agitated manner.  He also felt threatened when two people had leaned over him to touch him so he bit them.  This was entirely out of character.

It seems that the main change in his life was that instead of being shut safely in his crate during the day when they were out, and during the night – something he had been used since he was a puppy, they decided he would be happy with more space, so gave him the run of much of the downstairs.  During the day he was now very likely to be watching out of the window, barking at birds and cats and getting himself into a state. Very likely he no longer felt safe.

Looking back couple of months earlier, he had been encouraged to chase a laser beam in play and this could well have been the start of his obsessive behaviour. It is surprising just how quickly a dog can start something like this.  As his general stress levels had been rising it manifested itself in shadow chasing.

Most dogs need 17 to 18 hours sleep a day.  Imagine that the little dog now is on patrol for most of the day and then, when the family comes home, he is wild with excitement and only settles in the late evening. We know how we ourselves feel when we are sleep deprived, don’t we. He is much more likely to be touchy and scared when someone looms over him and puts their hand out on top of him, something which to a dog can seem like threatening bad manners. We also forget that a little dog only sees somebody up to about knee level and so they will be relying upon their noses, and the first person he bit smelt of cats, one of Charlie’s pet hates.

So they will now reintroduce the crate. I’m sure when they reduce his stress levels the shadow chasing will stop, meanwhile they will use distraction and maybe brief time out for the peace of his crate where he loves to be.

Human visitors will need to be taught how to touch him and not to loom over him.  I am sure this is just a temporary thing.  When a dog bites and is met with anger, which to the dog must seem like unreasonable aggression on our part, he is much more likely to bite again.  I know that to us it seems like we are condoning the behaviour if we don’t punish the dog, but it is far better to keep calm and simply remove him from the situation. Then try to get to the bottom of what is really happening.

The underlying problem needs to be sorted if the matter is not to escalate. In any sudden change in behaviour, a vet needs to be consulted to make sure there isn’t physical problem.

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