Wild Behaviour is Unwittingly Fuelled

Wild behaviour from a dog the size of the adolescent Newfoundland can be scary.

When Beau leaped at the kitchen table she knocked the coffee mugs flying!

Taking a break from wild behaviour

Seven-month-old Beau was chosen from the litter as the most bold and pushy puppy. She organised the others, I am told, by barging them and stirring up trouble – and then sitting back to enjoy the results!

She was a mouthy, nippy puppy. This wasn’t countered immediately or correctly. Hand games and chasing her for things she stole added fuel to her wild behaviour.

As she got bigger and things became more painful, they have had to use more physical force to push her off them, to remove her away from things and to extract things from her mouth. She will do nothing when simply asked.

They can’t have her in the lounge with them for more than a few minutes before she goes wild and has to be put in the kitchen. Her worst wild episodes as so often is the case happen where she has more space – out in the garden. There have been a couple of occasions when the little girl hasn’t been safe.

In the belief that the more exercise and interaction she has, the better behaved she will be, each day starts off with too much stimulation – a prolonged welcome fuss before breakfast followed by ball play in the garden, excitement before getting in the car to take the child to school and then a walk which is probably too long for a pup of seven months.

Anyway, as she got older puppy Beau became defiant when she didn’t get her own way.

The young dog may get angry when thwarted. Several times now she has snarled, showed her teeth and lunged. Her eyes ‘looked funny’.

This is the consequence of using methods of force on a determined and strong dog. How frustrating it is for a dog not to know what she should be doing. (Please take a look at my favourite video showing the power of Yes versus No).

I showed them how we would create a willing and happy dog exercising self-control by using the power of Yes, by keeping Beau as calm as possible, by giving her suitable mental stimulation and by removing opportunities for rehearsing the wild behaviour.

By motivating her.

Almost immediately Beau began to respond to reinforcement for the right behaviour. She was becoming a lot calmer than she had been for a long time, particularly with the little girl present.

This is a typical case of owners getting through the days by fielding everything the dog throws at them so it becomes No No NO Stop, push away, drag off, shut away … and so on, and ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’ when the dog is quiet.

Look at this wonderful face!

It’s just amazing just how quickly a dog responds to Yes Yes Yes and being ‘bigged up’ for each good thing she does so she knows what is required.

Each time the wild behaviour kicked off again we dealt with it by giving the big adolescent other, incompatible things to do instead, making it clear to her what we did want of her.

We soon had Beau coming to us, offering us certain behaviours with little prompting. We had her walking from one of the four of us to another when called gently. We had her responding to understandable instructions and she was loving it.

We used the clicker. The little girl also clicked Beau for sitting – with perfect timing.

Action should be immediate.

It’s no good allowing the dog to rehearse jumping and biting by letting it happen even twice before reacting. It needs to be wiped out completely.

Immediately she jumps she must lose all communication with that person. Immediately she jumps at the table someone must get up, call her off, reward what she should be doing instead and move her onto a different behaviour that is incompatible with jumping at the table.

It takes a huge amount of effort.

Pre-empting and dealing with things before they happen is best of all.

Boosting her for every desirable thing she does must also be immediate – when she sits voluntarily, when she lies down, when she sighs and relaxes. A couple of times she looked at the table which had my smelly treats on it and resisted jumping up. A first! That deserved a jackpot but it must be immediate.

It could help greatly if the little girl didn’t arouse the dog quite so much as the wild behaviour is always far worse when the child is about. She could touch her less, try not to run into the room waving arms, dance around her or do handstands in Beau’s presence. These things quickly send the dog wild.

But this is like asking the little girl not to be a little girl!

Even if the child can cut back a little on these things it will help and she will be clicker trained too! They will use the word ‘Good’ and she can collect stars. She will now ask her mum to call Beau inside before going out into the garden – and she will make a poster for the door to remind herself

The next morning I received a lovely message from the lady which is proof if any is needed of the powers of positive reinforcement and calmness:

“I am so excited to tell you that we have had the most relaxed morning since we have got Beau. Last night she came into the lounge and not once did she bite. She tried to get on the sofa once but with a little distraction she came away and lay down. 

This morning has been the shocker for me. She has been like a different dog. We have made an extra effort to be calm and relaxed and Beau has been the same. She hasn’t bitten, jumped up, barked…nothing! ……She is now laying peacefully….I know she may relapse and I’m prepared for it but she’s shown me this morning that she is more than capable of being the loving Newfoundland that she should be……I knew she had it in her but to see it is another thing. I am so happy!”

Message received three weeks later: ‘I am so happy to tell you that we have a considerably well behaved dog. She has not had an “aggressive moment” since the clicker incident on the first week. There have been times where I have stopped stroking her and she goes to mouth my hand and then realises and stops before her mouth touches me, which I reward….. I can honestly say, I can’t remember the last time she jumped up! She’s learnt to play with her toys by herself and doesn’t ram them in my hand followed by a bite like before. Overall I am delighted with the way things are going. I am still prepared for her to slip back to her old ways but she is surprisingly proving me wrong. I actually think she listens to me now!’
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 Beau and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. 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, particularly where aggression or fearfulness is concerned and most especially when it involves children. 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 Get Help page)

Bored, Over-excitable and Looking for Trouble

German Shepherd Kerry is bored.

Bored German Shepherd

Kerry

Although it’s natural for adult dogs to sleep for up to eighteen hours a day, this is only so if the rest of the time is filled with stuff natural to the dog – and its breed. Sleep probably won’t be in long blocks of enforced inaction during the day, but dozing between doing other things.

Young dogs in particular need action and fulfilment (just like young humans) or they get bored.

Kerry is a beautiful eighteen-month-old German Shepherd living with another GSD, Lemmy, aged four. They are both gorgeous dogs with lovely, friendly basic temperaments.

Young Kerry, unfortunately, probably isn’t getting enough action in her life and she’s very easily aroused. I saw this by how the smallest thing results in her leaping at someone, me in this case – grabbing my clothes and even hair with her teeth. 

Continue reading…

Calm People for a Calm Dog

I am getting a little run of cases involving dogs growling at the kids – probably a sign that it’s time for them to go back to schooPenny is fine when things are calml after six weeks at home with the dog!

Penny is a fifteen-month-old Beagle Jack Russell mix. She is a sweetie – friendly and bouncy if a bit lacking in self-control. She lives in a family household that at certain times can get her too aroused.

Along with over-arousal come the unwanted behaviours. She may steal something and run off with it. As a puppy they would chase her and corner her, forcing the item off her with no exchange. This can often develop into possessive behaviours as the dog gets a bit older, particularly if food isn’t routinely used for exchange and reward.

Calm people, calm dog.

Each incident they told me about seemed to be when the atmosphere was far from calm, which in a house with kids is often the case.

There are particular flash points during the day, the first when the children are getting ready for school which is a very common time for trouble with young, excitable dogs.  Another time when it’s not calm is in the evening when the young boy becomes noisy or erratic as his ADHD medication wears off. Penny may leap at the boy’s clothes and nip him. On these occasions she can be put behind the gate with something to chew.

Both children can learn about Penny’s ‘smelly bubble’. If she’s resting they must not burst this invisible bubble which is about a meter in diameter. If they do a revolting smell comes out – the young boy gave his suggestion as to what that might be! Mum will need to be quite alert and help Penny out when the children, particularly the boy, is too hyped up.

When the man arrived he gave Penny such an enthusiastic welcome that she peed.

Reunitings need to be calm also.

Penny’s good points outweigh any negatives. She is great on walks, so good that the young daughter can walk her and she’s not a big barker. She is extremely friendly and would be very willing and trainable giving sufficient motivation.

She’s not really aggressive either. She has been inadvertently taught to defend things that are in her mouth, particularly if she has pinched them. They will now actively do exchange games and never again take anything off her without swapping for something she likes better and if the item isn’t important they will walk away and ignore it. There will be no fun in that!

I was with them for over two hours and saw no sign of possessiveness. We kept things quite calm and I used food to reward her for everything I asked of her and she was like putty in my hands. I did ‘give and take’ using food, allowing her to keep the item at the end.

When she’s excited, as she will be when they have friends or family round, she may growl and snap if someone drops something then goes to pick it up – Penny will have got there first.

She may also nick something if she’s getting insufficient attention.

If she is resting or asleep and calm, when a child suddenly leans over the sofa back to touch her or goes over to fuss her, she may growl. And why not? Growllng is talking. She is saying ‘go away and leave me alone’. That’s okay surely.

So, Penny needs ‘protecting’ from the situation when there is too much noise and excitement by being removed with something to do, she needs to be left alone when she’s resting and she needs to know that no longer will anyone take something off her without giving her something in exchange.

Nicking things will become boring if ignored.

They, like me, will use food to thank her for her cooperation when they ask her to do something and I feel she will soon be a different dog.

Here is a great little article from 3LostDogs.com on the subject of resource guarding.

A few weeks later: Penny is doing really well when the children aren’t around but seems to be quite boisterous still when the kids are here.
K (the little girl) has been adhering to the bubble rules and C (little boy) has taken on board what has been said and practising it. Penny’s possessiveness of objects has now improved along with the kids putting things they don’t want to be chewed away
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 Penny and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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 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)

 

Too excited, over-aroused

Too excited, arousal and raised stress levels.

Some dogs and certain breeds of dogs, as we all know, are a lot more prone to being too excited than others (with many exceptions of course).

Jack Russell gets too excited

Jill

I went to the sweetest pair of Jack Russells yesterday – I’ll call them Jack and Jill. Jill is four years old and Jack eighteen months. We love our perky, bright and quick little dogs but because they are so reactive to things their stress levels easily rocket and this high state of arousal spreads tentacles that can adversely affect many areas of the dogs’ (and their owners’) lives.

A bit like the swan analogy of serene above water but paddling frantically underneath, even when dogs like this that get too excited appear peaceful or asleep, the adrenaline and arousal chemicals are still circulating inside their bodies.

It can take several days for the increased cortisone levels raised by a sudden shock or high excitement to fully go away but this will seldom happen because the next lot will come flooding in. It doesn’t take much to increase the heart rate of an already innately excitable dog – ball play, mail landing on the doormat,  encountering another dog when out or even someone dropping a spoon can trigger a flood of adrenaline and cortisone.

We obviously don’t want our dogs to be comatose, but continually being ‘too excited’ isn’t healthy either.

With Jack and Jill’s arousal levels lowered a bit, it will affect most areas of their lives.

JR who can be too excited, calm on his bed

Jack

When they are prevented from looking out of the front window, Jill in particular will no longer get into a barking frenzy when the children pass by on their way to and from school.

When upon coming home their humans allow the dogs to calm down before giving them too much fuss, Jack’s arousal levels will no longer drive him to leap about and grab hands.

When the key goes to unlock the back door, the dogs currently yo-yo up and down, barking and scratching the door, winding themselves up massively and ready to burst out. They no doubt believe their excitable behaviour actually causes the door to open. It will no longer happen.

When, on letting the dogs out, they attach a long lead to Jack for the first couple of minutes until his excitement abates a little, he won’t in an overflow of arousal redirect onto poor Jill who may then, equally wound up, snap at him.

By doing all they can to avoid the dogs getting too excited needlessly, they will help Jill to become generally calmer and less jumpy. She will be less fearful. Being less fearful, she will be more relaxed with people entering her house. Being less jumpy and fearful she will be less reactive to sudden sounds. She will bark less. Jack will bark less.

The dogs will gradually learn to calm themselves; they will work it out that calm now works best.

A calmer backdrop will in itself, over time, transform the walks for both Jack and Jill, and their humans. No longer will young Jack be so excited that he pulls in a barking frenzy as soon as he see another dog, joined by a hyped-up Jill who may then snap at him.

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 Jack and Jill. 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. 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)

Cocker is Simply Too Excitable

Cocker Spaniel was pacing, rushing about, panting, drinking, wanting to go out, clamouring for attention, chewingOllie just kept on going! Pacing, rushing about, panting, drinking, wanting to go out, clamouring for attention, chewing…….

Being excitable may be an emotion and part of a dog’s personality – but it can be a learnt behaviour too when it’s constantly reinforced.

Dogs very often mirror their humans. Calm and quiet people very often have calmer dogs, and excitable people dogs that are more reactive themselves. This could of course be because people choose the breeds of dogs that suit their own characters.

Ollie is a two-and-a-half year old Cocker Spaniel, and as the owner of a Cocker myself I know how excitable they can be. In Ollie’s case, his excitement is unwittingly being reinforced. He will always eventually get the attention he wants while excited, demanding or barking. Like many excitable dogs, he can’t be given toys because he then directs his energy to wrecking them, though he was very busy with my unbreakable Stagbar.

When guests come ‘he calms down once they make a fuss of him’.  It might be more accurate to say that ‘he remains excited until they make a fuss of him’!

When I arrived he was very bouncy, tearing about, jumping up on me, going and having a drink, rushing about again and so on.

I said, ‘Let’s ignore what we don’t want – what is it we do want?’  I gave him a tiny bit of biscuit with a quiet ‘Yes’ each time he stopped still even briefly, then when he happened to sit or lie down. His brain was working!

Throughout the evening he was pushing one of the men to respond to him. This gentleman would I’m sure agree that he’s something of a pushover. The downside is that a dog can be less respectful and tries to control him in other ways too. The man can’t walk downstairs without Ollie trying to grab his feet and ankles.At last Ollie lay down briefly

Ollie is over-stimulated in one way and under-stimulated in another.  There is too much exciting stimulation and too little healthy stimulation by way of brain work and breed-specific stuff like nose work. He needs to be left quietly to work things out for himself like ‘good things come to calm dogs‘. He needs to actually be taught how to be calm.

I must say that it’s due to all the good things the men have done with him that Ollie is so friendly, confident and biddable. Absolutely gorgeous. Ollie’s good points far outweight any bad ones he may have. All his problems come down to over-excitement. Now that his owner realises that quietly restraining himself with Ollie will help him, that should help the dog to learn self-restraint.

When Ollie’s excited antics no longer get the attention he craves he will then start to learn. Meanwhile he won’t give up easily I fear. While he still believes excitement and demanding always works in the end, in the short-term he may simply increase his efforts.

They may be in for a rough few days during which they must occupy him with activities and calm attention but under their own terms – and when he’s not hyped up!

He will learn so long as his humans are consistent.

Six weeks later: ‘ Ollie is definitely a lot calmer and ongoing work will definitely give further rewards. The penny has finally dropped that if the ball is thrown and he brings it back and drops it then it gets thrown again …this is his current most favourite thing but we don’t overdo it!  Thanks for all your support over the last few months…Ollie is definitely a work in progress and I’m sure we’ll be in touch!’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ollie, 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 often 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).

Walking Nicely with a Young Bull Mastiff

It's time young Bull Mastiff learned to walk nicelyI originally met Deefer sixteen months ago when she was just eleven weeks old and living with three other dogs.

Now a large adult dog who could pull her owner over quite easily, the lady has been trying to get her to walk nicely on lead. She has been practising in the small garden but Deefer pulls madly once out through the gate, and the lady was close to dispair when she got back in touch with me.

I thought I would see for myself. To start with, we shut the other dogs well out of the way, in the garden, and then we had a cup of coffee while Deefer calmed right down. We put on her harness and finished our coffee. Once out in the front garden Deefer walked up and down with me beautifully on a long loose lead.

At the gate I waited without a word until Deefer hung back, opening and shutting it a little in front of her nose to prompt her. Quiet and calm is the order of the day. Then we stepped through. I had the training lead hooked to the front of a special harness which I find works a treat even with the heaviest dog. We walked happily back and forth outside the house whilst I resembled someone who had drunk a little too much wine! A couple of people even walked by, but Deefer didn’t react. Then the lady took over and Deefer continued to walk nicely. Then we went back in. A result.

The secret is a totally calm start – however long it takes. Once we get going, constantly changing direction, letting the lead out as we do so and slowing down – to give the dog plenty of time to catch up and plenty of encouragement, so that she works out for herself exactly what it is we want her to do.

Finally, it’s important to call it a day while things are still going well so as to end on a high note. That will mean very short sessions to start with.

If the lady starts with two five-minutes sessions a day out the front, over the weeks building up to ten minutes, then fifteen as she goes further afield, she will eventually be proud to be seen out and about with her beautiful big dog.

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