Lurcher Rufus is a wonderful dog whose only problems are as a result of over-arousal. He then redirects frustration, using his teeth.
The two-year-old had been picked up, abandoned, eight months ago and has settled into his new life beautifully.
A lovely, friendly dog, he’s confident and curious. Rufus can get very excited when he sees people. He was unusually calm when I arrived – but I didn’t fire him up! He sniffed me thoroughly and gave me a little ‘kiss’ in the ear. I began to respond with some attention and he quickly became excited. I felt his mouth on my hand.
His lady and gentleman are finding it hard to stop him mouthing their hands and their arms – sometimes quite roughly. The more aroused he becomes, the rougher he gets.
Rufus redirects frustration using his teeth.
If he’s not getting attention, he will demand it using his mouth. If he is thwarted or ignored, he redirects frustration using his teeth.
The biggest problem however is cats! Their house is surrounded by cats that seem hell-bent on winding up Rufus. He may be controllable past one or two, but by the time he’s encountered the third that may be waiting in his drive as they arrive back home from a walk, his chase instinct is in full gear.
The other day when he lunged at a cat, his lady owner held on as tightly as she could. Rufus’ head swung round and she received a nasty bite on her arm.
Holding on tightly with a harness that tightens as he pulls may save the day at the time, but isn’t a way to change the behaviour of a dog that redirects frustration onto you. The frustration itself has to be addressed and this takes time. The people themselves must be able to get and hold their dog’s attention, taking action before he gets anywhere near this state of arousal.
This is easy to say, but not always so easy to put into practice.
Better equipment will give better control.
The first thing they will do is to get a harness where a longer lead can hook both front and back. They will then have more control in emergency and the dog will be more comfortable. Then they should keep those walks near home where they may encounter cats very short indeed to avoid ‘trigger stacking’. This is where his stress and excitement builds up until he explodes and he redirects frustration onto the person holding the short lead.
Instead of being held tight, the dog actually needs to feel free while they work on their own relevance and teaching him behaviours that are incompatible with lunging at cats.
This work will start at home. There should be no more reinforcement of any kind for the rather excessive and uncomfortable mouthing which is quite obviously a habit and his default when aroused. You could say that he’s ‘mouth happy’. The more stressed he becomes, the harder the grip with his teeth. I don’t like to call this a bite.
When it happens they need to be immediate. They recognise the signs. Even as his mouth approaches they must withdraw themselves and look away. No more scolding or ‘No’. Currently when they may leave their hand in his mouth before removing it. They need to change their own habits and respond a lot more promptly.
It must be hard being a dog, having no hands, only mouth and teeth!
It looks like Rufus generates much of his attention by mouthing or bringing toys to throw or tug. The man has a nasty bite on his thumb he received while playing with him – it was a mistake. Rufus has not learnt to be careful with his teeth. From now onwards all play instantly stops if teeth or even open mouth are felt.
The tuggy game played properly is a great way to teach this.
Just as important is to regularly offer him plenty of interaction when he’s calm. Already his humans they have started hunting nose-games games with him.
Although he has bitten a few times, I would never label Rufus an ‘aggressive dog‘. A dog that redirects frustration is a dog that is unfulfilled. In Rufus’ case, when out, it’s his drive to chase that’s unfulfilled.
They will get a long line so Rufus can have a degree of freedom when they take him by car to more interesting places where he can sniff and explore. Chase and recall can be worked on too. Always restrained on a short lead must in itself be frustrating for him.
They have strategies now to help Rufus to calm himself down and they know how to handle the mouthing. Communication with humans must be frustrating for a dog too – with no hands and with no language that humans seem able to understand!
He must gradually learn that it’s times he’s not using his mouth that things happen. It’s not always a good idea to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ if there is nothing in it for them!
Like charity, impulse control starts at home. Over time and with work, they should be able to manage the cat situation too.
Ten days have gone by, during which time poor Rufus was attacked by another dog and has two sizeable gashes in his side. Despite this, great progress already: Rufus seems much more relaxed in his new harness and I am gaining confidence with it too. We went to Milton Park yesterday and had a very pleasant walk together. The park has open spaces and woods also lakes.He saw coots with chicks and just watched them calmly: not interested in pulling to get nearer or show any interest in chasing.Friends have been most understanding and cooperative when visiting and I can see improvements with Rufus. He has also improved in not mouthing or nipping so much.Considering we have only been putting your instructions in place for just over a week (and him being bitten into the bargain), I feel Rufus has made a promising start.
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 approaches I have worked out for Rufus. 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 aggression of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).
They live near open spaces and until recently the dogs ran free, seldom on lead. Circumstances have changed for their young lady and she has not the confidence let them run off lead now, mainly because she fears Cooper won’t come back to her.
She needs to be able to walk them on lead now without Cooper pulling like mad unless restrained with a head halter which he hates, or Wilson, who has had puppy training and does walk nicely on lead, lunging and rushing at cats or joggers.
For the lady to control them both together through her own physical strength alone would be impossible.
A common problem with walking two excitable dogs together who have not been taught to walk nicely individually is that each one may want to get ahead of the other.
An additional snag here is that the dogs don’t like to be separated. The young lady had been walking them individually in order to work on Cooper’s pulling and Wilson’s cat-chasing, but the thing that sapped her confidence to the extent that she feels she can’t walk them at al now was that on her last walk with Cooper, Wilson suddenly appeared. Instead of just crying as he watched Cooper and the lady walk off down the road from an upstairs window, he leapt out of it. The vet thought it was a miracle he wasn’t seriously injured.
Since then she hasn’t dared to take one out without the other, so has done her best to give them exercise by way of games and training at home and in her garden. She is extremely dedicated.
This is one of those cases where people sometimes can’t see the wood for the trees. Apart from adding a few things to her home schedule that encourages Cooper in particular to find her relevant and take notice of her, there are things she can do to make the environment itself easier. For a start, when she goes out with one dog, she can shut the other well away from any windows where he can see them disappear down the road.
The issue of the dogs being so unhappy when parted merely adds stress to an already difficult situation, so, before she does anything else, she should punctuate her day by putting the lead on one dog as though for a walk, then just walk him out of one door and straight round and back in another (she has three doors to choose from so she can make it fairly random). She can drop food as she leaves to encourage the dog to associate their departure with something good. Then she can change dogs – or not – maybe repeat with the same dog. When the dogs are thoroughly used to this, probably after several days, bit by bit she can then make her absences a bit longer and start loose lead walking work.
We did some lead work in the garden, using the principal of having a longish lead, hanging loose from the front which encourages the dog to follow, rather than the current short lead attached to a collar that merely facilitates pulling. We aim for walking within the length of the six-foot lead and the only criteria is that it’s loose – the dog can be either in front, to the side or behind. ‘Heel’ can be used as a separate cue when necessary, near a road for instance.
And….. the young lady can stop feeling guilty about her dogs getting so little exercise and outside stimulation! While she is doing the short walking training sessions in and out of the doors and near to home, there is no reason why she shouldn’t go back to their old country walks so long as she keeps Cooper on a long line – at least ten to fifteen meters in length. She can work hard on his recall, and when she eventually does let him off briefly she should make sure Wilson is already on lead. When she calls Cooper, if she also turns away and takes Wilson with her, Cooper will undoubtedly come.
There are some other pieces of the ‘jigsaw’ that makes up the complete picture of her dogs’ lives that she can work on at home and which will enable her to get each to focus on her when necessary. On big advantage is that neither dog is particularly reactive to other dogs. With her dedication and given time, she will for sure ultimately be walking her beautiful dogs together down the road on loose leads.
Here is an email just over one month after my first visit:
Well what a difference a week makes (since my second visit). Since I last e-mailed I’ve took the boys to the beach and walked them in the field every day.
I took your advice and started driving the short distance to the field. It means I can get them off the lead quickly, let them get their beans out of their system and then (wait for it) watch them calmly walk on the lead back to the car!! As the week has progressed they’ve even started walking by my side off the lead, never going ahead but mooching around the verges!!
The beach was very interesting. As you know, this was my ultimate objective and I’ve achieved it. What was brilliant was how revealing it was. They ran around off the lead for nearly two hours, and in that time Wilson would usually stroll by my side and Cooper looked like he was on an invisible bit of 50 ft string, running ahead but coming back to check in. Once, he ran quite far and I deployed the ‘running in the opposite direction’ which worked instantly. Again, both trotted back to the car on the lead really nicely.
Overall, things are so much calmer and the boys seem a lot happier. My confidence is growing everyday. I’ve still a lot to do, and I realise this can only be maintained by keeping up with the training, but I’m in a much, much better place to do this.
I think really you’ve helped me to gain my confidence, and my life back! I’ll keep you posted, but I hope you’re as pleased as I am.
NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Wilson and Cooper. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly ones that involve punishment. 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).
When they first got him as a puppy he was fine with their cats. In fact he would sleep with one of them. However, as he got a bit older an maybe over-playful, his family became anxious. Their initial reaction involving scolding and panic would have started things on a downward spiral. The cats now stay well out of the way upstairs when Duke is about.
Gradually things have escalated to their current situation. As soon as he hears a cat jump off a bed upstairs or meow, Duke hurtles at the stair-gate, snarling and barking. If the cat is visible he is truly ferocious – they say like a totally different dog. They feel if he actually caught one of the cats he would kill it.
How did things come to this? I asked the four family members what each does when Duke charges at the stair-gate. All immediately shout at him and dive towards him. They may try to grab his collar, still shouting, and may wack him with a rolled-up newspaper – firing him up even further.
The other day Duke bit the teenage son who had the rolled newspaper in one hand and was trying to grab his collar with the other.
Let’s look at this through Duke’s eyes. Cats mean trouble – his humans have taught him this. As soon as he charges at the stair-gate, snarling, his humans join in – all making angry noises. They back him up. They behave aggressively towards him too.
While I was there we tried something different. A cat was moving about upstairs. I immediately dropped a tiny bit of food for Duke. Every time we heard a cat I fed him. It wasn’t long before one cat was halfway downstairs staring at Duke under the open side of the stairway. So we could all relax, I slipped a longish lead on him and, making sure it was loose, continued feeding him.
Soon the cat actually jumped down into the room, going under the coffee table beside us. Duke gave one alarm bark but that was all. He stared at the cat so I then decided he should do a bit more for the food – something to distract him that was incompatible with staring at the cat. It worked perfectly. We then called it a day and separated them. This was more than enough for one session.
The family could see how responsive Duke was to a gentle and calm approach. Nobody had taught him what he should do when worried about the cats. There are one or two simple things they can do to make things easier, like blocking the view of cats on the stairs.
If all the family can behave the same way with no more shouting, panic or rolled-up newspapers – showing Duke by their own behaviour that cats are cool, I’m sure they will be all live happily together, given time.
She is a delightful dog, full of character – friendly and funny, but will be a lot easier to live with when she calms down and develops some impulse-control. She pulls terribly on lead and will generally do as she pleases. To quote her new owners, ‘she is totally unresponsive to our commands. She needs to learn some manners’. I found that she simply does as she likes despite their best efforts. She lacks self-control
A major problem is she torments their cats. She obsessively looks around for them when she leaves the house; she barks and whimpers when she sees one and lunges after it.
Lena was certainly active when I arrived! She was flying all of the sofa and vigorously shaking a rope toy, or charging around dropping a bone on the hard floor and skidding about after it. Manic! All this was made worse because she’s having to wear a lampshade that added to the chaos as she crashed into people and furniture. Out on a walk she had gashed her side badly on barbed wire, and whilst under anaesthetic the vet spayed her as well. It certainly hasn’t affected her energy levels!
I found her very responsive to a quiet voice and rewards.
A while ago I went to two whippets who similarly were on obsessive ‘cat-watch’ when they left the house. The people carefully stuck to the plan with great results (you can see the story)
Lena’s new owners know that this is going to take time and are prepared to put in whatever effort it takes. I only saw them yesterday and already Lena is testing the new boundaries!