“I’m a Terrified Dog. GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

In the reality TV game show ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ a young woman is locked in a tank of snakes. She is terrified of snakes. A man who’s not a good swimmer is shut in a dark tunnel leading to a deep tank with scary water critters. Others are buried in a dark tomb with rats and insects dropping all around them.

These people do this through choice.

Terrified of the outside worldThey know exactly when the terror will start and when it will end. They have a get-out card. If the terrified contestants shout “I’M A CELEBRITY – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” they will be rescued immediately. There is a team of medics on hand, just in case.

They know that however much they hate the ordeal, they are safe.

Imagine how it must be for Marco.

After some weeks in kennels he has a wonderful new home. But, as soon as he leaves the sanctuary of the house and garden he is terrified.

The gate opens and a world of horror is beyond.

Vehicles – small, large, fast, slow, noisy, smelly – are passing. There are bikes and runners. He lunges and barks, attack probably being the best form of defense.

In the open he is on high alert all the time. He barks at wind in the trees, at birds flying overhead and at distant lights.

Being in the boot of their car sends him into a meltdown. A covered crate makes no difference.

Unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco has no way of knowing that he is, in reality, safe.

It’s an educated guess that for the first three and a half years of his life the Staffie mix will have had little exposure, if any, to the world outside a house and garden. Any journey in a car would probably have taken him through this outside hell and ended somewhere like the vet. No wonder he’s terrified.

All good dog owners give their dogs long walks, right?

Like the conscientious dog owners they are, wanting to do the very best for their gorgeous but troubled dog, they had been taking him out for walks from the start.

Choice.

Unfortunately, unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco doesn’t have choice. He can’t know that in reality he is safe. He can’t know that the ordeal will only last a set length of time and then it will end. The dog has no ‘I’M A TERRIFIED DOG – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” option.

See this: What fear does to the body – dog or human.

Marco is gorgeous. Indoors he is friendly without being pushy, he’s gentle and affectionate. It’s probable that after just six weeks with them he’s not yet shown all his true self. His body language is what I would call ‘careful’. He shows signs of anxiety at unusual times like when he’s called through a door he lowers his head.

With a dog so obviously fearful of the outside world (the rescue apparently didn’t see this side of him) it’s common to suggest to new owners that the dog isn’t taken out at all for three weeks.

No walks!

People find this hard.

Let a dog get used to his new environment – house, garden and new people first. Just imagine the enormity of being trapped in a totally new world over which you have no control.

It’s all to do with trust in his humans, with Marco feeling safe. No animal, or human, willingly goes somewhere he believes is life-threatening. Keeping fit and exercise is an irrelevance compared to feeling safe.

If our guesses as to his previous home are correct, he’s not had much exercise in terms of long walks in all his life so far, so neither he nor his body will miss it.

They will now work slowly, always keeping in mind Marco’s comfort threshold. He’s fine in the house. He’s fine in the garden. When the gate opens he panics.

He is terrified.

He transforms into a lunging, pulling and barking beast.

They will now walk him around house and garden only, teaching him to walk on a loose lead. The teenage son was soon walking him about at his side with no lead at all.

They need to get him okay with the traffic on the busy road outside. He has to negotiate the footpath before going anywhere else.

With Marco on a long, loose lead they will open the gate and find his threshold distance – where he is aware of the passing traffic but can cope; it could be right down the garden. As the vehicles pass and Marco is watching them, they will rain chicken on him. If he won’t eat, he is still over threshold. He will have the freedom and choice to retreat further.

With lots of short sessions, with vehicles at a safe distances heralding food, over time his threshold will get closer to the road.

The car is another thing to work on but not until he’s okay walking towards it and around it. Little by little.

It is likely that with slow and patient work Marco will suddenly surge ahead and some of the other things that terrify him in the large and unfamiliar world won’t seem so scary.

He will have absolute trust in his humans if they allow him to choose what he is ready for.

He now can shout “Get Me Out of Here!”

He can choose!

If with his body language he shows uneasiness they will make things alright. If with barking he shouts “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”, they will do just that. Beat a retreat.

 

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 Marco and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, 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 fear 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)

Stubborn or Simply Unmotivated?

They would like their two dogs to be more cooperative, to be less demanding for attention and for English Bulldog Winston, age 3, to stop toileting in the kitchen at night time.

Winston is stubborn

Stubborn English Bulldog

Winston

Or so they feel. For the purpose of my story I will concentrate on Winston as apart from being too excitable, their other dog Dylan, an adorable one year old Pug Jack Russell mix, tends to take his lead from Winston. We can probably make a significant change to Dylan’s excitability by changing away from Bakers Complete dog food. (It’s tasty of course, but who would feed this stuff if they knew what it contains)?

Winston’s taxing behaviours are symptoms of the same thing. I would call it mainly lack of motivation. He’s not being stubborn for the sake of it.

Acting ‘stubborn’ gets results. He is under-stimulated both mentally and physically.

He dislikes his harness being put on. Possibly he’s a little intimidated by how it’s used. Possibly he likes the effort his humans have to make in order to get it on him!

Once the harness is on, he may refuse to go to the door whereupon he is dragged, half-carried by the harness. He is put on a flexilead. Once outside, he may not walk. He will simply stop. Once again he is dragged/carried forward in the hope that he toilets before bedtime.

Why does he do this?

I immediately noticed that the dogs took little notice if they were spoken to or called.

When they call Winston or want him to come or to sit, they repeat it over and over and even then he may ignore them.

How can they motivate Winston to be cooperative?

Food!

I gave him a small bit of food so he knew I might be worth listening to, and then a started to call him over to me. Even when he was lying down he would get up and come to me after just one call. I asked him to sit, once, and waited (trying to stop the family repeating the cue because he wasn’t yet doing anything). He had heard me. Half a minute later Winston sat. I rewarded him.

It was mid evening and already dark. I suggested we rehearsed the bedtime outing to see how stubborn Winston really is.

Because he immediately walks away and lies down when he see the harness, we started there. For now they will still need to approach him, but soon, when he realises that having the harness put on is nice, he will come over when asked I’m sure.

We used grated cheese: the man took harness to him-cheese, put it over his back-cheese, did up one clip-cheese, did up the other clip-cheese.

Now comes the crafty bit! Winston will now expect the whole ritual of trying to get him out to start but we walked away and left him.

We need to abandon that flexilead. This will always make him feel restricted as it has a spring and it’s vital he feels that he has a choice, that he’s free. My lead is 8 feet long. We walked to the door calling him as we passed. He got up and followed us. No stubborn dog yet!

We popped the lead on and walked down the path to the village green opposite. As we walked Winston had praise and, at the man’s side, food.  We walked across the green in the dark. the lead went tight and the man stopped. He patted his leg and called Winston to him. Winston came. Reward.

It’s so important to engage with the dog.

The man asked ‘what do I do if I want to turn around?’. I took the lead, walked away from Winston to the end of the eight feet but keeping it loose still and then called him, sounding exciting. I fed him and praised him and made it fun to be with me. Simple!

We had a lovely short walk. If walks are like this every time, Winston won’t be stubborn for long!

What should the man do if Winston still goes on strike and refuses to move? Call his bluff. If one invitation to move is refused, turn around and go home. No walk for now. Try again later.

One reason the evening walk in particular is so important is Winston’s frequent toileting in the kitchen, both pee and poo. They leave a pad on the floor and he always aims for that which makes me feel he’s not marking and that he simply needs to go. There is no evidence of anxiety of any sort.

I know he is a Bulldog with a Bulldog’s body, but to my mind (and looking at Winston’s ‘waist’), I feel he is fed too much. They will cut down, bearing in mind the rewards he now will be eating. They will also try him on another food. The better the food, the less waste will pass through the dog.

Dylan lying at my feet

Dylan lying at my feet

He may refuse to walk, but he constantly demands attention in various infuriating ways, mostly when the lady has her attention on the baby! He is a bored dog. He’s also a clever dog. They do their best, having a dog walker twice a day but because of his being ‘stubborn’ he is usually left at home and Dylan is taken by himself.

The only exercise Winston gets apart from irregular walks that start by car and which he loves, is spasmodic high-energy football out in the garden with the son which isn’t the right sort of thing for a Bulldog at all.

He needs more brain work, more sniffing, more exploring – and motivation.

I’m sure he will soon be joining Dylan for the two daily walks with the dog walker. The family will do less over-arousing stuff and give him more breed appropriate activities and brain stimulation. They will be working hard on teaching him to come immediately when he’s called.

Life should be a lot better for everyone, particularly the lady who, trying to care for a young baby, has found herself spending time upstairs during the day in order to escape from two demanding dogs.

At the end of our three months together: “Both dogs are much better and we’ve come a long way in our ability to train and work with them. We’ve not had a single kitchen accident from Winston since seeing you, the walking is much better and so is the barking. Evenings are also quieter.”
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 approach I have worked out for Winston and Dylan. 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 Help page)

Choice on Walks Gives Confidence

I met Willow a couple of years ago when she was nine months old. The original problems I helped with have all but disappeared but they have relaxed a bit as people do. Here is the situation back then.

Two days ago I met her again. She is a much calmer dog now but over the time two new issues have been developing.

Choice on walks is what Willow need

Willow won’t walk and Willow won’t eat.

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Willow is increasingly scared and reluctant to go on walks

The strange thing is that when they go away on holiday or out for the day, well away from home territory, Willow is a joyful little dog running around with tail wagging and ears flapping. They showed me this video.

They also showed me a video of Willow on one of the walks near home. She hesitates. Her tail goes down. She stops. She wants to go back to the car.

They then do all they can to make her move. The lady will talk to her, encourage, entice or bribe her; she may then get impatient and try to pull her to walk with them. To quote the man, they want her to ‘toughen up’.

When not going by car she’s okay past the first couple of houses. Then she starts sniffing, but not in the way a dog normally will sniff – with full concentration on the job in hand. As she sniffs she has her eyes turned to the lady, watching her. The lady feels like Willow is challenging her. I wonder whether she is buying time.

A few yards down the road Willow will start to look scared. Her tail goes down and she hesitates. At this stage the lady (who does most of the dog-walking) actively tries all she can to get Willow to walk on. The young man who sometimes walks her may pick her up and carry her for some way and then put her down again. They may get cross. It is a major issue.

After much cajoling the lady finally gives up and it’s making her unhappy because she believes, perhaps rightly, that Willow isn’t truly happy without walks and she wants Willow to be happy more than anything else. The whole thing seems to have got out of hand.

They feel they have tried everything, but they haven’t. What they haven’t tried is giving Willow choice on walks.

I feel it’s about the dog-human relationship. I sense the lady is too involved and worried about Willow (can someone love their dog too much?). The dog needs to be released from all pressure thus allowing her full choice on walks, choice of when she wants to stop and come home and choice as to whether she goes out at all. Then I’m sure everything will change given time.

I advised the lady to stand and let Willow sniff for as long as she likes, but not to watch her or to talk to her. Just let her get on with it.

Willow wants to go back to the car

Willow wants to go back to the car

Choice on walks starts at home.

Some time ago Willow was attacked by a Boxer. She came to no harm but was terrified. Possibly the human reaction was over the top. Possibly this incident has infected all familiar walks. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they walk from the house or go by car. Possibly it has nothing at all to do with the Boxer as she is friendly with most dogs.

The behaviour actually starts before they leave the house. Willow tries to hide when the harness comes out. There is a lot of persuasion and a certain amount of force used to get harness and lead on.

Just as I believe they should be giving Willow choice on walks, I believe she should also have choice before leaving the house (or at least letting Willow believe she has choice. We can be cunning!).

The man will now put Willow’s harness on before going to work so that it is on already for the lady who can then simply pop the lead on when she’s ready and if Willow ducks away just drop the lead on the floor and try again later. Use food. Stop the talking and pressure!

The lady will walk Willow to the spot a couple of houses down where she starts to feel uncomfortable and then turn and come home. She will do this several times a day – several very short walks. She will lace the environment by sprinkling food on the ground ahead of her, on the outward journey (never on the way home).

Willow will have complete control of whether she continues walking or not. No pressure.

When a willing Willow who is given choice on walks eventually gets to the fields, the Rucksack Walk will be a great thing for them to do with her.

Her seeming reluctance to do what the lady wants her to do is spilling over onto her eating. Her refusal to eat worries the lady so much that she entices and persuades. With all that attention she may even find it rewarding to refuse to eat.

Now if she doesn’t eat much from her bowl it doesn’t matter as she can be fed nourishing stuff like chicken out on walks.

Already by putting down very small meals and ignoring her, knowing that she won’t starve, and with other members of the family feeding her and not just the lady – she is eating.

A couple of days have past and I received this email:

‘Yesterday, Willow ate 3 little meals – (the man) served her a couple of times and amazingly she ate most of the food offered! We wandered about outside the house sniffing a number of times and went back in and on the last walk she quite happily walked further down the road to the grassy area – I laid a little trail of food – then she wandered about sniffing and then headed home – no hesitancy at all!’

I hope that within a few weeks by being allowed choice on walks Willow will be as happy walking on familiar territory as she is when she’s away from home – with ears flapping and tail wagging!

Two weeks later: ‘Everything going really well with Willow! Eating is amazing now, clean dishes every time! Walking improving all the time, steering clear of the most negative walk at the moment. Really pleased with her progress’.

 

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 Willow 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. 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)

Settling In. Won’t Walk

Settling in somewhere so different can be overwhelming.

Poor Peggy. She had only been in her loving new home for a few weeks when her behaviour began to change.

This coincided with her sickening for a serious illness which they didn’t realise at the time. Having had her for such a short while they would not know what her normal behaviour would be when she’d finished settling in.

Miniature Schnauzer settling in to her new home

The four-year-old Miniature Schnauzer has had two litters of puppies and evidently, though kindly treated and with the company of a good number of other dogs, there are a lot of things in everyday life she’s had little experience of including dogs outside her own home.

It seems that walks had been very few and far between.

As soon as she arrived at her new home they took her out – as one does. Initially she was very quiet and compliant. Too quiet. She was, I’m sure, keeping her head down and overwhelmed.

Then, a great surprise to her new humans, she had run out of the front garden, barking ferociously and jumping at a passing small child – terrifying him.

She was now showing fear and reactivity to joggers, other dogs and people – particularly small dogs and children. Unsurprisingly bikes and wheellie bins her.

The man had very wisely sat on a bench away from the action to start desensitising her and was making a bit of progress. However, just sitting and watching is only half of the picture. Peggy needs counter-conditioning as well – pairing these things with something good (special food) from a comfortable distance – so she begins to feel better about them.

She was soon barking at things she heard from the house also, particularly distant dogs.

Then on walks and only a few yards from the house, she began to go on strike, sitting down and refusing to walk.

Then the illness broke out. The vet said she had a stomach bug already picked up by several dogs locally. She was very ill indeed and on a drip for several days. She returned home for a couple of days but had to be re-admitted and put back on the drip.

Poor Peggy. Poor Peggy’s new owners.

Now that she’s back home the problems that were emerging before are getting worse. Would this have happened anyway? Is it made worse by the ordeal she suffered within such a short time of such a major change to her life?

I personally feel this would be happening anyway.

Settling in can go through several phases that are impossible to predict.

It’s always best to go slowly. Too little is better than too much.

It’s tempting to think that if a dog refuses to walk that she is being ‘stubborn’. The gentleman has very kindly picked her up, carried her a little way and put her down again. It went like this all the way to the woods where she would then start to run about freely.

Is it that she doesn’t feel safe on the footpaths with houses and the possibility of encountering people, bikes and dogs?

I believe it’s a bit of this, but also she has quickly become very attached to the lady. I feel if the man takes her out she wants to get back to mum. She is much better when the lady takes her out but still is eager to get home. This is her new ‘safe place’.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I would always advise erring on the boring side. Forget about walks for the first week or two and then introduce them very gradually – particularly in the case of a shelter dog or a dog that’s not been out and about much. Just imagine how everyday things we ourselves don’t even notice are big and novel stimulants to the dog.

The man would really like Peggy to trot off lead beside him while he goes for a gentle run. There is a long way to go.

So, the first step is to get her out and about but in her own good time. It could possibly take weeks. Peggy will decide.

It’s very likely she quite enjoys being carried part of the way to the woods so possibly it’s being reinforced as well. Anyway, this is our initial plan – to be tweaked as necessary – and shows how with this sort of problem we need to be creative. The dog must feel she has freedom of choice even though we ourselves may be manipulating that choice. (I used to say to my children at bedtime when they were tiny, ‘do you want to walk or shall I carry you?’ Crafty!).

The man will put a longish line on the dog – they live in a quiet road with a field opposite. He will open the door and just let her have as much length as she wishes. If she walks he will follow her. Every now and then he will stop so it’s the dog that has to wait. This can often increase a desire in the dog to move on. He may call her back to him and reward her. They can repeat it.

If Peggy herself stops and sits down, she’s saying she doesn’t want to go any further. The man will turn around and go straight back indoors.

On the longer line she won’t feel trapped. There will no longer be any pressure in terms of cajoling or bribing to make her walk on. Left to choose for herself she will go when she’s ready. She shouldn’t really miss walks as she so seldom had them anyway.

Settling in (like breaking up, as the song says) is hard to do. Allowing the dog choice makes it easier for her. Here is a nice article ‘Should my Dog Have Choices‘ by Kristina Lotz.

 

 

Puppy is off to a Good Start

They picked up their nine-week-old Border Terrier puppy yesterday.

New puppyAs part of our puppy parenting plan we had already discussed on the phone where Monty would sleep on his first night and what they would do if he was distressed by being alone. I don’t believe in a puppy ‘crying it out’. Each puppy of mine has had company during the night if he or she needed it and none developed over-attachment because of it. To the contrary.

Last night they put Monty in his little crate in the kitchen – the breeder already had him used to a crate. He cried briefly and then was quiet all night – and clean. What a great start!

My puppy parenting plan supports owners right through puppyhood to adolescence, starting by putting in place things that will pre-empt future problems and dealing with anything that does crop up as it happens.

Over the weeks we cover all basic training cues – sit, down, stay, and much more. We teach puppy to enjoy walking on a loose lead and to come when called. We build up his confidence where needed. We teach him impulse control.

We examine the puppy’s ‘dog’ needs and teach the humans how to fulfill them.

Already, within the first few hours, Monty’s family had learnt one lesson – not to do too much too soon. They had tried to put a collar on the little puppy and he was scared – possibly because of the rattling disc which they removed. Now they will slowly introduce him to it. If he looks away or shows signs of unease, they will pause and wait. They will do it a bit at a time and let him choose how far they can go. He will associate the collar with food.

They have a boy age 8 and a girl, 12, great kids who understand that puppy needs space. They are so excited but they are controlling themselves! They already know that they must not go to puppy when he’s in his crate so he has a peaceful bolthole. I have suggested that as a matter of habit, they should call Monty to them when they want to play with him or cuddle him and not pursue him, so that he has a choice.

I showed them about exchanging things and not simply taking something off him – again it’s about choice so he learns to willingly choose to give it up.

We discussed what to do about nipping and the importance of giving puppy plenty of things to chew.

Monty may be a little nervous of sudden movements or noises. The collar incident shows he may be sensitive. We will show him that big human hands coming from above bring him good things – food. In the garden with the little girl I pointed to the roof next door. That’s how tall you look to Monty, I said.

Food

It is so important that they use some of his food to reinforce and encourage him for doing the things they like instead of just leaving it down for him to graze on. For toileting outside. For coming when called. For letting go of something. For building positive connections with things he may be uneasy about.

People are often surprised when I say, particularly if they have a puppy, that they should carry food on them all the time. If the puppy needs to be told ‘good’, there’s not time to go across the room, open a tub and then feed him. The moment has passed. When puppy is called and happily runs to us, tail wagging, and all he gets is a stroke (does he even like that big hand stroking him?) is that not a bit disappointing for him? I don’t know. He would certain feel a small bit of chicken was worth coming for!

Puppies are inclined to come when called. Adolescents aren’t! It’s good to build up a near-automatic response early on.

i shall be going again in a week. Until then they are just going to let Monty settle in. The children will resist fussing him too much or getting too excited around him and they will keep an eye on any guests to the house. They will work on his toilet training.Leenderts2

Habituating and socialising to real life is so important in the first few weeks that there is no time to be lost. It’s no good waiting until he has had his injections. If all puppies were acclimatised to real life sufficiently early, people like me could be out of a job.

Before he’s finished his injections they can carry Monty around town and introduce him to people with hats, babies, umbrellas, shops, traffic, wheelie-bins, bikes, skateboards and so on whilst looking for any signs of fear. It’s vital he feels comfortable.

I suggested the little girl makes a list of all the new things Monty sees or encounters before he is twelve weeks old.

Next week we will be looking at getting puppy used to wearing a soft harness. He can learn to walk around the garden beside someone, off lead – the lead can be hooked onto the harness later. We will start clicker training.

Happy days!

NB. The whole point of a 1-2-1 puppy plan is that it is specific to your own puppy’s needs and to your own. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy 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 puppy can quickly lead you up the wrong tree. 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 bringing up your own puppy (see my Help page)

 

Giving the Dog Choice

They will be giving Joey more choiceGiving a fearful dog choice

Joey, the four-year-old Collie Labrador mix, came over from Ireland at a year old. Isn’t he gorgeous.

Over the past three years his family has done great things with him. A lot of the general day to day stuff I usually recommend they do already. He is very well trained and regularly goes to agility which he loves.

The one downside to ‘training’ can be that the humans are making the choice for the dog by using a command to guide his actions. It’s not necessarily the answer where fear-based reactions are concerned. A command is no substitute for the dog learning how to make the right choice in response to a situation for himself. A command is unlikely to address what the dog is feeling inside – fear. The dog will only make the right choice if he’s given the ‘tools’.

Joey’s problems are quite clearly all to do with his need to feel safe.

The two times he reacted worst of all were at the vet, trapped in the room, held down by three people while he had his injection and when he was cornered in a small place by a child. In each case he was robbed of all choice. His reasonable warnings and requests had been ignored so, to him, he had no choice but to react ‘aggressively’.

(Where vet procedures are concerned, with techniques worked on over time a dog’s choices can be part of the process. See how Chirag Patel does it using clicker).

Clicker training is ‘choice training’ and is unbeatable where giving an animal freedom of choice is concerned. Joey caught on almost immediately.

 

The walk starts way before leaving the house.

Joey’s fearfulness is causing problems when they go for walks and encounter people, particularly men, and other dogs. He’s also scared of unusual things in different places.

He gets very excited before they start out, jumping about, crying and howling. They try to get him to sit at the door for his lead to go on. What happens back at home is the start of the walk and they are not even out of the door yet. Before anything happens he has a choice. It’s simple. When he’s still and quiet, they can leave. There is no rush – people can wait. Until he is calm and quiet they go nowhere. It’s his choice.

Because of his pulling he wears a head harness. This prevents pulling. He has no choice. With a front-fastening Perfect Fit harness he will soon be walking beside them through choice.

So, Instead of starting his walk in a wild state and in considerable discomfort, feeling restricted, already he should feel more calm and free – in a much better state of mind for encountering people and dogs.

When he spots a dog he should also be given choice. At a distance where he’s happy, they can pair the other dog with something Joey loves. He loves his ball. He can have a choice whether to hold, catch or chase his ball or whether to react to the dog. By keeping sufficient distance we set him up so it’s in effect Hobson’s Choice!

Which brings me to ball-throwing (again!). Constant ball chasing is not necessary when the dog has an hour in the fields to do doggy things. Why fire him up with a ball? They can give the ball much more value by no longer spending most of the walks chucking it to a ball-obsessed dog. By starving Joey of the ball they will have a potent tool for counter-conditioning.

An approaching man may make Joey uneasy. By allowing Joey to choose, they can let him decide how much space he wants to make. One way of doing this is to watch him carefully and reward him for any sign of avoiding trouble by breaking contact – looking away, looking at his human, sniffing, scratching, yawning – and to reward him for making the right choice by increasing the distance from what scares him. Thus choosing avoidance rather than barking gets the prize – more distance and safety, a game of ball perhaps or food.

If Joey knows it’s his choice how near he goes to something or somebody, it’s certain that over time he will choose to go nearer.

I am sure that when Joey knows he has a choice as to how close he goes and with scary things paired with great things – balls and special food – he will gain greatly in confidence.

 

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 Joey. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned, as the case needs to be assessed correctly which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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)