Reward Based Training For Puppies

Ralph2Like all puppies, Cockerpoo Ralph can change from a manic foot-chasing, hand-nipping whirlwind to a sleeping ball of fluff in an instant.

Sometimes they have their special ‘victim’ – often someone who lavishes the most love on them. Frequently this is the lady, but not always. I have known it to be a child but less often a man.

It can be upsetting when our new ‘baby’ seems to turn on us.

I was with them and Ralph for over three hours but as is often the case I never actually witnessed the behaviour. We preempted it once by giving him something to concentrate on, in this instance learning to touch a hand using a clicker.

Brain exercise can often do more good than physical exercise whRalphich can fire a puppy up even more. He needs pacing – attention, exercise and training projects little and often, using reward based training.

Ralph isn’t too keen on being stroked. He is so soft, silky and fluffy it’s almost impossible to keep ones hands off him. He has started to quietly growl if touched when asleep and when he’s had enough of being stroked.

Here are a few of the basic tips I have given them and which are applicable to a lot of cases.  It would be good if Ralph had to put in some effort for his attention. The lady in particular should refrain from going over to where he is lying and touching him. She should wait until he comes to her. She can call him, but if he says ‘no thanks’ it’s not a good idea to cajole and beg him.

If touching and stroking is given to him on a plate, pushed onto him even, he won’t value it.

They should avoid picking him up and moving him which also makes him cross. If they make use of his food as rewards he will willingly come of his own accord, and isn’t ‘willing’ just what  we want?

Another thing is that a puppy’s environment should start small and gradually open out. Time and again I find a puppy in a large garden chasing human feet and clothes. It’s like the lack of physical boundaries brings out something wild in him. Trying to ‘tire him out’ with chasing and games will only make him worse. Having an anchor point can help when puppy starts to get excited and silly (lead hooked to harness not collar for safety), and he then needs to be occupied with the sort of thing that can calm him down – hunting and foraging for bits of scattered food or something nice to chew.

The question people always want answered is, ‘what do I do when he’s actually biting me’?

Immediately withdraw all attention. Immediately – not after one or two bites. Look away. If it’s a hand you may do a soft squeal and fold your arms (anything louder might be too exciting!).  If it’s feet – freeze. For now it’s sensible to wear clothes that give a bit of protection.

This is only half the story though. He needs to learn what he should do. ‘Food is your Friend’! Reward based training.

As soon as he backs off or stops, silently give him a piece of food. Do it over and over – he will get the message. It may seem like rewarding the biting, but it’s not so. You are rewarding NOT biting.  Add to this distraction. Immediately put something acceptable into his mouth, a chew or a toy.

It all requires forward planning. You need big pockets or a bum bag so you can keep food and toys on your person all the time! It’s not forever. He will grow up all too soon.

Ralph is a clever little dog. He was soon learning using clicker. He also walked nicely in the garden – with none of his usual grabbing and tugging on the lead, demonstrating the power of positive reward based training.

This is yet another instance of the actual problem they wanted help for – nipping and chasing feet – being more than just that.  A holistic approach comes from all angles and enables us to work on the underlying causes. It shows the humans how their own behaviour can affect the puppy’s behaviour, as well as showing the puppy what we do want of him.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ralph, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own puppy 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 puppy parenting specific to your own puppy (see my Get Help page).

Gun Dog Training or Force-Free?

Whilst harsh training methods may well Rufuswork in the moment, there is usually future fallout of some sort.

I may well get some people’s backs up, but here goes!

Dogs that are specifically trained and used as gun dogs are to my mind, a commodity. These dogs are trained specifically to do a job, they are often kept alone out in kennels and some have never seen the inside of a house. Usually they are very ‘obedient’ – possibly they dare not be otherwise.

(Please note that there are becoming more and more exceptions to this sweeping statement as gradually some gun dog breeders and schools are beginning to catch up with modern training methods).

There is no argument that many working dogs are a lot more fulfilled than those family pets who may be either left alone all day or over-spoilt. Many working dogs are trained positively and are treated as valued members of a family or at least have a close relationship with their handler. Assistance dogs and sniffer dogs come to mind in particular.

I have a gun dog breeding and training business near to me with probably around twenty dogs and in fact I got my cocker spaniel from there (that’s another story).  I saw first hand the dogs’ environment. Most of the dogs seemed submissive in general and a bit fearful of me when I stood by their caged areas. There were no bouncy, friendly welcomes that one might have expected from Labradors and Spaniels.

I was given a demo of the skills of three 4-6 month old dogs and they were certainly very obedient and were 100% focussed on the man even at that age. To be fair, they seemed to enjoy what they were doing but I guess their life didn’t hold a lot else by way of interaction with humans.

In saying their dogs are used as a commodity, I absolutely don’t include people who have family dogs that happen to take them to gun dog training classes because of their breed, like the owners of Rufus and of Bramble who I went to a few months ago. These conscientious dog owners do so because they believe it is the best for their dog on account of what he’s bred for.

A couple of years ago at Crufts there was a gun dog display of dogs trained to do gun dog things using positive reinforcement and it was a joy to watch these enthusiastic dogs – dogs that weren’t afraid of making mistakes. It proved it’s possible.

Rufus began with normal puppy classes. He met lots of people and lots of dogs – and became a happy and confident adolescent.  He then went to gun dog training for a year.

I don’t believe it’s purely coincidence that now, over a year since they stopped the classes, Rufus has become an increasingly nervous dog. The family members who attended the classes with him try to maintain the ‘firm’ approach and the other person lacks the same sort consistency and discipline, resulting in confusing mixed messages for the dog.

It’s like Rufus is waiting to be told what to do – external control. He doesn’t have much self-control.

Dogs that are trained to think for themselves using clicker or other positive reinforcement methods aren’t afraid to make mistakes. They become inventive and try different ways of getting their rewards and making us happy because they know they won’t be scolded or punished if they happen to get it wrong. The key to teaching a dog is not about making them do what we want, but making them WANT to do what we want.

It’s a big step for Rufus, now nearly four years old, to start thinking for himself. With clicker a ‘formally’ trained dog can take a long time to ‘get it’ before experiencing the fun of experimenting with what will bring results and what will not. If Rufus’ family persist they will eventually get a breakthrough. Then the possiblities of what he can learn for himself are boundless.

Gone now is the punishing and uncomfortable slip lead – like a choke chain, what can possibly be the purpose of this as opposed to a normal collar and lead, or a harness, apart from causing discomfort if a dog pulls?

We took turns to walk Rufus around outside on a harness with long lead clipped to the chest and he walked beside us like a different dog, round in circles, back and forth – a dream. If he wanted to stop for a sniff, why not?

In this comfortable state of mind, he is much more likely to be chilled when encountering unknown dogs or if a moped buzzes past.

Rufus is at the dawn of a new life, and his family will now work in unison to give him back his old confidence.

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

‘Happened Out of the Blue’?

PoppyMonty2

Monty

Poppy attacked a Whippet for ‘no reason’. Out of the blue.

It usually takes a crisis of some sort to make us face up to a gradually worsening problem.

PoppyMonty1

Poppy

Monty the Viszla is four, and Poppy on the right is two years old.

Over the past few months Poppy has become increasingly touchy with other dogs when out. The owners admit that this is a vicious circle as they themselves become more tense. It’s a hard cycle to break without outside objective help.

What has brought it to a head is that out on a walk a few days ago Poppy went for the Whippet, seemingly for no reason at all.  The on-lead dog was approaching with a lady and gentleman. Poppy was called and put on lead and she took no notice of them as they passed. However, when let off lead of short while later, she simply doubled back and bit the poor dog on the back leg.

There was screaming from the dog and distress from the owners.

Poppy’s owners were gutted.

In Poppy’s case we could think of several factors, and we would be able to find more if we could get inside Poppy’s head. The lady owner who normally walks her was away, she’s scared of going through the back gate, she may have been excited by their children, possibly she had previously been barking at the gate at home, grandfather had arrived which may have excited her, one child was hanging back playing with Monty and a large stick when the Whippet passed which may have made her anxious.

She really is a dream at home as is Monty apart, that is, from when callers suddenly appear through the gate or let themselves in the house. She has become paranoid about the noise of the gate latch to the extent that she is reluctant to go through it at the start of a walk. She has nipped caller’s legs several times now. This too is getting worse. PoppyMonty

The initial adjustments to be made are to do with non-family members being unable to simply walk in. No door or gate should be left unlocked and the dogs should be somewhere else for now when people first enter. She’s happy and friendly once they are in. She needs to be on a long line for now when out, so that she still has a certain amount of freedom.

The visitors also need some instructions – and that can be hard!

The lady has already done some clicker training with Poppy and she’s a bright little dog. The two children participate in feeding, play and training.

So I believe the whippet incident was really just the culmination of several things. There are several other issues that need addressing including walking on a loose lead. When added together, things will gradually fall into place.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Poppy and Monty, 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, most particularly where anything to do with aggression is concerned. 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).

Their Dog Bit Someone

Beagle Molly barks fearfully both at people she doesn't know coming to the house and people she sees out on walkA couple of days ago to the total horror of the young couple who own her, their dog bit someone.

Their reaction was very natural but to the more enlightened completely inappropriate and can only encourage further aggression, and things now are definitely heading in the wrong direction unless the way her humans behave with her is completely reversed.

Little Beagle Molly is fifteen months old. On the left is her in her favourite look-out place for barking at passing people and dogs, and on the right briefly taking a break after going through all her attention-seeking repertoire and relaxing happily after some clicker work.

I need to say before I go any further what great and dedicated owners little Molly has. They recognise they’ve not got the knowledge and things are going wrong, and they are making big sacrifices to put this right. This is the mark of good dog parents.

They love Molly to bits, but simply don’t know how to ‘bring up’ a dog. She is totally confused. She can receive cuddles, shouting at her, rough and tumble play, scMolly is confusedolding, kissing, more cuddling and punishment all from the same person.

Like so many people I go to, they say ‘everyone tells us different things’ and seldom are any of these things helpful as they are mostly dominance based and involved punishment. They are at their wits’ end. In the evenings all Molly does is to run rings around them in order to get attention, and apart from over-boisterous hands-on play that encourages the mouthing and nipping, it is No, No and No. She nicks the remote or she will steal the man’s shirt and the way they retrieve the items invites defiance.

Wouldn’t it be great if people could attend positive ‘dog-parenting’ classes before they picked up a puppy or new dog? They would then start off using positive methods and reading the right books, they would know how to give their dogs the right amount of stimulation and exercise (not too much and not too little), and I would bet dogs treated like this from the start would never bite and their carers would be a lot happier.

Molly is becoming increasingly scared of people and it’s no wonder. She will be associating them with her humans’ anxiety and anger rather than with good stuff. She barks fearfully both at people she doesn’t know coming to the house and people she sees out on walks. The barking at the window will only be making this worse.  She is punished for being scared. People don’t realise what they are doing. The bite occurred when they were out and a woman came up behind them unexpectedly and put her hand down to Molly. It was dark. Fortunately the skin wasn’t broken. The reaction of all the people involved was very unfortunate. One even said she should be put to sleep. Unbelievable.

The couple were absolutely devastated.

Things now will turn a corner, I know. These people are totally committed to changing things around, and after we looked at things from Molly’s perspective it was a like a light came on. I showed the young man how to use a clicker, starting with a simple exercise which Molly picked up almost immediately, and during the evening he was constantly clicking her for doing good things.  For instance, instead of yelling at her for putting her feet up on the table, he waited until the moment her feet touched the floor and clicked and rewarded that – teaching her what he did want instead of scolding. And best of all, he really enjoyed it.

She was using her brain to seek ways of being ‘good’!

This is going to be very hard work because several areas of the dog’s life need an overhaul, but I am sure they will get there and I shall continue to help them in every way I can for as long as they need me. From now on it’s going to be Yes Yes Yes.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Molly, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

Humping? It’s Easy to Jump to Conclusions

Stress takes dogs in different ways. Mungo finds relief in humping. Old-fashioned views would simply write humping off as ‘dominance’.  He’s three years old and probably a Springe/Pointer cross. He came over from Ireland as a puppy, was adopted for a while and ended up at The Dogs Trust in kennels for a year. Although they did a lot of work with him, it’s not like being in a home and part of real life.

Humping and stress relief

It’s a huge adjustment for him and progress has been made over the past couple of months. He gets distressed when people are standing up, particularly moviMungo finds relief form stress in humpingng around or standing talking. He humps the lady if she stands and talks on the phone. Having barked in a scared manner at me when I arrived, he was soon humping me. Previous advice had been to push him off, but after two months of this tactic he still does it. He’s not being taught an alternative and his stress levels which are at the root of it aren’t being taken into consideration.

Over the past week or so the behaviour has intensified as has his barking at people and his refusing to come in when requested

It would be easy to think just standing still and looking at them is stubborness, but I think not. I feel any sort of pressure put on him makes him feel just a little threatened. He has snapped a couple of times when a person has approached him and put out a hand. He seems somewhat aloof. His lady owner, because he won’t come over to her, goes over to his bed to fuss him, assuming that he will appreciate her loving kindness. I believe that if her people hang back, give him time and space, use rewards at every opportunity to mark the right behaviours, he will come around more quickly.

Making assumptions

I myself learnt a lesson. As he did not appear to be nervous and thinking that clicking him for unwrapping his paws from my leg, I brought out my clicker, and he was scared of it. He froze and then took himself off to the other room. His reaction showed clearly that we shouldn’t assume anything.

When he returned and resumed humping me, I quietly used the word ‘Yes’ instead of clicking. Mungo quickly learnt the connection between ‘Yes’ and letting go – to the extent that the clever dog was soon humping me in order to afterwards get the treat! At last he understands what he should be doing. Now it’s a matter of getting him to go down and stay down, making a ‘stop’ hand signal when seeing him approach with ‘that look’ – and rewarding him when he resists.

Most importantly, the root cause – the stress he is trying to relieve – needs dealing with.

Due to his strange past life, he is surprisingly good with some things. On the other hand, very reactive to people and dogs when he is trapped on lead. Off lead, although he doesn’t go far, he may not come back when called.  Like charity, recall starts at home.

Mungo is with a loving couple who are prepared to do whatever it takes for as long as it takes to give him the life he deserves.

Controlled Using Dominance. Mixed up Dog

He was controlled using dominance

Dads

They said at the rescue, ‘if you can hold him you can take him’.

I feared that huge American Bulldog Dads may be a 9-stone time-bomb waiting to go off (but the story has a very happy ending – see end).

Controlled using dominance

The young man already had 5-year-old Dads for a year before his partner moved in with her gentle but nervous Labrador/Springer cross, Jamie. Dads’ owner uses dominance-based methods without which, frankly, Dads would probably have been uncontrollable without an expert, and he has certainly improved over the past couple of years, whilst the lady with her Springer Jamie has undoubtedly spoilt him whilst training him positively using a clicker.

The dogs have been fighting – with Dad’s kicking it off. The lady is eight months pregnant and they are worried. Understandably.

The gentleman is very firm with them and uses dominance techniques to get them to do what they are told.

Dads and Jamie

Dads only recognises a strong, authoritarian approach – the man with confrontational body language will click his fingers and point in order to be obeyed. This must have come as quite a shock to Jamie. If the lady tries it, Dad’s not happy! She is dis-empowered because he simply doesn’t respect her.

Both dogs have lost too much

Just as big a problem is that both dogs have, in a way, lost everything over the past few months. All toys have to be put away because Dads may become possessive and it could start a fight (and Jamie loves his toys). They can’t be given bones or anything to chew unless they are separated which may cause problems afterwards (and bones could be something to occupy and de-stress Dads).

Since they moved in together Dads isn’t walked much any more, and the lady can’t do it. Not only is she pregnant but he’s just too strong and pulls like a train. Neither dog gets the long walk that he used to. In order to make the house better for a baby, the dogs no longer have access to the garden – just a small paved yard for toileting. Consequently the dogs no longer play together, there just isn’t room in the house without causing chaos. Jamie will be missing being his lady owner’s ‘baby’, with her all the time.

Redirecting his frustration onto Jamie

Unsurprisingly, Dads has been redirecting his frustration and anger onto Jamie. Tracing back, and not surprisingly, it seems that these occasions follow a build-up of stressful incidents. Dads is also eyeballing Jamie – Jamie knows not to move. Sometimes Jamie stands up for himself. So far there has been little blood drawn but it’s only a matter of time unless their humans dramatically change their approach.

Dads appears to be slow and calm, but I fear he is a seething mess inside. He could also be depressed. He has simply no way of venting and no freedom to make any decisions of his own – little exercise, no brain games, nothing to chew and too much being controlled.

The couple can now see the connection between stress and inactivity, and the attacks on Jamie – along with Jamile’s own instability.  Hopefully they will have the stamina to to turn things around.

I am so THRILLED to have just received this email: Yes our little girl arrived on the 3rd 🙂 We have been getting used to a new routine and sleepless nights!
The dogs have been absolutely amazing since the day we brought the baby home.  For the first couple of days, I stayed upstairs with the baby. The dogs seemed to know something was going on, yet they were so well behaved, not even baking when our parents came to visit us (upstairs). When I did come down stairs a couple days later, the dogs gave me a good sniff and Roxie a little sniff, then that was it!!
Dads takes no notice of her what so ever, he doesn’t even wake up when she’s crying lol, he might come and give her a sniff ‘hello’ in the morning, but that’s only if he can be bothered to get out of his bed 🙂 Jamie is very gentle when he comes to ‘snoze’ her with his nose (snoze = kiss)
Both dogs have been brilliant with all the visitors we have had. They wait in the dining room, with the stair gate open still, and once our guests have been seated, the dogs are invited in, they give our guests a sniff them settle down on their beds in the living room with us all.
We have brought a door bell that chimes a tune which has stopped all the barking as no one knocks at the door now and the dogs haven’t connected the door bell tune to the arrival of visitors yet lol
Keith had been taking both dogs out for their walks, but now I am able to potter round the village, I have been taking Jamie, I tie his lead to the pram. He only got run over by it twice lol but now he walks beautifully by the side of it. He then gets to play ball on the green on the way home.
Keith has been taking Dads up the field for a run and a game of ball, he has however started to put him in the back of the truck to take him to the field, which Dads is getting a lot batter at. (He used to be a nightmare in vehicles!) Dads also loves having his feet bathed afterwards (he’ll do anything for a biscuit!) Keith also used biscuits to allow him to put drops in his eye.
So overall, the dogs seem happy and have accepted our new arrival. We are just taking everything one step at a time as Roxie won’t stay this small and motionless for long!! But so far so good!

GSD Barks Fearfully at People

Bella barks fearfully at people German Shepherd Bella only lies still if I don't moveBella still barks fearfully at people.

I went to see Bella three months ago when she arrived at her new owners, and they have come a very long way. The couple have worked very hard indeed and it’s not been easy. They have developed a firm bond.

However, Bella is still barks fearfully at people, especially people coming to her house. Today she was fine if she couldn’t see me – even though she could hear me – but went into manic barking if she sighted me.

She was okay if I sat still

After a while she got used to me sitting down and lay down seemingly relaxed so long so long as I sat still, a great improvement on last time; as soon as I stood, though, the barking started.

Whilst the couple have made brilliant progress considering what she was like three months ago, it is now time to advance things further. Bella needs to learn to be more confident around visitors to the house.

We worked at my going out, ringing the doorbell and coming back in again. When I last came she was in such a state that we had worked by removing her because she was so frantic; now we all felt it was time to progress forward. With me as the ‘guinea pig’, we used a clicker to reward her for calm behaviour in my presence.

Because she is such a clever dog, Bella soon realised that barking and then stopping barking would be followed by a click and a treat! It’s called chaining. She was barking in order to stop barking in order to get the click and then the treat! So, we had to get her to wait for the click and wait for the treat. I took a video of her wonderful lady owner’s attempts. The timing will improve with practice – the click and reward should come for having looked calmly at me for several seconds: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HGl8BiDECuc

100% committed

Now, after a very shaky start, Bella’s new owners are 100% committed and have made great progress already. When they took her on they were told she was socialised. It was a big shock to discover what she was really like, but after a lot of soul-searching they decided to keep her and to give her their all.  Confidence building can be very, very slow.

Wild Labradoodle. Trying to be Good!

Labradoodle taking a short break from jumping upPoppy is a cross between a Labrador and Standard Poodle, eighteen months of age – a big dog. She’s a very clever dog too.

Still having wild Labradoodle bouts.

I went to see her a few weeks ago – The lady is still unable to control her wild Labradoodle. At certain times of day, especially in the evening or when the lady is out in the garden with her, Poppy will jump up and grab her with her teeth, roughly. The lady is covered in bruises.

If she turns away, Poppy attacks her back.  There is no malice in it but she simply has not learnt manners or teeth inhibition. In her wild Labradoodle bouts she seems to do all she can to wind the lady up – and her behaviour is getting her the desired results!

Poppy also does wild Labradoodle behaviour to people who come to the house, resulting in her spending a lot of her time in her crate.

It is a shame that this lack of teeth inhibition wasn’t dealt with appropriately when she was a young puppy in a positive way that meant Poppy would get the message.

Teaching Poppy the desired behaviour

Anyway, today I took along my clicker. Usually I would use this to teach specific skills, but today I was going to work on Poppy’s general behaviour. I would simply click and treat her for being ‘good’.wild Labradoodle

While she was still in her crate I taught her that the click meant food was to follow – just a tiny soft treat.

Then I let her out!

She immediately did her wild Labradoodle act. She jumped at me and grabbed my arms.  I folded them and looked away. As soon as she stopped I clicked and dropped a treat on the floor.

Soon she was not only calming down, but sitting in between bouts of craziness too. ‘Click treat’ all the time she was not mugging me.

Brain exercise

I slowly made it more difficult by walking about, then feeding her by hand but not opening it until she was gentle. Each time she grabbed my hand I removed it and froze – and when she let go and I clicked and treated her. This way she was learning not only what she should NOT do, she was also learning what she SHOULD do.

In an effort to control her own mouth, she picked up a soft toy – ‘click treat’. Whenever she approached me politely, ‘click treat’. Soon I was walking around the garden, the place where she it as her wildest, with a polite and attentive dog. This was all within the space of about twenty minutes.

The brain exercise is just what she needs.

The lady is going to use part of Poppy’s food allowance and get her to earn it in this way. I feel sure we have found the ‘key’ to resolving Poppy’s hyper habits and getting her brain into gear.

German Shepherd Lunges at People. Barks at Visitors

lunges at peopleTara is onto her fourth home now.

Looking at her history, she had little or no socialising for the first year of her life. Her new owners hadn’t been told that she was going to be so reactive to people – and to other dogs. 

They hadn’t been warned.

Like so often happens unfortunately, new owners don’t get what they had bargained for. In this case, the rehoming organisation had taken the previous people’s word for it and passed her over on the same day. They had done no assessment of Tara themselves.

The couple had specifically requested a dog that gets on with people and other dogs. They wanted a dog as part of their lives for the next ten years perhaps.

Instead, when their first visitor calls, Tara horrifies and shocks them by suddenly morphing into a wild dervish, barking and lunging. She is just the same with people she meets out on walks, leaping and lunging.

An old-school trainer who used punishment.

Then they called in a trainer and OH DEAR!

The dog was already highly aroused by the man’s presence. Instead of helping her, he threw metal discs crashing on the floor in front of her. His aim was to intimidate her and make her submit. He then added the horrific sound of a compressed air from a can, something sometimes used to break up fights.

It sent poor Tara into a total frenzy. I would say it’s very fortunate the man wasn’t badly bitten. He deserved to be in my mind.

Fortunately the couple weren’t having any more of this with the dog they were growing to love.

They have had Tara for several weeks now and have made great progress at home – so long as it is just themselves. They are at their wits’ end and wondering what to do when other people are involved.

I don’t usually go into as much detail as I have here. The reason is that the strategies are fashioned around a particular dog’s problems and their causes. This method won’t apply to every dog that barks at people. If you have a dog like this, it is very important to get professional help so the strategies are appropriate to your specific dog’s needs and problems.

Barks and lunges at me

When I arrived Tara barks and lunges at me, straining on the lead which was tightly held by the gentleman. The lead was attached to a collar which would have added pain to the situation (dogs necks aren’t much different to our own).

I could see that the restraint was making her worse. With no known history of actual biting I suggested he dropped the lead whereupon, as I expected, she charged at me. I stood still, sideways to her, explaining to the couple the calming signals I was using – slow blinking, looking away, relaxed posture, breathing slowly. We carried on talking over the noise for a while. I pointed out that their own posture should be relaxed also (not easy!).

I then asked them what they would usually do. They had developed a strategy for when people did visit of training an incompatible behaviour. This was getting her to lie down and put her chin to the floor. This could have been good but only lasted a couple of seconds before she was up and barking again. Lying down did nothing to change her inner emotions and fears.

We experimented.

We worked on removing her from what she was finding a scary situation immediately the barking started. At the same time we associated my presence with good stuff, using a clicker.

They put a harness on her to avoid any unpleasant association with pain in the neck with myself if she lunges again. I sat down at the table to make things as easy as possible for her. I asked the man to take her just out of sight until she stopped barking. Then he’s to bring her back, being ready turn around again the very moment she begins to bark again.

Now, as soon as she was quiet he brought her back so she could see me. Timing is extremely important. As soon as she looked to me without barking, he clicked and fed her chicken. This went on for a while until I could walk around the room and she was relaxed – click/chicken.

Next we experimented with my going to the front door area and appearing again – upping the anti. Next I opened the front door and shut it again before coming into her presence.

Distance

This method needs to be used when they are out also, being careful to keep within her comfort threshold distance form people. If she barks or lunges they are too close. They will work on the ‘advance/retreat’ and clicker whenever she’s quietly watching someone. They have a big job to build up her trust in them and undo past history.

They need to practise with anyone they can get to visit – starting with people Tara has met before. It can be done with the neighbour whose presence looking over the fence sends her into a panic. As they turn, they can add ‘Let’s Go’ in preparation for encountering unexpected people or dogs outside. It’s just as much teaching the owners as teaching the dog. Good timing is essential.

Habituate and to a doorbell

Many dogs hate the sound of people banging on the front door which is understandable. I suggested a cheap wireless doorbell.

Before putting it up outside the door they could repeatedly ring it indoors and for several days associate the sound of it with food or games. When the bell is put up outside the door, they should continue to ring it for no reason at all. In this way when people come Bella won’t be fired up so early in the process.

One other point is that their sort of walks are probably not helping her to keep calm. A dog barks an lunges at people more if already aroused. They are over-stimulating Tara in terms of play and scary encounters.

It’s a big ask to get new owners to avoid close encounters for as long as it takes, but there is no other choice. Where there’s a will – there’s a way.

You can’t exhaust a dog out of being fearful.

Dogs an Inconvenience Not a Pleasure

GSD Sascha watching the rabbit

Sascha

 

GSD Sascha is a handsome dog

Sascha

Sascha is a beautiful two-year-old German Shepherd who lives with GSDs black Tango (10) and Annie (4).

The couple who own them run a rabbit rescue and these dogs are incredible. Rabbits are free in parts of the house and run around the dogs who are completely chilled with them.

This visit was a good example of how people who are living in the middle of their situation can’t see it clearly, and how under the general pressures of life things have gradually slipped until, to quote the lady, their dogs were no longer a pleasure but an inconvenience to put up with.

Sascha is generally quite pushy but also more nervous; she hackles and barks when people come to the house. In no time at all after I arrived she was happy and friendly, as were the other two. All the time I was encouraging the lady to keep quiet, not to scold the dogs, not tell them to go away and not to use the word ‘no’. To relax. They are dogs after all. It’s natural for them to gently sniff a stranger.

These dogs get nearly all their attention when they are doing something unwanted – Sascha in particular, and mostly in the form of ‘no’ and scolding. They get no attention or reward for being good.

Annie is bullied by Sascha

Annie

Sascha opens doors and child gates, she toilets on the floor immediately after she has been taken outside. She bullies poor Annie who spends much of her time hiding in the kitchen. The couple would leave them to get on with it – to sort it out for themselves. I ask people in this sort of situation, ‘what would you do if you had a child bullying her sister?’. Would you leave her to get on with it? Would you not kindly teach her a better way of behaving and protect the victim? Sascha is a very brainy dog who needs more stimulation. We did a bit of very simple clicker training and it was marvellous to see how focused and eager to please she became with something that is reward-based. We wouldn’t want to work for nothing and it’s the same for dogs, whether it’s food reward, play or merely praise.

Reinforcement drives behaviour.

Soon this lovely young couple should be bonding with their beautiful dogs, and enjoying them once more like they used to.