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.

Dog From Spain and Too Much Jumping

Perro is a remarkably stable little rescue dog from SpainI have fallen in love, again! Little 7-month-old Perro was found in sad circumstances in Spain, quarantined, and brought home by friends of the couple who have now had him for one month. He is a terrier of some sort.

He is remarkably stable and resilient considering what he has been through in his short life. He is very fortunate with his new home with the patient couple who have already come a long way with him in just one month.

The main problem is his over-excitement and jumping up – sometimes grabbing with his mouth also. It’s especially difficult because they have a three-year-old daughter who gets scratched by his claws. He is extremely good with her – he adores her – and she has already been taught to be gentle and respectful around him.

People seldom realise that they are actually reinforcing the jumping up. If a dog does it this persistently, then they must be. It has be rewarding for him in some way. So, they need to be just as persistent in their own new responses to his jumping up for as long as it takes. Perro will naturally begin to try even harder when he finds what usually works no longer works, and he may even get frustrated and get worse temporarily. Keep calm – and see it through!

The other thing that needs working on is walks. He is currently on an extendable lead and pulls all the time – and why not? An extendable or flexilead has a spring that ensures it’s always tight so it simply teaches the dog to resist. Pulling away a reflex action in response to being pulled back. There is no such thing as loose lead walking on a flexilead, unless it’s locked, and then why not use a proper lead of a good length that is more comfortable to hold? Perro also gets very excited when he sees dogs and people – straining towards them and then jumping all over them.

He has so many good points. He’s not a big barker, he’s scared of nothing apart from the car, he eats well, he doesn’t beg, he is biddable, very friendly and affectionate. Just look at him!

A couple of days later I called in again to work on giving Perro a behaviour incompatible with jumping up, using a clicker. Clickers are often used in the wrong way, but used correctly clicker training is very useful because it encourges the dog to make his own right decisions and isn’t about us giving him commands. This way he learns self control rather than people trying to control him – which very often will hype a dog up even more.
Ten days after my visit I have feedback on his walking is going: “I have been working on this walking out the back and am seeing real improvements, it will take time especially when there are distractions, but he is not pulling continuously anymore”.
Three and a half weeks have now gone by: Perro is getting on really well………We are on holiday at my parents at the moment and Perro is behaving very well. I have asked my family to get up and fold their arms, giving him no attention if he jumps up  and they are all being fantastic with it. I have just had a lovely walk with him, he is walking really well on the short lead. I am remaining very determined to keep him walking on a loose lead, We saw some cars go by while we were walking and he didn’t leap at the at all and paid them hardly any attention at all which is fabulous. I have been doing as you suggested clipping his lead on him first thing in the morning to stop him jumping at us and this is working really well …. I am also still working at the impulse control training as in the video and he is responing very well to this……We are remaining calm and consistent and i feel are making steady progress”.