Safe Place. Safe Haven. Cocker Spaniel Scared of Toddler

She seldom feels completely safe. Lucy’s fearfulness affects everything, most importantly her reactions to their baby daughter.

So many things she fears

With fear being at the root of all the issues that are a problem for the seven-year-old Cocker Spaniel’s owners, general fearfulness is what we must address. Continue reading…

Cocker Spaniel Won’t Play With People. Will Play With a Dog

Rocco is a young Cocker Spaniel who won’t play. Unusually, he’s not at all interested in chasing something that is thrown for him.

He does, however, get a huge buzz out of charging, barking, at approaching people.

He won’t play tug games either with his humans, though loves to tug something with their other dog.

Why won’t Rocco play?

Continue reading…

Something So Endearing About a Cocker Spaniel

Show Cocker Spaniel Toby is a beautiful boyThere really is something so endearing about a Cocker Spaniel!

Cockers haven’t been put on this earth to be ignored.

My own Cocker, Pickle, is totally different to Toby in that he’s not a guarder, but he, too, can be a handful. He is a working Cocker and keeps himself, and me, busy. He is the smallest of my dogs but more trouble than my three other dogs put together.

Pickle keeps me on my toes!

Toby is a Show Cocker and a beautiful boy.

His start in life wasn’t ideal in that he was hand-reared along with his siblings. The downside of this is that he hasn’t been taught by his mother when his teeth hurt as usually happens when suckling. If she feels puppy’s teeth, mum gets up and walks away. Puppy learns about teeth because his food supply disappears.

Toby guards people, places, locations, himself.

Their problem with Toby is that he guards things in that he ‘possesses’ them. They are HIS resources; ‘Stay away’. He guards places also, various private bolt-holes in the house where he takes his ‘trophies’. These are places like under the coffee table beside his lady owner (whom he also guards).

The Cocker Spaniel may also guard food while he is eating, he guards chews and bones, he guards his own personal space and he will guard toys. He does quite a lot of growling that they are now immune to – but growling has a purpose, it’s a warning.

Recently Toby bit someone who approached something he was guarding and who ignored his growling.

Toby chooses.

Toby gets what he wants, when he wants. He chooses when he comes in at night, he chooses where he sleeps. Toby chooses when he eats. He chooses when he gets touched. He chooses when he should play ball (but the ball has to be wrestled off him). His demands are nearly always immediately met.

Food is always available and their own food is shared. Nothing has to be earned. If £50 notes were showered on you, would you want to work for two pounds? Their attention is given freely, every time he demands it. How relevant does he find his loving humans when they want his attention?

I asked the man to call Toby to him. Toby just looked at him! (Toby now expected the man to repeat the request and put in a lot of effort). I said to the man, “Toby’s had his opportunity and lost it. Leave him”.

I must say, I can’t imagine any of my dogs growling at me. This isn’t because they are any different from Toby or other dogs I go to. It’ s because I never have used physical force but rewards instead. I mostly save giving them treats for when they do something I like. They are always willing. I am relevant. I hold the ‘cards’.

We control the resources, not the dog

Here is a quote from Jordan Rothman, ‘To control your dog, control what motivates your dog: food, toys, belly rubs, attention, access to other dogs etc.’

I introduced Toby to clicker training. It took a while for him to catch on to the notion of having to EARN food (cheese). Once he got it, he was 100% attention, poised to work for me. It was lovely to see and shows what is possible. He was a focused and happy dog; all I was teaching him as a starter was to look me in the eye, to give me his full attention.

Loving a dog to bits is a bit of a two-edged sword. Indulging a dog’s every whim is actually not good for him. It’s no different than with one’s children.

Boundary Bark. Boundary Chasing

One year old Cocker Spaniel Lucky will chase people walking past the fence and boundary bark. He is a lovely dog, doing exactly what most other dogs in his position would do. Particularly a working Cocker Spaniel with loads of energy both mental and physical.

Boundary bark

Give a dog free access to fences, where people with their dogs walk past, he will very likely boundary bark and chase. No doubt from Lucky’s perspective he believes he is chasing them away – they always go, after all.

With each time he does it, the behaviour becomes more established.

They have had him for three months now. He’s landed on his feet with a wonderful home, and they have got themselves a wonderful dog.

I was called in order to do something about his general excitement and the boundary barking.

Uncontrolled arousal

Boundary bark and chase dogs and peopleFrom the point of view of Lucky’s stress levels, this frequent charging from gate, up the side fence and back to the gate is not good. He gets so frantic he tries to dig out underneath.

The gentleman’s way of dealing with this is to chase after him with a slip lead and corner him. In such an aroused state Lucky sometimes gets to a stage where he can no longer control himself. On a couple of occasions he has redirected his frustration onto the man and bitten him.

It’s a bit like a child having a tantrum kicking out.

With frequently topped-up stress levels, Lucky will be much more nervous and jumpy in general, just as we would ourselves. Things that we consider may be fun for the dog – like repetitive or exciting hands-on play – can actually be adding to his general arousal levels. This will build up and remain in his system for days. Trigger Stacking.

Enrichment and fulfilment

A working dog needs breed-appropriate things to direct his energy onto. I understand this well, having a working Cocker Spaniel myself. He needs to hunt, forage, explore and to use his brain. Adding this kind of enrichment will tire him out in a much healthier way than simply exercise and physical play. It’s a lot harder work however than just letting the dog run around freely, doing his own thing.

A large aspect of Lucky’s life will be frustration. He will boundary bark but be unable to actually get to the person or dog.

As they can’t let him off lead on walks for fear that he would go off on a chase and not come back, walks must be frustrating for him also. Currently he is held close on a slip lead. With no freedom there will constantly be things out of reach that he can’t get at or sniff. I suggest giving him time on a long thirty-foot line in the woods or fields where he can make his own choices – and the man can follow him. This should enrich Lucky’s life greatly.

The line should be attached to a harness – a tightening collar could badly damage his neck.

Management gives less work to do

The first priority where the boundary chasing itself is concerned is to manage the situation better and to remove opportunity.

Allowing Lucky access to that gate when they aren’t right there on hand to deal with it immediately is simply asking for more trouble. Lucky has an anchor cable in the garden which gives him a lot of scope but keeps him away from the gate where the barking ritual kicks off. They should use this more. They may also be able to fence off the front part of their garden. 

Chasing the dog

When Lucky does boundary bark, it needs to be dealt with appropriately. The man may be able to catch him eventually, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem at all. It won’t stop happening. It will intensify.

The humans should show Lucky that it’s their own job to protect him and the territory, not his. Their role of ‘protector’ can’t be just when they feel like it so they must be consistent and ready to react immediately he starts. If they delay he will have become so aroused that he will unresponsive and not even hear them.

Chasing and cornering him is the worst thing you can do with a dog. Lucky’s family will now work hard at getting him to come to them as soon as they call him.

They will condition Lucky to come to a whistle immediately and make it very worthwhile for him. As soon as he charges down to the gate they can whistle. Then, instead of chasing him, he will come to them. They can experiment with what works best as a reward. It could be a special treat, it could be scattering food around the place or it could be throwing him a ball.

Then, as well as relieving him of any boundary duty, passing people and dogs will be associated with something happy. This will result in them becoming less troubling to Lucky.

In time, if they do this every single time, he will be hearing someone approach and instead of chasing come straight to his humans for a reward instead – without having to be called.

Summing up

So, Lucky boundary barks and chases which is the behaviour they want to stop. As well as approaching this directly there are other things to do. They won’t excite him unnecessarily. They’ll enrich Lucky’s life as much as they can. Importantly, they will use management to prevent free access to that gate whilst reacting to any boundary barking appropriately.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. it’s obvious professional help is needed in a case like this of a dog bite with no warning. Click here for help.

I’ve Hidden the Ball Thrower. A Cautionary Tale.

This is a story about my own dog, Cocker Spaniel Pickle, and the ball thrower.

I’ve hidden the ball thrower.

Pickle loves to chase the ball. He jumps to catch it and he would carry on till he dropped (though I can’t image Pickle ever dropping if the ball kept being thrown).

Although the dog loves it, the ball thrower really may not be a good thing unless used very sparingly. People with ball chuckers seldom use them sparingly, like five throws then put it away.Play with ball thrower

Why isn’t it a good thing? Dogs LOVE it.

Unfortunately they can become obsessed. Too much and they can even become adrenaline junkies. They are never happy unless a ball is being thrown for them.

A lovely walk can become nothing more than chasing a ball, fetching and dropping it to be thrown again. The richness of the countryside becomes lost to the dog. He should be using his wonderful nose to explore the environment and all the dogs, other animals and bugs that have passed his way before him.

Unnatural.

Would a dog, freely out in the environment alone without humans, be doing anything quite so relentlessly repetitive?

Anything repeated over and over can be addictive and causes stress of a kind, even if the dog does LOVE it.

It’s almost like the dog is a clockwork toy (remember clockwork?) and with a key we are winding him up until he is over-wound.

Pickling

My Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, would chase a ball all day given the chance. However, if there is no ball, he is happily  ‘Pickling’. He does what instinctively comes to him which is running about, tail wagging, exploring with his nose. He may chase a pigeon or dig up a vole.

He’s a working dog, and needs to use his brain whilst exercising.

The day before yesterday someone took my dogs to the field with the ball thrower for Pickle. He threw the ball for him, over and over.

Over the past two days the fallout from that extended ball play on Pickle has been very evident. (I do myself play ball but it is for a few throws only then I stop. Adding some training and brain work goes a little way towards fulfilling his genetic needs).

Pickle never stops.

He brings the ball back, drops it where it makes it easiest for the person to pick up. He runs off in anticipation of where it might land before it leaves the ball thrower.

The day before yesterday after the lengthy ball play, Pickle charged back into the house ahead of the other dogs. I was sitting at my computer. He leapt into the water bowl, digging out the water all over the sitting room floor. Dripping, he charged all over the furniture and then jumped into and knocked over the larger water bucket the dogs drink from.

Any self control was simply impossible.

For a good hour he paced and he panted. Each small noise set him off barking.

Isn’t ball play meant to tire him out and make him calm? Isn’t a tired, physically worn out dog a good dog? Fat chance! It’s the opposite.

Pickle was on alert for sounds for the rest of the day. The next morning he was still high, getting vocal and excited for his breakfast, perfectly illustrating how stress chemicals remain in the body.

So, I have hidden the ball thrower.

No ball thrower yesterday and no ball thrower today.

Pickle has been out in the field with me several times, Pickling. No balls.

Afterwards he comes in, has a drink and settles.

Today the neighbours wheeled their wheelie bin down the passage. After just one token Woof Pickle settled again. No vocals before breakfast.

It’s taken three days to get him back to this.

This is such a classic example of trigger stacking and the importance of the right kind of exercise that I have written my story about Pickle this time.

If anyone reading this with a highly wired or stressy dog uses a ball thrower to chuck a ball repeatedly for their dog, just try something.

Try no ball throwing for a few days. Just allow freedom to explore and to sniff. Your dog may find ‘doing his own thing’ very hard to start with, but persist.

If the dog chooses to run, he can chase things he himself chooses to chase.

A less stressed dog will result in a dog being able to cope with all sorts of things life throws at him, whether it’s encountering other dogs on walks to being less destructive or waiting patiently for his dinner.

PS. Dangers to be aware of if your dog loves ball play. 

Behaviour change. Erratic. Staring. Upset or Unwell?

Maybe it wasn’t such a sudden behaviour change after all. Perhaps there were already signs.

Earlier when we spoke on the phone I heard this story:

Sudden behaviour changeIt began about three months ago. Ambrose was spending hours just sitting and staring. He wasn’t looking for shadows or lights. In the lady’s words, he stared obsessively and becomes very distant. When they called him out of it he came, but went straight back.

Coinciding with this there was a sudden change in the two-year-old Cocker Spaniel’s attitude towards the family’s other four dogs. One, four month old Vizsla pup, Hector, he had ‘attacked’ several times – not yet drawing blood but very negative experiences for Hector at a vulnerable age.

Erratic

The first sign of Ambrose’s behaviour change was when he had attacked their other Cocker, Guinness, simply because the other dog had approached while he was being fussed. Later Ambrose had shaken and pinned down their older Schnauzer mix. Other incidents followed, one being causing a small dog to yelp when he was out.

This sudden behaviour change was completely out of character and very worrying.

I arrived to bedlam (largely my own fault as I wanted to see what they did). The younger dogs were highly aroused at my arrival and, along with leaping at me, erupted into wild play which I felt could have quite easily turned into something else.

This behaviour change – why?

My arrival gave me my first insight into Ambrose’s change in behaviour. The common denominator in nearly all the incidents was high arousal.

My second insight was that Ambrose always did his staring in a direction away from the front of the house. He would take himself outside and sit on the grass, staring in the direction of another house. He didn’t do it anywhere else. Easily called away it wasn’t like a trance, but he would go straight back.

They live in a wonderful private area where there are no fences and mix freely with the other dogs – a bit like dogs had freedom to be dogs in my childhood.

Dog heaven.

My educated guess is that something happened back in October that upset him – something they probably didn’t even notice and certainly can’t remember. Possibly it was earlier, but the first they really registered was the incident with Guinness. Then the staring behaviour followed.

Stacking up on this were other changes in his life. The elderly mother moved in. Then playful puppy Hector became part of the equation which will have ramped up excitement levels in all the dogs.

Ambrose was developing an increasingly short fuse.

Already mysteriously troubled, Ambrose became increasingly reactive when something upset him.

They didn’t read his body language so they did not heed his warnings.

Growling was ignored or scolded.

Then, when he did then explode, his humans ‘turned on him’, as it might seem to him. I would say the escalating incidents are still in the category of ‘warning’ – no actual biting yet.

This could be an exaggerated interpretation but my guess is that the cause for his seemingly sudden behaviour change is along these lines.

We humans sometimes occupy our minds with alternative things to fill our minds when really troubled. We know that dogs also use displacement activites when conflicted. Maybe the staring gave Ambrose an all-consuming thing to occupy him that he himself had control over and that blocked other things out?

Strangely this staring has begun to right itself. They have all been away for three weeks and since coming back, without rehearsal, he’s doing it much less.

It seems that the majority of the aggressive incidents occur when all the dogs are together which isn’t all the time. Two live elsewhere with the daughter. I could see just how aroused all dogs can be when together.

Stress and over-arousal is the common denominator.

In brief, they are now introducing management including a gate for a doorway so the dogs can be apart without being separated – not all together at trigger times or when resources are about. Until he has calmed down, they will use a long line when Ambrose starts on a walk because he is liable to redirect his arousal onto another dog. He goes mental on seeing squirrels, deer and other wildlife through the long window, so they will restrict his access to it.

They will manage people coming to the house differently for maximum calm. They will terminate excited play a lot sooner – particularly where puppy Hector is involved. We don’t want negative experiences with other dogs at his age colouring his attitude to dogs later on.

Finally, as food also could make a difference to Ambrose’s mental state, they will optimise his nutrition.

A general vet check would be a good idea, but before panicking about sinister causes like something neurological, let’s do the most obvious things first. Very dedicated family and I have good feelings about it. If he’s not much different after a couple of weeks of reducing over-arousal amongst all the dogs in every way possible along with management, the next step is a very thorough vet check.

 

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 Ambrose 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 aggression or unusual behaviour 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)

Alarm Barking. They Worry he May Bite

Barney barks with alarm at any sound he hears that could mean someone is approaching the house. It can be a car or footsteps on the gravel.

If outside in the garden, he barks with alarm as someone he doesn’t know approaches the gate. As deliveries or the postman let themselves into the garden, he may sound more fierce.

They are worried he may one day bite.

Alarm barking at people

Barney

Once someone is in the house, they find a delightful, friendly three-year-old Cocker Spaniel. Barney is simply doing what the majority of dogs would naturally do. That is, to alarm bark when someone approaches their territory.

He has unintentionally been ‘given the job’ by his humans, by their allowing him to be out in the garden alone when someone comes through the gate.

It will be quite scary for him when a stranger approaches him, possibly carrying something.

Allowing him access to ‘look-out’ points at the sitting room windows isn’t good either. If he barks for long enough the person will eventually go away.

Success.

Both having him in the garden unsupervised and barking at people from the windows mean that he is rehearsing the very behaviour that they don’t want. It’s being constantly practised – so it can only increase.

Being very alert and responsive is in Barney’s genes, very like my own Cocker Spaniel, Pickle. Although I will never make Pickle a quiet and placid dog (I could wish!), how I deal with it is very different. He is never left to feel that alarm is his responsibility. It could never get to a stage where he might feel it necessary to growl or even bite in order to feel safe. I would either have intervened immediately to help him out, or he would be safely out of the way somewhere.

Barney’s young couple have four things to do. 

Over-arousal.

The first is to avoid stirring him up unecessarily. The calmer he is, the more able he will be to cope. Like many young people, they find it fun to wind him up in play and even tease him. They think he enjoys it. Possibly he does – in the way we might enjoy a scary ride at a fun fair.

There are plenty more constructive things they can do with him that will help him to be less reactive.

Rehearsal.

The second is to prevent rehearsal by removing opportunity in every way possible – drawing curtains, going outside with him and so on.

Getting Barney to feel differently.

Thirdly is getting him to feel differently about people approaching. For instance, if they are outside in the garden and a delivery is approaching the gate, they can throw him his ball. He loves the ball. They may also get the man to throw his ball to him.

For the ball to be effective they will ‘ball-starve’ him! Whenever he hears or sees an approaching person he gets to play with his ball. Whenever they go, ball play stops.

Their own response to his alarm barking.

‘QUIET!’ won’t help him. He is alarmed and scared!

Cuddling and comforting won’t help him. ‘Don’t worry about the man that has come to kill us all, have a cuddle instead!’.

They need to work on every little sound that causes him to alarm bark. They will condition him to come straight away when called brightly – for either special food reward or the ball.

When he barks they need to react immediately. ‘It’s Okay!’. Then call him. Even if he doesn’t come, he should be getting the message that people walking past or approaching the gate or door are not his responsibility.

He has back-up.

Getting him to feel differently about the things that alarm him should gradually get him to behave differently. He may well continue to bark, but not for so long or so urgently. He should never be put in a position where he could feel compelled to bite.

It would be a good idea to put a bell on the gate and lock it so people simply are unable to just walk in – maybe a combination padlock? Friends and family will know the number.

Prevention is a whole lot better than cure. Belt and braces.

 

Obsessing, Stressing, Panting, Licking

Obsessing; pacing; compulsively licking the floor.

The root to everything is down to Cocker Oli’s permanently aroused and stressed state – he only gets respite at night or when shut away during the day.

If he’s not compulsively bringing things to be thrown he is licking the floor (I suspect this will have started because his own shadow moves) or pouncing on imaginary things outside.

He paces. He pants. He is constantly obsessing on something. His stress infects the other two Cocker Spaniels, Charlie and the younger Billy. There is no respite for him.

Slow massage when the other dogs were out of the way seemed to calm him briefly.

He is offered zoopharmacognosy (the process by which animals in the wild naturally forage and select plants to self-medicate) which is helping him.

If we can get him to relax more, other things will fall into place. His arousal builds up to such an extent that in the evening it boils over. Several times he has suddenly gone into the red zone and attacked one of the other dogs for simply being too near either the lady or gentleman when he’s standing or sitting beside them.

On a couple of occasions he has attacked the lady as she has walked towards him. Such a highly aroused dog in his state of constant obsessing will have little control of himself.

Adjustment by his humans of their own actions is also necessary in order to reduce the excitement and stress in all the dogs – to create a calmer atmosphere.

‘Project Calm’

We are putting in place ‘Project Calm’ and already, in one day, the couple have made great strides.

also affected by Oli's obsessing

Billy and Charlie

There are trigger points throughout the day when the dogs get much too excited and noisy. When let outside first thing in the morning, when coming back in because breakfast follows. Then manic excitement because a walk always follows this with mayhem at 5.30am as they get to the car.

Now the man will come downstairs, put the kettle on, ignore them. Wait for calm before letting them outside – putting Billy’s lead on so he doesn’t tear around the garden barking anymore. Back in, he won’t feed them immediately but wait for calm again. Finish his cuppa!

Then they have a calm method for getting dogs into the car,.

The dogs have ‘their room’ during the day and in here Oli is calm. Although the lady works from home she has found that Oli is much more at peace in there with the other dogs. When they are let out there is bedlam again as they charge out of the door into the garden to greet the lady. Now before letting them out they will ‘Lace the grass’ with food. The dogs can then spend five minutes’ food-hunting and foraging which will take the edge off their excitement.

The couple will break the connection between returning home or letting them out and immediately going out for a walk.

They are changing routine now and these simple procedures are already working. At night-time when it’s time to let the dogs out, they do a very slow robot walk to the back door. When they get there they wait for no jumping up before slowly opening the door.

Robot-walking does wonders for creating calm!

A smallish crate in the corner may well help him too – somewhere that contains him. They can give him a special tasty filled Kong he never gets at any other time. At first indication he wants to come out they will open the door. If he knows he is never shut in there against his will he should be happier for longer periods of time. It’s certainly worth a go – in effect saving him from himself – and giving the other dogs a break from him.

They could also try very soft ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ music in there. It can be downloaded, or an iCalm Dog which is expensive but very portable and works brilliantly with some dogs.

Because the lady walking towards him seems to be a trigger for sudden eruption, she will get him to like it! Being a Cocker Spaniel I’m sure he’s good at catching things, so she will start from a distance and advance on him, throwing food as she goes until she is popping a piece in his mouth. She can do this in various places, particularly if he is near to the man.

The dogs should be treated as individuals sometimes. One at a time they can come out of their room and have a bit of quality time with the lady while she works during the day.

Instead of just ‘coping with Oli’ in the evenings when he is at his worst, they will plan activities. Healthy stimulation needs to be introduced – activities that will help him to de-stress himself and to use his brain. It’s impossible to be in a cognitive state and an emotional state at the same time.

He can have zoopharmo sessions; they can let the dogs out of the kitchen individually or in pairs for special attention; Oli can have a hunting game in the garden hiding something smelly; he could take a trip on lead around the block etc. etc.

He needs a little something to fulfill his breed drives but not feeding his obsessing. A short ball game in the garden – maximum 5 throws with a ball that appears from nowhere as though by magic and disappears again afterwards. After the 5th throw they can chuck some food over the grass so he can unwind.

As with many over-stressed dogs genetics is certain to play a big part, but people have to be at the heart of the problem too, so how the humans behave is crucial. He is at peace during the night away from them and, they are sure, during the day when shut in the dogs’ room (I shall ask for a video).

When eventually a much great degree of calm is achieved and Oli is able to settle for himself, other things may well come to the fore that we may need to deal with, but at the moment we can’t see past poor Oli’s arousal levels and obsessing which is also affecting the lives of the other two dogs.

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 Oli 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. 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)

Chewing and Destruction. Finding his Own Employment

Chewing everything, jumping up and toileting in the house.

Chewing everything

Marley

Chewing and toileting indoors are enough to drive a patient dog owner mad! These are the negatives. Marley is beautiful. He is affectionate, gentle, brainy and funny.

They have been very fortunate with their older dog, an unusually placid German Shepherd. When getting a second dog, they hadn’t bargained for a ball of energy like Marley.

The nine-month-old Cocker Spaniel is so much like my own Pickle at that age in temperament. I have first-hand experience of a working dog without sufficient employment. He too would have been finding his own things to do by way of chewing and destruction had I not done things differently. Despite having had many dogs, Pickle was a big learning curve for me. I had never lived with a dog that required so much mental stimulation.

I wasn’t prepared for having to spend quite so much time doing things with my dog in order to keep him ‘good’. This meant providing some of the fulfillment his working breed requires.

He’s an ongoing project. It never stops and he’s now six years old.

The first thing I learnt very quickly with Pickle was that ‘No’ made him worse (see here how ‘No’ doesn’t work). Even though I knew from both experience and learning, that ‘No’ only makes things worse in the long term, I’m only human and sometimes couldn’t help myself! It made me feel better.

I also learnt the importance to my sanity of adapting his environment.

I particularly understand the frustration for busy people who have a dog like Marley or Pickle.

Adapt the dog or adapt the environment?

Pickle – a pen didn’t work

Marley’s most infuriating trait is his constant need for chewing.

To my mind he has access to too much of the house and there are too many things for chewing about the place. He will chew just about anything and has demolished a couple of DVDs in the past two days. I saw the chewed leg of a nice piece of furniture.

People often try to adapt their dog to fit into their environment.

I recommend they do the opposite – adapt their environment around the dog by making significant but mostly temporary changes. This by lifting and removing everything tempting or chewable and providing a constant supply of chew items. By shutting doors and blocking areas.

Adapting the dog means constant vigilance. Adapting the environment means teaching the dog what is acceptable one thing at a time.

Although the goal of my visit is to stop Marley chewing everything (as well as toileting in the house and jumping up), these things are just symptoms. They are symptoms of a dog that needs more one-to-one time, providing even more enrichment than his good off-lead walk a day.

Some activities are mentally stimulating whilst also stress-reducing – like hunting, foraging ….and chewing. A long walk, particularly if spent chasing a ball, may have the opposite effect.

Chewing helps a dog to calm himself – as it does ourselves. We chew chewing gum for instance.

The destruction is about keeping himself busy and maybe also helping himself to calm if he’s over- stressed (aroused/excited/bored). Digging, chewing, wrecking things, humping and so on are all symptoms – of ‘stress’.

Dogs do what works.

If jumping up works in terms of getting anyone’s attention, then Marley will jump up.

The price we pay, if ‘not jumping up’ is important to us, is for everyone, both ourselves and visitors, to react in the same way. Take away the ‘reward’ – attention. Then and just importantly they show him what does work. It will need time and patience.

Maybe as his jumping up is light and doesn’t hurt, they should decide how important this is to them and to pick their battles?

My Pickle never jumps up and it’s not because he is highly ‘trained’ (he’s not). Right from the time he arrived as a four-month-old puppy jumping up simply didn’t work. No notice of him was taken if his feet were off the floor. Plenty off attention was given when his feet were on the floor.

If chewing things satisfies a need to relieve frustration, boredom or other stress, then Marley will chew anything he can find. He needs regular activities and enrichment provided by his humans, and not only when he’s doing something they don’t want him to do. Initiating activities when he’s relaxed and restful is making ‘calmness’ rewarding.

Sometimes the time and hard work needs to be shared a bit more equally between family members and then it doesn’t seem quite so bad.

Effort put in on Marley now will pay off big time later on. I would guarantee that if he was taken out daily with a ‘positive force-free’ gun dog trainer who worked him, he would have more self-control at home. He would no longer be chewing things, jumping on people and toileting indoors.

Unrealistic and impossible, I know. But we can do other things that fulfill our brainy, working dogs.

My attempts to catch a photo of Marley!

 

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 Marley. 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. 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).

Rough Behaviour. Jumping. Scratching. Biting. Why?

I came to help with Honey’s rough, uncontrolled behaviour but it soon became apparent that their other dog, 8-year-old Bonnie, was one of the main triggers.

Both are Cocker Spaniels. Honey is already large for a Cocker and still only nine months old.

Rough and uncontrolled when aroused.

some rough behaviour due to over-excitement

Honey

Honey is a delightfully friendly dog but loses control of herself very quickly – and any efforts to try to impose control only make her worse.

When aroused (which is much of the time if anyone is moving about), she jumps up constantly. When excited or frustrated she usually picks on the lady. She will fly at her and grab her arms – she has bruises to show for it. If ignored, she scratches frantically at arms. It hurts.

Honey makes it impossible for the lady to get ready for work in the morning. She also attacks the hairdryer.

She did try the same things on me but I always wear tough clothes, just in case. There is no aggression behind it as such. Just an overflowing of arousal and frustration.

I was able to ignore it and start to reinforce any small moments of calm behaviour.

Eventually she was lying peacefully beside the man. Silently so as not to stir her up again, he dropped a piece of food to her.

Everything was going very well apart from Bonnie’s near-constant barking. She could see my car out of the window. She could see movement. She could hear things we couldn’t hear.

We tried everything to stop her but she was in such a state that the best we could do was for the lady to have her on her lap, well away from windows. For a while she quietened down.

Then she heard something else and erupted into a renewed frenzy of barking.

Immediately the now peaceful young Honey jumped up. She was clearly in a state of panic, rushing about, back and forth from Bonnie, licking her face, panting, jumping at us. It was actually quite pitiful.

Bonnie holds the trigger to the starter pistol.

The first obvious thing feeding into the jumping up, mouthing, biting and scratching are Honey’s extreme and near-permanent arousal/stress levels.

There will be such a build-up inside her that it’s like she’s ready to erupt at the slightest thing. People simply moving around or being busy is sufficient to start her off.

Everything will now be done to calm her down.

One main trigger is obviously Bonnie and her own panic barking, so although I was called for Honey, we need to deal with this at source – with Bonnie. Another is the over-enthusiastic behaviour of her humans towards her. They reap what they sow.

The other thing feeding the rough behaviour is that it always, but always, brings a result of some kind. It hurts so people react.

Bonnie

To make things harder, jumping up is strongly reinforced. She is nearly always fussed when she jumps up at them. At other times she’s told to get down. There is no consistency.

Inconsistency adds to frustration..

The couple are out all day but have a dog walker. Each lunch time she takes the dogs out for a lovely walk with other dogs. But still, like many people, they feel guilty having to leave the dogs alone for hours.

Out in the garden after work, the lady, trying to play ball with her, is literally mugged by her.

Protective clothing and ‘money’.

I suggest the lady has a tough jacket to hand to protect her arms. Honey must now realise that all play stops and all attention stops as soon as the rough jumping up and biting begins.

They should also have food on them all the time – to pay Honey for the behaviour they do want.

Honey should be given more appropriate stimulation – encouraging self control and calm. The morning routine can change so the dogs are downstairs with a chew each while the lady gets ready for work. They can then be given a short ‘sniff’ walk around the block before being shut in the kitchen instead of excitable play.

The people will keep actively reinforcing the behaviour they want. I reinforced feet on the floor and then lying or sitting down. Honey soon got the message with myself (until Bonnie set her off again).

The man made a good point. The behaviour is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is ‘wanted’ or ‘unwanted’ behaviour – so we reinforce wanted behaviour only.

Triggers can come from unexpected quarters. Calming Bonnie’s barking will indirectly have a big impact on Honey’s rough behaviour.

This case brought home to me two things. One, it illustrated that the triggers for a dog’s behaviour are often not obvious, especially to the humans closest to the dog. An objective, outside view is necessary.

Scondly it illustrated how important it is with behaviour issues to see the dog in his or her own environment. Had I not been in their own home I would not have realised just what an impact Bonnie’s mental state has on Honey’s.

 

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 Honey and Bonnie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any form of aggressive behaviour is concerned. 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).