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.
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.
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).