Alarm Barking. How ‘Stopping’ the Barking Can Make Barking Worse.

It was hard to imagine as I sat with Cocker Spaniels George and Rupert that the problem is alarm barking. Having had a sniff of me they simply settled down for the evening.

These two dogs have a very good life! They want for nothing. They go to a very good daycare while the couple are at work. They are taken on holiday with them and are very much loved.

Neighbours have complained.

Continue reading…

Defensive Behaviour, Growls When Approached While Resting.

They have done wonderful work with their two beautiful dogs, 18-month-old Cocker Spaniel Pudding and their eight-month-old Australian Shepherd pup.

Both are obedient and polite and were it not for Pudding’s recent ‘defensive behaviour’ problem rearing its ugly head, all would be well.

The young owners are fortunately now nipping this in the bud.

Growling ignored

defensive behaviour when in bedThe incident that started everything was a couple of months ago. Continue reading…

‘No Touching’. Breaking the Behaviour Pattern of Biting.

‘No touching’ for a period of time is the way to go now.

no touching the dog is the way to goIn all respects apart from the biting, Cocker Spaniel Lupo is wonderful. The young couple have worked really hard and most of the time he’s soft and affectionate. They have had help before and have conscientiously done their best. This hasn’t stopped both of them being bitten many times. Continue reading…

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. Continue reading…

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.