Inconsistency. Biting Leash. Grabbing Lead. Scratching for Attention

Miniature Schnauzer Pepper is now six months old. She lives in a family of five and gets a lot of input. This leads to inconsistency.

She has a lovely nature; a non-aggressive, friendly and confident little dog. Perfect really. The things she does that they would like to stop are all normal puppy things – but not perhaps by the time puppy is six months old.

They are first-time dog owners, enthusiastic to do their best.

Inconsistency is a problem.

inconsistency makes training hardThey all need to want the same things and decide just what they are. They then all need to stick to the protocols.

There is a little list of specifics they would like to change. Most are due to excitement and lack of direction in a way that she understands.

The list includes jumping up at them when they sit down and if ignored flying at them. If pushed away crossly, she may nip. It’s a battle to put her lead on and her teeth are used. She attacks and grabs the lead when they walk. One family member doesn’t want her upstairs.

She jumps at them when they are sitting down and if ignored, scratches and scrabbles with her feet. Her nails make this uncomfortable.

They are happy with the jumping on them if she is gentle. It’s okay while they sit at the kitchen table but not when they sit on the sofa. The inconsistency will be confusing. If they decide that her little soft paws gently on them is okay, I feel this has to go for wherever they are sitting.

They may decide no feet on them at all is what they want. But then, they like being jumped up on when they arrive home.

Picking their battles.

I suggested they pick their battles, come to an agreement as a family and then each one stick to the plan. (I myself would start by choosing to allow gentle paws wherever they are sitting or standing. Not rough scrabbling).

So far the emphasis has always been on stopping her doing things and it can in fact make her worse. Particularly when there is inconsistency. They may scold or physically prevent her from doing something in the moment, but that doesn’t teach her for another time. It can wind her up more, to the point where she nips.

The emphasis now will be in showing Pepper what they do want.

Teaching her the desired behaviour may not work in the moment so quickly. The result, however, if they all do the same thing and keep it up, should be permanent.

It complicates things if there is one rule for the kitchen and one for the sitting room. I would decide whether soft feet are allowed in both places when they are sitting, or whether no feet at all is what they want. Whether soft feet are allowed, but not nails.

When they have decided what they want they will stick to it.

How?

Using their body language to remove attention and by reinforcing the behaviour they want. We used a clicker and the word Yes. We also reinforced just sitting looking at us and especially lying down peacefully.

While scrabbling gets maximum attention she will continue doing it. What’s in it for Pepper to lie down peacefully or to sit calmly beside us when jumping and scrabbling gets a lot of reaction?

There is even inconsistency in this. Sometimes she is fussed and cuddled. Sometimes she is pushed down and told No.

Lead biting is infuriating! They will, rather than using a water spray or impatience to stop her, now reinforce the behaviour they do want. When the lead is in her mouth they resist what is, to Pepper, a tug game. They freeze. As soon as she drops the lead, they drop food and they start moving again.

Motivation

If they concentrate on getting Pepper to use her brain, her stress levels will come down and life will be easier. We saw how well that worked while I was there.

I gently asked her to do something only once – and waited. She did it. Sometimes it’s best to say nothing at all and just wait for the behaviour they want. Then they can say ‘Yes’ or click and reward with food.

At present she simply isn’t motivated to do what they ask. If they say ‘Come’, she understands but mostly decides to ignore it. At this stage they should use food liberally.

There are a number of things in our plan that, individually, would make little difference. Some things are pure management like blocking off the stairs. However, when they add the individual things together, avoiding inconsistency, they will see some good progress after the first few days I’m sure.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

That’s Not Punishment, is it?

What exactly is punishment?

This is not the place to get all technical with semantics and the definitions of punishment. It’s enough to say here that it’s anythinPunishment can be as subtle as disapprovalg the dog doesn’t like, done by us, in order to stop him doing something we don’t want him to do – correction.

Punishment doesn’t have to be wielded with obvious things like a stick, shock collar, water spray or shouting. To a sensitive dog, a warning tone of voice or even a certain look could be punishment. Some might say that psychological punishment is worse than physical punishment, anyway.

Basically, anything imposed on the dog that he doesn’t like, is, to that particular dog, punishment. Being thrown into the river would be traumatic for one of my dogs but heaven to my Cocker Spaniel!

In the case of delightful Collie Staffie cross Banjo, there are things that his humans would never have regarded as ‘punishment’ at all which have been punishing to Banjo. They love him dearly and would never hurt him.

Why is it that today, despite all the evidence, many people still reject the regular use of food for reinforcement when getting their dogs to do what they want and still rely on correction?

One problem with anything aversive is that it can contaminate other things present at the time – or things the dog may associate with the scary event.

Here an illustration of this – not related to Banjo. A wellington boot is dropped by mistake or thrown in anger, scaring the dog; he could then become frightened of all wellington boots, or of anything dropped or thrown, or of the room it happened in, or the washing machine which happened to be on at the time or even of anybody wearing wellington boots.

 

People can be surprised when they realise something they do is, in fact, punishment

Surely punishing a dog would be something physical – or at the very least, shouting?

‘Punishment’ can be a lot more subtle and the fallout from subtle things that are aversive can be a loss of confidence in general.

Using positive, reward-based and force-free methods doesn’t mean we have a dog without boundaries that can run wild. It just means that the dog learns to enjoy the behaviour that we want because it works best for him, rather than just hitting upon the desired behaviour because it’s the one that doesn’t lead to unpleasant consequences.

Three-year-old Banjo comes over as a rather worried dog. He is easily effected by the emotions of his humans and it’s quite a volatile household with the lady and her two adult sons. Each one is different with Banjo. One son is the disciplinarian and has done a great job with teaching him training tricks, the other son is more sensitive and probably less consistent, and the lady is a pushover! They find it hard to agree on how to treat the dog and this predictably leads to disputes.

One can imagine how this can be confusing to a dog, particular one that doesn’t like raised voices.

Maksad2

Banjo is generally obedient but rewards are seldom used. He is taught to avoid the consequences of being disobedient and even though few dog owners would class these consequences as ‘punishment’, to Banjo they can be.

Of late the young man has introduced ‘time-out’ when Banjo does something unwanted or doesn’t do something he is told to do. Are we sure that Banjo actually knows what it is that he shouldn’t be doing? The man counts down “3-2-1” and then Banjo is shut in the porch.

Apart from learning that the countdown ends up with his being sent to the porch, I doubt whether Banjo always knows why – or is actually learning what he should be doing. Because the counting will sound threatening, he will no doubt stop anything he happens to be doing whatever it is; the counting alone will have quite a high ‘punishment rating’ to a dog like Banjo.

One of the probable fallouts from this ‘time-out’ process is this: Banjo has become scared when the younger brother comes home from work and initially runs and hides. He then behaves in an appeasing manner before settling back to his normal friendly and excitable self. My guess is it’s because he has been on imposed ‘time-outs’ in the porch on one or two occasions when the young man has came in through the front door from work. Negative associations.

Punishment or correction can seem to come from nowhere – out of the blue.

How do we feel when with an unpredictable person who is loving one minute and angry with us the next? I have lived with someone like this and it’s like treading on eggshells and you can’t relax. (Take another look at my favourite video – the poor man doesn’t know when the next punishment is coming or what it’s for).

There is another more obvious example where fallout of punishment (which they may not have regarded as punishment) has affected Banjo. It is probably responsible for his more recent wariness of children.

A young child and her mother came to stay with them for a few days over Christmas. Banjo seemed fine with the child initially – if he was uneasy they didn’t read the signs. The child wasn’t actively supervised all the time and would be pestering him. Banjo growled. Everyone reacted angrily and Banjo would have been frightened.

The dog will not have understood why, despite all his polite warnings, he was eventually forced to growl in order to protect himself. The result, to him, was his humans suddenly acted irrationally and in a way that scared him.

It’s not a big step to conclude that his fear of children approaching him when they are out since this episode is fallout from this ‘punishment’. He has built up a negative association.

They had Banjo from eight weeks of age, and very early on one of the adult sons played light-chasing games. He still regularly ‘entertains’ Banjo by nudging the lampshade to make shadows dance around the walls and floor. Each time someone picks up their mobile phone the dog starts looking for a light to chase, as a mobile phone light has been used for chasing games.

It’s such a shame. Sensitive dogs so quickly get OCD-type obsessions.

The young men will now do all they can to avoid light chasing games and anything else that stirs up their sensitive dog or scares him.

With a more positive and consistent approach by his humans, with all three ‘drinking from the same water bowl’ so that they become more predictable, Banjo is sure to become more confident.  More confidence will affect his whole life, particularly when out on walks.

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 Banjo. 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. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

 

Chihuahua Bit Man on the Mouth

Chihuahua Ant on the left is quite a confident little dog while Dec is restless, on constant alert

Ant and Dec

Here we have Ant and Dec – adorable eighteen-month-old Chihuahua brothers. They have had exactly the same upbringing but their personalities are very different. Ant on the left is quite a confident little dog while Dec is restless, on constant alert, wary of being approached, barks at people he doesn’t know well or dislikes – and has snapped and bitten.

Both little dogs are overweight despite the couple who own them sticking rigidly to the diet regime. This is because they need the help of another couple to look after them so they are not left alone too long, and unfortunately these people, who absolutely adore the dogs, can’t be persuaded not to over-indulge them. The alternative would be leaving the dogs all alone for hours.

Little Dec may bite if removed by the gentleman owner from his lap when asleep and he has bitten a child. He is actually fairly tolerant of them, but when he’s had enough his signals simply are ignored. We need to be looking out for ‘look-aways’, lip-licking and yawning which all show the dog is becoming increasingly uneasy.  Growling will follow. He may then be scolded for giving what is really quite a reasonable warning. By now he is between a rock and a hard place; he has no options left – he snaps.

The poor dog can’t talk ‘human’ and the humans aren’t understanding ‘dog’.

Dec is scared of vehicals and bicycles; air-brakes send his tail between his legs and he would run if he could. He hates the vacuum and the strimmer – and fireworks. Visitors may pick them up which makes Ant pee.

He bit a man on the mouth

The final straw came the other day when the friend bent over Dec as he slept on the sofa (in order to kiss him I believe), and he bit the man’s lip badly.

These little dogs are carried about too much (as chihuahuas often are); they are subjected to big hands reaching out on top of them to touch them and large human faces getting uncomfortably close. They are also allowed to dictate when they get attention and when they are played with. Food for rewards has little value.

Over-feeding, pandering to fussy eating, giving too many un-earned treats and sharing one’s own food, carrying little dogs about, forcing kisses on them and getting them too excited when greeting to the extent that a dog pees may be done in the name of love, but isn’t kind really. The owners themselves are more restrained whilst having some tightening up to do, but they need to be much firmer with the other people who share the care of their dogs.

It is always best if I can have my first meeting with everyone willing to be involved in changing their own behaviour in order to change the dogs’ behaviour. The couple are very keen to understand Ant and Dec’s needs, but fear the other people may be unwilling to listen to my advice or change their over-indulgent ways. Consistency from everyone is so important.

Just see in the photo how eager and attentive they can be if motivated!

It is just after Christmas and I received this email: Hope you had a good Christmas! Just wanted to let you know of some fantastic success we have had with Dec. It’s funny that we only saw small changes until we visited Craig’s parents over the last couple of days…
Normally Dec has been petrified of Craig’s brother…..When we visited we had been using the pen lots when things got too busy and hectic to keep them calm and calmly brought Pluto into the room Craig’s brother was in- seriously was like a miracle moment- no barking, no signs of him being anxious he even went onto his lap and let him stroke him!!!! I think knowing the signs of when they are anxious has really helped us to keep him calm- we can’t always remove him from a situation but just knowing what to look out for really helps!
Normally visiting Craig’s family with the dogs is something I find really stressful but they have been 100% better behaved which just makes everything so much more enjoyable!