Antisocial With Dogs. Insufficient Early Habituation and Socialisation.

His young lady owner refers to him as antisocial – towards other dogs in particular.

Gunther is yet another young dog that has lacked the right kind of early socialisation or sufficient habituation. He should have encountered a variety of people, other dogs and been exposed to life in general during the second, third and fourth months of his life – before he came. It’s little wonder he’s antisocial at times.

The 8-month-old Dachshund I met wanted to be friendly but he’s torn between friendliness and fearfulness.  He barked at me for a while before, quite suddenly, becoming my best friend.

His ‘antisocial’ behaviour is progressively worsening. There are, however, inconsistencies. 

His antisocial behaviour depends largely upon where he is.

antisocial with dogsGunther’s young lady owner works in a shop and takes him to work with her. He has a pen at the back. Other people work there too and members of the public are constantly coming in and out.

Gunther, watching them from the sanctuary of his pen, is absolutely fine.

At home he is different. He’s very antisocial when someone he doesn’t know first comes in.

When I arrived he was loose in the room as I walked through the door. A huge human walking directly into his space can be very intimidating for a tiny dog – or any dog really.

Gunther has a similar pen at home to the one at work where he’s very happy. Had the lady put him in there first, I’m sure he would have felt less intimidated and been less antisocial with me. He could then have come out to join me when I was sitting down.

Worse close to home

The further away from home or shop he gets, the more relaxed Gunther is. I suspect, as he gets older, there is a territorial element to the antisocial barking.

Standing on the lady’s lap as she sat beside me, he barked at me.

Then, suddenly, he decided I was okay and had his nose in my ear (a nose shaped for the job!).

Gunther also barks frantically at things that he should have been habituated to early on, preferably before the lady got him at fourteen weeks of age. He is scared of bikes, pushchairs and so on – anything with wheels.

Now they are going to play catch-up.

It’s a matter of doing two things: systematically desensitising him (getting him used to these things and to people and dogs when out without pushing him over his comfort threshold) and counter-conditioning him (adding something he likes to level out that fear).

See-saw

I liken it to a see-saw. The little Dachshund sees something that scares him, so his end of the see-saw drops. Immediately the lady now must give him more distance and introduce something he likes, special food for instance. His end starts to rise as the other end goes down until it has levelled out. It may even be that ultimately the other end of the metaphorical see-saw is on the ground and his end of it is happily in the air!

The lady has a little girl age three. She and the dog are wonderful together though perhaps the little girl, being a little girl, gets Gunther too excited at times.

We devised a pushchair game for the child. She can wheel her buggy about slowly, pushing a tub of Gunther’s food. One piece at a time, she can drop food on the ground as she moves along. She will be counter-conditioning him to wheels.

Underpinning everything is lowering Gunther’s permanently high arousal/stress levels. They are constantly being topped up with every excitement or bout of fearful barking.

It’s okay to carry him

At work, the lady needs to take Gunther out regularly for toilet breaks, but in order to succeed with the behaviour plan she must protect him from close encounters with things he can’t cope with. It’s a busy area and for now she must accept that he is antisocial. Fortunately he’s small enough to carry if necessary. She can then put him down on his favourite piece of toilet grass and carry him back.

If she sees someone approaching, the young lady must protect him from unwanted attention. He’s a people magnet! She may also find an I Need Space vest useful. (The Yellow Dog Company do bandannas and leashes with the wording, but if someone is able to read the small words they will be much too close).

The young lady will introduce him to more ways of de-stressing by chewing, foraging, doing ‘dog’ things and using his brain.

Different kind of walk

She will give him a different kind of short daily walk. Currently he encounters all the things that cause him to be reactive or antisocial as he walks near home and near the shop.

In the car, she will stop off on the way home from work to somewhere free of dogs, people and wheels. Here he can mooch and sniff on the end of a longer lead for a little while, recharging his batteries.

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, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Scared Barking. Fearful. Barks Constantly on Walks

I heard scared barking as I knocked on the door.

too much scared barking

Sid is gorgeous and I was expecting a Cavapoo. I don’t believe he is a Cavapoo though. The scared barking came from a dog looking more like a newly trimmed Cockerpoo.

There is definitely something fishy about his start in life, where they got him from at eleven weeks and the fact he was already incubating kennel cough.

The ‘breeder’ wouldn’t give her address until they were on the road. When they got there Sid was handed over to them straight away. There was a small Cavalier KC that they said was Sid’s father and a small black poodle that they said was his mother. No other dogs.

My suspicion is that this smart house was a front and very likely Sid had been shipped there from somewhere else.

Quarantined with kennel cough

Unfortunately, the couple lost even more time in acclimatising him to the real world because of the kennel cough. He had to be isolated for a couple more weeks.

I met a very fearful dog. Fortunately the scared barking stopped and I soon won him round with food.

I had to assure his lovely humans, first-time dog owners, that the fear issues were in no way caused by themselves. He’s now twenty-one months old and is a tribute to how well they have done generally.

Sid’s way of dealing with things is with frantic scared barking. It can be anything from a bird, to an approaching dog to a squeaking metal gate. He’s quite brave really.

Imagine what everything in the world must be like for a puppy that hasn’t had positive exposure to different people or dogs. Even those he has encountered may not have been the most pleasant experiences.

Sid doesn’t feel safe

Everything is a potential danger. In his highly-strung state he directs scared barking at anything and everything.

His arousal levels before he even starts a walk are such that he’s already set up not to cope. People and dogs he meets, bangs he hears and everything else around him is simply too much for him. So he reacts with continual scared barking.

He barks all the time they are out.

Sid barks loudly before even getting out of the car. This starts as soon as they slow down. It will be a mix of excited anticipation and scared barking I would imagine.

There is one bit of grass about fifty yards from the front of his house where he will toilet. He doesn’t even feel safe there. He looks all around first, then he does his business quickly and then runs away from it fast.

Taking things back to the beginning.

The work starts before they even leave the house (Sid’s sanctuary).

Before they open the door he is already getting stressed. He is scared of the harness and over-excited by the routine leading up to going out. They will work on the harness problem and change the routine. Slowly they will wait for calm.

He will never feel safe further afield if he doesn’t feel safe immediately outside their house, so near home is the place we must start.

They can lace the nearby grass where he feels so unsafe but where he must toilet with food – something he loves to help neutralise something he fears.

For the first couple of weeks they can spend lots of short sessions standing about outside, counter-conditioning him to all the sounds and sights that alarm him.

There is unlikely to be much traffic. They can use a long line so he can run for home should he wish to. An escape route is essential.

Walks are doomed

Meanwhile, they will need to go to further off-lead places by car. However, because of the state he gets into when getting out of the car, these walks are already doomed. I suggest they leave this, too, for at least a couple of weeks while they work closer to home.

Our next priority will be a quiet exit from the car to reduce scared barking and control over-excitement. People naturally resort to scolding; words like ‘enough’ may give a short break. This will only work in the moment and do nothing to improve the emotions that cause the scared barking – probably make it worse.

When he’s ready, we will look at teaching Sid what we DO want (quiet) rather than what we DON’T want (barking).

Clicker training will be the way to go so we can ‘capture’ the briefest of silences initially, gradually extending how long the quiet periods last for.

Though the scared barking is the problem for Sid’s humans, the barking itself isn’t the real problem. It’s a symptom. The problem is the emotion that causes him to bark.

They unfortunately can never make up for lost time or the ‘socialisation‘ Sid should have received ideally between three and thirteen weeks. They can, however, make a huge difference.

If never a social butterfly, he can become a lot more confident – given time and patience.

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, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Early Exposure. Appropriate Acclimatisation to Life. Flooding

Another dog, a puppy this time, having lacked the right kind of early socialising and exposure in the earlier weeks, before she was twelve weeks of age.

Mia is now nearly four months old, a beautiful Catalan Shepherd puppy.

Little or no exposure to the real world

little or no exposure to the real worldPoor little Mia is extremely fearful of people. She is generally jumpy and is terrified of traffic.

They picked her up three weeks ago from a breeder with a great number of dogs in her house. Mia’s socialisation will have been great with other dogs but I suspect she had no exposure to anything outside the house.

Mia’s mother was scared of Mia’s new humans when they picked Mia up. That should have been a red flag. They are first time dog owners and simply wouldn’t have known what to look for.

A fearful mother will pass fearfulness on.

When they got Mia home they went straight into walking her three times a day. They took her to places believing it would help her. They encouraged people to ‘say hello’. This ended in a village fate with lots of people and a fairground and Mia froze.

This is flooding.

Since she arrived, rather than gaining confidence, Mia was becoming increasingly scared of going out.

Over the days, with all the new things to which she had had no early exposure, her stress levels will have mounted until she could no longer cope. Now they have a bigger problem than they had initially.

Bit by bit, where possibly she could have coped with one thing introduced at a time, the under-prepared puppy became overwhelmed with simply too much of everything. They must not blame themselves – anyone apart from an expert would have done exactly as they did. It’s not a normal situation.

Really it’s the breeder’s job to give a new dog owner the right information. It’s such a shame that many don’t recognise the importance of exposure – particularly to other dogs, to people and to traffic.

Puppies need early exposure

Puppy needs handling by various people from a young age. She needs taking out and about, exposure to different kinds of people, to shops and traffic, ideally well before her injections. She needs to travel in a car.

They have a large open kitchen and sitting room area. Little Mia remained as far as possible from me with the odd venture nearer to pick up food I threw. She barked at me and retreated.

I have personal experience with this with my own German Shepherd Milly. Ten years ago I brought the terrified puppy home from a client when she fourteen weeks of age. She came from a puppy farm and had had no exposure to anything whatsoever. It took her about three weeks before she would come anywhere near me.

I, however, didn’t push it. I took her nowhere and I left her alone. Bit by bit she got braver. Like Mia, she was fine with dogs and at the time I had three.

My Milly will never be a social butterfly but she has the tools to cope. 

Feeling safe

In order to learn to live life happily, Mia needs to feel safe. At the moment, if she sees anyone apart from the family or if she’s out of the house and garden, she’s terrified.

It was lovely to see how happy she could be when the teenage son went over to her. We want a lot more of that!

Like my Milly, she is no trouble at all. She’s not relaxed enough to be playful, nippy or naughty though I’m sure that will come now. Earlier in the evening she had had a little race around the garden having dug a hole. She had dug up a stone which she was having fun throwing about. A very good sign.

They must take things one at a time now. By avoiding exposure to things that scare her unless at a comfortable distance, they should slowly build her confidence and trust. This requires her having an escape route. At a distance, they will associate the things she’s scared of, most particularly people and traffic, with food (counter-conditioning).

If she won’t eat, they are still too close or it’s getting too much for her. They should stop.

Taking things one at a time

The plan involves breaking things down.

A harness will make sure she is comfortable. They will start by introducing her to this carefully, using food. She shrinks from the lead, knowing that she will then have to go out, so the lead needs working on, with no association with walks.

Next they will work on the threshold, the doorway. At the moment they have to carry Mia out of the door and down the road before they put her down because she’s so scared she pulls back for home.

By ‘lacing the environment’ just outside and leaving the door open with Mia on a long lead, they can work on this. She can run back in if she wants. She should soon feel safe enough to walk out of the door.

The next problem is her terror of traffic. With the door open and well back for the road, on a long lead so she can run back in, they will now pair passing traffic with food.

Being in the car is scary – Mia drools and shakes. They will briefly put her in the car, offer food and lift her out again. Lots of times. When they do drive her, it will be for one minute down the road to the woods which she fortunately finds okay.

They must prevent people from crowding the scared puppy.

It’s going to be a slow old business.

Take it easy – err on the cautious side. 

I have been to so many cases of both puppies and older dogs, from rescue in particular, where the people flood their new dog with too many new experiences.

I would say, however confident and calm the dog seems, take it easy. Introduce new things one at a time. It’s a whole lot better to err on the safe side.

So now, unless they really have to, I advise them to resist taking Mia out until she is ready. A little later they might carry her to the car and drive her to wood or park. A short journey to somewhere nice may help her to accept the car.

Once she does go out, they should constantly apply distance and counter-conditioning when she sees a person. If she is scared by something, then it’s is ‘too much’ or she is too close. They should abandon the walk and come home straight away.

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

Frantic Barking. Littermates. Not Prepared For Real Life.

I walked in the door to be met with frantic barking.

Brave Luna, with frantic barking, came right up to me. Her sister backed her up but with less enthusiasm.

Frantic barking at people and sounds

Luna

Luna and Bear are same-sex siblings. They are two-year-old Cavapoo Collies. What a mix! They were a bit smaller than I expected.

Walks are a nightmare due to the dogs’ reactivity to everything, their frantic barking and pulling. Consequently, the family don’t walk them regularly.

Their frantic barking at every sound when at home is annoying the neighbours. The lady has tried all sorts of things to stop the barking, some not pleasant for the dogs. None worked.

Addressing the root of the problem is the only way to get lasting improvement.

Clever dogs need variety, exercise and enrichment but their behaviour makes taking them out impossible. The family can’t walk them separately as the two little dogs won’t be separated.

Luna is the most stressed of the two and she is the more bossy one. This is often the way. One will overshadow the other. Bear, however, is more relaxed and without Luna may well have adjusted better to life.

Lack of exposure in crucial early weeks

Three main points have been working against the family.

Bear

The first is that the dogs, in the vital first twelve weeks of their lives, didn’t get the required socialisation and habituation to daily life all dogs need. Early socialisation and habituation.

They picked the puppies up at sixteen weeks old.

They were not prepared for meeting people, other dogs, bikes, sounds, vacuum cleaner…..all sorts of things. The real world is a scary nightmare.

The second point is that they are littermates which brings its own challenges.

The third is probably genetics. They tell me that the dogs’ brother is even more scared and reactive than Luna.

I didn’t list these things to discourage them, but so that they are realistic about what they are up against. It’s also important that they don’t in any way blame themselves.

Stress reduction

There is just one of these three things that they can actually do something about. That is what people call socialisation but which is really systematic desensitisation, habituation and counter-conditioning.

For their dogs to react differently, they need to work on their fear and stress levels.

Every time they take them out, every time they take them in the car where they simply shake with fear, the dogs are ‘flooded’. Flooding does them no good at all. Everything is too much.

Stress, fear, excitement/over-arousal is at the root of their behaviour. They haven’t been properly prepared at a sufficiently young age for the real world. Too many things both at home and out stress Luna in particular.

Living in a war zone

Just imagine being terrified every time you go out. It would be like living in a war zone.

Stress needs reducing in every way possible. Each time the dogs are alarmed and react with frantic barking, their stress levels go through the roof. With exploding stress levels, they bark and react even more. It’s Catch-22.

Stress reduction underpins everything we will do. The family will work on calming the dogs constantly and in every way possible.

So, against a calmer background, we need a plan of baby steps. We need to break things down into the tiniest of increments to desensitise and counter-condition the dogs to one thing at a time.

One dog at a time

Progress will be impossible with both dogs together. They will simply keep bouncing off one another rather than relating to their humans.

So, the first challenge here is to get them to accept being apart for just a minute or two to start with. Baby steps.

The family will start with a barrier or gate across the room so the dogs, whilst together, are separated. They can give each dog something to chew so it’s a positive experience. Bit by bit they can extend the time.

Then they can take one dog out of sight of the other.

The dogs must be comfortable with one step before going on to the next.

Eventually one dog can be on a long and loose lead by the open front door. Now the frantic barking at sounds and sights of the outside world, of passing people and so on, need working on.

Just being at the open front door is too much

How can the dog go for a happy walk when even being at the open front door is too much?

It’s impossible to say what progress they will make or how fast. Frequent short sessions in tiny increments will be a lot better than one long session.

Walks can currently only do more harm than good to the dogs. They are a nightmare for all due to the frantic barking at everything and the pulling.

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 dogs it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Defensive. Unfortunate Incidents. Reactive to Certain Dogs

Poor little Teddy is now on the defensive. He is very small, weighing only about 5kg. The three-year-old is a cross between a Shih Tsu and, surprisingly, a Border Collie – they saw his mother.

The friendly and confident little dog has had two setbacks recently.

Other dogs had never before bothered him.

Two unfortunate incidents

A while ago, the large, friendly and boisterous dog next door had jumped over the fence into Teddy’s garden. He jumped on him, terrifying Teddy. Now Teddy races up and down the fence, boundary barking.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, about to jump into the car, he had an altercation with two larger passing dogs. They jumped on him. They pinned him down and he was bitten on the neck. Teddy screamed and screamed. The young lady says it was one of the most awful experiences of her life.

Since then Teddy has been on the defensive.

They are really worried this may have scarred him for life. Their well-behaved little dog is now tense and reactive. To quote the lady, ‘I’m so upset about it I just done know what to do’.

on the defensive with other dogsWhere before he would walk past a house down the road with barking dogs at the gate, he now barks before he even gets there. He is on the defensive irrespective of whether the dogs are out or not.

Teddy’s defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs is totally understandable as it is all about basic survival and feeling safe. Bad experiences have fallout – a sort of PTSD.  Although the ‘disaster’ itself can be very brief, the effect can take considerable time to recover from. Sometimes it will be permanent unless the dog, like a human, gets specialist help.

Teddy lives in a family of three generations and they all totally adore him! Although they spoil him rotten – he doesn’t actually behave spoilt. They have taken time and trouble training him. He’s beautiful.

Sadly, he has become increasingly territorial and nervous since these incidents.

There is more involved than just dealing with defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs itself. I have broken the work down into about four areas.

A calmer dog

Firstly, if they can keep Teddy as calm as possible it will give him a greater tolerance and he will be less jumpy. This means moderating some of the things they currently do with him that make him wildly excited.

Food

Secondly, key to the whole thing is being able to use food. Food is available all the time to Teddy. His humans share their food with him. He gets chews that are, relative to his size, huge. Food simply has no value as rewards.

This will be a big challenge for one family member in particular!

They will now save the very best food for working with. For instance, if they already add cooked chicken to his meals, what good will cooked chicken be for making him feel better about something he’s scared of? If he’s already full of food and snacks, if he can also help himself to dry food whenever he wants, why would he take any notice of the food they need to use?

Protective

Thirdly, he needs help with his territorial and guarding behaviour which, because the incidents happened so near home, has intensified. They will show him that it’s not his job to protect the garden. This means he shouldn’t for now have free access unless someone is around to help him out.

His humans, the young lady in particular who witnessed the second incident, are themselves nervous. She is not acting like the ‘protector’ that Teddy needs. He will sense everything that she is feeling. She needs to work on acting strong and cool.

Finally, what can they actually do?

What do they do about the big dog next door that jumped over the fence into his garden and terrified him? About the house with the barking dogs that send him into a frenzy of defensive barking when they walk past? What do they do about those dogs and situations they may meet when out?

The work is done using desensitisation and counter-conditioning. This involves keeping within Teddy’s comfort zone – and I would say the young lady’s also. When they near another dog or the garden with barkers, they need to watch him carefully. At the first sign of unease they will increase distance from what is troubling him, before he becomes defensive and starts to bark. It could involve turning around and changing their plans.

This is when food having value becomes vital. Pairing something he should love (food) with something he is uneasy or defensive towards (certain other dogs too close) is the way to go.

Together with the neighbour, they can work on their dogs each side of the now raised fence, using leads, distance and food (or play).

I hope it’s not too long before little Teddy becomes less defensive and can all feel safe on walks and in his own garden again.

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.

 

Avoid People and Dogs When Out.

They have to avoid people and dogs? Really?

I found Billie and Shaun the most polite, friendly and chilled dogs anyone could wish to meet.

they avoid people and dogs on walksBillie is a Labradoodle who looks much more like a Labrador, and Shaun a Jack Russell mix. Both are three years of age.

There is a big difference between how the two dogs react to people and dogs passing their gate to how they behave when people are invited into the house. From the garden both will bark. Billie may charge wildly up and down the fence, barking.

Walks can be nightmare, so the couple simply avoid people and dogs when they go out.

The much bigger Billie, in particular, is variable. Some days she barely reacts at all and on others she’s nearly impossible to hold. They need her to be consistent.

They now have acquired a camper van and want to travel with their lovely dogs. At the moment it would be impossible.

To avoid people and dogs altogether will get them all nowhere. Forcing them too near, unprepared, is even worse.

Avoid people and dogs no longer. New strategies.

They have already come a long way since adopting the two dogs. Now it seems to have flat-lined and they need some new strategies to take things forward again.

As in most cases, it’s more than just attacking the problem itself head-on. There will be other contributory factors which my questions are designed to bring out.

Here there are three main areas to work on.

First is to make sure that both dogs are in the most stable state of mind possible as a ‘normal’ base level. There isn’t a lot to change in this respect.

Their relationship with food can change a bit however. Our work needs food and with meals already containing all the luxuries, what can they use?  We discussed a change which will give them a highly nutritious staple diet whilst leaving the most tempting stuff for reinforcement – for associating with people and dogs.

People-watching.

The second area is working towards the dogs being less reactive to people and dogs near to their own territory. They will work on passing people and dogs – and to people and dogs the dogs can hear or see from their house or garden.

Finally, systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning needs to take place away from home.

To avoid people and dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but to push them over-threshold could make things even worse.

Systematic work will start just outside the gate with one dog at a time, progressing to walking down the road.

Working sessions must be done one dog at a time. They will use the ‘engage-disengage’ game. This involves distance and – food.

Over time they will be able to encounter people and dogs more closely but in a controlled fashion.

Their ‘normal’ walks, consisting of going by car to somewhere they can avoid people and dogs altogether, can carry on as before.

From inside the camper van they do some ‘people-watching’, parking it in a carefully chosen location and working on the same principles. They can be ready to draw the curtain to block the view before people or dogs come too close.

They will continue to work in a systematic, incremental way, using this different approach to that they previously used which was simply to avoid people and dogs or to hang on tight if a dog or person suddenly appeared.

When progress has been made with the dogs individually, they can then work with them together.

This is a case of slowly slowly catchee monkey!

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 Billie and Shaun. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. 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 Help page).

Triggers Stacking. One Thing After Another

Stunning Flo is nine months old. She was rescued from Romanian streets at 5 months old – an Akbash – a Turkish sheep guarding dog.

I believe a series of unfortunate events has most likely coincided with a particularly vulnerable period in Flo’s life – a fear period. Had these same things happened a bit earlier (or later) and maybe not in such quick succession, all would have been okay.

Triggers stacking up.

A bang triggers panicThe fears started just 2 weeks ago, before which Flo was confident and playful. The first of the triggers happened when the lady lifted her arms to shut the car boot door on her. It has happened many times before, but this time Flo panicked. The same thing happened a week later and now she wouldn’t get back into the car to go home.

The next of the triggers was a few days later – a bird scarer in the fields.

Then a motorbike revving scared her so this was added to the triggers.

Then another bang from the bird scarer. Flo was too close. She pulled the lead out of the lady’s hand and ran. Then, adding to the triggers, a boy on a bike made her jump.

Finally 10 days ago, off lead, another big bang. Flo ran off and was missing for 2 hours.

All these triggers stacking up over a short period of time has reuslted in Flo being in the state she’s now in.

Jumpy and stressed.

When I arrived, their other dog, Golden Retriever Zak, was out on a walk. Flo was scared of me. She startled when the gentleman happened to push the cutlery draw shut.

Then Zak came home. Flo was transformed. She was suddenly wriggly, confident and friendly!

Our work covers two areas: doing all they can to keep Flo’s general stress levels as low as possible and working on the triggers themselves – the bangs and other scary things.

This means no walks as Flo knows them just for now. Already on my advice they are leaving her at home when walking Zak.

Every time she’s out and caught unprepared by a bang of some sort – and now other things like a revving motorbike – it will merely make things worse.

Systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

They will manufacture their own bangs at home. These will start with soft taps leading to bangs eg: spoon on the table, saucepan lids gently somewhere out of the room or that cutlery drawer. They can build up to distant party poppers or cap gun – the other end of the house or way down the garden.

Recorded sounds may or may not work but worth a try. They can control the volume.

Flo can hear the bird scarer from inside their house if the wind is in the right direction. This will apparently carry on for another week so they can turn it into an advantage and work on it.

Exposing Flo carefully to bangs (desensitising), isn’t alone enough however. It’s what happens when the bang occurs that’s important – this is the counter-conditioning bit. A bang must trigger something good – in Flo’s case little bits of turkey will rain down (it has to be turkey as chicken doesn’t agree with Zak). The bang triggers turkey irrespective of what Flo is doing or feeling – whether she’s alarmed or whether she’s ignoring it.

They should have turkey to hand all the time so that unexpected ‘real life’ bangs always trigger turkey. We also looked into what to do if there had to be a short delay between bang and food.

Flo gets ball play in the garden for exercise and they are now starting to walk her again but near to home. Unfortunately Zak’s company on walks doesn’t help her reactivity to those triggers as it did with me in the house.

Human emotions.

It’s just possible that Flo is also picking up on her owners’ own emotions. The lady is understandably very upset for Flo who had done so well after a difficult start in life. The effect our own emotions have on our dog.

Slowly slowly catchee monkey.

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 Flo. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any form of fear is 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).

Bang of Exploding Firework. Now Scared of Going Out.

.A big bang started it all.

Millie is no longer the carefree and happy dog that she was.  Already sensitised last November, an unexpected and close firework explosion at New Year when out on a walk did the rest.

Now the six-year-old Collie Corgi mix spends most of her time upstairs, alone, under a bed.

She will come down when called, only to sneak back up again as soon as she can. Her tail goes down and it’s like she doesn’t want to be noticed escaping.

Strange toilet ritual.

A bang has made her fearfulMillie is now scared to go into the garden, particularly during daylight. Bird-scarers and gunshots aren’t happening after dark. She has to be taken out for a short walk out the front on lead for her toilet. She has also had accidents in the house.

A puzzling ritual has evolved around their taking her out the front. She will cross the road and then want to come straight back in. This has to happen about three times before she will ultimately be sufficiently relaxed to toilet the other side of the road.

We looked at ways of changing the routine to see if it would help. It may have become a learned behaviour. They will open the side gate before walking out the front and crossing the road with her. Then see if she will go straight into the garden down the passageway – a route they never take her.

They will also, starting when it’s dark and Millie is more comfortable, lace the garden with food. She will enjoy foraging for it if she’s not scared. They can gradually bring this forward to twilight.

No force and no persuasion,

In order to get her walk through the fields in particular, they have used a degree of force. Walking round the village where there is more background noise and they are further away from a bang from bird scarer and gun – she will walk more willingly.

She currently wears a collar which must be very uncomfortable when, fearful, she pulls for home till she chokes.

Walks can be made more comfortable using a harness. This is important so that she doesn’t get neck pain associating with a bang. Being scared makes her pull. From now on a bang must be associated only with something she likes, not discomfort.

To make progress she should have all pressure removed from her – even in the form of encouragement. No force and no persuasion. They will let her choose if she walks and where she walks. When she wants to abort the walk they will go home immediately.

Working on a bang.

Systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning means first finding the distance or intensity of a bang where she can be aware of it without reacting. Then it’s letting the bang trigger chicken – ‘chicken rain’ – tiny bits of chicken immediately dropping down around her. Sniffing to pick up the bits will also help her.

The gentleman has already made a recording of the bangs that scare her. Many inaudible to humans can be heard by Millie from their house and garden. For this work they will use this recording, starting very soft indeed, very gradually increasing volume and proximity.

They can also create bangs themselves. They can start by banging something gently many times with Millie beside them as each bang triggers chicken. Then progress to banging something more loudly upstairs, to party poppers or a cap gun from down the end of the garden.

It will be a learning curve as they experiment with distance and volume. She must hear it but be relaxed enough to eat. It’s really important to avoid her going over threshold if they possibly can as this puts things back.

This will take time and a lot of patience.

Go slowly. Too slow is a lot better than too fast, allowing her to rebuild her confidence.

The day after I saw them (a couple of days ago) I had an encouraging message from the man.

That night they re-entered the house via the side gate. He let her off the lead once pass the gate. She went a short way into the garden sniffing, then went to the back door with tail wagging. He repeated this again this morning – in daylight. Again she went down the passage way and once inside the garden seemed to be quite happy. Yesterday evening when she got into the garden she scampered by herself further from the house than the previous night.

So, it looks like the garden approached from the house is ‘haunted’ for her due to frequently heard bangs. They are now are exorcising it. As she now comes back indoors directly from the garden it prepares her way for going out that way also.

Progress on walks will take a lot longer as there are so many variables, not least Millie’s own state of mind when starting out.

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 Millie. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any form of fear is 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).

Deprived of Stimuli During First Year.

Cassie is a puzzle.

Everything about Cassie’s behaviour points to her having spent the first year of her life in a crate or very small space, deprived of stimuli. This is an educated guess only. When she was rescued three years ago (she’s now four) her posture was hunched.

Deprived of enrichment as a puppyOn entering the lady’s house, the young dog had immediately found a place in the room where she felt at home. She has mostly stayed there ever since. This is apart from trips to the garden and her walks – and occasionally venturing into the kitchen when their other very elderly dog is being hand-fed.

Cassie never barks.

For over a year she wouldn’t even go into the garden, though somehow the lady managed to walk her. Then the lady adopted Ronnie and immediately Cassie went outside with him into the garden.

Cassie had been fostered for several months with a couple experienced with dogs before the lady adopted her. This was probably her first experience of kind humans. The couple had several Border Collies. Cassie loves Collies.

Tiptoeing around her adopted dog has taken over the lady’s life.

She can no longer easily mix with people or enjoy her walks.

Cassie is a Cambrian Shepherd, cross between a Pyranian and a Welsh Sheepdog. A designer mix, I believe. She’s four years of age. Breeding beautiful dogs should take a lot more than just leaving them in cages, deprived of all enrichment.

The lady’s patience and love has really paid off to the extent that she can now walk Cassie nicely so long as she gives people a wide berth. However, she is very disheartened because she has now tried everything she can think of and progress has come to a standstill. Previous help she has been offered includes tying her to her waist and making her go everywhere with her. The lady gave up on this after a couple of hours, in tears, because Cassie was so unhappy.

It’s hard to read the beautiful dog’s emotional state. Her demeanour is not so much shut down as very careful. She doesn’t look scared or depressed. Nor particularly happy. She may give a slight twitch of her tail when the lady enters the room or a brief lick of her lips when uncomfortable.

I suspect this lying still on her bed for hours at a time is some sort of learned behaviour, programmed during that first, probably mainly confined, year of her life.

Very likely Cassie’s careful behaviour is being reinforced by the lady’s own careful demeanour around her. 

Deprived of life’s normal stimuli.

This beautiful dog’s being deprived of the normal things puppies and young dogs need during crucial developmental stages of her life will probably have altered the way her brain has developed. She is, however, capable of joy and play. She demonstrates this with certain other dogs when they are out and with the Border Collies in her foster home.

I can see no reason why this joyfulness can’t spread to being with the lady too.

In order to break the current stalemate, she will need to make some very slow and gentle changes. She will encourage Cassie from her comfort zone in such tiny steps she barely notices it.

Cassie, constantly watching from her ‘place’, will be a very good reader of the lady’s mood and emotions. I suggest the lady acts more casual and off-hand, not moving so carefully – ignoring Cassie while she is walking about.

She can slowly begin to alter the current rigid routines, developed for Cassie’s security, so that the dog learns to be a bit more flexible and resilient to change. Slowly is the key word here. Gently the dog can be taught to feel happy when the lady stands up and moves about – without racing back to her refuge as she normally would.

We looked at precise ways in which she can do this using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

Using a quiet “Good” followed by food, the lady will capture all subtle behaviours that point to Cassie engaging with her and putting a little effort in. Things such as orientating her body towards her, giving her eye contact or moving any part of her body even slightly towards where the lady sits on the sofa nearby. Eventually she will be standing up.

Out in the world of people and action.

Where the real world and meeting people is concerned, they can very gradually move nearer to places with more people about. She will associate people with good things and always allow Cassie choice to increase distance. Although deprived in her early life, I’m sure some real progress can be made with systematic work.

Feeling more free and comfortable with the equipment used should help when out on walks. Currently this is a choke chain and retractable lead. It is virtually impossible to get a harness on her at the moment as she drops flat onto the floor.

(The choke chain is not because she pulls – she doesn’t. A while ago she escaped from her harness and went missing for five days. The story of her recapture is really moving).

This has to be a really gradual process. A continuation of the extremely patient work the lady has already put in. It’s like she now dare do nothing to upset the status-quo, but status-quo doesn’t bring progress.

Very gently Cassie’s boundaries need to be eased outwards.

Four weeks later. The lady is using clicker and it’s like a whole new line of communication has opened with Cassie. The potential is exciting. Her confidence is growing.
Three and a half months later: I thought l would send you a photo of Cassie taking a treat from my friend in the park today. In fact she took loads of treats from her and Cassie only met her for the first time today. This is so exciting.

I hope all is well with you and thank you again.

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 Cassie because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much 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 Help page).

Street Dog to Couch Potato. Still Fearful.

Gracie is a street dog from Hungary. The lady adopted the little black terrier ten months ago and has made terrific progress in transforming the truly terrified little dog into a dog that can cope better.

Coping is the word. She is still fearful of many things in the real world and runs to hide behind the lady at the smallest thing.

Time to start climbing up the second ladder.

She was a street dog form HunagryIt’s like the lady has climbed one long and steep ladder to the point they are now at and doesn’t know how to progress further. I am helping them onto the next ladder towards increasing Gracie’s confidence further and getting her to better accept certain things that make going out on the street a nightmare – like children, sudden sounds, balls and life outside the house in general.

It’s strange that a street dog should find the most scary things she meets out on the street. She is perfectly fine off lead in a field. She has shown her playful and carefree side when playing with her terrier friend and it would now be nice to see more of this.

Gracie is a gorgeous, gentle little dog who settled quickly and lay spread out on her back on the sofa beside the lady. When at home with nobody else about, she is a real couch potato.

The lady needs to wean her away a little from her over-dependence so she’s more able to stand on her own four feet! Being so dependent makes her vulnerable and it gives the lady no freedom. One exercise the lady will do, while Gracie is attached to her heels or under her feet, is to drop food and walk away. When the little dog catches up, repeat and so on – making a game of it.

We will deal with some of her fears, one at a time in an organised fashion, using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

Put very simply, desensitisation means plenty of exposure to the thing ex street dog Gracie is fearful of but at a comfortable distance and counter-conditioning means then, at that comfortable distance or intensity, adding something she likes (food).

Getting the little street dog used to our ‘real’ world.

Here are a few examples:

Outside her front door in the real world of people, children, traffic and sudden noises. They will take this in easy stages and be very patient. Slowly slowly catchee monkey! They will start by walking around the house until Gracie is happy and relaxed.

Next they will step outside the front door where, surprise surprise, Gracie will find the environment already laced with food! They can stand about. At anything scary, chicken will rain down from the sky (not from the lady – she needs to keep herself out of the picture). At the first sign of Gracie’s tail dropping they will go back in.

They will work on the parasol in the garden that blows in the wind, frightening Gracie.

They will work on children. She’s terrified of children. There are kids next door that they can work on. Children make a noise and ‘chicken rain’ falls. Starting indoors where Gracie feels safe, she will slowly work towards being outside in the garden with children noise from next door.

They will work on footballs. It’s hard not to encounter people kicking balls on their walks and Gracie is terrified of them.

The lady will get a football. Gracie will go into the garden to discover a ball already placed by the fence and she will discover food. When she’s okay with this, she will start going out to find the ball in different places. The lady can then just try putting her foot on it and moving it slightly, dropping food. Gradually build up to rolling it then gently kicking it…….and so on.

The plan must be fluid.

The plan should be fluid and may need to be adjust to keep within Gracie comfort threshold. Sometimes it will take longer and sometimes she will be a surprise and get over a fear quickly.

Her new life is a huge adjustment for a street dog, particularly one that has probably spent her puppy-hood on the streets undoubtedly in the company of other dogs.

They have both done very well so far. Now let’s push it forward a bit.

 

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 Gracie. 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 fear of any kind is involved. 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).