Vocal. Very Excitable. Easily Aroused. Permanently Stressed

I rang the doorbell bell. Betty barked – as most dogs do. I sat down, she barked at me. She continued to be vocal on and off for most of the time I was there.

At first I thought she wanted to chase me away, but it soon became apparent that she was excited by my presence in a friendly sort of away.  They seldom have callers and to Betty I was therefore a major event.  If I touched her she went quiet but then would bark at me for more when I stopped.

Betty is an extremely vocal little dog.

Very vocal little dogI couldn’t however get on with my job and pet her all the time. By doing so I was merely reinforcing here for being loudly vocal. If we had put her in another room she would have continued to bark and I didn’t want her even more stressed. Continue reading…

Aggressive Towards Dogs. A Not-So-Brave New World

‘Aggressive towards other dogs but a perfect dog at home’. How many times do I hear that.

Aggressive is only a word. It can mean a lot of things. In Lottie’s case it’s probably a belief that if she reacts quickly and strongly enough, she will remain safe. It looks like she’s never learnt the right way to interact with other dogs. It’s not a desire to attack or do harm.

Aggressive towards other dogs?

With Lottie it’s all about feeling unsafe. Self-preservation.

aggressive towards other dogsShe has never actually hurt a dog but she can sound and look pretty fierce. This is hard to believe when you meet the quiet and affectionate dog at home.

It’s a problem they didn’t know about when they picked up the four-year-old Staffie mix from a rescue five months ago.

It began with a sudden encounter with a little dog in a narrow alleyway. She pinned it down but did no damage beyond frightening it.

This was on her very first day with them. It was a totally new world.

From the kind of things she reacts to, it’s doubtful she had encountered many other dogs, nor bikes, scooters, pushchairs and so on. The things she doesn’t react to are surprising. She loves running beside their ride-on mower – very likely she had met one of these before. Off-lead in a field of horses she will ignore them completely, like she’s very used to horses.

Left to do her own thing?

It’s an educated guess that Lottie will have previously lived in a country environment with plenty of space to run free. What she loves best is to hunt. She is kind of uneducated in how to behave towards other dogs and those she has been allowed to get to she will ‘run into exhaustion’. Very likely dogs haven’t been part of her previous life.

At home she hates any shut doors. Leave all doors in the house open and she’s happy. This all suggests she’s unused to any physical boundaries indoors or outside.

The bottom line is that she seems really happy in her new home but she doesn’t feel safe when out – unless free in the open countryside and off-lead. Then she comes into her own.

Many people think the way to solve a dog’s problems with something is to expose them to lots. They did this with bikes by taking her to a cycle pathway. She went mental. If not handled right, too-close encounters with things that scare the dog will actually sensitise her rather than desensitise her. This is the way in which things go downhill.

People seldom think to call a behaviourist until later on and they can no longer cope, so it’s not nipped in the bud and unknowingly they are continuing to further sensitise the dog. So often they are not warned by the rescue to take introducing the dog to his or her new world very slowly.

A large, living teddy bear.

The other issue is that they are constantly having to watch the little girl, age three, who treats Lottie like a large teddy bear. She squeezes her in hugs and sits on her. Lottie will take herself off upstairs to keep out of the way.

There are too many stories of dogs that are gentle and good-natured just like Lottie, one day turning on the child. Children often get bitten in their faces as usually the child has his or her face in the dog’s face.

A picture by another little girl of her dog in his bubble

and a bubble by a little girl called Molly, showing herself smiling outside the bubble

They already are using reward stickers with the little girl. Now Lottie will live in her ‘bubble’ that the little girl will learn not to burst. Mum will draw pictures of Lottie and the little girl can draw bubbles around her. Then they can stick them round the house as reminders.

When the child remembers Lottie’s bubble, she will get a reward. Positive reinforcement for the little girl as well as for Lottie.

Going back to the beginning.

Very fortunately they have access to a paddock and another dog, a Labrador, that Lottie gets on with. She can still have her runs in safety.

Road walking in her new world away from the open countryside is the challenge. They will go back to the beginning and work on loose lead walking, desensitising her to bicycles, scooters, buggies – and helping her with other dogs. Walks will be slow with a lot of standing about. They will build up positive associations with the scary things whilst keeping sufficient distance.

If these things had been part of her daily life from a very young age, she would ignore bikes and scooters just as she does horses and not feel the need to appear aggressive towards dogs.

They will now be playing catch-up. Lottie’s a lucky dog to be living with such conscientious people in her new world. I’m sure she will ultimately have other playmates like the Labrador if they are introduced correctly.

 

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 Lottie and 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 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 or aggression is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

“I’m a Terrified Dog. GET ME OUT OF HERE!”

In the reality TV game show ‘I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here’ a young woman is locked in a tank of snakes. She is terrified of snakes. A man who’s not a good swimmer is shut in a dark tunnel leading to a deep tank with scary water critters. Others are buried in a dark tomb with rats and insects dropping all around them.

These people do this through choice.

Terrified of the outside worldThey know exactly when the terror will start and when it will end. They have a get-out card. If the terrified contestants shout “I’M A CELEBRITY – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” they will be rescued immediately. There is a team of medics on hand, just in case.

They know that however much they hate the ordeal, they are safe.

Imagine how it must be for Marco.

After some weeks in kennels he has a wonderful new home. But, as soon as he leaves the sanctuary of the house and garden he is terrified.

The gate opens and a world of horror is beyond.

Vehicles – small, large, fast, slow, noisy, smelly – are passing. There are bikes and runners. He lunges and barks, attack probably being the best form of defense.

In the open he is on high alert all the time. He barks at wind in the trees, at birds flying overhead and at distant lights.

Being in the boot of their car sends him into a meltdown. A covered crate makes no difference.

Unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco has no way of knowing that he is, in reality, safe.

It’s an educated guess that for the first three and a half years of his life the Staffie mix will have had little exposure, if any, to the world outside a house and garden. Any journey in a car would probably have taken him through this outside hell and ended somewhere like the vet. No wonder he’s terrified.

All good dog owners give their dogs long walks, right?

Like the conscientious dog owners they are, wanting to do the very best for their gorgeous but troubled dog, they had been taking him out for walks from the start.

Choice.

Unfortunately, unlike the ‘I’m a Celebrity’ contestants, Marco doesn’t have choice. He can’t know that in reality he is safe. He can’t know that the ordeal will only last a set length of time and then it will end. The dog has no ‘I’M A TERRIFIED DOG – GET ME OUT OF HERE!” option.

See this: What fear does to the body – dog or human.

Marco is gorgeous. Indoors he is friendly without being pushy, he’s gentle and affectionate. It’s probable that after just six weeks with them he’s not yet shown all his true self. His body language is what I would call ‘careful’. He shows signs of anxiety at unusual times like when he’s called through a door he lowers his head.

With a dog so obviously fearful of the outside world (the rescue apparently didn’t see this side of him) it’s common to suggest to new owners that the dog isn’t taken out at all for three weeks.

No walks!

People find this hard.

Let a dog get used to his new environment – house, garden and new people first. Just imagine the enormity of being trapped in a totally new world over which you have no control.

It’s all to do with trust in his humans, with Marco feeling safe. No animal, or human, willingly goes somewhere he believes is life-threatening. Keeping fit and exercise is an irrelevance compared to feeling safe.

If our guesses as to his previous home are correct, he’s not had much exercise in terms of long walks in all his life so far, so neither he nor his body will miss it.

They will now work slowly, always keeping in mind Marco’s comfort threshold. He’s fine in the house. He’s fine in the garden. When the gate opens he panics.

He is terrified.

He transforms into a lunging, pulling and barking beast.

They will now walk him around house and garden only, teaching him to walk on a loose lead. The teenage son was soon walking him about at his side with no lead at all.

They need to get him okay with the traffic on the busy road outside. He has to negotiate the footpath before going anywhere else.

With Marco on a long, loose lead they will open the gate and find his threshold distance – where he is aware of the passing traffic but can cope; it could be right down the garden. As the vehicles pass and Marco is watching them, they will rain chicken on him. If he won’t eat, he is still over threshold. He will have the freedom and choice to retreat further.

With lots of short sessions, with vehicles at a safe distances heralding food, over time his threshold will get closer to the road.

The car is another thing to work on but not until he’s okay walking towards it and around it. Little by little.

It is likely that with slow and patient work Marco will suddenly surge ahead and some of the other things that terrify him in the large and unfamiliar world won’t seem so scary.

He will have absolute trust in his humans if they allow him to choose what he is ready for.

He now can shout “Get Me Out of Here!”

He can choose!

If with his body language he shows uneasiness they will make things alright. If with barking he shouts “GET ME OUT OF HERE!”, they will do just that. Beat a retreat.

 

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 Marco and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Shaking With Fear

As I sat down I glanced at Adi. He was shaking with fear.

Romanian rescue dog shaking with fear

Adi was shaking with fear

The dog was shaking with fear just because I had walked into the room where he lay.

Usually he runs out of the room and hides. Possibly my asking the man to walk into the room ahead of me may have helped just a little as did the fact I didn’t even let him see me look at him. I moved slowly and I left him be.

The couple doesn’t know the eight-year-old Adi’s history, apart from his being a Romanian rescue. They have had him for a year now. It took him some weeks to get used to them and they are still the only people he feels comfortable with. He didn’t move the whole time I was there – nearly three hours, and he was shaking on and off.

During this year Adi hasn’t been anywhere at all but their bungalow and small garden. They did try but it freaked him out.

He has never even been to the vet (who I shall be phoning).

A while ago they did manage to get a collar onto him. It shows how far they have come with their caring and understanding treatment that he had began to allow the man to groom him. Unfortunately, he then tried to attach a lead while he was brushing which sent Adi running and that now has now ‘infected’ the grooming with fear.

Their aim in calling me is simply to be able to take a willing and happy Adi out. It sounds reasonable, doesn’t it They had reckoned with how long this may take.

It’s a strange relationship they have with their dog. They do all they know to help him but they get little back. They feed him on the very best food available. As you can see he has luxuriously comfortable bed. Apart from wandering around the garden and eating his meals he does nothing much. He lies around. He’s not interested in playing though will come over from time to time for a short fuss. He has a little burst of energy first thing in the morning when he runs from room to room, probably when he has had the night to de-stress, but that is all.

How can they spice up his life a little without stressing or scaring him?

They dearly want to take him out and about with them as they did their other dogs.

.

How will they be able to get a lead on him and get him out of the house?

Something needs to be done about his extreme fear of people. He is a very quiet dog. I suspect he doesn’t dare to bark and his way of keeping safe is to lie low.

The man erected a strip of trellis in the garden for him hoping he would want to see through to the world outside. They can accompany him to the trellis at busier times of day and associate everything that happens beyond it with food, to actively de-sensitise him and acclimatise him so he can eventually, when he has accepted harness and lead, pass through the trellis.

Each time, at the trellis, he sees a passing car they will give him food; any person walking past – give him food; hearing a dog bark – give him food; a slamming door – food. Perhaps sprinkle it on the ground. They may later be able to move the trellis forward and continue the work nearer to the road.

Meanwhile, they need a harness because they must keep away from his neck. The collar has already been ‘infected’ when the lead was attached and very likely he was originally caught with a catch-pole accounting for his terror of humans. A soft and comfortable Perfect Fit harness is the answer. They then have the option of attaching the lead to the top of his back or at his chest – or both – and well away from his neck.

Adi won’t know what the harness is so they will build on that. I have broken the process down into tiny increments and devised a step-by-step plan where they spend several days on each step, beginning by leaving the harness in various corners of the house with food hidden in it for him to discover. Nobody should be seen to hold it so he gets no suspicion that it might be a trap.

Adi stopped shaking with fear and lifted his head

Adi stopped shaking but was very still

Through various other steps the harness can eventually be put down with his food while he eats. This will lead, through more stages, to when he comes for a fuss, touching or stroking him with the harness whilst treating him. Bit by bit the harness can be rested briefly on top of him, then just his nose through it for food.

In case he doesn’t like the sound of the clips, they can be repeatedly done up and undone again, initially at a distance, while the other person gives him food.

It is a long-winded confidence-building process. We may use a clicker at later date but he was far too scared of me and all he felt safe doing was to lie still.

Once the harness is on, the process needs to be repeated with the lead.

I hope that after a couple of months of hard work Adi will be wearing the harness and accepting the lead. It could take a lot longer. He may also be relaxed with things just immediately outside his gate.

Getting to this point will be a big achievement. We can then walk him on lead around the house and the garden. Then take a step through the trellis, stand still and see what happens, giving him full length of the lead and the option to run back in.

Now the outside world!

Apart from knowing he’s terrified of people to the extent that he shakes, they don’t know how he is with day-to-day things like other dogs, wheelie bins, bikes, traffic….and cats.

There will be no normal ‘going for a walk’ for a long while, I fear.

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 Adi. I don’t go into detail. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where 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 Get Help page)

Puppies’ Fear of Other Dogs

Shih Tzu puppy

PJ

I have had a lovely visit with five-month-old Shih Tzu female litter-mates Hattie and PJ and their delightful family, starting my ‘puppy parenting’ with them. This initial visit is to make sure the basics are in place, plan the way forward and pre-empt potential future problems.

Potential problems with littermates are well documented but not inevitable.

These two are inseparable – they move around like one adorable fluffy mop; it’s hard to see where one dog ends and the other starts, or to see which end is head and which end is tail!

Amongst the usual puppy things, two matters stood out as particularly needing addressing. One is their lack of sufficiently early socialisation resulting in fear of other dogs. They left the breeder at nine weeks but their vaccinations hadn’t yet begun, and though they had met plenty of human friends they were not taken out to meet other dogs until about 14 weeks old. So sadly, at just five months, Hattie and PJ are already wary of other dogs they see and they bark at them.

Many humans (this family less so) tend to believe that socialising means exposing their dog to other dogs in such a way that they are forced to encounter as many as possible, on a tight lead, and this will eventually ‘get them over’ their barking. It’s actually the very opposite. I say to people it’s not walks we’re working on, or other dogs, it’s actually ‘fear therapy’. It’s easier to understand that with a ‘therapy’ there will be a psychological approach and one needs to go slowly.

Other dogs have to be transformed into something the puppies feel happy to see. Force won’t do that.

I call it the ‘Other Dog Battery’ (it could be a battery for any other thing a dog is scared of). Each time the puppy can be aware of another dog at a distance that doesn’t disturb her and particularly if she is then given tasty little bits to eat or forage for or something else good always happens, this starts to charge up the ‘Other Dog Battery’.

This particular battery is slow and laborious to charge.

Each and every time, however, the puppy or dog encounters a dog that is too close or is suddenly surprised by a dog around a corner, that battery discharges very fast and goes flat – and they will then have to start again. Logistically it can be difficult but there is no way around it and the puppies ideally need to be walked separately.

Shih Tzu Lying on her back

Hattie

The second common thing that arose from this consultation is to do with dogs that ‘won’t eat’. This then also means the dog also won’t be interested in food to help fill up that ‘Other Dog Battery’.

Sometimes the reason is a lot more obvious than you’d think.

They showed me the treats they give the puppies – amongst other things mini markies about the size of small cocktail sausage rolls. They admit to giving each puppy about six a day but with a family of four nobody is counting. The puppy can’t be much more than 3kg in weight and the man told me he weighed about 70kg. Relative to size, that makes one markie far larger than a doughnut… and six markies? It’s no wonder the puppies have little interest in food.

This case is yet another example of how issues are inter-related. No one thing stands alone. The food issue raises the matter of nutrition and food affects the ability to reward and counter-condition, which is necessary to change the way the puppies behave towards other dogs, which in turn necessitates the two being walked separately which is in itself part of a wider issue – that of the puppies being given quality time individually; the stress of walks can spill over into grumpiness afterwards and so on.

With work and patience, their fear of other dogs should lessen. These sweet and gentle puppies must feel safe and protected. It’s an owners’ job to save their dogs from unwanted or rough attention at all costs – whether from a human or another dog. Easier said than done sometimes.

Jumpy and Easily Startled

Yorkie

Bud

I was welcomed at the door by two very friendly and seemingly confident little dogs – Bud, a Yorkie age two and his five-month-old son, Bentley, a Yorkie mix already double the size of Bud.

Bud, however, was strangely jumpy and startled by anything that might make an unexpected sound, even soft sounds coming from another room. He would instantly recoil and might run away from even what seemed like a soft tap, but he was back again in no time like nothing had happened.

Bud will also run the other way if he simply senses a sound was coming. If the man carries something through the room, Bud will run away in anticipation of the sound that object may make if put down noisily. If someone goes to push their chair back to stand up, Bud runs, anticipating the sound of the chair scraping against the floor.

Puppy Bentley seems now to be copying him. He also startles, but not so much – yet. Very possibly there could be a genetic element.

Bud’s bounce-back recovery was amazing really.  It all seemed a bit odd.

A dog quite this reactive to noises is likely to have other issues like excessive barking and fearfulness of new people coming into his house. Bud is friendly and confident with both new people and with other dogs. It seemed almost like an automatic reaction rather than deep-seated fear.

Bud apparently only became so jumpy at about nine months old and it coincided with a break-in when he was alone in the house. Despite men breaking into his house, he’s not scared of people as you might expect.

Other noisy things that frighten him include the usual – vacuum cleaner, things with motors like hairdryer and the ironing board.

People so often think that if they force the dog to remain in the presence of these sounds that he will gradually get over it. Called flooding, it very occasionally can work, but the risks are great. Nearly always the fear becomes deeper rooted, transfers onto other things, even to the point of the dog shutting down altogether. Unexpected bangs and noises are so much part of daily life they can’t all be avoided but they can avoid the obvious. Because stress and fear builds up in the system, the calmer the dogs can be in general the less jumpy they are likely to be.

Bud and Bentley

Bud and Bentley

So, the plan now is for them to do their very best to keep Bud (and Bentley) away from the things they know scare them whilst working on controlled sounds that they generate themselves.

I suggested they deal with one specific sound at a time and I believe that as time goes by the progress will spill over onto other sounds.

I noticed Bud flinched and ran away when I unthinkingly moved the footstool beside me. So, with my tastiest tiny treats and with the very friendly Bud beside me, I moved the stool a fraction, dropping food as I did so. He jumped slightly but I hadn’t pushed him over his threshold and he ate the food and stayed with me. I did this quite a few times, lifting the stool and putting it down again, a little more loudly as he stopped reacting.

Then the man said ‘Try this’, and dropped some keys beside me onto the stool. Bud ran. When he came back he was seriously spooked by the keys. I just reached out towards them and fed him. I silently touched them and fed him but he was already backing off. When they made a small sound he ran.

If the keys had been put down really gently initially we would have got further and it was a good example for the family to see of just how slowly and carefully they need to take desensitisation. It also demonstrated how once the dog is ‘over-threshold’ he’s not in a mental state to learn anything, so the session needs to end.

With each thing, the aim is for Bud to actually welcome that particular sound because it means yummy food. With sufficient careful work he will learn to love keys being put down, if not suddenly dropped!

Talking of food, the dogs’ diet has little nutritional value along with colourings and additives which could well encourage nervous behaviour. Unless people know better they fall for colourful packs and often rubbish food tastes good – we know that don’t we!  Many people don’t realise just to what extent food can affect their dog’s behaviour and nervous system. That is something easily changed.

As the jumpiness is so out-of-place with the rest of his character, I just wonder whether Bud may have inherited a tendency to startle. He was originally bought from a pet shop at about twelve weeks old so very likely was bred in a puppy farm. Who knows what his life was like during those first very formative weeks of his life?

He will probably always have the jumpiness in him if something is unexpected or sufficiently loud but they can help him greatly through deliberately avoiding exposing him to things that get him startled, jumpy or scared whilst working on controlled sounds.

Hopefully we have caught it soon enough to avoid Bentley going down the same route.

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 Bud. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. 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).

Nips People Who Visit

AchillesIndieBeautiful Indie is another Shepherd-type dog that is reactive to people – particularly people coming to his house. He was abandoned as a puppy of three months old on the streets of Romania and spent the next three months in kennels – crucial months in his development.

The reason he nips people is probably a mix of being territorial, fear of new people – of men in particular, and some instinctive herding of people in order to control them when walking around his house which he had done from the beginning and well before he began to show any aggression.

The young lady has worked so hard with her beautiful dog and is very distressed that he changed so drastically. Before that she could take him to work and he would accompany her everywhere. Now she can’t trust him.

His behaviour changed when he became adolescent. At the same time, just as he had settled into his new home over here, the lady went away for a month and had to leave him behind. There would have been a big break in his new routines and very likely he felt insecure.

Sudden movement seems to trigger immediate barking followed by a nip – on the person’s leg. The only incident outside his house was when, on a walk, some people suddenly appeared out of the woods and the man was brandishing a stick. This really upset Indie, particularly because the man then fended him off with the stick.

He was on edge for several days after that, growling and barking at everyone he saw.

Like lots of dogs who are reactive to people in their own territory and who startle and lunge when someone may suddenly appear, Indie is fine in busy places with lots of people and dogs. Strange isn’t it. Like us, if we are alone in a field and a person suddenly appears we can feel quite exposed. If the field is full of people we feel a lot safer.

Indie used to accompany the young lady to work but because of his unpredictability she has been leaving him at home where, though he has company, the methods used with him are totally different – more along the ‘old-school’ methods rather than positive and reward-based.

So she will start to take him to work with her again and she will manage the situation better. It is fortunate that she works for herself. The times when he’s most upset with stuff going on he can be put in the car where he is happy and relaxed. If she needs to wander about and go anywhere with hands free, she can tie his lead to her waist which will keep him and other people safe.

Every time Indie hears or sees a person, however distant, the ‘food bar’ will open. When nobody is about it will close.

More visitors to the house are needed also – but only when the young lady is at home to make sure things are done in the right way.

Whatever the main root cause – probably a mix of herding, guarding and fear – it boils down to Indie not feeling safe when the person moves about or makes a sudden movement. It’s not every time – which makes him all the more unpredictable. I saw it for myself when, although earlier I had been walking around with no problems, I stood up when he was asleep. He reacted immediately – the lady was ready for it.

It is possible to teach him alternative behaviours incompatible with barking and nipping as the young lady has been doing, like Sit or Down or Bed along with watching her – but this means she has to constantly be on tenterhooks each time the guest is likely to move in order to give Indie the correct cues. One day she may forget or be out of the room.

It’s far better to treat it right at source, I feel, and deal with the emotion which is driving Indie to behave like this, to have him associate people with good stuff, to desensitise him so far as possible to sudden movements and help him to feel more confident around people.

The work can begin with people in situations or at a distance where Indie feels reasonably comfortable. At work, the people don’t actually enter the work area but there is frequent traffic walking past his barrier of people who will ignore him if requested to do so. He can also be taken to busy places with lots of people and dogs because he feels reasonably safe there also.

When out he can wear a yellow high-viz jacket bearing the words ‘Ignore me, I’m in training’. He is fine so long as nobody walks directly up to him. He is such a beautiful looking dog it’s easy to understand why people should want to touch him.

Bit by bit the bar can be raised.

I wrote a short blog in my Paws for Thought series about ‘sudden’ and dogs.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Indie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. 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).

On Lookout Duty

Border Terrier sitting at the windowRalph barks at people and dogs going past his house, spending most of the day sitting on the back of the sofa by the window on lookout duty.

They have deliberately left a gap in their hedge at the back of the garden which overlooks the park, so he can watch dogs and people from there also.

He likes it. Yes….but……

The Border Terrier is now five years old and whilst he’s great with people once they are in the house, particularly the children’s friends, he has been doing this window-watching for much of his life. He goes mental when the postman comes up the path and will wreck the post if he gets to it. Rehearsing this behaviour constantly at home, it is little wonder that he continues to react like this to people and dogs in other places. A while ago he bit a postman.

Meeting the dear and much-loved little dog in his house, it’s hard to believe.

What’s more, the lookout duty, the guarding and the barking will mean his stress levels are probably permanently raised, and as more things happen during a typical day they can get to tipping point.

He gets so aroused when they meet some dogs out on walks that he has bitten the lady several times as she held him back – her leg just happened to be in the way and he redirected onto the nearest thing.

There is nothing at all to be gained by getting that near to another dog when your own dog is reacting quite so desperately. More distance must be put between them if at all possible at the very first sign of any reaction.

Border Terrier looking out of the windowFortunately in some ways, Ralph is obsessed with his tennis ball. If, instead of constantly throwing it for him both at home and on walks, they were to reserve it for when he sees another dog, it could not only give him something to redirect onto but in time dogs will be associated with something good. The downside to current constant ball play is that it adds to a dog’s already high arousal levels. Withhold it and the ball will gain even more value as a training tool.

Like so many dogs who are reactive to other dogs when out, he will be feeling tension from a lead hooked to a collar. As soon as they spot a dog, they tighten the lead resulting in inevitable neck discomfort. It would be so much better if, instead of a shortened lead on a collar and holding their ground, the lead were loose and attached to a harness with which they can make a comfortable diversion around the other dog.

The territorial problem is highlighted at their caravan by the coast. He doesn’t like dogs or people coming too near. The final straw was recently when a man cut between the caravans a bit too close for Ralph and Ralph bit him.

Both at the caravan and at home, management should be in place such as blocking Ralph’s view from the window (he will need other, more healthy kinds of stimulation to fill the vacuum) and blocking the shortcut between the caravans. Serious work can then be done on changing Ralph’s feelings about other dogs and about people approaching his property.

They can start by working at those dogs already at a safe distance in the park out the back, through that hole in their hedge, desensitising and counter-conditioning him using food and ball play.

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 Ralph. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. 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).

English Shepherd Barks at People

English ShepherdWhy does a dog that has been loved, kindly trained and taken out and about as soon as he has had his injections, behave in the way Toby does around people he doesn’t know – reactive to everyone, in fact, apart from close family members?

It’s possible he didn’t meet a sufficient number of new people in the first three or four months of his life. Possibly he was born nervous. Possibly he takes his guard duty very seriously.

I sat in a chair at a distance from the door, waiting for the eighteen-month-old English Shepherd to be brought into the room.

In he came, trailing his lead behind him, followed by the man. He walked to the other family members just inside the door then turned around. Suddenly he saw me. He flew at me, barking.

Scared? Angry? Both?

He had never actually bitten anyone so I wasn’t unduly worried. I know how to behave and what body language to use so he was unlikely to pick me as his first victim. I asked the man to pick up the lead and move him away, speaking loudly (but calmly) so I could be heard above the din.

Toby continued to bark and choke on the lead, in effect yelling at me to go away. He could be associating the undoubted discomfort to his neck with me so I asked the man to take him out of the room and put his harness on instead.

After several trips in and out of the room Toby, whilst still highly aroused, had settled sufficiently to take the tiny biscuits I carry in my pocket that I rolled on the floor to him. Ideally I would like to have achieved a distance from the dog where he could see me but feel safe, but as that was impossible within the confines of a room it was the dog that had to be removed.English Shepherd lying down

Eventually he was sniffing me and he settled down. Every now and then I rolled biscuits to him. With better forward planning and knowing more what to expect, I should have had a larger quantity of much higher-value food to hand so I could deliver it faster. We gave him a toy to chew and focussing on that helped him to de-stress a little.

All was well until, near the end of my time, I had a bout of coughing which started him off barking again. Perhaps he thought I was barking at him! He was put in the kitchen.

Because dogs like Toby are so antisocial, they meet few of those people who do come to the house, so they never have opportunities to be desensitised. Whether fear or anger is the root cause, the aim is the same – for Toby to begin to see people as ‘good news’. I suggested they make good use of any willing friends.

To be on the safe side and because people will understandably be nervous of a dog that barks at people and who sounds and acts as scary as Toby, the man must hang onto that lead. He can repeat our ‘in and out of the room’ procedure where when Toby barks he is walked out of the room and when he stops barking he is brought back in again – the man dropping tiny bits of high value food ahead of him on the floor as he walks in. Then, after the dog has settled for a while, he taken out and can be given a break in the kitchen. In a while the process can be repeated. Each time should get easier.

Desensitising a dog that barks at people needs lots and lots of repetition, keeping him within his comfort threshold and using as many different people as possible.

On walks Toby’s family can look for people instead of avoiding them (he’s okay if they keep walking but not if they stop). They can find places to sit and feed him as people pass by. They can drop food on the ground so he can forage whilst being aware of nearby people. They can give him a favourite ball or toy to hold.

Given time and hard work, he should start to think that people are great – they mean food and a favourite ball!

Because Toby is a beautiful dog he attracts people who want to touch him. Sometimes we need to appear rude in order to protect our dog and firmly step in, moving between him and the well-meaning person.

A Yellow Dog Company  ‘I Need Space’ vest could be of help.

NB. The exact protocols to best and most safely use with your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Toby, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here of the strategies we will be using. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, and could even be dangerous in cases like this. One size does not fit all. With this kind of issue, it is important that you find an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).

Indoors, Outdoors, Jekyll-Hyde

dogs were scary enemies and traffic terrifying.Rosie, the Border Terrier, is the friendliest, softest, most biddable little dog you can imagine. Below on the right she is lying on her back at my feet. Oh – I love her.

The couple have had four-year-old Rosie for about 7 months. She came from a household with several children and lots of people coming and going….but no dogs. She was seldom taken out anywhere.

Without this vital habituation from an early age, other dogs were scary enemies and traffic terrifying. The couple have worked hard at getting her used to traffic – but the ‘other dog’ situation gets worse.

So, we have a dog that is wonderfully socialized to people – old and young, and used to all household things like vacuum cleaners – completely fearless at home, but a dog that is very reactive and scared of other dogs when out.

Put the lead on and open the front door, and Rosie completely changes.  She is on ‘dog-watch’.  She goes mental if she sees another dog.

Soon after she arrived in her new home, little Rosie rushed out of the front door to attack a Labrador that lives opposite. Undaunted by the dog’s size, she apparently had it by the throat. Not good for neighbourly relations!

Like many modern houses, theirs is surrounded by houses with dogs – statistically there is a dog living in every 3 or 4 houses in the UK.  Every morning ‘before-work’ walk is an adventure, avoiding dogs where possible or dragging a frantic lunging, barking Rosie past one dog after another. The lady holding the lead may as well not exist where Rosie is concerned. The difference between the dog indoors and the dog out on walks is like Jekyll and Hyde

The first point to address is the relevance of Rosie’s humans and the second is the value of the currency that will be used to desensitise Rosie to other dogs – food.  Only then can they use food and attention when they find the distance (threshold) at which Rosie knows there is another dog but can tolerate it.  Then the real work begins – that of holding her attention and associating the dogs with good stuff whether it’s food or fun – not  the usual pain in the neck as the lead tightens and anxiety of owner going down the lead.  Someone had advised spraying water at her – disaster! It may temporarily interrupt the behaviour by intimidating her, but long-term be yet one more negative associated with other dogs and eventually she would become accustomed to it anyway and ignore it.Border Terrier is lying on her back at my feet

Both food and attention need to gain much more value at home. Currently they are constantly seeking to give Rosie the food she likes best for her meals where they could be saving the most tasty stuff for dog encounters. They are lavishing the little dog with attention whenever she asks for it when they should be saving some of it for getting her attention when another dog is about.

This will be long-haul. Every unplanned encounter will set things back, but each controlled, properly managed encounter will advance things.

The magic ingredient is patience. We can’t reverse four years in four weeks.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rosie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. 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).