Discipline – is it Good or Bad?

BEagle drinking from mug on coffee tableWesley left the breeder late. He wasn’t able to interact with the real world until his injections were over at about six months old, so the family have had to acclimatise him to everything from TV to vacuum cleaner and from walking on a lead to encountering traffic. With their love they have done remarkably well with the, now, one-year-old Beagle.

I do love Beagles!

This Beagle has largely been allowed to call the tune. Things have now gone too far and they realise something needs to be done to get him ‘under control’.

What if we tell the dog not to do something and he just looks ar us, basically saying ‘No’!  We have a choice of either backing down or using force – ‘discipline’. Neither works well for us. This young adult dog will now get cross if he doesn’t get his own way. He doesn’t like to be manhandled or grabbed and he delights in stealing and destroying things, guarding his new trophies. This predictably leads to a chase which ends in wrecked objects being forced from a resistant dog.

I had to constantly remember to be careful where I put my pen, my clipboard or my mobile!

They are up and down all evening opening the door to the garden which he may or may not go through. He jumps all over everyone, sometimes encouraged and sometimes told to get down.

He flies over the sofa and over anyone sitting on it, then onto the coffee table, like the people are some sort of pontoon. Saying ‘No’ and chasing him may get him off, but he delights in jumping straight back up again. A great game! They broke something tasty into very small pieces and the son worked at teaching Wesley Up and Off, repeatedly, from chair and sofas. ‘Off’ has to be rewarding – but what is rewarding to Wesley apart from Wesley-generated attention? Petting leaves him cold – he gets too much of that already. Until now food has been his ‘divine right’. I doubt if he’s ever had to work for it, so food has to gain some value.

BEagle standing on the coffee table

BEagle standing on the coffee table

Wesley is fed on demand whenever he goes to the cupboard and paws at it – then he declines to eat.

All sorts of different things are fed to him to in an effort to please him and get hm to eat. Because the cats eat from pouches and he can watch them through the gate, he, too, now has pouches ‘so he thinks he’s eating the same as the cats’. I have suggested moving all the food away from the cupboard and giving him fixed meals only.

He for now should not have any food at all that he doesn’t earn (and no more putting his tongue on their plates while they eat and being given their food while they eat! He will be behind a new gate or in his crate with something of his own to chew).

This will be a lot harder for the lady than it will for Wesley. People can be convinced that their baby will starve and he may not eat much for a couple of days under their terms. Dogs invariably eat up properly within a few days if the food is appropriate and the quantity isn’t too much – and if the humans don’t weaken and mess about.

Wesley’s family will have their work cut out for a while! They have already from the day they got him proved how much patience they have. It’s Day One and they have made a good start. I would expect Wesley to revolt for a few days when he finds that he won’t be getting his own way so readily. They have been prepared for that.

The problem with trying to ‘discipline’ an unruly dogs is that it’s all about preventing the dog from doing unwanted things in a ‘disciplinarian’ sort of way which implies being confrontational. A confrontational approach can generate an aggressive response in a strong-minded dog. ‘Discipline’ does not teach the desired, other, preferred behaviours.

Self-discipline is a different matter.  Dogs learn self-discipline by being allowed to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Five weeks have passed and we are now getting somewhere: ‘I think you will see things are getting better. People are starting to say, “he’s a lot calmer” and “I thought you had a problem, you should see how our dog behaves”. This is good news as we now feel we are getting somewhere, although occasionally he will test us’. 

NB. The exact protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Wesley, 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. One size does not fit all. To get on top of this sort of behaviour you will need help from an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).

Tension Between the Dogs

Jack Russell Bella is a very hyped up and stressed little dog

Bella

I could hear the three little dogs as I got out of my car down the road!

With the exception of a German Shepherd, I have recently been to a run of little dogs, and one thing many of them have in common is excessive barking! The problem with all this tension between dogs is that it can then lead to conflict.

Two of yesterday’s three little terriers were particularly hyped up, especially Bella (left). Not only do they bark at sounds and people arriving, they bark with excited anticipation whenever anyone moves. Car journeys are a nightmare.

I took Bella’s picture after we had worked with her for a couple of hours, keeping the atmosphere as calm as possible, moving quietly and slowly, and rewarding her when she stopped pawing and scratching for attention. She became calm, undemanding and happy. It’s like at last she had a clue what was required of her.

The barking understandably drives the two ladies with whom they live to distraction. There is quite a lot of shouting! The more worked up the humans become, the more worked up the dogs get too. It’s a vicious circle.

Attempts at some ‘firm’ discipline have led Bella to showing her teeth and she has in fact bitten one of the ladies. A confrontational approach can so often end with the dog standing up for itself. Fights can break out Between Bella and one of the other dogs

In the stress-charged atmosphere, Bella and one of the others may break into a fight. Bella can become fixated with her tail, then spins, growls and chews it. She may chew at her feet.

It was wonderful to see the little dog calm down and to demonstrate to the ladies what is possible if positive methods are used. There are kind methods of stopping a dog barking at the gate, of breaking up potential trouble between dogs and of getting a dog off the sofa. These methods require patience but the big difference is that they work, and not just in the moment.

Many humans feel it’s the right thing to do to play wildly exciting games (‘but the dogs love it’) or give manic greetings to dogs, not understanding that they may be pumping them up to a degree that something eventually will have to give. It’s hard to convince people that it’s kinder to wait and respond to the dogs only when they are reasonably calm.

The main aim for now is to reduce the tension between dogs and arousal in the household. Having calmer dogs will help their humans – and calmer humans will help the dogs.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bella and the other little dogs, which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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).

Two Shiba Inus

ShibaInusWhat beautiful dogs. This is the first time, out of literally thousands of dogs over time, that I have ever been to a Shiba Inu. They look like little foxes.  Shiba Inu is Japanese for Little Dog.

Zoe and Harvey are very good little dogs. They both go to work with their male owner most days, spending time both in the van and the office, and they cause no trouble at all. They are very well cared for in every way. They should be having a lovely life.

I was called out because they feel Harvey is withdrawn and miserable. They naturally have tried to jolly him along, by lifting him up and trying to get him excited for example, and the gentleman in particular gives him a lot of attention – responding to all Harvey’s demands. Harvey can be quite needy.

I didn’t see a miserable dog. I saw a dog that is quietly in charge, and with that sort of responsibility he is serious-minded, a little aloof and not playful. Also a little scared.

I see a little dog who, when relieved of his responsibilities, should relax and become more playful and less withdrawn. Making their own decisions around the things that are important in life can be scary for a dog, and it is the same old thing – a question of leadership/dog parenting.

It is even more confusing for a dog when the owner will be fussing and cuddling him on demand, allowing him to walk all over him quite literally, but then is also a little harsh with discipline. Domination techniques like pinning down can result in problems including shutting down and even retaliation. People are unfortunately persuaded to use these methods by TV programmes.

If you have a dog that seems ‘shut down’, withdrawn or sad and if you live in my area, I can help you.