Lack of Confidence. Fear of People, No Touching or Eye Contact.

It’s not surprising that two-year-old Moose suffers from lack of confidence around people. Considering his background as a puppy born on the streets of Romania, he’s doing great. They didn’t have him until he was sixteen weeks old.

No socialisation will have taken place during the crucial early weeks and what encounters he did have with people were very likely scary ones and now hard-wired into his brain.

Continue reading…

Feeding Baby. Miniature Daschund Barks.

Lincoln is a beautiful nine-month-old miniature Daschund. He is friendly, gentle and affectionate. I had a lovely cuddle.

It’s obvious that he loves the baby too. What he doesn’t like is being left out. It’s very hard bottle feeding baby and at the same time continuously throwing a toy or fussing a dog to keep him quiet!

No longer their number-one baby.

I’m enjoying my cuddle

It’s understandable now Lincoln is no longer the only ‘baby’ that he wants attention when the lady is feeding baby.

Not much more than a puppy himself, he used to get all the attention after all. In the past barking has always worked, so he now persists until he succeeds. He gets thoroughly worked up, so much so that when having finished feeding baby the lady gets up and walks about, he goes for her feet.

It’s hard enough being a new mother alone with a young baby during the day; with Lincoln’s demands as well she is finding it hard to cope.

It was apparent almost immediately that the little dog is getting mixed messages. The lady never scolds him but the young man thinks the tiny dog needs more discipline and gives a mix of cuddles and scolding. Being suddenly shouted at for doing something he’s allowed to do at other times – things like jumping on people – must be so confusing for him.

Do people actually mind the tiny dog jumping on them and probably ending up having a cuddle? No. Then for now I would let him do it and if it’s a problem put him on lead until he has calmed down. He is adjusting to not being number one baby anymore so this isn’t the time for more pressure.

Jumping on and off people may of course not be good for his Daschund back so for that reason it may be best to have him on harness and lead until he has calmed down a bit. This will avoid any scolding which he doesn’t understand anyway.

Food for Lincoln’s brain.

Barks when feeding babyDespite what he looks like, Lincoln is a working dog bred to hunt small animals and he probably doesn’t get enough proper enrichment. They walk him on a short lead even in open fields as otherwise he runs off. Walks must be frustrating rather than fulfilling so I suggest a long line, about 30 foot long.

They need not worry about covering distance but can let him sniff, hunt and forage! They can take him on smell walks so he can use his nose.

Our starting point is to reduce stress levels in every way possible and to find ways to keep Lincoln happy while they are feeding baby before Lincoln starts to bark.

Feeding baby? Food for Lincoln to work for too.

They will prepare a frozen Kong and put some of his daily quota of dry food in a treat ball. Then, as mum starts feeding baby she can give Lincoln something to occupy him. He will then have work to do; while baby is eating, so is he. Baby feeding times will be fun for him, not frustration.

Keeping his stress levels as low as possible means changing their own behaviour by being consistent with him. They can share feeding baby times with him by giving him nice things to do at the same time. On a longer line walks will be more satisfying and they will give his brain a bit more to do.

They should then have a little dog that can happily cope with life which now includes a baby. Dogs, too, can feel jealousy and it’s not nice.

Second visit a couple of weeks later: Lincoln now quietly snuggles up beside mum whilst she’s feeding baby. He seems a much happier little dog.
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 Lincoln 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, or anything to do with children and babies. 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)

Frustration, Arousal and Losing his Temper

frustration makes him biteHenry is a Miniature Bull Terrier. One source describes the breed as ‘Playful, Even Tempered, Energetic, Stubborn, Courageous, Loving’.

Energetic, loving and courageous Henry certainly is. Even-tempered he’s not.

He is very quickly aroused whereupon he then becomes demanding. Anything that works him up starts him off barking or pestering for attention. Not getting the attention he wants leads to him becoming quickly frustrated then angry.

He may grab their ankles when things are not going his way.

More recently he has bitten two people quite badly.

I was very nearly the third.

I have only visited a few dogs that start off very friendly and interested in me, if in an over-excitable way, but whose arousal then gradually escalates into something else.

Instead of calming down, as the minutes went by the more aroused Henry became. I believe he may not have liked being ignored. I wouldn’t normally be touching a dog when I enter his house but would wait for calm. Being left to make his own decisions was something different for Henry. He is usually held while the person strokes him ‘to calm him down’.

I took myself away to a high bar stool at the counter as his arousal levels soared. He was flying all over the sofa. We all continued chatting.

Henry is difficult to read. His face is fairly inscrutable. He barked at me and then became still. His eyes went hard as he stared at me. I looked away.

Then he flew at me. He grabbed my clothes, leaping high to get at my arm (fortunately heavy garments). I sat very still, and quietly asked the man to get his lead. He muzzled him.

Thwarted, Henry was in such a state now that had it not been for the muzzle I know I would have been badly bitten. He charged at me several times while I didn’t react before he was put away in another room for the rest of the evening.

This ‘attack’ had taken the couple completely by surprise – more than it did myself. Although he had recently bitten two people and caused injury, it was two different people who had been looking after him while the family was away. It had never happened to anyone in their own house or in their presence.

These things tend to get worse with each episode. It has escalated from grabbing their ankles to a couple of serious bites of which I could have been a third.

When frustration is making a dog angry, what can you do?

The gentleman himself admits that, in doing what he thought was best by copying Cesar Millan’s methods, he may have escalated things when Henry got rough. If a dog is highly aroused and getting angry, the sure way to make him worse is to pin him down or scruff him.

Because frustration is causing the anger that is causing the aggression, it’s the frustration that needs dealing with. We need to work on the source.

Reacting to the biting itself with any punishment simply doesn’t work long-term. The person who is strong enough to overwhelm and intimidate the dog has always to be on hand to deal with it. It may temporarily put a lid on it but in no way alters for the better how the dog is feeling.

The only real long-term safe solution is for Henry not to feel the need for frustration and anger.

Of prime importance is for their vet to do some very thorough checks to make sure there isn’t something wrong with Henry to cause the dog to explode so violently with so little provocation.

In one way I am pleased he directed the behaviour to myself.

They had not been present when he had gone for the other two people and they couldn’t imagine him doing so. Now they have seen it for themselves. They have seen what happens when their loving dog flies into a rage and how little provocation he needs.

It’s a good thing they have now witnessed it….

…because they have an eleven-month-old baby who will soon be mobile.

Henry has always been fine around the baby, showing no jealousy and not much interest, but the unexpected can happen as it did with me.

The couple are now making a little corner of the room into a safe ‘den’ for Henry, somewhere all good things happen and where he’s fed. It’s not punishment because he’s not ‘naughty’. He can’t help it. They will freely use his muzzle when he’s out of his den. They have started doing this out on walks already.

It’s a sad situation. The beautiful and well-loved dog is gentle and affectionate most of the time. It’s only when something stirs him up that the trouble starts.

They will now do all they can to teach him impulse control and to deal with the normal necessary frustrations that are part of any dog’s daily life. We made a list of the things that get him worked up and many can be avoided. They must get their vet on board for a much fuller check-up and take every practical precaution necessary including the barrier and the muzzle.

This is a cautionary tale. As a general rule, it’s best to remain still and look away from a dog that may bite. In the case of Henry, this wasn’t enough. My doing nothing was in itself part of the problem. He wasn’t used to that.

Here is an article well worth reading: My dog bit my child today.

 

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 Henry. 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 any form of aggression is concerned. 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)

 

Context. Why It’s So Important

Seeing things clearly and objectively in context can be hard from the inside.

This consultation has lead me somewhat away from a story about the beautiful dog herself and down another path. The Dog's behaviour not taken in contextyoung Staffie – isn’t she a poppet – and her young owners with their new baby have been doing brilliantly.

Just a couple of things have recently arisen that trouble them and that they want to nip in the bud. One issue is on walks where she seems to have lost her recall. She has run into fields of cows to chase them and she may sometimes be a bit unruly with other dogs. Now the lady is walking with the baby also, she has even more reason to be able to trust Nahla.

Nahla upon seeing another dog may also lie down and refuse to move! This can be a challenge when the young lady is carrying her baby in a sling. She has to wait it out.

We now have a plan for walk difficulties. They will make coming to a whistle a reflex action by constant repetition at home and when out before letting her off a long line. She loves a ball so they will keep it in their pockets and only throw it after blowing the whistle. Pavlov would love this.

The other more distressing problem is, to quote, ‘Nahla’s guarding behaviour’ around their baby when they visit the young lady’s mother. Her mum has three dogs, a Labrador and two Rotties, one of which, Hector, has been Nahla’s puppy playmate.

Nahla is ‘showing aggression and jealousy’ towards Hector when he’s near the baby.

Nahla, they say, was their first baby! She’s now twenty months old. The are the perfect dog parents. She has had kind, positive training, she eats nutritious food and she shares all aspects of their lives. She is friendly and loving, and at home really the perfect dog.

Baby came along six weeks ago. Everything is fine, due both to Nahla’s lovely nature and to her owners forward planning and love for her.

How can the dog I was with be guarding or aggressive?

Ignoring the context leads to jumping to wrong conclusions. Jumping to wrong conclusions means we won’t be dealing with the issue appropriately – we may not be dealing with the real problem at all but with something else entirely.

Naming something the dog does ‘guarding behaviour’ is only a step away from labeling the dog ‘an aggressive dog’.

Give a dog a bad name.

Without even seeing it for myself, knowing the dog I would stake my life on Nahla’s sudden growling and snapping at Hector having nothing to do with guarding at all. It is so important not just to look at what a dog is doing at the time, but also the build-up, what other things are going on at the time and the whole context including the input of the humans involved.

With a little delving I worked out that this is probably more or less what actually happens:

People obviously are extremely protective and anxious when four large dogs are crowding around a new baby. There will be a certain amount of tension.

The couple, carrying tiny grandson, enter mum’s house with Nahla. Her three dogs, the two Rotties and Labrador, are over-the-top excited to see Nahla who tries to wrestle her way through them to excitedly greet mum. Mum is trying to tell her to get down and to control her dogs using commands. I assume they are ignoring her.

The couple sit down, holding baby, and all three bigger dogs want to have a sniff and hello – they have absolutely no problems with the baby, just curiosity and general excitement.

Obviously a Labrador and two somewhat slobbery Rottie’s (mine was slobbery anyway!) are a bit too much around the baby so mum, who is anxious now, repeatedly shouts at her dogs Leave, Leave, Leave.

Human stressing or scolding can often be the tipping point.

Nahla now has a pop at Hector.

The whole thing is too much for her, she’s not used to all this excitement. Highly aroused and maybe a little anxious too because the dogs aren’t behaving in the peaceful way around baby she herself has been taught, Nahla then redirects her frustrations onto Hector.

I don’t know what happens next, but I guess Nahla, misunderstood, is told off. One can begin to see the direction where this will now be heading if not handled differently.

My advice, then, is either for all dogs to meet out on a walk first and get the excitement out of their system first. Alternatively, when they arrive at mum’s, mum’s dogs can be shut in another room to start with. Nahla can then get over her excitement at seeing mum. The other dogs can then join them one at a time, waiting for calm first.

In this calmer setting, if a dog is too close to baby for comfort, he can be gently called away and rewarded for doing so.

Looked at the affair in context, would we call this pop at Hector guarding behaviour or aggression? I wouldn’t. The wrong diagnosis leads to the wrong treatment. In this case it’s the over-arousal that needs dealing with.

Here is a really good piece by Pat Miller about incidents in a multi-dog household and the importance of finding the stressors, which is much the same thing as examining the context.

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 Nahla and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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, as this case illustrates perfectly.  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)

Baby Grandson and Their Much Loved Dog

Springer Spaniel gets excited and stressed around the babySpringer Spaniel Danny gets very excited around the five month old baby. He may pull off one of baby’s socks (he actually ate one and it passed through!). He has also grabbed the little one’s leg.

The baby is held high, out of his reach, and this merely makes Danny want to jump up to get to him.  This then leads to Danny being told off and pushed away. Although he shows no aggression at all, only fascination and maybe a little anxiety, the baby’s mother in particular is understandably anxious.

To banish their precious dog?

This is quite a common a situation that I go to from time to time, that of a dog and baby and particularly that of grandparents. The grandparents have a dog and their son or daughter is understandably anxious about bringing their baby to visit.

The grandparents are torn between banishing their beloved dog which seems like betrayal (he’s a family member after all) or being less involved with their new grandchild.  Danny sleeps in the couple’s bedroom and he is never far from their side. They can’t simply banish him and nor would they want to.

A dog den

I have four dogs and have had four young grandchildren myself in the past few years. It was easier because of the way I arrange my environment. My dogs are used to being behind a barrier for periods of time (with five dogs and just one large room I find a ‘dog den’ is necessary). I simply kept dogs and baby separate unless under close supervision. I let them in one dog at a time and only if the dog was relaxed and easy with this.

My dogs gradually simply accepted the babies and toddlers from a safe place and nobody had to be anxious.

8-year-old Springer Spaniel Danny is more sensitive than one might think. You can see that having his photo taken, above left, made him uneasy. He is very good with children, but babies are something he’s not used to. If his people are showing anxiety too, that will be adding to his unease.

Associating baby with good things

This is another situation where the environment needs to be managed while the work is done. A gate is needed and Danny gradually introduced to a place behind it where good things happen – food and toys.

If baby is one side of the gate and Danny the other, everyone can relax. Danny can then be desensitised. When Danny is in the same room, he should be on a long loose lead. He must not pick up on any anxiety.

Every sign of relaxing, looking away from the baby or settling should be rewarded. If the baby moves or makes a noise, Danny should be fed. The baby should be associated with only good things. Every small indication of calm from Danny should be reinforced.

In order to prepare him, Danny should be introduced to short times the other side of the gate for several days before the baby next comes, so the two aren’t associated in his mind. Then, instead of coming just once a week for maybe a day, for a while the baby should be brought several times a week for a short visit so as not to put too much stress on Danny.

Given more meetings the baby should become less of a novelty.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Danny, 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 – most particularly where the safety of young children and babies is concerned. 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).

Stressed Dog, Toddler, New Baby

Fox Terrier gets excited and stressed around toddler and new baby is dueWe can’t have eyes in the back of our head, so where dogs and toddlers are concerned the environment needs to be adjusted accordingly.

Jack is a five-year-old Fox Terrier and they have had him since he was a puppy, well before their little girl was born. They have put in a lot of loving training, he is given plenty of exercise, but still Jack is a very stressed dog; very possibly genetics play apart.

They also have a toddler and now they are expecting a new baby. When the little girl runs about Jack can become quite aroused. He grabs her clothes and sometimes lightly nips her. They need to keep a close eye on him. The temptation then is to tell him off rather than to call him away and reward him for doing so.

The lady is expecting the baby in seven weeks’ time so she may not always be able to watch Jack, and they can’t shut him out of the room they are in because of the fuss he makes.

The kitchen leads off the sitting room. When Jack is shut behind the glass kitchen door he becomes very agitated and very noisy.

I suggest a gate for the kitchen doorway so that Jack is less isolated from them and more part of the action, and that over the next seven weeks they get him used to being happily behind the gate. This can only be done really slowly and needs to be worked on several times daily.

The plan goes a bit like this: Call him briefly into the kitchen behind the barrier and reward him, then go and sit on the sitting room sofa nearby. Wait for a couple of minutes – or maybe less, making sure they let him out before he starts to stress and bark. Gradually increase this length of time and the distance away from him. They give him something good to do or chew when he is in there. By the time baby arrives Jack should be happy in the kitchen with just a barrier between them when mum has her hands too full to be watching him and the little girl.

We discussed all sorts of other strategies to help Jack to become less hyped up and gain some impulse control. His stress levels are at the bottom of the behaviours they want to change, his excessive barking in particular.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chauncey, 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 – most particularly where young children are involved. 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).