Bully behaviour. New Dog is Finding her Feet

A week ago, their new rescue dog began to bully their other dog.

Cookie

Six-year-old Cookie is a cute and somewhat nervous, anxious little terrier. Rudi, a Wirehaired Terrier, joined them six weeks ago.

It began with the calmer and more confident Rudi eyeballing Cookie.

Next, one of the young daughters was fussing both dogs and suddenly Rudi went for Cookie.

The next occasion was triggered by someone dropping and smashing a food bowl. Things then came to a head with a fight over a bone.

Continue reading…

Fights. Two Staffs, Young Male Fighting the Female

I go to few fights between a male and a female.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier Minnie is now seven. Since they got her as a puppy she’s always been anxious, easily scared and a bit needy.

Staffie Tom then joined them. Another puppy. He is a year old and about twice her size now.

All started off very well. I suspect the two dogs have been allowed to play too roughly, particularly in Tom’s formative earlier months. He will have learnt bad habits. He’s not gentle with his mouth even with humans.

Then, five months ago and (seemingly) for no reason, there was a big fight. The lady was asking both dogs to sit for a treat as she often did. Tom suddenly went for Minnie. She retaliated. This resulted in the predictable screaming. The son in his late teens rushed in and separated them.

Then all was well until a couple of weeks ago when things have gone rapidly downhill.

Three fights in the last two weeks.

There have now been four serious fights with the young man having been bitten when separating the dogs. Two of the fights have been at the door when one dog was coming in from a walk. It’s Tom who goes for Minnie. She is a lot smaller than he is and last time he shook her like a rag doll.

The final fight, since when the dogs have been kept strictly apart, was just a few days ago.

When I arrived I had the lady bring Minnie in on lead first. If Tom is already in the room she, the timid one, wouldn’t want to enter. She sat the other end of the room and we talked until she relaxed.

Then the son brought Tom in, sitting by the door, the other end of the room – I was in the middle.

I watched.

Minnie was obviously extremely uneasy with lip-licking, fidgeting, staring away from Tom.

Tom himself wasn’t happy either. He was mostly angled away from Minnie and the lady. He panted. Then he looked at Minnie and for one moment their eyes met and I quickly and causally walked between them. It’s important to break any eyeballing.

Tom was then taken back out. They now have a series of gates and keep the dogs strictly apart. We swapped dogs a bit later.

It was hard to see just what was going, but one thing stood out, so that is the place we can start. It’s Minnie’s mental state.

A downward spiral.

Already a bit unstable, the more uneasy, anxious, aroused or scared she is, the more it seems to affect Tom. With each of the fights she gets even more nervous and defensive. She is now off her food. It’s a vicious circle because therefore Tom gets worse too. I’m pretty sure if she were chilled, Tom wouldn’t be going for her. When attacked, though, there is no backing down. She immediately fights back.

I am pretty sure that Minnie’s instability is largely genetic.That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot they can do to help her cope better and fill her life and brain with some stuff that helps her. Being cuddled, fed and walked isn’t enough for many dogs.

Helping Minnie will help Tom.

The other aspect to this is Tom’s own excitability and lack of self-control. The key word here is self control. Not being controlled by the son. He needs mental stimulation and something to work for.

While I was there the young man already started working Tom’s jumping up using clicker to show him the desired behaviour; cutting out scolding and commands. The boy was a natural and really got the hang of it and in no time Tom was calm and focussed.

The kind of walks Tom is given need to change. At the moment he pulls like mad which results in constant correction. How frustrating that must be. He will have more freedom on a loose leash so he can do his own thing. It’s no problem if he is ahead so long as he doesn’t pull. More relaxed walks should be a lot better for his state of mind also.

With both dogs in a more fulfilled state of mind, making progress with the fights is more likely. They should have better things to focus on. Why do dogs need enrichment?

While work is being done on these two aspects, the actual reintroducing the dogs together must be done very slowly and gradually. It’s really important they get no further opportunity for fights. Each time it makes the next fight more likely and worse in intensity. 

Frequent short sessions.

Keeping the dogs from seeing each other entirely could make any eventual reintroduction more tricky. I believe the way forward is frequent very short sessions where they are in the same room on leads but can’t actually get to each other. It should only be when everything is calm and carefully stage-managed.

These sessions will be carefully monitored and both dogs’ body language carefully watched while the humans work on being relaxed. They can use standing between the dogs or even a cushion to block view if there is any staring. They can call one of them to get attention away from the other, but no scolding.

Each session will be terminated at the first sign of any unease, before any growling or eyeballing if possible, with the dog nearest to the door being removed.

They will need to do the rigmarole of one dog upstairs and the other in sitting room and taking them outside separately for the foreseeable future. Tom will also be checked over by the vet – Minnie was recently when she was injured.

I will go again in two or three weeks and take a fresh look at things from what should then be a slightly different situation. Things may be a bit clearer. Hopefully Minnie will be a little more confident again. We can then see what to do next.

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 Tom and Minnie. 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 aggression 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).

Jealous When Other Dog is Fussed. Dog Fights.

Nellie isn’t very happy.

This is despite being treasured, along with their other two tiny dogs, Luna and Sandy.

Nellie is a two-year-old Pomeranian, the last to join their little dog family of three. Luna is a Chihuahua Pomeranian mix and Sandy a Chihuahua.

Jealous.

Luna is Nellie’s problem. Tiny Sandy keeps well out of it. Every time the young couple sit down Luna is on them – the lady in particular. She is cuddled and fussed. Nellie herself isn’t a dog that likes so much fuss, but she doesn’t like Luna getting it either.

Luna

I’m pretty sure it’s not that she doesn’t like Luna herself (she’s absolutely fine with her when they are shut in the kitchen; they play together). She is jealous.

Jealousy is a horrible emotion that eats into you, isn’t it. It’s like Nellie is bearing a grudge. She seems to choose to act like she’s an outcast, lying away from Luna and the young couple.

Luna for her part may be tormenting her! She is obviously ‘revelling’ in her attention, rolling on her back, eyeballing Nellie, rubbing it in (that’s my interpretation). Nellie turns her back, shutting it out.

Daily fights.

Over the past few months this has degenerated into fights, sometimes several times in one day. Damage is only prevented because these fights only happen when the dogs are with the couple and they are sitting down. Someone is always there to grab them.

Reducing overall stress levels should help greatly. At present dog to dog play with Luna goes on for far too long unchecked. Human to dog play is far too vigorous also.

Giving Nellie individual attention with things she herself likes to do will help her, things like going for a walk or hunting for food. She’s not a dog that much wants cuddles.

They will cut down on the constant fussing of Luna too. The lady is having a baby soon so Luna will have to get used to this. We have a plan for preparing Nellie in particular for baby.

Common denominators leading up to a fight.

Nellie is jealous

Nellie

In analysing the fights there are certain common denominators. Fights only happen when the young lady is about, never the man alone or when the dogs are by themselves. Fights happen when the lady is sitting down (hence cuddling Luna).

I watched to see exactly what the dogs were doing – things that people hadn’t noticed. It began with some lip-licking from Luna and some displacement behaviour from Nellie – she licked herself. Someone passed the house and both dogs rushed to the window barking.

Nellie, now more unsettled walked about growling softly. She disappeared out of Luna’s view. The owners thought she was asking to go out, but no.

Nellie reappears, still growling on and off. Luna was stretching on her back. She looked at Nellie. Eyeballing and stillness. Then it exploded like the cork removed from a bottle of fizz.

The fight was immediately interrupted, not hard because Luna was already on a lap and could not leap onto the floor to get at Nellie.

After the interrupted fight.

It was about to erupt again a short while later – unfinished business. We put our plan into action.

As the fighting always involves eyeballing, I immediately put my clipboard between them, breaking eye contact. As the fighting never happens when either of them is walking about, the young man immediately got up and walked out of the room, calling Nellie who follows anyone moving about.

Where shouting may be necessary simply to interrupt them, I feel there are better ways which we discussed (not listed here because what works here may not be the best plan for other fighting dogs). Ideally they should nip it in the bud before it erupts. Better still, to help Nellie with her jealousy.

It’s like Nellie resents the ‘favourite child’ and like a jealous child this brings out the worst in her. One can see from her body language she’s not happy as she watches and licks her lips, or turns her back on them.

Practice makes perfect.

Unfortunately, the more this sort of thing is repeatedly practised, the more it becomes hardwired into the brain response, increasing the likelihood of the behaviour recurring. This is why things seldom get better by themselves but go on a downward spiral.

Our work will be like a jigsaw of bits to gradually put into place, concentrating mostly on Nellie. She will need positive associations with the baby from the beginning in order to avoid jealousy. They have two months before baby is due, so work starts now.

Some people dispute that dogs have feelings like jealousy which I find ridiculous. In The Descent of Man, Charles Darwin noted that ‘everyone has seen how jealous a dog is of his master’s affection, if lavished on any other creature.’ See the Daily Telegraph article written by Sarah Knapton. To read more about dogs and jealousy, see Stanley Coren in Psychology 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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Nellie and Luna 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, particularly where any forom of aggression 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).

Calm Down. Less Excitement, less Reactivity to Dogs

Calm down, Louis!

Young Staffie Bulldog mix, Louis, is an excitable delight who finds it hard to calm down!

Surprisingly, he does with ease something requiring real self-control that many other dogs would find hard. When the doorbell rings, as they go to open the door he takes himself off into another room! No barking.

He was let out to join me and had a good sniff.

Then the jumping up began.

He seldom jumps up at his owners now but he will invariably jump up at any other people who call at the house.

This is not really about jumping up, is it. It’s about excited, friendly greetings with maybe a tinge of anxiety.

Face to face is where dogs think greetings happen.

Imagine how hard it is for an excitable dog that isn’t shown what the human protocol for welcomes is – in a way that he understands.

Why does he keep jumping up despite scolding? The result must be worthwhile in some way. He gets a result that hypes him up even more. This will be attention of some sort from either the visitor or the couple who feel they need to intervene.

Trying to calm down his excitement

Louis trying self-control while he has his photo taken!

For Louis to gain some self-control he needs to calm down. People need to help him by not reacting to the jumping up but by showing him and reinforcing the greeting behaviours the do want with the attention he craves.

There is a fine line to what they can do! The smallest touch or silent drop on the floor of food may have to be enough. Any more and he will be jumping up with excitement again.

Louis is such a biddable dog. He really does his best. I took the photo of him trying with all his might to sit still for long enough. Look at that ‘trying my damnedest to sit still and please you’ Staffie face!

Louis with his own humans is different to Louis with others.

He jumps up at people but not his own two humans.

However he may react to other dogs when on walks with his owners, particularly on lead, but he’s fine dogs when out with other people. (Louis runs free with other dogs three times a week with a dog walker and is no problem at all).

Their concern started with a fight between Louis and a dog they had walked him with for a couple of months.

The dog he knew, with issues of his own, was muzzled as usual. This time there were two smaller dogs in the group and all four dogs including the muzzled dog were off lead. There was a lot of ball-throwing (guaranteed to wire dogs up) and more humans in the mix than usual.

It was all too much. The excitement sparked trouble. It had gone past the point where they could calm down.

The larger muzzled dog eyeballed Louis who suddenly retaliated. The two dogs were immediately parted – with some minor damage to the human hands that were involved.

Once something has happened, owners very understandably get nervous.

Walks are never quite the same or as enjoyable again.

Now when Louis is on lead and sees another dog, he may lunge and bark. How much of this is generated by the tightening of the lead by his worried humans they can only guess. How near to the other dog that it happens can vary.

I suggested they have a ‘week off’. A complete break from worrying about encountering other dogs. To avoid them altogether for a week. Walks are to mean something different – not simply as much exercise as they can cram in for an hour going from A to B.

Both they and Louis can have time to calm down and enjoy wandering, mooching, going nowhere in particular. Take a look at this: Take time to smell the roses (or pee if you are the dog), by Steve Mann.

Louis, after all, is still socialising with his friends and other dogs three times a week with his walker who has not problems with him at all.

During this week they can rehearse and role-play what they will do when they see another dog. The couple will work on an escape procedure for if they are taken by surprise.

They can do more work on the desensitisation they have already begun – encountering dogs at a distance where he can cope – the threshold. They will now add counter-conditioning – associating other dogs with the good stuff. We have worked out quite a tight plan of exactly how to do this for real.

“Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

The couple say they have spotted Louis’ thresholds already but they have either kept advancing or avoided the dog altogether. This is just what most people do and why these things usually don’t improve.

Currently they may try to distract him. Although this may keep the peace, it doesn’t teach him anything. Louis needs to know the dog is there, that it’s at a comfortable and safe distance and that he’s not going to be forced too close for comfort.

Then he will be helped to start feeling good about it.

If he’s so relaxed and enjoying his walks as I predict he will be when he has managed to calm down, they may even need to point the dog out to him. This will avoid a sudden surprise. “Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

 

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 Louis. 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).

Beautiful Dog but Out of Control

English Bull Terrier on the stairsIf a picture could tell a story – this is it!

Sometimes I go to a situation where it’s hard to know where to start, particularly if the dog is jumping up and flying all over the place, desperate for attention – which she’s accustomed to getting in the form of being told off harshly and NO!

We sat down at the dining table and eighteen-month-old English Bull Terrier Millie was straight up onto it. The lady shouted at her to get down which she ignored. She takes very little notice of the lady who has to speak loudly and fiercely to get Millie to take acknowledge her at all. The lady absolutely adores her and it’s hard for her when her dog is so out of control.

It’s amazing what tiny pieces of cheese and a quiet voice can achieve!

It took a long while – most of the three hours that I was there discussing all the things necessary in a consultation – but by the end Millie was sitting down in the corner beside my chair. I did it by simply not trying to tell her to do anything. The lady herself now needs to be able to motivate her to willingly do things without using any force.

First, instead of dealing with the jumping and getting onto the table, I dealt with what we did want – with her getting off the table and jumping onto the floor. Soon we had a reliable ‘Off’ – rewarding with ‘Yes’ followed cheese as soon as her feet were on the floor. I showed the lady how willingly Millie did this when asked once and by then just waiting for her to comply, followed by a food ‘thank you’.

Then Millie came and just happened to sit in the corner beside me. I was waiting for this. I immediately gently said SIT to label what she was already doing and fed her cheese – saying SIT in a very pleased voice and feeding her, loving her, while she remained sitting. Each time she came back and sat I repeated this. It wasn’t long before she realised that just coming and sitting beside me was a lot more rewarding than jumping on me or jumping on the table.

Then towards the end, I had her sitting on cue (when I asked her). I was thrilled. It seems like a small step, but it’s a leap for Milly and for the lady who will continue with this work – starting in Millie’s special ‘sitting corner’ beside the table, speaking to her gently and using food.

The actual problem that has most been distressing the lady is that her black Labrador, Ruby, has had to go and live with her son. Ruby, now three years old, took an instant dislike to the puppy Millie from the moment she arrived. Eventually, at a year old, Millie turned on her. A massive fight ensued so one of the dogs had to go.

The lady pines for Ruby and badly wants her back. There will need to be a very different and much calmer, controlled atmosphere in the house if that is ever to happen.

While Millie is quite so stressed and excitable there is little chance of getting them back together, so reducing her stress levels is our first aim and getting her under some control – particularly self-control. She needs more suitable exercise and fulfilment which we will be looking into next time. We will eventually be working on various protocols with a possible reuniting in neutral territory being the final goal.

Fortunately Ruby is happy living with the son. Millie herself will be a lot happier when she has a bit more healthy stimulation and exercise, and learns what is wanted of her through positive reinforcement.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Millie. 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).