Management Comes First

Their aims: for both their Cockerpoos to be calmer.

Cockerpoo's environment needs better management

Eddie

I pushed in past the two barking dogs.

Both young Cockerpoos were so worked up I felt one or both weren’t far short of biting me but instead, black Harry redirected his anger, fear or frustration onto young golden Eddie and a minor fight ensued.

The house was full of people. Family members were moving about. Kids were on their mobiles. I sat at the dining table and we made a start.

It soon became obvious from my first questions that over-arousal and lack of boundaries was at the root of all sorts of problems.

Where do we start?

.

Management.

Management in this case means gating off the front door and stairs so the dogs are contained in the sitting room and kitchen area. They will then have a physical boundary.

Management of this area will make it impossible for them to near-attack people at the front door and prevent Harry from chasing delivery men to the gate where a bite is only a matter of time.

Management means keeping them away from the stairs so that Harry will now no longer regularly pee on the upstairs landing.

Harry

Harry

Management of the environment means that first thing in the morning when they are let out of the utility room, they can’t start off the day in a manic manner, charging upstairs like battering rams at the bedroom doors, waking people.

Another gate can be put in the space between kitchen and dining/sitting room.

Management then means the dogs can’t jump at people when they are eating their food. They can’t jump at the surfaces when cooking is going on. Management means they can be put the other side of the barrier with something to do.

Management means moving the box that gives them lookout duty from the front windows, the lower part of which can also be frosted. They won’t then spend much of the day winding themselves up by barking.

There is so much going on it’s hard to know where to start with the behaviour work, but the priority has to be all things that will lower their arousal levels.

Then we can see what we have got left.

When they are no longer little volcanoes ready to erupt, it will be easier to deal with things like Harry’s nervousness. Instead of constantly being at each other in play which can deteriorate, something stress seems to trigger, they can be given more constructive activities.

We might then work on impulse control, training them to settle, loose lead walking, coming back when called before they can go off barking at and intimidating another dog – and much more.

However, management and boundaries must be in place first. The dogs’ levels of stress must be lowered.

Then we should get somewhere!

Eventually they will get more of this!

Eventually they will get more of this!

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).