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).

Other Dogs. Confront, Avoid or Something Else?

Reactive to other dogs

Muffin

The family have now had Manchester Terrier Muffin for five years and they were the seven-year-old’s fourth home. She didn’t have a good start in life and they have come a long way with her. Some of her past included being locked up day and night and time in rescue surrounded by other dogs barking.

Muffin has problems meeting other dogs when out.

It’s not all other dogs though and it’s variable. She has her dog friends.

Muffin is a highly-strung dog in general. She is initially anxious and noisy when people come to her house. She, with a little help from their other dog, Cocker Spaniel Sparky, is on high alert for sounds.

For much of the day she is on sentry duty at the front window.

Muffin is looking out for other dogs.

As soon as she sees other dogs walking past, she will start to bark.

It’s more of a problem on walks. Muffin has slipped collars and harnesses. She then runs off and ‘terrorises’ other dogs or may rush at people, barking and jumping at them. A child could be scared.

Muffin has a wide neck and a small head and she simply backs out of collars. She neatly draws her front legs back out of harnesses too. Then she’s off.

One of her previous homes had given up on her because she was an escape artist.

My clients are responsible dog owners and have tried every bit of equipment they can find. The only way the gentleman who does the dog walking can feel confident that she can’t escape by backing out is by using a prong collar.

When they get too close to other dogs, unable to back out of her restraints, Muffin will rear up, hackles, barking and lunging. This simply has to be painful. Dogs’ necks are made much the same as our own.

Bin the prong collar!

Pain will merely add to negative feelings she already has about the other dog. We need to do the very opposite, to associate other dogs with as much good stuff as possible.

I would defy any dog to get out of a Perfect Fit harness if fitted properly. Muffin will be getting one and they will ditch the prong collar.

It’s vital that when Muffin sees other dogs that only good things happen.

To move things forward, the man had decided to expose Muffin to other dogs whenever he could. This isn’t improving things. She needs to feel differently about them – and flooding her will merely make her feel a lot worse. She’s trapped on lead, so as she gets closer will be feeling a degree of panic – and pain too as she rears up on her back legs.

Avoiding other dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but close badly managed encounters are even worse.

When she sees other dogs, the man will now watch her carefully. She focuses on a dog from a distance, becoming oblivious to anything else. Pushing ahead until she rears up and has to be forcibly held back does no good at all. This can in one stroke undo any good work already done.

It’s like a game of snakes and ladders.

I did one of my Paws for Thought blogs on the subject.

Working with other dogs at a comfortable distance, using food or fun as instructed, takes the dog up a ladder.

Unmanaged encounters with other dogs, either dogs that suddenly appear or dogs that come too close, will send her back down the next snake.

The snakes are a lot longer than the ladders! That’s life for you.

It’s a set-back. But this happens all the time because we live in the real world with other dog owners being less responsible. So, pick it up again and search for more ladders to go up – dogs at a distance she can cope with and is relaxed enough to associate with good things like food.

Progress.

Because Muffin’s reaction to other dogs is affected by how aroused or stressed she already is, it’s important they help her to be calmer in general.

This means blocking her view out of front windows. No more watching out for other dogs to bark at and rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.

Her walking equipment will be comfortable and over time, if no longer forced too close and sliding down too many snakes, she will happily carry on walking when near other dogs. If the other dog itself has problems, they should increase distance for his sake as well as Muffin’s.

The practical details will vary per dog, but here I describe the general principal. This approach is backed up by science.

From a message three weeks later: ‘Thankyou so much for your support, we are astounded by how well the little things are making such a big difference’.
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 approach I have worked out for Muffin 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or aggression of any kind is concerned. Everything depends upon context. 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)