Shaker Can, Dominance and Being the Boss

Frenchies Mac and Mabel fight.

The lady has unfortunately been following outdated and harmful advice. A shaker can was in each room of the house.

This always seems so sad to me. Someone who loves her dogs dearly and is both distressed and frightened by their fighting seeks help, and is given outdated advice.

Every shaker can now gone.

Shaker can used to stop fighting

Mac

Scaring the dog with a shaker can with coins in it or pinning him down is never the answer.

Rattling a shaker can in the dogs’ faces to scare them doesn’t address the problem at all. It may immediately interrupt them, but it does nothing to deal with the cause.

A shaker can will only increase arousal, anger or stress – the cause of the fighting in the first place. We need instead to deal with the problem at source.

The first thing the lady very happily did was to go round her house and remove the cans.

Barking up the wrong tree.

The advice given has caused the lady to ‘bark up the wrong tree’ so to speak. How modern dog training and behaviour has got to where it is today by the great Ian Dunbar.

Assuming the problem is about dominance, only solvable by trying to force the two dogs into some sort of hierarchy with the human at the top, is a very common way of making things worse. It can mean favouring one dog over the other to give it ‘top dog’ position just because she’s the older and was there first, even if that’s not always her natural place.

I believe the aggression probably started with Mabel being able to bully Mac from a very early age. This has very likely programmed him to be a bully himself – with her. He cracked at about six months old and turned on her.

How can further bullying by the humans by way of shaker can or pinning down not make things worse?

Punishment.

A problem with the dominance method is that we then use punishment.  Shaker cans are ‘positive punishment’. Punishment doesn’t tell the dog what it should do. It causes frustration. Punishment can scare the dog which is bad for our relationship. Punishment causes bewilderment and frustration. It may even cause the dog to shut down. Punishment will always add to stress levels.

Mabel

I could go on and on.

Mac and Mabel fortunately are resilient by nature but without doubt it will have escalated their aggression problems and general arousal levels.

We will deal with this matter at source now – by reducing arousal levels. Let’s now remove all pressure possible. We discussed all the areas they can do this, including on walks.

Very important is to prevent any further rehearsal of behaviour that can lead to a fight. There are immediate triggers – mainly food or quarrelling over an item. On each occasion, however, the dogs were already excited or aroused by either some sort of change or by the presence of other people.

Management.

Management is key. The lady will now gate the kitchen.

She will be able to predict and prevent danger situations. Behind the gate isn’t ‘time-out’ in terms of punishment. It will be to give one dog, now over-aroused, a break with something to do or to chew that can help him, or her, to calm down. It will probably be the younger Mac, the more excitable of the two.

They can’t have chew items when together for fear of fighting. Separated by the gate they will be able to get rid of some of their frustration and arousal on a bone, a chew, some foraging or a toy. Their lives can be given more enrichment.

There have only been a couple of really major fights so far. If the lady uses the gate and splits them a lot sooner there should be no more. She knows the triggers. She knows the things that get them particularly wound up.

A shaker can? No! She will step in sooner to control play. She can call one dog away. She could stand over them or walk between them as a third dog might to split them. If left a bit too long, she can break their eye contact by shoving something between them – a cushion perhaps.

Keeping calm, she then will separate them, putting one each side of the gate with something else to do.

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 Mac and Mabel. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where 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).

Guarding Food. Guarding Resources.

“We must show the dog who’s boss”.

Rex guards his food.

Guarding food and resources can be a contentious issue where human response is concerned.

Many conscientious dog owners, doing what they believe is best, follow dangerous, outdated notions.

These techniques can involve, right from the start as routine training, interfering with a puppy’s food while he’s eating and forcing objects out of his mouth. An easy-going puppy may simply tolerate it. Another may not. Instead of making the puppy back away from something he values, it can teach him to run off with the item and then, cornered, defend both the item and himself. I’ve seen this many times.

How might we ourselves react if someone tried to take bits of food off our plate or mugged us for something we had picked up?

There is that infamous clip of Cesar Millan ‘dominating’ a Labrador guarding food and his bowl. Guess what happened? Yes, the poor dog ultimately had no choice other than to bite after all his warning signals had been ignored. As a result of the uproar about this, he was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh which is interesting to watch.

Guarding food when someone is closeSomehow this ‘being the Alpha’ with our dog thing had became popular culture, but it’s been totally debunked over recent years. Not only was it based on false assumptions regarding wolf packs (and domestic dogs aren’t wild wolves), but that using force is the only way to create an obedient dog.

Even this word ‘obedience’ suggests dominance and forced compliance.

Just one problem with this approach to resource guarding is that a strong-minded and confident dog is likely to stand up for himself – eventually. Some dogs genetically are more wired to guard.

If a ‘dominated’ dog backs off due to being overpowered by a particular human, what happens when someone else tries it?

“Why should I want your food anyway”?

How much better and simpler in every way it is to teach the dog that you’re no threat to his food; if nobody wants his food, what’s the point of guarding food after all?

Giant Schnauzer Rex is a very intelligent and energetic adolescent dog. He’s on the go most of the time when people are about, back and forth looking for trouble. This includes nicking anything he can that may be of value to his humans. It triggers a chain of reactions.

He’s probably under-stimulated where appropriate enrichment is concerned, so he orchestrates his own action.

It’s only natural for us to try to control over-excited and aroused behaviour by trying to stop it. Unfortunately scolding and warnings, Uh-Uh and NO, introduce conflict and confrontation. Even conflict can be rewarding and reinforcing in a way (else why do humans enjoy certain sports so much?).

Rex’ owners will now be on the lookout for every little good or desired behaviour to reinforce instead.

It’s proven beyond doubt that removing reinforcement from unwanted behaviours and adding reinforcement to behaviours we DO want leads to success.

Interfering with Rex’ food while he’s eating.

Using the ‘interfering with his food’ technique seemed to work when Rex was a young puppy. Unfortunately, guarding and growling re-appeared big time when he started to be fed something that was, to him, of much higher value.

Instead of leaving him to eat in peace, various suggestions had been given including hand-feeding him, touching him while he was eating and taking his bowl away. Instead of feeding him somewhere out of the way, the bowl is deliberately put where people regularly have to pass by him.

He freezes. He growls. They reprimand him. This can only go in one direction.

He simply needs to know that nobody is interested in his food anymore. He will be fed somewhere out of the way.

After some weeks of this they may from time to time walk past him at a distance, not looking at him, and just chuck in the direction of his bowl something particularly tasty – maybe a leftover from their own meat dinner. The food must be something of higher value to him than his own food. They shouldn’t hover or speak to him.

‘I happen to be passing anyway so here’s something nice’.

Over time they can get a little closer. If he growls, they have got too close or maybe stood still, and will need to leave it for a few days and do it from further away the next time. Any approaching person will deliver something better than what he has.

This really is in case of emergency should later someone, without thinking, get too close to him. They should only do this from time to time – a random and casual thing.

Back in the day people would have said, ‘Leave the dog alone while he’s eating’. We expect a lot from our dogs today.

We may need to do some serious, systematic work on general resource guarding.

‘Operation Calm’ is the first priority.

Rex’ high arousal levels and restlessness make work on his guarding food and other items more difficult.

This is a huge challenge because it’s hard for us humans, like old dogs, to learn new tricks. It also means that Rex will initially become very frustrated when his usual attention-seeking tactics no longer work. He will try harder. They will hold their nerve and add as much appropriate enrichment to his life as possible, activities that don’t depend upon their ‘fielding’ the behaviour he throws at them but instead are initiated by themselves.

I suggest very regular short bursts of activity including mental enrichment, hunting, foraging and sniffing, particularly in the evenings when they sit down and he’s the most trouble. He then won’t need to be pestering for attention.

Guarding food becomes unnecessary.

If he feels it’s not under threat, Rex won’t need to be guarding food. If he has plenty of attention offered, he won’t need so desperately to indulge in the attention-seeking ploys that he knows get the most reaction.

Getting Rex calmer involves most aspects of his life and will be a gradual thing.

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 Rex 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where any aggression is concerned. 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).

Dominance? No! It’s Lack of Confidence.

They were told their dog was being dominant but they don’t see him like that and nor do I.

It’s so common for people to refer to a dog’s lunging, barking and jumping at people or other dogs as dominance. They interpret it as dominance through a lack of knowledge and understanding. There is still so much outdated information being peddled about on the internet, TV and social media.

Education proves it’s not dominance at all. In this case it’s a dog needing to stand up for himself in the only way he knows how against something he feels is a threat. He’s actually being brave. Other dogs feeling the same way may react by hiding.

People approaching him directly.

Albert is a large four-year-old Rottie, Mastiff, Labrador, Staffie mix. Such a gentle and friendly dog generally.

It's not dominance at allOut of the house, he is particularly unhappy when people approach him directly, especially joggers. This is common – take a look at the Pulse Project.

The other day he charged a jogger who appeared around a bend. He was off lead. Having a dog the size of Albert charging at you, barking and with raised hackles, must be daunting whether you’re a person or another dog.

“COME NO CLOSER”!

This isn’t dominance. It’s fear.

In a situation like this, in order to ‘safely control’ their dog people tend to hold him tightly on lead and even try to make him sit. Sitting is a big ask whilst so aroused and feeling trapped as the threat continues to approach.

The dog is doing all he knows to increase distance. The dog himself that should be removed to a comfortable distance instead.

Increasing distance also builds up vital trust in the person holding the lead.

Albert moved from busy town to quiet country area.

From a puppy Albert was extremely well socialised, going everywhere with the young couple. They lived in a busy town and constantly mingled with lots of people and dogs. Then they moved to a quiet area and after a while Albert began to react to approaching people and more recently to other male dogs also.

To make things worse, he was attacked by another dog.

Occasional people or dogs suddenly appearing and approaching directly are much more alarming to many dogs than being in a crowd. It’s the same with us, isn’t it.

My young clients so want enjoyable walks once more with their lovely dog, walks where he doesn’t bark and charge at approaching people or rush other dogs.

Off lead, Albert charges over to other dogs. He ignores all calls to get him back. This is unsurprising as he will ignore being called at home also – something to be worked on.

He doesn’t hurt the dog (and it’s not dominance!). Possibly he’s checking it out. Sometimes, though, the other dog or the owner will be scared. The other dog may be on lead for a reason. He returns when he’s ready.

Albert must be on a lead or a long line for now. No more freelancing. In the old days he seldom needed a lead.

The walk will now start off in a more relaxed fashion. At the moment he is straining to get down the drive, constantly pulling and on high alert. He’s tense and stressed. Nobody is enjoying the walk.

We did some walking near to their house with better equipment and a longer lead. Using my technique Albert was walking like a dream. He even walked out of the gate calmly which is never usually the case. In this calmer and more comfortable state, encountering approaching people will be a lot easier for him.

Has the ‘other dog’ problem been incubating at dog daycare?

Albert goes to daycare each day because the couple work a long day.

A few weeks ago the daycare reported that he was beginning to show dominance towards some of the other dogs – one male Golden Labrador in particular.

They sent a video.

The Labrador was behind a barrier with someone, ignoring Albert. Albert was being held on lead the other side of the barrier, lunging and barking with hackles up at the Labrador. I know it had been set up for the sake of the film, but it was hard to watch it being rehearsed.

This isn’t dominance. This is fear. What’s more, daycare is an active and exciting place. Albert’s stress/excitement levels will for sure be high.

How this has developed is impossible to say, but the behaviour is probably being incubated at daycare. The more it’s rehearsed the worse it becomes.

The only way to deal with it, preferably from the very start, would be to change how Albert feels about the Labrador in carefully monitored situations which would most likely need professional help.

It’s natural to simply try to manage aggressive behaviour through control. Putting a lid on it in this way can only result in the problem festering and getting worse.

The daycare does a good job, and it must be so hard looking after a mixed group of dogs belonging to other people. As well as keeping these two dogs strictly apart, I feel they should keep Albert as calm as they can, cutting short any excited play with other dogs a lot sooner. They can give him more time quietly by himself.

The more aroused he gets the more he can’t control himself. It’s in moods like this that he’s likely to hump a couple of the other dogs. This isn’t dominance either. It’s the over-flowing of stress that has to vent somehow.

Happy walks.

Key to their achieving happy walks is for the couple to be a bit more relevant and fun so that they can can keep his attention. They can engage with him. He should soon be walking near them because he likes being there not because he’s on a tight lead, just as he was out the front with us yesterday.

He should be allowed to wander, sniff and do dog things without the pressure of going a certain distance, of making it from A to B.

This about the journey, not the destination.

On a lead or long line, Albert should no longer have the opportunity to charge dogs or jump up at a jogger. According to the recent changes to the dog law, someone need only feel threatened, with no harm done, in order for both dog and owner to be in trouble.

Both at daycare and out on walks, Albert is using the theory ‘attack is the best form of defence’. It’s because he doesn’t feel safe. It’s our job to help our dog to feel safe and this is easier to do with knowledge and not simply by labelling the behaviour as dominance.

 

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 Albert. 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 aggression or fear of any kind is involved. 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).

Touched and Cuddled. Some Dogs Like it. Some Don’t

African Wild Dog (Wikipedia Commons)

Pearl came from a ‘farm’ in Wales. At six weeks old she was driven from there to the house the young couple bought her from. There were lots of dogs there. I have my suspicions about what kind of farm that was – a puppy farm very likely.

They say she’s a Border Collie, but doesn’t she look like an African Wild Dog! Look at those huge upright ears and the colouring.

The 9-month-old Pearl is a puzzle behaviourally also.

Pearl doesn’t like being touched.

doesn't like being touched

Happy face

Pearl doesn’t like being touched whilst seeming to invite it.

She approaches the young lady who assumes it’s because she wants her to pet her, and then growls and bares her teeth when she does so.

Unfortunately, the couple feel the way to touch the dog is vigorously, kind of ruffling her with both hands. The man gets away with it – Pearl tolerates being touched by him – but not by the young lady, not even being touched gently. This understandably upsets her.

Pearl used to just growl and occasionally show her teeth.

They then had some very unfortunate advice from a trainer over the phone.

“Grab her by her scruff and remove her!”.

The couple admit that things have gone downhill from then, even though they only did it the once.

Pearl started snapping too and although it’s mostly at the young lady, it’s other people also. Family members want to fuss her. Looking as she does, people everywhere want to touch her. When she reacts, telling them in clear ‘dogspeak’ that she doesn’t like it, she is scolded. NO!

How confusing this must be.

doesn't like being touched

Pearl

The real puzzle is that she seems to be asking to be touched – or that is the conclusion they jump to. I however don’t think so. She wants to interact but she doesn’t want hands.

If she were to go to another dog, put her face against him and look into his eyes, what might she be saying? It would be inviting interaction and maybe play, certainly not hands on her or even paws.

Below is a still from a short video the young lady sent me of Pearl baring her teeth as she touches her. I see a dog exercising great self-control.

It is evident to me that, like many dogs, Pearl particularly doesn’t like a hand coming from above. Her first signal is to momentarily freeze. She did this with me, even though I was just very briefly touching her chest (with her consent). I immediately stopped.

Their reaction to ‘aggression’ is to be firm and shout NO. They have had the wrong and old-fashioned advice. To stop is to ‘give in’ and she ‘needs to know who is boss’.

The dominance approach can only make things a lot worse.

The young man perceptibly made the point that touching Pearl is really for their own benefit and not Pearl’s.

Pearl’s reaction to the young lady touching her

I suggest they no longer ruffle her at all and no hands-on play. The lady’s daily routine is to touch her vigorously, particularly when she comes home from work. This is when the main trouble starts.

The evenings deteriorate into Pearl jumping on her – ‘demanding’ to be touched. Then Pearl shows her teeth, growls and maybe snaps when it happens.

Now they will resist nearly all touching and any done will be brief and not on the head. No vigorous ‘ruffling’. They will no longer go over to touch her when she’s lying down.

I showed the young lady how to clicker train Pearl to come to touch her hand. In this context Pearl will learn to like hands. Let the dog initiate the touching and find it rewarding.

Another aspect to it all is that, because she’s left alone while they are at work, the clever young dog may not get sufficient stimulation. Instead of ‘fielding’ her puzzling and demanding behaviour in the evenings, they will now initiate frequent short mentally stimulating activities. Activities that don’t get her stirred up unnecessarily and don’t involve too much physical contact.

They have already taught her lots of words. They have worked hard with her and I am sure there is a strong genetic element to her behaviour. She’s just not born to be a cuddly dog. They can accept her for who she is, a dog who likes at most being touched gently and briefly. Instead they can spend time doing with her the many things that she does enjoy.

You never know, in time and as her confidence and trust in them grows, she may enjoy short petting sessions.

Later: “We have cut right down on touching and made a big thing to everyone about not touching her. We will play games instead …. Pearl will lick our hands when she is happy which we like her to do and I try to encourage new people to play the clicker game with her or hide a toy to stop her anxiety our family and friends have noticed how much more relaxed she is in the house because of this. It’s very early days but already paying off. She wont let me (the lady) scratch her chest anymore and doesn’t want me touching her still but its just the way she is and I’m used to it now”.

 

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 Pearl. 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 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).

 

 

 

 

Dominant Alpha or Friend and Guardian?

Staffie Boxer mix Digby came out of his shell after a couple of hours. What a character.

This is yet another story that could make me cry. A young couple get themselves a puppy. They don’t do this lightly but ‘read all the books’ and look on the internet.

Digby was only six weeks old when they picked him up and it’s probable his fearfulness is partly genetic. He’s now two years old.

The Alpha myth.

Alpha dominance doesn't work on Digby

How can a new dog owner tell if a trainer who sets himself up as an authority won’t do more harm than good?

So concerned were they by Digby’s increasing fearfulness and barking at people that they had a trainer to their home to ‘teach’ them what to do. When the sensitive dog did something they didn’t like, they were shown to throw metal discs on the ground in front of him.

Digby can become very easily over-aroused and will then redirect quite roughly onto the young man in particular, grabbing his arm with his teeth. The poor young man just doesn’t know how to deal with it.

The trainer’s answer to this was to spray him with ‘bitter’ spray (surely also wiping out Digby’s number one sense, his sense of smell, for a long while).

This trainer, in the name of dominance and teaching an owner to be the Alpha, seems to think it’s okay to push the dog over the edge with over-arousal and then to punish it.

That’s just ridiculous. Why not instead limit the arousal so that this redirection onto someone’s arm isn’t necessary? Why not get to the bottom of why it’s happening and use healthy stimulation and calming activities instead?

Here is another thing – another ignored by Dibgy’s owners. Apparently he shouldn’t be allowed to settle in one place for too long before he’s moved to another room. How can an Alpha wolf be blamed for that?

Old wolf-pack theory dominance methods rely on superstitions and quick fixes that may work in the moment. I have been to countless cases demonstrating conclusively the long-term fallout.

So, after the ‘help’ from this individual, the young couple have felt increasingly unhappy about doing this dominance stuff with their beloved family pet but have known no alternative.

Digby goes out for a walk with his tail between his legs.

He shakes when his collar comes out. Out on the street he is scared of everything. In this state he may react by lunging and barking at a person or dog he sees. The trainer’s advice was to put him on a Gencon and basically force control onto him.

This same trainer had advised them not to shut Digby behind the gate anymore when people came to the house. A couple of days after his visit, Digby bit someone coming into the house.

He was in such a state of panic that he emptied his bowels right where he stood in the room.

Poor Digby. His young owners were beside themselves with distress for him.

Anyway, things are now changing.

For the first time since he was very young, a relaxed Digby was wandering around the sitting room and lying down beside a visitor. He began behind the kitchen gate, barking. We started with him brought into the room on lead and muzzled. As the couple relaxed and the lead was loosened, so did Digby relax. The lead was dropped. The muzzle came off. Then the lead was removed altogether.

Digby fished in my bag. He nuzzled me. I gave him food. He did a naughty dash upstairs (not allowed – he was called down and now rewarded for coming). The beautiful dog was so happy.

The power of positive methods unfolded before our eyes,

Looking ahead, all instruments of harshness will be abandoned in favour of rewards and positive reinforcement. Digby will get a comfortable harness and a longer lead. The restricting Gencon will be ditched.

They will be giving him two kinds of walks, field walks and road walks. He’s much more confident out in the fields and going by car. It’s leaving the house to walk along the road and pavements that scares him so much.

They will pop him in the car and walk him on a long line as often as they can.

Meanwhile they will get him happy just standing outside the gate to begin with. They can use his tail as a gauge! If his tail drops between his legs they will turn back.

How to be an Alpha Male according to wolves

 

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 Duke. 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 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).

Consequence Drives Behaviour

Leonberger puppyI have just been to the most stunning puppy. A four-month-old Leonberger called Amra.

What was troubling the couple was their large puppy’s painful biting and pawing, particularly directed at the lady when she comes home. The gentleman initially referred to this as ‘dominance challenge’.

It’s easy to explain behaviour where the dog seems to be controlling us as ‘dominance’. This is now an outdated, unhelpful notion that leads to a confrontational training approach which, with a spirited dog, can eventually make for defiance – even aggression.

This beautiful dog fortunately has a lovely gentle nature and merely gets too excited. He then can’t control himself. He’s just a puppy being a puppy, but being the size he is makes biting and pawing, something he’s quite persistent with, painful.

What is behind the behaviour isn’t dominance – the puppy wanting to become Alpha – but that certain behaviours bring him the most reinforcement. When he gets a bit rough he can bank on getting rewarded in terms of attention of some sort. A confident dog and kindly treated dog isn’t at all upset by being told NO. The word may stop him in his tracks, but does it teach him anything positive?

Amra’s ‘silly’ times can be anticipated. They can pre-empt the puppy wildness with various occupations that keep him busy including hunting and chewing.

With each thing they want to change (and there are very few), we can analyse just what happens immediately afterwards – realising that it’s the rewarding consequence that is driving a behaviour to repeatedly occur. Sometimes what that consequence actually is needs searching for.

Here is an example. When the lady comes home from work (the gentleman works from home), Amra gets very excited indeed. The manner of her arrival and their greeting helps to trigger a mad and rough half hour. The pup will grab her leg. What happens now is that the gentleman calls him away and then distracts him – maybe plays with him. The dog’s reward could be that he indirectly gets quality reaction from the man.

I suggest, if they’ve not successfully managed the situation by setting things up differently in advance, that  the gentleman experiments with simply walking out of the room and shutting the door as soon as the dog grabs the lady (and that she wears tough jeans for a week or two)! If that doesn’t work, what Amra is ‘getting out of it’ needs to be re-examined as will the things that lead up to it.

I always love going to a puppy that has been to some formal old-fashioned type of training based on ‘commands’ and ‘control’ and to introduce both people and dog to the notion of using Yes instead of No – constantly reinforcing desired behaviour and having the puppy wanting to please rather than simply being expected to comply.

This same principal applies to when walking Amra on lead. They already have him walking around the house and garden beside them off lead, but once the lead goes on he’s pulling down the road. It’s so easy to have a puppy walking nicely if one has appropriate, comfortable equipment and a different mind-set.

Because Amra will grow to be so large, from the start they have been doing everything they can to make sure he grows up to be a gentle and well-mannered adult dog.

Their Dog Bit Someone

Beagle Molly barks fearfully both at people she doesn't know coming to the house and people she sees out on walkA couple of days ago to the total horror of the young couple who own her, their dog bit someone.

Their reaction was very natural but to the more enlightened completely inappropriate and can only encourage further aggression, and things now are definitely heading in the wrong direction unless the way her humans behave with her is completely reversed.

Little Beagle Molly is fifteen months old. On the left is her in her favourite look-out place for barking at passing people and dogs, and on the right briefly taking a break after going through all her attention-seeking repertoire and relaxing happily after some clicker work.

I need to say before I go any further what great and dedicated owners little Molly has. They recognise they’ve not got the knowledge and things are going wrong, and they are making big sacrifices to put this right. This is the mark of good dog parents.

They love Molly to bits, but simply don’t know how to ‘bring up’ a dog. She is totally confused. She can receive cuddles, shouting at her, rough and tumble play, scMolly is confusedolding, kissing, more cuddling and punishment all from the same person.

Like so many people I go to, they say ‘everyone tells us different things’ and seldom are any of these things helpful as they are mostly dominance based and involved punishment. They are at their wits’ end. In the evenings all Molly does is to run rings around them in order to get attention, and apart from over-boisterous hands-on play that encourages the mouthing and nipping, it is No, No and No. She nicks the remote or she will steal the man’s shirt and the way they retrieve the items invites defiance.

Wouldn’t it be great if people could attend positive ‘dog-parenting’ classes before they picked up a puppy or new dog? They would then start off using positive methods and reading the right books, they would know how to give their dogs the right amount of stimulation and exercise (not too much and not too little), and I would bet dogs treated like this from the start would never bite and their carers would be a lot happier.

Molly is becoming increasingly scared of people and it’s no wonder. She will be associating them with her humans’ anxiety and anger rather than with good stuff. She barks fearfully both at people she doesn’t know coming to the house and people she sees out on walks. The barking at the window will only be making this worse.  She is punished for being scared. People don’t realise what they are doing. The bite occurred when they were out and a woman came up behind them unexpectedly and put her hand down to Molly. It was dark. Fortunately the skin wasn’t broken. The reaction of all the people involved was very unfortunate. One even said she should be put to sleep. Unbelievable.

The couple were absolutely devastated.

Things now will turn a corner, I know. These people are totally committed to changing things around, and after we looked at things from Molly’s perspective it was a like a light came on. I showed the young man how to use a clicker, starting with a simple exercise which Molly picked up almost immediately, and during the evening he was constantly clicking her for doing good things.  For instance, instead of yelling at her for putting her feet up on the table, he waited until the moment her feet touched the floor and clicked and rewarded that – teaching her what he did want instead of scolding. And best of all, he really enjoyed it.

She was using her brain to seek ways of being ‘good’!

This is going to be very hard work because several areas of the dog’s life need an overhaul, but I am sure they will get there and I shall continue to help them in every way I can for as long as they need me. From now on it’s going to be Yes Yes Yes.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Molly, 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. 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).

‘Alpha-Rolled’ Cockerpoo for Being Scared

Not a very good photo I’m afraid – black dogs are difficult and I wish you could see his lovely face.Eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo Algie is becoming increasingly wary of men he doesn't know

Eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo Algie is becoming increasingly wary of men he doesn’t know – and some that he does. He was a somewhat timid puppy, and when he was about nine months old they moved house. The first indication of problems was when he began to growl at the men working on their new home. As people do, they probably told him ’No’ and ‘’Stop’ and put it down to the upheaval in his life.

The couple used to take Algie to work with them when it looked like he might be alone for more than a couple of hours, and the owner didn’t actually see what happened in the second incident because it was outside the office. Men would be wandering about. This time he actually nipped. Next he bit their gardener, a man he knows, so they called in a trainer.

Following this things have escalated to such an extent that, in addition to biting a couple more men, he now barks and lunges at male callers to the house; his reactive behaviour and barking in general is increasing. The lady is having a baby very soon and Algie needs sorting out.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if his fear had been addressed in a positive way as soon as it manifested itself, if his body language could have been read before he even did his first growl at a man, it would not have got to this stage. Instead, they got a trainer in who taught them to Alpha roll him.

Oh dear.

After twice pinning down her beloved dog for growling, the young lady felt so bad she couldn’t carry on, and they called me. It just felt so wrong. The man is a quite a well-known trainer in the area, and people tend to do what they are told. Thankfully she could tell she was damaging the relationship she had with Algie. She wanted him to feel safe near her, not threatened by her. This reaction as demonstrated on Algie by the trainer will most certainly have added to his fear of men.  The side effects of punishment can be more difficult to deal with than the original behavior it is meant to cure. Now he is reacting to nearly all men rather than growling at just a few. He even growled at me a couple of times which was unusual. It can only go one way unless approached differently.

Zak George has this to say: Immediately abandon any training advice you’ve heard about being the “Alpha” or being “dominant” over your dog. Any dog trainer advising you who uses these terms is likely basing their approach on 20th century myths that originate from flawed studies on captive wolves. These are the buzz words of past superstitions in dog training when less was understood’.

As much as anything, punishment like pinning down fails to teach the dog what to the next time he is in that same situation. It disempowers him even further. It failed to give the little dog confidence in the one person who should be his protector.

What is Algie’s growl saying? It’s saying ‘I’m feeling scared’. If this was a child, would it be appropriate to harshly say NO, or worse still, throw him onto the floor? No. We would be looking into the basis of his fear, find the triggers and work on desensitisation and counter conditioning – big words for getting Algie accustomed to men from a comfortable distance and associating them with good things.

From the start they have done what they thought was the best for Algie, sending him to doggy daycare which he loves and training him conscientiously. Like so many people they have been the victim of bad, outdated advice, but they will bring him around I’m sure – if they take things slowly.

Little Dogs and Too Much Barking

Poodle sisters Squirrel and Teddy

Squirrel and Teddy

20-month old Poodles Squirrel and Teddy were joined a couple of months ago by little Westie/Bichon cross Lily who is now 5 months old.

Their family runs a children’s nursery. As our meeting progressed, they kept saying, ‘I can’t believe this is just the same as we would do with the children. Why didn’t we think of that’?

Instead, they had been reading books and stuff on the internet. With so much conflicting information it’s not surprising that some of it was a bit unwise – stuff to do with dominance and trying to stop behaviours they DON’T want, rather than positive reinforcement for behaviours that they DO want.

Too much barking

The problem manifests as much too much barking. The Poodles were not too bad until Lily joined them. Lily barks and reacts to everything. Little sounds outside, birds in trees, animals on TV, other dogs and nearly everything when out on walks, and in the middle of the night the sound of one of the cats walking over the floorboards outside the room.

Squirrel

All three dogs charge down the stairs barking, they charge out into the garden barking, they suddenly rush around the house barking at a sound. Teddy barked persistently at me when I came, obviously fearful. The two Poodles had a little spat as a result of built-up stress. We worked out a strategy for Teddy’s lady owner to take control of the situation and then we tackled his fear using food.

There are quite a few ways that the barking opportunities can be reduced through simple management and then they need to approach the problem differently. If more doors are kept shut the dogs can’t charge around the house like a noisy doggy whirlwind. They agreed that their usual ‘Be Quiet’, ‘Shh’ and getting cross simply haven’t worked. In fact, saying ‘Shh’ while the dogs are actually barking is probably labelling the noise with ‘Shh’, in effect telling them to bark and not to be quiet! ‘Shh’ needs to label NO barking for a long time before it can be effectively used to mean ‘be quiet’.

Each time the dogs start barking they need reassurance that there is nothing to be alarmed about because the owners take charge of the situation.

Using food

too much barking

Lily

The humans are missing big opportunties by not using food.  Jean Donaldson in The Culture Clash says this:

‘Exploit the most potent motivator in animal training. If you have puritanical misgivings about food as a reinforcer, get over them and fast. He has to eat anyway. ….it is like saying, “Yeah, but if your employer pays you for working, won’t you always expect it?” ….. Suffice to say that you’re shooting yourself in the foot if you deprive yourself of food training and expect to compete with the rest of the environment using your personal charm only. (Food training) enhances your bond by associating you with one of the most potent reinforcers on the planet. The alternative to training with positive reinforcement is training with aversives (punishment). Choose and stop agonizing”.

So now the family will be concentrating on reinforcing the behaviour that they want and on dealing with unruliness, and Lily and Teddy’s fears in the same sort of way they they would children in their care.

Supremely Confident Boxer Bullies Other Dogs

bullies other dogsThree-year-old Ollie is large for a Boxer and he’s wonderfull! He’s not only absolutely confident and fearless, but also gentle and friendly without being pushy. In the house he’s biddable and obedient.

He has been extremely well socialised from the start, sensibly trained, and was castrated at about eighteen months.

Now bullies other dogs

However gradually, over time, his attitude towards other dogs has deteriorated. Ollie now bullies other dogs – those he doesn’t know. He seems to want to control every dog he meets. He will put his head over them, stand over them and if the dog submits he’ll pin it down.

If the other dog doesn’t like it, there’s trouble!

Walks are now taken early morning to avoid other dogs, along exactly the same route each day, mostly off lead. He goes daily to the family farm where he has freedom to do as he wishes and go where he likes.

When he’s called he comes back (maybe finishes first what he was doing!)………unless he sees another dog.

Could rough play from humans be contributing to the problem?

Ollie has control of most things in life. He also has excellent self-control. He’s not a demanding dog, but what he wants in the way of attention and play he usually gets. Add to this a mix of frustration and over-excitement building up in him due to the sort of play he gets, and it could be what triggers his intolerance.

The young man and his friends play rough and tumble with Ollie, which ends up with him being so hyped up that he starts to hump them. To stop him they lift him up (he must be very heavy) and though they don’t mean to tease him, this is what is happening.

Daily on his way to the farm he is fired up with barking at dogs from the back of the truck. On arrival, the young man kicks a basketball for him as they walk through the fields. This ball is too big for him to pick up and destroy, so he becomes frustrated. I remember years ago having a similar ball for my Rottweiller and not being able to ‘catch it’ would make him frustrated and angry. He would then redirect his frustration onto the other dog I had at the time.

Needless to say I removed the ball. It is proven that stress continues to build up in dogs over time. It may not show from outside.

We don’t approach this problem with Ollie and other dogs head on – the fact he bullies other dogs in itself it’s not the problem, more a symptom.

Getting a little more control over all general decision-making, putting a few more demands on Ollie in terms of working for them for rewards along with cutting down on excitement and frustration should make a huge difference.

Added to this, his humans need to react appropriately when they see another dog. Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere. They also need to be working very hard on Ollie’s recall, making themselves relevant and more rewarding than anything else so that obeying a call or whistle becomes automatic over time.