Big Change in the Dogs’ Lives. From Free to Restricted.

So much change. The four dogs of interesting mixed breeds were flown over here from South African only two weeks ago and everything is different.

They have generally settled in really well to their new home.

A huge change in their lives.

Big change in the dogs' lives

Bella at the back and Dobby in front

The older two dogs have had previous experience of training, walks and probably traffic. They came from a rescue.

The two younger dogs have lived with the family since they were very young puppies.

Six-year-old Dobby, a cute Pekenese mix, was given to them at six weeks old. Bella, the youngest at fourteen months, was found on the street corner at just three weeks old. Some of her current behaviour is probably due to lack of the beneficial contact with her mother along with what she should have learnt from her siblings.

My client describes Bella as a typical African dog. She’s probably a mix of all sorts of things but looks quite like my little working Labrador in size and shape.

Previously they lived in a big house with a huge enclosed garden. Nobody came knocking on the door but a bell was rung from a distant gate.

The dogs ran free.

Free also to bark at anyone coming too close to their property. There was a lot of action and background noise about the place.

Now they live in a very nice but much smaller house over here. Everything is very quiet. The garden is not big and they are surrounded by neighbours who won’t appreciate barking.

The change from plenty of background noise to quiet means that any sounds tend to be sudden – and something to bark at.

There are two main issues for the family. The first is the noisy and alarmed way the dogs react to anyone knocking on the door and coming into the house. The other is the difficulty in walking the dogs together.

At the front door.

Never before have they had someone knocking on their door. It’s easy to understand how dogs don’t like this sudden banging.

When I arrived we had set it up that I would text outside the door, the dogs would be put out of the way, and only let out to join us when I was sitting in the kitchen. This worked a treat and there was no barking at all. Little Dobby would usually growl and bark at a person for about half and hour. There was one quiet growl and he was taking food from my hand.

This, then, is how I suggest they manage the ‘caller’ situation to start with.

They can get a doorbell which is less alarming I feel than sudden loud knocks. Over time they can systematically work on getting the dogs not to react to the bell. It can be the trigger for the dogs to go into another room, out of the way. A wireless doorbell with two push-buttons is ideal for working with frequent bell-rings. Success will depend upon many repetitions.

Then there will be less chaos when deliveries come.

All dogs were fine with my walking about but went mental when, having gone upstairs, I began to come down again. They have never had stairs before – another change. The way we set up my arrival worked very well. We need to work out something similar for when a person goes upstairs.

They bark also when a male family member comes downstairs, so I suggest for now the man sits on the top stair, calls the dogs up to him and they then can walk down together.

So the ‘manage callers’ part of their aims will be a mix of physically managing the situation along with systematically getting them used to the sound of a doorbell and also feeling good when they hear it.

Walking the dogs.

The ‘walking dogs’ part of their aims boils down to working with the two younger dogs individually until they are less reactive to other dogs and people. When aroused on walks and together, Bella will redirect onto Dobby. These two aren’t used to leads and probably not accustomed to much tarmac and paving, or traffic. The older two are fine.

Bella and Dobby have separate walking plans.

Bella pulls like mad and is very reactive to any dog she sees, even at a distance but is okay with people.

Dobby is hysterical with excitement before even leaving the house. He also pulls and the outside world experience sounds like it’s just too much for him. Whilst he’s okay with other dogs he freaks out when a person walks towards them.

Bella and Dobby, in time, can then be gradually integrated one at a time with the older two, then walked together as a pair, before trying to walk them all together. How quickly they achieve this will depend upon how much time they have to work on it.

Because the dogs have only been over here with them for just a couple of weeks, their behaviour may well change further as they adapt to their new environment over the next month or two.

The dogs are doing really well despite the huge upheaval and change. I’m sure this is because the family of four all work so well together on their dogs’ behalf.

Aggressive to Callers

Black German Shepherd Kody on the left does not like people coming to her house

Kody

 Kody on the left does not like people coming to her house and she makes that very clear with a lot of barking. While white GSD Portia is less reactive, she will join in.

The evening didn’t start like this, with two calm and happy dogs.

After a very noisy start in the sitting room with both dogs on lead barking at me, I went back outside, rang the doorbell and started again. This time we went into the kitchen and sat at the breakfast bar with a bowl of tasty tit-bits prepared and to hand.

The dogs were then let in to join us.

As you can see, both dogs are happy and this was achieved very quickly. Portia is sitting beside me waiting for another piece of cheese, and Kody also was eating out of my hand. Usually she would have been barking at someone’s slightest movement and she has nipped people in the house.

White GSD Portia is sitting beside me waiting for another piece of cheese

Portia

I go to a great number of German Shepherds in particular that behave in an aggressive to callers coming into their homes. I believe one very big part of it starts in early puppyhood. These dogs need socialising with plenty of people (and dogs) from about six weeks of age, getting as much as possible in in before four months old. Even then it’s never ‘job done’.

Maintainance is key.

Meeting people and other dogs needs continue to be a regular feature of the dog’s life else they will lose their sociability. Sometimes people at work all day simply don’t have time, but they pay the price.

I have personal experience of all this with my own German Shepherd, Milly. She used to belong to a client who bought her from what was to all intents and purposes a puppy farm. The lady didn’t even see Milly’s mother, and Milly herself had met nobody at all apart from the person who fed them all until she was twelve weeks old. A recipe for disaster. The poor lady who bought her couldn’t ‘bond’. Milly was scared of absolutely everything and everybody – including the couple who bought her.

When the dog growls and barks at people most owners try everything they can to stop her – scolding, restraining and maybe threatening with something. It might ‘control’ the dog, but this is only a temporary fix and makes things even worse the next time. One reason we show anger to our barking and snarling dog is that we feel we somehow owe it to the person who is the brunt of it.  We need to get over that and put the dog first. We need to try to understand the underlying reason why she’s doing it, and deal with that, so she doesn’t need the aggressive behaviour to callers that she hopes will send them away.

If they continue to keep Kody and Portia away from all people, things will never change. As I say to owners, the only way you will change your dogs’ behaviour is to change what you do yourselves. In this case each dog needs to be worked on separately, outside in the real world where people can be seen from a non-threatening distance, and they need ‘obedient’ visitors!

The bottom line is, it depends how much we want something. If it’s important enough we’ll do it.

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