Antisocial With Dogs. Insufficient Early Habituation and Socialisation.

His young lady owner refers to him as antisocial – towards other dogs in particular.

Gunther is yet another young dog that has lacked the right kind of early socialisation or sufficient habituation. He should have encountered a variety of people, other dogs and been exposed to life in general during the second, third and fourth months of his life – before he came. It’s little wonder he’s antisocial at times.

The 8-month-old Dachshund I met wanted to be friendly but he’s torn between friendliness and fearfulness.  He barked at me for a while before, quite suddenly, becoming my best friend. Continue reading…

Fearful of People Despite Puppy Socialising

Stunning seven month old Chow Chow Chai is fearful of people. Sometimes the best laid plans simply go wrong.

Very carefully socialised.

Chow has become fearful of peopleI can’t fault her young owners. From the start they have done everything by the book. Then, sometime between four and eight weeks ago she became fearful of people.

They simply can’t trace what could have changed her so dramatically. They can however pinpoint that it was something during this four-week period. She would have been in her fifth or sixth month.

Their superb vet likes her to come in every month, no charge. All they do is put her on the table and keep her used to being handled, examined and weighed. They give her treats. She was due for her monthly visit last week.

Five weeks ago however, the last time they had taken her, they got her to the door and she didn’t want to enter. Once in, she was frantic, scared, leaping onto them, terrified of the other people in there. A different dog from the previous time.

Why so suddenly fearful of people?

All I can think of is that something happened that was huge to her but that her humans hadn’t noticed; that it had coincided with a fear period.

It makes me think back to when I was a child of about seven years old. I was in a group of people along with my mother, and something happened. It traumatised me to the extent that I shut it out until counselling unearthed it years later.  I could remember what we were doing before, but I had a blank period of time. I since asked my mother what it could have been and she had no idea.

What I found out seems very trivial now and I understand why my mother hadn’t even noticed. It had affected all my childhood.

I think it must be the same with young dogs when something happens at just the wrong time. The dog may, or may not, remember just what happened. To us it could seem so meaningless that we hadn’t even noticed. To the dog it’s life-changing.

In addition, as she matured some of the reported breed characteristics may have begun to surface: ‘…..can be aloof …….and downright suspicious of strangers. But for the right person, he’s a fiercely loyal companion’.

Chai is extremely attached to the man. (Interestingly, though initially she barked at me, when he left the room she stopped. Protective, maybe).

Who could be behind the door?

My questions unearthed that Chai had become particularly scared of entering into places. She is now so fearful of people that I believe it’s because she can’t see who might be the other side of the door.

A few days ago she had refused to go into the pet shop where she had been before. They didn’t insist, brought her home and called me.

I could see and hear how scared of me she was as I opened the gate into their high-fenced garden. I shut it again and waited for someone to come and help her then let me in.

Now they will do everything they can to help their beautiful fluffy dog become less fearful of people. People should be good news and not scary.

People-watching.

They will help her to associate people with only good things.

Recently, in order to control her, they have begun using a slip lead which tightens up if she pulls. Sometimes she is so desperate to avoid an approaching person she may try to run into the traffic.

She will feel more fearful of people when trapped on a tight lead. To make matters worse, just when she should be associating people with good things, the lead tightens. She will feel discomfort, pain even.

They will now get a harness and longer leash. With the lead fastened both on the back and the chest, they will have all the control they need without causing any discomfort.

They will stand at the entrance to their drive and ‘people-watch’. Her lead will be long and loose so at any time she feels fearful, she can retreat up the drive.

She first will be taught that looking at a person from a comfortable distance (to her) will bring her food.

They will then build this technique into walks, beginning early in the morning when there are few people about. They won’t walk her in busy places or at busy times until she is ready. It is only a short way to go to fields where they let her off lead.

Doorways into buildings

They will work on taking her through doorways into buildings, starting with their helpful vets. They will go together. The man, to whom she’s most bonded, can go in first and sit down. He will check the coast is clear of people for now.

Letting a little time elapse so Chai both feels she has choice and is also missing the man, the lady will then take her in. With the man inside already it’s pretty certain Chai will willingly walk in. Then they can then come out and do it the other way around – lady in first.

This technique can be worked on many times and in different places.

They will lock the garden gate so people can’t simply walk in – and put a bell on it. Chai will no longer be allowed to feel vulnerable in the garden with someone able to walk straight into what should be her safe place.

It is quite heartbreaking when a puppy, despite such dedicated socialising and habituating to life, suddenly becomes unaccountably fearful of people or other dogs.

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 Chai. 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 fear 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).

Sweet Dog Undersocialised and Scared

Three of the last four dogs I have been to have been scared of me. Although they all barked at me I’m not taking it personally. Each one, almost certainly, has been inadequately socialised at a sufficiently young age.

Rescues are full of undersocialised dogs. Without sufficient happy encounters with lots of different people in the first weeks of the dog’s life, the puppy of about three months old will very likely begin to be fearful. The clock can’t be put back.

People often think someone may have been actively cruel to their adopted dog but usually that’s not the case. There has even been research to prove that the brain of a dog that has been undersocialised deUndersocialised Cocker Spaielvelops a bit differently. What’s more, fearful dogs may pass on these fear genes to their puppies. It really is a big problem.

A dog that has been with one person, loved but not exposed to people and real life from a very young age, is condemned to a challenging life. So many people I go to have re-homed a dog like this, like the family I went to today.

Cocker Spaniel Millie, 3, is very happy with her family. She is pretty good with other dogs too. However, she does not like other people.

When someone comes into her house she will bark at them in a fearful way. The people have a ritual that may keep her barking under control but it’s not actually changing how Millie feels about people. Today I asked them not to do what they usually did, which unsettled her, actually making her worse. This may happen to begin with.

What was apparent is that the fear element reduced with the help of food but she still barked at me on and off. I feel it’s become a habit that always brings the same predictable result that may be rewarding or reassuring – a certain reaction from the family. She may even be getting a little bit cross. So often it’s a mix of things.

We have a plan for working on this involving food which fortunately she loves and multiple short sessions. They will have the environment already laced with food before Millie joins the visitor who will be sitting still and not looking at her. They will take it from there, trying different things. Some things work better with some dogs than others.

Millie’s not keen of people she meets on walks either. It is tempting to get the dog to sit as a person passes, but I prefer to keep on the move, making a bit of an arc rather than approaching head-on, keeping the dog’s attention and feeding as the person goes by. This is great practice at a level she can cope with to make her feel a bit better about people.

Millie barking at me

Millie barking at me

Millie’s general stress levels are permanently being topped up during the day by various things – she’s very alert to noises or anything sudden. There are many small things that can be done that could contribute to reducing stress from diet to preventing post being pushed through the door.

There are also things dogs can do for themselves to help them to self-calm.

Millie has had over three years in fear of people, so it will be a slow process. Every small step will be an achievement. The gentleman said that a trainer had told him that teaching Millie something new was not possible as it would be like trying to teach a 35-year-old human something new. That’s ridiculous. I am learning all the time.

Anyway, this isn’t about ‘learning’ as about ‘feeling’. There is no age limit to changing emotions.

The physical effect on Millie’s brain isn’t about ‘learning’ either. It is hard-wired and will always be there and even, once ‘cured’, she could revert if faced with a situation she can’t cope with. With continuing help she will bounce back.

When they first had Millie it looked like she had no tail. For days it was clamped between her legs and under her body. Even despite her unease with me, that didn’t happen. Later in my presence she was positively enjoying the clicker work the young lady was doing with her.

With kindness and patience they have come a long way in the eighteen months that they have had her. Now it’s time to push a bit further forward.

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 Millie. 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 which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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 Get Help page)

 

Importance of Early Socialisation

Canaan puppies

The other three ears should come up soon!

I have just been to two five-month-old siblings. Before the family picked them up about four weeks ago, despite being brother and sister each puppy had had a very different life.

They are Canaans, a rare and ancient breed. Lapidos is confident and friendly, Leah is afraid of everything – of people and anything new, noisy or sudden.

Lapidos had been bullied by the other puppies in the kennel, so was brought into the house to live with the family.

Leah had remained outside with the other puppies. All her physical needs were met but I would guess she had little interaction with the normal things of daily life at that very crucial time before about thirteen weeks old when the ‘fear period’ kicks in. She is such a clear demonstration of the importance of early socialisation.

These puppies are are settling in well with a lovely family with four very young little children in a well-organised environment. Leah has made considerable progress thanks to the love and patience of her new family so far as relaxing with them is concerned.

But she is very scared of anyone new.

She is often too frightened to go out into the garden, particularly during the day – but strangely she is more courageous outside after dark. She shies at gusts of wind, sounds, anything moving, anything new or sudden.

Leah lying where she feels safe

The two pups lived exclusively in the utility room which is off their large kitchen and they had not been allowed into the house. They are quite content to be in there without crying to come out and join the family, probably because that’s how it’s been from the start. All their encounters with the little children and other people have either been in that room, out in the garden or on walks.

There are downsides to this. When friends and even the children go into their utility room Leah, in particular, has nowhere to escape to if scared unless the back door is open which she is sometimes too anxious to go through anyway. When I came I was immediately introduced to the dogs in the utility room and Leah ran to the furthest bed, the best she could do to hide. Other people who don’t know better will no doubt try to approach and befriend her.

After I had been there a while they opened the gate so the dogs could join us in the kitchen. Lapidos was in with us straight away, friendly, curious and testing new boundaries. Leah ventured in and kept running back out again. I rolled food to her which she ate and at one stage she dared come near to me as I sat still and looked the other way.

I suggested that the dogs now have monitored sessions in the kitchen, both separately and together, where they can begin to learn a few cues and interact with their humans and with new people in a calmer environment than the garden and in a less trapped environment than the utility room.

The kids should be taught to read how the dogs are feeling and whether, at any particular moment, they want to be touched or approached. From what I saw from their body language with the very little girl who joined us, both dogs, even Leah, welcomed her proximity. Dogs and children should never be left alone together unsupervised.

Leah with the dog food they will be returning

If Leah can’t gradually socialise with new people in an environment where she feels safe, it will make things very difficult for them all as she grows older. Now that they understand the way to deal with a fearful dog, they will no longer make her go anywhere she doesn’t want to go but give her time and always an escape route.

When out, these unusual and beautiful puppies are like a magnets to people and Leah can’t escape the scary attention. It’s the owners’ job to protect her as they would their children.

If something scary happens to a dog when one of their humans happens to be present, the dog can associate the person with the fear even though they had nothing to do with it. There was an incident where a child tied Lapidos’ lead to a chair in the garden and went away. The pup pulled the chair over which terrified him and the lady was nearby and rescued him. For the following week he tried to avoid her.

We looked at all aspects of the puppies’ lives to make sure they get off to the best start, including diet. In the picture is Leah, venturing out of the utility room and past a new large pack of Baker’s Complete dog food. Diet affects the dogs both physically and mentally, and food like this is made to be tasty and pretty, but contains little proper nutrition and even some harmful stuff and additives. They will return it.

So, we have made a start. The purpose of having me to help are for the humans to be able to teach the pups basic training cues, to walk nicely on lead and for the beautiful Leah to gradually grow in confidence. Finally, and understandably with such young children playing outside, they would like the dogs to toilet in one area only in the garden.

Early Socialisation Colours Dog’s Life

CockerMollyA couple of weeks ago I went to Nico, another Cocker Spaniel with fairly similar fear issues towards people, lack of early socialisation in the early weeks certainly being a large part of the cause of his wariness of all sorts of things. Nico’s problem was far greater because he had little interaction with the outside world until my clients took him on at the age of two years old.

Sixteen-month-old Molly who I went to yesterday is a lot more fortunate however. They picked her up from the breeder at nine weeks old and with hard work have brought her round from being a scared puppy that growled even when family approached her to a great family dog, fine with nearly everything now apart from close contact with people she doesn’t know. Even then she doesn’t bark or growl. She hangs back and is very tentative, but I got the feeling she was really wanting to make friends – if she dared.

Molly actually came from a very well-regarded breeder of many years experience but who probably hasn’t kept up-to-date with modern behavioural science. Today it is acknowledged that early socialisation with puppies must begin way before they leave the breeder and their litter-mates. Being kept in kennels outside, however luxurious and warm, isn’t the same as being part of a family with lots of comings and goings and real-life experiences and doesn’t make them fit for modern living. I would recommend anyone buying a puppy takes a look at the Puppy Plan website and then check the breeder.

Molly is wonderful with the two young boys and they are great with her; she treats the six-year-old like another puppy. Interestingly, I found that when the children were in the room Molly’s confidence towards myself greatly increased.

Like most Cockers, Molly can become very excited. There have been a couple of incidents with very young children when backs have been turned which have resulted in cuts. No one can be sure whether they were accidental. On one occasion the child was hugging or squeezing her and on the other occasion a toy was involved. It’s easy to be over-confident because of how wonderful she is with her own family’s kids.  All dogs need ‘protecting’ from inappropriate approaches by little children especially, and particularly dogs that are already nervous or over-excited. Backs should never be turned when young children and dogs are together, however confident we are in our dog. It only takes one moment after a build up of other things for the most tolerant of dogs to have had enough. The child will ignore the warning signs and the dog will get the blame.

I suggested a gate in the kitchen doorway so she had a safe haven and a place she can be put when things get a bit too noisy and exciting – as they are bound to with young children about. Molly will be happy with this I’m sure. She is a self-contained dog who likes her own company and will usually take herself off when the boys have gone to bed.

As is the case with many insecure dogs Molly is also quite protective, both at home and protective of the lady when they are out (not the man though). Because she is so different with the various people in her life, it demonstrates so well how a dog reflects her humans’ behaviour and state of mind. The man doesn’t anticipate trouble so when out Molly is carefree with him. The lady is a bit more tense and anxious, so Molly will doubtless sense this. She loves most other dogs, but if one runs over to the lady she will do her best to keep it away, zigzagging in front of her and circling.

The frantic barking and running from the front of the house to the back when she hears anything outside needs to be dealt with in such a way that she has confidence in her humans to take care of the situation and to look after her – the lady in particular. What happens at home spills out onto walks.

Starting with how she deals with ‘protection duty’ at home, the lady in particular can show Molly that she doesn’t need protecting and it’s the other way around – that she is there to protect Molly.

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 exact details here of our plan. 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Importance of Puppy Socialisation

Labrador Springer cross doesn't like being aproached by people when out

Bella

Bella’s sweet looks attract attention when they are out, but she doesn’t like being approached and especially touched.

She barks.

She looks like a long-eared Labrador puppy, but she is actually a two-year-old Labrador Springer cross, much smaller than a Labrador.

The couple, first-time dog owners, admit to not having socialised her when they got her as a puppy, not realising how crucial puppy socialisation is. The lady took her for long country walks with a friend and her dog but she met few people. They didn’t have many callers to the house at that time either.

Now they have a baby and they get more visitors, and Bella is finding them scary. Her barking sounds quite fierce. In his ignorance, a visiting family member tries to grab her while she’s barking and she has snapped at him. She has no choice with all her other warnings ignored. She has nipped a couple of other people who have approached her and tried to touch her at home as well as out.

Her owners now see that it’s their responsibility to protect her from unwanted advances just as they would their baby. Over time Bella should then become less wary.  In addition, a lot of good associations need to be attached to people she meets, both coming to the house and when out.

Bella is very reactive to many things – the vacuum cleaner, lawn mower, hairdryer, garden hose and more. The young man plays wrestling games and hypes her up when he comes home till she’s flying all over him like a wild thing. Inadvertently, through his shouting at a TV football match, she is now really frightened when he raises his voice.

Helping her to be calmer is key.  It is all TOO MUCH. So, sorry, no more wild games. Put her in another room if the match is gripping and put her somewhere else before using any machinery that scares her. They understand and are happy with this, wanting the very best for her.

They will get a little yellow jacket for her saying ‘I need space’ or ‘please don’t touch me’ to help when they are out (maybe even when they have callers!). This way they won’t have to keep making excuses or apologising.

Believing it will be the best they can do for dear little Bella, in a few days’ time they are picking up a new puppy!  A Newfoundland called Brewster. He will be eight weeks old and I guess not much smaller than Bella herself.

They are hoping that a companion will give her more confidence. Maybe. Time will tell.  Crucial will be allowing Bella to make her own advances (or not) and doing much more to avoid her building up stress in general. Appropriate early puppy socialisation is so important. Watch this space.

I shall be returning in a few days’ time, the day after they bring Brewster home, in order to make sure everything is set in place from the start and that Bella is happy.

Very importantly, we will also draw up a plan for active socialisation – for both dogs.

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

Newfoundland puppy

Brewster

Bella is getting on well with the Newfie puppy

Bella and Brewster

 And here is puppy Brewster with Bella a few days later. As you can see, both dogs are getting on fine

Importance of Early Socialisation

English Bull Terrier was not relaxed enough for me to take a photoTwo-year-old English Bull Terrier/Staffie mix Norma is a good example of what happens when a dog lacks any socialisation to people and everyday life in the first three months of life – the crucial period for encountering things before fear responses start to kick in. Puppies usually start off being trusting and carefree.

I didn’t take this photo – she was not this relaxed with me there.

Norma started life probably in a shed or barn – a puppy farm, then at two months old the litter was taken to the vet to be put to sleep but the vet refused and they ended up in kennels. She was there for four months until her current owners adopted her at six  months old.

Her people are conscientious and caring, with a good natural insight into Norma’s needs. They have come a long way. They now have a new baby and they are worried about the future.

Whenever anyone comes to the house Norma growls and barks aggressively. She then seems almost to lure them into eye contact by staring or leaning on them – whereupon, when they look at her or move, she springs back into growling and barking. It is a strange case. She is quieter out of the room behind the gate where she can still see the people, but whilst there she will shake until they have gone.

Outside the house it is just as bad. She panics and wants to come home if out of sight of their home. The only way to get her walking enthusiastically is to carry a football and then keep kicking it to the point where she has become obsessive, but at least it keeps her mind of anything else. This is not a natural pastime for a dog and simply stirs her up more. If she sees a person approaching her hackles go up and she barks and lunges, and already fired up it’s hardly surprising. Norma first needs to learn to walk on a loose lead, to enjoy proper ‘dog walks’ with sniffing and doing doggy things. With hard work she should gradually learn that people are not a threat. This will take a long time, and I shall behind them all the way for as long as it takes.

There is hope. Once Norma does get to know people, she is very friendly – a well-behaved and biddable dog. Her people are really on the ball and prepared to give it their all. They are already going that extra mile. They have a supportive family who are also on board.

Possibly fear of humans could be the most difficult thing to remedy because you can’t put the clock back.