Reduce Arousal. Over-Excitement. Barks at Dogs on TV

Reduce arousal. Stress and excitement are at the root of their problems with Kevin and being alert, energetic and reactive is simply part of his basic nature, I’m sure.

Kevin is Kevin – and he’s wonderful! As an adolescent he will be at a difficult stage anyway.

One-year-old Kevin was born in kennels in Romania then had probably been adopted by someone over here who couldn’t cope with his boisterous nature. He ended up in rescue kennels again.

They found him online. The kennels simply brought him out and handed him over.

Continue reading…

Dog Behind the Fence. Barking Dog. Lunges

I have just been to a couple of Labradoodles, Sol and Cristal. What the owners would like to achieve is much less barking at home and, from Sol, on walks also. He may bark and lunge at other dogs but only when he’s on lead and when they get too close.

A big problem is a dog barking behind the fence on the corner of their road.

They have worked hard training their lovely dogs. The problems they are facing are, to my mind, less about training than about the emotions that drive the behaviour.

Emotions not obedience.

The older training methods don’t take account of the dogs’ emotional state but are more about ‘obedience’. Commands don’t really alter the feelings that drive the behaviour.

Labradoodle barks at dog behind the fence

Sol at the back, with Celeste

The ‘behaviour’ approach is holistic – covering all aspects of the dogs’ lives, because everything is connected like a jigsaw puzzle. The dogs now will be helped to make their own correct decisions without commands or correction. This is done by emphasising what they are doing right. Also by giving them choice, on walks in particular.

Anyway, in this story I am just picking one aspect of what we are working on. This is Sol barking and lunging at the dog behind the fence on the corner.

Sol and Crystal have lovely runs in the park with their doggy friends, but to get there they have to pass a house with a terrier that barks like mad from behind the fence. This dog had attacked the, now much bigger, Sol when he was a puppy.

Sol alerts well before he gets there, even when the dog isn’t out and behind the fence.

How can they get past without Sol barking and lunging? Commands and physical control aren’t helping at all. (The strategy for Sol isn’t the only way to work on this kind of thing, but having met Sol and his owners it seems the best fit).

First the two dogs should be walked separately for a while – the lady can for now make the journey to the park by car.

For working with Sol and the dog behind the fence she will take a clicker because I would prefer she doesn’t talk. Let Sol work things out for himself. (See here for an intro into what clicker is about).

The enemy behind the fence: ‘Engage’.

This is the game stage one:

They will start out calmly, letting Sol sniff and walk about a bit on a loose lead before heading towards the terrier’s garden.

As soon as Sol looks in that direction, engages, the lady will click and drop some food. This food is dropped rather than fed for two reasons. One, that the food should be associated with the terrier and not the lady. Secondly, dropping the food means Sol looks away and down at the ground, ready to look back up again and earn another click.

Slowly they can advance – clicking each time he looks in the direction of what may be the dog behind the fence, dropping food. If the terrier comes out it will bark and they will have to quickly retreat and start this game from a lot further back.

They will gradually work their way nearer the house on the corner. At some stage Sol will start to react as he looks for his enemy behind the fence. He will go stiff, stare, ‘get big’ with ears and tail rising.

He is now about to go over threshold. He’s too close.

They should back off a little to where Sol is comfortable again, and continue with the game. Bit by bit he will get closer.

This game should be played daily for five or ten minutes at a time – the more sessions the better. The main rule is not to push him over threshold – get too close. If they do, they are back to square one – a bit like going down a snake in snakes and ladders!  Listen to this very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long.

‘Disengage’.

Now for stage two.

Sol, after a two or three weeks of hard work, should now have the hang of the ‘engage’ game, even when the little dog is out and barking behind the fence if from sufficient distance .

They will stand still as before. Sol will look in the direction of the dog’s garden. Is his enemy behind the fence? But now the lady won’t click.

If Sol is ready for stage two in the game of ignoring the dog behind the fence, he will now look round, “Where’s my click and food?”.

Now the lady will click eye contact instead.

Stage two teaches Sol to look away from the dog behind the fence, even if he’s out and barking.

With patience they should soon be walking past that garden, the other side of the road is sensible. They will need to do some work with Celeste before walking them both together to the park to play, past the house with the dog barking behind the fence.

Sol may in the future regress, so they must top up again with a couple of days of the ‘engage/disengage’ game.

2 months later: We just got back from Cornwall and tho we had a few hiccups everyone noticed a big difference in their behaviour. No barking in apartment , no jumping up people, only a little barking from crystal on beach if someone passed unexpectedly which I feel to be expected. She was fabulous with marks nephews. Normally she would be barking at their every mood. She was playing with them and they were enjoying her playfulness without over doing things. We are learning how to keep her calmer which really has paid off. We even managed to walk them to beach together, was a pleasure to be around them.. Thank you for your help and support over the six week period.
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 Sol. 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. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any form of fear or 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).

 

 

 

Assistance Dog. Assistance Human. Companion.

The young owner and her dog have a special partnership. Her aim is for the 21-month-old Beagle, Lulu, to become her trained assistance dog, particularly giving her confidence where meeting people when out is concerned.

A Beagle for an Assistance Dog?

Beagles are renowned for being friendly, gentle and affectionate. They aren’t however renowned for great recall – genetically bred to hunt. However, over the past few months Lulu’s young owner has been studying dog behaviour and is already very switched-on. She has been working very hard. Lulu’s recall is great.

Beagle as assistance dogThere are some hurdles to overcome.

Where Lulu may not be so typically Beagle is where her wariness of people is concerned. This is something that will need to be resolved if she’s to make a good assistance dog. The young owner has already made great progress with people approaching directly or coming too close, but there is a way to go.

Most of us know how difficult it is to stop a determined ‘dog lover’ from coming up to our dog, looming over and putting a hand out to touch her. She will need to become accepting of this. A ‘Dog in Training’ vest should help.

Her role as assistance dog will also require Lulu to be fairly bomb proof to sudden noises and appearances. It will require that she is much more chilled about people coming into her home.

My job as a general behaviourist is to help the young owner to build up Lulu’s confidence. From there they will get more specialised help from someone who works specifically with this kind of assistance dog.

Arousal

Recently the young owner moved back home where Lulu joins two other dogs, Nettie, a Labrador Staffie mix, and a little terrier.

With three dogs and five people in the household, there is a lot more excitement.

Callers coming to the house are posing a problem at the moment, with both dogs barking initially and again if the person gets up and moves about. Strangely, Nettie didn’t do this before Lulu came to live with them. Now Nettie starts it off!

When the two dogs regularly bark at passing people and other dogs from the window or the garden, they are, to their minds, chasing people and dogs away. It works. Where Lulu reacts to people, Nettie reacts to other dogs.They are rehearsing the very behaviour that’s unwanted when they are out.

Underpinning everything is for all three dogs to be a lot calmer. This can only happen if the humans themselves are calmer with them.

Reducing barking is a large part of the calming down process. Family members can help too by not playing hands-on vigorous games, along with not getting the dogs excited when they return home. It’s not necessary. We humans don’t greet one another in that way after a few hours apart, do we.

Out on walks

Lulu’s assistance dog role will be needed most when they go out.

Both dogs pull on lead and are usually walked separately. When she has calmed down, however, Lulu can walk nicely – I have seen videos.

The road walks will begin with just hanging around near to the house and waiting for calm. Now Lulu needs two things. She needs to learn to walk nicely beside the girl when ‘on duty’. She also needs ‘Lulu time’.

I suggest more frequent very short walks to work on technique, with a Perfect Fit harness (D-rings on both back and chest) and double-ended training lead. Lulu can learn to feel the difference between how the harness is used when being asked to walk nicely and when she can have a bit of freedom – ‘off duty’.

Walking nicely beside the girl can be prompted by attaching the lead both to the front and chest. After a few minutes of this, one end of the lead can be unclipped and left on either front or back only. Lulu can now be given full length and the girl can allow Lulu to lead her where she wants (within reason). Lulu can choose.

Because her recall is so good, Lulu can then be taken to somewhere open where she can be free to let off steam, run around and sniff.

Where encountering people is concerned, they will continue to work with Lulu’s wariness of approaching people using the ‘Engage/Disengage Game‘ which involves keeping as much distance as is required.

Operation Calm

So, it’s ‘Operation Calm’ to start with, to establish firm foundations.

Both the girl and her lovely Beagle can help one another by sending currents of confidence up and down the lead when approached by someone, rather than tingles of anxiety

Lulu may soon be in training to become a proper Assistance Dog; the girl is already Lulu’s Assistance Human!

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 Lulu and the other dogs and 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 more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or 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)