To achieve peace, he needs opportunity to let off steam.

It’s ironic that Pax means peace!

In their efforts to get some peace and to calm their one-year-old Border Collie Pax, they have done the very opposite to what I would do myself.

Like many people do when troubled by their dog, the lovely young couple have cast about, trying all different things. None work.

Misguidedly, they have taken away from him the very things he needs to vent his arousal. He needs much more to do, not less.

Continue reading…

Working dog with no employment.

Bonnie is a working dog without a job.

She is a thirteen-month-old beautiful fox red Labrador.

I always ask my clients what their aim in having me would be if I had a magic wand. Which of course I don’t!

Bonnie’s owners said simply, ‘Happy walks with a happy dog’.

Working dog gun dogOne would think that Bonnie had everything in life a dog could ask for. However, the most important thing, apart from food and keeping safe, is missing.

A job. Continue reading…

Independent. Learn to be Alone. Separation Anxiety. Panic

Why aren’t puppies, right from the start, taught to be independent – to be alone for short periods?

85% of dogs!

This seems a no-brainer considering the statistics. The TV series Dogs, Their Secret Lives on Channel 4 in 2013, discovered that a huge 85% of dogs show signs of not coping to some extent when left alone. In many cases their owners aren’t even aware of it.

Why isn’t independence given the same priority in preparing puppy for the world as socialisation and toilet training? Continue reading…

Boundary Bark. Boundary Chasing

One year old Cocker Spaniel Lucky will chase people walking past the fence and boundary bark. He is a lovely dog, doing exactly what most other dogs in his position would do. Particularly a working Cocker Spaniel with loads of energy both mental and physical.

Boundary bark

Give a dog free access to fences, where people with their dogs walk past, he will very likely boundary bark and chase. No doubt from Lucky’s perspective he believes he is chasing them away – they always go, after all.

With each time he does it, the behaviour becomes more established.

They have had him for three months now. He’s landed on his feet with a wonderful home, and they have got themselves a wonderful dog.

I was called in order to do something about his general excitement and the boundary barking.

Uncontrolled arousal

Boundary bark and chase dogs and peopleFrom the point of view of Lucky’s stress levels, this frequent charging from gate, up the side fence and back to the gate is not good. He gets so frantic he tries to dig out underneath.

The gentleman’s way of dealing with this is to chase after him with a slip lead and corner him. In such an aroused state Lucky sometimes gets to a stage where he can no longer control himself. On a couple of occasions he has redirected his frustration onto the man and bitten him.

It’s a bit like a child having a tantrum kicking out.

With frequently topped-up stress levels, Lucky will be much more nervous and jumpy in general, just as we would ourselves. Things that we consider may be fun for the dog – like repetitive or exciting hands-on play – can actually be adding to his general arousal levels. This will build up and remain in his system for days. Trigger Stacking.

Enrichment and fulfilment

A working dog needs breed-appropriate things to direct his energy onto. I understand this well, having a working Cocker Spaniel myself. He needs to hunt, forage, explore and to use his brain. Adding this kind of enrichment will tire him out in a much healthier way than simply exercise and physical play. It’s a lot harder work however than just letting the dog run around freely, doing his own thing.

A large aspect of Lucky’s life will be frustration. He will boundary bark but be unable to actually get to the person or dog.

As they can’t let him off lead on walks for fear that he would go off on a chase and not come back, walks must be frustrating for him also. Currently he is held close on a slip lead. With no freedom there will constantly be things out of reach that he can’t get at or sniff. I suggest giving him time on a long thirty-foot line in the woods or fields where he can make his own choices – and the man can follow him. This should enrich Lucky’s life greatly.

The line should be attached to a harness – a tightening collar could badly damage his neck.

Management gives less work to do

The first priority where the boundary chasing itself is concerned is to manage the situation better and to remove opportunity.

Allowing Lucky access to that gate when they aren’t right there on hand to deal with it immediately is simply asking for more trouble. Lucky has an anchor cable in the garden which gives him a lot of scope but keeps him away from the gate where the barking ritual kicks off. They should use this more. They may also be able to fence off the front part of their garden. 

Chasing the dog

When Lucky does boundary bark, it needs to be dealt with appropriately. The man may be able to catch him eventually, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem at all. It won’t stop happening. It will intensify.

The humans should show Lucky that it’s their own job to protect him and the territory, not his. Their role of ‘protector’ can’t be just when they feel like it so they must be consistent and ready to react immediately he starts. If they delay he will have become so aroused that he will unresponsive and not even hear them.

Chasing and cornering him is the worst thing you can do with a dog. Lucky’s family will now work hard at getting him to come to them as soon as they call him.

They will condition Lucky to come to a whistle immediately and make it very worthwhile for him. As soon as he charges down to the gate they can whistle. Then, instead of chasing him, he will come to them. They can experiment with what works best as a reward. It could be a special treat, it could be scattering food around the place or it could be throwing him a ball.

Then, as well as relieving him of any boundary duty, passing people and dogs will be associated with something happy. This will result in them becoming less troubling to Lucky.

In time, if they do this every single time, he will be hearing someone approach and instead of chasing come straight to his humans for a reward instead – without having to be called.

Summing up

So, Lucky boundary barks and chases which is the behaviour they want to stop. As well as approaching this directly there are other things to do. They won’t excite him unnecessarily. They’ll enrich Lucky’s life as much as they can. Importantly, they will use management to prevent free access to that gate whilst reacting to any boundary barking appropriately.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. it’s obvious professional help is needed in a case like this of a dog bite with no warning. Click here for help.

Fights. Two Staffs, Young Male Fighting the Female

I go to few fights between a male and a female.

Staffordshire Bull Terrier Minnie is now seven. Since they got her as a puppy she’s always been anxious, easily scared and a bit needy.

Staffie Tom then joined them. Another puppy. He is a year old and about twice her size now.

All started off very well. I suspect the two dogs have been allowed to play too roughly, particularly in Tom’s formative earlier months. He will have learnt bad habits. He’s not gentle with his mouth even with humans.

Then, five months ago and (seemingly) for no reason, there was a big fight. The lady was asking both dogs to sit for a treat as she often did. Tom suddenly went for Minnie. She retaliated. This resulted in the predictable screaming. The son in his late teens rushed in and separated them.

Then all was well until a couple of weeks ago when things have gone rapidly downhill.

Three fights in the last two weeks.

There have now been four serious fights with the young man having been bitten when separating the dogs. Two of the fights have been at the door when one dog was coming in from a walk. It’s Tom who goes for Minnie. She is a lot smaller than he is and last time he shook her like a rag doll.

The final fight, since when the dogs have been kept strictly apart, was just a few days ago.

When I arrived I had the lady bring Minnie in on lead first. If Tom is already in the room she, the timid one, wouldn’t want to enter. She sat the other end of the room and we talked until she relaxed.

Then the son brought Tom in, sitting by the door, the other end of the room – I was in the middle.

I watched.

Minnie was obviously extremely uneasy with lip-licking, fidgeting, staring away from Tom.

Tom himself wasn’t happy either. He was mostly angled away from Minnie and the lady. He panted. Then he looked at Minnie and for one moment their eyes met and I quickly and causally walked between them. It’s important to break any eyeballing.

Tom was then taken back out. They now have a series of gates and keep the dogs strictly apart. We swapped dogs a bit later.

It was hard to see just what was going, but one thing stood out, so that is the place we can start. It’s Minnie’s mental state.

A downward spiral.

Already a bit unstable, the more uneasy, anxious, aroused or scared she is, the more it seems to affect Tom. With each of the fights she gets even more nervous and defensive. She is now off her food. It’s a vicious circle because therefore Tom gets worse too. I’m pretty sure if she were chilled, Tom wouldn’t be going for her. When attacked, though, there is no backing down. She immediately fights back.

I am pretty sure that Minnie’s instability is largely genetic.That doesn’t mean there isn’t a lot they can do to help her cope better and fill her life and brain with some stuff that helps her. Being cuddled, fed and walked isn’t enough for many dogs.

Helping Minnie will help Tom.

The other aspect to this is Tom’s own excitability and lack of self-control. The key word here is self control. Not being controlled by the son. He needs mental stimulation and something to work for.

While I was there the young man already started working Tom’s jumping up using clicker to show him the desired behaviour; cutting out scolding and commands. The boy was a natural and really got the hang of it and in no time Tom was calm and focussed.

The kind of walks Tom is given need to change. At the moment he pulls like mad which results in constant correction. How frustrating that must be. He will have more freedom on a loose leash so he can do his own thing. It’s no problem if he is ahead so long as he doesn’t pull. More relaxed walks should be a lot better for his state of mind also.

With both dogs in a more fulfilled state of mind, making progress with the fights is more likely. They should have better things to focus on. Why do dogs need enrichment?

While work is being done on these two aspects, the actual reintroducing the dogs together must be done very slowly and gradually. It’s really important they get no further opportunity for fights. Each time it makes the next fight more likely and worse in intensity. 

Frequent short sessions.

Keeping the dogs from seeing each other entirely could make any eventual reintroduction more tricky. I believe the way forward is frequent very short sessions where they are in the same room on leads but can’t actually get to each other. It should only be when everything is calm and carefully stage-managed.

These sessions will be carefully monitored and both dogs’ body language carefully watched while the humans work on being relaxed. They can use standing between the dogs or even a cushion to block view if there is any staring. They can call one of them to get attention away from the other, but no scolding.

Each session will be terminated at the first sign of any unease, before any growling or eyeballing if possible, with the dog nearest to the door being removed.

They will need to do the rigmarole of one dog upstairs and the other in sitting room and taking them outside separately for the foreseeable future. Tom will also be checked over by the vet – Minnie was recently when she was injured.

I will go again in two or three weeks and take a fresh look at things from what should then be a slightly different situation. Things may be a bit clearer. Hopefully Minnie will be a little more confident again. We can then see what to do next.

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 Tom and Minnie. 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 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).

Deprived of Stimuli During First Year.

Cassie is a puzzle.

Everything about Cassie’s behaviour points to her having spent the first year of her life in a crate or very small space, deprived of stimuli. This is an educated guess only. When she was rescued three years ago (she’s now four) her posture was hunched.

Deprived of enrichment as a puppyOn entering the lady’s house, the young dog had immediately found a place in the room where she felt at home. She has mostly stayed there ever since. This is apart from trips to the garden and her walks – and occasionally venturing into the kitchen when their other very elderly dog is being hand-fed.

Cassie never barks.

For over a year she wouldn’t even go into the garden, though somehow the lady managed to walk her. Then the lady adopted Ronnie and immediately Cassie went outside with him into the garden.

Cassie had been fostered for several months with a couple experienced with dogs before the lady adopted her. This was probably her first experience of kind humans. The couple had several Border Collies. Cassie loves Collies.

Tiptoeing around her adopted dog has taken over the lady’s life.

She can no longer easily mix with people or enjoy her walks.

Cassie is a Cambrian Shepherd, cross between a Pyranian and a Welsh Sheepdog. A designer mix, I believe. She’s four years of age. Breeding beautiful dogs should take a lot more than just leaving them in cages, deprived of all enrichment.

The lady’s patience and love has really paid off to the extent that she can now walk Cassie nicely so long as she gives people a wide berth. However, she is very disheartened because she has now tried everything she can think of and progress has come to a standstill. Previous help she has been offered includes tying her to her waist and making her go everywhere with her. The lady gave up on this after a couple of hours, in tears, because Cassie was so unhappy.

It’s hard to read the beautiful dog’s emotional state. Her demeanour is not so much shut down as very careful. She doesn’t look scared or depressed. Nor particularly happy. She may give a slight twitch of her tail when the lady enters the room or a brief lick of her lips when uncomfortable.

I suspect this lying still on her bed for hours at a time is some sort of learned behaviour, programmed during that first, probably mainly confined, year of her life.

Very likely Cassie’s careful behaviour is being reinforced by the lady’s own careful demeanour around her. 

Deprived of life’s normal stimuli.

This beautiful dog’s being deprived of the normal things puppies and young dogs need during crucial developmental stages of her life will probably have altered the way her brain has developed. She is, however, capable of joy and play. She demonstrates this with certain other dogs when they are out and with the Border Collies in her foster home.

I can see no reason why this joyfulness can’t spread to being with the lady too.

In order to break the current stalemate, she will need to make some very slow and gentle changes. She will encourage Cassie from her comfort zone in such tiny steps she barely notices it.

Cassie, constantly watching from her ‘place’, will be a very good reader of the lady’s mood and emotions. I suggest the lady acts more casual and off-hand, not moving so carefully – ignoring Cassie while she is walking about.

She can slowly begin to alter the current rigid routines, developed for Cassie’s security, so that the dog learns to be a bit more flexible and resilient to change. Slowly is the key word here. Gently the dog can be taught to feel happy when the lady stands up and moves about – without racing back to her refuge as she normally would.

We looked at precise ways in which she can do this using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

Using a quiet “Good” followed by food, the lady will capture all subtle behaviours that point to Cassie engaging with her and putting a little effort in. Things such as orientating her body towards her, giving her eye contact or moving any part of her body even slightly towards where the lady sits on the sofa nearby. Eventually she will be standing up.

Out in the world of people and action.

Where the real world and meeting people is concerned, they can very gradually move nearer to places with more people about. She will associate people with good things and always allow Cassie choice to increase distance. Although deprived in her early life, I’m sure some real progress can be made with systematic work.

Feeling more free and comfortable with the equipment used should help when out on walks. Currently this is a choke chain and retractable lead. It is virtually impossible to get a harness on her at the moment as she drops flat onto the floor.

(The choke chain is not because she pulls – she doesn’t. A while ago she escaped from her harness and went missing for five days. The story of her recapture is really moving).

This has to be a really gradual process. A continuation of the extremely patient work the lady has already put in. It’s like she now dare do nothing to upset the status-quo, but status-quo doesn’t bring progress.

Very gently Cassie’s boundaries need to be eased outwards.

Four weeks later. The lady is using clicker and it’s like a whole new line of communication has opened with Cassie. The potential is exciting. Her confidence is growing.
Three and a half months later: I thought l would send you a photo of Cassie taking a treat from my friend in the park today. In fact she took loads of treats from her and Cassie only met her for the first time today. This is so exciting.

I hope all is well with you and thank you again.

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 Cassie 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. 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).

Separation Problems. Leaving the Dogs Alone.

Yesterday I met Cockerpoo Marnie and Springerpoo (Springerdoodle Sproodle?) Luna. The are adorable friendly and polite little dogs – a real tribute to their owners.

They have just moved to a new house with much closer neighbours and have become aware that the dogs cry and bark when left alone. They hadn’t realised there were separation problems. Not wanting to upset anyone, the lady, who no longer works, now feels she can’t go out unless the man is home.

In addition to not wanting them annoying neighbours with barking or crying, they don’t don’t want their beloved dogs to be unhappy.

Breaking a habit takes time.

Separation problems when left alone

Luna and Marnie

They agree that it’s more than likely the dogs cried and stressed with separation problems in their old house. If that’s the case it will be a habit too. Something that they have always done.

Another aspect is that they may believe their crying gets their humans back home eventually – because it always has.

I was able to see a short video of the dogs having been left. It wasn’t like the kind of panic I have seen in some other videos. They showed their separation distress by whining, whimpering, looking at the door and occasional barking. They spent much of the time just standing still and quiet by the door. The real barking started only when they heard the man’s car draw up, in anticipation of his walking in.

With some questioning it soon became apparent that the dogs don’t have enough ‘happening’ in their lives. Everything revolves around their humans being with them in the house. They are seldom taken out. When the couple goes out and leaves them, their only enrichment and fun goes out too.

They lose their whole world.

With no humans at home, there is no activity, a vacuum. Luna is obsessed with the ball – so her ball-thrower has disappeared! The action and excitement begins again as soon as they come home.

I feel the dogs need much more enrichment of the right kind – things they can do by themselves like foraging, hunting and chewing. They need much more than repetitive ball play and cuddles. The obsessive dropping of the ball to be thrown should be stopped and other activities offered that will stimulate their brains instead. Here are 35 simple ways to keep your dog busy indoors.

Instead of associating their humans’ departure with losing everything that matters, they should feel more fulfilled in general. The absence of their humans should be filled with good things as well.

Changing how Luna and Marnie feel about the front door being shut on them will take slow and patient work.

Against a background of a more enriched life including outings if only to mooch about near to home, the couple will then work on the separation itself.

A systematic programme for their separation problems.

They will start by shutting doors on them in the house. Dropping food as they shut an inside door on the dogs, they will turn around and come straight back in again. They will do that multiple times, varying doors and then doing the same with the front door.

Gradually, a second at a time, they will extend the time they spend the other side of the door. Then they will walk a short way away. Always they will aim to come back in before the dogs begin to stress, and for this they have a camera and app on their mobile.

Never again should the dogs think making a fuss brings them back.

When they begin to leave the dogs for a bit longer, they will set up the environment for success with special music to help separation problems, a calming plug-in and stuffed Kongs.

Absent humans won’t leave a vacuum anymore. When they do come back, their return shouldn’t herald fun. They should be boring.

The special exercises worked out for Marnie and Luna will be done many times until the two dogs are convinced beyond any doubt that when their humans go out, they always come back. (I don’t go into too much detail of the whole procedure here, because one size doesn’t fit all).

Now Marnie and Luna should no longer feel that when the lady and gentleman both go out that their whole world has gone with them.

They will have other enriching and stimulating things in their lives also.

A couple of months later: Our two dogs are sooooo much calmer now.They could possibly tune into our unsettled feelings?Luna is no longer mad for a ball. I am able to leave them now for 2 to 3 hrs at a time.

 

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 Marnie and Luna and because neither the dogs nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’, 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 separation problems are 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)