Imbalance. Too Much Excitement. Too Little Enrichment

It was a total pleasure to be in the company of the two lovely Dobermans (or is it Dobermen?) – Doberman Pinschers.

Three-year-old Storm joined them six months ago. It’s hard to believe that he’s on home number four but he’s landed on his feet now.

His first year was spent as a ‘yard’ dog. From his behaviour in the house and with people, I would guess he hadn’t encountered the outside world in the first formative months of his life. That was the first imbalance in his life.

Outside their home is the problem.

Continue reading…

Reinforcing Unwanted Behaviour. Rewarding Barking.

They do what they can to stop young Basset Hound Bentley doing unwanted things like jumping at the table and barking for attention.

In fact, they are instead reinforcing these very things.

Whilst reinforcing the unwanted behaviour by ultimately giving Bentley what he’s asking for, they also try discipline – ‘NO’.

Confused, Bentley can get cross.

Continue reading…

Bored, Over-excitable and Looking for Trouble

German Shepherd Kerry is bored.

Bored German Shepherd

Kerry

Although it’s natural for adult dogs to sleep for up to eighteen hours a day, this is only so if the rest of the time is filled with stuff natural to the dog – and its breed. Sleep probably won’t be in long blocks of enforced inaction during the day, but dozing between doing other things.

Young dogs in particular need action and fulfilment (just like young humans) or they get bored.

Kerry is a beautiful eighteen-month-old German Shepherd living with another GSD, Lemmy, aged four. They are both gorgeous dogs with lovely, friendly basic temperaments.

Young Kerry, unfortunately, probably isn’t getting enough action in her life and she’s very easily aroused. I saw this by how the smallest thing results in her leaping at someone, me in this case – grabbing my clothes and even hair with her teeth. 

Continue reading…

Excitement or fear? Barking at Dogs. Wants Play? Scared?

Other dogs - excitement or fear?Excitement or fear – it can begin as one and change to the other.

Reuben barks at other dogs – but not always.

Sometimes he gets excited and wants to play – but it’s not always that.  Sometimes he’s afraid. Then he barks at the other dog to go away.

Mostly he runs freely with other dogs, playing happily. Just occasionally on these occasions things get too much for him or another dog upsets him. Then he may show aggression. He has punctured a dog’s ear.  Excitement or fear – it can begin as one and change to the other.

Even dogs who are mostly fine with other dogs have their moments. Then the owner can be affected out of all proportion, making walks a worry instead of a joy. Continue reading…

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…

Over-excited, Frustrated. Habituation and Freedom

Dylan is an enthusiastic, friendly young dog if a little over-excited. He is beautiful.

Someone coming to house is a very exciting thing for the young sixteen-month-old Labradoodle.

When I arrived the lady was doing her best to control him. She repeatedly told him to sit and stay on a mat just round the corner where he couldn’t see me.

She was fighting a losing battle

Over-excited LabradoodleIt’s hard to control a dog that is so over-excited. In this state of mind he can’t be expected to exercise much self-control. He calmed down quite quickly however.

At home they find him no problem at all as like many of us they have few callers apart from family.

The problems they are having with Dylan are due to his being so over-excited when out. Every person he sees he wants to greet. Every dog he sees he wants to play with.

Sadly for him, he is thwarted. For control, the lady has to walk him with a Halti which he hates. This is the way she stops him pulling.

Frustration

Dylan deals surprisingly well with what must be quite a high level of frustration. All he wants is more freedom. He wants to sniff and to be able to get to other dogs in particular. They can’t trust him to come back, so he gets no opportunity to run off lead.

When a dog approaches, the lady holds his head halter tightly. This is the only way she can keep him beside her without him pulling her over.

When younger, Dylan used to go to daycare a couple of times a week where he could play with other dogs. Unfortunately, due to his not being castrated (they don’t want this) daycare will no longer have him. It’s a big ask now to expect the friendly dog to be calm when he does see a potential playmate.

It’s also possible that playing unchecked with other dogs at the daycare may have encouraged uncontrolled, over-excited play with other dogs. This can happen.

Over-excited when seeing people

It’s the same problem with people. The fewer he encounters, the more over-excited and reactive he will become. They are an exciting novelty.

The first thing they will do to help him is to cut down on things that wind him up and make him over-excited at home. They will replace them with activities that get him to use his brain and calm him down instead. Things like working for his food, hunting and brain games.

The second is to start all over again with walks.

Currently he’s forced to walk beside them. He’s trapped on a Halti that restricts his movement and which the lady tightens when a dog or person approaches.

How frustrating that must be for him.

It is nerve-wracking for the lady who isn’t enjoying walks either. If she is nervous, worried or cross – Dylan will get the message.

Better equipment. Different technique.

They will now get better equipment. The lady should feel just as safe if he wears a harness with training lead attached in two places, back and chest, instead of head halter.

They will start with two or three daily short walks near to home, allowing lots of sniffing. They will keep the lead long and loose.

If a person or dog appears they will increase distance immediately. The lady will also work on Dylan’s fear of large or noisy vehicles.

If someone appears and she finds herself getting anxious, she will go back home.

Now, with Dylan more comfortable and the lady herself feeling she’s beginning to enjoy walks also, she can start to work on approaching people and dogs as planned. This will involved increasing distance. She will teach him to stay calm, using either food or giving him his beloved ball to carry.

With a long line, they will work hard on his recall so that he gets some freedom.

Habituation

All this work actually doesn’t address the real reason he gets so over-excited at seeing people and dogs. He needs habituating.

Friendly Dylan needs to meet plenty of people and plenty of dogs. When they are no longer such a novelty he will be sufficiently calm for the couple to teach him better manners.

The gentleman made a good suggestion. They will go back to taking him places with them as they did when he was a puppy. They can take him into town and they can sit outside cafes.

Like many dogs, Dylan can cope with crowds better than occasional people and dogs.  More exposure will get to the root of his over-excitement. Habituation

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Easily Aroused Puppy. Rough When Excited. Nipping. Chewing.

It’s a kind of vicious circle. A constantly challenging, easily aroused puppy can get us down. Our resulting loss of patience makes puppy worse.

Days start badly

Easily aroused puppyTheir days with sixteen-week-old Luna start badly as the easily aroused puppy fights against having her harness put on. The exasperated lady admits being driven to shouting and tears by the wriggling, biting animal.

Luna’s life with the first-time dog owners started badly. As soon as she arrived they found she had Giardia. Then, she broke her paw after falling awkwardly and was hospitalised for a week at twelve weeks old.

The couple are extremely conscientious with her training, aware that she is a working dog. They are doing all they can to fill Luna’s life.

I have a more relaxed take on what a young puppy needs.

Discovery of what works and what doesn’t

At this age life should be discovering what works and what doesn’t, with perhaps less human direction. They do all they can to try to keep her occupied but she quickly loses interest. She now needs to start keeping herself occupied for a little longer.

In a way I feel they are trying too hard. It’s not often I would say that!

They listed for me the problems they are having with their easily aroused sixteen-week-old gun dog Labrador puppy.

The list of difficulties are all extreme for the same reason – over-arousal/excitement/stress with lack of self-control:

Jumping up at the work tops and table. Leaping at guests or people that want to say hello to her outdoors – she drew blood from someone. Jumping up, nipping arms and ripping at their clothes when excited. Biting when they try to put on or take off her lead or harness. Grabbing her lead and pulling when walking. Chewing on things they would rather she didn’t despite having plenty of toys – she doesn’t play with toys – just chews and tears them.

They are all normal puppy things but, with Luna, excessive.

She was very quickly and easily aroused all the time I was there. She became temporarily responsive to clicking for calm and feet back on the floor. It’s important to reinforce those times when she is simply being calm and still.

I gave her a yak chew which gave short-term respite before she started again.

Easily aroused and the need to chew

Easily aroused dogs have a big need to chew which is one of the most effective ways they can relieve their stress.

We will start by prioritising things most directly associated with Luna getting easily aroused, concentrating on lowering that ‘stress bucket‘.

The couple feel unable to leave her alone which is not helping. They interrupt their night to take her out in the early hours of the morning and are tired.

During the day the lady is constantly in Luna’s company, dealing with the behaviour.

Getting their lives back

I suggested they start to get their lives back. Firstly to try leaving her all night and see what happens.

They should get into a routine of shutting her in her pen after her morning walk with a stuffed Kong for half an hour. They then can go into the other room and relax! From what they tell me, she may bark briefly to come out so they should ignore that. Over time they can extend the time they leave her to two hours.

The lady can then have some freedom.

I suggested changing to better food. Diet can also affect the behaviour of an easily aroused dog.

We have a plan for putting the harness on without drama. Why not simply leave it on for now, eliminating that from the morning’s bad start?

Happier owners will make for a happier puppy, and visa versa.

I saw Luna yesterday and received an email this morning: Luna and I have not had any cross words this morning despite lots of attempts at mischief.  I think it’s the first time I’ve not shouted and cried before 9am in 9 weeks! She had lots of sniffs on her walk…(we’ve kept the harness on throughout to make things easier just for the first few days), and we started transitioning her onto better food this morning too…..Just now as I was writing this email she was jumping and nipping at my clothes and feet to get attention so I left the room for 5 minutes.  After a few whimpers she’s now taken herself off to her crate and is asleep. Peace!
Five weeks later: I did just want to write an email to say thank you.  Being able to keep our heads above water at the same time as having a new puppy has been incredibly hard.  Reaching out to you for help has been one of the best decisions we could have made, and the difference it has made to our relationship with Luna has been amazing. I’m not blind to the fact that things will continue to be hard work which is what we signed up to when we got a puppy.  Crucially though, it feels like we have a foundation of strength to build on, which wasn’t there previously. I at least feel the confidence now to give everything a fighting chance of working and that feeling is worth so much to us so thank you.

 

Barks at Inanimate Objects. Stress is the Trigger

 

Jester suddenly barks at inanimate objects. Why?

Something tips him over.

He looks about and he looks up. He spots a burglar alarm box high on the wall of a house or a security camera, a clock, a satellite dish, a street light or even the moon.

Barks at inanimate objectsJester barks uncontrollably.

He is a twelve-month-old Labrador Border Collie mix. He’s friendly, gentle and cooperative. His young owners have been very keen to do the best for him right from the start and in so many ways their love, training and hard work has paid off.

They give him plenty of brain games and enrichment in the house.

The problems started a couple of months ago when out. Jester began to bark at (silent) burglar alarm boxes on houses. Yellow ones and blue ones initially. This is interesting, as yellow and blue are the two colours dogs can see clearly.

Gradually the barking has spread from alarm boxes to other things.

He barks at inanimate objects; what triggers it?

The behaviour is often triggered by something sudden. A sound or sight that alarms or arouses him. A distant dog may bark, for instance.

He then immediately starts looking upwards like he’s searching for something to redirect his arousal onto. Where he first used to latch onto burglar alarms (blue or yellow), it can now be other things like street lights, fire alarms, lampshades and even the moon when he was particularly worked up.

We first need to deal with this at source by reducing Jester’s arousal and stress levels in every way possible. There are a few things to put in place that, when added together, should bring results.

Football in the park.

One key thing they are doing, with the best of intentions and because Jester loves it, is to kick a football for him in the park for about an hour a day. Instead of walks being something he’d be doing if alone – sniffing, exploring, meeting dog friends and mental activities – he is being pumped up. He loves it. Like any other addict, an adrenaline junkie can never get enough.

They will also work directly on what they themselves do when he barks at inanimate objects. As soon as something triggers the ‘looking upwards’ behaviour they will give him something else to do that is incompatible with looking up and barking frantically. He can’t, for instance, sit and look at them, forage for food or perhaps catch a ball, at the same time as looking up high and barking at something.

If they leave it too late and he does begin to bark, they should immediately redirect his energy onto a different activity like running in the opposite direction and then go home to calm down. That walk is now doomed.

This kind of ritual can easily become a learned behaviour, a default in response to arousal. It gives him some sort of relief. 

When he’s out on walks and more relaxed, they will encourage him to look at these things calmly, whether alarm boxes or a particular street lamp that gets him going – then to look away again, using food. The Labrador in Jester means he is very motivated by food!

Human-generated excitement.

Every day his arousal/excitement/stress levels are being topped up with human-generated excitement.

It’s like when he can’t cope with over-arousal he has to find something to redirect it onto. It can be general build up of arousal simply overflowing or something identifiable that sends him over. His ‘stress bucket‘ overflows.

Walks and play should be such that they reduce Jester’s arousal levels rather than increase them. I suggest putting an end to the football and instead allow him lots of sniffing and exploring time. Let him choose what he wants to do. He will need to go cold turkey on the football and so will they! This will mean sacrificing some of their own fun unfortunately.

It’s outside the house where the behaviour occurs. But then, most of the stressors happen outside the house. There are a number of things to work on or avoid altogether when out in order to help Jasper overcome this.

Behaviour change. Erratic. Staring. Upset or Unwell?

Maybe it wasn’t such a sudden behaviour change after all. Perhaps there were already signs.

Earlier when we spoke on the phone I heard this story:

Sudden behaviour changeIt began about three months ago. Ambrose was spending hours just sitting and staring. Continue reading…

Uncontrolled Excitement. Biting Arms. Attacking Feet.

A dog’s uncontrolled excitement is a challenge to deal with.

They let Tia out of the utility room and into the kitchen where I was standing. She flew at me, grabbing my arm with her teeth. She repeatedly jumped up.

There was no malice in her at all, but it can hurt! It was uncontrolled excitement with possibly some anxiety thrown in.

She can’t help herself.

uncontrolled excitement

Butter wouldn’t melt!

The young Staffie was simply so aroused she couldn’t help herself. Meeting all people triggers uncontrolled excitement, particularly those coming to her house.

When the doorbell goes, Tia goes mental.

When I arrived we had set things up so that when I rang the bell she was already out of the way in the utility room wearing her harness. They fortunately had my favourite harness – a Perfect Fit – so they could hook a lead to the chest.

I instantly had to start working on her to save my arms! I stood on the lead. She was physically unable to jump now.

I got out my clicker and little tub of food. I repeatedly clicked and rewarded firstly moments when her body relaxed and she wasn’t trying to jump. Before long she briefly sat. I gave her a little more rope and carried on. Fairly soon I dropped the lead and she had got the message and calmed down. (A special note here – the clicker itself isn’t magic! It’s about knowing how to use it).

Changing No to Yes.

It’s amazing how sometimes a clicker, used in the right way, can open lines of communication. It changes ‘no – don’t do that’ to ‘yes – this is what we want’.

Usually when someone comes to the house it’s a physical fight as they try to hold her on a short lead in order to protect the person from her rough excitement. It’s a fight to get her away from the door. There will be commands and chaos! The lady describes her as being plugged in the mains.

When I arrived we were all quiet and calm. Nobody reacted to all this uncontrolled excitement.

It was little more than fifteen minutes before she went and lay down. She stayed in her bed now until I was ready to go, relaxed.

The ten-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier is all the time extremely wired up and ready to go. Meeting people fires her up most of all, but so do other things like her humans walking about carrying something. She will then go for their feet.

In the evening they can be sitting quietly watching TV and one of them gets up. The uncontrolled excitement kicks in. She barks and attacks feet.

I am sure Tia is genetically predisposed to over-excitement. Too often dogs are bred for looks over temperament and Tia is certainly a stunning dog. She is also friendly, biddable and affectionate. She may be more sensitive than one might imagine. There are several things that scare her.

Clockwork dog.

Like most people, they have been trying to calm her down by doing things that will actually be having the opposite effect, wiring her up even more.

Surely physically tiring her out should calm her down? It’s almost impossible to exhaust her and on coming home she’s ready to chase feet in the garden.

They give her long walks with repeated ball chasing and don’t understand why, however much of this they do, she doesn’t change. It’s like the dog is clockwork with a key in her side, and she’s being fully wound up daily.

I am certain that just giving her the kind of walking she would be doing if by herself, mooching, sniffing, chasing leaves, maybe digging, will alone will get rid of some of her uncontrolled excitement.

They can change those things that lead up to the biting sessions and they are quiet easy to determine.

Also they can change the things they do afterwards in response to her flying at their feet.

They will work on the ‘doorbell game’. First the will ring the bell so many times that it no longer heralds anything special. Then it will be the cue for Tia to take herself into the utility room. It will take hard work and patience – and food.

Jumping, biting, attacking feet are symptoms only – of uncontrolled excitement.

To get at the root of all this, they will do everything they can to calm Tia down. She is permanently so aroused and stressed that it takes very little indeed to send her over the edge. See trigger stacking.

Currently it’s impossible to ignore her rough and hyper approaches – thus rewarding it with attention. Instead, they now will themselves introduce short regular activity sessions throughout the evening, doing things that use Tia’s brain. She will no longer need to do things for attention.

They should no longer respond to barking but initiate things when Tia is calm. This way they reinforce calm rather than demanding, uncontrolled excitement – of which there should be less anyway.

It will take a lot of patience and effort, but will be worth it in the end for their beautiful dog. I just love her!

 

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 Tia and because neither dog 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 wild or uncontrolled behaviour. 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)