Barks at People, Distant or Near

I love happy endings so I have brought this story of three years ago to the front.

Robbie’s hackles rise and he barks at people.

He barks at people

People often don’t see things from their dog’s point of view until it’s pointed out. There seems no alternative but to keep walking towards the thing the dog is scared of, perhaps crossing the road. They buy equipment that enables them to physically manage their scared and pulling or lunging dog.

Although they may do their best to avoid people, turning right around and going somewhere else or even going back home isn’t an option. Walkers like their walks to go from A to B.

Sometimes the people, seeing he’s a Labrador, put their hand out to him. He doesn’t like that and he’s snapped a few times.

Robbie has a new harness that says ‘Nervous’. I’m not sure this is direct enough for the person who ‘loves dogs’ and may try to comfort him.

The Yellow Dog Company makes dayglo dog coats that say ‘I Need Space’. Plain florescent yellow coats are easy to obtain. We could make our own with a marker pen to say ‘Please don’t touch me’, making it quite clear to people.

It is very likely that Robbie had inadequate socialisation with new and different people as a young puppy. Possibly some of his problem is genetic. He had one terrifying experience involving a man when he was a young dog from which time things got a lot worse. He’s now five years old and is particularly scared of men which isn’t uncommon.

When I arrived at the house Robbie ran to me, hackles up, barking.

I had a soft dog toy – a squeaky duck in the top of my bag I knew a Labrador would like – and held it out to him.

Robbie took it and he became a different dog!

He paraded the duck, wagging his tail, showing me and the couple his prize. He squeaked it. “What have you got, Robbie?” I said to him. All was well.

The people said this was a very different first encounter than usual with their dog that barks at people who enter the house.

It seems that Robbie, influenced by fear, only barks at people when he can actually see a person. Hearing alone doesn’t seem to worry him.

I noticed that his way of showing he was worried about anything was to go still and look away. Out of sight, out of mind?joneslisa

At home they will work on getting him to look into their eyes the instant they gently say his name. Then, when they are out and he sees someone, they will have the power to get him to look away from the person and to them instead. That will be the first step.

They will make the whole walking experience less stressful. They will teach him to walk comfortably on a loose lead – we practised this in the house – and get rid of the head halter.

He will start to enjoy a lead walk rather than it being the frustration and discomfort of constantly fighting against the restraint. It’s unsurprising that a scared dog, already feeling this tension and stress, barks at people.

I suggest avoiding people altogether on walks for a couple of weeks.

It will allow him to let him settle. They can work on their loose leash technique and learn how to change the emotions inside him that make him a dog that barks at people.

Later and after some work, when he sees anyone, if not too close “Robbie!” should immediately get his attention. They then move onto the next step. This is either feeding him, giving him a toy or throwing something; they will turn around, increase as much distance as they have to and have a party.

Robbie’s humans should keep totally relaxed when they see a person. Calm confidence needs to run down that lead. When Robbie tenses up – as soon as and not before – they then set the wheels in motion to associate the people he barks at – or used to bark at – with only great things.

They may eventually even point the person out to him before going straight into their happy routine, ‘Look- a person!’.

If everyone coming into his house greets him with a special toy that can be given to them in advance, he should begin to associate callers with good stuff too, just as he did me when I gave him my soft squeaky duck.

Robbie is a lovely dog with owners who really care. In time, if his need for distance is respected, he will be comfortable closer to people and may even ignore them. He’s not a particularly tactile dog and this must be respected. He will learn to trust the people holding the lead not to push him over his threshold and then he should no longer be a dog that barks at people.

Feedback five weeks later: The harness came (I had recommended Perfect Fit) and you’re right it’s really good, he barely pulls with it on so walks have been much better and fairly loose on the lead. We continue to practice the calling his name and rewarding with kibble when he looks at us and off the lead he’s been much better at recall. We’ve had a few occasions walking him having seen people, being ready to turn round and go in the other direction but he hasn’t reacted. I was even able to talk to a neighbour as we walked past and he didn’t react at all, all good progress I think!
Three months later: Robbie is still doing great and we are managing his anxiety as you showed us to which makes life so much easier particularly when visitors come to see us.
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Robbie and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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 fear is 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)

Lack of Confidence. Fear of People, No Touching or Eye Contact.

It’s not surprising that two-year-old Moose suffers from lack of confidence around people. Considering his background as a puppy born on the streets of Romania, he’s doing great. They didn’t have him until he was sixteen weeks old.

No socialisation will have taken place during the crucial early weeks and what encounters he did have with people were very likely scary ones and now hard-wired into his brain.

Continue reading…

Coming When Called is Coming When Called

‘Well-trained’ isn’t always enough.

The three dogs, 7 month old Rottie pup Kaiser, Jack Russell Budd, 7 and Jack a Chihuahua Jack Russel mix aged 8 have been taught some impressive training tricks by the lady.

This case is interesting because three problems exist despite the training.

Kaiser will soon be coming when called

Kaiser

Kaiser is so excited to see people he jumps all over them. He’s already large and it won’t be funny to have a full-grown male Rottie jumping up at one. Already it hurts.

Secondly, all dogs need to pay more attention to their humans on walks, Kaiser because he’s so excited to see people and dogs, and the two little dogs because they get scared and noisy when on lead and see a dog.

Thirdly, the dogs come when called but not when it really matters.

When people come to the house Buddy can be taught to calm down before he gets any attention. Even being pushed and being told to get down is attention, isn’t it. It may get him down but won’t stop him next time.

He can be taught to do something polite like to sit before being given attention.

Because he is just so excited, sitting is difficult for the pup, so it’s the excitement that needs to be addressed first. Jumping up is a problem easily solved if all parties are consistent.

Getting the dogs’ attention when out starts at home.

In essence all dogs need to clock in to their humans when asked to. At the moment why should they? What’s in it for them? A quick fussing? They get fussing for free so it’s not a reward.

Jack and Buddy

Jack and Buddy

Each dog should respond instantly to his name when he hears it, with eye contact. Yes – Me? They can work on holding the gaze for a short while. There has to be something in it for the dog, though. or he will soon learn to ignore them.

Giving eye contact when he hears his name needs to become an automatic reflex, just the same as you would blink if someone pretended to throw something into your face.

An automatic reflex only happens if it is practised enough times. Hundreds of times.

Coming when called starts at home too.

Reliable ‘coming when called’ is a lot harder and the work also starts at home.

They can work on a ‘coming when called’ reflex in the same way. For these three dogs I have suggested they charge a whistle by pairing the whistle with tiny special food hundreds of times.

Meanwhile if the dog’s not certain to come – don’t call. They won’t set themselves up to fail and thus lose the power they are building up. In places where running off could be a problem, like chasing children he wants to play with, Kaiser should be kept on a long line for now.

Getting attention and coming when called are the solution to other minor problems they are having. Kaiser likes to eat dog poo (coprophagia). Instead of yelling NO and giving it value, they can call him away and reward him. In fact, repeated sufficiently often he can be taught to automatically come to them for a piece of his kibble when one of the other dogs does his business. Obviously in order to avoid rehearsal Kaiser needs to be accompanied when outside.

By saying ‘Kaiser’ and getting instant eye contact, they can call him away when he’s about to jump on the sofa. Problem solved.

When he sees a child out on a walk, instead of running excitedly up to it and possibly chasing it, they call ‘Kaiser!’ ‘Yes – Me?’ ‘Come’. Reward. Problem solved.

Here is a nice little video: ‘A recall is a recall‘.

Ultimately the family should be able to blow the whistle and all three dogs will come running to them EVERY TIME, regardless of other dogs and things to chase and best blown before they are in full flight. Obviously some breeds are easier to train to come back than others, notably retrieving breeds. I know people who will correct me and say their breed will never reliably come back when called, but I still need to be convinced.

Ultimately the family should be able to call just a chosen dog, calling his name, get his instant attention and then ‘COME’. Reward.

Most people I go to say their dog has good recall – except when he sees another dog or has something better to do. That to my mind isn’t good recall. It’s a dog that has been ‘trained’ to understand coming when called and may be brilliant in the environment of his training class, but has chosen to do so in his own good time when out in the real world.

Training is largely about the dog’s relationship with his humans – and that is home stuff.

My own dogs’ formal training is limited to sit, down and stay, but coming when called is something they do reliably(and one is a Lurcher). Coming when called is basic for their own safety and for my sanity.

Walking Nicely

Having lived in a barn till 5 months old, Duke lacked socialisation

Duke

Previously the GSD had been beaten for destroying things when left alone all day

Princess

The last of German Shepherd Princess’ eight puppies went to a carefully checked home a couple of weeks ago and she has now been spayed.

Duke on he right (the puppies’ father) and Princess, both three years old, had the wrong start in life. Duke was in a barn and then not taken out until five months old which left a big gap in his vital socialisation, and Princess  had been left alone for hours and was beaten for destroying things.

The family have made huge headway with both dogs. Unsurprisingly, their main hurdle is socialisation and reactivity to other dogs when out, particularly Duke.

There are five family members who are all involved and adore the dogs, but they have been missing the vital ingredient to real success – positive reinforcement, particularly food.

Although their sole aim in asking for my help is to be able to enjoy walks, this is where I take a holistic approach.

A dog walking nicely is about much more than ‘dog training’.

The relationship with the human is particularly important when a dog is ‘trapped’ on lead. Firstly, the dog needs to find them relevant so that they can get and hold his attention. Secondly, the dog need to trust the human to whom he’s attached not only protect him and themselves, but also to make the decisions when out. If off lead, this also involves coming straight away when called rather than putting the owner somewhere lower on his list of priorities!

In order for the human to be trusted, they must be confident and this is one big problem here in this case.

Ever since Prince had been attacked by another dog, the lady who does much of the walking has been extremely anxious whenever they see one and admits that her reactions could well be part of the problem. Even discussing it made her tense up.

The business of decision-making, trust in the owner or walker and their being ‘relevant’ in order to get and hold a dog’s attention begins at home. If these things are not in place within the safe and distraction-free home environment, seeing the person on the end of the lead as ‘decision-maker and protector’ will not happen when out in the big world in the face of potential threats.

This is why a holistic approach works best. The process isn’t just about walks and other dogs alone.

Princess and Duke will be learning to respond to a whistle which will be throughly ‘charged’ at home – using food.  To teach them to really listen, they will learn to do their usual training tricks for one quiet request – and food. They will learn to give their humans eye contact and hold it upon request, they will learn to come immediately when called at home and they will learn that although they are the alarm system, their humans are ultimately in charge of protection duty.

Associating other dogs with nice stuff (food) will be part of the solution. Perhaps the lady would like to take a bag of her favourite sweets out on walks also and to pop one into her own mouth instead of reacting in panic!

This all takes time of course, but with these basics in place and calm loose lead walking established, these dogs will eventually be in a very different state of mind when meeting other dogs than they are now – as should their lady owner.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Princess and Duke, which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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).

There is More Going On Than Meets the Eye

Labrador Shepherd mix from GreeceZorba is probably mostly a Labrador-Shepherd mix, three years of age. He was found as a stray in Crete and was brought home by a family who unfortunately couldn’t keep him because he and one of their dogs fought to the extent they had to be kept apart.

Previous to his straying he may well have had a good home. It is hard to see how otherwise he could be so polite and well trained. He will have spent considerable time in quarantine kennels and he has survived all this change very well.

However, what he seemed like initially to me and what his new family of just one month also believed him to be like, hid a different dog. He was very quiet and calm, almost withdrawn, a little aloof perhaps, and there were little signs of anxiety like lip-licking when anyone left the room. They mentioned he would never give them eye contact. The two teenage daughters found they had to work hard to raise any enthusiasm in him for play. For a young dog he seemed to lack joyfulness. It may be he was being reinforced and rewarded for holding back because of all the effort that was being put into him. Each morning they would go to him and pay homage whilst he reclineZorba, unusually, giving eye contactd on the sofa. I suspect he wasn’t used to this sort of treatment.

From the moment I arrived I only gave him attention when I chose to – played hard to get if you like. There was no pressure on him whatsoever to react for me. Soon he was giving me lots of direct eye contact and actively working for me, doing as I ask after just one soft request – doing things they didn’t even know that he understood! I did a mock play bow and he immediately copied me and then rolled over onto his back, playfully. It’s like he came alive. It was wonderful.

Predictably the problems that they are struggling with are the meeting of other dogs on walks. In his previous home Zorba has had to protect himself from the other dog, as a stray he has had to look after himself, and all the noise of other dogs in kennels will not have helped.

With the humans in his life becoming more relevant at home – worth working for and looking to for guidance – and with calm loose lead walking gradually put in place, along with their appropriate reactions when other dogs appear, things should gradually turn around for the delightful Zorba.

He needs PG – my definition of Leadership: Protection and Guidance.

Email received two and a half months later: “We had a lovely holiday, but it really did highlight the areas of our training where we had probably been less focused than we should have. So we all committed to going home and ‘doing it right’. I feel that we had really expected too much too soon and had tried to move on too fast. Since our holiday we have really started again from first principles and I have to say, you’re absolutely right. At last we are seeing consistent improvements. We are still working on a good loose lead walk and it is so much better. We are getting a fabulous amount of eye-contact from him now, something we never had before, and he is almost a different dog. I feel that he is really with me, rather than feeling that I have ceased to exist. He is responsive and gives a lot of eye-contact.At first I found it difficult to see how loose lead walking would help with aggression to other dogs, but although he’s by no means ‘cured’, I’m beginning to get his attention far more when dogs arrive… but as long as they are far enough away, I can now get his attention and he will look at me instead. I suppose over time we will hope to be able to move closer – but I think that’s way off in the future – lots of consolidating to do first.
At home he continues to be a perfect sweetie. But – he’s starting to play – just a little bit, but it’s a start! He has just discovered that a ball can be fun. All this has happening over the last couple of weeks since we’ve been totally concentrated on small steps – coincidence or because he’s relaxing? He really didn’t care less about retrieving  anything a few weeks ago, now he likes it. I don’t think I’m imagining it – he does seem to be a little bit more relaxed around the home. So excellent progress from our point of view and perhaps the main thing is by adjusting our expectations we’ve actually made progress.”
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

English Bull Terrier and Toddler

EBT Stanley sitting in a chair holding his ballStanley is an English Bull Terrier of under a year old, and his new owners have had him for two weeks. They are worried because he ‘squares up’ to their 16 month old toddler. He is fine so long as the little boy isn’t on the floor at his own level. Children stare and this may be part of the problem. Dogs can find direct eye contact either intimidating or confrontational.

Stanley is a slightly strange case. He is aloof. It’s like he grants people the privilage of being allowed to touch him. He gets attention whenever he asks for it, then walks off – ‘I’ve had enough’.  I noticed when I walked about that he stood sideways in front of me blocking me, and made no effort to move as I approached him.

In the two weeks that they have had him Stanley has been allowed to consider the house his own personal kingdom. There is nowhere he’s not allowed to go including all the family’s beds.  I fear that if he carries on like this it will only be a matter of time before he begins to object when someone wants to remove him. He’s still testing the waters. It’s quite a small house with eight family members spanning three generations, so there is a lot going on. He goes where he wants and does what he wants – including wrecking the garden.

If Stanley is allowed to believe that he rules the family, he may believe it’s his job to put the little boy in his place. He may not welcome an uninvited intrusion into his important personal space. So, the family owes it to Stanley to put some rules and boundaries into place for him pretty quickly. There should be certain no go zones in the house. Most importantly of all, they need to work on the relationship between the little boy and the dog. First and foremost they need to play safe, and get a gate so that the two can be kept apart unless closely supervised. Because everybody is on tenterhooks when the two are together, this will be picked up by Stanley and not be helping the situation. So, for security and so that they all relax, Stanley must be on lead and maybe even the toddler attached to reins. Then that the people can gradually work on the situation, with Stanley associating the little boy with good things like treats, learning to come away when asked or when he feels stressed by the toddler, and also encouraging the child not to stare if that’s possible!

Stanley is a case of a rehomed dog where you don’t quite no what you have got for the first few weeks. As dogs settle in and establish their boundaires (or lack of!) their real personalities and possible former problems will surface. It’s good to start with firm rules in place. Better too strict than too lax, and fairer on the dog, but without too many demands or commands. It’s human nature to do the opposite – we want to over-compensate for the past in the mistaken belief that in order to make him feel at home he needs no boundaries and lots of fuss!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.