Early Habituation. Socialisation. Variety

Lack of early habituation to people and life in general has a lot to answer for in a great number of the cases I go to.

This is neither sufficiently early habituation and socialisation, nor sufficiently comprehensive habituation.

Early habituation or socialisation?

We tend to say ‘socialisation’ when we mean ‘habituation’. What is the difference? The puppy needs exposure from a few weeks old and lots of early handling. The puppy needs early habituation to all sorts of people and situations – all without scaring her.

she lacked early habituation to peopleSpringer Spaniel Luna is a naturally happy and enthusiastic dog, so it’s a great shame her life is blighted by her fear of people she doesn’t know. This is particularly the case if they try to touch her. The fifteen-month-old dog doesn’t like people moving fast either, whether it’s jogging, on a bike or a child on a scooter.

Luna came from a gun dog breeder just like my own working Cocker, Pickle. Until he was three months old, Pickle lived in a pen in a barn with lots of other working-type spaniels and Labradors grouped in pens.

Outings were into a field out the back with the other puppies and dogs. There was no early socialisation or variety. Pickle met very few people nor did he encounter everyday things like vacuum cleaners or traffic.

I’m pretty sure that at the root of Luna’s problems is not having left the gun dog breeder until she was twelve weeks old. There will have been no early habituation or socialisation. She won’t have been taken out anywhere to meet a variety of people nor introduced to the outside world while still young enough to take it in her stride. She’s fine with other dogs however.

Never left all alone

The other thing that overshadows Luna’s happiness is her distress when left alone, even though it’s never for more than three hours.

Until they picked her up, Luna, like my Pickle, will never have been left all by herself. There will always have been the other dogs. This is another fallout from lack of early habituation – to being all alone for short periods.

By twelve weeks of age the window is closing.

They will now work on Luna’s fear of people by associating both those she hears from the garden and those she meets when out with something really special – a treat she loves which won’t be used for anything else.

Protecting her from unwanted attention

They will be more assertive about keeping people from touching her – an I Need Space vest should help. Beautiful young dogs like Luna are like magnets to ‘dog lovers’!

If the person is running or on a bike, they will use a ball – which they will now save specifically for this. She is ball-obsessed. They now will put balls away and only bring one out when there is a moving person triggering fear. The moving person can now trigger the ball instead, redirecting to movement in the opposite direction – and fun.

Luna is unusual in that she is less scared when on lead than when running free. She may rush up to people and bark at them, which can be alarming. For this reason it’s essential, if she’s to be off lead and free, that they have spot-on recall. Meanwhile they should keep her on a long line.

Luna’s separation problems aren’t extreme and sometimes she may even finish her stuffed Kong. If she were frantic she wouldn’t want to eat. However, she often cries and howls. They will film her.

There are a few ideas they could try. If my guess is right about the company of other dogs being sufficient for her, Dog TV may fill the void. Luna is fascinated by dogs on TV.

Leaving her somewhere ‘safe’.

They shut Luna in the hallway where her bed is when they go out. I feel the hallway is a place she may feel vulnerable. She will hear people going past and have to cope with mail coming through the door. Getting her used to being shut in the back room would be better – initially just leaving the door open so she makes her own choice. If I were her I would choose the sofa!

Once Luna had warmed up to me it was hard to imagine her scared of things. She was cheeky and playful. Unfortunately, probably due to insufficiently early habituation, she is easily spooked. She is upset by quite a list of everyday things. They will deal with each thing that upsets her using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

The net result will be a more confident dog. They will be compensating for her lack of early habituation and socialisation. Luna will be more able to deal with the things that currently scare her.

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, particularly where fear issues are concerned. Click here for help

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).

Fear of People. Separation Distress

Bentley has a fear of peopleBentley barks.

The little dog’s main fears and consequent barking is either directly, or indirectly, associated with his fear of people.

Bentley is an adorable and much-loved Coton de Tulear. In researching the breed, the first site I looked at said that they hate being on their own and that they like the sound of their own voices.

The first, distress at being alone, certainly applies but I don’t think Bentley barks and cries because he likes the sound of his own voice. 

The cause of his barking is his fear of people…

…and things associated with people.

This is whether someone just comes to the door, if someone comes into the house or when they see a person out on a walk. It’s the same with noises that people make, like slamming car doors and voices outside. (This dog that usually barks takes absolutely no notice at all of fireworks!).

His fear of people colours any trips to the vet or the groomer.

Changing his fear of people gets to the root of the barking problem and is the challenge. People should now be associated with things that Bentley likes and whenever possible on walks at a distance where he feels they are no threat to him. This threshold distance is important.

Here is a very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in on the subject (referring to encountering other dogs, but it’s the same principal). https://youtu.be/7HNv-vsnn6E

Most unusually, when I came to the house he barely barked at all, although he was still wary of me. This is because of how we set it up. They will now use the same technique with other callers.

How they actually respond to the barking will also help his fear of people and the sounds he can hear.

All alone, Bentley probably feels vulnerable.

This can only be guesswork, but he invariably toilets soon after he is left. He’s very attached to the lady and follows her everywhere. It’s most likely he feels safest when with her.

They will be getting a camera so they can watch what happens when he’s left. This will tell us more.

Separation problems are slow to work on, particularly if it can’t be done systematically due to people having to go out to work. However, the more Bentley associates their leaving with good things and their returning as no big deal, the better.

He currently has run of the house when left. I suggest keeping him away from the front door area. This is where scary people may come and go and where people have pushed items through a hole in the door.

The higher are Bentley’s general stress levels, the less he will be able to cope with his fear of people and being left. Lowering arousal/stress is key. This may sound a bit boring at times but over-exciting activities can be replaced with those that help him to be calmer and more confident.

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 Bentley 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, 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).

His Fear of People is Puzzling

I have just met another Henry – a Miniature Schnauzer age two. He is quite unusual to look at, being brown and with a poodle-like curly coat. Cute! fear of people makes him bark at them

Henry was barking behind a door when I arrived. Let out after I had sat down, he came charging up to me, barking quite fiercely. This didn’t last for long and I could see that he was scared whilst also wanting to make friends. He backed away and inched forwards. He licked his lips.

Within a very few minutes of being left to do things in his own time, he was taking food from me and we were friends.

Fear of people when out is causing problems.

Henry is very reactive to anyone he meets when out on walks. It’s even worse if they have a dog.

Unlike some scared dogs that back away and try to make themselves small, like others Henry seems to feel that attack is the best form of defense.

It’s puzzling why he has become like this. His mother has an even temperament. He was introduced nicely to everyday life at a young age and so far as I can see they did everything right. Nothing seemed to scare him early on, it just slowly developed. Nobody has ever hurt him.

On lead he will walk nicely until he sees a person or a dog, and then, while his human traps him tightly on a short lead as they pass, he strains to get to them, barking all the time. Their very common approach teaches him nothing. It won’t be making him feel any less fearful of people and dogs.

The million dollar question is what should they be doing?

It stands to reason that if people continue as they are, nothing will change. The only way is to do things completely differently.

Any continued close encounters with people and dogs will merely go on making things worse. Where can they go to avoid them? There are people and dogs everywhere.

Where there’s a will there has to be a way.

The three choices are stark.

There are three choices when considering what to do about reactivity, barking and lunging through fear of people and dogs when out.

The choices aren’t based on convenience or lifestyle. They are just fact.

One is great, one is dreadful and the third is doing nothing.

Either Henry’s root fear needs changing so that he no longer feels scared. No longer feeling scared, he will no longer be noisy. He will in time be a happy and much more confident dog. Everyone will enjoy walks. Job done.

It’s all about building up trust.

Another possibility (which Henry’s humans won’t be doing!) is to deal with just the symptom – the barking, pulling and lunging – with no regard for the emotions which making him behave like this. This is punishment administered by a human who is simply bigger and stronger and may also have painful equipment to use on the dog.

This is the ‘dominance’ approach used in the bad old days. Cruelty used to force a dog through pain and fear.

This destroys all trust.

It’s hard to believe in this enlightened day and age that there are still trainers and TV programmes that advocate this kind of approach.

Who could want their relationship with their dog to be on that footing? Certainly not Henry’s owners.

There is a third choice which some people understandably end opting for. That is simply to give up and live with things as they are.

Harry has six loving adult humans in his life who have always done their best for him. Between them they will do whatever is required to build up his confidence. They will all need to pull together. Behind his fear of people is a very friendly little dog ready to burst out.

All people must be consistent in keeping the threshold distance for Henry from dogs and people while they work on things. This isn’t optional. The will each know how to react should someone unexpectedly appear or if they have a ‘near-dog encounter’.

Henry is never let off lead although they live very near to parkland. Here they meet few dogs and people which is ideal for a dog with fear of people. They can drive there. They can even jog to get there. He’s not reactive while they are running.

They will get a long line for him so that he has some freedom. This will make his walks fulfilling.

Fear of people doesn’t involve avoiding people altogether but working on them within Henry’s comfort zone. If Henry’s humans all stick to this and take it slowly, his confidence is certain to grow.

They will need to be tough about appearing unfriendly by creating distance between themselves and people who want to talk to them. If they want success they have no choice. Here is a little video about how to increase space without seeming rude.

There are certain sacrifices to be made but it will be so well worth it in the end.

 

Puppy Farm Dogs Used for Breeding

The lady was, to quote her email, at ‘such a low ebb’ as she described what was happening with her two recently adopted puppy farm dogs.

ex puppy farm dogs

Marty and Meggie

Considering the mental condition of the dogs she has taken on, she has already worked miracles. However, without support, she can’t herself see the progress that has really been made or just what to do next.

All these two little dogs have known is confinement in a dark puppy farm building. They probably had never seen the sky, never walked on grass. They may have been forced to mate. Their contact with humans will not have been tactile, loving or friendly.

Then, one day, the puppy farm dogs were released.

They were taken to a shelter. They were handled by staff and a vet. They were neutered. They were ‘ready for adoption’.

Their existence may have been terrible but it was the only life they knew and probably the only life their parents had known also.

The grim buildings would have been their security.

It’s hard to imagine how it must be when every little thing in their lives is new, from obvious things like a vacuum cleaner or traffic to birds flying free or music playing.

Four months ago the lady took on Maggie, a Jack Russell age about four. For the first four weeks the little dog seldom moved from the corner of the settee. She was frozen. Because she was so miserable, the rescue encouraged the lady also to take puppy farm breeding dog Marty, a Cocker Spaniel, about seven years old.

When Marty arrived the real nightmare started. The moment Maggie met him it was as if a cork had been pulled from a bottle of fizz. She was bouncing off the walls and this went on for weeks.

Marty on the other hand was totally shut down – too terrified to go outside at all and when a bit later he dared, would cower and run back indoors at the slightest thing. He has cataracts, his hearing is defective and he has a heart murmer. He came covered all over in fleas. Total neglect. Why hadn’t she been told these things first?

The main problem that has been driving the lady to despair is the marking and urinating everywhere, on furniture, up curtains, on the seat and back of the sofa. She is constantly cleaning. The marking intensifies when there is any change or stress.

She was at her wits’ end. She has large incontinence pads all over the floor and all over the chairs.

Over the three months that she has had Marty, the lady has gradually encouraged him into the garden to toilet. I watched her. He follows as she drops food and she always goes to the same place. She is extremely perceptive and patient. Her environment is perfect because the dogs have a room that with an open door or gate which means they lie in a chair together and can see into the kitchen and the garden without fear of being approached by anyone apart from the lady whose body language is perfect (she lives alone).

She has thankfully resisted friends who say ‘just do it’…..

….meaning grab the dog, force him outside or force the harness on him. If she did that she would blow it all. She is slowly building the trust of both dogs.

She had been looking for guidance on the internet and in books, and came across Lisa Tenzin Dolma’s book Charlie, the Dog Who Cam in from the Wild. This was exactly the kind approach she wanted and through Lisa’s books she found me.

As I discovered when I was with them the other day, the indoor marking was already beginning to reduce and now for regular toileting Marty is taking himself outside. The lady has just told me that he has now had a dry, marking-free day! This is huge progress. Imagine seven years most likely in an enclosure with other male dogs, making claim to his space with marking. After all this time it will be a strong habit to simply empty himself wherever he is, so you could say it’s not much short of miraculous that he’s now learning to go outside.

The lady’s slowly slowly approach is paying off. The two little dogs will lie beside her on the sofa in their ‘garden room’. Maggie even likes her tummy tickled but Marty, who now likes to lie close to her, immediately moves away if even her finger touches him.

She now feels that she has reached a standstill which is why she contacted me and with my help we will slowly advance things with them all.

I watched from the kitchen table as the two dogs, in the chair together, began to play – a very recent development. I am told that the next day Marty himself initiated the play.

Happiness!

It brings a lump to my throat. Marty is at last beginning to feel safer in his immediate world, safe enough to play.

Any small change has to be handled very slowly and carefully or he simply regresses into urinating and looking scared. Maggie then also regresses to bouncing off the walls.

The areas we are now starting on is Marty’s stressing when the lady leaves the dogs – the downside of developing an attachment. We are working on his fear of any human touch, even the lady’s. She will slowly be teaching Marty to go over to her and touch her outstretched hand whilst trusting her not to try to touch him back. It will be entirely his own choice.

She will need to hold back because where her human instinct is to reach out to him physically, to love and reassure, for him this would amount to punishment.

She can’t of course take the dogs out at all – she’s unable get a collar, harness or lead anywhere near Marty in particular. Walks themselves aren’t important though a visit to the vet might be. These two dogs have never had a walk so even the smallish garden is a new world of smells and adventure to them and more than sufficient for now.

Sometimes when we so deeply want to help and encourage a fearful dog it’s hard not to actually put on pressure. It’s a delicate balance.  Perhaps now that huge strides have been made the lady can relax a little and try a little less hard. I did suggest she no longer rushed to clean up those yellow patches on the pads but to wait a while – best of all do it while Marty is out in the garden. To strictly leave him be when he lies next to her and not to be tempted to put out even a finger towards him.

Everything that we normally take for granted is a challenge for these two ex puppy farm dogs, Marty in particular – and a great challenge for the lady too. She is feeling happier now that I have proved to her why her instinct not to push things, to give the dogs time against the pressure of ‘other people’, is the way to get results in the long-term.

Update a couple of weeks later: The poor lady is battling against building noises from next door – sudden and loud and high drilling whining – all of which is very difficult for the dogs. However, I have just received this message, ‘Tuesday I went out for just under 3 hrs, leaving them with Kongs and I’m very pleased to report NO MARKING, simply two dogs pleased to see me.  I am …also going upstairs for different lengths of time – I do feel this is helping with the separation anxiety …. and I have a bit more time to do my own things! Marty is really coming out of his shell Theo, which is soooo uplifting for me to see.  He is often the one to initiate play.  Just like the peeling of an onion, the stressed, fearful layers are beginning to fall away from him ….. I think we may see a bit of a character emerge!’
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 Marty and Meggie 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)

 

Desensitising or Flooding?

Is it desensitising or is it over-exposure?

Tibetan needs desensitising

Ellie

Ellie, her siblings and other Tibetan Terriers were picked up from a breeder in a dreadful state of neglect, with matted fur and no socialisation. They had no exposure to life outside the shed where they were kept.

Lucky Ellie was re-homed to my clients three months ago. She is now nine months old. She lives with a calmer and slightly older Tibetan called Bailie.

Her family took her on holiday a couple of months later and it was a nightmare.

Ellie became increasingly terrified of traffic and people – particularly children. From the beginning of each day one scary new thing after another would have added to her accumulating stress as, with the best of loving intentions, they included the previously unsocialised small dog in their holiday activities.

They have actually come a long way in three months in some respects and are already doing many of the things I usually suggest. However they admit that her reactivity to people, traffic and any new environment is getting worse.

I feel there are a couple of things being done by Ellie’s humans, in the mistaken belief that they are helping her and being kind, that they can now do differently.

For hours Ellie occupies what the lady calls her ‘sentry point’ on the back of the sofa, watching the ‘scary’ things go past their house. It won’t have taken long for her to get the idea that it was her barking which was chasing those enemies, who kept on moving past, away.

Instead of this regular exposure acclimatising and desensitising her to new things as they thought, it is doing the opposite.

Ellie with Bailie

Ellie with Bailie

Each barking bout will be adding to her already rapidly rising stress levels. Daily she is repatedly rehearsing the very behaviour towards people and traffic that they are trying to change.

The other thing that is actually making her worse is a common belief that desensitising a dog to the things she fears – cars, bicycles, children, plastic bags, anywhere new – involves active exposure by way of as many encounters as possible all at once in order to ‘get her used’ to them.

Over-exposure has the reverse effect to desensitising.

 

Over-exposure is flooding and the very opposite to desensitising.

Controlling Ellie’s environment is the way to go here. They have already removed Ellie’s access to her ‘sentinel’ point and will be helping both dogs as soon as they start to bark at anything (the neighbours will be thankful).

Then, very slowly, they will begin the desensitising and counter-conditioning she needs in order to see those things she fears in a different light whilst getting used to them gradually.

Before they can take her on any more outings beyond their gate and past traffic, past people and into shops, they must surely first get her to feel better about the world immediately outside their gate. On a long, loose lead she should be given a choice whilst they work on proper desensitisation.

She will herself let them know what she’s ready to do. Only when she feels safe enough to herself choose to venture out should they make their way further afield, very gradually.

‘Proper’ outings for now will need to be by car to transport her and Bailie directly to somewhere ‘safe’ and open.

This will take multiples sessions. The greater the number of very short desensitisation outings they do, the more progress they should make.

It’s best if they can work on things one at a time. Take fear of plastic bags – something easy to control unlike a child running up from nowhere. First a bag can be at a distance that Ellie finds okay and she can be given food each time she looks at it. She can also be rewarded with food or by increasing distance each time she deliberately looks away from it (making a ‘good’ decision).

They can put Ellie indoors, remove the plastic bag, lace with food the ground where the bag had been so the area is associated with good stuff. Then let Ellie back out to forage where the bag had been. Next, with Ellie back out of the way, they can replace the bag – and so on.

One thing at a time, we can work out appropriate procedures. Desensitising to children can be worked on in the same sort of way at a comfortable distance from a school playground at playtime.

Considering her deprived beginnings, Ellie could be a lot worse and in many respects they have come a long way. It’s the fearfulness of things and people new to her that has increased.

With the best of intentions, they are doing things back to front. Here is a very good article with a couple of great short videos about the sort of time and patience needed for desensitising and counter-conditioning a dog to something that really scares it.

With slow and gradual exposure whilst avoiding pushing Ellie over her comfort threshold they will build up her trust. She should eventually be able to go on holiday with them again and enjoy it this time.

Message received a couple of days later: ‘I learned something interesting about Ellie today. I opened the front door and stood just inside our covered porch with her on a long training lead and with the front door open so that she could retreat if she wanted to. Rather than flying out of the door and being desperate to go on a walk (which has been my previous impression of her), given the option, she stayed close to me or even backed up back into the house. This makes me realise she was flying out of the door to bark/be protective/banish passers by.
We’ve sat outside three times today now, with me feeding her little titbits whenever a car or person passes by. I’ll carry on little and often until she’s confident to go beyond the front garden without reacting (here’s hoping!!!)…..
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 Ellie. 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. 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.

Nips People Who Visit

AchillesIndieBeautiful Indie is another Shepherd-type dog that is reactive to people – particularly people coming to his house. He was abandoned as a puppy of three months old on the streets of Romania and spent the next three months in kennels – crucial months in his development.

The reason he nips people is probably a mix of being territorial, fear of new people – of men in particular, and some instinctive herding of people in order to control them when walking around his house which he had done from the beginning and well before he began to show any aggression.

The young lady has worked so hard with her beautiful dog and is very distressed that he changed so drastically. Before that she could take him to work and he would accompany her everywhere. Now she can’t trust him.

His behaviour changed when he became adolescent. At the same time, just as he had settled into his new home over here, the lady went away for a month and had to leave him behind. There would have been a big break in his new routines and very likely he felt insecure.

Sudden movement seems to trigger immediate barking followed by a nip – on the person’s leg. The only incident outside his house was when, on a walk, some people suddenly appeared out of the woods and the man was brandishing a stick. This really upset Indie, particularly because the man then fended him off with the stick.

He was on edge for several days after that, growling and barking at everyone he saw.

Like lots of dogs who are reactive to people in their own territory and who startle and lunge when someone may suddenly appear, Indie is fine in busy places with lots of people and dogs. Strange isn’t it. Like us, if we are alone in a field and a person suddenly appears we can feel quite exposed. If the field is full of people we feel a lot safer.

Indie used to accompany the young lady to work but because of his unpredictability she has been leaving him at home where, though he has company, the methods used with him are totally different – more along the ‘old-school’ methods rather than positive and reward-based.

So she will start to take him to work with her again and she will manage the situation better. It is fortunate that she works for herself. The times when he’s most upset with stuff going on he can be put in the car where he is happy and relaxed. If she needs to wander about and go anywhere with hands free, she can tie his lead to her waist which will keep him and other people safe.

Every time Indie hears or sees a person, however distant, the ‘food bar’ will open. When nobody is about it will close.

More visitors to the house are needed also – but only when the young lady is at home to make sure things are done in the right way.

Whatever the main root cause – probably a mix of herding, guarding and fear – it boils down to Indie not feeling safe when the person moves about or makes a sudden movement. It’s not every time – which makes him all the more unpredictable. I saw it for myself when, although earlier I had been walking around with no problems, I stood up when he was asleep. He reacted immediately – the lady was ready for it.

It is possible to teach him alternative behaviours incompatible with barking and nipping as the young lady has been doing, like Sit or Down or Bed along with watching her – but this means she has to constantly be on tenterhooks each time the guest is likely to move in order to give Indie the correct cues. One day she may forget or be out of the room.

It’s far better to treat it right at source, I feel, and deal with the emotion which is driving Indie to behave like this, to have him associate people with good stuff, to desensitise him so far as possible to sudden movements and help him to feel more confident around people.

The work can begin with people in situations or at a distance where Indie feels reasonably comfortable. At work, the people don’t actually enter the work area but there is frequent traffic walking past his barrier of people who will ignore him if requested to do so. He can also be taken to busy places with lots of people and dogs because he feels reasonably safe there also.

When out he can wear a yellow high-viz jacket bearing the words ‘Ignore me, I’m in training’. He is fine so long as nobody walks directly up to him. He is such a beautiful looking dog it’s easy to understand why people should want to touch him.

Bit by bit the bar can be raised.

I wrote a short blog in my Paws for Thought series about ‘sudden’ and 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 Indie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

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).

At About Ten Months Old he Changed. He Became Wary of People

wary of peopleBoss, an American Bull Terrier, Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross is now two years old.

Despite getting him at the tender age of five weeks old, Boss was very well socialised as a pup. They lived in London and took him out to pubs with friends and running in Regents Park. He was used to traffic and crowds.

Boss’ fear of people kicked in at about ten months old, coinciding with when he was castrated. There may or may not have been a connection; there is a probability that early removal from mother and siblings will have contributed, but I have sometimes found that this an age when perfectly friendly dogs can ‘turn’.

Now wary of people

The first sign of ‘aggression’ or fear towards a human is a crucial time. How it is dealt with can set the pattern for future encounters. Sadly, people instinctively show anger and dismay, they feel some sort of punishment is expected by the other person, and it is downhill from there. They only get advice on the best way to react when things have escalated out of their control.

With a dog of Boss’ physique they need to be especially careful because of the ridiculous laws of diagnosing Pit Bulls by their body measurements alone.

When Boss was brought in on lead to join us he was doing classic and prolonged ‘look-aways’, his whole body saying he didn’t want to be anywhere near me. He was yawning loudly. I took this photo after he had settled down a bit, but you can see he’s not happy – just look at his tail, his ears and his whole demeanor. It wasn’t long however before he was near to me accepting food, sniffing my face even, and though he seemed relaxed I didn’t push my luck! I sat still and avoided eye contact.

In cases like this the owners understandably avoid people when really the dog needs plenty of contact with people. This contact however shouldn’t be too close and they should not touch him. He should be at a distance where he feels comfortable and then he needs to associate people with fun and food, not fear.

It’s hard to find acquaintances and friends who are sufficiently relaxed and brave to work with, so creating positive associations with more distant people must be the start.

It is just such a shame the problem of Boss’ being increasingly wary of people wasn’t tackled immediately, with understanding, the very first time it reared its head.

It’s good to hear back from people after quite a long time. Sixteen months have elapsed: ‘He has made amazing progress…He is now able to walk past people and dogs without launching or showing signs of aggression. His recall is much better, thanks to the juicy treats! We are slowly making him realised who is the boss and its our judgement that he has to trust and not his own! And now that you have explained that its Fear Agression/ Anxiety that he’s experiencing we are able to judge the situation/ his body languages and moods’