Big Change in Poppy’s Life. Wary of People, Traffic and Dogs

What a big change in living style the mix-breed terrier has had.

It seems Poppy came from a fairly manic household with comings and goings, unpredictable young people and lots of noise. Judging by how she may now wince or recoil from hands, it’s very likely she wasn’t handled very kindly.

It’s possible a man treated her harshly, though it is common for nervous dogs to be more afraid of men than of women.

Not sorry to lose her

They asked one of the older children if they were sorry to see her go. The child said, ‘Not really’. Continue reading…

Fights. New Home Living With Other Dog. Stress

An elderly family member is no longer able to look after her dog and he now has a new home. Cairn Terrier Ben has gone to live with the couple and their dog Bonnie.

Bonnie is a Labrador Cocker Spaniel mix (the Labrador next door called to visit the mother dog!). She’s small, no bigger than a Cocker. 

A couple of fights

Each dog is great individually but being together is a challenge for both. In the short while that Ben has been living with them, there have been a couple of fights and another few altercations that they have interrupted.

Six-year-old Bonnie is used to being the only dog in the household. She’s extremely well behaved and obedient. However, Ben stirs her up and as soon as there is any arousal in the air it upsets her. She growls at him.  Although Ben submits and appeases, once she goes for him he retaliates and she comes off worse.

One of the fights resulted in a hundred-pound vet bill for damage around Bonnie’s eye.

Ben’s life has changed dramatically.

Ben has a lot of habituating to daily life and getting used to things. He lived in a very quiet place with an old lady.

He is terrified of home things like the vacuum cleaner, lawn mower and hose. On walks he is scared of vehicles and bicycles.

Because of the built-up effect of stress and tension, at the moment he will be in permanent aroused state inside.

Fights when arousedIt’s his inner stressed state and fears that Bonnie is probably picking up on. This makes her reactive.

There was graphic evidence when I was there. The cat who had been keeping out of Ben’s way, got too close to Ben. She jumped up onto the kitchen side in a panic. Bonnie’s immediate reaction was of aggression towards the cat. This never normally happens as she and the cat get on very well.

Bonnie can’t cope with Ben’s arousal and this is causing the fights.

The incidents happen at predictable times when there is excitement or barking. She will hump Ben. I feel she’s attempting to relieve her own inner stress whilst trying to get some control over him.

When the humans are out of the way however the dogs relax. They sleep. When the couple goes out, they come back to drowsy dogs.

A child is coming to live with them

Another factor makes it vital that there are no more fights. They have a friend with an eight-year-old boy coming to live with them in the very near future. The child is wary of dogs.

So, we will work on the root cause of the problem that is causing the fights. Ben’s state of mind. He needs desensitising and counter-conditioning to all those fears he’s having to cope with.

The couple should, for now, completely avoid those that they can – like vacuum cleaner and hose. There is enough other stuff to deal with.

Enjoying walks is a priority, so they will work on his fear of traffic. From a distance from them that Ben’s comfortable, they will associate moving vehicles with special tasty food.

Without the deadline and concerns about the child coming, they could have relaxed and taken their time. But this puts a bit of urgency into the situation. However, it’s important they take things a step at a time and don’t rush it (a stitch in time saves nine and all that).

When should the dogs be together?

When Ben first arrived the dogs were freely together. Then there were the couple of fights.

Next the dogs were kept totally apart if not on lead.

Just before I came this had progressed back to the dogs being together – separated if there were signs of trouble. I am worried this could be too late.

In addition to helping Ben, there are the usual flash points of arousal that could result in fights. These include when someone comes to the house, if they rush out into the garden barking and if someone walks past the fence.

Resources cause fights, so no balls, toys or food should be about when the two dogs are together.

Dogs separated by a gate unless all is calm.

I prefer for now keeping the two apart at times when they can’t be sure things will be fairly calm. ‘Apart’ should be the new default with ‘together’ only at selected and safe times. Until the child and his mother have settled in anyway.

It’s vital the two dogs no longer rehearse the behaviour. Removing rehearsal will help to remove fights from their repertoire rather than the opposite.

I witnessed just how good they are with one another in the short periods when nothing was stirring them up. In many cases dogs can’t be in the same room – or even look at one another – without breaking into an attack of rage.

It’s a good sign.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. any form o aggression needs professional help. Click here for help.

Bite! Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.

A cat can lie on its back and when you tickle its tummy it can yowl, grab you with it’s claws and BITE.

A dog can be approached when he doesn’t want to be touched. If he so much as growls in warning, let alone gives a snap or a bite, he’s probably in for trouble.

Being touched when he’s asleep.

Man petted him and received a biteThe affectionate little pup I went to yesterday is very happy to be touched most of the time – but not when he’s in his bed, particularly first thing in the morning.

Little Teddy is only five months old, a mix of small breeds and was born over here to a Romanian street dog in a shelter.

In every respect he has a lovely life with a family – a couple, their young adult son and daughter and lots of friends. They all adore him.

He soon proved himself to be a very clever and enthusiastic little dog with some clicker training that I taught the lady to do with him.

From the start Teddy has been a bit fearful of certain things, although with their help he is improving.

He is walked across a busy road each day to get to the park. Big traffic scares him.

The daughter wants to take him to where she keeps her horses. Unfortunately, he’s scared of horses also. He has spent considerable time recently barking at a horse in the field behind their garden, rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.

I’m sure given continued time and patience he will gain more confidence. The lady will keep him at a comfortable distance from traffic while she works on his fear. He will no longer be left outside barking at the horse.

One thing at a time.

Before he encounters the daughter’s horses (again from a comfortable distance) she will acclimatise Teddy to the environment itself – the smells, sights and other dogs in the yard. She will let him walk around the yard and nearby land on a long line. One thing at a time.

What really prompted their call is what has caused Teddy to bite the man twice and the son once – and these weren’t mere puppy nips. On each occasion the tall human had come into the kitchen, walked directly over to Teddy’s bed and bent over where he lay sleeping. Because of the layout of the house people can appear very suddenly in the gated doorway which doesn’t help.

Anyway, the pup bit him. Hard.

Bite!

Very unfortunately the man did what many people would do in the circumstances and that was to punish the puppy. He shouted and lightly smacked him. Teddy hid from him for some time under the table afterwards.

Probably feeling he shouldn’t allow the dog to win, the man did the same thing another day. He bent over the dog’s bed to stroke Teddy repeatedly on the nose. The little dog snarled this time before another bite.

He was punished again.

It has been proved beyond all doubt that using punishment to ‘teach the dog’ where any aggression is concerned can only make things worse, despite certain out of date nonsense still out there. The puppy’s reaction to being touched in his bed like this may have been partly reflex, some instinctive fearfulness or due to his simply not wanting to be touched. Whatever the reason or mix of reasons, it was valid.

Punishment like this always backfires in some way. It could later if continued possibly have spread to his guarding his personal space in other situations and places. It made the kindly man feel really bad afterwards too.

The solution is simple.

Nobody, ever, will again be going over to Teddy when he is lying in his bed. It’s quite fair that he should have a safe area that is his own, after all. All friends visiting must be told the same.

If people want to fuss him, they can sit at a distance from his bed and call him over. He can then choose. He’s such a friendly little thing I’m sure he will be all over them.

Totally secure in the knowledge that his space won’t be invaded when he’s in his bed, he will have no reason to feel defensive when someone comes near it in future.

He won’t now have any reason to bite ever again.

At all other times little Teddy is the sweetest-natured little dog you can imagine.

(Here is a great article about how dogs may feel about being approached directly).

 

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 approaches I have worked out for Teddy. 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 aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Over-Arousal Causes Dog to Attack

The over-arousal and stress in one dog is causing the other dog to react.

This is a little different from the last case I went to involving fighting females where I believe the human’s punishing reaction to their two female dogs fighting was actually causing the situation to accelerate.

over-arousal caused her to lose control

Dotty

With Mimi and Dotty the problem isn’t really escalating in that it’s not really becoming more frequent though the most recent caused the most damage. There are several weeks between each episode between which the two bitches get on okay. I watched them and they passed each other in doorways in a relaxed fashion and lay down together.

In this case I’m sure it’s to do with general arousal levels causing things to erupt. When it’s all over and done with it’s like, to the dogs if not to the humans, nothing has happened.

Even after the recent episode where Dotty received a leg wound and had to go to the vet, the dogs were soon back to how they had been together beforehand.

The owners are dog-savvy people who have given four dogs a much-needed home and have made huge advances with them all. They have two boys dogs – quiet and shy smaller Romanian dog Teddy and a large Lurcher-type called Zach, age three, who gets on with them all. Then there are the girls – Staffie Dotty who they took in at four months old from a very abusive start in life and Mimi, a six-year-old Mastiff Rottie mix who was the last to join them.

Mimi

Mimi

Looking for common denominators as well as one can from just four episodes spread over several months, brought me to the conclusion that Dotty’s over-arousal was the final straw at a time when all the dogs were already excited.

Each incident had occurred either immediately or soon after the arrival of the the two young daughters, age 12 and 13 coming in, once alone and other times with parents or grandmother. The girls themselves are excited with the dogs. The most recent incident involved food too which may have accounted for it being the most severe.

Each incident occurred after the four dogs had been left alone for longer than usual, in a smallish room. Perhaps shut together for too long something could have been brewing.

Another common denominator is that Mimi didn’t seek out Dotty to attack her. They were either already together in a small space or Dotty went over to Mimi.

To break the fights up took a lot of shouting, screaming from the girls and spraying water at the dogs. Afterwards, however, the dogs were just parted for a while. There was no further punishment which I’m sure has something to do with things between the two going so quickly back to normal.

Teddy, Dotty, Zach and Mimi

Teddy, Dotty, Zach and Mimi

Management is the first thing to put in place so not only are the dogs safe, but also the children.

When everyone is out the dogs should be separated in boy/girl pairs in the sitting room and kitchen.

When the girls come home from school they must now be a lot quieter and less excited as it’s likely this is one of the triggers. The two female dogs won’t be together anymore.

Teaching calm greetings without Dotty’s wild jumping up will be a start. Carrying something in her mouth helps her. They should let the dogs out from separate doors to toilet and keep them in their different rooms until the parents get home.

This will also give the dogs plenty of time to calm down before being reunited.

Although Mimi has been the ‘attacker’, Dotty’s behaviour and her over-arousal is at the bottom of it I’m certain, like she ‘asks for it’. The lady has an interesting theory. Mimi has had several litters of puppies in her six years before the family adopted her and she would have dealt with over the top behaviour like Dotty’s from one of her puppies quiet firmly. The puppy wouldn’t have retaliated though.

Mimi has also recently started limping which they will get checked out with the vet – possibly pain is making her less tolerant at times.

Dotty can be helped with her over-arousal.

Because stress inside Dotty continually builds up far faster than she can get rid of it, she’s like a little walking volcano. She is terrified of cars and much of the outside world, and tries to avoid going out. Each day she has to endure at least one walk, involving getting into the car which terrifies her. Once out she will pull like mad so she has a Halti which she hates.

They will start to walk her by herself for very short sessions, initially only in the garden or just outside the house, making sure she is willing and happy. They will get her a very comfortable special harness – not the ‘no-pull’ kind that is merely another restriction. They will desensitise her to their own car and to traffic in general.

The girls can help with short five-minute ‘happy with cars’ outings and teaching her to walk nicely around their own quiet road.

It will take a lot of time and patience.

Only when she is calmer and happy to go out should they take her any further. Only when she’s ready should she join the other dogs in the car and walking near traffic.

When dogs are having their differences and especially where there are several dogs, I feel it’s important for each dog to be deliberately treated as an individual from time to time. When one name is said, eye contact from that particular dog is rewarded and the others ignored. They can be lined up, the names of each dog said in a random order and that dog fed upon eye contact. They will learn they always get their turn and not to compete.

Having an instant response to their individual name is vital to avoid trouble breaking out. Any time they feel at all worried they can gently say the name of the dog who is giving concern. Everything can be calm. The dog will look at them, they can call her to them – and give her a reward.

Trouble averted.

 

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 Mimi and Dotty 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

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)

Terrified of Traffic and Rounds People Up

Lottie is a small Border Collie mix, stretching out on the sofaLittle Lottie is a sweetie. She is a very small Border Collie mix, eighteen months of age. She lives with a couple and their two teenage sons.

Lottie is a stressy little dog, highly reactive to things and easily scared. She is also a brave little dog, constantly facing things that terrify her. She is scared of traffic even if it’s at a distance. She runs away from her lead before leaving the house – because she knows she will have to walk along a road.

Her life is confusing. She is taken to training classes of the old-school ‘domination’ type and her male owner wants a ‘controlled’ dog. There are quite a lot of commands and demands made upon her, whilst also overwhelming (to her), excitable type of hands-on play and affection.

The problem I was called out for is that she fixates and paces around the boys when they are moving about – almost rounding them up. Their response is to be angry, shout at her or order her into her crate. She is a dog that would respond to a whisper, so everything is ‘too much’.

I believe this is not an issue to attack head on, as it is a symptom of other things. She needs less stress and she needs to feel protected. She needs leadership of a type she recognises – calm, quiet and consistent. A leader she can trust not to lead her near ‘danger’. Twice a day she has to face the terror of traffic. I hope they will be able to avoid this altogether for a little while and then slowly work on the problem around her comfort threshold, gradually getting nearer to traffic. It could take a long time.

The rounding up problem, strangely, only happens when the lady is about, but we have a plan!

This little dog is highly intelligent and I feel she needs stimulation of the sort that doesn’t over-excite or put too many demands upon her. Teaching her to use her brain with a clicker will be a good substitute for some of the stuff she is currently getting. Clicker is an art in itself and the timing has to be right.

They want to do what is best for their delightful little dog. I hope they will ease back on the pressure of ‘training’ and ‘discipline’ and let Lottie work things out for herself.