Safe Place. Safe Haven. Cocker Spaniel Scared of Toddler

She seldom feels completely safe. Lucy’s fearfulness affects everything, most importantly her reactions to their baby daughter.

So many things she fears

With fear being at the root of all the issues that are a problem for the seven-year-old Cocker Spaniel’s owners, general fearfulness is what we must address. Continue reading…

Aggressive Barking at People. Fear or Anger?

Two-year-old Belgian Malinois Jake’s home is now with people who have considerable experience and knowledge as dog owners. I’m sure if Jake had gone to them as a puppy they would have nurtured him into a reliable and friendly adult dog.

Physical neglect and domestic abuse

Poor Jake spent the first year of his life suffering severe physical neglect and domestic abuse.

This is a far cry from the life he should have had – one where he was loved, given kind training and most of all, socialised with people.

In all respects Jake received the opposite.

My clients have made considerable headway with him, particularly with respect to training. There is nothing they won’t do in order to help him.

Their main problem is Jake’s antipathy to people, demonstrated by his aggressive barking at them.

When out, his lunging and barking has a fear component too. From the moment he leaves the house he is on high alert for people. He is necessarily muzzled and, for control, they use a head halter underneath it.

This is Catch 22. He must be under control to keep people safe, but he’s going to feel trapped and uncomfortable. They can’t do anything about the muzzle, but they can use better handling equipment where they have just as much control should they need it and with Jake feeling comfortable.

Aggressive barking and two attacks

He has attacked a couple of people and only didn’t cause injury because he was wearing the muzzle at the time. On both occasions, to his humans, it seemed without warning.

Jake is constantly ‘living on the brink’ due to his invisible internal arousal levels. On both these occasions there will have been a build-up. One was at the end of a walk with all it’s challenges and the other he was in a situation that was far too much for him. It only takes one small extra frustration to send a dog like this over the edge (see ‘trigger-stacking‘).

When anyone calls to the house, Jake is always shut away. It makes having friends or family visiting very difficult. Catch 22 again. Without encountering people how will he ever change?

Due to the lady’s work, many people do actually come and go. He will bark from behind the kitchen door; he will bark at people and other dogs through the long windows.

This daily and frequent aggressive barking at people in or outside his house, people he can’t get to, will be very frustrating for him. It is also constant rehearsal of the aggressive barking which, he will undoubtedly believe, drives people away in the end.

When I visited yesterday we set things up carefully. I needed to see for myself whether fear was involved or if it was simply rage that another person was in his house. 

It looked like rage.

To Jake, his job was to get rid of me.

They had him muzzled up ready in the kitchen when I arrived, with a training lead hooked to both front and back of a harness and the man for company. I had announced my arrival on my mobile so as not to ring the doorbell. We wanted his arousal levels to be as low as possible.

I sat at a table as far from the door as possible. I could see through the open door and down the short passage from the kitchen.

The lady had instructions not to talk to Jake but just to walk him towards the room. As soon as he barked she was to turn around and walk him out of sight just round the corner.

As soon as Jake caught sight of me he exploded. He barked ferociously, lunging on the lead. The lady had to use her strength to remove him but because of the harness it would cause him no discomfort (discomfort would be yet another reason for him to hate me).

I asked her now to say ‘Jake – come’ each time she turned around and as he got a hang of the process he became less resistant.

Soon Jake was looking at me without barking.

After several attempts there was a distance outside the door where he could see me without any aggressive barking. He was quiet. The lady had worked previously on eye contact and he was looking at her all the time which she rewarded. I now suggested she waited until he looked at me, said ‘Yes’ and then fed him.

We worked on the lady approaching a step at a time, continually reinforcing Jake each time he looked at me. It didn’t take long before she could sit on a chair already placed some way away from me near the door beside the man, and Jake very soon lay down quietly.

After a while I tested this. I moved my legs. I stood up. Nothing. I got up and moved about a little and he was still relaxed.

aggressive barking at people

Jake for the short time his muzzle was off

I suggested the lady, hanging on to the lead, took his muzzle off.

He was fine and I even manged to take this photo (whilst looking the other way). I also chucked him food from time to time. This doesn’t look like a frightened dog, does it.

All went very well until something small happened.

I think the man got up to do something. This little bit of extra arousal suddenly sent Jake over the edge again and he lunged at me with aggressive barking as before. I was doing nothing.

It was almost like he realised he had forgotten himself and his job to get rid of me!

The lady took him straight back out.

We rehearsed the procedure again and then left him in the kitchen. We rehearsed it one more time before I left. Both times we finished at a point where it was going well.

They will now need frequent callers to work on.

Reducing Jake’s stress levels underpins everything.

Unless they can do lots of things to reduce Jake’s stress levels so that he is calmer in general, nothing will change. In this state he’s unable to exercise self-control. They then will be able to introduce activities to a calmer Jake that are incompatible with aggressive barking and lunging, maybe a ritual of some sort.

I did what I call a complete ‘behaviour health check’, looking for all areas where they could reduce excitement, arousal, fear, frustration levels. Accumulating stress levels can make his ‘explosions’ unpredictable – and inevitable.

In those most important very early months of his life, Jake had missed out on socialisation – encountering different people. When he should have been treated kindly and trained using force-free methods for the first year of his life, he received the very opposite.

They are now picking up the pieces. If anyone can do this, they can.

 

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 Jake. 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 or fear 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 (click here to see my Help page)

Wary of New People Unless on the Train. Puzzling!

Wary of people

Crumpet

Crumpet is a Cockerpoo. Crumpet (I just love her name) is three years old.

She scares easily – apart from the very times when most other dogs would be frightened. On trains, on the underground and on the busy streets of London she is absolutely fine!

At home where it’s quieter she is spooked by anything different or unusual and is very wary when a person appears. She may rush at them, barking.

She is like this also when someone calls at their house.

The lady takes her to work and Crumpet reacts in the same way when someone enters her office. Though tethered, she rushes at them, barking.

The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be

The very strange thing is that in a crowded train she is friendly! She will even go to people for a fuss and sit on the floor beside them. The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be.

It does seem like there is a territorial element to it and she feels more threatened by people near to or in her home – the same at the office. Commonly dogs are worse when a person is standing. Understandably this is particularly the case when she is in an enclosed space or on lead (train carriage and London streets excepted).

It’s an odd thing, but often the fewer people there are the more threatened the dog feels, particularly if they appear suddenly or move quickly. Perhaps this is the same with ourselves? We can feel invisible in a crowd.

Reading the dog.

Because of how I set things up when I arrived, she was fine with me from the start. However, it was a bit different when I got up to go. I saw for myself just how easily Crumpet scares. She was sitting on the lady’s lap and I was now standing up. As I talked to the lady, standing quite close to her, I watched Crumpet. My nearness and the fact I was standing started her lip-licking and yawning. Then there was a little growl. All were clear signs that she was feeling very uncomfortable.

Had I not taken heed and backed away, no doubt next she would have rushed barking at me too.

Is she being protective? It’s possible. Whatever the reasons behind it, Crumpet should be helped in situations like this. This means learning to read her subtle signals, before it gets to the rushing and barking stage if possible. They should save her from any unwanted attention or increase distance.

She looks so gorgeous that she is a magnet for ‘dog-lovers’!

Sometimes Crumpet can cope better than at other times.

Crumpet is variable. There are occasions when she is less wary and reactive than others. This can only be to do with her own mental state at the time. The calmer, less-stressed and more confident she is in all aspects of her life, the better she will be able to cope with the things that scare her.

The nearer to home she is the more wary of people in particular she seems to be.

We will be concentrating on lowering her stress and excitement levels whilst also counter-conditioning her to things she’s wary of – people in particular – by building up positive associations and doing everything to keep her feeling safe. If she no longer sees people as a threat, then she has no need to feel protective – if protectiveness is part of it.

Crumpet is in such a frenzy of excitement before she even leaves the house, barking her way down the road. In this state one wouldn’t then expect a calm and considered reaction to anyone she might meet.

Progress is fastest when things are broken down into small steps.

The lady will work on getting through the door with a quiet dog! I have invented a sequence, like kind of game, involving waiting for quiet by a door, opening it, walking through with a quiet dog and returning again – over and over. Starting with inside doors, then the back door and finally the front door.

Next she will progress to walking Bracken quietly away from the door a small way before turning back – until they get to the end of the road.

I’m still puzzled by why Crumpet is so comfortable in the train! Possibly it’s because there is no territorial element.

The little dog who spooks at a rubbish bag appearing on the footpath is unfazed by the hiss of closing underground train doors. The dog who rushes at a person walking towards them in their own road is untroubled by people packed into a carriage.

We need to bottle this and take it home and to the office!

 

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 Crumpet 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 fear or aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

Feels Unsafe. Street Dog. Feral Dog

Feels unsafeNeo is still a street dog – still a street dog although living in a house. The fact he is living so well in a house is tribute to the hard work and research of his young owners.

He was picked up from the streets at a few months old with several siblings who bullied him. They reckoned the mother was more feral dog than street dog. Neo is now two-and-a-half.

The young couple had fostered dogs for a Hong Kong rescue. Neo had had several foster homes and, a nervous young dog, he wasn’t chosen for adoption.

They brought him home with them.

He is restless. He is ready to jump at any sound. When something passes the house it’s like he doesn’t dare bark. He huffs and his hackles rise.

Neo isn’t unfriendly but he doesn’t seem to bond in the way most domestic dogs do. At times he still seems afraid of his own humans. He is no way attention seeking – in fact, the roles are reversed – his young humans try to get his attention!

Outside and on lead he pulls in a kind of panic, darting about at anything that moves or rustles. They have worked hard at trying to get him to walk beside them, but he comes back only to dart forward again.

On high alert from the moment he leaves the house.

Most dogs that are reactive to things are more so when trapped on a lead. Neo will, for a short while anyway, have experienced freedom on the streets. He could keep his distance from things that scared him. He could hide. It’s understandable how he feels unsafe when trapped on a lead and to make it worse, they often use a retractable lead. This will always have tension.

Neo not only feels unsafe, he is also overwhelmed by too much sensory input/overload.

Each and every walk will be piling up the stress.

Most of the exercise that he does get, in the fields, doesn’t really have freedom. They dare not let him off lead (they will now ditch the retractable lead in favour of a loose long line). They do sometimes hire an enclosed field where he can run off lead. Perfect.

To make things even more difficult, Neo isn’t much interested in food at the best of times. He certainly won’t eat when out – he feels unsafe, on high alert, far over his arousal threshold.

Neo feels unsafe.

Feeling safe is the most important thing. Safety key to survival.

An important task now is to build up the value of food by both how they feed Neo and what they feed him. This should get him to eat better and also give them a valuable tool to work with when he’s ready.

Like most people, they worry about giving him sufficient exercise but they can’t stop him pulling. A frantic dog pulls. Only a relaxed dog mooches and sniffs.

Walks to Neo will be of feeling restricted, frustrated – and scared, particularly if they meet another dog, a person on a bike or a horse,  motorbikes and much more. Off lead he’s fine with other dogs. He can avoid them if he so wishes.

I suggest they forget about normal walks for now because conventional lead walks do no good at all to a dog that feels unsafe. They will work on Neo walking near to them on a loose and longish lead – not a retractable. They can follow him about. If the lead is attached to the front of the harness and hangs a bit loose, they will find he naturally follows them – so long as he’s not overwhelmed and feeling unsafe.

So, work starts at home and around the garden.

What can they do? 

Do Nothing!

This is what I suggest. After some loose lead work in the garden, go to the garden gate, open it and stand still for 5 minutes. Give him full length of the lead. It may be tight throughout – but do nothing. They could even take a chair! Eventually, however long it takes, the lead will lose its tension. He may begin to relax a tiny bit. To sniff. He may even show interest in some sprinkled food.

After several sessions of doing no more than this, they should find the lead takes less and less time to go slack.

Then they can take a few steps forward and repeat the process, being ready to retreat if necessary.

These two videos of Suzanne Clothier say it all: Feeling unsafe and Not DOING anything.

Eventually they will be able to help Neo with encountering dogs, men with hats, people on bikes and many more things. This is only possible from a basis where he can feel safe. For this they will need the food – and maybe something he finds fun. He feels too uneasy most of the time to find very much fun at all in anything (apart from playing with a couple of dogs he knows well).

This has taken a year already, and will take a lot longer. Things should now move slowly forward.

4 weeks: I just had to email to tell you I’ve had the most amazing walk with Neo. Distance wise we didn’t go far (about 5 houses down the road back and forth) but he didn’t pull once. I started handing out chicken breast behind my back freely and then moved on to rhythmically dropping it by my side as we walked. He didn’t pull once. He sniffed at a lampost and one hedge but apart from that, we may as well have been in the living room.  He was walking so well beside/ behind me. Also, a car pulled up unexpectedly and two people got out (about 6ft away from us), he looked at them and I handed him lots of chicken and then we just carried on walking away as if nothing had happened. We were out about 20 minutes and this has to be a record!!! I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Nearly 3 weeks: “… this morning as we did our sit in the drive, we’re up to walking in front of next door neighbour’s drive as well as our own doing our loose lead walking and he is staying next to me (mostly) doing my drunk walking and taking treats like it’s no one’s business. We then saw a man with two dogs about 200 yards away crossing the road. Neo saw them and watched them whilst gobbling his chicken from my hand. Success!!!…Thank you so  much, I finally feel like we’re getting somewhere. I feel like I needed your authorisation and knowledge to say that actually he doesn’t need to go for a walk everyday as I would have felt so guilty before. Reading about what dogs actually get out of a walk i.e. not really exercise if they’re on the lead, has taken away any guilt I felt.
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 Neo 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 fear 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)

Spooked. Suddenly Scared. On Constant High Alert

The dear little Lhasa Apso Jack Russell mix seems to have a near perfect life. Why is she so easily scared and spooked? They have had her since she was a puppy and she has always been nervous. It must surely be genetic.

Celeste is ‘living on the edge’.

The dear little five-year-old is very aware and alert. She’s ready to react at any little sound. Even animated voices at home or people moving calmly about can send her running for cover.

She gets easily spookedEvery day she is having to face ordeals that continually top up her stress levels. Things like traffic, particularly large or noisy vehicles, post coming through the door and even the smallest of bangs.

She may be walking along happily and then, with no warning, suddenly go into a panic – freeze or run. Nobody else can hear anything, but Celeste obviously has.

She will have heard something that their inferior human ears can’t hear.

Easily spooked by almost anything.

She needs a calmer general base level, I feel – to be less spooked in general. We looked at all aspects of her life, including her diet, to see ways in which we can encourage her to be a bit more relaxed. This will be like a jigsaw – every small bit that is put in should contribute to a calmer overall picture.

Celeste is currently walked on collar and lead. She may try to run when she is spooked. The tightening lead will without doubt cause her little neck discomfort. Because we want to associate things she is scared of with positive things that she likes, this will be doing the very opposite. They will now walk her on a harness.

Walks will be mostly near home for now, letting her do a lot of sniffing and allowing her to come straight back home if she is spooked.

Ignore what ‘people’ say!

If they want to go further, they can carry her. Why not? If she feels safe and comfortable being carried, then they should carry her. When all is quiet and she is relaxed, they can see if she would like to walk – being ready to rescue her instantly she is spooked.

If whilst carrying her, from her sanctuary in their arms she sees something that usually scares her, they can offer her food. The scary thing will now begin to trigger something she likes. If she’s not interested, they should first increase distance away from it.

Celeste will never change personality and be the most confident little dog, but I would predict, in time, that the length of time she’s happy walking on the ground will increase and she will become less easily spooked in general.

 

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 Celeste. 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 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).

Street Dog to Couch Potato. Still Fearful.

Gracie is a street dog from Hungary. The lady adopted the little black terrier ten months ago and has made terrific progress in transforming the truly terrified little dog into a dog that can cope better.

Coping is the word. She is still fearful of many things in the real world and runs to hide behind the lady at the smallest thing.

Time to start climbing up the second ladder.

She was a street dog form HunagryIt’s like the lady has climbed one long and steep ladder to the point they are now at and doesn’t know how to progress further. I am helping them onto the next ladder towards increasing Gracie’s confidence further and getting her to better accept certain things that make going out on the street a nightmare – like children, sudden sounds, balls and life outside the house in general.

It’s strange that a street dog should find the most scary things she meets out on the street. She is perfectly fine off lead in a field. She has shown her playful and carefree side when playing with her terrier friend and it would now be nice to see more of this.

Gracie is a gorgeous, gentle little dog who settled quickly and lay spread out on her back on the sofa beside the lady. When at home with nobody else about, she is a real couch potato.

The lady needs to wean her away a little from her over-dependence so she’s more able to stand on her own four feet! Being so dependent makes her vulnerable and it gives the lady no freedom. One exercise the lady will do, while Gracie is attached to her heels or under her feet, is to drop food and walk away. When the little dog catches up, repeat and so on – making a game of it.

We will deal with some of her fears, one at a time in an organised fashion, using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

Put very simply, desensitisation means plenty of exposure to the thing ex street dog Gracie is fearful of but at a comfortable distance and counter-conditioning means then, at that comfortable distance or intensity, adding something she likes (food).

Getting the little street dog used to our ‘real’ world.

Here are a few examples:

Outside her front door in the real world of people, children, traffic and sudden noises. They will take this in easy stages and be very patient. Slowly slowly catchee monkey! They will start by walking around the house until Gracie is happy and relaxed.

Next they will step outside the front door where, surprise surprise, Gracie will find the environment already laced with food! They can stand about. At anything scary, chicken will rain down from the sky (not from the lady – she needs to keep herself out of the picture). At the first sign of Gracie’s tail dropping they will go back in.

They will work on the parasol in the garden that blows in the wind, frightening Gracie.

They will work on children. She’s terrified of children. There are kids next door that they can work on. Children make a noise and ‘chicken rain’ falls. Starting indoors where Gracie feels safe, she will slowly work towards being outside in the garden with children noise from next door.

They will work on footballs. It’s hard not to encounter people kicking balls on their walks and Gracie is terrified of them.

The lady will get a football. Gracie will go into the garden to discover a ball already placed by the fence and she will discover food. When she’s okay with this, she will start going out to find the ball in different places. The lady can then just try putting her foot on it and moving it slightly, dropping food. Gradually build up to rolling it then gently kicking it…….and so on.

The plan must be fluid.

The plan should be fluid and may need to be adjust to keep within Gracie comfort threshold. Sometimes it will take longer and sometimes she will be a surprise and get over a fear quickly.

Her new life is a huge adjustment for a street dog, particularly one that has probably spent her puppy-hood on the streets undoubtedly in the company of other dogs.

They have both done very well so far. Now let’s push it forward a bit.

 

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 Gracie. 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 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).

Nervous Dog on Walks. Work Begins at Home

The story of Indie, a nervous dog I met yesterday, is a very common one. Her behaviour illustrates my belief that reactivity due to fearfulness out on walks has roots at home too.

Concentrating solely on walks is missing a big part of the picture.

nervous dogIndie is generally a nervous dog. She reacts when dogs get too near – but it’s not all dogs, not every time and not in every location. It’s variable. Near to her home she is worse.

On walks they will now do all the usual things that I advise.

However, a nervous dog that is fearfully reactive to other dogs on walks, is not fearful in a vacuum. It’s very seldom like a switch is flicked as soon as the dogs leaves the house, changing a calm, confident indoor dog to a nervous dog, jumpy that is wary out on walks.

We looked at her general stress levels. Each thing she is reactive to – and this can be over-excited or fearful – that sends her stress levels soaring.

This ‘trigger stacking’ is cumulative.

If her stress levels are near overflowing before even leaving the house, how will she cope when encountering another dog?

She has a routine ten-minute walk every morning and this is the most stressful walk of the day, the one when they meet the most dogs. This isn’t a good way to start her day. The stress that has managed to drain during the peaceful night will immediately be topped up again.

They will abandon that walk for now and Indie can go out in the garden. She has her main walk later in the day and that will be better controlled in order to help her.

If Indie is able to see passing dogs from windows or from the garden she will bark. She is rehearsing the behaviour they don’t want. What’s more, the passing dog will always move away so – success!

They will block her view where possible. They will help her out when she hears and barks at a barking dog, either the neghbour’s or a more distant dog, associating it with something she likes. She’s a Labrador so that will be food! (Spraying a nervous dog with water may scare her out of barking but will have the opposite effect to what they want).

At home the teenage daughter can be calmer with her, no more deliberately stirring her up because the dog seems to enjoy it. She will abandon rough and tumble type play and replace with more controlled play.

Even food can affect the dog’s mental state, so they will look into that too.

Recently there was a report about the link between some dogs going prematurely grey around the muzzle and hyperactivity or nervousness. Eight-year-old Indie’s muzzle started to go grey years ago.

 

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 Indie. 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. 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)

Settling In. Won’t Walk

Settling in somewhere so different can be overwhelming.

Poor Peggy. She had only been in her loving new home for a few weeks when her behaviour began to change.

This coincided with her sickening for a serious illness which they didn’t realise at the time. Having had her for such a short while they would not know what her normal behaviour would be when she’d finished settling in.

Miniature Schnauzer settling in to her new home

The four-year-old Miniature Schnauzer has had two litters of puppies and evidently, though kindly treated and with the company of a good number of other dogs, there are a lot of things in everyday life she’s had little experience of including dogs outside her own home.

It seems that walks had been very few and far between.

As soon as she arrived at her new home they took her out – as one does. Initially she was very quiet and compliant. Too quiet. She was, I’m sure, keeping her head down and overwhelmed.

Then, a great surprise to her new humans, she had run out of the front garden, barking ferociously and jumping at a passing small child – terrifying him.

She was now showing fear and reactivity to joggers, other dogs and people – particularly small dogs and children. Unsurprisingly bikes and wheellie bins her.

The man had very wisely sat on a bench away from the action to start desensitising her and was making a bit of progress. However, just sitting and watching is only half of the picture. Peggy needs counter-conditioning as well – pairing these things with something good (special food) from a comfortable distance – so she begins to feel better about them.

She was soon barking at things she heard from the house also, particularly distant dogs.

Then on walks and only a few yards from the house, she began to go on strike, sitting down and refusing to walk.

Then the illness broke out. The vet said she had a stomach bug already picked up by several dogs locally. She was very ill indeed and on a drip for several days. She returned home for a couple of days but had to be re-admitted and put back on the drip.

Poor Peggy. Poor Peggy’s new owners.

Now that she’s back home the problems that were emerging before are getting worse. Would this have happened anyway? Is it made worse by the ordeal she suffered within such a short time of such a major change to her life?

I personally feel this would be happening anyway.

Settling in can go through several phases that are impossible to predict.

It’s always best to go slowly. Too little is better than too much.

It’s tempting to think that if a dog refuses to walk that she is being ‘stubborn’. The gentleman has very kindly picked her up, carried her a little way and put her down again. It went like this all the way to the woods where she would then start to run about freely.

Is it that she doesn’t feel safe on the footpaths with houses and the possibility of encountering people, bikes and dogs?

I believe it’s a bit of this, but also she has quickly become very attached to the lady. I feel if the man takes her out she wants to get back to mum. She is much better when the lady takes her out but still is eager to get home. This is her new ‘safe place’.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I would always advise erring on the boring side. Forget about walks for the first week or two and then introduce them very gradually – particularly in the case of a shelter dog or a dog that’s not been out and about much. Just imagine how everyday things we ourselves don’t even notice are big and novel stimulants to the dog.

The man would really like Peggy to trot off lead beside him while he goes for a gentle run. There is a long way to go.

So, the first step is to get her out and about but in her own good time. It could possibly take weeks. Peggy will decide.

It’s very likely she quite enjoys being carried part of the way to the woods so possibly it’s being reinforced as well. Anyway, this is our initial plan – to be tweaked as necessary – and shows how with this sort of problem we need to be creative. The dog must feel she has freedom of choice even though we ourselves may be manipulating that choice. (I used to say to my children at bedtime when they were tiny, ‘do you want to walk or shall I carry you?’ Crafty!).

The man will put a longish line on the dog – they live in a quiet road with a field opposite. He will open the door and just let her have as much length as she wishes. If she walks he will follow her. Every now and then he will stop so it’s the dog that has to wait. This can often increase a desire in the dog to move on. He may call her back to him and reward her. They can repeat it.

If Peggy herself stops and sits down, she’s saying she doesn’t want to go any further. The man will turn around and go straight back indoors.

On the longer line she won’t feel trapped. There will no longer be any pressure in terms of cajoling or bribing to make her walk on. Left to choose for herself she will go when she’s ready. She shouldn’t really miss walks as she so seldom had them anyway.

Settling in (like breaking up, as the song says) is hard to do. Allowing the dog choice makes it easier for her. Here is a nice article ‘Should my Dog Have Choices‘ by Kristina Lotz.

 

 

A Huge Adjustment to a New Life

From streets of Romania to vet cage with Parvo.

Beautiful crossbreed Becca – with Labrador and Husky in the mix – started life as a puppy on the streets in Romania. At just a few weeks old she lost her mother and then she and her siblings caught Parvo. At just a few weeks old she spent too long alone in a cage at the vets.

Three puppies survived.

Their next big adjustment was to life in a Romanian shelter where she lived from seven weeks to seven months with her remaining siblings and other dogs..

A big adjustment for Romanian dog

Becca with her brother and sister

At seven months of age the three survivors were shipped over to a wonderful lady here in the UK who has a house full of dogs she’s helping.

This was another big adjustment at a sensitive stage of their lives. Becca lived there with her remaining siblings for two and a half years. It was her home.

Ten days ago, three-year-old Becca started what I’m sure will be her final big adjustment.

This has been the biggest adjustment of all. Never since when she was tiny and very ill with Parvo has she been without the company of several other dogs to back her up, including her brother and sister.

The lady had carefully prepared her for the big change, with several visits to the new house.

 

Then came the day she went home, leaving Becca behind.

Becca initially raced around the garden boundary looking to get out and found a way of opening the door into the porch.

She won’t eat.

She won’t toilet in the garden.

She’s waiting.

I would say she’s still waiting for the lady to return and take her back home to the other dogs. The several visits to wean her into her new life may have backfired a little because each had ended with her going back home.

Becca mostly lies quite still and quiet. It’s like she is being very careful. She only moves to follow someone – she doesn’t like to be alone. After all, she never has been alone. There’s always been all the other dogs.

She is more wary of the man.

When he stood up and moved about she was jumpy, tail between her legs but I could see she’d be friends if she dared. If the lady’s not at home she will follow him around. When he’s sitting still she relaxes with him.

Becca

I have given him some tips about his own body language that should help.

To date Becca has been walked around the garden on a retractable lead (they don’t trust the fence) and on a short lead when out.

To help her relax Becca needs to feel some freedom when she’s outside. The retractable being on a spring means she will always feel restricted.

I have shown them how to use a 30-foot long line without getting it all tangled. We walked around the garden and for a while Becca sniffed quite happily and ate some grass – doing relaxed doggy things.

Out on walks, being on a long line will mean she can have thirty or forty feet of freedom..

The couple will approach food differently now. As with an anorexic, pressure and persuasion can only make the matter worse.

I hope that after my visit they will now stop worrying so much. They will leave her be – to do things in her own good time.

She will come round, I’m sure.

I quote a colleague who works at a shelter: ‘On the first day it’s like they are running on adrenaline and then seem to crash. We give them their own space such as a crate, covered in a blanket, and let them do things in their own time…..Obviously if dogs are in urgent medical need we get them to the vet but everything else is left for a good week to two weeks until they start to unwind. We always say that they are either very good or at the other end of the scale shut down for 2-3 weeks, then you get all the unwanted behaviours appearing, then after that they start to adjust and this can take months or even years’.

From her past history I don’t believe there are any ‘unwanted behaviours’ to appear with Becca. I also think it will probably take just weeks rather than months for her to make the adjustment. She is a lot less fearful than Romanian street dog Adi I went to a while ago.

Soon Becca will be eating her food. Soon she will be sufficiently relaxed to do her business in the garden. She will have lovely long walks on the Heath.

The lady who took her in as a pup and where she has lived since, does a great job. She has trained a well-mannered dog that walks nicely on lead, doesn’t bark excessively, is never aggressive, will sit when asked and much more

Becca will be a great companion for her new humans. I have mainly backed up what the lady has already advised and given them added confidence that they just need patience, to ease off a bit – and to relax.

Too excited, over-aroused

Too excited, arousal and raised stress levels.

Some dogs and certain breeds of dogs, as we all know, are a lot more prone to being too excited than others (with many exceptions of course).

Jack Russell gets too excited

Jill

I went to the sweetest pair of Jack Russells yesterday – I’ll call them Jack and Jill. Jill is four years old and Jack eighteen months. We love our perky, bright and quick little dogs but because they are so reactive to things their stress levels easily rocket and this high state of arousal spreads tentacles that can adversely affect many areas of the dogs’ (and their owners’) lives.

A bit like the swan analogy of serene above water but paddling frantically underneath, even when dogs like this that get too excited appear peaceful or asleep, the adrenaline and arousal chemicals are still circulating inside their bodies.

It can take several days for the increased cortisone levels raised by a sudden shock or high excitement to fully go away but this will seldom happen because the next lot will come flooding in. It doesn’t take much to increase the heart rate of an already innately excitable dog – ball play, mail landing on the doormat,  encountering another dog when out or even someone dropping a spoon can trigger a flood of adrenaline and cortisone.

We obviously don’t want our dogs to be comatose, but continually being ‘too excited’ isn’t healthy either.

With Jack and Jill’s arousal levels lowered a bit, it will affect most areas of their lives.

JR who can be too excited, calm on his bed

Jack

When they are prevented from looking out of the front window, Jill in particular will no longer get into a barking frenzy when the children pass by on their way to and from school.

When upon coming home their humans allow the dogs to calm down before giving them too much fuss, Jack’s arousal levels will no longer drive him to leap about and grab hands.

When the key goes to unlock the back door, the dogs currently yo-yo up and down, barking and scratching the door, winding themselves up massively and ready to burst out. They no doubt believe their excitable behaviour actually causes the door to open. It will no longer happen.

When, on letting the dogs out, they attach a long lead to Jack for the first couple of minutes until his excitement abates a little, he won’t in an overflow of arousal redirect onto poor Jill who may then, equally wound up, snap at him.

By doing all they can to avoid the dogs getting too excited needlessly, they will help Jill to become generally calmer and less jumpy. She will be less fearful. Being less fearful, she will be more relaxed with people entering her house. Being less jumpy and fearful she will be less reactive to sudden sounds. She will bark less. Jack will bark less.

The dogs will gradually learn to calm themselves; they will work it out that calm now works best.

A calmer backdrop will in itself, over time, transform the walks for both Jack and Jill, and their humans. No longer will young Jack be so excited that he pulls in a barking frenzy as soon as he see another dog, joined by a hyped-up Jill who may then snap at him.

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 Jack and Jill. 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)