Emotional Barking. Window Barking. Barking on Walks

I have just been to two lovely little dogs, a Westie and a Miniature Pinscher.

Both bark in a frenzy when someone knocks on the door. Westie Jock barks non-stop when out on a walk.

I group barking roughly into four types – one when the dog simply wants something, another when the dog has been trained to ‘speak’.  Then there is barking in play. The fourth and most common type of barking that I go to help reduce is what you could call ’emotional barking’.

Barking – a symptom not the problem

Continue reading…

Distraction or Counter-Conditioning? Look – A Dog!

Distraction isn't helping Distraction is helpful if the dog is taken by surprise. Distraction however doesn’t help him to cope with the appearance of another dog.

Oaky is a sensitive little Border Terrier. He has lived with the lady for a couple of years and not too much is known about his past. A perfect dog in his loving home, the lady isn’t enjoying her walks with him due to his barking and pulling towards any other dog he sees.

Anxious and embarrassed

Oaky wears a half-check collar. The lady pulls him to the side and holds onto him tightly as the dog passes. She may say ‘Watch Me’ as a distraction. She admits to feeling both anxious and embarrassed; he will doubtless feel this down the lead to his sensitive neck. Continue reading…

Scared Dog Indoors

Poor Boris looked uneasy all the time.

His family, unable to read his subtle signals just hadn’t realised how his uneasiness went a lot further than the problem I was there for – his fear of going near particular pieces of furniture and on certain routes through the house.

When they first adopted him a month ago he was very reluctant to enter the house at all.

He may be a very scared dog indoors, but outside Boris is a different dog. He loves to be outside in the garden.

The three-year-old Labrador Boxer mix has now landed on his feet with a couple, their two young daughters and a lovely home.

As soon as I arrived, the young girls cuddled and fussed him, probably for my benefit. Neither they nor mum could see that with his looking away, lip licking and even freezing he wasn’t enjoying it at all. He was wagging his tail, but taken in context this was more in appeasement than joy. Then Dad arrived home and welcomed him with rather vigorous stroking and again he looked away and licked his lips. I would say he was simply enduring the fuss.

Boris sleeps and eats in a utility room at the back of the house, but won’t go through the kitchen and down a short passage to get in there. He will only walk around the outside of the house and in the back door.

We sat in the kitchen – another room where he’s not happy – and because we were all there he did venture in. As he crept through the door, warily, he wouldn’t turn around but would then back out again. Reading him, he seemed to want the company without the fussing. He eventually quietly sat between the gentleman and the lady, away from me, but his eyes were constantly darting.

Each doorway or corner to another area seems to hold terror for Boris.

His behaviour looks to me very much like that of a dog that has been punished by someone unpredictable, not knowing when something might happen and why, which may tie in with what is known of his past. His body language and the backing away is symptomatic of the use of a remote-controlled electric shock collar – a beep comes out of the blue to the dog followed by a zap if he doesn’t comply. Possibly as a puppy he had been shocked to stop him chewing furniture or zapped for going into forbidden areas.

I usually avoid conjecture but want to explain what it looks like. One can only guess and the past is the past, but his behaviour is typical of fallout from the use of excessive or unpredictable punishment of some sort. Whatever it was will only ever have happened has caused  indoors which would explain why he’s so much more comfortable outside.

His new family’s kindness and wish to make him happy has resulted in rather a lot of added pressure on him. The enticing in an excited voice to encourage him out of his room and through the passageway is making things worse as is too much fussing in general. We listed the things where he may be feeling pressure, and they need working on.

When nobody is about he has, on a couple of occasions, ventured out of his room and they have found him at the front door when they arrived home. He has never, though, gone back into his room from indoors.

That route from hall to his back room needs ‘exorcising’. I have suggested they lace the area, starting near the door where he’s least wary, with his favourite food chopped up small. They should scatter it there with him out of the way and then leave him to discover it, always with an escape route back into the hall. This way it is the room and the floor that is offering him the food, not his humans using bribery. (See more about Sprinkles TM here).

Eventually, if taken gradually enough, they should be able to lay a trail down that passage so long as they themselves keep out of the way.

If this psychological approach is very slow, then we have another tack using clicker training – a way in which he won’t suspect that he’s being lured into ‘danger’.

Boris’ body language must be respected and I have sent a couple of excellent videos for the children to watch – mum and dad too, helping them to read dogs. As little pressure as possible should be put on him while he builds up trust in humans and in the safety of his environment. This will take time because things that may have happened to him at a young age will be fairly well implanted in him now. There may be a genetic element to this, but I’m am pretty sure that humans have not always been nice to him. It’s a big tribute to his lovely nature that it’s not resulted in aggression.

Feeling unsafe overwhelms everything else. It’s a survival thing. An animal that feels unsafe won’t even eat. Changing this is a priority. Over time he should be getting his trust back in humans.

In some areas they have already made some great progress in the month he’s been with them.

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)

Little Dogs. Treat as Big Dogs?

Most people who choose little dogs treat them very differently to how people usually treat bigger dogs, carrying them everywhere and keeping them closely on lead – but not so the couple I went to last night.

Daisy

Daisy

Little dogs are ‘proper dogs’.

Their two little dogs, tiny Chihuahua Jack Russell mixes, have deliberately been given the same ‘proper dog’ life as larger dogs in every way possible.

Surrounded by love and care, they have been kindly trained to do the important things like come back when called and to wait. Twice a day the lady takes them somewhere by car so they can run free. The little dogs are seldom carried.

Although both Daisy and Poppy are fourteen months of age, they came from different places. Poppy, the smaller of the two, is much more robust mentally. Daisy is more nervous, easily upset, and it’s for her that I was called out.

Both little dogs get on very well apart from the occasional pop when Daisy gets over-aroused and redirects onto Poppy. Daisy’s general arousal and stress levels are something we will be working on.

They called me in with the aim for Daisy ‘not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’.

Why should little dogs not object to their personal space being invaded?

Upon discussion, I feel that it is totally acceptable for Daisy to tell another dog – a dog that will probably be a lot larger than herself – to keep its distance. She ignores dogs unless they are in her face, it’s the same with young children, and that is the end game many people would be happy to achieve.

This is where treating little dogs exactly the same as big dogs falls down.

Little dogs and big dogs aren’t the same. Little dogs are a lot more vulnerable. Just imagine what the world and other dogs must look like through their eyes! Anything approaching would loom. Just imagine also how little dogs may appear to a big dog, particularly a dog of a hunting breed.

Twice a day the two little dogs are taken, by car, to a large open park or to the woods. Both come back when called and, always off lead, they have plenty of freedom. Daisy in particular stays close. Of late, the more nervous Daisy has shown reluctance to go for the second walk but that’s okay, the lady allows her choice – she also allows her choice if she doesn’t want to get out of the car the other end. I love that, but why the reluctance in the first place?

I’m sure Daisy is torn between loving the walk and feeling unsafe. Once a day is enough for her at present.

If the lady is anywhere she can’t see other dogs coming, she is taking a risk.

Little dogs on the beach

On the beach

A short while ago the two little dogs were chased by a Rottweiler and another big dog that suddenly appeared out of the trees. The Rottie was after the braver Poppy who, when she eventually came back, leapt into the lady’s arms terrified, urinating and shaking. She may have been lucky.

They talked to their vet about Daisy’s attitude to other dogs. The advice given? Not to pick her up because she may then become protective of the lady!

How ridiculous in this context.

Just as behaviourists are not vets and I would always refer for anything medical, few vets are experienced, up-to-date behaviourists and often give outdated advice or may not have had time to see the whole picture.

The two aspects we are concentrating on are Daisy’s general stress levels and confidence, and making sure she feels safe on walks. This means doing things just a bit differently. It means choosing locations carefully.

Making sure the little dogs not only feel safe on walks but are actually safer too means regularly calling them back even if there is no other dog about so the two things are not associated. It means regularly picking one or other dog up and getting her used to being carried for a short distance, regardless of the approach of another dog.crisis. Why?

Little dogs simply are not big dogs and they have to be protected

The owner needs to be the little dogs’ safety net and trusted always to keep them safe. If, then, a big dog approaches, Daisy can opt to jump into the lady’s arms – better than simply scooping her up unless in emergency. If she knows she has backup, she may feel less need to defend herself anyway.

Little dogs in the mirror

Who are those dogs in the mirror?

See this lovely video ‘Small Dog Syndrome‘ from Steve Mann with his own little dog, a Chihuahua.

The lady will watch Daisy’s body language carefully and keep sufficient distance between her and other dogs. She can be assertive with other owners and parents of young children. She already has a yellow top for herself that says ‘My dog needs space’. I suggest one for Daisy too – ‘I need space’.

If the other dog leaves her alone, Daisy is chilled. She can even sit within a couple of feet of a dog she doesn’t know if the lady stops to chat, so long as it leaves her alone. What more can we ask for?

Would we like a giant stranger looming over us and putting his scary face right into our own? No. He would deserve a complaint if not a slap. We ask a lot of our dogs.

So, we have changed the aim of my visit from ‘For Daisy not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’ to ‘Helping Daisy to feel safe when other dogs get too close’.

Little Daisy will then trust the lady to keep her safe and I’m sure she will soon be happily choosing to go out for the second walk.

 

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 the little dogs Daisy and Poppy 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. 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)

Terrified Outside Their Home

Two cavalier king charles spaniels

Ben and Evan

The two five-year-old Cavs had been left in a garden in London and not taken outside for a long time, if at all. They were picked up in an unkempt condition and with very long nails.

Amazingly, they are very friendly with all people and dogs so long as it’s in their own home and garden where they feel safe, but once a lead goes on them and they know they are going out of the gate, they become different dogs. Excitement doesn’t necessarily mean happiness, which is something dog owners don’t always realise. The two are walked down the road together, squealing and yapping, and to quote the lady, all hell breaks loose if they see another dog.

Their new humans, wanting to do all they can for the little dogs, have cast about to find ways to solve the problem. The first thing people often try is dog training and they have been going to classes but find that ‘training’ doesn’t help at all. At their wits’ end, they have tried anti-bark collars to make them quiet. Nothing works.

Nothing is working because they have not been addressing the cause, the root, of the problem. Terror. They are just trying to eradicate the symptom – the noise. Like many people, they simply hadn’t correctly interpreted from the dogs’ body language and stress signals just how scared they were feeling.

Although happy little dogs in the house, because they are so terrified outside the daily build-up of stress generated by walks is spilling over into other habits, things they do in order to relieve their stress such as licking and sucking themselves until they are raw.

One at a time we put a comfortable harness on each little dog (with the short leads on thin collars, when they do lunge at anything that scares them it will be hurting their little necks). We first took Lenny outside into the garden so I could show the lady how to walk him on a loose, longer lead giving him the feeling of more freedom. Being less ‘trapped’ should eventually allow him to feel less unsafe..

Before even leaving the garden Lenny was panting and agitated, frequently shaking himself and scratching as a displacement activity to help himself cope. He did calm down sufficiently to follow the lady around on the loose lead and for us to open the gate and walk him out into the garage area.

We got to the opening and then he saw a cat. He exploded. It sounded like he was being murdered. It was perfectly clear to me that even just past the garage we had pushed too far too fast, but now I had seen and heard for myself just what happened and we had established the ‘threshold’ at which we should have stopped – the area behind which the real work would now need to start.

Little Evan was even worse. As soon as the lead went on in the garden he was nervous wreck. He screamed. He bit at the lead. To try to stop these things they tug back at the lead and scold him but he’s so agitated he really can’t help himself. I showed them how to stand still and calm and to reinforce not screaming and not biting the lead. He quietened down a bit and walked around the garden a few times, but we never even got out of the gate.

Evan ended up by sitting down, refusing to move and shaking, so we took the lead off and went in.

The poor little dog is in this state before a walk even starts, so no wonder he is hyper-vigilant and reactive once out. A dog with this level of stress is incapable of learning anything – it does things to the brain. See this.

The cornerstone to their success will be to give their little dogs choice and a way out – an escape. If the dog doesn’t want to move, then the walk should be abandoned.

The lady’s day starts with about half an hour of mayhem as she walks the dogs together before going to work. It’s a nightmare for her too, but she does it as a caring dog owner believing that she’s doing her best for them. She hadn’t seen that where they are concerned this sort of walk is doing more harm than good. A walk should leave a dog happy, relaxed and satisfied, not a nervous wreck needing frantic activity afterwards in order to unwind.

Plenty of happy, short five-minutes sessions is what these little dogs need for now. With lots of repetition and keeping well within the threshold where they feel safe, they can slowly  become acclimatised to the outside world at their own pace. It will be great when they at last feel sufficiently safe to start sniffing as dogs should do. They should always feel they have an escape route. So far they have in effect been ‘flooded’ – with the best of intentions forced into a situation they can’t cope with.

We can’t undo five years in five weeks or probably even five months. It will take time.

Our little experiment with each dog showed the people just how slowly they will have to take things and in what tiny increments, but it’s encouraging, too, because at last they have a plan to work on that makes sense and is kind.

It will all now need some really careful planning. They will have a routine for getting the dogs out one at a time with as little stress as possible. Although walks are an ordeal, neither dog wants to be left behind. I feel they should always go out in the same order so they learn just what to expect and the second one out always knows his turn will come.

There is one big positive. This is that they Lenny and Evan are fine when other dogs have come to their house, proving they are not scared of dogs per se but only when they are feeling unsafe in the scary outside world and trapped on the end of a lead.

Feedback nearly three weeks later: I feel that the boys have made sooooo much progress already, I know its a slow progress and I have all the patience in the world….but to date, I am very happy. We have been able to move to full round the block walks with both of them quiet and they are indications that they are enjoying it too. They are starting to sniff a lot. Alfie sniffs more than bert, bert is watches me.
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 these two. 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).