People Walking Away, the Dog Attacks

People walking away from him causes Barney to lose it.

Barney’s lady owner had been so sure that due to his odd behaviour he had something either wrong with his brain or a chemical imbalance in his body, that he has undergone extensive tests including an MRI scan. All is clear.

People walking away from him cause Harvey to attack them

Harvey

His behaviour however is troubling. I suspect this is because he himself is troubled – an upsetting thought for his dedicated lady owner.

Six-year-old Hungarian Vizsla Barney is very well-trained as a gun dog, but training alone doesn’t make a well-adjusted and happy dog. In fact, I have been to dogs where the opposite is the case. Sometimes the owners just try too hard.

The lady is an exceptionally conscientious dog owner and has structured her life around Barney. They have been more or less inseparable for the past four years. He has always been panicked by his people walking away so she has avoided it as much as she can.

People walking away from Barney triggers an attack. One can safely assume this is in an effort to prevent them from leaving.

When they shut the boot of the car and walk away, even if only to go to the driver’s door, Barney goes wild with barking and panic. The whole car rocks.

Recently the lady has gone back to work full time and Barney is getting worse.

He does other odd things. Each evening he will have a lengthy bout of staring and fixating at the garden window, drooling. He will then do the same to his humans. They don’t let him out, they ignore it believing it to be the right thing to do. It’s almost like a contest where he must not win.

If a child were behaving in this troubled fashion, the parents would help him out. If they don’t want the dog to rush out barking at pigeons or trying to kill a hedgehog (he has come back in covered in blood), they can call him away and do something else with him. Currently he’s so fixated he may not even be aware of them calling, but fortunately he’s food driven and we found when I was there that it was easy to get his attention with food.

Having called him away, they can give him something else to do, incompatible with his obsessing. They will cover the lower part of the windows.

The ordeal of going out

At present when they need to go out they have a ritual. Amazingly, having watched the picking up of keys and all the other signals that they are about to go and when the front door is opened, Barney has been successfully taught to go to his bed in the sitting room. They then go back and give him a carrot (the one time when food is used to motivate him) and rush out of the room and out of the front door.

However, if he finishes the carrot before they are out of the door they have to try again.

For now the problem can be temporarily managed by the use of a gate in the sitting room doorway. They can also make the carrot-eating slower by stuffing it into a Kong.

For Barney’s mental health and general stress levels the panic and emotions that drive him to behave like this need to be worked on, slowly and gradually, desensitising and counter-conditioning until he accepts and ultimately even enjoys people walking away.

They believe he is fine once they have gone, but I’m not convinced and have asked them to video the first fifteen minutes or so. A dog walker calls daily and he’s the same with her when she goes.

‘Operation Calm’

Life must be a bit confusing for the highly-strung dog. He is ruled by commands whilst at the same time being worshipped. I would reverse both. I would work on motivating him by using food so he makes more of his own choices with fewer commands, and I would advise worshipping him less!

Humans relax. Stop watching and worrying over him.

He was beside me staring out of the window. He lay down, still staring. Then his head dropped onto his bed. I silently fed him. Each time he relaxed I did this. He now needs positive guidance into how to relax.

I’m sure the very caring lady will herself also feel a big sense of release and relief if she can let go a bit and stop worrying so much. Instead of stressing because Barney is stressing, they can work on Operation Calm, silently feeding when he relaxes and settles. They will give him activities that will help him to calm himself down including chewing and foraging. He has three walks a day – could this actually be too much?

I am sure that if they now use motivation and food and work hard at teaching him that people walking away from him results in him getting something nice – and that they always come back – they won’t need that gate in the doorway for ever. Here is a great little video about motivation.

One strong influence is the lady’s following of breed-specific Facebook groups which has coloured her life with Barney. These groups spread the idea that a Vizsla isn’t the same as other dogs, like it’s a different species. Individuals in these groups can give mis-information and outdated training advice still unfortunately prevalent in the gun dog world.

Primarily Barney is an animal. Secondarily he’s a dog. The fact he’s a Vizsla and a gun dog doesn’t affect the basic principals of behaviour, that positive reinforcement teaches a dog what we want in a way that is most successful both in terms of him understanding what is wanted and in his feeling of fulfillment.

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 Barney 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)

Start Off Right With New Puppy

I have just been to a divine ten-week-old Sprocker puppy. The picture doesn’t show how little Digby is.Ten week old new puppy, a Sprocker

They have had him for five days now and have signed up for my Puppy Parenting plan, wanting to get things right from the start with their new puppy, pre-empting as far as is possible any future problems and starting on basic training.

This was my first visit, to set things up.

Already he is nearly house trained with just the occasional accident. They are carrying him outside each time having read somewhere that that’s what they should do. This seems strange to me. If the puppy walks then he will learn the route and routine a lot more quickly and to stand at that door if it’s shut and he wants to go out.

We went through each area of his life to make sure things go off to the best start.

They have chosen to crate train him and he is quite happy to be left alone for short periods, so separation issues later on are unlikely.

Having spoken to me on the phone, they are now upping their socialisation of Digby and acclimatisation to things such as traffic, noises, people of all sorts and ages, other dogs, the car and so on – within the restrictions of being unable to put him down until his injections are finished. He seems a stable and fearless pup.

One thing people do find hard is not to over-excite a puppy when they come home or when friends first meet him.  Another thing that can seem unnatural to people is to constantly be carrying food around with them! Teaching a puppy the behaviours we want using food is so much more effective that trying to teach a puppy what we don’t want using ‘No’ – and a lot kinder too.

Environmental adjustments need to be made for a while – chewable or eatable things removed and maybe people wearing shoes rather than just socks – there is nothing more fun to chase and chew than a socked foot attached to a human who gets excited or shouts ‘No’ when they feel his little teeth!

Most puppies have a ‘bonkers half hour’ and Digby’s seems to be in the morning. I find evening more usual. A puppy may suddenly start to race around like a little tornado, and as he or she gets bigger things can go flying and people may be nipped! The bottled up energy or maybe stress needs to vent somehow and I suggest a carton containing rubbish that he can wreck and things he can chew along with bits of food to forage for.

We looked at the best way to teach Digby ‘Sit’ for starters, more things when he’s fully settled. I don’t like the word ‘command’. I prefer ‘cue’. I showed the lady how to do a little walking around the house with Digby beside her, off lead to start with.

Amongst other things we can pre-empt are any resource guarding behaviours by always doing an exchange and teaching Give from the start. Then the rewarding fun doesn’t come from the chase and eventual scariness of being cornered as the item is forced from the puppy’s mouth.

The gentleman, like many people, may find it a challenge to avoid telling the puppy ‘No’. How else will he learn what’s wrong? There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to a puppy of course. There are things that make him feel good, things that are boring, and things that make him feel bad. Digby will be exploring his new environment, licking this, chewing that, running about, and then suddenly a loud male human loudly says NO. He may stop in his tracks but I doubt he will know what he’s done that has made his human bark at him.

Some things he can chew, some things he can’t?

It’s so much better to call him away and give him something that he is allowed to chew instead.

Too much ‘No’ can result in a new puppy becoming confused or defiant – or maybe frightened. Digby seems a well-rounded little character and his family are determined to do everything right for him, so thankfully that won’t happen in his case.

 

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 – general puppy parenting in this case. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may well be different to the approach I have worked out for Digby. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can cause confusion. 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 puppy (see myGet Help page).