Head Halter. Restricted. Uncomfortable.

Beautiful Golden Retriever, Monty, really is the perfect family pet despite having a sad start to life. He’s now five.

reactive to dogs when on lead with head halterMy visit was triggered by his attacking another dog on a walk a short while ago.

It was so uncharacteristic that, from hearing all the circumstances before and during the event, I come to the conclusion that it was due to a build up of arousal – including excitement.

Trigger stacking‘.

Without going into the exact circumstances, things probably came to a head and a fairly minor thing was the last straw. This resulted in Monty attacking a dog and injuring his ear. They want to make sure this never happens again, so they contacted me.

Head halter. Restricted and uncomfortable.

Monty is absolutely fine with all other dogs when he is off lead, which is much of the time.

When he’s on lead however it can be a different matter. He wears a head halter which he hates but he’s a big dog and he pulls. The lead is held tight, especially when they approach another dog.

He feels uncomfortable, trapped and understandably on the defensive when another dog barks at him.

Off lead he’s fine, free to avoid anything that worries him.

Actually he’s fine with most dogs even when on lead. The dogs he reacts to with lunging and barking are those who themselves are reactive.

Many walks start with Monty having to run the gauntlet of two or three barking dogs behind gates. He is held tight and walked on, experiencing discomfort from the head halter.

His stress levels will already be rising.

Added to this, at home he can hear a couple of these same dogs from his garden and will bark at them.

This reactivity is undoubtedly due to fear or at least his feeling acutely uncomfortable and vulnerable with proximity to certain dogs.

From now on Monty should have no more opportunity to rehearse barking at dogs he hears, so garden access will be controlled while they work on it. Dogs he’s uncomfortable with will now be associated with good stuff at a distance he can cope with.

Walking comfortably on loose lead from a harness rather than head halter means that Monty will feel less restricted. Already he should feel a lot more confident when encountering those other dogs.

Starting at home where there are few distractions.

We all walked him around the garden on a Perfect Fit harness, loose lead hanging from the front. The idea is for him to learn to walk near them wherever they want to go, like there is no lead at all.

Loose lead walking work will start in the house and garden where there are few distractions.

Soon Monty will get back to walking down the road, but on a loose lead. There should be no more walking past the barking dogs behind gates until he is ready. A comfortable distance from them can always be achieved even if they have to turn around and go back the way they came.

It may be necessary to pop him in the car for now for the five minute walk to where he can be let off lead.

The problem seems fairly straightforward. They will give Monty the feeling of freedom and not force him out of his comfort threshold where proximity to other dogs is concerned.

At this distance they will work hard at getting him to feel differently about those reactive dogs that may be barking and upsetting him. They will teach him what to do, rather than what not to do.

I hate to see frustrated and uncomfortable dogs trying to rub a head halter off on the ground. Without the need for one anymore, I’m sure walks will be transformed for the otherwise perfect Monty, and for anyone walking him.

 

Stops and Sits. Rolls Onto her Back. Won’t Move

The young Golden Retriever stops on walks.

She sits. She won’t move. When they go to get her, she rolls onto her back.

on the way home she simply stopsThe people I went to see yesterday have just emailed me with something different (Goldie is wary of new things). Their neighbour has had a trampoline erected in their back garden today. Goldie is barking at it – it’s something new that she can see.

The lady has been going out with food and the clicker. She is clicking and rewarding many times while Goldie is being quiet but clearly aware of the trampoline.

I replied, ‘Clicking for quiet is a good way to deal with the trampoline. You are ‘training’ her to be quiet. However, a better way would be to deal with the problem at source –  changing how she feels about it. This would involve, with every look at the trampoline whether she is barking or not, chucking food on the ground or feeding Goldie.’

The case of Goldie going on strike is puzzling.

Since she first went out at three months of age she would sit down and refuse to move. She was little so they were able to pick her up. Now she’s a fully grown Golden Retriever it’s not possible anymore to lift her when she stops.

I would like to deal with this at source too – but where does it come from?

There are a few facts: It’s always on the way home that she stops – after exercise. She has an uncanny sense of knowing when they are on the return journey home or to the car. Putting the lead on at random and going a different way doesn’t fool her.

Her ears go back and, from the sound of it, I would interpret this as looking scared or wary. Why would this be? The rolling onto her back could well be to appease. I’m assured she’s never been punished for it though there has been a lot of enticing and bribing and exasperation for sure.

Goldie is fourteen months old so it will now be well ingrained behaviour – a default response when she feels a certain way.

What way is she’s feeling, though?

The other day things took a turn for the worse. She had sat down and as usual rolled over onto her back, making it difficult to get her up. The lady grabbed her harness to try to make her move.

Suddenly Goldie leapt up and at the woman’s face.

Mouth open. Snarling.

It’s happened two or three times within the past few days. The lady is very upset and scared to walk her now.

Why is it Goldie has, since she first went out, stopped and refused to move? We considered various possibilities:

  • She stops because she doesn’t want to go home (that doesn’t work because she always does go home).
  • Or she stops because, when small, she was picked up and carried and she liked it.
  • She stops because it gives her attention.
  • Or she stops because the arousal previously created in her system from her walk has been too much for her.
  • She stops because after exercise she may be uncomfortable in some way.

Each time the only result it’s generated for her is to be made to move.

Recently Goldie has started to do other things she used not to do. She has begun to dig in the garden and to hump the lady. She is whining in the night.

She was spayed shortly before these things started. Could there be a connection? They visit their vet next week who can check.

In the context of the past few weeks there are indications that she has, for some reason, been more stressed in general. She’s a sensitive dog. Something has recently pushed her over the edge. To quote the lady, she’s flipped.

Either Goldie has been unable to handle the frustration of the walk coming to an end and has lost her temper. This is what the owners assume and is very likely.

Or, just possibly, instead of not wanting something to stop (the walk), she doesn’t want something to start (going home) and it’s scaring her.

Her stress levels could come from unexpected quarters, both at home and when out. They could include the fallout from extreme exercise – running free and hunting, being restrained, being forced to do something against her will. Many little things could contribute to the build-up. She doesn’t like the sound of metal on metal, for instance.

Although I can so far only guess at the cause, we can create a plan that should be appropriate anyway.

Our plan uses stress-reduction as a basis to work on, along with relationship building.

We’ll focus on the walker being much more motivating and rewarding.

If she wants to be with her humans more than anything else, then she should want to continue walking with them.

Walks will be done a bit differently in order to try to interrupt the learned sequence.

They will do lots of work walking back and forth near to the house, loose lead, making it fun and with bits of her meal dropped from time to time – but only when in the direction of home. The same thing can then be done on a long line in open places.

The parallel with my trampoline advice is this:

It may be possible to train her to get up and move if they had sufficient time, using a clicker and rewarding. They would need to click and reward every small movement like rolling onto her front, sitting up, then looking ahead, then sitting higher and then standing – then taking a step and so on. This could take much too long in the middle of a field in the dark or on a busy pavement!

However, if they can stop her feeling she needs to sit, roll over and go on strike and prefer to keep walking, they will have dealt with the problem at source.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Goldie and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

 

Jumps Up and Mouths. ‘No’ and ‘Down’ Fail.

She jumps up and she mouths.

Golden Retriever Tilly, at ten months old, has had a good eight months honing her jumping up skills!

Golden jumps up at peopleShe grabs clothes too when really aroused. She was a challenging puppy from the start and they have come a long way with her.

Stopping her excited jumping up at everyone she meets and gaining some self-control are the two things they still need.

Tilly jumps up at her family, but most of all she jumps up at people she’s not met before or friends.

Her family consists of a couple with their three adult sons.

That’s five humans to confuse her!

She jumps up to say hello in the morning and is fussed. She is given attention when she jumps up at the gate.

When someone comes to the house she will be at the door. She jumps up. Then she is told to get down and may even be shouted at, ‘No!’. They may hang onto her collar.

She likes to jump on sitting people also, so if its visitors her people will be nagging her all the time while at other times letting her have her feet on themselves. I had asked them just to leave her to to do her worst when I came because I can deal with it and they can watch. They found that hard.

Dogs greet face to face.

It’s natural for Tilly to want to get higher, so one way they could reward her for keeping her feet on the floor would be to lower themselves.

They consulted a trainer who said to put an electric collar on her and zap her immediately she jumps up. This is no different to shouting ‘No!’ and with pain added (fortunately they didn’t do this).

As the lady said to me, they want a friendly dog that likes people but they just don’t want her jumping up at them. If Tilly’s efforts to be friendly are associated with pain, it wouldn’t take long for her friendly feelings to turn to fear or even aggression.

Walks with a dog that jumps up at everyone can be difficult. Tilly sees a person approaching and, if on lead, she suddenly jumps up at them as they pass. Off lead she goes deaf to recall if she sees a person. She’s a lot more chilled with dogs than with people.

The people they meet themselves don’t help of course! Most simply can’t resist a beautiful, young Golden Retriever.

I sense that although she is very friendly, this may also mask a bit of anxiety. A stranger approaching can’t surely be solely a matter for joy. Possibly she wants to check them out too.

‘Surely I should expect obedience simply because I’m the boss.’

Having taken old-school advice, this is what the gentleman has believed.

Throughout the time I was there I continually showed Tilly what I did want. I didn’t do it by behaving like a ‘boss’.  I got the people to refrain from any commands and scolding and dealt with the jumping by looking away and waiting, folding my arms because of the mouthing also.

Then I concentrated on reinforcing the behaviour I wanted. Feet on the floor. I gave her the attention she wanted. She chose to sit, I clicked and rewarded her.

They want her to be generally more biddable but are so far missing their trump card – FOOD. What’s wrong with her earning some of her daily food quota?

Not using positive reinforcement is like being expected to work without payment. ‘Will I need to keep feeding her always?’, the man asked. My reply is, yes, most of the time. ‘Because you yourself are good at your job, should your boss now stop paying you?’.

When a dog jumps up, most people do the very opposite of what they should do. They look at her, they tell her to get down and they push her away. Bingo. She gets their full attention. Okay, she may get down, but she for sure will use the same trick for getting attention next time.

NOT jumping up simply needs to be the most rewarding thing.

The dog needs to realise that NOT jumping up is what’s required. I’m sure that few jumpers have been properly shown this.

General excitement is driving the behaviour. There are many ways in which they can reduce her stress levels that will help. One is changing her diet. Another is walking on a loose lead. She would then be a lot calmer when encountering a person when out.

I had her walking around the house beside me with no lead. That’s how it should feel when the lead is loose. It’s not a restraint – it’s merely there for safety. It was easy for me because, unlike them, I used rewards for the behaviour I wanted. I had already built a relationship with her, based on understanding, from the moment I walked in the door.

When Tilly now meets someone on a walk, so long as my strategies are adhered to consistently and by everyone, she will get out of the habit of jumping up at everyone.

Scolding and commands can only add to her frustration and stress. This leads to the mouthing and grabbing clothes. Praise and being shown what to do instead should result in a much better-mannered dog.

With no reinforcement or acknowledgement when she jumps up, she needs the ‘attention vacuum’ filled with more useful activities like brain work, hunting and training games.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tilly. 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 do.
Golden Retriever is happy

To Stop Barking When Left Alone

The lady called me because she wanted her beautiful eight-year-old Golden Retriever, Harvey, to ‘stop barking’ when she goes out. One friend suggested she tried an ultrasonic sound device (he ignores it) and another a muzzle to keep his mouth shut.

It’s not gaLoving look from Goldiedgets that are needed, but time and patience. Harvey’s barking needs to be looked at in a completely different way. Stop barking? The distress that is causing the barking needs to be addressed. The actual barking itself isn’t the problem (though it may be so for the neighbours).

Harvey is the most friendly, stable and well-adjusted dog you could want to meet in every respect apart from his fear of being parted from the lady. As a young dog he had been more or less abandoned, underfed and neglected, so it’s a big tribute to her care and love for him. He really is the perfect companion for her. On the right he is looking adoringly up at her (and she was eating a biscuit too!).

It seems that it’s not so much a fear of being left alone itself as a fear of losing the lady. Although he was very friendly with me, he became anxious within a few seconds when she walked out of the room and shut the door, as you can see on the left. It’s very possible that he feels he should be lookAnxious aloneing after her as she has a medical condition that he will pick up on.

He will certainly sense her emotions when she has to leave him, never for more than two or three hours, and that will merely add to his distress because he can’t possibly realise the reason she herself feels anxious – and guilty.

In addition to desensitising Harvey to being away from her and counter-conditioning him to feel her departures are nothing to worry about, the lady herself can change a few other things that will help. If she can behave in some respects a little more like ‘guardian’ in terms of who protects whom in particular. She can then come and go as she pleases without being accountable to Harvey. Departures should be breezy, happy and good news. Coming back home should be boring and no big deal. At the moment it’s the opposite.

The desensitising requires a huge number of comings and goings, starting with duration and places that are very easy for Harvey and gradually ramping it up, over a period of probably many weeks. The counter-conditioning, at the same time, should gradually have him feeling happy when left rather than distressed.

The lady is prepared to ‘give it a go’. She will ‘try’. I have found that the people who succeed are those who stick at it until they do succeed for however long it takes – and don’t give up after giving it a try if things don’t show much improvement after just two or three weeks, as proved by another lady and her dog who I went to quite recently – read here.

Four weeks have gone by and the slow approach is working.  ‘I feel we are getting on slowly but well. Harvey can be left happily for about ten minutes now and went to my immediate neighbours for an hour with no fuss apart from barking at the front door briefly as I left and he was quite happy. Next week we will be gradually extending the time. Fingers crossed!!!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Harvey, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Golden Retriever Can’t Be Walked

GoldiePipSometimes life just doesn’t go according to plan. The gentleman had an emergency operation three weeks ago and will take some time to fully recover. He was the main dog walker as the lady is not strong enough to manage her alone, Pip can’t be walked.

Pip is a very energetic eleven month old Golden Retriever who is coping with the lack of stimulation and exercise remarkably well. They are doing their best with ball games in the garden and up and down the stairs along with some training, but it’s a difficult situation.

Young and enthusiastic, the outside world is just too stimulating and is getting more so by the day. Pip is desperate to introduce herself to every person she sees but most especially every dog.

Pip walked around the house beautifully with me, walking from room to room even when I didn’t have a lead on her, but as soon as we got outside the front door she was on sensory overload.  The only way anybody could walk her anywhere in that state of mind would be by using physical restraint, and that’s exactly what I work to avoid. I came back in. Even immediately outside their front door is a huge adrenalin rush for her.

Because increasingly she has insufficient opportunity to interact with other dogs, dogs are understandably super-exciting to her, maybe just a little daunting too.

So here is something the couple can do. They can keep going in and out of the front door as well as standing around out there, doing it so frequently that she starts to become more accustomed.

The more little outings she has the more mundane they will become.

I suggested a dog walker for now, until the man regains his strength. This way Pip could get to be walked with other dogs so that she remains socialised.

There are more things they can do at home to stimulate her. Scenting, searching and foraging is great for healthy stimulation and giving the dog’s nose the work it is designed to do. They can work on her recall too. They can walk her around the house and garden to practise their new loose-lead walking technique. Instead of reacting when she jumps up, as well as turning away they can actively mark and reward her when her feet are on the ground as well as other times when she’s calm or lies down.

Looking for, and rewarding, what we do want rather than simply reacting to the behaviour we don’t want not only makes the dog happy, it makes us happy too.

Pip is a little nervous of new things. The less she is out in the real world the more sensitive she will become.  I wanted to try a special soft but secure harness on her and left it on the floor for her to investigate. She was a little wary of it. I worked on introducing it to her very slowly. Treats for hearing it click together (not on her), a treat for sniffing it; soon she was putting her own head through the hole to get the food and I carried on on desensitising her. I didn’t push it. They will take it very slowly and she should be welcoming the harness after a couple more sessions.

This way she will associate it with good stuff.

Remember a song that brings back wonderful memories? ‘Your’ song’ (mine was ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water – a very long time ago!)? That song is associated with special times and your brain is now hard-wired so whenever you hear it you re-live a little how you felt back then. This is the sort of positive association we want to give our dogs when we are desensitising them to something.

It’s just over two weeks later and things are looking up for Pip: “We took Pip out yesterday on her harness and we were both impressed with how well she walked. It was a pretty stress free little stroll & we even met children on scooters which didn’t really faze her and even when we met another dog she was fairly sensible ! The hunt the treat game in the garden is probably her favourite game to date and she is getting rather good at it, she waits excitedly inside the kitchen while one of us lays the bait. Then its nose down and away then she wont stop till she’s found it all.
A month has now gone by since we started: Pip continues to do well especially when walking on the lead. There is no manic activity to get out of the house anymore just a calm but purposeful walk ! The harness has been a tremendous help and worth every penny….. Games in the house and garden are times enjoyed by all three of us and play quite a big part of our day. Pip does seem  more content and calmer during her day and is happier to rest when we do or if we  have other things to do . The jumping up is slowly improving …. she’s beginning to sit or play with a toy on her own. All things considered Pip is a much happier 14 month old [ and so are we ] and we  certainly feel more able to cope .  Especially now that we have all your great suggestions and ideas to help us on our journey with her.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Pip, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Humping Exhausts Both Male Dogs

Ollie pursues BuddyGetting ready to hump BuddyOlly Humping BuddySix-month-old Cocker Spaniel Buddy’s problem was unruliness, flying about and grabbing clothes – pulling on lead and generally lacking control.

I went to see them yesterday because the lady has just taken on Ollie, a beautiful Golden Retriever ‘free to a good home’ whose family were out at work all day. He is three years old.

She has had him for just two days and the relationship between the two entire male dogs is one of continually Poor Buddy is exhaustedjockeying for position. The chasing around isn’t ‘play’. There is no play bowing, play chasing or rolling about – it is non-stop humping until both are exhausted! Although young Buddy does his best to get his own back, Ollie, being the bigger and more determined dog, is in constant pursuit. Buddy gets cornered in the garden and I can see trouble brewing as he either becomes intimidated or even becomes angry which would be totally against his nature usually.

While Ollie settles in the dogs’ time together must be supervised. They will need to go out into the garden separately for a while. As soon as any humping starts, one or other (taking it in turns) needs to be quietly removed and put behind a gate or in the crate with something else to do. It’s not punishment.

Meanwhile there need to be some consistent rules and boundaries introduced because two dogs can be a very different matter from one dog. Instead of just one dog to interact and cope with, there are two, and in addition there is the interaction between the two dogs. I have five dogs and it multiplies up! Ollie has been well-trained and they don’t want to lose that, or for him to begin copying Buddy’s hyper lack of self-control.

I am not a big believer in castration to resolve behaviour problems, but in this case, with so much testosterone flying about, if things don’t calm down quickly this may be the logical step to take.

Boisterous Golden Retriever Lacks

Alfie tolerates Fynn's exuberant behaviourGoldie Fynn is one year old. He is boisterous and confident. He lives with three-year-old black Labrador, Alfie.

His exuberance has been causing problems. A few weeks ago he bowled his lady owner over and she broke her ankle, so the gentleman has a lot to do just now.

Fynn feels it is his job to control both his humans and Alfie. He finds all sorts of ways to gain their attention and has learnt that if he persists with something annoying for long enough he will always get a reaction of some sort! When he is especially stirred up, like if someone comes to the house or they are released from their leads into an open space, Alfie will redirect his pent up stress and excitement onto poor Alfie, who gets ‘hounded’ and jumped upon. One day Alfie may begin to stand up for himself.

Fynn’s attitude has now spilled out onto walks where other dogs are concerned – when he’s on lead. He’s fine when he’s free, but on lead he reacts with barking and lunging and sounding rather aggressive. This is not helped because his anxious humans, the minute they see a dog and irrespective of whether Fynn reacts or not, they anxiously reel him in and maybe talk to him, believing it to be soothing. All they are doing is conveying their anxiety..’uh-oh, a dog…trouble!’. The previously sociable Alfie now joins in.

Between times Fynn is a wonderful pet. He is adolescent and will grow out of a lot of this so long as he’s given firm and consistent messages about who controls whom and who makes the decisions – whether at home or out on walks, and learns that nothing happens until he is in a calm state. This will take considerable patience and time – his humans just waiting quietly for him to be ready and calm before they walk him, let him in with visitors, feed him, and so on. Fynn will learn!

A month later: “Fynn is now a treat to walk on the lead. I am so pleased. Alfie is also much better”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Obsessive Digging for Moles

Red Golden Retriever Louie is recovering from an operation

Louie

Beautiful and much-loved Louie (on the left) and Kiki have recently had a huge change in their lives. Five-year-old dark red Golden Retriever Kiki is a stable and confident dog and it seems not to have affected her, but Louie has only lived with the couple for about two years – he is now nine years of age – and life had not been good for him previously. The lady moved with the dogs to the UK about four months ago and the gentleman, who has a very close relationship with Louie, stayed behind and has only just joined them.

Louie, a Red Setter, had a ‘lampshade’ around his head. He was recovering from an operation on his foot to an injury brought about by his obsessive digging. Where most dogs might hear a little animal under the ground and dig for a short while (their ears are so much better than our own), Louie becomes obsessed. It is even possible now that he is now digging for the sake of digging. He cries and growls as he digs. If he has doggie boots then frantically he tries to bite the ground instead.

Before leaving the house Louie is so overwhelmed with excitement that he can hardly breathe. He is gasping.

Red Setter Kiki looking regal

Kiki

When they had him about two years ago he had lots of phobias and they have come a long way. It is not surprising that the upheavel in his life has brought on a new one. This is also a case of  owners over-compensating for the past and maybe also because they have to leave the dogs alone all day – by allowing them to make nearly all their own decisions – whether it’s where to sleep, when to be fed, when and where to go out or when they will get attention. This can be just as much a burden for a dog as it would a child. It can make a dog needy, resulting in separation issues.

These are wonderful, friendly dogs. There are a few behaviour things that need ironing out, from Kiki’s wanting everything under her own terms, refusing to come when called and going on strike if asked to move when she doesn’t want to, to Louie’s distress when left alone with just Kiki, his restless pacing and digging obsession.

It is now three months later, and I have just received this email: “I had a preliminary visit of a dog sitter this weekend. We went for a long walk together and they were good. They obeyed the entire time even when let off the leash. I also showed her your web site entry about the dogs to make her aware of possible complications. Then I mentioned that Louie has high stress levels, etc… The dog sitter looked at me and just said: “What stress levels? Look at Louie he is just lying there peacefully. He doesn’t have high stress levels.” I had comments from the vet…that Louie calmed down a lot. However, since I spend every day with him, the gradual change was not so striking to me. So this comment from a person that is in contact with many dogs, really made me aware of Louie’s progress. We really came a long way thanks to you and your suggestions.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.