Young Staffie’s Wild Behaviour

Eight month old StaffieThere is just something about a young Staffie! Butter may not melt at the moment but you can almost see him working out what mischief he can get up to next.

Bolt, well-named, is an eight month old bundle of energy who is fearless and ready for anything. (It’s a nice change just now for me to go to a really confident dog).

The couple have a great seven-year-old son who is really on board. He was very quick to pick up the idea of looking for Bolt doing good things and rewarding with Yes or click and food for the briefest of moments when the dog was either calm or not jumping at the table where we sat which he did relentlessly, using our chairs to get onto it if we stood up.

When excited, Bolt will chase the boy, grabbing his clothes and biting his feet. The child understands that for now it would be best if he didn’t run around the garden while Bolt is out there or on walks, where Bolt is at his worst. For now he should walk beside his mum and dad. It’s a shame and it’s hard because he is only seven after all, but more space in conjunction with fast movement brings out Bolt’s wild behaviour. It’s not forever. Bolt, being just a teenager, will grow up and meanwhile he should get no more opportunity to rehearse his boy-targeted wildness.

What a great kid! He will be a big part of Bolt’s training and he was taking written notes throughout in immaculate writing. He will do brain games with Bolt like hunting for things with Bolt and he has a good grasp of using clicker for marking good behaviour. Next time I shall teach him how to clicker train Bolt to do other things – very good exercise for the brain of an active dog who will then get attention for achieving success rather than causing trouble.

He has a lovely home but, unlike the child, has been given few rules and boundaries. They now have to leave him outside in the garden with the shelter of a kennel when they go out because he wrecks the kitchen and raids the table. His jumping up when they get in is relentless and it’s a big problem when they have friends to the house. There’s not one bit of malice in Bolt, but it’s like being hit by a whirlwind.

He’s another dog where the people unintentionally stir him up thinking enthusiastic welcomes are necessary. This of course makes the jumping up all the worse. To change this they have no choice but to ignore him when his feet are off the floor and make sure to reinforce with attention feet on the floor – but gently! Anything enthusiastic will start Bolt leaping about again as would commands like Sit just yet which is success for Bolt in terms of attention after all.

We know that diet can effect hyperactivity, and at present he’s fed raw which is excellent but it’s mixed with a certain well advertised brand of complete food, full of colourings, e-numbers and bulked out with unsuitable grains. This will be changed.

There are difficulties on walks and he chases their two cats, but this first visit is all about getting a calmer baseline to work from. It’s sometimes hard to know just where to start.

Some boundaries are being set such as a gate on the kitchen door. This will prevent Bolt from getting to the front door and mugging people coming in and from chasing the boy up the stairs in rough and playful excitement, grabbing him as he does so. The lady is expecting a baby in the spring and a Staffie flying all over people and sofas isn’t a good idea.

With the help of this very insightful child, I’m sure Bolt will gradually find that being well-mannered and calmer is a lot more rewarding than his current wild behaviour and the boy will have a great pal as he grows up.

Really Bites Out of the Blue?

Last week three-year-old Cocker Spaniel Pete had been booked in to be putCocker Spaniel's behaviour had resulted in an appointment to have him put to sleep, now cancelled to sleep.

Fortunately the lady phoned me first. Her dog had bitten her quite badly and it wasn’t the first time. She told me the many time he bites out of the blue – for no reason at all.

I suggested that she asked her vet to give Pete a thorough check including bloods and a physical examination to rule out pain and any other condition that could make him have a short fuse. Unfortunately the vet refused, saying he could see the dog was fine and then gave confusing and outdated behaviour advice.

Pete was jumping at me and grabbing my sleeves as I walked in the door. He does the same with the lady. Yet – if she steps on him by mistake, tries to touch his feet or, as she did once, tripped and fell by him, he bites her.

Should not respect for personal space go both ways?

All the bites and near-bites she listed for me can actually be explained. Most were around resources of some sort and the others around Pete’s not wanting to be touched or moved. There is a strong suggestion that at least a couple of those could involve pain of some sort.

Positive reward-based methods aren’t just some modern fad but based on sound scientific research described in all the up-to-date literature, yet still some people hang on to the old notions.

I would agree in principle that the lady should take control of her dog and be ‘in charge’, but that doesn’t mean acting like a ‘dominant Alpha’ which would undoubtedly make things far worse.  In fact, guarding behaviour often starts when people take the puppy’s food away to show ‘who’s boss’. Why do they do that! If he thinks you’re about to steal his food, wouldn’t it actually cause food guarding?

Leadership as in good parenting means building a bond of understanding and mutual respect, whereby the owner is the provider, the protector and the main decision-maker. All this is done kindly using praise and rewards, being motivational so that Pete is willing and cooperative.

I demonstrated the power of food while I was there, showing the lady how to use a clicker and chicken to get Pete eagerly working for her. What a gorgeous dog.

Nearly all conflict between owners and dogs is so unnecessary because dogs so love to please if they are rewarded and appreciated – just like ourselves.  This isn’t bribery.  At the end of a consultation when I’m paid, have they have bribed me to do my job? No. I willingly and happily do my work for them, knowing I then receive my earned reward – payment.

Unless Pete is vet-checked properly we can’t rule out anything physical and invisible, but all the same it usually is very much a relationship issue too when a dog bites out of the blue. It would be a tragedy if Pete’s life were to be ended when with consistent, kind boundaries and getting him to earn much of his food in return for cooperation and learning things, the lady could slowly gain confidence in him.

It will take time.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Pete, 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).


Adolescent Flat Coated Retriever

Flatcoat Barney is simply creating his own fun and ways of getting attentionBarney is a wonderful 7-month-old Flat Coated Retriever. His family are first-time dog owners and like many inexperienced people getting a puppy they make assumptions regarding their puppy’s needs based on their own human perceptions of what a person might need.

Comparing the dog to a young child would be better. One wouldn’t give a little child too much freedom indoors or outside; one wouldn’t leave food available to a small child like a running buffet; we would keep a young child out of trouble by removing everything that might be dangerous or damaged; If the child was bored, we would be giving him things to do.

Because Barney has free run of the downstairs, when he’s bored or not getting attention he steals spectacles, pens, garments and so on – or he wrecks his blanket. When someone comes in the front door he is there. He jumps all over them and sometimes runs out. His food is left down for him to eat when he feels like it. He hasn’t been shown from the start that grabbing and biting hands and clothes simply isn’t fun. He has been running off lead since he was little. Puppies stay close and come when called – adolescents don’t!  During the evening Barney continually asks to go outside and they will be up and down doing his bidding – something they would never do for a child!

When the children’s friends come to the house things are very difficult. Barney is extremely excited and jumps all over them if they sit on the settee. One child in particular is too scared to come any more. It would have been easiest if they had taught Barney right from the start that he gets up on sofas by invitation only but now they should teach him to stay on the floor.

It’s Christmas in three days’ time! Lots of people including children will be there. I have suggested dog gates in a couple of doorways so they can have him under some sort of physical control without banishing him altogether. After Christmas that they will have time to do some real work with him.

Barney is simply creating his own fun and ways of getting attention and his people are ‘fielding’ his attempts to get them to do what he wants, rather than being proactive. He is a working breed. He needs more to do – to stimulate his brain, but in shorter doses because he is very easily over-excited which triggers the very behaviour that they don’t want. A long over-stimulating run for a dog of this age while the man jogs would be much better replaced with two or three shorter walks. At home he can be kept busy with things to chew, hunting for food, being taught to bring things back and let them go and so on.

I found he learnt very quickly that jumping up at me was no fun at all but that listening carefully to me and watching me brought satisfaction (and food). It is much easier for me because I have so much experience and it comes naturally, but people can copy me when I show them.

Barney is a really cracking, beautiful dog. Gates, removing things and wearing ‘sensible’ clothes that don’t temptingly flap about won’t be necessary for ever. The more consistent they all are now the faster they will be able to ditch these things. He has the perfect home, and he will be the perfect family dog.

Wild Labradoodle. Trying to be Good!

Labradoodle taking a short break from jumping upPoppy is a cross between a Labrador and Standard Poodle, eighteen months of age – a big dog. She’s a very clever dog too.

Still having wild Labradoodle bouts.

I went to see her a few weeks ago – The lady is still unable to control her wild Labradoodle. At certain times of day, especially in the evening or when the lady is out in the garden with her, Poppy will jump up and grab her with her teeth, roughly. The lady is covered in bruises.

If she turns away, Poppy attacks her back.  There is no malice in it but she simply has not learnt manners or teeth inhibition. In her wild Labradoodle bouts she seems to do all she can to wind the lady up – and her behaviour is getting her the desired results!

Poppy also does wild Labradoodle behaviour to people who come to the house, resulting in her spending a lot of her time in her crate.

It is a shame that this lack of teeth inhibition wasn’t dealt with appropriately when she was a young puppy in a positive way that meant Poppy would get the message.

Teaching Poppy the desired behaviour

Anyway, today I took along my clicker. Usually I would use this to teach specific skills, but today I was going to work on Poppy’s general behaviour. I would simply click and treat her for being ‘good’.wild Labradoodle

While she was still in her crate I taught her that the click meant food was to follow – just a tiny soft treat.

Then I let her out!

She immediately did her wild Labradoodle act. She jumped at me and grabbed my arms.  I folded them and looked away. As soon as she stopped I clicked and dropped a treat on the floor.

Soon she was not only calming down, but sitting in between bouts of craziness too. ‘Click treat’ all the time she was not mugging me.

Brain exercise

I slowly made it more difficult by walking about, then feeding her by hand but not opening it until she was gentle. Each time she grabbed my hand I removed it and froze – and when she let go and I clicked and treated her. This way she was learning not only what she should NOT do, she was also learning what she SHOULD do.

In an effort to control her own mouth, she picked up a soft toy – ‘click treat’. Whenever she approached me politely, ‘click treat’. Soon I was walking around the garden, the place where she it as her wildest, with a polite and attentive dog. This was all within the space of about twenty minutes.

The brain exercise is just what she needs.

The lady is going to use part of Poppy’s food allowance and get her to earn it in this way. I feel sure we have found the ‘key’ to resolving Poppy’s hyper habits and getting her brain into gear.

Dog Reduces Lady to Tears

Black Labrador Busby posing for his photoBusby is a ten-month-old black Labrador, and absolutely gorgeous (most of the time!).  On occasion his behaviour has reduced his poor young lady owner to tears.

Here is a typical morning: The lady lets him out into the garden and then he comes in for breakfast. All good so far. Then she likes to sit down and watch breakfast TV with a cup of tea and this is Busby’s cue! He will jump onto her and nip her and grab her clothes and tear at her slippers. He will leap up behind her on the sofa and if she tries to get him down he’s defiant. He may then fly about the furniture and the house doing what she calls ‘zoomies’!  He will jump up onto the dining table. He may steal something and run off into the garden, initiating a guaranteed chase.

When she gets up and starts moving about, he stops all his nonsense.

This behaviour will also happen in the evening when her husband is at home and they want to sit down in peace, though she is Busby’s main target.

Busby is rewarded with guaranteed attention for these antics, with less reward in the form of attention when he’s calm and good.  He needs alternative activities for his wild moods to occupy him and his jaws, along with plenty of positive reinforcement and reward for calm behaviour.

Fortunately Busby loves his large crate so I have devised a temporary alternative morning routine! When they go to bed they should block the dining table by tipping the chairs, ready for the morning. After his breakfast, when the lady sitting down is the trigger for his behaviour, he should for now go straight away into his crate which is with her in the sitting room, with something special to chew, She can now watch TV in peace until she’s ready to start her day. Both the lady and Busby will then have a happy stress-free start to the day.

They are a very conscientious couple and have taught Busby many things but his training is only any use when he is in the right mood. They now need to work on gaining his cooperation, especially out on walks which currently are not enjoyable for anybody – especially Busby who can no longer be let off lead because he won’t come back, and who spends all the walk trying to remove the Halti – the only way the lady can stop him pulling.

He won’t need that Halti any more!

Message ten days later – off to a good start. The gentleman has worked very hard and patiently at the walking and is building a very good relationship with him: “We feel that we have made progress in all areas, some progress is quicker than others. Overall we have noticed that he is much calmer now than he was before. Especially pleased with the progress we have made with walking. Walking has actually gone very well, I worked lots in the garden. But he soon began to bite the lead, lose focus and jump up on bite me, so ignore him, took off his lead and went inside, leaving him on his own in the garden.  Returned 5 mins later and repeated until he didn’t jump up.  By the 2nd day, we had progressed out of the garden gate and into the street.  This weekend was a real break through, we managed to get all the way to the field where the town hall is and done lots of lead work in the big car park before walking back.  Laura has notice a huge difference in his pulling and lunging “.
After Christmas – about seven weeks after my visit, and they are now beginning to enjoy their dog: “Well Christmas could have been a disaster but it actually went very well with an 11month old puppy in tow.  He was very very well behaved, we only had to put him into his travel crate 3 times over Christmas day and Boxing day which was fantastic. He was very polite around people, especially my elderly grandparents, everyone commented on how well behaved he was, how much progress we have made with him and how calm he was with all the exciting things going on around him. We had a prefect walk on christmas morning, made it round our 45min circuit with no pulling at all”.

Jumping Up, Nipping, Biting Young Spaniel

Cocker Maisie goes still when trailing a leadMaisie is a 7-month-old Cocker Spaniel with behaviour very similar to Pebbles who I met a couple of days ago.

From the moment they brought Maisie home at eight weeks old she was a nippy puppy with her needle sharp puppy teeth. If this had been dealt with from the word go, it would have stopped long ago instead of getting worse. Her owners had never had a dog before and they have done everything they can to bring her up right – influenced as usual by TV programmes, things they have read on the Internet and what other people advise.

When puppy nipping isn’t dealt with correctly – and this is not done by scolding or punishment – it grows into a bigger problem as the dog grows bigger. Now Maisie is biting quite hard, for no apparent reason she flies at her young lady owner in particular, grabbing her clothes and hurting her. When she turns her back to Maisie, her back gets the damage.

The lady really so wants to kiss and cuddle Maisie, but Maisie is having none of it. The man, who fusses her less, has more respect.

Just as with Pebbles, in the time I was there, for me she changed into a willing little dog who was eager to please me – with the occasional ‘just testing’ relapse to see if my response to the jumping on me was unwavering. She was soon listening to me and eagerly doing what I quietly asked her to do. She is adorable. They couldn’t remember having had an evening like it when Maisie was so calm.

A strange thing did happen which I have noticed on previous occasions but  to a lesser extent. When I put her lead on to gain more control  – dropping it so she trailed it – initially it was like she became hypnotised. She stood very still.  Normally she runs off when they want to put her lead on (this isn’t because she doesn’t like walks – more because she doesn’t want to be controlled), so they chase and corner her which causes her to cower.

On and off all evening we practised calling her over, asking her to sit, treating her, putting the lead on or taking it off and then rewarding her again. She was willing and cooperative. We were ‘working’ her and putting some demands on her in terms she understood and without getting her excited. She loved it.

I hope the lady in particular can continue reacting in such a way that Maisie doesn’t ‘attack’ her and her clothes or shoes when they are alone together without the gentleman to step in and help. I may need to go again and show them by example once more.

Old habits are hard to break for both the humans and the dog – especially giving commands like No and Off which do no good at all – and only make a dog like Maisie more bolshie and wild.

From email received 9 days later: ‘We have seen a vast difference in Masies behaviour already, she is calmer and all our issues have improved…”
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.