Bored, Over-excitable and Looking for Trouble

German Shepherd Kerry is bored.

Bored German Shepherd

Kerry

Although it’s natural for adult dogs to sleep for up to seventeen hours a day, this is only so if the rest of the time is filled with stuff natural to the dog – and its breed. Sleep probably won’t be in long blocks of enforced inaction during the day, but dozing between doing other things.

Young dogs in particular need action and fulfilment (just like young humans) or they get bored.

Kerry is a beautiful eighteen-month-old German Shepherd living with another GSD, Lemmy, aged four. They are both gorgeous dogs with lovely, friendly basic temperaments.

Young Kerry, unfortunately, probably isn’t getting enough action in her life and she’s very easily aroused. I saw this by how the smallest thing results in her leaping at someone, me in this case – grabbing my clothes and even hair with her teeth. 

Hyperasousal.

There is only one thing on this illustration I didn’t see, and that’s because she’s a female.

We sat around the dining table, myself, the couple and their young adult son. Having demonstrated what to do, the lady (a natural) was now reinforcing Kerry for every smallest bit of desired behaviour, using a clicker (and food).

The lovely dog was very quick to catch on – so quick that she was soon working us! She started jumping up in order to go back down in order to be clicked for feet on floor in order to be fed.

We taught a quiet ‘Off’ and then just a small hand signal when her feet were on the table. We also waited until she worked it out for herself. Kerry wasn’t bored anymore.

Until now commands have been shouted and repeated over until she’s complied.

She obeys the man more because he is louder and more forceful and she seldom leaps at him with her mouth open. As is often the case, the lady is usually her main victim, when there isn’t a visitor like myself she can get at.

Eventually she was sitting by us and resisting the jumping. Lemmy, bless him, was polite throughout. We were giving Kerry the kind of attention she yearned for. She settled….until…..

Someone laughed, or someone moved or there was a noise somewhere. Immediately she was back jumping and grabbing, wth most of her focus upon myself.

Enrichment and freedom.

Loving dog owners get a clever, active breed of dog, little realising what they may be taking on or the time, training and commitment involved. Only yesterday I was muzzle-punched in the eye by another excitable, bored young Shepherd with the same jumping and grabbing behaviours.

Both yesterday’s dog and Kerry’s lives contain insufficient freedom and enrichment; much of their behaviour is due to boredom and frustration so they orchestrate their own action. Insufficient early training has resulted in their lack of freedom.

Being bored is almost certainly why she is destructive.

During the day when they are at work, Kerry is crated. Because she destroys all bedding, there can be no bed. The other day they decided, quite rightly, that she would be happier with run of the downstairs with Lemmy. Unfortunately after a couple of days they came home to a wrecked sofa. Now she’s back in the crate.

For a healthy mind, young dogs in particular need ‘dog things’ to do like sniffing, exploring and foraging.

For the dog to change, the humans have to change what they do.

Lemmy

The main change in the humans’ own behaviour should be resisting shouting and too many commands whilst looking out for and rewarding the behaviour they want. The dogs can begin to earn some of their food. This behaviour training can’t be done without food (play is also rewarding but with play comes the excitement).

As our dogs tend to reflect ourselves, acting calm will help.

When one person, usually the man, controls the dogs through strength and dominance, it often means that if another family member can’t do this the dog seems to take advantage. The dog, though ‘under control’ with the man who commonly says he finds the dog no trouble, will often be lacking self control around other people.

Talking to our dogs is lovely – we share our thoughts, problems and life stories. However, if they want Kerry’s brain in gear and to do something for them, the fewer words they use the better. A lot of things, like sitting before receiving food if that’s what they want, the dog will do anyway if they wait. Lots of talking simply stirs her up.

I suggest that every time the jumping and biting behaviour occurs, they look at what has happened immediately beforehand for the reason why. As we saw, it can be as little as someone laughing.

‘Operation calm’ is the starting point.

The lower Kerry’s general stress levels are, the more tolerant she will become of the current triggers.

Operation calm includes doing something about walks which currently do more to stir both dogs up than to relax them. Because they are big pullers, ready to lunge at cats and even birds and reacting to both dogs and approaching people, it takes two people to walk them together. For physical control, both dogs wear Dogmatic head halters on shortish leads.

They really do need a bit more freedom like on long lines in fields or woods. There is a good website with secure dog fields that can be rented by the hour.

They need to walk comfortably on longer, loose leads. I can’t see much progress being made with either pulling or their reactivity to people and dogs unless walked separately for now.

The daily hour-long walks will be different. A to B is unimportant. The walk is about the journey not the destination. With one dog at a time they can now go in different directions and begin to work on each dog’s reactivity without them bouncing off one another.

We get home from work tired, just wanting a break in front of the TV. We often don’t realise some young dogs like this will be such a big, time-consuming commitment if they are to be easy to live with.

While the humans are at home, they will now initiate more activity and brain work for Kerry.

Bored. The devil makes work for idle paws.

Boredom is a big problem for young, active working dogs – the devil makes work for idle paws!

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 Kayleigh and Lemmy and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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)

Adolescent Dog is Uncontrollable

Sammy giving us a break while he chews

Sammy giving us a break while he chews

I was met at the door by the lady restraining a manic, stripey dog! As soon as the door was shut behind me I asked her to let go of him and the tiger was unleashed!

I ignored it as he jumped at me grabbing my arm (I wear tough clothes) and turned away quickly as he leapt to punch me in the face with his muzzle.

This would have been a lot more alarming if there was any hint of aggression, which there wasn’t. The lady has bruises all up her arms and admits she’s now getting a bit scared of her adolescent dog. It’s really all to do with lack of self-control. He has no idea how to inhibit the use of his teeth – or anything else for that matter. This is little surprise considering what little the lady knows of his start in life.

Seven-month-old Sammy, probably a Beagle cross, may have come from Ireland but the story probably shouldn’t be believed. He was going to be ‘sent back where he came from’ and put to sleep if the lady didn’t buy him.  She was told he was eleven weeks old but the vet said he was a lot younger.

I would guess he was removed from his siblings far too soon to have learnt the valuable lessons of bite inhibition and manners, all in order for someone to make a quick buck.

He is a stunning dog and he is clever. However, he is on the go nearly all the time when not asleep at night or when the lady is at work. It is non-stop. She has taken all sorts of advice and also taken him to training classes, but still finds him uncontrollable. He has plenty of exercise. The slightest bit of stimulation sends him over the top.

brindled Beagle mix

I managed to catch Sammy standing still

It was hard to know just how to begin. We couldn’t shut him away because the lady lives in a flat and he can’t be allowed to bark too much. In the end the only thing I could do was ask her to put a lead on him and then stand on it so he simply couldn’t hurt me – we later attached the lead to his harness for the sake of his neck.

Then I did some work with him, walking him around whilst being ready to react fast to being ‘attacked’, rewarding him for sitting and reinforcing times when he didn’t try to jump. It’s so natural to ignore the good behaviour, making the best of any short break, but this means he gets all his attention for the wrong things.

I taught him not to mug my hand with both teeth and nails for the food. Already he was displaying just a little bit of impulse control.

It was a start.

I keep a Stagbar in my bag which I gave him to chew. While the lady held onto his lead and he worked on the Stagbar, we managed to get some talking done and devise an initial plan of action. Until he has calmed down and learnt to control himself a bit, very little more can be done.

The lady will need to wear tough clothes so that she doesn’t have to give in to the rough behaviour by giving him the attention he craves. She may also need to have an anchor point in the room to hook him onto when he goes really wild, for her own protection. She will have a special box of things to keep him busy when anchored as this must not be done in the spirit of punishment

But protecting herself  and containing him is only half the story. Sammy needs to learn that it’s a different sort of behaviour that is now going to get the best results. We have made a list of about ten activities she can initiate at regular intervals, things that will focus his mind and calm him down, so that instead of spending most of the time they are together simply fielding and responding to his antics, she herself will initiate frequent constructive things for him to do in very short sessions. She will keep him busy but under her own terms. She will reward every small thing that she likes – looking out for the good in him.

Eventually, after two hours, Sammy had tired himself out

Eventually, after two hours, Sammy had tired himself out

This isn’t going to be easy because after seven months his crazy behaviours are a habit and won’t be changed easily. She will need to be very patient and persevere, rejoicing in the smallest of improvements as they occur. All she has been able to do in the past is to shout at him and give him commands – he knows to sit and lie down when in the mood but when aroused it simply makes him worse.

I see this as a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. Before real work can be done there are a number pieces to be put in place that will calm him down and focus his brain. These include a suitable diet. One would see the connection between diet and behaviour with a hyperactive child with ADHD, but this doesn’t occur to a lot of us where our dogs are concerned.

Jumping, Mouthing and Grabbing

Staffie/Hungarian Viszla mix Alfie lying peacefullyWhen people call me about their dog, they nearly always, feeling disloyal, first list their dog’s good points. They tell me that their dog is ‘perfect dog in the house’, or a ‘very loving dog’…..BUT…..and then they tell me about the difficulties they are having and the distress it is causing them.

Alfie, the Staffie/Hungarian Viszla mix I went to yesterday evening, really is a ‘very good dog’. He’s affectionate, biddable and gets on with all people and other dogs…..with just a couple of BUTS. He is 11 months old.

One BUT is that from the start he has jumped up, mouthed or grabbed arms and clothing, and this intensifies the more excited he is. Recently he actually left tooth marks on a friend’s arm, and his lady owner realised that her efforts to stop the behaviour simply weren’t working. Without realising it, she has been reinforcing the behaviour. Dogs (and people) only choose to do things because they get something out of it. We unintentionally reinforce unwanted behaviour. It can take an outsider to see clearly just what is happening.

Approaching with his mouth open is almost a default mode for Alfie when he’s not calm. It is endured initially – and when it gets too much it has been dealt with by giving him the attention he has been seeking – in terms of ‘Down’, No’,’Ouch’ and so on. In fact, the excited tone in which the lady calls him to her and greets him unwittingly invites the behaviour. Then her hands are all over him and near his face, and as she moves them to avoid being mouthed they become something to chase.

Simply ignoring Alfie is waiting to be told to get off the chairAlfie doesn’t give him a clear enough message. At the very moment his mouth engages, the hand or limb should be withdrawn in a deliberate fashion and the person break all contact with Alfie – turning away from him. If he is actually grabbing then she must freeze until he stops and a little longer The attention then comes when he’s not grabbing. If done every single time it should become absolutely clear to him exactly what he should not be doing. Even an accidental touch with his teeth during play should result in instant withdrawal.

Of course this is only one half of the process. He also needs to be taught better things to do – things incompatible with jumping up, mouthing and grabbing.

For the lady to cut down on physical contact and excitable interaction with Alfie will leave her in a sort of vacuum where interacting with her beloved dog is concerned, so we need to fill it with useful stuff. Clicker training will be ideal for both of them as Alfie learns that he can have the best control over both himself and his environment without using his mouth and she can give him as much attention as she likes without it resulting in mouthing.

I just had to take the picture on the left. Alfie had hopped into the lady’s chair and she had returned. He’s waiting to be asked to get off!

Another Puppy!

fifteen-week-old Miniature Schnauzer Herbie, in his bed surrounded by toysHere is fifteen-week-old Miniature Schnauzer Herbie, in his bed surrounded by toys!

What a little character!

His lady is a first-time dog owner and over some things she is being very sensible and over other things she has picked up mis-information. For instance, she is running him with other dogs for an hour a day when at four months old Herbie’s limbs are not up to this, and she may scold him for toileting indoors – both of which I believe to be wrong. She wants to do her very best so that Herbie grows into a stable and happy companion.

Puppies can be exasperating – especially when they are grabbing clothes, biting feet or latching onto jewellery! People can feel helpless because repeated use of the word ‘no’ only makes matters worse, and they don’t know how to stop their little terror from doing these things.

Herbie was a ‘solo’ puppy – he had no brothers or sisters on whom to learn bite-inhibition, so ideally his early humans should have been filling this role. It’s all very well to be cross with a puppy (and those little teeth both hurt and can do quite a lot of damage to clothes), but this doesn’t teach the youngster what he should be doing, especially when his antics are getting him so much attention.

Already Herbie is on sentry duty, barking at passing children and dogs from the large upstairs window, and at people coming into the house.  He can be intimidated by people approaching him too directly and by being loomed over, and he may leap up and snap at a hand that is held out over him.

We have worked on basic ‘dog-parenting’ rules and strategies, on removing temptation for now so that it’s not such hard work (why set him up to fail) – not wearing flowing clothes, boots with dangly zips, hanging neck chains and so on. A gate to pop him behind while he calms down will work wonders when he is being challenging.

Jumping up on people, flying all over furniture, barking at people walking towards him and so on are perhaps cute in a fifteen week old puppy but not so good in an adult dog, so the basics in rules and boundaries, taught by using positive reinforcement for the desired behaviour, need to be set in place immediately.

I shall be helping this lady and her lovely puppy for months to come, through the various stages of his growth.

Blind Black German Shepherd

Black GSD is yawning, uneasy

Jet

Here is Jet – yawning. He’s feeling a bit uneasy in the presence of their other black German Shepherd Max who is just out of the picture. Max is blind, just a year old, and they have had him for just a few days.

After a promising start, things have deteriorated between the two dogs who have now had four fights – each one worse than the one before ending with a visit to the vet for Max. For the past two days they have been kept completely apart, their first reuniting when I was there.. They were both soon lying down, seemingly relaxed, so I feel things haven’t yet gone too far.

The big problem is that the two dogs don’t understand one another. Jet will be giving all the right signals and body language that he wants to be left alone, but of course Max can’t read them. Jet can’t know this. Max, on the other hand, tries to use Jet as his eyes, following right behind him which Jet doesn’t like. Max started nipping him or maybe he was just grabbing onto him – perhaps because Jet wasn’t doing what he wanted – and eventually, having warned him with signals and growling, Jet turned. Other fights followed.

Outside the house Max is terrified of every sound, resulting in hackling, barking and even grabbing quite aggressively. He has no idea where he is. For this reason the first thing they must do is to allow Max to gain his bearings and a sort of mental map of first his garden, and then very gradually, outside the front of the house. This responsibility is with the humans not with Jet, so he needs a lot of walking alone on lead around the place. He sometimes loses the door in from the garden, so I suggest they put something scented near or on it.

Max' eyes look normal

Max’ eye

For now the dogs will only be together when their baby is in bed and they both are on hand. Both should be trailing a short lead and everything should be calm.  At the first sign of tension, someone needs to walk or stand between the dogs, splitting them up – just as another dog would do.  Poor Max has been passed between about five different people in the past few weeks, which would be bad enough for a dog with eyes, let alone a blind dog.

I hope, taking it slowly, that they can help these two dogs to understand one another, help Jet to be tolerant, and help Max to be more independent, so that they can all get along happily. It is a small house and keeping the dogs apart and taking them separately to the garden is complicated. It goes without saying that their dear little girl is their number one priority.

This photo of one of Max’ eyes is interesting. You wouldn’t know he was blind to look at him. I took it close up using flash. Most dogs’ eyes would glow white because to give good twilight vision they possess a light-reflecting surface known as the tapetum lucidum which operates like a mirror.

The next day I received a phone call. For the safety of their little girl they have decided to return Max to the the rescue. I agree that this is wise and must admit the situation worried me. Good rescue organisations do home checks before placing a dog. Whilst this couple would be ideal if they didn’t have a toddler, it’s not the right environment. He will now go back into foster. I do so hope a forever home is found for Max with someone experienced andwith  no children, where he is the only dog. In his short life this blind dog has had to adjust to seven or more different homes, and it’s testament to his basic sound temperament that he is so friendly.

Puppy Jumps Up, Nips, Bites and Guards

What a beautiful face Springer Pebbles has Pebbles is six months old. Her mother is her father’s daughter – which isn’t a good thing! This means her father, a Springer Spaniel, is her grandfather – but fortunately her grandmother was a Border Collie so there are some new genes in the mix.

I absolutely loved her! Look at that face!

Before I went I assumed that in-breeding would be the main cause of her problems, but I think not now. She parted from her siblings too young and consequently never learnt bite inhibition. She gets excited and rough to easily, and she jumps up persistently on people – maybe grabbing and nipping also. She guards things that she steals and also her food.

I believe that a lot of this unwittingly has to do with the home circumstances.

The problem has been allowed to escalate because, although she is fortunate to have company during the day, while the family is at work she is alone with the old lady who is neither mobile nor active enough to respond appropriately. Unfortunately Pebbles has bitten her twice – quite badly. She’s not bitten anyone else – yet.Springer Pebbles with a toy

This is a difficult situation because the lady loves Pebbles and wants to touch and spoil her. We have to play safe for Pebbles’ sake as well as the lady’s. For now I hope Pebbles will be left behind the gate and that the lady will not let her through when she is alone in the house. They can all then work on being calm, consistent, quiet and firm. Only when Pebbles has calmed down, learnt some rules and boundaries, stopped being possessive and using her teeth, should she again be in the same rooms as the old lady when nobody else is there to help.

To deal with jumping up and nipping in a way that doesn’t cause things to escalate or develop into aggression or defiance, one needs to be fairly agile, to be consistent and to react fast. Anything confrontational like scolding or saying NO only encourages her, as does waving hands about and trying to push her away.

I taught Pebbles to respect me by how I reacted to her jumping up and soon she was virtually eating out of my hand. You could see how happy she was being taught rules and boundaries in terms she understood. I concentrated on showing her what I DID want instead of the jumping. Not once did anyone tell her off, say ‘No’ or tell her ‘Down’.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Wound Up English Bull Terrier

Reggie2Reggie is seven months old, but to look at him you would never think he was little more than a puppy.

He has been hard work from when he arrived at eight weeks old. He is one of the most frantically hyped-up and restless dogs I have seen for a while.

Adolescent Reggie is on the go non-stop. Jumping up, roughly grabbing clothes and barking, digging the carpet, panting, drinking excessively, barking in their faces and constantly looking for mischief. His gentleman owner has some control because he is confident and gets angry, but the lady who is less assertive is being bullied by him. They have a little girl who needs protecting from the charging about and leaping all over people and furniture, so he is in his crate a lot of the time, because there simply is nothing else they feel they can do with him.

Reggie’s personality and genetics must be contributing to this, because the family have neither overly indulged him nor over-disciplined him. He has been carefully checked over by the vet. They have done everything they can. They have read books and taken him to classes, but as he gets older he gets worse.

Having someone with experience to actually come and see what is happening and to offer solutions geared specifically to their dog in his own environment is sometimes the only way. It is often impossible to apply what your read – and besides no two sources say the same thing.

We spent the evening working on his behaviour whilst looking into ways of calming him down in general. Training classes failed big time because he was so hyped up that he spent the time barking, jumping up and grabbing the lady – he even bit her leg, grabbing the lead, and chasing and nipping other dogs.  He is already a very strong and large dog for the breed.

Using a psychological behavioural approach throughout the evening I showed him that jumping and grabbing me was not rewarding in any way. Bit by bit you could see him actually choosing the desired behaviour for himself. At the end of a tiring evening, instead of being shut away in his crate to bark and cry as usual, or jumping at me whenever I moved, he was lying spark out in the middle of the floor – even ignoring us walking around him – see the picture. .

It’s like he was completely exhausted and finally relaxed because patiently and kindly we had been giving him boundaries in a way that he understood and he actually wanted to please.

A big burden had been lifted from him yesterday evening. Bit by bit over the next few weeks he should become a different dog if they are consistent and patient.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Little dog Living in a Tent

Pip is a dear little scruffy-haired Jack RussellScruffy Jack Russell lying in front of the wood burner, one year of age, who has been in his new home for one month. Home is a Mongolian Yurt – a round tent. It was minus 5 degrees last night and I went expecting to be cold, but with a log burner in the middle it was snug and warm and surprisingly spacious.

After a rather excitable start, Pip settled down in front of the fire.

When he arrived a month ago Pip was totally hyper. He leapt and flew all over the place, grabbing and mouthing. Patience and hard work has really calmed him down at home although there is still a way to go, but he is after all little more than a puppy.

It is out on walks that the problems really  start.

He behaves almost like he has never been on a lead before. He pulls frantically. At the sight of another dog he is very unpredictable and I believe he feels insecure – as well he might, held tightly by an anxious human with no freedom to escape. At other dogs he tends to bark, rear up and go frantic. He has nipped two or three times. The final straw was when he got himself so worked up that he wound his lead around the lady’s legs, and when she accidentally trod on him he bit her – totally out of character but indicating just how fired up and stressed he was.

Certain TV programmes promote extreme exercise as the way to deal with problems such as this – long hikes, treadmills and the like. Apart from anything else, this is not what a terrier has been bred for. I have found time and time again that long walks, unless calm and happy, can over-stimulate a dog. It is no surprise that so many incidents happen at the end of a walk when he the dog is supposed to be tired out.

When I can get people to trust me and to see this, to go back to basics with several very short expeditions whilst teaching loose-lead walking and the joy of stress-free walking with a ‘leader’, dogs like Pip eventually are a dream to take out. It can take a lot of time. Unfortunately too many people give up too soon – or are persuaded by well meaning ‘experts’  and ‘dog-loving friends’ that they should be taking their dogs for long walks to to tire them out. Would you put a disturbed or hyperactive child on a treadmnill to tire it into compliance? No! I rest my case.

Pip’s owner was already very switched on before I visited, so it will be interesting to chart Pip’s progress.

She has worked very hard for the past six or seven weeks, two steps forward and one back. The yurt is not soundproofed which means that Pip hears all the night time noises. Here is the latest email: “Things here are ticking along ok and I am realising that my mood effects Pip. Had a family dinner at my uncles and ended up taking pip home….. Definitely only pip with the family at small calm gatherings for now.  On a positive note Pip is really good in the yurt and garden i love him in these situations he’s so good and often just sits and sun bathes!! he’s learning lots of new tricks has plenty to entertain himself with and at least now when I hear him barking I call him and he comes back in the yurt. We had no nighttime barking since we spoke, fingers crossed for tonight!”
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

 

Being King Isn’t All it’s Cracked Up to Be

Giant Schnauzer is ver larger and very regalYesterday it was a Miniature Schnauzer and today a Giant Schnauzer!

Benson is very Big and very regal. He is magnificent – a really lovely boy, and a teenager! He runs the show. After being let outside in the morning he runs upstairs and leaps all over people in bed, may even hump them and may growl if removed. He jumps up and barks while his meals are being prepared (ignoring repeated commands to sit and wait). He jumps up and barks while they try to put his lead on to go out and then pulls like a train down the road until he reaches the park. When let off lead, he may jump up and grab his owners. There is nowhere indoors he is not allowed to go. Benson and the other dog can’t have toys or chews because Benson commandeers them and becomes possessive. He is becoming increasingly protective and wary both when meeting people outside and at home. His owners are getting worried because signs of aggression are increasing.

He has some major plus points. He is aloof and ignores other dogs, so no trouble there.  He can be very affectionate. He likes to keep an eye on his human family, so apart from one time when he was spooked by a bicycle and took it upon himself to run home, he stays near them when out. When called, he comes – but only to within a few feet. Then they have to go over to him! He is still an adolescent and is pushing his luck. The power takeover can creep up on people as they give way bit by bit until they suddenly realise they are being controlled by their dog!

For Benson there is a downside to being King in that without leadership he feels exposed and unprotected so easily scared of things like bikes, pushchairs, umbrellas and so on.  He also is scared when certain people, men mainly, look at him or lean over, approach directly or enter his personal space. A dog with convincing human leadership is much more relaxed and less touchy about his own personal space, less likely to worry about collecting and possessing trophies, jumping up, humping and dominating.

I read somewhere that a leader has a much greater need to lead than a follower has to follow. It can be a long job gently and fairly convincing a dog like this relinquish his responsibilites – to be more relaxed. Trying to do it through domination and force would make things a hundred times worse.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.