Elderly Dog Can Unlearn Old Tricks

An elderly dog, he still has plenty of life in him

An elderly dog, twelve year old StaffI went to a delightful elderly Staffie yesterday, twelve-year-old Barney. I was told that his jumping up was a big problem, particularly for the little grandchildren, and that his pulling on lead was so bad he’d not been walked for nearly two years and that he had now started to destroy the house when they were out.

Prepared, I left my equipment bag in the hallway, safely away from being raided, just bringing with me my notes, treats, pen and mobile. I need not have worried.

Barney was in the living room, sitting at the man’s feet. He hadn’t heard me! So – obviously he’s a bit deaf.

When he did notice me he came over, very friendly, but no jumping up. The elderly dog was more interested in sniffing a day in the life of my own dogs on my clothes.

As so often happens, he had been particularly good in the days since they had booked their appointment. It’s like he knew! I believe that owners, perhaps subconsciously, examine their own behaviour a bit more carefully in preparation for a visit and without having received any advice, the behaviour work is already beginning to take effect!

 

Jumping up and scaring the grandchildren will be easily addressed.

The two little children and the elderly dog get on beautifully once he has calmed down.

There is a history of family members coming in and making a huge fuss of Barney. One young man particularly fires him up with fuss and play. To quote the lady, ‘Barney doesn’t know when to stop’.

Of course he doesn’t. If this were a child he would be in tears by now or else in hysterics or having a tantrum. It will probably take him hours to properly calm down. I know I am a spoilsport but this has to stop if they want to achieve their goals.

If Barney jumps up on adults, family and visitors, then he will jump around the little children too.

Telling him to get down and pushing him whilst at other times playing or fussing him when his feet are on them, teaches him exactly what they don’t want. He will now learning that that feet on the floor works best.

This is the first ‘old trick’ that elderly dog Barney can unlearn. He has, in effect, been taught to jump up.

 

He’s not been out beyond the small garden for eighteen months.

an elderly dog, 12 year old Staff

Camera shy

Everything became harder for Barney when their other elderly dog, another Staff, died a couple of years ago.

He used to get uncontrollably excited even when the drawer containing lead and harness was opened. By the time he was launching himself out of the front door he was so aroused that he was beside himself. His pulling was so severe that the lady said it simply hurt her and with his lunging at any dog he saw, walks became a nightmare. They gave up.

They had taught him the ‘old trick’ of getting excited when going to the drawer by letting him know that a walk would follow. He may even have believed that his manic behaviour was causing the walk. Now they will open and shut the drawer countless times until it’s no big deal. The same process will be used for lifting the lead and harness and then putting them on.

Having not been out on a walk for eighteen months they can have a fresh start.

Barney walked beautifully on a loose lead around the house with me and then with the lady. He needs the right equipment so that he has nothing to pull against and he needs encouragement and praise.

In the past pulling has still resulted in forward-progress, so this is another old trick that can be learnt even by an elderly dog.

When Barney does eventually get to go out, in his new state of mind he will be able to cope a lot better with the appearance of another dog. No longer will the man force him forward, holding him tight – maybe even picking him up. They will increase distance and start to get him feeling good about dogs so long as they are not too close for comfort. Each dog is an individual and Barney has his own things that will help with this which I shan’t share here.

With help he can ‘unlearn’ reactivity to other dogs also. Knowing that he’s not expected to make friends or get too close to them if he doesn’t want to even if they have to go another route, the elderly dog can relax and they can all start to enjoy walks together.

They will change his diet away from Bakers Complete – known to have an adverse effect on the behaviour of dogs.

At home they will train him to the whistle in order to compensate for his reduced hearing. Eventually the elderly dog may even be able to go off lead – or at least on a very long line – and enjoy some freedom to sniff, relax and do doggy things.

The lovely family’s elderly dog will have a new lease of life!

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. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

 

 

Miniature Daschunds Barking

Very excitable miniature daschunds are extreme barkers

Blaze and Rolo

Butter wouldn’t melt!

I didn’t take this beautiful photo – at no stage were the little dogs either still or quiet enough.

Blaze and Rolo, three-year-old Miniature Daschund brothers, are very excitable and extreme barkers. In order to get them to stop even briefly when people visit they have had water sprayed at them, they have been shouted at, they have had a bottle of stones shaken at them and noisy compressed-air ‘corrector’ spray to frighten them out of it. Incessant barking can really drive one crazy.

These ‘solutions’ may work in the moment but they do nothing at all to ease the real problem apart from making it worse.

The tiniest thing starts them off. Blaze (in front) is probably the instigator, but they charge about in manic barking tandem!

To deal with any behaviour we need to deal the emotion that is creating it. In cases where barking is such an automatic reflex it’s also become a habit. The more they have practised barking, the better they have got at it. Automatic barking can be a difficult habit to break.

The times that worry the family the most are when someone comes to the house (whether familiar or unfamiliar) – and when their grandchildren visit. Blaze may accompany the barking with little nips. He is also obsessed with nappies!

Normally when someone arrives the dogs are put into the garden – or if they do join them it will be hectic. There was the spray water bottle on the side at the ready. I asked for everyone to ignore them. As I usually do, I wanted to see what happened without human interference. We could hardly speak and I had hoped we would be able to sit it out, but after about ten minutes they were still standing close in front of me as I sat on the pouffe – barking, barking, barking at me.

The lady took them out of the room and put them into their crate.  They still barked. We got on with the consultation.

Eventually they were quiet so I asked the lady to let them in again. This time we had tiny bits of cheese prepared and fortunately both dogs are very food orientated.

They came charging back into the room, barking.

I held bits of cheese out to them. They couldn’t bark and eat at the same time – but they could still bark between bits of cheese!  They also snatched the food, so I taught them a bit of inhibition and manners which meant they had to be quiet and back off for a moment before I opened my hand with the cheese – a few moments of blessed silence.

Soon we were at the stage when as soon as they started to bark again the lady called them back out of the room. They were reasonably willing because of the food reward – something they don’t usually get. After they joined us for about the fifth time the barking was minimal and the lady herself was doing the feeding. Progress.

These little dogs will be associating people coming to the house with panic and scolding. Blaze was even driven to bite a friend who insisted on picking him up against instructions. The aim now is for the dogs to begin to associate people with good stuff – food.

When the grandchildren visit the dogs will either be the other side of a gate or brought in on leads and taught not to nip fingers and jump on them using positive methods. Currently they have never been taught what IS wanted of them – only punished for what is NOT wanted.

The underlying problem of extreme excitement and stress has to be dealt with. This won’t be easy.  No more rough play from the teenage members of the family which is encouraging the mouthing and nipping.

Being so hyped up is not good for the dogs any more than it would be good for us, and not only causes problems for the family but also for friends, the neighbours and on walks.

From now on the motto should be ‘good things come to quiet dogs’. Food won’t go down until they are quiet. They won’t step out of the front door until they are quiet. They won’t be let out of their crate until they are quiet, they won’t be greeted until they are quiet, and so on.

If the people themselves are quiet, calm and consistent these adorable little dogs should eventually get the message.

About four weeks later: ‘The boys are definitely showing signs of improvement in several ways, they are a lot quieter, calmer and are not trying to be top dog with each other as much as they used to. I’m so pleased with the help you have given us so far and have recommended you to other people. Its so nice to enjoy the boys again rather than telling them off for all the noise they make. ‘

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Blaze and Rolo, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).