Little Bouncer is jumpy. He’s constantly on edge.
I would guess this is in this little Havenese’s genes, though not a general breed trait. It’s certainly not the fault of the family, a couple and their daughter aged ten.
Little Bouncer is jumpy. He’s constantly on edge.
I would guess this is in this little Havenese’s genes, though not a general breed trait. It’s certainly not the fault of the family, a couple and their daughter aged ten.
Ollie won’t let anyone groom him. He absolutely hates it. The Border Collie has developed tangles inside his back legs and behind his ears which need to be cut out.
The only way a groomer can work on him is to muzzle him and then use force. The otherwise very friendly dog completely changes personality. He becomes aggressive, snarling and showing his teeth.
His last visit to a groomer was a year ago now.
Within a few minutes of being with them, I discovered two things that may be relevant. He had been jumping at me in a very friendly fashion. When his feet were on the floor I gently put my hand out to touch him behind his ears.
Immediately I saw his teeth. He growled, backing away.
Oh! I didn’t expect that.
Trigger has become increasingly grumpy over the past three months. He growls more readily than he used to and has now bitten a couple of times.
They took him to the vet for a thorough check to make sure his change in behaviour wasn’t due to anything physical, and he has a clear bill of health.
Trigger and Biscuit are beautiful Dachshunds, lovely friendly little dogs, Biscuit age three and Trigger six months older. The young couple, conscientious owners, give them the best they can in terms of food, love and care.
The problems they are having now where Trigger and the resource guarding in particular is concerned will have their seeds in his genetics. Although previously lurking, the behaviour surfaces when he’s under stress. Continue reading…
A fluffy, cute little dog like young Cockerpoo Florence is a magnet for human hands. Human hands that feel compelled to touch her.
Just look at her and you can see why!
Like many dogs, she is very friendly with people she knows well but very nervous of other people, particularly if they try to touch her, and they nearly always do.
A big hand coming over a little dog’s head could be intimidating at the best of times. Some dogs, like some people, are simply less tactile than others anyway.
I watched as she jumped up and lay down beside one of the men, a man she clearly adores. He put his hand out to fuss her and she leaned away, licking her lips. She yawned. Quiet clearly she was saying, in dog language, don’t touch me. He carried on and she slowly turned onto her back.
The man said ‘See, she wants me to tickle her tummy’. I see something completely different. She is saying exactly the opposite. Is the dog really wanting a belly rub?
The men of the family also play vigorously with her – with their hands. Florence will simply become overwhelmed. What might start off as play soon becomes too much – scary even. Certainly too exciting.
Now the little dog is becoming increasingly wary of anybody that she doesn’t know well coming to close. “Oh no! A human hand coming at me again”.
Like most people, instead of insisting the person backs off and risking sounding unfriendly, her humans tell her off when she tries to do so herself by showing her teeth, growling and barking.
From the dog’s point of view this must be puzzling. The very people she trusts aren’t helping her out. Consequently, this makes people who come too close even more intimidating. Not only may she have to suffer being touched, but her humans may also get cross with her.
Loving a dog, from many dogs’ point of view, isn’t about being fussed and touched. It’s about feeling safe, being looked after and being given choices. Florence should be able to choose whether she wants to be touched or not. This is the case whether it’s by people she knows or by strangers.
We tried the consent test. I asked the man, who had stopped touching her, to slowly move his hand towards Florence again and touch her very briefly. Then to stop to see what she did.
She quiet clearly leaned and looked away. Had she wanted him to continue she would have leaned in towards him and actively participated. She wanted to be close to him. She didn’t want him to touch her.
They walk her to the pub at lunchtime where she sits, under the table as good as gold – unless someone comes towards her. People who have had a couple of pints aren’t always quite so sensitive! Why shouldn’t she say ‘Go Away’ after all?
The pub, however, could be a good opportunity to help her with people if done right. Whenever she is watching anyone moving about or coming in the door, from her safe and protected corner, they can drop her food. Gradually a person will herald food. They won’t be allowed to be a space invader nor herald scolding.
They can put a yellow ‘I Need Space‘ vest on her, to remind people.
Her family will actively teach Florence to herself touch an open hand upon cue; she should be able to trust that hand not to suddenly go into touching mode.
Success, where her confidence with other people is concerned, will depend upon the family themselves holding back on too much touching and petting. If they play a little hard to get and stop trying, it’s very likely that Florence will enjoy it more. Instead of physical fussing and rough-housing, they will be giving her brain more to do.
Success also depends upon them protecting her from unwanted attention from other people.
When we care for our dog so much, there are sacrifices to be made in the name of love.
Pearl came from a ‘farm’ in Wales. At six weeks old she was driven from there to the house the young couple bought her from. There were lots of dogs there. I have my suspicions about what kind of farm that was – a puppy farm very likely.
They say she’s a Border Collie, but doesn’t she look like an African Wild Dog! Look at those huge upright ears and the colouring.
The 9-month-old Pearl is a puzzle behaviourally also.
Pearl doesn’t like being touched whilst seeming to invite it.
She approaches the young lady who assumes it’s because she wants her to pet her, and then growls and bares her teeth when she does so.
Unfortunately, the couple feel the way to touch the dog is vigorously, kind of ruffling her with both hands. The man gets away with it – Pearl tolerates being touched by him – but not by the young lady, not even being touched gently. This understandably upsets her.
Pearl used to just growl and occasionally show her teeth.
They then had some very unfortunate advice from a trainer over the phone.
The couple admit that things have gone downhill from then, even though they only did it the once.
Pearl started snapping too and although it’s mostly at the young lady, it’s other people also. Family members want to fuss her. Looking as she does, people everywhere want to touch her. When she reacts, telling them in clear ‘dogspeak’ that she doesn’t like it, she is scolded. NO!
How confusing this must be.
The real puzzle is that she seems to be asking to be touched – or that is the conclusion they jump to. I however don’t think so. She wants to interact but she doesn’t want hands.
If she were to go to another dog, put her face against him and look into his eyes, what might she be saying? It would be inviting interaction and maybe play, certainly not hands on her or even paws.
Below is a still from a short video the young lady sent me of Pearl baring her teeth as she touches her. I see a dog exercising great self-control.
It is evident to me that, like many dogs, Pearl particularly doesn’t like a hand coming from above. Her first signal is to momentarily freeze. She did this with me, even though I was just very briefly touching her chest (with her consent). I immediately stopped.
Their reaction to ‘aggression’ is to be firm and shout NO. They have had the wrong and old-fashioned advice. To stop is to ‘give in’ and she ‘needs to know who is boss’.
The young man perceptibly made the point that touching Pearl is really for their own benefit and not Pearl’s.
I suggest they no longer ruffle her at all and no hands-on play. The lady’s daily routine is to touch her vigorously, particularly when she comes home from work. This is when the main trouble starts.
The evenings deteriorate into Pearl jumping on her – ‘demanding’ to be touched. Then Pearl shows her teeth, growls and maybe snaps when it happens.
Now they will resist nearly all touching and any done will be brief and not on the head. No vigorous ‘ruffling’. They will no longer go over to touch her when she’s lying down.
I showed the young lady how to clicker train Pearl to come to touch her hand. In this context Pearl will learn to like hands. Let the dog initiate the touching and find it rewarding.
Another aspect to it all is that, because she’s left alone while they are at work, the clever young dog may not get sufficient stimulation. Instead of ‘fielding’ her puzzling and demanding behaviour in the evenings, they will now initiate frequent short mentally stimulating activities. Activities that don’t get her stirred up unnecessarily and don’t involve too much physical contact.
They have already taught her lots of words. They have worked hard with her and I am sure there is a strong genetic element to her behaviour. She’s just not born to be a cuddly dog. They can accept her for who she is, a dog who likes at most being touched gently and briefly. Instead they can spend time doing with her the many things that she does enjoy.
You never know, in time and as her confidence and trust in them grows, she may enjoy short petting sessions.
They are very concerned because Fen growled at the new puppy.
I look at this very differently. Hooray for the older dog growling!
The thirteen-week-old pug puppy is let free in the room, in Labrador Fen’s room, and gets a bit too familiar too soon. If Fen didn’t growl they would never know that she was feeling uneasy or threatened and then what might happen?
Bailey is delightful. He is brave and playful as a puppy ought to be. Fen is now eight years old and doesn’t want to be jumped all over and that is fair enough. So she gives a warning growl. The puppy understands what that means but the the humans get alarmed.
Fen has been less patient of late with other dogs when out and they are afraid she may hurt the puppy.
I have seldom met a more patient and tolerant dog than Fen. Even when out she very rarely has reacted to another dog and then only when provoked. Their older dog had died and Fen probably feels a bit more anxious now without her.
The lady and the young daughter in particular are anxious. Very wisely they now have puppy Bailey in a crate when the two dogs are in the same room.
Fen is absolutely fine with sniffing Bailey through the bars. She is perfectly relaxed in the same room as her but she doesn’t want to be jumped on or interfered with. She needs to get used to him first.
One thing I find is that people usually restrain the older dog on a lead and let the puppy bound all over the place. This is wrong.
It should be the puppy that is restrained on lead. Fen can then sniff and interact with him if and when she wishes, knowing that she can escape out of his reach at any time.
They also need the kitchen door gated so that puppy can have freedom from the crate and people can relax. If they are constantly worrying and can’t leave both dogs alone, Fen is sure to pick up on it. Introducing a new puppy through a gate works best. Both dogs are free – and safe.
Good associations should be actively built up and with Fen food will work best. At the gate, or when Bailey is in the same room and on lead, she can be fed tiny and specially tasty bits of food – and so can Bailey
The garden is a great place to introduce a new puppy. The puppy on lead with older dog free (perhaps trailing a lead if the people are anxious).
It’s important that little Bailey doesn’t experience provoked aggression or anger from Fen at this crucial stage in her life. She needs to know that other dogs are nice and she should grow up to be a gentle and sociable adult dog herself. A little later when the two are freely together, any play that becomes too rough should be interrupted immediately for the same reason.
I shall go back soon when puppy has settled in. We are already working on toilet training and will look at some clicker training and introducing a new puppy to walking on lead.
We will also do some basic work with Fen on walks, to make sure she’s not put into a position where she is forced to react to other dogs by being too close and unable to escape.
I love jobs where it a case of introducing a new puppy.
Here is a cute video of Bailey. I had given him my puppy toy to keep him busy. Is it alive?
When I arrived, the man had Cocker Spaniel Danny in the shower. The dog had just come back from his favourite occupation – swimming in a muddy brook. The wet dog then greeted me – confident, curious and friendly.
I had been called to help an anxious dog and they want him to be happier. He seemed quite happy to me – if a bit unsettled. He did, however, have strange short bouts of what I can only call shaking shutdown. He would stand still head and tail down, and tremble. There are a few clues as to why he might be doing this based on what is happening beforehand (which was nothing apart from our sitting around a table, talking and taking no notice of him) and the reaction it gets (it generates sympathy and cuddles from the man).
They will be taking him to the vet to investigate further for possible physical causes.
This dog has a great life. He loves their three young children and lives with a calm little Cockerpoo. He has freedom to run in woods and fields and do ‘spaniel’ things (one thing I shall be helping them with later is loose lead walking – currently Danny would rather carry the lead!).
Where Danny’s anxiety is concerned, it manifests around certain vehicles; he also gets anxious and growly when there are too many people in the house, particularly children.
Chatting began to uncover the problem. Old-school attitudes tend to believe the dog should be disciplined and kept in line according to his lower place in the ‘pack’. This doesn’t imply cruelty but it doesn’t recognise that the dog has feelings and reacts to things very much in the same way as we would. People like this family don’t feel comfortable with this approach, but do things because they feel they should and that it’s the right way. It isn’t. A dog doesn’t need dominating but understanding.
There has been considerable scientific research recently that has proved beyond all doubt that a dog has feelings and emotions like our own. Eminent people have exposed the old dominance, alpha wolf, pack theory as a myth.
It’s a funny thing that someone who loves their dog so much, cuddles and comforts him, can at the same be insensitive to some of his fears.
If the dog is scared of something, the old way could well be to make him face it. If he growls and particularly if he bites, the old view is that this should be punished.
When Danny was scared of the ride-on mower as a young puppy, the man lifted him onto his knee as he mowed and too late he knew this was the wrong thing to do. The puppy was absolutely terrified. The dog now, six years later, still panics if the man even walks towards the shed the mower is kept in. The fear has generalised to other vehicles.
If this had been a fearful child they would undoubtedly have taken it slowly and patiently, helping him to learn to like the mower.
Now Danny has bitten a child.
It happened because nobody was paying attention to how he was feeling even though he did his best to tell them. He was punished in several ways. He was then sent away to stay with someone else for a couple of days.
Surprisingly, he isn’t yet showing any signs of the fallout which will surely come unless they now listen to what their dog is desperately trying to tell them.
Here is the same incident put into a human context.
Imagine that you are a child who wants to be left alone in peace to do your own thing and there are lots of people in your house. You find refuge in your own bedroom, but a bigger boy follows you in there and he won’t leave you alone. You politely tell him to go away but he pushes you, so you shout at him. Mum hears and she asks the boy to leave you alone.
Behind you mum’s back, the boy then comes back to your room to annoy you. You ask the boy to go away again; you yell at him and he continues to goad you. So you push him away. You feel scared. He won’t stop pestering you. You snap, you scream and then you hit him.
Now what happens?
Your world falls in.
The boy yells. People come running into your room shouting at you; your dad, who you trust, for some reason out of the blue attacks you. Later, after you thought it was all over, he comes back; he grabs you by the scruff of your neck and roughly throws you out of the house whilst attacking you again. You start to cry so loudly that he opens the door and chucks cold water over you to shut you up. You stifle your sobs, shivering and confused.
The next day they send you away to live somewhere else (you don’t know if you will ever come back home again).
You have learnt two things: that bigger kids are bad news and that you can’t trust your dad to help you out either. You have learnt that asking nicely doesn’t work. You have learnt that your bedroom isn’t a safe place. You have learnt that your dad is unpredictable and can be scary.
Punishment may work in the moment, but there is always long-term fallout.
The bond is very close between man and dog to the point over of over-dependence, which no doubt makes inconsistent or unprovoked behaviour very confusing for Danny. No wonder that at times he is anxious. Here he is in this picture, worrying as the man walks away and down the garden path.
I was called out so he would become a ‘happier dog – less anxious’, and we have found the key: understanding that the dog has feelings just like us, and dealing with his fears in the same way as we would our child’s fears.
Building up the dog’s confidence will require patience and lots of positive reinforcement, from the man in particular, so that he can rectify any damage previously done to their relationship. If there is no physical reason for his ‘shaking shutdowns’ then this approach should stop them also.
In truth, the little Shih tzu has snapped at two grandchildren and one of their friends this last week. Her teeth caught the nose of the last child.
There is absolutely no way she can be called an aggressive dog. She is beautiful and friendly. It is clear that at times things simply get too much for her. Too much noise, too many people and too much pulling about by children.
On each occasion the atmosphere was charged with excitement so her arousal and stress levels will have been getting higher and higher until she, literally snapped. On a couple of occasions she had taken herself off to lie down in peace, and the child had gone and disturbed her.
As you can imagine, the family are deeply upset to the extent they were even fearing losing Asha. They adore their little dog but they can’t have their grandchildren or their friends bitten.
We need to look into why would their dog bite a child, and deal with that.
Having questioned the very helpful nine-year-old boy in detail who had been present on each occasion and he himself one of the victims, the reason this has escalated so fast became clear. They simply did not recognise the signs that Asha was sending out, trying to communicate that she was uncomfortable and had had enough and she was almost forced into taking things further. Some breeds’ faces are more inscrutable than others, but there probably was some yawning or looking away. The boy told me she licked her nose.
Unaware of what the little dog was trying to tell him he carried on touching her, so she now growled. Unfortunately he took no notice of that either. So, she snapped. The child recoiled and, bingo, Asha succeeded in what she had been trying to achieve from the start, which was to be left alone.
The second time it sounds like she gave just a quick growl that was ignored before snapping. The child backed off. Job done. The final time, she went straight to the snapping stage, leaping at the child’s face with no prior warning.
Asha had, in the space of just one week, learnt what worked.
Three things need to be done straight away.
Firstly, the opportunity to rehearse this behaviour ever again has to be removed. Each time snapping succeeds in giving her the space she needs, the more of a learned response it will become.
If the atmosphere is highly charged or several children come to play – they have a swimming pool so things get noisy – then the dog should be shut away (something she is perfectly happy with).
Secondly, all children coming to their house must be taught ‘the rules’ and how to ‘read Asha’. The grandson who helped me so well is going to be her ‘Protector’ and teach the other children. I have sent a couple of videos for them to watch. The dog’s ‘den’ – an area under the stairs – must be isolated and totally out-of-bounds to kids. The boy is going to make a poster!
Here are their Golden Rules:
Don’t approach and touch Asha when she’s lying down, particularly when asleep.
Let Asha choose. Wait till she comes over to you. Don’t go over to her.
Don’t go near a dog that is eating anything.
Dogs don’t like hands going over their heads. Chest is best.
If you want to run around and have noisy fun, do it away from the dogs
If you see lip-licking, yawning or if you see the whites of her eyes. STOP. Move away.
If the dog keeps looking away. STOP. Move away.
If the dog goes very still STOP. Move away.
If you hear a growl. STOP. Move away.
Because kids, being kids, may forget the ‘no touching unless she comes over to you’ rule, I suggest when children are in the house that Asha wears something to remind them, maybe a yellow bandana or little jacket with ‘give me space’ or something similar.
The other thing in common between all three snapping incidents is that Asha was in a highly stressed state, so the third thing is helping to keep her stress levels down. There are quite a few trigger points in her life where things could be dealt with differently to help avoid stress accumulating which will mean she is a lot more tolerant and less ready to explode. I read somewhere a good saying: ‘Stress loads the gun’.
They fortunately are nipping this in the bud (no pun intended!) before it can develop further. I’m sure that with the children educated in ‘dog manners’, with any warnings heeded and things not allowed to get too exciting or overwhelming around her, Asha will feel no need to bite a child ever again.
A couple of weeks ago I went to Nico, another Cocker Spaniel with fairly similar fear issues towards people, lack of early socialisation in the early weeks certainly being a large part of the cause of his wariness of all sorts of things. Nico’s problem was far greater because he had little interaction with the outside world until my clients took him on at the age of two years old.
Sixteen-month-old Molly who I went to yesterday is a lot more fortunate however. They picked her up from the breeder at nine weeks old and with hard work have brought her round from being a scared puppy that growled even when family approached her to a great family dog, fine with nearly everything now apart from close contact with people she doesn’t know. Even then she doesn’t bark or growl. She hangs back and is very tentative, but I got the feeling she was really wanting to make friends – if she dared.
Molly actually came from a very well-regarded breeder of many years experience but who probably hasn’t kept up-to-date with modern behavioural science. Today it is acknowledged that early socialisation with puppies must begin way before they leave the breeder and their litter-mates. Being kept in kennels outside, however luxurious and warm, isn’t the same as being part of a family with lots of comings and goings and real-life experiences and doesn’t make them fit for modern living. I would recommend anyone buying a puppy takes a look at the Puppy Plan website and then check the breeder.
Molly is wonderful with the two young boys and they are great with her; she treats the six-year-old like another puppy. Interestingly, I found that when the children were in the room Molly’s confidence towards myself greatly increased.
Like most Cockers, Molly can become very excited. There have been a couple of incidents with very young children when backs have been turned which have resulted in cuts. No one can be sure whether they were accidental. On one occasion the child was hugging or squeezing her and on the other occasion a toy was involved. It’s easy to be over-confident because of how wonderful she is with her own family’s kids. All dogs need ‘protecting’ from inappropriate approaches by little children especially, and particularly dogs that are already nervous or over-excited. Backs should never be turned when young children and dogs are together, however confident we are in our dog. It only takes one moment after a build up of other things for the most tolerant of dogs to have had enough. The child will ignore the warning signs and the dog will get the blame.
I suggested a gate in the kitchen doorway so she had a safe haven and a place she can be put when things get a bit too noisy and exciting – as they are bound to with young children about. Molly will be happy with this I’m sure. She is a self-contained dog who likes her own company and will usually take herself off when the boys have gone to bed.
As is the case with many insecure dogs Molly is also quite protective, both at home and protective of the lady when they are out (not the man though). Because she is so different with the various people in her life, it demonstrates so well how a dog reflects her humans’ behaviour and state of mind. The man doesn’t anticipate trouble so when out Molly is carefree with him. The lady is a bit more tense and anxious, so Molly will doubtless sense this. She loves most other dogs, but if one runs over to the lady she will do her best to keep it away, zigzagging in front of her and circling.
The frantic barking and running from the front of the house to the back when she hears anything outside needs to be dealt with in such a way that she has confidence in her humans to take care of the situation and to look after her – the lady in particular. What happens at home spills out onto walks.
Starting with how she deals with ‘protection duty’ at home, the lady in particular can show Molly that she doesn’t need protecting and it’s the other way around – that she is there to protect Molly.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Molly, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV 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).
Little Cockerpoo Ruby is becoming increasingly scared outside on walks. She is no longer eager to go out.
Bit by bit bangs have infected all the places where they walk her. The only way they can get the ‘old happy Ruby’ back is by taking her to somewhere completely new, and even the new place is now contaminated by a bang.
Her general fearfulness is spilling over into other things now.
I have been to several dogs who are terrified of bangs and it’s incredibly hard for their loving owners to know what to do. A big problem is if the bangs are near to home, they are relentless. It’s a slippery slope unless the people themselves treat it differently.
Many people believe that to give their dog confidence in them they should behave as ‘the boss’ which can involve forcing the dog to do something she feels very uncomfortable with because ‘giving in’ would show weakness and the dog would no longer trust a weak owner.
In fact I would say it is the very opposite. The dog may perceive the bangs as life-threatening. Would a wise parent force his family danger? In this case, the lady herself said she wasn’t feeling happy by not ‘giving in’ to Ruby and removing her when she was scared, and she is now relieved that she can follow her own better instincts.
If our dog growls for instance, instead of scolding we should be asking, WHY is she telling us she is uncomfortable. We need to get to the reason and deal with that. If our dog has to be dragged somewhere, we need to ask ourselves why – and deal with that. Forcing Ruby into what she perceives as a danger zone in the name of exercise is counter-productive. The bangs keep happening and she simply loses faith in the people who are allowing her no escape, the very people she should be able to trust the most.
They will start by desensitising her in the house with small taps and then bangs, increasing the volume, distance and unpredictability of them, using a sound CD to help them also, and counter-conditioning her so she associates a bang with something nice. We have a plan of building it up in small increments, making sure always to keep within her comfort threshold.
Walks in ‘danger’ zones will not be taking place now until she can cope. She will be walked near home and as soon as any bang is heard they will go to work on her – which certainly doesn’t mean forcing her onwards.
With the other day-to-day stuff they will be doing that should back up their efforts, Ruby could suddenly get over her fears but, more likely, it could take weeks.
Her general confidence should improve too.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ruby, 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).