Poodle Growling at the Kids

Poodle growls when the children go near himA while ago Harry started quietly growling when touched by the two young boys (7 and 9).  It was when he was either lying on his chair or in his crate. The attention they give him is likely to be rather over-enthusiastic and he’s a delicate little toy poodle.

Harry is two years old, a perky and intelligent little dog. Very friendly.

This sort of behaviour usually escalates because what the dog is trying to say politely – because his other signs of anxiety like lip-licking and looking away haven’t been recognised – is ‘I don’t want you to do this just now’, and this is ignored.

Many people believe that dogs should like being touched whenever and however we want to touch them, but many simply don’t – or else they only like ga certain touch like chest tickles.

Harry’s soft growls were met with scolding and being put outside. He was discovering that polite gentle growling wasn’t acknowledged so the growling has been getting louder and more frequent.  Now he may even also sometimes growl when the parents touch him when he’s lying down or asleep. If the boys rush into the room he may tell them in doggy language to Go Away. If the growling is disregarded or punished, what choice does that leave him? The next step may be to snap.

Some days Harry is more tolerant than others. Imagine you stubbed your toe as you got out of bed in the morning, then the phone rang as you were about to leave for work with a sales call, then the car wouldn’t start and by the time you got to work you had a raging headache. Then someone knocks into you. You may well shout at them.

There are things in little Harry’s life that can contribute to a build up of stress, more some days than others. The boys, being boys, can make a lot of noise which he doesn’t like; he goes mental when post comes through the door, he barks when people walk past the house and if he hears a car door slam; some days when he’s left alone it is in the garden where he no doubt will be barking most of the time. On walks when too near people and dogs he gets scared and barks. Imagine how he may be feeling later, lying somewhere peacefully where he should be ‘safe’, and attention is forced upon him.

It is a tribute to the little dog’s restraint that he’s not yet snapped. They realise this is only a matter of time which is why I was called.

Harry is now going to lie down in an imaginary bubble (which if burst will let out a revolting smell – the boys can decide just what that smell should be!). This bubble surrounds him whenever he lies down. We caught Dad, unthinkingly, touching a snoozing Harry as he walked past so, boys, how can we remind Dad and how can you remind yourselves?

They will design some stickers which they can then stick on the places where Harry likes to sleep – maybe pictures of a bubble? When they want to touch him they can sit a few feet away and call him to them. This way Harry gets a say in the matter. But why should he want to come to them? What’s in it for Harry? Not for a hug, that’s certain or for anything too boisterous. They have been thinking about what Harry would like. Play? Food?

In order for Harry to be more tolerant, in addition to the family being more tuned in to his feelings there are several pieces of the jigsaw missing which, when in place, should make him a less reactive dog in general. These include not leaving him for several hours alone in the garden when they are out, helping him out when he barks at people going past, installing an outside letter box, making his crate a sanctuary that nobody goes near so he has somewhere to escape to when the boys get rowdy, putting more distance between him and other dogs when out, and doing everything else they can to keep his stress levels down.

By fitting in all the pieces of the jigsaw, along with the boys (and Dad!) allowing Harry some choice in the matter of being touched, they will reverse the downward spiral I’m sure.

A couple of weeks later: The children are doing really well. They want to cuddle and give Harry love all the time but are learning to do it in a different way. They respect the “bubble” and say it automatically when they go near his bubble. Brilliant. They call Harry to them when they want to give him a fuss and have learnt to do it in a calmer manner, not to excite Harry too much. If Harry doesn’t want to come, they try using food and it works every time. Always a short fuss and not more than Harry wants. We have all started to recognise his signals.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chauncey, 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, particularly important where either aggression or children are involved. 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).


Mini Dachshund. Important Dog

BentleyDachshund growls when touched unless he has chosen to be touched, particularly when he’s asleep or resting beside them.

This picture sums up three-year-old Bentley perfectly. He is extremely agile for a Dachshund and he sits high on a shelf looking as if to say “who said you could take a photo of me!”

Bentley is a real little character with a mind of his own. His humans have worked hard with him, having taken him to training classes, using positive methods and reward.  Positive methods however don’t mean that boundaries aren’t important, and there are areas where Bentley needs to learn a bit more self-control.

He can become obsessive about having toys thrown for him, especially persistent when someone comes to the house. It would actually be rather sweet in small doses, but he uses it not so much for the pleasure of chasing as for getting the person to do what he wants. As I discovered, if one doesn’t obey him he then barks!

Like people, some dogs are simply less tactile than other. Some grow to object when showered with touching and attention. It’s quite difficult for people who adore their dogs to play a little hard to get, but the truth is that if they do the dog will probably stop the growling and even learn to welcome being approached and touched in small doses.

Imagine people in your house, unprompted, touch or cuddle you whenever you sit down for a bit of peace.  Wouldn’t you eventually get cross?  Soon, when people approached you, would you not say ‘go away, leave me alone’.  You may even shout at them when someone touches you accidentally. Let’s face it, when we cuddle another person or a dog, it can be more about making us feel good than the object of our affection. We somehow just can’t stop ourselves.

Bentley’s owners are very perceptive and all they needed was an objective point of view.

Sometimes we can be blind to the obvious when we are actually living in the middle of things.

From email received about 7 weeks later: “Bentley really is so much calmer these days but don’t get me wrong, he’s still the extremely energetic and entertaining character he was before! Certain things still get him a bit worked up, such as noises from neighbours, but it’s much, much easier to control it now.  The hardest part is certainly on our part, being persistent and consistent – but the efforts are so worth it. Overall we can see such an improvement.
Yesterday was a great example of all the improvements. A quick visit to the park yesterday and a tiny, tiny chihuahua came over to try and play with him, running with him for quite some time and Bentley didn’t care even though he had his brand new toy, no heckles went up. He didn’t interact with the dog but he just wasn’t bothered – it was fantastic! Then as we were leaving, there was a jack russell and a larger dog leaving so I thought it would be a good test to see how Bentley would be as we were behind them and again, he really didn’t seem bothered. We walked right behind them as we crossed the road and he was absolutely fine! It was such a nice relief!
I generally feel much more confident that Bentley won’t react like he used to. Then last night we were all on the sofa and one of the cats came over and gave a miaow and Bentley went over and gave him a sniff and then later proceeded to sleeping right next to him. That doesn’t happen every day but he’s much less possessive over the sofa these days 🙂
Thank you so much for everything – we couldn’t be happier with all the advice you have given. He’s still an absolute nutter, but we are really proud of him and we’re so happy knowing that for the most part, he’s a much calmer sausage!

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

Obsessed with balls. Chasing sticks.

chasing sticks. Chasing ballsIt is sometimes hard to determine whether changes in a re-homed dog’s behaviour after a couple of weeks or so is due to settling in and old traits resurfacing, or to something the new people are themselves are doing. Probably a mix of both.

They have had delightful two-year-old DJ for about six weeks now and a couple of behaviour problems have surfaced that are getting worse.

Obsessed with balls

He is becoming increasingly obsessed with balls – but only as a tool to get people doing what he wants. As soon as anyone sits down he is constantly dropping the ball on them, waiting for it to be thrown. He is very winning and it’s hard not to do it – see the photo!

He’s not interested, however, if someone other than himself chooses to get a ball and throw it for him!

Less experienced people often believe extreme excercise is the cure to behaviour issues when in fact it can be the opposite. There is a happy balance. TV trainers with gimmicks are partly to blame. ‘Exhaust the dog and he will be good’! How do you feel if you are exhausted?

Chasing sticks

JD is much more strung up after his long walks with lots of chasing sticks than before he goes out. On the way back home he may lunge and bark at cars, something he doesn’t do on the way out. Then, once home, instead of being satisfied, he’s is in a very highly strung and agitated state, desperately seeking to unwind. If he can’t find a ball he shakes. He may chew his feet.

We are working out whether to go cold turkey with the balls, whether to offer him very short ball sessions but only instigated by the owners and not in the sitting room, or whether to give him something good to chew to distract him. I favour the latter if he will have it because the act of chewing produces calming chemicals in the body.

The second problem is that they are now wary of touching him. He leaps onto them whenever he feels like it, which would be okay if he didn’t then growl if they move, especially if he’s sleepy.

It seems the more they fall over themselves to please him and make him happy, the worse he gets. The daughter, who is a nanny, understood quite quickly what he needs – very much the same as the two children in her care need in order to feel secure, calm and happy. This isn’t constant attention, the grown-ups obeying their every demand, over-stimulating exercise and play, eating whenever they like and so on. It is quality time, play times, peaceful times, meal times, rules, boundaries and consistency, trusting the adults to make the important decisions – and plenty to occupy their brains!

A Border Collie Being a Border Collie

Shy Border CollieSasha is shy. She didn’t like me pointing my mobile phone at her for this photo. She has retreated and is doing a classic ‘lookaway’ that a dog does when feeling uncomfortable.

She lives with Joshua, a terrier. Both are rescue dogs.

Sasha is a two year old Border Collie – biddable but a bit nervous. Her owners have a couple of acres of land and the dogs can have free run. The problem comes when the dogs are alone in the garden and somebody comes through the gate.

Joshua is very vocal and will bark, but Sasha may drop down, or quietly go round behind them and bite. She has now bitten a couple of times including a plumber who had to go in and out of the front  door to his van. They can no longer trust Sasha.

Where Joshua can sound ferocious, quieter Sasha is the risk where visitors to the property are concerned. The problem only happens outside of the house and when the lady or gentleman are not out there with her. She is simply doing what many nervous or protective dogs would do, in a Border Collie sort of way, by going for the back of the legs.

Whilst Sasha’s general confidence is going to be worked on (and Joshua’s growling at his owners if they touch him or move him against his wishes!), sensible management steps need to be taken also. Sasha needs to be saved from herself. All opportunity needs to removed, because each time she nips or bites it is a skill she is improving and it will only get worse if not addressed.  If she were to injure someone seriously mainly out of fear, she could pay the ultimate price.

They are going to fence off the back of their property so that the dogs are unable to get to the gate or the front door. Then Sasha will be safe, visitors can be safe, and everyone can relax.

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