Go Away barking works. Now a learned behaviour

‘Go Away’, they barked. Four of the last five dogs I have been to are scared of people they don’t know well.

Bouncer, a Havenese, is generally anxious. He doesn’t like people approaching him. He barks Go Away.

Dudley is a Cavachon who barks Go Away madly when people come into his house, particularly if they try to touch him. He has snapped at a couple of children

Oreo barked quite fiercely at me for a short while. Go Away! He may go to nip people on walks who walk past too closely. He has bitten the post lady. Oreo is a Westie/Shitzu/Bichon mix.

Bronson barked Go Away on and off for a couple of hours

Today a visited gorgeous little Manchester Terrier called Bronson. Bronson barked at me on and off all the time I was there. Continue reading…

Replace Bad Habit With Good Habit

Anything repeated often enough can become a habit.

I totally fell in love with scruffy ten-month-old Jack Russell mix Max yesterday. I had the perfect evening with him and his humans.

It began with just me and the daughter who is in her late teens. Then mum arrived followed by twSitting still is a better habit than jumping abouto male school friends of the girl’s and later a man – all people closely involved in the dog’s life. Lucky little dog!

As each person joined us I was working with Max. He had jumped up at me in a madly friendly fashion as I walked in the door and I immediately showed him that this didn’t work with me if it was my attention he wanted. More importantly, I concentrated on showing him what did work.

As more people arrived and as I worked with him, instead of jumping up at them, becoming increasingly excited and silly as would normally be the case, he was becoming more and more settled.

When finally the man joined us, he said Max must be another dog.

It won’t take much of this to build up a new habit when people arrive, so long as everyone is consistent. They have a lot of people coming and going so training the humans is the main problem here!

All I did was to consistently reinforce the behaviour I wanted. As you can see from the photo, Max became FOCUSED! He was sitting looking up at me as we all chatted. From time to time I reinforced the continued calm behaviour with Yes or a click and the tiniest bit of food.

Now he can develop a new habit, that of sitting at someone’s feet looking adorable in order to get his attention fix!

BanceMax1I then tried him on an antler chew. Chewing is such a great and natural way for a dog to relieve stress and to occupy himself. Max worked away at it for maybe an hour after which he simply lay down and settled.

Just like so many dogs I go to, Max generates nearly all his own attention with tactics like constantly asking to be let out and then back in again, jumping up behind people, mouthing, digging the sofa – anything he can think of.

If instead his humans initiate frequent short activities that he finds rewarding and that exercise his brain, he will no longer be driven into goading them for the attention and action he craves.

 

They can convert any unwanted habit into a good habit.

The small dog has fantastic humans in his life who have put time and effort into teaching him training tricks. Now they need to incorporate work on keeping him a bit calmer and making the desirable habits the rewarding ones.

At last he settles

At last he settles

Here are a few examples where his bad habit can be changed into a good habit.

Before bed and before they go to work, like so many dogs Max will refuse to come in from the garden. With a bit of management by way of a long lead so he can no longer rehearse the behaviour and food so that he’s motivated, this habit can soon be changed to him running in as soon as they call him.

While they eat their dinner, he has a habit of sitting on the back of the sofa behind them and trying to get their food! This habit can be changed with a mix of management and training. So he can no longer rehearse this behaviour he can be put somewhere else while they eat. He can then be taught a much better habit instead.

Whenever he sees a person out on a walk he will jump up at them. This habit can be changed through a mix of management and teaching him something better that earns him fuss.

Even pulling on lead is a habit. He is forced to walk beside them and the short lead is tight so that pulling against it is constantly rehearsed on every daily walk. A new habit can be established using management – better equipment – and a loose leash that is repeatedly reinforced by earning him forward progress along with plenty of encouragement, attention and reward.

Near the end of our session yesterday I put one of my Perfect Fit harnesses on Max and attached a training lead. Within a few minutes the now calm Max was walking beautifully for me and then for the daughter outside the front of the house.

Already a new and much better walking habit has been born.

It was quite touching how he was with me by the time I was ready to leave and we had removed the harness. He lay beside me, his head on my foot. What had I done to him?

We had a mutual understanding. Max felt quietly understood.

 

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 Max. 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)

 

Barks. Barking at Everything. Constant High Arousal

Barney barks at anything and everything.

he barks at everythingThe Wirehaired Fox Terrier came to live with the lovely lady ten weeks ago, a companion for her Welsh Terrier, Lily.

Barney barks for attention and simply won’t stop until he gets it. He barks at the slightest thing he may hear or see. He barks at anyone who might come to the house and this will continue, on and off, all the time they are there. He barks with excitement, he barks with frustration and he barks when he’s scared. He barks non-stop in the car.

Barney barks at Lily when he’s aroused and this can upset her. He also barks at Lily when the lady pays her attention of any sort.

Over-arousal. Habit.

There are two underlying things to be dealt with that are relevant to the excessive barking, the main one being Barney’s severely high stress levels. Even in this calm environment they are permanently so high that the smallest thing tips him over. He is constantly having to find ways to release the build-up.

The other underlying thing that’s relevant is habit. He’s learnt to rely upon barking. It’s a learned behaviour that has been reinforcing to him in some way, probably for most of his seven years.

Whenever he’s barked for attention he will have received it in some form or other, even if only to be shouted at (not by his new lady owner, I must add).

Barking may simply make him feel better (like we might feel better by screaming, shouting or crying if we had no other way to relieve our feelings of frustration, fear, anger or excitement).

His barking was worse than usual when I was there. Normally it’s just the three of them and things are more peaceful. We sat talking, sometimes in a fairly animated way. The lady was giving me her attention and not Barney. This kept him restless.

It was good that I was able to see everything at its worst.

Cold turkey.

I would liken Barney’s need for attention a bit to that of an addict’s need for drugs. The only way to reduce this is for attention barking not to work; he will need to go through a kind of ‘cold-turkey’. Things could get worse before getting better.

The antidote without veterinary intervention is plenty of attention and reinforcement being given for quiet and for calm along with various stress-reducing activities to fill his life with instead.

Where barking will get him nothing in the way of attention, stopping barking or even a momentary break in the barking will be reinforced. The idea is to teach him that not barking works a lot better than barking does.

Barking isn’t the only thing he does to relieve his stress. He may scoot along the floor or rock on his bottom. He may pester Lily. He drinks excessively and constantly licks his lips and nose. He pants.

He is using Lily to redirect his emotions by barking at her too. She tries to chase him off. I advised immediately calling him away as it upsets her.

When they did play, it quickly developed into Monty body slamming – see here. I’m told that when he is relatively calm they play nicely.

Gaps and empty spaces leave a void that needs to be filled.

I read something the other day which I like: ‘You don’t stop behaviours without replacing with new ones. Gaps, empty spaces, have a void that needs to be filled’.

The lady will be looking at more alternative activities to help him de-stress, involving chewing, foraging and so on. She had already made a good start. Anything that is currently happening in Monty’s life that works him up will be reduced as much as possible.

He will be taken into the garden on lead until he learns not to charge out, barking frantically as he goes. He won’t have unattended access to outside. The lead-up to walks and meals will be done differently for maximum calm.

We went through lots of things, ways to reduce his stress levels whilst looking for acceptable ways in which he can vent his overflow of stress for himself that will replace the barking.

A bit like the Tesco slogan ‘every little helps’, lots of small things should add together to help Barney. This in turn should, over time, reduce his barking.

 

No Impulse Control Around People. Jumps and Bites.

Beau has no impulse control around peopleAbsolutely no impulse control around people, that is the problem.

Beautiful Beau is a big strong Chocolate Labrador. He’s 9 months of age and his teeth hurt. With no impulse control, his biting and grabbing of my clothes would have been nearly constant had not the lady held him back. It was a struggle for her.

I have to call it ‘biting’ because he was using his teeth with some force, but there was no aggression behind it. No growling or hostility. There wasn’t fear either though possibly the level of his arousal involved more than just pleasure to see me. He will have been uncertain as well.

Jumping, biting and no impulse control has become his default response for dealing with the excitement he feels.

Both the lady and her adult son are accustomed to being bitten when Beau gets too excited. He bites sufficiently hard to bruise but not to break skin. He was an unusually nippy and bitey puppy. Like many people, they will unwittingly have encouraged teeth on human flesh through play – contact sports using their hands.

No impulse control.

A stitch in time saves nine, as they say. If, from the outset when Beau was a little puppy, both jumping up and grabbing with teeth were consistently and persistently met with no reinforcement but an acceptable alternative offered, he wouldn’t be doing it now.

Tug of war played properly is a much better game. Puppy has to learn that if teeth even unintentionally touch flesh, all fun immediately stops. He then learns to be careful.

Usually dogs like this will have very high stress levels and constantly be ready to ‘explode’. This doesn’t seem the case with Beau. His home is calm. Generally he’s no more excited than any other 9-month-old Labrador, but when he does get aroused, it’s always teeth.

Beau is given plenty of enrichment and he’s not left alone for too long. He doesn’t do the usual things that build stress in a dog such as excessive barking, getting over-excited before a walk and panicking when left alone.

It’s all around people

He has no impulse control around people. When someone comes to his house or if they meet people when out on a walk he morphs into a different dog.

Why does he find people quite so stimulating, I wonder? He has been very well socialised from the start.

The lady so much wants to have social walks with her lovely dog and to invite friends round, but she can’t because he bites them! Things are getting worse. Could this be that she herself is becoming increasingly anxious? As I sat with her in the kitchen, I could feel her very understandable tension and anxiety. If I could feel it, then so would Beau.

Having been rehearsing the biting and jumping for months since he was a small puppy, it will now be learned behaviour – a habit.

How can we break it?

Learned behaviour – a habit.

What we have to work on is both the cause of the behaviour as well as the behaviour itself – and this cause is over-excitement around people and no self-control when aroused.

To succeed, Beau must be prevented from rehearsing the biting anymore in every way possible. It simply has to be made impossible. Without an experienced professional actually living with them with nothing else to do than work with Beau, I can see no other way than extensive use of a basket muzzle to begin with. When he gets his ‘rough’ times at home with his family, when friends visit and when he’s out and likely to encounter people, his mouth has to be taken out of action.

This will be much better than banishing him.

A basket muzzle is best because he has freedom open and close his mouth, to drink and to eat treats. If introduced properly so that it’s always associated with good things, he shouldn’t mind it too much. I know this could be controversial.

Without now being hurt, they must now teach him different habits and better ways of getting attention. He also needs better ways of relieving his quick-building arousal and frustration levels. In removing the ability to bite from his repertoire, they need to supply replacement activities and outlets.

I suggested a gate for the kitchen so at times when he’s likely to use his teeth or when people come, he can go behind it with something acceptable to chew until he has calmed down. Use of ‘No’ and ‘Down’ can only increase his frustration whilst in a way being reinforcing to him as well.

Self control.

When I was there, Beau held lead on harness to prevent the biting of me, we constantly used his food to reinforce every moment of desired behaviour.  He sat, he got food. He lay down and was silently rolled a piece of his kibble.

The emphasis must now be on reinforcing the behaviour that they DO want. People, when out, will be kept at whatever distance is necessary while they work on his self-control using positive reinforcement. He will learn that sitting or standing calmly brings dividends but this is only possible when not too close.

Jumping and biting is simply Beau’s default both when aroused or when feeling unsure of himself – both at home and when out on walks.

We shouldn’t underestimate the effectiveness of a dog having something in his mouth where the teeth are, whether it’s a ball, something that squeaks or even a bone! It all depends – all dogs are different.

What actually is excitement anyway and is it always pure joy? Wouldn’t we feel excited on a Big Dipper? Wouldn’t we be feeling scared before a bungee jump and isn’t that part of the buzz?

As Beau gains some self control and is helped to calm down around people, the muzzle can be used less and less until it’s no longer necessary.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Beau. 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. The muzzle idea may be totally inappropriate in another case. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

 

Redirected Arousal After Too Much Play

I have just had a DIAL conversation, a one-hour chat with a couple about their two-year-old Red Fox Labrador, Saffy. I wasn’t there in person because they live too far away, but it was doable because the problem is straightforward.

Some questions unearthed the true reason for her behaviour towards other dogs.

Saffy is very well trained. She is also very sociable and well-mannered with other dogs apart from just one scenario.

redirected arousal

Dog similar to Saffy

She has her special dog pals that she plays with and, in the words of the lady, ‘when walking with one of her friends, if other dogs come to join in the play she tries to “own” the pal dog. It is as if she is jealous. She chases and hangs on to its collar and sometimes snarls’.

Questioning diagnosed that these ‘pals’ that she reacts upon aren’t the only dogs she walks with and knows well. She only behaves in this ‘aggressive’ manner with those that are playful and not her calmer or older pals. Could it be redirected arousal?

Saffy is walked twice a day off lead in a place with many off-lead dogs and there is a lot of playing and running about.

I am sure that it’s to do with over-arousal.

The incidents rarely happen at the very start of the walk.

The play is unchecked and the added excitement of another dog results in Saffy redirecting onto the dog she knows best – her pal that she’s been playing with. When we are stressed and want to take it out on someone, it can be our nearest and dearest that received our redirected arousal can’t it! Too much play and exercise may not always be a good thing.

It’s redirected arousal, not dominance.

I recommend limiting play to short sessions with lots of calling her back. Her recall is great apart from when she is really fired up, so they will work on whistle recall instead and use it well before things get too exciting.

When she’s playing with a pal and another dog appears, they must call her back straight away. Lots of reward for doing so. Then, when the dogs interact she can join them rather than the other way around.

I’m sure also that redirected arousal onto a pal is now simply a habit for Saffy, when she’s excited from play and another dog comes over, to ‘take it out’ on the pal. This can be broken by preventing it from happening, even if it means curtailing play to very short sessions.

 

If you are out of my area and your problem is reasonably straightforward, you may like to take a look at DIAL. I give a one-hour telephone consultation followed by a written report with plan and email help.