Fighting Saint Bernard and Boxer

Harry is a St.Bernard mix


Great Dane Blue and Boxer Sebastian lived happily together with their owners. Both dogs have their own traits – Blue is a bit needy probably due to health issues when he was a puppy, and Sebastian is very exuberant.

Then, about a year ago, they added Harry, a St.Bernard, to the mix. Things seemed to go very well until about four weeks ago when the St.Bernard and the Boxer had their first big fight. Since then,  as soon as they have come into each other’s presence there has been a big fight and damage, especially to Sebastian. The situation seemed to come out of the blue, but in hindsight the unchecked play between the two dogs was becoming extreme and should have been a warning sign. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I personally nip in the bud boisterous play between my own dogs the minute it looks like getting out of hand with any body-slamming or ‘hunting down’. The problem now with Harry and Sebastian is that their entry level is hackles, snarling and FIGHT.Great Dane and Boxer at the window. They now need to be kept apart

The ingredients seem to a mix of Blue, who keeps out of the way, but generally hypes up the atmosphere with excessive barking and anxiety especially if the lady of the house is out of sight, and Sebastian who tends to be over-excitable. One-year-old Great Dane Harry is a calmer dog, but is now an adolescent challenging Sebastian, and there is a lot of testosterone flying about.

In order to keep the two dogs separate means constantly moving dogs about the house like chess pieces, two in the garden while the third comes downstairs, one in the utility room while two are fed elsewhere, two upstairs while the third is let out into the garden – and so on. Very difficult. The people are incredibly patient and doing everything they can possibly find to remedy the situation between their beloved dogs, but are naturally extremely worried and wonder whether it will ever end.

Not having witnessed the fighting, I have to guess what triggers it. I suspect a cocktail of doggy personalities, over-excitement, stress and teenage testosterone. Most have kicked off in doorways.

We are working on the humans creating as calm an atmosphere as possible. Meanwhile, so that the humans will be able to relax when the rehabilitation process begins, both dogs will be introduced to muzzles in such a way that over the next two or three weeks they will learn to welcome them and happily be able to spend some time muzzled. Sebastian will probably get his off and eat it! However, Harry is the main aggressor and does the most damage.

Now, with a calmer environment, some rules in place and muzzles accepted, they need to work at re-introducing the dogs bit by bit, initially just walking one past the other a few times on lead at home, interrupting any eye-balling, along with parallel walking techniques out in the open. I sincerely hope that this works and that the two dogs, like some humans, do not now hate each other to the extent they simply can’t live together. Splitting up a St.Bernard fighting a large Boxer is no joke.

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 Blue and Sebastian. 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, particularly where aggression of any kind is involved. 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).
Young black labrador lying down

Aggression Around Food Bowl

Millie is a gorgeous five-and-a-half month old Labrador of working stock. Apart from some jumping up she really was the model dog when I was there, biddable and affectionate. She has a lovely family who do everything good dog-owners should.

Twice every day, when she has her meals, her stress levels rocket and afterwards she is so aroused and wild that she is chewing furniture, jumping around the place, humping her bed, stealing things and being quite a challenge.

From the moment the lady or gentleman goes to the cupboard to get her food out of the bin she is becoming fired up. I saw this for myself. I didn’t see what usually follows as I suggested we put the food somewhere high and went back into the other room until she had calmed down.

What happens is, as the food goes down Millie starts to snarl and her hackles rise. Her whole demeanour completely changes. As she gulps the food down she sounds ferocious. They have tried many of the most usual things suggested for food guarding and she merely gets worse. Trying to add good stuff to the bowl as is often suggested – even throwing it from a distance – may cause her to launch herself at them.

One thinFive and a half month old black labradorg that was a little clue to me is that, when she’s finished eating, she attacks the metal bowl and throws it about. I suspect this is as much about the bowl as it is about the actual food. When given a treat, for instance, although she may be a bit snatchy there is no aggression. She was like this more or less from the start and it’s getting worse and worse. She was the smallest puppy in the litter of eight. Food guarding problems can start when the puppies are all fed together out of one bowl and one is pushed out.

The family hadn’t fed her so we worked out a plan. They now had the food out of the cupboard ready (in future they will get the food out in advance). Millie had calmed down and we went back to the kitchen. I watched the lady over the breakfast bar as she followed my suggestions, to see if I had indeed hit upon a workable tactic.

(NB. If you have a dog with these sort of issues, please don’t assume that this approach as suitable for your own dog. It may be the very worst things you can do. It’s important to get professional help so that strategies are based on diagnosis of your dog’s own specific behaviour in context).

The lady was to feed her at the furthest corner from the door and away from any people passing, directly onto the floor.  Millie was calm. A container with her food (not her own bowl) was on the surface beside the lady who had her hands behind her back and was facing this corner. Millie was thinking – what’s this about? Where’s my food? She looked the lady in the eye who immediately said ‘Yes’ and dropped a small handful of the food on the floor in front of her. Millie ate it calmly. The lady waited. Millie looked into her eyes again, ‘Yes’ and more food went down. This carried on until the last handful whereupon the lady walked out and left Millie to it. She shut the gate behind her to pre-empt any wild behaviour being taken into the sitting room. There was none.

They will do this for at least a couple of weeks before upping the ante. Millie should be a lot calmer in general without these manic bouts twice a day and I reckon small signs of aggression that are developing in other areas will disappear.

The next step in the process will be to drop the food onto a flat place mat rather than directly onto the floor and see how that goes. There is no rush. After a week or two they can try something with shallow sides like a tray, moving onto a low-sided heavy baking dish, eventually using a large, heavy porcelain dog bowl and not the small metal bowl she now has.

There are other things to put into place also, but I believe the jigsaw will eventually be complete if they are sufficiently patient and try not to hyper her up to much in general.

Five weeks later: “I’m pleased to report that Millie is definitely showing improvement in most areas, including growling over her food. We are still feeding her onto a place mat but when it spills off the side I can reach down and push it back onto the mat without any reaction from her at all, which is good. We are doing what we can to keep her stress levels down and it’s definitely making a difference to her overall behaviour. “

NB. The precise protocols to best and most safely use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Millie, which is why I don’t go into exact detail details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good, causing danger even. 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).

Jack Russell With Big Ears

Jack Russell attacked a dogNot being able to trust your dog can ruin walks. The human is anxious all the time and the dog loses freedom.

Little Jack Russell Rags is nearly 4 years old now, and he has lived with the lady since he was one. To date there have now been four episodes culminating in Rags attacking a dog that he knew.

Each incident had seemingly been over a resource of some sort – a ball or food. From how the lady describes it, it’s probable that in the most recent and worst incident with the friend’s dog that she herself was the resource.

I noticed that wherever we were standing Rags carefully placed himself between us, watching me.

In the most recent and worst incident the lady was with a friend in the other lady’s kitchen. The dogs had met a couple of times out on walks previously and had been fine together. The two ladies were chatting and both dogs were under the table between them. Suddenly Rags went for the other dog’s throat. Being long-haired, the much bigger dog wasn’t hurt and he didn’t retaliate, but it really upset Rag’s lady. She decided she needed to do something about it.

Already she has started to put into place some of my advice over the phone regarding encountering dogs on walks and the situation is getting a lot better. The hackling, lunging and barking has reduced dramatically.

It can seem unfriendly and embarrassing when meeting a person with their dog if you simply walk away from them! For this reason I suggest a ‘dog in training’ yellow vest for Rags. This may help a little too with those off-lead uncontrolled dogs whose owners give one an earful when our own on-lead dog responds to being approached!

The lady now needs to address the issue of Rags’ possessiveness of herself, including guard duty in general. She will work on a couple of training exercises to get and keep his attention and give him a bit more mental stimulation.

One month later: ‘walking is going well. I am feeling more relaxed. “Look at me” is wonderful. He knows” find it” . i am better at “reading” Rags now.

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

Dogs an Inconvenience Not a Pleasure

GSD Sascha watching the rabbit



GSD Sascha is a handsome dog


Sascha is a beautiful two-year-old German Shepherd who lives with GSDs black Tango (10) and Annie (4).

The couple who own them run a rabbit rescue and these dogs are incredible. Rabbits are free in parts of the house and run around the dogs who are completely chilled with them.

This visit was a good example of how people who are living in the middle of their situation can’t see it clearly, and how under the general pressures of life things have gradually slipped until, to quote the lady, their dogs were no longer a pleasure but an inconvenience to put up with.

Sascha is generally quite pushy but also more nervous; she hackles and barks when people come to the house. In no time at all after I arrived she was happy and friendly, as were the other two. All the time I was encouraging the lady to keep quiet, not to scold the dogs, not tell them to go away and not to use the word ‘no’. To relax. They are dogs after all. It’s natural for them to gently sniff a stranger.

These dogs get nearly all their attention when they are doing something unwanted – Sascha in particular, and mostly in the form of ‘no’ and scolding. They get no attention or reward for being good.

Annie is bullied by Sascha


Sascha opens doors and child gates, she toilets on the floor immediately after she has been taken outside. She bullies poor Annie who spends much of her time hiding in the kitchen. The couple would leave them to get on with it – to sort it out for themselves. I ask people in this sort of situation, ‘what would you do if you had a child bullying her sister?’. Would you leave her to get on with it? Would you not kindly teach her a better way of behaving and protect the victim? Sascha is a very brainy dog who needs more stimulation. We did a bit of very simple clicker training and it was marvellous to see how focused and eager to please she became with something that is reward-based. We wouldn’t want to work for nothing and it’s the same for dogs, whether it’s food reward, play or merely praise.

Reinforcement drives behaviour.

Soon this lovely young couple should be bonding with their beautiful dogs, and enjoying them once more like they used to.

Very Scared of People

Rudy looks more English Bull Terrier in the photo but you can see the pale Husky eyes16-month-old Rudy looks more English Bull Terrier in the photo but you can see the pale Husky eyes. A beautiful dog and quite unusual looking. Because of this he attracts attention, and human attention is what he can’t handle.

Like so many of the dogs I go to, his start in life was far from ideal. From the time he left his mother and litter mates at 8 weeks old and until he was four months old, he was shut in a room all alone for hours on end, before being returned to the breeder. The most valuable weeks of his life for socialising and happily encountering many different things including lots of people, had been lost. My clients then took him on.

Rudy is terrified of people coming to the house. He barks and hackles, but is also ready to run. He may empty his bladder if approached. He has never bitten. He barks constantly when anyone he doesn’t know well comes to the house – so much that nobody can speak. Unfortunately this has led to a lot of shouting which simply makes things worse. Very unusually for him, he quietened down for me very quickly and we were able to talk after a few minutes, which goes to show how, if the visitors use the right signals and body language, don’t approach or stare at him and stay seated, if his owners too keep quiet and calm, he can be helped. He is watching me in the photo, fairly calm – but that would change quickly if I were to suddenly stand up.

The other major problem is that he is so dependent upon the presence of the lady in particular that for a year they have seldom gone out. The couple are almost prisoners in their home because they can neither have visitors nor go out and leave him.

So we have two big problems to deal with, fear of people and fear of being left. It is going to take a long time because each must be dealt with in tiny increments, a step at a time, with a lot of patience, and definitely NO SHOUTING!

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

American Bulldog and Another Postman Incident

American Bulldog was friendly whilst keeping an eye on his ownersAmerican Bulldog Bruno with his ballBruno is a seven-year-old American Bulldog – quite a large dog. The story is a bit similar to the dog I went to a couple of days ago.

He, too, is protective and territorial. He is absolutely fine with other dogs, but people approaching the house or walking towards him or his owners can set him off barking, hackles up and even shaking.

I was expecting something very different when I arrived. Because of what I had been told over the phone I was expecting a dangerous dog and I took all the precautions, so when I was seated the other side of the room, I asked the gentleman to bring Bruno in on lead. Soon it was obvious that this wasn’t necessary at all! Bruno was absolutely lovely – friendly and calm (whilst also keeping a careful eye on his owners).

They have always known that Bruno was protective and have been careful, but in one careless moment when their concentration was elsewhere, Bruno was out the front as the postman walked towards the house. To his credit he didn’t actually bite – though a tooth caught the man’s skin. Bruno did all in his power to chase the man off – he reared, barked, lunged and jumped at him. His hackles were up and he sounded ferocious.

What he got for his efforts was serious trouble.

Life must seem so unfair to a dog sometimes.

At home and alone with the family, Bruno is affectionate and a wonderful pet. But – they do everything he asks and his every wish is pandered to. He eats when he wishes, he is given treats when he asks and never has to to earn anything; he has been sleeping where he wants, he gets all attention and play upon his own terms, and so on. In order to show Bruno that they don’t need protecting, they will have to show him that they are not his ‘charges’. It has to be the other way around.

It is about understanding the dog better, what makes him tick and what to do about it in ways that he understands. They absolutely adore their beautiful dog, and I know they will go that extra mile for him.

Just ten days later: “A vast improvement in Bruno’s attitude to people: Just back from a weekend down the coast with all the family. Bruno was a star! He was calm, even though our 2 year old grandson was forever stroking and talking to him. We took him out along the beach, and he never pulled once. There was a funfair and fete on the cliffs, and he walked through all the people without the slightest concern. We even had someone walk past our caravan, and he barked once, but left it to me to investigate. So the work we’re putting in is really helping him.”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

German Shepherd Terrified of People

White German Shepherd puppy is feeling stressed It is sad to see such a young dog so scared.

Darcy is only five months old. At home, with family and close friends, she is relaxed, friendly and biddable. She is surprisingly calm for a puppy, she doesn’t chew things and she is house-trained.

The problem is ‘other’ people. When I arrived her hackles were raised high all along her back, she was backing away and barking like mad. This carried on for a while. She would find the courage to come a bit nearer and then back off barking again.

The natural reaction of humans is to either tell the dog to be quiet, or to pet and ‘comfort’ her. They were doing both these things. Scolding a dog for being scared isn’t appropriate, and stroking is reinforcing her fears – telling she is rightDarcy is looking a little happier now to be frightened. I am showing them what are the appropriate ways of reacting. You can see on the right she is yawning – a sign that although she now looks in settled position she is still anxious.

Out on walks Darcy shrinks away from people and other dogs. She has already started to bark at things she hears outside the house or garden. One can imagine what she will be like as an adult German Shepherd if something isn’t done now.

Darcy displays all the signs of a puppy who has not been handled by a sufficient number of new people before she even leaves the breeder. One or more of the following factors could also contribute to the cause: being born to a fearful mother and maybe of a natural nervous disposition anyway, kept out of the way in another room or a shed for the first eight weeks of their life, possibly some inbreeding.

I shall be helping Darcy’s family for the next few months, maybe longer, helping them to understand her and to help her gain confidence. There is no quick fix and we can’t put the clock back.

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

Introducing a New Dog Did Not Go Well

Staffordshire Bull Terrier doesn't like anotehr dog in her home


This is quite a sad story of things not going to plan on the day and of hindsight being a wonderful thing.

Ruby is a five-year-old Staffie cross of brilliant temperament in all but one respect – she is very much on edge around other dogs.  She always has been. I believe this could be something to do with her leaving her litter mates too young and therefore not having company of other dogs in the crucial early weeks. When she meets dogs on walks her hackles go up and she growls – obviously scared.

Ruby’s owners wanted to rescue a dog that was very much in need of a home, so they chose Jojo, a 9-month-old Pointer mix from a rescue centre in Southern Spain.

Jojo arrived last week. She was expected during the day but was delivered by lorry at 11 o’clock at night!

This immediately wiped out any plans they may have had for introducing the dogs in neutral territory in the park.

Rescue Pointer mix from Spain is eager to please


The dogs were crated for the night, and already things were going wrong.  It could well have been easier for Ruby if they had chosen a dog rather than a bitch. The  two dogs could eyeball one another from their crates. Jojo is a mild mannered and easy-going young dog, but Ruby will have been feeling increasingly threatened and territorial.

In the morning the dogs were let out of their crates. There will have been a lot of tension from the humans. Ruby was showing classic signs of anxiety, continually glancing at Jojo and then deliberately looking away. The gentleman stood between the dogs giving what he felt were calming words but the dogs would not have been fooled. Before they knew what had happened, Jojo was screaming in the corner, pinned by Ruby. No damage was actually done so it was probably just  a big warning. Poor Jojo. What a difficult introduction to her new home.

Another more minor episode followed the next day, so now Jojo is temporarily living with the gentleman’s mother. I was called in to help them prepare both dogs for a fresh start.

This is tricky. There are things Ruby does and is allowed to do that could be potential for trouble, and these have to be dealt with first. How the owners now react when they meet other dogs when out is very important. Not only does Ruby’s behaviour need some work, but they need to change things round a bit and gate the kitchen doorway.

We have a plan for a controlled meeting between Ruby and Jojo in the park, initially at a good distance until, hopefully, walking on lead near each and ideally back home together. Once home it will be a bigger problem and they need initially to kept apart so they can see one another but not make contact, separated by a gate or in crates, for as long as it takes to work on the situation. The demeanor of the humans is very important. Patience, calm and quiet is needed and in particular Ruby must not be scolded if she growls.

After the unfortunate start and knowing no different, they did what they thought was best, but the first encounter should have been approached differently. Now that this has happened it will take longer as Ruby will already be on the defensive. It is a blessing that Jojo, who in the rescue centre had been mixing with other dogs, is not unduly fazed by Ruby. What a fantastic temperament she has!

If a dog is already not good around other dogs, another dog suddenly in her own home must be an ordeal for her.

This is from an email I received three and a half months after my visit: “When we go out together, the dogs are on their leads and walk so well together – Ruby tends to lead the way, Jojo likes to follow her, sniffing where she sniffs etc.  When we get home, we all go in together – the dogs are ‘nose to backside’ as we go in! ….In the evenings we do still rotate the dogs in/out of their pens. …. they still just take it turns to be penned downstairs, maybe an hour at a time.  Now and again
Staffordshire Bull Terrier doesn't like another dog in her home


I’ve had Jojo on my lap on the armchair while Mike and Ruby are on the sofa – they seemed relaxed with it.  The other night all four of us were on the sofa – dog/human/dog/human – both Ruby and Jojo very chilled – so nice!
We’ve discovered Jojo likes to dig!  She has made a great big hole in the lawn which we’ve decided to leave in case she wants to make other holes.  She enjoys herself so much, dropping one of her chewy bones in it, then digging it out again – doggy bliss! Today we took Jojo to a Fun Day at a local RSPCA centre and entered her into the ‘fun dog show’.  We had a lovely day and she won 1st place for Best Condition Mixed Breed!
So that’s the story so far Theo….not quite living freely together yet but a pretty relaxed household, so watch this space!
The two dogs lying together
Six months after my visit: “In the evenings both dogs are now out of their pens : ) Mike and I on sofa with one or both of us between them – Ruby pretty chilled about it now and Jo not so conscious of her. ….They have actually been left a few times dozing on the sofa togetherfor a few minutes. We’re still trying to keep that calm atmosphere which we know now is SO important with Ruby….We don’t take the muzzle on walks anymore. She rarely even whines now when she sees other dogs and is keen to go and meet them….. Theo – really pleased with the way things are still going – still heading in the right direction!  Thanks so much again for your ongoing help”. Here is a photo – and whilst Ruby isn’t totally relaxed a huge step forward.
And nine months after my visit, “Just to wish you a merry Christmas and a very happy new year! All is great here, can actually say that Ruby and JoJo are now living freely together. They seem relaxed with eachother – nice content dogs”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Another Terrier X From Ireland

Anxious looking rescue dog from IrelandHeidi who I saw a couple of days ago came from Ireland and was probably terrier mixed with Collie, and Ben I saw today was also shipped over from Ireland, as a puppy, and may be the same mix if more terrier than Collie. Both dogs are reactive and scared of dogs and people, especially when out, and both live with an older, larger dog. Ben lives with eight-year-old Chocolate Labrador Billy.

As you can see, Ben is lovely. He is affectionate and biddable though can be anxious and over-excited. He is three years old.

Ben barks and hackles at people he doesn’t know entering the house, men mainly, and at people he sees when out. Like Heidi he may rush at them and nip them. Ben’s reactivity to other dogs is spoiling walks. He will bark and lunge. It is obvious that he feels threatened, and simply wants them to go away.

When left alone at home, he is anxious – destroying things and raiding the bin. He has damaged the sofa.

A dog needs to believe in his owners as leaders, I see it like a good teacher with a class of children on a walk. They will stay with the teacher. They won’t be running off in front and they won’t be yelling and shouting at passers by, telling them rudely to get lost (I hope!).  They trust the teacher to make the decisions and keep them safe. If the owners can convince the dog that they are good leaders – and this has to happen at home as well as out on walks – then the dog can relax and stop stressing. It takes time of course.

Too often people make things worse by tightening the lead and forcing the dog forward towards what he perceives as danger.  They compound the problem by being tense and anxious or scolding the dog. If there were genuine danger, our teacher would not lead his class directly into it, would he? If he did, he would soon lose their trust and they may well run away from him. If the danger was not genuine, then it would be his job to convince the children that they were safe. He would be calm and in control. So it is with us and our dogs.

Phone conversation three days after my visit: Off to a very good start. Ben is calmer. Changed his food to something better. Harness has arrived. Bought a long lead.  He was left alone for 5 hours today and no damage or raiding.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Bearded Collie/GSD Crosses

Beardie GSD mix

poppy on the left with Jasper

Jasper and Poppy are Beardie/German Shepherd mixes. They look entirely different though, and their personalities are completely different too. Poppy is dark and largely Shepherd, and Jasper is pale and much more like a Beardie to look at. Poppy is just eight months old, and Jasper is eleven years old.

Jasper always was extremely laid back – or was until Poppy arrived. He takes most things in his stride – or did until recently. Poppy is much more highly strung and generally a bit skittish.  She is scared of new people coming to her house, and scared of people when out.

Walks are becoming a big problem because Jasper has developed aggression to other dogs. He used to be fine, but this started a couple of years  ago. It may be because he was attacked, or even perhaps because he’s a bit older now and may feel a little vulnerable. He has become very protective of Poppy, and trouble can start if she goes to see another dog.  Out on walks he tends to initiate the barking, and Poppy joins in. Her hackles rise and she is scared. Their lady owner is slight in build and the joint weight of the two dogs pulling and lunging is more than her own.

So, it’s the same old problem. Reactivity to other dogs out on walks and to some people also. So many dogs I go to are fine in the dog training class, but totally different out in the real world. Traditional training doesn’t always address the problems and it needs to be approached in a completely different way – without the use of correction or force, but calm leadership techniques.

Both dogs are very well trained in ‘obedience’ and Poppy still goes to classes. What they need is something a bit more basic. I describe obedience training as the icing on the cake. You need to get the cake right. Both Jasper and Poppy need a bit more faith in their owners who are already doing most of the right things, but need a few extra tricks up their sleeves, and for each member of the family to be behaving in the same way – drinking from the same water bowl!

Here is some typical early feedback from a client: I had my first “close encounter” with another dog last night.  But for the first time I didn’t panic or tense up.  Jake was on lead and two dogs were quite a distance away.  I kept walking towards them and as soon as he clocked them I stopped and turned to walk the other way, he just followed!!  In the past he would of stood his ground and not moved.  Then to top it all there was another one coming the other way, so did exactly the same.  I did put him in the car (didn’t feel quite ready to deal with 3 dogs off lead running around) told him to sit and I stood in front the window facing the dogs.  They came bounding up to me so I just turned my back on them, Jake didn’t move – normally he would have barked!!  Made of fuss of a couple of them, Jake just sat there.  I can’t believe how in control I felt.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.