Spooked by Bangs. On High Alert.

I had a lovely greeting from Staffie Rio. Too lovely, really, considering he had never met me before. Exaggerated welcomes, particularly with people the dog doesn’t know, may not be pure pleasure but involve some anxiety. Rio went back and forth, wagging his tail and sitting between my legs. He may go onto his back, tail still wagging. I feel this is about winning approval – appeasing

When I first arrived Rio started retching, bringing up phlegm. He coughed and retched for quite a while. He does this when excited, apparently, but not as much as this (he is regularly going to the vet for another matter so they will get it checked).

Spooked by bangs

Rio doesn’t need words to say he’s unsure about having his photo taken

Why could it have been so bad today? I soon got a clue. Today is Sunday.

I was called because Rio is badly spooked by bangs, even bangs out on the common which he can still hear from inside the house.

On Sunday mornings at this time of year people go out shooting animals for sport.

Rio’s extreme reaction to my coming into his house was undoubtedly the result of ‘trigger stacking‘. Things that arouse or scare him build up, one thing after another as they say. By the time I arrived this Sunday morning Rio was already highly stressed – spooked by the early morning shooting.

Spooked by bangs.

Rio, now seven, has been spooked by bangs for several years now, since a firework went off while he was out on a walk.

Now he will mostly refuse to walk from the house – unless he goes in the car. He is on high alert and easily spooked by anything.

This we will work on. A few other things will help like a change in diet and activities that calm him rather than stir him up.

There are two kinds of bang situations. There are unavoidable bangs that happen in the environment and bangs they can generate and control themselves.

From now on, bangs should be the triggers for something wonderful. Chicken?

BANG……chicken immediately rains down. If he is spooked by the bang being too loud or too close he will run or freeze. He will ignore the chicken.

Generating their own bangs.

Generating bangs means they control the intensity of the sound and the nearness. They can throw chicken straight away.

They can start with a gentle tap (with dropping chicken) on various surfaces. Then gentle bangs. Then one person banging in another room – gradually louder. Download sounds or DVD, pairing bangs with chicken. Over time they can work up to pulling party poppers or crackers upstairs.

If they keep under the threshold where Rio is spooked and he is looking for food when he hears the bang, they should make gradual progress.

Bangs that ‘just happen’.

Life happens and this is frustrating.

They know Sunday mornings at this time of year gunshots will happen. They can start raining chicken down from inside the house where, though a bit spooked, he will probably eat. Perhaps they need to work in the middle of the house where bangs will be softer.

They can gradually work towards standing or sitting in the front garden waiting for bangs. Leaving the door open would be good – giving him an escape route.

As the bangs will be unpredictable and they may not have chicken on them, they will need to ‘buy time’ while they go to the chicken tub. They need a ‘bridge’ – something they can say straight away which tells Rio that chicken will follow. I suggest a bright ‘Okay’ (no chatter) and then fetch and throw the chicken.

For the next few weeks we have a plan. They need a lightweight longish lead so Rio feels freedom. 

This is between Rio and the environment.

Rio is on high alert as soon as he gets out of the door. They will start by getting him less stressed in the environment immediately outside their home. When they get to the path, they should just stand still. Be quiet. Wait. No fussing. At present the young lady will cuddle, fuss him and try to persuade him to walk – sitting on the pavement to do so.

His humans should keep out of it. Their job is simply to be calm and confident. To be there. To allow him to work things out for himself.

They will have their chicken to hand – to drop at anything that alarms Rio. At least a couple of times a day would be good. Suzanne Clothier has a great video on thresholds and doing nothing.

If Rio goes on strike they should ignore him. Wait with him. At any small sound he alerts to, drop chicken. Any big bang, drop several bits – immediately.

If he wants to go back to the house, let him. If he wants to come back and try again, let him.

He wants to walk?  Great. Go for it. I predict this will happen more and more. They should always be ready with chicken for bangs.

Don’t push it!

Even if on these early walks he seems to have coped well, after the first bang they should turn and go home for now. A second bang? A second bang will have more effect on him, maybe sending him over threshold. A third bang more impact still. ‘Trigger stacking’.

Patience and consistency will pay off in the end. There will be setbacks to slow things down when life throws an unexpected and unavoidable bang.


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 Rio and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, 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 fear is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

On High Alert When Out on Walks

There seem to be many things that worry Gibson, a beautiful three-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog. He was, apparently, an anxious puppy. If the couple hadn’t already done so many things for and with him, he could be a lot worse.

On high alert when out

On high alert? Not just now!

He reacts to sounds at home, mostly sounds associated with people, like car doors slamming, voices outside or the neighbour shutting a door.

He then barks.

Gibson is nervous on walks, mainly of people and occasionally dogs also. More recently he has also become jumpy at sounds when out, particularly when it’s windy.

They have been managing the situation well – apart from a couple of incidents when a person suddenly appeared and they were unprepared. The most recent involved him jumping at someone and he may have caught her hand. This is serious, not least because of the recent changes in the dog law. Someone now need only to feel threatened by our dog, with no damage done, for us to be in trouble.

On high alert on walks

Walks are miserable for a huge proportion of dog walkers who, along with their dogs, are on high alert all the time, looking out for people or, more commonly, other dogs.

For the lady in particular, walks are simply not enjoyable and have become something of a duty. They mostly cover exactly the same route and it’s taking longer and longer to get round. When not on alert, Gibson has taken to ignoring her and engaging in excessive sniffing and foraging for anything edible.

He may refuse to move. He’s a big dog.

She will now inject a lot more enthusiasm and interaction into their walking. She will engage more with Gibson – because this is part of the solution where feeling less threatened by an approaching person is concerned. They will make walks and themselves more relevant and unpredictable. Keep him on his toes and focussing more on them.

A person coming to the house.

When someone calls to the house he is noisy to begin with. Then there is excitement in which I see a big element of anxiety. He barks at the person as they try to walk through the door into the room. He is a big dog and he’s in the way.  I found what worked best was for the man to call Gibson back and out of the way, hold onto his collar and feed him (in Gibson’s case, cheese). The dog then was quiet. I then went through and sat down. He came and sniffed me, much more relaxed.

Sometimes it works best when the visitor drops the food. In this case I feel it gives Gibson comfort and support when the owner takes control of the situation and administers the food. He should, eventually, not need the restraint.

You might say, why food? Apart from motivating Gibson to leave the person and go to the owner, it helps to give him positive emotions about the person.

Gibson is a very good eater, so food is the answer to a lot of things!


Whenever Gibson is uneasy about something, they can counterbalance it with something he likes. I think of it like a see-saw. For instance, when he sees something new and looks worried, they can immediately feed him – associating it with food. If a door slams, they can drop food before he even has time to start barking.

Feeling better about people he sees on walks is done the same way and always from a distance at which Gibson feels safe. Currently they use food to keep his attention away from the person, to distract him, which is working well on the whole. Now, from the safe distance, they will want him to be fully aware of the person. The special ‘food bar’ opens. They may even point out the person – ‘Look, a PERSON!’ and then do some rapid feeding.

When the person goes out of sight, the special food bar closes.

In order to make progress they now need to have Gibson not merely being under control, but feeling differently about people he encounters.

Looking so gorgeous and cuddly, people of course want to pet him. Especially those people who ‘have dogs and love dogs’! Here is a way to increase distance without seeming rude.

They have come so far already, With a little change in direction I’m sure they will make another leap of progress and will no longer have to be on high alert for people all the time they are out.


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 Gibson. 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 fear or any form of aggression is concerned. 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).