Boundaries and Out of Control

6-month old Chocolate Labrador Chocky is nervous and now copying the terriers' reactivity on walks


The two Terriers have killed a couple of their free-range chickens and although they have boundary wire, the little monkeys can dig underneath.

The people really only want two things at the end of the day. One is for the their dogs to be able to run freely in the garden. How can they do this when the boundaries aren’t secure?

My new clients have three young dogs – two Lakelend/Jack Russell mixes of one year old (brother and sister) who we will call Mac and Mabel, and a 6-month old Chocolate Labrador – Chocky.

They are a very busy family with insufficient time to put in all the work really needed, so this is a challenge of breaking things down into essentials, choosing priorities and creating a plan whereby it’s less a question of spending extra time but more of doing different things in the time already allocated.

One of the Lakeland/Jack Russell Terriers

Mac or Mabel

Their other aim is for the dogs to come back reliably when called. The Terriers are highly reactive to any person or animal they meet and respond aggressively, becoming hard to control physically. Now Chocky, an unusually nervous dog for a 6-month-old Labrador, is joining in. They want their dogs running off lead but have to be able to get them back when another dog, a horse or a person appears.

Unfortunately these people simply don’t have the time to work properly on the root of the problem – under-socialisation and the fear and reactivity itself, though they agree they need to do something with Chocky’s walking before he gets much older and bigger. He is seldom walked on lead. They live in such a quiet area that they can often go out and meet nobody at all.

As they simply don’t have time for all the training work involved, the first issues would be best addressed by getting better fencing so the dogs simply can’t escape from the garden, along with a pen for the chickens.

The second issue – that of recall – is more difficult.  Firstly, they need to stop leaving food down all the time (Chocky is an unusual Labrador in that he doesn’t devour the whole lot as soon as it goes down) so that food has some value – why should a dog come for no reward when called if it’s not worthwhile, particularly if there is something more pressing to do? The children can do whistle recall games around the house and garden so that the dogs begin to become conditioned. Whistle = come quickly = high value reward.

I have tried to break things down into small tasks so that hopefully, at the end of the day, everything will start to come together and they will be able to see their lovely dogs running free without constantly worrying about who or what they might encounter next.

Three months later: ‘We are continuing with the programme. Bella does’nt get so hysterical when she sees me now and I see I was causing this. We are having quality time together which I love. She really responds now to “Yes!”. The “abort the walk” thing has helped so much, I used to get so stressed if she would’nt walk, carrying her to the garden etc, but if she’s not bothered, then I’m not. As you say, its for life, and we are really committed to making her life happy.

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

Worried About Dog With New Baby

JRXBuddyDear little Buddy is an eleven-year-old Jack Russell Llasa Apso cross. They have had him for the past 8 years. His is another case where they had not prepared the dog for the new arrival and they are really struggling now.

They have tried to introduce Buddy to the new baby – a very small premature baby who has just come home, but he went to grab his foot so now he is kept well away. Each time baby moves or cries, Buddy whines and then barks, high and ear-splitting. It seems a mix of curiosity and wanting to be involved – along with wariness. Too much change in his life too quickly. What is this new animal in my house?

Previously he had slept in their bedroom, but now he is shut downstairs. He barks and whines. It is such shame he wasn’t weaned into sleeping downstairs weeks ago along with loud YouTube clips of babies crying and the pram installed with a doll and a baby-smelling blanket.

I do understand how people don’t consider preparing their dog. I myself, many years ago, had a one year-old Labrador when my baby was born. It never occured to me to worry and like the great majority of dogs, he took little notice of the new arrival.

We worked hard at calling Buddy away when he barked – then rewarding him for coming. We counter-conditioned with food each time he looked at the baby or the baby made a sound. Understandably Buddy was at his most noisy while the lady was feeding Baby.

We worked on trying to pre-empt the behaviour before it actually happens, to catch him when his focus is on Baby but before he actually jumps up or barks. We mark that moment and reward.

In a couple of days the lady will be all alone with baby and dog as the man will be back at work. Buddy has never been shut away in another room. I see no other way than getting a puppy pen to keep dog and baby separate but in the same room – it doesn’t matter which one goes in the pen! An advantage of this is that dog and baby can get a lot closer – in safety.

The more familiar Buddy is with the baby, the less interested he will become.

Buddy’s food can be divided into small meals which he eats while the lady is feeding the new baby. At present his food is left down all the time so that needs to stop. All good things happen near Baby. If he barks at her from the pen when she has nobody to help her, then she needs to take baby out of the room and leave Buddy. He will simply have to learn.

It is very difficult dealing with a very noisy dog because despite one’s best resolutions, it really gets to you in the end. These people are exhausted already. I shall be calling in a couple of days when the lady is alone to see what I can do to help her to cope.

This is an adorable dog, and if they can get through the next couple of weeks I’m sure everything will settle down. Just now they are on the verge of saying goodbye to him.

Little Floyd Has Lost his ‘Joie de Vivre’.

Floyd is a worried dogFloyd used to have such enthusiasm for life, but this has slowly changed over the past few months.

He also started to toilet in the house and it’s gradually becoming more frequent, particular when his owners have come home from another trip. Something seems to have traumatised him and a bit of detective work may have unearthed what that is.

The couple have had the eight-year-old Jack Russell cross (there must be Daschund or Beagle in there somewhere!) since he was a puppy, and he has always gone everywhere with them. They have geared holidays around places where he can be taken. This year they have been away four times. They leave him at home with their son and daughter (aged 22 and 18) so you would think that would be no problem. A couple of months ago immediately before they left him behind, the gentleman took him for his usual walk. He rounded a corner ahead of the man (something I advise shouldn’t happen) and was attacked by another dog. Then, as soon as they got home, the couple left him. The suitcases were in the hallway and they were ready to go.

Each time they have returned from being away they have found him increasingly nervous and skittish, and the toileting has increased. When they come home from work he no longer greets them but stays in his bed. Even a pending walk is no longer anything special. He regularly displays signs that he is trying to keep calm – he lifts his paw a lot, he licks his lips and he yawns.

The dear little dog has always been the easiest dog you could wish for with a wonderful temperament, so they have got away with more than they might otherwise in terms of running around after his every wish and over-exciting him. The gentleman in particular jumps to his every wish. Floyd only has to bark and the man is on his hands and knees! The son winds him up with rough play until he can hardly cope. The lady is firmer. Floyd lacks the security that comes from consistent rules and boundaries.

We owe it to our dogs to provide them with ‘leadership’ in terms of guidance and decision-making.

All his family want is for him to be back to his old self, and they are willing to do whatever it takes. They have had him thoroughly checked over by the vet, because in cases where a dog’s behaviour changes a physical reason must be ruled out.

Away From Mother and Siblings and Six Weeks is Too Young

Jack Russel cross is just seven weeks oldThey have had Jack Russel X Alfie for a week now and he’s still only seven weeks old. He should not yet have left his litter mates. Consequently, he’s not had a chance to learn stuff he should be learning from other dogs, especially regarding the use of his sharp little teeth!

When people have not not had a puppy before, how can they know who to listen to and what information is correct? The breeder said feed him chocolate and whenever he poos indoors to rub his nose in it. The pet shop said pick him up by the scruff of his neck. Someone else said don’t shut him in his crate. Unbelievable. TV programmes and internet all give conflicting advice.

Today I worked on a ‘starter’ puppy plan with the lady and her eight-year-old daughter – a very switched on and willing little girl where their animals are concerned. They have two rabbits and a guinea pig running free in the garden along with two cats, all of which Alfie must learn to get along with. I found a small rabbit harness in my bag of bits that fitted him so that we had something to attach a lead to without causing him discomfort, and so he can happily get used to the other animals in safety. The family must now provide Alfie with what he should be learning from his ‘dog’ family – behaving a bit as other puppies would when he nips or grabs and won’t let go. In this way he will understand what is required of him.

I shall be visiting again in about three weeks because he will then be old enough to learn a few basics like how to walk nicely beside them – off lead initially, and to get used to a lead.

A tiny puppy can change a lot it three weeks!