Lady in 80s Struggles with Working Cocker

Jacob with a toy What a wonderful face Cocker Spaniel hasMy own working Cocker Spaniel, Pickle (aptly named), can be hard work. He has a wonderful nature, he’s gentle and affectionate but if there is any mischief to be had, Pickle will find it! Because of how I behave with all my dogs I’m thankful to say that he doesn’t do the things that Jacob does!

Look at Jacob’s face! What a Spaniel! Wonderful!

As the lady let me in, Jacob jumped up first on me, and then leapt straight up from the floor onto the kitchen table! It soon became apparent that this is normal. He spends a lot of time up on things – the kitchen table and the backs of sofas and chairs from where he will scratch at the lady’s head!

The poor lady is at her wit’s end with his barking. He quite simply controls her. He barks until she jumps to his tune – she will do anything to stop him so unintentionally she’s teaching him to bark. Jacob gets all his best quality attention for jumping up, barking and stealing things.

To gain a bit of physical control we tried putting his lead on – something to grab. You can see from the picture on the right that he soon found a way around that!!

What a splendid little dog but what a challenge for a fit and active person let alone someone a little bit frail. Fortunately her daughter lives down the road and her son stays with her during the week, though during the day he’s at work.

Jacob’s life lacks enrichment. There are two days a week when he doesn’t even go out. He’s a working dog designing his own work. Without rules, boundaries and a calm, consistent owner, a dog can also become anxious; Jacob is terrified of fireworks and certain other sounds.

We worked on a few rules. The kitchen table and sofa-backs are not part of a dog agility course! I showed them how to stop the jumping on back of chairs by teaching a replacement behaviour on the floor that is a lot more rewarding to him.  Using positive methods and encouragement he’s really eager to please. Barking should no longer get the desired result. I also suggested they found a dog walker for the days the son isn’t there, because his life needs a bit more in it; he then won’t so badly need to manufacture his own stimulation.

Email received 7 weeks later from the daughter who originally contacted me on behalf of her mother: “Having spent Christmas Day and Boxing Day at my mum’s I am happy to report that Jacob’s behaviour has continued to improve. Table jumping is now a rare occurence, barking is less and he seems are far more settled and happier dog. Mum is much more relaxed too. On New Year’s Eve he apparently slept through the televised fireworks display! Tilly has maintained her new behaviour (Tilly is the daughter’s dog). Thank you so much for helping us to take a step back, view the world through the eyes of our dogs and changing our behaviour”.

Dog Reduces Lady to Tears

Black Labrador Busby posing for his photoBusby is a ten-month-old black Labrador, and absolutely gorgeous (most of the time!).  On occasion his behaviour has reduced his poor young lady owner to tears.

Here is a typical morning: The lady lets him out into the garden and then he comes in for breakfast. All good so far. Then she likes to sit down and watch breakfast TV with a cup of tea and this is Busby’s cue! He will jump onto her and nip her and grab her clothes and tear at her slippers. He will leap up behind her on the sofa and if she tries to get him down he’s defiant. He may then fly about the furniture and the house doing what she calls ‘zoomies’!  He will jump up onto the dining table. He may steal something and run off into the garden, initiating a guaranteed chase.

When she gets up and starts moving about, he stops all his nonsense.

This behaviour will also happen in the evening when her husband is at home and they want to sit down in peace, though she is Busby’s main target.

Busby is rewarded with guaranteed attention for these antics, with less reward in the form of attention when he’s calm and good.  He needs alternative activities for his wild moods to occupy him and his jaws, along with plenty of positive reinforcement and reward for calm behaviour.

Fortunately Busby loves his large crate so I have devised a temporary alternative morning routine! When they go to bed they should block the dining table by tipping the chairs, ready for the morning. After his breakfast, when the lady sitting down is the trigger for his behaviour, he should for now go straight away into his crate which is with her in the sitting room, with something special to chew, She can now watch TV in peace until she’s ready to start her day. Both the lady and Busby will then have a happy stress-free start to the day.

They are a very conscientious couple and have taught Busby many things but his training is only any use when he is in the right mood. They now need to work on gaining his cooperation, especially out on walks which currently are not enjoyable for anybody – especially Busby who can no longer be let off lead because he won’t come back, and who spends all the walk trying to remove the Halti – the only way the lady can stop him pulling.

He won’t need that Halti any more!

Message ten days later – off to a good start. The gentleman has worked very hard and patiently at the walking and is building a very good relationship with him: “We feel that we have made progress in all areas, some progress is quicker than others. Overall we have noticed that he is much calmer now than he was before. Especially pleased with the progress we have made with walking. Walking has actually gone very well, I worked lots in the garden. But he soon began to bite the lead, lose focus and jump up on bite me, so ignore him, took off his lead and went inside, leaving him on his own in the garden.  Returned 5 mins later and repeated until he didn’t jump up.  By the 2nd day, we had progressed out of the garden gate and into the street.  This weekend was a real break through, we managed to get all the way to the field where the town hall is and done lots of lead work in the big car park before walking back.  Laura has notice a huge difference in his pulling and lunging “.
After Christmas – about seven weeks after my visit, and they are now beginning to enjoy their dog: “Well Christmas could have been a disaster but it actually went very well with an 11month old puppy in tow.  He was very very well behaved, we only had to put him into his travel crate 3 times over Christmas day and Boxing day which was fantastic. He was very polite around people, especially my elderly grandparents, everyone commented on how well behaved he was, how much progress we have made with him and how calm he was with all the exciting things going on around him. We had a prefect walk on christmas morning, made it round our 45min circuit with no pulling at all”.

Depressed but Comes Alive When Alone

Daisy is anxious and uneasyDaisy is a Labrador X. She was originally found at one year old starving, pregnant and tied to a lamp post. She has lived with her family for six years now. Until a few weeks ago she was happy, outgoing and willing.

For the past two or three months Daisy has become a different dog. She looks miserable and has shut down. She has little interest in food or play. She seldom gets up when people come home. Consequently the family are falling over themselves to humour her and wait upon her. She is the centre of much conversation and anxiety. She will sense this.

I was called out because, from a dog that never jumped up on anything, not even chairs, she has taken to jumping on window sills, kitchen surfaces and even the piano keys. This happens only when they are out or in bed. Valuables have gone flying. When they come into the room the owners are met with a panting, excited and stressed dog; frantically appeasing behaviour.

It is hard to get to the root of this for sure – but I can guess.  First, I made sure she had been thoroughly checked over by the vet.

Probably, weeks or months ago, Daisy had started by creeping onto beds. In retrospect there had been evidence ofdaisy this. Because there was nobody there to say ‘no’, she probably thought it was OK while she was alone. A dog isn’t going to reason things the same way as we do. She probably started to increase her activities and jump on more and more things, unchecked. Then there was an incident in the middle of the night when the TV suddenly came on loudly and the parents rushed downstairs thinking they had burglars, and Daisy was terrified. She possibly could have caused this herself by jumpng on the remote control.

The owners, who know their dog well, are convinced that she knows she’s being ‘naughty’ by jumping on things. If they are right, it’s logical to suppose she took their reaction to her excited, appeasing behaviour before they knew what was happening as endorsement for what she had been doing. Then later, out of the blue (to Daisy, and because there was damage as evidence), one day they were angry. Then another time she was smacked.

The official line is that dogs don’t feel guilt (read ‘In Defence of Dogs’ by John Bradshaw). They are, however, absolute experts in detecting human mood and body language. From the moment the person opens the door she will read how they feel and consequently, especially remembering previous anger, she will be grovelling, jumping up, panting and appeasing them.

The gentleman took timed photo clips one night. No panic! Daisy’s tail is relaxed and she’s not showing any signs of stress. She is systematically and calmly, without a care in the world, jumping up on things, something I’m sure that she believes she is allowed to do when she’s alone. I suspect now not only is it a habit, but because she is under so much pressure during the day by the anxiety around her and to ‘perform’, when she’s alone she feels a terrific sense of release and simply does just what she feels like doing because she can.

From a predictable life where she thought she knew what was what, things are now a puzzling mess. Humans are falling over themselves  to ‘make her happy’, giving her far too much attention and deference, then being unpredictably cross with her. The more they try to bring her out, the more she withdrawn she becomes. The more withdrawn she is, the more approval she seems to receive. She will feel that they want her to be withdrawn.

Whether or not I have the details quite right, backing right off is key. Fortunately Daisy is happy in a crate so she no longer will have free run when left alone. The situation can be managed while they readjust the balance of their relationship with their dog, however long it takes.

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