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)

 

Bored, Over-excitable and Looking for Trouble

German Shepherd Kerry is bored.

Bored German Shepherd

Kerry

Although it’s natural for adult dogs to sleep for up to eighteen hours a day, this is only so if the rest of the time is filled with stuff natural to the dog – and its breed. Sleep probably won’t be in long blocks of enforced inaction during the day, but dozing between doing other things.

Young dogs in particular need action and fulfilment (just like young humans) or they get bored.

Kerry is a beautiful eighteen-month-old German Shepherd living with another GSD, Lemmy, aged four. They are both gorgeous dogs with lovely, friendly basic temperaments.

Young Kerry, unfortunately, probably isn’t getting enough action in her life and she’s very easily aroused. I saw this by how the smallest thing results in her leaping at someone, me in this case – grabbing my clothes and even hair with her teeth. 

Continue reading…

Tension on Lead Can Result in Pulling.

A short story about two nine-month-old Labrador sisters. They are bouncy, enthusiastic and friendly, perfect given their breed and their age.

Tension off leads for happy walksThe main problems are jumping up at people and pulling on lead. Walks are causing the gentleman considerable stress. For reasons not relevant here, he only took over walking them a week or so ago. Continue reading…

Consequences Drive Behaviour. Teaching Unwanted Behaviour

Consequences drive behaviour.

consequences drive behaviourUnwittingly the young couple have made a rod for their own backs.

They are first time dog owners and hadn’t realised that something only needs to be reinforced just the once to create a behaviour. If the dog barks in the night – that ‘come and talk to me’ bark …and if they go to her just once …she will very likely do the same thing the next night!

Now Freya has them up shortly after 5 am each morning. One of them comes down, maybe lets her out, gives her something nice to chew while they lie on the sofa trying to get a bit more sleep. If it’s a bit later she may immediately get a walk.

What very rewarding consequences for barking at 5 am!

Behaviours harder to undo than to create

It takes a lot more work to undo a behaviour that has been reinforced by enjoyable consequences than it does to cause it in the first place. Continue reading…

Jumping Up on People. Barking at Other Dogs.

Yesterday I visited a young couple with three dogs. All three were rescued from Bosnia and have come here from Italy where the couple used to live. One had been dumped from a car and the other two most likely had been strays on the streets.

Before I arrived and based on previous experience, I had anticipated meeting three dogs with a mixture of fear issues. Problems with living in a small house and feeling threatened by the proximity of someone they don’t know.

How wrong I was!

These young people must have the magic touch.

They rescued four-year-old Staffie Luna first. She is extremely friendly, too much so in a way. She did a lot of jumping up at me and jumping on me when I sat down.

Too much jumping up

Luna and Thor

The next dog they took in was Thor, a lovely fluffy dog who looks a bit like a Poodle mixed with a Schnauzer or Tibetan Terrier. He, too, is four. Like Luna he is friendly and well adjusted in the house, with some jumping up and rather too much pawing for attention.

Finally they adopted Zeus eighteen months ago. Zeus is a four-year-old Husky. He had been dropped from a moving car and is unsurprisingly now terrified of being in the car.

When he first arrived he was more or less shut down. He kept well away from his new owners. Now he’s one of the most chilled dogs I have met.

Zeus’ only has problems when they encounter other dogs when out. 

Jumping and pestering

The couple wants help on two fronts. They want to be able to have friends round without the dogs jumping all over them – to be able to talk and eat with them in peace. They also need all three dogs to be better when encountering other dogs on walks.

We started with the jumping up and general pestering. The couple themselves don’t mind it, but if they don’t want them jumping and pestering friends, then manners must start with themselves.

Zeus

So far it’s all been about STOPPING the dogs jumping up and pestering.

They even had someone from Barkbusters who advocated water bombs for their reactivity to dogs and for jumping up. Did it work? No.

It is unacceptable and unethical to punish dogs for being friendly or for being scared. It is particularly risky to consider frightening dogs from their background. Thankfully they don’t seem to have suffered and it’s not something their savvy owners were willing to do.

We are now concentrating on teaching the dogs what IS wanted. There must be nothing to be gained from unwanted behaviour and all to be gained from desired behaviour. We used clicker. We used food and we used the attention the dog was seeking but only with feet on the floor and not while pestering and pawing.

The couple should also compensate the dogs by initiating attention when they are calm thus further reinforcing what they want.

Hello face to face.

These lovely dogs are only jumping up because they are so friendly which is lovely really. They like to say hello face to face. They can still do so if people lower themselves.

Dog-encounters on walks are a bit more complicated. Each dog has different needs and problems which include pulling on lead and which we will take separately. I haven’t included this in my story, but Luna, Thor and Zeus would benefit from some freedom off lead from time to time.

I suggest they find a dog-safe field that is rented out by the hour so the dogs can sometimes run free. 

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 these lovely dogs because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 Help page)

Desperate. Her Puppy Jumps Up, Snaps and Barks at Her

“I am desperate!

“….I love my puppy so much and don’t know what to do. She bites, jumps up and snaps at me. I can’t eat in front of her. I could go on.

Skye likes to watch the dogs on television. I watch Victoria Stilwell’s programme. That’s how I found out about you.”

Desperate because of puppy's behaviourSkye is a four-month-old Westie.

It’s very easy to get into a spiral of despair when everything we do seems to make a puppy more wild or rough. All the time we are trying to stop the puppy doing things she gets worse.

The most dangerous is being underfoot and liable to trip the lady over which, due to her age, could be particularly disastrous.

Through different eyes.

The lady is now completely changing her perspective. She is looking at her puppy through different eyes. Instead of trying to counter unwanted behaviours with scolding and discipline, saying ‘no’ and getting cross, she will constantly look for and reinforce those behaviours that she does want. She already no longer feels desperate.

How does a dog or puppy know what we DO want? Ted Talk.

The clever puppy soon learnt that a click meant ‘Yes!’ Each time she jumped up, instead of reacting we waited. When she was back on the floor she earned a click – and food. This ‘brain’ work is exactly the kind of stimulation she needs.

We are also teaching Skye alternative behaviours that are incompatible with those things she now does that the lady doesn’t want her to do.

Where circling feet and grabbing trousers is concerned, she will be taught ‘Away’, running after a rolling piece of food. This way the lady can keep safe. She just has to make sure she has food on her for now.

We ask ourselves, what is it that drives the puppy to wildly jump up, bark at the lady, snap in her face when she bends over her, scratch her legs till she gets attention and so on? What is it that is causing the lady to feel so desperate?

Puppy over-arousal is at the bottom of it. Cutting back activities that stir her up and replacing with activities that use her brain and natural instincts like chewing and sniffing will help.

A little tornado!

It’s totally natural for a puppy to be excitable and have bouts of wild behaviour where she’s like a little tornado. Pressure has built up in her that has to explode somewhere! If she was with her siblings they would riot together and it would soon be over.

One great idea is a ‘box of tricks’ that Skye can go to town on and wreck. Biscuits are hidden in screwed up paper, food cartons, milk containers, loo roll tubes, old towels etc. The cardboard carton itself can be attacked.

If we want our puppy to be gentle and calm with us, then that is how we need to be with her. Friends and family need also to treat her calmly – no wild greetings and pumping her up.

Having a motivated puppy leads to good behaviour.

The lady should always reward her when she asks her to come to her.

It’s much better to call Skye away from something she shouldn’t be doing or chewing, rewarding her and giving her something acceptable to do. Much better than saying ‘No’ and scolding – trying to stop her.

This means having food in a pouch or pocket all the time for now.

No more feeling desperate.

From email a week later: ‘Skye is so much calmer I can’t believe how much we’ve achieved in a few days. The biting has just about stopped. I’m amazed that she appears to be getting the message so quickly.’ (It’s not so much about her getting the message, but the lady is communicating with her in a way she understands a bit better). 

 

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 Skye 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 puppy may not be appropriate, and in many cases the owner needs training personally. Being able to see a professional demonstrate and react appropriately to a puppy’s behaviour can be necessary. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own puppy (see my Help page)

Uncontrolled Excitement. Biting Arms. Attacking Feet.

A dog’s uncontrolled excitement is a challenge to deal with.

They let Tia out of the utility room and into the kitchen where I was standing. She flew at me, grabbing my arm with her teeth. She repeatedly jumped up.

There was no malice in her at all, but it can hurt! It was uncontrolled excitement with possibly some anxiety thrown in.

She can’t help herself.

uncontrolled excitement

Butter wouldn’t melt!

The young Staffie was simply so aroused she couldn’t help herself. Meeting all people triggers uncontrolled excitement, particularly those coming to her house.

When the doorbell goes, Tia goes mental.

When I arrived we had set things up so that when I rang the bell she was already out of the way in the utility room wearing her harness. They fortunately had my favourite harness – a Perfect Fit – so they could hook a lead to the chest.

I instantly had to start working on her to save my arms! I stood on the lead. She was physically unable to jump now.

I got out my clicker and little tub of food. I repeatedly clicked and rewarded firstly moments when her body relaxed and she wasn’t trying to jump. Before long she briefly sat. I gave her a little more rope and carried on. Fairly soon I dropped the lead and she had got the message and calmed down. (A special note here – the clicker itself isn’t magic! It’s about knowing how to use it).

Changing No to Yes.

It’s amazing how sometimes a clicker, used in the right way, can open lines of communication. It changes ‘no – don’t do that’ to ‘yes – this is what we want’.

Usually when someone comes to the house it’s a physical fight as they try to hold her on a short lead in order to protect the person from her rough excitement. It’s a fight to get her away from the door. There will be commands and chaos! The lady describes her as being plugged in the mains.

When I arrived we were all quiet and calm. Nobody reacted to all this uncontrolled excitement.

It was little more than fifteen minutes before she went and lay down. She stayed in her bed now until I was ready to go, relaxed.

The ten-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier is all the time extremely wired up and ready to go. Meeting people fires her up most of all, but so do other things like her humans walking about carrying something. She will then go for their feet.

In the evening they can be sitting quietly watching TV and one of them gets up. The uncontrolled excitement kicks in. She barks and attacks feet.

I am sure Tia is genetically predisposed to over-excitement. Too often dogs are bred for looks over temperament and Tia is certainly a stunning dog. She is also friendly, biddable and affectionate. She may be more sensitive than one might imagine. There are several things that scare her.

Clockwork dog.

Like most people, they have been trying to calm her down by doing things that will actually be having the opposite effect, wiring her up even more.

Surely physically tiring her out should calm her down? It’s almost impossible to exhaust her and on coming home she’s ready to chase feet in the garden.

They give her long walks with repeated ball chasing and don’t understand why, however much of this they do, she doesn’t change. It’s like the dog is clockwork with a key in her side, and she’s being fully wound up daily.

I am certain that just giving her the kind of walking she would be doing if by herself, mooching, sniffing, chasing leaves, maybe digging, will alone will get rid of some of her uncontrolled excitement.

They can change those things that lead up to the biting sessions and they are quiet easy to determine.

Also they can change the things they do afterwards in response to her flying at their feet.

They will work on the ‘doorbell game’. First the will ring the bell so many times that it no longer heralds anything special. Then it will be the cue for Tia to take herself into the utility room. It will take hard work and patience – and food.

Jumping, biting, attacking feet are symptoms only – of uncontrolled excitement.

To get at the root of all this, they will do everything they can to calm Tia down. She is permanently so aroused and stressed that it takes very little indeed to send her over the edge. See trigger stacking.

Currently it’s impossible to ignore her rough and hyper approaches – thus rewarding it with attention. Instead, they now will themselves introduce short regular activity sessions throughout the evening, doing things that use Tia’s brain. She will no longer need to do things for attention.

They should no longer respond to barking but initiate things when Tia is calm. This way they reinforce calm rather than demanding, uncontrolled excitement – of which there should be less anyway.

It will take a lot of patience and effort, but will be worth it in the end for their beautiful dog. I just love her!

 

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 Tia 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 wild or uncontrolled behaviour. 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)

Shock. Terror. Horrifying Event for the Dogs

Less than two weeks ago a huge shock event devastated the couple’s lives. It was all over the local and national news:

Shock of van driving into front door

‘A van has crashed into a 16th century cottage in Bedfordshire, smashing through its front door and becoming lodged in the wall.

The driver, a 34-year-old man, has been arrested and is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

(The lady) told the BBC she heard a noise “like an earthquake” when the van smashed into her property.

“This van came flying over a hedge and crashed into our hall and kitchen,” she said.

“If I had (not) left the room I don’t know what would have happened.”

What the news didn’t cover was that their two Airedale Terriers were there also.

Afterwards there was panic and shouting: there were fire engines, sirens, flashing blue lights, police and fire crew. The driver was apprehended. Only the van was holding up the front of the house.

Dogs Clem and Rupert had been put out of the way in the back garden in the dark. When the daughter came to take them away to her own house, she found them cowering and shaking.

To get to her car the two terrified dogs had to be walked through all this.

Can a dog be psychic?

A very strange thing happened that evening, beginning a couple of hours before the huge shock crash. Older Airedale Rupert, usually quiet and calm, stood staring at the couple, barking repeatedly at them.

Then….BANG!

Rupert had never behaved in this way before.

The house was propped up, tidied up as far as possible and the dogs were brought home a week later.

Clem hasn’t been herself since.

Placid Rupert now continues to stare at them in an evening, barking.

I met the two gorgeous dogs a couple of days ago, less than two weeks later. Rupert, more self-contained, took himself off having had a good sniff of me. Clem is the more needy. She was agitated in a friendly way and she wanted attention.

Already a sensitive dog, the recent events have caused her the most trauma. She undoubtedly doesn’t feel safe. 

After Shock.

This is a brief taster of what it must be like for dogs in natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, or dogs in war zones. Something sudden happens that they don’t understand and their world goes mad.

Clem

A couple of days after the two dogs were back home a picture, all by itself, fell crashing down from the wall. The wall must have been shaken. Fresh panic for Clem in particular.

She is very receptive to the emotions and behaviour of her humans and the upset following the event has really affected the lady and the gentleman. Picking up on this will be adding to Clem’s inability to calm down at certain times.

She always has had a habit of leaping up and ‘biting’ arms when over-excited or aroused. Now that her stress levels are so high it’s happening even more. It really hurts. The lady cries out and there is shouting. Consequently Clem gets even more worked up.

When I was there we concentrated on showing her that jumping up at or on me didn’t work, got her no attention, but feet on the floor did. She was very persistent but she was also a very fast learner. In no time she was choosing to sit or stand calmly instead.

Knowing how this kind of dog can be strongly influenced by my own behaviour, I spoke quietly and really engaged with her. I gave her things to chew. Chewing helped her enormously.

The lady said she’d not seen Clem happy like this since ‘it’ had happened.

Our sensitive dogs mirror us.

Behaving quietly and calmly around Clem will make a huge difference over time. The couple’s nerves are understandably still very much on edge with the shock. Their lovely cottage is the product of years of hard work.

The number one priority for now where Clem is concerned is to do all they can to reduce her stress levels, very importantly by being quiet and calm around her. Any stress is cumulative and can last for days (for both humans and dogs). The stress of a shock like this will last far longer.

Working on stress-reduction by doing several small things which may not make a big difference individually should produce results when added together.

Dogs can get PTSD too.

Some symptoms of PTSD in dogs are listed in vetinfo.com.

I’m sure they will all get themselves back to normal before too long and, with luck and with work, Clem may actually end up more calm and confident than she was before the incident. Her humans will now act differently at those times when she can’t control herself, most particularly when they come down in the morning, come in from having been out and before meals.

Instead of entering the room to jumping and arm-grabbing from a hyper Clem with poor Rupert trying to intervene, they will now have a gate in the doorway. They won’t open the gate until Clem’s feet are on the floor and she has calmed down a bit. They can then help her out by giving her something to chew as they step through.

Human noise, crying out, shouting at her to stop and so on, can only intensify the dog’s arousal.

(Bonfire night and fireworks in a few days’ time may well be the very last thing Clem needs just now).

 

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 Clem and I’ve not gone fully into exact precise details for that reason. 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, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned. 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 (click here to see my Help page)

Competing Young Male Dogs. Over-aroused.

They got both Harley and Louis as puppies, at about the same time, ten months ago. They are now seeing some of the problems they might encounter with same-sex siblings.

The two dogs are, in fact very different. Harley is a Great Dane. Louis a Boxer.

Over the months as the dogs have matured, they have increasingly been challenging one another.

Constantly competing for resources and attention.

Competing with the other dog

Harley

Louis goads and taunts Harley by parading resources. Harley, the less confident of the two, gets  aroused and he retaliates. It ends with him flying on top of Louis and bowling him over, pinning him down.

This competing behaviour is now so well-rehearsed that it’s become a kind of habit. As soon as there is any stress of any kind – the two dogs start at each other. All trouble between the dogs is generated by over-arousal and both dogs spend a lot of time excited. It may start with play but quickly deteriorates.

The couple are constantly having to try to pull them apart – not easy.

When people come to the house the two dogs are so excited that they jump all over them – no joke with a huge Great Dane in particular!

If left out of the room they create a great fuss, making them even more aroused when they do eventually come in. They may already be redirecting their frustration, excitement, arousal, onto one another.

Their humans are never able to settle peacefully in front of TV in the evening without the dogs mugging them, jumping on them or goading one another.

Peace is impossible!

What has brought things to a head is that Harley is starting to behave with other dogs the way he does with Louis – bowling them over and pinning them down.

Spending time apart.

Their first challenge is to get the two dogs happy being apart for a much of the time, without pining for one another. They need more quality time spent with them individually. It will be hard to begin with until they get used to it.

They have the perfect environment – a large kitchen with TV and sofas where they sit, with two smaller rooms leading off each end. Both small rooms are gated. One for each dog.

Behind these gates they aren’t banished – they are still part of the family but they can’t see each other. They can be fed in their own rooms and have chews and toys.

Along with separating them for periods of time is prevention of further rehearsing. No more challenging and competing behaviour, with Louis taunting Harley and Harley getting rough.

Learning self-control.

The dogs have had some good training, but that goes out of the window when the two are together at home. Training doesn’t necessarily reduce stress. The two good walks they get each day aren’t doing the job either.

The dogs need to learn that good things happen when they are calm and to have self-control.

This is best done by the couple using positive reinforcement for every bit of behaviour they like. They should wait for calm before doing anything the dogs want like putting on a lead, opening the gate or putting food down.

At the same time, when the dogs are together they should be on lead, unless asleep. This will need two people, one for each dog, with them out of each other’s reach.

The benefit of physically keeping them from actually getting to one another is that each can now have something to chew without it causing trouble and competing. Chewing helps calm.

They can now begin to break the habits formed over the past months. They can be given activities that help calm rather than arousal, like sprinkled food all over the grass. Hunting and foraging are healthy appropriate activities.

It will take time.

Having established a good routine working with the dogs separately and walking them separately too, they can begin to let the dogs freely together for short periods when they are relaxed. They will be ready to grab leads and part them immediately aroused behaviour begins.

Then they need something on which to redirect this build-up of stress – a Kong each maybe.

When their stress levels are reduced and they are able to be happy apart, training can kick back in. They can learn to settle politely when people come to the house. This will only be possible when they are no longer so over-aroused and so intent upon getting at and competing with each other.

With more self-control, individual work and management in terms of physical restraint, the two should also learn to be more polite when people come to the house.

Over time, short periods with each other should get longer with ultimately their beautiful, friendly dogs back together.

 

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 Vera and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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 Help page)

Dominance? No! It’s Lack of Confidence.

They were told their dog was being dominant but they don’t see him like that and nor do I.

It’s so common for people to refer to a dog’s lunging, barking and jumping at people or other dogs as dominance. They interpret it as dominance through a lack of knowledge and understanding. There is still so much outdated information being peddled about on the internet, TV and social media.

Education proves it’s not dominance at all. In this case it’s a dog needing to stand up for himself in the only way he knows how against something he feels is a threat. He’s actually being brave. Other dogs feeling the same way may react by hiding.

People approaching him directly.

Albert is a large four-year-old Rottie, Mastiff, Labrador, Staffie mix. Such a gentle and friendly dog generally.

It's not dominance at allOut of the house, he is particularly unhappy when people approach him directly, especially joggers. This is common – take a look at the Pulse Project.

The other day he charged a jogger who appeared around a bend. He was off lead. Having a dog the size of Albert charging at you, barking and with raised hackles, must be daunting whether you’re a person or another dog.

“COME NO CLOSER”!

This isn’t dominance. It’s fear.

In a situation like this, in order to ‘safely control’ their dog people tend to hold him tightly on lead and even try to make him sit. Sitting is a big ask whilst so aroused and feeling trapped as the threat continues to approach.

The dog is doing all he knows to increase distance. The dog himself that should be removed to a comfortable distance instead.

Increasing distance also builds up vital trust in the person holding the lead.

Albert moved from busy town to quiet country area.

From a puppy Albert was extremely well socialised, going everywhere with the young couple. They lived in a busy town and constantly mingled with lots of people and dogs. Then they moved to a quiet area and after a while Albert began to react to approaching people and more recently to other male dogs also.

To make things worse, he was attacked by another dog.

Occasional people or dogs suddenly appearing and approaching directly are much more alarming to many dogs than being in a crowd. It’s the same with us, isn’t it.

My young clients so want enjoyable walks once more with their lovely dog, walks where he doesn’t bark and charge at approaching people or rush other dogs.

Off lead, Albert charges over to other dogs. He ignores all calls to get him back. This is unsurprising as he will ignore being called at home also – something to be worked on.

He doesn’t hurt the dog (and it’s not dominance!). Possibly he’s checking it out. Sometimes, though, the other dog or the owner will be scared. The other dog may be on lead for a reason. He returns when he’s ready.

Albert must be on a lead or a long line for now. No more freelancing. In the old days he seldom needed a lead.

The walk will now start off in a more relaxed fashion. At the moment he is straining to get down the drive, constantly pulling and on high alert. He’s tense and stressed. Nobody is enjoying the walk.

We did some walking near to their house with better equipment and a longer lead. Using my technique Albert was walking like a dream. He even walked out of the gate calmly which is never usually the case. In this calmer and more comfortable state, encountering approaching people will be a lot easier for him.

Has the ‘other dog’ problem been incubating at dog daycare?

Albert goes to daycare each day because the couple work a long day.

A few weeks ago the daycare reported that he was beginning to show dominance towards some of the other dogs – one male Golden Labrador in particular.

They sent a video.

The Labrador was behind a barrier with someone, ignoring Albert. Albert was being held on lead the other side of the barrier, lunging and barking with hackles up at the Labrador. I know it had been set up for the sake of the film, but it was hard to watch it being rehearsed.

This isn’t dominance. This is fear. What’s more, daycare is an active and exciting place. Albert’s stress/excitement levels will for sure be high.

How this has developed is impossible to say, but the behaviour is probably being incubated at daycare. The more it’s rehearsed the worse it becomes.

The only way to deal with it, preferably from the very start, would be to change how Albert feels about the Labrador in carefully monitored situations which would most likely need professional help.

It’s natural to simply try to manage aggressive behaviour through control. Putting a lid on it in this way can only result in the problem festering and getting worse.

The daycare does a good job, and it must be so hard looking after a mixed group of dogs belonging to other people. As well as keeping these two dogs strictly apart, I feel they should keep Albert as calm as they can, cutting short any excited play with other dogs a lot sooner. They can give him more time quietly by himself.

The more aroused he gets the more he can’t control himself. It’s in moods like this that he’s likely to hump a couple of the other dogs. This isn’t dominance either. It’s the over-flowing of stress that has to vent somehow.

Happy walks.

Key to their achieving happy walks is for the couple to be a bit more relevant and fun so that they can can keep his attention. They can engage with him. He should soon be walking near them because he likes being there not because he’s on a tight lead, just as he was out the front with us yesterday.

He should be allowed to wander, sniff and do dog things without the pressure of going a certain distance, of making it from A to B.

This about the journey, not the destination.

On a lead or long line, Albert should no longer have the opportunity to charge dogs or jump up at a jogger. According to the recent changes to the dog law, someone need only feel threatened, with no harm done, in order for both dog and owner to be in trouble.

Both at daycare and out on walks, Albert is using the theory ‘attack is the best form of defence’. It’s because he doesn’t feel safe. It’s our job to help our dog to feel safe and this is easier to do with knowledge and not simply by labelling the behaviour as dominance.

 

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 Albert. 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 or fear 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).