Frantic Barking. Littermates. Not Prepared For Real Life.

I walked in the door to be met with frantic barking.

Brave Luna, with frantic barking, came right up to me. Her sister backed her up but with less enthusiasm.

Frantic barking at people and sounds

Luna

Luna and Bear are same-sex siblings. They are two-year-old Cavapoo Collies. What a mix! They were a bit smaller than I expected.

Walks are a nightmare due to the dogs’ reactivity to everything, their frantic barking and pulling. Consequently, the family don’t walk them regularly.

Their frantic barking at every sound when at home is annoying the neighbours. The lady has tried all sorts of things to stop the barking, some not pleasant for the dogs. None worked.

Addressing the root of the problem is the only way to get lasting improvement.

Clever dogs need variety, exercise and enrichment but their behaviour makes taking them out impossible. The family can’t walk them separately as the two little dogs won’t be separated.

Luna is the most stressed of the two and she is the more bossy one. This is often the way. One will overshadow the other. Bear, however, is more relaxed and without Luna may well have adjusted better to life.

Lack of exposure in crucial early weeks

Three main points have been working against the family.

Bear

The first is that the dogs, in the vital first twelve weeks of their lives, didn’t get the required socialisation and habituation to daily life all dogs need. Early socialisation and habituation.

They picked the puppies up at sixteen weeks old.

They were not prepared for meeting people, other dogs, bikes, sounds, vacuum cleaner…..all sorts of things. The real world is a scary nightmare.

The second point is that they are littermates which brings its own challenges.

The third is probably genetics. They tell me that the dogs’ brother is even more scared and reactive than Luna.

I didn’t list these things to discourage them, but so that they are realistic about what they are up against. It’s also important that they don’t in any way blame themselves.

Stress reduction

There is just one of these three things that they can actually do something about. That is what people call socialisation but which is really systematic desensitisation, habituation and counter-conditioning.

For their dogs to react differently, they need to work on their fear and stress levels.

Every time they take them out, every time they take them in the car where they simply shake with fear, the dogs are ‘flooded’. Flooding does them no good at all. Everything is too much.

Stress, fear, excitement/over-arousal is at the root of their behaviour. They haven’t been properly prepared at a sufficiently young age for the real world. Too many things both at home and out stress Luna in particular.

Living in a war zone

Just imagine being terrified every time you go out. It would be like living in a war zone.

Stress needs reducing in every way possible. Each time the dogs are alarmed and react with frantic barking, their stress levels go through the roof. With exploding stress levels, they bark and react even more. It’s Catch-22.

Stress reduction underpins everything we will do. The family will work on calming the dogs constantly and in every way possible.

So, against a calmer background, we need a plan of baby steps. We need to break things down into the tiniest of increments to desensitise and counter-condition the dogs to one thing at a time.

One dog at a time

Progress will be impossible with both dogs together. They will simply keep bouncing off one another rather than relating to their humans.

So, the first challenge here is to get them to accept being apart for just a minute or two to start with. Baby steps.

The family will start with a barrier or gate across the room so the dogs, whilst together, are separated. They can give each dog something to chew so it’s a positive experience. Bit by bit they can extend the time.

Then they can take one dog out of sight of the other.

The dogs must be comfortable with one step before going on to the next.

Eventually one dog can be on a long and loose lead by the open front door. Now the frantic barking at sounds and sights of the outside world, of passing people and so on, need working on.

Just being at the open front door is too much

How can the dog go for a happy walk when even being at the open front door is too much?

It’s impossible to say what progress they will make or how fast. Frequent short sessions in tiny increments will be a lot better than one long session.

Walks can currently only do more harm than good to the dogs. They are a nightmare for all due to the frantic barking at everything and the pulling.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Little Dogs Bark at People, Dogs, Traffic, Bikes

The two little dogs bark at the smallest provocation. One sets the other off – or they may erupt into barking simultaneously.

The  Maltese/Chihuahua mixes (Malchis) are one-year-old brothers. Two dogs of the same age can be hard work, particularly if they are littermates.

The adorable Reggie and Ronnie bounce off one another. Much of the work involves working on them separately – treating them as individuals.

The little dogs bark a lot!

The pair are extremely easily aroused, torn between fearfulness and being friendly. They bark at people, at other dogs, at traffic of all sorts, bikes…. nearly everything.

the little dogs bark at everything

Barking at me

When I was there, the smallest sound that we humans couldn’t even hear had the two little dogs racing out into the garden, barking.

When dogs are reactive to something our natural instinct can be to push them into the situation. To ‘get them used to’ it.

A dog can be reactive to traffic by lunging or barking at it, and people will keep walking the dog near to traffic, holding the lead tightly.  When the two little dogs bark at an approaching person with a dog, their humans don’t divert but may even try to make the dogs say hello.

It is actually exactly the opposite we need to do. If we translate it into human terms it’s easier to understand. If a child is scared of something or has a phobia (even if we find it unreasonable), we would deal with it slowly and not force the child to face it. We wouldn’t shut a child that is scared of the dark in a dark room for an hour to get him over it! We would be aware that therapy could take months.

It can be embarrassing.

On top of this, when our little dogs bark at people – or our big dogs for that matter – it’s embarrassing.

The temptation then is to attempt to stop them in some way. Fortunately they hadn’t yet tried to use the compressed air dog ‘corrector’ they had bought. They can now see how that is the equivalent to smacking a child who is screaming ‘Go Away’ to something that is terrifying him and coming too close.

The noise might stop, but the fear will increase.

The only way to change the barking behaviour is to get to the root of why they do it and deal with that.

They barked at me for a while, making it impossible to talk, but soon stopped with the help of dropped food. They started again a couple of times – like when I went out and came back in while we were rehearsing a technique for people coming to the door.

The little dogs bark at things they might hear from the garden. This means reacting instantly, calling them away, making it worth their while – and not giving them unlimited access (difficult in this very hot weather).

The thing that impacts on their humans the most is when the little dogs bark at everything when they take them out on walks.  

Helping the dogs one at a time.

They will walk each dog, one at a time, to their garden gate and watch the world go by. Lots of very short sessions are best. The very instant he shows alarm, they will drop food. The idea is to pre-empt the barking whilst building up positive associations.

They must be ready to retreat quickly back to the house at the first reaction or bark – increasing distance. Bit by bit they will build up the dogs’ confidence and trust in them. They must not get impatient and try to push ahead too fast.

Only by keeping ‘distance’ from the car, person or dog at the same time as those things triggering something good, will the situation change.

Currently, the opposite is happening. Because their leads are attached to collars and not harnesses, reactivity and lunging will result in discomfort to their little necks. Humans get agitated.

Only when each dog is much less reactive individually should they try them both together. Slowly they can advance further away from their house.

They need not walk the dogs daily while they are doing this. People can play with them in the garden. For ‘proper’ walks I suggest they find somewhere open with as few dogs and people as they can. Until Reggie and Ronnie can walk beside the road without being being upset by everything, they need to take them by car.

The car?

This is another problem. Seeing people (or other cars, dogs, bicycles) from the car window makes the little dogs bark frantically. The only way out of this for now is to somehow prevent them seeing out – by being creative. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Six weeks later: ‘All is going really well The boys have calmed down so much. They have adapted well to me saying ok come on boys to get them back into the house when they start barking in the garden. They have stopped barking when I  let them out. Throwing food over the gate works well when I leave them now and they are far more settled. No more destruction of furniture. Walking has been a lot better. Whilst on holiday if they became anxious and started to bark we adopted the ok lets go and turned the other way which worked well. Reggie ignores cars now whilst on a walk. We feel that your techniques have worked really well. There is hardly any reaction now when we come home from work.
They are 2 different dogs a much happier home.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. Click here for help.

Puppies’ Fear of Other Dogs

Shih Tzu puppy

PJ

I have had a lovely visit with five-month-old Shih Tzu female litter-mates Hattie and PJ and their delightful family, starting my ‘puppy parenting’ with them. This initial visit is to make sure the basics are in place, plan the way forward and pre-empt potential future problems.

Potential problems with littermates are well documented but not inevitable.

These two are inseparable – they move around like one adorable fluffy mop; it’s hard to see where one dog ends and the other starts, or to see which end is head and which end is tail!

Amongst the usual puppy things, two matters stood out as particularly needing addressing. One is their lack of sufficiently early socialisation resulting in fear of other dogs. They left the breeder at nine weeks but their vaccinations hadn’t yet begun, and though they had met plenty of human friends they were not taken out to meet other dogs until about 14 weeks old. So sadly, at just five months, Hattie and PJ are already wary of other dogs they see and they bark at them.

Many humans (this family less so) tend to believe that socialising means exposing their dog to other dogs in such a way that they are forced to encounter as many as possible, on a tight lead, and this will eventually ‘get them over’ their barking. It’s actually the very opposite. I say to people it’s not walks we’re working on, or other dogs, it’s actually ‘fear therapy’. It’s easier to understand that with a ‘therapy’ there will be a psychological approach and one needs to go slowly.

Other dogs have to be transformed into something the puppies feel happy to see. Force won’t do that.

I call it the ‘Other Dog Battery’ (it could be a battery for any other thing a dog is scared of). Each time the puppy can be aware of another dog at a distance that doesn’t disturb her and particularly if she is then given tasty little bits to eat or forage for or something else good always happens, this starts to charge up the ‘Other Dog Battery’.

This particular battery is slow and laborious to charge.

Each and every time, however, the puppy or dog encounters a dog that is too close or is suddenly surprised by a dog around a corner, that battery discharges very fast and goes flat – and they will then have to start again. Logistically it can be difficult but there is no way around it and the puppies ideally need to be walked separately.

Shih Tzu Lying on her back

Hattie

The second common thing that arose from this consultation is to do with dogs that ‘won’t eat’. This then also means the dog also won’t be interested in food to help fill up that ‘Other Dog Battery’.

Sometimes the reason is a lot more obvious than you’d think.

They showed me the treats they give the puppies – amongst other things mini markies about the size of small cocktail sausage rolls. They admit to giving each puppy about six a day but with a family of four nobody is counting. The puppy can’t be much more than 3kg in weight and the man told me he weighed about 70kg. Relative to size, that makes one markie far larger than a doughnut… and six markies? It’s no wonder the puppies have little interest in food.

This case is yet another example of how issues are inter-related. No one thing stands alone. The food issue raises the matter of nutrition and food affects the ability to reward and counter-condition, which is necessary to change the way the puppies behave towards other dogs, which in turn necessitates the two being walked separately which is in itself part of a wider issue – that of the puppies being given quality time individually; the stress of walks can spill over into grumpiness afterwards and so on.

With work and patience, their fear of other dogs should lessen. These sweet and gentle puppies must feel safe and protected. It’s an owners’ job to save their dogs from unwanted or rough attention at all costs – whether from a human or another dog. Easier said than done sometimes.

The Puppies are Littermates

White German Shepherd puppy

Buster

They brought their two beautiful cream-coloured German Shepherd brothers home a couple of months ago at eight weeks old, believing they would be great company for one another thus making life easier and not realising it could actually be a lot more work.

They soon were given information that littermates could well become overly reliant upon one another, even to the extent of not bonding as fully with their humans as they might. One puppy can become overshadowed by the other and not reach his full potential. Puppy play can, as the pups mature, turn into full-blown fighting. This isn’t inevitable – I have been to siblings who are the best of friends – but it is possible that things could turn out not so well unless fairly special measures are taken. They called me in for professional guidance.

Already they have Samson and Buster, now sixteen weeks old, sleeping in separate crates. They walk them separately and they feed them separately. They will need individual training sessions. They have been having more one-on-one time with their humans than they have with each other which is perfect.

When I was there and for my benefit the two puppies were together more than they usually would be. We were in the conservatory watching them playing in the garden. It wasn’t long before play became unequal – even at four months old. Samson was becoming a bit too rough and Buster was getting scared. Their relative personalities are already very clear with Samson more nervous, more excitable and more bossy.

six month old white German Shepherd puppy

Samson

I was quite amazed actually at just how well-behaved the two dogs were for such young puppies and the hard work is paying off already. They are fully house trained and they don’t do chewing damage anywhere. There is a bit of jumping up from just Samson and they have already discovered that ‘get down’ doesn’t work. Their owners have, from the start, gradually weaned the two puppies into being left apart and all alone for reasonable periods of time.

There are a couple of ‘flags’ I feel they need to be aware of that could develop into problems. Prevention is a lot better than cure. Already Samson is barking in a scared fashion at people and other dogs when out, and Buster barks at dogs. Possibly, because they are currently held tight on short leads to try to stop them pulling, they feel trapped and uncomfortable.

The two dogs need as much socialising as possible. I know from personal experience that too many German Shepherds can be reactive and aggressive towards callers to their homes if the don’t regularly meet people from an early age. Plenty of people coming through the door would be good if they can find volunteers, and they should be associated with food or play.

With one dog at a time and the other shut away, we did very successful loose lead walking around the garden and the front of the house. We used a longer lead and using my technique the puppy simply walks around beside or following the person holding the lead. One of the puppies even had a pee when on lead, something they never do, and I suggest this is because he felt sufficiently comfortable and relaxed.

Samson likes to play tug of war with the lead, but reacting with reward when he stops rather than reacting with scolding or tension while he’s tugging will soon cure this.

The play between the two dogs needs careful monitoring, and terminating as soon as it ‘turns’.

With two soon-to-be large dogs, the owners need some sort of ‘remote control’, particularly in public, so the dogs will learn to respond instantly to their own names, to ‘come’ and to other cues like ‘sit’, ‘down’ and ‘stay’ requested gently and just the once. Over the next few weeks and months we will have a lot of fun!

My advice to them is to treat their puppies like one lives next door – for the forseeable future. They can meet frequently and be friends, but ‘live’ apart. Fortunately the couple has a good-sized house and the gentleman works from home, so logistically it’s possible. The couple have already researched and are well prepared to do whatever it takes.

Two Boxers with Too Much Freedom

The two Boxers have too much freedomHoney and Millie are both six years old. They were brought home on the same day, but they are not sisters. Millie came from a good breeder and nice home environment, whereas Honey missed out on some vital early input from siblings and mother, and had to be hand reared. What happens during the first twelve weeks or so of a dog’s life makes a huge difference and I don’t believe can ever entirely be reversed. A dog without proper early interaction with siblings and mother will be harder work.

The two dogs used to get on brilliantly. They had puppies at the same time  – even putting all their puppies together in one whelping box and sharing the maternal duties.

Unfortunately things have gone downhill.  Honey, predictably, is a much more stressed dog. A short while ago, due to complications in a pregnancy, Millie had to be spayed, and the imbalance of hormones between them may be adding to the growing tension between the two dogs.

Honey will suddenly just go for Millie. Sometimes she gives ‘that look’ first, sometimes it seems to happen out of the blue. There are a couple of common denominators – the lady is always present and it seems to involve comings and goings, either of people or one dog returning into the presence of the other.  On most occasions the house has been busy and Honey will have had a build up of stress.

To my mind the biggest contributor of all to Honey’s stress levels in particular is the enormous amount of freedom the two dogs have. They have quite a large area on the estate where they freely roam – controlled only by an electric barrier. They are left out all day with an open kennel for shelter. They are there at the gate whenever anyone arrives and it is a busy place. Honey barks, growls and hackles – scared and warning. It’s quite surprising that all her stress is taken out on poor Millie and that she’s not actually gone for a person by now. There is a public dog walking path through the estate that they can see but not reach, which also causes barking and stress.

These two dogs are in charge of the territory, no question about it. Without realising it, the people are often allowing the dogs to be in charge of them also. If it were just the much more stable Millie it may not really matter as she can handle it. Honey can’t.

I am hoping that they can find a way of enclosing the dogs during the day when they themselves are not about and that they feel happy with, and of keeping them well away from the gate area when people come and go so they are let ‘off duty’.  My own dogs are peacefully contained in quite a small area in the house when I am out and I wouldn’t have it any other way for their own sakes – and for the most part when they are anywhere further afield than my garden, I accompany them.

Ruling the roost really isn’t easy on a dog. With some indoor leadership work as well as limiting physical boundaries, Honey’s stress levels should then reduce and I am sure she will not feel the need to take it out on poor Millie. Possibly spaying her in a couple of months’ time when the time is right could help, but I don’t believe this alone is the answer as the dogs already had had a few differences earlier. It needs to be done in conjunction with the behaviour work.

Rearing littermates usually comes with problems, and even though these two weren’t actually from the same litter, because they were adopted together at the same age there will be little difference.

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