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 There is still so much outdated information being peddled about on the internet, TV and social media.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).

Scared of Young Children. He Barks and Lunges

How did Chester come to be scared of young children?

I believe something happened to him at just the wrong time.

The first fear period.

Two very young children ran noisily towards the little puppy very soon after they first got him. It scared him badly and has left a lasting mark which seems out of all proportion to the incident. This is, I’m sure, because it coincided with his first ‘fear period‘.

Since then Chester has been scared of young children. Otherwise he is friendly, gentle, loving and clever – the perfect pet for their teenage daughter.Hard to imagine him scared of young children

The matter came to a head recently when they were sitting in a coffee shop with the now fifteen-month-old Chester. Two tiny children came in and ran towards where he was sitting. Chester suddenly lunged and barked at them. The children were scared and the mother was not pleased.

Chester may also bark and lunge if he sees young children when he’s out on a walk if they come too close. He’s okay if he is following the children. It’s when they are coming towards him that he panics.

You can’t simply stop the lunging and barking at young children by training him out of it. We need to deal with the cause – the fear.

Children, fun and food.

From now on young children should be only associated with great things – fun and food. Chester should always feel he can escape and he should always be kept at a distance he finds comfortable while they work on making him feel better.

My first suggestion is for them to get Chester a harness. When he lunges it is sure to hurt his neck which immediately will add negative associations as he’s pulled back. We will be introducing only positive associations.

Then they will go looking for children! There is a school just around the corner and they can take Chester for a walk at playtime.

They need to keep their distance.

Chester having fun with the daughter

Chester can watch and hear the children running noisily about and playing behind the fence from a distance he feels safe. Becoming more relaxed, he can over time move a bit closer.

They can speed things up and completely change how Chester feels about children. They can add counter-conditioning. From the safe distance where he’s happy and will eat, they will feed, feed, feed him. They will have chosen some tiny bits of special food that Chester loves, chicken perhaps.

When Chester is aware of the children, the ‘chicken bar’ opens. When there are no children, it closes.

At the right distance from the children, they can keep feeding him or sprinkling food about the place. Gradually the distance will decrease, day by day, so long as he is never taken too close.

I guarantee if they don’t push ahead too fast he will eventually love being by that school playground fence.

Play also will stop Chester being scared of young children.

The family next door have little children which has been a problem. They can now take advantage of ‘tame children’ to work on! Chester can be on lead in the garden, as far away from the neighbour’s fence as possible to start with, and they can do same thing.

They have friends with young children who they can meet on walks. They will begin by following them to avoid approaching head on, walking at a distance, and then arc away until they pull up level. All the time they will feed Chester. Whether or not he will eat the chicken is a good guide to whether they are too close.

As Chester gets nearer, the children could also throw food to him.

He is a playful young dog, so very important now is to introduce play. His own family could play with him around children, making a game out of it – short game of tug or ball will associate the kids with fun as well as food. Eventually I’m sure that young children themselves will be playing with him, supervised of course.

It may take some time and hard work, but once Chester has broken through his fear barrier he will stop being scared of young children and begin to find them fun.

 

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 Chester. 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 and always where children are 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).

English Shepherd Barks at People

English ShepherdWhy does a dog that has been loved, kindly trained and taken out and about as soon as he has had his injections, behave in the way Toby does around people he doesn’t know – reactive to everyone, in fact, apart from close family members?

It’s possible he didn’t meet a sufficient number of new people in the first three or four months of his life. Possibly he was born nervous. Possibly he takes his guard duty very seriously.

I sat in a chair at a distance from the door, waiting for the eighteen-month-old English Shepherd to be brought into the room.

In he came, trailing his lead behind him, followed by the man. He walked to the other family members just inside the door then turned around. Suddenly he saw me. He flew at me, barking.

Scared? Angry? Both?

He had never actually bitten anyone so I wasn’t unduly worried. I know how to behave and what body language to use so he was unlikely to pick me as his first victim. I asked the man to pick up the lead and move him away, speaking loudly (but calmly) so I could be heard above the din.

Toby continued to bark and choke on the lead, in effect yelling at me to go away. He could be associating the undoubted discomfort to his neck with me so I asked the man to take him out of the room and put his harness on instead.

After several trips in and out of the room Toby, whilst still highly aroused, had settled sufficiently to take the tiny biscuits I carry in my pocket that I rolled on the floor to him. Ideally I would like to have achieved a distance from the dog where he could see me but feel safe, but as that was impossible within the confines of a room it was the dog that had to be removed.English Shepherd lying down

Eventually he was sniffing me and he settled down. Every now and then I rolled biscuits to him. With better forward planning and knowing more what to expect, I should have had a larger quantity of much higher-value food to hand so I could deliver it faster. We gave him a toy to chew and focussing on that helped him to de-stress a little.

All was well until, near the end of my time, I had a bout of coughing which started him off barking again. Perhaps he thought I was barking at him! He was put in the kitchen.

Because dogs like Toby are so antisocial, they meet few of those people who do come to the house, so they never have opportunities to be desensitised. Whether fear or anger is the root cause, the aim is the same – for Toby to begin to see people as ‘good news’. I suggested they make good use of any willing friends.

To be on the safe side and because people will understandably be nervous of a dog that barks at people and who sounds and acts as scary as Toby, the man must hang onto that lead. He can repeat our ‘in and out of the room’ procedure where when Toby barks he is walked out of the room and when he stops barking he is brought back in again – the man dropping tiny bits of high value food ahead of him on the floor as he walks in. Then, after the dog has settled for a while, he taken out and can be given a break in the kitchen. In a while the process can be repeated. Each time should get easier.

Desensitising a dog that barks at people needs lots and lots of repetition, keeping him within his comfort threshold and using as many different people as possible.

On walks Toby’s family can look for people instead of avoiding them (he’s okay if they keep walking but not if they stop). They can find places to sit and feed him as people pass by. They can drop food on the ground so he can forage whilst being aware of nearby people. They can give him a favourite ball or toy to hold.

Given time and hard work, he should start to think that people are great – they mean food and a favourite ball!

Because Toby is a beautiful dog he attracts people who want to touch him. Sometimes we need to appear rude in order to protect our dog and firmly step in, moving between him and the well-meaning person.

A Yellow Dog Company  ‘I Need Space’ vest could be of help.

NB. The exact protocols to best and most safely use with your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Toby, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here of the strategies we will be using. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, and could even be dangerous in cases like this. One size does not fit all. With this kind of issue, it is important that you find an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).

Relaxed Indoors, Reactive Outside

Relaxed German ShepherdAfter a run of German Shepherds I have been to recently who barked frantically when they heard me at the door and continued to bark at me when I entered the house, I was really surprised to ring the doorbell and to hear nothing.

Tia, a very youthful nine-year-old, stood calm and friendly beside the lady as she opened the door, and followed us into the sitting room.

I knew already that the lady would be telling me her problem was her dog’s behaviour when out of the house and on lead, but I wanted to take a holistic approach and get some knowledge of Tia against the background of home life before exploring what was happening outside, why it was happening and what we could do about it.

Tia is the lady’s first dog, and she got her when looking for a puppy some six years ago. Tia was the mother dog and the breeder more or less said she ran a business and Tia was merely a puppy-making machine to her and now expendable. So the lady took her home.

The bond between the two is incredibly close and the lady describes herself as devoted to her. It is just the two of them. I noticed how the dog spent much of the time gazing at the lady, or asking her to do something like fuss her or throw a ball – and she was never disappointed. There are all sorts of human emotions here that the dog will be picking up including adoration and also some guilt that she can never do quite enough for her beloved dog. On balance this must be working very well as Tia is the perfect dog indoors with everyone – visiting young children included.

However…. when she steps out through the front door and anything moves, Tia morphs into a lunging monster! She is ready to have a go at anything and the lady, slight in build, has trouble holding her back. She has been pulled over at least two times. I saw Tia’s transformation for myself. It was amazing to see how a dog who is so relaxed and friendly in the house could change to being so reactive outside, only a few feet from the front door.

The only time Tia does go out of the front door is to go for a walk, so the whole walk process needs looking at. There is a lot of excitement from the moment the lady starts to get ready. She may then run the gauntlet of getting Tia to the car in order to take her to a playing field where the dog can be let off lead. There is no evidence that Tia is anything but friendly when running free.

It seems that, as the behaviour starts immediately outside the house, to Tia this is where her territorial protection duty begins. She is pulling, lunging and barking at anything that may move whether it’s a bird, person, cat or dog. She’s fine with dogs elsewhere and they have a cat themselves. She welcomes people in the house – but not outside when she is on lead.

The lady needs to show Tia, starting at home, that she can look after herself and make her own decisions. She herself describes Tia’s following her about as ‘ushering’ her and that probably says it all.

The desensitisation process needs to be taken step by step, little by little. Every single element is to be worked on individually: The lady picking up her coat.  Lifting the lead. Picking up her keys. Attaching the lead.  She can vary the routine by putting on her outside clothes in different places and attaching the lead first. Next she’s to wait for calm at the door. Open the door – wait for calm again.Take a step out and wait for calm. Stand and look about, then go back in again. No longer will going out of the front door necessarily be a precursor to a walk.

Advancing a step at a time, in very short sessions (whilst being ready to take action as specifically planned as soon as there is any reactivity from Tia) the next goal will be for her to see something a bit distant that is moving without instantly reacting so that the desensitisation/conter-conditioning process can begin.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tia, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Jack Russell With Big Ears

Jack Russell attacked a dogNot being able to trust your dog can ruin walks. The human is anxious all the time and the dog loses freedom.

Little Jack Russell Rags is nearly 4 years old now, and he has lived with the lady since he was one. To date there have now been four episodes culminating in Rags attacking a dog that he knew.

Each incident had seemingly been over a resource of some sort – a ball or food. From how the lady describes it, it’s probable that in the most recent and worst incident with the friend’s dog that she herself was the resource.

I noticed that wherever we were standing Rags carefully placed himself between us, watching me.

In the most recent and worst incident the lady was with a friend in the other lady’s kitchen. The dogs had met a couple of times out on walks previously and had been fine together. The two ladies were chatting and both dogs were under the table between them. Suddenly Rags went for the other dog’s throat. Being long-haired, the much bigger dog wasn’t hurt and he didn’t retaliate, but it really upset Rag’s lady. She decided she needed to do something about it.

Already she has started to put into place some of my advice over the phone regarding encountering dogs on walks and the situation is getting a lot better. The hackling, lunging and barking has reduced dramatically.

It can seem unfriendly and embarrassing when meeting a person with their dog if you simply walk away from them! For this reason I suggest a ‘dog in training’ yellow vest for Rags. This may help a little too with those off-lead uncontrolled dogs whose owners give one an earful when our own on-lead dog responds to being approached!

The lady now needs to address the issue of Rags’ possessiveness of herself, including guard duty in general. She will work on a couple of training exercises to get and keep his attention and give him a bit more mental stimulation.

One month later: ‘walking is going well. I am feeling more relaxed. “Look at me” is wonderful. He knows” find it” . i am better at “reading” Rags now.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rags, which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Billy, Upset and Scared Miniature Schnauzer

Miniature Schnauzer is a very uptight little dogBilly is a Miniature Schnauzer of just eighteen months old. He goes frantic when anyone apart from family and close friends come to the house. He lunges, barks and growls, very upset and scared. He has to be restrained until he calms down.

Billy is never taken for walks now because it is such a nightmare. Virtually anything can cause him to lunge and bark with hackles up – people, other dogs, bicycles, joggers – you name it.

He has twice quite badly bitten family members who tried to put a harness on him. On occasions when they need to take him out like a visit to the vet, he will cower, try to hide and do all he can to avoid the lead. Billy also growls around the feet of anyone who is moving about whom he thinks may be leaving the house.

Imagine how it must be, constantly living in such a highly wound up state.

The family thought they had done all the right things when they chose Billy. He was Kennel Club registered. I am sorry to say I don’t feel this is particularly significant if it’s a family pet we want rather than a dog that physically fits the breed standards for looks rather than temperament. The puppies were upstairs in a bedroom. The family did not meet the mother dog. It’s obvious the puppies had little or no socialisation or encounters with everyday things, people or dogs outside that environment. Inadequate exposure to everyday life before eight weeks of age can contribute to a dog being temperamentally fragile.

One very positive thing is that he seems very much at ease with their 10-month-old crawling granddaughter. It seems she is the only person who can touch him freely and his body language is a lot calmer around her – he even brings her his toys which is lovely. He does not feel threatened by her at all.

With an inadequate start in life and possibly unstable genes where temperament is concerned, Billy’s owners have more work to do than most. Billy needs convincing that he is safe in his own house – protected by his humans.  He needs the right sort of calm, encouraging and consistent leadership. He also needs to know that the family can come and go as they like and he need not worry.

Introducing him again to his harness and preparing him for going out on walks will be an exercise in patience and kind encouragement.

It is so easy to get cross and shout at a dog when he growls or shows aggression. Unfortunately this can only make things worse. The dog isn’t bad, he’s scared.

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

Stray Border Collie from Ireland

Border Collie Rex lying under a chairRex, a Border Collie found as a stray in Ireland a couple of years ago, shipped to Wood Green Animal Shelter and now four years old, is a dog you would be proud to have. He lives with a more elderly Cavalier King Charles Spaniel who is now slowing down.

The dogs belong to a lady and her two daughters who share their care.  At home there are no problems with the dogs, but it’s outside that Rex is causing a few problems. He has some very good points – he is good with most other dogs – if sometimes feeling a bit trapped when on lead, and he responds quite well to a whistle.

A few months ago the poor lady dislocated her shoulder with Rex’ lunging and circling, and she is still receiving treatment. He is a big chunky dog for a Border Collie – he may be mixed with something else. The other day she was pulled over by him as he suddenly crossed in front of her to check out a couple of dogs. The lady has tried all sorts of equipment and methods, all of which rely upon ‘control’ and ‘correction’ to stop him pulling. We need to go back to basics and get him wanting not to pull, to realise how nice walks are when walking like there is no lead at all. We need to change Rex’ mind-set, and that of his humans.

Because of the damaged shoulder (caused by Rex), the lady has to have a special seat belt which costs £200. What has Rex now done? When left in the car he has eaten through two of them!

We need to look at ways to manage this situation so it simply can’t happen again, whilst stopping him feeling that he needs to do it. I think we have got to the bottom of why it happens. If he were calm with no stress and no distress, he would not want do it.

In order to get things right outside, we also need to make sure all the interaction and dog parenting/leadership at home is in place in order to set firm foundations, otherwise it’s like the proverbial ‘house built on sand’.

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

Manic Behaviour Around the Car

Black Labradors Raj and Sumo lying on the rugI’m just back from seeing two wonderful black Labradors, both male, Raj and Sumo. They are no problem at home, friendly, polite and biddable, and if it were not for behaviour around lead walking and getting into the car, they would be the perfect dogs!

Raj now has three legs. A couple of years ago he had several operations which ended in amputation. It seems the trouble really started after what must have been a traumatic time of his life.

Raj gets frantically excited around getting into the car, so much so that he may even redirect his overflowing stress by lunging at Sumo. Going in the car usually either means going to stay with the couple’s son, or an off-lead run. At first sight of a suitcase Raj starts working himself up, frantic to get to the car. He jumps, whines and screams. Once in, he needs to grab something and has to be held to allow Sumo in safely. Getting back into the car to go home is exactly the same chaos.

The two dogs are well-disciplined and well-trained – wonderful at home. There have chickens roaming freely in the garden that the dogs ignore, and they get on well with the cat. They are good with children. But, when it’s time to go out, they change.

Walks start off in an excited fashion, with pulling on lead and with lunging towards dogs and people, not necessarily aggressively but because they seldom encounter them. These are big dogs, and the lady owner is quite petite.

Having made sure that all aspects of leadership are in place at home – which is nearly the case already – we now have specific strategies to transform walks into something where the dogs walk loosely (after some work), and most importantly, an incremental plan to transform Raj’s behaviour around entering the car. With calm walks and easy behaviour around the car, these dogs will indeed be  perfect!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
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Rescue is Not What She Signed Up for

It can be heartbreaking for someone who, rather than getting a puppy, rescues a dog in need of a home, only to find out that there are hidden agendas that start to come to the surface after a week or two. By this time it’s often too late because they have fallen in love with the dog, and anyway the dog probably may well not be rehomable if biting is involved (knowing this, biting was probably the reason the previous owners didn’t come clean to the rescue centre).Rescue dog is proving a challenge

So it is with Simon, an enchanting terrier mix who is cat obsessed and hates other dogs with a vengeance. He has bitten his new lady owner when fired up over another dog on a walk. What the lady, a first time dog owner, naively thought she was getting in Simon was a dog she could take camping with the family, who would sit quietly with them in a pub garden and walk off lead. Instead, she has a dog that is pulling, lunging and wanting to attack any dog, and who can’t be taken out with them for fear of going ballistic if he spots another dog. She is even unable to go on holiday this year because she can’t leave Simon in kennels. He was so distressed around other dogs during his short stay in rescue kennels that they had him in the office, so kennelling isn’t an option. Leaving him with a dog sitter is clearly out of the question.

The lady has already been with another trainer but in some respects Simon is getting worse, and the methods don’t rest easy with her. It seems that nobody has really looked at things from the dog’s point of view, behaving as the dog would expect a leader to behave rather than by using domination techniques. A good mum or dad can instill discipline, set boundaries and earn respect whilst still being kind, without being ‘dominant’ or over-controlling. So it is with a good dog leader.

There are so many good points about this dear little dog, far outweighing the bad. The lady is committed. With time and patience I am sure they will bring him around.

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