People Too Close to Each Other. Connor Story Part One.

Connor’s will be a story in two parts. This first story is about Connor and his frantic agitation when two people get too close to each other.

He came to them a year ago, probably only weeks away from death. The dog, scarred with broken teeth, scared and skinny, had stopped eating. He had been in the kennels for two years and seemed to have lost the will to live.

From the moment the couple took him in, the Staffie Greyhound mix, now five, surrounded by patient love began to blossom.

Too close to each other or hugging.

Frantic when people too close to each otherFrom the start Connor became agitated when either the man moved too close to the lady, or when the lady approached the man. Continue reading…

Scared Dog. Jumpy. Nervous. Walks are a Nightmare for Her.

Scared dogBelle was found with her siblings, at just a few weeks old, by the roadside. From the beginning,, in her loving home, the Whippet mix was a scared and nervous puppy – in total contrast to their two Labradors.

When someone comes into the house the scared dog will leap onto the lady’s lap for reassurance.

Belle is now three years old and the behaviours her fear generates are hard for her family to deal with. She is extremely jumpy and scared of many everyday household things.

It’s easy to get cross with too much barking when one seems powerless to stop it.

Emotions behind the behaviour

The main message for helping Belle is for them to consider the emotions that cause her behaviours and deal with them instead of trying to stop the actions themselves. It can help to translate it into human terms. For instance, they wouldn’t scold a child who was crying due to fear. They would address the fear itself. Continue reading…

Barks Aggressively at Dogs. Counter-conditioning. Changing Emotions.

On walks the Deerhound Lurcher barks aggressively at other dogs.

At home Daniel is a well-behaved, quite self-contained but friendly boy, four years of age. The gentleman has had him for two years.

He lived on a narrow boat

barks aggressively at other dogsFor the first two years of his life Daniel lived on a narrow boat.

He has had several years to rehearse barking at other dogs in order to drive them on their way.  When he barks aggressively, it works!  The dogs carry on walking.

Living on a boat, this I’m sure has been the case. I have been to several dogs living in marinas that are very reactive to people and particularly dogs passing along the bank or walking down their pontoon.

Now in a house with the gentleman, Daniel continues to rehearse the territorial and protective behaviour. From the front windows he barks aggressively at people passing with their dogs. He barks aggressively at any animal that dares to come into his garden. Even the more distant dogs that he hears shouldn’t be there.

This behaviour is understandable really when a dog feels in some way restricted, whether out on a lead, in a house or trapped in a narrow boat.

If free, he would increase distance

If Daniel were roaming free he would simply increase distance and stay out of the way. Videos of dogs in countries where they wander freely show that dogs seldom stand barking at other dogs to make them go away. They remove themselves.

Up until now, nothing has been done to make him feel more confident around other dogs when he is trapped on lead. To the contrary. When he barks aggressively he is held even more tightly and not allowed to increase distance as the dog gets nearer.

It’s exactly the opposite needing to happen. Seeing another dog should become good news or at the very least something non-threatening to ignore.

Homework.

Daniel seems to be a beautifully calm dog at home, but this can disguise things going on inside him. His basic state of mind plays a big part. For this reason there are various things to do at home as well like working on getting instant eye contact and attention.

At home, too, he will now be unable to rehearse barking at windows. They will pull blinds and shut doors.

At home in his garden, Daniel will begin to associate dogs he hears barking in the distance with something good (counter-conditioning).

Barks aggressively? Too close.

On walks the man will now use systematic desensitisation. Daniel will be aware of other dogs but at an acceptable distance. Avoiding dogs altogether won’t help at all.

Then he can apply counter-conditioning. This basically helps to neutralise Daniel’s negative feelings towards dogs by associating them with something he loves. I suggest chicken. He won’t get chicken at any other time – only when he sees another dog  and from a comfortable distance.

The whole thing has to be systematic and planned.  Listen to this very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long. https://youtu.be/7HNv-vsnn6E

Over time Daniel will be encouraged to look away from the dog and to the gentleman – for chicken.

It’s a slow process.

Prey drive

Daniel barks aggressively at another dog to increase distance, but he may also react in another way. He gets very excited when he sees a small dog, a cat or any animal small or fast enough to be considered prey. Then his prey-drive instinct kicks in.

The gentleman can redirect the dog’s instinct to chase if he catches it fast enough. Currently, the only way he can let Daniel off lead is when the dog is running after a ball, which he does multiple times. Repeated chasing after balls fires him up for more chasing. It’s not natural. Chasing by a Lurcher in real life would be after one animal. When he’s caught it, there would be a break from chasing.

There will be no more ball play on walks.

There is plenty of sniffing to do and a world to explore. Starved of his ball, it will gain even more value to Daniel.

Using a long line, the man can now work on redirecting Daniel’s prey drive onto something acceptable – that ball! As soon as the dog’s body language tells him that his chase instinct is kicking in, he will throw the ball in the opposite direction.

It is particularly important Daniel comes to feel better about other dogs. In a couple of months the man is re-homing another Lurcher from a friend who is going overseas and can’t take him. We have discussed the best ways of introducing the two dogs when the time comes.

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 dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Campervan Holiday With Barking Dogs.

A campervan holiday – perfect for the dogs. Or so you might think.

The holiday season is approaching and many people want to take their dogs. So they get a campervan.

I have just been to a second couple with a campervan and dogs that bark at approaching people.

The question is, how, in just a few weeks, can dogs who so frequently rehearse barking at people approaching their house be taught not to bark when people approach the campervan?

This time it’s Ruby, a rescue Lurcher, joined by Border Collie Mia who they’ve only had for three weeks. Both have wonderful long off-lead walks and are laid-back in the house.

People coming up the drive.

campervan not so laid backThe family share a common drive with other houses. Ruby literally leaps into action if anyone comes up that drive. She jumps the fence to warn both neighbours or deliveries away with aggressive barking. In her mind it works. It’s very intimidating for the people.

They are now raising the fence.

Sadly, the five-year-old Ruby won’t have been sufficiently habituated to different approaching people from the start, when she was a puppy and young dog. She is now accepting of people when out and once they are in the house so long as she’s left alone; she’s fine lying down in the pub with people approaching or walking past.

But their home is their castle. Their campervan is their mini-castle, also to be guarded. Constantly proving  at home that aggressive barking drives people away, Ruby does the same from the campervan, now joined by Mia.

People approaching the campervan.

At home, the couple will now need to work on getting the dogs to accept, welcome even, people coming towards their house.

They will also need to work on getting the dogs to accept people coming towards the campervan.

As with my last story, they can park the campervan in a variety of different places and ‘people-watch’. As with Billie and Shaun, other dogs aren’t a problem – it’s people.

Passing people provoke less reaction than people directly approaching, so that is where they will start.

The equivalent to the raised garden fence will be a board which they can put in the doorway of the campervan. When the door is open, the dogs, from inside, won’t see people approaching unless standing on their back legs.

Now, with sudden explosions dealt with by blocking the dogs’ view, they can deal with getting them to at least tolerate people approaching. They will do this in a sytematic and controlled way as per our plan.

Unwanted attention

At home the neighbours will help, I’m sure. Over time they will be associated with either food or fun.

The campervan is a different matter with different people about and the van itself parked up in different locations. Dogs are like a magnet to dog-lovers! I know the feeling but control myself.

We need to be quite forceful in protecting our dogs from unwanted attention.

It would be great if the dogs became so used to different people approaching and walking past the campervan that they ignored them. A big ask. They need a lot of weekends away!

Redirects Frustration. Can’t Reach Cat, Turns on Owner.

Redirects frustration

Letting sleeping dogs lie

Lurcher Rufus is a wonderful dog whose only problems are as a result of over-arousal. He then redirects frustration, using his teeth.

The two-year-old had been picked up, abandoned, eight months ago and has settled into his new life beautifully.

A lovely, friendly dog, he’s confident and curious. Rufus can get very excited when he sees people. He was unusually calm when I arrived – but I didn’t fire him up! He sniffed me thoroughly and gave me a little ‘kiss’ in the ear. I began to respond with some attention and he quickly became excited. I felt his mouth on my hand.

His lady and gentleman are finding it hard to stop him mouthing their hands and their arms – sometimes quite roughly. The more aroused he becomes, the rougher he gets.

Rufus redirects frustration using his teeth.

If he’s not getting attention, he will demand it using his mouth. If he is thwarted or ignored, he redirects frustration using his teeth.

The biggest problem however is cats! Their house is surrounded by cats that seem hell-bent on winding up Rufus. He may be controllable past one or two, but by the time he’s encountered the third that may be waiting in his drive as they arrive back home from a walk, his chase instinct is in full gear.

The other day when he lunged at a cat, his lady owner held on as tightly as she could. Rufus’ head swung round and she received a nasty bite on her arm.

Holding on tightly with a harness that tightens as he pulls may save the day at the time, but isn’t a way to change the behaviour of a dog that redirects frustration onto you. The frustration itself has to be addressed and this takes time. The people themselves must be able to get and hold their dog’s attention, taking action before he gets anywhere near this state of arousal.

This is easy to say, but not always so easy to put into practice.

Better equipment will give better control.

The first thing they will do is to get a harness where a longer lead can hook both front and back. They will then have more control in emergency and the dog will be more comfortable. Then they should keep those walks near home where they may encounter cats very short indeed to avoid ‘trigger stacking’. This is where his stress and excitement builds up until he explodes and he redirects frustration onto the person holding the short lead.

Instead of being held tight, the dog actually needs to feel free while they work on their own relevance and teaching him behaviours that are incompatible with lunging at cats.

This work will start at home. There should be no more reinforcement of any kind for the rather excessive and uncomfortable mouthing which is quite obviously a habit and his default when aroused. You could say that he’s ‘mouth happy’. The more stressed he becomes, the harder the grip with his teeth. I don’t like to call this a bite.

When it happens they need to be immediate. They recognise the signs. Even as his mouth approaches they must withdraw themselves and look away. No more scolding or ‘No’. Currently when they may leave their hand in his mouth before removing it. They need to change their own habits and respond a lot more promptly.

It must be hard being a dog, having no hands, only mouth and teeth!

It looks like Rufus generates much of his attention by mouthing or bringing toys to throw or tug. The man has a nasty bite on his thumb he received while playing with him – it was a mistake. Rufus has not learnt to be careful with his teeth. From now onwards all play instantly stops if teeth or even open mouth are felt.

The tuggy game played properly is a great way to teach this.

Just as important is to regularly offer him plenty of interaction when he’s calm. Already his humans they have started hunting nose-games games with him.

Although he has bitten a few times, I would never label Rufus an ‘aggressive dog‘. A dog that redirects frustration is a dog that is unfulfilled. In Rufus’ case, when out, it’s his drive to chase that’s unfulfilled.

They will get a long line so Rufus can have a degree of freedom when they take him by car to more interesting places where he can sniff and explore. Chase and recall can be worked on too. Always restrained on a short lead must in itself be frustrating for him.

They have strategies now to help Rufus to calm himself down and they know how to handle the mouthing. Communication with humans must be frustrating for a dog too – with no hands and with no language that humans seem able to understand!

He must gradually learn that it’s times he’s not using his mouth that things happen. It’s not always a good idea to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ if there is nothing in it for them!

Like charity, impulse control starts at home. Over time and with work, they should be able to manage the cat situation too.

Ten days have gone by, during which time poor Rufus was attacked by another dog and has two sizeable gashes in his side. Despite this, great progress already: Rufus seems much more relaxed in his new harness and I am gaining confidence with it too. We went to Milton Park yesterday and had a very pleasant walk together. The park has open spaces and woods also lakes.He saw coots with chicks and just watched them calmly: not interested in pulling to get nearer or show any interest in chasing.Friends have been most understanding and cooperative when visiting and I can see improvements with Rufus. He has also improved in not mouthing or nipping so much.Considering  we have only been putting your instructions in place for just over a week (and him being bitten into the bargain), I feel Rufus has made a promising start.
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 Rufus. 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 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).

Exercise. Can a Dog Have Too Much?

ThVery fit dog gets lots of exercisee couple both have full time jobs and two very young children. My own daughter can barely manage this and is exhausted a lot of the time. Imagine adding a young dog that needs his own time and attention too.

This is the case of the young couple I have just started working with. They have a beautiful Greyhound Labrador mix called Dexter. Dexter is two years old.

As time has gone by, the training games and mental stimulation they used to offer Dexter have decreased. Now it can sometimes seem more of a duty to look after and exercise him that has to fit into their busy day.

These things can creep up on us.

To ‘multi-task’, they combine their own running for fitness with ‘walking the dog’. When not running, they are chucking a ball for him.

Exercise has created a super-fit, souped-up machine!

Dexter pulls from home to the place where he is let off lead. On lead he is agitated and on the lookout for cats. He is ready to bark and lunge at any dog he might meet. The young lady in particular gets really cross and frustrated with him – understandably – and her lead corrections do no good at all.

The problem is that this lovely dog, polite, child-friendly and sweet at home, becomes a bit of a devil when out and especially when encountering smaller dogs.

Except when he has a ball stuffed in his mouth!

Off lead, Dexter submits to bigger dogs. Smaller dogs he may see as prey, something to chase at least. It starts with stalking. Then he charges them.

He has now slammed into a King Charles Cavalier and, the other day, a Cockerpoo puppy.

The scared little dog is bowled over and then Dexter gives it multiple little nips. No physical damage done, but a very frightened little dog that now himself may become reactive to dogs and a justifiably upset owner.

Dexter gets ‘nibbly’ when aroused, as I experienced for myself when left alone with him for a short while and I was fussing him. It seems a logical conclusion that if extremely aroused he may become more nibbly.

Instead of giving Dexter a calm and controlled base from which to encounter other dogs, they are doing the very opposite. Like many people, they wrongly believe that physically tiring out the dog with exercise should cure all problems.

The opposite is often the case. Too much exercise can do more harm than good.

The dog is bonded with the ball, not his humans.

When not running with him, they are relying on a ball. He loves his ball. The young man bounces it as he walks down the path which stops the dog pulling.

Dexter’s relationship is largely with the ball, not them. When he carries it in his mouth it shuts him down – like a dummy. It blocks out everything around him.

Once at the field and Dexter let off lead, the ball is thrown – repeatedly. Imagine the dog is clockwork with a key. Repeated ball throwing is like winding him up until over-wound.

Then what?

The ball is a gift really. I now suggest they only use it for associating other dogs with good things, for redirecting his urge to chase – but only when needed. No more firing him up with it. They can use it as a dummy or plug in his mouth in emergency only.

It goes without saying that when Dexter sees another dog, off lead and with no ball in his mouth, he is highly aroused. He is ready for the chase.

The chase drive has been constantly conditioned by all that ball play and running.

When he gets to a ball he grabs it. What should he do with a small dog? He doesn’t want to kill it like prey, but he can’t play with it either. He is highly aroused. What next? It seems he repeatedly nibbles at it.

It’s about living in the moment, not stressing to get running or chasing.

They will be working hard on engaging with him more, both at home and when out, so that they can get his attention when it’s most needed. He will be taught to walk on a loose lead because he wants to be near them.

Meanwhile, they must prevent further rehearsal of the unwanted behaviour. Each time he does it he gets better at it. A puppy may then be condemned to a life of being scared of bigger dogs which isn’t fair.

A mix of far less physical arousal but more mental stimulation and enrichment along with ‘engaging’ with him more, should make a big difference, given time.

It can be hard to convince people that less is more where exercise is concerned. Looking at what the dog would be doing when out, without humans involved, seems the logical way to approach at it.

Street dogs can decide just what they do and when. Little of the day is actually spent running or chasing, even in hunting or herding breeds.

With so little time, they don’t need to spend much longer on Dexter than they do already.

They can be doing something different in the time they already spend.

 

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 Dexter. 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. 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).

Learned Behaviour and a Lovely Lurcher

Learned behaviour that needs to be un-learned.

Four months ago a dishevelled, grey, skinny dog in dreadful condition stepped out in front of my client’s car.

After a visit to the vet and a bath, he turned out to be a mostly white Lurcher.

They traced his past from a microchip and were able to keep him.

What a great life Alfie now has.

Alfie has brought with him what I’m sure is some learned behaviour from his past life and it’s now causing problems.

The lady is a dog walker and has two other dogs of her own.

The young Lurcher pesters other dogs with too much excited and mouthy play, whether they want it or not. He seems unable to pick up their signals. He won’t leave them alone and he will scruff them, irrespective of the size of the dog.

Alfie just won’t take no for an answer unless a dog gets very cross with him.

This is bad news for the lady who is a dog walker.

This learned behaviour is constantly rehearsed at home. Tiny Yorkie Chihuahua mix Pip is very playful and sometimes even goads him into it.

Play consists of Alfie grabbing her by the her neck or she puts her head in his mouth. He doesn’t shake her. He self-handicaps because she is so small and she is a willing participant. He doesn’t hurt her.

However, not all other dogs are willing participants like Pip. Alfie just doesn’t seem to get this.

He simply won’t leave them alone.

While he still rehearses the learned behaviour it will continue – it may even get worse.

This type of play can be better controlled at home with Pip. The lady can work on a method at home to teach Alfie stuff he should have learned when a puppy. She can adapt the same process when she is out, when Alfie either is with the dogs she walks and with dogs they meet.

Alfie and Pip will learn a STOP signal when she feels enough is enough. She will call both dogs to her and reward them for dong so.learned behavour

If Alfie then goes straight back, I suggest the lady walks out of the room for a couple of minutes. He will stop anything he is doing to follow her if he can.

Four months ago the lady couldn’t even walk out of sight without Alfie panicking. She has done very well and can now leave him for up to an hour so long as he’s with the other dogs.

If, after walking out, Alfie goes straight back for more, she can separate the two dogs for a while to calm down.

The more arousal there is ‘in the air’ the more this sort of play happens, so avoiding winding him up is vital. When left alone, away from humans, the dogs don’t do it (they have videoed them). Often dogs only play when their humans are about.

It will be hard work but if this is a habit to be broken the couple must be consistent and work at it.

On walks they have tried muzzling Alfie to spare other dogs, but he goes wild and body-slams them instead. He will now be on a long line attached to a harness. She can call him to her as soon as (or before) he starts. She will always reward him even if he needs to be reeled in.

If he goes straight back for more she can walk off briskly in the opposite direction. Knowing Alfie, he will forget about the dog if he thinks she might leave him.

This learned behaviour needs to be un-learned.

It has probably been rehearsed over and over for much of his eighteen months, so it’s only constant repetition of a different behaviour that will stop it. It’s also possibly a sighthound ‘thing’.

It sounds to me like he may have lived with lots of dogs in his early days, mainly unsupervised. Just guesswork of course.

Here is a nice quote from a Dog Trust fact sheet: ‘Sometimes the unwanted behaviour can become learned by the dog, and then he will use it automatically when under stress or motivated. This means that the dog has no choice over whether he shows that behaviour or not under those circumstances, which makes punishment very unfair and ineffective. If punishment is used, it can make the problem much worse since this will increase stress and fear in the dog even further.’

When Alfie is playing nicely or just politely near to another dog, this should be recognised and reinforced too. Good Boy. Well Done. Food. He’s not interested in playing ball. If he were, she could reward him with a game instead.

In time he should learn to play nicely so long as they help him to read when the other dog isn’t willing or the play isn’t equal by calling him away.

Alfie has settled into his new life so well in just four months. His separation issues are improving and the only real shadow over them is his behaviour with other dogs.

 

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 approach I have worked out for Alfie 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)

 

 

Humping. Problem or Symptom?

The three Lurchers I have just been to live in Dog Heaven!

In a fairly small environment they are allowed a great deal of enrichment in terms of things to chew and explore with no owner panic if they make a mess!  I have to persuade many people to give their dogs things to do, chew or wreck to keep them busy and to calm them down as it can require quite a bit of clearing up afterwards.

Zak

Zak

Nor is undue pressure put upon the three Lurchers in terms of training or correction. If they have dismembered the stuffed tiger, so be it – it is repaired.

The lady has had Cassie since she was a puppy twelve years ago. Zak, a Lurcher with collie in him has lived with her for two years and young Jerry, eighteen months old, she has had for just ten days.

There is underlying pressure on Zak in particular in terms of stress build-up. This beautiful Lurcher whose life is ongoing rehabilitation from a dreadful past is particularly in tune with the lady. If she is excited, anxious or down, he will pick up on it.

The first prerequisite for a calm dog is for us to be calm ourselves. Even if we don’t feel calm inside (and the dog may not be completely fooled), we need to behave calm.

Humping is the way Zak vents his stress.

Remains of the humping tigerHe has calmed down a lot since the lady adopted him. He used to regularly hump a huge stuffed tiger (dismembered yesterday by one of the dogs and not for the first time). Mostly unchecked, humping has become a well-rehearsed behaviour that has helped him to cope in some way.

There will now be an element of habit to it. It’s his default when over-aroused.

His new target is Jerry.

The past couple of days had been particularly hard on the lady and she has been feeling very emotional. She had discovered there was something badly wrong with young Jerry’s hip and the vet at first feared cancer. It turns out to be an old injury to his hip joint, the femoral head. This is a relief but will involve extensive crate rest after an operation.

So when I arrived Zak had a head of steam where arousal is concerned. He’s still getting used to the energetic but sweet Jerry. He is picking up on the stressed lady’s own emotions and then I, a visitor, arrives.

His head goes over the back of Jerry. He moves his body around and he starts humping.

Jerry

Jerry

It seems that Jerry, by just being Jerry when he’s moving about, is the trigger. He has only been there for ten days. He is he settling in to his new environment and he is understandably quite excitable himself.

When unable to cope with build up of ‘stuff’, Zak now redirects his arousal and frustrations into humping him – possibly also to control him by stopping him moving about.

Humping must be the very last thing Jerry’s hip needs at the moment so we are in a situation where it’s not good to forcibly pull a dog off but it’s even worse for him to continue. Calling him off for food didn’t work. Once he got started he became deaf. Now as soon as he simply turned towards Jerry we worked on calling him, marking and rewarding as soon as he turned to us instead. Pre-empting is the answer coupled with removal of opportunity which isn’t easy.

It’s hard to redirect him onto something else – something to chew for instance – because it could possibly cause competition between the dogs. A gate should solve that.

Having together managed to get Zak away from him, Jerry would then move back to Zak! Both dogs were now on lead. When the lady is alone how will she cope?

Various management strategies are already being put in place including a gate between kitchen and sitting room. Zak needs a different outlet for his arousal but most importantly, the arousal itself needs addressing.

The lady herself is the key. At important times there will be less loud, excitable talking to the dogs; she will move about much more slowly. This doesn’t mean she can’t generally be her chatty, cheerful self at other times. Dogs, like people, listen and learn a whole lot better when all is quiet, something I made good use of years ago when I was the music teacher in a boys’ school.

Act calm and you start to feel calmer, don’t you.

It’s working already.

Jerry asleep on the stair

Jerry asleep on the stair

A while ago I wrote one of my short Paws for Thought blogs about the subject: Humping – What Is It Really About? To quote Marc Bekoff in Psychology Today, humping is ‘a displacement behavior, meaning that it’s a byproduct of conflicted emotions. For some dogs a new visitor to the house could elicit a mixture of excitement and stress that could make for a humping dog’.

 

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 Zak and Jerry 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)

What Function Does Growling Serve?

It was no start in life for a puppy.

Rose growling? It was hard to believe!

Lurcher Rose, now four, came over from Ireland as a seven-week old puppy, already separated from mother and siblings and having been in one or even two shelters.

What function does growling serve her

Rose

She lives with Molly an elderly Collie mix, an older Chocolate Labrador called Bryn and an excitable Jack Russell called Mouse. All are rescues. The couple have done wonders with these dogs – particularly with Bryn who was totally shut down when they first took him in a few years ago.

Lurcher Rose’s behaviour is what has been causing them concern for a while.

From the start she might growl when people approached. This developed into growling at the other dogs also. She will growl at them if they enter a room after herself, if they enter a room with her particularly if they try to go in ahead of her, and she may growl even if she is lying down and one of them gets up to do something.

The intimidation is affecting the lives of Molly, Bryn and Mouse.

The couple have successfully cured the growling at people by, every time someone entered her presence, that person giving her a treat.

Bryn and Mouse

Bryn and Mouse

They had been using same idea when she growled at the other dogs – feeding her while she growled. Unfortunately I think this may have backfired. What probably has happened is reinforcement for growling.

I believe food is still the answer, but the timing was wrong.

More recently they have reverted to telling her off.

What function does growling serve for Rose?

Starting so early in her life, its roots are surely either genetic or behaviour the little puppy learnt for her own survival in the first few weeks of her life – or both.

Molly

Molly

It will undoubtedly also, after all this time and with so much rehearsal, be a learned behaviour, a habit.

We looked at what function the growling can possibly serve for Rose – what’s in it for her.

During the day when people are busy all seems to be fine. The dogs can all be closely together with no trouble at all though Rose does prefer to take herself out of the way much of the time. The others are together, she is apart.

The intimidating, growling behaviour starts in the evening when humans and dogs all go into the sitting room together for a quiet evening.

She directs her growling at all the dogs – she doesn’t have one particular ‘victim’. This doesn’t seem to be a girl thing as she includes Bryn.

She (most likely) only does it when people are nearby. She possibly is worse when additional people are there; she also may guard a new person from the other dogs by growling. She never now growls at people.

In one respect growling is good in that it is a warning, which in this case the other dogs fortunately take heed of. If extinguished rather than being understood and resolved the dog may feel forced to take things further.

So what function can growling at the other dogs possibly serve for Rose?

One function it successfully serves is to keep the dogs out of her own personal space or directs them away from herself and possibly away from a particular person. She also is in control of where they are and what they do. It worries them, poor Molly in particular.

Another function is that growling gets reinforcement by way of attention of some sort from the humans. This is something they can work on.

A third function is that it may simply make her feel better and this another thing they can do something about. They can make not growling feel better still.

All the time that I was there Rose lay spread out on a sofa as Lurchers do, beside the man. Typically she showed me none of her usual behaviour towards the other dogs until the end when I got up to go. They did plan her entry well, though. First Mouse was with us, then the other dogs joined us and were settled before the friendly and inquisitive Rose came in. She ignored the other dogs, jumped up on the sofa, stretched out on her back and stayed like that all the time I was there!

I shan’t go into detail here because our plan is very specific to this particular case, but in general they will be working on their own relationship with the dogs. They can take ‘responsibility’ away from Rose by showing her that they make decisions. This involves treating all the dogs as individuals rather than a gang, getting and holding attention, cutting out free food etc. so that it can be used for working on her growling issue.

It’s the humans’ job to control the other dogs should control be needed and not Rose’s job.

We need to deal with Rose’s emotions that are driving her to behave like this, pairing negative feelings with good things. Teaching her to cope.

They need to do their very best to prevent further rehearsal of the behaviour as I am sure that, in addition to any actual function growling serves, it’s now a habit. Something she simply automatically does 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 Rose 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, particularly where aggression 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 (see my Help page)

 

Two Sighthounds and an Elderly Springer

The two sighthounds barely lifted their heads from the sofa when I entered the room.

sighthounds with Springer Spaniel

Rosie, Eamonn and their elderly Springer

I could hardly believe it when I rang the doorbell and from a house with three dogs there was no barking at all – not even from their elderly Springer but she may be a bit deaf.

When I entered the room both sighthounds were on the sofa. I don’t know if Rosie even opened her eyes.

Eamonn, curious, got down from the chair, stretched his long body in the way that sighthounds do and calmly came over to investigate me. His long, intrusive greyhound-like nose explored my work bag.

Rosie, a stunning Saluki mix, seemed unusually quiet and motionless. They say she is aloof and it’s hard to decide if this is all or whether she is also keeping her head down so to speak. She lives with the very polite and calm Eamonn, a Sloughi mix from Ireland (no, I hadn’t heard of a Sloughi either – a North African breed of Sighthounds found mainly in Morocco).

Both dogs are failed fosters – and I well understand why. They are sensational.

The people are experienced dog owners and fosterers of sighthounds in particular. They have watched many of Victoria Stilwell’s videos and because I am one of her UK VSPDT trainers I have the privilege of working with them. Sometimes it is necessary to get objective and experienced outside input.

The family has had the two sighthounds for around a year. Rosie, now five, had been used as a puppy-making machine in Wales and then dumped by the roadside when she was no more use to them and Eamonn, now about two, had been in another sad situation. Seeing both dogs now it’s hard to believe either had known anything but love.

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Some months later they fostered another dog.

All was well with both sighthounds until another foster, a female, came to live with them for about five months.

With this particular foster dog in her home, Rosie became increasingly tense and unhappy. The dog was needy and attention-seeking and this instability upset Rosie.

Unfortunately her aggressive attitude then spread to antipathy to other dogs that they met when out and Eamonn was sucked in also. They feed off one another.

Before the other dog came, both sighthounds were mostly fine with other dogs. Now they are walked with muzzles.

Rosie

Rosie

Rosie is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. When she is let off lead with Eamonn this quiet and poised dog can totally change. She goes crazy – charging around in circles, stirring herself up into such a high that she then redirects aggressively onto Eamonn who becomes quite scared and hides.

Why is she suddenly so aroused? Where has all that stress come from? It’s like she erupts. To me it suggest that though otherwise so quiet and undemanding, there must be more going on inside her. The regular encounters with other dogs when out, although already being worked on to some extent, may be contributing to well-hidden stress levels.

The foster dog has now moved on and Rosie is altogether much happier again in her own, introverted sort of way. They say they would like her to play but I suspect she’s not psychologically able to abandon herself to proper play.

The two main issues we are dealing with are Rosie and her reactivity to other dogs (Eamonn is fine without Rosie there) and Eamonn’s running off, maybe for a couple of hours, if he spots something to chase.

Eamonn

Eamonn

They will only walk the two dogs separately for now in order to concentrate on Rosie’s over-arousal of which there is no sign at home and her reactivity to other dogs, and on Eamonn’s recall.

In a way both Rosie’s attitude towards dogs (with a barking neighbouring dog to bark back at) and Eamonn’s prey drive (pigeons in the garden to wind him up) are behaviours being rehearsed at home.

They can take advantage of both these ‘problem’ situations by using them to create new strategies to use when out.

Sighthounds can spot potential prey from a great distance. The only way to prevent them running after something apart from having them restrained on a long line is first to train an immediate alternative reaction that redirects their instinct to chase onto something else. Once the focusing on the prey has broken into the chase stage it may be too late.

They will take it slowly with Rosie, doing their very best to make sure she doesn’t get closer to another dog than she feels comfortable whilst working hard to gradually decrease that distance by giving her choice and creating positive associations. It’s important meanwhile that there are no unexpected and uncontrolled encounters. Here is why.

Last year they took their two beautiful sighthounds on holiday where there were lots of other on lead dogs and they want to go again later this year. With hard work they will hopefully get Rosie back to her old self in time so they can all walk down the streets together as before.