Replace Bad Habit With Good Habit

Anything repeated often enough can become a habit.

I totally fell in love with scruffy ten-month-old Jack Russell mix Max yesterday. I had the perfect evening with him and his humans.

It began with just me and the daughter who is in her late teens. Then mum arrived followed by twSitting still is a better habit than jumping abouto male school friends of the girl’s and later a man – all people closely involved in the dog’s life. Lucky little dog!

As each person joined us I was working with Max. He had jumped up at me in a madly friendly fashion as I walked in the door and I immediately showed him that this didn’t work with me if it was my attention he wanted. More importantly, I concentrated on showing him what did work.

As more people arrived and as I worked with him, instead of jumping up at them, becoming increasingly excited and silly as would normally be the case, he was becoming more and more settled.

When finally the man joined us, he said Max must be another dog.

It won’t take much of this to build up a new habit when people arrive, so long as everyone is consistent. They have a lot of people coming and going so training the humans is the main problem here!

All I did was to consistently reinforce the behaviour I wanted. As you can see from the photo, Max became FOCUSED! He was sitting looking up at me as we all chatted. From time to time I reinforced the continued calm behaviour with Yes or a click and the tiniest bit of food.

Now he can develop a new habit, that of sitting at someone’s feet looking adorable in order to get his attention fix!

BanceMax1I then tried him on an antler chew. Chewing is such a great and natural way for a dog to relieve stress and to occupy himself. Max worked away at it for maybe an hour after which he simply lay down and settled.

Just like so many dogs I go to, Max generates nearly all his own attention with tactics like constantly asking to be let out and then back in again, jumping up behind people, mouthing, digging the sofa – anything he can think of.

If instead his humans initiate frequent short activities that he finds rewarding and that exercise his brain, he will no longer be driven into goading them for the attention and action he craves.

 

They can convert any unwanted habit into a good habit.

The small dog has fantastic humans in his life who have put time and effort into teaching him training tricks. Now they need to incorporate work on keeping him a bit calmer and making the desirable habits the rewarding ones.

At last he settles

At last he settles

Here are a few examples where his bad habit can be changed into a good habit.

Before bed and before they go to work, like so many dogs Max will refuse to come in from the garden. With a bit of management by way of a long lead so he can no longer rehearse the behaviour and food so that he’s motivated, this habit can soon be changed to him running in as soon as they call him.

While they eat their dinner, he has a habit of sitting on the back of the sofa behind them and trying to get their food! This habit can be changed with a mix of management and training. So he can no longer rehearse this behaviour he can be put somewhere else while they eat. He can then be taught a much better habit instead.

Whenever he sees a person out on a walk he will jump up at them. This habit can be changed through a mix of management and teaching him something better that earns him fuss.

Even pulling on lead is a habit. He is forced to walk beside them and the short lead is tight so that pulling against it is constantly rehearsed on every daily walk. A new habit can be established using management – better equipment – and a loose leash that is repeatedly reinforced by earning him forward progress along with plenty of encouragement, attention and reward.

Near the end of our session yesterday I put one of my Perfect Fit harnesses on Max and attached a training lead. Within a few minutes the now calm Max was walking beautifully for me and then for the daughter outside the front of the house.

Already a new and much better walking habit has been born.

It was quite touching how he was with me by the time I was ready to leave and we had removed the harness. He lay beside me, his head on my foot. What had I done to him?

We had a mutual understanding. Max felt quietly understood.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Max. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

 

Management. Management. Management. Changing Routines

To address the problems the lady faces with Harry and Toto, management has to come first. Harry is an 8-year-old terrier, and Toto a Bichon Frise age three.

Over the years, Harry has bitten several times when out, including a child. Fortunately so far he has done little more than to break the skin.

Toto, a more recent rescue, is fine outside the house, but may go for the feet of anyone moving about indoors.

Toto bit a child

Continue reading…

Poo Indoors. Emotions-Bowels Connection?

To poo indoors once seemed the natural thing for the twelve-year-old Tibetan Terrier.

Tipsy was a breeding bitch who had lived in kennels for the first five years of her life. It took them a year to house-train her, but that was now six years ago. 

Why poo indoors now?

Over the past four months things have taken a downward turn with Tipsy defecating indoors regularly.  Possibly a couple of times a week.

There are questions to be asked. What was it about four months ago that could have triggered this? They have had her thoroughly checked by the vet and it doesn’t seem to be a health issue.she has begun to poo indoors

Around four months ago the gentleman had a fall. This would have been very alarming to Tipsy. In August they had a scary car journey in a storm with high winds and when they arrived in the house, Tipsy emptied her bowels everywhere. In November, the first November in their new house, Tipsy was so terrified by fireworks that she messed all over the floor.

There may well have been other things over the past three or four months that have also unsettled the now more highly-sensitised dog.

Other questions include where does she usually do it, and when does she usually do it?

Apart from those couple of occasions when she has panicked and she had no control at all, it’s alone and out of sight, usually in one of the bedrooms.

They believe it happens during the evening.

The lady has scolded her. Scolding is such a natural thing for a person to do – how is the dog to know she shouldn’t toilet in the house after all? However, scolding is likely to make the dog even more anxious. It may even make her furtive and go somewhere she may not be discovered.

The poo itself isn’t really the problem.

It probably seems like the problem to them, of course! It will be a symptom.

We need to determine the underlying cause and deal with that instead. Tipsy is feeling unsettled and unsafe, in my opinion. So – we need to work on her confidence.

Because both her humans have mobility problems, Tipsy is seldom taken out or walked now. She lives in the ‘bubble’ of her own house and garden, a very sheltered life, largely isolated from the outside world.

She is never left alone and she gets agitated when they aren’t both together with her.

I suggest they enrich her life a bit by exposing her to more of the outside world in a gradual fashion. Taken slowly it should acclimatise her a bit. The lady can sit on a chair by her garden gate with Tipsy on a longish lead and let her take in the sights and sounds – and sniff. Fortunately she just loves other dogs and would greet passing dogs with polite enthusiasm.

They themselves suggested a dog walker a couple of times a week. If she can handle being taken away, it could be a great idea.

What goes in comes out.

They also need to work on the toileting itself. The impact of what she eats is very important. What goes in – comes out! What she actually eats can affect her mood.

Not only is this relevant to her pooing, but so is the time of day that she eats. Currently Tipsy has one big meal early evening. She tends to poo indoors late evening. This routine should change if some of the digestion is going on a lot earlier.

When and what she eats is unlikely to cure the problem alone, but, together with dealing with Tipsy’s emotions,  it could be part of the solution.

Is it she now for some reason is more reluctant to go out when it’s dark? Maybe she needs to be accompanied. We are covering all angles I can think of.

Finally – management of the environment – the easy bit!

The couple sit in the living room all evening, so why not keep the door to the rest of the house closed, shutting off the area where she might poo indoors? If there is an element of habit to it, that should break it.

Nick Coffer who hosts the 3 Counties Radio phone-in programme I do monthly would smile. He says the topics always get around to either poo or humping!

 

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 Tipsy and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)

Licking the Baby. Confused and Worried.

Chip was licking the baby’s face as she sat on the floor. Now that baby is becoming mobile, Chip is becoming increasingly troubled by her when she moves or makes a noise.

Her licking the baby is compulsive.

When baby is sitting on the floor at the same level as Chip, the dog simply can’t relax or leave her alone. There is no stillness or growling, simply concern. She keeps licking her face.

It doesn’t take a dog expert to read Chip’s worry in the photo as she watches the baby from the sofa.

Each time she started licking baby’s facelicking the baby, stressed and confused, mum or dad told her ‘No!’. They are understandably on edge all the time the two are together. Chip is a very well-loved dog and it’s hard.

A calm dog licking the baby in passing is very different to a seriously aroused dog repeatedly licking the baby on the face.

I’m sure the couple’s anxiety and constant necessary ‘nagging’ of Chip is contributing to the situation.

I immediately began calling Chip away from the baby, rewarding her for coming. Soon we introduced the clicker.

After a while Chip was just looking at the baby and voluntarily turning away – which we marked with a click and food.

However, stress builds up and Chip’s arousal level became such that she became increasingly slow in responding to being called away. She was snatching the food when she did come.

Well before things are able to get to this stage the two should be separated, but how?

The environment needs to be better managed.

There was nowhere to put dear little Chip apart from excluding her from the room behind a door.

Before the baby arrived, the four-year-old Jack Russell went everywhere with them. Their jobs involve touring and staying in different places. They always took Chip. She was given plenty of attention by all the people they met and loves people – if not so good with other dogs.

With the arrival of the baby a year ago, Chip’s life has been turned upside down. The couple are unable to enjoy her in the way they did and her own life is very different.

One simple thing can change Chip’s compulsively licking the baby. It will change everything. They will all be able to relax.

They will get a small dog pen.

Chip has been used to a pen from an early age when they travelled. They can put all her toys in it along with other special things for her to do and to chew. They can sprinkle her food in there.

Within the safety of the pen, they can build up strong and positive associations with the baby. Chip won’t have to be excluded.

It seems she feels possessive or protective of the baby. This is born out when other dogs approach the buggy – she does tend to guard things form other dogs.

Possibly some of the licking is about covering the frequently washed baby’s face with her own scent? That’s just a guess.

As baby gets even more mobile it’s important she’s unable to corner Chip who must always have a baby-proof bolt-hole. A pen can be opened out and adapted.

Chip’s signals of unease are very clear when you know what you’re looking for.

Baby was upstairs for a while and her crying came through the baby monitor. Chip licked her lips. Uneasy. Worried. This is an opportunity to give her a little bit of food. Every time she looks at the baby or hears her, they can pair it with food. She need not eat all her meals in bowls – her food can be used for something more useful for now.

Though they are able to give her quality time when the baby is in bed, Chip’s walks aren’t what they used to be. It’s hard to negotiate some of the best walks pushing a buggy and it’s also hard to beat a hasty retreat if a bouncy young dog comes running up, jumping all over her and around the buggy. Chip never has liked her space invaded by other dogs.

A positive approach by the couple, replacing scolding and anxiety when Chip is near the baby with reward and encouragement, should transform things.

Physical management is vital – the pen. I also suggest a soft harness and longish lead for when they are somewhere else. This way Chip can be comfortably restrained, called away from the baby, rewarded – and then gently kept away instead of constantly being watched.

With management in place they will be able to work on getting Chip happier and more relaxed around the baby. She should then also become less stressed in general.

Chip can get some of her old life back.

 

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 Chip. 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 babies or young children are 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)

Over-Arousal Causes Dog to Attack

The over-arousal and stress in one dog is causing the other dog to react.

This is a little different from the last case I went to involving fighting females where I believe the human’s punishing reaction to their two female dogs fighting was actually causing the situation to accelerate.

over-arousal caused her to lose control

Dotty

With Mimi and Dotty the problem isn’t really escalating in that it’s not really becoming more frequent though the most recent caused the most damage. There are several weeks between each episode between which the two bitches get on okay. I watched them and they passed each other in doorways in a relaxed fashion and lay down together.

In this case I’m sure it’s to do with general arousal levels causing things to erupt. When it’s all over and done with it’s like, to the dogs if not to the humans, nothing has happened.

Even after the recent episode where Dotty received a leg wound and had to go to the vet, the dogs were soon back to how they had been together beforehand.

The owners are dog-savvy people who have given four dogs a much-needed home and have made huge advances with them all. They have two boys dogs – quiet and shy smaller Romanian dog Teddy and a large Lurcher-type called Zach, age three, who gets on with them all. Then there are the girls – Staffie Dotty who they took in at four months old from a very abusive start in life and Mimi, a six-year-old Mastiff Rottie mix who was the last to join them.

Mimi

Mimi

Looking for common denominators as well as one can from just four episodes spread over several months, brought me to the conclusion that Dotty’s over-arousal was the final straw at a time when all the dogs were already excited.

Each incident had occurred either immediately or soon after the arrival of the the two young daughters, age 12 and 13 coming in, once alone and other times with parents or grandmother. The girls themselves are excited with the dogs. The most recent incident involved food too which may have accounted for it being the most severe.

Each incident occurred after the four dogs had been left alone for longer than usual, in a smallish room. Perhaps shut together for too long something could have been brewing.

Another common denominator is that Mimi didn’t seek out Dotty to attack her. They were either already together in a small space or Dotty went over to Mimi.

To break the fights up took a lot of shouting, screaming from the girls and spraying water at the dogs. Afterwards, however, the dogs were just parted for a while. There was no further punishment which I’m sure has something to do with things between the two going so quickly back to normal.

Teddy, Dotty, Zach and Mimi

Teddy, Dotty, Zach and Mimi

Management is the first thing to put in place so not only are the dogs safe, but also the children.

When everyone is out the dogs should be separated in boy/girl pairs in the sitting room and kitchen.

When the girls come home from school they must now be a lot quieter and less excited as it’s likely this is one of the triggers. The two female dogs won’t be together anymore.

Teaching calm greetings without Dotty’s wild jumping up will be a start. Carrying something in her mouth helps her. They should let the dogs out from separate doors to toilet and keep them in their different rooms until the parents get home.

This will also give the dogs plenty of time to calm down before being reunited.

Although Mimi has been the ‘attacker’, Dotty’s behaviour and her over-arousal is at the bottom of it I’m certain, like she ‘asks for it’. The lady has an interesting theory. Mimi has had several litters of puppies in her six years before the family adopted her and she would have dealt with over the top behaviour like Dotty’s from one of her puppies quiet firmly. The puppy wouldn’t have retaliated though.

Mimi has also recently started limping which they will get checked out with the vet – possibly pain is making her less tolerant at times.

Dotty can be helped with her over-arousal.

Because stress inside Dotty continually builds up far faster than she can get rid of it, she’s like a little walking volcano. She is terrified of cars and much of the outside world, and tries to avoid going out. Each day she has to endure at least one walk, involving getting into the car which terrifies her. Once out she will pull like mad so she has a Halti which she hates.

They will start to walk her by herself for very short sessions, initially only in the garden or just outside the house, making sure she is willing and happy. They will get her a very comfortable special harness – not the ‘no-pull’ kind that is merely another restriction. They will desensitise her to their own car and to traffic in general.

The girls can help with short five-minute ‘happy with cars’ outings and teaching her to walk nicely around their own quiet road.

It will take a lot of time and patience.

Only when she is calmer and happy to go out should they take her any further. Only when she’s ready should she join the other dogs in the car and walking near traffic.

When dogs are having their differences and especially where there are several dogs, I feel it’s important for each dog to be deliberately treated as an individual from time to time. When one name is said, eye contact from that particular dog is rewarded and the others ignored. They can be lined up, the names of each dog said in a random order and that dog fed upon eye contact. They will learn they always get their turn and not to compete.

Having an instant response to their individual name is vital to avoid trouble breaking out. Any time they feel at all worried they can gently say the name of the dog who is giving concern. Everything can be calm. The dog will look at them, they can call her to them – and give her a reward.

Trouble averted.

 

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 Mimi and Dotty 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)

Management Comes First

Their aims: for both their Cockerpoos to be calmer.

Cockerpoo's environment needs better management

Eddie

I pushed in past the two barking dogs.

Both young Cockerpoos were so worked up I felt one or both weren’t far short of biting me but instead, black Harry redirected his anger, fear or frustration onto young golden Eddie and a minor fight ensued.

The house was full of people. Family members were moving about. Kids were on their mobiles. I sat at the dining table and we made a start.

It soon became obvious from my first questions that over-arousal and lack of boundaries was at the root of all sorts of problems.

Where do we start?

.

Management.

Management in this case means gating off the front door and stairs so the dogs are contained in the sitting room and kitchen area. They will then have a physical boundary.

Management of this area will make it impossible for them to near-attack people at the front door and prevent Harry from chasing delivery men to the gate where a bite is only a matter of time.

Management means keeping them away from the stairs so that Harry will now no longer regularly pee on the upstairs landing.

Harry

Harry

Management of the environment means that first thing in the morning when they are let out of the utility room, they can’t start off the day in a manic manner, charging upstairs like battering rams at the bedroom doors, waking people.

Another gate can be put in the space between kitchen and dining/sitting room.

Management then means the dogs can’t jump at people when they are eating their food. They can’t jump at the surfaces when cooking is going on. Management means they can be put the other side of the barrier with something to do.

Management means moving the box that gives them lookout duty from the front windows, the lower part of which can also be frosted. They won’t then spend much of the day winding themselves up by barking.

There is so much going on it’s hard to know where to start with the behaviour work, but the priority has to be all things that will lower their arousal levels.

Then we can see what we have got left.

When they are no longer little volcanoes ready to erupt, it will be easier to deal with things like Harry’s nervousness. Instead of constantly being at each other in play which can deteriorate, something stress seems to trigger, they can be given more constructive activities.

We might then work on impulse control, training them to settle, loose lead walking, coming back when called before they can go off barking at and intimidating another dog – and much more.

However, management and boundaries must be in place first. The dogs’ levels of stress must be lowered.

Then we should get somewhere!

Eventually they will get more of this!

Eventually they will get more of this!

Boundaries and Out of Control

6-month old Chocolate Labrador Chocky is nervous and now copying the terriers' reactivity on walks

Chocky

The two Terriers have killed a couple of their free-range chickens and although they have boundary wire, the little monkeys can dig underneath.

The people really only want two things at the end of the day. One is for the their dogs to be able to run freely in the garden. How can they do this when the boundaries aren’t secure?

My new clients have three young dogs – two Lakelend/Jack Russell mixes of one year old (brother and sister) who we will call Mac and Mabel, and a 6-month old Chocolate Labrador – Chocky.

They are a very busy family with insufficient time to put in all the work really needed, so this is a challenge of breaking things down into essentials, choosing priorities and creating a plan whereby it’s less a question of spending extra time but more of doing different things in the time already allocated.

One of the Lakeland/Jack Russell Terriers

Mac or Mabel

Their other aim is for the dogs to come back reliably when called. The Terriers are highly reactive to any person or animal they meet and respond aggressively, becoming hard to control physically. Now Chocky, an unusually nervous dog for a 6-month-old Labrador, is joining in. They want their dogs running off lead but have to be able to get them back when another dog, a horse or a person appears.

Unfortunately these people simply don’t have the time to work properly on the root of the problem – under-socialisation and the fear and reactivity itself, though they agree they need to do something with Chocky’s walking before he gets much older and bigger. He is seldom walked on lead. They live in such a quiet area that they can often go out and meet nobody at all.

As they simply don’t have time for all the training work involved, the first issues would be best addressed by getting better fencing so the dogs simply can’t escape from the garden, along with a pen for the chickens.

The second issue – that of recall – is more difficult.  Firstly, they need to stop leaving food down all the time (Chocky is an unusual Labrador in that he doesn’t devour the whole lot as soon as it goes down) so that food has some value – why should a dog come for no reward when called if it’s not worthwhile, particularly if there is something more pressing to do? The children can do whistle recall games around the house and garden so that the dogs begin to become conditioned. Whistle = come quickly = high value reward.

I have tried to break things down into small tasks so that hopefully, at the end of the day, everything will start to come together and they will be able to see their lovely dogs running free without constantly worrying about who or what they might encounter next.

Three months later: ‘We are continuing with the programme. Bella does’nt get so hysterical when she sees me now and I see I was causing this. We are having quality time together which I love. She really responds now to “Yes!”. The “abort the walk” thing has helped so much, I used to get so stressed if she would’nt walk, carrying her to the garden etc, but if she’s not bothered, then I’m not. As you say, its for life, and we are really committed to making her life happy.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mac, Mabel and Chocky, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).