On High Alert for Other Dogs

On high alert for other dogs when outOdoe is a bit of a mix – a delightful mix! There is certainly Terrier and probably Whippet in there. He had an uncertain first two or three years. Eight years ago he was brought over from Ireland and this was followed by time in kennels and at least one other home before his present owners adopted him six years ago.

He now has a wonderful home with a lovely caring young couple who have put in a lot of time to train him and make him happy.

Unusually motionless

Odoe however doesn’t come over as a very relaxed little dog; he may chase a bird outside followed by some tail chasing, and although I’m sure he’s not like this all the time I found him often unusually motionless. He sits and he stares. When out, he’s on high alert. Possibly when they can relieve him of his daily fears out on walks he will loosen up a bit. I hope so.

He is reactive and scared of other dogs – especially when he is on lead, but it is very likely that they worry unnecessarily and that this is part of the problem. He has never actually harmed a dog. He is also scared of large vehicles and will lunge at them.

This is really very brave. He is a little dog attempting to chase away things that scare him.

On high alert for other dogs

On high alert for other dogs, as they get nearer to him there is a ‘threshold’ beyond which he goes to pieces – hackles, lunging and barking. When they can they avoid this by escaping as soon as they spot a dog. This is a lot better than forcing him onwards, but it doesn’t teach Odie anything that will help him.

Up to a certain distance he is okay, and then he will flip. His owners can see it coming from is body language. This is Odie’s ‘threshold moment’. With a dog that indicates his threshold as clearly as Odie, the job is a lot easier, because it is here the work needs to be done to increase the dog’s confidence, enabling the threshold to expand over time until he can pass by other dogs without reacting – trusting in his owner.

As with many dogs, exactly how far away from the other dog this threshold is will vary from day to day, depending upon how stressed and tense he is and, importantly, how his walker is feeling also.

Odie starts out on walks in a state of high alert, scanning around looking for dogs. A calm dog walking on a loose lead is not looking out for trouble. Just as some people are a bit paranoid, always expecting the worst, a dog can be the same – especially when nervous messages are being sent down the lead.

Spookiness. Found at six weeks old on a motorway.

Spookiness maybe inheritedHe was found as a 6 week old puppy on a motorway in Miami with a tight rope around his neck.

Spookiness probably has a genetic component.

In the circumstances it seems likely that four year old mix breed Travis was born of fearful parents and his spookiness could have a genetic component.  He has had a couple of accidents due to bolting due through fear. On one occasion he was knocked down by a car.

He actually does very well indeed, but over time his spookiness of people is increasing, those that approach him and especially those coming into his house.

He has now bitten a couple of times – lightly so far and not breaking the skin.

They have shut him in his crate for many hours several days a week, which needs to change somehow. Even though he doesn’t seem to be suffering because of it, eleven hours at a time is much too long. They feel they can’t ask someone to let him out or to walk him because they can’t trust him with people entering their house.

He was better than I thought he would be

After I had sat myself down at the kitchen table which is the safest place and least threatening to a scared dog, and sent the teenage son to bring him in on lead, I was expecting lunging, barking and snarling. Not at all.

Travis was obviously very uncomfortable, making a sort of huffing, snorting sound, but he didn’t bark and he didn’t lunge. Very soon the lead was off but I sat still. He ate a bit of biscuit I dropped on the floor, and was soon taking it from my hand. I didn’t look at him. It is always easier if dogs are food-orientated like Travis.

Soon I was teaching him to look me in the eye – a real challenge for him – and to voluntarily touch my hand.

His confidence needs building up in every way possible and in all aspects of his life. I demonstrated how people should behave when visiting – and also how the family should behave in order to help him out. By shutting him away things can only get worse.

Travis is just a very jumpy dog, skittish at sudden sounds and spookiness resulting in wanting to bolt if he meets or hears something unexpected. He feels more confident when out with the son, but that will be because the lad himself feels more confident and it demonstrates how the owner’s own confidence can so effect a dog.

A stiff drink before walks could do wonders!

Lead reactive. Scared of Other Dogs When on Lead

Sweet Josie is lead reactive when outJosie looks like a little fox and I have no idea what mix she is. She is divine.

She lives with a lady who has some mobility problems who got her from Wood Green Animal Sanctuary six months ago. At home Josie is the perfect companion, sweet natured and undemanding.

In a way Josie’s case is a bit similar to the last one I went to – German Shepherd Storm. Both dogs are no problem at all at home and friendly to people, but become insecure and very reactive to other dogs when out.

Lead reactive

Josie’s problem is more specific in that she’s only aggressive to dogs when she is trapped on lead. She’s lead reactive. When out running freely with dogs in a field she is absolutely fine.

She needs to build up some faith in her lady so that instead of feeling unsafe and vulnerable, trapped on the end of a lead with an uncomfortable head halter held by an increasingly nervous owner, she feels comfortable, protected and safe.

We looked into equipment that would be suitable for walking Josie comfortably beside the mobility scooter. She needs to stop pulling.

The lady is fine walking short distances so will initially work in the front garden. A popular dog walk is down the road and dogs frequently go past the end of the drive. They will also go out to the road and just stand and watch the world go by so that lead reactive Josie learns to relax.

Building trust

As soon as a distant dog appears – the road is long and straight – the lady will work on Josie on lead as demonstrated by me, always remaining within her threshold; she will retreat up the garden, increasing the distance. She will use encouragement and food to associate dogs with only good things (a technique that can only be used when the dog is sub-threshold, before the barking and lunging begins and her brain goes into a different zone).

Similar to Storm, Josie has been able to perfect her ‘barking at dog’ skills from home, barking at the front window; everything must be done to reduce opportunities for barking at passing dogs. Any barking there is gives the lady an opportunity to react in a positive way instead of scolding her. A good ‘dog parent’ is the protector.

Josie needs to trust her lady to look after her around other dogs in order to become less lead reactive. As in many cases it is largely about how the humans behave.

There is More Going On Than Meets the Eye

Labrador Shepherd mix from GreeceZorba is probably mostly a Labrador-Shepherd mix, three years of age. He was found as a stray in Crete and was brought home by a family who unfortunately couldn’t keep him because he and one of their dogs fought to the extent they had to be kept apart.

Previous to his straying he may well have had a good home. It is hard to see how otherwise he could be so polite and well trained. He will have spent considerable time in quarantine kennels and he has survived all this change very well.

However, what he seemed like initially to me and what his new family of just one month also believed him to be like, hid a different dog. He was very quiet and calm, almost withdrawn, a little aloof perhaps, and there were little signs of anxiety like lip-licking when anyone left the room. They mentioned he would never give them eye contact. The two teenage daughters found they had to work hard to raise any enthusiasm in him for play. For a young dog he seemed to lack joyfulness. It may be he was being reinforced and rewarded for holding back because of all the effort that was being put into him. Each morning they would go to him and pay homage whilst he reclineZorba, unusually, giving eye contactd on the sofa. I suspect he wasn’t used to this sort of treatment.

From the moment I arrived I only gave him attention when I chose to – played hard to get if you like. There was no pressure on him whatsoever to react for me. Soon he was giving me lots of direct eye contact and actively working for me, doing as I ask after just one soft request – doing things they didn’t even know that he understood! I did a mock play bow and he immediately copied me and then rolled over onto his back, playfully. It’s like he came alive. It was wonderful.

Predictably the problems that they are struggling with are the meeting of other dogs on walks. In his previous home Zorba has had to protect himself from the other dog, as a stray he has had to look after himself, and all the noise of other dogs in kennels will not have helped.

With the humans in his life becoming more relevant at home – worth working for and looking to for guidance – and with calm loose lead walking gradually put in place, along with their appropriate reactions when other dogs appear, things should gradually turn around for the delightful Zorba.

He needs PG – my definition of Leadership: Protection and Guidance.

Email received two and a half months later: “We had a lovely holiday, but it really did highlight the areas of our training where we had probably been less focused than we should have. So we all committed to going home and ‘doing it right’. I feel that we had really expected too much too soon and had tried to move on too fast. Since our holiday we have really started again from first principles and I have to say, you’re absolutely right. At last we are seeing consistent improvements. We are still working on a good loose lead walk and it is so much better. We are getting a fabulous amount of eye-contact from him now, something we never had before, and he is almost a different dog. I feel that he is really with me, rather than feeling that I have ceased to exist. He is responsive and gives a lot of eye-contact.At first I found it difficult to see how loose lead walking would help with aggression to other dogs, but although he’s by no means ‘cured’, I’m beginning to get his attention far more when dogs arrive… but as long as they are far enough away, I can now get his attention and he will look at me instead. I suppose over time we will hope to be able to move closer – but I think that’s way off in the future – lots of consolidating to do first.
At home he continues to be a perfect sweetie. But – he’s starting to play – just a little bit, but it’s a start! He has just discovered that a ball can be fun. All this has happening over the last couple of weeks since we’ve been totally concentrated on small steps – coincidence or because he’s relaxing? He really didn’t care less about retrieving  anything a few weeks ago, now he likes it. I don’t think I’m imagining it – he does seem to be a little bit more relaxed around the home. So excellent progress from our point of view and perhaps the main thing is by adjusting our expectations we’ve actually made progress.”
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Sensitive Puppy From Ireland

Maya is wary of visitorsBeautiful five month old mixed breed puppyMaya is another little dog over from Ireland, with nothing at all known about her past. She is now five months old and she has been in her new home for a month. You can see how beautiful she is, and can perhaps wonder as to what breeds contribute to her makeup.

I would guess that in the most important weeks of her early life she wasn’t exposed to people, everyday things like vacuum cleaners and possibly other dogs. She has a lot to get used to. She is very scared when people visit, barking and backing away. On the left you can see her hanging back, her puppy curiosity trying to get the better of her wariness!

Dogs like this need habituation, a lot of exposure to people in a controlled and rewarding way – stuff puppies should have had plenty of by twelve weeks of age. People now should put no pressure on her at all – no eye contact and no attempts to ‘make friends’. She needs to be given time.

One problem they have is that she won’t come indoors when called. My German Shepherd Milly had a similar – probably much worse – start in life, and I found that sometimes when I called her towards me it’s like she couldn’t handle the pressure. It wasn’t defiance. If I was very casual and turned away, gave her space and didn’t keep calling her, she would come.

Understandably, Maya’s very loving owners are doing everything that they, with their human heads on, think will make Maya more confident. This involves opening up boundaries and giving her constant company – day and night. This can unfortunately have the reverse effect and lead to a dog becoming more vulnerable when what she really needs is to learn to stand on her own feet and to be independent. Maya has now started barking fearfully at sounds she hears outside so she needs good, steady parenting/leadership – to be able to trust them to keep her safe.

Maya is a delightful, well-behaved, gentle puppy with no toileting indoors and very little chewing (perhaps some digging in the garden)! She is a gift and has landed firmly on her little feet with people who want to do the very best for her.

About 10 weeks later: ‘Have had the plumber in, the washing machine engineer in, no problems at all, had a sniff, wagged her tail and went away minding her own business. The other day, the loft insulation chap came and she went and sniffed around his legs, wagged her tail and went-off into the garden, no yapping, no barking. Used to go barking mad when the postman dropped post through the letterbox, and that has now turned into a little yap and that’s it! And in the park, she is no longer frightened of people, although she holds back at time and if invited, will then go to them, but with a little holding back, but definitely much, much better!
An amazing change, is coming when called at home and especially in the park, both times, morning and evening. No problems what so ever! She disappears into the woods and immediately out of sight, blow the whistle and she comes back like the clappers. She runs off towards another dog in the distance, blow the whistle and her direction changes and she comes belting back like a racehorse! Just unbelieveable! She is right in the middle of a pack of dogs playing, start walking away, blow the whistle and she comes rushing back! So with your help and the all-mighty’s grace, the two daily walks in the park are a pleasure for all parties concerned”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

How Can People Do This to a Puppy?

Rescue from Ireland isrelaxed and happyHeidi is yet another rescue dog from Ireland. A mixed breed with  some collie in her, she is around one year old and has been in her new home since last March. The poor puppy had been found with wire tied around her muzzle – there are the scars – with stones being thrown at her.

In the circumstances she is amazing. She is lovely – affectionate an obedient. Look at her! The lady, an experienced dog owner, has worked very hard with her. She has been to training classes and did exactly what was required of her, but all the time looking totally miserable. They admit to having over-compensated for her start by giving her a great amount of freedom because she ‘loves to run’.This is often out of sight. She is seldom on lead for long, even when leaving the house – which poses a risk. She has upset a neighbour with her behaviour.

The problem that just won’t go away is Heidi’s rushing aggressively at people, and dropping down and stalking dogs, then charging, hackles up, as though to attack. She makes contact but so far has not actually bitten. She is desperate to make them go away. It’s not every person and it isn’t every dog. It will also depend upon her state of mind. Considering her beginning it is not surprising. Normally her recall is excellent, but if they get the timing wrong it is to late.

We had a good look at the world through Heidi’s eyes, along with why dog training as such does not help in times like this. She needs to be rescued from the fear she feels, and only her humans can do that for her by how they behave. A natural reaction is to be cross out of embarrassment if nothing else, but this will only add further stress to the situation by her associating people and dogs with unpleasant stuff.

For starters Heidi needs to be saved from herself. It needs to be made absolutely impossible for her to do this again, and this means an end to all this off-lead freedom for now.  It will do her no harm at all and in fact may make her feel more secure to have owners who take over the role of decision-making.

How would Heidi expect a leader to behave in the face of perceived danger?

I received this email about seven weeks later: “I am really still so pleased and suprised how much Heidi has changed, the main improvement with her is the calmness that she shows now all the time.  This shows in her behaviour around the home as well as outside and because she is spending more time on the lead, when I do let her off she does not now go far away from me and constantly comes back to check with me besides being very good on her recall.   She only does an initial bark at anyone coming to the door and then looks for me to come and thank her and follows me inside.  She is far more relaxed and I feel that there is a much stronger bond between us now and that she looks to me much more now. We still have good days and bad days with other dogs we meet but there is definite improvement and I do realise that this is going to be the problem that will take the longest but there is definetly a huge improvement and there are instances when she will pass another dog and almost ignore them which never happened before so baby steps but they are going forward”.
I can’t thank you enough for showing me where we were going wrong with Heidi and to be honest I feel so much more relaxed now and have no worries about walking Heidi anywhere and she is sooo worth it. and such an affection little girl and she appears to be far more confident now”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Lunging at Traffic

Pogo is scared of all sorts of thingsWhat a dear little dog Pogo is. He is of indeterminate breed – there is probably both Collie and Terrier in there somewhere. Like so many of the rescue dogs I go to, he comes from Ireland and nobody knows his past. He spent a month in a foster home before joining his new family who have had him for just under two weeks.

He is a biddable and lovely natured dog, not overly nervous generally, but certain situations scare him out of all proportion. There are obviously things he has never encountered and one of those is moving cars. He goes frantic when a car passes, lunging and barking, although he is perfectly fine with stationery vehicles and with being inside a car. High prey drive may contribute also.

Pogo also barks frantically at the washing machine while it is filling with water. He had a bark at the large bag I carry with me. I feel he’s not been exposed to enough different things in his life, and lead walking beside roads is something he probably has never done before.

It is tempting to be cross and vocal when a dog behaves like this, but it does no good at all – in fact the contrary. Nor does ‘reassuring’ or treating which will only validate how he is feeling. Pogo needs to be slowly and gradually habituated to these things. It is an established fact that forcing a dog into situations he can’t cope with will most likely make things a lot worse, as does punishment, scolding and tight physical control which will result in discomfort. In his past a newspaper has obviously been used on Pogo. If a paper is lifted he cowers and runs.

A psychological approach to curing fears is altogether different, if slower, with permanent results and a confident, fearless dog.

Soon Pogo should be chilled around the washing machine – if his owners patiently follow my plan to the letter. It will be the same around traffic if the walking strategies are followed. He has landed on his feet with this family – and they are very fortunate to have such a wonderful little dog.

Latest email received two and a half months after my visit:  “Now, thinking back to the early days, it doesn’t seem possible how far we have come. To think back then that we were ready to give him up and put it down to a bad experience seems a lifetime ago. Once again, I thank you for your encouragement with our perseverance, life without him now would be unthinkable. He has been with us 12wks now and he has his paws firmly under the table. He has learnt how to play and enjoy life as a young dog, enjoys lengthy walks daily (usually in the evening after dinner) and is constantly on the go with our daughter playing, cuddled up and getting plenty of love. The two of them have become inseparable.
In your words, when we adopted Pogo, ‘he wasn’t what we signed up for’ and having been our first rescue dog was a real eye opener, but now I would urge anyone to give a ‘rescue dog’ a chance. If you are prepared to put in the work, the love you receive in return is unconditional.
The hoover is no longer a problem, he has stopped trying to kill it. The washing machine has become part of daily life. He still barks at certain things he hears when out in the garden, but that is usually to let us know someone is around. The normal everyday noises no longer bother him…. He is just far more settled and trusting in us to protect him from what he considers are the bad things in life. He really enjoys his walks and has met so many new friends and walking buddies. His recall (without any distractions) is going well. He walks well on his short lead, but out on long walks we have him on a 20ft lead to give him a little freedom…Despite his strange way with some objects he has become a super dog and we love him very much. He makes us laugh so much with his puppy traits and is so full of fun and zest for life. To think this little star of a dog could have been so close to being put to sleep in the Pound”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.