Little Bouncer is jumpy. He’s constantly on edge.
I would guess this is in this little Havenese’s genes, though not a general breed trait. It’s certainly not the fault of the family, a couple and their daughter aged ten.
Little Bouncer is jumpy. He’s constantly on edge.
I would guess this is in this little Havenese’s genes, though not a general breed trait. It’s certainly not the fault of the family, a couple and their daughter aged ten.
Belle 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.
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…
The dear little Lhasa Apso Jack Russell mix seems to have a near perfect life. Why is she so easily scared and spooked? They have had her since she was a puppy and she has always been nervous. It must surely be genetic.
The dear little five-year-old is very aware and alert. She’s ready to react at any little sound. Even animated voices at home or people moving calmly about can send her running for cover.
Every day she is having to face ordeals that continually top up her stress levels. Things like traffic, particularly large or noisy vehicles, post coming through the door and even the smallest of bangs.
She may be walking along happily and then, with no warning, suddenly go into a panic – freeze or run. Nobody else can hear anything, but Celeste obviously has.
She will have heard something that their inferior human ears can’t hear.
She needs a calmer general base level, I feel – to be less spooked in general. We looked at all aspects of her life, including her diet, to see ways in which we can encourage her to be a bit more relaxed. This will be like a jigsaw – every small bit that is put in should contribute to a calmer overall picture.
Celeste is currently walked on collar and lead. She may try to run when she is spooked. The tightening lead will without doubt cause her little neck discomfort. Because we want to associate things she is scared of with positive things that she likes, this will be doing the very opposite. They will now walk her on a harness.
Walks will be mostly near home for now, letting her do a lot of sniffing and allowing her to come straight back home if she is spooked.
If they want to go further, they can carry her. Why not? If she feels safe and comfortable being carried, then they should carry her. When all is quiet and she is relaxed, they can see if she would like to walk – being ready to rescue her instantly she is spooked.
If whilst carrying her, from her sanctuary in their arms she sees something that usually scares her, they can offer her food. The scary thing will now begin to trigger something she likes. If she’s not interested, they should first increase distance away from it.
Celeste will never change personality and be the most confident little dog, but I would predict, in time, that the length of time she’s happy walking on the ground will increase and she will become less easily spooked in general.
The story of Indie, a nervous dog I met yesterday, is a very common one. Her behaviour illustrates my belief that reactivity due to fearfulness out on walks has roots at home too.
On walks they will now do all the usual things that I advise.
However, a nervous dog that is fearfully reactive to other dogs on walks, is not fearful in a vacuum. It’s very seldom like a switch is flicked as soon as the dogs leaves the house, changing a calm, confident indoor dog to a nervous dog, jumpy that is wary out on walks.
We looked at her general stress levels. Each thing she is reactive to – and this can be over-excited or fearful – that sends her stress levels soaring.
If her stress levels are near overflowing before even leaving the house, how will she cope when encountering another dog?
She has a routine ten-minute walk every morning and this is the most stressful walk of the day, the one when they meet the most dogs. This isn’t a good way to start her day. The stress that has managed to drain during the peaceful night will immediately be topped up again.
They will abandon that walk for now and Indie can go out in the garden. She has her main walk later in the day and that will be better controlled in order to help her.
If Indie is able to see passing dogs from windows or from the garden she will bark. She is rehearsing the behaviour they don’t want. What’s more, the passing dog will always move away so – success!
They will block her view where possible. They will help her out when she hears and barks at a barking dog, either the neghbour’s or a more distant dog, associating it with something she likes. She’s a Labrador so that will be food! (Spraying a nervous dog with water may scare her out of barking but will have the opposite effect to what they want).
At home the teenage daughter can be calmer with her, no more deliberately stirring her up because the dog seems to enjoy it. She will abandon rough and tumble type play and replace with more controlled play.
Even food can affect the dog’s mental state, so they will look into that too.
Recently there was a report about the link between some dogs going prematurely grey around the muzzle and hyperactivity or nervousness. Eight-year-old Indie’s muzzle started to go grey years ago.
Yorkie twins Daisy and Cody are now five years of age.
There are well-documented disadvantages of taking on sibling puppies – see here for more information. One common problem is that one of the puppies becomes shy, even when both puppies started off as bold and outgoing. This means that the shy puppy never reaches his or her potential. Another problem is that same-sex siblings in particular can end up arch enemies.
It’s a tribute to their family that these two little dogs have turned out so well.
I would say that although Daisy, on the right (look at that little face), is a lot more nervous than Cody, they are no different many other two unrelated dogs.
Their problem is too much barking at people and dogs from Daisy, particularly when they are out or when people come in the house. Cody is self-assured and has ‘attitude’ on walks but Daisy is scared.
Because she can sometimes sound quite ferocious when a person or another dog approaches, the lady has been so worried that her little dog is aggressive. She is on lead with a tense and anxious handler and she feels vulnerable.
But it varies. It’s not consistent. Because some days she is fine where other days she is very nervous, it’s useful to look at what is happening in all other aspects of Daisy’s life. There are many things that stir her up daily which don’t affect Cody at all, including the post coming through the door, the vacuum cleaner or lawn mower, and even enthusiastic greetings. Without too much effort the family can save her the build-up from all these stresses and it will make a huge difference to her.
The lady in particular is very concerned her little dog could be ‘dangerous’ by all the barking at people and dogs. When they are out or when someone comes to the house she is both nervous and apologetic.
The people holding the leads will need to keep a close eye on the dogs for their reaction – to nip it in the bud. They must move Daisy away to a distance where she feels ‘safe’ and then work on building up her confidence. When over-threshold she barks and lunges and snarls – and then may redirect onto poor Cody with a nip.
Work can only be done with the dogs walked separately for a while.
It’s the stress and fear that needs to be addressed – both dog and human! Already the lady has said, “I feel more at ease with the barking knowing it isn’t aggression”.
When Daisy calms down and everyone gains confidence, they should have no problems on walks – as has already been proved on ‘good’ days.
To change the behaviour we must change the emotion that drives it.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Daisy and Cody, which is why I don’t go into all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).
Understandably we don’t like our dogs to growl and it can be embarrassing, but growling is GOOD.
Growling tells us what our dog is feeling. Growling gives us the key to open the door to the dog’s emotions. When we know what he is feeling, we then know what to do about it.
Colin is a four-year-old Collie-Terrier cross looking like a very small Border Collie. He lives with his lady owner and Shitzu age sixteen called Barney who is very slow-moving, blind and deaf.
Whenever Barney approaches Colin, he growls. The lady assumes he growls because he himself doesn’t want to be approached by Barney. As a trained observer one sometimes sees different things. Because Colin is near the lady all the time, he growls because Barney is approaching her. I would be willing to bet he never growls at Barney if she’s not there.
In my photo on the right Barney had just come in the door which meant walking past the lady. Quickly Colin was under her chair, growling at him (something he couldn’t hear anyway!).
Colin also sometimes growls when touched. The lady, like most people, then scolds him. I would say it’s only a matter of time before he abandons growling as a waste of time and nips instead. He is merely saying ‘please don’t touch me’.
The lady is going to keep a note of where on his body she is touching him when he growls to see if it may be local discomfort and need for a vet visit, or whether he simply doesn’t want to be touched anywhere just now thank you. Because he then lies on his back the lady believes he wants a belly rub. When Colin growls then, the lady think he is just ‘talking’. He is! He’s saying ‘please stop’ or perhaps ‘go away’.
I experimented. I briefly tickled his chest and he moved in to me for more, indicating he quite liked that. Then he threw himself onto his back. The lady said ‘see, he now wants a belly rub’. I thought a demonstration would help her better understand him and, watching him carefully, I moved my hand gently towards his lovely inviting little soft tummy and he growled. He was saying ‘no thanks’, so of course I backed off immediately.
This little dog has never bitten but I believe it’s only a matter of time. His restraint is amazing really.
The lady has two main angles of approach. First is to teach Colin by her own behaviour that she isn’t merely a large unruly resource belonging to him that he must follow, guard and protect – and stop anyone else getting too near (he also reacts badly when she welcomes friends with a hug).
Second is for him to associate the approach of Barney (or the lady’s friends) with good stuff (food) and not scolding.
The protectiveness and nervousness has been spilling out onto walks where he will rush at dogs he doesn’t know for no apparent reason than to drive them away. He’s not actually bitten yet, but it has been a near thing. Most recently Colin was off lead and he charged – barking, growling and snapping, at an approaching young on-lead Spaniel.
It’s embarrassing for the lady and distressing for the other owner and dog. People feel they must be seen to be taking a firm hand so they react by scolding. But scolding doesn’t work. If it did, Colin would be getting better, not worse.
It’s also vital that the opportunity for this off-lead behaviour is prevented from happening again while work is done, starting with a bomb-proof recall or loss of freedom.
A friend had suggested spraying him with water and shaking a bottle of stones at him when he barks and growls at approaching dogs when on lead. Two bottles were waiting on the hall table. Fortunately I arrived before she actually started to use them.
‘A friend told me to do so and so’ is a very common theme with people I go to, with different people saying different things. There is all sorts of conflicting advice online also. ‘What people say’ (“you need to get a grip on your dog”) is invariably misguided and along the ‘quick fix’ lines that may work in the moment but end up by making things far worse, with a confused dog becoming more fearful and aggressive.
In desperation people often end up doing things they feel very uneasy about, believing it’s the only way.
It’s not the only way. The lady is dedicated to doing her best for her little rescue dog.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Colin, 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 – most particularly if any aggression is involved. 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).
Sascha is a beautiful two-year-old German Shepherd who lives with GSDs black Tango (10) and Annie (4).
The couple who own them run a rabbit rescue and these dogs are incredible. Rabbits are free in parts of the house and run around the dogs who are completely chilled with them.
This visit was a good example of how people who are living in the middle of their situation can’t see it clearly, and how under the general pressures of life things have gradually slipped until, to quote the lady, their dogs were no longer a pleasure but an inconvenience to put up with.
Sascha is generally quite pushy but also more nervous; she hackles and barks when people come to the house. In no time at all after I arrived she was happy and friendly, as were the other two. All the time I was encouraging the lady to keep quiet, not to scold the dogs, not tell them to go away and not to use the word ‘no’. To relax. They are dogs after all. It’s natural for them to gently sniff a stranger.
These dogs get nearly all their attention when they are doing something unwanted – Sascha in particular, and mostly in the form of ‘no’ and scolding. They get no attention or reward for being good.
Sascha opens doors and child gates, she toilets on the floor immediately after she has been taken outside. She bullies poor Annie who spends much of her time hiding in the kitchen. The couple would leave them to get on with it – to sort it out for themselves. I ask people in this sort of situation, ‘what would you do if you had a child bullying her sister?’. Would you leave her to get on with it? Would you not kindly teach her a better way of behaving and protect the victim? Sascha is a very brainy dog who needs more stimulation. We did a bit of very simple clicker training and it was marvellous to see how focused and eager to please she became with something that is reward-based. We wouldn’t want to work for nothing and it’s the same for dogs, whether it’s food reward, play or merely praise.
Reinforcement drives behaviour.
Soon this lovely young couple should be bonding with their beautiful dogs, and enjoying them once more like they used to.
Stonker on the left is a seven year old Staffie. Up until a couple of years ago before coming to his new home he was used as a stud dog. Bella, now six months, joined them as a puppy. Since then poor Stonker’s life has not been plagued by her.
He is a very gentle and somewhat nervous dog. He doesn’t like lots of people, noise or commotion. He can get very anxious and was panting for a lot of the time I was there.
Bella hasn’t a care in the world. She is a typical rather pushy pup. In the house she will not leave poor Stonker alone, jumping on him and trying to play fight. He is severely stressed with this, so he goes and hides. Much of the time now he’s in hiding.
When I arrived Bella was flying all over the place and trying to jump all over me. It was impossible to stop her and I don’t believe in any shouting or pointless ignored commands, so I put a light lead on her collar. It is surprising how some dogs calm down immediately even if the lead isn’t being held. Bella stopped jumping about, she left Stonker alone and very soon she gave a long sigh and lay down – as you see in the picture – something that never happens when they have visitors. I’m sure she was relieved to know where the boundaries lay.
Consequently Stonker joined us. His panting stopped and he relaxed – that is until the gentleman walked out of the room when he started panting and looking distressed again. You can see anxiety in those eyes. By their own actions and behaviour towards Stonker, his humans can help him.
Staffies have a reputation that in my mind is completely undeserved. I have been to thousands of dogs. In spite of being nervous, shy or scared, few have been aggressive – probably fewer than dogs of many other breeds. Because they are stocky, biddable and strong, and resembling fighting dogs to look at, they have been abused by idiots.
People say their dogs are ‘members of the family’ which is why they treat them as they do. But do they really treat their family members the way they treat their dogs?
When you come home, do you welcome your teenagers with ecstasy, kissing them and fussing them while they jump all over you so that the whole thing becomes almost unbearable with excitement? When you eat your meals, do you have your children jumping on yohttp://www.dogidog.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Barney-300×190.jpgu, letting them help themselves from your plate? Do you expect your children to keep a look out for danger approaching, and then when they alert you, tell them to shut up? Do you let your children jump about and scream at you until you take them out for a walk? Would you have your children dragging you down the road, kicking and screaming at people you pass? Do you share your bed with your teenagers and do they have a tantrum if told to go? If you want to watch TV in peace, are your kids jumping all over you and demanding attention, and while they sit beside you are you touching and cuddling them all the time? With humans this would probably be considered abuse! Would your teenagers follow you all over the place and make a fuss if you disappear out of sight? I could go on and on!
I guess there may be families where the kids are like this, but certainly not the lovely family I went to today! I exaggerate to make my point, but they admit that over the couple of years or so since they have rescued their two dogs, after a sensible start, they have slowly relaxed the rules and boundaries, hardly realising they were doing so. It’s easy to do. This can be unsettling and confusing for dogs. Dogs without boundaries and given the responsibility of decision-making can develop problems that are inexplicable to the owners who believe they are simply being loving. Two common results are nervousness and aggression – both of which are fear-based.
Barney, a Labrador mix, is always on the alert and he may bite. He has drawn blood several times. Things certainly can’t carry on as they are. Maisie the Border Collie is nervous. Lack of leadership and too much fussing on demand can be scary for a dog like Maisie, especially if mixed with being scolded. She is hyper-sensitive. There is lots of appeasingly lying on her back to have her tummy tickled ‘love me love me I’ve done nothing wrong have I’.
Both dogs need a dose of old-fashioned calm, quiet and kind leadership and being treated in the way that people really treat their well-behaved and happy kids. The dogs need to be treated with respect, not touched too much and to learn respect. Then Barney won’t need to bite and Maisie will be more confident.
Toffee is a beautiful fifteen month old Viszla – quite petite for the breed. She is a nervous dog – and has been since she was a puppy. She is an obsessive shadow chaser and (very unusually) already doing this at eight weeks old when they brought her home. He mother apparently also chased shadows as did one of her brothers, and I wonder whether it’s a case of ‘puppy see – puppy do’.
Toffee is anxious and reactive to many things: she stresses when people disappear from sight, she is scared of the sound of her food bowl on the floor, she doesn’t like people invading her space unless on her own terms, she warns off even family members getting too near her mistress and she barks frantically at even her owners carrying something she doesn’t recognise. She is likely to ‘upredictably’ go for certain dogs when on walks, particularly if they are either too near her lady owner or if there is food involved. It looks as though she’s unpredictable, sometimes going for other dogs or nipping people who go into her space, and sometimes not, but a lot of this behaviour will depend upon how much stress has already built up inside her.
In addition to her temperament being on the nervous side, Toffee has been given the additional burden of decision making. It’s only when people see the whole picture through the eyes of an objective outsider that many owners realise just how much homage they have bestowed on their dog in the name of love – and just how much their dog calls the tune, which can put enormous pressure on her.
We will never change Toffee’s basic nature, nor would we want to, but a good dose of proper ‘parenting’ will do wonders for her stress levels, resulting in calmer walks, a more confident Toffee and less ‘unpredictability’.