I was a little wary when I arrived because I knew that sometimes Border Collie Patch nips people he doesn’t know.
When they walk in the gate he barks loudly. When that doesn’t work, he goes round behind them and nips their legs. Continue reading…
I was a little wary when I arrived because I knew that sometimes Border Collie Patch nips people he doesn’t know.
When they walk in the gate he barks loudly. When that doesn’t work, he goes round behind them and nips their legs. Continue reading…
She’s okay with women but isn’t happy too near small children – or some men.
She welcomed me in a friendly fashion with lots of sniffs and a couple of little jumps but I took little notice of her until I had sat down. Then I gently said hello. She immediately and subtly shrank away a little.
The little Jack Russell Chihuahua mix is probably more nervous generally than they realise. People often find it hard to read the more subtle signs in their dog’s body language.
She had had four homes before she was even four months old. A man was giving away Callie and her tiny siblings in a car park. The crucial formative weeks of her life won’t have been the best.
However, fortune shone on her when she came to live with the couple, my clients. Continue reading…
Rocco is a young Cocker Spaniel who won’t play. Unusually, he’s not at all interested in chasing something that is thrown for him.
He does, however, get a huge buzz out of charging, barking, at approaching people.
He won’t play tug games either with his humans, though loves to tug something with their other dog.
Rusti is a tiny 13-month-old Miniature Daschund. She is wary of people. Too often an approaching person means a large hand over her head.
She looks so cute people feel compelled to touch her.
Rusti barks at people who come into her house. She barks at people who approach the man’s car. On walks she may bark at an approaching person.
Because, as people do, they feel that she should allow a person who is being friendly to touch her, her reaction can be embarrassing to them.
Understandably, being that small, Rusti can feel unsafe when someone looms with large hand outstretched, particularly when she’s trapped. She is a lot better when free and off lead.
The man takes Rusti to work with him and she stays in the car. He has an active job where he can keep an eye on her and regularly return to let her out.
Though fine to be left in the car, she spends much of the day looking out for approaching people. She gets very aroused and barks frantically at them to go away. Very often they come over. Sometimes a large hand may even come through the open window towards her.
They will now look at the world from Rusti’s perspective. They are learning to read her signals.
Her humans will do their best to help her out and avoid anything that scares her whenever they possible can. They will get her an igloo dog bed for the car and a couple of window blinds like one might use to shield a baby from the sun.
People won’t see her and she won’t see them.
If they help to avoid people getting too close to her, particularly preventing them from touching her, she should become a lot less wary and then she will have less need to bark at them, “Go Away”. This will build up trust in her humans.
Human beings must be puzzling and scary to a tiny dog. They touch her when they feel like it, they cuddle her, they move her about whenever they wish. She shares their food but they get angry when she helps herself.
Someone she doesn’t know puts a large hand out to touch her. We ourselves wouldn’t like that, would we. When she defends herself by growling or nipping she gets told off.
We expect our dogs to understand us and fit into our world without realising just how little we try to understand them and allow them their own feelings and preferences.
We should act as our dogs’ advocates. Rusti’s feelings are a lot more important than the feelings of a person, usually a stranger, who may want to touch her. Can I pet your dog and why it’s okay to say no
At home he is a different dog. When someone he doesn’t know comes to the door he barks and gets very agitated.
As he’s not scared of people per se, there has to be a protective, territorial element to this. On and off during the day he’s on look-out duty on the front room window sill, watching for passing people and kids – no doubt believing that his barking is the reason they move on. He’s chasing them off.
Bud may think that when he barks at people coming into the house he can chase them off too.
A guard dog is unlikely to be a good family pet. Guard duty is the job of the adult humans.
If people are not at home, a worried dog should be somewhere well away from the front of the house. When they are at home they need to help Bud to feel safe. The response of a ‘protector’ would not be to just leave him to bark or else tell him to shut up. I myself thank my dogs, call them to me and reward them for coming away. I may need to investigate.
It’s not surprising that a dog that barks at people going past may well be even more concerned when, from the window, he can see a stranger actually comes into the house.
Bud barks madly when the doorbell goes. If it’s someone he doesn’t know, they will shut him in his crate before letting the person in and he will continue barking at them. When let out, it takes him a while to settle. He has air-snapped at the children and nipped adults a couple of times. If the children have friends they have to go upstairs and keep out of the kitchen.
Barking at people coming to the house is a common problem; sometimes the dog is fearful and sometimes angry that they are invading his territory. He may even be protective like his humans are resources belonging to him. With Bud I feel it’s a mix. He isn’t wary or protective unless people are coming into his house.
Where ‘stranger danger’ is concerned, having had guard duty lifted from him he can learn to associate people coming to the house with something he especially likes. He can be taught to do something incompatible with barking at people. The kids can play the ‘doorbell game’. One rings the bell and another feeds the dog, over and over, until the doorbell now predicts food not danger.
Bud’s nipping occurs when things get too exciting or arousing.
There are many ways in which they can cut down on Bud’s stress levels and this should help him to be more tolerant of day-to-day things like people coming to the house and excited children.
They can help him to self-calm rather than stir him up. Chewing is one such way. Unfortunately, he has been doing so much chewing on bones that he has already, at eighteen months of age, worn his teeth down. This proves just how badly he is in need of something to de-stress himself. We looked at various other calming activities that should help him, but his humans not winding him up would help a lot!
The man can cut down on some of the rough and tumble and chase games that men so love and do brain games and hunting games with Bud instead. Not so much fun for the man but much better for the dog.
A child that becomes too excited may end up bad-tempered or in tears. What about a dog?
In every other respect Bud is a brilliant dog. He has been well and lovingly trained. His barking at people coming into the house, however, isn’t a purely a matter of ‘training’. To get him to behave differently when people come to the house, he needs to feel differently about people coming into the house. This also involves feeling he can trust his humans to protect the home.
Bud’s humans will now do all they can to let him know he’s ‘off duty’ and to keep him from becoming unnecessarily stirred up.
People who suddenly appear upsets Spanish Water Dog Polo and this can even be someone with whom he is familiar before he realises who they are.
When a dog is wary of people it can affect so many areas of his owners’ life.
Polo is not yet two years old and lives with a more confident year-old Spanish Water Dog, Rolo who is confident and very friendly. They are a stunning pair and look and feel a bit like sheep!
Polo’s problems with the arrival of someone are usually over within a minute or two and then he’s quite accepting of them unless, perhaps, they walk out and then suddenly appear again a short while later.
Until recently the couple used to take both dogs to work with them. Polo knows the regular workers but other people, including deliveries and post, may suddenly appear also. Shut in their office with them, it can mean Polo barks at the sounds of people opening doors and walking about outside, and someone may suddenly open the office door.
His reactivity has built up and he now has nipped a couple of unfamiliar people at the workplace.
Where do these things start? One unpleasant experience followed by another can soon take hold. Right from young he will have rehearsed his scared barking at the neighbour who would suddenly appear in his garden and, like many people with a barking dog next door, become riled so has compounded matters by shouting at him and kicking the fence.
Another run of unpleasant experiences which probably have contributed is a man they frequently see when out – a strange person that spooks Polo and who also shouts back at him for barking.
It’s got to the stage that it’s hard for the couple to have people round to their house because unless initially restrained Polo will fly at them, barking, which can scare them.
They can no longer take him to work on account of the aggressive-sounding barking and charging at people and he can’t be allowed to wander around freely anymore now that he’s actually nipped a couple of people.
We looked at each situation where Polo reacts to a person and have developed a plan for working on each in easy stages with desensitisation and counter conditioning. He’s to learn that people, herald good stuff and are no threat – he’s particularly reactive to men which isn’t unusual. Anyone who could indeed be a threat in terms of maybe shouting at him or scaring him needs to be religiously avoided for now.
In order to move things forward, I suggest Polo is taken back into work for half an hour a day, on a long lead, starting at times when it’s quiet and everyone is familiar. A special ‘food bar’ can open – a bar that only dispenses a particular favourite food and only when people are about. Lots and lots of very small bits will be required.
Having established a happy dog who is relaxed around these people when they are moving about, the dogs can begin to stay in the office for short periods, but only when the man or lady has time to give Polo full attention if necessary.
A gate in the office doorway will mean the dogs will more aware of approaching people and taken less by surprise. Polo will be aware of all movement outside the office and this can be more opportunity for the continuing counter-conditioning work. The pairing of people with the good stuff must continue.
On a nice day at home, they can take Polo’s special ‘people’ food into the garden and work on that neighbour also.
Here is an illustration local to myself of how, once a fear gets under a dog’s skin, it can spread – beyond that particular dog even. Just down the road from where I live there are a couple of Boxers loose in the front garden. Whenever anyone with a dog goes past, these two go mental, to the extent that they then, in their frustration, attack one another. This is unfortunately the only route to the best local dog walk. Gradually, over the weeks, other dogs who weren’t reactive before have started barking back. Still aroused, these usually friendly dogs will now bark at the next dog they meet who in turn, taken by surprise, barks back, and so it goes. The whole area is a bit noisier just now, and just imagine the behaviour that those two Boxers are rehearsing. I may get a call soon!!
I use this as an example of how a wide berth needs to be taken around scary things. The dog may survive one encounter so long as you move away and on quickly, some maybe two or three, but eventually there will doubtless be a reaction and the more exposure the worse it will get. A dog may start to anticipate this bedlam from the top of the road or before even leaving the house. There is nothing to be gained whatsoever in forcing a dog to confront things he’s unable to deal with in any other way than in self-defense – lunging and ferociously barking in order to chase them off and keep himself safe.
Beautiful Indie is another Shepherd-type dog that is reactive to people – particularly people coming to his house. He was abandoned as a puppy of three months old on the streets of Romania and spent the next three months in kennels – crucial months in his development.
The reason he nips people is probably a mix of being territorial, fear of new people – of men in particular, and some instinctive herding of people in order to control them when walking around his house which he had done from the beginning and well before he began to show any aggression.
The young lady has worked so hard with her beautiful dog and is very distressed that he changed so drastically. Before that she could take him to work and he would accompany her everywhere. Now she can’t trust him.
His behaviour changed when he became adolescent. At the same time, just as he had settled into his new home over here, the lady went away for a month and had to leave him behind. There would have been a big break in his new routines and very likely he felt insecure.
Sudden movement seems to trigger immediate barking followed by a nip – on the person’s leg. The only incident outside his house was when, on a walk, some people suddenly appeared out of the woods and the man was brandishing a stick. This really upset Indie, particularly because the man then fended him off with the stick.
He was on edge for several days after that, growling and barking at everyone he saw.
Like lots of dogs who are reactive to people in their own territory and who startle and lunge when someone may suddenly appear, Indie is fine in busy places with lots of people and dogs. Strange isn’t it. Like us, if we are alone in a field and a person suddenly appears we can feel quite exposed. If the field is full of people we feel a lot safer.
Indie used to accompany the young lady to work but because of his unpredictability she has been leaving him at home where, though he has company, the methods used with him are totally different – more along the ‘old-school’ methods rather than positive and reward-based.
So she will start to take him to work with her again and she will manage the situation better. It is fortunate that she works for herself. The times when he’s most upset with stuff going on he can be put in the car where he is happy and relaxed. If she needs to wander about and go anywhere with hands free, she can tie his lead to her waist which will keep him and other people safe.
Every time Indie hears or sees a person, however distant, the ‘food bar’ will open. When nobody is about it will close.
More visitors to the house are needed also – but only when the young lady is at home to make sure things are done in the right way.
Whatever the main root cause – probably a mix of herding, guarding and fear – it boils down to Indie not feeling safe when the person moves about or makes a sudden movement. It’s not every time – which makes him all the more unpredictable. I saw it for myself when, although earlier I had been walking around with no problems, I stood up when he was asleep. He reacted immediately – the lady was ready for it.
It is possible to teach him alternative behaviours incompatible with barking and nipping as the young lady has been doing, like Sit or Down or Bed along with watching her – but this means she has to constantly be on tenterhooks each time the guest is likely to move in order to give Indie the correct cues. One day she may forget or be out of the room.
It’s far better to treat it right at source, I feel, and deal with the emotion which is driving Indie to behave like this, to have him associate people with good stuff, to desensitise him so far as possible to sudden movements and help him to feel more confident around people.
The work can begin with people in situations or at a distance where Indie feels reasonably comfortable. At work, the people don’t actually enter the work area but there is frequent traffic walking past his barrier of people who will ignore him if requested to do so. He can also be taken to busy places with lots of people and dogs because he feels reasonably safe there also.
When out he can wear a yellow high-viz jacket bearing the words ‘Ignore me, I’m in training’. He is fine so long as nobody walks directly up to him. He is such a beautiful looking dog it’s easy to understand why people should want to touch him.
Bit by bit the bar can be raised.
I wrote a short blog in my Paws for Thought series about ‘sudden’ and dogs.
The lady has had the six-year-old Jack Russell for one month now. Alone with her, Finley is the model dog. He is biddable and affectionate. He is absolutely adorable – most of the time!
When someone comes to the house – particularly if it’s a man – Finley is liable to jump up and nip them on the hand with no barking or growling first. I expect this is because they put their a hand out to him. Out on a walk he has now bitten a woman on the leg when his new owner stopped to chat with her and Finley sat quietly beside her. All the woman had done was to raise her hand to her hair. Possible Finley had misinterpreted the action and he immediately flew at her leg, breaking the skin.
I was showing the lady how to have Finley walking on loose lead in the front garden when a friend came to the fence – someone who Finley knows. He looked happy and friendly as she said ‘Hello Finley’ and ran over to her, trailing the lead. As soon as she put her hand out over the fence however he leapt up and bit the sleeve of her coat. She narrowly missed a damaged hand and it took me by surprise also. It was like a quick ‘”Back Off – No Hands in My Territory”.
He was lovely with me from the moment I entered the door – but, then, I would never dream of putting my hand out to a dog at that stage. I would stand still and let him sniff me – which he did – probably learning all about my own four dogs! I also know not to walk towards the owner. Before I move I always say “I’ll follow you” so that the person turns around and leads me into the room, the dog following.
From chatting to the lady and watching him, I’m sure the nipping behaviour is because the dog is becoming increasingly protective of her and his new territory.
What can she do about this?
Firstly, if she behaves like his slave, jumping to his every demand, topping up his food bowl and fussing him constantly, he may well feel she’s some sort of resource belonging to him that he will want to guard. In every way possible she should be showing Finley that she is there to protect him and not the other way around.
She should show him, too, who is the protector when he barks at sounds and passing people and dogs by how she reacts. If he’s at the window barking at passing people and particularly dogs whenever they pass, he is surely just getting better at barking at people and dogs. He’s firing himself up to drive people away. To him the barking always works because whoever it is does go away if he keeps barking until they do.
If Finley spends much of the day on guard duty, waiting for a dog to pass, it’s hardly surprising that he’s a handful on walks when they sees a dog.
Where food is concerned, she should, instead of allowing him to graze all day, leave the best stuff for him to earn – for work around barking, people approaching – and other dogs on walks.
At home the groundwork should be in place and then, out on walks, everything done to associate other dogs with nice stuff and not with discomfort or panic. Currently he’s on a retractable lead on a thin collar. If he lunges, on reaching the end of the lead the jerk will hurt his neck. So now the other dog causes him pain to his neck as well. I would prefer a longish normal lead, long enough so he feels some freedom – and a harness (not the sort of ‘no pull’ harness that causes pain by tightening under the arms when the dog pulls).
Already she is taking Finley for three short walks a day as any more she herself finds it too stressful. She is a retired lady and is happy to give him even more even shorter outings. They can come straight home as soon as he has been stressed by something. Each subsequent thing he encounters will add to his build-up of stress as he becomes increasingly out of control.
The day’s barking in the garden or at the window will mean he starts the walk a stressed dog. Unlike humans who can warn you when they are reaching their breaking point, dogs are silent; they talk more with their bodies but often we simply can’t read them.
This case is a good example of how much of what a person does at home with her dog can influence what happens out on walks. She can work at getting and keeping his attention, at getting him to come to her straight away whenever she calls him and at motivating him with food and fun. Boundary and window barking at people and dogs should be controlled and he can be desensitised instead.
Henry is a very mixed-up dog. The four-year-old Staffy mix has been with the young lady for three years now and came with a good deal of baggage which we can only guess at. He was terrified wreck initially. The lady has come a long way in making him more confident.
Henry ‘bites without warning’ and it’s getting worse. It did, to me, ‘come out of the blue’ at the time when he went for my feet under the table because it seemed so out of context with his other behaviour and I wasn’t looking for the right things. Replaying the sequence in my head afterwards I could see there was in fact subtle warning.
Henry, between barks, had happily eaten food that I threw over the gate and made no attempt to back away, so he wasn’t unduly fearful. He was put on lead by the gentleman who took him the other end of the room while I came through the gate to sit at the dining table with the young lady. I lobbed Henry chicken and I threw him a ball. Fine. He had a couple of short barking bouts but soon stopped. I suggested the man dropped the lead.
After a while I watched Henry disappear quietly under the table towards me and he suddenly surprised me by biting first one of my shoes and then the other – hard and in quick succession. My feet hadn’t been moving. Fortunately no harm was done as my shoes protected my feet. I asked the man to get hold of the lead again.
How did I not see that coming?
This seemed very much like anger to me – anger perhaps that his barking hadn’t got rid of me and that I simply carried on sitting where I was, the other side of the table, ignoring him when he barked.
I could now see why they said their dog was unpredictable, ‘biting without warning’. We carefully examined each of the other times he has bitten in detail and found quite a few things in common including (apart from myself) it has been men he attacks and he bites always below the knee and usualy hard enough to draw blood. On each occasion Henry was already very aroused.
Why bite my feet?
Where most dogs, certainly those that have had a more fortunate upbringing, will only bite as a last resort, Henry seems to go straight into biting. It looked very much like some sort of learned behaviour to me. One time when he was held by the collar and couldn’t get to someone he actually bit the sofa instead. I would guess that, at some stage, he has been taught to bite, maybe deliberately.
If has been ‘roughed up’ to encourage aggression with the original owner from a pup, possibly tackled with feet to encourage an aggressive response, my guess is that the mere sight of feet/boots/legs/shoes has in the past had his body drenched with fear of being attacked so he will over time have built up an automatic response. If the stress of feet/shoes and close proximity to the lady he trusts and invasion of space has been niggling, then his warnings to increase distance were ignored (barking), it might have just tipped him over, resulting in defensive, fearful and what seemed a no-warning sudden reaction with no control of his actions to my feet under the table. This is the most likely explanation.
As it had happened to myself, I could re-play the scene in my mind afterwards. I believe, when we know what to look for, there is warning and a context. The usual context is one of Henry already being stressed, being in his own territory and a man being too close to himself or to the lady. The warning: he stares. That’s all. It could be easy for his owner to miss unless she’s watching him constantly.
For important reasons I won’t go into here, the lady has a deadline to make some progress with Henry.
There first thing to ensure is in place is management. He has to be muzzled when they are out, just in case. She already has systems in place for when callers come to the house, a gate, a crate that he’s used to being in, an anchor point and a muzzle he’s quite happy with, but this isn’t really the life that anyone wants with their dog. The young lady works hard to give her dog the best life possible but she unable to have friends to her home and she can’t take her dog away with her.
As stress is playing a such large part, everything must be done to keep Henry’s stress levels down in all areas of his life. Every time he goes mental when seeing a person or even barks at people passing the fence it is ‘loading the gun’.
He needs reprogramming. This is the only way in the long run that he is ever likely to be trustworthy. A process will be taught and repeated over and over, hundreds of times, so that upon a certain cue Henry will immediately and automatically, without thinking, follow a pre-planned sequence that is incompatible with stressing, barking or staring at someone. Whenever he sees a person and is anything other than relaxed, he must be taught a default alternative behaviour incompatible with his current behaviour.
I won’t go into the exact detail because it is specifically tailored to Henry, and if lifted and applied to another dog out of context could be inappropriate.
If the technique can be sufficiently ingrained before time runs out, then other people can also use the special cue if they are feeling at all uneasy.
The ‘wrong’ people taking on young dogs for the ‘wrong’ reasons can do untold harm. When they are abandoned, where do many end up? Well-meaning people like my young lady do the principled thing by taking in a rescue dog and then end up condemned to years of heartbreak and worry, unable to live a normal life because of the damage done earlier by someone else to the dog they have grown to love.
They toilet indoors, they have manic sessions tearing around the place, they may fly at you and nip, they chew the carpet, they bite you with their sharp little teeth, they get over-excited and they may even get cross when they are told off.
What usually happens? “No, No, No, No, STOP”.
“How otherwise can I teach my dog NOT to do these things,” people ask?
It’s not that I don’t take it seriously, but I say that the unwanted behaviours are unimportant.
Here is adorable eleven-week-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Hassle. Hassle (self-named like my Cocker Spaniel Pickle!) plays nicely until he gets over-excited and then he flies at them. Too much hand play and touching simply encourages him to go for hands. He may bite, nip feet and grab socks; he tugs at the lady’s hair. When they try to stop him firmly, Hassle gets cross. They feel he’s becoming aggressive.
The problem with all ‘don’t’ and no ‘do’ is that a dog can become bewildered and frustrated.
Puppy does one thing and the humans react in a way which causes puppy to try harder. Human reaction escalates all the problems until they have a battle of wills on their hands.
It can be so hard but they need a new mindset, one of: “Do do do do YES”.
They will keep half of his food back to ‘mark’ quiet moments. When he gets over-excited they can scatter some in his large crate and, shut in there, he can then be busy ‘hunting’ which will calm him down. He can learn how to take food gently from hands. They can show him what he can chew and make sure there are plenty of options. They will remove temptation.
One big problem is that Hassle toilets all over the place, day and night. They live in an upstairs flat with no garden so he is expected to go on puppy pads. At the moment he ignores them.
Hassle has too much space. From the start the puppy’s environment should start small and gradually increase in size as he becomes trained. His environment needs to be controlled so that initially, unless he is closely watched, he has two just choices for toileting – in his bed or on pads. It’s very unlikely he would go in his bed so he will be choosing to go on pads. Gradually, one sheet at a time, they can be lifted until there is just one left – and that will become his necessary indoor toilet place until he realises that walks are for toileting.
Of course – Hassle loves destroying puppy pads, so what should they do? Scold? No (it only makes him worse). They should ‘mark’ the moment he stops with a piece of food and offer him something he can chew!
So far he has learnt that he’s let of his crate out as soon as he cries, so now he can learn how to be quiet before he is let out of his crate. How? By rewarding just a moment of quietness and then letting him out – and building up from there.
Until he can stay happily in his crate at night-time and when they aren’t watching him, they may have little success with the toilet training.
The quality we need above all others with a puppy, is patience.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Hassle, 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 dog 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 puppy parenting strategies specific to your own puppy (see my Get Help page).