Biting Puppy Just Being a Nipping Biting Puppy

I have just met Henry.

Henry is the most adorable ten-week-old Labrador imaginable – with some of the sharpest teeth!

Biting puppy just being a puppy

Butter wouldn’t melt!

When he’s excited, Henry morphs into a nipping, biting puppy.

Faced with him in this mood, his family feel helpless.

People instinctively quickly withdraw their hands away from the sharp biting puppy teeth. The teenage daughter has learnt that this isn’t a good thing. She has understandably been getting quite upset and nervous of him.

It’s natural when faced with nipping behaviour to try and teach the biting puppy ‘not to bite’. The family’s advice from internet and friends has included tapping Henry’s nose, shouting ‘no’ and generally scolding him. If trying to stop him biting worked, Henry wouldn’t be getting worse.

How about trying to start him being gentle instead?

Firstly, all people with young puppies need a degree of temporary environmental management for their own sanity if nothing else. There are a few basic things that an experienced puppy owner would have in place from the start, the most important being a smaller ‘puppy-proof’ area where puppy can be contained and can do no damage.

Like little children, the more tired and excited the puppy gets, the more out of control he becomes. It’s when he is stirred up that the nipping and biting is worst. He flies at ankles and hands, chews the carpet and does all the other puppy stuff that will then make his humans add to the excitement themselves as they try to control the painful little hurricane in their midst.

Instead of stopping unwanted behaviour, why not start desired behaviour instead?

It will be only a matter of days before Henry is big enough to leap up onto the sofas, so they will be trying to stop him doing this too. The teenage girls will then have no sanctuary.

Up until two weeks ago he had his siblings to play with and diffuse any wildness. They will have told him when ‘enough is enough’ in a way that he understood. Now he has a lot to learn.

Henry’s family have an open-plan house with quite a big garden. There are few physical boundaries unless he is in his crate by himself in another room. Playing ball games in the big garden can get him hyped up as can the girls coming home from school. It’s at times like this that he is least able to control himself.

Because the biting puppy gets worse the more excited and aroused he is, then the logical first step is to cut down excitement as much as possible.

I suggest a pen in the sitting room. He won’t then be isolated. The carpet can be protected and he can have a bed in there. When he gets over-tired or wild he can be popped into his pen with something to chew (or a carton to wreck!). He will be teething, so needs appropriate things to get those little sharp biting puppy teeth into.The family will be able to walk around freely without the puppy nipping their feet. They can go upstairs without wondering what mischief he might be up to downstairs – pale-carpeted throughout.

Removing temptation is key.

It’s not forever.

How can they get their biting puppy to be more gentle?

What did I do when I was with Henry and his family to show them how to make their biting puppy more gentle?

The girls want to touch him without getting nipped or bitten – it gets worse by the day which sort of proves that they aren’t reacting in the right way. One way or another they are giving him a lot of feedback for his biting puppy behaviour when the very opposite should be the case.

Within about ten minutes both one daughter and Henry had mastered the meaning of the clicker. He now was clicked and fed for all the good, controlled or calm things he was doing. He loved it and was transformed for a while into a calm and focused puppy.

When he was tired, they put a fulfilled and happy puppy into his crate with a Kong to chew. He went to sleep.

Instead of hearing the word ‘No’ or scolding, he was being shown what was wanted and was super-motivated to work at achieving it.

While we were at it, we also taught Henry to take the food gently out of someone’s hand. Keeping quiet and not opening the hand until the puppy has momentarily backed off soon gives him the message. Puppy backs off and the hand with the food in it opens. Eureka.

Actions speak a lot louder than words.

Here is a good demo by Victoria Stilwell.

 

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 puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Henry, and group classes may not always provide all the answers for problems in the home. Finding instructions on the internet or TV can do more harm than good. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with your own puppy. (see my Help page)

A Jumping up and Nipping Puppy

Puppy pug Frankie is now twelve weeks old.

AtkinsFrankieIt’s vital that the adorable Frankie stops jumping up and nipping because the lady is a childminder. As it’s so important, they have been trying extra hard to stop her jumping up and nipping for the sake of the little children. This has resulted in a lot of No and Get Down and pushing off.

Term starts this week and the four little children will be coming back. If Frankie jumps or nips they will scream and wave their arms about, making her worse.

The young son and daughter play games that may encourage Frankie to be over-excited, rough and to use her teeth. If we don’t want to be nipped by a puppy, we don’t play hand games. We don’t play contact sports but use an item like a tug toy or a ball. We avoid getting her too excited.

In a way, the very importance of Frankie not jumping up and nipping has actually made the problem worse. She’s learnt that it always gets attention of some sort as they try to stop her.

Frankie isn’t being taught what she should be doing instead of jumping up and nipping.

Jumping up and nipping now has to get no attention whatsoever. With myself she learnt really fast that feet on the floor was the way to get a fuss.

It’s a few hours later and the lady has just emailed to say that the jumping up and nipping is now worse since she has stopped saying NO and pushing Frankie off. This is typical of how things get worse before they get better. Because she has said No in the past and given the puppy a lot of attention for jumping up and nipping, it has temporarily made things worse now that she’s stopped.

Frankie wants her to say No just as she always has done because in a funny way it is rewarding to her.

Now Frankie is not getting the attention she usually gets so she is simply getting frustrated and trying harder.

To get all technical, this is called the ‘extinction burst’. Here is a nice explanation from GreenMountanDaily.com: An extinction burst is a concept from behavioral psychology. It involves the concept of elimination of a behavior by refusing to reinforce it. The best example of this is a child’s tantrum. Parents react to tantrums, which is why they often work, but the point of the tantrum is primarily attention.

The family need to stand firm and it’s not easy. For the first couple of days the lady should wear jeans rather than thin floaty trousers (tempting to grab in those little sharp teeth) in order to protect her legs. Having tried immediately to give her something else to put in her mouth or another member of the family calling her away, if neither of these things do the trick she should simply lift her up in silence, put her the other side of the gate with something to chew and walk
away. Actions speak a lot louder than words.

I imagine that this intensified behaviour was during Frankie’s ‘silly time’, the wild half hour so many puppies have in the evening.

They should have that a bit more under control in a day or two. As soon as they see her getting excited and wild they will react immediately by giving her something else to do, something to attack and wreck like a carton full of safe rubbish – before she gets to jumping up and nipping trousers and legs.

Pre-empting whenever possible is the best advice.

It’s understandable why Frankie wants to jump up, as dogs greet one another face to face. A lot of communication is done at face level. You can’t do much communicating with a human ankle! For this reason it’s helpful if people kneel down.

Feet on the floor is just one of those weird things humans like that Frankie has to learn.

In this first visit we covered all aspect of puppy life making sure everything is in place. The whole family did some lovely loose lead walking in the garden. She has been to a couple of vet’s puppy parties with, I feel, too many puppies off lead all at once in a small space, most a lot bigger than tiny Frankie and she may be intimidated. I hope they will stop going now. This is the kind of socialisation that a puppy doesn’t need. We don’t want her to fear other dogs as she gets older.

Frankie when not jumping up and nippingWe are off to a good start and will pick things up where we left off when I next visit. We discussed putting up a barrier between Frankie and the little children so that she can be kept separate from them whilst not being shut out, just until she grows out of her jumping up and nipping.

With consistency from all the family as regards ignoring jumping up whilst teaching her that feet on the floor or sitting gives her what she wants, helping each other out by calling her away if she’s getting rough or popping her straight away behind a gate with something to do or chew, things should improve fairly fast.

In order to get past this ‘extinction burst’ of frustration and not to prolong it, everyone must be doing the same thing. A tantrum must not work in terms of attention!

Their success also depends upon visitors cooperating (always a challenge) and with the children teaching their friends what to do. If they are unable to keep calm thus discouraging the jumping up and nipping, then Frankie will need to be on lead or behind a barrier.

Here is a useful little article from Victoria Stilwell about stopping puppy nipping.

Impulse Control Comes First

She may ignore her humans and lacks impulse control.

Eighteen-month-old German Shepherd Diva is a great personality. She is friendly, confident and fearless.

She is also very demanding. They have had several German Shepherds in the past, but never one like Diva.

Juno lacks impulse controlShe has become increasingly hostile to other dogs. In order to achieve their end goal of Diva becoming less reactive and coming back when called (she will, but when she feels like it), these matters of impulse control and paying attention need first to be addressed at home.

I saw a Diva who was actually more aroused and lacking in self control than she usually is. That was my own doing.

I had prevented people from giving in to her. She became increasingly frustrated by not getting what she wanted – attention under her own terms. Her methods, not addressed when she was a puppy and now harder to undo, are jumping on people – she’s very big – leaping onto their chair behind them, mouthing, nipping and grabbing – and then yipping and barking endlessly when the other tactics don’t work, until put out of the room.

She now will be given as little opportunity as possible to rehearse these behaviours (I don’t go into detail here because what works with one dog may not work with another).

I was called in for what seemed a relatively straightforward if time-consuming problem – that of halting Diva’s increasing antipathy towards other dogs like they shouldn’t be in her vicinity. The issue is actually far more complex.

Matters came to a head the other day when she ran after a very small dog she had spied in the distance, possibly thinking it was prey because she ignored a larger dog. Sadly, it resulted in the little dog needing veterinary treatment for its injuries.

As soon as Diva spotted the dog, her human called her. She halted, looked back as though to consider whether to obey or not, and decided no.

When I was there the lady called Diva, the dog looked her in the eye and then turned around and walked away. If she does this at home, what is likely to happen when, off lead, she sees another dog.

This highlights the two main underlying issues which are allowing the behaviour. Firstly, her humans are not sufficiently relevant to her so she’s insufficiently motivated to do as they ask. What’s in it for her? After all, they always do just what she wants if she is sufficiently pushy, so why should she do what they want?

Secondly, she acts on impulse at home so she is unlikely to have impulse control when out where the stakes are far greater.

Another important contributor to her behaviour is the dog next door.

From the start Diva has been confident and a bit bossy with other dogs. She then had her first season and she became more assertive. How much this has to do with the dog next door, both dogs barking and snarling at one another as they tear up and down their own sides of the fence, I don’t know. One sure thing is she’s daily been rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want – aggression towards another dog.

As I drove home I tried to work out the best place to start.

.

 

Changing too much at once could well make her even more stressed so would be self-defeating.

The first couple of weeks should be dedicated to showing her that she only gets things she wants when she is calm and to reducing her stress/arousal levels in every way possible. Her humans owe it to her not to stir her up unecessarily.

Humans and dog wOrchardJuno2ill need to go cold turkey!

Before the lead goes on she should be calm. Before the door is opened she should be calm. She can get no greetings until she isn’t jumping up and nipping. Training her the necessary alternative incompatible behaviours will be taught in the next stage.

Basically, Diva will learn that her pushy behaviour isn’t going to get results.

She will learn the behaviours that will work for her.

Bit by bit, against a calmer background, they can introduce impulse control exercises, training that requires patience like Stay and lots of coming when called or whistled around the house and garden. Here is a nice little video from Tony Cruse with an impulse control game.

They will also do their best to prevent any further rehearsal with the dog next door and in fact use it to their advantage. They will begin teaching her that good things happen when she ignores it and gives them her attention instead. Meanwhile she simply must not be off lead alone in the garden when the dog is likely to be out there. It’s a nuisance, but not impossible.

Out on walks Diva should no longer have complete freedom until she can be trusted to come back. She will need to be kept on a long line.

This case is such a good example of the benefits of taking a holistic type of approach. If we had gone straight in to the ‘stop her reactivity towards other dogs’ without dealing with her lack of impulse control, basic training manners and the relationship she has with her humans, I don’t think she would ever be able to go off lead again and they would never again be able to walk calmly past other dogs.

When they have got through the first few difficult days with Diva very likely becoming increasingly frustrated when her wild attempts for attention no longer bring results, they will then have a firm basis to build upon in order to achieve the original goals, that of enjoying their walks with their stunning Shepherd and being able to trust her.

 

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 Juno and I’ve not gone into exact 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 of any kind is 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 Get Help page)

Personal Space, the Dog and the Child

Consideration of Personal space is a one-way street for Dijon!

Cavapoo Dijon is a confident little dog in most respects. He knows what he wants – and usually gets it. The one respect in which he’s not so confident is when the lady is about but he can’t get to her. He stresses.

Caverpoo doesn't like the child invading his personal space Fourteen-month-old Dijon is increasingly treating the lady like some sort of resource belonging to himself when the 5-year-old daughter is near to her mother.

Dijon may fly at the child, snapping, if she goes to her for a cuddle.

Dijon has now bitten the little girl’s nose and this was when the lady wasn’t even in the room. She had left dog and child together on her bed for just a moment when the child screamed.

It seems the little girl ‘won’t be told’ where putting her face up close to Molly’s is concerned. She may also invade the dog’s space and he’s a little dog that likes control of his own personal space – though he has no regard whatsoever to the personal space of humans, whether family or people he’s not met before! He flies all over them.

I suggested that just as we are looking for ways to reinforce Dijon for the behaviours that we like, we need to get the child on board in the same way. Her parents say they just can’t get her to listen (much the same as people say about their dogs!).

Motivation is the key.

Dijon on his bedroom sofa

Dijon on his bedroom sofa

One suggestion I use to help young children to observe their dog’s personal space is to pretend that the dog lives in his own personal bubble. They can perhaps draw a picture of what it looks like. If they burst the bubble a terrible smell escapes – children can use their horrid imaginations!

The little girl must not burst Dijon’s bubble. Only Dijon can step out of his bubble and when he does so there is no smell!

She must keep her distance when Dijon is lying down or doing his own thing. They could make little picture stickers for the Dijon’s favourite sleeping places as reminders: ‘Dijon’s Bubble’. It’s much better to be able to remind the child ‘Remember Dijon’s Bubble’ than to have to keep nagging ‘leave Dijon alone’.

So, positive reinforcement for her also. Whenever she is seen observing Dijon’s bubble she should be praised or rewarded in some way and eventually it will become a habit.

It’s fine to touch theBerridgeBubble dog if he himself chooses to come out of his bubble and to the child, but even then the child should learn what sort of touching the dog likes (and doesn’t like).

There are videos for her the parents to watch with her like this and how to kiss a dog.

To ‘cure’ this problem at source needs Dijon to feel better about the child being near her mother, so two things should happen. His relationship with the lady needs to be a bit different so that she is no longer regarded by Dijon as a something belonging to him, and he needs to feel differently about the child herself.

 

The two humans involved, the lady and her little girl, can change things with Dijon

The lady needs to help release Dijon who currently follows her everywhere, all the time. He sleeps in their bedroom or on their bed and doesn’t always take kindly to the child running into the room and jumping on the bed to cuddle her parents.

They will gate the stairs so there is now somewhere that the lady can go without being followed. She should be able to come and go out of sight without it being an issue, starting slowly with very short breaks. Walking out on him can be associated with something nice.

Dijon can be invited upstairs only at bedtime.

When in the bedroom he will learn that he no longer gets on their bed at all.

I’m not against dogs being on beds if that’s what people like unless the dog reacts negatively to any other person (or dog) on the bed.

Keeping him off can be done kindly because there is a comfortable sofa in their bedroom that Dijon also sleeps on. For the child’s safety, management by way of physical precautions is vital. Dijon can be anchored to the sofa area by a lead so he simply can’t chase the child or leap on the bed.

Loving Dijon without bursting bubble

Loving Dijon without bursting bubble

The alternative is to leave him downstairs. They are reluctant to do this because of the panic he gets himself into.

The other thing that needs to happen, in addition to Dijon feeling a bit more independent of the lady’s comings and goings, is for Dijon to feel differently about the child herself.

The little girl is going to learn about counter-conditioning!

When she comes home after school, Dijon jumps all over them with no regard at all for their personal space! They want this to stop. Ignoring him isn’t enough and the little child finds this impossible anyway. She can’t be sufficiently calm and quiet either. Instead, she will be shown something that she can do. She will be given pieces of his dry food. When his feet are on the floor she will drop food. When he’s jumping up she can wait for his feet to be on the floor again. She might even earn a little reward herself.

When she wants a cuddle with her mum, the little girl can tell Dijon. ‘I want to cuddle Mummy’ and as she does so throw a handful of his dry food onto the rug. She can have a tub of ‘cuddle food’ to hand. This will not only help Dijon to associate the occasion with something nice, it will also send him away to the rug – away from leaping up at the her, air-snapping or nipping.

The stair gate is a must. Even when we are in the same room we can’t watch dog and child every second. Shutting a door on Dijon isn’t yet an option. There needs to be somewhere in the house where the little girl is 100% safe and need not be watched.

Like all my stories, this is nowhere near a complete report. I pick an aspect.

A week later I have visited again – with a photo of Dijon printed on a piece of paper. The little girl drew me a picture of ‘Dijon’s bulbble’ around his picture and of herself outside it. Mum will laminate copies of it and put by Dijon’s resting places as a reminder. All off her own bat, the little girl drew hearts, love, from herself to Dijon without breaking his bubble.

 

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 Dijon. I don’t go into detail. 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 or fearfulness is 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 Get Help page)

Is This What We Call Biting?

Beagle's biting is for attentionHow does one really define biting? Is it engagement of teeth or is it to do with the intent behind the engagement of teeth?

From what I had been told on the phone I was going to a dog that repeatedly bit people, especially the man, and I was expecting an aggressive dog.

That very day, the lady had told me, his biting had lost them his daycare.

When I arrived, at my request the one-year-old Beagle was wearing a soft muzzle with a lead attached to his harness. It was unnecessary. I sat down and the muzzle was removed. Benson was immediately all over me, much more interested in the food in my pocket than he was in me.

From when they first got him he was a very nippy/mouthy puppy. Unfortunately, instead of the mouthing being discouraged in an appropriate fashion from the start, it was unintentionally encouraged. Pushing him away and playing hand games was something the men did and until he got bigger it didn’t hurt too much. Loud squeals got him even more excited.

The older he grew, the more he used biting to get the attention he craved and the more it hurt.

As he gets ‘stuck in’, Benson quickly works himself up to a stage where he looses control of himself as his arousal levels simply overwhelm him. He then gets rough and frustrated. He will paw, hump and leap as high as a person’s head. Add to this the human response by way of confrontation, scolding and maybe shouting or grabbing him, he becomes a powder keg waiting to explode.

In a particularly highly aroused state this has, a couple of times, tipped him over into real aggression. Hence the loss of his daycare.

The couple’s life revolves around ‘fielding’ the jumping up, biting and pawing Benson throws at them. When he’s quiet they are so relieved to get some peace they understandably leave him alone. They have now resorted to muzzling him when he gets too much.

As the young dog is seldom offered attention when he’s being good and quiet lest they start him off again, what does this teach him?

The real challenge is that he’s now had nearly a year rehearsing and strengthening his biting skills. It’s become learned behaviour – a habit. It could be a difficult habit to break. The only way to achieve that is to do exactly the opposite to what has been done so far. They are now going to concentrate on teaching him the behaviour they DO want, reinforcing everything that pleases them (we started this with a clicker), pre-empt when possible and divert his attention if caught soon enough onto other items that he can freely chew.

There must be ZERO TOLERANCE for biting from now on. They have to do something to protect themselves from injury so this it’s very fortunatel he seems to like that muzzle and comes to put his nose into it without being asked. I believe it may act a bit like a calming band because he settles but without shutting down completely which wouldn’t be good.

He should not get away with even two or three bites before they react. NO bites are acceptable. Anything else just gives mixed messages.

At first feel of mouth or teeth they should immediately turn away and withdraw all interaction with him, looking away and ignoring him. At this point he may well begin a very loud bark. Having made it clear by turning away that they don’t want the bite, if he does it a second time the muzzle goes on with no fuss and no words.

Unlike previously, the muzzle should be left on only for as short a time as necessary and can come off again in five minutes or when his arousal levels have dropped sufficiently for them to give him something else to do.

Most importantly, we have made a list of rewarding activities with which they can punctuate their time with him in frequent short sessions which will use his brain or give him gentle exercise without hyping him up, rewarding him for being quiet or for exercising self-restraint instead of as it is at present with the great majority of the attention he receives generated by himself – rewarding and reinforcing his antics.

Basically, the young couple will be replacing the excitement he self-generates by biting, pawing, barking and sometimes humping with healthy stimulation generated by themselves. They will need to make liberal use of food.

They are prepared for this to take some time and a lot of patience! Dear little dog.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Benson. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly where 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 dog (see my Get Helppage).

People Who Suddenly Appear

Two young Spanish Water Dogs

Polo and Rolo

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.

Dog is wary of people suddenly appearing

Perro

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.

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 Polo. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly where 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Controls the Front Door Area

Kerry Blue Terrier controls the front door area

Fudge and Tara the black dog on the right

Tara controls the front door and acts like she feels responsible for comings and goings.

She is a beautiful three-year-old Kerry Blue Terrier who has lived with them for seven months now, and is a companion for the very youthful Lakeland Terrier Fudge, age 13.

Tara has nipped visitors several times, all in the vacinity of the front door.

She tries to control Fudge also. He’s not allowed attention without her intervening and if he has food or a toy she thinks that should be hers.

There is a lot of barking from both dogs which results in the atmosphere being highly charged at times which won’t be helping.

Where Tara will bark more frantically when people come to the door, Fudge barks at everything – especially for attention and food – and in order to make him quiet they give him what he wants. They realise they have actually taught him to bark!

There is only one way out of this and this is to show him it no longer works and that he will get stuff for being quiet instead. Unfortunately he won’t like this, so the neighbours will be warned that the barking is very likely to get worse before it gets better.

Lakeland Terrier controls the front door

Tara

Against a calmer and less stressful background they should better be able to change Tara’s behaviour around the arrival of people to the house. She’s like two dogs. After five minutes and so long as the people don’t go near the front hall, she’s friendly and happy. She allowed me to walk around the kitchen with no reacting, but when I walked into the hallway she rushed in front of me, stood by the front door and staring at me, barking fiercely.

I would have been asking for a nip had I advanced.

The reason the dogs bark so much in general is that it works so well! They have constant access to the view out of the front window and as people pass they bark. What happens? The people pass by. The postman comes up the path and they bark frantically. What happens? The postman, having put the letters through the door, goes away.

The dogs’ barking, they are convinced, is successfully driving unwanted people away from their territory.

The lady needs peace because she works from home. The dogs bark and she feeds them treats to keep them quiet. They now bark for treats and what happens? They get them! Fudge even stands and barks by the cupboard and sure enough, sooner or later, someone will open the door and give him food.

We have worked out a strategy for when people come. The knocker will be changed for a bell and the dogs will be taught that when they hear the bell they run into the kitchen. Only when callers are settled will the dogs join them – Tara initially on lead. They will gate the kitchen door and people should then be able to move about more freely.

I suggest Tara is weaned into happily wearing a muzzle – just in case. If the family are at all concerned, a muzzle will help all relax and if done properly it will be acceptable to Tara.

Currently when someone knocks Tara is shut away but Fudge will be at the door, barking and jumping excitedly at people. Knowing she has lost control of Fudge as well as the front door will, I’m sure, be making poor Tara even more upset. The dogs should be shut in the kitchen together.

I’m sure it’s insecurity behind Tara’s controlling behaviours and I am also sure that the lovely family will help her to become more confident and chilled.

With new management in place the teenage kids should be able to bring their friends home again, the lady in particular will be less stressed and the dogs will slowly learn what works and what no longer works – and given time Tara should relinquish her control of the front door.

From email received just over three weeks later: “Just wanted to share with you that we’ve had two great, stress-free days! Fudge and Tara are now both coming to me immediately on ‘OK’ at alarm barking, we then go into the kitchen to calm down. ….The Sprinkles game is so enjoyed that both dogs ignored next door’s dogs barking today and just happily foraged in the garden……..I can’t believe how unstressed I feel and how good the dogs have been, I’m so happy!…..3 weeks ago I was at the end of my tether and it was me or the dogs. I didn’t know how to stop all the barking, dreaded callers to the house and generally wondered why on earth I had dogs. It has been hard, the first 10 days or so was stressful trying to remember all the things to do, I lost my temper, I shouted, the dogs seemed worse than ever before but now I am seeing results, it feels good, I feel good. The dogs are brilliant, I love them again.
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 Tara and Fudge. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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 myGet Help page).

Start Off Right With New Puppy

I have just been to a divine ten-week-old Sprocker puppy. The picture doesn’t show how little Digby is.Ten week old new puppy, a Sprocker

They have had him for five days now and have signed up for my Puppy Parenting plan, wanting to get things right from the start with their new puppy, pre-empting as far as is possible any future problems and starting on basic training.

This was my first visit, to set things up.

Already he is nearly house trained with just the occasional accident. They are carrying him outside each time having read somewhere that that’s what they should do. This seems strange to me. If the puppy walks then he will learn the route and routine a lot more quickly and to stand at that door if it’s shut and he wants to go out.

We went through each area of his life to make sure things go off to the best start.

They have chosen to crate train him and he is quite happy to be left alone for short periods, so separation issues later on are unlikely.

Having spoken to me on the phone, they are now upping their socialisation of Digby and acclimatisation to things such as traffic, noises, people of all sorts and ages, other dogs, the car and so on – within the restrictions of being unable to put him down until his injections are finished. He seems a stable and fearless pup.

One thing people do find hard is not to over-excite a puppy when they come home or when friends first meet him.  Another thing that can seem unnatural to people is to constantly be carrying food around with them! Teaching a puppy the behaviours we want using food is so much more effective that trying to teach a puppy what we don’t want using ‘No’ – and a lot kinder too.

Environmental adjustments need to be made for a while – chewable or eatable things removed and maybe people wearing shoes rather than just socks – there is nothing more fun to chase and chew than a socked foot attached to a human who gets excited or shouts ‘No’ when they feel his little teeth!

Most puppies have a ‘bonkers half hour’ and Digby’s seems to be in the morning. I find evening more usual. A puppy may suddenly start to race around like a little tornado, and as he or she gets bigger things can go flying and people may be nipped! The bottled up energy or maybe stress needs to vent somehow and I suggest a carton containing rubbish that he can wreck and things he can chew along with bits of food to forage for.

We looked at the best way to teach Digby ‘Sit’ for starters, more things when he’s fully settled. I don’t like the word ‘command’. I prefer ‘cue’. I showed the lady how to do a little walking around the house with Digby beside her, off lead to start with.

Amongst other things we can pre-empt are any resource guarding behaviours by always doing an exchange and teaching Give from the start. Then the rewarding fun doesn’t come from the chase and eventual scariness of being cornered as the item is forced from the puppy’s mouth.

The gentleman, like many people, may find it a challenge to avoid telling the puppy ‘No’. How else will he learn what’s wrong? There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to a puppy of course. There are things that make him feel good, things that are boring, and things that make him feel bad. Digby will be exploring his new environment, licking this, chewing that, running about, and then suddenly a loud male human loudly says NO. He may stop in his tracks but I doubt he will know what he’s done that has made his human bark at him.

Some things he can chew, some things he can’t?

It’s so much better to call him away and give him something that he is allowed to chew instead.

Too much ‘No’ can result in a new puppy becoming confused or defiant – or maybe frightened. Digby seems a well-rounded little character and his family are determined to do everything right for him, so thankfully that won’t happen in his case.

 

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 – general puppy parenting in this case. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may well be different to the approach I have worked out for Digby. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can cause confusion. 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 puppy (see myGet Help page).

Nips People Who Visit

AchillesIndieBeautiful 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.

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 Indie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Their Dog Suddenly Bites Them

Three-year-old Jack Russell Monty has bitten three family members. Each time it was so sudden and quick they were left stunned. This is a rare case where it really did seem to be without warning. It is possible that gradual build-up of stress to the point where he exploded was a warning of sorts if they had known what to look for.

Having a dog that may suddenly bite means you can no longer relax. They are living on a knife-edge.

The first bite was about two months ago when he was about to go out for a walk. The lady went to the back door with Monty who sat as usual. She bent down to attach his lead to his collar.

Monty went for her.

He was hanging from her hand as the lady screamed for help. The injury was so severe that the hospital feared she may need plastic surgery.

A month ago it was the gentleman’s turn to get bitten. As with the lady, he bent to pop his lead on to go for a walk – a slip lead now. The man hadn’t yet put his shoes on unfortunately. Monty snarled and attacked first one foot and then the other. There was a lot of blood.

Since then he has had to wear the slip lead constantly because nobody dares go near enough to take it off him. Unfortunately where the tag is stops it from hanging loose.

Monty has gone for the man’s feet since, but sensibly he now always wears his shoes in the house. The family adore the little dog they have had since a puppy and the poor man is deeply upset. Since that time Monty attacked his feet, he growls each time he moves.

Beyond the expected screaming out and turmoil after the bites, Monty hasn’t been punished. They aren’t angry, they are hurt and terrified that he may end up having to be put to sleep. Understandably they don’t know what to do.

The first more minor incident was about six months ago. Before that he was fine. Monty had nipped or bitten two or three other people on the hand – people who tried to pet him thinking, wrongly, that his jumping up at them was friendly.

Because of the sudden escalation a couple of months ago we need to look at what may have changed in his life at that time. Had anything happened? it’s important to rule out a medical cause. They did take Monty to the vet and he had to be sedated before they could touch him, but no thorough examination was done unfortunately. The vet believes it is behavioural while I feel that extensive bloods and X-rays should always be taken to rule out a medical cause for such a sudden and major decline in behaviour.

As Monty paced around the room, trying to get people to throw balls (unsuccessfully for a change), to watch him it was hard to believe the damage this little dog had done – though I did stay sitting and kept my hands to myself!

Jack Russell on kitchen tableFrom the behaviour angle, I feel there are two things they need to concentrate on. One is to lower Monty’s stress levels as much as possible in every way they can. He is constantly so hyped up that he’s like a volcano ready to erupt and they feed this with constant ball play. There are four adults in the family and someone is at home most of the time – throwing his balls for him.

When they are out, he may be on the kitchen table where he gets a good view out of the window, waiting for things to bark at. They will make this impossible now.

He only settles later in the evening.

The second is that he, in effect, has four human slaves. He isn’t fed dog food but pandered to. There is nothing of any value they could use for rewarding him as he gets it anyway — in abundance. In fact he turns his nose up at much of it, knowing they will fall over backwards to add more or create more variety.

So, my second assignment is for them to toughen up around food. For ‘meals’ they can feed him the best quality dog food (no additives or e-numbers or cheap fillers, all of which can effect behaviour). The ‘good stuff’ like chicken and liver can be cut up very small and fed constantly to him during the day – but only for doing things they ask him to do or for rewarding him when he chooses to do something they like – like lying down instead of pacing or hunting for hidden balls still not removed.

If he wants to be let out, instead of just opening the door they can ask him to sit, then reward him and then let him out. They can regularly call him to them and reward him for coming. They can do some of the training tricks he learnt when younger, and reward him. They can call him away when he’s barking at something, and reward him.

All balls should be lifted. They can then initiate short sessions with the ball, when they feel like it, and then they put the ball away again – giving Monty food when they do so.

If he has to start to work for the special food, he will start to value it – and more importantly, he should start to value his humans and their wishes too.

I feel that only then should they try to get that lead off him (he’s perfectly happy to trail it about by the look of it). They need to have formed a rather different relationship with him. They then will need to take it in very small stages – using the special food of course. If they take him for a walk, they can attach a second lead to the handle of the slip lead, keeping well away from his head – using food. They can keep well away from the door and scene of bites when they do so – sitting in the kitchen maybe. They can call him, once, and if he doesn’t come he misses the walk or they can try again later.

If he wants things of them, he will need to put in a little bit of effort himself! I feel it is very important for this little dog that they get the upper hand. He isn’t enjoying life now and nor are his very upset humans. Doing things for them and achieving success, earning praise and food, will make little Monty a lot happier.

I am worried that there is a medical issue behind it all, particularly as the change in behaviour came on so suddenly, and I shall be writing a report for the vet. My own belief is that some of it has a behaviour aspect – many dogs, however unwell or in pain, would not be a dog that suddenly bites. Monty just possibly could be pushed over the edge due to pain or even suffer from something like hypothyroidism. Not being a vet, I don’t know enough about this.

"This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, thanks to you"

“This is our lovely dog relaxing by the fire, no lead on, thanks to you”

A month later, to quote from a couple of emails: “TODAY I have taken the slip rope off! Yahoo I thought he was going to wear it for the rest off his life….when I got home after his walk I just get hold of the lead and pulled gently over his head and he was fine. Then he rolled around everywhere in excitement and rubbing his neck. Whenever we go out and come back we’ve never had any nasty feelings from him he’s always happy and upbeat. He was even excited to see (my husband) yesterday who had been away all week”.
It could also be something to do with the painkillers the vet (who can’t get near him) prescribed at my request in order to see whether pain could be involved. I suspect there may be something around his neck area that has been making him ultra sensitive and reactive.
At the end of a month: “I wanted to let you know that everything is still going well with our little Monty, he even sat on my husband’s lap yesterday! We can’t thank you enough for the advise on those small but very relevant changes that have made such a big difference.
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 Ralph. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).