‘Jumps up, bites, barks and digs’ – this is how the lady described their 8-month-old English Bull Terrier/Staffordshire Bull Terrier mix in their first message to me.
If he doesn’t get the attention he wants he may either bark, or go on the rampage, tearing about from room to room and all over the forbidden furniture. If he is thwarted or disciplined, he may leap up and nip quite roughly in a way one could almost call biting.
His digging in the garden is driving them mad also.
It’s hard not to treat life with an adolescent dog such as Sam like some sort of battle. He is non-stop throwing things at them that they have to ‘stop’ him doing. Our own emotions get in the way as we become increasingly exasperated. We believe that we should be ‘disciplining and controlling’ the dog. This makes him defiant. Confrontational or dominant behaviour from the humans is a slippery slope that too often ends badly.
After about ten minutes of countering his jumping up until he had stopped (as with most dogs that jump up, if the usual pushing them and telling them to get down actually worked they wouldn’t be jumping up anymore), I tried to sit down, but he was on the go all the time and we couldn’t get on. I had a deer antler chew in my bag and gave it to him. He chewed frantically on this for the next two and a half hours with barely a break.
If any dog needs a way to unwind, it’s Sam.
I suspect that some of his highly strung nature is genetic, but they are unwittingly responding in such a way that makes him worse.
When he is quiet they are understandably so thankful that they leave him be, so he only gets attention when he is ‘naughty’ so the undesirable behaviour is constantly reinforced.
LIke most responsible dog owners, they feel they must ‘control’ him, but what Sam totally lacks is self control. In order to control him they have become angry. They do this not because they don’t love him – they do, but because they are at their wits’ end with his behaviour.
The first thing they need to do is to completely change things about so that they are watching out for Sam being good, not bad. When you look for good you find there is a lot more of it than you had realised! Each even short moment of calm or self-control should be rewarded – he can earn some of his daily food this way.
Not much can be done until he’s less hyper and frustrated, so he needs proper stimulation of a healthy kind. The days and evenings should be punctuated with the sort of activities that don’t hype him up or make him frustrated, like short sniff walks, hunting games, foraging for food, gentle training games, brief ball play or tuggy and so on. They should only be initiated when Sam is calm and quiet – never as a result of his demanding behaviours.
The gentleman walks him daily on a short lead – and this is ‘power walking’ to keep himself fit. When he comes home Sam is still in an aroused state, not as satisfied as a dog should be after a nice walk and still needing to unwind. On a couple of occasions during the walk he has suddenly leapt at the man and bitten him quite hard. A little clue that this kind of walk not being quite what Sam needs is that he is less keen on the outward journey and he only pulls on the way back home which is unusual.
For the walk to be beneficial to Sam, I suggest the man stops for several five-minute breaks when he can lengthen the lead so that Sam can sniff and do his own thing for a while.
It’s hard, but with some imagination they need to treat every thing Sam does ‘wrong’ as having in it the seed of an idea for something good.
For instance, if he jumps on the sofa (which is out of bounds), the man currently pushes him off and is cross, so there is a stand-off where Sam then may stand and bark at him or may even fly at him. Then it is battle stations. But this can be done differently. The man can stand up, go to Sam’s bed and call him off the sofa and to his own bed, and when he gets there ask him to lie down and reward him. He can them give him a bit of quality time teaching him to stay. When the man goes and sits down again Sam will undoubtedly go back and jump on the sofa again, so patience is needed. The third time Sam can be put in the kitchen for a few minutes – but with something to chew or do – it’s not punishment. It’s to allow him to calm down.
Another example of an unwanted behaviour having in it the seed of a better idea is the digging in the garden (no pun intended). They can get a child’s covered sandpit and bury toys in it. If he starts to dig the earth, they can direct him to the sandpit, perhaps burying something new in there for him to find. If he keeps going back and they repeatedly have to say ‘don’t dig there – dig here instead’, instead of getting cross they can either bring him in or have a tie-out cable to fix him to for a short while so he simply can’t do it.
Being positive doesn’t mean being permissive. Boundaries can be introduced and maintained kindly.
Based on how frantically he chewed that bone, Sam needs chewables at the ready for times when he’s particularly stressed – something for him to redirect all that boredom and frustration onto.
With imagination, patience and foresight, frantic sessions can mostly be preempted. Doors can be shut, routines can be changed, the dog can be given a rummage box full of rubbish to ‘attack’ and so on.
If everything is done calmly and kindly, if he is recognised and rewarded for all the good things he does, and if a sense of humour can be mustered, Sam will become a lot more cooperative.
It takes time, patience and imagination but the eventual rewards in terms of their relationship with their lovely dog will be immeasurable.
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 Sam. 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).