Practise a different way of reacting. (Practice makes better, if not perfect).

They have had two-year-old Springer Spaniel Ben for one week now.  He is a beauty; polite and friendly.

I sensed that some of his quietness is due to being a bit careful and still finding his feet. Ben may well be a bit different when he has properly settled in.

He could become more confident which may well work in their favour where his explosion into barking and lunging when getting too close to another dog is concerned. Continue reading…

Blind German Shepherd. Unable to read other dogs.

Blind German sShepherdToday I met a blind dog, a wonderful thirteen-month-old German Shepherd called Bear. He lives with Stan, an equally lovely young Golden Retriever.

Both dogs are a real tribute to their owners. It was lovely to be greeted so happily and politely by both dogs.

Blind Bear occasionally but increasingly feels threatened by certain other dogs on walks. If this weren’t the case they wouldn’t need me at all.

Being blind, Bear feels more vulnerable

Continue reading…

The little Frenchie is no trouble at all, until…..

No trouble at allYesterday I met a nearly trouble-free dog. Usually dogs that have a problem in one area have other issues across the board. Not Lady.

Lady is a French Bulldog and she has lived with the young couple for just four weeks.

Four years old, she’s had at least one litter of puppies and two homes, the first with a breeder. She is so little trouble that it’s hard to understand why her second home gave her up.

Continue reading…

Force, choke chain and control

force and choke chain unnecessaryForce and control may keep other dogs safe, but it doesn’t improve how beautiful Milo feels about them. The opposite in fact.

It’s always a treat for me, in my job, to meet a German Shepherd that welcomes me into his house! Milo is great with people.

The seven-year-old dog is the most gorgeous, friendly dog. They have come a long way in many respects having worked hard with his ‘manners’ and training since they adopted him four years ago.

However, there is one thing that simply doesn’t improve. That is his attitude towards other dogs when out on walks.

Continue reading…

Gun dog. Easing off the training, giving him choices.

Gun dog Black Lab Bentley is extremely well-behaved and polite, an absolute delight.

The young dog seems, however, careful. He follows anyone who gets up to walk about, looking worried. He can be jumpy.

Gun dog training

gun dogHis young lady owner is very conscientious indeed. She is keen to make a good gun dog out of him and is very disciplined with the training. Each family member helps her by walking him and they are well-trained too – very keen to help. All walks include training sessions.

The girl voiced concern that if she follows my behaviour route, Bentley’s training may go downhill.  I suspect that easing right back on the gun dog training and giving Bentley more choice will instead enhance their training sessions.

Continue reading…

Enrichment. Brain Work. Self-Control

Yesterday I met Max, a twenty-one-month-old German Shepherd who was very pleased to see me. It’s a treat for me to go to a friendly GSD that shows neither aggression nor fear.

Enrichment for a working dogWith the family having a couple of teenage sons, he has no doubt been used to plenty of comings and goings, probably why he’s so well socialised.

Recent problems however are arising when he encounters other dogs on walks. Continue reading…

Excitable Dalmatian. Loses Self-Control. Humans Wind Him Up

excitable DalmatianExcitable Dalmatian Milo can get from zero to a hundred in a second!!

He barks persistently at people coming into the house- though didn’t at me. I’m calm and the lady and her adult son were asked to ignore him initially. Nobody was stirring him up. It was in the morning and there had not (yet) been any build-up of excitement. Milo was still relatively calm.

He has recently become a little bad-tempered when approached by another dog on a walk. This has only happened a few times but it’s spoiling walks for the lady who is now on the constant look-out.

Milo now barks at dogs on TV – even at the theme music introducing Supervet. He barks at dogs passing his house.

He has always been great with dogs and regularly goes on ‘Dally Rallies’. The three-year-old dog has a couple of particular dog friends he meets and plays with every week.

Telling another dog ‘Go Away’

The first incident occurred when the excitable Dalmatian and his special dog friend were playing. A young dog ran up to them and Milo saw it off. The owner wasn’t pleased but no harm was done.

The other couple of occasions have each been when another dog has come up close – a big dog. On one occasiona he and an approaching Boxer had to be pulled apart. It’s such a rare occurrence so far that I’m convinced it’s to do with the excitable Dalmatian’s arousal levels at the time making him grumpy. As we know, stress levels stack up.

The lady fears he will be labelled as aggressive locally which he plainly isn’t. He is, however, sometimes much too quick to react.

Winding up the excitable Dalmatian

For instance, when Milo meets this dog friend, another Dalmatian, the lady gets him excited with eager anticipation before even leaving the house. She says ‘we are going to see Benji!’ and the excitable Dalmatian is already beside himself before the two dogs even meet up.

Key to their success both with the occasional ‘other dog’ issue and with his reactivity to people coming into the house is not stirring him up. It may seem fun at the time, but the fallout comes later in some form or other and is inevitable.

Over-excitement and self-control are incompatible

These two things are incompatible: over-excitement and self-control. They simply don’t go together.

If they want the end result badly enough, then the son in particular needs to sacrifice some of his own fun.

I had given Milo a couple of chew items to help him calm while we chatted. This worked until the young man began to use these same items to generate a game. He feigned throwing the antler chew until the dog was really excited and then skidded it along the wooden floor. Milo then took it back for more.

Result: loss of self-control.

The chew items are meant to be associated with calm. Chewing is a major way the excitable Dalmatian can calm himself down. If they then use the antler for play instead of for calming him, it will do the opposite. Milo will demand continued throwing until people have had enough of him.

Then, like a pressure cooker, he blows.

The dog then raids the bin and jumps to see what he can siphon off the counters. He can’t help himself.

This ends in commands and scolding.

Enriching activities using brain and nose

The family can replace this arousal with the kind of activities that are enriching to Milo and require him to use his brain or nose. This is, actually, a lot kinder.

He is a beautiful boy – and clever. The lady worked hard on his training and now the family should work together for calm. Without a concerted effort to keep Milo’s arousal levels down it’s hard to see how they will make progress. Excitement and over-arousal are the main emotions driving the barking at people coming into the house, the dogs on TV and the reactivity to some dogs on walks.

We discussed how the lady can enjoy walks again without worrying about whether her excitable Dalmatian will be reactive towards an approaching dog. When calmer, he’s more tolerant.

Milo’s recall is excellent, but what they can’t control is the behaviour of other dogs.

Stress builds up over time so it’s not only what the lady does immediately before they leave the house. When everyone replaces winding him up with giving him calming, sniffing, chewing, foraging and brain activities they should find things improve. (Maybe more boring for a young man – but a lot better for Milo).

The key is simple. It’s about keeping their excitable Dalmatian calmer which will allow him to gain self-control. 

Three weeks have gone by. “I’ve had the most lovely weekend with Milo where he has enjoyed some lovely sociable walks, greeting confidently many new dogs and playing beautifully with 2 new dogs – that I haven’t seen him do for a very long time. He is more ready when walking alone with me to smooch off ahead to do his own thing rather than stick by my side which he has increasingly done over recent months. He is without doubt calmer, more relaxed and seemingly more confident; we are all feeling the benefits of the advice and tips you have given us.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Too Much Excitement. Too Much Lots of Things

‘Too much’ results in stress.

Ollie’s stress levels are at the root of the problems. This said, not all stress is bad and a lot is associated with fun – but it’s too much of everythiToo much excitementng that’s the trouble.

So many things add up during the day. The eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo has to have the lady in sight all the time and panics when left alone. He barks at every sound outside. He can’t control himself when other dogs are about.

Their young children are often excited around him. Too much arousal, too much petting (and too vigorous), too much prolonged, rough or repetitive play, too much physical contact. They believe it makes him happy and it does, in a way. But it’s too much.

It was evening, the children had gone to bed and Ollie gradually settled. I watched him go and snuggle on the sofa beside the man who immediately began touching him. Ollie licked his lips, then licked his nose, then yawned. A little uncomfortable? To me it suggested the dog wanted the closeness but wasn’t asking to be touched. He soon jumped down.

When they walk past him, he will roll onto his back. They assume it’s because he wants a tummy rub. Really? It will depend upon context, but often it will be appeasement. “Please leave me alone.”

Why should Ollie be so stressed?

I saw for myself how easily he becomes anxious. Sadly, as a twelve-week-old puppy, right in the middle of his first fear period, he had a painful medical problem that resulted in his being confined for six weeks.

Ollie is a lovely friendly dog. He should be having a lovely life. He has love, attention, play, walks and the best food, so why should he be stressed? It’s about everything in moderation. There is, simply, too much.

There may however be ‘too little’ of the things he really needs – down time, sniffing time, closeness without necessarily being touched, peace and quiet without being alone, brain work, healthy stimulation.

So, I would say that cutting down on the intensity of everything will make a big difference. This has to be the starting point. At the same time, we will introduce activities that help him to reduce stress and to use his brain, instead of working him up into a frenzy of excitement.

One very interesting thing they told me is that Ollie loves a tight-fitting garment they dressed him up in for an occasion last year. Recently, sniffing a box, he dug down and dragged it out. He then he took it off and lay on it. Apparently, when he was wearing it Ollie seemed calm and happy which is why they felt he liked it. This started me thinking. How does he react when his harness goes on, I asked? He’s calmer then also.

From this I just guess that there’s a good chance of him being one of those dogs a Thundershirt or Ttouch wrap could help.

Other dogs send him onto a high

Here is another strange thing. Ollie is only aggressive to other dogs when his humans are eating! If there is dog food or bones about he’s okay.

He has only ever shown aggression to humans when other dogs are around.

Ollie’s arousal levels shoot through the roof when he’s near dogs. He is so desperate to play that he overwhelms them. In his uncontrolled way, he charges about, jumping over them and has nearly bowled over a couple of owners who were not pleased. The presence of other dogs gives Ollie such a high that he’s uncontrollable. The lady is now anxious about walking him.

First things first

Number one priority, then, is to calm him down a bit. Then after two or three weeks I will go again and see what we then have and what we need to do next.

 

I went back to see Ollie yesterday, a couple of months after my first visit. He’s a changed dog. I introduced his lady owner to clicker training and the lady and clever Ollie mastered a hand touch on cue in about fifteen minutes. Here they are.
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 Ollie and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  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 fear or aggression 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 Help page)

Exercise. Can a Dog Have Too Much?

ThVery fit dog gets lots of exercisee couple both have full time jobs and two very young children. My own daughter can barely manage this and is exhausted a lot of the time. Imagine adding a young dog that needs his own time and attention too.

This is the case of the young couple I have just started working with. They have a beautiful Greyhound Labrador mix called Dexter. Dexter is two years old.

As time has gone by, the training games and mental stimulation they used to offer Dexter have decreased. Now it can sometimes seem more of a duty to look after and exercise him that has to fit into their busy day.

These things can creep up on us.

To ‘multi-task’, they combine their own running for fitness with ‘walking the dog’. When not running, they are chucking a ball for him.

Exercise has created a super-fit, souped-up machine!

Dexter pulls from home to the place where he is let off lead. On lead he is agitated and on the lookout for cats. He is ready to bark and lunge at any dog he might meet. The young lady in particular gets really cross and frustrated with him – understandably – and her lead corrections do no good at all.

The problem is that this lovely dog, polite, child-friendly and sweet at home, becomes a bit of a devil when out and especially when encountering smaller dogs.

Except when he has a ball stuffed in his mouth!

Off lead, Dexter submits to bigger dogs. Smaller dogs he may see as prey, something to chase at least. It starts with stalking. Then he charges them.

He has now slammed into a King Charles Cavalier and, the other day, a Cockerpoo puppy.

The scared little dog is bowled over and then Dexter gives it multiple little nips. No physical damage done, but a very frightened little dog that now himself may become reactive to dogs and a justifiably upset owner.

Dexter gets ‘nibbly’ when aroused, as I experienced for myself when left alone with him for a short while and I was fussing him. It seems a logical conclusion that if extremely aroused he may become more nibbly.

Instead of giving Dexter a calm and controlled base from which to encounter other dogs, they are doing the very opposite. Like many people, they wrongly believe that physically tiring out the dog with exercise should cure all problems.

The opposite is often the case. Too much exercise can do more harm than good.

The dog is bonded with the ball, not his humans.

When not running with him, they are relying on a ball. He loves his ball. The young man bounces it as he walks down the path which stops the dog pulling.

Dexter’s relationship is largely with the ball, not them. When he carries it in his mouth it shuts him down – like a dummy. It blocks out everything around him.

Once at the field and Dexter let off lead, the ball is thrown – repeatedly. Imagine the dog is clockwork with a key. Repeated ball throwing is like winding him up until over-wound.

Then what?

The ball is a gift really. I now suggest they only use it for associating other dogs with good things, for redirecting his urge to chase – but only when needed. No more firing him up with it. They can use it as a dummy or plug in his mouth in emergency only.

It goes without saying that when Dexter sees another dog, off lead and with no ball in his mouth, he is highly aroused. He is ready for the chase.

The chase drive has been constantly conditioned by all that ball play and running.

When he gets to a ball he grabs it. What should he do with a small dog? He doesn’t want to kill it like prey, but he can’t play with it either. He is highly aroused. What next? It seems he repeatedly nibbles at it.

It’s about living in the moment, not stressing to get running or chasing.

They will be working hard on engaging with him more, both at home and when out, so that they can get his attention when it’s most needed. He will be taught to walk on a loose lead because he wants to be near them.

Meanwhile, they must prevent further rehearsal of the unwanted behaviour. Each time he does it he gets better at it. A puppy may then be condemned to a life of being scared of bigger dogs which isn’t fair.

A mix of far less physical arousal but more mental stimulation and enrichment along with ‘engaging’ with him more, should make a big difference, given time.

It can be hard to convince people that less is more where exercise is concerned. Looking at what the dog would be doing when out, without humans involved, seems the logical way to approach at it.

Street dogs can decide just what they do and when. Little of the day is actually spent running or chasing, even in hunting or herding breeds.

With so little time, they don’t need to spend much longer on Dexter than they do already.

They can be doing something different in the time they already spend.

 

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 dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Dexter. 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Elderly Dog Owner. Difficulty Walking the Dog

An elderly dog owner may no longer be able to walk their dog

How many an elderly dog owner or frail person has problems walking their pet due to a fear of being pulled over or losing control of their dog?

Elderly dog owner has difficulty walking her

Beautiful, biddable Sian

Today’s client homed the dear little Staffie six weeks ago. Stella is 6 years old.

Being in the ‘elderly dog owner’ category myself, I am aware of how especially important it is that the dog walks beside us because she wants to. Not because we need to use strength. It’s also vital we can trust her not to lunge if she sees another dog.

My client is an elderly dog owner and admits she sometimes finds balance difficult. She is light and frail in build and has some trouble holding onto the lead due to arthritis in her hands.

I can identify with this. Fortunately I am still strong and active. Hopefully experience compensates somewhat for age! I know how important it is not to fall over. A broken bone or hip could be the end of life as we know it.

Stella previously belonged to an old lady who could no longer keep her. That is so sad isn’t it. I would be devastated if that happened to me and as my own four dogs get older (as do I), I need to consider what to do next.

As soon as Stella is out of the gate she’s on alert. She pulls on the lead and the lady,having to use both hands, keeps her tightly next to her. This is largely for fear of Stella crossing in front of her and tripping her up.

Stella gets extremely excited to see another dog.

It’s obvious that Stella’s previous elderly owner had a lot of callers and friends because Stella is so chilled and friendly with all people. It’s also fairly obvious that she was seldom taken out and probably for several years will have encountered few other dogs.

There is no sign of aggression, no growling or barking. She lunges towards the dog and then, frustrated, spins and bucks on the lead which is attached to a half-check collar.

My first thoughts were that the lady needs to use much more helpful equipment. We both walked Stella around the garden and the pavement outside wearing a Perfect Fit harness.

I have an eight foot training lead which has a hook both ends.

We experimented with hooking the lead in two places. On a ring on the chest and ring on the top. We then experimented with attaching the lead at the chest only.

Stella needs to learn to walk on the same side and not cross over in front of the lady. We found that fastening the lead to just the chest worked best for now. There was too much untangling the lead from around her legs when she crossed sides otherwise! This requires a degree of agility.

The lady is going to walk Stella in the garden and near home with several very short sessions a day, teaching her that walks means a loose lead. Stella will walk beside the lady because she likes being there. If the lead goes tight, she will be taught to come back voluntarily and will be rewarded when she does so.

I’m not describing the exact process here because it’s been developed through trial and error especially for this particular lady and her dog. Something different may well work better for another elderly dog owner with a different dog.

Once the lady has the loose lead walking technique confidently under her belt (and if she were going to classes this could take several weeks), she will be ready to deal with the issue of other dogs.

Changing how Stella feels about dogs.

I believe Stella’s reactivity is that of a very friendly dog, excited and keyed up because everything is new. She wants to say hello or play but is also feeling a bit scared. If she were off lead with freedom of choice it could be a very different matter.

When they see a dog, instead of tightening the lead and advancing, or tightening the lead and immediately crossing the road, the lady will keep the leash loose. She will watch for Stella’s reaction.

On a loose lead everything will be very different for Stella.

The very moment she alerts or stiffens, before any lunging or spinning, they will increase distance away from the other dog.

When they have found the threshold where Stella knows the dog is there but is cool with it, the lady will associate the dog with something she loves. She will feed her frankfurter pieces maybe or scatter food on the ground. If Stella either won’t eat or if she snatches the food, they need to create still more distance.

The aim is to avoid Stella going over threshold at all costs. Here is very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long

Stella’s confidence should grow. When she trusts the person holding the lead to read her signals, she will get nearer to the other dog before she reacts. That person does not need physical strength.

There is another reason for using a harness and not attaching the lead to the collar. Whenever Stella has lunged or spun it will have caused discomfort to her neck – a negative association with other dogs.

From now on, all associations with other dogs must be positive.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail. I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Stella. 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).