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).

Other Dogs. Confront, Avoid or Something Else?

Reactive to other dogs

Muffin

The family have now had Manchester Terrier Muffin for five years and they were the seven-year-old’s fourth home. She didn’t have a good start in life and they have come a long way with her. Some of her past included being locked up day and night and time in rescue surrounded by other dogs barking.

Muffin has problems meeting other dogs when out.

It’s not all other dogs though and it’s variable. She has her dog friends.

Muffin is a highly-strung dog in general. She is initially anxious and noisy when people come to her house. She, with a little help from their other dog, Cocker Spaniel Sparky, is on high alert for sounds.

For much of the day she is on sentry duty at the front window.

Muffin is looking out for other dogs.

As soon as she sees other dogs walking past, she will start to bark.

It’s more of a problem on walks. Muffin has slipped collars and harnesses. She then runs off and ‘terrorises’ other dogs or may rush at people, barking and jumping at them. A child could be scared.

Muffin has a wide neck and a small head and she simply backs out of collars. She neatly draws her front legs back out of harnesses too. Then she’s off.

One of her previous homes had given up on her because she was an escape artist.

My clients are responsible dog owners and have tried every bit of equipment they can find. The only way the gentleman who does the dog walking can feel confident that she can’t escape by backing out is by using a prong collar.

When they get too close to other dogs, unable to back out of her restraints, Muffin will rear up, hackles, barking and lunging. This simply has to be painful. Dogs’ necks are made much the same as our own.

Bin the prong collar!

Pain will merely add to negative feelings she already has about the other dog. We need to do the very opposite, to associate other dogs with as much good stuff as possible.

I would defy any dog to get out of a Perfect Fit harness if fitted properly. Muffin will be getting one and they will ditch the prong collar.

It’s vital that when Muffin sees other dogs that only good things happen.

To move things forward, the man had decided to expose Muffin to other dogs whenever he could. This isn’t improving things. She needs to feel differently about them – and flooding her will merely make her feel a lot worse. She’s trapped on lead, so as she gets closer will be feeling a degree of panic – and pain too as she rears up on her back legs.

Avoiding other dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but close badly managed encounters are even worse.

When she sees other dogs, the man will now watch her carefully. She focuses on a dog from a distance, becoming oblivious to anything else. Pushing ahead until she rears up and has to be forcibly held back does no good at all. This can in one stroke undo any good work already done.

It’s like a game of snakes and ladders.

I did one of my Paws for Thought blogs on the subject.

Working with other dogs at a comfortable distance, using food or fun as instructed, takes the dog up a ladder.

Unmanaged encounters with other dogs, either dogs that suddenly appear or dogs that come too close, will send her back down the next snake.

The snakes are a lot longer than the ladders! That’s life for you.

It’s a set-back. But this happens all the time because we live in the real world with other dog owners being less responsible. So, pick it up again and search for more ladders to go up – dogs at a distance she can cope with and is relaxed enough to associate with good things like food.

Progress.

Because Muffin’s reaction to other dogs is affected by how aroused or stressed she already is, it’s important they help her to be calmer in general.

This means blocking her view out of front windows. No more watching out for other dogs to bark at and rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.

Her walking equipment will be comfortable and over time, if no longer forced too close and sliding down too many snakes, she will happily carry on walking when near other dogs. If the other dog itself has problems, they should increase distance for his sake as well as Muffin’s.

The practical details will vary per dog, but here I describe the general principal. This approach is backed up by science.

From a message three weeks later: ‘Thankyou so much for your support, we are astounded by how well the little things are making 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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Muffin and I’ve not gone into exact precise 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or aggression of any kind is concerned. Everything depends upon context. 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)

 

Dog to Dog Encounter. Small Event Big Fallout

The chance dog to dog encounter was simply at the wrong time and in the wrong place.

This has set off a chain reaction leading to Paz now barking at other dogs she sees and her anxious owner’s walks ruined.

A single dog to dog encounter can be the start of something big.

dog to dog encounter has made her wary of other dogsI have seen a young man walking his gorgeous large dog of mixed breed around my village for a couple of years now.

I have always thought how happy the dog looks and how nice the man is with her.

Too often I’m tempted to stop and tell people what I think about their forcing their spaniels that would rather potter and sniff, to run beside bikes. Or to tell the owners of a poor dog trying to scarpe off his Halti on the path about Perfect Fit harnesses. Or to show someone jerking the lead how easy it is to get a dog to walk on a loose leash.

I have also wanted to stop this gentleman to say how I enjoy seeing him walking his lovely dog around my village.

Paz and her gentleman wander. She’s allowed to sniff. She wears a comfortable harness. I have seen them at all different times of day and evening. I thought that the man must spend all his time walking her. The fact is, he works shifts and still manages to walk her three times a day.

The young man found Paz in a bin six years ago. She was about one day old.

He hand-reared her. He has done miracles with her, somehow avoiding the pitfalls of hand-reared puppies that haven’t had the interaction with mother or siblings.

A couple of years ago they came over here from Italy. Paz adapted well to the change. She really has had no problems until something that was triggered a couple of weeks ago.

In a narrow alleyway, two small dogs suddenly came out of a gate and Paz pounced on them, seemingly aggressively.

This is a classic example of ‘trigger stacking‘ where a sequence of events builds up stress in the dog. Stress ‘loads the gun’. One occurrence too many can then be the final straw.

These two dogs were the final straw for Paz.

She will undoubtedly have been less relaxed than usual. Her gentleman was away for a while which will have been unusual. He had arranged for another person to walk her which hadn’t happened before.

The previous day these same two little dogs had barked at Paz but she hadn’t taken any notice.

This day, however, as they came out of the gate Paz lunged at them. No doubt the inexperienced dog walker will have reacted in a harsh way, something the young man would never have done. Maybe it was his human reaction that triggered the final bullet, so to speak.

A single unfortunate dog to dog encounter in the wrong place at the wrong time that’s caused fallout. 

Now Paz is alert and ready to bark at other dogs she meets.

The poor man is very unhappy. For Paz’ sake he is now avoiding dogs wherever possible. I feel sad for him.

His own tension will certainly be transferring to Paz and making things worse. They must be very close.

We have a couple of Boxers near to my house that are left in the garden. When someone walks past they get so angry they then start fighting one another. Many local dogs have been ‘contaminated’ by them, now being wary of dogs they pass. Paz, however, would walk past and ignore them but not any longer.

Paz no longer feels safe.

From this single badly-timed dog to dog encounter her life has changed.

Fortunately it’s not gone on for long enough to become ingrained. Instead of simply avoiding all dogs now, the man will be watching and reading her. He will give her the space she needs, but only if she needs it. Seeing other dogs at a comfortable distance he will pair with food – she will do anything for food!

He will be happy and upbeat when they see a dog approaching and hopefully this little nightmare will soon end. Paz will be back to her old self.

The person walking her at the time of her dog to dog encounter very likely reacted in a way that scared her more than the encounter itself. Paz’ gentleman needs to keep reassuring her that he will keep her safe – just as he always has done.

If it turns out to be not that simple to reverse the situation, I will go out with them and we can work on it in more depth.

From being found in a bin, hand-reared and walking happily around other dogs for six years, one unfortunate dog to dog encounter can’t be allowed to cast this shadow on their lives.

Redirected Arousal After Too Much Play

I have just had a DIAL conversation, a one-hour chat with a couple about their two-year-old Red Fox Labrador, Saffy. I wasn’t there in person because they live too far away, but it was doable because the problem is straightforward.

Some questions unearthed the true reason for her behaviour towards other dogs.

Saffy is very well trained. She is also very sociable and well-mannered with other dogs apart from just one scenario.

redirected arousal

Dog similar to Saffy

She has her special dog pals that she plays with and, in the words of the lady, ‘when walking with one of her friends, if other dogs come to join in the play she tries to “own” the pal dog. It is as if she is jealous. She chases and hangs on to its collar and sometimes snarls’.

Questioning diagnosed that these ‘pals’ that she reacts upon aren’t the only dogs she walks with and knows well. She only behaves in this ‘aggressive’ manner with those that are playful and not her calmer or older pals. Could it be redirected arousal?

Saffy is walked twice a day off lead in a place with many off-lead dogs and there is a lot of playing and running about.

I am sure that it’s to do with over-arousal.

The incidents rarely happen at the very start of the walk.

The play is unchecked and the added excitement of another dog results in Saffy redirecting onto the dog she knows best – her pal that she’s been playing with. When we are stressed and want to take it out on someone, it can be our nearest and dearest that received our redirected arousal can’t it! Too much play and exercise may not always be a good thing.

It’s redirected arousal, not dominance.

I recommend limiting play to short sessions with lots of calling her back. Her recall is great apart from when she is really fired up, so they will work on whistle recall instead and use it well before things get too exciting.

When she’s playing with a pal and another dog appears, they must call her back straight away. Lots of reward for doing so. Then, when the dogs interact she can join them rather than the other way around.

I’m sure also that redirected arousal onto a pal is now simply a habit for Saffy, when she’s excited from play and another dog comes over, to ‘take it out’ on the pal. This can be broken by preventing it from happening, even if it means curtailing play to very short sessions.

 

If you are out of my area and your problem is reasonably straightforward, you may like to take a look at DIAL. I give a one-hour telephone consultation followed by a written report with plan and email help.

To Trust Their Dog Around Other Dogs

Viszla lying on his bedIt’s sad when a dog that has been so conscientiously reared from a puppy, well-trained and socialised, starts to develop antagonistic behaviour towards other dogs. What could have gone wrong? I feel really sorry for the young couple with beautiful Hungarian Vizsla Mac.

They took him to classes and training for nine months. They have invested time and money into not only training him but researching the very best food for him – he’s fed raw. They have mixed him with people and other dogs and he was extremely well socialised. The first hint of trouble was about six months ago – when he was around one year old.

Over time they have relaxed and he has gradually been allowed more and more leeway to do his own thing when off-lead. As the situation with other dogs has crept up on them the young lady’s confidence when out with him has been dropping.

He was always a ‘pushy’ player and this, unfortunately, went unchecked. It’s hard for people to know what’s appropriate play and where to draw the line. Not all dogs like being jumped on and he was told off by a couple of dogs. Soon, he was reacting badly when other dogs, behaving just as he himself does, rushed into his own space. It was still just noise and snapping. Now humping other dogs is added to his repertoire but he gets cross if they go round behind him to sniff him.

What I’m sure is happening is a build up of stress, excitement – call it what you will. Each dog he meets pushes him a little nearer the edge. This was well illustrated the other day when a dog, on a flexilead, coming to ‘say hello’ while Mac was sitting outside a pub with the couple – and this time Mac actually went for him. What backs up the build-up of stress theory is that this was at the end of a walk, outside the pub he already had some boisterous play with a spaniel and probably being approached by the last dog was the final straw. He went for it – and was fortunately dragged off before any harm was done. The spaniel then returned and he went for him also.

Mac is a determined young dog and they have taken their eye off the ball. There has been no damage done so far, but it’s going in the wrong direction. Once things start to go downhill, without intervention they usually gradually get worse as it becomes a learned behaviour. Mac now needs to learn instead to clock in with his owners every time he sees a dog, even if it’s one of his friends. They will be working on techniques to achieve this. It’s then up to them to decide what happens next, not Mac, and whether or not he meets up with the other dog. They need to police the level of any play.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mac, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. 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).

A Little Angel – Till he Sees Another Dog

Cavachon1Considering that little ‘Cavachon’ Chauncey was an impulse buy from a pet shop a couple of years ago at the age of about eight weeks old, he has turned out remarkably well. This is tribute to the hard work and dedication of his lady owner.

Little Chauncey is very friendly if initially slightly wary of men. If they take him out anywhere, to the pub for example, he revels in the attention……until another dog enters. Then he quickly morphs into a barking, lunging and snarling little monster!

Very unfortunately there are a couple of larger dogs that are often running loose in the country area where they live, and Chauncey was first attacked by one of them at about a year old. The other ran through the open door and attacked Chauncey in the house.  Understandably, he changed from being confident and friendly with dogs to being fiercely on the defensive with other dogs.

Chauncey is most reactive to things that happen suddenly – especially dogs suddenly appearing. Paradoxically, he has been walked with several dogs by a dog walker and is perfectly happy, and he mingles with other dogs at the groomers. He also has doggy friends that he plays with.

It is hard to desensitise a dog to the point where he will stop believing other dogs are a threat, given past history, because the reality is that some are indeed a threat. This is where the owner or walker must play their part.  It’s up to them to build up trust and simply ensure, by hook or by crook, that their dog is safe – and that he knows it.

It is very tempting to scold our dog and apologise when he goes off on one at another dog.  It’s embarrassing.  However, we must act as advocate for him, unapologetically keeping unwanted canine advances at bay without worrying whether the owner may find us rude. A Yellow Dog shirt with words like ‘In Training’ or ‘I Need Space’ can help explain why we may suddenly be walking away from another dog owner without explanation.

It could also mean putting in some effort to find ‘safe’ places to walk, or places where any other dogs should be on lead.

Little Chauncey hasn’t been walked at all for several weeks now, so they can start again from scratch. Instead of the constant stress of pulling and being corrected, he will have a loose lead from the start. By whatever means necessary he must not be allowed any nearer to another dog than he can tolerate. This is where the intensive work will start, and a carefully structured plan especially for Chauncey is now in place.

It is so important not to push ahead too fast and take things at the dogs own pace. It is human nature to want measurable and fast progress. However, the more relaxed we are and the less hard we try, the better it will go. To quote Grisha Stewart: The less you are able to ‘want’ progress — the more of it you will have.

Two months later and they are doing well – though still very much work in progress as one would expect: ‘We have donned our yellow jackets and have been going for a great walk every morning through fields and woodland. He’s loving it! Lots to sniff and follow. I saw a couple of dogs this morning going walking 2 large dogs off lead. The man saw my yellow jacket from a distance and turned and walked another way but Chauncey saw them, I kept his attention and fed him and he didn’t react at all.  We are loving our walks and getting fit in the process.
Gradually I am getting him settled into enjoying and being relaxed in the open fields and introducing him at distance to other walkers and dogs.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chauncey, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. 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).