From Street Dog to House Dog. Outside World Overstimulating

Sasha finds the outside world overstimulating.

A street dog by birth, eighteen-month-old Sasha has adapted amazingly well to life in a house. This is a tribute to both her basic temperament and to her new family’s own efforts.

She finds the outside world overstimulating

She started life on the streets in India. They think she has Pointer in her. I see possibly Labrador and German Shepherd. A beautiful mix, she doesn’t look like the typical street dog.

At five months old, along with her brother, she was caught and placed in a pound where she stayed for another seven months until the couple adopted her six months ago. Continue reading…

Guarding Food. Guarding Resources.

“We must show the dog who’s boss”.

Rex guards his food.

Guarding food and resources can be a contentious issue where human response is concerned.

Many conscientious dog owners, doing what they believe is best, follow dangerous, outdated notions.

These techniques can involve, right from the start as routine training, interfering with a puppy’s food while he’s eating and forcing objects out of his mouth. An easy-going puppy may simply tolerate it. Another may not. Instead of making the puppy back away from something he values, it can teach him to run off with the item and then, cornered, defend both the item and himself. I’ve seen this many times.

How might we ourselves react if someone tried to take bits of food off our plate or mugged us for something we had picked up?

There is that infamous clip of Cesar Millan ‘dominating’ a Labrador guarding food and his bowl. Guess what happened? Yes, the poor dog ultimately had no choice other than to bite after all his warning signals had been ignored. As a result of the uproar about this, he was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh which is interesting to watch.

Guarding food when someone is closeSomehow this ‘being the Alpha’ with our dog thing had became popular culture, but it’s been totally debunked over recent years. Not only was it based on false assumptions regarding wolf packs (and domestic dogs aren’t wild wolves), but that using force is the only way to create an obedient dog.

Even this word ‘obedience’ suggests dominance and forced compliance.

Just one problem with this approach to resource guarding is that a strong-minded and confident dog is likely to stand up for himself – eventually. Some dogs genetically are more wired to guard.

If a ‘dominated’ dog backs off due to being overpowered by a particular human, what happens when someone else tries it?

“Why should I want your food anyway”?

How much better and simpler in every way it is to teach the dog that you’re no threat to his food; if nobody wants his food, what’s the point of guarding food after all?

Giant Schnauzer Rex is a very intelligent and energetic adolescent dog. He’s on the go most of the time when people are about, back and forth looking for trouble. This includes nicking anything he can that may be of value to his humans. It triggers a chain of reactions.

He’s probably under-stimulated where appropriate enrichment is concerned, so he orchestrates his own action.

It’s only natural for us to try to control over-excited and aroused behaviour by trying to stop it. Unfortunately scolding and warnings, Uh-Uh and NO, introduce conflict and confrontation. Even conflict can be rewarding and reinforcing in a way (else why do humans enjoy certain sports so much?).

Rex’ owners will now be on the lookout for every little good or desired behaviour to reinforce instead.

It’s proven beyond doubt that removing reinforcement from unwanted behaviours and adding reinforcement to behaviours we DO want leads to success.

Interfering with Rex’ food while he’s eating.

Using the ‘interfering with his food’ technique seemed to work when Rex was a young puppy. Unfortunately, guarding and growling re-appeared big time when he started to be fed something that was, to him, of much higher value.

Instead of leaving him to eat in peace, various suggestions had been given including hand-feeding him, touching him while he was eating and taking his bowl away. Instead of feeding him somewhere out of the way, the bowl is deliberately put where people regularly have to pass by him.

He freezes. He growls. They reprimand him. This can only go in one direction.

He simply needs to know that nobody is interested in his food anymore. He will be fed somewhere out of the way.

After some weeks of this they may from time to time walk past him at a distance, not looking at him, and just chuck in the direction of his bowl something particularly tasty – maybe a leftover from their own meat dinner. The food must be something of higher value to him than his own food. They shouldn’t hover or speak to him.

‘I happen to be passing anyway so here’s something nice’.

Over time they can get a little closer. If he growls, they have got too close or maybe stood still, and will need to leave it for a few days and do it from further away the next time. Any approaching person will deliver something better than what he has.

This really is in case of emergency should later someone, without thinking, get too close to him. They should only do this from time to time – a random and casual thing.

Back in the day people would have said, ‘Leave the dog alone while he’s eating’. We expect a lot from our dogs today.

We may need to do some serious, systematic work on general resource guarding.

‘Operation Calm’ is the first priority.

Rex’ high arousal levels and restlessness make work on his guarding food and other items more difficult.

This is a huge challenge because it’s hard for us humans, like old dogs, to learn new tricks. It also means that Rex will initially become very frustrated when his usual attention-seeking tactics no longer work. He will try harder. They will hold their nerve and add as much appropriate enrichment to his life as possible, activities that don’t depend upon their ‘fielding’ the behaviour he throws at them but instead are initiated by themselves.

I suggest very regular short bursts of activity including mental enrichment, hunting, foraging and sniffing, particularly in the evenings when they sit down and he’s the most trouble. He then won’t need to be pestering for attention.

Guarding food becomes unnecessary.

If he feels it’s not under threat, Rex won’t need to be guarding food. If he has plenty of attention offered, he won’t need so desperately to indulge in the attention-seeking ploys that he knows get the most reaction.

Getting Rex calmer involves most aspects of his life and will be a gradual thing.

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 Rex because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. 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 much 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 any aggression is concerned. 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).

Calm Down. Less Excitement, less Reactivity to Dogs

Calm down, Louis!

Young Staffie Bulldog mix, Louis, is an excitable delight who finds it hard to calm down!

Surprisingly, he does with ease something requiring real self-control that many other dogs would find hard. When the doorbell rings, as they go to open the door he takes himself off into another room! No barking.

He was let out to join me and had a good sniff.

Then the jumping up began.

He seldom jumps up at his owners now but he will invariably jump up at any other people who call at the house.

This is not really about jumping up, is it. It’s about excited, friendly greetings with maybe a tinge of anxiety.

Face to face is where dogs think greetings happen.

Imagine how hard it is for an excitable dog that isn’t shown what the human protocol for welcomes is – in a way that he understands.

Why does he keep jumping up despite scolding? The result must be worthwhile in some way. He gets a result that hypes him up even more. This will be attention of some sort from either the visitor or the couple who feel they need to intervene.

Trying to calm down his excitement

Louis trying self-control while he has his photo taken!

For Louis to gain some self-control he needs to calm down. People need to help him by not reacting to the jumping up but by showing him and reinforcing the greeting behaviours the do want with the attention he craves.

There is a fine line to what they can do! The smallest touch or silent drop on the floor of food may have to be enough. Any more and he will be jumping up with excitement again.

Louis is such a biddable dog. He really does his best. I took the photo of him trying with all his might to sit still for long enough. Look at that ‘trying my damnedest to sit still and please you’ Staffie face!

Louis with his own humans is different to Louis with others.

He jumps up at people but not his own two humans.

However he may react to other dogs when on walks with his owners, particularly on lead, but he’s fine dogs when out with other people. (Louis runs free with other dogs three times a week with a dog walker and is no problem at all).

Their concern started with a fight between Louis and a dog they had walked him with for a couple of months.

The dog he knew, with issues of his own, was muzzled as usual. This time there were two smaller dogs in the group and all four dogs including the muzzled dog were off lead. There was a lot of ball-throwing (guaranteed to wire dogs up) and more humans in the mix than usual.

It was all too much. The excitement sparked trouble. It had gone past the point where they could calm down.

The larger muzzled dog eyeballed Louis who suddenly retaliated. The two dogs were immediately parted – with some minor damage to the human hands that were involved.

Once something has happened, owners very understandably get nervous.

Walks are never quite the same or as enjoyable again.

Now when Louis is on lead and sees another dog, he may lunge and bark. How much of this is generated by the tightening of the lead by his worried humans they can only guess. How near to the other dog that it happens can vary.

I suggested they have a ‘week off’. A complete break from worrying about encountering other dogs. To avoid them altogether for a week. Walks are to mean something different – not simply as much exercise as they can cram in for an hour going from A to B.

Both they and Louis can have time to calm down and enjoy wandering, mooching, going nowhere in particular. Take a look at this: Take time to smell the roses (or pee if you are the dog), by Steve Mann.

Louis, after all, is still socialising with his friends and other dogs three times a week with his walker who has not problems with him at all.

During this week they can rehearse and role-play what they will do when they see another dog. The couple will work on an escape procedure for if they are taken by surprise.

They can do more work on the desensitisation they have already begun – encountering dogs at a distance where he can cope – the threshold. They will now add counter-conditioning – associating other dogs with the good stuff. We have worked out quite a tight plan of exactly how to do this for real.

“Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

The couple say they have spotted Louis’ thresholds already but they have either kept advancing or avoided the dog altogether. This is just what most people do and why these things usually don’t improve.

Currently they may try to distract him. Although this may keep the peace, it doesn’t teach him anything. Louis needs to know the dog is there, that it’s at a comfortable and safe distance and that he’s not going to be forced too close for comfort.

Then he will be helped to start feeling good about it.

If he’s so relaxed and enjoying his walks as I predict he will be when he has managed to calm down, they may even need to point the dog out to him. This will avoid a sudden surprise. “Look – a DOG!” (hooray, wonderful, good news!).

 

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 Louis. 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 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 Can Unlearn Old Tricks

An elderly dog, he still has plenty of life in him

An elderly dog, twelve year old StaffI went to a delightful elderly Staffie yesterday, twelve-year-old Barney. I was told that his jumping up was a big problem, particularly for the little grandchildren, and that his pulling on lead was so bad he’d not been walked for nearly two years and that he had now started to destroy the house when they were out.

Prepared, I left my equipment bag in the hallway, safely away from being raided, just bringing with me my notes, treats, pen and mobile. I need not have worried.

Barney was in the living room, sitting at the man’s feet. He hadn’t heard me! So – obviously he’s a bit deaf.

When he did notice me he came over, very friendly, but no jumping up. The elderly dog was more interested in sniffing a day in the life of my own dogs on my clothes.

As so often happens, he had been particularly good in the days since they had booked their appointment. It’s like he knew! I believe that owners, perhaps subconsciously, examine their own behaviour a bit more carefully in preparation for a visit and without having received any advice, the behaviour work is already beginning to take effect!

 

Jumping up and scaring the grandchildren will be easily addressed.

The two little children and the elderly dog get on beautifully once he has calmed down.

There is a history of family members coming in and making a huge fuss of Barney. One young man particularly fires him up with fuss and play. To quote the lady, ‘Barney doesn’t know when to stop’.

Of course he doesn’t. If this were a child he would be in tears by now or else in hysterics or having a tantrum. It will probably take him hours to properly calm down. I know I am a spoilsport but this has to stop if they want to achieve their goals.

If Barney jumps up on adults, family and visitors, then he will jump around the little children too.

Telling him to get down and pushing him whilst at other times playing or fussing him when his feet are on them, teaches him exactly what they don’t want. He will now learning that that feet on the floor works best.

This is the first ‘old trick’ that elderly dog Barney can unlearn. He has, in effect, been taught to jump up.

 

He’s not been out beyond the small garden for eighteen months.

an elderly dog, 12 year old Staff

Camera shy

Everything became harder for Barney when their other elderly dog, another Staff, died a couple of years ago.

He used to get uncontrollably excited even when the drawer containing lead and harness was opened. By the time he was launching himself out of the front door he was so aroused that he was beside himself. His pulling was so severe that the lady said it simply hurt her and with his lunging at any dog he saw, walks became a nightmare. They gave up.

They had taught him the ‘old trick’ of getting excited when going to the drawer by letting him know that a walk would follow. He may even have believed that his manic behaviour was causing the walk. Now they will open and shut the drawer countless times until it’s no big deal. The same process will be used for lifting the lead and harness and then putting them on.

Having not been out on a walk for eighteen months they can have a fresh start.

Barney walked beautifully on a loose lead around the house with me and then with the lady. He needs the right equipment so that he has nothing to pull against and he needs encouragement and praise.

In the past pulling has still resulted in forward-progress, so this is another old trick that can be learnt even by an elderly dog.

When Barney does eventually get to go out, in his new state of mind he will be able to cope a lot better with the appearance of another dog. No longer will the man force him forward, holding him tight – maybe even picking him up. They will increase distance and start to get him feeling good about dogs so long as they are not too close for comfort. Each dog is an individual and Barney has his own things that will help with this which I shan’t share here.

With help he can ‘unlearn’ reactivity to other dogs also. Knowing that he’s not expected to make friends or get too close to them if he doesn’t want to even if they have to go another route, the elderly dog can relax and they can all start to enjoy walks together.

They will change his diet away from Bakers Complete – known to have an adverse effect on the behaviour of dogs.

At home they will train him to the whistle in order to compensate for his reduced hearing. Eventually the elderly dog may even be able to go off lead – or at least on a very long line – and enjoy some freedom to sniff, relax and do doggy things.

The lovely family’s elderly dog will have a new lease of life!

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 Barney. 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. 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)

 

 

Too excited, over-aroused

Too excited, arousal and raised stress levels.

Some dogs and certain breeds of dogs, as we all know, are a lot more prone to being too excited than others (with many exceptions of course).

Jack Russell gets too excited

Jill

I went to the sweetest pair of Jack Russells yesterday – I’ll call them Jack and Jill. Jill is four years old and Jack eighteen months. We love our perky, bright and quick little dogs but because they are so reactive to things their stress levels easily rocket and this high state of arousal spreads tentacles that can adversely affect many areas of the dogs’ (and their owners’) lives.

A bit like the swan analogy of serene above water but paddling frantically underneath, even when dogs like this that get too excited appear peaceful or asleep, the adrenaline and arousal chemicals are still circulating inside their bodies.

It can take several days for the increased cortisone levels raised by a sudden shock or high excitement to fully go away but this will seldom happen because the next lot will come flooding in. It doesn’t take much to increase the heart rate of an already innately excitable dog – ball play, mail landing on the doormat,  encountering another dog when out or even someone dropping a spoon can trigger a flood of adrenaline and cortisone.

We obviously don’t want our dogs to be comatose, but continually being ‘too excited’ isn’t healthy either.

With Jack and Jill’s arousal levels lowered a bit, it will affect most areas of their lives.

JR who can be too excited, calm on his bed

Jack

When they are prevented from looking out of the front window, Jill in particular will no longer get into a barking frenzy when the children pass by on their way to and from school.

When upon coming home their humans allow the dogs to calm down before giving them too much fuss, Jack’s arousal levels will no longer drive him to leap about and grab hands.

When the key goes to unlock the back door, the dogs currently yo-yo up and down, barking and scratching the door, winding themselves up massively and ready to burst out. They no doubt believe their excitable behaviour actually causes the door to open. It will no longer happen.

When, on letting the dogs out, they attach a long lead to Jack for the first couple of minutes until his excitement abates a little, he won’t in an overflow of arousal redirect onto poor Jill who may then, equally wound up, snap at him.

By doing all they can to avoid the dogs getting too excited needlessly, they will help Jill to become generally calmer and less jumpy. She will be less fearful. Being less fearful, she will be more relaxed with people entering her house. Being less jumpy and fearful she will be less reactive to sudden sounds. She will bark less. Jack will bark less.

The dogs will gradually learn to calm themselves; they will work it out that calm now works best.

A calmer backdrop will in itself, over time, transform the walks for both Jack and Jill, and their humans. No longer will young Jack be so excited that he pulls in a barking frenzy as soon as he see another dog, joined by a hyped-up Jill who may then snap at him.

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 Jack and Jill. 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. 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)

Excited Dog in his New Home

Excited Bodie taking a rest

Taking a rest

An excited young dog.

After the last four cases, here was a dog who was really pleased to see me!

Beautiful friendly, bouncy, happy and playful Bodie was found by the roadside in November. Since then he has been in kennels and now, for the past week, he’s been in his new home. It’s no surprise that with all the change he can be too excitable – particularly as the younger adults in the family may also be so excited to have him that in their enthusiasm they are winding him up further.

They have been told Bodie is about two years old, but he seems a lot younger to me. He is quite a mix with certainly some collie. The picture doesn’t do justice to his happy nature and athletic build.

His issues are all due to over-stimulation, sensory overload and lack of self control. It’s understandable as in effect he’s been released from prison. He jumps up relentlessly whether one is sitting or standing, he pulls on the lead as he’s bombarded with the smells and noises outside and he will bark non-stop at the sight of another animal. He barks should he even hear another dog. They reckon his time alone in kennels surrounded by other barking dogs may have something to do with this.

It’s fair to guess that Bodie is a dog that had been loved and very well-socialised with people but maybe not so much with other dogs. It’s also a good bet that he’s had a lot of freedom, unrestricted by a leash. How he came to be left by the roadside is anyone’s guess. He’s a gem.

 

Bodie’s time in kennels can be used to their advantage.

Two things are certain. During his time in the kennels he had limited exercise. During his time in kennels he was used to being shut away by himself. Both these things can actually be used to their advantage if not left too late.

When his jumping up became too much and I couldn’t both work on him and talk with them, they shut him in the conservatory for a break a couple of times. He didn’t complain and immediately lay down on the chair, accustomed to being put away.

For the next few weeks I feel they should continue to put him by himself for short periods when he gets too much so that he never develops issues with with being left alone, issues that are hard to deal with later on.

The other point is, having almost certainly been let out or given a walk for only a short time each day, Bodie doesn’t expect lots of exercise. It’s very likely from his behaviour that in his previous life he had been left to do his own thing. As he’s not used to his day revolving around walks, it means that they can teach him to walk nicely and get him desensitised to the outside world gradually with lots of very short sessions.

The gentleman had taken him for three quite long walks in one day the other day to calm him, and in fact, despite of all that exercise (or because of it), Bodie had come home more hyped up than when he left.

Sarah Reusche makes a good case for how exercise and excitement can sometimes be too much of a good thing.

As is so often the case with their new rescue dogs, people in their efforts to get things right actually do too much too soon.

So, without feeling guilty, they can work on loose lead technique around the house and garden, simply standing still outside, working on distance dogs or barking, advancing to walking around outside the neighbouring houses and so on – gradually building it up. When they have time they can pop him in the car and take him to somewhere open and let him explore on a long line.

The more short outings he has, the less excited he will be and the less overwhelming the outside world will become.

The whole family will need to do their bit to help him to become less excited. Instead of vigorous play and encouraging jumping about, they can teach him some self-control by giving him what he wants in a calm fashion when his feet are on the the floor. Understandably and like many girls, the young adult daughter wants lots of cuddles, unable to see otherwise the point of having a dog. That will come if they take it easy now.

With a clicker it was amazing just how soon Bodie got the message and stopped jumping all over me. He first worked it out that sitting worked and then he took it further by lying down as well. It was obviously the first time the clever dog had ever had a clicker used with him. He was really using his brain.

There was no telling him what to do or what not to do – he was working it out for himself.

If they all take their time now and don’t push it, they will be rewarded with a wonderful family pet.

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 Bodie. 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 which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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)

Too Much Excitement

Young English BulldogJess is a very friendly one-year-old English Bulldog. Although bold and friendly with people and other dogs, she is unfortunately becoming increasingly fearful of certain things, with new fears being added to the list as time goes by. Just the other day on her walk she bolted when she saw a plane flying above with a vapour trail. She hates traffic. Now she’s become scared of the microwave beeping.

Their adult daughter was leaving as I arrived and had just been engaged in some rough and tumble play with the dog.  I can’t prove this, but I would be willing to bet that Jess’ jumping up at me would have been lot less persistent and frantic had this kind of play not just taken place.

Even happy excitement is stress of a kind and, overdone, fills the brain with an increase in adrenaline and cortisol. Fear is also a kind of stress and does just the same thing to the system. Because stress builds up, not only continuing to flood the brain even for a short while after the arousal has happened, these chemicals can take days to dissipate – particularly when they are constantly being topped up.

Although on the face of it seemingly something  quite different, one can see how too much rough or exciting play can directly affect a dogs fearfulness and nervousness. We know with ourselves that if we are in a highly emotional state we are for more vulnerable to tears, fears, hysterics and so on!

When Jess did eventually calm down she was peaceful. In many ways, if she were allowed she could be quite a placid dog. She is very accepting of certain things that might upset more highly-strung dogs.

This brings me to the next difficulty for this family. There are three young grandsons who come round every day after school. The youngest in particular loves to wind Jess up and he has even been injured – by mistake. She jumps on him and they roll around the floor. They treat Jess like an animated fluffy toy. From the moment they arrive there is a daily injection of high excitement.

The retired couple themselves strike just the right balance with the kind of attention they give Jess. With some new rules in place for visiting family she should be in a better state of mind where the work with desensitising to traffic and other scary things is concerned.

I suggested they made a chart for the little boy so he can earn stars or whatever kids nowadays like to earn – for keeping Jess calm. The children need positive reinforcement just as much as the dog.

It will be most logical to start by getting Jess okay with things in the house like the microwave and the noise made by builders across the road.

Where previously the lady felt that making Jess walk by a busy road would ‘get her used to the traffic’, it’s proved not to work, with her growing increasingly fearful. They will now be finding places where Jess is at a comfortable distance from vehicles and begin the strategies which will get her to feel differently about traffic. It may mean changing routines for now to something less convenient and it may not be quick – but it’s what works!

8 months later – review on Yell:  We nervously contacted Theo, The Dog Lady to help us with our English Bulldog puppy.Jess would drag us along the road, completely out of control. She didn’t enjoy her walkies and was terrified of just about everything. Traffic was a nightmare for her, everyday she adopted a new fear. One day while we were out walking, she became terrified of vapor trails from planes in the sky. She completely freaked out! Theo totally ignored Jess until she had calmed down, and no longer jumping up. The advise she gave us was invaluable, from changing her harness and lead which would give us more control, to suggesting a different food and how to use food from her daily allowance to use as treats. Every time we heard a car when on a walk Theo suggested throwing food on the ground so that she associated cars as something good. It has taken a while but Jess is a delight. She walks beautifully and although she is still nervous around traffic she no longer drags me along.Thank you so much Theo!
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 Jess. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good.  One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Golden Retriever Can’t Be Walked

GoldiePipSometimes life just doesn’t go according to plan. The gentleman had an emergency operation three weeks ago and will take some time to fully recover. He was the main dog walker as the lady is not strong enough to manage her alone, Pip can’t be walked.

Pip is a very energetic eleven month old Golden Retriever who is coping with the lack of stimulation and exercise remarkably well. They are doing their best with ball games in the garden and up and down the stairs along with some training, but it’s a difficult situation.

Young and enthusiastic, the outside world is just too stimulating and is getting more so by the day. Pip is desperate to introduce herself to every person she sees but most especially every dog.

Pip walked around the house beautifully with me, walking from room to room even when I didn’t have a lead on her, but as soon as we got outside the front door she was on sensory overload.  The only way anybody could walk her anywhere in that state of mind would be by using physical restraint, and that’s exactly what I work to avoid. I came back in. Even immediately outside their front door is a huge adrenalin rush for her.

Because increasingly she has insufficient opportunity to interact with other dogs, dogs are understandably super-exciting to her, maybe just a little daunting too.

So here is something the couple can do. They can keep going in and out of the front door as well as standing around out there, doing it so frequently that she starts to become more accustomed.

The more little outings she has the more mundane they will become.

I suggested a dog walker for now, until the man regains his strength. This way Pip could get to be walked with other dogs so that she remains socialised.

There are more things they can do at home to stimulate her. Scenting, searching and foraging is great for healthy stimulation and giving the dog’s nose the work it is designed to do. They can work on her recall too. They can walk her around the house and garden to practise their new loose-lead walking technique. Instead of reacting when she jumps up, as well as turning away they can actively mark and reward her when her feet are on the ground as well as other times when she’s calm or lies down.

Looking for, and rewarding, what we do want rather than simply reacting to the behaviour we don’t want not only makes the dog happy, it makes us happy too.

Pip is a little nervous of new things. The less she is out in the real world the more sensitive she will become.  I wanted to try a special soft but secure harness on her and left it on the floor for her to investigate. She was a little wary of it. I worked on introducing it to her very slowly. Treats for hearing it click together (not on her), a treat for sniffing it; soon she was putting her own head through the hole to get the food and I carried on on desensitising her. I didn’t push it. They will take it very slowly and she should be welcoming the harness after a couple more sessions.

This way she will associate it with good stuff.

Remember a song that brings back wonderful memories? ‘Your’ song’ (mine was ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water – a very long time ago!)? That song is associated with special times and your brain is now hard-wired so whenever you hear it you re-live a little how you felt back then. This is the sort of positive association we want to give our dogs when we are desensitising them to something.

It’s just over two weeks later and things are looking up for Pip: “We took Pip out yesterday on her harness and we were both impressed with how well she walked. It was a pretty stress free little stroll & we even met children on scooters which didn’t really faze her and even when we met another dog she was fairly sensible ! The hunt the treat game in the garden is probably her favourite game to date and she is getting rather good at it, she waits excitedly inside the kitchen while one of us lays the bait. Then its nose down and away then she wont stop till she’s found it all.
A month has now gone by since we started: Pip continues to do well especially when walking on the lead. There is no manic activity to get out of the house anymore just a calm but purposeful walk ! The harness has been a tremendous help and worth every penny….. Games in the house and garden are times enjoyed by all three of us and play quite a big part of our day. Pip does seem  more content and calmer during her day and is happier to rest when we do or if we  have other things to do . The jumping up is slowly improving …. she’s beginning to sit or play with a toy on her own. All things considered Pip is a much happier 14 month old [ and so are we ] and we  certainly feel more able to cope .  Especially now that we have all your great suggestions and ideas to help us on our journey with her.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Pip, which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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).

Frustrated Puppy

Cavalier puppy and his big toy dogWhat do normal puppies do?

They toilet indoors, they have manic sessions tearing around the place, they may fly at you and nip, they chew the carpet, they bite you with their sharp little teeth, they get over-excited and they may even get cross when they are told off.

What usually happens? “No, No, No, No, STOP”.

“How otherwise can I teach my dog NOT to do these things,” people ask?

It’s not that I don’t take it seriously, but I say that the unwanted behaviours are unimportant.

“You teachAfter manic sessions of tearing around the place, Cavalier King Charles puppy sleeps him to do other things instead”. If you just keep telling him off, you create a frustrated puppy that either gets worse and worse or becomes fearful.

Here is adorable eleven-week-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Hassle. Hassle (self-named like my Cocker Spaniel Pickle!) plays nicely until he gets over-excited and then he flies at them. Too much hand play and touching simply encourages him to go for hands. He may bite, nip feet and grab socks; he tugs at the lady’s hair. When they try to stop him firmly, Hassle gets cross. They feel he’s becoming aggressive.

The problem with all ‘don’t’ and no ‘do’ is that a dog can become bewildered and frustrated.

Puppy does one thing and the humans react in a way which causes puppy to try harder. Human reaction escalates all the problems until they have a battle of wills on their hands.

It can be so hard but they need a new mindset, one of: “Do do do do YES”.

They will keep half of his food back to ‘mark’ quiet moments. When he gets over-excited they can scatter some in his large crate and, shut in there, he can then be busy ‘hunting’ which will calm him down. He can learn how to take food gently from hands. They can show him what he can chew and make sure there are plenty of options. They will remove temptation.

One big problem is that Hassle toilets all over the place, day and night. They live in an upstairs flat with no garden so he is expected to go on puppy pads. At the moment he ignores them.

Hassle has too much space. From the start the puppy’s environment should start small and gradually increase in size as he becomes trained. His environment needs to be controlled so that initially, unless he is closely watched, he has two just choices for toileting – in his bed or on pads.  It’s very unlikely he would go in his bed so he will be choosing to go on pads. Gradually, one sheet at a time, they can be lifted until there is just one left – and that will become his necessary indoor toilet place until he realises that walks are for toileting.

Of course – Hassle loves destroying puppy pads, so what should they do? Scold? No (it only makes him worse). They should ‘mark’ the moment he stops with a piece of food and offer him something he can chew!

So far he has learnt that he’s let of his crate out as soon as he cries, so now he can learn how to be quiet before he is let out of his crate. How? By rewarding just a moment of quietness and then letting him out – and building up from there.

Until he can stay happily in his crate at night-time and when they aren’t watching him, they may have little success with the toilet training.

The quality we need above all others with a puppy, is patience.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own puppy may be different to the approach I have worked out for Hassle, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with puppy parenting strategies specific to your own puppy (see my Get Help page).

Westie/Bichon Frise Puppy is over-excited

West Bichon Frise Sally stand by the back doorPuppy's coat looks like fluffy dandelion seedWhat a lovely time I had today! Sally is a five-month-old Bichon Frise/Westie mix, and as her lady owner says, her coat looks like a fluffy dandelion seed head. She is a well-adjusted, independent little dog, with puppy exuberance and sometimes, naturally, pushing her luck!

Sally tends to get over-excited when people come to the house, jumping all over them and perhaps making a puddle, but this isn’t her fault. Because she is so cute everyone makes so much fuss of her in such an exciting way, she is thorougly wound up. It’s hardly fair, because then her lady owner tells her to get down and gives commands and gets cross in an effort to make her behave, which stirs up even more.

In order for a dog to calm down and not jump all over people, the humans need to approach her differently. The more noisy and excitable people are, the more noisy and excitable the dog will be.  People need to give her a break and take no notice of her for a little while to give her time to calm down. Then when they do say hello, not to make it so exciting that it hypes her up again.

Without a single word from me, and with no more than my looking away, turning away, gently tipping her off and giving gentle hand gestures for a while, Sally very soon got the message that she wasn’t to jump all over me, and you could see she was a happy relaxed little dog for it. I could then give her some gentle quality attention.

Sally still sometimes messes and wees in the house. Some puppies simply take longer to get the message than others, and it’s possible that although she knows toileting outside is good, she doesn’t understand that this doesn’t apply to inside as well. She is never scolded, fortunately. I have often found that the more important the messing indoors is to the owner (often due to worry about damage to the flooring), the slower the puppy will be in become completely house trained.

With fewer commands and a casual and calm approach, Sally will be able to work out for herself what she should do and it will take the pressure off her. I am sure the toileting will soon become more reliable with a few new strategies in place.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.