Frantic Pulling. Nightmare. No Walks Now.

Hector’s frantic pulling on walks seemed hard to imagine when meeting him in the house.

He’s a sweet and sensitive dog, apart from what they say is excessive jumping up at people who come to the house. He wasn’t too bad with me because I kept him calm. 

It’s unfair.

Staffie frantic pulling on walksPeople come into the house and get the friendly dog highly aroused with excitable fuss. Then, when he can no longer control himself, he’s scolded.

Hector’s lack of self-control both when people come into the house and the frantic pulling on walks are due to much the same things. Over-arousal and I, believe, some anxiety too. As he now gets no exercise he must have an excess of energy and no outlet for other stresses.

If the visiting people can be persuaded to act differently, so will Hector.

No more walks due to frantic pulling

The main problem with Hector’s life is walks – or lack of walks.

His walks had become a total nightmare, both for Hector and for his humans. To try to stop the frantic pulling they use a Halti. Between straining, frantic pulling, panting and gasping, he desperately tries to scrape the thing off on the ground.

They used to walk him on the same circuit. He shot out of the front door and the frantic pulling began. Then he pulled all the way, like he was on a mission, until they got back home again. He would not stop even once for a sniff.

The man who did most of the walking, became increasingly frustrated and angry.

Walks had become a battle.

One can imagine how Hector might react if he spied another dog! Added to lunging he would rear up on his back legs, making a choking sound. The man would struggle to hold him.

Going back to the beginning.

Because Hector doesn’t get walks anyway, they can strip things back to the beginning. He has nothing to lose.

Even standing at the open front door will be a bonus.

Walks will be broken down into small stages. They will keep working on each little step until it is mastered before going on to the next.

The Halti won’t be needed. They will get a comfortable harness that attaches both front and top – a Perfect Fit. They will ditch the flexilead and use a double-ended training lead, at least six feet long.

Hector will be introduced to two new concepts on walks – freedom and choice.

Work will start with his simply wearing the harness around the house – not associating it with a walk at all. Next, when he’s calm, the lead can be popped on with no fuss.

They will stand at the closed door. Hector won’t walk calmly on a loose lead if he can’t even stand still on a loose lead!

A relaxed leash?

Steps to loose lead walking, no more frantic pulling, will move on to simply standing by the open front door and doing nothing. They will hang on and wait for the lead to slacken just a moment (as it will eventually) – then CLICK and feed something small and special.

(Some people tell me they bought a clicker but it doesn’t work. A clicker is nothing in itself. It’s how the clicker is used).

So Hector will now be learning that standing still, by the open front door on a loose lead is rewarding.

Next they can step outside and he can find that standing on the garden path on a loose lead is rewarding.

Opposite the house is a small grass area. They can then go and work the same magic there.

This could possibly take weeks but the more short sessions they can fit in the better. Currently anything outside the house is over-stimulating due to lack of acclimatisation. Because Hector sees so few now, people and dogs are a major event.

Going somewhere

Gradually they can walk a little way – but no more straight lines. No more predictable A to B. Hector will now start to enjoy his walk. It’s about information – smells and sounds. It should be about the journey, not the destination.

Hector will no longer expect to ‘get somewhere’. Frantic pulling will be unnecessary.  If they use encouragement, both dog and humans will begin to enjoy the walk for its own sake.

They can follow Hector sometimes – so long as the lead is slack. He can choose where he goes.

A special bonus will be going somewhere open and popping a long line on the back of the harness. Some freedom!

With loose lead walking under way and without the over-excitement and anxiety, they can work on what to do when he spots another dog. Very likely, due to his improved mental state, he will be less reactive.

They should make some really good progress if they take their time and are sufficiently patient.

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 Hector. 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. 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 Help page).

Head Halter. Restricted. Uncomfortable.

Beautiful Golden Retriever, Monty, really is the perfect family pet despite having a sad start to life. He’s now five.

reactive to dogs when on lead with head halterMy visit was triggered by his attacking another dog on a walk a short while ago.

It was so uncharacteristic that, from hearing all the circumstances before and during the event, I come to the conclusion that it was due to a build up of arousal – including excitement.

Trigger stacking‘.

Without going into the exact circumstances, things probably came to a head and a fairly minor thing was the last straw. This resulted in Monty attacking a dog and injuring his ear. They want to make sure this never happens again, so they contacted me.

Head halter. Restricted and uncomfortable.

Monty is absolutely fine with all other dogs when he is off lead, which is much of the time.

When he’s on lead however it can be a different matter. He wears a head halter which he hates but he’s a big dog and he pulls. The lead is held tight, especially when they approach another dog.

He feels uncomfortable, trapped and understandably on the defensive when another dog barks at him.

Off lead he’s fine, free to avoid anything that worries him.

Actually he’s fine with most dogs even when on lead. The dogs he reacts to with lunging and barking are those who themselves are reactive.

Many walks start with Monty having to run the gauntlet of two or three barking dogs behind gates. He is held tight and walked on, experiencing discomfort from the head halter.

His stress levels will already be rising.

Added to this, at home he can hear a couple of these same dogs from his garden and will bark at them.

This reactivity is undoubtedly due to fear or at least his feeling acutely uncomfortable and vulnerable with proximity to certain dogs.

From now on Monty should have no more opportunity to rehearse barking at dogs he hears, so garden access will be controlled while they work on it. Dogs he’s uncomfortable with will now be associated with good stuff at a distance he can cope with.

Walking comfortably on loose lead from a harness rather than head halter means that Monty will feel less restricted. Already he should feel a lot more confident when encountering those other dogs.

Starting at home where there are few distractions.

We all walked him around the garden on a Perfect Fit harness, loose lead hanging from the front. The idea is for him to learn to walk near them wherever they want to go, like there is no lead at all.

Loose lead walking work will start in the house and garden where there are few distractions.

Soon Monty will get back to walking down the road, but on a loose lead. There should be no more walking past the barking dogs behind gates until he is ready. A comfortable distance from them can always be achieved even if they have to turn around and go back the way they came.

It may be necessary to pop him in the car for now for the five minute walk to where he can be let off lead.

The problem seems fairly straightforward. They will give Monty the feeling of freedom and not force him out of his comfort threshold where proximity to other dogs is concerned.

At this distance they will work hard at getting him to feel differently about those reactive dogs that may be barking and upsetting him. They will teach him what to do, rather than what not to do.

I hate to see frustrated and uncomfortable dogs trying to rub a head halter off on the ground. Without the need for one anymore, I’m sure walks will be transformed for the otherwise perfect Monty, and for anyone walking him.

 

Redirects Frustration. Can’t Reach Cat, Turns on Owner.

Redirects frustration

Letting sleeping dogs lie

Lurcher Rufus is a wonderful dog whose only problems are as a result of over-arousal. He then redirects frustration, using his teeth.

The two-year-old had been picked up, abandoned, eight months ago and has settled into his new life beautifully.

A lovely, friendly dog, he’s confident and curious. Rufus can get very excited when he sees people. He was unusually calm when I arrived – but I didn’t fire him up! He sniffed me thoroughly and gave me a little ‘kiss’ in the ear. I began to respond with some attention and he quickly became excited. I felt his mouth on my hand.

His lady and gentleman are finding it hard to stop him mouthing their hands and their arms – sometimes quite roughly. The more aroused he becomes, the rougher he gets.

Rufus redirects frustration using his teeth.

If he’s not getting attention, he will demand it using his mouth. If he is thwarted or ignored, he redirects frustration using his teeth.

The biggest problem however is cats! Their house is surrounded by cats that seem hell-bent on winding up Rufus. He may be controllable past one or two, but by the time he’s encountered the third that may be waiting in his drive as they arrive back home from a walk, his chase instinct is in full gear.

The other day when he lunged at a cat, his lady owner held on as tightly as she could. Rufus’ head swung round and she received a nasty bite on her arm.

Holding on tightly with a harness that tightens as he pulls may save the day at the time, but isn’t a way to change the behaviour of a dog that redirects frustration onto you. The frustration itself has to be addressed and this takes time. The people themselves must be able to get and hold their dog’s attention, taking action before he gets anywhere near this state of arousal.

This is easy to say, but not always so easy to put into practice.

Better equipment will give better control.

The first thing they will do is to get a harness where a longer lead can hook both front and back. They will then have more control in emergency and the dog will be more comfortable. Then they should keep those walks near home where they may encounter cats very short indeed to avoid ‘trigger stacking’. This is where his stress and excitement builds up until he explodes and he redirects frustration onto the person holding the short lead.

Instead of being held tight, the dog actually needs to feel free while they work on their own relevance and teaching him behaviours that are incompatible with lunging at cats.

This work will start at home. There should be no more reinforcement of any kind for the rather excessive and uncomfortable mouthing which is quite obviously a habit and his default when aroused. You could say that he’s ‘mouth happy’. The more stressed he becomes, the harder the grip with his teeth. I don’t like to call this a bite.

When it happens they need to be immediate. They recognise the signs. Even as his mouth approaches they must withdraw themselves and look away. No more scolding or ‘No’. Currently when they may leave their hand in his mouth before removing it. They need to change their own habits and respond a lot more promptly.

It must be hard being a dog, having no hands, only mouth and teeth!

It looks like Rufus generates much of his attention by mouthing or bringing toys to throw or tug. The man has a nasty bite on his thumb he received while playing with him – it was a mistake. Rufus has not learnt to be careful with his teeth. From now onwards all play instantly stops if teeth or even open mouth are felt.

The tuggy game played properly is a great way to teach this.

Just as important is to regularly offer him plenty of interaction when he’s calm. Already his humans they have started hunting nose-games games with him.

Although he has bitten a few times, I would never label Rufus an ‘aggressive dog‘. A dog that redirects frustration is a dog that is unfulfilled. In Rufus’ case, when out, it’s his drive to chase that’s unfulfilled.

They will get a long line so Rufus can have a degree of freedom when they take him by car to more interesting places where he can sniff and explore. Chase and recall can be worked on too. Always restrained on a short lead must in itself be frustrating for him.

They have strategies now to help Rufus to calm himself down and they know how to handle the mouthing. Communication with humans must be frustrating for a dog too – with no hands and with no language that humans seem able to understand!

He must gradually learn that it’s times he’s not using his mouth that things happen. It’s not always a good idea to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ if there is nothing in it for them!

Like charity, impulse control starts at home. Over time and with work, they should be able to manage the cat situation too.

Ten days have gone by, during which time poor Rufus was attacked by another dog and has two sizeable gashes in his side. Despite this, great progress already: Rufus seems much more relaxed in his new harness and I am gaining confidence with it too. We went to Milton Park yesterday and had a very pleasant walk together. The park has open spaces and woods also lakes.He saw coots with chicks and just watched them calmly: not interested in pulling to get nearer or show any interest in chasing.Friends have been most understanding and cooperative when visiting and I can see improvements with Rufus. He has also improved in not mouthing or nipping so much.Considering  we have only been putting your instructions in place for just over a week (and him being bitten into the bargain), I feel Rufus has made a promising start.
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 Rufus. 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 aggression of any kind is involved. 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).

Won’t Come When Called. She Freelances.

Lily won’t come when called.

The word here is Won’t. Lily hears. Lily understands. Lily decides not to.

She has been taken to special recall classes and was a star pupil in that environment.

She won't come when calledEighteen month old cream German Shepherd Lily and was a joy to meet. She had the ideal start in life. Her mother and father were both friendly family pets so she has inherited great genes temperamentally.

I don’t see a fair example of dogs, particularly German Shepherds, because I go to help sort out problems. It’s was real treat to be welcomed so happily.

The problem with Lily is that she won’t come when called.

Lily has got out of the front door. She then ran from garden to garden as the lady called her frantically. She sat in the middle of the road and just looked at her. Eventually a neighbour caught her.

Chasing cows.

What brought this to a head is that recently Lily got into a field full of cows and was chasing and barking at them. What a nightmare! She had run off, out of the field they were in and into a cow field. The lady, uselessly, was running after her, shouting for her to come back.

The lady loves to see her beautiful young dog running freely but that can no longer be possible if she won’t come when called. People with children can be intimidated as can someone with a small or nervous dog when a large dog runs up to them, barking.

So long as she’s off lead she loves other dogs. On lead, she will lunge and bark.

The fact Lily won’t come when called on walks will be part of a bigger picture. I did a bit of digging (something Lily likes to do but that’s another story!).

Lily won’t come when called in from the garden.

When out in the garden, particularly at bed time, young Lily won’t come in until she is ready. She may even enjoy refusing – playing games, teasing.

If she won’t come in from the garden when called, then there is little hope that she will come away from a rabbit running towards a road when they are out.

That Lily often won’t come when called isn’t due to lack of ‘training’. Good recall is about motivation and habit. Lily is constantly rehearsing not coming when called. She understands what is wanted and then decides to comply when she is ready.

When off lead, Lily may sometimes chase off people on bikes, people with dogs on lead or children – or cows. She is rehearsing this same behaviour at home by barking at people passing her garden fence. It works and the people go.

Despite training classes, Lily is such a puller that the lady can’t cope without using a Gentle Leader head halter.

She showed me what Lily does when she picks it up. The dog runs away from it. She hates it. This in itself is an eye-opener. It’s like she is being called for punishment.

Lily doesn’t display the usual doggy joy preceding a walk.

She walks down the street, restrained by something that is uncomfortable and makes her feel trapped. Stress builds in both her and the lady. Now she may react to a dog, something she never does if off lead and the dog is free too. She is held tight by the nose. More stress.

Then….off lead at last…she has freedom!

She runs. She plays with other dogs.

Then lady calls her. She won’t come back.

If I were Lily I wouldn’t want to come back to have the leash attached to that head halter again.

Lily will be introduced to a Perfect Fit harness and learn to walk nicely on a loose and longish lead – in total comfort. With a little work, both will enjoy walks a lot more.

At home Lily must lose her freedom in the garden. No more rehearsing the unwanted behaviour. She can be out on a long line (or retractable lead to avoid tangling) so recall is no longer optional. The lady will call her in immediately each time she barks.

Lily will be paid for coming. She will always be rewarded with food as she steps over the threshold.

Lily simply must lose opportunity to rehearse chasing dogs away and ignoring being called in – for a some time.

Indoors the lady has work to do too. She will repeatedly call Lily and reward her, ‘Lily Come’. Lily can earn some of her food. She can be ‘programmed’ to come to a whistle which hasn’t a history of being ignored, with constant repetition and reward.

In open spaces the long line will be attached to the harness so she can have partial freedom. Now the recall work can really begin – building on what they are already doing at home. Lots of repetition and lots of reinforcement.

To come back when called must be worthwhile to Lily.

Being called should never herald ‘time to go home’, or ‘I see another dog’. It must be random as can the reward. It need not always be food.

Lily will lose the option to decide ‘no, I won’t come when called’, because she will be on the line.

Importantly, her brain and her life will be enriched in every way possible with stimulating activities to compensate for what she lacks in off-lead freedom.

Dogs that freelance can cause real problems for other people, dogs, and other animals. We do things the wrong way around. We give our puppies freedom (puppies tend to stay close), and as they become teenagers, too late we then try to rein them in!

It’s so much better to give puppy very little freedom and gradually introduce more distance in a controlled way, reinforcing recall constantly. We are prepared for some teenage rebellion and having to reintroduce temporary restrictions! Lily is still an adolescent too.

Recall is recall. Recall is not ‘come when you are ready’.

Reliable recall is the key to freedom.

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).

Enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel, Jumping Up, Pulling on Lead

enthusiastic cocker spanielUnlike so many of the dogs I go to, enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel Rudi has no reactivity problems at all towards other dogs.

He’s adorable and he is adored!

Rudi, 7, and has lived with the couple in their cottage in the country for eighteen months. What a lovely life he now has, with a big garden and the little two-year-old nephew the lady looks after. The two are inseparable.

Far too many dogs, like the little dog whose story I posted yesterday evening, are scared and reactive to other dogs. The fact my post has already received 418 views in half a day shows how big an issue this is.

Some dogs do seem to attract trouble from other dogs.

Those dogs already wary undoubtedly will have ‘victim’ somehow written on them for other dogs to read. Some dogs may just be ‘different’ in some way. In human terms we often hear of people who are a bit different being victimised or bullied. It could be to do with signals the walker is giving out also.

Enthusiastic Cocker Rudi is completely confident. He gets on well with all dogs. If a dog shows aggression towards him he ignores it, continuing to do his own thing which is being busy, spaniel-style. Nothing fazes him.

Where they do have trouble however is with his constant restlessness. At home he jumps up and may send a cup of tea flying. He pulls so much on lead that the lady can’t walk him.

A while ago someone advised a Gencon head halter, so he’s now walked on a shortish lead with pulling almost impossible. He hates it. They were even advised to tire him out with ball play in the garden before setting off. All this does is to fire him up further. Neither of these things address the actual problem. Frustration.

The enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel is insufficiently fulfilled.

He’s seldom able to be let off lead because when he sees a pheasant or Muntjack, there are lots where he lives, he’s off.

Just imagine how frustrated this busy dog must feel, walking in the open countryside on an uncomfortable head halter and short lead. He just can’t get to all those things his instinct is screaming at him to do. He has a strong need to run around and sniff when he’s out – he’s a Spaniel! He also has a need to chase and fetch things – he’s run run back with a live crow in the past.

They will get him a Perfect Fit harness and teach him loose leash walking. The lead doesn’t have to be short unless they are near the road. Why not a long line – 30 or 40 foot long – on the back of his new harness? His walker can soon learn not to become tangled up and to be a human flexilead.

The enthusiastic Cocker Spaniel can now have comfort on walks. He can have a degree of freedom to do Spaniel things. On the long line for safety, he can be taught to ‘chase’ a ball or food in the opposite direction to the pheasant or Muntjack. This can redirect his drive to chase onto something acceptable rather than suppress it. They can work hard at his recall.

I am sure that with this frustration out of the equation Rudi will be able to settle a bit more easily. He should be a little less excited at the prospect of action – any action (something wired into Cockers as I know from my own working Cocker Spaniel, Pickle!). With some work to teach him a better alternative, his jumping-up should be much more easily addressed.

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)

 

Redirecting Onto His Brother

Redirecting onto Lincoln is how Lucas deals with arousal.

Lucas and Lincoln. Calm.

When someone new comes to the door, the two Dalmatians are shut away behind a gate and will be barking loudly as the person enters the house.

Lincoln is barking with excitement. Lucas’ excitement quickly spills over into redirecting onto poor Lincoln, attacking him.

I witnessed this for myself.

Fortunately Lincoln is very easygoing and has not retaliated – yet.

They settled quickly and were both fine when let out to greet me.

Things weren’t so good a few days ago when someone they didn’t know came to the house. While the dogs were still barking she put her hand over the gate. A mistake.

Bite!

The two brothers are now sixteen months old. Everything they do has been together. They are the best of buddies most of the time.

Their humans will now be working at two things in particular. They will be doing their best to lower both dogs’ arousal and stress levels in every way they can. They will be building up their own relationship with each individual dog rather than treating them as a pair.

Keeping arousal levels as low as possible is key. Stress builds up over days until the dog will be ‘ready to go’ and much more reactive than when calmer. Like a volcano, he will ultimately blow. See this video on ‘trigger stacking‘.

Lucas’ way of erupting is to take it out on poor good-natured Lincoln.

Lucas’ redirecting excitement and arousal is causing problems.

It’s a busy household. The two males like to stir the dogs up with rough play. The dogs also get over aroused when there is push and shove between the humans. All this results in Lucas redirecting either his own uncontrolled excitement onto Lincoln by going for him, or by reacting to Lincoln’s excitement in similar fashion.

As is often the case with two dogs, particularly siblings, it’s hard to leave them with toys or Kongs because it can either cause trouble between the dogs. This is a shame because chewing is one of the best ways they can self-calm.

Separating them one each side of a gate for short periods will mean they can chew without actually being separated. Instead of taking his feelings out on Lincoln, Lucas can take them out on a bone, Kong or Stagbar!

The redirecting happens on walks too and got so bad they muzzled Lucas. Once the dogs, always off-lead, are let out of the car and having built up a head of steam, Lucas goes for Lincoln, redirecting all his uncontrolled, built-up excitement onto the other dog. They have now recently started walking the two dogs separately.

Walks will be overhauled, starting with the right equipment (Perfect Fit harnesses recommended), loose lead walking and controlled exits from both house and car with plenty of recall work and the use of rewards. By not using food in training and for getting their dogs’ attention, they are missing their most valuable tool.

They will do everything they can to take away all opportunities for Lucas to rehearse redirecting his arousal, whether it’s fear, excitement or both, onto Lincoln. The less practice he gets, the less it will happen. With lower stress levels, the aggressive redirecting should lose its fuel so to speak; he simply won’t need to do it.

People asking for help usually ask for help with the behaviour itself – the symptom. It’s actually the emotion, the stress and excitement which is the cause of the behaviour that needs to be  dealt with.

The two Dalmations will now learn to be calm before getting the things they want whether it’s attention, a welcome, to be let out form behind their gate or out of the car, before getting their food and so on. 

Lucas and Lincoln will learn to earn what they want by offering calm behaviour.

At present hyper behaviour is being rewarded and unwittingly compounded by receiving all the attention.

We ourselves need to be what we want our dogs to be. If we want them to be happy, we can be happy ourselves. If we want them to be calm, we need to behave as calmly as possible ourselves.

 

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 Lucas and Lincoln 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 aggression of ny kind 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)

Second Fear Period Maybe

Second fear period and bad timing could be involved.

The couple have two beautiful Labradors – black William and golden Sam.

Possibly Samson's behaviour changed due to second fear period

Sam

They can’t understand how the two dogs have turned out so differently when they both came from the same breeder. They say they have treated them both the same.

But have they?

William is now two-and-a-half years old and Sam fourteen months.

They had taken William to puppy classes. They carried him around shops before he could be safely put down. He went most places with them so was well habituated to daily life; all his experiences with other dogs had been good ones.

William is also a placid character which is just as well because soon after they got Sam at eight weeks old, all the boisterous play brought his elbow problems to light and he had an operation on each, resulting in restricted exercise for many weeks.

When Sam became too rough he never told him off. In fact, if he became impatient it was he who was scolded. They realise now that they should have instead have been teaching Sam to play nicely and when enough was enough.

Sam, totally different to William, is scared of anything new. This fear of new things applies particularly to new dogs. Because of the circumstances, Sam not been habituated and socialised at an early age in the way William had.

William

William

Up until eight or nine months of age he had been fine. Then, suddenly, he became reactive. Why should he have changed so quickly?

He had never been like this before apart from, perhaps, the over-boisterous play with William at home. He hadn’t been like this before going to classes. Was it coincidence? Had the first classes coincided with his second fear period?

There he was with a number of dogs he’d not met before in a situation which he could have found very stressful for several reasons.

The dog trainer eventually suggested removing him from the class due to his being too pushy, excitable and noisy.

It was traditional gun dog training and so the methods may well anyway have been stressful to sensitive a dog, particularly if coinciding with that short second fear period. One example of this now outdated training method is a jerk on the slip lead to make the dog walk to heel. Basically, he has to walk to heel to avoid pain, rather than being taught to walk to heel for reward and encouragement.

If the first scary training occasions indeed happened to have coincided with Sam’s short second fear period, a two to three-week period in adolescence, it could have had a huge effect on his future feelings towards new dogs.

It is pure conjecture of course and can never be proved.

So, the couple need help with Sam’s over-excitability when seeing another dog, particularly a dog he doesn’t know. He can be very pushy and intimidating but nothing worse until a couple of weeks ago. He pinned a young Cocker Spaniel down, terrifying it. There was a lot of noise but fortunately no damage. One just has to hope that this wasn’t during the smaller dog’s second fear period also.

Then there was another incident a few days ago. It’s getting worse – as things do.

The wagging tail and excitability he displays upon seeing another dog doesn’t necessarily mean happiness. It’s arousal of some sort. A human equivalent might be someone who is all over a person they have met for the first time, wild with excitement and hugs and forcing them to have a cup of tea even if they don’t want one. I wouldn’t call this friendliness myself, I would call it being over-anxious and trying to get some control over the situation.

Changing things around for Sam.

The slip lead causes discomfort when he pulls. Because of the slip lead, when he strains towards another dog he will be feeling some degree of pain. Is pain something we want him to associate with dogs he doesn’t know? No – the very opposite in fact.

From now, in a controlled way, he will associate something especially good with seeing another dog that he doesn’t know. It will be something so special that Sam won’t get it any other time. (What the special thing is has been chosen specifically to suit Sam).

He will learn to walk on a loose lead with a little freedom away from the human’s left leg! Goodbye slip lead strangulation and Hello suitable harness with a longer training lead hooked at the chest.

Instead of charging up to any dog he sees when off lead, playing if the dog is familiar and overwhelming or intimidating it if it not, he will now always touch base with his human first. He needs to be taught to do this through constant repetition. His otherwise good recall has to be even better. They will call him back at random throughout walks and make it very worthwhile to do so in terms of food or fun. The lead will be put on at random throughout the walk so not associated with the appearance of another dog or with the end of the walk.

Currently when he’s on lead and another dog appears, they continue to walk Sam towards it, slip lead tight, perhaps making him sit, and taking physical control of him. He must feel trapped.

In future when another dog appears they will do their best to make choices based on Sam’s own body language. They will increase distance until he shows that he is comfortable. At that comfortable distance they will start to show him that the presence of a dog he doesn’t know BRINGS ON THE GOOD STUFF.

Whether or not his fears are connected to an unpleasant experience around unfamiliar dogs during the sensitive second fear period, they can now start to reverse this.

Sadly it takes a lot longer to undo damage than it does to cause it.

Feedback five months later: We’ve been diligently working on building his confidence and focus on us with the steps you helped us put in place. Unfortunately last week he injured himself and needed stitches. On 2 visits to the vets for stitches and and dressing change, he has remained focused on me despite being alert to another dog in the waiting room on our way in. Obviously still appearing worried but no lunging, growling or barking. I know this doesn’t mean he’s cured, but it was such welcome relief and huge positive step forward. I’m delighted.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Sam 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, particularly where aggression issues of any kind are 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)

Pica? Swallow Could End in Tragedy

The dictionary definition of pica in medicine is the “pathological craving for substance unfit for food”  Dictionary.com.

Does he suffer from Pica?

Wilson – one pale eye and one dark eye

I would hardly interpret Wilson’s ingesting of inappropriate items as a ‘craving’. It’s not constant. From my questioning the behaviour is likely to happen under certain circumstances.

Five weeks ago the wonderful young Bernese Mountain Dog had to be cut open for a second time to remove a buildup of things he had swallowed – a child’s sock and a dummy.

Just fourteen months old, Wilson suffers from IBD in the small intestine. He was referred to a specialist vet for his stomach issues and is on daily steroids. For medical reasons they won’t be able to open him up again.

If he gets another blockage it will be curtains for the wonderful Wilson.

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Are there degrees of pica?

If from time to time the swallowing of inappropriate objects is pica, then that’s what Wilson has. However, if pica is defined by being a craving, it may not actually be pica.

Not being a vet or expert in this I can’t say. Perhaps someone will enlighten me. There is a list of possible medical causes for pica of which IBD is one.

Malnutrition or vitamin deficiency is another – pica can be caused by lack of nutrition. In this case it does seem a bit chicken and egg. The dog has a delicate stomach so can only eat certain things without an upset so his diet could be better and possibly he doesn’t digest it properly.

In addition to this, I can see a strong behavioural element. Mainly it’s when Wilson becomes frustrated, bored or stressed that the lifting of anything he can put in his mouth objects is triggered. He lives in a family with two very young boys. Noise and excitement could well cause Wilson to steal toys and any rubbish.

The walk situation gives a big clue to the main trigger.

Because he is mostly walked by the lady with a buggy, the big dog’s pulling could be disastrous. He wears a Halti. He hates it. All the way until he’s is let off lead he is trying to scrape it off on the ground.

To see him so unhappy with it is distressing for the lady also.

One can imagine that when he does get the instrument of torture and restriction removed, Wilson will be brimming with frustration and built-up tension.

He is free! The lady may well then be paying attention to the little children. Not to Wilson. About six weeks ago he took the tiny boy’s sock as it dangled from his foot, ran off with it and swallowed it. Later he picked up the child’s dummy from the ground and ate it. Neither items passed through.

Hence the final operation.

When Wilson is walked minus children he is less inclined to pick things up. So long as they call him soon enough he will usually come back. He now has to be much more motivated to listen to them and come away from things every time when called, rewarding to him in terms of food, fun or both.

I suggest they train him to the whistle – something a lot more piercing. Even if the walks have to be shorter, one of them should walk him alone more often and give him their full attention.

They must abandon that Halti. With a bit of practice he will walk a lot better on a Perfect Fit harness with a training lead fastened front and top than he does on a head halter, and they will have just as much physical control. Wilson will then arrive at the park happy and in a good state of mind.

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A muzzle is a must.

As it’s so vital he swallows nothing else that might get stuck, if they are walking with the children or any other time they can’t give him their full attention, they must muzzle Wilson so that he simply can’t pick things up.

I feel that, medical issues aside, psychologically Wilson is trying to find some fulfillment in one way that he has control over – by swallowing things. It’s exacerbated by frustration and boredom. It earns attention of a sort. He’s a clever dog lacking sufficient mental activity. This vacuum in his life needs to be filled by his humans with activities that provide him with healthy stimulation.

One walk a day may not be enough. Two shorter ones may be better.

To help him de-stress he needs lots of ‘allowed’ things to chew – marrow bones, Stagbars, stuffed Kongs and so on. They can be rotated to retain novelty value. He needs plenty of games and training in bringing things, ‘give’, ‘drop’ and exchanging things.

With plenty of company and loving owners you would think Wilson had a perfect life, but it’s mostly about fitting in with the family and children. In essence, while he’s young and energetic, Wilson needs more ‘Wilson’ time.

Then he will become a more fulfilled dog with less need to find inappropriate ways of fulfilling himself.

 

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 Wilson and I’ve not gone into exact details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where health issues of any kind are concerned where consulting a vet is vital. 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)