Shaker Can, Dominance and Being the Boss

Frenchies Mac and Mabel fight.

The lady has unfortunately been following outdated and harmful advice. A shaker can was in each room of the house.

This always seems so sad to me. Someone who loves her dogs dearly and is both distressed and frightened by their fighting seeks help, and is given outdated advice.

Every shaker can now gone.

Shaker can used to stop fighting

Mac

Scaring the dog with a shaker can with coins in it or pinning him down is never the answer.

Rattling a shaker can in the dogs’ faces to scare them doesn’t address the problem at all. It may immediately interrupt them, but it does nothing to deal with the cause.

A shaker can will only increase arousal, anger or stress – the cause of the fighting in the first place. We need instead to deal with the problem at source.

The first thing the lady very happily did was to go round her house and remove the cans.

Barking up the wrong tree.

The advice given has caused the lady to ‘bark up the wrong tree’ so to speak. How modern dog training and behaviour has got to where it is today by the great Ian Dunbar.

Assuming the problem is about dominance, only solvable by trying to force the two dogs into some sort of hierarchy with the human at the top, is a very common way of making things worse. It can mean favouring one dog over the other to give it ‘top dog’ position just because she’s the older and was there first, even if that’s not always her natural place.

I believe the aggression probably started with Mabel being able to bully Mac from a very early age. This has very likely programmed him to be a bully himself – with her. He cracked at about six months old and turned on her.

How can further bullying by the humans by way of shaker can or pinning down not make things worse?

Punishment.

A problem with the dominance method is that we then use punishment.  Shaker cans are ‘positive punishment’. Punishment doesn’t tell the dog what it should do. It causes frustration. Punishment can scare the dog which is bad for our relationship. Punishment causes bewilderment and frustration. It may even cause the dog to shut down. Punishment will always add to stress levels.

Mabel

I could go on and on.

Mac and Mabel fortunately are resilient by nature but without doubt it will have escalated their aggression problems and general arousal levels.

We will deal with this matter at source now – by reducing arousal levels. Let’s now remove all pressure possible. We discussed all the areas they can do this, including on walks.

Very important is to prevent any further rehearsal of behaviour that can lead to a fight. There are immediate triggers – mainly food or quarrelling over an item. On each occasion, however, the dogs were already excited or aroused by either some sort of change or by the presence of other people.

Management.

Management is key. The lady will now gate the kitchen.

She will be able to predict and prevent danger situations. Behind the gate isn’t ‘time-out’ in terms of punishment. It will be to give one dog, now over-aroused, a break with something to do or to chew that can help him, or her, to calm down. It will probably be the younger Mac, the more excitable of the two.

They can’t have chew items when together for fear of fighting. Separated by the gate they will be able to get rid of some of their frustration and arousal on a bone, a chew, some foraging or a toy. Their lives can be given more enrichment.

There have only been a couple of really major fights so far. If the lady uses the gate and splits them a lot sooner there should be no more. She knows the triggers. She knows the things that get them particularly wound up.

A shaker can? No! She will step in sooner to control play. She can call one dog away. She could stand over them or walk between them as a third dog might to split them. If left a bit too long, she can break their eye contact by shoving something between them – a cushion perhaps.

Keeping calm, she then will separate them, putting one each side of the gate with something else to do.

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 Mac and Mabel. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).

Was the Change Due to Hormones?

Rhodesian Ridgeback lies in her bedThe lady is looking after her daughter’s gorgeous young Rhodesian Ridgeback, Mara, while the daughter is settling the other side of the world. Mara will follow in a few month’s time.

She has looked after Mara on and off for the past year and she has been working very hard to give the dog the very best life possible whilst in her care, giving her plenty of exercise, the very best food and other behaviour/training help.

Sadly, the very well-socialised and friendly dog suddenly changed about three month’s ago. After her third season she had a false pregnancy. Almost immediately she changed. She become intolerant of certain other dogs. I wouldn’t call it aggression – more a matter of ‘attitude’. If the dog has a ball then that could be an issue. If they get close to another dog and there isn’t sufficient space she could react. She doesn’t like pushy dogs running up to her anymore. She may pin them down but she has never done any damage and their owners haven’t been concerned, but it’s a shock for the lady who now is on edge when meeting other dogs and wary of letting Mara off lead.

She has been given advice to keep Mara away from all dogs and on lead only for several months. I personally feel that as Mara is not significantly fearful or reactive to other dogs in general, this is too extreme. I fear that if she is away for too long from her usual interactions and play with her canine friends along with missing the social dog walks that she used to go on, it could create a far greater problem in the end.

Life for Mara is now very different in other ways too. Where before, when she lived with the daughter, they had a busy social life with people coming and going, noise and action, life now is quiet and peaceful. Against this calm backdrop sounds can be alarmingly out of proportion, encouraging her to be more territorial and protective.

Hormones could have a lot to answer for! Mara has now just been spayed so any hormonal aspect should be dying away, but the behaviour has been rehearsed and may remain or get worse if something isn’t done about it. Rather than avoiding dogs, the lady’s best approach is to have a lot more control over Mara. To make sure that at home she is relevant so Mara takes notice of her (she currently may ignore her), comes to her immediately when called and looks into her eyes when asked ‘watch me’. Established at home, these techniques can then be used outside.Ridgeback is sitting on her tail

I suggest meanwhile that the lady deliberately seeks out the safe old doggy friends so that Mara can continue to play, even if she’s on a long line so the lady has more confidence, and also that she goes back on the social walks, maybe only staying for a while if Mara shows any signs of stress. In confined places the lady can use her new attention-getting skills along with food and in open spaces Mara’s favourite thing – a ball.

With all the conflicting advice, it’s hard for someone to know what is best . Other instructions she has been given and that I don’t agree with is to totally ignore an already calm and polite dog when coming home or to rebuff a friendly dog that comes over and lovingly places her head on your lap or leans against you – labelling this as ‘dominant’. This to me is nonsense from the dinosaur days of old-fashioned dog training and the lady can relax and follow her instincts.

I am sure she will have preserved Mara’s lovely nature and regained her sociability for the time when, in a few months, she is ready to join her young owner the other side of the world.

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

‘Alpha-Rolled’ Cockerpoo for Being Scared

Not a very good photo I’m afraid – black dogs are difficult and I wish you could see his lovely face.Eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo Algie is becoming increasingly wary of men he doesn't know

Eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo Algie is becoming increasingly wary of men he doesn’t know – and some that he does. He was a somewhat timid puppy, and when he was about nine months old they moved house. The first indication of problems was when he began to growl at the men working on their new home. As people do, they probably told him ’No’ and ‘’Stop’ and put it down to the upheaval in his life.

The couple used to take Algie to work with them when it looked like he might be alone for more than a couple of hours, and the owner didn’t actually see what happened in the second incident because it was outside the office. Men would be wandering about. This time he actually nipped. Next he bit their gardener, a man he knows, so they called in a trainer.

Following this things have escalated to such an extent that, in addition to biting a couple more men, he now barks and lunges at male callers to the house; his reactive behaviour and barking in general is increasing. The lady is having a baby very soon and Algie needs sorting out.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but if his fear had been addressed in a positive way as soon as it manifested itself, if his body language could have been read before he even did his first growl at a man, it would not have got to this stage. Instead, they got a trainer in who taught them to Alpha roll him.

Oh dear.

After twice pinning down her beloved dog for growling, the young lady felt so bad she couldn’t carry on, and they called me. It just felt so wrong. The man is a quite a well-known trainer in the area, and people tend to do what they are told. Thankfully she could tell she was damaging the relationship she had with Algie. She wanted him to feel safe near her, not threatened by her. This reaction as demonstrated on Algie by the trainer will most certainly have added to his fear of men.  The side effects of punishment can be more difficult to deal with than the original behavior it is meant to cure. Now he is reacting to nearly all men rather than growling at just a few. He even growled at me a couple of times which was unusual. It can only go one way unless approached differently.

Zak George has this to say: Immediately abandon any training advice you’ve heard about being the “Alpha” or being “dominant” over your dog. Any dog trainer advising you who uses these terms is likely basing their approach on 20th century myths that originate from flawed studies on captive wolves. These are the buzz words of past superstitions in dog training when less was understood’.

As much as anything, punishment like pinning down fails to teach the dog what to the next time he is in that same situation. It disempowers him even further. It failed to give the little dog confidence in the one person who should be his protector.

What is Algie’s growl saying? It’s saying ‘I’m feeling scared’. If this was a child, would it be appropriate to harshly say NO, or worse still, throw him onto the floor? No. We would be looking into the basis of his fear, find the triggers and work on desensitisation and counter conditioning – big words for getting Algie accustomed to men from a comfortable distance and associating them with good things.

From the start they have done what they thought was the best for Algie, sending him to doggy daycare which he loves and training him conscientiously. Like so many people they have been the victim of bad, outdated advice, but they will bring him around I’m sure – if they take things slowly.

Trauma at the Groomer

LlasaJust look at this for a face! Llasa Apso Charlie is eighteen months old and lives with a young couple who describe themselves as ‘virgin’ dog owners. They have read books and taken advice in their efforts to do their very best for Charlie and in respect of teaching many commands and tricks they have done brilliantly. He’s a clever little dog – and a bit of a monkey!

He has always been a somewhat nervous dog, but something really bad happened to him about six weeks ago, and since then he’s not been his old self at all. He went to the groomer just as he had many times before, but this time something was different. Perhaps something that happened before they got there that the people are not aware of had stressed him, perhaps he had reacted to another dog there or maybe there were just too many people and dogs in the place. Anyway, as far as I understand it, the moment the groomer tried to touch him he flipped. He went mental.

His owners can’t understand why they hadn’t immediately stopped and phoned them but instead carried on. It took two or three people to hold him down and ‘double-muzzle’ him while they clipped him.

When the couple fetched him up he was like a different dog. He was terrified. At bed time he wouldn’t go in the kitchen nor near the crate which up till then he always slept in. He would run, cower and shake. He would no longer tolerate his harness being put on. He had suddenly turned and bitten the gentleman when he accidently knocked into him as he slept. Already a restless dog, he was now extra hyper – charging around the furniture which he had never done before.

I can only think, that to Charlie, what happened at the groomer’s had seemed like he’d been pinned down and physically ‘dominated’ and it so clearly demonstrates the possible fallout from sorts of training methods that use force. It also shows how long the effect of extreme stress can last for.

He needs to learn again to trust, and to appreciate being touched and handled – and not only when he himself chooses, which can only be done if it’s not pushed onto him. His lovely owners are very distressed and have understandably over-compensated. His recent phobia of having a harness on or anything else on his body needs to be addressed very slowly and sensitively.

With the techniques I have taught them, Charlie should gradually get his confidence back and put this unfortunate experience behind him.

Almost two months have gone by: “Things are going much better with Charlie, he even has moments of being a really well behaved lovely little dog!!  I’ve noticed he is much happier to let me pet him (and pulls away much much less) and also comes to me and sits by me more often which is really nice…..He comes to us every time in the house now when we call him, and this is very useful if we see him heading for a potentially naughty situation. He generally seems much calmer and I often see him sitting nicely, either on his new bed in the living room, or when he is with me in one of the bedrooms. The hint about dropping a treat down for him when he is sitting nicely works really well and he is jumping up and stealing things much less now. On the occasion he manages to  get something we ignore him completely and that works very well – I usually find it left somewhere where he has lost interest and abandoned it, so it’s much less stressful. I am up to step 5 of your walking plan, taking things very slowly……it just makes a change to get to go for a walk and also to practice recall, which again is working really well….walks are a lot more fun and enjoyable now, it’s nice.
We really appreciate your advice and support, and all the good tips which have worked so well. Life does feel more manageable with Charlie and he seems much calmer and less growling and reactive. Meeting and greeting is much calmer too, and there is less barking.  He is also much better around the cats. ..There was a lot of information in your booklets and notes, and we are working through it – all the tips you have told us have worked really well.  As I go through your notes I pick up on new things and try to work it into our everyday life, so it becomes a habit”.
Nearly 3 years later! “Just thought I’d drop you a quick line about Charlie as its been a few years. He’s a lovely dog now – very loyal and well behaved and we can’t thank you enough for getting us started on the right path to training and working with him day to day. He comes when he is called and walks lovely on and off the lead now. He also has a good relationship with our cat Alfie and sits with him watching the world go by!”

Stressed Red Setter

Red SetterIt was quite exhausting being with poor Archie, a three year old Red Setter. It took an hour for him to settle down – briefly – before he was on the go again, catching imaginary flies and lick lick licking the sofa. Toileting indoors is also part of the picture, and energy rushes where he tears all over the place, over the sofas and dangerously near to knocking over their toddler.

It was like being in the presence of someone struggling with a nervous breakdown. One can understand that living with this can be frustrating for people who don’t know what to do about it.  They love their beautiful, gentle dog – very small for a male of the breed – but their way of coping is the very opposite to what I would myself do.

I work on the theory that whatever people are doing, it isn’t working, else the dog wouldn’t be doing it any more. So, try the opposite or at least something very different. They had resorted to an electric shock collar, mostly used on ‘beep’, and compressed air spray, to shock the dog into stopping, and when he charges past the little girl they may resort to shouting and pinning him down. He is punished after the event if he has chewed a door frame when left outside alone, or if they find poo in the house.

I don’t want you to get the idea that these people want to be cruel, but they don’t know different and they are at their wit’s end.  Methods advocated for correction in a certain popular TV programme and taken out of context are largely to blame.

I explained how you can look at stress levels rising in a dog like water rising in a bucket. Each time something happens – the postman comes, the dog gets left alone, he gets chastised and so on – a little more water drips into the stress bucket. A dog’s stress levels can take days to go back down again, so it’s not hard to see that the bucket will eventually overflow.  In poor Archie’s case, it’s at the brim constantly, and each time the owners respond as they do it merely tops it up.

So, de-stressing big time is the order of the day. He does no repetitive stuff when out of the way in his crate. They will gently and quietly put him in there for calming ‘time out’ when he gets out of control with himself. They will have alternatives to hand for him to chew, to distract him from sofa licking but so he can still release the calming pheromones licking and chewing give him. They will ditch gadgets and punishment. They will look at positive ways to reward him and encourage him instead of negative methods.

They have a much better understanding of Archie now. By nature he is highly strung, but I am sure before long they will see a different dog.

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

Rottie taught Dominance and Aggression

16 month old Rottweiler in his third home alreadyBaxter is a 16 months old Rottie and onto his third home already. His new owners have had him for just five days, and are determined to turn his life around.

It is evident that Baxter has been abused in the past by humans using force and dominance to control him. Because of this, aggressive human control is the only ‘language’ he really understands. It has to be increasingly forceful for him to even take notice.

Unfortunately, if you continue down that route (domination, force, pinning down and so on) where does it end?  Shock collars? Beatings? The situation escalates and will almost certainly get out of hand – to the point where Baxter wins through sheer strength and determination, eventually doing someone serious damage.

That would be the end of Baxter.

Baxter’s new lady owner is covered in bruises from nips and grabs. He’s not aggressive as such. He is a big teenage bully –  like a human adolescent who has grown up in a violent family. Like most bullies, he is also a coward and is easily spooked.

The lady is up for it, and I shall be working closely with her while she starts to show Baxter by her own behaviour that she is to be respected. Leadership has to be earned, and requires calm confidence. Baxter needs to learn straight away the behaviours that are unacceptable. At present he starts to lick, then mouth, then grab, then nip and there is a sequence. It is allowed to continue until it hurts and becomes a battle of wills and strength. They must react immediately, but calmly. Zero tolerance.  Otherwise how can Baxter learn?

He loses control of himself very quickly, so they must watch for signs of stress and immediately stop what they are doing, whether it’s going straight back home having been out for just a couple of minutes, coming in from the garden even if in the middle of doing something, or walking out of the room even if they are in the middle of a good TV programme.

Punishment, shouting ‘NO’, pushing him away, pinning him down are all ways of giving him attention under his own terms, in a ‘language’ he is already good at and gets better at all the time, and simply reinforces his bad behaviour.

But what can they do instead? That is what we are working on together.

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