Barks Aggressively at Dogs. Counter-conditioning. Changing Emotions.

On walks the Deerhound Lurcher barks aggressively at other dogs.

At home Daniel is a well-behaved, quite self-contained but friendly boy, four years of age. The gentleman has had him for two years.

He lived on a narrow boat

barks aggressively at other dogsFor the first two years of his life Daniel lived on a narrow boat.

He has had several years to rehearse barking at other dogs in order to drive them on their way.  When he barks aggressively, it works!  The dogs carry on walking.

Living on a boat, this I’m sure has been the case. I have been to several dogs living in marinas that are very reactive to people and particularly dogs passing along the bank or walking down their pontoon.

Now in a house with the gentleman, Daniel continues to rehearse the territorial and protective behaviour. From the front windows he barks aggressively at people passing with their dogs. He barks aggressively at any animal that dares to come into his garden. Even the more distant dogs that he hears shouldn’t be there.

This behaviour is understandable really when a dog feels in some way restricted, whether out on a lead, in a house or trapped in a narrow boat.

If free, he would increase distance

If Daniel were roaming free he would simply increase distance and stay out of the way. Videos of dogs in countries where they wander freely show that dogs seldom stand barking at other dogs to make them go away. They remove themselves.

Up until now, nothing has been done to make him feel more confident around other dogs when he is trapped on lead. To the contrary. When he barks aggressively he is held even more tightly and not allowed to increase distance as the dog gets nearer.

It’s exactly the opposite needing to happen. Seeing another dog should become good news or at the very least something non-threatening to ignore.

Homework.

Daniel seems to be a beautifully calm dog at home, but this can disguise things going on inside him. His basic state of mind plays a big part. For this reason there are various things to do at home as well like working on getting instant eye contact and attention.

At home, too, he will now be unable to rehearse barking at windows. They will pull blinds and shut doors.

At home in his garden, Daniel will begin to associate dogs he hears barking in the distance with something good (counter-conditioning).

Barks aggressively? Too close.

On walks the man will now use systematic desensitisation. Daniel will be aware of other dogs but at an acceptable distance. Avoiding dogs altogether won’t help at all.

Then he can apply counter-conditioning. This basically helps to neutralise Daniel’s negative feelings towards dogs by associating them with something he loves. I suggest chicken. He won’t get chicken at any other time – only when he sees another dog  and from a comfortable distance.

The whole thing has to be systematic and planned.  Listen to this very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in. It’s only just over a minute long. https://youtu.be/7HNv-vsnn6E

Over time Daniel will be encouraged to look away from the dog and to the gentleman – for chicken.

It’s a slow process.

Prey drive

Daniel barks aggressively at another dog to increase distance, but he may also react in another way. He gets very excited when he sees a small dog, a cat or any animal small or fast enough to be considered prey. Then his prey-drive instinct kicks in.

The gentleman can redirect the dog’s instinct to chase if he catches it fast enough. Currently, the only way he can let Daniel off lead is when the dog is running after a ball, which he does multiple times. Repeated chasing after balls fires him up for more chasing. It’s not natural. Chasing by a Lurcher in real life would be after one animal. When he’s caught it, there would be a break from chasing.

There will be no more ball play on walks.

There is plenty of sniffing to do and a world to explore. Starved of his ball, it will gain even more value to Daniel.

Using a long line, the man can now work on redirecting Daniel’s prey drive onto something acceptable – that ball! As soon as the dog’s body language tells him that his chase instinct is kicking in, he will throw the ball in the opposite direction.

It is particularly important Daniel comes to feel better about other dogs. In a couple of months the man is re-homing another Lurcher from a friend who is going overseas and can’t take him. We have discussed the best ways of introducing the two dogs when the time comes.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Frustrated and Bored. Stealing and Biting

Another first! I have been to a Basenji mix before but not a pure Basenji, despite having helped thousands of dogs.

He’s frustrated. This drives Benji’s uncontrolled behaviour.

Benji is frustrated

Benji is born to hunt.

The adolescent Benji will steal anything he can find from table, shelves or floor. He runs of with it or destroys it.  This leads predictably to a chase with Benji cornered. He may then become aggressive when they try to get the item off him.

Benji, when thwarted or told off, can become very frustrated. For example, he may frantically dig the leather sofa. When told off, he then may charge around, jumping at the older lady, grabbing her clothes and biting her.

Seemingly out of the blue, he may do the same thing when she is busy – particularly when she’s moving around outside in the garden or wearing rubber gloves. Benji attack golves.

These things are not really out of the blue. His ‘erupting’ will be the result of a constant internal build-up of stress, invisible and unheard because Benji doesn’t bark. This arousal will result in frequent explosions.

The young lady has worked very hard with Benji from when he was a puppy. He was a very good puppy. When he was at a very formative age certain unfortunate and unavoidable things in their lives occurred. Benji’s behaviour changed.

It was immediately obvious to me that Benji has no physical boundaries where the young lady and Benji are temporarily staying. It’s impossible to escape from him.

I could see also that he must be over-aroused and stressed a lot of the time. He is frustrated. He was born to hunt and has no fulfillment. They dare not let him off lead (though have just recently found an enclosed field to hire on an hourly basis which will be great). 

They will no longer ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ when he’s peaceful!

Understandably they are thankful for the break,

Life with Benji is one of being on the constant lookout for him doing something wrong and trying to stop it. All his attention is generated in this way and he milks it.

No item, even if on the dining table, is out of his range. He simply stands on his back legs and gets it off. Among many other things, he’s ruined the edges of the PVC table protector by chewing it.

Another quote from Wikipedia: Basenjis often stand on their hind legs, somewhat like a meerkat, by themselves or leaning on something..

Benji runs up and down the boundary with the neighbour’s dog barking the other side. They felt this was good exercise and left him outside, unstopped. It couldn’t annoy anyone because Benji doesn’t bark. If he did bark they may see it as being very stressful for him, not fun.

To quote Wikipedia: The Basenji produces an unusual yodel-like sound commonly called a “baroo”, due to its unusually shaped larynx. This trait also gives the Basenji the nickname “soundless dog”.

Benji gets easily frustrated and this builds up. The more frustrated he feels, the more ‘naughty’ he becomes. Stress stacks up inside him – and they probably won’t even notice.

To change Benji’s behaviour we are getting to the bottom of why he does these things. He obviously gets something out of it. It will make him feel better in some way .

They now need to find acceptable things for him to do that also make him feel good.

They need to supply him with many suitable and varied activities to exercise his brain as well as his body. He will then become a lot less frustrated. Here is a great link: 33 Simple Ways to Keep Your Dog Busy Indoors

Instead of constantly fielding the unwanted stuff, they will consciously look out for and reward every little good thing he does whether it’s simply standing still, lying down – or looking at the table without putting his feet on it.

He can earn much of his food in this way.

They will work hard on getting him to come to them when they call him and make it really worth his while. This will be a lot better than cornering him when he runs off with something. They will never simply take things off him. Exchange will be worked on until he enjoys giving things up.

Just as with a puppy or toddler, they will need to be even more careful with leaving things about – he has a particular liking for remote controls, mobile phones or a wallet – all things that smell most of his humans.

Benji needs some physical boundaries.

They need to be able to walk away from him or place him somewhere with things to do.

They will put a gate in the doorway between sitting room and kitchen. They can give him alternatives to the table cloth, books in the bookshelf, remote, paper documents and so on that he manages to get hold of. Gated in the kitchen, he can get to work on a carton of rubbish from the recycle bin with food buried amongst the rubbish. Anything that gives him an acceptable outlet will result in a less frustrated dog.

Keeping him as calm as possible by avoiding situations that stir him up too much, managing the environment so he doesn’t have the opportunity to keep doing these things and adding a lot more enrichment to his life should turn the corner for Benji and his family.

It will take time. The hardest thing is for the humans to change their ways and to be patient!

It’s no good getting cross with the dog for just being a dog (whether a Basenji or anything else). We are the ones who must do things differently.

Two Sighthounds and an Elderly Springer

The two sighthounds barely lifted their heads from the sofa when I entered the room.

sighthounds with Springer Spaniel

Rosie, Eamonn and their elderly Springer

I could hardly believe it when I rang the doorbell and from a house with three dogs there was no barking at all – not even from their elderly Springer but she may be a bit deaf.

When I entered the room both sighthounds were on the sofa. I don’t know if Rosie even opened her eyes.

Eamonn, curious, got down from the chair, stretched his long body in the way that sighthounds do and calmly came over to investigate me. His long, intrusive greyhound-like nose explored my work bag.

Rosie, a stunning Saluki mix, seemed unusually quiet and motionless. They say she is aloof and it’s hard to decide if this is all or whether she is also keeping her head down so to speak. She lives with the very polite and calm Eamonn, a Sloughi mix from Ireland (no, I hadn’t heard of a Sloughi either – a North African breed of Sighthounds found mainly in Morocco).

Both dogs are failed fosters – and I well understand why. They are sensational.

The people are experienced dog owners and fosterers of sighthounds in particular. They have watched many of Victoria Stilwell’s videos and because I am one of her UK VSPDT trainers I have the privilege of working with them. Sometimes it is necessary to get objective and experienced outside input.

The family has had the two sighthounds for around a year. Rosie, now five, had been used as a puppy-making machine in Wales and then dumped by the roadside when she was no more use to them and Eamonn, now about two, had been in another sad situation. Seeing both dogs now it’s hard to believe either had known anything but love.

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Some months later they fostered another dog.

All was well with both sighthounds until another foster, a female, came to live with them for about five months.

With this particular foster dog in her home, Rosie became increasingly tense and unhappy. The dog was needy and attention-seeking and this instability upset Rosie.

Unfortunately her aggressive attitude then spread to antipathy to other dogs that they met when out and Eamonn was sucked in also. They feed off one another.

Before the other dog came, both sighthounds were mostly fine with other dogs. Now they are walked with muzzles.

Rosie

Rosie

Rosie is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. When she is let off lead with Eamonn this quiet and poised dog can totally change. She goes crazy – charging around in circles, stirring herself up into such a high that she then redirects aggressively onto Eamonn who becomes quite scared and hides.

Why is she suddenly so aroused? Where has all that stress come from? It’s like she erupts. To me it suggest that though otherwise so quiet and undemanding, there must be more going on inside her. The regular encounters with other dogs when out, although already being worked on to some extent, may be contributing to well-hidden stress levels.

The foster dog has now moved on and Rosie is altogether much happier again in her own, introverted sort of way. They say they would like her to play but I suspect she’s not psychologically able to abandon herself to proper play.

The two main issues we are dealing with are Rosie and her reactivity to other dogs (Eamonn is fine without Rosie there) and Eamonn’s running off, maybe for a couple of hours, if he spots something to chase.

Eamonn

Eamonn

They will only walk the two dogs separately for now in order to concentrate on Rosie’s over-arousal of which there is no sign at home and her reactivity to other dogs, and on Eamonn’s recall.

In a way both Rosie’s attitude towards dogs (with a barking neighbouring dog to bark back at) and Eamonn’s prey drive (pigeons in the garden to wind him up) are behaviours being rehearsed at home.

They can take advantage of both these ‘problem’ situations by using them to create new strategies to use when out.

Sighthounds can spot potential prey from a great distance. The only way to prevent them running after something apart from having them restrained on a long line is first to train an immediate alternative reaction that redirects their instinct to chase onto something else. Once the focusing on the prey has broken into the chase stage it may be too late.

They will take it slowly with Rosie, doing their very best to make sure she doesn’t get closer to another dog than she feels comfortable whilst working hard to gradually decrease that distance by giving her choice and creating positive associations. It’s important meanwhile that there are no unexpected and uncontrolled encounters. Here is why.

Last year they took their two beautiful sighthounds on holiday where there were lots of other on lead dogs and they want to go again later this year. With hard work they will hopefully get Rosie back to her old self in time so they can all walk down the streets together as before.

Her Latest Dog is a Challenge

AshcroftDogs1

The lady I have just visited feels her latest dog is a challenge. Doberman Maddie’s owner has had several Dobermans but never one quite like two-year-old Maddie.

I think she must have been very lucky with her previous dogs if Maddie is the worst. She is gorgeous. Although with certain issues, she is no big problem – yet. The main worry is her increasing reactivity to other dogs when out when she’s on lead and her wariness of new people. Very sensibly the lady wants to nip things in the bud before they get any worse because her other Doberman, Tia, is now copying her.

Tia is five. She barks at dogs on TV and she is a big hunter when out and off lead but generally a lot calmer. The TV problem can be resolved fairly easily with patience, desensitisation and counter-conditioning. The running off after pheasants and not coming back for an hour and a half isn’t so easily or quickly solved!

This story is all about preventing things from developing and making walks more enjoyable for the lady – and for the dogs.

Like most people who have difficulties with their dogs when they are out, the roots of these problems can be somewhere else. Simply going out on walks and encountering other dogs and doing training doesn’t resolve the complete issue. Because we are dealing with the emotions that cause the dog to behave in a certain way when out, the home end of things can be very important also.

If the dog can’t give the owner her full attention when required indoors, then it won’t happen when out. If the dog is stressed at home, then she will be stressed when out. If the dog is either pulling down the road or the lead is at all tight at the start of the walk, then the stress levels will be rising. If the dog is physically and uncomfortably prevented from pulling with a gadget such as a head collar – then the walk could be doomed from the start because of how the dog will already be feeling.

Domberman sucking a toy

Maddie sucking her toy

In Maddie’s case there is a strong element of the stress that builds up over the days due to other things that are happening. Stress isn’t only bad stuff – with a sensitive dog it can be too much excitement, play or noise.

The lovely Maddie works very hard at keeping herself calm. She spends a lot of time chewing or suckling a cuddly toy.

Her reactivity is variable. Some days she can encounter a dog when she is on lead with no fuss at all and on other days she will react to the very same dog. This must be due to her own state of mind at the time, along with that of her human on the end of the lead who may be having a bad day or be more anxious. It could be that she has simply encountered one dog too many on that walk and can’t manage another.

There are quite a number of small things that can be done to ease Maddie’s stress levels in general. Her food could be better – this can make a huge difference.

With a calmer dog and with comfortable equipment, with calm loose-lead walking techniques used from the start of the walk along with a walk where she can sniff rather than a march forward, things will start to improve I’m sure. The lady will now have ways of keeping and holding her dogs’ attention and she will give them plenty of space from other dogs when needed, taking her cue from Maddie. Anything Maddie’s uneasy about can be worked on with positive associations at a distance where she feels safe.

Tia doesn't like having her photo taken

Tia doesn’t like having her photo taken

Recall work starts at home too. A big part of ‘coming when called’ is to do with the relevance of the person calling the dog – their relationship. Repeatedly calling or whistling at home in return for small high-value food gradually ‘charges the battery’ and then can be reinforced when out by the lady repeatedly calling them when knows they will come and simply not giving them freedom when she fears they won’t. (Each time she calls and they ignore her, the ‘battery’ is discharged a little).

Having just one dog off lead at a time can be an extra incentive for the other dog to come back too.

The lady will watch Tia closely for taking off after a pheasant or a jogger and preempt her. In addition to very high value food she can also redirect the drive to chase onto either a ball or even onto herself, making herself fun, making silly noises perhaps and running away! If these things don’t work, then I fear it will be a few months work on a long line for Tia.

These are fantastic dogs with a fantastic owner who is lucky to have a friend who walks the dogs everyday with her own dogs, who sat in on our meeting and will do her bit too. These dogs have a very good life!

Wary of People in Their Home

Two dogs who were picked up as strays

Basil and Rosie

The two stunning dogs of mixed breed, Basil and Rosie, recently came back to the UK with the couple who adopted them in Hong Kong where they had been picked up as strays or possibly street dogs. It’s a pity I didn’t get a better photo of them together.

As you can see, although they were now not barking or backing off anymore, both were looking away as I pointed my phone at them which I was trying to do whilst looking the other way.

As I entered the house, the gentleman was trying to corral the dogs down the passageway into the sitting room whilst also trying to keep them quiet – living in a flat they are conscious of their neighbours. I gave my rather large bag to the lady to carry as carrying a bag (like wearing a hat) can contribute to upsetting some dogs.

The barking stopped very quickly as I sat down, but they were both extremely wary. For a short while Basil was ready to bark again at me whilst Rosie backed away. I won them round with food and by making no effort to touch them when they did, soon, come to me.

The owners are particularly concerned because their dogs’ aggressive-sounding barking means that several friends simply won’t visit anymore. There is one close male friend in particular that the dogs don’t like. Apparently he always wears a baseball cap and he’s very tall which apart from the fact that dogs can be more scared of men anyway could perhaps contribute to their unease.

I suggested they had ‘people-food’ ready-prepared, small and tasty bits of food that they only use for when people come to the flat so the only way the dogs get access to this special treat is when people come in or move about.

By trying various different things we worked on a technique whereby I could walk about the room and the dogs would remain relaxed. They can then now do the same things when the friend comes this evening.

This involves, before the person starts to move, one of the owners maintaining their dogs’ attention by calling them over, asking them to sit in front of them and then gently holding onto them whilst feeding them ‘people-food’. By facing their owner the dogs would be turning their backs to the other person. Now the person can move freely about.

I found that once I was up and walking around the room the owner could release the dogs after a second or two and they were fine. This same technique would need to be used for a few seconds each time the person, having been sitting down, moved.

Fortunately these two dogs were not nearly as wary of people in their home as many dogs I go to and this wouldn’t work in more severe cases. It just suited these two. Every case and situation is a bit different.

brown dog

Basil

As always, the guests need training too. They should be asked to move slowly and casually, to give no eye contact to the dogs and when they arrive not to walk too directly or deliberately towards them or the owner. Instead, the owner should turn around and take the dogs with him so that the person follows. Until the dogs get comfortable with someone, they should try not to move too suddenly and to give warning before they stand up. The guest can drop or roll pieces of food.

In a very short while both dogs were actually eating out of my hand.

The barking and anxiety starts with the intercom bell. This is something they can work on easily. Repeatedly one of them can go downstairs and ring the bell while, as soon as the dogs hear it, they get food from the other person. Every time one of the owners either goes out or comes in, they can ring the bell. Because the bell will then only very occasionally mean someone is visiting it will no longer be a trigger, so when a caller is let in the door the dogs aren’t already pre-aroused.

Like everything to do with desensitising and counter-conditioning it takes a lot of repetitions and work. Unless they have a regular run of callers to get the dogs thoroughly at home with people coming and going, it may always need working on to some extent.

Their second issue which I shan’t discuss in much detail now is that Basil, in particular, ignores all calls to come back when he’s on a hunt. The other day he nearly got killed when a chase after a muntjac deer took him across a busy road, followed by Rosie. As a stray who probably had to rely upon hunting for food he will most likely have the chase in his blood.

They have only two safe options really which is hard because dog walks to many people are something where the dogs run free, getting plenty of exercise and doing their own thing. Now they should only ever let Basil off lead in places where there is no escape. If they want him to come back when called, they will need to put in months and months of recall work with Basil. What, after all, is in it for Jack to come back before he’s finished what he is doing? The man’s tone of voice wasn’t such that I, if I were a dog, would find sufficiently inspiring to tempt me to come back! I may not even hear him.

Recall is about much more than just training; it’s also about the dog’s relationship with the person who wants him to come back. To a dog with a high prey drive, it’s quite a challenge for someone to be more relevant, exciting and rewarding than a running muntjac or rabbit!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an aspect. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be very different to the approach I have worked out for Basil and Rosie. 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).

 

Two Sides to Doberman Ruby

Ruby is the model dog indoorsRuby’s owners have been living the sort of nightmare that would be a dog owners’ worst dream. She has never been good with other dogs, but one day a couple of months ago she killed an elderly Sheltie. One can only imagine what this must have been like for his owner. The repercussions have been huge, involving the police, the council and a local petition to have Ruby put down. The owners are conscientious dog owners and they are devastated. They now walk Ruby on lead only apart from one special place where they have never seen other dogs, and she is then muzzled. She is even muzzled from the house to the car – just in case.

At home, apart from a short bout of wary guard barking when someone arrives, Ruby is the model dog indoors. She is extremely well behaved and peaceful, if aloof. In her quiet way she politely rules the roost, which dog owners often can’t see for themselves when they are living in the middle of it. Once out of the door however, Ruby becomes a different dog. She believes she should decide where to go and she pulls ahead. She believes she is the one on protection duty. She is ready to see off any other dog and I fear in the case of the little Sheltie because he froze, Ruby dealt with him as she saw fit. It could have been exacerbated by the human panic from both owners rushing at her and shouting, as Ruby stood over him. She believes anything that moves is prey for her to hunt.

Ruby is now seven years old and came to live with them at the age of three;  the damage will probably have been done already. Whilst they are doing everything they can to play safe for the sake of any other dogs they may meet and also for Ruby herself, they have now called me out to do something about the root of the problem – controlling Ruby’s prey drive, protectiveness and freelancing. She makes the decisions – so once again it is a leadership (dog ‘parenting’) issue.

Ruby’s owners are prepared to do whatever it takes, and realise that there is no quick fix. Leadership starts at home. If ‘her ladyship’ is selective about coming over to them in the house whilst always getting any attention she wants on her own terms, why would she take much notice of them when called if she has another dog in view or a rabbit to chase?

What we are looking to achieve in the end is for Ruby to be trustworthy so far as taking no notice of other dogs, and to focus on them instead which will require bomb-proof recall. ‘Socialising’ is unrealistic.

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

Change of Personality Outside

Cleo looks like a long legged StaffirThe photo doesn’t show how beautiful Cleo is, with her expressive ears and shiny brown coat. She is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier/Labrador cross – but looks like a leggy Staffie.

Cleo has lived with her new owners for just three weeks and they are at least her third home. She is eight years old. At home she is the model dog. They are out all day at work and Cleo takes this in her stride. She is polite around food, she doesn’t bark excessively. She is friendly and confident, maybe a little aloof and independent. Possibly the whole of her real character hasn’t yet had time to surface.

Before walks she is calm and cooperative.

But, once the door opens and she is outside, she is almost uncontrollable. She becomes a law unto herself.

Previously Cleo had been a stray. Clearly she had to find her own food by hunting and scavenging.  She has a strong prey drive. She became very self-sufficient. As a stray she could go where she liked, she could chase what she liked and she could stop to rest when she liked. She had to look out for trouble in order to protect herself.

This then is the dog that Cleo becomes as soon as she is out of the house. It is no surprise that she freelances. She pulls and she puts the brakes on, she jumps up at walls and gates and would leap over if she could, she wants to run to other dogs. It is as though her owners don’t exist apart from their being dead-weight on the end of her lead that she has to drag along behind her.

She is a strong dog and her pulling on lead is such a problem that they have resorted to a Halti so they can physically prevent poor Cleo from pulling so much, but it is like putting a plaster on a dirty wound. It doesn’t address the problem itself.

And then there are CATS! If Cleo sees a cat she trembles and probably wants to kill it. I’m not sure whether this is because she sees cats as a threat or prey, or both. Around Cleo’s new home there are a lot of cats!

So we are working at all aspects of Cleo’s life so that her new owners become more relevant to her so that she sees them as the decision makers, so that eventually she walks nicely beside them because she wants to, not because she is forced to – and to learn that cats are not her responsibility to deal with for whatever reason!

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