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)

 

Cesar Millan Versus Force-Free

Cesar Millan? No!

Instead – watch videos of Chirag Patel, Victoria Stilwell, Steve Mann, Nando Brown, Zak George – a huge list of modern force-free trainers doing a much better job but without the same publicity machine and sadly not on National Geographic or prime time TV.

Cesar Millan methods not workingThe big question is, do you want an obedient dog that may lick her lips, look away or even cower from you when she is doing something you don’t like, or a confident cheerful dog that happily stops when asked and does something else instead? Who may even, sometimes, dare to be a bit cheeky?

This is a great exaggeration of the situation I found, but when someone says something like they don’t want a dog on the sofa because it will make her dominant I can’t help jumping onto my bandwagon. Not on the sofa? Fine. It can be taught simply and kindly using positive reinforcement. Reason? Plain silly.

I have called to see ten month old Athena a couple of weeks after she came to live with them because she is having separation issues, toileting on the floor when left for a short while and causing damage. This was upsetting for the young couple who are completely committed to giving Athena a good life, whatever it takes. They have a dog walker twice a day and the two dogs aren’t left alone for very long.

As she becomes more confident, as I’m sure when any Cesar Millan methods have been dropped, things will improve.

Very few people I go to use the language of Cesar Millan with the Tch Tch corrections, the Alpha rolls or worry about status. This isn’t because he has fewer followers (his TV programme still glamorises the old-school way dog training was done back in the dark ages when people didn’t know better, using wolf pack theory as an excuse). It’s because I send people here to my website to read some of these stories before booking me. They will know in advance that I use kind, force-free methods only and if that’s not what they want I won’t hear from them again.

Cesar Millan plugs into today’s need for achieving things instantly, but it’s an illusion. Smoke and mirrors. (Incidentally, he invented a special dog collar called an ‘Illusion’ collar that forces up high into the most sensitive area behind the dog’s ears, causing maximum pain if the dog pulls).

Holding an animal down through force, or keeping it down because it dare not get up isn’t teaching an animal to lie down. Correcting a dog that pulls on lead with a little kick, a lead pop with his Illusion collar or a jerk with a prong collar isn’t teaching the dog to walk happily beside you because it wants to. Facing down a dog who is growling isn’t going to make it feel less fearful or less angry.

Cesar Millan is all about (as fast as possible) altering the visible behaviours – the actions. The emotions will get worse.

Modern force-free work is about altering what the dog is feeling inside – the emotions. The emotions drive the behaviours. The behaviours will get better.

I must stress again that the lovely young couple I went to yesterday do none of these things. Not at all. One or two things have prompted this post. Dominance and gentle correction is used like a methodology in the sincere belief that it’s the right thing to do – by the man mostly. The young lady finds it hard.

I have several times seen for myself what can happen with a dog that is controlled by domination when the dominant human isn’t present. I have felt unsafe.

For those interested in how modern dog training and behaviour has got to where it is today, here it is by the great Ian Dunbar.

I’m sure that they aren’t doing as well with Athena as they otherwise might if the man had never, ever watched Cesar Milan but he is already seeing things from a different perspective which is great.

Baxter

Baxter

The main problem now is that over the two weeks they have had her Athena has taken to playing more and more roughly with their gorgeous, good-natured little Border Terrier Baxter. Immediately they are out in the garden together she stands over him before embarking on what can only be called bullying. The previous day she had grabbed his leg and dragged him about; she grabs him around the neck. Where a couple of weeks ago they played nicely it has deteriorated and Baxter is getting scared. Fortunately it’s only happening in the garden (so far).

They police her with frequent NO and Tch Tch so why is it getting worse?

There is no doubt that adolescent Husky mix Athena respects the man and there is no doubt that the man loves her. He makes the Tch Tch noise he’s learnt from Cesar Millan and she stops what she is doing. Success. She will be a little scared of him at times. When he’s not there Athena may however ignore the lady who admits that at times in the garden the neighbours listening to her must think she is constantly telling the dog off.

The couple had asked me would I like to see what happens in the garden? I said no, definitely not.

I don’t want it to happen ever again.

Much more rehearsal and it will become a habit more difficult to break..

I had food in my pocket (yes – food, Cesar Millan). We stood in the garden and I called Athena to me so she knew that coming to me would be worthwhile next time. Sod’s law, we were out in the garden and Athena was taking little notice of Baxter!

This is what I was preparing to do. As soon as Athena looked like advancing on Baxter, I would have called her gently to me. I would do this repeatedly. I would either reward her with food or maybe a short game of tug if play is what she really wants.

I would have a long line ready just in case. She must never never have the opportunity to do it again. The two dogs should not be in the garden together without supervision for the foreseeable future.

Tch Tch and ‘No’ teaches her nothing at all but just stirs her up further. Athena’s behaviour is doubtless due to stress. She is trying to get used to her new life after all.

If they treat Athena like they would a young child and not as something to be kept at the bottom of the pack, using only encouragement and kindness, they will end up with a confident and outward-looking dog. I can’t imagine anyone saying a child can’t get on a sofa because it might want to take over as ruler of the household.

You just have to watch this video of Steve Mann of IMDT to see that a strong man can be empathetic and force-free with his very well-trained little dog.

Quite simply, it works the best.

 

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 Athena and Baxter 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 (Cesar Millan being one such example) as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

How to Behave Around Dogs

English Bull Terrier-Staffie mix, a surprisingly small and very attractive little dog.Today I visited an English Bull Terrier-Staffie mix, a surprisingly small and very attractive little dog. Ivor was found as a stray about eighteen months ago at one year of age, and he now has a lovely home. Indoors, apart from being somewhat over-excited and jumping up when people come to the house, he is absolutely fine. Out on walks it’s like he doesn’t know how to behave towards other dogs. He came with scars and it’s probable his experiences of other dogs during the important formative weeks of his life were intimidating.

Because of the excessive pulling, screaming, flipping over and freaking out when they encounter other dogs, they have tried all sorts of gadgets of ‘force’ I would call them, contraptions to make Ivor unable to lunge. These include a prong collar (disapproved of and unavailable in this country), and various types of lead including an elasticated slip lead and ‘no-pull’ harness.

There are at least three dogs that Ivor is OK with, so things are probably not as bad as they seem. Just imagine how he feels when he’s out. Before the walk starts he’s wildly excited – probably not pure joy but apprehension as well, as we might feel before a bunjee jump! He charges out, pulling his strong young male owner who uses his strength to correct and control him. Ivor must be very uncomfortable indeed as EBTSTaffiehe pulls on the short lead – especially if on the prong collar. He will resist the pain and become even more frantic, some of which will understandably be an automatic response to pull away from the discomfort. The lead is constantly being jerked back and he’s scolded. What a tense situation. Then, trapped on lead to a person who is getting frustrated, he sees a dog. He’s in no state of mind react appropriately, is he.

Don’t get me wrong, this little dog is dearly loved and everything else they do is kind and gentle, but the behaviour of their dog on walks, especially with pulling and ‘aggression’ towards other dogs, can drive people to despair as they try everything they can to find a solution. A dog that’s not had the right start in life needs special understanding which most people simply aren’t equipped for. He needs to be taught how to approach other dogs appropriately.

I have found over and over again that for people who are prepared to start from scratch and put in the time and effort, the walk can be transformed. Ivor needs to learn to be tuned in to the person walking him. To achieve this, the humans need to work at becoming relevant and rewarding to be with – and to be trusted to make the right decision around other dogs.

It is a step by step process, which only falls apart if people won’t spend sufficient time on each level before attempting the next, resulting in the chaos of meeting another dog too soon and unprepared. There is simply no quick fix unless it is, basically, an instrument of torture and mostly these only work short term and make things far worse in the long term. Applying certain TV programme techniques can be dangerous.

‘Socialising’ is something that can’t be done with a reactive dog. You can’t force socialising onto a dog. The first step is for the dog to simply accept other dogs nearby without reacting – then build from there in a controlled fashion.

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

Excited When he Sees Another Dog

William Lurcher watching one of the StaffiesWilliam is a three-year-old Lurcher, or maybe a Greyhound, who came from Battersea Dog’s Home at four months old.  He is inclined to get very excited, very easily.  For some of the time two Staffies stay in the same house, and neither are calm dogs, one plays rather too roughly (William isn’t innocent as he usually provokes him) and the other is not a good influence, with plenty of snarling and baring of teeth.

A bit like a teenager that has got in with the wrong friends, I feel that much of William’s behaviour has been influenced by them. He has not been learning polite dog-to-dog language and behaviour. He has not practised normal polite interaction and play with other dogs.

The owners’ dream is to be able to take William for walks in the park and go on holiday with him, but when he sees another dog he is so wild with excitement and fired up with anxiety, made worse by the reaction of the humans, that he is rearing, lunging and screaming. He has never attacked another dog, just been pushy and over-excited. Never aggressive.

The most shocking thing is that the lady, in her very best efforts to give her Battersea dog a good life, has had three people in to help her with her lovely dog. One gave her a prong collar and the other an electric collar. I’m relieved that she never used the e-collar, but just imagine the prongs of the other collar on a skinny Greyhound neck.

The way to reverse a particular behaviour is to get to the cause of it and deal with that, not to inflict pain or fear.

William isn’t an aggressive dog but he just lacks manners and experience. He needs working on, alone. Much of the human response when he’s been confronted with another dog will have made things worse. It is tragic, because a dog owner who wants to do the very best for their dog has in good faith called in ‘experts’ and basically been told to torture him. I feel that they are now very relieved.

Gradual but controlled exposure to other dogs at a comfortable distance, with owners who react appropriately, like proper Leaders and not bullies, will bring things around for William and his family, but it could take quite a long time.

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

Stunning German Shepherd

A very handsome German ShepherdMy photo doesn’t do justice to Caesar at all. He is a 16-month old GSD with a wonderful temperament. He is a good example of a dog that is well-trained, he knows and obeys many commands and hand signals, but when it comes to something  important like not jumping onto people, not pulling on lead and barking at horses (the rider could be thrown) he chooses to do his own thing! A typical teenager in fact.

The walk experience is not as relaxed and pleasant as it should be. Imagine a dog’s discomfort when pulling against a choke chain collar (‘choke’ being the operative word), being held on a tight lead and constantly corrected, when with a bit of work he could be walking beside his owner like there was no lead at all through his own choice. Advice from ex-police type trainers usually advocates the use of choke chains and dominance because those dogs are being trained for something that isn’t being simply a family pet and companion. I was in time to stop the owners buying a pinch (prong) collar – that was their next step in trying to stop their big dog pulling. These gadgets are about humans forcing their will upon the dog, not about the dog happily complying because he wants to. Do we really want to do this sort of thing to a wonderful, gentle natured dog – or to any dog in fact?

Walks don’t start outside the door. They start at home with general leadership skills so that the dog is calm and predisposed to cooperate. In a way it’s a lot more effort as gadgets can seem like a quick fix, but people I go to call me out because they love their dogs, and putting in some time and work is not an issue. They just need to be shown what to do. An owner may feel it’s OK being jumped on and obeying the dog’s demands in the house, but it’s not really good for the dog’s ‘upbringing’ if he’s to mature into a respectful, trustworthy adult that can be taken anywhere. Along with his being given the notion that he is the decision-maker come responsibilities of leadership – including leading the way when out on a walk.

By some simple modifications in the behaviour of the humans, the behaviour of the dog can change radically over a period of time.

The bottom line is, if we want the behaviour of our dog to change, then we need to change our own behaviour. ‘If you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always gotten’ (anon).

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