Frail Lady with Large Labrador

LilyThe elderly lady isn’t strong enough to walk a pulling dog.

Six months ago she took on Lily, a strong and active four-year-old Chocolate Labrador.

So long as she’s not stirred up, Lily is remarkably calm seeing as she has little in the way of stimulation or interest.

The lady is however having some predictable problems when out. She is unable to walk Lily on lead at all – fortunately she has fields at the end of her garden so Lily can run off lead but she can go nowhere else. The second predictable problem is that Lily doesn’t come when called – or at least not until she is ready.

When I arrived the lady was trying to hang onto Lily at the front door, afraid she might run out. She is small and  unsteady, and Lily is quite big!

I shall be visiting her weekly for a while and we are starting off slowly, a bit at a time.  She will, I hope, remember to reward Lily for doing what she’s asked as that should make her more manageable. Being a Labrador, Lily fortunately is very food orientated. She will shut Lily away from the front door before opening it.  I showed the lady how to ‘charge’ a whistle for recall use and how to use it around the house and garden only for this week so that Lily comes to realise that the whistle means something special by way of food reward. I showed her how to walk the dog around her nice garden on a long loose lead – and although she was very slow she we managed, my arm through hers, before she did it by herself – and Lily was a star.

Apart from physical frailty, the lady is forgetful and a bit confused so grasping and remembering my instructions is a challenge. Fortunately she lives very near to me so I will do everything I can to help her to keep her beautiful, happy dog without which she would be very lonely. She has never been without a dog.

Next week, if she has mastered lead walking out in the garden we will take walking out the front of the house. We will also do more with whistle recall.  I feel she will soon need a dog walker if she can afford one.

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

Jumping up on People. Lunging at Other Dogs

problems with lunging at other dogsBonnie (2) is mostly Border Collie, and Bruce (1) probably a Boxer mix. They have had Bonnie from a puppy.  After at least two previous homes, Bruce was rehomed with them four months ago. He is a bit fearful of new things, probably not having previously encountered much of the outside world.

Lunging at other dogs

The main problem they want to resolve is Bonnie’s ‘aggression’ to other dogs when they are out and Bruce’s over-excitement (anxiety perhaps also) causing him to lunge at them barking. The couple would also like the dogs to walk nicely on lead, and for Bruce to take notice of them when they call him.

There are many areas where things are going well and the two dogs get on very well, but one other problem is persistent jumping up.

I believe that we need to get things right at home in order to properly succees when we are out – house built on sand and all that. The dogs both should be taking more notice of their owners at home before they can be expected to do so with distractions like other dogs and people when outside.

The jumping up needs to be tackled immediately. At present they actually actively encourage it at times, whilst not wanting them to jump up at other people.  Telling them to get down just doesn’t work. They were quite persistent when I was there, even though I was sitting at the dining table. To cure this there really has to be nothing in it for them. Everyone as well as the couple must comply, the son, friends and family. Attention happens when the dogs feet are on the floor only – or if they are sitting.

Walking the dogs separately

In order to teach the dogs to walk nicely they need to be separated initially. Several five-minute session a day each will do the trick. If the person jerks the lead or holds the dog tight when they see a dog approaching, what message is that giving to the dog? Whether it is excitement or fear, it’s is the humans who should be taking charge of the situation. If they relax, use encouragement and rewards, turn away and put a bit more distance between them, ideally before Bruce or Bonnie can start lunging at other dogs or barking, things will start to improve. The required distance will lessen over time until the dogs can walk past each other. Each time the dogs rehearse this reactive behaviour they get better at it.

How quickly they see an end result on walks will depend upon how frequently they take each dog out. The more relevant the owners are at home and the more the dogs take notice of them there, the more relevant they will be to them when out; the more confidence jumpy Bruce will have in them.

Professionals like myself can often see how important relevance and respect is when we demonstrate with a dog. Because of our own behaviour (and we have no past history) the dog may behave completely differently for us to how he or she behaves with the owners.

We often can walk a dog on a loose lead or in the vicinity of another dog where the owner can’t. This is a relationship thing that needs working on at home too.

Changed From Pulling on Lead to Walking Nicely

pulling on lead to walking nicelyI don’t remember, out of all the Labradoodles I have been to, going to a black one. Audrey is gorgeous (the lady joked on the phone that the name was so that her husband would have to call ‘Audrey’ on walks!).

Funnily enough, not coming when called until she feels like it is one of the problems I was called out for and I don’t think a different name would help much! The other day she chased after a deer, and no amount of shouting could get her back.


The other issue is over-excitement when meeting people, either visitors to the house or when out on walks. Being mugged by an over-excited big dog, however lovely, isn’t so nice when she has just been in the river.

Audrey really is a fantastic dog – a wonderful, gentle family pet for the children, and in all other respects she’s very biddable. However, more could be done with her if she understood that unwanted behaviours get her nothing, and, even more importantly, that desired behaviours get her rewarding reinforcement. If how they currently deal with the mugging of people worked, she wouldn’t still be doing it after three years.

On walks she won’t come back until she’s ready when she sees a person or dog. If she gets the scent of a rabbit or deer she goes deaf. In fact, a dog fired up on a chase just won’t hear our call. We have left it too late. We must keep our eye on the ball. We have a plan, but it will take time to condition Audrey.

Pulling on lead

Pulling on lead, the other problem – magic! It was so satisfying just how quickly she changed from a dog that pulls on lead despite constant correction and being told ‘Heel’, to a dog walking beautifully beside them on a loose lead with encouragement only. Both dog and humans caught on immediately.

It is all about having a different mind-set.

Audrey had been expected to work for nothing – not even encouragement. They were trying to make her do what they wanted. Now they were making her WANT to do what they want. Using reward and encouragement results in a willing dog enjoying herself.  She has to eat anyway, so why not earn some of it?

On a first visit I usually don’t get much further than walking around the garden, but the lady and Audrey then progressed to the front door and, after a false start, down the steps. No pulling. On a loose lead she walked beside the lady across the road.  Beautiful. The lady, who had been used to the pulling, agreed that it felt wonderful.

It is all about having the right technique, the right equipment – and most of all, the right mental approach.

Encouragement, feedback for doing it right and reward, in place of correction and impatience.

The Doorbell Rings. She Goes Mental

goes mental when the doorbell ringsI would say Defe is a Foxhound crossed with something else. Wonderful ears! She was found as a stray puppy in Cyprus and then spent several months in kennels before being shipped over to the UK. She is now nine years old.

As I sat talking to her family I did at first wonder why I was there. Defe is absolutely lovely. She loves the young children and she loves the cats.

Goes mental when the doorbell rings

The family had moved in only a couple of weeks ago and already they have had incidents at the front door – she goes mental when the bell rings, leaping up and biting the door handle, and on one occasion she ran out and ended up having an argument with another dog. With children constantly going in and out, it’s a bit risky and the house doesn’t lend itself to Defe being kept right away from the area.

The only other problems are that she is reactive to certain dogs and she pulls on lead. The two things so often go together. These issues can be addressed by changing the equipment and doing some work with her. She’s obviously wary of other dogs which is no wonder as she has been attacked several times. That needs working at also.

The issues around front door and when the doorbell rings require a three-pronged approach. Firstly, management solutions need to be put in place immediately. As soon as the bell is rung Defe should be shut in the sitting room. She simply shouldn’t be at the door when they open it. She is a very biddable dog and that won’t be difficult. They can put a gate up as a sort of ‘air-lock’ to stop her running out if the door is left open by mistake.

Secondly, they can condition her over time with lots of practice and a bell push in the house, to hear the bell and run to her bed in the sitting room; then they can work on ringing the bell from outside the house.

The third thing to do is to teach her not to run out of the front door if it’s open and she’s not for some reason been shut away. She can be taught to sit and stay, away from the door, for increasing lengths of time. Zak George has a great video of how to achieve this:

Although Defe has no major problems, when these few things have been sorted out life will be a lot easier for the family and, on walks, more pleasant for Defe also.

Old-School Training Classes Making Border Collie Worse

This photo doesn’t do justice to beautiful 15-month-old Border Collie Barney.taken to old-school dog training classes

Barney was re-homed by my lady client just two months ago and is becoming increasingly reactive to other dogs when out. When they first had him he was playing with them. He also has started to bark at people.

Dog training classes

The lady has been taking him to traditional dog training classes – old school dog training classes. I can only wonder whether being physically controlled around dogs, isn’t actually making him worse. He’s being told to ‘Leave’ them rather than politely allowed to sniff and say hello which is a lot more natural. He’s being ‘corrected’ to stop him pulling on lead rather than being taught to walk like there is no lead at all – through choice.

For many years I did traditional, old-school dog training. I know all about it.

Barney is playful and extremely biddable. The lady herself is serene and gentle, and having met many of the Border Collies of his age, I am sure he would be a lot more excitable and hyped up had he gone somewhere else. My modern, gentle, non-coercive methods will suit her down to the ground.

Barney, like many Border Collies, will also lunge at traffic. It seems he had a very sheltered life previously with little enrichment. The lady has, very sensibly, got him a harness so he doesn’t hurt his neck, but he rears up and he is strong. I have recommended a better kind of harness, one where the lead is attached to the chest, along with a simple procedure to follow each and  every time he looks like reacting to a vehicle. He needs to know that his lady is in control of the situation.

For now she should avoid walking beside a busy road. Then, over time but only within his comfort threshold, his exposure to traffic needs gradually be increased so that he is habituated.

Walking nicely

It is a shame that old-fashioned training classes make walking the dog seem like a battle. He must be to heel or else he will be ‘corrected’. But, if the lead isn’t too short and is he doesn’t pull, why should he be stuck to the walker’s left leg? Does it matter if he is sometimes ahead so long as the lead is loose? Why shouldn’t he stop to sniff and explore? It is a dog walk, after all.

Reacting to traffic, people and other dogs can be treated with understanding of just how the dog is feeling and the emotion which is driving the behaviour is addressed. It may take a bit longer than using force, but it will be permanent and not a temporary fix that is dependent upon his being ‘dominated’ by a bullying handler (which fortunately this gentle lady just cannot be).

I have yet to discover modern, reward-based classes in my region, classes with small numbers that will use clicker, luring and reward to teach the dogs. (This was written back in 2013. There are several I can ow recommend).

Doberman Barking in the Garden. Pulls on lead

Barking in the gardenWhat a beautiful dog! Doberman Roxy is two years old and really only gives her owners two problems. It would be far easier to list her good points. She is polite and friendly, she’s good with other dogs and she is clever. She has never shown aggression of any sort. She understands and obeys quite a number of words.

But Roxy barks too much outside and she pulls on lead.

Roxy has been unintentionally led to believe that she controls nearly everything in her life – when and where she eats, what she will eat, when she’s played with, where she sleeps and who with, when she goes outside, when she is petted, when she comes back from playing with other dogs…………and the garden.

Barking in the garden

They hadn’t seen how they have been encouraging the barking in the garden. A Doberman, after all, is a guarding breed and to ask for no barking at all would be like asking a human not to talk.

Roxy looks out in the garden through the conservatory windows, on high alert.  Her tail is up. She is looking for cats or birds perhaps – or even a masked gunman? She agitates to go out until door is opened for her.

If they are sitting watching TV, she has learnt that if she simply keeps staring at the gentleman he will always give in and let her out. She is in a highly aroused state even before he opens the door. She rushes out, hackles up, and charges around the garden, barking.

If Roxy could speak she would be saying to the man, ‘Let me out right now so that I can check the boundaries, chase off the enemy and let the world know whose territory this is’ –  and he does it! I’m sure he won’t mind my quoting him (and he’s a big, strong young man): “I’m so weak-minded Roxy can control me telepathically!”

At night time they worry about the neighbours so need to stop her barking in the garden and have resorted to muzzling her to muffle the noise.

Making the decisions

How much better to take on the parenting and decision-making role themselves!

The young man will need to ignore the staring and let her out when he chooses and when she is calm. He won’t open the door until she has worked it out that it stays shut until she hangs back calmly and he may then step out with her. If she barks outside they will thank her and call her straight back in – rewarding her.

At night time she will need to go out on a long lead so she has no choice but to do as she is asked straight away. No more night-time barking in the garden.

Other little things they do throughout daily life will help too, gaining a bit more control of some of the important things like food and play. Roxy, who is a slightly nervous dog, when she accepts the new way of things should become more confident.

Mixed messages. Boxer Taught to Jump Up and Pull

She's given mixed messagesWhat a dear little dog 8-month-old Penny is – and petite for a Boxer. She has a lovely nature – friendly and cheeky.

Like young Cooper I went to see the day before, Penny jumps up persistently and grabs or nips. She always used to get a reaction of some sort.

Mixed messages

More recently they have been attempting to turn away and ignore it, but because it’s not consistent and because people sometimes react, this probably makes Penny try even harder. Getting the cooperation of other people can be difficult.

Turning away and ignoring her is only one part of the procedure though. Penny needs to know what she should be doing instead. Scolding and commands only tell her to get down at that moment, they don’t teach her not to do it again straight away or in the future, or that there are much better ways to get much higher quality attention.

Sometimes, though, they will play or fuss her when she jumps up. Mixed messages must be adding to her already high state of excitement.

The big difference between Penny and Cooper (the previous dog) is that Cooper will do anything for food. Penny isn’t interested – but there is a good reason for that. She starts the day with two bacon treats. She then shares her owners breakfast of sausage and scrambled egg.  A little later her own food is put down, some dry food with tasty cat food added to tempt her. It is left down for her to eat when she likes. She is enticed to eat because her owners worry. She gets various other snacks.

The value of food is being missed

Why on earth would she work for food? Food has no value. She is even being persuaded to eat. If twenty pound notes were left all over the place, if someone was encouraging you to pick them up and put them in your pocket, would you be then interested if they then offered you £5 to run an errand?

So, initially attention has to be given for feet on the floor only. Gentle and calm attention. Everyone must comply. Always. No more mixed messages. When her eating habits improve and she realises that her staple diet is two sensible dog-nutritious meals a day and not left around for her to graze on at will, food will be more meaningful. She can then start to earn some of it by good behaviour.

Penny’s other problem is lack of control on walks. Again, she has unwittingly been taught to pull because it works – she gets to the park.  Not only does she pull, she jumps up and grabs anyone who stops to talk to them. At the park, she spins around on a retractable lead, trying to chew through it to free herself.

With Penny’s walking we need different equipment. Currently she is walked down the road on a heavy chain lead and collar (a ‘trainer’ advised this?), which must be awful for her thin neck because of the pulling and correcting. It is too hot in the daytime just now, so I am going again this evening, when it’s cooler. I will sort out a harness and a lightweight training lead. We need to go back to basics, using reward and encouragement – and no more mixed messages on walks either.

Possibly she will work for chicken or cheese. I hope so.

Lead reactive. Scared of Other Dogs When on Lead

Sweet Josie is lead reactive when outJosie looks like a little fox and I have no idea what mix she is. She is divine.

She lives with a lady who has some mobility problems who got her from Wood Green Animal Sanctuary six months ago. At home Josie is the perfect companion, sweet natured and undemanding.

In a way Josie’s case is a bit similar to the last one I went to – German Shepherd Storm. Both dogs are no problem at all at home and friendly to people, but become insecure and very reactive to other dogs when out.

Lead reactive

Josie’s problem is more specific in that she’s only aggressive to dogs when she is trapped on lead. She’s lead reactive. When out running freely with dogs in a field she is absolutely fine.

She needs to build up some faith in her lady so that instead of feeling unsafe and vulnerable, trapped on the end of a lead with an uncomfortable head halter held by an increasingly nervous owner, she feels comfortable, protected and safe.

We looked into equipment that would be suitable for walking Josie comfortably beside the mobility scooter. She needs to stop pulling.

The lady is fine walking short distances so will initially work in the front garden. A popular dog walk is down the road and dogs frequently go past the end of the drive. They will also go out to the road and just stand and watch the world go by so that lead reactive Josie learns to relax.

Building trust

As soon as a distant dog appears – the road is long and straight – the lady will work on Josie on lead as demonstrated by me, always remaining within her threshold; she will retreat up the garden, increasing the distance. She will use encouragement and food to associate dogs with only good things (a technique that can only be used when the dog is sub-threshold, before the barking and lunging begins and her brain goes into a different zone).

Similar to Storm, Josie has been able to perfect her ‘barking at dog’ skills from home, barking at the front window; everything must be done to reduce opportunities for barking at passing dogs. Any barking there is gives the lady an opportunity to react in a positive way instead of scolding her. A good ‘dog parent’ is the protector.

Josie needs to trust her lady to look after her around other dogs in order to become less lead reactive. As in many cases it is largely about how the humans behave.

Very Excited Around People. Adolescent Labradoodle

very excited around peopleWhat a character Labradoodle Poppy is! Here she is chewing something in our attempt to keep her calm (it didn’t last for long).

A very excited adolescent

Poppy is a sixteen months old adolescent and she has a wonderful temperament. She is a very stable dog in the main with few of the usual problems I go to.

She can be happily left alone for several hours a day in her crate. She’s extremely friendly. She has never shown any signs of aggression. She’s good if over-boisterous with other dogs. She’s not much of a barker.

It’s her over-excitement that is causing problems. She is very excited and hyped up around people, especially unfamiliar ones.

Her excitement and restlessness her seemed out of sync with her other traits and it was a bit puzzling.

Poppy lives with a single lady but is not over-indulged or spoilt; the atmosphere is calm although the lady does a lot with her. As an intelligent young dog, she may need more mental stimulation than she’s getting.

She may need to see more people to make them less exciting. It’s Catch 22, because due to her very excited behaviour, they avoid people.

If a human were this manic and excitable when I first met them, I would imagine them to be anxious and not really very confident. I think, under the bluster, it’s thus with Poppy. She sent subtle body language signals that backed up this theory.

Self-control and de-stressing

Poppy continued to pace and demand attention for a long time – until she was put in her crate. She instantly settled down, like she was relieved. It seems she goes to pieces unless she is externally controlled with commands. She has no self-control.

So, self-control and de-stressing are the angles we are working on.

On walks, despite wearing a Gentle Leader which she keeps trying to remove, Poppy pulls. She is so very excited when she sees a person that she has pulled the lady over a couple of times, resulting in injury. When she sees someone, if they take any notice of her at all she lunges, spins around and jumps about. She seems overjoyed.

She can’t be let off-lead because she would overwhelm people and other dogs with her excitement and jumping about.

Walks need to be done entirely differently, ‘self-control’ starting before leaving the house. I suggest the forget heel work for now and concentrate on walking on a loose lead, focusing on the lady and not other people.

This will take time, but we have a plan!

Poppy has been to lots of training classes. ‘Heel’ to Poppy means come back, receive a treat and then start to pull again! She’s not silly!

There is a saying – to alter the behaviour we need to alter the emotion. I did also wonder whether a change in diet might make a difference so the lady will try that too.

Update on the Airedale Puppy

Airedale is now adolescentHenry is now a handsome five-month-old, and they have come a long way in some respects since I saw him at ten weeks, but in others there has been a lack of consistency and I was disappointed in the lack of progress with his main problem – the mouthing. When I arrived one family member was playing with his fist, encouraging Henry to use his mouth. The knock-on to this is that they can neither wipe his feet when he comes in from outside nor brush him without a fight as he tries to grab hands, towel and brush.

The other associated problem to do with lack of mouth control is when Henry takes a treat reward, he snatches and that is painful. I showed them how to get him to take food politely and briefly repeated the kind of ‘dance’ I did originally to teach him manners. The mouthing issue may be taken more seriously this time, now that he’s growing rather big!

Walking isn’t being done according to the plan either. It’s a challenge when different people are involved who weren’t in it from the beginning. See Henry with his smart new harness in the photo? With a longish lead fastened to the hook on the front he can learn to walk nicely; currently the lead is being held short and tight, the lead is on his collar and Henry is being constantly pulled back. One person who walks him has been been used to old-fashioned ‘control’ methods rather than reward-based and may be a bit resistent to what I teach. I hope after my demonstration with Henry that he can see the difference.

I shall follow them up shortly to make sure all is going to plan. In everything consistency is key, and each family member needs to be following the plan so they all drink from the same water bowl so to speak.