Feels Unsafe. Street Dog. Feral Dog

Feels unsafeNeo is still a street dog – still a street dog although living in a house. The fact he is living so well in a house is tribute to the hard work and research of his young owners.

He was picked up from the streets at a few months old with several siblings who bullied him. They reckoned the mother was more feral dog than street dog. Neo is now two-and-a-half.

The young couple had fostered dogs for a Hong Kong rescue. Neo had had several foster homes and, a nervous young dog, he wasn’t chosen for adoption.

They brought him home with them.

He is restless. He is ready to jump at any sound. When something passes the house it’s like he doesn’t dare bark. He huffs and his hackles rise.

Neo isn’t unfriendly but he doesn’t seem to bond in the way most domestic dogs do. At times he still seems afraid of his own humans. He is no way attention seeking – in fact, the roles are reversed – his young humans try to get his attention!

Outside and on lead he pulls in a kind of panic, darting about at anything that moves or rustles. They have worked hard at trying to get him to walk beside them, but he comes back only to dart forward again.

On high alert from the moment he leaves the house.

Most dogs that are reactive to things are more so when trapped on a lead. Neo will, for a short while anyway, have experienced freedom on the streets. He could keep his distance from things that scared him. He could hide. It’s understandable how he feels unsafe when trapped on a lead and to make it worse, they often use a retractable lead. This will always have tension.

Neo not only feels unsafe, he is also overwhelmed by too much sensory input/overload.

Each and every walk will be piling up the stress.

Most of the exercise that he does get, in the fields, doesn’t really have freedom. They dare not let him off lead (they will now ditch the retractable lead in favour of a loose long line). They do sometimes hire an enclosed field where he can run off lead. Perfect.

To make things even more difficult, Neo isn’t much interested in food at the best of times. He certainly won’t eat when out – he feels unsafe, on high alert, far over his arousal threshold.

Neo feels unsafe.

Feeling safe is the most important thing. Safety key to survival.

An important task now is to build up the value of food by both how they feed Neo and what they feed him. This should get him to eat better and also give them a valuable tool to work with when he’s ready.

Like most people, they worry about giving him sufficient exercise but they can’t stop him pulling. A frantic dog pulls. Only a relaxed dog mooches and sniffs.

Walks to Neo will be of feeling restricted, frustrated – and scared, particularly if they meet another dog, a person on a bike or a horse,  motorbikes and much more. Off lead he’s fine with other dogs. He can avoid them if he so wishes.

I suggest they forget about normal walks for now because conventional lead walks do no good at all to a dog that feels unsafe. They will work on Neo walking near to them on a loose and longish lead – not a retractable. They can follow him about. If the lead is attached to the front of the harness and hangs a bit loose, they will find he naturally follows them – so long as he’s not overwhelmed and feeling unsafe.

So, work starts at home and around the garden.

What can they do? 

Do Nothing!

This is what I suggest. After some loose lead work in the garden, go to the garden gate, open it and stand still for 5 minutes. Give him full length of the lead. It may be tight throughout – but do nothing. They could even take a chair! Eventually, however long it takes, the lead will lose its tension. He may begin to relax a tiny bit. To sniff. He may even show interest in some sprinkled food.

After several sessions of doing no more than this, they should find the lead takes less and less time to go slack.

Then they can take a few steps forward and repeat the process, being ready to retreat if necessary.

These two videos of Suzanne Clothier say it all: Feeling unsafe and Not DOING anything.

Eventually they will be able to help Neo with encountering dogs, men with hats, people on bikes and many more things. This is only possible from a basis where he can feel safe. For this they will need the food – and maybe something he finds fun. He feels too uneasy most of the time to find very much fun at all in anything (apart from playing with a couple of dogs he knows well).

This has taken a year already, and will take a lot longer. Things should now move slowly forward.

4 weeks: I just had to email to tell you I’ve had the most amazing walk with Neo. Distance wise we didn’t go far (about 5 houses down the road back and forth) but he didn’t pull once. I started handing out chicken breast behind my back freely and then moved on to rhythmically dropping it by my side as we walked. He didn’t pull once. He sniffed at a lampost and one hedge but apart from that, we may as well have been in the living room.  He was walking so well beside/ behind me. Also, a car pulled up unexpectedly and two people got out (about 6ft away from us), he looked at them and I handed him lots of chicken and then we just carried on walking away as if nothing had happened. We were out about 20 minutes and this has to be a record!!! I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Nearly 3 weeks: “… this morning as we did our sit in the drive, we’re up to walking in front of next door neighbour’s drive as well as our own doing our loose lead walking and he is staying next to me (mostly) doing my drunk walking and taking treats like it’s no one’s business. We then saw a man with two dogs about 200 yards away crossing the road. Neo saw them and watched them whilst gobbling his chicken from my hand. Success!!!…Thank you so  much, I finally feel like we’re getting somewhere. I feel like I needed your authorisation and knowledge to say that actually he doesn’t need to go for a walk everyday as I would have felt so guilty before. Reading about what dogs actually get out of a walk i.e. not really exercise if they’re on the lead, has taken away any guilt I felt.
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 Neo and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Enjoyable Walks Begin at Home

Enjoyable walks with Izzy can be better if she’s calmer before leaving

Enjoyable walks with Old English Izzy Izzy, a stunning 14-month Old English Sheepdog, is extremely friendly, very bouncy and perhaps a little overwhelmed by the all the attention she gets.

When I arrived she came to the door and gave one Woof. Thinking she may have been uneasy because I was taking no notice of her (something she wasn’t used to) I said hello. This stressed her sufficiently to make her do a small tiddle on the floor.

She very quickly relaxed however. There was a bit of jumping up but she was so friendly and biddable. A delight.


Izzy is treated like she’s the centre of their world (which she probably is!)

Izzy is adored by four ladies and other family members including young children. Whenever she wants attention she gets loads of it. To look at her you can see how hard she must be to resist. However, it does leave her with little incentive to give them her attention when they want it.

She has constant access to food, so food isn’t a sufficiently valuable currency for rewarding and paying her for doing as asked. She could instead be working for some of her food.

What prevents enjoyable walks is Izzy’s pulling like a train on lead and going ‘deaf’ when called if she’s engaged in something she would prefer to be doing, like running off to play with another dog.

She is wild with excitement before the walk even starts.

The lady, having been pulled over by her, will no longer walk her alone, so one of her three adult daughters will come after work and accompany her.

There is a massively exciting greeting at the door when the daughters arrive, possibly with grandchildren too, to the extent that Izzy will pee on the floor. In the normal way of things it would take quite a while for the effects of this degree of excitement to subside and they immediately go out for the walk.

Soon Izzy will learn that ‘good things come to a calm dog’ while they give her time before leaving, doing their best not to wind her up in the first place. Enjoyable walks should then be a lot easier.

Walking equipment needs to be changed away from that which depends upon physically restraining the dog to equipment that encourages her to walk comfortably and willingly beside them. I use a good harness with D-ring at the chest (Perfect Fit) and a loose training lead. Equally important is that they all practise the correct walking technique.

I demonstrated with the lead on Izzy’s collar. She was excited when I picked up my lead so I sat down and waited. Then I called her to me (reward) and asked her to sit quietly – once. After a moment she did so and I attached the lead to the collar so that it hung from the front under her chin. I then walked around the house with her following me on a loose lead.

To make my point I now turned the collar so the lead attachment on top of her neck. Izzy immediately pulled due to the ‘opposition reflex‘.

I rested my case.

‘Coming back when called’ also begins at home. If she won’t come in from the garden until she is ready she certainly won’t when there is something exciting to run off after on a walk.

So, with a mix of a calm start, better equipment, a technique where she walks nicely because she wants to, being conditioned until coming when called is a habit along with a slightly different overall relationship with her humans at home, enjoyable walks should be achieved before too long.


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 Izzy. 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. 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)

Too Much Jumping Up

Staff Princess is a great family petPrincess came from Wood Green Animal Shelter two months ago and is a wonderful dog. She is friendly and stable with no apparent hang-ups at all.

The problem I was called out for was her persistent jumping up. There are three children in the family, aged between 6 and 11, and the youngest could easily be knocked over. The children are very good and try to turn away, but they may wave their arms in the air. Naturally they will get excited. Their grandfather, whose dog Princess is, will be grabbing her and scolding her. She also jumps on the adults who tell her ‘down’ and push her off, but they also, at other times, pet her while her feet are off the floor. Very confusing for Princess.

What Princess is learning is that jumping up gives her high-value attention – under her own control, especially when people have just come in. She may get down initially when told and pushed, but she has learnt it is a sure-fire way to get attention next time! Telling her to get down, pushing her and especially looking her in the eye is, to the dog, a mix of saying ‘come up’ and ‘go away’. Very confusing!

Not surprisingly due to lack of experience and training and her enthusiastic personality, Princess is a big puller on lead and now they use a head halter which she hates. This really isn’t necessary if they go back to the beginning, and teach her to walk beside them through choice, one step at a time.

These problems should soon iron themselves out with consistency and a bit of effort – and she will be the model family pet!

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

Boxer Lunges at Other Dogs on Walks

Boxer Candy lying asleep with her tongue outThis is Candy, a 2-year-old Boxer in her typical pose with  tongue out! Up until last October her sister, Floss, lived with them also, but due to Floss’ bullying and dominating Candy who was the more sensitive and nervous of the two, they found a new home for Floss. This was additionally necessary because it had developed into fighting and drawing blood, and the family has two young children. It is likely we could have done something about this had I been called in back then.

Straight away Candy was a happier, more relaxed dog – in all respects bar one. Where before she had been fine around other dogs,  now she is extremely reactive – barking and lunging in a scary manner.

It seems she felt that the bossy Floss was the leader, protector and decision-maker out on walks and without her the burden has fallen upon Candy herself. She simply can’t cope.

At home she is mild-mannered, gentle and loving. Then as soon as the door is open she charges out, pulling. This will be very uncomfortable for her because she still pulls despite wearing a Gentle Leader head halter which she hates and tries to remove.

It is a really clear example of how dogs, especially dogs of a more nervous temperament, need leadership in the sense of ‘guide, decision-maker and protector’ (not ‘dictator’) and it would seem in Candy’s case that even Floss’ sort of leadership was better than none. The lady has taken her to classes. On walks they continually correct her by jerking the lead and saying ‘heel’. It makes no difference beyond probably adding to the stress of all concerned. All they are doing is trying to control her physically because they are stronger than she is and have the head halter. This is not what I consider to be leadership and neither, evidently, does Candy.

It would be a rare sight to see a dog that walks calmly beside a person on a longish loose lead, sniffing the ground and doing what dogs naturally do, with no gadgets like head halters or retractable leads, suddenly lunging and barking at other dogs.

Happy, calm, loose-lead walking is where it all has to start, and I show how this is achieved. Then ‘other dogs’ can be added gradually into the equation, but in controlled situations to begin with.

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

From Stray to Kennels to New Home

Leo still for just long enough to take this photoWhen getting a new dog, people sometimes have very high expectations based on their memories of their previous elderly dog. They may remember a placid dog that doesn’t pull on lead and that will come back when called.

Leo is about eleven months old, and a German Shepherd crossed with something else.  He was found as a stray and has spent a couple of months in rescue kennels. A week or so ago he was adopted by his new family. He has a lot of adjusting to do. He is easily aroused and has a great deal of pent-up stress. If people come and go he will start to spin and tail chase, and often does this seemingly for no reason at all.

He is very reactive to hearing dogs barking in the neighbourhood and may go quite frantic.

The main problem the owners are having is that he pulls so much on lead he nearly chokes himself and, when let of, he shoots off like a ball from a canon, charging into the distance. His totally ignores them when they try to call him back, turning up in his own good time.

Having freelanced as a stray, I don’t suppose he sees any reason why he should not be doing his own thing. It’s a big ask for him to have reliable recall straight away. I feel that because of the stress built up in him, and the stressful manner of walks – being yanked back with painful neck and a frustrated and cross owner, when he’s let off lead he is FREE to run off the stress. Built up stress has to overflow somehow, whether it is by charging about, spinning or chewing obsessively.

All the time I was there, for three hours, he was constantly busy. It started with demanding ball play. I suggested they swapped the ball for his bone, and he chewed it obsessively for the rest of the evening, not even stopping when we put a harness on him to demonstrate the kind with a D-ring on the chest.

Like so many, the people were expecting a dog to simply fall into their lives. A dog to take for long walks off lead and who lies peacefully with them in the evenings. They didn’t really bargain for the hard work Leo is going to take. By removing as much stress as possible and not allowing people to hype him up in play especially, by  following my instructions for walking a dog on a loose lead and actively working at recall, they will resolve these problems in time. Leo will not feel the need to charge off when he is calmer. He is an adolescent at present, so he should settle down a bit anyway as he gets older.

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

Perfect Home, Walks are the Problem

border terrier spent most of the time asleep in his bedJack is a delightful Border Terrier. Having checked me out and sniffed me thoroughly he brought me a toy, and then was so chilled that he spent much of the time I was there asleep!

The couple have had Jack for about three months now – he used to belong to a friend. Previous to that they used to look after him regularly, and cried when they had to give him back, so they were thrilled when the friends said they could have him.

Jack’s life has changed greatly from being part of a busy family without too much attention, to living with a couple and being the centre of their lives. It’s possible this is backfiring a little as the humans are now perhaps dancing a little too much to his tune! A dog, however well behaved he is at home, who has his owners doing his bidding, will be assuming some of the leader’s duties of decision-making and protection. This becomes a problem when leadership is most needed – away from home, out in the big dangerous exciting wide world. I have seen well-behaved calm house dogs changing when out on walks into dog-reactive pullers on lead countless times.

So, in order for walks to be enjoyable, leadership has to be in place at home. By leadership I don’t mean harsh commands and a rigid disciplinary routine but something a lot more gentle. A subtle shift in who obeys whom, who makes the decisions, who is responsible for safety, who is in charge of the food and who initiates most of the play.

A dog that is very excited before leaving the house, that charges ahead through the door and who pulls down the road to the extent that his tight collar is making him gag, is not a dog confidently walking with a leader. He is tense. His neck must be uncomfortable. When they see another dog the discomfort and tension increase as the owner thinks ‘heck- a dog!’ and passes the message down a tightened lead.

In Jack’s case his recall is excellent, and he is only reactive or aggressive to certain dogs on certain occasions. His ‘unpredictabilty’ will be to do with stress build-up. He is very obsessed with a particular ball that they take and which they use to ‘tire him out’. Like with a key on clockwork, overdoing the chasing games stimulates his prey-drive and can wind up a dog until he is so highly sprung he’s ready to go for almost anything.

I know from extensive experience that dogs who are not over-stimulated, who do natural doggy things like sniffing, marking, short bursts of hunting and running at their own pace exactly as they would if left to their own devices, are in a far better state of mind when it comes to encountering other dogs.

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

Agitated Akita

The Akita is a restless dogKyra is a two year old Akita who a year ago was picked up as a very skinny stray.

Her conscientious owners started with a problem not created by themselves, and Kyra has come a long way. She is extremely restless and in all the time I was there she only lay down and relaxed properly for a couple of minutes . Because of her behaviour on lead and with other dogs, Kyra is now seldom walked. Because she chews her bed and wrecks her toys, she has no bed and little to occupy herself. She lives with a caring young couple and their three beautiful very small children that are a testament to their parenting skills.

Although she pulls badly on lead and is unpredicatable with other dogs, Kyra is very good with people, if over-excited and jumping up. She is fine with the children too. She seems most excited around the male owner and also a little scared of him. She goads him until he gets cross; she is obedient for him if he is sufficiently forceful. He indulges in hands on, exciting play believing that this is the kind of stimulation she needs to compensate for lack of walks, but to a dog like Kyra I liken this sort of thing to going on the Big Dipper – exciting and terrifying at the same time. When he walks towards her, if he gives her eye contact her she may wee.  If she wees she may be scolded. The lady is less forceful and so Kyra takes less notice of what she asks her to do. Kyra is very confused – and so are they, because they have been doing their very best as they see it.

Their ‘dog parenting’ would work a lot better if they used the same sort of approach as they do with their children! This is a good example of humans giving what they believe to be leadership and it being lost on the confused dog.

They need to do everything they possibly can to reduce Kyra’s stress levels, and in order for this to happen she needs to have more happening in her life. She certainly does need stimulation, but not the kind that gets her hyped up. She needs short controlled sessions of things that encourage her to use her brain and only when she is calm. Because she is no longer walked at all, this actually will help my plan, because I want them to take it back to basics and start again, just as they would a puppy. Where someone who walks their dog for two hours a day might be horrified if I suggesed a few days of just several five-minute jaunts and no ‘proper walk’, to Kyra even one five minute session would be a bonus.

The bottom line here is that the methods they are using to give Kyra leadership so she can relax, respect and trust them, to get her to walk nicely and to calm down in general, are not working – so we need to do something completely different!

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

English Bull Terrier

EBT Ben is taking a rare breakBen, a rather mixed up two-year-old English Bull Terrier, lives in a busy household with four generations of people. Grandad is very old and uses a walking stick around the house that Ben dangerously likes to grab, Mother consequently keeps him out of the way in his crate because getting cross with him makes him worse; she is unable to do her garden without Ben grabbing her trousers and nipping her feet, his young gentleman owner is away from home much of the time, the lady has been bitten a couple of times due to Ben’s possessive guarding of his bed, and he jumps up at the children.

On the plus side he’s not a big barker, he is friendly with people if a bit pushy and he is good with other dogs.

There is often a lot going on in the house, but it is around Ben rather than with him. He’s in the way. He is very demanding of attention which he always ultimately gets but under his own terms just so they can have a bit of peace. He is obsessed with his ball.  He crate guards also which has been made worse by family members teasing him. Ben also is a humper, and due to his strength this can be difficult. The family are reluctantly considering castration, and although I personally am not a great advocate, I feel in this case it could well make a difference so long as the behaviour work is put in as well.

Recently they have moved house which has added to Ben’s confusion, so much so that he is now reluctant to walk down the road. He pulls on lead, much of time dragging back in the direction of home. He is scared to go out in the garden after dark.

So, Ben needs some quality time and consistent boundaries from all family members and no mixed messages. An alternative to his crate is being organised so he can be safely out of the way when necessary without being excluded form the family. His owners will work  to give Ben the leadership he so needs so that the family can enjoy having him and so that he has a fulfilling life himself.

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


Black Labrador Ozzy

Ozzy's eyes glowing greenI met Ozzy today, a beautiful one year old black labrador of gun dog pedigree.

I should not have used my flash because Ozzy looks like a ghost! Humans get “red-eye” from the reflection off of our blood vessels in the retina. Dogs have a special layer of cells at the back of the eye that reflect light back to the retina in order to help them see in low light, so that’s why Ozzy looks spooky.  This helps animals to hunt at dusk – and hunting is something that Ozzy loves! The problem is that when he is on a hunt, he totally ignores his owners calling him back, it is as though they don’t exist, and this could lead him into trouble. A farmer recently threatened to shoot him when he was creating havoc where pheasants were being reared.

At home Ozzy is a very well-behaved and calm dog for a year-old adolescent. He has been to dog training classes and excelled. However, once outside he pulls madly on lead and he has selective hearing when he is off lead. As well as hunting, he is over-boisterous and playful with other dogs he meets irrespective of whether they welcome it. He has been put in his place several times.

His lady owner is tense and worried on walks, holds him tight and no longer lets him off lead. His gentleman owner is the opposite and is prepared to take what comes. He allows himself to be pulled down the road, lets Ozzy off lead at the earliest opportunity and may well spend fifteen minutes trying to catch him when he wants to go home.

The more Ozzy is allowed to freelance, the better he gets at it, so for his own safety he needs to learn that freedom is something granted and not something that is his by right. His recall needs to be worked on for as long as it takes for him to be trusted to come back, even in the presence of other dogs – and pheasants!

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