Condemned to Death – For What?


Bobbie with her head on my leg

The vet said ‘bring her in tomorrow at 11am to be put down’. Condemned to death solely based on the behaviour in the vet’s room of a terrified dog who hates being touched by strangers. She was so frantic she managed to tear off the muzzle.

I was initially a little wary of the two-year-old Bobbie, but only based on what I had been told. It’s hard to read the face or tail of a Shar-Pei. She didn’t bark when I arrived and was simply interested in sniffing me. I could see no hint of a dangerous dog. I knew that she doesn’t like to be touched by strangers and why should she? Do we? It could be that she lacks some peripheral vision due to the wrinkles and gets no warning of an approaching hand.

Bobbie (name and details altered) hasn’t actually bitten anyone!

Her behaviour had changed dramatically over the past three months, coinciding with changes in other circumstances and with a male friend now coming in daily to take the dog out for walks. He may over-excite her and thinks teasing is a game. There had been few unpredictable happenings to badly scare her.

At about the same time Bobbie began to change towards the 14-year-old daughter also. From being an affectionate dog he started grumbling at her, walking away when she approached. It came to a head when the girl touched Bobbie while he was lying between her and her mum. The lady had been petting Bobbie. The dog jumped on the girl, pinning her, snarling into her face.

The fact she didn’t bite when she could have done in fact shows considerable inhibition. What suddenly made her feel so angry? Was it pain? A vet check is very difficult at the moment. Was it jealousy – “go away, she’s mine”? Her hand may have been moving over the dog towards the lady – was it protectiveness? My own feelings are that because of the heightened, stressed and confused state Bobbie has been in for the past three months, it would only need something very small to finally tip her over the edge.

The lady has done a lot of great work training Bobbie. She is very perceptive where her beloved dog is concerned so it’s surprising that, when out on the walk which she fits in at the start of her very busy day, she gives Bobbie little opportunity to make her own choices or relax on a longer, looser lead, controlling even her toileting which must be in a chosen place and on command. She is under tight control and the lady has a strict routine. The man on the other hand doesn’t try to control her at all but may be erratic and inconsistent.

They need to put things back to where they were three months ago before all this started. The lady is happy for the man not to call in any more to walk the dog when she is at work so that things can be more calm and consistent.

She will try to relax a little where walks are concerned and let go of her tight schedule a little, bearing in mind that a dog walk should be fulfilling the dog’s needs. So long as she spends the same length of time out, how this time is filled can be more flexible. Poor Bobbie can be a bit obsessive about things and wants to constantly mark when out. The fact she is forcibly prevented from doing so could well make her need to do so all the greater.

This is not an easy start to the day for a dog and it may be more of a coincidence that the incident with the daughter took place in the morning, after Bobbie’s walk.

The lady wrote me a long list of things that stress, over-excite or scare Bobbie and dealing with these is our starting point. Giving Bobbie self-calming things to do will also help. Her dislike of being approached directly and touched by people she doesn’t know well should be respected. Work now needs to be done in a calm and consistent way where her reactivity to other dogs is concerned and she needs to trust the person on the other end of the lead. Trust is so important.

Gradually Bobbie should start to relax back to her old self. It has been heartbreaking for the lady who has read and researched in order to do her best. It can be hard to see things objectively that you live in the middle of.

AND – they will change vet! Bobbie can be walked into the waiting room many times over the next few weeks and there she can be given treats. The lady, who has done so much great training with her dog, can work on weaning her into happily wearing the muzzle. A good vet will take his or her time to help Bobbie relax before touching her.

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 Bobbie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Really Bites Out of the Blue?

Last week three-year-old Cocker Spaniel Pete had been booked in to be putCocker Spaniel's behaviour had resulted in an appointment to have him put to sleep, now cancelled to sleep.

Fortunately the lady phoned me first. Her dog had bitten her quite badly and it wasn’t the first time. She told me the many time he bites out of the blue – for no reason at all.

I suggested that she asked her vet to give Pete a thorough check including bloods and a physical examination to rule out pain and any other condition that could make him have a short fuse. Unfortunately the vet refused, saying he could see the dog was fine and then gave confusing and outdated behaviour advice.

Pete was jumping at me and grabbing my sleeves as I walked in the door. He does the same with the lady. Yet – if she steps on him by mistake, tries to touch his feet or, as she did once, tripped and fell by him, he bites her.

Should not respect for personal space go both ways?

All the bites and near-bites she listed for me can actually be explained. Most were around resources of some sort and the others around Pete’s not wanting to be touched or moved. There is a strong suggestion that at least a couple of those could involve pain of some sort.

Positive reward-based methods aren’t just some modern fad but based on sound scientific research described in all the up-to-date literature, yet still some people hang on to the old notions.

I would agree in principle that the lady should take control of her dog and be ‘in charge’, but that doesn’t mean acting like a ‘dominant Alpha’ which would undoubtedly make things far worse.  In fact, guarding behaviour often starts when people take the puppy’s food away to show ‘who’s boss’. Why do they do that! If he thinks you’re about to steal his food, wouldn’t it actually cause food guarding?

Leadership as in good parenting means building a bond of understanding and mutual respect, whereby the owner is the provider, the protector and the main decision-maker. All this is done kindly using praise and rewards, being motivational so that Pete is willing and cooperative.

I demonstrated the power of food while I was there, showing the lady how to use a clicker and chicken to get Pete eagerly working for her. What a gorgeous dog.

Nearly all conflict between owners and dogs is so unnecessary because dogs so love to please if they are rewarded and appreciated – just like ourselves.  This isn’t bribery.  At the end of a consultation when I’m paid, have they have bribed me to do my job? No. I willingly and happily do my work for them, knowing I then receive my earned reward – payment.

Unless Pete is vet-checked properly we can’t rule out anything physical and invisible, but all the same it usually is very much a relationship issue too when a dog bites out of the blue. It would be a tragedy if Pete’s life were to be ended when with consistent, kind boundaries and getting him to earn much of his food in return for cooperation and learning things, the lady could slowly gain confidence in him.

It will take time.

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


Considering Putting to Sleep their Puli



Hungarian Puli as it normally looks

A Puli

 LC is the first Hungarian Puli I have ever been to. The picture on the left shows how they usually look, but they have had her clipped (on the right) so this is what they really look like under all those ringlets! They feel she seems a lot happier like this.

They had been within half an hour of having four-year-old LC put to sleep for biting the midwife when she called to see the daughter’s new baby a few days ago. This was the first woman she had bitten.

The biting occurances are increasing. Until the midwife it’s always been when men who are standing or walking. It is when they arrive or want to depart. When I stood up to go she suddenly changed from being a really friendly little dog, lying on her back for tummy tickles, to an angry barker.  I say angry, because from her body language it just didn’t look in any way like fear.

They also have a Miniature Poodle, Pickle, who LC likes to control. She won’t let her out through the garden door ahead of her and on walks LC has to be in front and if not, she will body slam her or even go for her. They have had a few serious fights because, although Pickle is scared and the one that ends up bleeding, she is now also beginning to stand up for herself.

The common denominator is excitement and stress. Both dogs bark at the slightest thing and LC may go for an over-excited Pickle.  When people come into the house, family or friends, LC will redirect her frustration onto Pickle – and a spat may ensue. The humans then will be shouting at them to be quiet and to get down which adds to the mayhem.  When I arrived at the house Pickle was barking and jumping up on me and LC, barking also, went for Pickle.

There are a several things to deal with in these dogs’ lives to calm things down drastically. Their diet may be compounding the problem. The first step is to desensitise them to the things that work them up the most – including family walking in and out of the house, picking up keys and having harnesses put on.

Poodle Pickle is now beginning to stand up for herseif


Tomorrow is Christmas Day!  They are having a large family gathering on Boxing Day.

We had to think up something quickly to protect people and dogs. They have already bought a couple of gates so each dog now has her own ‘zone’ whenever necessary, and the family are working on the logistics of their comings and goings, making sure the dogs are shut in their zones until calm. It is complicated. When someone wants to go out they must first put the dogs in their places. When they want to come in they will use the front door and ring the bell, to give people already in the house time to ‘zone’ the dogs!

The dogs will not be let back together or into company until they have calmed down. This could take time, and shouting at them to be quiet is not allowed!

I know how badly the family want to succeed and to be able to keep their dear dog, and they are dedicated to doing all that is necessary now that they know what that is. Putting to sleep a dear dog is heartbreaking. The ‘zoning’ won’t have to be forever, but is necessary in order to manage the situation while they work on it.


Re-Visit to Biting Red Cairn Terrier

Red Cairn Terrier is a good dog if his owners behave properlyA couple of years ago, before I started this blog site, I visited Ben, a beautiful Red Cairn Terrier, then age 7. His (or his owners’) problem was that Ben would bite. If anyone put a hand out near him he would bite. He would catch men’s trouser legs as they walked by and he bit the vicar when he called! He is aloof and not at all affectionate – there is no cuddling him. He won’t allow it.

I worked out a plan with them and for the first two months they did brilliantly. Ben was a changed dog. Then things started to fall apart and the problems came back. I worked with them again and our final communication ended with the lady saying “We relaxed a little as Ben was so good and I thought he would keep this behaviour up.” I replied: “He will only keep up the behaviour if you do. If you go back to your old ways – so will Ben. He might even be worse.” That was the last I heard until a couple of days ago when the lady phoned to say he had bitten a lady and drawn blood, that she was afraid for children they might meet out on a walk and that they were having Ben put to sleep.

Anyway, they decided to give it one more go and I went to see them again last night. In nearly every respect they were ignoring my instructions of a couple of years ago – it was almost like I had never been or spent weeks following up and supporting them. Poor Ben was getting mixed messages – a doting lady owner and a man who, though doting also, was impatient and given to shouting.

As Victoria Stillwell says: Most dog problems have nothing to do with dogs, they are people problems. This is certainly the case with little Ben. He is looked after from time to time by a lady and Ben loves to sit on her lap. He loves her to cuddle him. He never bites when with her. At the groomers he is an angel, allowing her to touch him and pull him about. It is with his owners that he’s the problem dog.

Though Ben seems aloof and withdrawn – apart from mad barking sessions particularly if someone comes to the door, his stress is evident by his frequent air-snapping. I really so hope that this time, last chance saloon, they will consistently put in the required effort and change their ways and not just for a few weeks. It must continue for the rest of his days. It will need great patience and self-control from the gentleman, and more quietness, calm, fewer commands and less scolding from the lady. If they communicate with him properly he should soon enjoy being touched by them also.

The bottom line is, and already proven, if they carry on as they are, so will Ben. The only way to change Ben’s behaviour is to change their own. I can show them how, but I can’t do it for them!

 I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.