Anxious Dog. Permanently Hypervigilant. Pants. Paces.

The smallest thing sets anxious Cas off.  If he settles for a moment, just the intake of breath from someone is enough to cause him to leap to his feet again. Then he rushes about, mouth wide open, panting. 

The Staffordshire Bull Terrier may settle again – briefly. Then a sound from outside starts him off again. When suddenly alarmed, his response may be to charge at somebody, mouth open, and jump on them – usually the young man.

No aggression until the other day.

Continue reading…

Aggression Towards Other Dogs Began Six Months Ago

Aggression towards other dogs when out on walks might be the problem but the causes probably have tentacles in other areas of her life.

Reactivity is always as a result of some sort of stress – fear being the most likely. Stress isn’t a thing that is there one minute and gone the next. The surprise or shock may be sudden, but the effects linger. We know with ourselves that once things start to go wrong nothing seems to go right. We get into a progressively touchy mood. Stress builds up. Continue reading…

Defensive. Unfortunate Incidents. Reactive to Certain Dogs

Poor little Teddy is now on the defensive. He is very small, weighing only about 5kg. The three-year-old is a cross between a Shih Tsu and, surprisingly, a Border Collie – they saw his mother.

The friendly and confident little dog has had two setbacks recently.

Other dogs had never before bothered him.

Two unfortunate incidents

A while ago, the large, friendly and boisterous dog next door had jumped over the fence into Teddy’s garden. He jumped on him, terrifying Teddy. Now Teddy races up and down the fence, boundary barking.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, about to jump into the car, he had an altercation with two larger passing dogs. They jumped on him. They pinned him down and he was bitten on the neck. Teddy screamed and screamed. The young lady says it was one of the most awful experiences of her life.

Since then Teddy has been on the defensive.

They are really worried this may have scarred him for life. Their well-behaved little dog is now tense and reactive. To quote the lady, ‘I’m so upset about it I just done know what to do’.

on the defensive with other dogsWhere before he would walk past a house down the road with barking dogs at the gate, he now barks before he even gets there. He is on the defensive irrespective of whether the dogs are out or not.

Teddy’s defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs is totally understandable as it is all about basic survival and feeling safe. Bad experiences have fallout – a sort of PTSD.  Although the ‘disaster’ itself can be very brief, the effect can take considerable time to recover from. Sometimes it will be permanent unless the dog, like a human, gets specialist help.

Teddy lives in a family of three generations and they all totally adore him! Although they spoil him rotten – he doesn’t actually behave spoilt. They have taken time and trouble training him. He’s beautiful.

Sadly, he has become increasingly territorial and nervous since these incidents.

There is more involved than just dealing with defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs itself. I have broken the work down into about four areas.

A calmer dog

Firstly, if they can keep Teddy as calm as possible it will give him a greater tolerance and he will be less jumpy. This means moderating some of the things they currently do with him that make him wildly excited.

Food

Secondly, key to the whole thing is being able to use food. Food is available all the time to Teddy. His humans share their food with him. He gets chews that are, relative to his size, huge. Food simply has no value as rewards.

This will be a big challenge for one family member in particular!

They will now save the very best food for working with. For instance, if they already add cooked chicken to his meals, what good will cooked chicken be for making him feel better about something he’s scared of? If he’s already full of food and snacks, if he can also help himself to dry food whenever he wants, why would he take any notice of the food they need to use?

Protective

Thirdly, he needs help with his territorial and guarding behaviour which, because the incidents happened so near home, has intensified. They will show him that it’s not his job to protect the garden. This means he shouldn’t for now have free access unless someone is around to help him out.

His humans, the young lady in particular who witnessed the second incident, are themselves nervous. She is not acting like the ‘protector’ that Teddy needs. He will sense everything that she is feeling. She needs to work on acting strong and cool.

Finally, what can they actually do?

What do they do about the big dog next door that jumped over the fence into his garden and terrified him? About the house with the barking dogs that send him into a frenzy of defensive barking when they walk past? What do they do about those dogs and situations they may meet when out?

The work is done using desensitisation and counter-conditioning. This involves keeping within Teddy’s comfort zone – and I would say the young lady’s also. When they near another dog or the garden with barkers, they need to watch him carefully. At the first sign of unease they will increase distance from what is troubling him, before he becomes defensive and starts to bark. It could involve turning around and changing their plans.

This is when food having value becomes vital. Pairing something he should love (food) with something he is uneasy or defensive towards (certain other dogs too close) is the way to go.

Together with the neighbour, they can work on their dogs each side of the now raised fence, using leads, distance and food (or play).

I hope it’s not too long before little Teddy becomes less defensive and can all feel safe on walks and in his own garden again.

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.

 

Head Halter. Restricted. Uncomfortable.

Beautiful Golden Retriever, Monty, really is the perfect family pet despite having a sad start to life. He’s now five.

reactive to dogs when on lead with head halterMy visit was triggered by his attacking another dog on a walk a short while ago.

It was so uncharacteristic that, from hearing all the circumstances before and during the event, I come to the conclusion that it was due to a build up of arousal – including excitement.

Trigger stacking‘.

Without going into the exact circumstances, things probably came to a head and a fairly minor thing was the last straw. This resulted in Monty attacking a dog and injuring his ear. They want to make sure this never happens again, so they contacted me.

Head halter. Restricted and uncomfortable.

Monty is absolutely fine with all other dogs when he is off lead, which is much of the time.

When he’s on lead however it can be a different matter. He wears a head halter which he hates but he’s a big dog and he pulls. The lead is held tight, especially when they approach another dog.

He feels uncomfortable, trapped and understandably on the defensive when another dog barks at him.

Off lead he’s fine, free to avoid anything that worries him.

Actually he’s fine with most dogs even when on lead. The dogs he reacts to with lunging and barking are those who themselves are reactive.

Many walks start with Monty having to run the gauntlet of two or three barking dogs behind gates. He is held tight and walked on, experiencing discomfort from the head halter.

His stress levels will already be rising.

Added to this, at home he can hear a couple of these same dogs from his garden and will bark at them.

This reactivity is undoubtedly due to fear or at least his feeling acutely uncomfortable and vulnerable with proximity to certain dogs.

From now on Monty should have no more opportunity to rehearse barking at dogs he hears, so garden access will be controlled while they work on it. Dogs he’s uncomfortable with will now be associated with good stuff at a distance he can cope with.

Walking comfortably on loose lead from a harness rather than head halter means that Monty will feel less restricted. Already he should feel a lot more confident when encountering those other dogs.

Starting at home where there are few distractions.

We all walked him around the garden on a Perfect Fit harness, loose lead hanging from the front. The idea is for him to learn to walk near them wherever they want to go, like there is no lead at all.

Loose lead walking work will start in the house and garden where there are few distractions.

Soon Monty will get back to walking down the road, but on a loose lead. There should be no more walking past the barking dogs behind gates until he is ready. A comfortable distance from them can always be achieved even if they have to turn around and go back the way they came.

It may be necessary to pop him in the car for now for the five minute walk to where he can be let off lead.

The problem seems fairly straightforward. They will give Monty the feeling of freedom and not force him out of his comfort threshold where proximity to other dogs is concerned.

At this distance they will work hard at getting him to feel differently about those reactive dogs that may be barking and upsetting him. They will teach him what to do, rather than what not to do.

I hate to see frustrated and uncomfortable dogs trying to rub a head halter off on the ground. Without the need for one anymore, I’m sure walks will be transformed for the otherwise perfect Monty, and for anyone walking him.

 

Reactive on lead to other dogs

German Shepherd with Pointer mixYesterday I went to another German Shepherd who greeted me like a long-lost friend – the lively twenty-two month-old Gordon. Such a change from the many fearful Shepherds I so often meet. Gordon lives with Lulu, a very attractive older Pointer mix.

The problem is that Gordon is reactive on lead to other dogs. He is absolutely fine with dogs when he’s off lead, if perhaps a little excitable, but becomes very stressed the nearer they get to other dogs when he’s restrained.

The couple have worked hard on training their dogs. In the training environment Gordon’s reactivity to dogs can be controlled. These solutions, however, are hard to translate into the real world when out on walks and where dogs may appear unpredictably or the environment doesn’t give them the flexibility. So, despite their hard work and effort, the problem continues.

Reactivity on lead, along with coming when called, can be as much about a dog’s relationship with the human holding the lead or wanting him to come when called as it is about actual training. A lot of trust is involved. If the human has the dog, effectively, captive on the end of a leash then he/she must be trusted when they encounter a potential hazard like another dog, and he/she must be sufficiently motivating to hold their dog’s attention.

The dog needs to feel he has choice too. Formal training seldom allows choice. Walking on a longish loose lead without any feeling of restriction gives the dog more feeling of choice. If the dog signals that he needs more distance from the other dog, then that, too, is his choice and the human should comply. The more trusting he gets, the nearer to the other dog he will get before he reacts. That reaction point is his threshold, and that is where the best work happens.

It’s not always as easy as it sounds because of life’s unpredictability and because the dog himself can be in a different mental state from day-to-day, depending upon stress levels affected by a build-up of totally different things. We can but chip away at it, building up trust and confidence, teaching the dog coping strategies.

Where also most conventional training falls short is that there are things that need addressing in the home, things that, when put in place, will help build this relationship of trust.

If a dog is rushing off to the fence to bark at passing dogs and people, then he is practising the very skills they don’t want. Away-from-home training won’t be dealing with that. The humans in the family can show their dogs, in a way they understand, that they are responsible for people coming to the house, and when they bark at perceived danger they can reinforce their roles as protectors – the training environment won’t deal with that either. Most subtle communication issues can’t be spotted away from the home either, particularly as they may involve all the family members.

If people work on getting their dogs’ full attention at home, away from distractions, then there is a much better chance they will keep their attention on walks when faced with other dogs. If their dogs are taught to come instantly when called in the home environment, without hesitation, there is a much higher chance that recall work out in the fields will be successful.

Gordon’s family is really switched on, and it will happen, I’m sure.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Gordon, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet 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).

Rehomed Older Dog

Oldies Club Border Terrier

Max

As is often the case with a rehomed older dog, it’s impossible to know how that dog will be when he has had time to settle into his new home and a totally different lifestyle. When a dog has probably spent his recent years shut indoors, it is hardly surprising when there are issues around other dogs.

Dear little Max, age eleven, has been rehomed by Oldies Club. Like many older dogs, he has been the loved pet of a person who through age or infirmity has no longer been able to look after him properly. Max now has a new lease of life living with an active couple and their other Border Terrier, thirteen year old Katie.

Elderly Border Terrier

Katie

Because there were dogs that he was fine with, it was assumed he would be okay with all dogs. The new owners got a shock when, soon after they had brought him home, Max and a relative’s small dog, as soon as they clapped eyes on one another, broke into a fight. Since then there have been some other incidents resulting in walks not being enjoyable and the couple now having to curtail some of the previous activities they had enjoyed with the placid and dog-friendly Katie.

Having asked lots of questions to get a good feel for the situation against a background of the great many dogs and people I have been to, I got a clear picture of what needs to be done.

Like so many dogs, the issue may be of other dogs on walks, but there are things to put in place first at home in order to optimise their strategies when out. I likened it to a tripod – three ‘legs’ to hold firm and ‘other dogs out on walks’ to then be placed on top (house built on rock, not sand).

The first thing is to address the barking at dogs from his own home. There is a truly aggressive-sounding dog the other side of the fence so there is a lot of boundary running and barking from the two of them, filling Max with fear and honing his dog-aggression skills. He also is on watch at the front window from the back of the sofa. Not only can the couple take responsibility for danger and lookout duty, they can also do some serious desensitisation and counter-conditioning work in their own garden.

The second thing is that both dogs are overfed with food left down all the time. We preferably want to be able to work with food so Max has to be a bit more hungry and food needs more value – so they have work to do rationing food and making it harder to come by.

Thirdly is to keep his general stress levels as low as possible. They have already noticed that his ‘aggression’ episodes have taken place after a run of minor things has occurred that will have gradually stacked up – loading the gun so to speak.

With these things in place, they can now work on the ‘other dogs’ issue. We have a step-by-step plan.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Max, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet 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).

A Little Angel – Till he Sees Another Dog

Cavachon1Considering that little ‘Cavachon’ Chauncey was an impulse buy from a pet shop a couple of years ago at the age of about eight weeks old, he has turned out remarkably well. This is tribute to the hard work and dedication of his lady owner.

Little Chauncey is very friendly if initially slightly wary of men. If they take him out anywhere, to the pub for example, he revels in the attention……until another dog enters. Then he quickly morphs into a barking, lunging and snarling little monster!

Very unfortunately there are a couple of larger dogs that are often running loose in the country area where they live, and Chauncey was first attacked by one of them at about a year old. The other ran through the open door and attacked Chauncey in the house.  Understandably, he changed from being confident and friendly with dogs to being fiercely on the defensive with other dogs.

Chauncey is most reactive to things that happen suddenly – especially dogs suddenly appearing. Paradoxically, he has been walked with several dogs by a dog walker and is perfectly happy, and he mingles with other dogs at the groomers. He also has doggy friends that he plays with.

It is hard to desensitise a dog to the point where he will stop believing other dogs are a threat, given past history, because the reality is that some are indeed a threat. This is where the owner or walker must play their part.  It’s up to them to build up trust and simply ensure, by hook or by crook, that their dog is safe – and that he knows it.

It is very tempting to scold our dog and apologise when he goes off on one at another dog.  It’s embarrassing.  However, we must act as advocate for him, unapologetically keeping unwanted canine advances at bay without worrying whether the owner may find us rude. A Yellow Dog shirt with words like ‘In Training’ or ‘I Need Space’ can help explain why we may suddenly be walking away from another dog owner without explanation.

It could also mean putting in some effort to find ‘safe’ places to walk, or places where any other dogs should be on lead.

Little Chauncey hasn’t been walked at all for several weeks now, so they can start again from scratch. Instead of the constant stress of pulling and being corrected, he will have a loose lead from the start. By whatever means necessary he must not be allowed any nearer to another dog than he can tolerate. This is where the intensive work will start, and a carefully structured plan especially for Chauncey is now in place.

It is so important not to push ahead too fast and take things at the dogs own pace. It is human nature to want measurable and fast progress. However, the more relaxed we are and the less hard we try, the better it will go. To quote Grisha Stewart: The less you are able to ‘want’ progress — the more of it you will have.

Two months later and they are doing well – though still very much work in progress as one would expect: ‘We have donned our yellow jackets and have been going for a great walk every morning through fields and woodland. He’s loving it! Lots to sniff and follow. I saw a couple of dogs this morning going walking 2 large dogs off lead. The man saw my yellow jacket from a distance and turned and walked another way but Chauncey saw them, I kept his attention and fed him and he didn’t react at all.  We are loving our walks and getting fit in the process.
Gradually I am getting him settled into enjoying and being relaxed in the open fields and introducing him at distance to other walkers and dogs.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Chauncey, 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 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).

Rescue Dog Settling In

VinnieI suggested they start all over again just as though Vinnie had never been walked before!

They have had the young Jack Russell for just over one week now and he is a rescue dog slowly finding his feet.

It’s very likely that he had seldom been outside his home and garden during the 2 1/2 years of his life which was apparently with a terminally ill person. He is another dog that reacts badly when seeing other dogs and where the groundwork needs to be put in at home first.

Each day he becomes more relaxed with them and although he’s an independent little dog he now will enjoy a cuddle.

He has a couple of strange little quirks.  He is completely quiet when anyone comes up the front path, rings on the doorbell, delivers a package or comes in the front door. However, when there is any noise from out the back – a dog barking or a car door slamming, he will rush out barking.

He’s very reactive to anything sudden, even someone coughing (they will gradually desensitise him to that in very small stages and using food). I do wonder whether the general background noise in his previous home may have been higher. One can only speculate. Now he lives with quiet people in a quiet area and against this background most sounds may well seem sudden.

The other strange thing is that from time to time he stands still, almost trance-like with his eyes closing. I did wonder whether it was because he was anxious, but there were no other indications such as lip licking or yawning. I took a video. On advice, I have suggested they get this checked out with their vet.

They will first start walking Vinnie in the garden until both humans and dog have the technique and a loose lead. As they go along they will work on getting and keeping his attention.

Only then they will venture out of the gate – but they won’t be going very far!

Bit by bit they will build on this until he is walking happily down the road on a loose lead. Only now will they be ready to work on dogs and Vinnie should be a lot more confident. They must do their best to keep at a distance where Vinnie isn’t too uncomfortable to take food or to give his humans his attention.

The secret to success, particularly with a rescue dog, is being prepared to put in the necessary effort and put in the necessary time – as I know Vinnie’s people are (see my ‘Reality Check’ page).

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Vinnie 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).

Aggressive Reaction to Being Touched

automatic aggressive reactionThe delightful Marty is now six years old. When he was about two-and-a-half he was diagnosed with Addison’s disease. A couple of months later he displayed aggression for the first time.

Could it be a coincidence, or could it be to do with either a chemical imbalance in his system or the effect of the medication?

Marty has a short fuse

Sometimes Marty has a very short fuse. He also gets stressed and hyped up very easily.

Over the past three years there have been around nine incidents, each a little more serious than the last. Several have involved children. He has a sudden automatic aggressive reaction if touched whilst asleep.

Although his teeth had previously engaged, only three months ago did he actually puncture a friend’s skin. A few days ago he snarled and snapped at the teenage son.

There seems to be nothing separating Marty not liking something and his immediately reacting.

The situation must be managed sensibly by playing safe. As being disturbed causes an automatic aggressive reaction, he should be left in peace when asleep.

However, there is a lot more that can be done, especially in reducing Marty’s stress levels. I found that he couldn’t tolerate any activity for more than a few minutes without beginning to pace and pant.

Petting forced on him
labradoodle doesn't want' to be petted

Marty needs to learn to value human touch. At present it is always freely available – he is never turned down when he demands attention. Added to this, petting is pushed onto him by people he doesn’t want to be touched by (he certainly does look and feel lovely). The family, too, simply touch and pet him too much and for too long.

Because Marty chooses when he is touched and when he gets attention, it’s logical to assume he chooses when he’s NOT touched too. Attention doesn’t have to be in the form of touching.

If our dog behaves in a hostile or aggressive manner it can be so upsetting. In order to show the offended person we are taking it seriously, we go overboard in our own reaction to our dog, punishing the dog. Unfortunately this only confuses him more and makes things worse. This isn’t to say we don’t deal with it – but not like this.

As the automatic aggressive reaction is probably a reflex, any punishment is only going to make things worse.

We expect so much from our dogs don’t we.

This is from The Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson. ‘All dogs have a threshold at which they will bite. This kind of breaking point also exists for you and me….the point is that absolute pacifism is not the yardstick we use to describe ‘normal’ human behaviour…The Walt Disney ideal would have us believe that absolute pacifism is the norm for dogs with the exception of extreme provocation. Announcing that nice dogs don’t bite and vicious dogs do is like saying nice people never argue or get angry and vicious people do…..Real dogs have a bit threshold’