Little Dogs. Treat as Big Dogs?

Most people who choose little dogs treat them very differently to how people usually treat bigger dogs, carrying them everywhere and keeping them closely on lead – but not so the couple I went to last night.

Daisy

Daisy

Little dogs are ‘proper dogs’.

Their two little dogs, tiny Chihuahua Jack Russell mixes, have deliberately been given the same ‘proper dog’ life as larger dogs in every way possible.

Surrounded by love and care, they have been kindly trained to do the important things like come back when called and to wait. Twice a day the lady takes them somewhere by car so they can run free. The little dogs are seldom carried.

Although both Daisy and Poppy are fourteen months of age, they came from different places. Poppy, the smaller of the two, is much more robust mentally. Daisy is more nervous, easily upset, and it’s for her that I was called out.

Both little dogs get on very well apart from the occasional pop when Daisy gets over-aroused and redirects onto Poppy. Daisy’s general arousal and stress levels are something we will be working on.

They called me in with the aim for Daisy ‘not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’.

Why should little dogs not object to their personal space being invaded?

Upon discussion, I feel that it is totally acceptable for Daisy to tell another dog – a dog that will probably be a lot larger than herself – to keep its distance. She ignores dogs unless they are in her face, it’s the same with young children, and that is the end game many people would be happy to achieve.

This is where treating little dogs exactly the same as big dogs falls down.

Little dogs and big dogs aren’t the same. Little dogs are a lot more vulnerable. Just imagine what the world and other dogs must look like through their eyes! Anything approaching would loom. Just imagine also how little dogs may appear to a big dog, particularly a dog of a hunting breed.

Twice a day the two little dogs are taken, by car, to a large open park or to the woods. Both come back when called and, always off lead, they have plenty of freedom. Daisy in particular stays close. Of late, the more nervous Daisy has shown reluctance to go for the second walk but that’s okay, the lady allows her choice – she also allows her choice if she doesn’t want to get out of the car the other end. I love that, but why the reluctance in the first place?

I’m sure Daisy is torn between loving the walk and feeling unsafe. Once a day is enough for her at present.

If the lady is anywhere she can’t see other dogs coming, she is taking a risk.

Little dogs on the beach

On the beach

A short while ago the two little dogs were chased by a Rottweiler and another big dog that suddenly appeared out of the trees. The Rottie was after the braver Poppy who, when she eventually came back, leapt into the lady’s arms terrified, urinating and shaking. She may have been lucky.

They talked to their vet about Daisy’s attitude to other dogs. The advice given? Not to pick her up because she may then become protective of the lady!

How ridiculous in this context.

Just as behaviourists are not vets and I would always refer for anything medical, few vets are experienced, up-to-date behaviourists and often give outdated advice or may not have had time to see the whole picture.

The two aspects we are concentrating on are Daisy’s general stress levels and confidence, and making sure she feels safe on walks. This means doing things just a bit differently. It means choosing locations carefully.

Making sure the little dogs not only feel safe on walks but are actually safer too means regularly calling them back even if there is no other dog about so the two things are not associated. It means regularly picking one or other dog up and getting her used to being carried for a short distance, regardless of the approach of another dog.crisis. Why?

Little dogs simply are not big dogs and they have to be protected

The owner needs to be the little dogs’ safety net and trusted always to keep them safe. If, then, a big dog approaches, Daisy can opt to jump into the lady’s arms – better than simply scooping her up unless in emergency. If she knows she has backup, she may feel less need to defend herself anyway.

Little dogs in the mirror

Who are those dogs in the mirror?

See this lovely video ‘Small Dog Syndrome‘ from Steve Mann with his own little dog, a Chihuahua.

The lady will watch Daisy’s body language carefully and keep sufficient distance between her and other dogs. She can be assertive with other owners and parents of young children. She already has a yellow top for herself that says ‘My dog needs space’. I suggest one for Daisy too – ‘I need space’.

If the other dog leaves her alone, Daisy is chilled. She can even sit within a couple of feet of a dog she doesn’t know if the lady stops to chat, so long as it leaves her alone. What more can we ask for?

Would we like a giant stranger looming over us and putting his scary face right into our own? No. He would deserve a complaint if not a slap. We ask a lot of our dogs.

So, we have changed the aim of my visit from ‘For Daisy not to react aggressively to dogs that came too close to her’ to ‘Helping Daisy to feel safe when other dogs get too close’.

Little Daisy will then trust the lady to keep her safe and I’m sure she will soon be happily choosing to go out for the second walk.

 

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 the little dogs Daisy and Poppy and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. 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)

Coming When Called is Coming When Called

‘Well-trained’ isn’t always enough.

The three dogs, 7 month old Rottie pup Kaiser, Jack Russell Budd, 7 and Jack a Chihuahua Jack Russel mix aged 8 have been taught some impressive training tricks by the lady.

This case is interesting because three problems exist despite the training.

Kaiser will soon be coming when called

Kaiser

Kaiser is so excited to see people he jumps all over them. He’s already large and it won’t be funny to have a full-grown male Rottie jumping up at one. Already it hurts.

Secondly, all dogs need to pay more attention to their humans on walks, Kaiser because he’s so excited to see people and dogs, and the two little dogs because they get scared and noisy when on lead and see a dog.

Thirdly, the dogs come when called but not when it really matters.

When people come to the house Buddy can be taught to calm down before he gets any attention. Even being pushed and being told to get down is attention, isn’t it. It may get him down but won’t stop him next time.

He can be taught to do something polite like to sit before being given attention.

Because he is just so excited, sitting is difficult for the pup, so it’s the excitement that needs to be addressed first. Jumping up is a problem easily solved if all parties are consistent.

Getting the dogs’ attention when out starts at home.

In essence all dogs need to clock in to their humans when asked to. At the moment why should they? What’s in it for them? A quick fussing? They get fussing for free so it’s not a reward.

Jack and Buddy

Jack and Buddy

Each dog should respond instantly to his name when he hears it, with eye contact. Yes – Me? They can work on holding the gaze for a short while. There has to be something in it for the dog, though. or he will soon learn to ignore them.

Giving eye contact when he hears his name needs to become an automatic reflex, just the same as you would blink if someone pretended to throw something into your face.

An automatic reflex only happens if it is practised enough times. Hundreds of times.

Coming when called starts at home too.

Reliable ‘coming when called’ is a lot harder and the work also starts at home.

They can work on a ‘coming when called’ reflex in the same way. For these three dogs I have suggested they charge a whistle by pairing the whistle with tiny special food hundreds of times.

Meanwhile if the dog’s not certain to come – don’t call. They won’t set themselves up to fail and thus lose the power they are building up. In places where running off could be a problem, like chasing children he wants to play with, Kaiser should be kept on a long line for now.

Getting attention and coming when called are the solution to other minor problems they are having. Kaiser likes to eat dog poo (coprophagia). Instead of yelling NO and giving it value, they can call him away and reward him. In fact, repeated sufficiently often he can be taught to automatically come to them for a piece of his kibble when one of the other dogs does his business. Obviously in order to avoid rehearsal Kaiser needs to be accompanied when outside.

By saying ‘Kaiser’ and getting instant eye contact, they can call him away when he’s about to jump on the sofa. Problem solved.

When he sees a child out on a walk, instead of running excitedly up to it and possibly chasing it, they call ‘Kaiser!’ ‘Yes – Me?’ ‘Come’. Reward. Problem solved.

Here is a nice little video: ‘A recall is a recall‘.

Ultimately the family should be able to blow the whistle and all three dogs will come running to them EVERY TIME, regardless of other dogs and things to chase and best blown before they are in full flight. Obviously some breeds are easier to train to come back than others, notably retrieving breeds. I know people who will correct me and say their breed will never reliably come back when called, but I still need to be convinced.

Ultimately the family should be able to call just a chosen dog, calling his name, get his instant attention and then ‘COME’. Reward.

Most people I go to say their dog has good recall – except when he sees another dog or has something better to do. That to my mind isn’t good recall. It’s a dog that has been ‘trained’ to understand coming when called and may be brilliant in the environment of his training class, but has chosen to do so in his own good time when out in the real world.

Training is largely about the dog’s relationship with his humans – and that is home stuff.

My own dogs’ formal training is limited to sit, down and stay, but coming when called is something they do reliably(and one is a Lurcher). Coming when called is basic for their own safety and for my sanity.

Aggressive Behaviour. Why?

Aggressive behaviour, is it through fear or something else?

Delilah was in another room behind a gate when arrived, barking but not for long. Her lead was already attached to her harness. When the gate was opened she didn’t join us for several minutes. When she did, she was fine. I had laced the floor between the doorway and myself with food so she immediately picked up ‘nice smell’ on entering my presence.

No sign of aggressive behaviourShe sniffed me, wandered about and settled between myself and the lady where we sat at the dining table. She looked just like a Corgi but DNA testing revealed a mix of German Shepherd, Malamute and Miniature Poodle!

I knew that she could bark, snarl and snap at people’s legs or shoes but only in her own house or garden. She is worse with men which isn’t uncommon and she has a particular fear of boots.

As she lay beside us I was looking for signs of timidity and saw none. However, the whole time I was there she was either in front of me facing outwards – it felt like she was blocking me in – or between myself and the lady. At one stage I needed to go to the toilet so asked the lady to pick up her lead and take her out of the room to avoid stressing her until I was sitting again. She returned to the same place  – in the picture the lady is on the chair to my right.

Delilah was a Romanian street dog and for the first months of her life completely unrestricted. She then was in a shelter for nine months, loose with lots of other dogs, followed by a few months in a foster home where again there were lots of dogs and much coming and going of people.

Now she is a single dog living in a quiet cottage with only the lady. For the first two months she was the model dog, happy to see people coming into the house. Fine with other dogs when on lead.

As so often happens with dogs fitting into a completely different world, gradually this began to change.

Although I felt I should be careful indoors, Delilah was very friendly and accepting of me outside the house when we went for a short walk, happily letting me hold the lead and demonstrate loose lead walking with her.

Where indoors she may be reactive to people but not when she’s out, when outside her aggressive behaviour is towards dogs – but only when she is restrained on lead. She may may bark and lunge (not always). Off lead, however, she loves to run about, playing with any dog who is interested – as I saw for myself. She is bold and fearless.

RussellDelThe lady has been exposing Delilah to as many people and dogs as possible. She takes her to some nice training classes. She has friends coming to see her at home.

Worried about her increasing aggressive behaviour to people in the house, the lady has had a trainer visit who advocated spraying the dog with water when she showed aggression.

This tactic of spraying water sums up the very opposite of what I would do to a dog displaying fear or territorial possessiveness or even anger. The way to stop the behaviour (which is a symptom only) is to stop the emotions that cause it.

How will punishment or even a short, sharp interruptor, change emotions permanently for the better?

Okay, it may stop the actual symptom in the moment, but what then? The emotion won’t change and will probably become worse. It will fester and break out somewhere, in some way, for sure.

What about trust?

The dog is feeling deeply uncomfortable about something and then gets sprayed with water, which she won’t like, by the very person she should trust, who has been advised to do this rather than try to understand and help her out!

Fortunately the lady refused to do it.

We have several things to work on and it could take time. We are working on getting Delilah to happily accept people coming into the house with desensitisation work around the front door in particular. It’s like now she has a permanent home which is hers, she is becoming increasingly territorial. Walking legs and particularly feet with boots being a target for her aggressive behaviour which could well be influenced by a herding element in here genes, we will work on boots away from feet first, then boots on the feet of sitting people, and then people walking in boots.

The lady will do her best to show Delilah in every way she can that she doesn’t need protecting and that it’s her own job to protect their territory. The lady herself is in charge of comings and goings. We have a couple of strategies for when people come into the house including more simple management.

On walks Delilah will unfortunately need to lose some of her precious freedom and to be restricted to a long line for a while the lady works on her recall. She is so used to freelancing that she will only come when she is ready. When we were out together I held my breath as she ran off, assured she couldn’t get out of the field. I fear it’s a crisis waiting to happen. Here is a great little video from Steve Mann: ‘A Recall is a Recall‘.

On a long line she shouldn’t feel trapped when she meets other dogs. If she wants to play it can be dropped. The lady will work on her on-lead reactivity to certain other dogs.

From a noisy life where she has been one of many to a quiet life where she is the only one, Delilah is still having big adjustments to make after only three months still.

I have since been unable to get My My My Delilah out of my brain (thanks Tom Jones!).

 

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 Delilah 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 aggression 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)

Context. Why It’s So Important

Seeing things clearly and objectively in context can be hard from the inside.

This consultation has lead me somewhat away from a story about the beautiful dog herself and down another path. The Dog's behaviour not taken in contextyoung Staffie – isn’t she a poppet – and her young owners with their new baby have been doing brilliantly.

Just a couple of things have recently arisen that trouble them and that they want to nip in the bud. One issue is on walks where she seems to have lost her recall. She has run into fields of cows to chase them and she may sometimes be a bit unruly with other dogs. Now the lady is walking with the baby also, she has even more reason to be able to trust Nahla.

Nahla upon seeing another dog may also lie down and refuse to move! This can be a challenge when the young lady is carrying her baby in a sling. She has to wait it out.

We now have a plan for walk difficulties. They will make coming to a whistle a reflex action by constant repetition at home and when out before letting her off a long line. She loves a ball so they will keep it in their pockets and only throw it after blowing the whistle. Pavlov would love this.

The other more distressing problem is, to quote, ‘Nahla’s guarding behaviour’ around their baby when they visit the young lady’s mother. Her mum has three dogs, a Labrador and two Rotties, one of which, Hector, has been Nahla’s puppy playmate.

Nahla is ‘showing aggression and jealousy’ towards Hector when he’s near the baby.

Nahla, they say, was their first baby! She’s now twenty months old. The are the perfect dog parents. She has had kind, positive training, she eats nutritious food and she shares all aspects of their lives. She is friendly and loving, and at home really the perfect dog.

Baby came along six weeks ago. Everything is fine, due both to Nahla’s lovely nature and to her owners forward planning and love for her.

How can the dog I was with be guarding or aggressive?

Ignoring the context leads to jumping to wrong conclusions. Jumping to wrong conclusions means we won’t be dealing with the issue appropriately – we may not be dealing with the real problem at all but with something else entirely.

Naming something the dog does ‘guarding behaviour’ is only a step away from labeling the dog ‘an aggressive dog’.

Give a dog a bad name.

Without even seeing it for myself, knowing the dog I would stake my life on Nahla’s sudden growling and snapping at Hector having nothing to do with guarding at all. It is so important not just to look at what a dog is doing at the time, but also the build-up, what other things are going on at the time and the whole context including the input of the humans involved.

With a little delving I worked out that this is probably more or less what actually happens:

People obviously are extremely protective and anxious when four large dogs are crowding around a new baby. There will be a certain amount of tension.

The couple, carrying tiny grandson, enter mum’s house with Nahla. Her three dogs, the two Rotties and Labrador, are over-the-top excited to see Nahla who tries to wrestle her way through them to excitedly greet mum. Mum is trying to tell her to get down and to control her dogs using commands. I assume they are ignoring her.

The couple sit down, holding baby, and all three bigger dogs want to have a sniff and hello – they have absolutely no problems with the baby, just curiosity and general excitement.

Obviously a Labrador and two somewhat slobbery Rottie’s (mine was slobbery anyway!) are a bit too much around the baby so mum, who is anxious now, repeatedly shouts at her dogs Leave, Leave, Leave.

Human stressing or scolding can often be the tipping point.

Nahla now has a pop at Hector.

The whole thing is too much for her, she’s not used to all this excitement. Highly aroused and maybe a little anxious too because the dogs aren’t behaving in the peaceful way around baby she herself has been taught, Nahla then redirects her frustrations onto Hector.

I don’t know what happens next, but I guess Nahla, misunderstood, is told off. One can begin to see the direction where this will now be heading if not handled differently.

My advice, then, is either for all dogs to meet out on a walk first and get the excitement out of their system first. Alternatively, when they arrive at mum’s, mum’s dogs can be shut in another room to start with. Nahla can then get over her excitement at seeing mum. The other dogs can then join them one at a time, waiting for calm first.

In this calmer setting, if a dog is too close to baby for comfort, he can be gently called away and rewarded for doing so.

Looked at the affair in context, would we call this pop at Hector guarding behaviour or aggression? I wouldn’t. The wrong diagnosis leads to the wrong treatment. In this case it’s the over-arousal that needs dealing with.

Here is a really good piece by Pat Miller about incidents in a multi-dog household and the importance of finding the stressors, which is much the same thing as examining the context.

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 Nahla 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, as this case illustrates perfectly.  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)

Two Sighthounds and an Elderly Springer

The two sighthounds barely lifted their heads from the sofa when I entered the room.

sighthounds with Springer Spaniel

Rosie, Eamonn and their elderly Springer

I could hardly believe it when I rang the doorbell and from a house with three dogs there was no barking at all – not even from their elderly Springer but she may be a bit deaf.

When I entered the room both sighthounds were on the sofa. I don’t know if Rosie even opened her eyes.

Eamonn, curious, got down from the chair, stretched his long body in the way that sighthounds do and calmly came over to investigate me. His long, intrusive greyhound-like nose explored my work bag.

Rosie, a stunning Saluki mix, seemed unusually quiet and motionless. They say she is aloof and it’s hard to decide if this is all or whether she is also keeping her head down so to speak. She lives with the very polite and calm Eamonn, a Sloughi mix from Ireland (no, I hadn’t heard of a Sloughi either – a North African breed of Sighthounds found mainly in Morocco).

Both dogs are failed fosters – and I well understand why. They are sensational.

The people are experienced dog owners and fosterers of sighthounds in particular. They have watched many of Victoria Stilwell’s videos and because I am one of her UK VSPDT trainers I have the privilege of working with them. Sometimes it is necessary to get objective and experienced outside input.

The family has had the two sighthounds for around a year. Rosie, now five, had been used as a puppy-making machine in Wales and then dumped by the roadside when she was no more use to them and Eamonn, now about two, had been in another sad situation. Seeing both dogs now it’s hard to believe either had known anything but love.

.

Some months later they fostered another dog.

All was well with both sighthounds until another foster, a female, came to live with them for about five months.

With this particular foster dog in her home, Rosie became increasingly tense and unhappy. The dog was needy and attention-seeking and this instability upset Rosie.

Unfortunately her aggressive attitude then spread to antipathy to other dogs that they met when out and Eamonn was sucked in also. They feed off one another.

Before the other dog came, both sighthounds were mostly fine with other dogs. Now they are walked with muzzles.

Rosie

Rosie

Rosie is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. When she is let off lead with Eamonn this quiet and poised dog can totally change. She goes crazy – charging around in circles, stirring herself up into such a high that she then redirects aggressively onto Eamonn who becomes quite scared and hides.

Why is she suddenly so aroused? Where has all that stress come from? It’s like she erupts. To me it suggest that though otherwise so quiet and undemanding, there must be more going on inside her. The regular encounters with other dogs when out, although already being worked on to some extent, may be contributing to well-hidden stress levels.

The foster dog has now moved on and Rosie is altogether much happier again in her own, introverted sort of way. They say they would like her to play but I suspect she’s not psychologically able to abandon herself to proper play.

The two main issues we are dealing with are Rosie and her reactivity to other dogs (Eamonn is fine without Rosie there) and Eamonn’s running off, maybe for a couple of hours, if he spots something to chase.

Eamonn

Eamonn

They will only walk the two dogs separately for now in order to concentrate on Rosie’s over-arousal of which there is no sign at home and her reactivity to other dogs, and on Eamonn’s recall.

In a way both Rosie’s attitude towards dogs (with a barking neighbouring dog to bark back at) and Eamonn’s prey drive (pigeons in the garden to wind him up) are behaviours being rehearsed at home.

They can take advantage of both these ‘problem’ situations by using them to create new strategies to use when out.

Sighthounds can spot potential prey from a great distance. The only way to prevent them running after something apart from having them restrained on a long line is first to train an immediate alternative reaction that redirects their instinct to chase onto something else. Once the focusing on the prey has broken into the chase stage it may be too late.

They will take it slowly with Rosie, doing their very best to make sure she doesn’t get closer to another dog than she feels comfortable whilst working hard to gradually decrease that distance by giving her choice and creating positive associations. It’s important meanwhile that there are no unexpected and uncontrolled encounters. Here is why.

Last year they took their two beautiful sighthounds on holiday where there were lots of other on lead dogs and they want to go again later this year. With hard work they will hopefully get Rosie back to her old self in time so they can all walk down the streets together as before.

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)

Family Dog, Consistency is Key

The importance of consistency.

I sat with the family – parents with late-teens son and daughter – and their dear little Tibetan Terrier, Archie.

Tibetan Terrier in need of consistency

My first question was, as always, ‘What would you like to achieve from my help?’  The answer was for Archie to be more relaxed around other dogs and to be trusted to come back when called.

Exactly the same aim as so many people I go to.

This sounds simple and straightforward but it isn’t. It’s unlikely to be just a question of going out on a few walks with someone. For a dog to be relaxed around other dogs he must feel safe and this has a lot to do with his relationship with his humans.

Poor Archie was attacked by two dogs a couple of months which has not only upset Archie but it’s really shaken the lady who had him at the time.

In order to feel safe the dog should not feel trapped and helpless on the end of a tight lead, particularly one attached uncomfortably to a collar, held by someone he may not completely trust to keep him safe (in his mind). In order not to feel trapped he should learn to walk in a more relaxed fashion on a loose lead. In order to walk on a loose lead he should no longer expect to make progress when the lead is tight; in order to walk on a loose lead he shouldn’t be too excited before starting out. In order to trust his humans when out, they themselves need to be confident; they need to show him who protects him and motivates him back at home.

In order for him to come when called when off lead, he must take notice of them at home and reliably come when called around the house and in from the garden etc. etc. Each family member must be consistent.

It’s anything but simple.

It’s great to go to a family where all four members pull together with a walking rota. Archie gets two walks a day.

For a plan to work, each walker must have the same walking system. Each needs to wait for calm before leaving. Each needs to use the same technique for teaching loose lead walking. Each needs to react in exactly the same way when Archie sees a dog – he alerts, he may pull and then he drops down flat. It’s vital none of them use force.

Each should carry food on walks.

Each should give Archie their full attention for that twenty minutes and not be occupied with something else like a phone.

 

A ‘walk’ now mean something different.

Walks will occupy the same amount of time as before but no longer go from A to B. It will be about the journey, not the destination. So what if the dog wants to sniff for five minutes? Whose walk is it? A dog that is pulling with a walker who is in a rush is bound to be reactive to things. A dog having a relaxed sniff walk on a loose lead with someone who is relaxed is much more likely to walk past other dogs without a reaction.

It was fun to see the family begin to see why Archie actually does things – what functions his actions have for him. Why does he jump up? It gets him the attention he wants. Why does he run off with a sock? It starts a game. Why does he pull on lead? It gets him somewhere. Why does he bark at people who walk past? It chases them away. Why does he keep scratching at the door? It makes someone get up.

He can learn that something they prefer will give him the same result. Sitting and not jumping will get attention. Stealing a sock gets ignored but a toy may start a game. Pulling on lead will get him nowhere, but a loose lead will. Scratching the door doesn’t get him let out, but sitting politely may and so on.

Why does Archie sometimes get cross when made to go out at night? Because gentle force is used and there is nothing in it for him. He will happily do as asked when they work on his ‘coming when called’ routine at home, using food.

Getting him to earn some of some of his food (and that doesn’t mean commercial rubbish treats or anything large that fills him up, but tiny bits of real food) is a recipe for a motivated and happy dog.

This brings us back to his mild reactivity to some dogs when out on walks. Whatever he is doing, whether it is dropping down, pulling to the dog or barking at it, he does it because it has a function for him, probably that of keeping the dog at a greater distance – or giving himself some control at the very least, particularly if he’s being held close on a tight lead.

What if he was given something more acceptable to do that provided the same function? Turning to look at the handler for instance? Or perhaps standing still and not lying down? Or looking away from the other dog and down at the ground to forage for food? The handler should be sufficiently on the ball to sense the distance t which Archie has clocked the dog but isn’t yet reacting.

Archie would learn that the alternative behaviour would be grant him his wish, that of increasing distance, whilst associating the other dog with something positive and nice.

Another reason they should be alert is that sometimes Archie, depending upon his mood and upon the dog, may ignore it and walk past. Other times he may want to play. The response has to be appropriate to the occasion and well-timed, and this takes practice.

I would err on the safe side in favour of too much distance rather than too little.

Sadly, when your dog has been attacked and injured by another dog that has just appeared, off-lead, out of the blue, walks may never be quite so enjoyable again.

Eating Rubbish

Red and White King Charles Spaniel who likes eating rubbishLittle Chutney, an adorable six-month-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, at twelve weeks of age became very ill. What was probably kennel cough quickly developed into pneumonia and he ended up in veterinary hospital and was on various drugs for a couple of months. He nearly died. Normal puppyhood was suspended.

He is now catching up.

Understandably his owners are inclined to mollycoddle him and panic, particularly when he picks something up like a twig or a piece of paper. They had initially wrongly believed his illness had been due to inhaling something, and their understandable reaction to his running off with a twig for example – chasing him, enticing him, bribing him then maybe forcing the item off him – is now actually making his ‘scavenging’ for things like twigs, leaves and bits of paper and eating rubbish a lot worse.

The chase that ensues will be stimulating and maybe even a little scary and he is responding with the beginnings of resource guarding behaviour.

I’ve not myself come across a dog that has suffered though swallowing a small piece of paper or tissue though there may be isolated cases, unless the dog has a serious pica disorder. Usually if a tiny twig is swallowed it’s chewed up first and passes through – though certainly could harm if swallowed whole. If chewing twigs, paper and non-poisonous leaves regularly killed puppies, there would be a lot of dead puppies.

Chutney’s owners will need to relax if he’s to change because the longer he rehearses the ‘scavenge/chase/retrieve the item’ cycle the more entrenched it becomes. Management is the first thing. Already they are taking him outside to toilet on lead. They could introduce him to a tiny basket muzzle for the garden – he can drink and pant but not pick things up. They probably have already checked their garden for any poisonous plants or leaves.

Indoors they should no longer give him free run. For now he should be in the same room as themselves or shut in his crate where he is perfectly happy, with something to do. Anything obviously worrying should be lifted (as it is already).Chutney2

The next and most difficult thing for this lovely couple is to make an assessment as to whether the object could really harm Chutney and if not to ignore it. If it’s a tissue, so be it. He may well intensify his efforts when he no longer gets the predicted result so they could try walking out on him and shutting the door briefly rather than reacting.

Because he is still a puppy and at last feeling well enough to make up for lost time, they should give him plenty of things that he can chew and not just commercial items. He can have milk cartons, toilet roll tubes and plastic water bottles with kibble in, for instance. If they are not left down they will have some novelty value.

The last challenge is how to get things off him that may be dangerous. The more he knows they want the item, the more valuable it becomes to him and the more likely he is to swallow it to make sure that they don’t get it! Scattering food on the floor works well – it may need to be strong-smelling – so that he drops the item to get the food giving time to lift the item with no fuss.

Running off with things needs to be replaced with exchanging them. I do this from the start with my own dogs. When puppy has a toy in his mouth I say Give and feed him in return. I will admire the toy and then give it back to him. My dogs love giving me things! The secret, when taking something away, is to offer the dog something of higher value to him until ‘Give’ is firmly established.

If one of my dogs has something that I want in his or her mouth, they will always drop the item into my hand when I ask for it and I always, without fail, say thank you with a piece of kibble I have in my pocket (though I understand not everybody is like me, carrying dog food around all the time!).

They can set him up with a game that has several items in order of value to him, then offer the lowest and exchange for the next one up and so on, allowing him to keep the last, most valuable one – probably a food item. Tug of war is a great game for playing Take’ and ‘Give’. ‘Leave it’ is useful too when you happen to see the dog about to pick something up.

The other challenge with Chutney is that he may ignore them when they call him.

Eventually and with some hard work on his recall and ‘Give’, when Chutney has something inappropriate in his mouth they will be able to call him to them. He will come straight away and give it up willingly, being rewarded for doing so.

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 Chutney. 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Her Latest Dog is a Challenge

AshcroftDogs1

The lady I have just visited feels her latest dog is a challenge. Doberman Maddie’s owner has had several Dobermans but never one quite like two-year-old Maddie.

I think she must have been very lucky with her previous dogs if Maddie is the worst. She is gorgeous. Although with certain issues, she is no big problem – yet. The main worry is her increasing reactivity to other dogs when out when she’s on lead and her wariness of new people. Very sensibly the lady wants to nip things in the bud before they get any worse because her other Doberman, Tia, is now copying her.

Tia is five. She barks at dogs on TV and she is a big hunter when out and off lead but generally a lot calmer. The TV problem can be resolved fairly easily with patience, desensitisation and counter-conditioning. The running off after pheasants and not coming back for an hour and a half isn’t so easily or quickly solved!

This story is all about preventing things from developing and making walks more enjoyable for the lady – and for the dogs.

Like most people who have difficulties with their dogs when they are out, the roots of these problems can be somewhere else. Simply going out on walks and encountering other dogs and doing training doesn’t resolve the complete issue. Because we are dealing with the emotions that cause the dog to behave in a certain way when out, the home end of things can be very important also.

If the dog can’t give the owner her full attention when required indoors, then it won’t happen when out. If the dog is stressed at home, then she will be stressed when out. If the dog is either pulling down the road or the lead is at all tight at the start of the walk, then the stress levels will be rising. If the dog is physically and uncomfortably prevented from pulling with a gadget such as a head collar – then the walk could be doomed from the start because of how the dog will already be feeling.

Domberman sucking a toy

Maddie sucking her toy

In Maddie’s case there is a strong element of the stress that builds up over the days due to other things that are happening. Stress isn’t only bad stuff – with a sensitive dog it can be too much excitement, play or noise.

The lovely Maddie works very hard at keeping herself calm. She spends a lot of time chewing or suckling a cuddly toy.

Her reactivity is variable. Some days she can encounter a dog when she is on lead with no fuss at all and on other days she will react to the very same dog. This must be due to her own state of mind at the time, along with that of her human on the end of the lead who may be having a bad day or be more anxious. It could be that she has simply encountered one dog too many on that walk and can’t manage another.

There are quite a number of small things that can be done to ease Maddie’s stress levels in general. Her food could be better – this can make a huge difference.

With a calmer dog and with comfortable equipment, with calm loose-lead walking techniques used from the start of the walk along with a walk where she can sniff rather than a march forward, things will start to improve I’m sure. The lady will now have ways of keeping and holding her dogs’ attention and she will give them plenty of space from other dogs when needed, taking her cue from Maddie. Anything Maddie’s uneasy about can be worked on with positive associations at a distance where she feels safe.

Tia doesn't like having her photo taken

Tia doesn’t like having her photo taken

Recall work starts at home too. A big part of ‘coming when called’ is to do with the relevance of the person calling the dog – their relationship. Repeatedly calling or whistling at home in return for small high-value food gradually ‘charges the battery’ and then can be reinforced when out by the lady repeatedly calling them when knows they will come and simply not giving them freedom when she fears they won’t. (Each time she calls and they ignore her, the ‘battery’ is discharged a little).

Having just one dog off lead at a time can be an extra incentive for the other dog to come back too.

The lady will watch Tia closely for taking off after a pheasant or a jogger and preempt her. In addition to very high value food she can also redirect the drive to chase onto either a ball or even onto herself, making herself fun, making silly noises perhaps and running away! If these things don’t work, then I fear it will be a few months work on a long line for Tia.

These are fantastic dogs with a fantastic owner who is lucky to have a friend who walks the dogs everyday with her own dogs, who sat in on our meeting and will do her bit too. These dogs have a very good life!

Poppy Doesn’t Like Being Touched

Border Collie with German Shepherd EarsPoppy is a Border Collie with German Shepherd ears. Look at them – and at that face!

Just as not all of us like too much fussing, pulling about and excitement, Poppy is a sensitive and somewhat fearful dog who isn’t keen on being touched unless she so chooses (to many of my friends a weekend of being pampered and massaged at Champneys would be heaven but to me it would be hell. I, unlike Poppy, have free will and can refuse).

There have been several biting incidents, on family members, and all have involved her being touched in some way when she doesn’t want to be touched – having touching forced upon her. All bites have also involved her already being in a highly aroused and stressed state.

She belongs to a couple with the man’s mum, a warm, effervescent and tactile lady who plays a big part in Poppy’s life, living just down the road. Unhappily, she is the receiver of the worst bites and understandably it upsets her greatly. Her manner is simply ‘too much’ for Poppy who probably feels overwhelmed.

Each incident has taken place when Poppy was already stirred up by something. She has undoubtedly given plenty of warnings over her three years which have been unheeded or punished. Sadly they have been watching the popular TV trainer who advocates dominance and pinning down and they are suffering the fallout.

The final and worst incident is an absolutely perfect example of how one thing leads to another as fuel is added to the fire, until some sort of explosion is inevitable.

Every day at lunch time the mother comes to the couple’s house to walk Poppy. Poppy may initially stay up the stairs growling at her. The lady does everything she can to get her to coax her down – and then the drama starts.

She takes Poppy out for a walk while the couple are at work. It is always the same ritual and route. The dog bolts out of the gate to the car. She is so wild in the car that in order to stop her redirecting her stress onto chewing the upholstery the lady muzzles her. At the field, she removes the muzzle and immediately throws Poppy a stick, otherwise she will attack the car tyres.

On this particular occasion she had her two grandchildren with her (8 and 10 – she never growls at them) who will, being children, have been playful and talkative – just as the lady is herself! They reached the river to find some excitable kids in a boat on the usually quiet river. Then a bird-scare gun went off. Poppy dropped to the ground. The lady bent over her to comfort her and she grumbled, but that was all. Then there was a second bang, the lady cuddled Poppy who immediately bit her on the hand which is now black and bruised. The dog then lay there and shook.

The lady, though scared by now, pinned Poppy to the ground – because she, like so many others taken in by the showmanship of this TV man, believed it was the right and only thing to do in the circumstances.

When she let go of her, Poppy bit her other arm.

A totally different approach is needed.

So today I was on the end of the phone with the lady and we did lunchtime differently. The emphasis was on quiet and calm with no pressure whatsoever being put on Poppy. She came in the front door and ignored Poppy grumbling up the stairs. No jolly, excited hellos or trying to entice her down – just ‘Hi, Poppy’ and walking on into the kitchen.

We had played a ‘Come when Called’ game yesterday and the lady did this from the kitchen with exactly the same words and tone of voice as we had used. Poppy came willingly for her – a first. She was learning that she was rewarded with a tiny bit of food instead of noisy enthusiasm and touching (which to her, because it seems to intimidate her, amounts to punishment not reward). Already she was choosing to come to the lady and be with her rather than lurking, grumbling upstairs.

As Poppy gets two other walks during the day, we have decided it’s best for the lady not to walk her for now, so we have thought up some calm home activities for lunchtimes with some mental stimulation but no excess excitement.

What if Poppy were a deer not a dog?. The lady would move slowly, speak quietly and not try to touch it because if she did the deer would run off.

She is feeling happy because already their relationship, based on better understanding, is improving.

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 Poppy. 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).