Redirected Frustration Biting

Frustration builds up all day, flooding his brain with stress hormones

Beautiful Finnish Lapphund Teemu is now nine months old. If things continue in the direction they are going, they worry that either the lady or one of the children will be hurt. So far blood hasn’t been drawn, but if things continue as they are it is only a matter of time.

He gave me an excited welcome with some jumping up – no more than many adolescent dogs that I go to. However, quite soon it became apparent just how stressed he is. He paced, he panted, he looked for trouble and he kept barking to be let out, then barking with frustration when the door wasn’t opened.

The problem is – CATS.

They sit up on the fence, staring down at him as he goes berserk. They come into his garden and stare brazenly through the window at him.

Teemu goes mental.

All day he is stressing through the French windows over cats.  If no cat is there, he is waiting for one. If he sees a cat he would break the window down if he could and the noise of his barking blocks out everything.

When he’s let out, even if there are no cats Teemu won’t come back in just in case one might appear.

They stay just out of reach, teasing him.

Hour by hour as the day progresses he becomes more stressed. Then the kids come home and boom – it’s all stacked up and he explodes. He has pinned the lady to the wall, snarling. Mornings can be over-exciting too. The other day before school he turned on the little girl though stopped short of biting – this time. She was throwing his ball and he lost his temper.

He calms down in the evening. At first I thought it may be because the kids have gone to bed, but probably it’s because, when it’s dark, he can no longer see out of the window so he has a break from cat-lookout.

 

Management is the first step and should make a huge difference.

Frustration building up he watches out of the window

A CAT!

I predict that three simple things, nothing to do with training or behaviour therapy, will make a big difference and enable them to make real progress with the work we need to do.

Firstly, if Teemu can’t see out of the window he can’t be on ‘cat-watch’, can he.

As soon as I left they were going out to buy some plastic window frosting which can go on the lower part of the French windows.

Secondly, you can get prickly plastic thingies to put on top of fences that make it too uncomfortable for a cat to sit on the fence.

Thirdly, for now when they let him out it can be on a retractable lead – the only good use for one! – the handle perhaps shut in the door. As soon as he barks or sees a cat, in he comes before he has a chance to get too wound up.

 

Teemu shouldn’t be labelled ‘aggressive’. The behaviour is redirected frustration.

Down the road from me there are two Boxers left out all day in a front garden. They bark madly when another dog passes and then, because they can’t get at their real target – the passing dog – one Boxer dog goes for the other and it ends in a fight. Why the man lets it happen I really don’t know.

This is the sort of thing that is happening with Teemu. He can’t get to his real target so he redirects onto something else, but not something stronger than himself like the very tall man. The lady is petite and the children are small.

Reynolds3He has already had some good puppy training and they have used clicker. With this his humans can now reinforce the behaviours that they want – all the good things Teemu does.

They will work on doing things calmly at certain trigger points – for instance, when people come down in the morning, when their cat is about (their cat stands up for himself and Teemu would like to play), when callers come to the house and so on.

If they can drastically reduce his frustration and stress, he will have nothing to redirect. He should become a lot more accepting of things he doesn’t much like – such as being groomed.

With management in place, a pot of good food, a clicker, the good exercise he already gets and plenty of patience along with a list of healthy activities that aren’t too arousing, they will win! They will have a calmer dog and a dog that they can trust.

I checked to see how they were doing six months after I first met Teemu, and this is the reply: We are doing great thank you. I can’t believe it has been six months already. Teemu has been amazing and incredibly well behaved. He has his moments (as we all do) but they are very short lived. We revert back to your plan to refresh our minds every now and again and even the children are still following your advice. We’re very grateful for your follow up to check how we’re doing, it’s lovely that you still care so much. We have ourselves a lovely, affectionate four legged member of the family and we are indebted to you for all your help.
Message to me the next morning: So far so good. The children were brilliant this morning before school and Teemu was just as good. We have had a foraging game in the garden and a packed Kong and he is now relaxing. The window covers are amazing and have had an immediate effect. We cannot thank you enough. There has been no frantic barking either. 
Later the same evening (day two): Just an update from our first full day of implementing “Plan Calm” (as we’ve called it), and it has been really positive. Today has been the first day in I don’t know how long that Teemu has not bitten myself or the girls. He had a few minutes a couple of times when I had to turn away at his barking but other than that he has been incredibly calm and has responded well to the changes. I know there will be times when he tries to push the boundaries again but today has given me more confidence with how to deal with those times if/when they occur. He is currently exhausted from all the foraging and finding today and is sprawled across our feet fast asleep on the floor! As far as Day 1 has gone, we are thrilled. Huge Thank yous are sent your way.
Telephone conversation 5 days after my visit: They have had a great week. No biting. He is a different dog. The children can already move about freely and they, too, are being wonderful. The lady had her best walk ever yesterday with no pulling. It’s like they have found the key. Very pleased. It’s not often that things begin to work so quickly but in this case it’s purely because the dog was misunderstood.
Over three weeks have now gone by:  Overall, I think we’re doing great! We have a much happier household, the children are confident around Teemu now and have all done incredibly well with not over exciting him. We have not experienced any biting at all since your visit and I feel that Teemu now has respect for us all and not just the males in the family.
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 Teemu. I don’t go into detail. 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 or fearfulness is 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 Get Help page)

Stressed Border Collie

Highly stressed Border Collie Coco is panting

Coco

Coco looks a little like Basil Brush, with one ear up and the other down! She’s an unusual colour for a Border Collie. This is the best photo I could manage, because she was pacing  all the evening.

She lives with a much calmer Border Collie, Shep. The fact the two of them are exactly the same age though from different backgrounds and both treated the same by their owner, just shows the importance of stable genetic makeup.

Apparently I saw Coco at her worst as she was already unusually hyped up before I arrived. She had had a particularly stimulating walk involving lots of ball play, and there was Trick or Treat out in the street. There may have been other happenings during the day contributing to the build up of her stress levels. Once things get to this stage there is little one can do. From the moment we mentioned the ‘W’ word in conversation, she was pacing to and from the door, whining, panting and jumping onto people. This carried on for over three hours. Restraining her in any way simply made her worse, or made her redirect onto poor Shep.

The  perpetual stress results in her being reactive to dogs and scared of people, chasing traffic, barking in the car at anything moving and being especially frantic around small children who visit. Consequenlty her owner is anxious, and clever Coco will know this.

Where it’s tempting to spray with a water pistol to simply stop her barking at children, or to physically scold and hold her back from moving vehicles, this is not dealing with the problem. Techniques like this will only associate children and traffic with more unpleasant stuff.

The problem has to be dealt with at source by removing all stress possible, and looking at the sort of rules and boundaries that would make a dog feel secure. Often things that dogs seem to love like prolonged ball play, walks preceeded by frantic excitement and lots of running about in general, can prove just too much. Coco loves brain work and I feel this is healthier stimulation for her at the moment. At home, although well trained so far as commands are concerend, she has few restrictions, and may feel safer with some physical boundaries and rules.

I would prefer a stable dog with little formal training to an unstable dog that that is highly trained. ‘Training’ is the icing on the cake. We need to get the cake right first. Collies like Coco who came from a farm, being extremely intelligent working dogs who are no longer doing what they are bred for, can be a challenge. People so often think that hours of running around and stimulation can replace hours of waiting patiently beside a shepherd, running off when commanded to do their job, and then returning when instructed. Where they go and what they do is controlled by their master and the relationship between the two is clearly defined. What Coco does and where she goes is largely controlled by herself, and the relationship between her and her owner is not sufficiently defined to give Coco confidence in her.

So, giving Coco fair, consistent physical boundaries and working on reducing excitement and lowering her stress levels will do wonders for her I am sure.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
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Manic Behaviour Around the Car

Black Labradors Raj and Sumo lying on the rugI’m just back from seeing two wonderful black Labradors, both male, Raj and Sumo. They are no problem at home, friendly, polite and biddable, and if it were not for behaviour around lead walking and getting into the car, they would be the perfect dogs!

Raj now has three legs. A couple of years ago he had several operations which ended in amputation. It seems the trouble really started after what must have been a traumatic time of his life.

Raj gets frantically excited around getting into the car, so much so that he may even redirect his overflowing stress by lunging at Sumo. Going in the car usually either means going to stay with the couple’s son, or an off-lead run. At first sight of a suitcase Raj starts working himself up, frantic to get to the car. He jumps, whines and screams. Once in, he needs to grab something and has to be held to allow Sumo in safely. Getting back into the car to go home is exactly the same chaos.

The two dogs are well-disciplined and well-trained – wonderful at home. There have chickens roaming freely in the garden that the dogs ignore, and they get on well with the cat. They are good with children. But, when it’s time to go out, they change.

Walks start off in an excited fashion, with pulling on lead and with lunging towards dogs and people, not necessarily aggressively but because they seldom encounter them. These are big dogs, and the lady owner is quite petite.

Having made sure that all aspects of leadership are in place at home – which is nearly the case already – we now have specific strategies to transform walks into something where the dogs walk loosely (after some work), and most importantly, an incremental plan to transform Raj’s behaviour around entering the car. With calm walks and easy behaviour around the car, these dogs will indeed be  perfect!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
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Stress like a pressure cooker waiting to blow

The two terriers wearing doubled up leads should anything kick off between them I have just visited two more dogs living together that on occasion fight. Harry and Star, both terrier mixes, have always had a volatile relationship. They are both in their third year, and were adopted as puppies. Star must have some Border Terrier in her, and Harry is mostly Tibetan Terrier (sorry about the photo – the leads and harnesses were so we could relax should anything kick off, which it didn’t).

Harry seems quite laid back, but Star is an anxious and hyper little dog, and their owner has just moved house three weeks ago. The general stress of the situation has rubbed off on the dogs and their fights have increased. Every fighting incident has been where Star’s stress has erupted and she redirects it onto Harry. She is wound up by excitement. Harry has now begun to retaliate.

These dogs simply don’t have sufficient calm, authoritative guidance. They are loved dearly, but ‘love’ isn’t the issue. Various ‘training’ techniques have been tried, including punishment, and some I believe have actually made things worse. The dogs get mixed messages. The notion that ‘give her enough exercise and it will calm Star down’ clearly has not worked and is totally wrong in my view. A dog living naturally isn’t stressed and certainly would not waste energy running around for no reason at all. Too much stimulation merely adds stress to our simmering pressure cooker.

The owner is now going to learn how to be to be a proper dog parent! If she changes the dogs will surely change. Much of the time the two dogs are perfectly happy together and play nicely.

The name of the game is stress-reduction. All sorts of things can be translated into stress – chase games, excitement before walks, meeting other dogs, attacking the hoover or post, excited greetings, visitors and the owner’s own mood.  Keeping calm, avoiding all the little things that add stress into Star’s ‘pressure cooker’ and giving both dogs some calm and quiet rules and boundaries will I know make life very different for both Star and Harry – and their humans, and my job is to show them exactly how to achieve this.

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

Whippet Brothers May Suddenly Fight

Whippet lying on his chair

Fergus

Whippets are just so delicate and graceful. To look at them it’s hard to imagine they could ever cause any trouble!

Whippet

William

These two beautiful siblings are now four years old, and have lived with their family for eighteen months. They have very different personalities, and for most of the time they are model  pets.  Whippet William on the left is much more excitable than Whippet Fergus, who is more controlling.  This can cause trouble between the dogs, and though they are the best of mates, sleeping and playing together, there are certain flash points which suddenly cause them to turn on each other. William’s excitement starts it, firing Fergus up, and in no time there is blood. It’s over as fast as it started. This is usually happening around walks, at the gate and encountering challenges like cats – and around food. William’s over-excited behaviour at the door before the start of a walk may cause Fergus to ‘sort’ William. William, redirecting his stress, even bit the lady owner, so now both dogs are muzzled when out.

All walks start with William running and prancing about, making it hard to catch him to put on his lead, whilst Fergus waits. Walks start off on the wrong note with tight uncomfortable leads and a tense owner on ‘cat watch’. They are going to need patience so that William learns to calm down. You can’t force a dog to become calm, you have to work at it in all areas of his life, understanding that stress builds up over time. Calmness has to happen from the inside. The humans will be working to provide calm leadership in a way understood by the dogs – in all areas of their lives.

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

Stress, a Jack Russell and Biting.

Stressed Jack Russell

Milo

Milo is a Jack Russell aged just seven months. It is hard to believe he is little more than a puppy.  He lives with another Jack Russell called Snoopy.

Both dogs show classic signs of stress. Milo is now biting people entering their house, he has bitten family members and he drew blood from a boy who came to play. The dog warden has become involved, and the distressed family were on the point of taking Milo to Wood Green.

The family moved house a week ago and this was the final straw for poor Milo. The whole family is under a lot of pressure.  There are four children and, quite naturally for kids, they can be noisy and excitable with the usual squabbling and so on.

Milo sleeps inside the parents’ bed and snarls if a child comes near; the dogs make it impossible for anyone to get out of the front door they are so frantic and sometimes they redirect their stress onto one another. They are picked up, fussed, teased and played rough with. The owners have given up on walks due to the level of excitement before leaving and the noise Milo makes when out.

When I rang the door bell there was bedlam behind it – dogs barking, children shouting in their efforts to put  the dogs behind the gate in the kitchen so they could open the door. We had Milo on a long lead to start with, but when he calmed down it was dropped. He ignored me and I ignored him. You can see from my photo that he may have been lying down, but he wasn’t relaxed.

Then an interesting thing happened. Someone came past the side window and Milo went into full guard and attack mode, charging at the window and then to the front window where I was sitting – and bit me! I’m always prepared and wear tough clothes so he only bit on my sleeve. I believe he was so fired up that I was the nearest thing when the stress ‘overflowed’.

Many people underestimate the devastating effect stress can have on a dog, and are often unaware of the sorts of things that constitute stress. It’s not only stuff associated with fear. Exciting play that the dog seems to love can cause stress as can walks, and they also pick up on the stress  of the owners.

I see it like a bucket of water. Each time something excites, stimulates or frightens the dog, some water drips into the bucket. In dogs stress can take a long time to dissipate – days – so that water stays there! Bit by bit the bucket fills until it is near overflowing and just one more drop will cause it to flow over. The slightest thing can then cause the dog to fly off the handle. This is why some dogs seem ‘unpredictable’. How they handle something they may meet one day when the bucket isn’t full to overflowing will be different to how they react to the same thing another day when it’s brim full.

Stress reduction in every way possible is the only option for Milo, difficult with such a busy and noisy household. However, they have no choice. If it can’t be achieved, he may actually be better off in a calmer home. He is only seven months old and as he gets older he can only get worse if something isn’t done quickly; he will be the one to pay the price.  Both little dogs are very well loved and it’s extremely distressing for owners to have a biting dog.

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