Spooked by Bangs. On High Alert.

I had a lovely greeting from Staffie Rio. Too lovely, really, considering he had never met me before. Exaggerated welcomes, particularly with people the dog doesn’t know, may not be pure pleasure but involve some anxiety. Rio went back and forth, wagging his tail and sitting between my legs. He may go onto his back, tail still wagging. I feel this is about winning approval – appeasing

When I first arrived Rio started retching, bringing up phlegm. He coughed and retched for quite a while. He does this when excited, apparently, but not as much as this (he is regularly going to the vet for another matter so they will get it checked).

Spooked by bangs

Rio doesn’t need words to say he’s unsure about having his photo taken

Why could it have been so bad today? I soon got a clue. Today is Sunday.

I was called because Rio is badly spooked by bangs, even bangs out on the common which he can still hear from inside the house.

On Sunday mornings at this time of year people go out shooting animals for sport.

Rio’s extreme reaction to my coming into his house was undoubtedly the result of ‘trigger stacking‘. Things that arouse or scare him build up, one thing after another as they say. By the time I arrived this Sunday morning Rio was already highly stressed – spooked by the early morning shooting.

Spooked by bangs.

Rio, now seven, has been spooked by bangs for several years now, since a firework went off while he was out on a walk.

Now he will mostly refuse to walk from the house – unless he goes in the car. He is on high alert and easily spooked by anything.

This we will work on. A few other things will help like a change in diet and activities that calm him rather than stir him up.

There are two kinds of bang situations. There are unavoidable bangs that happen in the environment and bangs they can generate and control themselves.

From now on, bangs should be the triggers for something wonderful. Chicken?

BANG……chicken immediately rains down. If he is spooked by the bang being too loud or too close he will run or freeze. He will ignore the chicken.

Generating their own bangs.

Generating bangs means they control the intensity of the sound and the nearness. They can throw chicken straight away.

They can start with a gentle tap (with dropping chicken) on various surfaces. Then gentle bangs. Then one person banging in another room – gradually louder. Download sounds or DVD, pairing bangs with chicken. Over time they can work up to pulling party poppers or crackers upstairs.

If they keep under the threshold where Rio is spooked and he is looking for food when he hears the bang, they should make gradual progress.

Bangs that ‘just happen’.

Life happens and this is frustrating.

They know Sunday mornings at this time of year gunshots will happen. They can start raining chicken down from inside the house where, though a bit spooked, he will probably eat. Perhaps they need to work in the middle of the house where bangs will be softer.

They can gradually work towards standing or sitting in the front garden waiting for bangs. Leaving the door open would be good – giving him an escape route.

As the bangs will be unpredictable and they may not have chicken on them, they will need to ‘buy time’ while they go to the chicken tub. They need a ‘bridge’ – something they can say straight away which tells Rio that chicken will follow. I suggest a bright ‘Okay’ (no chatter) and then fetch and throw the chicken.

For the next few weeks we have a plan. They need a lightweight longish lead so Rio feels freedom. 

This is between Rio and the environment.

Rio is on high alert as soon as he gets out of the door. They will start by getting him less stressed in the environment immediately outside their home. When they get to the path, they should just stand still. Be quiet. Wait. No fussing. At present the young lady will cuddle, fuss him and try to persuade him to walk – sitting on the pavement to do so.

His humans should keep out of it. Their job is simply to be calm and confident. To be there. To allow him to work things out for himself.

They will have their chicken to hand – to drop at anything that alarms Rio. At least a couple of times a day would be good. Suzanne Clothier has a great video on thresholds and doing nothing.

If Rio goes on strike they should ignore him. Wait with him. At any small sound he alerts to, drop chicken. Any big bang, drop several bits – immediately.

If he wants to go back to the house, let him. If he wants to come back and try again, let him.

He wants to walk?  Great. Go for it. I predict this will happen more and more. They should always be ready with chicken for bangs.

Don’t push it!

Even if on these early walks he seems to have coped well, after the first bang they should turn and go home for now. A second bang? A second bang will have more effect on him, maybe sending him over threshold. A third bang more impact still. ‘Trigger stacking’.

Patience and consistency will pay off in the end. There will be setbacks to slow things down when life throws an unexpected and unavoidable bang.

 

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 Rio and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, 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, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)

Stops and Sits. Rolls Onto her Back. Won’t Move

The young Golden Retriever stops on walks.

She sits. She won’t move. When they go to get her, she rolls onto her back.

on the way home she simply stopsThe people I went to see yesterday have just emailed me with something different (Goldie is wary of new things). Their neighbour has had a trampoline erected in their back garden today. Goldie is barking at it – it’s something new that she can see.

The lady has been going out with food and the clicker. She is clicking and rewarding many times while Goldie is being quiet but clearly aware of the trampoline.

I replied, ‘Clicking for quiet is a good way to deal with the trampoline. You are ‘training’ her to be quiet. However, a better way would be to deal with the problem at source –  changing how she feels about it. This would involve, with every look at the trampoline whether she is barking or not, chucking food on the ground or feeding Goldie.’

The case of Goldie going on strike is puzzling.

Since she first went out at three months of age she would sit down and refuse to move. She was little so they were able to pick her up. Now she’s a fully grown Golden Retriever it’s not possible anymore to lift her when she stops.

I would like to deal with this at source too – but where does it come from?

There are a few facts: It’s always on the way home that she stops – after exercise. She has an uncanny sense of knowing when they are on the return journey home or to the car. Putting the lead on at random and going a different way doesn’t fool her.

Her ears go back and, from the sound of it, I would interpret this as looking scared or wary. Why would this be? The rolling onto her back could well be to appease. I’m assured she’s never been punished for it though there has been a lot of enticing and bribing and exasperation for sure.

Goldie is fourteen months old so it will now be well ingrained behaviour – a default response when she feels a certain way.

What way is she’s feeling, though?

The other day things took a turn for the worse. She had sat down and as usual rolled over onto her back, making it difficult to get her up. The lady grabbed her harness to try to make her move.

Suddenly Goldie leapt up and at the woman’s face.

Mouth open. Snarling.

It’s happened two or three times within the past few days. The lady is very upset and scared to walk her now.

Why is it Goldie has, since she first went out, stopped and refused to move? We considered various possibilities:

  • She stops because she doesn’t want to go home (that doesn’t work because she always does go home).
  • Or she stops because, when small, she was picked up and carried and she liked it.
  • She stops because it gives her attention.
  • Or she stops because the arousal previously created in her system from her walk has been too much for her.
  • She stops because after exercise she may be uncomfortable in some way.

Each time the only result it’s generated for her is to be made to move.

Recently Goldie has started to do other things she used not to do. She has begun to dig in the garden and to hump the lady. She is whining in the night.

She was spayed shortly before these things started. Could there be a connection? They visit their vet next week who can check.

In the context of the past few weeks there are indications that she has, for some reason, been more stressed in general. She’s a sensitive dog. Something has recently pushed her over the edge. To quote the lady, she’s flipped.

Either Goldie has been unable to handle the frustration of the walk coming to an end and has lost her temper. This is what the owners assume and is very likely.

Or, just possibly, instead of not wanting something to stop (the walk), she doesn’t want something to start (going home) and it’s scaring her.

Her stress levels could come from unexpected quarters, both at home and when out. They could include the fallout from extreme exercise – running free and hunting, being restrained, being forced to do something against her will. Many little things could contribute to the build-up. She doesn’t like the sound of metal on metal, for instance.

Although I can so far only guess at the cause, we can create a plan that should be appropriate anyway.

Our plan uses stress-reduction as a basis to work on, along with relationship building.

We’ll focus on the walker being much more motivating and rewarding.

If she wants to be with her humans more than anything else, then she should want to continue walking with them.

Walks will be done a bit differently in order to try to interrupt the learned sequence.

They will do lots of work walking back and forth near to the house, loose lead, making it fun and with bits of her meal dropped from time to time – but only when in the direction of home. The same thing can then be done on a long line in open places.

The parallel with my trampoline advice is this:

It may be possible to train her to get up and move if they had sufficient time, using a clicker and rewarding. They would need to click and reward every small movement like rolling onto her front, sitting up, then looking ahead, then sitting higher and then standing – then taking a step and so on. This could take much too long in the middle of a field in the dark or on a busy pavement!

However, if they can stop her feeling she needs to sit, roll over and go on strike and prefer to keep walking, they will have dealt with the problem at source.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Goldie 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, particularly where aggression of any kind is concerned. 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)

 

Choice on Walks Gives Confidence

I met Willow a couple of years ago when she was nine months old. The original problems I helped with have all but disappeared but they have relaxed a bit as people do. Here is the situation back then.

Two days ago I met her again. She is a much calmer dog now but over the time two new issues have been developing.

Choice on walks is what Willow need

Willow won’t walk and Willow won’t eat.

.

Willow is increasingly scared and reluctant to go on walks

The strange thing is that when they go away on holiday or out for the day, well away from home territory, Willow is a joyful little dog running around with tail wagging and ears flapping. They showed me this video.

They also showed me a video of Willow on one of the walks near home. She hesitates. Her tail goes down. She stops. She wants to go back to the car.

They then do all they can to make her move. The lady will talk to her, encourage, entice or bribe her; she may then get impatient and try to pull her to walk with them. To quote the man, they want her to ‘toughen up’.

When not going by car she’s okay past the first couple of houses. Then she starts sniffing, but not in the way a dog normally will sniff – with full concentration on the job in hand. As she sniffs she has her eyes turned to the lady, watching her. The lady feels like Willow is challenging her. I wonder whether she is buying time.

A few yards down the road Willow will start to look scared. Her tail goes down and she hesitates. At this stage the lady (who does most of the dog-walking) actively tries all she can to get Willow to walk on. The young man who sometimes walks her may pick her up and carry her for some way and then put her down again. They may get cross. It is a major issue.

After much cajoling the lady finally gives up and it’s making her unhappy because she believes, perhaps rightly, that Willow isn’t truly happy without walks and she wants Willow to be happy more than anything else. The whole thing seems to have got out of hand.

They feel they have tried everything, but they haven’t. What they haven’t tried is giving Willow choice on walks.

I feel it’s about the dog-human relationship. I sense the lady is too involved and worried about Willow (can someone love their dog too much?). The dog needs to be released from all pressure thus allowing her full choice on walks, choice of when she wants to stop and come home and choice as to whether she goes out at all. Then I’m sure everything will change given time.

I advised the lady to stand and let Willow sniff for as long as she likes, but not to watch her or to talk to her. Just let her get on with it.

Willow wants to go back to the car

Willow wants to go back to the car

Choice on walks starts at home.

Some time ago Willow was attacked by a Boxer. She came to no harm but was terrified. Possibly the human reaction was over the top. Possibly this incident has infected all familiar walks. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they walk from the house or go by car. Possibly it has nothing at all to do with the Boxer as she is friendly with most dogs.

The behaviour actually starts before they leave the house. Willow tries to hide when the harness comes out. There is a lot of persuasion and a certain amount of force used to get harness and lead on.

Just as I believe they should be giving Willow choice on walks, I believe she should also have choice before leaving the house (or at least letting Willow believe she has choice. We can be cunning!).

The man will now put Willow’s harness on before going to work so that it is on already for the lady who can then simply pop the lead on when she’s ready and if Willow ducks away just drop the lead on the floor and try again later. Use food. Stop the talking and pressure!

The lady will walk Willow to the spot a couple of houses down where she starts to feel uncomfortable and then turn and come home. She will do this several times a day – several very short walks. She will lace the environment by sprinkling food on the ground ahead of her, on the outward journey (never on the way home).

Willow will have complete control of whether she continues walking or not. No pressure.

When a willing Willow who is given choice on walks eventually gets to the fields, the Rucksack Walk will be a great thing for them to do with her.

Her seeming reluctance to do what the lady wants her to do is spilling over onto her eating. Her refusal to eat worries the lady so much that she entices and persuades. With all that attention she may even find it rewarding to refuse to eat.

Now if she doesn’t eat much from her bowl it doesn’t matter as she can be fed nourishing stuff like chicken out on walks.

Already by putting down very small meals and ignoring her, knowing that she won’t starve, and with other members of the family feeding her and not just the lady – she is eating.

A couple of days have past and I received this email:

‘Yesterday, Willow ate 3 little meals – (the man) served her a couple of times and amazingly she ate most of the food offered! We wandered about outside the house sniffing a number of times and went back in and on the last walk she quite happily walked further down the road to the grassy area – I laid a little trail of food – then she wandered about sniffing and then headed home – no hesitancy at all!’

I hope that within a few weeks by being allowed choice on walks Willow will be as happy walking on familiar territory as she is when she’s away from home – with ears flapping and tail wagging!

Two weeks later: ‘Everything going really well with Willow! Eating is amazing now, clean dishes every time! Walking improving all the time, steering clear of the most negative walk at the moment. Really pleased with her progress’.

 

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 Willow 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. 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)

Scared of Bangs and sounds

Chocolate Labrador is terrified of bangsI could see immediately that Poppy was a very worried dog.

After an initial uncertainty she was friendly, if reserved, but throughout the evening it was like she kept hearing sounds that no human could hear. She is constantly ill at ease, looking to hide or escape upstairs.

Five-year-old Chocolate Labrador Poppy was a confident puppy. She often accompanied her farmer owner and was well accustomed to bangs and bird-scarers from the start. Then, at over two years of age, she changed. This may have started with fireworks. Since then she has been steadily becoming more scared of bangs. Her fear of sounds includes heavy rain and household appliances.

Often she will refuse to go out at all – not even into the garden to toilet at night-time. Each morning she will happily go out to the car – daily she is driven to the parent’s farm where she spends the day with another dog.  The company of the parents’ bouncy dog doesn’t appear to give her any more confidence.

Some walks go really well – but she is unpredictable. Happy to run to the car, she often won’t walk past it.  Even if the walk starts okay, most often she will go on strike after a very short distance, or else she will refuse to go in a certain direction. Without the dog’s superb sense of hearing we can’t tell exactly what it is that is upsetting her but they are sure it’s sounds of some sort.

Until recently the man used to carry her down the lane as a way to get her started on a walk.  If there is any hint of a noise, a distant slamming car door for instance, she panics and freezes.

All this makes the owners anxious – as it would. Their own anxiety won’t be helping. It means they are trying too hard to get her to go out, even into the garden, so in a converse sort of way, with all the lobbing food outside and encouragement, she is being reinforced for her reluctance. It’s not in any way addressing the cause of the problem – her fear.

It is very likely that things build up in this way: she may just cope with the first sound or bang. Then, there will be another sound and then another, and each time she becomes more stressed. She then starts to pace, looking to hide if in the house, or pulling or bolting in the direction of home if out – and once this led her across a busy main road.

Confidence-building must start at home. The earlier they can spot and deal with any signs of unease the better. Fear does certain chemical things to the body, and the more of the chemicals that flood in, the less responsive the dog will be to any desensitisation. Caught early enough, as soon as she starts to spook, she will learn to associate the distant noise that only she can hear with something good – food.

They can set up controlled situations to work on at home with sound CDs and soft bangs coming from other rooms, again associating bangs and sounds with food or fun. With sufficient work and patience she should eventually no longer be scared of bangs.

Lacing the environment by scattering food is very effective as it can teach her that outside is a wonderful place. This will need to start in the garden with the door open so she has an escape route.

Conditioning her to come for food when she hears a bang will require multiple repetitions over a long time. It requires working at a level where she is aware of the sound but still able to think and to eat which can mean putting a halt to normal walks.

This is the biggest challenge for them, avoiding  things that send Poppy into a panic for the foreseeable future, while they work on desensitising her.

Nearly two months later – my latest update on Poppy’s progress: “Just thought I would give you a quick update. We have now done a few walks and Poppy has been so much better….. She has heard several bangs in each walk and barely batted an eyelid!! Amazing! They are not overly loud but enough that she would have spooked before. Yesterday on a track some off-road motor bikes and a quad bike passed us and she stopped dead and did not want to carry on (she did not shake though I noted), I played running backwards and forwards and doing recall until she ran past the spot where she had stopped and carried on the walk perfectly happy! It is so nice being able to walk her again and be quite confident that she will actually complete the walk! I am amazed that such small changes have made such a difference! My neighbour even saw her this evening and said she is a different dog! She does still have a wobble occasionally if she hear something like a neighbour bang their bin lid shut outside but she is still very much a different dog!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Poppy, 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, particularly where aggression of any kind is involved. 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).

 

Mixed Up, Depressed Mastiff Staffie Cross

Bull mastiff Buster is mixed upFrom time to time I go to people where the man is calm and confident with the dog. The lady cuddles and loves him, lets him make all his own decisions, but is much less assertive.

The dog becomes increasingly bonded with the man and behaves like the lady is not particularly relevant.

He seems mixed up

The couple I went to see this evening have had two-year-old Mastiff Staffie cross Buster for six months now.

Buster’s life revolves around the man and he takes little notice of the lady – especially when the man is at home. Despite her gentle and affectionate nature, Buster can be quite scared of her for no accountable reason.

He loves to lie down between them on the sofa. One evening while he was fast asleep she reached out and touched him. In panic he jumped up and ran upstairs where she found him cowering and shaking. This distressed her too. One can only speculate what damage a previous female owner may have done to him that’s made him so mixed up.

Confidence around other dogs

Knowing that he wasn’t confident around other dogs, his new lady has worked really hard, for weeks walking him with other dogs and making great headway. Then, very disappointingly, a quarrel with another dog over a stick turned into a fight. The lady shouted. This terrified the mixed up Buster. He now refuses to walk with her any more unless near to home.

Now she panics whenever they see another dog, so walks that were previously enjoyable are now a disaster for them both.

With the gentleman walks are fine!

Added to this, they had to have Buster castrated as agreed with the re-homing organisation. Since then his personality changed. He seems depressed. Is it coincidence? Who knows. I saw a photo of him previously and he looked alert and happy. Now he is mostly worried and sleepy.

The first part of our plan is to work on the lady’s own confidence and for her to walk Buster near home only. This is where they are both happy. She will play a ‘guess where we are going’ game. She will rehearse what she will do when they see a dog, so that when it happens she is ready.

Buster is scared and doesn’t feel safe so if she, too, is in a panic she can’t help him.

The gentleman is decisive and confident so it’s little surprise that the nervous, mixed up Buster puts his faith in him.

And now, after about one month: “Buster is doing so well!! he is like a puppy again!! when i get his lead out for a walk he gets excited and actually walks like a proper dog down the road rather than plodding along with head down and when we let him off the lead he actually goes for a run and explore instead of sticking by our feet. he absolutley loves the field now and he gets so excited when he knows we are heading up there now!!
Last night something amazing happened, buster was far ahead of me on our walk and i could see his ears and tail go up so i knew he had spotted a dog i shouted to him ‘wait’ and he simply sat down. when i caught up i couldn’t see anything so i told him to continue and as i turned the corner i saw a young man with a huge bull mastiff ! buster didn’t even try and go over but simply looked at the dog and continued walking!! his hairs didn’t go up, he didn’t go over to the dog and he didn’t bark or growl!!  he just looked at me as if to say ‘lets go’!! i was so proud that even though he could see a dog he still sat and waited like he had been asked, and he didnt go and start with the other dog just carried on. he was so happy last night and i am hoping this was not a one off!!! he run all round the field and played in the garden for nearly 2 hours with a ball when we got home!! …..he even went and got his colar from his box and in effect asked for a walk,for a dog that never wanted to leave the house this is such an achievement!!

Refuses to Walk. English Bull Terrier Won’t Walk

English Bull Terrier refuses to walkThis is English Bull Terrier Indie and he is now two years old.

Ever since he was a puppy he would, throughout a walk, frequently put the anchors on. He refuses to walk. This starts a few yards from their own drive. He would simply lie down and ‘refuse to budge.

Indie is well known in the area!

Forcing him to walk

Believing that they should not be beaten, that he should not ‘dominate’ them, his owners would then drag him until he was forced to move forward again.

With one of the daughters he would sometimes go on strike and lie on his back in the middle of the road. There was simply nothing she could do while the cars had to drive around them.

The relationship between the dog and his family has deteriorated because he refuses to walk. It’s largely fuelled by anger at being ‘defied’ by him which has led to quite a confrontational relationship with the lady in particular. Indie is a constant trial to her now.

The dog gets all his attention from being ‘bad’. It has now got to the stage where the lady is at odds with her family. She feels so angry and upset with him, at her wits’ end, that she would be happy to see Indie go.

Misunderstood

Having put so much work and love into our dog, having done our very best, we can feel exasperated, let down and angry. It becomes a sort of downward spiral as we increasingly try to gain control. The relationship with our dog can become a shadow over our lives, making us feel helpless and unhappy.

What I saw was an intelligent and misunderstood dog that was seldom given the chance to please. He was frequently being corrected – crossly. His attention came either when he was insistent and demanded it, or when he was doing something they didn’t like.

Over the months their efforts to ‘control’ him have led to him growling and snapping. This is mostly when someone has physically tried to move him or when he is protecting a valued resource. This could be a huge bone or the daughter’s boyfriend.

Whereas the people would say NO as he tried to leap onto someone on the sofa, I gently clapped my hands and pointed at the floor with a gentle ‘Indie Off’. I knew that he would come down straight away and he was rewarded with ‘Good Boy’. With Indie it’s a question of showing him what he should do – not what he shouldn’t.

Refuses to walk, so no walks at all

He’s crying out for attention but is getting it for all the wrong things, like when he refuses to walk. Because of the problem on walks he now has little exercise or happy stimulation.

A mix of gaining his willing cooperation in all aspects of his relationship with his owners should change his life. They will do this through encouragement, reward and praise rather than force and confrontation. We created a cunning plan to get him walking willingly – making sure that if anxiety is anything to do with it that it’s treated appropriately.

This will make his owners happy too – especially the lady.

I bought a T-shirt at the Victoria Stilwell seminar I attended last weekend printed with ‘Kindness is Powerful’. That says it all really. But what is kindness? It’s not doing everything a dog demands and giving it control over you (spoiling it), and then despairing when it won’t cooperate when you wish it do to do something. Bonding comes through understanding and patience, not the use of force.