Calm People for a Calm Dog

I am getting a little run of cases involving dogs growling at the kids – probably a sign that it’s time for them to go back to schooPenny is fine when things are calml after six weeks at home with the dog!

Penny is a fifteen-month-old Beagle Jack Russell mix. She is a sweetie – friendly and bouncy if a bit lacking in self-control. She lives in a family household that at certain times can get her too aroused.

Along with over-arousal come the unwanted behaviours. She may steal something and run off with it. As a puppy they would chase her and corner her, forcing the item off her with no exchange. This can often develop into possessive behaviours as the dog gets a bit older, particularly if food isn’t routinely used for exchange and reward.

Calm people, calm dog.

Each incident they told me about seemed to be when the atmosphere was far from calm, which in a house with kids is often the case.

There are particular flash points during the day, the first when the children are getting ready for school which is a very common time for trouble with young, excitable dogs.  Another time when it’s not calm is in the evening when the young boy becomes noisy or erratic as his ADHD medication wears off. Penny may leap at the boy’s clothes and nip him. On these occasions she can be put behind the gate with something to chew.

Both children can learn about Penny’s ‘smelly bubble’. If she’s resting they must not burst this invisible bubble which is about a meter in diameter. If they do a revolting smell comes out – the young boy gave his suggestion as to what that might be! Mum will need to be quite alert and help Penny out when the children, particularly the boy, is too hyped up.

When the man arrived he gave Penny such an enthusiastic welcome that she peed.

Reunitings need to be calm also.

Penny’s good points outweigh any negatives. She is great on walks, so good that the young daughter can walk her and she’s not a big barker. She is extremely friendly and would be very willing and trainable giving sufficient motivation.

She’s not really aggressive either. She has been inadvertently taught to defend things that are in her mouth, particularly if she has pinched them. They will now actively do exchange games and never again take anything off her without swapping for something she likes better and if the item isn’t important they will walk away and ignore it. There will be no fun in that!

I was with them for over two hours and saw no sign of possessiveness. We kept things quite calm and I used food to reward her for everything I asked of her and she was like putty in my hands. I did ‘give and take’ using food, allowing her to keep the item at the end.

When she’s excited, as she will be when they have friends or family round, she may growl and snap if someone drops something then goes to pick it up – Penny will have got there first.

She may also nick something if she’s getting insufficient attention.

If she is resting or asleep and calm, when a child suddenly leans over the sofa back to touch her or goes over to fuss her, she may growl. And why not? Growllng is talking. She is saying ‘go away and leave me alone’. That’s okay surely.

So, Penny needs ‘protecting’ from the situation when there is too much noise and excitement by being removed with something to do, she needs to be left alone when she’s resting and she needs to know that no longer will anyone take something off her without giving her something in exchange.

Nicking things will become boring if ignored.

They, like me, will use food to thank her for her cooperation when they ask her to do something and I feel she will soon be a different dog.

Here is a great little article from 3LostDogs.com on the subject of resource guarding.

A few weeks later: Penny is doing really well when the children aren’t around but seems to be quite boisterous still when the kids are here.
K (the little girl) has been adhering to the bubble rules and C (little boy) has taken on board what has been said and practising it. Penny’s possessiveness of objects has now improved along with the kids putting things they don’t want to be chewed away
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 Penny 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 any form of aggression 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)

 

Snapping at the Kids and Growling

Things are a whole lot more serious when children are involved.

Alfie lunging and snapping at child was a complete surpriseThis is from the original email the lady sent me: “Alfie has started growling around his food, toys and bed since June. He is very possessive and he bit me once as well. We have been trying to stop him from growling especially with his food, using technique like sit and stay before feeding him, stopping him when he is eating to give him treat, feeding him by hand. We really love Alfie, but because of his snapping I can’t relax when the kids want to play with him and I really don’t know how to stop him growling. I am concerned about my girls safety”.

Some weird advice had been given to them as I could see from the message. They were also told the dog had to be made to sit and watch them eat before being fed himself. Oh dear.

9-month-old Cockerpoo Alfie greeted me with enthusiasm and some jumping up – a little mouthing. A gorgeous, playful, friendly little dog. It was hard to see how he would ever be aggressive.

A couple of hours later, I saw it for myself.

If something suddenly changes in a dog’s behaviour, the first step is a full vet check. Their vet had given him a clean bill of health and advised them to get behaviour help.

The growling, lunging and snapping had started quite suddenly three months ago when he bit the lady’s arm. He had walked away from his still full food bowl, she had walked towards him and he flew at her, biting her arm and drawing blood. It was a huge shock as he had never shown any aggression previously.

After discussion and dissecting each incident it seems that, although food may sometimes be involved, it’s more about Alfie guarding entrances/doorways, mostly from the two little girls aged 6 and 8. It is also possible he’s guarding his own space. Maybe he is guarding the mum or dad who on several occasions had been beside him as a child approached and he growled. This was the case when I saw it happen myself. What a shock.

Being approached directly is what each incident has in common.

Alfie has been scolded for growling so he may now be taking it to the next stage – snapping. A couple of times he had sprung towards a child, growling and snapping at her arm. The change from friendly playmate to growling and snapping dog is sudden and unpredictable.  They can’t be looking at him all the time for subtle signs.

Fortunately no harm has been done yet. It’s still a warning. ‘Go away’.

There have also been a couple of incidents around food. I watched him eat his dinner and he kept breaking off to look around at where the children were playing.

On the first occasion it almost certainly was associated with over-arousal. The family had been away and Alfie had stayed with the doggy daycare. He normally is there for a couple of days a week but this time it was for five days and nights. Daytime there are around fifteen dogs, all loose in a field doing their own thing all day. We know that unsupervised dog play very often gets out of hand, particularly when there are lots of dogs involved.

What, too, about sleep deprivation and the ongoing effect this may have had? Most dogs in a ‘normal’ environment spend a great portion of the day asleep.

What else may Alfie be learning? He has been going there since he was three months old and was six months when the first incident happened.

He may well be learning or even copying behaviours involving guarding areas or resources along with protecting his personal space and probably his food. He also will have learnt that growling and snapping at the other dogs keeps them away. Being dogs and not children, they would understand and get the message.

Alfie’s arousal levels will have been through the roof after five days of this.

The more questions I asked the more it became evident that most of the episodes they could remember came after Alfie having stayed at the daycare.

The first step is to leave daycare and find a dog walker who will come once or twice a day, take him out with no more than two other dogs then bring him home again.

Because children are involved, the priority has to be their safety, so management must be put in place straight away. There is one doorway where could put a gate, allowing the dog to be separated from the kids and the lady to relax. It is putting a terrible strain upon her now.

Alfie suddenly flew out from under the table, snapping at the child’s arm.

I sat chatting at the kitchen table. All was peaceful, the little girls were upstairs amusing themselves. The couple were the other end of the table nearest to the door and Alfie was under the table between them.

The eight-year-old opened the door and walked in. With no warning that I could see (he was under the table), Alfie sprung out, growling, snapping at the child’s arm. Thank goodness no harm was done. This is a good example of how children may not always be safe even with their parents right beside them.

The man himself hadn’t actually witnessed more than growling before and now was understanding a lot better his wife’s anxiety and why she is constantly on edge.

BenbowAlfie1

Again, Alfie had been at daycare for several days and nights and the lady had only returned from overseas the day before I came. Alfie’s ‘stress bucket’ will have been full already. The children had been on school holidays for several weeks now so there was more excitement……and the I arrived!

After the gate, the second management thing is to wean Alfie into wearing a muzzle. Muzzling him for short periods at a time will allow the lady some respite. Alfie will certainly be picking up on her tension, adding to the stress. She is watching all the time ‘No Alfie!, No Alfie!’.

In addition to management, reducing Alfie’s stress levels in every way possible, working directly on Alfie’s guarding behaviour, the behaviour of the little girls has to be modified as well.

Instead of feeding him in the kitchen where everyone walks past, they will now feed him out of the way in the utility room – and leave him strictly alone. If anyone has to walk through, they will just drop something very nice either in or near to his bowl as they pass. No more silly tricks around food and meals.

They will work at getting him to give up and exchange things willingly. They will use food to motivate and reward him – something they don’t currently do.

As well as the work with Alfie, the little girls have their own tasks. Holding a child’s hand, I rehearsed walking towards an imaginary Alfie but in an arc or to the side of him, then with the dog himself, avoiding eye contact.

If he is lying or sitting very still, staring, they should turn around and go away. If he growls they should turn around and go away.

Before opening the gate they can call him over, drop him a treat (some will be on the shelf nearby) before opening it. This will break any staring; in addition Alfie should begin to feel good about the girls walking in the door. Mum can do some work with them too. Sitting facing a doorway with Alfie on lead, her little girls can rehearse over and over how they should walk in and past Alfie.

Child training! They are very young and will still need constant reminding.

Here is a video for them to watch.

I sincerely hope with no more bad habits and over-arousal from the daycare, with some positive training around resources and people coming through doorways, the much-loved Alfie will stop all growling and snapping, that he will go back to being the trustworthy, child-friendly dog he used to be only three months ago.

 

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 Alfie 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)

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).

Scared Spaniel Barks at People

guarding

Nico with his little hoard

‘Wary’ is the word I would use to best describe little two-year-old working Cocker Spaniel, Nico. He has lived with the couple in his new home for three months now.

It is a very good bet that his problems stem from having not been adequately socialised from a puppy onwards. There is also a strong possibility that some of his wariness is genetic. He must have been well-loved because a lot of time has been put into training him and he knows a lot of ‘tricks’. Whatever caused the family to have to rehome him must have been very upsetting for them.

When I sat down he stopped barking, encouraged by my giving him bits of food which he dared take from my hand whilst in a ‘ready to run’ position. Throughout the evening he continued to show many signs of stress and uneasiness – including yawning, licking his nose and looking away. At one stage, quite frantically, he chewed up a large rawhide bone that he had had for quite a while and had barely touched. Chewing, of course, is a valuable mechanism to help a dog calm himself down.

Lookaway

Next Nico collected the various chewable objects that he could find, and hoarded them. As you can see from the sequence of pictures, it was quite clear that they were ‘his’, but although he looked like he might growl if someone walked past he didn’t do so. I wondered (just guessing really) whether this might be some sort of displacement activity, giving him something ‘safe’ onto which to focus his attention that he had control over.

When he is alone with the young couple and is his normal self he likes to run off with things, therefore I suggested they remove all items he may regard as resources so that he no longer rehearses any guarding behaviour which could potentially escalate, and to allow him one item at a time, offering it in such a way that he is taught to take and let go again and that nothing is ever taken off him without either being returned or exchanged for something better.

stresed dog yawning

Yawning

On walks he is scared of other dogs, particularly when he’s on lead, and he barks at people approaching too directly. His wariness has resulted in a couple of occasions when, already very stressed, he has bitten the hand of someone grabbing his collar (something that’s not a good idea with any dog – a harness is a lot better).

A strange thing is that despite having made good progress with Nico’s lead walking – it seemed like he had never been on a lead before – and despite all their loving efforts, he is actually becoming more nervous in general. I do wonder whether this is due to too much stress or arousal in his very different new life. After a half-hour morning walk with intense ball play with the lady (he has become quite obsessed with the ball), the man then takes him to work. He barks at people coming in and out of the office and this is getting worse.

As Nico seems to be quite happy when left alone at home with the cat, I suggest he spends half the day chilled at home and the other half at the office where the man can make use of the people at work in a desensitisation programme, leaving a pot of food outside the door and asking them chuck some to Nico whenever they open it – maybe also stopping to throw him food even when they are just passing.

At the moment the dog could be feeling he has to guard the doorway. His open crate containing his bed is currently by the office door. It would be better beside or behind the desk where the man can ‘protect’ him and he, too, can work hard at desensitising the dog when people come into the room.

The young lady and gentleman are gentle and kind with their new little dog, and I know they will have the patience to help him grow in confidence and get used to life in their world.

A fortnight later and still very early days: ‘Nico seems a lot more confident and I think that is because we are clearer about how we should be acting with him. He doesn’t bark as much at loud noises and he is getting much better while out walking. The neighbour who I meet has even noticed a difference.’

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

Resource Guarding Puppy

Red Cocker SpanielSome puppies do seem to be more prone to resource guarding than others. There could be a genetic component to the behavior. It could be something to do with the relationships between a puppy and his litter mates and whether they have to compete for food and other resources.

Riley is now seven months old and, friendly and affectionate, also a seasoned ‘stealer and guarder’. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and had it been dealt with in a different way the very first time he growled things would be very different. Instead, he was scolded and punished. We now know that this can only make things worse. By using the old-fashioned dominance techniques, one is effectively throwing down the gauntlet by saying ‘I won’t let him get one over on me because I’m the Boss’. The more confrontational the humans are, the more aggressive the puppy becomes.

It started with the usual puppy stealing of things – socks in particular. He was chased and cornered and the sock forced off him – something which a great many people would do. He would then nick things and hide under the table with them, making all sorts of threatening noises. This was deeply upsetting to his owners who love him dearly and who felt that controlling him physically was the right way to bring him up to be a well-disciplined dog. The behaviour then developed to his guarding things like bits of paper or something accidentally dropped on the floor. He also guards himself – his own personal space – and may growl if touched when he doesn’t want to be touched.

Fortunately he hasn’t actually bitten to the extent of drawing blood, but it’s only a matter of time if things aren’t done very differently.

The final straw was when, under their chairs in a pub, they gave him a pig’s ear to chew. He growled loudly at anyone who came near to their great embarrassment.

Riley is the typical product of old-fashioned training ideas. Believing they are doing the best, when his behaviour is upsetting them they use some sort of ‘corrector’ –  spraying something called Pet Behave or holding up a rolled newspaper. This is to stop him doing whatever it is.Seven month old Cocker Spaniel

We had a very enjoyable meeting looking at ways of only showing Riley what it is we do want. He was so biddable when he understood what he should be doing. Mouthing is ignored and not mouthing reinforced. Jumping up is ignored and feet on the floor is reinforced. I taught him ‘down’ in less than a minute and he was walking around the house at my heel.

I gave Riley one of his toys and he gave it back to me. Reward. I then gave him the toy back. They will continually work with ‘swapsies’. He must no longer get any opportunities to practise his growling even if it means the people walk out of the room. Certain parts of the house where he raids bins and pinches socks should be out-of-bounds for now. They won’t try to touch him when he’s peacefully asleep and they will also make their touching more valuable by sometimes withholding it when he asks for a fuss or belly rub.

Riley is a beautiful and friendly dog and I believe his humans are mightily relieved to find there is a kind and logical way to deal with his resource guarding. In essence, they must show him that they are ‘givers’ and not ‘takers’. It may take him a while to trust them.

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

Cockerpoo Stealing and Guarding

Confrontational techniques cause Cockerpoo to guard thingsThere is one word that best describes delightful one-year-old Cockerpoo Joe – unruly!

He is clever, affectionate and dearly loved. A lot of time and effort is spent on him as his owners do their very best for him in every way they know how.

Using confrontational tactics in trying to get a dog to stop wild behaviours including stealing and guarding things, always backfires in some way.  The kind of methods promoted by a certain well-known TV dog trainer, when copied, have actually caused the behaviour in many of the dogs I go to.

Joe steals things and what happens? Because they feel they should be dominant over him, a chase game follows and then he is cornered. Whatever he has, even if only a tissue, is forced out of his mouth. People can’t let the dog WIN! It’s due to this approach to stealing that he guards things.

Then what happens? Starting when a puppy, the dog learns to protect his ‘trophy’. The man has now been bitten several times which is totally unnecessary. The dog has merely been indirectly taught to protect a resource. It becomes a sort of scary chase game where he gets a lot of attention.

Joe seems more Cocker by nature than Poodle. He is a very energetic dog, flying all over the place and jumping up at people – perhaps grabbing clothes or humping them if he is frustrated at getting insufficient attention. The usual response of getting angry and exasperated simply fuels the behaviour.

This lovely dog has never actually been taught how to be calm or how to exercise some self-control. He also needs much more ‘regulated’ stuff happening in his life – activities initiated by his humans and not himself. He has recently started agility which he adores. At home he needs to learn that his antics get no result – and if he steals something they would do best by simply walking away.  Anything valuable or dangerous will now be the subject of exchange – for something of higher value to him. No more confrontation and he will eventually lose interest.

Exchange really does need working at, whether it is to get him to let them have a ball without a fight so they can throw it again or to let go of a tug toy at the end of a game. It can be fun. A range of different items starting with something of not much value to him being exchanged for something of slightly higher value, and that exchanged for something of higher value still and so on, can teach him the concept of giving things up willingly.

Joe will be earning some of his food now – for good behaviour. We sat at the table and he kept jumping up at it. It is quite hard for people to ignore this and not constantly scold and give commands. They soon saw, though, that if the only attention he got was when his feet were back on the floor whereupon a piece of his food was promptly given to him, it worked a whole lot better. He was soon sitting down, lying down, having another try at jumping up and learning for himself this wasn’t nearly as rewarding in terms of attention as having his feet on the floor.

We worked on a list of short, controlled activities to punctuate his evenings in particular – when he is at his most demanding. It’s best to pre-empt trouble if possible. He always goes for a short walk at about 7pm (putting the harness on is like fighting a whirling dervish) and when he gets home he’s at his most manic. To calm him down they can put his harness on earlier, just before they put the food bowl down when he knows he’s not going out straight away. Then they can make it part of his routine to go straight into his pen for fifteen minutes (where he’s happy to be) immediately he gets home – with something special to chew so he can calm himself down. He then should be less demanding and hyper when they let him out again.

I broke off halfway through writing my story of Joe because I had an appointment with an advisor at my bank. We soon deviated from financial matters to dogs (a whole lot more interesting!). The young man said he had a Cocker Spaniel that could do with my help. I said, let me guess? Does he steal things? Does he guard them? Does he act aggressively when cornered? Have you been bitten? The answer to all was, ‘Yes’.

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

Guarding Food and Bowl

English Bull Terrier guards his food bowlI wonder what started Reggie’s guarding behaviour as it’s hard to see how it fits in with the rest of his personality.

The 4-year-old English Bull Terrier is only guarding food related items. He doesn’t guard toys or anything else.

He is an interesting character. Apart from guarding food he is affectionate and gentle. He can also be very demanding, especially in the evenings when he occupies himself with anything that he knows will get a reaction, whether it’s knocking over a flower vase, pushing over a full mug of tea, or fiddling around in a corner where there are cables.

It took a while for Reggie to stop trying to jump onto me, and he just checked again several times during the evening. Mostly he settled beside me – something very unusual with visitors. There was no reprimanding. I simply showed him by my response what I didn’t want and, more importantly, what I did want. He understood.

Strangely, although Reggie is happy to set off on a walk, he’s not gone far before he wants to come home again. He is a heavy dog, and if he goes on strike he’s very difficult to move.

He normally takes little notice of other dogs, though what prompted them to get in touch with me was the other day he attacked a smaller dog – something unprecedented and seemingly for no reason. The dog was on lead, Reggie wasn’t. Reggie refuses to go for walks

Reggie is a dog whose day revolves around his own wishes and much of that is food driven! I know his humans won’t mind my saying that he carries too much weight. He is given treats simply for looking at the cupboard and asking. They all share their food with him while they eat. He may even lunge to snatch something out of their hands like a bag of crisps.

I have created a ‘recipe’ for them to follow to resolve his obsessive behaviour around his food.

They have been tipping his food on the floor so there is no bowl to guard. He goes at it before it’s even hit the floor – like he’s afraid he will lose it. He wolfs it down but freezes and shows the whites of his eyes if anybody goes anywhere near.

The key is to convince Reggie that his humans are ‘givers’, not ‘takers’. We will first get him used to receiving food a bit at a time in an empty bowl.

To stop possible guarding of any one location, they will put the bowl in a different place each time. To avoid possible guarding of a particular vessel, they will use a variety of bowls and pans.

We also considered whether the marble floor which resulted in his bowl sliding around may have encouraged the pushing and guarding of the bowl itself, so bowls will now be placed on a mat.

After several weeks probably, they will move on to placing all the food into the empty bowl.  Next they will fill the bowl before they put it down and gradually teach him some impulse control so he doesn’t dive in too fast. They will walk about and they will stand still – regularly dropping good stuff in. Instead of taking the bowl away from him, they will call him away and out of the room before lifting it. Ultimately they will be able to take up the bowl in return for something else – chicken maybe.

When Reggie knows that people near his food mean better stuff is always added and when access to all food will be under the control of his humans and not himself, he will stop all this I’m sure.

I believe that all dogs should be left to eat in peace, and that a lot of guarding behaviours have been triggered by humans ‘training’ their dogs to have their food taken away from them by interrupting the meal. It somewhat predictably often has the opposite effect.

Our ‘slowly slowly’ strategy is much the same with Reggie’s walks. He will start with many short sessions near home where he is happy, and only very gradually, a few yards at a time, will they take him further afield – always coming home before he’s had enough.

He has a life of too much fussing, too much food, and too little to occupy himself in terms of healthy stimulation. Change this, and most other things will fall into place.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Reggie, 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 – most particularly where any aggressive behaviour is concerned. 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).

Jack Russell With Big Ears

Jack Russell attacked a dogNot being able to trust your dog can ruin walks. The human is anxious all the time and the dog loses freedom.

Little Jack Russell Rags is nearly 4 years old now, and he has lived with the lady since he was one. To date there have now been four episodes culminating in Rags attacking a dog that he knew.

Each incident had seemingly been over a resource of some sort – a ball or food. From how the lady describes it, it’s probable that in the most recent and worst incident with the friend’s dog that she herself was the resource.

I noticed that wherever we were standing Rags carefully placed himself between us, watching me.

In the most recent and worst incident the lady was with a friend in the other lady’s kitchen. The dogs had met a couple of times out on walks previously and had been fine together. The two ladies were chatting and both dogs were under the table between them. Suddenly Rags went for the other dog’s throat. Being long-haired, the much bigger dog wasn’t hurt and he didn’t retaliate, but it really upset Rag’s lady. She decided she needed to do something about it.

Already she has started to put into place some of my advice over the phone regarding encountering dogs on walks and the situation is getting a lot better. The hackling, lunging and barking has reduced dramatically.

It can seem unfriendly and embarrassing when meeting a person with their dog if you simply walk away from them! For this reason I suggest a ‘dog in training’ yellow vest for Rags. This may help a little too with those off-lead uncontrolled dogs whose owners give one an earful when our own on-lead dog responds to being approached!

The lady now needs to address the issue of Rags’ possessiveness of herself, including guard duty in general. She will work on a couple of training exercises to get and keep his attention and give him a bit more mental stimulation.

One month later: ‘walking is going well. I am feeling more relaxed. “Look at me” is wonderful. He knows” find it” . i am better at “reading” Rags now.

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

Rottweiller Agitated by New Baby

KodaMy last visit was to an older dog being introduced to a new puppy. Today it was another older dog and a tiny brand new baby.

Rottie Koda is a very fit 8-years old and the baby is under 6lbs in weight. You can see from the panting the stressed state Koda is in. He only relaxed very briefly in all the time I was there – four hours.

Because he is such a well-trained, obedient dog they hadn’t considered him having difficulty accepting the baby. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but things would now be a lot easier with preparation over several weeks or months.

Koda has to keep the new baby in sight all the time. Fortunately he is able to stay temporarily with the lady’s parents, and they are taking baby around there for just an hour every day.

Koda wants to put his big head under the pram hood. He wants to jump on the pram and on the occasion he succeeded it was to give the baby a big slobbery lick. His intentions may well be good, but the sheer weight of his head would be several times that of baby and the natural anxiety of his humans isn’t lost on Koda. With a small dog they wouldn’t need to worry too much.

Not only does he want to get at baby, he constantly barks at family members as though to tell them to give him the baby.  Barking to get things he wants has always worked in the past – in fact it is one downside to a well-trained dog being taught to bark for things. Koda goes frantic when baby is picked up. When baby is taken out of the room or back home, Koda is almost in meltdown.

I believe that this is a sort of resource-guarding issue, the resource being the baby.

I imagine that in the past, Koda being their ‘baby’, anything exciting (noisy or smelly or cuddly) that has been brought home has been for him. I wonder whether he feels baby belongs to him and it seems like he is increasingly frustrated because despite all the barking nobody will give baby to him.

Quite a few changes need to be made in Koda’s own behaviour and his family’s behaviour towards him.  As he’s used to calling the tune, he expects his persistent barking to get what he wants – the baby. He is obsessed, poor dog.

With a bit of experimentation we worked out a plan, stopping negatives like scolding and using clicker and reward instead. We had Koda on long lead.

With baby quiet in his pram, Koda began to realise that if he pulled the lead tight to touch the pram with his nose he could go no further. There was no scolding. As soon as the lead relaxed click and treat. He was learning! He was also learning for himself that lying down was much more rewarding than pulling towards baby or barking.

Soon Koda was responding even when the baby was crying in the pram. He began to find it harder when the young lady stood up and went towards the pram, so we worked on that. Then she touched the pram. Then she touched baby. Still we clicked and treated. When she lifted the baby, Koda was well over his threshold and no longer reponsive to clicks and treats, so the lady put baby back. We need to break it down into even smaller increments.

I suggest that they start their routine with a doll wrapped in baby-smelling blankets before going on to the real thing.

With patience I’m sure Koda will begin to lose interest in the baby and they will be able to settle down to normal family life with their lovely baby and beautiful dog.

‘Possessing’ Objects and Growling

Jack is a good natured, affectionate and very energetic young Cocker Spaniel Fourteen-month-old Jack is a good natured, affectionate and very energetic young Cocker Spaniel (and I know what that’s like with my own Working Cocker, Pickle!). However Jack does have a problem and it is getting worse. He steals things and runs off with them, then hides under the kitchen table guarding them and growling. He will do the same with bones and toys. He may growl if someone simply walks past when he is possessing something.

Without realising it, the owners have unintentionally encouraged this. In addition to giving Jack a great deal of attention for it, the gentleman held the view that if he was going to be the ‘Alpha male’ then Jack had to give up the item. Consequently, he will corner him under the table and forcibly open Jack’s mouth to remove the object. All the time Jack is growling.

A dog can’t talk, so he growls. The danger is that if the growling is ignored Jack will soon feel it’s pointless giving this warning and move on to the next step – which is to snap. He has already done this to a lady who wanted to touch him when he was tied up outside a shop. In general, when Jack is approached and loomed over he will go over onto his back, an indication that he finds it a little threatening – as do many dogs.

When I was there Jack was given a new chew toy. The gentleman found it very hard to totally ignore Jack as he paraded it about! Jack’s antics have no power if the humans refuse to play his game – and ignore the whole thing.

Meanwhile, work needs to be done on getting Jack to willingly exchange things. They should never be simply wrenched off him. If the item’s not important, then they should deny him any pleasure in the form of attention and totally ignore it – maybe even walking out of the room. I suggest for now his guarding spot under the kitchen table is blocked, and that all his toys are lifted. They can be issued to him one at a time – and used for a ‘Give’ game before finally being handed over to him.  He has already been trained, as a gun dog, to ‘Give’ the dummy, so this shouldn’t be too hard.

The regular gun dog training Jack has had isn’t sufficiently reward-based for my liking. He is being told ‘No’ without being shown they do want from him. It’s much fairer if he can be called away from things and rewarded or given alternative behaviours that are incompatible with what he is doing. He quite vigorously humped me when I arrived (not helped perhaps by my own dog Zara currently being in season), but being told No and Down and being dragged off only prolongs the situation. If he is given an alternative like ‘Sit’, he can’t hump and sit at the same time!

He’s a cracking dog and with consistent rules and boundaries, with his humans ditching ‘dominance’ techniques and using a bit of psychology, with less use of the word ‘No’ and more rewarding in terms of attention for the desired behaviour, I feel sure Jack will mature into a trustworthy and well-mannered adult.