Consequences Drive Behaviour. Teaching Unwanted Behaviour

Consequences drive behaviour.

consequences drive behaviourUnwittingly the young couple have made a rod for their own backs.

They are first time dog owners and hadn’t realised that something only needs to be reinforced just the once to create a behaviour. If the dog barks in the night – that ‘come and talk to me’ bark …and if they go to her just once …she will very likely do the same thing the next night!

Now Freya has them up shortly after 5 am each morning. One of them comes down, maybe lets her out, gives her something nice to chew while they lie on the sofa trying to get a bit more sleep. If it’s a bit later she may immediately get a walk.

What very rewarding consequences for barking at 5 am!

Behaviours harder to undo than to create

It takes a lot more work to undo a behaviour that has been reinforced by enjoyable consequences than it does to cause it in the first place. Continue reading…

Desperate. Her Puppy Jumps Up, Snaps and Barks at Her

“I am desperate!

“….I love my puppy so much and don’t know what to do. She bites, jumps up and snaps at me. I can’t eat in front of her. I could go on.

Skye likes to watch the dogs on television. I watch Victoria Stilwell’s programme. That’s how I found out about you.”

Desperate because of puppy's behaviourSkye is a four-month-old Westie.

It’s very easy to get into a spiral of despair when everything we do seems to make a puppy more wild or rough. All the time we are trying to stop the puppy doing things she gets worse.

The most dangerous is being underfoot and liable to trip the lady over which, due to her age, could be particularly disastrous.

Through different eyes.

The lady is now completely changing her perspective. She is looking at her puppy through different eyes. Instead of trying to counter unwanted behaviours with scolding and discipline, saying ‘no’ and getting cross, she will constantly look for and reinforce those behaviours that she does want. She already no longer feels desperate.

How does a dog or puppy know what we DO want? Ted Talk.

The clever puppy soon learnt that a click meant ‘Yes!’ Each time she jumped up, instead of reacting we waited. When she was back on the floor she earned a click – and food. This ‘brain’ work is exactly the kind of stimulation she needs.

We are also teaching Skye alternative behaviours that are incompatible with those things she now does that the lady doesn’t want her to do.

Where circling feet and grabbing trousers is concerned, she will be taught ‘Away’, running after a rolling piece of food. This way the lady can keep safe. She just has to make sure she has food on her for now.

We ask ourselves, what is it that drives the puppy to wildly jump up, bark at the lady, snap in her face when she bends over her, scratch her legs till she gets attention and so on? What is it that is causing the lady to feel so desperate?

Puppy over-arousal is at the bottom of it. Cutting back activities that stir her up and replacing with activities that use her brain and natural instincts like chewing and sniffing will help.

A little tornado!

It’s totally natural for a puppy to be excitable and have bouts of wild behaviour where she’s like a little tornado. Pressure has built up in her that has to explode somewhere! If she was with her siblings they would riot together and it would soon be over.

One great idea is a ‘box of tricks’ that Skye can go to town on and wreck. Biscuits are hidden in screwed up paper, food cartons, milk containers, loo roll tubes, old towels etc. The cardboard carton itself can be attacked.

If we want our puppy to be gentle and calm with us, then that is how we need to be with her. Friends and family need also to treat her calmly – no wild greetings and pumping her up.

Having a motivated puppy leads to good behaviour.

The lady should always reward her when she asks her to come to her.

It’s much better to call Skye away from something she shouldn’t be doing or chewing, rewarding her and giving her something acceptable to do. Much better than saying ‘No’ and scolding – trying to stop her.

This means having food in a pouch or pocket all the time for now.

No more feeling desperate.

From email a week later: ‘Skye is so much calmer I can’t believe how much we’ve achieved in a few days. The biting has just about stopped. I’m amazed that she appears to be getting the message so quickly.’ (It’s not so much about her getting the message, but the lady is communicating with her in a way she understands a bit better). 

 

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 Skye 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 puppy may not be appropriate, and in many cases the owner needs training personally. Being able to see a professional demonstrate and react appropriately to a puppy’s behaviour can be necessary. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own puppy (see my Help page)

Rough Behaviour. Jumping. Scratching. Biting. Why?

I came to help with Honey’s rough, uncontrolled behaviour but it soon became apparent that their other dog, 8-year-old Bonnie, was one of the main triggers.

Both are Cocker Spaniels. Honey is already large for a Cocker and still only nine months old.

Rough and uncontrolled when aroused.

some rough behaviour due to over-excitement

Honey

Honey is a delightfully friendly dog but loses control of herself very quickly – and any efforts to try to impose control only make her worse.

When aroused (which is much of the time if anyone is moving about), she jumps up constantly. When excited or frustrated she usually picks on the lady. She will fly at her and grab her arms – she has bruises to show for it. If ignored, she scratches frantically at arms. It hurts.

Honey makes it impossible for the lady to get ready for work in the morning. She also attacks the hairdryer.

She did try the same things on me but I always wear tough clothes, just in case. There is no aggression behind it as such. Just an overflowing of arousal and frustration.

I was able to ignore it and start to reinforce any small moments of calm behaviour.

Eventually she was lying peacefully beside the man. Silently so as not to stir her up again, he dropped a piece of food to her.

Everything was going very well apart from Bonnie’s near-constant barking. She could see my car out of the window. She could see movement. She could hear things we couldn’t hear.

We tried everything to stop her but she was in such a state that the best we could do was for the lady to have her on her lap, well away from windows. For a while she quietened down.

Then she heard something else and erupted into a renewed frenzy of barking.

Immediately the now peaceful young Honey jumped up. She was clearly in a state of panic, rushing about, back and forth from Bonnie, licking her face, panting, jumping at us. It was actually quite pitiful.

Bonnie holds the trigger to the starter pistol.

The first obvious thing feeding into the jumping up, mouthing, biting and scratching are Honey’s extreme and near-permanent arousal/stress levels.

There will be such a build-up inside her that it’s like she’s ready to erupt at the slightest thing. People simply moving around or being busy is sufficient to start her off.

Everything will now be done to calm her down.

One main trigger is obviously Bonnie and her own panic barking, so although I was called for Honey, we need to deal with this at source – with Bonnie. Another is the over-enthusiastic behaviour of her humans towards her. They reap what they sow.

The other thing feeding the rough behaviour is that it always, but always, brings a result of some kind. It hurts so people react.

Bonnie

To make things harder, jumping up is strongly reinforced. She is nearly always fussed when she jumps up at them. At other times she’s told to get down. There is no consistency.

Inconsistency adds to frustration..

The couple are out all day but have a dog walker. Each lunch time she takes the dogs out for a lovely walk with other dogs. But still, like many people, they feel guilty having to leave the dogs alone for hours.

Out in the garden after work, the lady, trying to play ball with her, is literally mugged by her.

Protective clothing and ‘money’.

I suggest the lady has a tough jacket to hand to protect her arms. Honey must now realise that all play stops and all attention stops as soon as the rough jumping up and biting begins.

They should also have food on them all the time – to pay Honey for the behaviour they do want.

Honey should be given more appropriate stimulation – encouraging self control and calm. The morning routine can change so the dogs are downstairs with a chew each while the lady gets ready for work. They can then be given a short ‘sniff’ walk around the block before being shut in the kitchen instead of excitable play.

The people will keep actively reinforcing the behaviour they want. I reinforced feet on the floor and then lying or sitting down. Honey soon got the message with myself (until Bonnie set her off again).

The man made a good point. The behaviour is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is ‘wanted’ or ‘unwanted’ behaviour – so we reinforce wanted behaviour only.

Triggers can come from unexpected quarters. Calming Bonnie’s barking will indirectly have a big impact on Honey’s rough behaviour.

This case brought home to me two things. One, it illustrated that the triggers for a dog’s behaviour are often not obvious, especially to the humans closest to the dog. An objective, outside view is necessary.

Scondly it illustrated how important it is with behaviour issues to see the dog in his or her own environment. Had I not been in their own home I would not have realised just what an impact Bonnie’s mental state has on Honey’s.

 

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 approaches I have worked out for Honey and Bonnie. 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 aggressive behaviour is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Replace Bad Habit With Good Habit

Anything repeated often enough can become a habit.

I totally fell in love with scruffy ten-month-old Jack Russell mix Max yesterday. I had the perfect evening with him and his humans.

It began with just me and the daughter who is in her late teens. Then mum arrived followed by twSitting still is a better habit than jumping abouto male school friends of the girl’s and later a man – all people closely involved in the dog’s life. Lucky little dog!

As each person joined us I was working with Max. He had jumped up at me in a madly friendly fashion as I walked in the door and I immediately showed him that this didn’t work with me if it was my attention he wanted. More importantly, I concentrated on showing him what did work.

As more people arrived and as I worked with him, instead of jumping up at them, becoming increasingly excited and silly as would normally be the case, he was becoming more and more settled.

When finally the man joined us, he said Max must be another dog.

It won’t take much of this to build up a new habit when people arrive, so long as everyone is consistent. They have a lot of people coming and going so training the humans is the main problem here!

All I did was to consistently reinforce the behaviour I wanted. As you can see from the photo, Max became FOCUSED! He was sitting looking up at me as we all chatted. From time to time I reinforced the continued calm behaviour with Yes or a click and the tiniest bit of food.

Now he can develop a new habit, that of sitting at someone’s feet looking adorable in order to get his attention fix!

BanceMax1I then tried him on an antler chew. Chewing is such a great and natural way for a dog to relieve stress and to occupy himself. Max worked away at it for maybe an hour after which he simply lay down and settled.

Just like so many dogs I go to, Max generates nearly all his own attention with tactics like constantly asking to be let out and then back in again, jumping up behind people, mouthing, digging the sofa – anything he can think of.

If instead his humans initiate frequent short activities that he finds rewarding and that exercise his brain, he will no longer be driven into goading them for the attention and action he craves.

 

They can convert any unwanted habit into a good habit.

The small dog has fantastic humans in his life who have put time and effort into teaching him training tricks. Now they need to incorporate work on keeping him a bit calmer and making the desirable habits the rewarding ones.

At last he settles

At last he settles

Here are a few examples where his bad habit can be changed into a good habit.

Before bed and before they go to work, like so many dogs Max will refuse to come in from the garden. With a bit of management by way of a long lead so he can no longer rehearse the behaviour and food so that he’s motivated, this habit can soon be changed to him running in as soon as they call him.

While they eat their dinner, he has a habit of sitting on the back of the sofa behind them and trying to get their food! This habit can be changed with a mix of management and training. So he can no longer rehearse this behaviour he can be put somewhere else while they eat. He can then be taught a much better habit instead.

Whenever he sees a person out on a walk he will jump up at them. This habit can be changed through a mix of management and teaching him something better that earns him fuss.

Even pulling on lead is a habit. He is forced to walk beside them and the short lead is tight so that pulling against it is constantly rehearsed on every daily walk. A new habit can be established using management – better equipment – and a loose leash that is repeatedly reinforced by earning him forward progress along with plenty of encouragement, attention and reward.

Near the end of our session yesterday I put one of my Perfect Fit harnesses on Max and attached a training lead. Within a few minutes the now calm Max was walking beautifully for me and then for the daughter outside the front of the house.

Already a new and much better walking habit has been born.

It was quite touching how he was with me by the time I was ready to leave and we had removed the harness. He lay beside me, his head on my foot. What had I done to him?

We had a mutual understanding. Max felt quietly understood.

 

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 Max. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

 

Family Dog, Consistency is Key

The importance of consistency.

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

Tibetan Terrier in need of consistency

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s anything but simple.

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

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

Each should carry food on walks.

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

 

A ‘walk’ now mean something different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Puppies’ Fear of Other Dogs

Shih Tzu puppy

PJ

I have had a lovely visit with five-month-old Shih Tzu female litter-mates Hattie and PJ and their delightful family, starting my ‘puppy parenting’ with them. This initial visit is to make sure the basics are in place, plan the way forward and pre-empt potential future problems.

Potential problems with littermates are well documented but not inevitable.

These two are inseparable – they move around like one adorable fluffy mop; it’s hard to see where one dog ends and the other starts, or to see which end is head and which end is tail!

Amongst the usual puppy things, two matters stood out as particularly needing addressing. One is their lack of sufficiently early socialisation resulting in fear of other dogs. They left the breeder at nine weeks but their vaccinations hadn’t yet begun, and though they had met plenty of human friends they were not taken out to meet other dogs until about 14 weeks old. So sadly, at just five months, Hattie and PJ are already wary of other dogs they see and they bark at them.

Many humans (this family less so) tend to believe that socialising means exposing their dog to other dogs in such a way that they are forced to encounter as many as possible, on a tight lead, and this will eventually ‘get them over’ their barking. It’s actually the very opposite. I say to people it’s not walks we’re working on, or other dogs, it’s actually ‘fear therapy’. It’s easier to understand that with a ‘therapy’ there will be a psychological approach and one needs to go slowly.

Other dogs have to be transformed into something the puppies feel happy to see. Force won’t do that.

I call it the ‘Other Dog Battery’ (it could be a battery for any other thing a dog is scared of). Each time the puppy can be aware of another dog at a distance that doesn’t disturb her and particularly if she is then given tasty little bits to eat or forage for or something else good always happens, this starts to charge up the ‘Other Dog Battery’.

This particular battery is slow and laborious to charge.

Each and every time, however, the puppy or dog encounters a dog that is too close or is suddenly surprised by a dog around a corner, that battery discharges very fast and goes flat – and they will then have to start again. Logistically it can be difficult but there is no way around it and the puppies ideally need to be walked separately.

Shih Tzu Lying on her back

Hattie

The second common thing that arose from this consultation is to do with dogs that ‘won’t eat’. This then also means the dog also won’t be interested in food to help fill up that ‘Other Dog Battery’.

Sometimes the reason is a lot more obvious than you’d think.

They showed me the treats they give the puppies – amongst other things mini markies about the size of small cocktail sausage rolls. They admit to giving each puppy about six a day but with a family of four nobody is counting. The puppy can’t be much more than 3kg in weight and the man told me he weighed about 70kg. Relative to size, that makes one markie far larger than a doughnut… and six markies? It’s no wonder the puppies have little interest in food.

This case is yet another example of how issues are inter-related. No one thing stands alone. The food issue raises the matter of nutrition and food affects the ability to reward and counter-condition, which is necessary to change the way the puppies behave towards other dogs, which in turn necessitates the two being walked separately which is in itself part of a wider issue – that of the puppies being given quality time individually; the stress of walks can spill over into grumpiness afterwards and so on.

With work and patience, their fear of other dogs should lessen. These sweet and gentle puppies must feel safe and protected. It’s an owners’ job to save their dogs from unwanted or rough attention at all costs – whether from a human or another dog. Easier said than done sometimes.

The Value of Food Reward

Bichon Maltese mix would work better for food reward

Doug

The smallest food reward is of value and an incentive to any of my own dogs, but not to the dear little Bichon Maltese mix I went to yesterday. Two-year-old Doug lives with an elderly Bichon, Alfie, and it would be safe to say that food has virtually no value to either of them.

Why? Because it’s freely available 24/7 along with all sorts of treats and extras.

There are reasons why this has come about which have to do with their previous very old dog who was diabetic and needed food left down. In the corner of the room there was a generous bowl of cooked chicken, and a bowl of Bakers Complete.

Before they can do much with Doug’s alarm barking and his reactivity on walks to some other dogs and more recently people as well, they need a currency for not only rewarding him but also desensitising and counter-conditioning him – getting him to associate things which which he’s becoming increasingly reactive with ‘something good’ that Doug really values. That way he will learn to feel good when he sees someone. In Doug’s case the ‘something good’ has to be food.

For this to work they need a dog that’s a bit hungrier. A dog whose meals are not too exciting  will find special stuff a higher currency. At the moment both dogs are like lottery winners being asked to work for a tenner!

Doug is rather a jumpy little dog and his stress levels are conintually topped up with the barking and tension on walks. Just as we know that E-numbers and certain ingredients can encourage hyperactivity and nervousness in our own children, so they can with our dogs. Out goes the Bakers! (If interested in better alternatives for your own dog, here are two websites: http://www.allaboutdogfood.co.uk/  and Best Dog Food Review: http://www.best-dog-food-review.com/67901/67927.html).

Elderly Bichon

Alfie – an old dog now

Cutting the dogs down to regular meals where any unfinished food is immediately lifted is not going to be easy for these people who have come a long way with their little rescue dog who originally came from Ireland. Lavishing their dogs with tasty food and treats is a way they show their love. It will mean putting an end to sharing their own food both during preparation and while eating. Gravy bones and the like should be ditched in favour of tiny bits of real meat or similar – something nutritious – or from their daily food quota. A gravy bone to a Bichon of about 12lbs in weight must be like an adult human eating something well over ten times that size. A large bread roll perhaps?

My inclination is for them to go cold turkey by cutting out all snacks and start by just offering food every couple of hours, lifting it immediately if the dog either shows no interest or walks away, until he realises that he has to eat when the food is about. One secret is to feed very small portions that can easily be cleared. After all, in a ‘pack’ like my own or animals in the wild, if one dog walks away he will never see that food again!

It may be easier and more comfortable for Doug and Alfie’s owners to do this in easy stages, aiming to be down to two ‘proper’ meals and no unearned snacks in a week or two’s time.

Soon food will gain more value. I couldn’t believe it when Doug turned his nose up at the very tasty bit of freeze-dried lamb I offered him.

When food is a workable currency the real work can start.  Doug can be called away from something he’s barking at and he will listen because he knows he will get a food reward. He will be a lot easier to handle on walks if nice walking is rewarded and the sight of a person or other dog is kept at an acceptable distance (to Ralph) and immediately paired with ……..tasty food.

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 Doug. 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).

Discipline – is it Good or Bad?

BEagle drinking from mug on coffee tableWesley left the breeder late. He wasn’t able to interact with the real world until his injections were over at about six months old, so the family have had to acclimatise him to everything from TV to vacuum cleaner and from walking on a lead to encountering traffic. With their love they have done remarkably well with the, now, one-year-old Beagle.

I do love Beagles!

This Beagle has largely been allowed to call the tune. Things have now gone too far and they realise something needs to be done to get him ‘under control’.

What if we tell the dog not to do something and he just looks ar us, basically saying ‘No’!  We have a choice of either backing down or using force – ‘discipline’. Neither works well for us. This young adult dog will now get cross if he doesn’t get his own way. He doesn’t like to be manhandled or grabbed and he delights in stealing and destroying things, guarding his new trophies. This predictably leads to a chase which ends in wrecked objects being forced from a resistant dog.

I had to constantly remember to be careful where I put my pen, my clipboard or my mobile!

They are up and down all evening opening the door to the garden which he may or may not go through. He jumps all over everyone, sometimes encouraged and sometimes told to get down.

He flies over the sofa and over anyone sitting on it, then onto the coffee table, like the people are some sort of pontoon. Saying ‘No’ and chasing him may get him off, but he delights in jumping straight back up again. A great game! They broke something tasty into very small pieces and the son worked at teaching Wesley Up and Off, repeatedly, from chair and sofas. ‘Off’ has to be rewarding – but what is rewarding to Wesley apart from Wesley-generated attention? Petting leaves him cold – he gets too much of that already. Until now food has been his ‘divine right’. I doubt if he’s ever had to work for it, so food has to gain some value.

BEagle standing on the coffee table

BEagle standing on the coffee table

Wesley is fed on demand whenever he goes to the cupboard and paws at it – then he declines to eat.

All sorts of different things are fed to him to in an effort to please him and get hm to eat. Because the cats eat from pouches and he can watch them through the gate, he, too, now has pouches ‘so he thinks he’s eating the same as the cats’. I have suggested moving all the food away from the cupboard and giving him fixed meals only.

He for now should not have any food at all that he doesn’t earn (and no more putting his tongue on their plates while they eat and being given their food while they eat! He will be behind a new gate or in his crate with something of his own to chew).

This will be a lot harder for the lady than it will for Wesley. People can be convinced that their baby will starve and he may not eat much for a couple of days under their terms. Dogs invariably eat up properly within a few days if the food is appropriate and the quantity isn’t too much – and if the humans don’t weaken and mess about.

Wesley’s family will have their work cut out for a while! They have already from the day they got him proved how much patience they have. It’s Day One and they have made a good start. I would expect Wesley to revolt for a few days when he finds that he won’t be getting his own way so readily. They have been prepared for that.

The problem with trying to ‘discipline’ an unruly dogs is that it’s all about preventing the dog from doing unwanted things in a ‘disciplinarian’ sort of way which implies being confrontational. A confrontational approach can generate an aggressive response in a strong-minded dog. ‘Discipline’ does not teach the desired, other, preferred behaviours.

Self-discipline is a different matter.  Dogs learn self-discipline by being allowed to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Five weeks have passed and we are now getting somewhere: ‘I think you will see things are getting better. People are starting to say, “he’s a lot calmer” and “I thought you had a problem, you should see how our dog behaves”. This is good news as we now feel we are getting somewhere, although occasionally he will test us’. 

NB. The exact protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Wesley, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here of the strategies we will be using. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. To get on top of this sort of behaviour you will need help from an experienced professional. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help (see my Get Help page).

Walking the Dogs is Not Fun

German Shepherd Rottie mix

Marley

They are not enjoying their two lovely dogs as they should.

Marley is a three-year-old Rottie German Shepherd cross, a beautiful dog. He’s a little on the nervous side with new people, but particularly uneasy on walks where he is reactive to other dogs (he’s always on lead) and scared of traffic.

Rottie Staffie mix

Bella

Rottie Staffie mix Bella had been a stray whom they adopted a few months ago. Marley hadn’t been castrated and Bella was also entire – so no prizes for guessing what happened next! Nine weeks ago Bella had nine puppies! They have managed to find good homes for all of them which is an achievement.

The two dogs lack sufficient healthy stimulation and seem to be getting more stressed – a gauge of which is the level of play that breaks out between them when things get a bit too much for them. They don’t have things about to chew or to do, so excess energy boils over.

Most particularly the family members aren’t enjoying walking the dogs. This is sad. If the people are finding walking a real drag, the dogs will be picking up on this. A walk should be a joyful occasion for them. Marley even tries to avoid going out with one of the family members on account of her lack of patience – getting cross and using physical restraint and control. It is so understandable because trying to walk with pulling reactive dogs can be incredibly frustrating when you don’t know any other way. It becomes a battle. It was the same for me many years ago, so I understand.

They dare not let Bella off lead in particular as they are sure she would run off. Neither dog pays much attention when asked to come. I am often surprised to hear the tone of voice with which people call their dogs. If someone called me like that, I wouldn’t come either!

I saw that they very seldom rewarded the dogs in any way. We work better for pay and so do dogs – their currency usually being food. It was amazing how fast we taught Bella to sit, to stay sitting and to lie down – using food rewards. She became focussed and motivated.

Trying to stop our dogs doing unwanted behaviours can sometimes be overwhelming. Life is one big ‘no’. It can completely change people’s attitude when they look for alternatives to give the dogs – ‘yes, do this instead’.

They will be working on Marley and Bella coming to them when called with ‘recall games’ around the house until it becomes second nature to them, and then on a long line when out.

With the walking they will be going back to the beginning and starting again, getting rid of the retractable lead and Halti and using comfortable harnesses – preferably where the lead hooks onto the chest. They can teach the dogs to walk near them on a longish loose lead, one at a time. They will walk the dogs individually for several very short sessions a day to start with.

Meanwhile, by pretending another dog appears, they can rehearse what to do so when they see another dog for real they are ready. They have a strategy in place to deal with Marley’s lunging, barking and trying to chase away busses and motorbikes – giving him an alternative behaviour and an escape route.

Most of all, by starting all over again with different equipment and a different technique, using encouragement and rewards and taking things slowly, walks will start to be FUN. If the humans start to find walks enjoyable, then for sure so will the dogs.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Marley and Bella, which is why I don’t go into exact detail here as to the methods I have suggested. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Young Dalmation is Out of Control

When I say ‘ouYoung Dalmationt of control’, I don’t mean Gizmo needs more ‘being under control’. The six-month-old Dalmatian needs more self-control. This is impossible when he is bored stiff and unfulfilled and when his antics are what gets him the craved-for attention.

I go to so many young dogs and puppies who are simply bouncing of the walls and their busy owners just don’t know what to do with them. When they carried the adorable tiny puppy home they had no concept of the time and effort a puppy needs in order for him to grow to be the family pet they dreamed of.

Gizmo’s owners are a young couple with a toddler and a baby now on the way too. In their small house the lady is finding it very hard to fulfill both her little daughter’s needs and her dog’s. If he is shut out of the room he does damage. He flies all over the chairs and all over people. He digs in the garden and he chews up the carpet. He steals and eats the child’s toys and he has now been through several beds.

It can understandably cause some conflict when the man comes home to a big welcome from the dog but has little concept of how it really is for his partner who is trying to cope all day with a demanding baby and even more demanding dog. She can’t exercise Gizmo because she can’t leave baby alone and because of his ‘wild’ behaviour and pulling she can’t take them together.

Things got so bad for the lady, who also worries how they will cope when the new baby in a few months’ time, that a week ago they advertised Gizmo and sold him. They came home in tears.

They then went and fetched him back again and called me out. They hadn’t realised, despite the problems, just how much they loved him until he wasn’t there.

A common problem is that people are resistant to making the necessary changes even though they are only temporary. Crates and gates clutter up the house. Chew toys and activity boxes can make a big mess. It is simpler to put a chain lead on a dog so it can be controlled through force than to change equipment and put time into training it to walk nicely. I am a firm believer in the saying: ‘where there’s a will, there’s a way’.

We are starting on just three things before I go again next week – three things they should realistically be able to make sYoung Dalmation with Stagbarome headway with so the lady feels a little more encouraged to keep going.

Firstly, they should look for and reward all the good, calm moments including standing still, sitting and lying down – we practised this. Secondly, they must be consistent about Gizmo’s jumping up on people and on the chairs. If they don’t want the dog to do something – then it has to be every time. He also needs to know what it is they do want instead. Thirdly, the poor quality of his diet can only encourage manic behaviour so that needs changing, and with food left down they have nothing left to reward and motivate him with. So, he needs proper meals and proper food.

Next time we will take things further. We will look at ideas for occupying his brain and starting walking work so the lady can eventually take both dog and baby out for walks together safely.

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