Wild Behaviour is Unwittingly Fuelled

Wild behaviour from a dog the size of the adolescent Newfoundland can be scary.

When Beau leaped at the kitchen table she knocked the coffee mugs flying!

Taking a break from wild behaviour

Seven-month-old Beau was chosen from the litter as the most bold and pushy puppy. She organised the others, I am told, by barging them and stirring up trouble – and then sitting back to enjoy the results!

She was a mouthy, nippy puppy. This wasn’t countered immediately or correctly. Hand games and chasing her for things she stole added fuel to her wild behaviour.

As she got bigger and things became more painful, they have had to use more physical force to push her off them, to remove her away from things and to extract things from her mouth. She will do nothing when simply asked.

They can’t have her in the lounge with them for more than a few minutes before she goes wild and has to be put in the kitchen. Her worst wild episodes as so often is the case happen where she has more space – out in the garden. There have been a couple of occasions when the little girl hasn’t been safe.

In the belief that the more exercise and interaction she has, the better behaved she will be, each day starts off with too much stimulation – a prolonged welcome fuss before breakfast followed by ball play in the garden, excitement before getting in the car to take the child to school and then a walk which is probably too long for a pup of seven months.

Anyway, as she got older puppy Beau became defiant when she didn’t get her own way.

The young dog may get angry when thwarted. Several times now she has snarled, showed her teeth and lunged. Her eyes ‘looked funny’.

This is the consequence of using methods of force on a determined and strong dog. How frustrating it is for a dog not to know what she should be doing. (Please take a look at my favourite video showing the power of Yes versus No).

I showed them how we would create a willing and happy dog exercising self-control by using the power of Yes, by keeping Beau as calm as possible, by giving her suitable mental stimulation and by removing opportunities for rehearsing the wild behaviour.

By motivating her.

Almost immediately Beau began to respond to reinforcement for the right behaviour. She was becoming a lot calmer than she had been for a long time, particularly with the little girl present.

This is a typical case of owners getting through the days by fielding everything the dog throws at them so it becomes No No NO Stop, push away, drag off, shut away … and so on, and ‘letting sleeping dogs lie’ when the dog is quiet.

Look at this wonderful face!

It’s just amazing just how quickly a dog responds to Yes Yes Yes and being ‘bigged up’ for each good thing she does so she knows what is required.

Each time the wild behaviour kicked off again we dealt with it by giving the big adolescent other, incompatible things to do instead, making it clear to her what we did want of her.

We soon had Beau coming to us, offering us certain behaviours with little prompting. We had her walking from one of the four of us to another when called gently. We had her responding to understandable instructions and she was loving it.

We used the clicker. The little girl also clicked Beau for sitting – with perfect timing.

Action should be immediate.

It’s no good allowing the dog to rehearse jumping and biting by letting it happen even twice before reacting. It needs to be wiped out completely.

Immediately she jumps she must lose all communication with that person. Immediately she jumps at the table someone must get up, call her off, reward what she should be doing instead and move her onto a different behaviour that is incompatible with jumping at the table.

It takes a huge amount of effort.

Pre-empting and dealing with things before they happen is best of all.

Boosting her for every desirable thing she does must also be immediate – when she sits voluntarily, when she lies down, when she sighs and relaxes. A couple of times she looked at the table which had my smelly treats on it and resisted jumping up. A first! That deserved a jackpot but it must be immediate.

It could help greatly if the little girl didn’t arouse the dog quite so much as the wild behaviour is always far worse when the child is about. She could touch her less, try not to run into the room waving arms, dance around her or do handstands in Beau’s presence. These things quickly send the dog wild.

But this is like asking the little girl not to be a little girl!

Even if the child can cut back a little on these things it will help and she will be clicker trained too! They will use the word ‘Good’ and she can collect stars. She will now ask her mum to call Beau inside before going out into the garden – and she will make a poster for the door to remind herself

The next morning I received a lovely message from the lady which is proof if any is needed of the powers of positive reinforcement and calmness:

“I am so excited to tell you that we have had the most relaxed morning since we have got Beau. Last night she came into the lounge and not once did she bite. She tried to get on the sofa once but with a little distraction she came away and lay down. 

This morning has been the shocker for me. She has been like a different dog. We have made an extra effort to be calm and relaxed and Beau has been the same. She hasn’t bitten, jumped up, barked…nothing! ……She is now laying peacefully….I know she may relapse and I’m prepared for it but she’s shown me this morning that she is more than capable of being the loving Newfoundland that she should be……I knew she had it in her but to see it is another thing. I am so happy!”

Message received three weeks later: ‘I am so happy to tell you that we have a considerably well behaved dog. She has not had an “aggressive moment” since the clicker incident on the first week. There have been times where I have stopped stroking her and she goes to mouth my hand and then realises and stops before her mouth touches me, which I reward….. I can honestly say, I can’t remember the last time she jumped up! She’s learnt to play with her toys by herself and doesn’t ram them in my hand followed by a bite like before. Overall I am delighted with the way things are going. I am still prepared for her to slip back to her old ways but she is surprisingly proving me wrong. I actually think she listens to me now!’
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 Beau and I’ve not gone into exact 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 or fearfulness is concerned and most especially when it involves children. 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)

When Every Meal is Dish of Treats

German Shepherd lying by doorIt may be a little late in the day, but they want to prepare the stunning German Shepherd as best they can for a smooth transition into his new life. It is not uncommon for me to go to someone who is ‘caretaking’ a dog for someone until they can take him or her back.

Max has been loved and wonderfully looked after for the past eight months by a lady and gentleman who have never lived with a dog before.

In a month’s time the four-year-old will be going to a new life that will include a young child and a baby on the way.

My caring clients want to hand him over as well-equipped as possible.

I found out immediately that Max was simply not interested in food – even the special tasty little treats I brought. Without food it’s much more difficult to reward a dog meaningfully or to desensitise to things he’s uneasy about.  ‘Good dog’ is seldom sufficient, talking can convey the owner’s underlying anxiety even if the words themselves are positive and a favourite game like tuggy is often inconvenient and just too long-winded.

The reason became apparent when we discussed his eating habits. He has four meals a day – you could almost say ‘banquets’. Breakfast is tuna or tripe, lunch is chopped ham, tea is boiled rice with chicken, liver or heart and dinner is kibble. In addition he may get biscuits when he asks for them. When his regular food contains all the best things and in such quantity, what is there left of sufficient value for earned treats?

When I arrived I had been prepared for a barking dog, so he was on lead. Helping him with his reactivity to people coming to the house is one of their priorities. However, when they let me in following my instructions, Max was chilled! He sniffed me. We sat down – and he delicately and calmly helped himself to the Stagbar that I carry in my bag!

Work will be a lot easier if they are able to use food in order to deal appropriately with his barking at passing people and dogs, and his frenzy when someone comes to the door. They need food to help him to feel comfortable with visitors. They need food so that he pays them attention when necessary. They need to be able to reward him for sitting or lying down when asked so that he is under control when necessary. If in his new life he shows too much interest in the baby or they are at all worried that he may be uneasy around the child, they need to know that he will come to them when asked.

At the moment all the best goodies are showered upon him for free and he has to work for nothing. Now he needs to work for the best food. They will gradually reduce the variety offered in meals till his diet is more basic and he ends up with two ‘normal’ meals a day. If they are worried he’s not eating, he can still be earning and working for tasty stuff but outside his mealtimes.

Max needs to put a bit of effort in order to get what he wants. I’m sure that just like us, dogs value more the stuff they have had to put a bit of effort into acquiring – and perhaps take more note of those people whose attention they have to try a bit harder for?

Some things they simply won’t have time to address in the short time they still have him, like his manic barking in the car at everything that passes. This could make things difficult in the future with children in the car too. Their simplest option is to get a crate for the car and prevent him from seeing out – fortunately he was crate-trained.

One other thing they can help him with in the next four weeks is his very close attachment to the lady. He became visibly anxious when she left the room although the gentleman was still with us. He panted and paced. It will be hard for her as she loves him dearly, but she may need to help him to become a bit more independent of her.

I really hope that I will be called upon to continue to help this dog in his new life, and to put the caring couple’s mind at rest that all their efforts to invest in Max’ future are being built upon.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, 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. 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).