Can they keep him? They are walking on eggshells

Can they keep him?

Can they keep him?They had decided to take Merlin back to the rescue, but then decided to try for a bit longer. The gentleman called me.

They have had Rottie mix Merlin for about ten days. Before fetching him from the rescue the gentleman had visited him eight times. He wanted to get it right.

They had told him Merlin had shown aggression in the past and that they wouldn’t let him near other dogs. They said he was hand-sensitive around his head.

He had been in the kennels for six months, with just a week out with people who then sent him back.

Despite this, the family felt they would like to take him on and to work with him. Can they keep him? Continue reading…

Compulsive Behaviour. ‘Stress Bucket’ Overflows.

Rottweiler Amber has a lovely temperament, friendly and confident. They have obviously come a long way with her compulsive shadow-chasing etc. in the two years since they adopted her at six months old. She was already doing it then. Her problems probably are due to a mix of genetics and what her life was before she came to live with them.

Unless all is still and quiet, Amber doesn’t settle.

The smallest thing prompts a compulsive sequence of chasing shadows, digging the floor or licking the carpet. She won’t leave their other dog alone.

Outside on walks she chases shadows – particularly those caused by people; she runs back and forth from the sun then digs and pants.

It’s distressing to see her become so frenzied with so little provocation.

Rottie with compulsive behaviourApart from this compulsive behaviour, Amber is a dream dog. A friendly, gentle Rottie that is good with other dogs and people. No trouble. She lives with people who give her plenty of time, training and enrichment.

From her constant patrolling and panting, it’s obvious that her internal stress levels are so high that frequently she simply can’t cope. Her ‘stress bucket‘ is ready to  overflow.

Stress accumulates and can last in the system for days, and dogs like Amber live in a constant ‘ready for action’ state.

It then erupts into certain patterns of compulsive behaviour that must give her relief in some way.

When she frantically digs, licks the floor or chases shadows etc, she completely focusses on something that is shutting out real life.

In a weird way it may give her some control.

The smallest thing starts her off. Over time these rituals become a habit – learned behaviour.

They have been using distraction, commands, gentle massage, food and so on. This attempts to deal with the situations as they happen, without getting to the root cause of the compulsive behaviour.

Shutting her in her crate is the only way to give both Amber and her humans a break at times. Interestingly, after a quiet night in her crate with hours to de-stress, she starts the day calm.

We will start by concentrating on one thing only – bringing down her arousal levels. Taking away as much pressure as possible. ‘Operation Calm’. They should make stress-reduction a priority.

Let’s then see what happens and reassess.

When I was there we found that a ball made a great pacifier. With a ball in her mouth she is a lot better, although she then persistently uses it to ‘tease’ by nudging with it without letting the person have it.

We also captured calm moments with clicker and food (until she stole my clicker!).

Over the next few days I have asked them to spot areas they might be able do something about, with a calmer Amber being their end aim.

They will look out for any things that stir her up (looking for lip-licking, panting, drooling etc.) and see if there is any way they can change them (there may not be).

Every little helps – every small piece of the jigsaw.

I’ve listed some of the things in Amber’s life I thought of that possibly cause elements of stress/arousal, even if at the same time she likes some of them. Can they think of any more?

  • People coming into the house.
  • Being shut in her crate when there is action outside it – she licks the crate and drools.
  • Hydrotherapy (she would probably prefer to swim free)
  • Being left in the van with the other dog while the man is at work. (Would left crated at home be less stressful?)
  • Riding in the car
  • Traffic
  • Walks. Would more comfortable walking equipment help?
  • The sight of cattle or horses
  • Something coming through the door (put up an outside letterbox?).
  • Very high value items like bones
  • Dog sports

If four weeks of effort doesn’t bring significant results, I believe it’s time to get medical help. Any human in this state wouldn’t be expected to cope without meds.

Increase in compulsive behaviours.

It’s distressing how many dogs I go to nowadays with repetitive, obsessive compulsive behaviours, dogs with owners who do all they can for them. Are dogs being bred for temperament suited to modern life? Is this getting worse or is it just me?

I quote Pat Miller: ‘One would expect that the rise of force-free training methods and the increased awareness of and respect for dogs as sentient creatures would make life easier for them. We should expect to see a corresponding rise in the number of calm, stable, well-adjusted dogs who are happily integrated into lifelong loving homes. But many training and behavior professionals note with alarm the large number of dogs in today’s world who seem to have significant issues with stress and anxiety, with high levels of arousal and low impulse control.

It’s quite possible this is a function of societal change. There was a time not so very long ago when life was pretty casual for our family dogs. They ran loose in the neighborhood day and night; ate, slept, played, and eliminated when they chose; and many had jobs that fulfilled their genetic impulses to herd some sheep or cows, or retrieve game felled by a hunter’s gun.

In contrast, life today is strictly regimented for many of our canine companions…..Owner expectations and demands are high. Dogs are told what to do from the moment they are allowed to get up in the morning until they are put to bed at night…..They have virtually no control over what happens in their world….’

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 Amber because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do much 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 Help page).

 

Coming When Called is Coming When Called

‘Well-trained’ isn’t always enough.

The three dogs, 7 month old Rottie pup Kaiser, Jack Russell Budd, 7 and Jack a Chihuahua Jack Russel mix aged 8 have been taught some impressive training tricks by the lady.

This case is interesting because three problems exist despite the training.

Kaiser will soon be coming when called

Kaiser

Kaiser is so excited to see people he jumps all over them. He’s already large and it won’t be funny to have a full-grown male Rottie jumping up at one. Already it hurts.

Secondly, all dogs need to pay more attention to their humans on walks, Kaiser because he’s so excited to see people and dogs, and the two little dogs because they get scared and noisy when on lead and see a dog.

Thirdly, the dogs come when called but not when it really matters.

When people come to the house Buddy can be taught to calm down before he gets any attention. Even being pushed and being told to get down is attention, isn’t it. It may get him down but won’t stop him next time.

He can be taught to do something polite like to sit before being given attention.

Because he is just so excited, sitting is difficult for the pup, so it’s the excitement that needs to be addressed first. Jumping up is a problem easily solved if all parties are consistent.

Getting the dogs’ attention when out starts at home.

In essence all dogs need to clock in to their humans when asked to. At the moment why should they? What’s in it for them? A quick fussing? They get fussing for free so it’s not a reward.

Jack and Buddy

Jack and Buddy

Each dog should respond instantly to his name when he hears it, with eye contact. Yes – Me? They can work on holding the gaze for a short while. There has to be something in it for the dog, though. or he will soon learn to ignore them.

Giving eye contact when he hears his name needs to become an automatic reflex, just the same as you would blink if someone pretended to throw something into your face.

An automatic reflex only happens if it is practised enough times. Hundreds of times.

Coming when called starts at home too.

Reliable ‘coming when called’ is a lot harder and the work also starts at home.

They can work on a ‘coming when called’ reflex in the same way. For these three dogs I have suggested they charge a whistle by pairing the whistle with tiny special food hundreds of times.

Meanwhile if the dog’s not certain to come – don’t call. They won’t set themselves up to fail and thus lose the power they are building up. In places where running off could be a problem, like chasing children he wants to play with, Kaiser should be kept on a long line for now.

Getting attention and coming when called are the solution to other minor problems they are having. Kaiser likes to eat dog poo (coprophagia). Instead of yelling NO and giving it value, they can call him away and reward him. In fact, repeated sufficiently often he can be taught to automatically come to them for a piece of his kibble when one of the other dogs does his business. Obviously in order to avoid rehearsal Kaiser needs to be accompanied when outside.

By saying ‘Kaiser’ and getting instant eye contact, they can call him away when he’s about to jump on the sofa. Problem solved.

When he sees a child out on a walk, instead of running excitedly up to it and possibly chasing it, they call ‘Kaiser!’ ‘Yes – Me?’ ‘Come’. Reward. Problem solved.

Here is a nice little video: ‘A recall is a recall‘.

Ultimately the family should be able to blow the whistle and all three dogs will come running to them EVERY TIME, regardless of other dogs and things to chase and best blown before they are in full flight. Obviously some breeds are easier to train to come back than others, notably retrieving breeds. I know people who will correct me and say their breed will never reliably come back when called, but I still need to be convinced.

Ultimately the family should be able to call just a chosen dog, calling his name, get his instant attention and then ‘COME’. Reward.

Most people I go to say their dog has good recall – except when he sees another dog or has something better to do. That to my mind isn’t good recall. It’s a dog that has been ‘trained’ to understand coming when called and may be brilliant in the environment of his training class, but has chosen to do so in his own good time when out in the real world.

Training is largely about the dog’s relationship with his humans – and that is home stuff.

My own dogs’ formal training is limited to sit, down and stay, but coming when called is something they do reliably(and one is a Lurcher). Coming when called is basic for their own safety and for my sanity.

Rescue Dog Not Home Trained

Rescue Rottweiler house-trained not home trained

Missy

Missy is house trained but I wouldn’t say she is home trained.

I had been in the house for just a few minutes when the large three-year-old Rottweiler jumped straight from the floor onto the dining table I was sitting at (to discourage her from jumping on me), probably smelling treats in my bag on the table out of her reach, knocking my cup of tea flying!

They also have another rescue dog, a calmer German Shepherd mix aged five called Duke.

The lady got in touch with me about a week ago – just before she brought Missy home. She was very worried that the two dogs might not get on although she had already taken Duke to the kennels to be with Missy seven times. I advised that the two dogs met up away from her house on neutral territory and then were walked back into the house together and all seems to be going well between them.

Moving into a house is a huge adjustment for Missy and the lady is determined that it’s going to be for keeps. The dog had been passed between several rescue kennels for most of her life before landing on her feet at last with a lovely home and someone who is prepared to do what it takes to give her the life she deserves. It’s hard to see why the gorgeous dog wasn’t adopted a long time ago. She is very friendly but just needs to learn house rules and adjust to home life.  Everyday things like a floor mop or getting into a car are unfamiliar and stressful for her. Considering what must be overwhelming changes in her life and routines she’s having to adjust to, she is managing surprisingly well.

They have had to put two gates in the kitchen doorway, one on top of the other, so that ‘high-jump’ Missy can be kept safe and the two dogs separated when necessary. She is perfectly happy to be left in there as I guess being behind bars is the norm to her. Rescues have obviously done some training with her within the environment of the kennels. She doesn’t pull on lead. She’s polite around food, she understands to sit and probably more besides.

Missy has redirected with some nipping onto Duke when suddenly over-aroused and she may do the same with people – mouthing and nibbling at them. They have learnt not to do certain things that excite her, like ball play. Life for her at the moment is quite exciting enough. There is a little bit of jealousy from Duke when Missy is fussed so the lady will need to make it clear that she chooses who she will fuss and when, not Duke. Missy is a little bit too playful for Duke at the moment. The lady needs to remain alert if their are valuable resources about like a bone or toy but there’s been no hint of any trouble so far.

The only way the two dogs can be walked is separately and Duke gets distressed when left alone, so they will be working on that. Though fine with larger dogs, Missy seems to be somewhat disturbed by little dogs – staring and what the lady describes as fixating on them, so there is work to be done there.

German Shepherd Staffie mix

Duke

One thing that needs to change as soon as possible is Missy’s persistent jumping up whether the person is standing or sitting. If they are sitting down she will leap on top of them – and she’s a big girl! She doesn’t know what it is acceptable to chew and what isn’t. It’s very much like having a huge puppy to train!

I visited them on just the fourth day in Missy’s new home, so we don’t yet know exactly what we are dealing with yet. When the dust has settled we will be able to work on training and play to help equip her for her new life and things that will focus her brain rather than stir her up. She will gradually become habituated to everyday things, I’m sure.

This purpose of this first visit has been to put things in place so that they start off right and pre-empt any obvious problems that could develop. There are lots of other things we can work on in the future when the time is right and depending upon how long the lady wants me to help her for.

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 Missy and Duke. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good, particularly where aggression may be involved. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

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.

Baxter was like a different dog

Today I visited Baxter again – the delinquent young Rottweiler I wrote about a few days ago. I must confess I was feeling a little apprehensive on the way there, knowing what a big undertaking this is going to be for his new owners.

For the past week his they have worked hard at being non-confrontational and keeping Baxter as calm as possible, doing all they can to give him kind, consistent, convincing leadership and keep his stress levels down. Four days ago I had a message from the lady saying he was being so bad she felt she couldn’t cope.  I begged her to stick with it.  Any attention she did give him immediately turned him into a growling, barking and biting demon, yet he did the same when she ignored him.

This is a familiar pattern, where things go worse before the corner is turned.

They have just had two good days without the manic episodes where Baxter loses control of himself, jumping and biting when he can’t get his own way.  This might just be two days’ grace and a flash in the pan, but if he can be like this for a couple of days now, it can later be three days, then four – and is an indication of his true potential as his stress levels reduce, and he learns self-control and respect.

Baxter’s new owners are learning the very delicate balance between the amount of attention they can safely give him and overstimulating him – which quickly turns him into a dervish!

I could see a huge difference to the dog I met just one week ago. Today he was quickly calm, he only jumped on me a couple of times instead of the persistent fight I had last time, feeling his teeth and mouth and repeatedly having to tip his heavy weight off me.  Today he didn’t use his mouth on me once.  He was affectionate and biddable.

We must be under no illusion that there won’t be very challenging times ahead, but I am much happier about Baxter.

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

Eating Stones

Over two years ago I visited Bess, a black labrador. At the time she had been cut open twice to remove stones she had swallowed, and was unlikely to survive a third operation. Her owners were understandably in a panic. Bess would eat stones, sticks – anything.

Fortunately all that is now a thing of the past. I was called back for fairly minor issues due to her reactivity to certain dogs on walks. It was evident a lot of our early work had been allowed to slide, but I’m sure they will soon be back on track. Once a dog is on my list, I continue offer support any time in the futurRottie in the pube.

When I brought Pickle my Cocker Spaniel puppy home  he was fascinated in the stones that cover much of the ground around my house. I couldn’t avoid them. I remembered Badger and decided to use psychology right from the start. As soon as he picked up a stone, I walked away from him. He would drop it to follow me. If he lay down and chewed the stone, I left him to it, reasoning that I had never heard of a wild dog or wolf dying from eating stones. They would surely have more sense. Moreover, if Pickle thought that I wanted his stone, then he might well swallow it. Finders Keepers! I contemplated exchanging stones for a treats, but exchanging something for a treat means that the object should be kept out of reach in the future – obviously impossible with stones. (N.B. my technique with Pickle is not appropriate for dogs that already swallow things and where counter-conditioning work needs to be done).

Occasionally even now at 9 months old Pickle will pick up and chew a stone, but I don’t worry. He has never swallowed one, so my gamble paid off.

Once a dog has the habit of swallowing stones, it is too late to use the strategies I used with Pickle. Other ways will need to be found – which will possibly save the dog’s life.

I took this picture of Kobi today, a wonderful Rottie age 8 months who lives at my local pub. He reminds me of my dear departed  Rottweiler, Merlin. Just like Merlin, he is confident, reliable and friendly.

Three months later, I have just received this email: “Just thought I would update you on our Bess!  What a change!  Much calmer on her walks. Small dogs seems less of a threat now!) and my son and daughter can walk her without problems.  My daughter in particular finds the fact that she now walks docile by your side quite extraordinary!  So thank you very much for your help again!  The harness that we purchased from you has been a fantastic investment.  Well, she has her annual holiday with us at the cottage in a couple of weeks and we don’t feel quite as anxious as we have done!
We can also leave the garden door open and Bess just sits (favourite spot of course) and watches the butterflies!  Joy!  No stone-anxiety for us!  It is just a delight to do the gardening with her by my side.  I love how she ‘checks for bombs’ when I dig holes and gives me the all-clear; much better than when I had to get a stone from her mouth”.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. .