Repetitive Behaviour. Working Dog. No Job.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees. Oscar is a dog, like many of our dogs, living in a world that he’s not been bred for. The couple do all they know to give him a good life, particularly by way of long daily walks, but it’s not enough unfortunately.

Oscar resorts to a ritual of repetitive behaviour.

The way to improve his life involves lots of changes. They want a family pet that is affectionate, reliable, companionable and to be trusted around children. Oscar’s primary needs are different.

There are so many things to deal with from his diet through to feeding his clever brain. Each little change links to the next so it is impossible to simplify things and extract just two or three things for them to concentrate on. It’s complicated.

repetitive behaviour

Oscar getting no reaction during his ritual

Oscar is a beautiful Border Collie, age five. They have had him since he was a year old and they were already his third home.

He is extremely easily agitated and aroused. Things that wire him up include noises outside, animals and sounds on TV, bangs and young children.

He tries to bite when they brush his long hair. He paws persistently and painfully for attention – which he always eventually gets in some form. When the phone rings he goes mental. These are just a few of the daily challenges the retired couple face with Oscar.

Staring the dog down

Unfortunately, the man believed in advice that dominating him by staring him down would make him respect them and change his behaviour. This, to my mind, will have made things worse and actually caused him to bite those few times. He has only gone for people who have challenged him like this – the man, their son and another man they met when out.

The start of the sequence – staring and licking his lips

I saw how arousal affects Oscar and causes his repetitive behaviour during the three hours I was there. People talking or his simply being ignored triggers the start of a ritual.

He runs to the window and starts to stare like he’s seen a fly to chase – he’s an obsessive fly-chaser. He then starts barking and scratching at the door. This is the start of a repetitive behaviour sequence. It results in the man getting up and letting him out – every time.

However, it’s not as simple as just letting him out. He is told ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ before the door is opened otherwise he will jump at the man, barking.

Once out, Oscar’s ritual involves running exactly the same circuit of the small garden, across a little path and then back to the door again. The man then gets up again and lets him in. This earns a ‘Good Boy’.

By the third time of exactly the same sequence in a short time it was obvious Oscar couldn’t possibly need to toilet again. I could see this was a repetitive behaviour – a ritual that probably gives him some control over his own life and over those around him.

Breaking the cycle

I asked the man not to get up. Let’s see what happens.

This triggered lots of frustrated door scraping and loud barking and we braved it. Oscar stopped briefly. Immediately I quietly said ‘Good’ and dropped a tiny bit of food. He went back to scratching and barking and I repeated this process many times. Eventually he walked away from the window.

‘Good’, then food.

A short break to lie down. ‘Good’.

He then went and lay down. ‘Good’ and more food. Any more chatting to him would simply arouse him again.

A few peaceful minutes would go by then Oscar would be back to the start of the routine of repetitive behaviour again, scratching the window and barking. The man, on automatic, started to get up. I stopped him.

This happens repeatedly when they are sitting down in the evening, punctuated by barking at TV and pawing for attention.

His very failure to get the man to engage in his routine of repetitive behaviour was now frustrating in itself.

Understandably, when he is peaceful they breathe a sigh of relief. Let sleeping dogs lie!

Oscar is generating all his action by pestering and getting no reinforcement or action in return for being calm and non-demanding. This needs to be reversed.

Clever brain

I gave them a list of suggestions of things to exercise Oscar’s clever brain and enriching activities that include scenting, sniffing, hunting and so on. I shall go back and do clicker work. He will love the problem-solving.

Oscar has long walks but this isn’t enough – in fact, when he returns he is sometimes more aroused and demanding than when he left. This indicates that even the walks should be done a bit differently.

The first challenge is to bring his stress levels down as low as possible. Only then will they make significant headway. Robbed of his rituals of repetitive behaviour, he needs other things added to his life to bring him enrichment and action.

Unfortunate incident involving a child

With lower general stress levels, Oscar should be better able to cope with the things that scare or intimidate him like staring men and little children. Very unfortunately a child came from behind him and hit him with a stick when he was lying beside them in an outdoor cafe. Before this he had no problem with children. Unless and until they manage to change how he feels around them – yet more work for them to do – he should be muzzled when kids are about just in case. The law never takes the side of the dog even if he’s provoked.

There is a lot to deal with. Oscar, born on a farm in Wales and now living with a retired couple in a bungalow, is bred for a different kind of life. They are very committed to doing the best they can for him. It’s not by chance that Border Collies are the dog of choice for trainers who work hard with their dogs and get them to do amazing things.

Here’s a strange thing. After a couple of weeks in kennels when they go away he is a lot more relaxed. It does him good. Is it because the rituals of repetitive behaviour that he himself creates to make ‘things happen’ in themselves stress him? Is it because the usual triggers such as TV and telephones won’t be there? In the kennels he has an enforced break.

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 Oscar and 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 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 fearfulness or 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)

Street Dog to Couch Potato. Still Fearful.

Gracie is a street dog from Hungary. The lady adopted the little black terrier ten months ago and has made terrific progress in transforming the truly terrified little dog into a dog that can cope better.

Coping is the word. She is still fearful of many things in the real world and runs to hide behind the lady at the smallest thing.

Time to start climbing up the second ladder.

She was a street dog form HunagryIt’s like the lady has climbed one long and steep ladder to the point they are now at and doesn’t know how to progress further. I am helping them onto the next ladder towards increasing Gracie’s confidence further and getting her to better accept certain things that make going out on the street a nightmare – like children, sudden sounds, balls and life outside the house in general.

It’s strange that a street dog should find the most scary things she meets out on the street. She is perfectly fine off lead in a field. She has shown her playful and carefree side when playing with her terrier friend and it would now be nice to see more of this.

Gracie is a gorgeous, gentle little dog who settled quickly and lay spread out on her back on the sofa beside the lady. When at home with nobody else about, she is a real couch potato.

The lady needs to wean her away a little from her over-dependence so she’s more able to stand on her own four feet! Being so dependent makes her vulnerable and it gives the lady no freedom. One exercise the lady will do, while Gracie is attached to her heels or under her feet, is to drop food and walk away. When the little dog catches up, repeat and so on – making a game of it.

We will deal with some of her fears, one at a time in an organised fashion, using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

Put very simply, desensitisation means plenty of exposure to the thing ex street dog Gracie is fearful of but at a comfortable distance and counter-conditioning means then, at that comfortable distance or intensity, adding something she likes (food).

Getting the little street dog used to our ‘real’ world.

Here are a few examples:

Outside her front door in the real world of people, children, traffic and sudden noises. They will take this in easy stages and be very patient. Slowly slowly catchee monkey! They will start by walking around the house until Gracie is happy and relaxed.

Next they will step outside the front door where, surprise surprise, Gracie will find the environment already laced with food! They can stand about. At anything scary, chicken will rain down from the sky (not from the lady – she needs to keep herself out of the picture). At the first sign of Gracie’s tail dropping they will go back in.

They will work on the parasol in the garden that blows in the wind, frightening Gracie.

They will work on children. She’s terrified of children. There are kids next door that they can work on. Children make a noise and ‘chicken rain’ falls. Starting indoors where Gracie feels safe, she will slowly work towards being outside in the garden with children noise from next door.

They will work on footballs. It’s hard not to encounter people kicking balls on their walks and Gracie is terrified of them.

The lady will get a football. Gracie will go into the garden to discover a ball already placed by the fence and she will discover food. When she’s okay with this, she will start going out to find the ball in different places. The lady can then just try putting her foot on it and moving it slightly, dropping food. Gradually build up to rolling it then gently kicking it…….and so on.

The plan must be fluid.

The plan should be fluid and may need to be adjust to keep within Gracie comfort threshold. Sometimes it will take longer and sometimes she will be a surprise and get over a fear quickly.

Her new life is a huge adjustment for a street dog, particularly one that has probably spent her puppy-hood on the streets undoubtedly in the company of other dogs.

They have both done very well so far. Now let’s push it forward a bit.


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 Gracie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear of any kind is involved. 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).

Staffie’s Anxiety Around Children

Staffie Doris can be nervous and scaredDoris is an eight-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Because of her sweet nature, the fact she has been given few rules and boundaries hasn’t really caused them problems until reecently.

Doris can be a nervous and scared dog around certain everyday things, and I have found this is often the case where dogs make most of their own decisions, where they can come in and out of the garden whenever they want through a dog flap, jump up and all over visitors who hype them up whilst the owners are telling them to stop (how confusing this must be), and where the humans fall in line with whatever the dog demands. It’s like it is all too much responsibility and she needs to be gently taken in hand for her own sense of security.

Things have become worrying because her lady owner is due to have a baby in one week’s time. Doris has increasingly been showning fear of little nephews and neices who visit and last week nipped a toddler. Doris was on lead and the humans were very anxious which obviously transferred to Doris. Instead of encouraging her with positive associations when she went near the child, they will have been telling her off. She is frantically excited when people come to the house, so she would already have been in a highly stressed state of mind. When young children visit she has no hiding place where they can’t follow her.

Doris needs – you’ve guessed it – leadership. From a practical point of view she needs a ‘safe haven’ where children are simply forbidden to go. It’s the children that need watching. She has a hidey hole under the stairs which could perhaps be gated, or there could be a gate in the doorless kitchen doorway. It’s a small house with no other downstairs rooms.

It should not be too difficult to turn things around for Doris. Preparation for the baby needs to being immediately. They have made a start with Doris no longer sleeping on their bed. She needs positive associations with the smell of the baby, with the Moses basket and the buggy. There will be plenty of visitors when the baby is born, so Doris will need help to calm down quickly which means the visitors will need to be shown what to do. When children come to the house, Doris needs to be left strictly alone, somewhere safe. Seeing that this happens is the responsibility of good leaders.

With more leadership in all aspects of her life Doris should gain more confidence in her owners to understand her and to look out for her.

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



Schnauzer fearful of dogs and children.

Look at this for a face! Hector is an eight month old Miniature Schnauzer who looks like a teddy bear. He is a remarkably calm pup most of the time. He is intelligent and biddable. He has been given sensible boundaries from the start, but is now quietly testing them as teenagers do! It is amusing to see how much he can get his unsuspecting humans to do for him, on his own terms, and how he chooses just what he does for them on their terms. He knows exactly hminiature schnautzer Hector looks like a teddy bearow far to push it!

This is typical puppy stuff which makes owners wonder whether it will ever end, and even causes some to give up.

The problem with Hector is his fearfulness. He is a very confident little dog when at home with his family, but when someone new comes into his house he barks at them and backs away.  Out on walks when on lead he is likely to bark at people and dogs. The worst is that he barks at children. When young children come to the house from time to time he is very scared, and if they are toddling or walking about he barks incessantly at them and this sounds aggressive and scary. He is very reactive to children playing outside or riding past on bikes.

It is natural for a dog to be wary of small children. They move suddenly and upredictably, they can be noisy, and they often approach in what the dog perceives a threatening manner, directly and staring, and most likely with arms outstretched. The owners then get anxious or cross when the dog is barking or growling, which compounds the problem. If there isn’t opportunity to acclimatise the dog to young children every day or so over a period of time, then he needs to be protected and to have a ‘safe haven’ where the children can’t go. In Hector’s case I suggested putting a gate on the kitchen doorway to keep the dog in and the children out. Maybe the child can throw little bits of the dogs dry food through the bars – but only if Hector is sufficienlty relaxed and not barking – so that he associates children with something nice.

Whether the dog is frightened of children, people, other dogs, traffic or anything else, it needs to be worked on gradually in a controlled way. Complete avoidance to start with and then introducing the trigger slowly and gradually whilst dealing with it the right way – never forcing the dog out of his comfort zone and being ready to retreat. Complete avoidance gives no opportunity to rehabilitate, but pushing ahead too fast can even result in shut down or aggression.

Hector is only eight months old, and with the right guidance and responses from his owners, over time he should gain his confidence.

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

Barking Miniature Daschunds

Miniature Daschund


Miniature Daschund


Mozart, on the left, and Milly are two adorable long-haired miniature daschunds. Mozart at nine months old is little more than a puppy, but already he is taking on the world – barking at people and sounds, and sometimes, it seems, at just nothing at all. Milly who is sixteen months old now was quiet and calm until they got Mozart. Now he is leading her astray!

Both dogs, led by Mozart, go ballistic before walks, barking and jumping all over the place, and once out of the door Mozart in particular is straining ahead on his lead. Barking starts before they leave the house and continues all down the road. Tiny Mozart even took on an off-lead Staffordshire Bull Terrier and bit it! Fortunately the Staffie was good-natured.

The people like to take the dogs with them to work at their shops, where they are put on the counter, safe from human feet and from running out of the door. Milly loves the attention and fuss she attracts, but it’s a different matter for Mozart. He is in a very vulnerable position for a dog that is more nervous. People, children in particular, can spook him. They come up to him and put their hands out over him to touch him.  Usually he is already barking as they come into the shop. He will also bark at people and dogs going past the window.

Mozart needs everything done to reduce his stress levels. I fear that by whilst he is being subjected to unwanted attention and the stress of being in the shop, this won’t happen. Accompanying them to work to be placed on the counter is probably much more stressful than being left at home, even if the day is long.  The dogs do have one another.  Understandably the owners are not happy about leaving their dogs alone for hours and nor would I be. They are going to consider various different options for them.

Meanwhile both dogs will be learning that walks don’t happen until they are calm and quiet, and that if they bark once outside the door they will come straight back in again. There is no hope of calm happy walks if there is bedlam before they even step out! The owners realise that this will need a lot of patience and there will be little in the way of ‘proper’ walks for a while which is OK – the dogs only have little legs! Loose lead garden work with calm dogs is the way to start, with lots of ‘ins and outs’ through the front door. If they can find a happy alternative to taking the dogs to work, then they should make very good progress.

Little Mozart should then start to calm down, and little Milly can go back to being her laid-back old self.

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