Attack the Best Form of Defence

Just look at this dog! Isn’t she wonderful?

Billie is a four-year-old Aylestone Bulldog and they have had her for six weeks. Previous to this she had been used as a breeding bitch and ended up in a shelter, so she probably didn’t have a very good life.

She certainly has a good life now.

Scared – attack may be the best form of defense

Attack the best form of defenseShe is sweet-natured dog, maybe a little worried. She is a dream at home, but out on walks she is reactive to other dogs – obviously scared.

She has injuries on her legs which look very much like she’s been attacked or bullied by other dogs in her past life, so it’s no wonder she’s wary. Dogs that are scared, trapped on lead in particular, are very likely to take the approach that attack is the best form of defence.

In Billie’s case she will certainly also be picking up on the anxiety of her lady owner. Their previous rescue dog had escaped out the front and went for another dog, injuring it badly, and the poor lady witnessed this. Understandably, she’s not relaxed with Billie around other dogs and this message is sure to be passing down the lead. She is almost expecting him to attack or be attacked.

The walking equipment they use could be better. If more robust, it would help them to feel more confident. It would also help Billie to feel more comfortable.

Fallout from dreadful advice

With their previous dog they called out a member of the BarkBusters franchise and I don’t mind mentioning them by name because Billie’s humans have been taught by them.

BarkBuster’s system is one of terrorising a ‘disobedient’ dog. They advocate things like throwing chains on the floor in front of the already scared and reactive dog (something Billie’s people don’t do). The use ‘correction’ or spraying  the dog with water when it’s not ‘behaving’. It’s not far short of asking the owners to attack their own dog.

This has made the situation far worse. If a dog is afraid, no amount of bullying will cure the fear. If it seems to work, then it is because the dog is terrorised and has shut down.

How can people be asked to do this to the dog they love? Owners can be so desperate for help that they put their trust in so-called ‘professionals’, but the bottom line is that there is no such thing as a quick fix. Someone said ‘quick fixes usually become unstuck’.

At present when poor Billie reacts to another dog. She will be feeling the tension of her nervous owner down the lead while she’s ‘corrected’. This will be uncomfortable on her neck, she will be told NO and may be sprayed with water. No wonder she is increasingly believing that other dogs mean trouble – because they do!

Attack them and they may go away.

With positive, reward-based and understanding methods they can turn things around for their beautiful dog.

From Street Dogs to Pets

Rocky and Flossie were born on the streets in a small coastal town in BulgaDogs from streets of Kavanaria around two years ago from mothers also born on the streets. For the past year or so they have lived in a house with a couple who have done remarkably well with them, transforming them from street dogs to settled house dogs.

The one respect in which they are, if anything, getting worse is when out on walks and particularly when encountering other dogs.

Outside the house – more their natural habitat one might think – they are finding things harder.

Initially there were no problems with other dogs. When picked up they had no scars or evidence of fighting and they had lived happily and free around the other street dogs. Now when they encounter a dog, Rocky in particular is scared and Flossie is getting worse. Rocky shrinks and lowers himself and as they get nearer he resorts to lunging and barking, not wanting the other dog to get any closer.

This is where humans need to start thinking ‘dog’. It really doesn’t matter whether a destination is reached, it’s about the journey. What does matter is that they mimic as closely as possible what a free dog would do to feel safe. If the dog wants to increase distance then that’s what must happen. It could mean turning around. For now it could mean avoiding narrow passages and taking different routes. It could in some cases mean starting walks with a car journey to somewhere appropriate and safe.

In his past life, unleashed, Rocky could have chosen to turn and go the other way.  Both dogs would have had free choice as to whether to interact with other dogs or not. Now Flossie and Rocky are, necessarily, trapped on the end of leashes even when away from the roads. If let off lead, Rocky will take himself off for an hour or two and Flossie may well go home.

The lady in particular is finding walking the dogs increasingly nerve-wracking. She is afraid Rocky in particular might harm another dog.

There are three elements we discussed to help these two lovely dogs. The first is, when they are out, for them to feel as free and comfortable as possible. From having no restriction at all they are now on the end of retractable leads which, by the very way they work, always have tension. They thankfully wear harnesses but even these could be more comfortable.

The next thing is that the dogs need to be walked separately for a while because each needs full attention and their ways of reacting aren’t the same so they could well be firing one another up.

Thirdly, their reactivity needs to be worked on – carefully. Avoiding dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but even worse is to push them too close, beyond their comfort threshold so that they feel forced to defend themselves. The human at the end of the lead, watching their own dog carefully and increasing distance the instant there is any sign of discomfort or fear will, over time, build up trust. If Rocky knows he’s being ‘listened to’ then he should gradually dare go a bit closer.

Now desensitisation can begin. The appearance of another dog can start to be associated with good things like scattered food – but from a ‘safe’ distance.

When the dogs are in open places they are currently restricted on the end of just ten feet or so of retractable lead. They could be on 15 metre long, loose training lines, able to run, sniff and explore. If an off-lead dog does happen to run up, whilst escape strategies have been discussed, the dog should feel he has some choice. On the end of long lines their recall can really be worked on.

Both dogs are understandably nervous of new things, certain sudden sounds and people who look ‘different’. The best tool to change this is for every single time either Rocky or Flossie encounters something even slightly scary or anxious-making, something good should happen. This can be food or fun – the more rewarding to the dog the better.

Helping the dogs to feel safe is the priority. It’s the most important thing – more important to them than food even. If they don’t feel safe, they won’t be interested in food. Right from puppyhood these two would have been free to follow their instincts in order to keep themselves safe. In their new life, because trapped in effect, they need total trust in their humans to keep them safe instead.

So much of the stuff I normally advise is already in place for these dogs at home including a perfect diet and kind, positive training techniques from caring and knowledgeable people. It will be great when (and it will take as long as it take), the walks become relaxed and enjoyable too.

Will Chocolate Labrador Accept the New Puppy?

Chocolate Labrador is not good with other dogs and they are soon getting a new puppy Chocolate Labrador Coco is ten years old now, and they are getting a new Chocolate Labrador puppy in a few weeks’ time.

The owners readily admit they didn’t do enough to socialise him with other dogs and he barks frantically at them – GO AWAY! I don’t myself see him as aggressive at all. He is scared of them. He has had three incidents when an off lead dog has come too near but no blood has been drawn. He has acted with self-control by doing no more than was necessary to stop the dog’s unwelcome attention which I say is good, not bad. On each occasion he himself had been trapped on a lead held by a panicking human and the dog in question had been off lead on not under control (a much too common story).

Doing what they felt was best, in their ignorance they called in someone from a ‘Home Dog Training’ franchise. I can only speak from evidence of other dogs I have worked with that had been further damaged by this organisation’s bullying tactics. Poor Coco was set up with another dog to fail – deliberately pushed well out of his comfort zone and then she threw water bombs at him! This went on until he was quiet near the dog. He simply shut down.

As one might imagine, this has done nothing at all to make him feel better around other dogs, rather the opposite. I find it amazing that anyone could imagine that punishment can cure fear! It can be no more than a quick temporary fix. The poor gentleman followed this advice just once himself and felt so bad he never did it again thankfully.

Now they will be doing the very opposite – finding Coco’s comfort threshold and instead of pushing him over it and then bombing him with water, they will work on doing nice things like feeding and playing, the ultimate aim being for Coco to see that the presence of another dog brings good things, not bad.  As far as is possible he will now be kept at a distance where he feels comfortable, and this gap should gradually reduce in time as he learns to trust his owners.

Understandaby, they are worried about how Coco will react to the new puppy. They have a few weeks to get him used to a few changes at home before the puppy arrives. We looked at the logistics. When puppy comes I shall call again to help them over the transition and to start puppy off on the right foot.

Border Terrier a Bundle of Worry

Border Mitzy is a highly stressed little dogLittle Mitzy is a seven-year-old Border Terrier. Mitzy is a bundle of worry.

I watched her shaking, regularly lifting her paw and licking her lips like she was taking a bite of air.

I was called because they no longer take her for walks due to her ‘aggression’ towards other dogs. This I’m sure is due to terror, and she nearly strangles herself lunging at them.

Mitzy is in a state before she even leaves the house. She shakes when her harness is put on. She pulls down the road, already highly stressed, and that’s before she even sees a dog. Even though she has never actually harmed a dog on a walk, they were so worried that they had been muzzling her which would have increased her feeling of helplessness.

We have listed all the things that stress poor Mitzy and these need working on. Reducing her anxiety at home must be a start, because if she is permanently aroused she’s in no a fit state to face the scary outside world.

The lady and her two daughters are going to go back to basics with the walking and break it down into tiny steps. Any walking at all – even five minutes two or three times a day – is a lot better than she’s getting now.

First she needs a comfortable harness. Nothing more should happen until she is happy having it put on and wearing it – no shaking. – so she may need it left on for a few days. Then they need to walk her in the garden where she feels relatively safe, teaching her how pleasant it is when the lead is loose, treats and encouragement are used and they themselves are relaxed. This could take weeks! Next step is to venture through the gate. Only when she can do that calmly should they try walking outside. She won’t be ready for ‘other dogs’ yet! I myself sometimes use a ‘stooge’ dog – a realistic stuffed boxer I call Daisy that I can place at a distance. This can be done with real distant dogs, but Daisy is predictable and stands still!  The people can then remain relaxed whilst rehearsing their procedure for meeting dogs. They need to manage the environment and choose quiet times. Having an unscheduled close encounter would set things back at this stage.

The lady and her two teenage daughters are very committed to helping Mitzy and I”m sure they will give it as long as it takes which could be many months. Mitzy will start to enjoy walks. There is no reason why, after she can negotiate going out as far as the car calmly and happily, they should not drive her to somewhere open and dog-free, put her on a long line, no muzzle, and give her some freedom.

Jack Russell Reactive With All Dogs

Jack Russell Rambo is not suited to his nameYesterday I visited Rambo, a dear little Jack Russell and not at all suited to his name. He is now three and came from the RSPCA a year ago. Like many Jack Russells he’s very active, but a little too restless I feel. He’s obedient and affectionate and the the family loves him dearly, and the couple are doing their best to give him fair boundaries, sufficient stimulation and exercise.

He is looked after the couple’s parents during the day when they are at work, at their own house, so Rambo has two different environments, and there needs to be continuity in how he is treated. His persistent jumping up on everyone is a bit too much, but it would be very hard to stop unless everyone deals with it the same way whether family or visitors (and this isn’t by commands or scolding), otherwise it would simply confuse him and make matters worse so may be impractical in the circumstances.

Against a background of being already excitable and fairly easily scared by things at home, walks can be very stressful due to his fear of other dogs. Who knows what his past life consisted off, but his extreme reactivity to all other dogs seems to indicate that he didn’t have good experiences in the past.  As soon as he sees any dog his hackles rise, he lunges and he barks. His defensive behaviour may attract the attention of off-lead dogs and if they approach him it is a nightmare. Poor Rambo, of course, is trapped on lead – it would be far too risky letting him off.

Rambo really isn’t a good name! It suggests tough and brave, but this poor little dog is plain scared. He first of all needs to learn to walk nicely (who ever sees a dog calmly walking on a loose lead, minding his own business, suddenly exploding when spotting another dog?). Avoidance of close encounters for now is key. Rambo needs lots of controlled exposure to other dogs at a sufficient distance not to worry him, whilst his owners behave in a way that convincing ‘leaders’ would. Opportunities can be engineered. ‘Where there is a will, there is a way’ as they say.

He most likely will never get to actually playing with other dogs, but being calm around them and ignoring them whilst relying on his humans to look after him would be a realistic, if long-term, goal. Things over time will slowly but surely improve if the humans stick to the plan.

 I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.