Fearful of People Despite Puppy Socialising

Stunning seven month old Chow Chow Chai is fearful of people. Sometimes the best laid plans simply go wrong.

Very carefully socialised.

Chow has become fearful of peopleI can’t fault her young owners. From the start they have done everything by the book. Then, sometime between four and eight weeks ago she became fearful of people.

They simply can’t trace what could have changed her so dramatically. They can however pinpoint that it was something during this four-week period. She would have been in her fifth or sixth month.

Their superb vet likes her to come in every month, no charge. All they do is put her on the table and keep her used to being handled, examined and weighed. They give her treats. She was due for her monthly visit last week.

Five weeks ago however, the last time they had taken her, they got her to the door and she didn’t want to enter. Once in, she was frantic, scared, leaping onto them, terrified of the other people in there. A different dog from the previous time.

Why so suddenly fearful of people?

All I can think of is that something happened that was huge to her but that her humans hadn’t noticed; that it had coincided with a fear period.

It makes me think back to when I was a child of about seven years old. I was in a group of people along with my mother, and something happened. It traumatised me to the extent that I shut it out until counselling unearthed it years later.  I could remember what we were doing before, but I had a blank period of time. I since asked my mother what it could have been and she had no idea.

What I found out seems very trivial now and I understand why my mother hadn’t even noticed. It had affected all my childhood.

I think it must be the same with young dogs when something happens at just the wrong time. The dog may, or may not, remember just what happened. To us it could seem so meaningless that we hadn’t even noticed. To the dog it’s life-changing.

In addition, as she matured some of the reported breed characteristics may have begun to surface: ‘…..can be aloof …….and downright suspicious of strangers. But for the right person, he’s a fiercely loyal companion’.

Chai is extremely attached to the man. (Interestingly, though initially she barked at me, when he left the room she stopped. Protective, maybe).

Who could be behind the door?

My questions unearthed that Chai had become particularly scared of entering into places. She is now so fearful of people that I believe it’s because she can’t see who might be the other side of the door.

A few days ago she had refused to go into the pet shop where she had been before. They didn’t insist, brought her home and called me.

I could see and hear how scared of me she was as I opened the gate into their high-fenced garden. I shut it again and waited for someone to come and help her then let me in.

Now they will do everything they can to help their beautiful fluffy dog become less fearful of people. People should be good news and not scary.

People-watching.

They will help her to associate people with only good things.

Recently, in order to control her, they have begun using a slip lead which tightens up if she pulls. Sometimes she is so desperate to avoid an approaching person she may try to run into the traffic.

She will feel more fearful of people when trapped on a tight lead. To make matters worse, just when she should be associating people with good things, the lead tightens. She will feel discomfort, pain even.

They will now get a harness and longer leash. With the lead fastened both on the back and the chest, they will have all the control they need without causing any discomfort.

They will stand at the entrance to their drive and ‘people-watch’. Her lead will be long and loose so at any time she feels fearful, she can retreat up the drive.

She first will be taught that looking at a person from a comfortable distance (to her) will bring her food.

They will then build this technique into walks, beginning early in the morning when there are few people about. They won’t walk her in busy places or at busy times until she is ready. It is only a short way to go to fields where they let her off lead.

Doorways into buildings

They will work on taking her through doorways into buildings, starting with their helpful vets. They will go together. The man, to whom she’s most bonded, can go in first and sit down. He will check the coast is clear of people for now.

Letting a little time elapse so Chai both feels she has choice and is also missing the man, the lady will then take her in. With the man inside already it’s pretty certain Chai will willingly walk in. Then they can then come out and do it the other way around – lady in first.

This technique can be worked on many times and in different places.

They will lock the garden gate so people can’t simply walk in – and put a bell on it. Chai will no longer be allowed to feel vulnerable in the garden with someone able to walk straight into what should be her safe place.

It is quite heartbreaking when a puppy, despite such dedicated socialising and habituating to life, suddenly becomes unaccountably fearful of people or other dogs.

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 Chai. Neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do much more harm than good. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear is concerned. 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).

Fear of People. Separation Distress

Bentley has a fear of peopleBentley barks.

The little dog’s main fears and consequent barking is either directly, or indirectly, associated with his fear of people.

Bentley is an adorable and much-loved Coton de Tulear. In researching the breed, the first site I looked at said that they hate being on their own and that they like the sound of their own voices.

The first, distress at being alone, certainly applies but I don’t think Bentley barks and cries because he likes the sound of his own voice. 

The cause of his barking is his fear of people…

…and things associated with people.

This is whether someone just comes to the door, if someone comes into the house or when they see a person out on a walk. It’s the same with noises that people make, like slamming car doors and voices outside. (This dog that usually barks takes absolutely no notice at all of fireworks!).

His fear of people colours any trips to the vet or the groomer.

Changing his fear of people gets to the root of the barking problem and is the challenge. People should now be associated with things that Bentley likes and whenever possible on walks at a distance where he feels they are no threat to him. This threshold distance is important.

Here is a very short excerpt from my BBC 3 Counties Radio phone-in on the subject (referring to encountering other dogs, but it’s the same principal). https://youtu.be/7HNv-vsnn6E

Most unusually, when I came to the house he barely barked at all, although he was still wary of me. This is because of how we set it up. They will now use the same technique with other callers.

How they actually respond to the barking will also help his fear of people and the sounds he can hear.

All alone, Bentley probably feels vulnerable.

This can only be guesswork, but he invariably toilets soon after he is left. He’s very attached to the lady and follows her everywhere. It’s most likely he feels safest when with her.

They will be getting a camera so they can watch what happens when he’s left. This will tell us more.

Separation problems are slow to work on, particularly if it can’t be done systematically due to people having to go out to work. However, the more Bentley associates their leaving with good things and their returning as no big deal, the better.

He currently has run of the house when left. I suggest keeping him away from the front door area. This is where scary people may come and go and where people have pushed items through a hole in the door.

The higher are Bentley’s general stress levels, the less he will be able to cope with his fear of people and being left. Lowering arousal/stress is key. This may sound a bit boring at times but over-exciting activities can be replaced with those that help him to be calmer and more confident.

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 Bentley 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, particularly where fear 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).

Three Street Dogs from India. Mum and Two Pups.

S

Ella

Two years ago when the couple were living in India they adopted a street dog – or she adopted them.

After a few days, one at a time, she carried five puppies to them.

Later they returned to England, bringing Ella with them. Her puppies stayed behind.

The two shyest pups still had no home by eighteen months of age, so six months ago the couple shipped them over here to join Ella. They had named them Whitey and Red simply to identify them, and these names have now stuck.

From street dogs from India to house pets.

They have already done exceptionally well in integrating these three street dogs from India into life over here.

street dogs from India

Red and Whitey

Having only mum Ella to start with, they transformed her into a dog who is chilled and secure. Although seldom on lead, she always stays close. They used to take her everywhere with them.

When the two pups arrived things necessarily changed.

Red is soft, friendly and cuddly with people. Whitey is more of a problem. She is suspicious, more scared and very independent. Unlike Red and Ella, Whitey doesn’t seek out human contact.

They live in an open country area with no fences. The couple just open the door for the dogs to go and toilet. They let them out one dog at a time or they will run off together, go hunting and exploring, maybe coming back hours later. Whitey in particular.

Street dogs from India have, after all, been used to coming and going much as they please.

One might think mum Ella would welcome the company of her two female pups, but it doesn’t look like that to me. She has the burden of keeping the other two ‘in line’. She’s ready to step in as soon as play gets vigorous or if one becomes aroused by something. Troubled, she faces them, teeth bared and growling.

When all three together go out on a walk, the non-reactive Ella may now join in the distance-increasing aggression when they see another dog.

Freedom versus safety.

Where letting them all run freely off lead is something they have been used to, it’s not appropriate now. They could run into trouble or danger.

Whitey has already nipped a couple of people. She goes round behind them like a herding dog. Someone merely finding a dog a threat can end in the police taking action according to the new dog law. The dog could be condemned to being on lead always when out and muzzled. It’s not worth the risk.

Recently one of the pups went for a distant dog – joined by the other two, which resulted in them all being kicked by the male owner of the other dog.

They will for now be walked individually, or Ella alone with the two pups together. Going back to her old happy walks, a dog and her humans and without the other two to worry about, will be nice for Ella.

They will work on Red and Whitey’s reactivity to dogs when out by using distance and counter-conditioning.

No more running off.

Recall starts at home. If the pups don’t come to them promptly when just outside the house, then they won’t do so when they see another dog or a rabbit when out on walks.

This means preventing all further rehearsal of running off. Street dogs from India will have no boundaries, but just as the couple brought Ella round with hard work, they now need to work on the two younger girls.

They will make use of a long line with the two pups, both when letting them out to toilet and on walks. One pup can be on lead with the other on the long thirty foot line. They can do lots of recall work and keep swapping dogs from lead to line.

As ‘Come’ (or ‘Biscuits’!) has a history of being ignored until the dog is ready, they will train them to come to the whistle, starting at home.

Underpinning everything is getting the dogs’ attention. A problem with having several dogs is that they can relate to one another rather than to us.

The more the dogs are ‘with their humans’ on walks rather than with their focus upon one another, the better control their owners should eventually have. The more relevant they make themselves the better.

This means working on each pup as an individual – as they did originally with Ella.

They will keep things as calm as possible at exciting trigger times such as before walks and reunitings. These are the times when arousal might erupt, with one over-aroused pup redirecting onto the other and poor Ella feeling she has to step in.

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 these three dogs 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, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned. 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. Suspect anyone who promises a quick fix. (see my Help page)

Barks Go Away at People. Fearful Puppy.

As I walk in the door, the puppy barks as he backs away. He barks Go Away to me.

It is suggested that taking a puppy from his mother and siblings a bit too early may, in special circumstances, be actually be better than leaving him a bit later than usual. This depends upon what the breeder is doing.

Rough and tumble with siblings can teach puppy to be gentle, give and take and so on. If, until he is ten weeks old, puppy sees nobody apart from the other dogs and a couple of family members in the breeder’s house in the middle of nowhere, the outcome can be a lot more serious than a nippy puppy.

A puppy needs early habituating to the outside world and to a variety of people including children. For psychological reasons, the earlier this begins the better despite vaccinations not complete.

Four month old Bear is a typical case in point. They picked him up to join their other Miniature Poodle, Teddy, at ten weeks of age. He is very gentle, not a nippy puppy at all and perfect with Teddy.

The four-month-old puppy barks Go Away.

However, Bear is very scared of people. He even initially barks Go Away to familiar people coming into his home.

he barks Go Away at people

Bear

Normally they stop him with a mix of saying Shhh and fuss. I asked them to leave him which meant he carried on a lot longer.

Now the work started. He was going to learn not to be scared of me.

The lady had my clicker and some grated cheese. Each time Bear looked at me he got a click then, a moment later, cheese.

Each time he barked, as soon as there was a break she clicked. Then cheese. Soon she was clicking and I was delivering the cheese.

It was complicated a little by the need to give Teddy cheese as well, but that is the rule of clicker. The click is always followed by food. We may want to give Teddy some clicker fun at a later date. The room was small and there was nowhere else for him to go, and Teddy loves his food so can’t be left out.

Joy and laughter.

Teddy and Bear give their retired owners great happiness and loads of laughter. The little dogs have wonderful lives with them. Understandably, they want Bear’s life to be as good as it possibly can be which means his becoming less fearful of people, including children.

Teddy

This can only be done by associating them with ‘good stuff’. It needs lots of patient work from his humans who will do their best not to push him ‘over threshold’ by getting so close that he then barks Go Away.

They have actually made good headway on walks and he can now accept several people he knows without barking. The big difference when out in the park is that he’s off lead and free to escape.

They can use the people he meets on walks to build up his confidence by pairing his looking at them with food. The lady may find the clicker one thing too many to handle – as well as two dogs, leads, poo bags and treats – so she will say ‘Yes’ instead.

They will find a bench at a comfortable distance from the kids’ play area and get out the clicker and cheese. We are using tiny bits of cheese for working on people because he likes it better than anything else. The only way he can now get cheese is when he sees a person.

Rehearsing Go Away barking.

The more Bear barks Go Away at people, particularly as they nearly always do go away, the more he’s going to do it.

When people go past the house, he barks Go Away – and they go. Success. When the mail comes through the door, he barks Go Away – and the postman goes. Success.

The view out of the window will be blocked and an outside letterbox installed. The constant daily rehearsal of succesfully barking at people to go away must be reduced.

When I got up to go, I wanted to get out without any of the usual barking from Bear. I did it in small stages starting by gathering my things. The lady clicked and fed as he watched me. As I slowly stood up she did it again. As I slowly walked to the door she continued.

I let myself out.

No barking!

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 Bear 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, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)

 

 

Wary of New People Unless on the Train. Puzzling!

Wary of people

Crumpet

Crumpet is a Cockerpoo. Crumpet (I just love her name) is three years old.

She scares easily – apart from the very times when most other dogs would be frightened. On trains, on the underground and on the busy streets of London she is absolutely fine!

At home where it’s quieter she is spooked by anything different or unusual and is very wary when a person appears. She may rush at them, barking.

She is like this also when someone calls at their house.

The lady takes her to work and Crumpet reacts in the same way when someone enters her office. Though tethered, she rushes at them, barking.

The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be

The very strange thing is that in a crowded train she is friendly! She will even go to people for a fuss and sit on the floor beside them. The more people there are, the less wary Crumpet seems to be.

It does seem like there is a territorial element to it and she feels more threatened by people near to or in her home – the same at the office. Commonly dogs are worse when a person is standing. Understandably this is particularly the case when she is in an enclosed space or on lead (train carriage and London streets excepted).

It’s an odd thing, but often the fewer people there are the more threatened the dog feels, particularly if they appear suddenly or move quickly. Perhaps this is the same with ourselves? We can feel invisible in a crowd.

Reading the dog.

Because of how I set things up when I arrived, she was fine with me from the start. However, it was a bit different when I got up to go. I saw for myself just how easily Crumpet scares. She was sitting on the lady’s lap and I was now standing up. As I talked to the lady, standing quite close to her, I watched Crumpet. My nearness and the fact I was standing started her lip-licking and yawning. Then there was a little growl. All were clear signs that she was feeling very uncomfortable.

Had I not taken heed and backed away, no doubt next she would have rushed barking at me too.

Is she being protective? It’s possible. Whatever the reasons behind it, Crumpet should be helped in situations like this. This means learning to read her subtle signals, before it gets to the rushing and barking stage if possible. They should save her from any unwanted attention or increase distance.

She looks so gorgeous that she is a magnet for ‘dog-lovers’!

Sometimes Crumpet can cope better than at other times.

Crumpet is variable. There are occasions when she is less wary and reactive than others. This can only be to do with her own mental state at the time. The calmer, less-stressed and more confident she is in all aspects of her life, the better she will be able to cope with the things that scare her.

The nearer to home she is the more wary of people in particular she seems to be.

We will be concentrating on lowering her stress and excitement levels whilst also counter-conditioning her to things she’s wary of – people in particular – by building up positive associations and doing everything to keep her feeling safe. If she no longer sees people as a threat, then she has no need to feel protective – if protectiveness is part of it.

Crumpet is in such a frenzy of excitement before she even leaves the house, barking her way down the road. In this state one wouldn’t then expect a calm and considered reaction to anyone she might meet.

Progress is fastest when things are broken down into small steps.

The lady will work on getting through the door with a quiet dog! I have invented a sequence, like kind of game, involving waiting for quiet by a door, opening it, walking through with a quiet dog and returning again – over and over. Starting with inside doors, then the back door and finally the front door.

Next she will progress to walking Bracken quietly away from the door a small way before turning back – until they get to the end of the road.

I’m still puzzled by why Crumpet is so comfortable in the train! Possibly it’s because there is no territorial element.

The little dog who spooks at a rubbish bag appearing on the footpath is unfazed by the hiss of closing underground train doors. The dog who rushes at a person walking towards them in their own road is untroubled by people packed into a carriage.

We need to bottle this and take it home and to the office!

 

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 Crumpet and I’ve not gone into exact precise 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 fear or aggression is concerned. 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)

 

Fearful of People but Needs Socialising. Conflict.

Lottie is fearful of people.

Fearful of peopleBeing fearful of people is unusual in a puppy of just three months old. It’s very sad to see.

Lottie is already growling when someone looks at her or approaches her, and it’s getting worse.

The beautiful Golden Retrieve puppy is also scared of noises and of anything new.

It’s hard to trace just why this is. Her family had done all the research possible over a long period of time before choosing her and she came from a good environment – from a family home, living with her mother.

She was the last of the litter and they found her lacking confidence from the start.

A puppy of eight weeks old should be confident and fearless.

Perhaps something occurred to make the already sensitive puppy so fearful of people, something during the puppy’s crucial fear period.  Something that nobody was aware of.

Lottie’s fearfulness may simply be genetic.

She should have had early socialising with different people from a few weeks old. She should have had habituating to daily life, people, other dogs and so on. Unfortunately they have been caught in that common trap of believing they can’t take her out to mix until her vaccinations are finished.

Now, at three months old, she’s ‘allowed’ to go out and they are playing catch up. This is what Linda Michaels says about this situation: Puppy socialisation and vaccinations belong together.

Conflict. A dilemma.

Finding the best way to go about helping Lottie creates a dilemma – a conflict between the two things she most needs. One is time to build confidence around people and the other plenty of positive encounters as early as possible.

The need for patience and time to grow her confidence must come first, because without this, encounters are unlikely to be positive for her. They need to go very slowly so that she can get used to the scary world one thing at a time

Combining the two needs will best be done by as many encounters with people as possible but from a ‘safe’ distance, and associated with good things.

I suggest for a start that they put her in a comfortable harness and attach a long lead. They can simply take her to the end of their drive and let her watch the world go by, well back from any cars or people.

With every sound they will drop food. Every car that passes they can drop food. Every distant person she sees – drop food. Any dog she sees – drop food. If she’s scared, the lead is long and loose and she can run back to the house.

If this is still too much for her, they may need to start further back by the front door. It’s vital she’s allowed to choose her own pace.

People must not be allowed to crowd her or touch her. Believing they were doing the right things, they had been carrying her to allow people to touch her. She shook. From now on, getting near to a person must be her own choice and it doesn’t look like this will happen for a while.

They will start to invite people to their house – under strict instructions.

A typical happy Golden Retriever puppy!

Lottie’s not scared all the time however! In her home with her family she can be a typical happy little puppy tornado! She may suddenly race around with things going flying. She chews and she nips when excited! This is a lot easier and more normal to deal with.

 

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 Lottie and I’ve not gone fully into exact precise 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 fear issues of any kind are concerned. 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 (click here to see my Help page)

On High Alert When Out on Walks

There seem to be many things that worry Gibson, a beautiful three-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog. He was, apparently, an anxious puppy. If the couple hadn’t already done so many things for and with him, he could be a lot worse.

On high alert when out

On high alert? Not just now!

He reacts to sounds at home, mostly sounds associated with people, like car doors slamming, voices outside or the neighbour shutting a door.

He then barks.

Gibson is nervous on walks, mainly of people and occasionally dogs also. More recently he has also become jumpy at sounds when out, particularly when it’s windy.

They have been managing the situation well – apart from a couple of incidents when a person suddenly appeared and they were unprepared. The most recent involved him jumping at someone and he may have caught her hand. This is serious, not least because of the recent changes in the dog law. Someone now need only to feel threatened by our dog, with no damage done, for us to be in trouble.

On high alert on walks

Walks are miserable for a huge proportion of dog walkers who, along with their dogs, are on high alert all the time, looking out for people or, more commonly, other dogs.

For the lady in particular, walks are simply not enjoyable and have become something of a duty. They mostly cover exactly the same route and it’s taking longer and longer to get round. When not on alert, Gibson has taken to ignoring her and engaging in excessive sniffing and foraging for anything edible.

He may refuse to move. He’s a big dog.

She will now inject a lot more enthusiasm and interaction into their walking. She will engage more with Gibson – because this is part of the solution where feeling less threatened by an approaching person is concerned. They will make walks and themselves more relevant and unpredictable. Keep him on his toes and focussing more on them.

A person coming to the house.

When someone calls to the house he is noisy to begin with. Then there is excitement in which I see a big element of anxiety. He barks at the person as they try to walk through the door into the room. He is a big dog and he’s in the way.  I found what worked best was for the man to call Gibson back and out of the way, hold onto his collar and feed him (in Gibson’s case, cheese). The dog then was quiet. I then went through and sat down. He came and sniffed me, much more relaxed.

Sometimes it works best when the visitor drops the food. In this case I feel it gives Gibson comfort and support when the owner takes control of the situation and administers the food. He should, eventually, not need the restraint.

You might say, why food? Apart from motivating Gibson to leave the person and go to the owner, it helps to give him positive emotions about the person.

Gibson is a very good eater, so food is the answer to a lot of things!

See-saw.

Whenever Gibson is uneasy about something, they can counterbalance it with something he likes. I think of it like a see-saw. For instance, when he sees something new and looks worried, they can immediately feed him – associating it with food. If a door slams, they can drop food before he even has time to start barking.

Feeling better about people he sees on walks is done the same way and always from a distance at which Gibson feels safe. Currently they use food to keep his attention away from the person, to distract him, which is working well on the whole. Now, from the safe distance, they will want him to be fully aware of the person. The special ‘food bar’ opens. They may even point out the person – ‘Look, a PERSON!’ and then do some rapid feeding.

When the person goes out of sight, the special food bar closes.

In order to make progress they now need to have Gibson not merely being under control, but feeling differently about people he encounters.

Looking so gorgeous and cuddly, people of course want to pet him. Especially those people who ‘have dogs and love dogs’! Here is a way to increase distance without seeming rude.

They have come so far already, With a little change in direction I’m sure they will make another leap of progress and will no longer have to be on high alert for people all the time they are out.

 

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 Gibson. 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 or any form of aggression 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).

Dominant Alpha or Friend and Guardian?

Staffie Boxer mix Digby came out of his shell after a couple of hours. What a character.

This is yet another story that could make me cry. A young couple get themselves a puppy. They don’t do this lightly but ‘read all the books’ and look on the internet.

Digby was only six weeks old when they picked him up and it’s probable his fearfulness is partly genetic. He’s now two years old.

The Alpha myth.

Alpha dominance doesn't work on Digby

How can a new dog owner tell if a trainer who sets himself up as an authority won’t do more harm than good?

So concerned were they by Digby’s increasing fearfulness and barking at people that they had a trainer to their home to ‘teach’ them what to do. When the sensitive dog did something they didn’t like, they were shown to throw metal discs on the ground in front of him.

Digby can become very easily over-aroused and will then redirect quite roughly onto the young man in particular, grabbing his arm with his teeth. The poor young man just doesn’t know how to deal with it.

The trainer’s answer to this was to spray him with ‘bitter’ spray (surely also wiping out Digby’s number one sense, his sense of smell, for a long while).

This trainer, in the name of dominance and teaching an owner to be the Alpha, seems to think it’s okay to push the dog over the edge with over-arousal and then to punish it.

That’s just ridiculous. Why not instead limit the arousal so that this redirection onto someone’s arm isn’t necessary? Why not get to the bottom of why it’s happening and use healthy stimulation and calming activities instead?

Here is another thing – another ignored by Dibgy’s owners. Apparently he shouldn’t be allowed to settle in one place for too long before he’s moved to another room. How can an Alpha wolf be blamed for that?

Old wolf-pack theory dominance methods rely on superstitions and quick fixes that may work in the moment. I have been to countless cases demonstrating conclusively the long-term fallout.

So, after the ‘help’ from this individual, the young couple have felt increasingly unhappy about doing this dominance stuff with their beloved family pet but have known no alternative.

Digby goes out for a walk with his tail between his legs.

He shakes when his collar comes out. Out on the street he is scared of everything. In this state he may react by lunging and barking at a person or dog he sees. The trainer’s advice was to put him on a Gencon and basically force control onto him.

This same trainer had advised them not to shut Digby behind the gate anymore when people came to the house. A couple of days after his visit, Digby bit someone coming into the house.

He was in such a state of panic that he emptied his bowels right where he stood in the room.

Poor Digby. His young owners were beside themselves with distress for him.

Anyway, things are now changing.

For the first time since he was very young, a relaxed Digby was wandering around the sitting room and lying down beside a visitor. He began behind the kitchen gate, barking. We started with him brought into the room on lead and muzzled. As the couple relaxed and the lead was loosened, so did Digby relax. The lead was dropped. The muzzle came off. Then the lead was removed altogether.

Digby fished in my bag. He nuzzled me. I gave him food. He did a naughty dash upstairs (not allowed – he was called down and now rewarded for coming). The beautiful dog was so happy.

The power of positive methods unfolded before our eyes,

Looking ahead, all instruments of harshness will be abandoned in favour of rewards and positive reinforcement. Digby will get a comfortable harness and a longer lead. The restricting Gencon will be ditched.

They will be giving him two kinds of walks, field walks and road walks. He’s much more confident out in the fields and going by car. It’s leaving the house to walk along the road and pavements that scares him so much.

They will pop him in the car and walk him on a long line as often as they can.

Meanwhile they will get him happy just standing outside the gate to begin with. They can use his tail as a gauge! If his tail drops between his legs they will turn back.

How to be an Alpha Male according to wolves

 

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 Duke. 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 or any form of aggression 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).

Barks at People, Distant or Near

By coincidence I have just seen a second dog in three days that is scared of people – even when they are mere specks in the distance.

Robbie’s hackles rise and he barks at people.

He barks at people

People often don’t see things from their dog’s point of view until it’s pointed out. There seems no alternative but to keep walking towards the thing the dog is scared of, perhaps crossing the road. They buy equipment that enables them to physically manage their scared and pulling or lunging dog.

Although they may do their best to avoid people, turning right around and going somewhere else or even going back home isn’t an option. Walkers like their walks to go from A to B.

Sometimes the people, seeing he’s a Labrador, put their hand out to him. He doesn’t like that and he’s snapped a few times.

Robbie has a new harness that says ‘Nervous’. I’m not sure this is direct enough for the person who ‘loves dogs’ and may try to comfort him.

The Yellow Dog Company makes dayglo dog coats that say ‘I Need Space’. Plain florescent yellow coats are easy to obtain. We could make our own with a marker pen to say ‘Please don’t touch me’, making it quite clear to people.

It is very likely that Robbie had inadequate socialisation with new and different people as a young puppy. Possibly some of his problem is genetic. He had one terrifying experience involving a man when he was a young dog from which time things got a lot worse. He’s now five years old and is particularly scared of men which isn’t uncommon.

When I arrived at the house Robbie ran to me, hackles up, barking.

I had a soft dog toy – a squeaky duck in the top of my bag I knew a Labrador would like – and held it out to him.

Robbie took it and he became a different dog!

He paraded the duck, wagging his tail, showing me and the couple his prize. He squeaked it. “What have you got, Robbie?” I said to him. All was well.

The people said this was a very different first encounter than usual with their dog that barks at people who enter the house.

It seems that Robbie, influenced by fear, only barks at people when he can actually see a person. Hearing alone doesn’t seem to worry him.

I noticed that his way of showing he was worried about anything was to go still and look away. Out of sight, out of mind?joneslisa

At home they will work on getting him to look into their eyes the instant they gently say his name. Then, when they are out and he sees someone, they will have the power to get him to look away from the person and to them instead. That will be the first step.

They will make the whole walking experience less stressful. They will teach him to walk comfortably on a loose lead – we practised this in the house – and get rid of the head halter.

He will start to enjoy a lead walk rather than it being the frustration and discomfort of constantly fighting against the restraint. It’s unsurprising that a scared dog, already feeling this tension and stress, barks at people.

I suggest avoiding people altogether on walks for a couple of weeks.

It will allow him to let him settle. They can work on their loose leash technique and learn how to change the emotions inside him that make him a dog that barks at people.

Later and after some work, when he sees anyone, if not too close “Robbie!” should immediately get his attention. They then move onto the next step. This is either feeding him, giving him a toy or throwing something; they will turn around, increase as much distance as they have to and have a party.

Robbie’s humans should keep totally relaxed when they see a person. Calm confidence needs to run down that lead. When Robbie tenses up – as soon as and not before – they then set the wheels in motion to associate the people he barks at – or used to bark at – with only great things.

They may eventually even point the person out to him before going straight into their happy routine, ‘Look- a person!’.

If everyone coming into his house greets him with a special toy that can be given to them in advance, he should begin to associate callers with good stuff too, just as he did me when I gave him my soft squeaky duck.

Robbie is a lovely dog with owners who really care. In time, if his need for distance is respected, he will be comfortable closer to people and may even ignore them. He’s not a particularly tactile dog and this must be respected. He will learn to trust the people holding the lead not to push him over his threshold and then he should no longer be a dog that barks at people.

Feedback five weeks later: The harness came (I had recommended Perfect Fit) and you’re right it’s really good, he barely pulls with it on so walks have been much better and fairly loose on the lead. We continue to practice the calling his name and rewarding with kibble when he looks at us and off the lead he’s been much better at recall. We’ve had a few occasions walking him having seen people, being ready to turn round and go in the other direction but he hasn’t reacted. I was even able to talk to a neighbour as we walked past and he didn’t react at all, all good progress I think!
Three months later: Robbie is still doing great and we are managing his anxiety as you showed us to which makes life so much easier particularly when visitors come to see us.
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 approach I have worked out for Robbie and I’ve not gone into exact precise 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear 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)

Eyeballing and Hostility Between Dogs

Eyeballing from one dog; looking away, whale-eye, lip curling and growling from the other.

Poppy's eyeballing may be a trigger

Poppy

The hostility between the two Springer Spaniel bitches seems to have suddenly started about three weeks ago.

It’s hard to see where the tension, eyeballing and snarling between the two dogs has come from. It seemed to be out of the blue – but was it? Both dogs had been happily living and playing together since they took on Poppy, now three years old, as a puppy. Tilly is ten years old.

Both Springers have a lovely life. They are trained and worked kindly as gun dogs, fulfilling what they were bred for. They only spend the mornings out in their kennels and for the rest of the time they are well-loved family pets living and sleeping in the house.

There is another dog, a female Jack Russell called Fern who may be escalating the tension. Fern tends to be reactive to sounds. Her barking upsets Poppy and sends her running for cover.

Three weeks ago, immediately after they had returned from a few days’ holiday with the two Springers, the man caught them eyeballing each other, then growling.

Could the sudden hostility have been triggered by the reuniting with a hyper and noisy Fern who had stayed behind with a friend, at a time when they will already have been aroused? Things with Fern have changed recently. She has been recovering from mammary cancer. Could this be relevant?

Anyway, the man had immediately grabbed both dogs and parted them, putting them briefly in different rooms. This was followed by ever more frequent episodes.

Fern

Fern

Things escalated until about five days ago there were three bouts within the space of one hour.

Things only haven’t developed into a full blown fight due to vigilance and the man separating them immediately. It’s now happened so many times that it could be becoming a learnt response – a habit, something the two dogs may automatically do as soon as they are anywhere close together other than out in the open on walks.

Since these final three episodes the two dogs have been kept apart.

The Springers take it in turns to be in the sitting room with the couple. They are in separate kennels in the mornings and instead of all being together in the kitchen at night, two have been in the kitchen and the other Springer in the back lobby. She cries. Nobody is happy.

Surprisingly however, all three dogs still all go out happily for their morning walk together just as they always used to. It seems away from the house and out in the open they are fine.

When I arrived just Fern was with us first and she did a lot of barking at me. This barking is unusual apparently which made me wonder if something more was going on with her. Maybe she has been more stressed since her recent treatment for cancer?

Poppy then joined us. She was very wary of me as she is with all people she doesn’t know, pacing about, tail between her legs, interested but backing away.

We set things up so I could see both dogs together for myself. To take Jack Russell Fern out of the equation, we put her out in the garden. The man put Poppy on lead and the lady went to fetch Tilly from the outside kennel, also on lead.

They sat well apart and I placed myself where I could see both dogs.

Tilly

Tilly

There was an immediate and surprising change in Poppy. She became a different dog. Bold. She was unconcerned by me now. She stared at Tilly.

Tilly, in turn, looked at Poppy out the corner of her eyes with her head turned away. A lip curl. then a growl. I sensed that Tilly was by far the more uncomfortable of the two dogs.

From my observations, instead of the aggression being a problem solely instigated Tilly as they had thought, it looked like it may be six of one and half a dozen of the other.

With strategies in place to keep the two dogs’ attention away from one another, I then let Fern in to join us. She was barking as she entered the room.

Immediately there was an altercation between her and Tilly in the doorway.

Could the reactive Fern be part of the problem? Possibly also something has changed with her since her cancer treatment.

Where do we start?

They will continue to manage the environment by keeping them separate. It’s possible that during the morning outside in their adjacent kennels things could be brewing with eyeballing and so on, so I suggested putting a board between them.

On leads in the house, in short sessions they will work on relieving the tension between them, teaching each dog things to do that are incompatible with eyeballing or challenging the other. It’s vital they get no more opportunities to further rehearse the behaviour.

Because the dogs are fine on walks, instead of afterwards immediately putting them away again in their separate areas, they will take the walked and satisfied dogs indoors still on lead, give them a drink (separate bowls just in case) and sit down for a few minutes. They can thus hopefully build upon the rapport the two dogs still have out on walks.

Finally, they will be helping Fern with her stress levels which could well be compounding the whole over-aroused situation.

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 Tilly, Poppy and Fern and I’ve not gone into exact precise 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 issues of any kind are concerned. 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)