Nervous Dog. New Puppy. Early Exposure.

What is it with so many Staffies? Is it a genetic tendency I wonder? Nervous dog Tom is yet another Staffie who is fearful of the outside world and reluctant to walk.

Tom drools when he is scared. He does a lot of drooling on walks.

A new Staffie puppy

The other day they brought home a new Staffordshire Bull Terrier puppy. Buster is a nine week old heart-breaker with a coat of grey velvet.

New puppy with nervous dogThey first brought home something that smelt of the puppy to introduce his scent to Tom. Tom drooled.

When puppy arrived, the poor nervous dog was really scared of him. Tom drooled continuously.

Over the past three days he has improved but still likes to keep out of the enthusiastic puppy’s way.

One surprising development is that Tom himself sometimes now initiates play. Strangely he’s not a nervous dog with Buster when they play. He bows and barks to Buster to get him to chase him.

There is only so much he can take though, and then he’s back to his nervous, quiet self and retires.

Buster follows him into the corner and Tom then drools or tries to escape. It’s like he is expecting to be told off or punished when the puppy is near him (something which definitely isn’t happening).

The big outside world.

They have had the four-year-old Tom for five months now and it’s clear he didn’t get the best start when he was Buster’s age. With my help they will make sure Buster is properly introduced to the outside word of dogs, people, vehicles, wheelie bins, paper bags, buggies and so on. All the experiences should be positive.

They should start this right away. The clock is ticking. Buster needs plenty of early exposure before he is fully vaccinated and ready to put down on the ground. They will have to carry him.

Poor Tom is scared of so many things, particularly when out of the house.

The main priority at present is to get the nervous dog’s stress levels down. To build up his confidence. Then he will be in a better state of mind to cope with Buster and to enjoy his company.

Every time Tom has to face things he is scared of without the opportunity to escape, it makes him worse. Every day he has to face the ordeal of a walk, particularly as it means going under a scary underpass if they are gong to get to the green. This is much too big a price to pay for exercise.

Building confidence in the nervous dog.

They will go back to basics with him and build up the nervous dog’s confidence immediately outside the house, going no further for now. Without this daily stress Tom should then become more resilient around Buster.

Buster fortunately seems a very confident puppy though he hates being alone. After all, he had lots of siblings and had never been alone before. He has adopted a bean bag as his favourite sleeping place, snuggling into it like it’s a pile of puppies.

Patiently and gradually they will wean him into being alone. Over the next six weeks I shall be helping them with all the usual puppy things, a mix of settling into his new life and pre-empting any future possible problems. We will start loose lead walking and basic training.

Confident little Buster may well, in the future, be a real confidence booster to nervous dog Tom – and even bring out the inner, carefree puppy in him.

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 Tom and Buster 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 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)

 

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).

Choice on Walks Gives Confidence

I met Willow a couple of years ago when she was nine months old. The original problems I helped with have all but disappeared but they have relaxed a bit as people do. Here is the situation back then.

Two days ago I met her again. She is a much calmer dog now but over the time two new issues have been developing.

Choice on walks is what Willow need

Willow won’t walk and Willow won’t eat.

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Willow is increasingly scared and reluctant to go on walks

The strange thing is that when they go away on holiday or out for the day, well away from home territory, Willow is a joyful little dog running around with tail wagging and ears flapping. They showed me this video.

They also showed me a video of Willow on one of the walks near home. She hesitates. Her tail goes down. She stops. She wants to go back to the car.

They then do all they can to make her move. The lady will talk to her, encourage, entice or bribe her; she may then get impatient and try to pull her to walk with them. To quote the man, they want her to ‘toughen up’.

When not going by car she’s okay past the first couple of houses. Then she starts sniffing, but not in the way a dog normally will sniff – with full concentration on the job in hand. As she sniffs she has her eyes turned to the lady, watching her. The lady feels like Willow is challenging her. I wonder whether she is buying time.

A few yards down the road Willow will start to look scared. Her tail goes down and she hesitates. At this stage the lady (who does most of the dog-walking) actively tries all she can to get Willow to walk on. The young man who sometimes walks her may pick her up and carry her for some way and then put her down again. They may get cross. It is a major issue.

After much cajoling the lady finally gives up and it’s making her unhappy because she believes, perhaps rightly, that Willow isn’t truly happy without walks and she wants Willow to be happy more than anything else. The whole thing seems to have got out of hand.

They feel they have tried everything, but they haven’t. What they haven’t tried is giving Willow choice on walks.

I feel it’s about the dog-human relationship. I sense the lady is too involved and worried about Willow (can someone love their dog too much?). The dog needs to be released from all pressure thus allowing her full choice on walks, choice of when she wants to stop and come home and choice as to whether she goes out at all. Then I’m sure everything will change given time.

I advised the lady to stand and let Willow sniff for as long as she likes, but not to watch her or to talk to her. Just let her get on with it.

Willow wants to go back to the car

Willow wants to go back to the car

Choice on walks starts at home.

Some time ago Willow was attacked by a Boxer. She came to no harm but was terrified. Possibly the human reaction was over the top. Possibly this incident has infected all familiar walks. It doesn’t seem to matter whether they walk from the house or go by car. Possibly it has nothing at all to do with the Boxer as she is friendly with most dogs.

The behaviour actually starts before they leave the house. Willow tries to hide when the harness comes out. There is a lot of persuasion and a certain amount of force used to get harness and lead on.

Just as I believe they should be giving Willow choice on walks, I believe she should also have choice before leaving the house (or at least letting Willow believe she has choice. We can be cunning!).

The man will now put Willow’s harness on before going to work so that it is on already for the lady who can then simply pop the lead on when she’s ready and if Willow ducks away just drop the lead on the floor and try again later. Use food. Stop the talking and pressure!

The lady will walk Willow to the spot a couple of houses down where she starts to feel uncomfortable and then turn and come home. She will do this several times a day – several very short walks. She will lace the environment by sprinkling food on the ground ahead of her, on the outward journey (never on the way home).

Willow will have complete control of whether she continues walking or not. No pressure.

When a willing Willow who is given choice on walks eventually gets to the fields, the Rucksack Walk will be a great thing for them to do with her.

Her seeming reluctance to do what the lady wants her to do is spilling over onto her eating. Her refusal to eat worries the lady so much that she entices and persuades. With all that attention she may even find it rewarding to refuse to eat.

Now if she doesn’t eat much from her bowl it doesn’t matter as she can be fed nourishing stuff like chicken out on walks.

Already by putting down very small meals and ignoring her, knowing that she won’t starve, and with other members of the family feeding her and not just the lady – she is eating.

A couple of days have past and I received this email:

‘Yesterday, Willow ate 3 little meals – (the man) served her a couple of times and amazingly she ate most of the food offered! We wandered about outside the house sniffing a number of times and went back in and on the last walk she quite happily walked further down the road to the grassy area – I laid a little trail of food – then she wandered about sniffing and then headed home – no hesitancy at all!’

I hope that within a few weeks by being allowed choice on walks Willow will be as happy walking on familiar territory as she is when she’s away from home – with ears flapping and tail wagging!

Two weeks later: ‘Everything going really well with Willow! Eating is amazing now, clean dishes every time! Walking improving all the time, steering clear of the most negative walk at the moment. Really pleased with her progress’.
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 Willow 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. 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)

Constantly Chewing Herself

JRBella2Jack Russell Bella is constantly nibbling, sucking and chewing herself – or scratching.

She has many seasonal allergies and allergies to food, but the nibbling and sucking was something else. The intensity and manner in which she was chewing herself looked to me like she was deliberately shutting out the world.

How could this be when she is loved so much?

I could see that she was enormously stressed. In fact, the lady and her daughter were also anxious and fearful – mostly about Bella, something she would be picking up on.

The dog is the centre of their universe. She is treated very excitedly whether it is physical play, cuddles or when one of them arrives home.  I have found that constant focus on a dog can be a burden for it – as it would for us. Caring owners however should never beat themselves up when they are doing things with the very best of intentions.

I experimented and found she liked being touched very gently but not vigorously at all. A little tickle behind her ears or a tickle on her chest. A hand stretched out over her made he cower slightly. It is enlightening for people to read a bit more of their dog’s body language.

Little Bella is extremely jumpy. Any small sound of a cooking utensil sends her running and she is also scared on walks – a car door slamming causes her to freeze or try to run for home.

It didn’t help that a while ago when they were out, neighbours reported a break-in and three police officers smashed through the front door with poor little Bella the other side. Also, last year a large dog got into their garden and in protecting little Bella the lady was very badly bitten and is now terrified. Watching out for dogs makes walks a nightmare for her as well. There have been some hard times.

We had a lovely evening. We gave Bella little attention – something they never would normally have considered. Instead of focussing on the scratching and sucking and constantly trying to distract or stop her, the daughter quietly gave her a tiny bit of food each time she stopped.

They said it was the calmest the house had been for years.

I have just received an email to say that Bella slept better than ever last night and didn’t wake until 9.30.

It is my bet that as she relaxes her allergies will improve and she will also stop chewing herself.

Just a couple of weeks later I have received this message: We are so happy with our beautifully behaved, quiet little dog.  The house is so quiet and calm and we really cannot believe the difference already.  She is doing so well and the only time she slips up is when I am not so on the ball (she has learnt quicker than me), but she is much younger !! it is a real learning curve for us too.
And a week after that, ‘Well, I have to say that Bella is a transformed dog, I barely recognise her, she is so different. Mum has done so well and is really firm about the new changes, and regime. I am comforted in the fact that she is so calm when I don’t make a big thing of greeting her.  It was so hard at first, I had to go into another room as I had tears in my eyes! Oh dear. Thank you so much again for all your solid advice, it makes so much sense and we could not have done it without you.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bella, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dogs (see my Get Help page).

Blue Merle Sheltie Only Feels Safe Indoors

Blue Merle Sheltie is a gentle but easily scared dogEight-year-old Robbie spent the first seven and a half years of his life never outside a utility room and garden, with virtually no human company. Six months ago his previous owner went into a home and Robbie then came to his new owners.

Just imagine how scared he must have been encountering everyday things, people and other dogs. They have come a very long way with him in six months, but have met a plateau, hence my visit.

Since all his life after leaving his litter Robbie has been within the same four walls, just with open door to a garden, it’s not surprising that the only place he is really comfortable is indoors, in the house. He is just OK in the garden if the door is open and he can beat a retreat if something scares him – like next door’s dog barking. He would prefer to be alone indoors than out in the garden with his owners. Out on walks, if panicked, it’s like he doesn’t even know them any more. He just wants to get home.

They have work to do – because he needs to look to them for protection and guidance. They need to win his trust. At present all he really trusts is the safe environment of home.

He really is the most gorgeous, gentle little dog. Sadly, he is very arthritic at a relatively young age and is on a mixture of medication so he has discomfort to contend with also.

Out on walks Robbie is permanently uneasy and looking about and behind. As they approach the main road he is near panic, but like many people they have believed that it is necessary to keep going. If he sees another dog or a vehicle spooks him, he is twisting around on his lead and wanting to bolt. Naturally, the lead will be causing pain to his neck and this negative association with other dogs can’t be good.

I believe it’s now a case of backing off and starting again. First and foremost, he needs to be able to walk around near the house with no traffic or dogs or people in a calm and happy way, sniffing and exploring doggy fashion, before they can go any further. This could take a while. Then things need to be introduced very slowly indeed, all the while not stepping over his threshold of tolerance. How the owners behave is key. Robbie’s instinct is to bolt, and failing that, to freeze. Would a wise parent force his family into trouble if it could be avoided? No! They need to earn Robbie’s trust before they will make any real progress.

They will get there, I’m sure, but it will take time. Although they have already come a long way, you can’t undo eight years in a few weeks.

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

Staffie Stressed and Easily Scared

Yawning - uneasy because the camera is ointing at him Max is three years old. He is gentle and affectionate, but becoming increasingly confused and nervous. The photo on the right shows hiim yawning because the camera was pointed at him – typical signs of uneasiness are yawning and lip-licking.

His companion dog died in August and things have gone downhill for him since. His lady owner is lavishing far too much physical affection on him which she is the first to admit is mostly for her own benefit whilst giving him no boundaries at all. She jumps to his bidding, even in the middle of the night. In the past he had the other dog, who was by nature a lot more confident, to share this burden.

To add to Max’ problems, fStaff Max is a gentle and affectionate dogamily members and friends who visit daily are giving all sorts of mixed messages.

He is shouted at for licking them whilst being encouraged to jump onto them. He is more or less force-fed from human plates whilst refusing to eat his own food – though he is partial to doughnuts. He only has to bark at the box, and he is given one. He is becoming increasingly scared out on walks, running back to the car at the slightest sudden noise. In fact he is reluctant to leave the house even to go into the garden to toilet, and he makes himself last nearly twenty four hours some days.

When I was there the slightest trigger sent him either into the corner or in front of the lady, shaking. She understandably then fussed and comforted him which will be reinforcing his fear (‘come to mummy she will protect you from the big bad wolf’!). She would do a lot better to ocntrol the source of his fear, if possible. However, she feels powerless to protect him from real threats, like visitors who shout and knee him for jumping up or who threaten to force him to go out and ‘behave’ when he is scared.

I know the lady is on board with my advice. I sincerely hope she has influence over her visiting family and friends – at least to the extent of leaving Max in another room where he would be perfectly happy – and insist he is left alone.

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