Puppies’ Fear of Other Dogs

Shih Tzu puppy

PJ

I have had a lovely visit with five-month-old Shih Tzu female litter-mates Hattie and PJ and their delightful family, starting my ‘puppy parenting’ with them. This initial visit is to make sure the basics are in place, plan the way forward and pre-empt potential future problems.

Potential problems with littermates are well documented but not inevitable.

These two are inseparable – they move around like one adorable fluffy mop; it’s hard to see where one dog ends and the other starts, or to see which end is head and which end is tail!

Amongst the usual puppy things, two matters stood out as particularly needing addressing. One is their lack of sufficiently early socialisation resulting in fear of other dogs. They left the breeder at nine weeks but their vaccinations hadn’t yet begun, and though they had met plenty of human friends they were not taken out to meet other dogs until about 14 weeks old. So sadly, at just five months, Hattie and PJ are already wary of other dogs they see and they bark at them.

Many humans (this family less so) tend to believe that socialising means exposing their dog to other dogs in such a way that they are forced to encounter as many as possible, on a tight lead, and this will eventually ‘get them over’ their barking. It’s actually the very opposite. I say to people it’s not walks we’re working on, or other dogs, it’s actually ‘fear therapy’. It’s easier to understand that with a ‘therapy’ there will be a psychological approach and one needs to go slowly.

Other dogs have to be transformed into something the puppies feel happy to see. Force won’t do that.

I call it the ‘Other Dog Battery’ (it could be a battery for any other thing a dog is scared of). Each time the puppy can be aware of another dog at a distance that doesn’t disturb her and particularly if she is then given tasty little bits to eat or forage for or something else good always happens, this starts to charge up the ‘Other Dog Battery’.

This particular battery is slow and laborious to charge.

Each and every time, however, the puppy or dog encounters a dog that is too close or is suddenly surprised by a dog around a corner, that battery discharges very fast and goes flat – and they will then have to start again. Logistically it can be difficult but there is no way around it and the puppies ideally need to be walked separately.

Shih Tzu Lying on her back

Hattie

The second common thing that arose from this consultation is to do with dogs that ‘won’t eat’. This then also means the dog also won’t be interested in food to help fill up that ‘Other Dog Battery’.

Sometimes the reason is a lot more obvious than you’d think.

They showed me the treats they give the puppies – amongst other things mini markies about the size of small cocktail sausage rolls. They admit to giving each puppy about six a day but with a family of four nobody is counting. The puppy can’t be much more than 3kg in weight and the man told me he weighed about 70kg. Relative to size, that makes one markie far larger than a doughnut… and six markies? It’s no wonder the puppies have little interest in food.

This case is yet another example of how issues are inter-related. No one thing stands alone. The food issue raises the matter of nutrition and food affects the ability to reward and counter-condition, which is necessary to change the way the puppies behave towards other dogs, which in turn necessitates the two being walked separately which is in itself part of a wider issue – that of the puppies being given quality time individually; the stress of walks can spill over into grumpiness afterwards and so on.

With work and patience, their fear of other dogs should lessen. These sweet and gentle puppies must feel safe and protected. It’s an owners’ job to save their dogs from unwanted or rough attention at all costs – whether from a human or another dog. Easier said than done sometimes.

Welcoming the New Puppy

Black Maltese puppyThey had picked up thirteen week old Maltese, Oakley, the day before I came. He now lives with a couple and their two young sons aged eleven and eight.

About a month ago I had been to see the grandparents who live next door and the puppy lives with the young boy who was bitten by Asha and who has been doing so well in learning to understand her. He has even been training his friends.

My job is to help them to make sure all goes well from the start with little Oakley and the boys, and to help with the tricky situation of introducing the two Shitzus next door to the new puppy. One little dog, Gizzy, should be fine. Asha, however, is not at all good with other dogs and it’s important she doesn’t frighten the new puppy.

There is a gate between the two properties which both dogs and children freely go through. For now the gaps have been blocked although there is still a space underneath – a space large enough for little noses and for barking.

Although not house trained by the breeder, Oakley is taking to it naturally, and will even go to the door when he needs to toilet.  When I was there, however, this coincided with the two Shitzus being out in their garden. Asha barked and little Oakley barked and came dashing back into the safety of the kitchen. The younger boy sat on the swing while the puppy was outside and this scared him too.

It’s important that nothing frightens him outside else he won’t be so willing to go out to toilet. We don’t want him having to run the gauntlet past that gate which may have an aggressive-sounding Asha barking underneath it.

When little Oakley has settled I shall go back and work out a plan for integrating the new puppy with the other two dogs. We can start with the more relaxed and dog-friendly Gizzy first. Meanwhile, they should block the gap under the gate and both sides should be ready to start throwing tasty bits of food on the ground when dogs and puppy are aware of each other – far enough away from the gate and fence that they are not so aroused they won’t eat.

This way the dogs will begin to associate each other with something good – food.

We looked at the other basic ‘puppy parenting’ aspects such as gradually teaching Oakley that being all alone is fine (he had a good first night fortunately) in order to pre-empt separation problems, teaching the boys how to deal with puppy nipping, not to over-excite him and to give him space.

We looked at what is good food and what is not so good. I showed them how to lure him into sitting but suggested leaving any more training for now and allow him to settle in before putting any pressure on him. I stressed, as I always do, the importance of appropriate and non-scary acclimatisation to people, other dogs, appliances, traffic and everyday life outside the home.

One boy took a feather off him that he had found in the garden. This was a good opportunity to explain the importance of never just ‘taking’ something – but to exchange (and also not to remove things that don’t matter!). This then pre-empts any resource guarding behaviour.

I am really looking forward to my next visit when Oakley is properly settled. One boy is keen to learn to clicker train Oakley. We will then look at the best way to work on getting that gate between the gardens open again.

It took a while, but a couple of months later here are all three dogs happily together.casey

British Bulldog Toilets Indoors

British Bulldog with a mind of her own

Lola

One-year-old Lola doesn’t put herself out at all. She often seems to be lazy and almost depressed, though can have quite a turn of speed if she wants to! She does what she wants, when she wants and can get cross if physically forced to go somewhere she doesn’t want to go – like out into the garden to toilet or into the ‘dog room’ when people are eating. She lacks any motivation to do what her humans want but that may be in part because they usually do what she wants anyway.

Shitzu

Bella

Lola lives with a lovely family and two adorable Shitzus, ten-month-old brother and sister Frankie and Bella who seem to have defied all the negatives concerning taking on sibling puppies and are a tribute to their owners – no trouble at all. It is characterful Lola who is causing them the grief.

She has learnt that barking gets people coming to her and giving her attention – even if it’s in the form of scolding. She starts at 5am which gets someone coming downstairs and, after letting them all out, feeding her.

She also messes in the house and will bark afterwards which also always gets a result by someone going to her and giving her attention of some sort. Interestingly, she never toilets indoors when everyone is out.

Shitzu

Frankie

It’s easy to jump to conclusions that problems are behavioural, but although the toileting indoors has always happened, it’s just possible that there is something else going on with Lola that needs to be eliminated first. She has become very thin over the past few weeks – impossible to see from the photo. The vet has checked her over and put her on hypoallergenic food and, far be it for me to question a vet, I do wonder whether she’s absorbing her food properly and whether the chosen food is sufficiently nutritious. She is always hungry.

Is it possible the early morning barking which always brings her food may be due to hunger?

I suggested as an experiment that they both try feeding her a small amount at bedtime along with changing the central heating timer to come on a bit later just in case that is what starts her off. Whatever the reason, the barking works. People come to her. She gets fed. She is being taught to bark.

The fact that Lola still toilets indoors is getting them down. They take her outside regularly, or try to – she may refuse, but she still prefers to go in the house. A regular routine in terms of daily walks may help. The other issue is that she has very little interest in doing as they ask or wanting to please and possibly the two things are related.

But…..they don’t use chicken or cheese – yet!

Lola is very food orientated and I am sure once she realises that she gets an edible ‘thank-you’ for complying she will be a lot more focussed. Instead of ignoring them she will come when she is called, she will go outside when asked to and, in time, she will find toileting outside is more rewarding inside.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lola, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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 dog (see my Get Help page).

Aggressive Encounters with Older Dogs

Bear is relaxed at home but can't be trusted with other dogs out on walks

Bear

Bear on the left is a 4-year-old mix of Jack Russell, Springer Spaniel and Shitzu! He lives with JR Nellie and an older Border Terrier.

All three dogs are very friendly without being pushy and life would be fine if Bear could be trusted with other dogs when out on walks. Unpredictably, he can mix with some other dogs when they are all off lead, but more often he is reactive and aggressive, particularly when either he or the other dog is on lead.

Friendly Jack Russell Nellie

Nellie

It probably all started when Bear was a very young dog; he would race up and down the fence with the neighbour’s very dog-aggressive larger dog doing the same thing the other side.  There would have been lots of barking and snarling. With hindsight it would have been a lot better if Bear had not been allowed to do this because he was already honing his hostile dog-to-dog skills – learning from the older dog.

Bear has attacked a couple young dogs out on walks which may well be doing them the harm that the big dog next door did to Bear.  It’s important that he never has the opportunity to do this again.

In order for Bear to learn reliable recall, working for food is the easiest and most efficient incentive (play and praise also can be used).

One might think that the work starts outside the house, but no.  A dog that is pandered to where food is concerned isn’t going to want to work for it. Bear won’t eat his very good food unless extra fish is added. I offered him a piece of cheese and he just  walked away!

Soon he will eat what he is given, he will go to his bowl rather than having it brought to him and he will eat it up without tasty extras added. Only then he will begin to value the more tasty stuff and they can then start to work on his dog-reactivity.

It is essential that he comes when called – not just when he feels like it but when there is another dog about. If he ignores them at home when they call him or want him to do something, he certainly won’t come running back when called if he’s spotted another dog.

When food gains value as a currency and they themselves gain more relevance so he more willingly does their bidding, they can then be using the special tasty stuff for rewards and reinforcement rather than bribes added to his food to make him eat!