Human Hands. Space Invaders. Too Much Touch

A fluffy, cute little dog like young Cockerpoo Florence is a magnet for human hands. Human hands that feel compelled to touch her.

Just look at her and you can see why!

Like many dogs, she is very friendly with people she knows well but very nervous of other people, particularly if they try to touch her, and they nearly always do.

A big hand over the little dog’s head

A big hand coming over a little dog’s head could be intimidating at the best of times. Some dogs, like some people, are simply less tactile than others anyway.

People want to touch herIt’s possible Florence has become sensitised due to too much touching from the people who love her. She loves a cuddle with the young lady, but there is generally too much of it from four people.

I watched as she jumped up and lay down beside one of the men, a man she clearly adores. He put his hand out to fuss her and she leaned away, licking her lips. She yawned. Quiet clearly she was saying, in dog language, don’t touch me. He carried on and she slowly turned onto her back.

The man said ‘See, she wants me to tickle her tummy’. I see something completely different. She is saying exactly the opposite. Is the dog really wanting a belly rub?

The men of the family also play vigorously with her – with their hands. Florence will simply become overwhelmed. What might start off as play soon becomes too much – scary even. Certainly too exciting.

People want to touch her. She’s irresistable

Now the little dog is becoming increasingly wary of anybody that she doesn’t know well coming to close. “Oh no! A human hand coming at me again”.

Like most people, instead of insisting the person backs off and risking sounding unfriendly, her humans tell her off when she tries to do so herself by showing her teeth, growling and barking.

From the dog’s point of view this must be puzzling. The very people she trusts aren’t helping her out. Consequently, this makes people who come too close even more intimidating. Not only may she have to suffer being touched, but her humans may also get cross with her.

Loving a dog, from many dogs’ point of view, isn’t about being fussed and touched. It’s about feeling safe, being looked after and being given choices. Florence should be able to choose whether she wants to be touched or not. This is the case whether it’s by people she knows or by strangers.

We tried the consent test. I asked the man, who had stopped touching her, to slowly move his hand towards Florence again and touch her very briefly. Then to stop to see what she did.

She quiet clearly leaned and looked away. Had she wanted him to continue she would have leaned in towards him and actively participated. She wanted to be close to him. She didn’t want him to touch her.

The pub – an opportunity

They walk her to the pub at lunchtime where she sits, under the table as good as gold – unless someone comes towards her. People who have had a couple of pints aren’t always quite so sensitive! Why shouldn’t she say ‘Go Away’ after all?

The pub, however, could be a good opportunity to help her with people if done right. Whenever she is watching anyone moving about or coming in the door, from her safe and protected corner, they can drop her food. Gradually a person will herald food. They won’t be allowed to be a space invader nor herald scolding.

They can put a yellow ‘I Need Space‘ vest on her, to remind people.

Over time, any hands coming towards her should do so slowly, not from above, and have food in them.

Her family will actively teach Florence to herself touch an open hand upon cue; she should be able to trust that hand not to suddenly go into touching mode.

Success, where her confidence with other people is concerned, will depend upon the family themselves holding back on too much touching and petting. If they play a little hard to get and stop trying, it’s very likely that Florence will enjoy it more. Instead of physical fussing and rough-housing, they will be giving her brain more to do.

Success also depends upon them protecting her from unwanted attention from other people.

When we care for our dog so much, there are sacrifices to be made in the name of love.

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 Florence 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, 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)

Bite! Let Sleeping Dogs Lie.

A cat can lie on its back and when you tickle its tummy it can yowl, grab you with it’s claws and BITE.

A dog can be approached when he doesn’t want to be touched. If he so much as growls in warning, let alone gives a snap or a bite, he’s probably in for trouble.

Being touched when he’s asleep.

Man petted him and received a biteThe affectionate little pup I went to yesterday is very happy to be touched most of the time – but not when he’s in his bed, particularly first thing in the morning.

Little Teddy is only five months old, a mix of small breeds and was born over here to a Romanian street dog in a shelter.

In every respect he has a lovely life with a family – a couple, their young adult son and daughter and lots of friends. They all adore him.

He soon proved himself to be a very clever and enthusiastic little dog with some clicker training that I taught the lady to do with him.

From the start Teddy has been a bit fearful of certain things, although with their help he is improving.

He is walked across a busy road each day to get to the park. Big traffic scares him.

The daughter wants to take him to where she keeps her horses. Unfortunately, he’s scared of horses also. He has spent considerable time recently barking at a horse in the field behind their garden, rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.

I’m sure given continued time and patience he will gain more confidence. The lady will keep him at a comfortable distance from traffic while she works on his fear. He will no longer be left outside barking at the horse.

One thing at a time.

Before he encounters the daughter’s horses (again from a comfortable distance) she will acclimatise Teddy to the environment itself – the smells, sights and other dogs in the yard. She will let him walk around the yard and nearby land on a long line. One thing at a time.

What really prompted their call is what has caused Teddy to bite the man twice and the son once – and these weren’t mere puppy nips. On each occasion the tall human had come into the kitchen, walked directly over to Teddy’s bed and bent over where he lay sleeping. Because of the layout of the house people can appear very suddenly in the gated doorway which doesn’t help.

Anyway, the pup bit him. Hard.

Bite!

Very unfortunately the man did what many people would do in the circumstances and that was to punish the puppy. He shouted and lightly smacked him. Teddy hid from him for some time under the table afterwards.

Probably feeling he shouldn’t allow the dog to win, the man did the same thing another day. He bent over the dog’s bed to stroke Teddy repeatedly on the nose. The little dog snarled this time before another bite.

He was punished again.

It has been proved beyond all doubt that using punishment to ‘teach the dog’ where any aggression is concerned can only make things worse, despite certain out of date nonsense still out there. The puppy’s reaction to being touched in his bed like this may have been partly reflex, some instinctive fearfulness or due to his simply not wanting to be touched. Whatever the reason or mix of reasons, it was valid.

Punishment like this always backfires in some way. It could later if continued possibly have spread to his guarding his personal space in other situations and places. It made the kindly man feel really bad afterwards too.

The solution is simple.

Nobody, ever, will again be going over to Teddy when he is lying in his bed. It’s quite fair that he should have a safe area that is his own, after all. All friends visiting must be told the same.

If people want to fuss him, they can sit at a distance from his bed and call him over. He can then choose. He’s such a friendly little thing I’m sure he will be all over them.

Totally secure in the knowledge that his space won’t be invaded when he’s in his bed, he will have no reason to feel defensive when someone comes near it in future.

He won’t now have any reason to bite ever again.

At all other times little Teddy is the sweetest-natured little dog you can imagine.

(Here is a great article about how dogs may feel about being approached directly).

 

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 Teddy. 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 aggression or fear of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Touched and Cuddled. Some Dogs Like it. Some Don’t

African Wild Dog (Wikipedia Commons)

Pearl came from a ‘farm’ in Wales. At six weeks old she was driven from there to the house the young couple bought her from. There were lots of dogs there. I have my suspicions about what kind of farm that was – a puppy farm very likely.

They say she’s a Border Collie, but doesn’t she look like an African Wild Dog! Look at those huge upright ears and the colouring.

The 9-month-old Pearl is a puzzle behaviourally also.

Pearl doesn’t like being touched.

doesn't like being touched

Happy face

Pearl doesn’t like being touched whilst seeming to invite it.

She approaches the young lady who assumes it’s because she wants her to pet her, and then growls and bares her teeth when she does so.

Unfortunately, the couple feel the way to touch the dog is vigorously, kind of ruffling her with both hands. The man gets away with it – Pearl tolerates being touched by him – but not by the young lady, not even being touched gently. This understandably upsets her.

Pearl used to just growl and occasionally show her teeth.

They then had some very unfortunate advice from a trainer over the phone.

“Grab her by her scruff and remove her!”.

The couple admit that things have gone downhill from then, even though they only did it the once.

Pearl started snapping too and although it’s mostly at the young lady, it’s other people also. Family members want to fuss her. Looking as she does, people everywhere want to touch her. When she reacts, telling them in clear ‘dogspeak’ that she doesn’t like it, she is scolded. NO!

How confusing this must be.

doesn't like being touched

Pearl

The real puzzle is that she seems to be asking to be touched – or that is the conclusion they jump to. I however don’t think so. She wants to interact but she doesn’t want hands.

If she were to go to another dog, put her face against him and look into his eyes, what might she be saying? It would be inviting interaction and maybe play, certainly not hands on her or even paws.

Below is a still from a short video the young lady sent me of Pearl baring her teeth as she touches her. I see a dog exercising great self-control.

It is evident to me that, like many dogs, Pearl particularly doesn’t like a hand coming from above. Her first signal is to momentarily freeze. She did this with me, even though I was just very briefly touching her chest (with her consent). I immediately stopped.

Their reaction to ‘aggression’ is to be firm and shout NO. They have had the wrong and old-fashioned advice. To stop is to ‘give in’ and she ‘needs to know who is boss’.

The dominance approach can only make things a lot worse.

The young man perceptibly made the point that touching Pearl is really for their own benefit and not Pearl’s.

Pearl’s reaction to the young lady touching her

I suggest they no longer ruffle her at all and no hands-on play. The lady’s daily routine is to touch her vigorously, particularly when she comes home from work. This is when the main trouble starts.

The evenings deteriorate into Pearl jumping on her – ‘demanding’ to be touched. Then Pearl shows her teeth, growls and maybe snaps when it happens.

Now they will resist nearly all touching and any done will be brief and not on the head. No vigorous ‘ruffling’. They will no longer go over to touch her when she’s lying down.

I showed the young lady how to clicker train Pearl to come to touch her hand. In this context Pearl will learn to like hands. Let the dog initiate the touching and find it rewarding.

Another aspect to it all is that, because she’s left alone while they are at work, the clever young dog may not get sufficient stimulation. Instead of ‘fielding’ her puzzling and demanding behaviour in the evenings, they will now initiate frequent short mentally stimulating activities. Activities that don’t get her stirred up unnecessarily and don’t involve too much physical contact.

They have already taught her lots of words. They have worked hard with her and I am sure there is a strong genetic element to her behaviour. She’s just not born to be a cuddly dog. They can accept her for who she is, a dog who likes at most being touched gently and briefly. Instead they can spend time doing with her the many things that she does enjoy.

You never know, in time and as her confidence and trust in them grows, she may enjoy short petting sessions.

Later: “We have cut right down on touching and made a big thing to everyone about not touching her. We will play games instead …. Pearl will lick our hands when she is happy which we like her to do and I try to encourage new people to play the clicker game with her or hide a toy to stop her anxiety our family and friends have noticed how much more relaxed she is in the house because of this. It’s very early days but already paying off. She wont let me (the lady) scratch her chest anymore and doesn’t want me touching her still but its just the way she is and I’m used to it now”.

 

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 Pearl. 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).

 

 

 

 

Snapping, But Only at Family Members

I met Theo today!

Theo is a ten-month-old Cockerpoo who lives with another Cockerpoo, Otto, who is six years and much more sensible!

snapping at family members

Theo with a new haircut

Theo is a live wire, friendly, affectionate and funny.

For some reason, though, there are times when he snaps. They feel that he’s unpredictable, but on looking more closely, the snapping can actually be predicted – at least, the triggers can.

The snapping began immediately after he was castrated.

It was the second day after he’d been castrated a couple of months ago. They had taken his ‘lampshade’ off because he couldn’t eat with it on. It was when they went to put it back on that he went for them.

Things went downhill after this with Theo’s snapping.

Looking back one can understand at the time he may still have been suffering from the anaesthetic and the collar must have been a great annoyance. He simply didn’t want to by pulled about anymore. He snapped.

It took them totally by surprise.

One thing he will have quickly learnt is that snapping makes people recoil and back off. Now, whenever he doesn’t want to be touched or pulled about, he air snaps. Snapping works. They stop.

Very fortunately he’s not yet drawn blood but the direction things are going it’s only a matter of time before the snapping becomes real biting if something isn’t done.

It’s a shame because he is such a friendly little dog. He loves self-initiated cuddles. When out in crowds he seems to revel in lots of attention and being touched. The snapping has only happened to family members so far.

The incidents can be grouped into snapping when he’s been touched whilst resting or sleeping and most particularly if it’s come as a surprise; snapping when they try to take something off him; snapping when he’s pulled about in some way and simply doesn’t want it – like having his back legs toweled.

Like other people I have been to recently, Theo’s family is another that doesn’t regularly use food for reinforcement so they, too, are missing their trump card.

If the dog sees hands as the transporters of food, hands will be a lot more welcome!

One good thing is that he is fed on Bakers! Yes – this is good! It’s good because immediately they should be able to improve Theo’s mood by feeding him on something with healthier ingredients and without all those additives – better brain food.

Otto

Otto

They need to prevent any further rehearsal of the snapping. They now know his flash points and must avoid them.

No touching him when he’s resting because sometimes he snaps. No touching him when he’s sitting beside them on the sofa – because sometimes he snaps.

He sleeps on their bed. Inadvertently the other night, the lady put her hand on him and he flew at them in their own bed. He was wild, snapping repeatedly as they held up the duvet to protect themselves.

They will now shut him out of their bedroom.

They will no longer try to take anything off him. If something is dropped on the floor and he looks like he wants it, they will no longer simply bend over and pick it up – just in case he snaps at their hand!  

This is all well and good for now

It’s not a way to live into the future and it’s not realistic to expect people to be on high alert all the time, so work needs to be done.

I concocted some exercise and set-ups for the family to work through Theo’s issues with him. In brief these include:

Getting him to touch their hands when they ask him to with some clicker training.

When he’s lying on the sofa, sitting down away from him and calling him over. If he comes to them he gets a reward and a brief fuss. If he doesn’t they leave him be.

They will swap an item he’s holding for food, admire it, making a game of it, giving it back.

They will then swap items for food and sometimes keep them.

Because they are afraid to pick up dropped items without Theo snapping, they will deliberately drop things he might find interesting – little bits of rubbish and point it out to him – ‘Look!’. Having thanked him and exchanged for something better, if it’s something he would like they can give it to him.

Snapping is rarely totally unpredictable unless the dog is asleep and taken by surprise, which is predictable in a way with a dog like Theo. He will give some subtle warning. Maybe little signs in quick succession which with more knowledge they will pick up on. They can check when he does come over to him that touching is what he wants. Does your dog want to be petted – consent test

It’s a bit strange that Theo’s change in behaviour came on so suddenly. I’m told that in the past he has twitched or sort of hiccuped at times, and I noticed he made a few twitches like little spasms when he was on his back. If things don’t greatly improve with the snapping, he will go back to the vet for more extensive tests.

Being Theo myself, going to a Theo was funny!

I called him “Theo, Come! and gave him a treat. Reinforcement is vital.

If someone called me “Theo, come!” and when I got there the person simply shrugged and said ‘”nothing”, I would probably ignore them another time!

I would like Cadbury’s Wholenut Chocolate please.

TheoIt’s two-and-a-half months now: We are so pleased with Theo.  He is such a different dog to the one you met.  The best thing is that, with your help and guidance, it has all come about through kindness and understanding, which is how we have always wanted it to be.The more affection he gets, the more he wants.  He will often come and sit at my feet, asking for his tummy to be tickled, or will just come and rest his chin on my lap.  He walks around the house wagging his tail.  Theo is such a bright dog; we just love being with him each day. We seem to have reached a very happy understanding of one another and we have a routine that works for all of us. Thank you so much for all your help.  We are so grateful.
Three weeks after my visit: We have had another super week with Theo. No flashpoints, just a lovely happy dog. This morning I walked the dogs with a friend and her sensible Labrador. We let them all of the leads as we were on a track surrounded by fields. Theo was brilliant; he stayed on the footpath and came straight back whenever I called him, no matter how far ahead or behind he was.
Two weeks have gone by and I have received email feedback ending: “We are really pleased with progress far.  Your guidance has been invaluable.  Within the first week, we were all just feeling relieved at the improvement in his behaviour (and probably ours!) and we felt we could at least live with him.  Now, at the end of two weeks, I can honestly say it is a pleasure to be with him.  He is having fun, he is affectionate and more relaxed. We realise that we need to be aware of our actions and his possible reactions, but it is so rewarding to work with 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 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 Theo 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 aggression of ny kind 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)

Too excited, over-aroused

Too excited, arousal and raised stress levels.

Some dogs and certain breeds of dogs, as we all know, are a lot more prone to being too excited than others (with many exceptions of course).

Jack Russell gets too excited

Jill

I went to the sweetest pair of Jack Russells yesterday – I’ll call them Jack and Jill. Jill is four years old and Jack eighteen months. We love our perky, bright and quick little dogs but because they are so reactive to things their stress levels easily rocket and this high state of arousal spreads tentacles that can adversely affect many areas of the dogs’ (and their owners’) lives.

A bit like the swan analogy of serene above water but paddling frantically underneath, even when dogs like this that get too excited appear peaceful or asleep, the adrenaline and arousal chemicals are still circulating inside their bodies.

It can take several days for the increased cortisone levels raised by a sudden shock or high excitement to fully go away but this will seldom happen because the next lot will come flooding in. It doesn’t take much to increase the heart rate of an already innately excitable dog – ball play, mail landing on the doormat,  encountering another dog when out or even someone dropping a spoon can trigger a flood of adrenaline and cortisone.

We obviously don’t want our dogs to be comatose, but continually being ‘too excited’ isn’t healthy either.

With Jack and Jill’s arousal levels lowered a bit, it will affect most areas of their lives.

JR who can be too excited, calm on his bed

Jack

When they are prevented from looking out of the front window, Jill in particular will no longer get into a barking frenzy when the children pass by on their way to and from school.

When upon coming home their humans allow the dogs to calm down before giving them too much fuss, Jack’s arousal levels will no longer drive him to leap about and grab hands.

When the key goes to unlock the back door, the dogs currently yo-yo up and down, barking and scratching the door, winding themselves up massively and ready to burst out. They no doubt believe their excitable behaviour actually causes the door to open. It will no longer happen.

When, on letting the dogs out, they attach a long lead to Jack for the first couple of minutes until his excitement abates a little, he won’t in an overflow of arousal redirect onto poor Jill who may then, equally wound up, snap at him.

By doing all they can to avoid the dogs getting too excited needlessly, they will help Jill to become generally calmer and less jumpy. She will be less fearful. Being less fearful, she will be more relaxed with people entering her house. Being less jumpy and fearful she will be less reactive to sudden sounds. She will bark less. Jack will bark less.

The dogs will gradually learn to calm themselves; they will work it out that calm now works best.

A calmer backdrop will in itself, over time, transform the walks for both Jack and Jill, and their humans. No longer will young Jack be so excited that he pulls in a barking frenzy as soon as he see another dog, joined by a hyped-up Jill who may then snap at 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 Jack and Jill. 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. 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)

Overprotective Dog Causes Problems

Swiss Shepherd is overprotectiveAn overprotective dog can take over a person’s life, as is the case with the young lady and her stunning two-year-old White Swiss Shepherd, Jake.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but had he had more intensive socialisation at a much younger age things could be different. As it is, the lady only had him living with her from the age of six months and since then she has moved with him from a home overseas with lots of open countryside where they met few people and dogs to life in a town.

It’s tragic that the dog into which she has put in so much training, effort and love is also spoiling her life. His reactivity to both people and other dogs means she can’t freely go out with him or meet friends and it makes people coming to her house difficult because she has to watch him all the time. When she chose him it was to have a companion that could share all her activities, not a bodyguard.

Jake had been barking at me from his crate as I stood beside the lady who was making us coffee, probably in a panic because he was powerless to protect her from a stranger, Let out, he now followed at her heels, panting, as she moved around the kitchen. We had sat down for a while and in order that he would associated me with good stuff, I threw food well away from myself onto the floor. He ate my food but ignored me completely.  Without looking at him I then casually held my hand down with a piece of food in it. He came over to take the food and as he did so I heard the lady quickly draw breath – and Jake heard it too. He very suddenly barked at me and snapped – not making contact.

It’s easy to underestimate the effect of a human’s state of anxiety upon her dog. There is an invisible cord between dog and lady, the dog as much on high alert to her every signal as she is to his. Because she’s on tenterhooks her overprotective dog could sense vulnerability I’m sure.

This was one very confident dog doing his job, that of protecting the lady. He was in no way fearful of me.

Bearing in mind that consequence drives behaviour, what does he gain by barking at someone? It will usually result in withdrawal of some sort. It will always result in attention from the lady.

Jake’s reactivity and unpredictability out on walks is all part of the same overprotective thing with an added component – he is trapped on the end of a lead, helpless against other dogs who may come too near and be a threat to his human or to himself. It’s understandable that he ‘goes berserk’.

Being overprotective is at the root of everything. The young owner has a friend who walks Jake and visits her house. When she’s not there he is apparently a different dog. As soon as she comes home he changes his behaviour towards the friend and goes into bodyguard mode.

The lady knows of nowhere else to walk before and after work when time is short but the local park and there are always dogs in the park. Even when just walking the streets she can’t avoid other dogs. She has made great headway with getting Jake used to passing people when they are out, but dogs are another matter. You can’t control other people’s dogs (wouldn’t it be great if we could!).

It is simply impossible to work on a proper counter-conditioning programme in uncontrolled situations as finding that ‘threshold’ distance from another dog is crucial. The only solution is to find a place to go by car made impossible by time constraints. There must somehow be a way.

Dealing with the whole issue of Jake being overprotective rather than dealing specifically with his reactivity to dogs and people should help. Primarily, this means reducing his need to constantly protect the lady which requires a change of emphasis in their relationship with one another. The more opportunities she can find to be the ‘protector’ and decision-maker and the more she can act independently of him when they are together, making breaks in that invisible cord connecting them, the better.

Manners Maketh Dog!

The stunning German Shepherd lacks manners

Prince is aptly named.

He is treated like a prince and he behaves like a prince!  He lacks what I can only call manners.

About eighteen months ago I regularly saw a lady walking her German Shepherd puppy down my road. Soon, as he grew a bit bigger, she was walking him on a Halti.

I would watch as the pup repeatedly tried to scrape the thing off on the ground or with his paw.

One day, thinkingStunning German Shepherd lacks manners how frustrated and uncomfortable he must be feeling, I stopped to talk to the lady. I told her about a harness with the ring on the front, the Perfect Fit, and that if she wished I would pop in to show her.

The other day, over a year later, she phoned me. She is at her wits’ end with a dog that pulls despite the Halti. The other day he jumped up at the postman and he wasn’t being friendly.

Although I went to help the lady with walks, it was soon apparent that I wouldn’t get far if Prince isn’t treated a bit differently at home by the man in particular, learning some manners. Prince rules the couple’s life.

The retired man, who chose to have a German Shepherd, is unable to walk him due to health reasons so the much slighter lady has the job.

We need to be in control of a powerful dog. In this case Prince is mostly in control of his humans.

.

It’s like the man is the dog’s – not the dog the man’s!

It’s common for a dog to follow a person about. In this case, if Prince is out of sight for a minute the man gets up to check on him.

The dog jumps all over him, he grabs his arm with his teeth. The man will stir up an already excited dog and, to quote, Prince goes ‘berserk’ when his son calls. He finds it amusing but I find it unacceptable, dangerous even.

The man is at home all day and he and Prince are inseparable. He obeys every whim of the dog but if Prince is asked to do something he’s likely to ignore it. The constant attention and fuss make Prince what he is and it seems the man can’t help himself. He insists his dog is the softest dog who would never really hurt anyone.

We were adjusting his harness when Prince air snapped at me. A warning (which I heeded!).

Oh dear.

It’s so hard for the lady to walk a large dog that takes little notice of her. It’s not only about equipment but also the relationship between human and dog.

She walked Prince around the garden beautifully on the new harness. For the next three days she will be going out several times a day for five or ten minutes instead of one hour-long walk, loose-lead walking outside the house.

Then I shall be going back. We will extend the walk a bit further and look at what to do when passing barking dogs behind garden gates and what to do if something suddenly appears.

I must confess I am worried about this one. Prince’s genetics aren’t great. His mother was so aggressive they couldn’t see her. His father was a police dog. Several of the eleven siblings were returned due to aggression problems – having said which, the couple’s kindness instead of using ‘dominance’ tactics may well have saved him from the same fate.

I really hope the man now realises how important it is for them to control Prince (I don’t mean to dominate the dog but to teach him manners and training in a positive way). He really needs some serious training and brain-work. Internet advice may tell them to be ‘Alpha’. Prince would have none of that! Try dominating him or making him do something he doesn’t want to do and it can only go one way – down the slippery slope to anger.

Unless I am taken seriously I can see somebody getting bitten. I worry for the grandchildren. The gentleman knows the new dog law means someone need only to feel threatened for him to be prosecuted. They were lucky with the jumped-upon postman. Next time they may not be so lucky. I feel he’s in denial.

From our bantering and friendly conversation I know the very genial man won’t mind me saying that he doesn’t really take the matter, or me, very seriously.

The lady does, however.

 

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 prince. I don’t go into detail. 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 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 Get My Help page)

No Motivation, No Training

Tricolour Cavalier KC on sofa

Jack

In an interview Jean Donaldson says, ‘no motivation, no training’.

The family I went to yesterday describe their seven-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Jack, as stubborn. I would call him unmotivated. That little face says it al!

Motivation really is just the drive that makes him want to do something. It can be inspired by gaining something rewarding, like fun, food or appreciation – or by avoiding something he doesn’t like.

So far as our relationship with our dogs is concerned, the choice is a no-brainer. Reward not fear.

When the lady wants him to go to his bed, she has to lay a trail of treats to bribe him because otherwise he takes no notice of her (the little monkey will go to bed for the four-year-old daughter!). He likes to pinch the children’s toys and then, when the lady tries to take them off him, he growls and may snap. I noticed that if she calls him he ignores her unless she tries very hard. However, when the man tells him to do something he does it straight away and he simply takes things out of Jack’s mouth with no trouble at all.

I suspect that Jack is just a little wary of disobeying the man but knows the lady is powerless to make him do anything he doesn’t want to do. Refusing is fun as it gains him so much attention.

If he takes a child’s toy, it leads to a somewhat scary game where he will ‘treasure’ the item and if he could speak he would be saying, ‘I dare you to come and take this’. What’s in it for Jack to give the item up straight away or, more importantly, not to take it in the first place?

Blenheim Cavalier King Charles

Charlie

So far as going to his bed or coming in from the garden is concerned, what’s in it for him, after all? Not complying gets the best results.

It is really so easy to get our dogs to cooperate if we motivate them with plenty of positive reinforcement and appreciation for doing what we want. It’s so important to show them what it is we do want. Different things motivate different dogs so we can experiment. Rewarding is a lot different to bribing. Calling him to his bed and rewarding him when he gets there is a lot different to throwing treats into his bed and luring him there.

Jack is a plump little dog and probably seldom really hungry, so I say he should be fed a lot less and earn some of his food. He can earn special stuff for special things like exchanging or dropping something he has nicked. If this is approached with a sense of humour and all confrontation is avoided, the problem should disappear. Jack never damages the item so they can safely ignore it. At the moment it’s a bit dangerous as the young children may try to take one of their toys off him and the parents are constantly on edge.

The family can do plenty of exchange games – always exchanging for something better (to him) than the item he’s got – the rule being nobody, ever, should force anything off him. He will then find the ‘pinching and treasuring’ game not worth playing anymore. They can teach him that if he picks something up, it’s a far better game to bring it to them instead of ‘possessing’ it.

For the lady’s attention to have value to Jack, attention shouldn’t be constantly available on tap – whenever he demands it. He needs to be taught to earn her attention whilst giving her his full attention when asked. For food to be of value there should be less of it and rewards a little more tasty.

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

Living with the Weimerana is a Battle

DiefenAs I walked in, 6-year-old Weimerana Dudley was jumping up at the child gate near the front door, barking somewhat scarily. Following the young lady into the living room, he leapt up at my face. I just kept turning away until he got the message and sat down and then I briefly tickled his chest just to show him I appreciated a polite and controlled greeting. I quickly discovered that positive feedback for desired behaviour was lacking. When he is quiet and good they quite understandably and literally ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ so as not to start him off again.

Dudley has been staying with his young lady owner’s parents for several weeks and he has turned their lives upside down. They are doing very best to meet the challenge. His owner is trying to sell her house and because of his behaviour can’t have Dudley there when she is showing people around. In fact I was the first guest the parents had dared have to their house in the weeks they had had him there.

There were such a catalogue of things that need dealing with that it was hard to know where to start without overwhelming them. They all fed into Dudley’s almost obsessive need to control them. With their attention not on him, he whined constantly knowing they all have a breaking point and will give in – I watched him whine at the lady until gave up her place on the sofa to him.

Dudley whines for them in the middle of the night if he hears any movement, he whines if they are talking or on the phone, when he shares the lady’s bed he will bark at her if she moves her legs, he guards the door to stop people leaving. In addition to his own meals, he whines while they are eating so they give him some of their own food.

He’s not as brave as you’d think, though. He backs away and shakes when approached with his collar or lead, and is likely to snap if they’re not careful. They use a Gentle Leader head halter to control his pulling – you can see the mark on his muzzle in my photo (I find it hard to see how this is ‘gentle’ but he is extremely strong and heavy; I hope he will soon be walking nicely without it).

Worst of all, Dudley has bitten several times, drawing blood. He bit the father a couple of times while guarding something he considered a resource, he has suddenly bitten ‘out of the blue’ when stroked, he has bitten the mother on a walk when she bent to untangle the lead from his legs. He may lean his heavy body on them, growling and grabbing an arm or sleeve if he thinks they may be going out somewhere, and may attack the door handle.  ‘Commanding’ him invites defiance. Using rewards can be difficult because he mugs the hand with the food in it.

His behaviour took a dramatic turn for the worse after he had been left with a dog sitter for a week a couple of years ago. One can fairly safely guess that this person used ‘dominant’, punishment-based methods on him in order to force him to comply. It seems that poor Dudley is totally confused and it is all about STOPPING him from doing things. It’s a battle. I started by suggesting they control his food and control his access to certain parts of the house.

I showed them positive feedback for desired behaviour instead. I got them to completely ignore all the whining because he would have to take a break eventually, and we then immediately and in silence dropped tiny treats on the floor in front of him. We did the same whenever he sat down quietly, whenever he lay down – in fact, whenever he did something good. I called him quietly, rewarded him, asked him to lie down which he did, and I worked him. I used gentle ‘requests’, not ‘commands’, and simply waited until he did what I had asked. Then I demonstrated how to get him to take a treat from my hand politely.

Dudley was focussed; a different dog. He needs more fulfilment in life so that he no longer needs to create his own.

This beautiful boy is going to be a big challenge and they will need to be determined, patient and consistent. They have shown already how committed they are. I shall keep closely in touch with them until they feel they have turned the corner. Understanding the things he SHOULD do will take a huge weight from him and he should become a lot more relaxed and cooperative.

 

A Supremely Confident Cocker Spaniel

Confident Cocker SpanielThe main reason a dog may snap is because of fear – he feels threatened in some way.

A very confident young dog

Sometimes a dog may snap because a resource he regards as his is being threatened. In the case of Lewis, a beautiful ten-month-old golden Cocker Spaniel, it’s certainly not due to fear.

Lewis is scared of nothing.

He is supremely confident, friendly with everybody and all dogs – and his recall when out is excellent when a ball is involved! In most ways he is a joy to have.

He’s snapped at his lady owner

What’s upset them is that Lewis has snapped at his lady owner several times. Each time it’s because she has tried to move him. Sometimes, due to circumstances, he has had to share their sleeping space  and it’s possible the confident dog regards this space as his resource.

He also isn’t keen on being brushed. Fortunately he hasn’t yet actually bitten.

He believes it’s quite OK for him to invade their space when he feels like it, but not so good if they invade his uninvited. He can be very excitable and quite demanding for attention. Clever Cocker Spaniels can be very creative and very persistent at finding ways to get under our skin!!

The concerning thing is that Lewis doesn’t give a noticeable warning before he snaps. He may go still and he may curl his lip, but because it’s usually dark this goes unnoticed. There is no growling.

As I’ve said before, growling is actually a good thing. The dog is telling us how he feels and it’s for us then to work out why and to do something about that. It is much more difficult if the dog acts impulsively and lacks this inhibition.

Removing opportunity

The two issues that need dealing with are ‘opportunity’ and his relationship with his owners.

It’s fairly simple to ensure Lewis always sleeps in his own space when away from home. Because they are afraid he may snap, they are afraid to manhandle him in any way. They are relying on bribing and enticing him to give things up or to go somewhere. This gives a defiant teenage dog plenty of scope to play them up and to take control!

They will work at gaining his cooperation and respect using rewards relevant to Lewis and getting him to work things out for himself: ‘If I do this, so and so will happen, if I don’t do that, so and so won’t happen’.

They may need to be imaginative and sometimes outwit their confident dog also! They themselves need to be more relevant to Lewis, in that when they do ask him to do something, to give something to them or call him to them, he is eager to oblige.

In Lewis’ case, this quote from Jordan Rothman is especially relevant: To control your dog, control what motivates your dog: food, toys, belly rubs, attention, access to other dogs etc.’