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!
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.
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.
It’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)