Fighting Saint Bernard and Boxer

Harry is a St.Bernard mix


Great Dane Blue and Boxer Sebastian lived happily together with their owners. Both dogs have their own traits – Blue is a bit needy probably due to health issues when he was a puppy, and Sebastian is very exuberant.

Then, about a year ago, they added Harry, a St.Bernard, to the mix. Things seemed to go very well until about four weeks ago when the St.Bernard and the Boxer had their first big fight. Since then,  as soon as they have come into each other’s presence there has been a big fight and damage, especially to Sebastian. The situation seemed to come out of the blue, but in hindsight the unchecked play between the two dogs was becoming extreme and should have been a warning sign. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.

I personally nip in the bud boisterous play between my own dogs the minute it looks like getting out of hand with any body-slamming or ‘hunting down’. The problem now with Harry and Sebastian is that their entry level is hackles, snarling and FIGHT.Great Dane and Boxer at the window. They now need to be kept apart

The ingredients seem to a mix of Blue, who keeps out of the way, but generally hypes up the atmosphere with excessive barking and anxiety especially if the lady of the house is out of sight, and Sebastian who tends to be over-excitable. One-year-old Great Dane Harry is a calmer dog, but is now an adolescent challenging Sebastian, and there is a lot of testosterone flying about.

In order to keep the two dogs separate means constantly moving dogs about the house like chess pieces, two in the garden while the third comes downstairs, one in the utility room while two are fed elsewhere, two upstairs while the third is let out into the garden – and so on. Very difficult. The people are incredibly patient and doing everything they can possibly find to remedy the situation between their beloved dogs, but are naturally extremely worried and wonder whether it will ever end.

Not having witnessed the fighting, I have to guess what triggers it. I suspect a cocktail of doggy personalities, over-excitement, stress and teenage testosterone. Most have kicked off in doorways.

We are working on the humans creating as calm an atmosphere as possible. Meanwhile, so that the humans will be able to relax when the rehabilitation process begins, both dogs will be introduced to muzzles in such a way that over the next two or three weeks they will learn to welcome them and happily be able to spend some time muzzled. Sebastian will probably get his off and eat it! However, Harry is the main aggressor and does the most damage.

Now, with a calmer environment, some rules in place and muzzles accepted, they need to work at re-introducing the dogs bit by bit, initially just walking one past the other a few times on lead at home, interrupting any eye-balling, along with parallel walking techniques out in the open. I sincerely hope that this works and that the two dogs, like some humans, do not now hate each other to the extent they simply can’t live together. Splitting up a St.Bernard fighting a large Boxer is no joke.

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 Blue and Sebastian. 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 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).
Young black labrador lying down

Aggression Around Food Bowl

Millie is a gorgeous five-and-a-half month old Labrador of working stock. Apart from some jumping up she really was the model dog when I was there, biddable and affectionate. She has a lovely family who do everything good dog-owners should.

Twice every day, when she has her meals, her stress levels rocket and afterwards she is so aroused and wild that she is chewing furniture, jumping around the place, humping her bed, stealing things and being quite a challenge.

From the moment the lady or gentleman goes to the cupboard to get her food out of the bin she is becoming fired up. I saw this for myself. I didn’t see what usually follows as I suggested we put the food somewhere high and went back into the other room until she had calmed down.

What happens is, as the food goes down Millie starts to snarl and her hackles rise. Her whole demeanour completely changes. As she gulps the food down she sounds ferocious. They have tried many of the most usual things suggested for food guarding and she merely gets worse. Trying to add good stuff to the bowl as is often suggested – even throwing it from a distance – may cause her to launch herself at them.

One thinFive and a half month old black labradorg that was a little clue to me is that, when she’s finished eating, she attacks the metal bowl and throws it about. I suspect this is as much about the bowl as it is about the actual food. When given a treat, for instance, although she may be a bit snatchy there is no aggression. She was like this more or less from the start and it’s getting worse and worse. She was the smallest puppy in the litter of eight. Food guarding problems can start when the puppies are all fed together out of one bowl and one is pushed out.

The family hadn’t fed her so we worked out a plan. They now had the food out of the cupboard ready (in future they will get the food out in advance). Millie had calmed down and we went back to the kitchen. I watched the lady over the breakfast bar as she followed my suggestions, to see if I had indeed hit upon a workable tactic.

(NB. If you have a dog with these sort of issues, please don’t assume that this approach as suitable for your own dog. It may be the very worst things you can do. It’s important to get professional help so that strategies are based on diagnosis of your dog’s own specific behaviour in context).

The lady was to feed her at the furthest corner from the door and away from any people passing, directly onto the floor.  Millie was calm. A container with her food (not her own bowl) was on the surface beside the lady who had her hands behind her back and was facing this corner. Millie was thinking – what’s this about? Where’s my food? She looked the lady in the eye who immediately said ‘Yes’ and dropped a small handful of the food on the floor in front of her. Millie ate it calmly. The lady waited. Millie looked into her eyes again, ‘Yes’ and more food went down. This carried on until the last handful whereupon the lady walked out and left Millie to it. She shut the gate behind her to pre-empt any wild behaviour being taken into the sitting room. There was none.

They will do this for at least a couple of weeks before upping the ante. Millie should be a lot calmer in general without these manic bouts twice a day and I reckon small signs of aggression that are developing in other areas will disappear.

The next step in the process will be to drop the food onto a flat place mat rather than directly onto the floor and see how that goes. There is no rush. After a week or two they can try something with shallow sides like a tray, moving onto a low-sided heavy baking dish, eventually using a large, heavy porcelain dog bowl and not the small metal bowl she now has.

There are other things to put into place also, but I believe the jigsaw will eventually be complete if they are sufficiently patient and try not to hyper her up to much in general.

Five weeks later: “I’m pleased to report that Millie is definitely showing improvement in most areas, including growling over her food. We are still feeding her onto a place mat but when it spills off the side I can reach down and push it back onto the mat without any reaction from her at all, which is good. We are doing what we can to keep her stress levels down and it’s definitely making a difference to her overall behaviour. “

NB. The precise protocols to best and most safely use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Millie, which is why I don’t go into exact detail details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good, causing danger even. 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).

Springer Spaniel Attacks Them. Frenzy of Rage

in the evening their Springer Spaniel attacks themThis is beautiful ten-year-old Springer Bracken when we first sat down and before the lady wanted to move from her chair.

It is hard to believe that this dog, about half an hour later, had exploded into a blind rage. There was no hint to look at her just how she would transform when either the lady or gentleman wanted to move.

Their Springer Spaniel attacks them

If I had moved it would have been okay – it’s only the lady or gentleman.

To quote the lady, Bracken is ‘sweetness and light’ in the morning, but as the day wears on her anxiety, stress and resulting aggressive behaviour increases.

By the evening they have to leave her in the kitchen after tea and dare not go back in there again until the morning because their Springer Spaniel attacks them.

Naturally this isn’t the full story of Bracken and her medical history. They have been in contact with their vet. I feel that had the vet actually witnessed an episode like I did she would agree that there may be more going on.

A neurological problem?

I wonder whether Bracken has some sort of chemical imbalance or neurological problem.

This is what happened. So that I could meet Bracken and maybe see how she reacts, she was allowed to join us yesterday evening. I suggested she trailed a lead – just in case – never dreaming how fortunate that was to be.

When the lady wanted to move it began, as usual apparently, with signs of acute anxiety followed by snarling and growling. I asked the man to lead Bracken away from our end of the room in order to remove her from the situation that was making her so anxious and so the lady could get up to make us a cup of tea.

The dog lost it.

Bracken didn’t want this at all. The dog lost it. She went wild.

I have never seen anything like it my life. She was in a total frenzy. Fortunately she attacked the lead while the man held it away from him – sort of climbing up it. He let go and the snarling dog immediately cornered the lady by the front door. The man managed to get her into the kitchen – where she instantly went quiet.

Fortunately no blood was drawn this time.

How truly terrible for people to have a dog that loves them during the day but in the evening morphs into this frenzied, angry animal.

Because it gets worse as the day wears on, we listed all the things that arouse Bracken. They will be doing all they can to de-stress her. During the calm mornings they will teach her a couple of strategies for when someone is walking about.

Along with a few other things, her diet needs to be changed and controlled; food may be the one route to gaining her willing cooperation because confrontation and commands only make her worse.

It could be an extremely slow process but there should be some evidence quite soon whether a behaviour approach is likely to be the answer. We will most likely need to get some backup form the vet by way of medication.

This is a distressing nightmare for the owners who have loved and cared for Bracken since she was a puppy – and it must be hell for Bracken. This isn’t the true dog.

She is being driven by something she can’t control.

A couple of weeks later. “Thanks Theo for all your help. We are having a calmer week – due to the most part to your helpful advice”.
Three weeks later. “We are keeping up the training methods suggested by you and she seems a calmer happier dog”.

Giant Schnauzer Aggressive Around Food

Handsome Giant Schnauzer Ollie lying on the rugOllie the Giant Schnauzer is a wonderful dog to look at. He is also a wonderful dog temperamentally, friendly and confident – whilst being an adolescent who has been gradually becoming a bit big for his hairy boots!

They did choose the breed to be guard dog, but they want a family pet also, and the two don’t go well together.

Ollie’s big problem is extreme guarding around his food. He is now 19 months old, and about nine month ago he started to growl when anyone approached him while he was eating. Initially the gentleman (who does most of Ollie’s feeding) found that Ollie was OK so long as he held his food bowl for him while he ate (like his private butler!). Over the months they have tried scolding, punishment, encouraging him, spraying him with a pet ‘Corrector’, taking his food away, not taking his food away – basically everything that well-meaning friends and family, the dog trainer they go to or the Internet tells them to do. Dominance techniques are dangerous. Ollie is merely getting worse.

The growling has now developed to barking and snarling and they fear he would bite if they got too close. So they wisely leave him alone while he is eating, but now he comes looking for trouble! He will stand over his bowl and bark and then run in to them and bark before running back out to defend his food again!

It seems like he wants to goad the gentleman into a contest over who owns his food. It seems clear to me that they must not play his game which involves confrontation, whilst at the same time working from a psychological approach covering all aspects of their relationship with Ollie. Just shutting Ollie away to get on with his meal may be playing safe, but doesn’t resolve anything. The strategy involves working a bit at a time, probably over several weeks at least, showing that they are in control of all food (and everything else in Ollie’s life also), and that they are the providers and ‘givers’. Never ‘takers’. Oh why do some people advocate taking food away or interfering with a dog’s food while he is eating! Anyway, now he will get his food when, where and how the gentleman chooses, and a humans presence will be accompanied by good stuff – adding to his bowl.

He has another problem that needs ironing out, and that is pulling on lead. He has been going to dog training classes for many months, and if these particular training methods taught were working for Ollie, by now he would be walking nicely without constant correction and being commanded to heel! It amazes me that people are willing to put up with week after week of no progress outside of their training class, but they keep going (and then it’s quite common for people to expect my ‘be a joy to walk with so you have a cooperative and willing dog’ approach to be instant)! Everything takes a certain amount of time and work, but how much better for everyone to appeal to the dog’s psychology than to use force and correction. Especially with a dog of this size, loose lead walking is a must.

Ollie is very ready to be defiant, and the methods used have been mostly to do with ‘training’ and commands mixed with indulgence, rather than allowing him to work out for himself how to make good things happen by rewards for the right behaviours. I also found he was very willing to be cooperative if treated a certain way. The family have a very good sense of humour and can see the humorous side to Ollie, and I am sure will find intuitive and inventive ways of gaining the upper hand by earning his respect and sometimes even outwitting him, whilst actually finding it quite fun!

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

Hates Dogs When On-Lead, Fine Off-Lead

German Shepherd Holly with her large earsHolly is a German Shepherd with an impressive pedigree of champions – and with very big ears! A beautiful girl. She has been well trained by careful and caring owners.

I was called in to see them because of Holly’s reactivity to other dogs when she is on lead – seemingly changing character, snarling, lunging and acting scary and I saw her react in a similar way when the paper boy put the newspaper through the door. She is also very protective of her home territory which is a breed thing anyway but she is a bit extreme. She patrols the boundary of the property which is surrounded by a footpath, barking frantically if the person has a dog.

The lady feels she no longer is strong enough to walk her so the man is the dog walker. He was already making progress before I came, and being more confident than the lady he lets Holly off lead and has discovered that, off lead, Holly is a different dog. She may be a little wary of a dog and drop down, she may run wanting to play, she investigates and she will come away when called.

Like most people who phone me, they start off by listing their dog’s good qualities, feeling disloyal when they start to list problems. It is very common for me to hear ‘she is no trouble at all at home – it’s only out on walks’. As with Holly, I usually discover that there are relevant issues at home. Her good points indeed far outweigh any negatives. However, she persistently jumps at people whether they are sitting or standing, especially visitors, and she gets in quite a panic at people going past with dogs, the postman and even squirrels.

Holly is a good example of where training alone doesn’t provided the answer. For example, she understands No and Off but she will jump up again if she feels like it. Holly’s recall is usually good and she has been trained to ‘come’, but she will ignore it if she is boundary barking. She could possibly be stopped with a training gadget like an air collar – but this wouldn’t get to the root of the problem. It would be a quick fix and probably make things worse – like a plaster keeping a festering wound out of sight. It is the same when they encounter other dogs. No amount of ‘training’ would stop her feeling as she does. This is a psychological behavioural issue requiring calm, patient and consistent leadership – not commands.

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

Possessive Puppy


Golden Cocker 6 months oldLast evening I had the pleasure of visiting a beautiful Golden Cocker Spaniel pup called Monty (sorry I moved when I took the photo). He is nearly six months old.  His owners have been trying to do all the right things with training him, but as a little personality he is more of a challenge than some more easy going dogs!

He was the bossiest and according to the breeder most dominant of the puppies in his litter. She was going to keep him but opted for an easier life!

Monty is ‘turning nasty’ when he is told to do something, or not to do something, and doesn’t wish to obey. There is a bamboo plant in the garden that is like a magnet to him and he loves to tear bits off and chew them up. The people are confrontational in their approach, may try to pull him away, tell him ‘leave’ or shout at him or even go to pick him up.  He has taken to growling, snarling and biting them. The same happens if they try to get him off the sofa.

He will show aggression if he has anything in his mouth that they don’t want him to have, or even if he thinks they might want it. It can be impossible to get it off him without a battle. He has now also started to guard his bed.

In every other respect he is a brilliant dog and the way to change this behaviour is for the owners to change theirs.

At present there are too many commands and words. There are five adults in the household and someone is on his case most of the time, either fussing and cuddling him or teling him what not to do. The word NO is overused. NO is even used before he does something, when he may do it and isn’t even doing it yet. This must be very confusing.

They are going to tone down the ‘controlling’ of Monty and keep commands to the minimum – try to cut out the word NO as far as they can and find other ways, positive ways, to get Monty to cooperate and to work things out for himself. I find a lot of people try to exert unecessary control over their young dogs.  You can achieve calm better by simply waiting in silence as you can be repeating Sit and Wait over and over.

When Monty has something in his mouth, they are going to ask themselves ‘does it matter?’. If the item isn’t particularly important and if it will do him no harm, they should leave it. Walk away. He is probably taking it because he enjoys the challenge and the reinforcement he receives.  If it is important that he relinquishes the item, they need to go about it another way. In essence, Monty needs to see his owners as Givers and not Takers. This needs to be reinforced on every possible occasion, even through how they choose to play with him.

In the case of things like the bamboo, there is only one way to retain peace in the household and that is to remove the opportunity. Block access to it for a while until he loses interest. Removing the opportunity for behaviours can save a lot of conflict and stress.

If you don’t tell your dog to do something he can’t refuse and defy you can he! You can usually find a way of outwitting him so does what you want whilst thinking it was his own idea! Keep your sense of humour and it can be fun.

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