Scared Barking. Fearful. Barks Constantly on Walks

I heard scared barking as I knocked on the door.

too much scared barking

Sid is gorgeous and I was expecting a Cavapoo. I don’t believe he is a Cavapoo though. The scared barking came from a dog looking more like a newly trimmed Cockerpoo.

There is definitely something fishy about his start in life, where they got him from at eleven weeks and the fact he was already incubating kennel cough.

The ‘breeder’ wouldn’t give her address until they were on the road. When they got there Sid was handed over to them straight away. There was a small Cavalier KC that they said was Sid’s father and a small black poodle that they said was his mother. No other dogs.

My suspicion is that this smart house was a front and very likely Sid had been shipped there from somewhere else.

Quarantined with kennel cough

Unfortunately, the couple lost even more time in acclimatising him to the real world because of the kennel cough. He had to be isolated for a couple more weeks.

I met a very fearful dog. Fortunately the scared barking stopped and I soon won him round with food.

I had to assure his lovely humans, first-time dog owners, that the fear issues were in no way caused by themselves. He’s now twenty-one months old and is a tribute to how well they have done generally.

Sid’s way of dealing with things is with frantic scared barking. It can be anything from a bird, to an approaching dog to a squeaking metal gate. He’s quite brave really.

Imagine what everything in the world must be like for a puppy that hasn’t had positive exposure to different people or dogs. Even those he has encountered may not have been the most pleasant experiences.

Sid doesn’t feel safe

Everything is a potential danger. In his highly-strung state he directs scared barking at anything and everything.

His arousal levels before he even starts a walk are such that he’s already set up not to cope. People and dogs he meets, bangs he hears and everything else around him is simply too much for him. So he reacts with continual scared barking.

He barks all the time they are out.

Sid barks loudly before even getting out of the car. This starts as soon as they slow down. It will be a mix of excited anticipation and scared barking I would imagine.

There is one bit of grass about fifty yards from the front of his house where he will toilet. He doesn’t even feel safe there. He looks all around first, then he does his business quickly and then runs away from it fast.

Taking things back to the beginning.

The work starts before they even leave the house (Sid’s sanctuary).

Before they open the door he is already getting stressed. He is scared of the harness and over-excited by the routine leading up to going out. They will work on the harness problem and change the routine. Slowly they will wait for calm.

He will never feel safe further afield if he doesn’t feel safe immediately outside their house, so near home is the place we must start.

They can lace the nearby grass where he feels so unsafe but where he must toilet with food – something he loves to help neutralise something he fears.

For the first couple of weeks they can spend lots of short sessions standing about outside, counter-conditioning him to all the sounds and sights that alarm him.

There is unlikely to be much traffic. They can use a long line so he can run for home should he wish to. An escape route is essential.

Walks are doomed

Meanwhile, they will need to go to further off-lead places by car. However, because of the state he gets into when getting out of the car, these walks are already doomed. I suggest they leave this, too, for at least a couple of weeks while they work closer to home.

Our next priority will be a quiet exit from the car to reduce scared barking and control over-excitement. People naturally resort to scolding; words like ‘enough’ may give a short break. This will only work in the moment and do nothing to improve the emotions that cause the scared barking – probably make it worse.

When he’s ready, we will look at teaching Sid what we DO want (quiet) rather than what we DON’T want (barking).

Clicker training will be the way to go so we can ‘capture’ the briefest of silences initially, gradually extending how long the quiet periods last for.

Though the scared barking is the problem for Sid’s humans, the barking itself isn’t the real problem. It’s a symptom. The problem is the emotion that causes him to bark.

They unfortunately can never make up for lost time or the ‘socialisation‘ Sid should have received ideally between three and thirteen weeks. They can, however, make a huge difference.

If never a social butterfly, he can become a lot more confident – given time and patience.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. 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. Click here for help

Early Exposure. Appropriate Acclimatisation to Life. Flooding

Another dog, a puppy this time, having lacked the right kind of early socialising and exposure in the earlier weeks, before she was twelve weeks of age.

Mia is now nearly four months old, a beautiful Catalan Shepherd puppy.

Little or no exposure to the real world

little or no exposure to the real worldPoor little Mia is extremely fearful of people. She is generally jumpy and is terrified of traffic.

They picked her up three weeks ago from a breeder with a great number of dogs in her house. Mia’s socialisation will have been great with other dogs but I suspect she had no exposure to anything outside the house.

Mia’s mother was scared of Mia’s new humans when they picked Mia up. That should have been a red flag. They are first time dog owners and simply wouldn’t have known what to look for.

A fearful mother will pass fearfulness on.

When they got Mia home they went straight into walking her three times a day. They took her to places believing it would help her. They encouraged people to ‘say hello’. This ended in a village fate with lots of people and a fairground and Mia froze.

This is flooding.

Since she arrived, rather than gaining confidence, Mia was becoming increasingly scared of going out.

Over the days, with all the new things to which she had had no early exposure, her stress levels will have mounted until she could no longer cope. Now they have a bigger problem than they had initially.

Bit by bit, where possibly she could have coped with one thing introduced at a time, the under-prepared puppy became overwhelmed with simply too much of everything. They must not blame themselves – anyone apart from an expert would have done exactly as they did. It’s not a normal situation.

Really it’s the breeder’s job to give a new dog owner the right information. It’s such a shame that many don’t recognise the importance of exposure – particularly to other dogs, to people and to traffic.

Puppies need early exposure

Puppy needs handling by various people from a young age. She needs taking out and about, exposure to different kinds of people, to shops and traffic, ideally well before her injections. She needs to travel in a car.

They have a large open kitchen and sitting room area. Little Mia remained as far as possible from me with the odd venture nearer to pick up food I threw. She barked at me and retreated.

I have personal experience with this with my own German Shepherd Milly. Ten years ago I brought the terrified puppy home from a client when she fourteen weeks of age. She came from a puppy farm and had had no exposure to anything whatsoever. It took her about three weeks before she would come anywhere near me.

I, however, didn’t push it. I took her nowhere and I left her alone. Bit by bit she got braver. Like Mia, she was fine with dogs and at the time I had three.

My Milly will never be a social butterfly but she has the tools to cope. 

Feeling safe

In order to learn to live life happily, Mia needs to feel safe. At the moment, if she sees anyone apart from the family or if she’s out of the house and garden, she’s terrified.

It was lovely to see how happy she could be when the teenage son went over to her. We want a lot more of that!

Like my Milly, she is no trouble at all. She’s not relaxed enough to be playful, nippy or naughty though I’m sure that will come now. Earlier in the evening she had had a little race around the garden having dug a hole. She had dug up a stone which she was having fun throwing about. A very good sign.

They must take things one at a time now. By avoiding exposure to things that scare her unless at a comfortable distance, they should slowly build her confidence and trust. This requires her having an escape route. At a distance, they will associate the things she’s scared of, most particularly people and traffic, with food (counter-conditioning).

If she won’t eat, they are still too close or it’s getting too much for her. They should stop.

Taking things one at a time

The plan involves breaking things down.

A harness will make sure she is comfortable. They will start by introducing her to this carefully, using food. She shrinks from the lead, knowing that she will then have to go out, so the lead needs working on, with no association with walks.

Next they will work on the threshold, the doorway. At the moment they have to carry Mia out of the door and down the road before they put her down because she’s so scared she pulls back for home.

By ‘lacing the environment’ just outside and leaving the door open with Mia on a long lead, they can work on this. She can run back in if she wants. She should soon feel safe enough to walk out of the door.

The next problem is her terror of traffic. With the door open and well back for the road, on a long lead so she can run back in, they will now pair passing traffic with food.

Being in the car is scary – Mia drools and shakes. They will briefly put her in the car, offer food and lift her out again. Lots of times. When they do drive her, it will be for one minute down the road to the woods which she fortunately finds okay.

They must prevent people from crowding the scared puppy.

It’s going to be a slow old business.

Take it easy – err on the cautious side. 

I have been to so many cases of both puppies and older dogs, from rescue in particular, where the people flood their new dog with too many new experiences.

I would say, however confident and calm the dog seems, take it easy. Introduce new things one at a time. It’s a whole lot better to err on the safe side.

So now, unless they really have to, I advise them to resist taking Mia out until she is ready. A little later they might carry her to the car and drive her to wood or park. A short journey to somewhere nice may help her to accept the car.

Once she does go out, they should constantly apply distance and counter-conditioning when she sees a person. If she is scared by something, then it’s is ‘too much’ or she is too close. They should abandon the walk and come home straight away.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Frantic Barking. Littermates. Not Prepared For Real Life.

I walked in the door to be met with frantic barking.

Brave Luna, with frantic barking, came right up to me. Her sister backed her up but with less enthusiasm.

Frantic barking at people and sounds

Luna

Luna and Bear are same-sex siblings. They are two-year-old Cavapoo Collies. What a mix! They were a bit smaller than I expected.

Walks are a nightmare due to the dogs’ reactivity to everything, their frantic barking and pulling. Consequently, the family don’t walk them regularly.

Their frantic barking at every sound when at home is annoying the neighbours. The lady has tried all sorts of things to stop the barking, some not pleasant for the dogs. None worked.

Addressing the root of the problem is the only way to get lasting improvement.

Clever dogs need variety, exercise and enrichment but their behaviour makes taking them out impossible. The family can’t walk them separately as the two little dogs won’t be separated.

Luna is the most stressed of the two and she is the more bossy one. This is often the way. One will overshadow the other. Bear, however, is more relaxed and without Luna may well have adjusted better to life.

Lack of exposure in crucial early weeks

Three main points have been working against the family.

Bear

The first is that the dogs, in the vital first twelve weeks of their lives, didn’t get the required socialisation and habituation to daily life all dogs need. Early socialisation and habituation.

They picked the puppies up at sixteen weeks old.

They were not prepared for meeting people, other dogs, bikes, sounds, vacuum cleaner…..all sorts of things. The real world is a scary nightmare.

The second point is that they are littermates which brings its own challenges.

The third is probably genetics. They tell me that the dogs’ brother is even more scared and reactive than Luna.

I didn’t list these things to discourage them, but so that they are realistic about what they are up against. It’s also important that they don’t in any way blame themselves.

Stress reduction

There is just one of these three things that they can actually do something about. That is what people call socialisation but which is really systematic desensitisation, habituation and counter-conditioning.

For their dogs to react differently, they need to work on their fear and stress levels.

Every time they take them out, every time they take them in the car where they simply shake with fear, the dogs are ‘flooded’. Flooding does them no good at all. Everything is too much.

Stress, fear, excitement/over-arousal is at the root of their behaviour. They haven’t been properly prepared at a sufficiently young age for the real world. Too many things both at home and out stress Luna in particular.

Living in a war zone

Just imagine being terrified every time you go out. It would be like living in a war zone.

Stress needs reducing in every way possible. Each time the dogs are alarmed and react with frantic barking, their stress levels go through the roof. With exploding stress levels, they bark and react even more. It’s Catch-22.

Stress reduction underpins everything we will do. The family will work on calming the dogs constantly and in every way possible.

So, against a calmer background, we need a plan of baby steps. We need to break things down into the tiniest of increments to desensitise and counter-condition the dogs to one thing at a time.

One dog at a time

Progress will be impossible with both dogs together. They will simply keep bouncing off one another rather than relating to their humans.

So, the first challenge here is to get them to accept being apart for just a minute or two to start with. Baby steps.

The family will start with a barrier or gate across the room so the dogs, whilst together, are separated. They can give each dog something to chew so it’s a positive experience. Bit by bit they can extend the time.

Then they can take one dog out of sight of the other.

The dogs must be comfortable with one step before going on to the next.

Eventually one dog can be on a long and loose lead by the open front door. Now the frantic barking at sounds and sights of the outside world, of passing people and so on, need working on.

Just being at the open front door is too much

How can the dog go for a happy walk when even being at the open front door is too much?

It’s impossible to say what progress they will make or how fast. Frequent short sessions in tiny increments will be a lot better than one long session.

Walks can currently only do more harm than good to the dogs. They are a nightmare for all due to the frantic barking at everything and the pulling.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs it can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Early Habituation. Socialisation. Variety

Lack of early habituation to people and life in general has a lot to answer for in a great number of the cases I go to.

This is neither sufficiently early habituation and socialisation, nor sufficiently comprehensive habituation.

Early habituation or socialisation?

We tend to say ‘socialisation’ when we mean ‘habituation’. What is the difference? The puppy needs exposure from a few weeks old and lots of early handling. The puppy needs early habituation to all sorts of people and situations – all without scaring her.

she lacked early habituation to peopleSpringer Spaniel Luna is a naturally happy and enthusiastic dog, so it’s a great shame her life is blighted by her fear of people she doesn’t know. This is particularly the case if they try to touch her. The fifteen-month-old dog doesn’t like people moving fast either, whether it’s jogging, on a bike or a child on a scooter.

Luna came from a gun dog breeder just like my own working Cocker, Pickle. Until he was three months old, Pickle lived in a pen in a barn with lots of other working-type spaniels and Labradors grouped in pens.

Outings were into a field out the back with the other puppies and dogs. There was no early socialisation or variety. Pickle met very few people nor did he encounter everyday things like vacuum cleaners or traffic.

I’m pretty sure that at the root of Luna’s problems is not having left the gun dog breeder until she was twelve weeks old. There will have been no early habituation or socialisation. She won’t have been taken out anywhere to meet a variety of people nor introduced to the outside world while still young enough to take it in her stride. She’s fine with other dogs however.

Never left all alone

The other thing that overshadows Luna’s happiness is her distress when left alone, even though it’s never for more than three hours.

Until they picked her up, Luna, like my Pickle, will never have been left all by herself. There will always have been the other dogs. This is another fallout from lack of early habituation – to being all alone for short periods.

By twelve weeks of age the window is closing.

They will now work on Luna’s fear of people by associating both those she hears from the garden and those she meets when out with something really special – a treat she loves which won’t be used for anything else.

Protecting her from unwanted attention

They will be more assertive about keeping people from touching her – an I Need Space vest should help. Beautiful young dogs like Luna are like magnets to ‘dog lovers’!

If the person is running or on a bike, they will use a ball – which they will now save specifically for this. She is ball-obsessed. They now will put balls away and only bring one out when there is a moving person triggering fear. The moving person can now trigger the ball instead, redirecting to movement in the opposite direction – and fun.

Luna is unusual in that she is less scared when on lead than when running free. She may rush up to people and bark at them, which can be alarming. For this reason it’s essential, if she’s to be off lead and free, that they have spot-on recall. Meanwhile they should keep her on a long line.

Luna’s separation problems aren’t extreme and sometimes she may even finish her stuffed Kong. If she were frantic she wouldn’t want to eat. However, she often cries and howls. They will film her.

There are a few ideas they could try. If my guess is right about the company of other dogs being sufficient for her, Dog TV may fill the void. Luna is fascinated by dogs on TV.

Leaving her somewhere ‘safe’.

They shut Luna in the hallway where her bed is when they go out. I feel the hallway is a place she may feel vulnerable. She will hear people going past and have to cope with mail coming through the door. Getting her used to being shut in the back room would be better – initially just leaving the door open so she makes her own choice. If I were her I would choose the sofa!

Once Luna had warmed up to me it was hard to imagine her scared of things. She was cheeky and playful. Unfortunately, probably due to insufficiently early habituation, she is easily spooked. She is upset by quite a list of everyday things. They will deal with each thing that upsets her using desensitisation and counter-conditioning.

The net result will be a more confident dog. They will be compensating for her lack of early habituation and socialisation. Luna will be more able to deal with the things that currently scare her.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good, particularly where fear issues are concerned. Click here for help

Ten Week Old Puppy. Clever Puppy. Nipping Feet.

They have had ten week old puppy Cavapoochon, Isla, for less than two weeks.

Already she takes herself out to toilet. She sleeps through the night, no mess. A dream of a puppy.

A ten week old puppy and socialisation

Ten week old puppy‘Puppy Parenting’ isn’t only about changing things she’s doing now, it’s also about avoiding certain things happening in the future.

The main and most important thing that should start, ideally even before puppy leaves the breeder, is socialisation.

People can assume socialisation to mean meeting some other dogs but it’s a lot broader than that. It also involves meeting people of all different sizes and ages, traffic, noises and so on. The PPG (Pet Professional Guild) has a very ambitious checklist.

This isn’t as easy as just ticking off things from a list.

It’s important that these encounters don’t frighten a ten week old puppy. People she meets should be gentle and quiet with her. Over-boisterous dogs or bullying puppies avoided. They should pair anything slightly scary with food – at a comfortable distance – before attempting to get closer.

This leads me to something many people are resistant to.

Carrying food

Rewarding the puppy with food is proved to be the fastest way to motivate and teach her. Rewarding with food shows the puppy what you DO want rather than what you DON’T want.

The delivery has to be instant – no time to walk across the room and open a tub.

They can cut up tiny bits of something nourishing, soft and nutritious and wear a treat pouch or similar. I recently discovered Feelwells grain free treats. They can be broken up tiny and Isla loved them. 

Every time they ask Isla to do anything, they will reward her. Every time she happens to be doing something they like they reinforce it.

The power of food and motivation was demonstrated while I was there. Early on, the teenage daughter wanted Isla outside for a toilet break. She called her, but it was more fun indoors with us and Isla ignored her.

A little later, after we had been working with food on something else, the daughter called her outside. She went out with her immediately.

Nipping feet.

The only thing the ten week old puppy does that the family would like to change is nipping – particularly feet.

Isla only becomes nippy when people come home or when they have visitors. She then goes for feet. They are a household who take their shoes off indoors and Isla loves toes and socks!

They are already, a couple of days later, resolving this by dealing with the excitement that causes it. When anyone comes in they tone down their welcomes and avoid stirring her up. At the same time they have something ready that she can chew instead.

A puppy tornado!

A ten week old puppy may suddenly race around through the house and garden like a little tornado. For some reason this often happens in the evening.

When she’s all fired up with excitement, they will give her something she can attack or destroy! I suggest a ‘rummage box’ – a cardboard cartoon containing rubbish like water bottles, cardboard tubes and bits of food so that she can chew, rummage and wreck.

Clever puppy Isla caught on to clicker training straight away, like she was born with it! She was soon lying down and even learning ‘touch’, touching a hand for click and reward. Isla found this fun. There should be no pressure on a ten week old puppy to learn tricks. There is plenty of time later to teach ‘commands’ (which I prefer to call ‘cues’).

Being left alone

Preempting future separation problems is very important. She needs to get used to being happily left alone for short periods without pining. They are already achieving this, particularly at night.

Walking

Isla has finished her injections now and can walk outside.

Like many people, they started by attaching a lead. This will feel very odd to a ten week old puppy and Isla plays tuggy with it.

To my mind, putting the lead on first is the wrong way round to do things. First they should be walking around the house and garden with Isla beside them – off lead. This is achieved with kissy noises, calling her, patting legs and food.

Soon she will learn that walking near to somebody is fun. She won’t need coaxing unless she wanders off to do something else. Only now is the time to introduce the lead – carrying on exactly the same way as before.

I demonstrated and the daughter copied. Isla quickly caught on.

Heel work is pointless and unnecessary for a ten week old puppy. Walking happily near to someone on a longish lead will make walking a happy experience. Later on she can be taught to walk to heel for when it’s important, near traffic for example.

Twelve week old puppy

When I next visit the ten week old puppy she will be about twelve weeks old.

We will do more work on her lead walking, paying attention, coming when called – and clicker training.

What fun!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. Click here for help.

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)

 

Socialisation Early. Bloodhound Puppy.

Insufficient early socialisationI met Vera yesterday, a four-and-a half month old Bloodhound puppy. She is the size of an adult Beagle!

Vera is already scared and reactive to other dogs both passing the house and those she meets when out on walks.

She is frightened, too, of children.

Otherwise she is a confident dog, friendly with people. She is giving Jack Russell, 9, a run for her money – something we are all now working on.

Lack of socialisation.

Socialisation – what is it? Many people think it’s simply waiting for their puppy to finish his or her injections. Then they take him to a park, to training classes or to somewhere with lots of dogs.

Socialisation is about a lot more. It’s about early introduction to the outside world – people, dogs, vehicles, noises, wheelie bins…….

The couple didn’t pick Vera up from the breeder until she was about twelve weeks old. I would guess that, being so happy with people, she will have met plenty. It’s very unlikely though that she had encountered children – or many other dogs outside their own house.

All puppies are different of course, with different natures, and very possibly others in her litter are different towards other dogs and children.

It has been scientifically proven that the best time to introduce puppies to the world and particularly to people of all ages and a variety of other dogs is from a very early age. Some even say a few days old for being handled by people!

Read this by Linda Michaels, ‘Puppy Socialization and Vaccinations Belong Together’.

Puppy socialization check list. This may be a bit more than most people can manage and much of it is up to the breeder, but it shows the ideal situation.

By the time they fetched Vera at twelve weeks old, a big door of opportunity for socialisation was already closing.

They are now playing catch-up.

This doesn’t mean Vera can’t become very happy with other dogs and children as she grows up. It will simply need much more working on.

They will make use of people passing the garden with dogs and people stopping to chat over the garden gate to build up positive associations for Vera. She has her regular accompanied toilet visits, and they will take food out with them – something like grated cheese, chicken or tiny bits of Ziwipeak which is what I use.

Immediately Vera is aware of a dog, even if she has started to bark, good things must happen. Food can rain from the sky! Very food-driven, she will then have to turn attention away from the dog to hunt for the food with her Bloodhound nose.

(They need not worry that feeding is rewarding barking because they are dealing with the emotion of fear, not with the act of barking which is only happening as a result of the fear)..

One of the couple can be at the garden gate talking to a man who regularly passes with his dog and the other can work on finding the distance at which Vera is comfortable.

Fun and food!

Then they can make good things happen for her – fun and food. She loves a game of tug.

She may even get near enough for the man to throw over some food for her (not leaving out his own calm and elderly dog!).

They can go to the local primary school at playtime or a playground. They can use the same process as she watches the children running about – from a comfortable distance.

Currently when meeting a dog on a walk, she barks and pulls as they hold her tightly. Her deep Bloodhound bark can sound really fierce even though she is so young.

In order to socialise her properly now, they will do what seems to be the opposite of ‘socialising’. They will increase their distance.

Walks should be ‘wanders and sniffs’ for a puppy of this age. They will give her reassurance, positive reinforcement and distance when encountering dogs.

The walk is about information not about exercise for a puppy. It’s about the journey, not the destination.

 

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 Vera 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, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned – particularly anything involving children. 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)

Desensitising or Flooding?

Is it desensitising or is it over-exposure?

Tibetan needs desensitising

Ellie

Ellie, her siblings and other Tibetan Terriers were picked up from a breeder in a dreadful state of neglect, with matted fur and no socialisation. They had no exposure to life outside the shed where they were kept.

Lucky Ellie was re-homed to my clients three months ago. She is now nine months old. She lives with a calmer and slightly older Tibetan called Bailie.

Her family took her on holiday a couple of months later and it was a nightmare.

Ellie became increasingly terrified of traffic and people – particularly children. From the beginning of each day one scary new thing after another would have added to her accumulating stress as, with the best of loving intentions, they included the previously unsocialised small dog in their holiday activities.

They have actually come a long way in three months in some respects and are already doing many of the things I usually suggest. However they admit that her reactivity to people, traffic and any new environment is getting worse.

I feel there are a couple of things being done by Ellie’s humans, in the mistaken belief that they are helping her and being kind, that they can now do differently.

For hours Ellie occupies what the lady calls her ‘sentry point’ on the back of the sofa, watching the ‘scary’ things go past their house. It won’t have taken long for her to get the idea that it was her barking which was chasing those enemies, who kept on moving past, away.

Instead of this regular exposure acclimatising and desensitising her to new things as they thought, it is doing the opposite.

Ellie with Bailie

Ellie with Bailie

Each barking bout will be adding to her already rapidly rising stress levels. Daily she is repatedly rehearsing the very behaviour towards people and traffic that they are trying to change.

The other thing that is actually making her worse is a common belief that desensitising a dog to the things she fears – cars, bicycles, children, plastic bags, anywhere new – involves active exposure by way of as many encounters as possible all at once in order to ‘get her used’ to them.

Over-exposure has the reverse effect to desensitising.

 

Over-exposure is flooding and the very opposite to desensitising.

Controlling Ellie’s environment is the way to go here. They have already removed Ellie’s access to her ‘sentinel’ point and will be helping both dogs as soon as they start to bark at anything (the neighbours will be thankful).

Then, very slowly, they will begin the desensitising and counter-conditioning she needs in order to see those things she fears in a different light whilst getting used to them gradually.

Before they can take her on any more outings beyond their gate and past traffic, past people and into shops, they must surely first get her to feel better about the world immediately outside their gate. On a long, loose lead she should be given a choice whilst they work on proper desensitisation.

She will herself let them know what she’s ready to do. Only when she feels safe enough to herself choose to venture out should they make their way further afield, very gradually.

‘Proper’ outings for now will need to be by car to transport her and Bailie directly to somewhere ‘safe’ and open.

This will take multiples sessions. The greater the number of very short desensitisation outings they do, the more progress they should make.

It’s best if they can work on things one at a time. Take fear of plastic bags – something easy to control unlike a child running up from nowhere. First a bag can be at a distance that Ellie finds okay and she can be given food each time she looks at it. She can also be rewarded with food or by increasing distance each time she deliberately looks away from it (making a ‘good’ decision).

They can put Ellie indoors, remove the plastic bag, lace with food the ground where the bag had been so the area is associated with good stuff. Then let Ellie back out to forage where the bag had been. Next, with Ellie back out of the way, they can replace the bag – and so on.

One thing at a time, we can work out appropriate procedures. Desensitising to children can be worked on in the same sort of way at a comfortable distance from a school playground at playtime.

Considering her deprived beginnings, Ellie could be a lot worse and in many respects they have come a long way. It’s the fearfulness of things and people new to her that has increased.

With the best of intentions, they are doing things back to front. Here is a very good article with a couple of great short videos about the sort of time and patience needed for desensitising and counter-conditioning a dog to something that really scares it.

With slow and gradual exposure whilst avoiding pushing Ellie over her comfort threshold they will build up her trust. She should eventually be able to go on holiday with them again and enjoy it this time.

Message received a couple of days later: ‘I learned something interesting about Ellie today. I opened the front door and stood just inside our covered porch with her on a long training lead and with the front door open so that she could retreat if she wanted to. Rather than flying out of the door and being desperate to go on a walk (which has been my previous impression of her), given the option, she stayed close to me or even backed up back into the house. This makes me realise she was flying out of the door to bark/be protective/banish passers by.
We’ve sat outside three times today now, with me feeding her little titbits whenever a car or person passes by. I’ll carry on little and often until she’s confident to go beyond the front garden without reacting (here’s hoping!!!)…..
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 Ellie. 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)

Start Off Right With New Puppy

I have just been to a divine ten-week-old Sprocker puppy. The picture doesn’t show how little Digby is.Ten week old new puppy, a Sprocker

They have had him for five days now and have signed up for my Puppy Parenting plan, wanting to get things right from the start with their new puppy, pre-empting as far as is possible any future problems and starting on basic training.

This was my first visit, to set things up.

Already he is nearly house trained with just the occasional accident. They are carrying him outside each time having read somewhere that that’s what they should do. This seems strange to me. If the puppy walks then he will learn the route and routine a lot more quickly and to stand at that door if it’s shut and he wants to go out.

We went through each area of his life to make sure things go off to the best start.

They have chosen to crate train him and he is quite happy to be left alone for short periods, so separation issues later on are unlikely.

Having spoken to me on the phone, they are now upping their socialisation of Digby and acclimatisation to things such as traffic, noises, people of all sorts and ages, other dogs, the car and so on – within the restrictions of being unable to put him down until his injections are finished. He seems a stable and fearless pup.

One thing people do find hard is not to over-excite a puppy when they come home or when friends first meet him.  Another thing that can seem unnatural to people is to constantly be carrying food around with them! Teaching a puppy the behaviours we want using food is so much more effective that trying to teach a puppy what we don’t want using ‘No’ – and a lot kinder too.

Environmental adjustments need to be made for a while – chewable or eatable things removed and maybe people wearing shoes rather than just socks – there is nothing more fun to chase and chew than a socked foot attached to a human who gets excited or shouts ‘No’ when they feel his little teeth!

Most puppies have a ‘bonkers half hour’ and Digby’s seems to be in the morning. I find evening more usual. A puppy may suddenly start to race around like a little tornado, and as he or she gets bigger things can go flying and people may be nipped! The bottled up energy or maybe stress needs to vent somehow and I suggest a carton containing rubbish that he can wreck and things he can chew along with bits of food to forage for.

We looked at the best way to teach Digby ‘Sit’ for starters, more things when he’s fully settled. I don’t like the word ‘command’. I prefer ‘cue’. I showed the lady how to do a little walking around the house with Digby beside her, off lead to start with.

Amongst other things we can pre-empt are any resource guarding behaviours by always doing an exchange and teaching Give from the start. Then the rewarding fun doesn’t come from the chase and eventual scariness of being cornered as the item is forced from the puppy’s mouth.

The gentleman, like many people, may find it a challenge to avoid telling the puppy ‘No’. How else will he learn what’s wrong? There is no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ to a puppy of course. There are things that make him feel good, things that are boring, and things that make him feel bad. Digby will be exploring his new environment, licking this, chewing that, running about, and then suddenly a loud male human loudly says NO. He may stop in his tracks but I doubt he will know what he’s done that has made his human bark at him.

Some things he can chew, some things he can’t?

It’s so much better to call him away and give him something that he is allowed to chew instead.

Too much ‘No’ can result in a new puppy becoming confused or defiant – or maybe frightened. Digby seems a well-rounded little character and his family are determined to do everything right for him, so thankfully that won’t happen in his case.

 

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 – general puppy parenting in this case. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may well be different to the approach I have worked out for Digby. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can cause confusion. 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 puppy (see myGet Help page).

Early Socialisation Colours Dog’s Life

CockerMollyA couple of weeks ago I went to Nico, another Cocker Spaniel with fairly similar fear issues towards people, lack of early socialisation in the early weeks certainly being a large part of the cause of his wariness of all sorts of things. Nico’s problem was far greater because he had little interaction with the outside world until my clients took him on at the age of two years old.

Sixteen-month-old Molly who I went to yesterday is a lot more fortunate however. They picked her up from the breeder at nine weeks old and with hard work have brought her round from being a scared puppy that growled even when family approached her to a great family dog, fine with nearly everything now apart from close contact with people she doesn’t know. Even then she doesn’t bark or growl. She hangs back and is very tentative, but I got the feeling she was really wanting to make friends – if she dared.

Molly actually came from a very well-regarded breeder of many years experience but who probably hasn’t kept up-to-date with modern behavioural science. Today it is acknowledged that early socialisation with puppies must begin way before they leave the breeder and their litter-mates. Being kept in kennels outside, however luxurious and warm, isn’t the same as being part of a family with lots of comings and goings and real-life experiences and doesn’t make them fit for modern living. I would recommend anyone buying a puppy takes a look at the Puppy Plan website and then check the breeder.

Molly is wonderful with the two young boys and they are great with her; she treats the six-year-old like another puppy. Interestingly, I found that when the children were in the room Molly’s confidence towards myself greatly increased.

Like most Cockers, Molly can become very excited. There have been a couple of incidents with very young children when backs have been turned which have resulted in cuts. No one can be sure whether they were accidental. On one occasion the child was hugging or squeezing her and on the other occasion a toy was involved. It’s easy to be over-confident because of how wonderful she is with her own family’s kids.  All dogs need ‘protecting’ from inappropriate approaches by little children especially, and particularly dogs that are already nervous or over-excited. Backs should never be turned when young children and dogs are together, however confident we are in our dog. It only takes one moment after a build up of other things for the most tolerant of dogs to have had enough. The child will ignore the warning signs and the dog will get the blame.

I suggested a gate in the kitchen doorway so she had a safe haven and a place she can be put when things get a bit too noisy and exciting – as they are bound to with young children about. Molly will be happy with this I’m sure. She is a self-contained dog who likes her own company and will usually take herself off when the boys have gone to bed.

As is the case with many insecure dogs Molly is also quite protective, both at home and protective of the lady when they are out (not the man though). Because she is so different with the various people in her life, it demonstrates so well how a dog reflects her humans’ behaviour and state of mind. The man doesn’t anticipate trouble so when out Molly is carefree with him. The lady is a bit more tense and anxious, so Molly will doubtless sense this. She loves most other dogs, but if one runs over to the lady she will do her best to keep it away, zigzagging in front of her and circling.

The frantic barking and running from the front of the house to the back when she hears anything outside needs to be dealt with in such a way that she has confidence in her humans to take care of the situation and to look after her – the lady in particular. What happens at home spills out onto walks.

Starting with how she deals with ‘protection duty’ at home, the lady in particular can show Molly that she doesn’t need protecting and it’s the other way around – that she is there to protect Molly.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Molly, 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).