Control – Carrot or Stick?

GSD lying down

Murphy

Update on two dogs I saw some weeks ago.

After a run of German Shepherds who are very reactive to anyone coming into their home, it was great to go to a Shepherd who welcomed me immediately.  Murphy and Mastiff-type Bailey are well socialised, well-trained and gentle with their children.

Carrot – or stick?

Continue reading…

Antisocial With Dogs. Insufficient Early Habituation and Socialisation.

His young lady owner refers to him as antisocial – towards other dogs in particular.

Gunther is yet another young dog that has lacked the right kind of early socialisation or sufficient habituation. He should have encountered a variety of people, other dogs and been exposed to life in general during the second, third and fourth months of his life – before he came. It’s little wonder he’s antisocial at times.

The 8-month-old Dachshund I met wanted to be friendly but he’s torn between friendliness and fearfulness.  He barked at me for a while before, quite suddenly, becoming my best friend. Continue reading…

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)

Scared Spaniel Barks at People

guarding

Nico with his little hoard

‘Wary’ is the word I would use to best describe little two-year-old working Cocker Spaniel, Nico. He has lived with the couple in his new home for three months now.

It is a very good bet that his problems stem from having not been adequately socialised from a puppy onwards. There is also a strong possibility that some of his wariness is genetic. He must have been well-loved because a lot of time has been put into training him and he knows a lot of ‘tricks’. Whatever caused the family to have to rehome him must have been very upsetting for them.

When I sat down he stopped barking, encouraged by my giving him bits of food which he dared take from my hand whilst in a ‘ready to run’ position. Throughout the evening he continued to show many signs of stress and uneasiness – including yawning, licking his nose and looking away. At one stage, quite frantically, he chewed up a large rawhide bone that he had had for quite a while and had barely touched. Chewing, of course, is a valuable mechanism to help a dog calm himself down.

Lookaway

Next Nico collected the various chewable objects that he could find, and hoarded them. As you can see from the sequence of pictures, it was quite clear that they were ‘his’, but although he looked like he might growl if someone walked past he didn’t do so. I wondered (just guessing really) whether this might be some sort of displacement activity, giving him something ‘safe’ onto which to focus his attention that he had control over.

When he is alone with the young couple and is his normal self he likes to run off with things, therefore I suggested they remove all items he may regard as resources so that he no longer rehearses any guarding behaviour which could potentially escalate, and to allow him one item at a time, offering it in such a way that he is taught to take and let go again and that nothing is ever taken off him without either being returned or exchanged for something better.

stresed dog yawning

Yawning

On walks he is scared of other dogs, particularly when he’s on lead, and he barks at people approaching too directly. His wariness has resulted in a couple of occasions when, already very stressed, he has bitten the hand of someone grabbing his collar (something that’s not a good idea with any dog – a harness is a lot better).

A strange thing is that despite having made good progress with Nico’s lead walking – it seemed like he had never been on a lead before – and despite all their loving efforts, he is actually becoming more nervous in general. I do wonder whether this is due to too much stress or arousal in his very different new life. After a half-hour morning walk with intense ball play with the lady (he has become quite obsessed with the ball), the man then takes him to work. He barks at people coming in and out of the office and this is getting worse.

As Nico seems to be quite happy when left alone at home with the cat, I suggest he spends half the day chilled at home and the other half at the office where the man can make use of the people at work in a desensitisation programme, leaving a pot of food outside the door and asking them chuck some to Nico whenever they open it – maybe also stopping to throw him food even when they are just passing.

At the moment the dog could be feeling he has to guard the doorway. His open crate containing his bed is currently by the office door. It would be better beside or behind the desk where the man can ‘protect’ him and he, too, can work hard at desensitising the dog when people come into the room.

The young lady and gentleman are gentle and kind with their new little dog, and I know they will have the patience to help him grow in confidence and get used to life in their world.

A fortnight later and still very early days: ‘Nico seems a lot more confident and I think that is because we are clearer about how we should be acting with him. He doesn’t bark as much at loud noises and he is getting much better while out walking. The neighbour who I meet has even noticed a difference.’

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

To Trust Their Dog Around Other Dogs

Viszla lying on his bedIt’s sad when a dog that has been so conscientiously reared from a puppy, well-trained and socialised, starts to develop antagonistic behaviour towards other dogs. What could have gone wrong? I feel really sorry for the young couple with beautiful Hungarian Vizsla Mac.

They took him to classes and training for nine months. They have invested time and money into not only training him but researching the very best food for him – he’s fed raw. They have mixed him with people and other dogs and he was extremely well socialised. The first hint of trouble was about six months ago – when he was around one year old.

Over time they have relaxed and he has gradually been allowed more and more leeway to do his own thing when off-lead. As the situation with other dogs has crept up on them the young lady’s confidence when out with him has been dropping.

He was always a ‘pushy’ player and this, unfortunately, went unchecked. It’s hard for people to know what’s appropriate play and where to draw the line. Not all dogs like being jumped on and he was told off by a couple of dogs. Soon, he was reacting badly when other dogs, behaving just as he himself does, rushed into his own space. It was still just noise and snapping. Now humping other dogs is added to his repertoire but he gets cross if they go round behind him to sniff him.

What I’m sure is happening is a build up of stress, excitement – call it what you will. Each dog he meets pushes him a little nearer the edge. This was well illustrated the other day when a dog, on a flexilead, coming to ‘say hello’ while Mac was sitting outside a pub with the couple – and this time Mac actually went for him. What backs up the build-up of stress theory is that this was at the end of a walk, outside the pub he already had some boisterous play with a spaniel and probably being approached by the last dog was the final straw. He went for it – and was fortunately dragged off before any harm was done. The spaniel then returned and he went for him also.

Mac is a determined young dog and they have taken their eye off the ball. There has been no damage done so far, but it’s going in the wrong direction. Once things start to go downhill, without intervention they usually gradually get worse as it becomes a learned behaviour. Mac now needs to learn instead to clock in with his owners every time he sees a dog, even if it’s one of his friends. They will be working on techniques to achieve this. It’s then up to them to decide what happens next, not Mac, and whether or not he meets up with the other dog. They need to police the level of any play.

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

Indoors, Outdoors, Jekyll-Hyde

dogs were scary enemies and traffic terrifying.Rosie, the Border Terrier, is the friendliest, softest, most biddable little dog you can imagine. Below on the right she is lying on her back at my feet. Oh – I love her.

The couple have had four-year-old Rosie for about 7 months. She came from a household with several children and lots of people coming and going….but no dogs. She was seldom taken out anywhere.

Without this vital habituation from an early age, other dogs were scary enemies and traffic terrifying. The couple have worked hard at getting her used to traffic – but the ‘other dog’ situation gets worse.

So, we have a dog that is wonderfully socialized to people – old and young, and used to all household things like vacuum cleaners – completely fearless at home, but a dog that is very reactive and scared of other dogs when out.

Put the lead on and open the front door, and Rosie completely changes.  She is on ‘dog-watch’.  She goes mental if she sees another dog.

Soon after she arrived in her new home, little Rosie rushed out of the front door to attack a Labrador that lives opposite. Undaunted by the dog’s size, she apparently had it by the throat. Not good for neighbourly relations!

Like many modern houses, theirs is surrounded by houses with dogs – statistically there is a dog living in every 3 or 4 houses in the UK.  Every morning ‘before-work’ walk is an adventure, avoiding dogs where possible or dragging a frantic lunging, barking Rosie past one dog after another. The lady holding the lead may as well not exist where Rosie is concerned. The difference between the dog indoors and the dog out on walks is like Jekyll and Hyde

The first point to address is the relevance of Rosie’s humans and the second is the value of the currency that will be used to desensitise Rosie to other dogs – food.  Only then can they use food and attention when they find the distance (threshold) at which Rosie knows there is another dog but can tolerate it.  Then the real work begins – that of holding her attention and associating the dogs with good stuff whether it’s food or fun – not  the usual pain in the neck as the lead tightens and anxiety of owner going down the lead.  Someone had advised spraying water at her – disaster! It may temporarily interrupt the behaviour by intimidating her, but long-term be yet one more negative associated with other dogs and eventually she would become accustomed to it anyway and ignore it.Border Terrier is lying on her back at my feet

Both food and attention need to gain much more value at home. Currently they are constantly seeking to give Rosie the food she likes best for her meals where they could be saving the most tasty stuff for dog encounters. They are lavishing the little dog with attention whenever she asks for it when they should be saving some of it for getting her attention when another dog is about.

This will be long-haul. Every unplanned encounter will set things back, but each controlled, properly managed encounter will advance things.

The magic ingredient is patience. We can’t reverse four years in four weeks.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rosie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV 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).

 

Blue Merle Sheltie Only Feels Safe Indoors

Blue Merle Sheltie is a gentle but easily scared dogEight-year-old Robbie spent the first seven and a half years of his life never outside a utility room and garden, with virtually no human company. Six months ago his previous owner went into a home and Robbie then came to his new owners.

Just imagine how scared he must have been encountering everyday things, people and other dogs. They have come a very long way with him in six months, but have met a plateau, hence my visit.

Since all his life after leaving his litter Robbie has been within the same four walls, just with open door to a garden, it’s not surprising that the only place he is really comfortable is indoors, in the house. He is just OK in the garden if the door is open and he can beat a retreat if something scares him – like next door’s dog barking. He would prefer to be alone indoors than out in the garden with his owners. Out on walks, if panicked, it’s like he doesn’t even know them any more. He just wants to get home.

They have work to do – because he needs to look to them for protection and guidance. They need to win his trust. At present all he really trusts is the safe environment of home.

He really is the most gorgeous, gentle little dog. Sadly, he is very arthritic at a relatively young age and is on a mixture of medication so he has discomfort to contend with also.

Out on walks Robbie is permanently uneasy and looking about and behind. As they approach the main road he is near panic, but like many people they have believed that it is necessary to keep going. If he sees another dog or a vehicle spooks him, he is twisting around on his lead and wanting to bolt. Naturally, the lead will be causing pain to his neck and this negative association with other dogs can’t be good.

I believe it’s now a case of backing off and starting again. First and foremost, he needs to be able to walk around near the house with no traffic or dogs or people in a calm and happy way, sniffing and exploring doggy fashion, before they can go any further. This could take a while. Then things need to be introduced very slowly indeed, all the while not stepping over his threshold of tolerance. How the owners behave is key. Robbie’s instinct is to bolt, and failing that, to freeze. Would a wise parent force his family into trouble if it could be avoided? No! They need to earn Robbie’s trust before they will make any real progress.

They will get there, I’m sure, but it will take time. Although they have already come a long way, you can’t undo eight years in a few weeks.

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