Growling Warning Ignored. Springer Spaniel Bit Man’s Face

Jonny is a gorgeous, friendly dog – looking and behaving a lot younger than his supposed ten years. The elderly couple who had him previously could no longer keep him.

He has a lovely home now with activity and enrichment.

His two problems are around guarding, growling warning and chasing shadows – or just charging about chasing nothing.

Excitement and arousal

Growling warning Excitement or stress cause Jonny’s obsessive chasing behaviours. When he’s too excited he has to find ways to release. In addition to chasing shadows, real or imaginary, he has recently developed a compulsive licking of his feet.

When I was there, I channelled his need of shadow chasing and foot licking onto a Yak chew. He chewed away on this in a determined manner.

They have had him thoroughly checked by the vet and he is a very healthy dog.

I strongly suspect the shadow chasing is the result of hours of boredom as a younger dog. It’s something he now defaults to when aroused in some way and it gets worse as the day wears on. This bears out my theory that it’s caused by arousal. After a peaceful night, as the day progresses things stack up. The excitement of my arrival will have sent him over. He began a bout of almost frantic shadow-chasing. He charged about the house chasing something that didn’t exist therefor could never catch. Frustrating.

They will now find alternative things to deflect him onto, things that engage his brain, his mouth or his nose.

Growling warning

In an aroused state, Jonny will also be much more likely display guarding behaviour including growling warning. He guards resources like chews. He guards his own personal space when he’s in bed or lying down. This also increases as the day wears on.

In the evening, after the lady takes him for his last trip outside, they had a routine. Jonny goes to his bed which is just inside the back door. She has to walk past him. Jonny would be growling warning.

She then sat on the floor a short distance from him and talked quietly to the growling dog. She continued until eventually he rolled onto his back. Then she tickled his tummy.

This is very risky. A dog lying on his back is not necessarily asking for a belly rub, it depends upon context. It is very likely the complete opposite – that he’s asking to be left alone.

A bite in the face

A couple of weeks ago, Jonny bit the gentleman in the face and ear. Stitches were needed.

The man was just doing something he had often done with their previous dog. Jonny was lying at the top of the stairs. The gentleman knelt on the stairs, face to face with the dog.

Jonny continued growling warning.

Instead of heading the warning, the gentleman carried on.

BITE.

Jonny doesn’t like his space invaded when he’s resting. As the day wears on becomes increasingly less tolerant.

It is what it is.

Changing their own behaviour

They will now change their own behaviour accordingly and simply leave him strictly alone when he’s in bed. They will move his bed away from any thoroughfare. If they have to walk past, they should keep moving.

When he’s lying down they will no longer go over to him. If they want him, they will call him to them instead and then make it worth his while.

It is important to welcome growling warning and to heed it. Undoubtedly, as I saw for myself and you can see from the photo where he froze, he gives other warnings first. They ignore these or don’t recognise them. Next it’s growling. In dog language he is making himself very clear.

If growling warning doesn’t work – what next?

Pennies from heaven!

Paddy now will start to see them as ‘givers’ and not potential ‘takers’. He will learn to welcome their approach when he’s lying in bed, confident that he won’t be touched and only good things will happen.

The couple will have tubs of food around the place or in their pockets. Whenever they do need to walk past him, either when he’s in his bed or when he is chewing or ‘possessing’ something, they will drop food to him. Over time, instead of stiffening, going still and preparing to guard the possession or his bed, he will relax knowing he will be left alone.

It’s pointless guarding something nobody wants.

He will learn that he’s likely to receive ‘pennies from heaven’ when they come near!

The Yak chew I gave Jonny kept him busy and from shadow chasing all the rest of the time I was there. From time to time I dropped or rolled him tiny treats. Initially he froze when he thought I might go too close but soon he became trusting.

We could see by his body language that he was relaxing despite the Yak bar being of great value to him. Eventually he came to chew it in front of me, lying by my feet.

This is what being seen as a ‘giver’ by the dog looks like.

Jonny is Jonny

At all other times Jonny is extremely affectionate. Now that they can read his signals, the couple will accept Jonny as Jonny. Left alone when resting and only seeing them as ‘givers’, he will no longer need to go into growling guarding mode with them

Their work on guarding which is stressful for Jonny, along with redirecting excitement, should also help with the shadow chasing behaviour too.

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

Bark Less. Reinforce Calm Quiet Behaviour

They want their Cocker Spaniel to bark less.

Nearly all action and activity in Woody’s world is generated by Woody. Much of it as a result of barking.

The two-and-a-half-year-old barks to get attention. He simply carries on relentlessly until it works. Some days they must take him out on his lead over ten times (they have no garden).

Recent changes in behaviour

bark less at everythingOver the past few months he has also become nervous of new people and certain other dogs. He barks when they pass the house; he barks at dogs on TV and at other dogs on walks.

These behaviours are recent.

It is all such a great shame because the couple did everything they should when he was a puppy and young dog. Woody was well trained and taken everywhere with them.

He had always been brilliant with other dogs – so much so that daycare introduced him first to new dogs on trial. Then he went for a dog he already knew. Sadly daycare is unwilling to take him anymore.

The couple have had him very thoroughly vet checked to make sure his change in behaviour isn’t due to something physical like pain.

Change in circumstances

Their circumstances have recently changed dramatically.

About a year ago, the couple had moved in with parents for eight months. It was a busy household with three other dogs. Woody would have had lots of excitement, attention and action.

Four months ago they moved out and into their own home. Their baby was born very soon afterwards. Woody’s behaviour dipped at about the same time.

For eight months he had joined their other dogs, no doubt, in barking at people and dogs passing the house. He now does this at home.

Has that eight months of more arousal and attention (people and other dogs) set him up for his current general over-reactivity, particularly the attention-seeking barking? When worked up in any way – he barks.

Bark less, or quiet more?

When I arrived, Woody was scared of me. He barked but soon recovered. Then he began to bark at the young lady. He simply stood, barking at her, waiting for her to do something.

They go through all the usual things people do when they want their dog to stop barking. They ignore it, they give him what they think he wants or they get cross with him.

Eventually they give him time out in the kitchen. Then they let him out and reward him for being quiet with a chew.

To me this is all back to front. It’s not about getting the dog to ‘stop barking’ at all. It’s about the dog being quiet – or to bark less.

Giving him something to chew after he is quiet defeats the purpose. Chewing helps him to calm down. If they give him time alone in the kitchen, it should be with something to chew.

While I was there I showed Woody how rewarding it was to be quiet. I simply captured any quiet, calm, sitting or lying down moments with a click and food.

Now, in order to get the attention he craved, he found that sitting still, looking at me quietly, worked. Then he lay down.

A calmer base

The first and most important thing to do is to reduce Woody’s stress/arousal levels in every way possible. From a calm base he will be able to cope with everything a lot better and hence bark less.

At the moment he is reacting noisily to nearly everything. Sometimes it’s excitement, sometimes it’s to get attention or action and at other times it’s because he’s scared.

He now needs to learn that demand barking doesn’t work. They can ignore him or walk out of the room. They will no longer take him out ten or more times a day as a result of his barking! Everyone must be consistent.

Enrichment

Not responding to the barking along with reinforcing quiet isn’t enough though.

Just as important if they want Woody to bark less is enrichment. They already do well with this but he needs more fulfilment.  Possibly, after eight months of being used to more action, he’s bored. Boredom is stressful. They inevitably give a lot of attention to the baby.

They will instigate short ‘Woody-activities’ very regularly, but only when he’s not barking. Things that stimulate his mind but don’t get him fired up. It’s so tempting to ‘let sleeping dogs lie’!

They will pre-empt times they know he will get barky by doing something with him before he begins to bark. They know the usual things that trigger him. 

Too much lying down quietly?

I had an email next day. ‘We’ve noticed that he continuously lies down in front of us to receive treats. How often should we be dropping food for him? As I’m sure he will lie here all day waiting!”

They would rather he was lying down quietly than non-stop barking, surely.

For now they shouldn’t worry about Woody spending too long lying quietly in front of them for food. Over time they will space the food out more. He can earn some of his daily food quota so as not to make him fat.

All the time they are reinforcing quiet. Woody will be getting out of one habit (barking) and learning a better one.

I read somewhere, ‘You don’t stop behaviours without replacing with new ones. Gaps, empty spaces have a void that needs to be filled’.

It will be a lot easier to later wean him off lying down quietly waiting for food than to stop him barking!

This will be like a jigsaw. There are a number of small things to put in place that, when all together, should start to make a proper difference. Woody then will bark less. There won’t be any point.

As a calmer dog, he’s likely to go back to being his old relaxed self around other dogs too.

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. Not all separation issues have the same cause and so need different approaches and proper assessment. 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

Eyeballing and Hostility Between Dogs

Eyeballing from one dog; looking away, whale-eye, lip curling and growling from the other.

Poppy's eyeballing may be a trigger

Poppy

The hostility between the two Springer Spaniel bitches seems to have suddenly started about three weeks ago.

It’s hard to see where the tension, eyeballing and snarling between the two dogs has come from. It seemed to be out of the blue – but was it? Both dogs had been happily living and playing together since they took on Poppy, now three years old, as a puppy. Tilly is ten years old.

Both Springers have a lovely life. They are trained and worked kindly as gun dogs, fulfilling what they were bred for. They only spend the mornings out in their kennels and for the rest of the time they are well-loved family pets living and sleeping in the house.

There is another dog, a female Jack Russell called Fern who may be escalating the tension. Fern tends to be reactive to sounds. Her barking upsets Poppy and sends her running for cover.

Three weeks ago, immediately after they had returned from a few days’ holiday with the two Springers, the man caught them eyeballing each other, then growling.

Could the sudden hostility have been triggered by the reuniting with a hyper and noisy Fern who had stayed behind with a friend, at a time when they will already have been aroused? Things with Fern have changed recently. She has been recovering from mammary cancer. Could this be relevant?

Anyway, the man had immediately grabbed both dogs and parted them, putting them briefly in different rooms. This was followed by ever more frequent episodes.

Fern

Fern

Things escalated until about five days ago there were three bouts within the space of one hour.

Things only haven’t developed into a full blown fight due to vigilance and the man separating them immediately. It’s now happened so many times that it could be becoming a learnt response – a habit, something the two dogs may automatically do as soon as they are anywhere close together other than out in the open on walks.

Since these final three episodes the two dogs have been kept apart.

The Springers take it in turns to be in the sitting room with the couple. They are in separate kennels in the mornings and instead of all being together in the kitchen at night, two have been in the kitchen and the other Springer in the back lobby. She cries. Nobody is happy.

Surprisingly however, all three dogs still all go out happily for their morning walk together just as they always used to. It seems away from the house and out in the open they are fine.

When I arrived just Fern was with us first and she did a lot of barking at me. This barking is unusual apparently which made me wonder if something more was going on with her. Maybe she has been more stressed since her recent treatment for cancer?

Poppy then joined us. She was very wary of me as she is with all people she doesn’t know, pacing about, tail between her legs, interested but backing away.

We set things up so I could see both dogs together for myself. To take Jack Russell Fern out of the equation, we put her out in the garden. The man put Poppy on lead and the lady went to fetch Tilly from the outside kennel, also on lead.

They sat well apart and I placed myself where I could see both dogs.

Tilly

Tilly

There was an immediate and surprising change in Poppy. She became a different dog. Bold. She was unconcerned by me now. She stared at Tilly.

Tilly, in turn, looked at Poppy out the corner of her eyes with her head turned away. A lip curl. then a growl. I sensed that Tilly was by far the more uncomfortable of the two dogs.

From my observations, instead of the aggression being a problem solely instigated Tilly as they had thought, it looked like it may be six of one and half a dozen of the other.

With strategies in place to keep the two dogs’ attention away from one another, I then let Fern in to join us. She was barking as she entered the room.

Immediately there was an altercation between her and Tilly in the doorway.

Could the reactive Fern be part of the problem? Possibly also something has changed with her since her cancer treatment.

Where do we start?

They will continue to manage the environment by keeping them separate. It’s possible that during the morning outside in their adjacent kennels things could be brewing with eyeballing and so on, so I suggested putting a board between them.

On leads in the house, in short sessions they will work on relieving the tension between them, teaching each dog things to do that are incompatible with eyeballing or challenging the other. It’s vital they get no more opportunities to further rehearse the behaviour.

Because the dogs are fine on walks, instead of afterwards immediately putting them away again in their separate areas, they will take the walked and satisfied dogs indoors still on lead, give them a drink (separate bowls just in case) and sit down for a few minutes. They can thus hopefully build upon the rapport the two dogs still have out on walks.

Finally, they will be helping Fern with her stress levels which could well be compounding the whole over-aroused situation.

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 Tilly, Poppy and Fern 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 aggression issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Two Sighthounds and an Elderly Springer

The two sighthounds barely lifted their heads from the sofa when I entered the room.

sighthounds with Springer Spaniel

Rosie, Eamonn and their elderly Springer

I could hardly believe it when I rang the doorbell and from a house with three dogs there was no barking at all – not even from their elderly Springer but she may be a bit deaf.

When I entered the room both sighthounds were on the sofa. I don’t know if Rosie even opened her eyes.

Eamonn, curious, got down from the chair, stretched his long body in the way that sighthounds do and calmly came over to investigate me. His long, intrusive greyhound-like nose explored my work bag.

Rosie, a stunning Saluki mix, seemed unusually quiet and motionless. They say she is aloof and it’s hard to decide if this is all or whether she is also keeping her head down so to speak. She lives with the very polite and calm Eamonn, a Sloughi mix from Ireland (no, I hadn’t heard of a Sloughi either – a North African breed of Sighthounds found mainly in Morocco).

Both dogs are failed fosters – and I well understand why. They are sensational.

The people are experienced dog owners and fosterers of sighthounds in particular. They have watched many of Victoria Stilwell’s videos and because I am one of her UK VSPDT trainers I have the privilege of working with them. Sometimes it is necessary to get objective and experienced outside input.

The family has had the two sighthounds for around a year. Rosie, now five, had been used as a puppy-making machine in Wales and then dumped by the roadside when she was no more use to them and Eamonn, now about two, had been in another sad situation. Seeing both dogs now it’s hard to believe either had known anything but love.

.

Some months later they fostered another dog.

All was well with both sighthounds until another foster, a female, came to live with them for about five months.

With this particular foster dog in her home, Rosie became increasingly tense and unhappy. The dog was needy and attention-seeking and this instability upset Rosie.

Unfortunately her aggressive attitude then spread to antipathy to other dogs that they met when out and Eamonn was sucked in also. They feed off one another.

Before the other dog came, both sighthounds were mostly fine with other dogs. Now they are walked with muzzles.

Rosie

Rosie

Rosie is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. When she is let off lead with Eamonn this quiet and poised dog can totally change. She goes crazy – charging around in circles, stirring herself up into such a high that she then redirects aggressively onto Eamonn who becomes quite scared and hides.

Why is she suddenly so aroused? Where has all that stress come from? It’s like she erupts. To me it suggest that though otherwise so quiet and undemanding, there must be more going on inside her. The regular encounters with other dogs when out, although already being worked on to some extent, may be contributing to well-hidden stress levels.

The foster dog has now moved on and Rosie is altogether much happier again in her own, introverted sort of way. They say they would like her to play but I suspect she’s not psychologically able to abandon herself to proper play.

The two main issues we are dealing with are Rosie and her reactivity to other dogs (Eamonn is fine without Rosie there) and Eamonn’s running off, maybe for a couple of hours, if he spots something to chase.

Eamonn

Eamonn

They will only walk the two dogs separately for now in order to concentrate on Rosie’s over-arousal of which there is no sign at home and her reactivity to other dogs, and on Eamonn’s recall.

In a way both Rosie’s attitude towards dogs (with a barking neighbouring dog to bark back at) and Eamonn’s prey drive (pigeons in the garden to wind him up) are behaviours being rehearsed at home.

They can take advantage of both these ‘problem’ situations by using them to create new strategies to use when out.

Sighthounds can spot potential prey from a great distance. The only way to prevent them running after something apart from having them restrained on a long line is first to train an immediate alternative reaction that redirects their instinct to chase onto something else. Once the focusing on the prey has broken into the chase stage it may be too late.

They will take it slowly with Rosie, doing their very best to make sure she doesn’t get closer to another dog than she feels comfortable whilst working hard to gradually decrease that distance by giving her choice and creating positive associations. It’s important meanwhile that there are no unexpected and uncontrolled encounters. Here is why.

Last year they took their two beautiful sighthounds on holiday where there were lots of other on lead dogs and they want to go again later this year. With hard work they will hopefully get Rosie back to her old self in time so they can all walk down the streets together as before.

Benjie and Bella sitting still at last

Springer Siblings Like a Hurricane

Having two young dogs can be a challenge. Having litter mates can be a challenge. Having young working Springer Spaniels without a job to do can be the biggest challenge of all.

The lady admits that when they picked up the two bundles of fluff they had no idea that later they would be driven to the brink of despair when they became adolescents.

Eight month old brother and sister Benjie and Bella are absolutely beautiful both in nature and to look at, but they are certainly hard work! One reason the are such hard work is because insufficient work is done with them.

Benjie is a big barker for attention. Bella is a guarder – she guards resources from Benjie so, following some fights where the lady has been bitten when splitting them up, they can’t be left with toys or chews any more. They are bored. Both dogs fly all over people and they treat the sofas and coffee table like an assault course.

The lady had been advised by the breeder (my heart often sinks when I hear this because breeders are seldom qualified in behavour or training) who said to use a shaker bottle when they are naughty. Not only is scarinBenjie and Bella playingg dogs not good for our relationship with them, they soon get immune to that and you have to try something even more scary. Worst of all, it doesn’t give the dogs a clue as to what IS required of them so can simply hype them up further.

The whole family including three children were very involved which I love.

Instead of shouting NO at the dogs, I showed them how to used food rewards and praise. It took a long time before we could really start to talk, but eventually it was beautiful to see them eagerly sitting. I then taught them to lie down (clever dogs crying out for healthy stimulation), and then even got them to sit and stay for a short while which required a huge amount of self-control from them.

The dogs spend too much of the day together in a crate, with just a visit at lunch time, and walks aren’t as fulfilling as they could be because of the terrible pulling. When people are home and the dogs become too much, they end up back in the crate. The younger daughter wrote a list of suggestions of things they could do with the dogs, individually, to give their lives more interest. They will gate their kitchen door so Bella and Benjie can sometimes be kept apart, and then each dog can have their own box of goodies – things to chew and play with – which must be lifted before they are back together again.

To get them walking nicely they will have to be walked separately to start with. For exercise they will need to be popped in the car to go to an open space. When there, they can only be let off lead one at a time and recall needs some serious work.

The more hours these two dogs are left alone, unoccupied, the more mileage they will get out of any action that is happening when people are home – and if nothing is happening they will make it happen! So, the priority is to reduce stress levels and only do things for the dogs when they are calmer and quieter whilst filling their time more productively. They will get the message if people are patient and consistent. The second important thing which is connected with the stress is to remove any opportunity for Bella to practise her growling at Benjie when she has a resource of some sort. Finally, they need to get to grips with the walking so the Springer Spaniels can sniff and run and chase, what Springers are bred for.

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

 

Baby Grandson and Their Much Loved Dog

Springer Spaniel gets excited and stressed around the babySpringer Spaniel Danny gets very excited around the five month old baby. He may pull off one of baby’s socks (he actually ate one and it passed through!). He has also grabbed the little one’s leg.

The baby is held high, out of his reach, and this merely makes Danny want to jump up to get to him.  This then leads to Danny being told off and pushed away. Although he shows no aggression at all, only fascination and maybe a little anxiety, the baby’s mother in particular is understandably anxious.

To banish their precious dog?

This is quite a common a situation that I go to from time to time, that of a dog and baby and particularly that of grandparents. The grandparents have a dog and their son or daughter is understandably anxious about bringing their baby to visit.

The grandparents are torn between banishing their beloved dog which seems like betrayal (he’s a family member after all) or being less involved with their new grandchild.  Danny sleeps in the couple’s bedroom and he is never far from their side. They can’t simply banish him and nor would they want to.

A dog den

I have four dogs and have had four young grandchildren myself in the past few years. It was easier because of the way I arrange my environment. My dogs are used to being behind a barrier for periods of time (with five dogs and just one large room I find a ‘dog den’ is necessary). I simply kept dogs and baby separate unless under close supervision. I let them in one dog at a time and only if the dog was relaxed and easy with this.

My dogs gradually simply accepted the babies and toddlers from a safe place and nobody had to be anxious.

8-year-old Springer Spaniel Danny is more sensitive than one might think. You can see that having his photo taken, above left, made him uneasy. He is very good with children, but babies are something he’s not used to. If his people are showing anxiety too, that will be adding to his unease.

Associating baby with good things

This is another situation where the environment needs to be managed while the work is done. A gate is needed and Danny gradually introduced to a place behind it where good things happen – food and toys.

If baby is one side of the gate and Danny the other, everyone can relax. Danny can then be desensitised. When Danny is in the same room, he should be on a long loose lead. He must not pick up on any anxiety.

Every sign of relaxing, looking away from the baby or settling should be rewarded. If the baby moves or makes a noise, Danny should be fed. The baby should be associated with only good things. Every small indication of calm from Danny should be reinforced.

In order to prepare him, Danny should be introduced to short times the other side of the gate for several days before the baby next comes, so the two aren’t associated in his mind. Then, instead of coming just once a week for maybe a day, for a while the baby should be brought several times a week for a short visit so as not to put too much stress on Danny.

Given more meetings the baby should become less of a novelty.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Danny, 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 – most particularly where the safety of young children and babies is concerned. 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).

Fighting Females

Bitches fight. Dogue de Bordeaux cross attacks excitable Springer Spaniel.All went very well indeed until one day about six months ago. The two dogs would share the same bed, play and walk together. They fed in the same room and there were absolutely no problems until, seemingly out of the blue, Dolly went for Flossie out in the garden.

The two girls are both two and a half years of age and American Bulldog/Dogue de Bordeaux cross Dolly came to live with Springer Flossie earlier in the year. They had played with each other since they were puppies – Dolly having lived with the daughter. Unfortunately she and one of the daughter’s older dogs became arch-enemies so Dolly went to live with Flossie.

At the time of the first incident the family were there including young children. Dolly suddenly roared and leapt on Flossie, grabbing her by the throat. So much noise and panic ensued that neighbours down the road were asking what happened. Dealing with fighting females can be difficult and upsetting.

Poor Flossie hurt her leg. If Dolly had seriously intended to hurt her there would have been much more damage. Had the dogs been of equal size it may not have been serious at all.

When this happens once it all too often happens a second time, largely generated by the knee-jerk reactions of the humans. The second occasion was once again when family were there.

I believe Dolly,  like many dogs, is intolerant of extreme excitability or instability in another dog. She generally likes to assert herself. She is ‘in charge’ of petting and attention, getting it whenever she demands it, but gets ‘jealous’ when she sees people giving attention to Flossie. At the time of the second attack Flossie was being fussed.

The two fights have each taken place against the background of a stressful or exciting day, with several people about including youngsters. While Flossie gives in to her and is submissive, there is no trouble. When stressed, Flossie is probably sending out subtle signals that are challenging to Dolly – ‘asking for trouble’ if you like.

The other very important feature is that both times Dolly was hormonal – the first she was coming to the end of her season, and the second she had just been spayed with a phantom pregnancy at the same time. She was understandably less tolerant and even more bossy. Often hormones play a part when you have fighting females.

For the past five months the two dogs have been kept separated. They rotate between crates and gated kitchen.

Each dog must now associate the other with good stuff as it will take a while to erase the panic and anger generated by the two encounters. They can earn some of their food. Whenever one dog looks at the other dog, reward one or both dogs. When Dolly walks past Flossie’s crate or Flossie walks past Dolly’s, reward both dogs. This should scotch any growling. If the dogs are nose-to-nose at the gate – reward both of them.

Everything must be done to maintain a calm environment. The dogs must realise that nothing they want to do takes place until they are calm, whether it’s going for a walk or getting their food.  Calming Flossie down will make life a lot easier for Dolly.

Each time two dogs have a set-to it makes another time more likely, so they must simply not get the opportunity for a while. There is a lot of work to be done before very careful short get-togethers can take place at home – when nobody else is about and everything is calm.

Unlike some female dogs that fight I go to where things are past the point of no return and they truly hate one another, I feel that, handled carefully, these two can be friends again. Their crates are beside each other and the dogs are relaxed with that. They can even be together out on a walk.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Flossie, 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, most particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. 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).

Cocker is Simply Too Excitable

Cocker Spaniel was pacing, rushing about, panting, drinking, wanting to go out, clamouring for attention, chewingOllie just kept on going! Pacing, rushing about, panting, drinking, wanting to go out, clamouring for attention, chewing…….

Being excitable may be an emotion and part of a dog’s personality – but it can be a learnt behaviour too when it’s constantly reinforced.

Dogs very often mirror their humans. Calm and quiet people very often have calmer dogs, and excitable people dogs that are more reactive themselves. This could of course be because people choose the breeds of dogs that suit their own characters.

Ollie is a two-and-a-half year old Cocker Spaniel, and as the owner of a Cocker myself I know how excitable they can be. In Ollie’s case, his excitement is unwittingly being reinforced. He will always eventually get the attention he wants while excited, demanding or barking. Like many excitable dogs, he can’t be given toys because he then directs his energy to wrecking them, though he was very busy with my unbreakable Stagbar.

When guests come ‘he calms down once they make a fuss of him’.  It might be more accurate to say that ‘he remains excited until they make a fuss of him’!

When I arrived he was very bouncy, tearing about, jumping up on me, going and having a drink, rushing about again and so on.

I said, ‘Let’s ignore what we don’t want – what is it we do want?’  I gave him a tiny bit of biscuit with a quiet ‘Yes’ each time he stopped still even briefly, then when he happened to sit or lie down. His brain was working!

Throughout the evening he was pushing one of the men to respond to him. This gentleman would I’m sure agree that he’s something of a pushover. The downside is that a dog can be less respectful and tries to control him in other ways too. The man can’t walk downstairs without Ollie trying to grab his feet and ankles.At last Ollie lay down briefly

Ollie is over-stimulated in one way and under-stimulated in another.  There is too much exciting stimulation and too little healthy stimulation by way of brain work and breed-specific stuff like nose work. He needs to be left quietly to work things out for himself like ‘good things come to calm dogs‘. He needs to actually be taught how to be calm.

I must say that it’s due to all the good things the men have done with him that Ollie is so friendly, confident and biddable. Absolutely gorgeous. Ollie’s good points far outweight any bad ones he may have. All his problems come down to over-excitement. Now that his owner realises that quietly restraining himself with Ollie will help him, that should help the dog to learn self-restraint.

When Ollie’s excited antics no longer get the attention he craves he will then start to learn. Meanwhile he won’t give up easily I fear. While he still believes excitement and demanding always works in the end, in the short-term he may simply increase his efforts.

They may be in for a rough few days during which they must occupy him with activities and calm attention but under their own terms – and when he’s not hyped up!

He will learn so long as his humans are consistent.

Six weeks later: ‘ Ollie is definitely a lot calmer and ongoing work will definitely give further rewards. The penny has finally dropped that if the ball is thrown and he brings it back and drops it then it gets thrown again …this is his current most favourite thing but we don’t overdo it!  Thanks for all your support over the last few months…Ollie is definitely a work in progress and I’m sure we’ll be in touch!’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ollie, 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 dog can often 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Won’t Come When Called

Adolexcent Springer Monty, finding it so hard to sit still

Monty

Monty goes hunting. He comes back when he is ready.

On the left is eight month old Springer Monty, finding it so hard to sit still while I took his photo! He lives with elderly Cocker, Millie.

The main and ultimate thing they want just now is for young Monty to come when he is called. He will do so, when he is ready and if there is nothing he would rather do.

Elderly Cocker Spaniel

Millie

Monty is a teenager after all.  I myself remember the trouble I got into when I was told to be home by ten and didn’t get in until eleven! I was even willing to endure my parents’ anger and do it again next time.

Sometimes ‘recall’ is a straightforward training procedure and classes will fix it, but this isn’t always the case.

Reliable recall starts at home.

If our dog doesn’t find us sufficiently relevant so doesn’t listen to us at home, if he is selective about how quickly he does as we ask at home – even simple things like sitting, and if he only comes when he wants to when we call him from across the room, then it’s not reasonable to expect him to come to us in a field full of smells and little animals to chase.

Reliable recall begins when he listens to simple things we ask him to do for us at home. We can make a game of recall around the house so that he is conditioned to come when called. Most importantly, he has to have reason to do our bidding. Is there something ‘in it’ for him? These things should be established inside before he is granted freedom outside again. Meanwhile they can give Monty exercise on a long line and work, work, work on a reliable recall in the face of distractions.

We tend to do things back to front. Because a puppy normally sticks with us, we give him freedom. Then, when adolescence strikes we may try to take that freedom away. Far better the other way around, to limit freedom initially and gradually grant it. Everything is much harder when the dog has already got used to freelancing.

One last thing about recall is that out in the fields we are competing with exciting stuff, so we need to make ourselves motivational, and the reward, whether it’s food or play, needs to be worth coming for.  Just as my angry parents didn’t stop me going awol in the evening, being grumpy with a dog that returns late won’t help at all. Little did my parents realise that extra pocket money for coming home on time would probably have worked a lot better with me!

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Monty and Millie, 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).