Unpredictable Aggression. New Baby, New Dog.

 

Unpredictable aggression?

Unpredictable only because they can’t see inside Banjo’s head. If they could, and if stress was visible, they might see a little pressure cooker in there; they would see how over the past five months or so things have simply become too much for him.

Unpredictable also because they don’t realise how small a final trigger has to be to make the pressure cooker blow.

Frenchie Banjo is eighteen months old. He has what sounds like the perfect life, full of people and action.

A new baby – and another dog.

Banjo lives with a young couple and their large family – three generations. There are two or three children. With the couple’s baby born five months ago, Banjo was now no longer their number-one baby.

Unpredictable due to stressShortly after this another family member moved back home with his one-year-old Labrador, Ellie. So now Banjo was no longer number-one dog either.

Life now became a lot more arousing with endless play. Banjo carries on long after Ellie would like to stop.

Then Ellie came into season. They were kept apart, causing Banjo great frustration.

Things now escalated with Banjo growling and flying at and grabbing the sleeve of a family member who was playing excitedly with one of the young children. He became aggressive when she was playing tug with Ellie.

Banjo had got on very well with the cat but now was going for him too.

He was becoming increasingly possessive around chews and food.

Banjo attacked the man’s foot.

It came to a head a few days ago when Banjo was on the floor by the grandfather. Beside him was a chew – a chew that Ellie had left. The man moved his foot towards it and Banjo flew at him.

At that moment this small act pushed him over the edge. He would have bitten repeatedly had the young lady owner not grabbed his collar.

Another contributing factor will be that with each show of aggression the little dog has been misunderstood. It’s understandably been met with a strong reaction. Meeting aggression with aggression can only make things worse.

The vet recommended they re-home Banjo. The thought of this upsets them greatly.

Vets only have what the owners tell them about a dog’s behaviour and what they can see in the unnatural environment of the surgery. A good behaviourist will go to the dog’s home and see the whole situation in context. It is impossible for owners to relay a clear picture of what is happening. They are too close to it.

Going to the little dog’s home and seeing him and the whole set-up for myself, I believe that his continually topped-up stress levels are the cause of his behaviour.

Reducing stress is the place to start.

Banjo won’t understand games like ‘Peep-Bo’ and ‘BOO!’. If someone is playing excitedly with one of the small children or Ellie, instinctively he may try to break up what he sees as ‘potential conflict’. Similarly, when someone dangles the baby he may become concerned. A third dog will split up worrying behaviour between two other dogs.

Banjo stares. Banjo watches.

Baby’s dad buries his face into the baby’s neck to kiss him and Banjo growls. After all, if a dog grabs another dog by the neck, this can be potential trouble. Is he intervening?

They will learn to understand Banjo better. This includes learning to read read him – though a Frenchie’s face may be a bit harder to read than some. Staring with hard eyes will be watched for. Stillness can be a warning.

Looking at things through Banjo’s eyes without our own human interpretation they can look quite different. He’s not an ‘aggressive’ dog at all. He is simply responding in an aggressive manner to things that confuse and upset him in some way.

Work to do! They will work on Banjo’s possessive behaviour around food and chews. They will be doing more to enrich his life. Getting his brain to work and letting him work for some of his meals by foraging and hunting will help him to adjust. They will control the play between the two dogs. 

Unpredictable?

Possibly Banjo’s behaviour is, actually, quite predictable. Too much has changed in the Frenchie’s life. The baby. Another dog. Too much uncontrolled play. Ellie coming into season. Add to this people coming and going. Excited play. Excited homecomings. People winding him up before walks…..

Life has changed in another big way recently with poor Banjo no longer sharing their bed as he has done for the past eighteen months. Might he feel pushed out? He has never shown any aggression whatsoever with baby but they have done this on advice because the dog is ‘unpredictable’. It’s a shame because it was a good baby-bonding opportunity but it’s always best to err on the safe side.

My prescription? A big dose of much less excitement, more quiet and more calmness from all the humans around Banjo. Learn to read him for warning signs of stress – and stop what they are doing if it’s troubling him. Then work on getting him to feel differently about whatever it is.

A calmer dog is unlikely to show unpredictable aggression. A calmer dog will be a lot more tolerant. There are no guarantees, but with work and with the whole family pulling together, Banjo should hopefully get back to being his old self.

 

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 Banjo because neither the dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression are 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)

Behaviour change. Erratic. Staring. Upset or Unwell?

Maybe it wasn’t such a sudden behaviour change after all. Perhaps there were already signs.

Earlier when we spoke on the phone I heard this story:

Sudden behaviour changeIt began about three months ago. Ambrose was spending hours just sitting and staring. Continue reading…

Obsession With Small Child. Fixated. Reactive.

She has obsession over the childMaddie, a delightful seven-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, has an obsession – the little grandson, now aged four.

I met a confident, relaxed and friendly little dog. I had left her alone to sniff and investigate me without trying to touch her until she was ready. Also, I was already seated before she joined us.

A new person walking directly towards a dog in a doorway, looming, can be intimidating.

Maddie is a very friendly and well socialised little dog, great with most people. She is particularly reactive to children however.

Her main problem is the little grandson – we will call him Jack.

Jack is a very good with Maddie. He treats her with respect. They have known each other since he was born.

He is now getting fed up with her behaviour towards him – even a a bit scared.

Maddie has an obsession: Jack.

As soon as he arrives Maddie is running at him, jumping up and barking. It’s excitement to see him for sure, but is it pure pleasure? I doubt it.

This generates a lot of human excitement and understandable scolding. The dog is getting worse.

All the time Jack is moving about, Maddie is barking at him. She rushes up the stairs ahead of him, barking down at him. When he goes downstairs she rushes ahead of him, barking up at him.

When he sits down she stops barking but she sits right beside him, staring at him.

He may now be able to move about slowly – though she will be at his heels. If he runs, as children do, she will begin to bark again.

Maddie is very agitated.

So far I haven’t actually seen this for myself. My assessment is from close questioning rather than observation. They have some groundwork to put in place first before having Jack round again.

It is obvious that Maddie has some sort of fascination for Jack. She seems excited and scared of him in equal measure. It sounds like she seems to want to control him, herd him. The herding theory is plausible. Schnauzers and Miniature Schnauzers were originally used as cattle herding dogs.

Being a child, Jack will naturally be somewhat unpredictable. He has become Maddie’s obsession.

The plan is for them to have a well-rehearsed short visit with Jack, dealing with Maddie completely differently but without me there to complicate things or cause any extra excitement.

Then Jack will make second visit with me already there.

An unused trump card.

Instead of trying to stop Maddie from behaving like this using scolding and restraint, they will be upbeat. They will sound encouraging and reward her for being quiet instead. They will reinforce her when she looks away from him – with food. They’ve not tried using food for reward and reinforcement so they have a big, unplayed, trump card!

They will now think in terms of helping her out rather than disciplining her. This will mean putting her on ‘remote control’ by working on a solid, bright and encouraging ‘Maddie Come!’ so that she immediately comes away from Jack when asked to. This is part of the groundwork.

Setting the scene.

Most importantly, the scene needs to be set in the best way to help Maddie, so that when she comes into Jack’s presence she’s not already highly aroused and barking.

Managed in this way, both Jack and the adult humans will be a lot calmer and less anxious, which Maddie should pick up on.

She will be out of the way when Jack arrives. He will already be sitting down when, much calmer, she is brought in to join him. She will then be given things to occupy her mind and help her to calm – she would love a Kong or a chew. The session will be kept very short.

After this initial ‘trial’ session, I will be there for the second session to see for myself what is now happening. I can make sure we are using the very best tactics for both Jack and Maddie.

Email couple of weeks later: I’m pleased to let you know we had Jack round for a couple of hours and the difference was immense. Did exactly as you asked and it worked very well. Jack enjoyed hiding her food as well.

 

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 Maddie 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 or aggression 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)

English Bull Terrier and Toddler

EBT Stanley sitting in a chair holding his ballStanley is an English Bull Terrier of under a year old, and his new owners have had him for two weeks. They are worried because he ‘squares up’ to their 16 month old toddler. He is fine so long as the little boy isn’t on the floor at his own level. Children stare and this may be part of the problem. Dogs can find direct eye contact either intimidating or confrontational.

Stanley is a slightly strange case. He is aloof. It’s like he grants people the privilage of being allowed to touch him. He gets attention whenever he asks for it, then walks off – ‘I’ve had enough’.  I noticed when I walked about that he stood sideways in front of me blocking me, and made no effort to move as I approached him.

In the two weeks that they have had him Stanley has been allowed to consider the house his own personal kingdom. There is nowhere he’s not allowed to go including all the family’s beds.  I fear that if he carries on like this it will only be a matter of time before he begins to object when someone wants to remove him. He’s still testing the waters. It’s quite a small house with eight family members spanning three generations, so there is a lot going on. He goes where he wants and does what he wants – including wrecking the garden.

If Stanley is allowed to believe that he rules the family, he may believe it’s his job to put the little boy in his place. He may not welcome an uninvited intrusion into his important personal space. So, the family owes it to Stanley to put some rules and boundaries into place for him pretty quickly. There should be certain no go zones in the house. Most importantly of all, they need to work on the relationship between the little boy and the dog. First and foremost they need to play safe, and get a gate so that the two can be kept apart unless closely supervised. Because everybody is on tenterhooks when the two are together, this will be picked up by Stanley and not be helping the situation. So, for security and so that they all relax, Stanley must be on lead and maybe even the toddler attached to reins. Then that the people can gradually work on the situation, with Stanley associating the little boy with good things like treats, learning to come away when asked or when he feels stressed by the toddler, and also encouraging the child not to stare if that’s possible!

Stanley is a case of a rehomed dog where you don’t quite no what you have got for the first few weeks. As dogs settle in and establish their boundaires (or lack of!) their real personalities and possible former problems will surface. It’s good to start with firm rules in place. Better too strict than too lax, and fairer on the dog, but without too many demands or commands. It’s human nature to do the opposite – we want to over-compensate for the past in the mistaken belief that in order to make him feel at home he needs no boundaries and lots of fuss!

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