Guarding Food. Guarding Resources.

“We must show the dog who’s boss”.

Rex guards his food.

Guarding food and resources can be a contentious issue where human response is concerned.

Many conscientious dog owners, doing what they believe is best, follow dangerous, outdated notions.

These techniques can involve, right from the start as routine training, interfering with a puppy’s food while he’s eating and forcing objects out of his mouth. An easy-going puppy may simply tolerate it. Another may not. Instead of making the puppy back away from something he values, it can teach him to run off with the item and then, cornered, defend both the item and himself. I’ve seen this many times.

How might we ourselves react if someone tried to take bits of food off our plate or mugged us for something we had picked up?

There is that infamous clip of Cesar Millan ‘dominating’ a Labrador guarding food and his bowl. Guess what happened? Yes, the poor dog ultimately had no choice other than to bite after all his warning signals had been ignored. As a result of the uproar about this, he was interviewed by Alan Titchmarsh which is interesting to watch.

Guarding food when someone is closeSomehow this ‘being the Alpha’ with our dog thing had became popular culture, but it’s been totally debunked over recent years. Not only was it based on false assumptions regarding wolf packs (and domestic dogs aren’t wild wolves), but that using force is the only way to create an obedient dog.

Even this word ‘obedience’ suggests dominance and forced compliance.

Just one problem with this approach to resource guarding is that a strong-minded and confident dog is likely to stand up for himself – eventually. Some dogs genetically are more wired to guard.

If a ‘dominated’ dog backs off due to being overpowered by a particular human, what happens when someone else tries it?

“Why should I want your food anyway”?

How much better and simpler in every way it is to teach the dog that you’re no threat to his food; if nobody wants his food, what’s the point of guarding food after all?

Giant Schnauzer Rex is a very intelligent and energetic adolescent dog. He’s on the go most of the time when people are about, back and forth looking for trouble. This includes nicking anything he can that may be of value to his humans. It triggers a chain of reactions.

He’s probably under-stimulated where appropriate enrichment is concerned, so he orchestrates his own action.

It’s only natural for us to try to control over-excited and aroused behaviour by trying to stop it. Unfortunately scolding and warnings, Uh-Uh and NO, introduce conflict and confrontation. Even conflict can be rewarding and reinforcing in a way (else why do humans enjoy certain sports so much?).

Rex’ owners will now be on the lookout for every little good or desired behaviour to reinforce instead.

It’s proven beyond doubt that removing reinforcement from unwanted behaviours and adding reinforcement to behaviours we DO want leads to success.

Interfering with Rex’ food while he’s eating.

Using the ‘interfering with his food’ technique seemed to work when Rex was a young puppy. Unfortunately, guarding and growling re-appeared big time when he started to be fed something that was, to him, of much higher value.

Instead of leaving him to eat in peace, various suggestions had been given including hand-feeding him, touching him while he was eating and taking his bowl away. Instead of feeding him somewhere out of the way, the bowl is deliberately put where people regularly have to pass by him.

He freezes. He growls. They reprimand him. This can only go in one direction.

He simply needs to know that nobody is interested in his food anymore. He will be fed somewhere out of the way.

After some weeks of this they may from time to time walk past him at a distance, not looking at him, and just chuck in the direction of his bowl something particularly tasty – maybe a leftover from their own meat dinner. The food must be something of higher value to him than his own food. They shouldn’t hover or speak to him.

‘I happen to be passing anyway so here’s something nice’.

Over time they can get a little closer. If he growls, they have got too close or maybe stood still, and will need to leave it for a few days and do it from further away the next time. Any approaching person will deliver something better than what he has.

This really is in case of emergency should later someone, without thinking, get too close to him. They should only do this from time to time – a random and casual thing.

Back in the day people would have said, ‘Leave the dog alone while he’s eating’. We expect a lot from our dogs today.

We may need to do some serious, systematic work on general resource guarding.

‘Operation Calm’ is the first priority.

Rex’ high arousal levels and restlessness make work on his guarding food and other items more difficult.

This is a huge challenge because it’s hard for us humans, like old dogs, to learn new tricks. It also means that Rex will initially become very frustrated when his usual attention-seeking tactics no longer work. He will try harder. They will hold their nerve and add as much appropriate enrichment to his life as possible, activities that don’t depend upon their ‘fielding’ the behaviour he throws at them but instead are initiated by themselves.

I suggest very regular short bursts of activity including mental enrichment, hunting, foraging and sniffing, particularly in the evenings when they sit down and he’s the most trouble. He then won’t need to be pestering for attention.

Guarding food becomes unnecessary.

If he feels it’s not under threat, Rex won’t need to be guarding food. If he has plenty of attention offered, he won’t need so desperately to indulge in the attention-seeking ploys that he knows get the most reaction.

Getting Rex calmer involves most aspects of his life and will be a gradual thing.

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 Rex 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 much 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 any aggression 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).

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…

Uncontrolled Excitement. Biting Arms. Attacking Feet.

A dog’s uncontrolled excitement is a challenge to deal with.

They let Tia out of the utility room and into the kitchen where I was standing. She flew at me, grabbing my arm with her teeth. She repeatedly jumped up.

There was no malice in her at all, but it can hurt! It was uncontrolled excitement with possibly some anxiety thrown in.

She can’t help herself.

uncontrolled excitement

Butter wouldn’t melt!

The young Staffie was simply so aroused she couldn’t help herself. Meeting all people triggers uncontrolled excitement, particularly those coming to her house.

When the doorbell goes, Tia goes mental.

When I arrived we had set things up so that when I rang the bell she was already out of the way in the utility room wearing her harness. They fortunately had my favourite harness – a Perfect Fit – so they could hook a lead to the chest.

I instantly had to start working on her to save my arms! I stood on the lead. She was physically unable to jump now.

I got out my clicker and little tub of food. I repeatedly clicked and rewarded firstly moments when her body relaxed and she wasn’t trying to jump. Before long she briefly sat. I gave her a little more rope and carried on. Fairly soon I dropped the lead and she had got the message and calmed down. (A special note here – the clicker itself isn’t magic! It’s about knowing how to use it).

Changing No to Yes.

It’s amazing how sometimes a clicker, used in the right way, can open lines of communication. It changes ‘no – don’t do that’ to ‘yes – this is what we want’.

Usually when someone comes to the house it’s a physical fight as they try to hold her on a short lead in order to protect the person from her rough excitement. It’s a fight to get her away from the door. There will be commands and chaos! The lady describes her as being plugged in the mains.

When I arrived we were all quiet and calm. Nobody reacted to all this uncontrolled excitement.

It was little more than fifteen minutes before she went and lay down. She stayed in her bed now until I was ready to go, relaxed.

The ten-month-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier is all the time extremely wired up and ready to go. Meeting people fires her up most of all, but so do other things like her humans walking about carrying something. She will then go for their feet.

In the evening they can be sitting quietly watching TV and one of them gets up. The uncontrolled excitement kicks in. She barks and attacks feet.

I am sure Tia is genetically predisposed to over-excitement. Too often dogs are bred for looks over temperament and Tia is certainly a stunning dog. She is also friendly, biddable and affectionate. She may be more sensitive than one might imagine. There are several things that scare her.

Clockwork dog.

Like most people, they have been trying to calm her down by doing things that will actually be having the opposite effect, wiring her up even more.

Surely physically tiring her out should calm her down? It’s almost impossible to exhaust her and on coming home she’s ready to chase feet in the garden.

They give her long walks with repeated ball chasing and don’t understand why, however much of this they do, she doesn’t change. It’s like the dog is clockwork with a key in her side, and she’s being fully wound up daily.

I am certain that just giving her the kind of walking she would be doing if by herself, mooching, sniffing, chasing leaves, maybe digging, will alone will get rid of some of her uncontrolled excitement.

They can change those things that lead up to the biting sessions and they are quiet easy to determine.

Also they can change the things they do afterwards in response to her flying at their feet.

They will work on the ‘doorbell game’. First the will ring the bell so many times that it no longer heralds anything special. Then it will be the cue for Tia to take herself into the utility room. It will take hard work and patience – and food.

Jumping, biting, attacking feet are symptoms only – of uncontrolled excitement.

To get at the root of all this, they will do everything they can to calm Tia down. She is permanently so aroused and stressed that it takes very little indeed to send her over the edge. See trigger stacking.

Currently it’s impossible to ignore her rough and hyper approaches – thus rewarding it with attention. Instead, they now will themselves introduce short regular activity sessions throughout the evening, doing things that use Tia’s brain. She will no longer need to do things for attention.

They should no longer respond to barking but initiate things when Tia is calm. This way they reinforce calm rather than demanding, uncontrolled excitement – of which there should be less anyway.

It will take a lot of patience and effort, but will be worth it in the end for their beautiful dog. I just love her!

 

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 Tia and because neither 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 wild or uncontrolled behaviour. 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)

Too Much Excitement. Too Much Lots of Things

‘Too much’ results in stress.

Ollie’s stress levels are at the root of the problems. This said, not all stress is bad and a lot is associated with fun – but it’s too much of everythiToo much excitementng that’s the trouble.

So many things add up during the day. The eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo has to have the lady in sight all the time and panics when left alone. He barks at every sound outside. He can’t control himself when other dogs are about.

Their young children are often excited around him. Too much arousal, too much petting (and too vigorous), too much prolonged, rough or repetitive play, too much physical contact. They believe it makes him happy and it does, in a way. But it’s too much.

It was evening, the children had gone to bed and Ollie gradually settled. I watched him go and snuggle on the sofa beside the man who immediately began touching him. Ollie licked his lips, then licked his nose, then yawned. A little uncomfortable? To me it suggested the dog wanted the closeness but wasn’t asking to be touched. He soon jumped down.

When they walk past him, he will roll onto his back. They assume it’s because he wants a tummy rub. Really? It will depend upon context, but often it will be appeasement. “Please leave me alone.”

Why should Ollie be so stressed?

I saw for myself how easily he becomes anxious. Sadly, as a twelve-week-old puppy, right in the middle of his first fear period, he had a painful medical problem that resulted in his being confined for six weeks.

Ollie is a lovely friendly dog. He should be having a lovely life. He has love, attention, play, walks and the best food, so why should he be stressed? It’s about everything in moderation. There is, simply, too much.

There may however be ‘too little’ of the things he really needs – down time, sniffing time, closeness without necessarily being touched, peace and quiet without being alone, brain work, healthy stimulation.

So, I would say that cutting down on the intensity of everything will make a big difference. This has to be the starting point. At the same time, we will introduce activities that help him to reduce stress and to use his brain, instead of working him up into a frenzy of excitement.

One very interesting thing they told me is that Ollie loves a tight-fitting garment they dressed him up in for an occasion last year. Recently, sniffing a box, he dug down and dragged it out. He then he took it off and lay on it. Apparently, when he was wearing it Ollie seemed calm and happy which is why they felt he liked it. This started me thinking. How does he react when his harness goes on, I asked? He’s calmer then also.

From this I just guess that there’s a good chance of him being one of those dogs a Thundershirt or Ttouch wrap could help.

Other dogs send him onto a high

Here is another strange thing. Ollie is only aggressive to other dogs when his humans are eating! If there is dog food or bones about he’s okay.

He has only ever shown aggression to humans when other dogs are around.

Ollie’s arousal levels shoot through the roof when he’s near dogs. He is so desperate to play that he overwhelms them. In his uncontrolled way, he charges about, jumping over them and has nearly bowled over a couple of owners who were not pleased. The presence of other dogs gives Ollie such a high that he’s uncontrollable. The lady is now anxious about walking him.

First things first

Number one priority, then, is to calm him down a bit. Then after two or three weeks I will go again and see what we then have and what we need to do next.

 

I went back to see Ollie yesterday, a couple of months after my first visit. He’s a changed dog. I introduced his lady owner to clicker training and the lady and clever Ollie mastered a hand touch on cue in about fifteen minutes. Here they are.
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 Ollie and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  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 is 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)

Shock. Terror. Horrifying Event for the Dogs

Less than two weeks ago a huge shock event devastated the couple’s lives. It was all over the local and national news:

Shock of van driving into front door

‘A van has crashed into a 16th century cottage in Bedfordshire, smashing through its front door and becoming lodged in the wall.

The driver, a 34-year-old man, has been arrested and is suspected of being under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

(The lady) told the BBC she heard a noise “like an earthquake” when the van smashed into her property.

“This van came flying over a hedge and crashed into our hall and kitchen,” she said.

“If I had (not) left the room I don’t know what would have happened.”

What the news didn’t cover was that their two Airedale Terriers were there also.

Afterwards there was panic and shouting: there were fire engines, sirens, flashing blue lights, police and fire crew. The driver was apprehended. Only the van was holding up the front of the house.

Dogs Clem and Rupert had been put out of the way in the back garden in the dark. When the daughter came to take them away to her own house, she found them cowering and shaking.

To get to her car the two terrified dogs had to be walked through all this.

Can a dog be psychic?

A very strange thing happened that evening, beginning a couple of hours before the huge shock crash. Older Airedale Rupert, usually quiet and calm, stood staring at the couple, barking repeatedly at them.

Then….BANG!

Rupert had never behaved in this way before.

The house was propped up, tidied up as far as possible and the dogs were brought home a week later.

Clem hasn’t been herself since.

Placid Rupert now continues to stare at them in an evening, barking.

I met the two gorgeous dogs a couple of days ago, less than two weeks later. Rupert, more self-contained, took himself off having had a good sniff of me. Clem is the more needy. She was agitated in a friendly way and she wanted attention.

Already a sensitive dog, the recent events have caused her the most trauma. She undoubtedly doesn’t feel safe. 

After Shock.

This is a brief taster of what it must be like for dogs in natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes, or dogs in war zones. Something sudden happens that they don’t understand and their world goes mad.

Clem

A couple of days after the two dogs were back home a picture, all by itself, fell crashing down from the wall. The wall must have been shaken. Fresh panic for Clem in particular.

She is very receptive to the emotions and behaviour of her humans and the upset following the event has really affected the lady and the gentleman. Picking up on this will be adding to Clem’s inability to calm down at certain times.

She always has had a habit of leaping up and ‘biting’ arms when over-excited or aroused. Now that her stress levels are so high it’s happening even more. It really hurts. The lady cries out and there is shouting. Consequently Clem gets even more worked up.

When I was there we concentrated on showing her that jumping up at or on me didn’t work, got her no attention, but feet on the floor did. She was very persistent but she was also a very fast learner. In no time she was choosing to sit or stand calmly instead.

Knowing how this kind of dog can be strongly influenced by my own behaviour, I spoke quietly and really engaged with her. I gave her things to chew. Chewing helped her enormously.

The lady said she’d not seen Clem happy like this since ‘it’ had happened.

Our sensitive dogs mirror us.

Behaving quietly and calmly around Clem will make a huge difference over time. The couple’s nerves are understandably still very much on edge with the shock. Their lovely cottage is the product of years of hard work.

The number one priority for now where Clem is concerned is to do all they can to reduce her stress levels, very importantly by being quiet and calm around her. Any stress is cumulative and can last for days (for both humans and dogs). The stress of a shock like this will last far longer.

Working on stress-reduction by doing several small things which may not make a big difference individually should produce results when added together.

Dogs can get PTSD too.

Some symptoms of PTSD in dogs are listed in vetinfo.com.

I’m sure they will all get themselves back to normal before too long and, with luck and with work, Clem may actually end up more calm and confident than she was before the incident. Her humans will now act differently at those times when she can’t control herself, most particularly when they come down in the morning, come in from having been out and before meals.

Instead of entering the room to jumping and arm-grabbing from a hyper Clem with poor Rupert trying to intervene, they will now have a gate in the doorway. They won’t open the gate until Clem’s feet are on the floor and she has calmed down a bit. They can then help her out by giving her something to chew as they step through.

Human noise, crying out, shouting at her to stop and so on, can only intensify the dog’s arousal.

(Bonfire night and fireworks in a few days’ time may well be the very last thing Clem needs just now).

 

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 Clem and I’ve not gone fully 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. 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 (click here to see my Help page)

Competing Young Male Dogs. Over-aroused.

They got both Harley and Louis as puppies, at about the same time, ten months ago. They are now seeing some of the problems they might encounter with same-sex siblings.

The two dogs are, in fact very different. Harley is a Great Dane. Louis a Boxer.

Over the months as the dogs have matured, they have increasingly been challenging one another.

Constantly competing for resources and attention.

Competing with the other dog

Harley

Louis goads and taunts Harley by parading resources. Harley, the less confident of the two, gets  aroused and he retaliates. It ends with him flying on top of Louis and bowling him over, pinning him down.

This competing behaviour is now so well-rehearsed that it’s become a kind of habit. As soon as there is any stress of any kind – the two dogs start at each other. All trouble between the dogs is generated by over-arousal and both dogs spend a lot of time excited. It may start with play but quickly deteriorates.

The couple are constantly having to try to pull them apart – not easy.

When people come to the house the two dogs are so excited that they jump all over them – no joke with a huge Great Dane in particular!

If left out of the room they create a great fuss, making them even more aroused when they do eventually come in. They may already be redirecting their frustration, excitement, arousal, onto one another.

Their humans are never able to settle peacefully in front of TV in the evening without the dogs mugging them, jumping on them or goading one another.

Peace is impossible!

What has brought things to a head is that Harley is starting to behave with other dogs the way he does with Louis – bowling them over and pinning them down.

Spending time apart.

Their first challenge is to get the two dogs happy being apart for a much of the time, without pining for one another. They need more quality time spent with them individually. It will be hard to begin with until they get used to it.

They have the perfect environment – a large kitchen with TV and sofas where they sit, with two smaller rooms leading off each end. Both small rooms are gated. One for each dog.

Behind these gates they aren’t banished – they are still part of the family but they can’t see each other. They can be fed in their own rooms and have chews and toys.

Along with separating them for periods of time is prevention of further rehearsing. No more challenging and competing behaviour, with Louis taunting Harley and Harley getting rough.

Learning self-control.

The dogs have had some good training, but that goes out of the window when the two are together at home. Training doesn’t necessarily reduce stress. The two good walks they get each day aren’t doing the job either.

The dogs need to learn that good things happen when they are calm and to have self-control.

This is best done by the couple using positive reinforcement for every bit of behaviour they like. They should wait for calm before doing anything the dogs want like putting on a lead, opening the gate or putting food down.

At the same time, when the dogs are together they should be on lead, unless asleep. This will need two people, one for each dog, with them out of each other’s reach.

The benefit of physically keeping them from actually getting to one another is that each can now have something to chew without it causing trouble and competing. Chewing helps calm.

They can now begin to break the habits formed over the past months. They can be given activities that help calm rather than arousal, like sprinkled food all over the grass. Hunting and foraging are healthy appropriate activities.

It will take time.

Having established a good routine working with the dogs separately and walking them separately too, they can begin to let the dogs freely together for short periods when they are relaxed. They will be ready to grab leads and part them immediately aroused behaviour begins.

Then they need something on which to redirect this build-up of stress – a Kong each maybe.

When their stress levels are reduced and they are able to be happy apart, training can kick back in. They can learn to settle politely when people come to the house. This will only be possible when they are no longer so over-aroused and so intent upon getting at and competing with each other.

With more self-control, individual work and management in terms of physical restraint, the two should also learn to be more polite when people come to the house.

Over time, short periods with each other should get longer with ultimately their beautiful, friendly dogs back together.

 

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. 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)

Barks. Barking at Everything. Constant High Arousal

Barney barks at anything and everything.

he barks at everythingThe Wirehaired Fox Terrier came to live with the lovely lady ten weeks ago, a companion for her Welsh Terrier, Lily.

Barney barks for attention and simply won’t stop until he gets it. He barks at the slightest thing he may hear or see. He barks at anyone who might come to the house and this will continue, on and off, all the time they are there. He barks with excitement, he barks with frustration and he barks when he’s scared. He barks non-stop in the car.

Barney barks at Lily when he’s aroused and this can upset her. He also barks at Lily when the lady pays her attention of any sort.

Over-arousal. Habit.

There are two underlying things to be dealt with that are relevant to the excessive barking, the main one being Barney’s severely high stress levels. Even in this calm environment they are permanently so high that the smallest thing tips him over. He is constantly having to find ways to release the build-up.

The other underlying thing that’s relevant is habit. He’s learnt to rely upon barking. It’s a learned behaviour that has been reinforcing to him in some way, probably for most of his seven years.

Whenever he’s barked for attention he will have received it in some form or other, even if only to be shouted at (not by his new lady owner, I must add).

Barking may simply make him feel better (like we might feel better by screaming, shouting or crying if we had no other way to relieve our feelings of frustration, fear, anger or excitement).

His barking was worse than usual when I was there. Normally it’s just the three of them and things are more peaceful. We sat talking, sometimes in a fairly animated way. The lady was giving me her attention and not Barney. This kept him restless.

It was good that I was able to see everything at its worst.

Cold turkey.

I would liken Barney’s need for attention a bit to that of an addict’s need for drugs. The only way to reduce this is for attention barking not to work; he will need to go through a kind of ‘cold-turkey’. Things could get worse before getting better.

The antidote without veterinary intervention is plenty of attention and reinforcement being given for quiet and for calm along with various stress-reducing activities to fill his life with instead.

Where barking will get him nothing in the way of attention, stopping barking or even a momentary break in the barking will be reinforced. The idea is to teach him that not barking works a lot better than barking does.

Barking isn’t the only thing he does to relieve his stress. He may scoot along the floor or rock on his bottom. He may pester Lily. He drinks excessively and constantly licks his lips and nose. He pants.

He is using Lily to redirect his emotions by barking at her too. She tries to chase him off. I advised immediately calling him away as it upsets her.

When they did play, it quickly developed into Monty body slamming – see here. I’m told that when he is relatively calm they play nicely.

Gaps and empty spaces leave a void that needs to be filled.

I read something the other day which I like: ‘You don’t stop behaviours without replacing with new ones. Gaps, empty spaces, have a void that needs to be filled’.

The lady will be looking at more alternative activities to help him de-stress, involving chewing, foraging and so on. She had already made a good start. Anything that is currently happening in Monty’s life that works him up will be reduced as much as possible.

He will be taken into the garden on lead until he learns not to charge out, barking frantically as he goes. He won’t have unattended access to outside. The lead-up to walks and meals will be done differently for maximum calm.

We went through lots of things, ways to reduce his stress levels whilst looking for acceptable ways in which he can vent his overflow of stress for himself that will replace the barking.

A bit like the Tesco slogan ‘every little helps’, lots of small things should add together to help Barney. This in turn should, over time, reduce his barking.

 

Obsessing, Stressing, Panting, Licking

Obsessing; pacing; compulsively licking the floor.

The root to everything is down to Cocker Oli’s permanently aroused and stressed state – he only gets respite at night or when shut away during the day.

If he’s not compulsively bringing things to be thrown he is licking the floor (I suspect this will have started because his own shadow moves) or pouncing on imaginary things outside.

He paces. He pants. He is constantly obsessing on something. His stress infects the other two Cocker Spaniels, Charlie and the younger Billy. There is no respite for him.

Slow massage when the other dogs were out of the way seemed to calm him briefly.

He is offered zoopharmacognosy (the process by which animals in the wild naturally forage and select plants to self-medicate) which is helping him.

If we can get him to relax more, other things will fall into place. His arousal builds up to such an extent that in the evening it boils over. Several times he has suddenly gone into the red zone and attacked one of the other dogs for simply being too near either the lady or gentleman when he’s standing or sitting beside them.

On a couple of occasions he has attacked the lady as she has walked towards him. Such a highly aroused dog in his state of constant obsessing will have little control of himself.

Adjustment by his humans of their own actions is also necessary in order to reduce the excitement and stress in all the dogs – to create a calmer atmosphere.

‘Project Calm’

We are putting in place ‘Project Calm’ and already, in one day, the couple have made great strides.

also affected by Oli's obsessing

Billy and Charlie

There are trigger points throughout the day when the dogs get much too excited and noisy. When let outside first thing in the morning, when coming back in because breakfast follows. Then manic excitement because a walk always follows this with mayhem at 5.30am as they get to the car.

Now the man will come downstairs, put the kettle on, ignore them. Wait for calm before letting them outside – putting Billy’s lead on so he doesn’t tear around the garden barking anymore. Back in, he won’t feed them immediately but wait for calm again. Finish his cuppa!

Then they have a calm method for getting dogs into the car,.

The dogs have ‘their room’ during the day and in here Oli is calm. Although the lady works from home she has found that Oli is much more at peace in there with the other dogs. When they are let out there is bedlam again as they charge out of the door into the garden to greet the lady. Now before letting them out they will ‘Lace the grass’ with food. The dogs can then spend five minutes’ food-hunting and foraging which will take the edge off their excitement.

The couple will break the connection between returning home or letting them out and immediately going out for a walk.

They are changing routine now and these simple procedures are already working. At night-time when it’s time to let the dogs out, they do a very slow robot walk to the back door. When they get there they wait for no jumping up before slowly opening the door.

Robot-walking does wonders for creating calm!

A smallish crate in the corner may well help him too – somewhere that contains him. They can give him a special tasty filled Kong he never gets at any other time. At first indication he wants to come out they will open the door. If he knows he is never shut in there against his will he should be happier for longer periods of time. It’s certainly worth a go – in effect saving him from himself – and giving the other dogs a break from him.

They could also try very soft ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ music in there. It can be downloaded, or an iCalm Dog which is expensive but very portable and works brilliantly with some dogs.

Because the lady walking towards him seems to be a trigger for sudden eruption, she will get him to like it! Being a Cocker Spaniel I’m sure he’s good at catching things, so she will start from a distance and advance on him, throwing food as she goes until she is popping a piece in his mouth. She can do this in various places, particularly if he is near to the man.

The dogs should be treated as individuals sometimes. One at a time they can come out of their room and have a bit of quality time with the lady while she works during the day.

Instead of just ‘coping with Oli’ in the evenings when he is at his worst, they will plan activities. Healthy stimulation needs to be introduced – activities that will help him to de-stress himself and to use his brain. It’s impossible to be in a cognitive state and an emotional state at the same time.

He can have zoopharmo sessions; they can let the dogs out of the kitchen individually or in pairs for special attention; Oli can have a hunting game in the garden hiding something smelly; he could take a trip on lead around the block etc. etc.

He needs a little something to fulfill his breed drives but not feeding his obsessing. A short ball game in the garden – maximum 5 throws with a ball that appears from nowhere as though by magic and disappears again afterwards. After the 5th throw they can chuck some food over the grass so he can unwind.

As with many over-stressed dogs genetics is certain to play a big part, but people have to be at the heart of the problem too, so how the humans behave is crucial. He is at peace during the night away from them and, they are sure, during the day when shut in the dogs’ room (I shall ask for a video).

When eventually a much great degree of calm is achieved and Oli is able to settle for himself, other things may well come to the fore that we may need to deal with, but at the moment we can’t see past poor Oli’s arousal levels and obsessing which is also affecting the lives of the other two dogs.

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 Oli 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)

Rough Behaviour. Jumping. Scratching. Biting. Why?

I came to help with Honey’s rough, uncontrolled behaviour but it soon became apparent that their other dog, 8-year-old Bonnie, was one of the main triggers.

Both are Cocker Spaniels. Honey is already large for a Cocker and still only nine months old.

Rough and uncontrolled when aroused.

some rough behaviour due to over-excitement

Honey

Honey is a delightfully friendly dog but loses control of herself very quickly – and any efforts to try to impose control only make her worse.

When aroused (which is much of the time if anyone is moving about), she jumps up constantly. When excited or frustrated she usually picks on the lady. She will fly at her and grab her arms – she has bruises to show for it. If ignored, she scratches frantically at arms. It hurts.

Honey makes it impossible for the lady to get ready for work in the morning. She also attacks the hairdryer.

She did try the same things on me but I always wear tough clothes, just in case. There is no aggression behind it as such. Just an overflowing of arousal and frustration.

I was able to ignore it and start to reinforce any small moments of calm behaviour.

Eventually she was lying peacefully beside the man. Silently so as not to stir her up again, he dropped a piece of food to her.

Everything was going very well apart from Bonnie’s near-constant barking. She could see my car out of the window. She could see movement. She could hear things we couldn’t hear.

We tried everything to stop her but she was in such a state that the best we could do was for the lady to have her on her lap, well away from windows. For a while she quietened down.

Then she heard something else and erupted into a renewed frenzy of barking.

Immediately the now peaceful young Honey jumped up. She was clearly in a state of panic, rushing about, back and forth from Bonnie, licking her face, panting, jumping at us. It was actually quite pitiful.

Bonnie holds the trigger to the starter pistol.

The first obvious thing feeding into the jumping up, mouthing, biting and scratching are Honey’s extreme and near-permanent arousal/stress levels.

There will be such a build-up inside her that it’s like she’s ready to erupt at the slightest thing. People simply moving around or being busy is sufficient to start her off.

Everything will now be done to calm her down.

One main trigger is obviously Bonnie and her own panic barking, so although I was called for Honey, we need to deal with this at source – with Bonnie. Another is the over-enthusiastic behaviour of her humans towards her. They reap what they sow.

The other thing feeding the rough behaviour is that it always, but always, brings a result of some kind. It hurts so people react.

Bonnie

To make things harder, jumping up is strongly reinforced. She is nearly always fussed when she jumps up at them. At other times she’s told to get down. There is no consistency.

Inconsistency adds to frustration..

The couple are out all day but have a dog walker. Each lunch time she takes the dogs out for a lovely walk with other dogs. But still, like many people, they feel guilty having to leave the dogs alone for hours.

Out in the garden after work, the lady, trying to play ball with her, is literally mugged by her.

Protective clothing and ‘money’.

I suggest the lady has a tough jacket to hand to protect her arms. Honey must now realise that all play stops and all attention stops as soon as the rough jumping up and biting begins.

They should also have food on them all the time – to pay Honey for the behaviour they do want.

Honey should be given more appropriate stimulation – encouraging self control and calm. The morning routine can change so the dogs are downstairs with a chew each while the lady gets ready for work. They can then be given a short ‘sniff’ walk around the block before being shut in the kitchen instead of excitable play.

The people will keep actively reinforcing the behaviour they want. I reinforced feet on the floor and then lying or sitting down. Honey soon got the message with myself (until Bonnie set her off again).

The man made a good point. The behaviour is not ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It is ‘wanted’ or ‘unwanted’ behaviour – so we reinforce wanted behaviour only.

Triggers can come from unexpected quarters. Calming Bonnie’s barking will indirectly have a big impact on Honey’s rough behaviour.

This case brought home to me two things. One, it illustrated that the triggers for a dog’s behaviour are often not obvious, especially to the humans closest to the dog. An objective, outside view is necessary.

Scondly it illustrated how important it is with behaviour issues to see the dog in his or her own environment. Had I not been in their own home I would not have realised just what an impact Bonnie’s mental state has on Honey’s.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Honey and Bonnie. 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 any form of aggressive behaviour is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).