Separation Distress. Insecurity. Panic When Away from the Lady

Darcy watches the lady all the time.

When she’s out of sight he pants and he paces. Even when left at home with the gentleman, he whines and stresses. Separation specifically and only from the lady freaks him out.

Strangely, he shows no sign of being possessive of her nor does he seem jealous. The daughter can hug her and she can hold the baby without Darcy doing more than continue to watch her.

Suffers separation distress when away form the ladyDarcy is nine-year-old of mixed breed, probably Patterdale and Labrador. After a bad first year which he came out of extremely fearful, he has lived the past eight years in a very loving home with a retired couple.

From the start he has had to cope with separation from the lady. More recently she had an operation and had to leave him for five days. Perhaps that made his separation distress worse.

Two things happened towards the end of my visit that brought Darcy’s behaviour into focus.

The first was when he jumped and started to run for cover when the man moved. The chair had made a sudden noise, that’s all.

Licking his lips and nose.

The second was observing Darcy watching the lady when she saw me off. He was quietly behind her, licking his lips and nose continuously. Very worried and anxious, fearing the possible brief separation if she went out of the door. They hadn’t realised what this licking meant. See this: What your dog is desperately trying to tell you!

Darcy is quickly reactive in an instinctive survival way to sudden sounds. His reactions, being automatic, can’t be controlled beyond helping his stress levels so he feels as calm and settled as possible.

In a permanent state of worry and stress, he will naturally be a lot more reactive, just as we ourselves would be.

Daily Darcy constantly worries and watches over the lady. Daily he goes into a meltdown when the postman walks up the path and pushes mail through the door.

He seems more indifferent to the gentleman although he walks and feeds him. He seems to feel more secure with him and for some reason his fear of separation from the lady is causing acute insecurity which he doesn’t feel with the man. He will run to the man for protection when alarmed.

I don’t believe this is a matter of Darcy being ‘the lady’s dog’ as they say, or of his loving her more than the man. It’s more that the lady is ‘Darcy’s human’! He watches and worries over her constantly like she’s his responsibility.

I came to see them because he had bitten the same child in the face, twice. He had bitten adult family members a couple of times also, most likely around a sudden action and possibly involving food.

Lightening his burden

Lightening some of his burden and reducing his stress levels in every way possible should brighten Darcy up a bit. This will include installing an outside letterbox to spare him that daily panic. In a calmer and more confident state of mind he will be much less reactive.

Biting the little girl will have caused considerable fallout for Darcy as well as the child. No doubt the easily scared dog will have been scolded and banished. There will have been a general panic that will have freaked him out. This could well have resulted in his being wary of children – or little girls in particular – leading to the second bite.

It is very probable that the child had put her face in his while he was keeping his usual wary eye on the lady. Constantly fearing separation, his state of mind would make him react instinctively. If he had really wanted to damage her it would have been multiple bites.

In a more secure state of mind however, the previous instances of his snapping or biting may not have happened.

In a calmer and generally more confident state of mind he should now also be able to cope better with the very gradual, systematic and brief separations the lady will be working on. Whenever a door is shut on him, she will drop food. Fortunately he’s very food motivated – perhaps the Labrador in him!

We can’t ever ‘cure’ the biting but we can make it a lot less likely. 

Protecting baby and Darcy from himself

If someone isn’t constantly watching for Darcy displaying signs of unease, young children and Darcy should be physically kept apart, either with a lead or baby gate. Just being in the same room isn’t sufficient. They have a one-year-old grandson who is now crawling. Why just supervising dogs and children doesn’t work.

Poor Darcy. The gentleman takes him for a nice walk each morning and he doesn’t want to go. Even though he must know after all these years that he will come back home to her, he doesn’t want the separation from the lady. If popped in the car and taken further afield he feels better, so that’s what will happen now for a while.

One thing they aren’t making use of is food. The gentleman frequently shares his own food but the dog never earns it. This will now change. He will have some fun hunting for and working for his food.

Food will be used to make him feel better about things when he’s worried. The man can use food on walks to motivate him. Food puts a positive association to events and makes the brain produce endorphins – happy hormones.

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. Not all separation problems are the same. Click here for help

Easily Aroused Puppy. Rough When Excited. Nipping. Chewing.

It’s a kind of vicious circle. A constantly challenging, easily aroused puppy can get us down. Our resulting loss of patience makes puppy worse.

Days start badly

Easily aroused puppyTheir days with sixteen-week-old Luna start badly as the easily aroused puppy fights against having her harness put on. The exasperated lady admits being driven to shouting and tears by the wriggling, biting animal.

Luna’s life with the first-time dog owners started badly. As soon as she arrived they found she had Giardia. Then, she broke her paw after falling awkwardly and was hospitalised for a week at twelve weeks old.

The couple are extremely conscientious with her training, aware that she is a working dog. They are doing all they can to fill Luna’s life.

I have a more relaxed take on what a young puppy needs.

Discovery of what works and what doesn’t

At this age life should be discovering what works and what doesn’t, with perhaps less human direction. They do all they can to try to keep her occupied but she quickly loses interest. She now needs to start keeping herself occupied for a little longer.

In a way I feel they are trying too hard. It’s not often I would say that!

They listed for me the problems they are having with their easily aroused sixteen-week-old gun dog Labrador puppy.

The list of difficulties are all extreme for the same reason – over-arousal/excitement/stress with lack of self-control:

Jumping up at the work tops and table. Leaping at guests or people that want to say hello to her outdoors – she drew blood from someone. Jumping up, nipping arms and ripping at their clothes when excited. Biting when they try to put on or take off her lead or harness. Grabbing her lead and pulling when walking. Chewing on things they would rather she didn’t despite having plenty of toys – she doesn’t play with toys – just chews and tears them.

They are all normal puppy things but, with Luna, excessive.

She was very quickly and easily aroused all the time I was there. She became temporarily responsive to clicking for calm and feet back on the floor. It’s important to reinforce those times when she is simply being calm and still.

I gave her a yak chew which gave short-term respite before she started again.

Easily aroused and the need to chew

Easily aroused dogs have a big need to chew which is one of the most effective ways they can relieve their stress.

We will start by prioritising things most directly associated with Luna getting easily aroused, concentrating on lowering that ‘stress bucket‘.

The couple feel unable to leave her alone which is not helping. They interrupt their night to take her out in the early hours of the morning and are tired.

During the day the lady is constantly in Luna’s company, dealing with the behaviour.

Getting their lives back

I suggested they start to get their lives back. Firstly to try leaving her all night and see what happens.

They should get into a routine of shutting her in her pen after her morning walk with a stuffed Kong for half an hour. They then can go into the other room and relax! From what they tell me, she may bark briefly to come out so they should ignore that. Over time they can extend the time they leave her to two hours.

The lady can then have some freedom.

I suggested changing to better food. Diet can also affect the behaviour of an easily aroused dog.

We have a plan for putting the harness on without drama. Why not simply leave it on for now, eliminating that from the morning’s bad start?

Happier owners will make for a happier puppy, and visa versa.

I saw Luna yesterday and received an email this morning: Luna and I have not had any cross words this morning despite lots of attempts at mischief.  I think it’s the first time I’ve not shouted and cried before 9am in 9 weeks! She had lots of sniffs on her walk…(we’ve kept the harness on throughout to make things easier just for the first few days), and we started transitioning her onto better food this morning too…..Just now as I was writing this email she was jumping and nipping at my clothes and feet to get attention so I left the room for 5 minutes.  After a few whimpers she’s now taken herself off to her crate and is asleep. Peace!
Five weeks later: I did just want to write an email to say thank you.  Being able to keep our heads above water at the same time as having a new puppy has been incredibly hard.  Reaching out to you for help has been one of the best decisions we could have made, and the difference it has made to our relationship with Luna has been amazing. I’m not blind to the fact that things will continue to be hard work which is what we signed up to when we got a puppy.  Crucially though, it feels like we have a foundation of strength to build on, which wasn’t there previously. I at least feel the confidence now to give everything a fighting chance of working and that feeling is worth so much to us so thank you.

 

Fights. New Home Living With Other Dog. Stress

An elderly family member is no longer able to look after her dog and he now has a new home. Cairn Terrier Ben has gone to live with the couple and their dog Bonnie.

Bonnie is a Labrador Cocker Spaniel mix (the Labrador next door called to visit the mother dog!). She’s small, no bigger than a Cocker. 

A couple of fights

Each dog is great individually but being together is a challenge for both. In the short while that Ben has been living with them, there have been a couple of fights and another few altercations that they have interrupted.

Six-year-old Bonnie is used to being the only dog in the household. She’s extremely well behaved and obedient. However, Ben stirs her up and as soon as there is any arousal in the air it upsets her. She growls at him.  Although Ben submits and appeases, once she goes for him he retaliates and she comes off worse.

One of the fights resulted in a hundred-pound vet bill for damage around Bonnie’s eye.

Ben’s life has changed dramatically.

Ben has a lot of habituating to daily life and getting used to things. He lived in a very quiet place with an old lady.

He is terrified of home things like the vacuum cleaner, lawn mower and hose. On walks he is scared of vehicles and bicycles.

Because of the built-up effect of stress and tension, at the moment he will be in permanent aroused state inside.

Fights when arousedIt’s his inner stressed state and fears that Bonnie is probably picking up on. This makes her reactive.

There was graphic evidence when I was there. The cat who had been keeping out of Ben’s way, got too close to Ben. She jumped up onto the kitchen side in a panic. Bonnie’s immediate reaction was of aggression towards the cat. This never normally happens as she and the cat get on very well.

Bonnie can’t cope with Ben’s arousal and this is causing the fights.

The incidents happen at predictable times when there is excitement or barking. She will hump Ben. I feel she’s attempting to relieve her own inner stress whilst trying to get some control over him.

When the humans are out of the way however the dogs relax. They sleep. When the couple goes out, they come back to drowsy dogs.

A child is coming to live with them

Another factor makes it vital that there are no more fights. They have a friend with an eight-year-old boy coming to live with them in the very near future. The child is wary of dogs.

So, we will work on the root cause of the problem that is causing the fights. Ben’s state of mind. He needs desensitising and counter-conditioning to all those fears he’s having to cope with.

The couple should, for now, completely avoid those that they can – like vacuum cleaner and hose. There is enough other stuff to deal with.

Enjoying walks is a priority, so they will work on his fear of traffic. From a distance from them that Ben’s comfortable, they will associate moving vehicles with special tasty food.

Without the deadline and concerns about the child coming, they could have relaxed and taken their time. But this puts a bit of urgency into the situation. However, it’s important they take things a step at a time and don’t rush it (a stitch in time saves nine and all that).

When should the dogs be together?

When Ben first arrived the dogs were freely together. Then there were the couple of fights.

Next the dogs were kept totally apart if not on lead.

Just before I came this had progressed back to the dogs being together – separated if there were signs of trouble. I am worried this could be too late.

In addition to helping Ben, there are the usual flash points of arousal that could result in fights. These include when someone comes to the house, if they rush out into the garden barking and if someone walks past the fence.

Resources cause fights, so no balls, toys or food should be about when the two dogs are together.

Dogs separated by a gate unless all is calm.

I prefer for now keeping the two apart at times when they can’t be sure things will be fairly calm. ‘Apart’ should be the new default with ‘together’ only at selected and safe times. Until the child and his mother have settled in anyway.

It’s vital the two dogs no longer rehearse the behaviour. Removing rehearsal will help to remove fights from their repertoire rather than the opposite.

I witnessed just how good they are with one another in the short periods when nothing was stirring them up. In many cases dogs can’t be in the same room – or even look at one another – without breaking into an attack of rage.

It’s a good sign.

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

Barks at Inanimate Objects. Stress is the Trigger

 

Jester suddenly barks at inanimate objects. Why?

Something tips him over.

He looks about and he looks up. He spots a burglar alarm box high on the wall of a house or a security camera, a clock, a satellite dish, a street light or even the moon.

Barks at inanimate objectsJester barks uncontrollably.

He is a twelve-month-old Labrador Border Collie mix. He’s friendly, gentle and cooperative. His young owners have been very keen to do the best for him right from the start and in so many ways their love, training and hard work has paid off.

They give him plenty of brain games and enrichment in the house.

The problems started a couple of months ago when out. Jester began to bark at (silent) burglar alarm boxes on houses. Yellow ones and blue ones initially. This is interesting, as yellow and blue are the two colours dogs can see clearly.

Gradually the barking has spread from alarm boxes to other things.

He barks at inanimate objects; what triggers it?

The behaviour is often triggered by something sudden. A sound or sight that alarms or arouses him. A distant dog may bark, for instance.

He then immediately starts looking upwards like he’s searching for something to redirect his arousal onto. Where he first used to latch onto burglar alarms (blue or yellow), it can now be other things like street lights, fire alarms, lampshades and even the moon when he was particularly worked up.

We first need to deal with this at source by reducing Jester’s arousal and stress levels in every way possible. There are a few things to put in place that, when added together, should bring results.

Football in the park.

One key thing they are doing, with the best of intentions and because Jester loves it, is to kick a football for him in the park for about an hour a day. Instead of walks being something he’d be doing if alone – sniffing, exploring, meeting dog friends and mental activities – he is being pumped up. He loves it. Like any other addict, an adrenaline junkie can never get enough.

They will also work directly on what they themselves do when he barks at inanimate objects. As soon as something triggers the ‘looking upwards’ behaviour they will give him something else to do that is incompatible with looking up and barking frantically. He can’t, for instance, sit and look at them, forage for food or perhaps catch a ball, at the same time as looking up high and barking at something.

If they leave it too late and he does begin to bark, they should immediately redirect his energy onto a different activity like running in the opposite direction and then go home to calm down. That walk is now doomed.

This kind of ritual can easily become a learned behaviour, a default in response to arousal. It gives him some sort of relief. 

When he’s out on walks and more relaxed, they will encourage him to look at these things calmly, whether alarm boxes or a particular street lamp that gets him going – then to look away again, using food. The Labrador in Jester means he is very motivated by food!

Human-generated excitement.

Every day his arousal/excitement/stress levels are being topped up with human-generated excitement.

It’s like when he can’t cope with over-arousal he has to find something to redirect it onto. It can be general build up of arousal simply overflowing or something identifiable that sends him over. His ‘stress bucket‘ overflows.

Walks and play should be such that they reduce Jester’s arousal levels rather than increase them. I suggest putting an end to the football and instead allow him lots of sniffing and exploring time. Let him choose what he wants to do. He will need to go cold turkey on the football and so will they! This will mean sacrificing some of their own fun unfortunately.

It’s outside the house where the behaviour occurs. But then, most of the stressors happen outside the house. There are a number of things to work on or avoid altogether when out in order to help Jasper overcome this.

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)