‘Unpredictable’ Viszla

Viszla Toffee is a nervous dogToffee is a beautiful fifteen month old Viszla – quite petite for the breed. She is a nervous dog – and has been since she was a puppy. She is an obsessive shadow chaser and (very unusually) already doing this at eight weeks old when they brought her home. He mother apparently also chased shadows as did one of her brothers, and I wonder whether it’s a case of ‘puppy see – puppy do’.

Toffee is anxious and reactive to many things: she stresses when people disappear from sight, she is scared of the sound of her food bowl on the floor, she doesn’t like people invading her space unless on her own terms, she warns off even family members getting too near her mistress and she barks frantically at even her owners carrying something she doesn’t recognise. She is likely to ‘upredictably’ go for certain dogs when on walks, particularly if they are either too near her lady owner or if there is food involved. It looks as though she’s unpredictable, sometimes going for other dogs or nipping people who go into her space, and sometimes not, but a lot of this behaviour will depend upon how much stress has already built up inside her.

In addition to her temperament being on the nervous side, Toffee has been given the additional burden of decision making.  It’s only when people see the whole picture through the eyes of an objective outsider that many owners realise just how much homage they have bestowed on their dog in the name of love – and just how much their dog calls the tune, which can put enormous pressure on her.

We will never change Toffee’s basic nature, nor would we want to, but a good dose of proper ‘parenting’ will do wonders for her stress levels, resulting in calmer walks, a more confident Toffee and less ‘unpredictability’.

 

 

Stress like a pressure cooker waiting to blow

The two terriers wearing doubled up leads should anything kick off between them I have just visited two more dogs living together that on occasion fight. Harry and Star, both terrier mixes, have always had a volatile relationship. They are both in their third year, and were adopted as puppies. Star must have some Border Terrier in her, and Harry is mostly Tibetan Terrier (sorry about the photo – the leads and harnesses were so we could relax should anything kick off, which it didn’t).

Harry seems quite laid back, but Star is an anxious and hyper little dog, and their owner has just moved house three weeks ago. The general stress of the situation has rubbed off on the dogs and their fights have increased. Every fighting incident has been where Star’s stress has erupted and she redirects it onto Harry. She is wound up by excitement. Harry has now begun to retaliate.

These dogs simply don’t have sufficient calm, authoritative guidance. They are loved dearly, but ‘love’ isn’t the issue. Various ‘training’ techniques have been tried, including punishment, and some I believe have actually made things worse. The dogs get mixed messages. The notion that ‘give her enough exercise and it will calm Star down’ clearly has not worked and is totally wrong in my view. A dog living naturally isn’t stressed and certainly would not waste energy running around for no reason at all. Too much stimulation merely adds stress to our simmering pressure cooker.

The owner is now going to learn how to be to be a proper dog parent! If she changes the dogs will surely change. Much of the time the two dogs are perfectly happy together and play nicely.

The name of the game is stress-reduction. All sorts of things can be translated into stress – chase games, excitement before walks, meeting other dogs, attacking the hoover or post, excited greetings, visitors and the owner’s own mood.  Keeping calm, avoiding all the little things that add stress into Star’s ‘pressure cooker’ and giving both dogs some calm and quiet rules and boundaries will I know make life very different for both Star and Harry – and their humans, and my job is to show them exactly how to achieve this.

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

Fergus and William’s Owner Very Pleased

Whippets Fergus and William are like new dogsJust under four weeks ago I visited William and Fergus – Whippet brothers that fought (their story is a few posts down).  Walks were a nightmare as the excitable William would redirect his stress onto Fergus, especially if they came across a cat – to such an extent that they were muzzled on walks. Both dogs would pull. They might fight at the gate and they might fight in the car if they saw a cat.  As in most cases, there were other issues that contributed to the problems the lady was having with her lovely dogs.

Their story deserves another write-up, because it is a perfect example of how progress is closely linked to how carefully, calmly and diligently the owners stick to their plan and apply themselves.

I have just received a lovely email, together with this picture of the two dogs:

“I’m really pleased to be emailing you to tell you how well behaved the boys have been this week (in fact I’m bursting to tell you!). I want others to know that this really does work – and I am enjoying it and enjoying my dogs even more than I did before.  It is such a pleasure to walk well behaved dogs!

William has at long last put some weight on, and I put this down to the better food that you recommended and the fact that he is not anxiously running about anymore.

Last Sunday we went for a walk along the canal, which was very busy. I walked both dogs together, they were excellent. When we started off William was over excited and trying to rush ahead, I did the work and after about 10 mins and only covering about 10 metres he finally calmed down and we were on our way with two very well behaved dogs. The best bit was when we approached a couple sitting on the bank next to their barge, they had five (yes five) Italian Greyhounds basking on the grass beside them along with two CATS!!!   I was astounded at how well behaved my boys were, we stopped to speak to the owners for a few minutes (the cats moved on to the bow of the boat) and either the  boys didn’t see them (although not sure how they could have missed them) or they really are settling and feeling more relaxed (I know I am).

Further on we let them off individually and as seems to be the norm now they came back when called and were generally little stars.  A bit further on we had to walk through a field with sheep in it.  Once again the dogs were brilliant and I was whooping with joy, they walked through the field and showed no interest at all (the sheep were very helpful and didn’t run away) about two fields on we met sheep again, these sheep did run off and William got a little excited (but I think that was more about the sheep poo that he was trying to hoover up) so I did a little bit of ‘lets go’ and once again he calmed down and we continued.  When we arrived back in the village we met a cat – they definitely saw it and their ears went up, I turned round immediately and walked back down the road, once they seemed settled I turned back again and walked calmly back to the car – amazing, this would never have happened before and I would have been a nervous wreck.

Its amazing that in almost 4 weeks we have had no aggression between the dogs, I am feeling so much more confident.

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

Border Collie and Kids on Scooters

Border CollieSky is a beautiful Border Collie. She is friendly and well-behaved but with one problem that is making her life less happy than it should be and worries her owners.

Sky is scared of metallic noises and wheels – especially young boys on those popular little scooters going past her garden and when out on walks. There are several living in their road. Listening for them passing her garden is becoming obsessive. She barks and charges about and gets very upset, and then take it out on the wheels of their wheelie bin! They manage to stop her barking by threatening to spray her with water, but to me that is like putting a sticking plaster on a dirty wound. It still festers underneath, getting worse, unless the cause of the problem is healed. Punishing barking is never a good idea. The dog is, in her mind, protecting herself and the family. Would we punish a child who screamed from the window ‘Help there is a man with a machine gun coming up the path’?

The final straw was when Sky managed to squeeze past them at the front door to chase a passing boy on a scooter. He dropped it and ran, and Sky ran after him. It demonstrates what a good dog she is that when she was told Come Back she did so.

Sky is also very scared of the metal ironing board, a metal ladder and noises associated with small wheels. This all seemed to start a while ago when she had a major hip operation, and I wonder whether the metallic sound of the cages being shut at the vets may have over-sensitised her so she now associates these sounds with a scary time in her life. We will never know.

The important thing is to find a way forward. This will be done by reducing all stress as far as possible along with not feeding her other little obsessive habits, like demanding ball play over and over, biting a table when the draw is opened and ‘catching’ feet. On walks, instead of allowing her to decide what to do when they encounter young children or scooters, they will make the decision for her – and lead her away to where she feels safe.

Then, with that and other groundwork in place, they will begin to desensitise her to metallic sounds and small wheels.

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

Stressed Red Setter

Red SetterIt was quite exhausting being with poor Archie, a three year old Red Setter. It took an hour for him to settle down – briefly – before he was on the go again, catching imaginary flies and lick lick licking the sofa. Toileting indoors is also part of the picture, and energy rushes where he tears all over the place, over the sofas and dangerously near to knocking over their toddler.

It was like being in the presence of someone struggling with a nervous breakdown. One can understand that living with this can be frustrating for people who don’t know what to do about it.  They love their beautiful, gentle dog – very small for a male of the breed – but their way of coping is the very opposite to what I would myself do.

I work on the theory that whatever people are doing, it isn’t working, else the dog wouldn’t be doing it any more. So, try the opposite or at least something very different. They had resorted to an electric shock collar, mostly used on ‘beep’, and compressed air spray, to shock the dog into stopping, and when he charges past the little girl they may resort to shouting and pinning him down. He is punished after the event if he has chewed a door frame when left outside alone, or if they find poo in the house.

I don’t want you to get the idea that these people want to be cruel, but they don’t know different and they are at their wit’s end.  Methods advocated for correction in a certain popular TV programme and taken out of context are largely to blame.

I explained how you can look at stress levels rising in a dog like water rising in a bucket. Each time something happens – the postman comes, the dog gets left alone, he gets chastised and so on – a little more water drips into the stress bucket. A dog’s stress levels can take days to go back down again, so it’s not hard to see that the bucket will eventually overflow.  In poor Archie’s case, it’s at the brim constantly, and each time the owners respond as they do it merely tops it up.

So, de-stressing big time is the order of the day. He does no repetitive stuff when out of the way in his crate. They will gently and quietly put him in there for calming ‘time out’ when he gets out of control with himself. They will have alternatives to hand for him to chew, to distract him from sofa licking but so he can still release the calming pheromones licking and chewing give him. They will ditch gadgets and punishment. They will look at positive ways to reward him and encourage him instead of negative methods.

They have a much better understanding of Archie now. By nature he is highly strung, but I am sure before long they will see a different dog.

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

Stress, a Jack Russell and Biting.

Stressed Jack Russell

Milo

Milo is a Jack Russell aged just seven months. It is hard to believe he is little more than a puppy.  He lives with another Jack Russell called Snoopy.

Both dogs show classic signs of stress. Milo is now biting people entering their house, he has bitten family members and he drew blood from a boy who came to play. The dog warden has become involved, and the distressed family were on the point of taking Milo to Wood Green.

The family moved house a week ago and this was the final straw for poor Milo. The whole family is under a lot of pressure.  There are four children and, quite naturally for kids, they can be noisy and excitable with the usual squabbling and so on.

Milo sleeps inside the parents’ bed and snarls if a child comes near; the dogs make it impossible for anyone to get out of the front door they are so frantic and sometimes they redirect their stress onto one another. They are picked up, fussed, teased and played rough with. The owners have given up on walks due to the level of excitement before leaving and the noise Milo makes when out.

When I rang the door bell there was bedlam behind it – dogs barking, children shouting in their efforts to put  the dogs behind the gate in the kitchen so they could open the door. We had Milo on a long lead to start with, but when he calmed down it was dropped. He ignored me and I ignored him. You can see from my photo that he may have been lying down, but he wasn’t relaxed.

Then an interesting thing happened. Someone came past the side window and Milo went into full guard and attack mode, charging at the window and then to the front window where I was sitting – and bit me! I’m always prepared and wear tough clothes so he only bit on my sleeve. I believe he was so fired up that I was the nearest thing when the stress ‘overflowed’.

Many people underestimate the devastating effect stress can have on a dog, and are often unaware of the sorts of things that constitute stress. It’s not only stuff associated with fear. Exciting play that the dog seems to love can cause stress as can walks, and they also pick up on the stress  of the owners.

I see it like a bucket of water. Each time something excites, stimulates or frightens the dog, some water drips into the bucket. In dogs stress can take a long time to dissipate – days – so that water stays there! Bit by bit the bucket fills until it is near overflowing and just one more drop will cause it to flow over. The slightest thing can then cause the dog to fly off the handle. This is why some dogs seem ‘unpredictable’. How they handle something they may meet one day when the bucket isn’t full to overflowing will be different to how they react to the same thing another day when it’s brim full.

Stress reduction in every way possible is the only option for Milo, difficult with such a busy and noisy household. However, they have no choice. If it can’t be achieved, he may actually be better off in a calmer home. He is only seven months old and as he gets older he can only get worse if something isn’t done quickly; he will be the one to pay the price.  Both little dogs are very well loved and it’s extremely distressing for owners to have a biting dog.

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

Weimerana panics when home alone

weimeranaPoor Chloe is a very stressed eighteen month old Wemerana. She has chronic separation problems and because of the damage she has done she is now crated when her owners are out at work. I go to many dogs and even puppies whose owners, having to go to work, are out for eight or more hours a day, and for some dogs this can be a nightmare. Many people unwittingly take on a dog without thinking that it is unatural for a sociable animal to be left alone for too long.  I can also imagine how stressful it must be to be out at work, worrying about the dog you love being frantic and wondering what you will find when you get home.

Separation anxiety is a difficult problem to solve because it has to be done gradually.

Chloe always was unhappy and maybe bored when left alone. She would sometimes toilet in the house or chew. She used to have the run of the house and her male owner, who was normally home first, never quite knew what damage he was going to find.

She had done hundreds of pounds worth of damage already when one day, three weeks ago, the gentleman arrived home to find total chaos. There was toilet mess downstairs but no sign of Chloe. Upstairs there were clothes and belongings all over the floor, along with more toilet mess. Chloe was cowering in the bathroom, urinating. The gentleman was so angry that he lost his temper and laid into poor Chloe. It was the final straw.

He felt absolutely terrible when he discovered that all the mess wasn’t done by Chloe. They had had a break in and poor Chloe was traumatised. Where before she was distressed at being alone, now she was also terrified of her owner coming back.

To keep their house safe they bought a large crate. I was finally called in because Chloe was damaging herself trying to get out of it. She managed it once, cutting her nose and blood all over the place from her tearing a toe nail and now they have had to padlock the crate to keep her in.

Chloe has other stress-related problems – she is obsessed with eating wood when out, she tail-chases and does a lot of ear shaking and licking herself.  Chloe badly needs help.

They are going to find a dog walker to come each day now and they are going to work very hard at getting Chloe used to being alone in the sure knowledge that they will return. In reducing her stress in all other areas also, she will gradually become a happier dog.  I have spoken to their vet who is also involved and prescribing Zylkene to help tide them over the first few weeks.

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

Little Staffie

Sophie is a perfect example of how wrong is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s reputation for aggression. It is the owners, not the dogs.  I have been to a good number of Staffies, and in only a very few cases was aggession involved, mostly between siblings of the same sex.

Sophie was rescued by Wood Green Animal Shelter and went to live with her new family at the age of fourteen weeks – she’s now a year and a half old and still quite small. She is very restless indeed. She rarely settles. She flies all over people, leaps right over the chairs, she chases her tail, licks people compulsively and chews her feet. She spends a lot of time pacing about and whining. She also has a skin condition which I’m sure is made worse by her general stress levels.

When I was there she settled a lot sooner than usual when people come to the house because I insisted everyone, including the two children, took no notice of her until she had relaxed – which took a long time. Of course, one touch or word, or even eye contact and off she went again – patrolling, whining, pacing, licking, chewing.

Sophie is a mix of playful and submissive with other dogs on walks, though tends to get excited and jump up at people. She pulls so much she has to wear a Gentle Leader which she hates. After most of my recent cases, it is nice to go to a dog that has no aggression issues towards other dogs – and this a Staffordshire Bull Terrier!

Walks, given because they are meant to calm her down, are having the reverse effect. When she gets home it takes her a long time to unwind – she is even more manic than when she started out. This is a clear indication that walks, as they are now, are doing her no good at all. It’s a case of ‘less is more’ for the time being.

Sophie has a lovely home with a lady who is conscientious in trying to do the right thing, and two helpful children.  This family would like another Staffie puppy in the fulness of time, but agree they must get Sophie ‘fixed’ first, and then they will know how to get things right with a new puppy from day one.

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