Stressed Border Collie

Highly stressed Border Collie Coco is panting

Coco

Coco looks a little like Basil Brush, with one ear up and the other down! She’s an unusual colour for a Border Collie. This is the best photo I could manage, because she was pacing  all the evening.

She lives with a much calmer Border Collie, Shep. The fact the two of them are exactly the same age though from different backgrounds and both treated the same by their owner, just shows the importance of stable genetic makeup.

Apparently I saw Coco at her worst as she was already unusually hyped up before I arrived. She had had a particularly stimulating walk involving lots of ball play, and there was Trick or Treat out in the street. There may have been other happenings during the day contributing to the build up of her stress levels. Once things get to this stage there is little one can do. From the moment we mentioned the ‘W’ word in conversation, she was pacing to and from the door, whining, panting and jumping onto people. This carried on for over three hours. Restraining her in any way simply made her worse, or made her redirect onto poor Shep.

The  perpetual stress results in her being reactive to dogs and scared of people, chasing traffic, barking in the car at anything moving and being especially frantic around small children who visit. Consequenlty her owner is anxious, and clever Coco will know this.

Where it’s tempting to spray with a water pistol to simply stop her barking at children, or to physically scold and hold her back from moving vehicles, this is not dealing with the problem. Techniques like this will only associate children and traffic with more unpleasant stuff.

The problem has to be dealt with at source by removing all stress possible, and looking at the sort of rules and boundaries that would make a dog feel secure. Often things that dogs seem to love like prolonged ball play, walks preceeded by frantic excitement and lots of running about in general, can prove just too much. Coco loves brain work and I feel this is healthier stimulation for her at the moment. At home, although well trained so far as commands are concerend, she has few restrictions, and may feel safer with some physical boundaries and rules.

I would prefer a stable dog with little formal training to an unstable dog that that is highly trained. ‘Training’ is the icing on the cake. We need to get the cake right first. Collies like Coco who came from a farm, being extremely intelligent working dogs who are no longer doing what they are bred for, can be a challenge. People so often think that hours of running around and stimulation can replace hours of waiting patiently beside a shepherd, running off when commanded to do their job, and then returning when instructed. Where they go and what they do is controlled by their master and the relationship between the two is clearly defined. What Coco does and where she goes is largely controlled by herself, and the relationship between her and her owner is not sufficiently defined to give Coco confidence in her.

So, giving Coco fair, consistent physical boundaries and working on reducing excitement and lowering her stress levels will do wonders for her I am sure.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
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A black Labrador and a Jack Russell

Black Lab Daisy lying down after a busy day

Daisy

Jack Russell Betty after a busy day running with the horses

Betty

Black Lab Daisy, four, and older Jack Russell Betty have a wonderful life. They run beside the family’s horses each day, and accompany them to the stables. They are loved dearly. So long as they are not over-excited, they are polite and sociable.

To start with, sitting peacefully in the sitting room with the lady, gentleman and their teenage daughter I was wondering why I was called out. Then the eighteen-year-old son came home with massive excitement, sat down and roughed the dogs up – stirring Betty in particular into a frenzy. He then departed as quickly as he had come in, leaving Betty to unwind somehow, which she did by taking it out on Daisy.

Just imagine tickling and throwing a young child around until it was hysterical and still not stopping? It would end in tears for sure. It may be done in the name of love, but is it kind? No!

This was something I noticed, but not what I was called for. There are two issues that trouble them. One is quite persistent barking at the window – initated by Jack Russell Betty, through the garden fence at the dog next door and at the front door. Barking causes yet more barking. Stressed dogs bark and barking makes dogs stressed!

The second issue is that they are unable to take Daisy out with them away from home, because she is impossible on lead. They had her from about eighteen months old and she had probably never been on a lead prior to that. She pulls so much it’s painful to hold her. They recently tried a trip to the pub garden where Daisy became stressed  at people or dogs coming towards them where they sat. It is no wonder, given the state she must have been in by the time she got there.

Because these dogs have plenty of exercise, this is easier for her people than most as they can take their time, working at it bit by bit. The golden rule of  ‘never again does your dog go anywhere on a tight lead’ (I show them how) won’t mean that it’s a trade-off between exercise and walking nicely.

At least twice a day they go though the door to go over to the stables where they keep the horses – and Daisy is away! She leaps into other people’s gardens, scavenges for bread put out for the birds, charges all over the place – ending up at the stables ahead of them. When loose lead walking is established in the garden and out the front, it can slowly be introduced, a few yards at a time, into the journey to the stables!

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

Two Boxers with Too Much Freedom

The two Boxers have too much freedomHoney and Millie are both six years old. They were brought home on the same day, but they are not sisters. Millie came from a good breeder and nice home environment, whereas Honey missed out on some vital early input from siblings and mother, and had to be hand reared. What happens during the first twelve weeks or so of a dog’s life makes a huge difference and I don’t believe can ever entirely be reversed. A dog without proper early interaction with siblings and mother will be harder work.

The two dogs used to get on brilliantly. They had puppies at the same time  – even putting all their puppies together in one whelping box and sharing the maternal duties.

Unfortunately things have gone downhill.  Honey, predictably, is a much more stressed dog. A short while ago, due to complications in a pregnancy, Millie had to be spayed, and the imbalance of hormones between them may be adding to the growing tension between the two dogs.

Honey will suddenly just go for Millie. Sometimes she gives ‘that look’ first, sometimes it seems to happen out of the blue. There are a couple of common denominators – the lady is always present and it seems to involve comings and goings, either of people or one dog returning into the presence of the other.  On most occasions the house has been busy and Honey will have had a build up of stress.

To my mind the biggest contributor of all to Honey’s stress levels in particular is the enormous amount of freedom the two dogs have. They have quite a large area on the estate where they freely roam – controlled only by an electric barrier. They are left out all day with an open kennel for shelter. They are there at the gate whenever anyone arrives and it is a busy place. Honey barks, growls and hackles – scared and warning. It’s quite surprising that all her stress is taken out on poor Millie and that she’s not actually gone for a person by now. There is a public dog walking path through the estate that they can see but not reach, which also causes barking and stress.

These two dogs are in charge of the territory, no question about it. Without realising it, the people are often allowing the dogs to be in charge of them also. If it were just the much more stable Millie it may not really matter as she can handle it. Honey can’t.

I am hoping that they can find a way of enclosing the dogs during the day when they themselves are not about and that they feel happy with, and of keeping them well away from the gate area when people come and go so they are let ‘off duty’.  My own dogs are peacefully contained in quite a small area in the house when I am out and I wouldn’t have it any other way for their own sakes – and for the most part when they are anywhere further afield than my garden, I accompany them.

Ruling the roost really isn’t easy on a dog. With some indoor leadership work as well as limiting physical boundaries, Honey’s stress levels should then reduce and I am sure she will not feel the need to take it out on poor Millie. Possibly spaying her in a couple of months’ time when the time is right could help, but I don’t believe this alone is the answer as the dogs already had had a few differences earlier. It needs to be done in conjunction with the behaviour work.

Rearing littermates usually comes with problems, and even though these two weren’t actually from the same litter, because they were adopted together at the same age there will be little difference.

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

English Bull Terrier on High Octane Fuel

English Bull Terrier has manic bouts of frenzyPoor Leo, a four-year-old English Bull Terrier, is in a bad way. They were so worried that he might bite me that he was muzzled throughout our meeting  – with it just taken off for this photo.

Here was yet another dog who as a puppy that was the strongest, greediest and bossiest in his litter. Leo belongs to a young gentleman who lives with his father and has serious problems with pent-up stress, leading to aggression – around food in particular.

He gets manic bouts of frenzy, flying around and going for the two men. The young man then physically pins him down to prevent someone getting hurt. This is all getting increasingly out of hand. Castration made no difference at all.

Leo’s aggression around food is puzzling. He is reasonably calm while his food is prepared, and OK when it goes down. It’s afterwards that the problem starts. It’s like he is hyped up with high octane aggression fuel. He starts to spin around like he’s winding himself up before attacking. They have to catch him and muzzle him quickly. He is fed quite smelly cheap tinned food. Food can influence behaviour in a big way. While they prepare their own food they have to keep feeding Leo bits to stop the spinning and biting.

Putting him out of the way is also a problem. The house isn’t big so it means the garden, and then Leo simply barks and barks.  They will need to enlist the understanding of their neighbours for a while.

They really love Leo and want to do the best for him, but simply don’t know how. The confrontational dominance methods seen on TV are making him worse. These techniques create a battle which they are unlikely to win and who wants that sort of relationship with their dog anyway?  Leo is alone for about ten hours a day, and not given daily walks. Interaction is either rough and tumble exciting play, or getting cross with him for persistently barking until they do what he wants. He is allowed to lie on top of the young man, effectively pinning him down, but then may bite if removed from the sofa.

This is a dog with huge stress issues and simply no rules and boundaries in terms that he understands. De-stressing Leo is where it all starts. I suggested a technique for feeding him, after which I feel he should be left alone for a while to give him time to calm right down.  The energy rush of his food is all in one meal – understandable because they don’t want this ordeal in the morning before work as well as in the evening – but it should be spread.

I so hope that they can manage to give Leo the calm kind of leadership he so needs. It will be hard work requiring a lot of patience.

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

‘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.