Miniature Dachshund flies at feet. Attacks and bites shoes.

bites feetThe eighteen-month-old Miniature Dachshund flies at people’s feet and bites their shoes.

Little Sugar is extremely jumpy.

He seems also to be on constant protection duty – seemingly guarding both himself and the lady and gentleman too.

This is scary for the tiny dog, so it’s a mixture of emotions.

Imagine being so small and being approached by a tall, looming human with feet almost as big as yourself!

It’s little wonder he attacks and bites shoes.

Continue reading…

Romanian rescue pup. Scared Beginning of a journey.

They fetched their Romanian rescue pup, Toby, four days ago from a temporary foster. He’s seven months old.

Romanian rescue hides

Seven hours hiding behind a bush

A couple of weeks previously he’d been transported on the long journey across Europe from Romania in the back of a van.

The Romanian rescue organisation had picked up Toby’s mother and siblings from the streets when he was two weeks old. Both the original rescue and the subsequent foster had looked after multiple dogs.

Now, probably for the first time in his life, he’s an only dog. Continue reading…

Reduce Arousal. Over-Excitement. Barks at Dogs on TV

Reduce arousal. Stress and excitement are at the root of their problems with Kevin and being alert, energetic and reactive is simply part of his basic nature, I’m sure.

Kevin is Kevin – and he’s wonderful! As an adolescent he will be at a difficult stage anyway.

One-year-old Kevin was born in kennels in Romania then had probably been adopted by someone over here who couldn’t cope with his boisterous nature. He ended up in rescue kennels again.

They found him online. The kennels simply brought him out and handed him over.

Continue reading…

Independent. Learn to be Alone. Separation Anxiety. Panic

Why aren’t puppies, right from the start, taught to be independent – to be alone for short periods?

85% of dogs!

This seems a no-brainer considering the statistics. The TV series Dogs, Their Secret Lives on Channel 4 in 2013, discovered that a huge 85% of dogs show signs of not coping to some extent when left alone. In many cases their owners aren’t even aware of it.

Why isn’t independence given the same priority in preparing puppy for the world as socialisation and toilet training? Continue reading…

Compulsive Behaviour. ‘Stress Bucket’ Overflows.

Rottweiler Amber has a lovely temperament, friendly and confident. They have obviously come a long way with her compulsive shadow-chasing etc. in the two years since they adopted her at six months old. She was already doing it then. Her problems probably are due to a mix of genetics and what her life was before she came to live with them.

Unless all is still and quiet, Amber doesn’t settle.

The smallest thing prompts a compulsive sequence of chasing shadows, digging the floor or licking the carpet. She won’t leave their other dog alone.

Outside on walks she chases shadows – particularly those caused by people; she runs back and forth from the sun then digs and pants.

It’s distressing to see her become so frenzied with so little provocation.

Rottie with compulsive behaviourApart from this compulsive behaviour, Amber is a dream dog. A friendly, gentle Rottie that is good with other dogs and people. No trouble. She lives with people who give her plenty of time, training and enrichment.

From her constant patrolling and panting, it’s obvious that her internal stress levels are so high that frequently she simply can’t cope. Her ‘stress bucket‘ is ready to  overflow.

Stress accumulates and can last in the system for days, and dogs like Amber live in a constant ‘ready for action’ state.

It then erupts into certain patterns of compulsive behaviour that must give her relief in some way.

When she frantically digs, licks the floor or chases shadows etc, she completely focusses on something that is shutting out real life.

In a weird way it may give her some control.

The smallest thing starts her off. Over time these rituals become a habit – learned behaviour.

They have been using distraction, commands, gentle massage, food and so on. This attempts to deal with the situations as they happen, without getting to the root cause of the compulsive behaviour.

Shutting her in her crate is the only way to give both Amber and her humans a break at times. Interestingly, after a quiet night in her crate with hours to de-stress, she starts the day calm.

We will start by concentrating on one thing only – bringing down her arousal levels. Taking away as much pressure as possible. ‘Operation Calm’. They should make stress-reduction a priority.

Let’s then see what happens and reassess.

When I was there we found that a ball made a great pacifier. With a ball in her mouth she is a lot better, although she then persistently uses it to ‘tease’ by nudging with it without letting the person have it.

We also captured calm moments with clicker and food (until she stole my clicker!).

Over the next few days I have asked them to spot areas they might be able do something about, with a calmer Amber being their end aim.

They will look out for any things that stir her up (looking for lip-licking, panting, drooling etc.) and see if there is any way they can change them (there may not be).

Every little helps – every small piece of the jigsaw.

I’ve listed some of the things in Amber’s life I thought of that possibly cause elements of stress/arousal, even if at the same time she likes some of them. Can they think of any more?

  • People coming into the house.
  • Being shut in her crate when there is action outside it – she licks the crate and drools.
  • Hydrotherapy (she would probably prefer to swim free)
  • Being left in the van with the other dog while the man is at work. (Would left crated at home be less stressful?)
  • Riding in the car
  • Traffic
  • Walks. Would more comfortable walking equipment help?
  • The sight of cattle or horses
  • Something coming through the door (put up an outside letterbox?).
  • Very high value items like bones
  • Dog sports

If four weeks of effort doesn’t bring significant results, I believe it’s time to get medical help. Any human in this state wouldn’t be expected to cope without meds.

Increase in compulsive behaviours.

It’s distressing how many dogs I go to nowadays with repetitive, obsessive compulsive behaviours, dogs with owners who do all they can for them. Are dogs being bred for temperament suited to modern life? Is this getting worse or is it just me?

I quote Pat Miller: ‘One would expect that the rise of force-free training methods and the increased awareness of and respect for dogs as sentient creatures would make life easier for them. We should expect to see a corresponding rise in the number of calm, stable, well-adjusted dogs who are happily integrated into lifelong loving homes. But many training and behavior professionals note with alarm the large number of dogs in today’s world who seem to have significant issues with stress and anxiety, with high levels of arousal and low impulse control.

It’s quite possible this is a function of societal change. There was a time not so very long ago when life was pretty casual for our family dogs. They ran loose in the neighborhood day and night; ate, slept, played, and eliminated when they chose; and many had jobs that fulfilled their genetic impulses to herd some sheep or cows, or retrieve game felled by a hunter’s gun.

In contrast, life today is strictly regimented for many of our canine companions…..Owner expectations and demands are high. Dogs are told what to do from the moment they are allowed to get up in the morning until they are put to bed at night…..They have virtually no control over what happens in their world….’

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 Amber 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. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page).


Barks 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.

Attacks Feet When People Leave. Highly Stressed.

Ruby simply can’t cope with life. They rehomed the Lakeland Terrier from an acquaintance at about three years of age – she Attacks feetis now five. Busy people with young children, it seems they ran with her early morning to ‘get rid of her energy’ and then shut her away in a crate for the rest of the day.

As is usually the case, if over-exercised without time to sniff and do dog things, the dog is likely to come home needing to unwind rather than tired and relaxed.

In this state they shut her away and left her for the day.

It’s not hard to attribute the two most significant symptoms of her stress levels to three years of this life.

Ruby licks doors and attacks feet.

She panics when anyone walks towards a door and attacks feet. She has caused injury and destroyed shoes.

When behind a door and unable to get to the person the other side, she will frantically lick it – more dragging her tongue over it than licking.

They tell her ‘no licking’, but with stress levels so high what else can she do to help herself? She spent her earlier days in the crate doing just this to gain some relief.

Trigger stacking

When I was there, the degree to which ‘trigger stacking’ of stress affects why she attacks feet became obvious.

When I first arrived she fairly excited and sniffed me curiously but quiet friendly. Her little body however was stiff with tension – as it was all evening. Her tail constantly quivered.

I needed to read her reactions. I got up and walked slowly for a few steps, dropping food (which she didn’t eat). Nothing. I sat down again.

A bit later the lady got up to show me what happens when she walks out of the room. Instant panic. Ruby stood with her nose against the door; she ran back to us as if to check we were exactly as she had left us and then back to the door. Poor little dog.

After a while the man did the same. Her reaction was even stronger this time. I could see she wasn’t far short of biting his feet. I could also see she was about to lick the door.

stress bucketRuby’s ‘stress bucket’ was now overflowing. So much so that when the lady got up to go to the kitchen Ruby went for her feet, biting a couple of holes in her fortunately padded slippers.

Later I slowly stood up again. I wondered whether throwing something could redirect her away from feet. I threw a squeaky ball as I stepped away from my chair. She went for my foot. (I was wearing tough shoes and didn’t feel it).

The squeaky ball was my idea and not a good one as it was too arousing. It’s a process of learning and investigation.

As soon as I sat down again it was like nothing had happened.

I quietly told her “sorry”.

‘Operation Calm’.

This was proof that reducing stress levels is the only place to start – ‘Operation Calm’.

We will make no progress with Ruby in her current state. They will do all they can to reduce stress and excitement levels for two or three weeks and then I will go again and review the situation. With stress levels this high there is little they can do without making it even worse.

Currently they tell her ‘No Licking’. I said to ignore it completely. It does no damage and if she can’t lick, where does the stress go to now? They can’t give her something to chew instead because she is then on a frantic quest to bury it.

Her ‘thing’ is about people walking away from her and the door shutting behind them. It doesn’t matter who it is when she attacks feet. It’s not like it’s necessarily someone she knows and loves that you would understand her not wanting to lose.

Interestingly she seems relaxed when left all alone, which isn’t often. She settles. It’s a paradox.

She goes frantic when she can’t get to them when they are at home, particularly if she can see or hear them. She can’t handle anyone walking out on her – it’s like she needs to keep an eye on everyone in the house, whoever they are. The real problems start when they have friends round. The more people there are, the worse it is for Ruby.

She gets so distressed that she….attacks feet.

Being on high alert all the time for someone walking out on her and keeping people in sight at all times means she must be seriously sleep-deprived too.  ~We all know how that feels.

Where do we start?

We unpicked Ruby’s days, looking at each thing in her life that stresses her and how she can be helped in every way possible.

If our efforts don’t significantly improve her over the next two weeks, we need talk to the vet with regards to medical help. After all, no human would be expected to live in this state. Like many, they are reluctant to go down the medication route.

For this fortnight I have suggested they try one or two natural things including a Thundershirt, a Pet Remedy plug-in and either Zylkene or L-theanine. When everything is added together one may support another.

Only later can the work on changing the behaviours themselves start. The fact she attacks feet is a symptom of something else and it’s the causes that needs addressing.

Things will be broken down into tiny increments, each stage worked on until she is okay with it before going on to the next. It will probably be a long slow job.

For example, getting her okay with people walking away from her without even going out of the room is a start, teaching her to stay rather than to follow. Then a person getting up quickly. The man or the lady walking towards a door. A guest standing up, a guest walking towards a door. Walking through the door but not shutting it. Shutting the door….and so on.

Ruby’s real nature is very friendly. It would be inaccurate to label her an aggressive dog, but panic takes over.

They give her a lovely home where her needs are always put first. The little dog’s state of mind causes them great distress also.


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 Ruby and the 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, 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)