Stressful Walks. Other Dogs. Polite Happy Dog at Home.

Stressful walksIt’s hard to imagine they could have stressful walks or any trouble at all with Badger.

The two-year-old Border Collie quietly watched me walk towards his house through the glass door. He greeted me with polite interest.

A Border Collie could be a challenge for a first dog and the family have done brilliantly. He is happy, well-trained and biddable.

Unfortunately Badger is becoming ‘difficult’ when they are out and meeting other dogs. It’s not all dogs and he walks with doggy friends. He seems to have been targeted by a few dogs and yapping smaller dogs increasingly upset him.

Recently a couple of off-lead German Shepherds went for him and, according to the man, he ‘gave as good as he got’. Rehearsing this kind of thing isn’t good at all.

Out of the blue?

A short while ago the stressful walks came to a head when he saw a smaller dog appear and ‘suddenly’ charged at it. This wasn’t really so sudden. It was against a background of the young man having come home after two weeks away and great excitement. He had the ball thrower and he was repeatedly throwing the ball.

All this will have increasingly wound Badger up.

Then, in full ‘chase’ mode, the little dog appeared. He charged after that instead. He did no damage, but the dog and owner were upset. Badger, whose recall is fine normally, won’t have even heard their calls.

This wasn’t actually out of the blue at all. It will have been the direct result of ‘trigger stacking‘.

Home work

There are a few things they can do at home. Badger should be in the best state of mind possible for being self-controlled and calm around other dogs when they are out. The more stable and unstressed Badger is in general, the better he can cope with the arousal caused by the proximity of another dog.

Like many Border Collies, he loves the movement of a ball. He continually drops it at their feet and those of anyone who comes to see them. Anything quite so repetitive over such a period of time isn’t natural. Anything that’s not natural will fire him up.

They will now save balls for when they see another dog, to gain his attention and to associate the other dog with something he loves. (We thought we had collected all the balls and he would find another!).

To fill the void left by no ball-kicking they will give him things to chew and to forage for. Already well trained, they will give him more activities that exercise his clever brain.

Spot-on recall

A big problem they are finding that contributes to the stressful walks is the number of off-lead dogs that suddenly appear.

Even if they can’t control other people and their dogs, they can control Badger. Reliable recall is key.

Stressful walks would be less stressful if they could get, and keep, Badger’s attention. If he is to be safely off lead they need to get him back immediately.

They will change to a whistle to get his attention, working at whistle recall first at home. They will condition Badger to come, without thinking, when he hears the whistle.

To change how Badger behaves and reacts towards other dogs requires his humans also to change how they behave and react.

They need now to help Badger associate other dogs with only positive and good things. If his human tenses up, so will he.

Negative things have a far greater impact than positives. Something scary has a much longer lasting effect than something good. That’s just life unfortunately.

Avoiding stressful walks

To expect Badger to be relaxed and non-reactive when off-lead dogs rush up to him, particularly if they show aggression or are very noisy, is unreasonable. Unfortunately, each time Badger is (justifiably) forced to react by a dog being too close for him, he rehearses the very behaviour they don’t want.

There should be no more discomfort to Badger’s neck as they change to using a harness. They should avoid him feeling unsafe by no longer holding him tightly beside them while another dog approaches. Instead they should give him more space.

Comfortable distance, relaxed humans and only valuable, positive things like food and his beloved ball should now be associated with other dogs.

Unplanned and scary encounters will add to any dog’s wariness to the extent that he may eventually go for other dogs just in order to maintain distance. He’s given no choice.

Change can be hard

People can avoid the tension of stressful walks by considering carefully where they go. They should avoid narrow alleys where increasing distance is hard without turning around. People don’t like turning round and going back the way they came. They also understandably don’t like to seem rude by turning away from a potentially too-close encounter with another dog.

Badger’s confidence needs building again as does his trust in them to respond appropriately (to him) when he’s feeling uneasy or vulnerable.

Stressful walks with their dogs can overshadow people’s lives. My advice here is to do all they can to avoid putting Badger in a position where he feels he may need to defend himself. To keep his excitement levels down so that he is more tolerant.

Meanwhile they can work on other dogs in more controlled environments – or at least in places where they can beat a retreat if necessary. So far he’s very good with the majority of dogs, but it’s going in the wrong direction.

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. Click here for help

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).

 

Dogs Fighting. Females. Change in Dynamics

The two females have had several minor fall-outs over the past year, but during the last few weeks things have escalated with the two dogs fighting in ernest.

Three big fights in three days.

Blood has been drawn and the owners injured splitting them up.

dogs fighting and she comes off worse

Meg

Once this door is opened it is hard to properly shut it again.

It is a huge shame. The couple has done so well with training their two lovely rescues. They can be taken anywhere. They have made great headway with the more nervous of the two, Border Collie Meg, now nine years old.

Younger Nellie is a mix of Collie and Labrador, a more confident and straightforward character. For the first two of her three years with the family they also had a male Lurcher.

It’s most likely that the dynamics began to change when the Lurcher who kept Nellie in line died about a year ago. Nellie, previously the younger and more carefree of the two dogs, began to try it on with Meg. Any fights, however, were still minor and infrequent and easy to break up.

The two female dogs fighting.

Recently Nellie has changed. They described her way of walking about near Meg as ‘strutting’. She would posture and stand over her, almost like she was goading her.

Unfortunately this wasn’t turning out to be a bloodless coup.

NellieEverything began to escalate about six weeks ago, leading to the dogs fighting seriously.

In the past week it had become so severe that they were considering re-homing Nellie.

After the second big fight in one day they had kept the dogs separate. A couple of days passed and all seemed calm, so, hoping things would now have gone back to ‘normal’ they let Nellie into the room where Meg was lying on the floor near the lady.

Nellie came into the room, walked towards Meg, walked around her….then she attacked her. Unfinished business?

The very distressed lady phoned me that evening. Nellie had taken a hole out of Meg’s head and Meg had turned on her. Restrained and unable to get back at Nellie, she had bitten the lady instead.

Why was this happening now?

There had a build-up of events over the past four weeks. They needed to visit a sick mother who lives a long way away and who was hospitalised. The well-behaved, beautiful dogs always go with them everywhere.

They are selling their house and estate agents were showing people around. They had also made several long trips and stopovers in the short period including one to the West Country and another to Scotland. Then there was the snow. Nellie became very excited indeed in the snow.

Added together it was all just too much.

I am sure ‘too much’ pushed the dogs over the edge, Nellie in particular.

The dogs fighting will actually be a symptom of other things with two probable main causes.

Where before the dogs could tolerate a certain amount of stress/arousal without it resulting in full-blown dogs fighting, it seems now to take a lot less to trigger something serious. Attacking Meg is fast becoming Nellie’s default reaction to arousal.

One of the causes is undoubtedly stress levels. The other looks like a ‘battle for supremacy’ between the two dogs as Nellie tries to take over.

I had both dogs in the room together. The lady with instructions to act relaxed, sat holding Meg on a longish lead down one end of the room. The man then walked in with an Nellie, also on lead, and sat down the other end of the room. I sat opposite where I could see both dogs. Everything was set up for them to be calm.

Whenever she moved about, Meg was clearly finding Nellie’s presence distressing with her lip-licking, paw lifting and yawning. Nellie however looked blase – she is calling the shots and almost baiting Meg.

I tried to get as much information as possible about the more serious fights. Two common denominators seem to be that multiple people or dogs had been present, or they had recently been on walk (when Nellie comes home from a walk she actually seems more stirred up than when she left).

Nellie and Meg have great lives. They are dearly loved. They have previously had time spent on training and they aren’t left alone for long periods; they have plenty of exercise.

Like many people however, their owners hadn’t realised that stress from arousal of any kind can last in their dogs for several days.

It then gets to the stage where eventually one small thing can push things over the edge, with Meg and Nellie triggering fights. See ‘trigger stacking‘.

What do we do now?

It’s vital Meg and Nellie have no further opportunity to rehearse the behaviour. No more dogs fighting. Control and management is key. Fighting simply needs to be impossible. It must be removed from their repertoire altogether for some time.

Management will include dogs being on lead when in the same room and not too close – and only when all is calm. They can tie the leads around their waists if they need hands free. They can sort out a couple of anchor points on which to hook the leads. The dogs will be trained to be happy wearing muzzles. They will get a dog gate for the kitchen doorway. At present Nellie goes happily into her crate but a gate means the dogs can swap rooms. We don’t want either to become territorial.

Less arousal and more enrichment.

In addition to management, less arousal and more enrichment sums up the areas to be worked o

With their clever dogs, the couple will go back to training games, searching activities and more enrichment that doesn’t involve too much excitement. One necessary bonus in all this is that the dogs now have more time spent on them individually.

With more brain work and focus upon their humans, they should become less focussed upon one another.

The very worst scenario is that the dogs will always need to be kept from getting at one another and only walked together if there are two people. However, over time, with some hard work and keeping arousal down, I have high hopes that some of the time they can eventually be back together.

Their humans now recognise the trigger situations and the devastating effect of mounting stress levels.

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 Meg and Nellie and 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 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)

 

 

Barking at Me. Why?

Cocker Spaniel Archie’s barking at me was erratic and a little puzzling.

As soon as Archie was let out of the sitting room to where I was in the hallway, he was barking at me loudly, jumping up at me and although I was aware of his mouth he stopped short of nipping.

Taking a break from barking at meI initially assumed he may be scared but by both watching him and talking to the lady it soon became obvious that he was mostly protective and possessive of her. I guess that is fear in a way – fearful of losing a resource.

This analysis is backed up by the fact that Archie is looked after by the lady’s parents every morning. He is much less reactive to people coming to their own house.

What did the beautiful two-year-old dog hope to gain with all the barking at me? It’s safe to assume an element of it was telling me to go away. As this didn’t succeed he would surely be getting increasingly anxious, cross and frustrated.

We look to see ‘what’s in it for him’ when deciding on treatment and this is hard. The only function that could be served for him by this behaviour was attention from the lady herself and an outlet from his own emotions.

He soon stopped barking at me and became very friendly, encouraging me to fuss him. Really sweet. A different dog.

Then he would suddenly break out into barking again.

I can only think of a couple of occasions when I was there that he hadn’t placed himself between me and the lady.

My standing up was guaranteed to start him off barking at me again.

I experimented with desensitisation. When he was quiet, I began by standing and feeding as I did so, thinking if I did this over and over he would feel better about it. This didn’t work.

Next, I called him (he came happily) then asked him to sit so as to give him warning and take the sudden element out of it. I then slowly stood up and fed him as I did so. I tried half standing and feeding him. It became apparent that trying to desensitise him this way was doing no good at all – increasing his stress even.

As soon as I moved, he was barking at me.

So, what to try next?

.

Reinforcing calm and something he can do instead of barking

Until he calms down and gains confidence in the presence of visitors, he will need a comfortable harness and lead on him so he can be held back from people with no discomfort or interaction with lady whatsoever. How she does things is important. It’s vital he doesn’t pick up signals from her that he can interpret as either backing him up or anxiety.

She can walk him out of the room and bring him back in again when he’s quiet – he won’t be left alone because we don’t want to stress him further.

She can show him the benefits of being quiet. This can be done by using clicker and food. Because in between sessions of barking at me he might pick up a toy – likely trying to self-calm himself – offering him something special to chew will help him.

In order to teach him something else he can do instead of barking, the lady will work on a kind of ‘drill’, a silent sequence of behaviours that, when she gives the signal, he can instantly fall into and perform that gives him something to concentrate on that is both fun and reinforcing for him and incompatible with barking at someone.

This is a very interesting case because the lady herself has done a lot of research, is very well informed and has tried many things. It’s hard to see how her own behaviour is influencing Archie’s behaviour as one might expect.

My visit was about seeing things objectively through different eyes and trying to come up with something else.

I looked at the bigger picture – not just the barking – and we have different angles to work on.

Very important is keeping Archie’s general overall stress levels down as much as possible.

The relationship between the lady and Archie needs to change so that he comes to feel more independent of her, thus altering the emotion driving the possessive behaviour. By getting him to use his brain for her and by discouraging him to constantly be at her heels when she’s with him, she can show him that it’s her job to make decisions and to protect him and not the other way around.

Eventually this should give him a sense of release.

We are working on actual tactics and techniques to help Archie cope with encountering people, most particularly when they come into their house but also when out.

Too excited, over-aroused

Too excited, arousal and raised stress levels.

Some dogs and certain breeds of dogs, as we all know, are a lot more prone to being too excited than others (with many exceptions of course).

Jack Russell gets too excited

Jill

I went to the sweetest pair of Jack Russells yesterday – I’ll call them Jack and Jill. Jill is four years old and Jack eighteen months. We love our perky, bright and quick little dogs but because they are so reactive to things their stress levels easily rocket and this high state of arousal spreads tentacles that can adversely affect many areas of the dogs’ (and their owners’) lives.

A bit like the swan analogy of serene above water but paddling frantically underneath, even when dogs like this that get too excited appear peaceful or asleep, the adrenaline and arousal chemicals are still circulating inside their bodies.

It can take several days for the increased cortisone levels raised by a sudden shock or high excitement to fully go away but this will seldom happen because the next lot will come flooding in. It doesn’t take much to increase the heart rate of an already innately excitable dog – ball play, mail landing on the doormat,  encountering another dog when out or even someone dropping a spoon can trigger a flood of adrenaline and cortisone.

We obviously don’t want our dogs to be comatose, but continually being ‘too excited’ isn’t healthy either.

With Jack and Jill’s arousal levels lowered a bit, it will affect most areas of their lives.

JR who can be too excited, calm on his bed

Jack

When they are prevented from looking out of the front window, Jill in particular will no longer get into a barking frenzy when the children pass by on their way to and from school.

When upon coming home their humans allow the dogs to calm down before giving them too much fuss, Jack’s arousal levels will no longer drive him to leap about and grab hands.

When the key goes to unlock the back door, the dogs currently yo-yo up and down, barking and scratching the door, winding themselves up massively and ready to burst out. They no doubt believe their excitable behaviour actually causes the door to open. It will no longer happen.

When, on letting the dogs out, they attach a long lead to Jack for the first couple of minutes until his excitement abates a little, he won’t in an overflow of arousal redirect onto poor Jill who may then, equally wound up, snap at him.

By doing all they can to avoid the dogs getting too excited needlessly, they will help Jill to become generally calmer and less jumpy. She will be less fearful. Being less fearful, she will be more relaxed with people entering her house. Being less jumpy and fearful she will be less reactive to sudden sounds. She will bark less. Jack will bark less.

The dogs will gradually learn to calm themselves; they will work it out that calm now works best.

A calmer backdrop will in itself, over time, transform the walks for both Jack and Jill, and their humans. No longer will young Jack be so excited that he pulls in a barking frenzy as soon as he see another dog, joined by a hyped-up Jill who may then snap at him.

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 Jack and Jill. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

Why Did Their Dog Bite a Child

In truth, the little Shih tzu has snapped at two grandchildren and one of their friends this last week. Her teeth caught the nose of the last child.

There is absolutely no way she can be called an aggressive dog. She is beautiful and friendly. It is clear that at times things simply get too much for her. Too much noise, too many people and too much pulling about by children.

Schitzu

Boy learning to touch Asha so she feels comfortable

On each occasion the atmosphere was charged with excitement so her arousal and stress levels will have been getting higher and higher until she, literally snapped. On a couple of occasions she had taken herself off to lie down in peace, and the child had gone and disturbed her.

As you can imagine, the family are deeply upset to the extent they were even fearing losing Asha. They adore their little dog but they can’t have their grandchildren or their friends bitten.

We need to look into why would their dog bite a child, and deal with that.

Having questioned the very helpful nine-year-old boy in detail who had been present on each occasion and he himself one of the victims, the reason this has escalated so fast became clear. They simply did not recognise the signs that Asha was sending out, trying to communicate that she was uncomfortable and had had enough and she was almost forced into taking things further. Some breeds’ faces are more inscrutable than others, but there probably was some yawning or looking away. The boy told me she licked her nose.

Unaware of what the little dog was trying to tell him he carried on touching her, so she now growled. Unfortunately he took no notice of that either. So, she snapped. The child recoiled and, bingo, Asha succeeded in what she had been trying to achieve from the start, which was to be left alone.

The second time it sounds like she gave just a quick growl that was ignored before snapping. The child backed off. Job done. The final time, she went straight to the snapping stage, leaping at the child’s face with no prior warning.

Asha had, in the space of just one week, learnt what worked.

Three things need to be done straight away.

Firstly, the opportunity to rehearse this behaviour ever again has to be removed. Each time snapping succeeds in giving her the space she needs, the more of a learned response it will become.

If the atmosphere is highly charged or several children come to play – they have a swimming pool so things get noisy – then the dog should be shut away (something she is perfectly happy with).

Secondly, all children coming to their house must be taught ‘the rules’ and how to ‘read Asha’. The grandson who helped me so well is going to be her ‘Protector’ and teach the other children. I have sent a couple of videos for them to watch. The dog’s ‘den’ – an area under the stairs – must be isolated and totally out-of-bounds to kids. The boy is going to make a poster!

Here are their Golden Rules:

Don’t approach and touch Asha when she’s lying down, particularly when asleep.
Let Asha choose. Wait till she comes over to you. Don’t go over to her.
Don’t go near a dog that is eating anything.
Dogs don’t like hands going over their heads. Chest is best.
If you want to run around and have noisy fun, do it away from the dogs
If you see lip-licking, yawning or if you see the whites of her eyes. STOP. Move away.
If the dog keeps looking away. STOP. Move away.
If the dog goes very still STOP. Move away.
If you hear a growl. STOP. Move away.

Because kids, being kids, may forget the ‘no touching unless she comes over to you’ rule,  I suggest when children are in the house that Asha wears something to remind them, maybe a yellow bandana or little jacket with ‘give me space’ or something similar.

The other thing in common between all three snapping incidents is that Asha was in a highly stressed state, so the third thing is helping to keep her stress levels down. There are quite a few trigger points in her life where things could be dealt with differently to help avoid stress accumulating which will mean she is a lot more tolerant and less ready to explode. I read somewhere a good saying: ‘Stress loads the gun’.

They fortunately are nipping this in the bud (no pun intended!) before it can develop further. I’m sure that with the children educated in ‘dog manners’, with any warnings heeded and things not allowed to get too exciting or overwhelming around her, Asha will feel no need to bite a child ever again.

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 Asha. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Young black labrador lying down

Aggression Around Food Bowl

Millie is a gorgeous five-and-a-half month old Labrador of working stock. Apart from some jumping up she really was the model dog when I was there, biddable and affectionate. She has a lovely family who do everything good dog-owners should.

Twice every day, when she has her meals, her stress levels rocket and afterwards she is so aroused and wild that she is chewing furniture, jumping around the place, humping her bed, stealing things and being quite a challenge.

From the moment the lady or gentleman goes to the cupboard to get her food out of the bin she is becoming fired up. I saw this for myself. I didn’t see what usually follows as I suggested we put the food somewhere high and went back into the other room until she had calmed down.

What happens is, as the food goes down Millie starts to snarl and her hackles rise. Her whole demeanour completely changes. As she gulps the food down she sounds ferocious. They have tried many of the most usual things suggested for food guarding and she merely gets worse. Trying to add good stuff to the bowl as is often suggested – even throwing it from a distance – may cause her to launch herself at them.

One thinFive and a half month old black labradorg that was a little clue to me is that, when she’s finished eating, she attacks the metal bowl and throws it about. I suspect this is as much about the bowl as it is about the actual food. When given a treat, for instance, although she may be a bit snatchy there is no aggression. She was like this more or less from the start and it’s getting worse and worse. She was the smallest puppy in the litter of eight. Food guarding problems can start when the puppies are all fed together out of one bowl and one is pushed out.

The family hadn’t fed her so we worked out a plan. They now had the food out of the cupboard ready (in future they will get the food out in advance). Millie had calmed down and we went back to the kitchen. I watched the lady over the breakfast bar as she followed my suggestions, to see if I had indeed hit upon a workable tactic.

(NB. If you have a dog with these sort of issues, please don’t assume that this approach as suitable for your own dog. It may be the very worst things you can do. It’s important to get professional help so that strategies are based on diagnosis of your dog’s own specific behaviour in context).

The lady was to feed her at the furthest corner from the door and away from any people passing, directly onto the floor.  Millie was calm. A container with her food (not her own bowl) was on the surface beside the lady who had her hands behind her back and was facing this corner. Millie was thinking – what’s this about? Where’s my food? She looked the lady in the eye who immediately said ‘Yes’ and dropped a small handful of the food on the floor in front of her. Millie ate it calmly. The lady waited. Millie looked into her eyes again, ‘Yes’ and more food went down. This carried on until the last handful whereupon the lady walked out and left Millie to it. She shut the gate behind her to pre-empt any wild behaviour being taken into the sitting room. There was none.

They will do this for at least a couple of weeks before upping the ante. Millie should be a lot calmer in general without these manic bouts twice a day and I reckon small signs of aggression that are developing in other areas will disappear.

The next step in the process will be to drop the food onto a flat place mat rather than directly onto the floor and see how that goes. There is no rush. After a week or two they can try something with shallow sides like a tray, moving onto a low-sided heavy baking dish, eventually using a large, heavy porcelain dog bowl and not the small metal bowl she now has.

There are other things to put into place also, but I believe the jigsaw will eventually be complete if they are sufficiently patient and try not to hyper her up to much in general.

Five weeks later: “I’m pleased to report that Millie is definitely showing improvement in most areas, including growling over her food. We are still feeding her onto a place mat but when it spills off the side I can reach down and push it back onto the mat without any reaction from her at all, which is good. We are doing what we can to keep her stress levels down and it’s definitely making a difference to her overall behaviour. “

NB. The precise protocols to best and most safely use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Millie, which is why I don’t go into exact detail details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good, causing danger even. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Super-sensitive Nervous Border Collie

When I took this photo yesterday of two-year-old Poppy I didn’t realise she had a halo!nervous Border Collie with halo

Poppy was a very nervous puppy from the start. They have worked hard with her and have come a long way. However, typical of her breed but exceptionally so with Poppy, she is very highly tuned and sensitive. A sound that might make some dogs barely open their eyes, has Poppy running for cover.

A couple of times she has gone for men’s legs – fortunately not breaking skin – and she is a scared ‘Collie chaser’ – of traffic and horses. She sometimes walks with four Cocker Spaniels, and spends the entire walk rounding them up, which unsurprisingly annoys one of them.

Too boisterous for the nervous Border Collie

Although she is an excellent family dog and lovely with their little boy, family life may not be ideally suited to her. Not only should she be a working dog, but also the nervous Border Collie can’t cope with lots of noise and action. Her very sociable male owner would admit that he is on the boisterous side! He ‘rough-houses’ with her and can be volatile with a fairly short fuse.

The signs of fear aggression are getting worse. Instead of understanding her sensitivity and working with it, an angry response is adding fuel to the situation. Not only is she scared of approaching men she does’t know and of some dogs, at the same time she has to be scared of her own humans because they may act, to her, irrationally when she feels she is defending herself.

Reducing stress levels vital

Confidence boosting with Poppy is all about keeping her stress levels as low as possible. Stress builds up at a faster rate than it dissipates. Subjecting her to unecessary things that can be avoided like the lawn mower, machinery, dragging her past barking dogs, indulging in over-stimulating play, sounding cross with her, allowing access to the front window to watch and bark at things going past the house, leaving her to rush up and down in the garden barking at horses behind the hedge, and finally a diet with too high a protein content – all mean her ‘stress bucket’ is constantly on the point of overflowing.

She needs some breed-specific enrichment to counter the urge to chase and herd.

From a calmer base the nervous Border Collie will be able to handle some of the unavoidable things life throws at her, like fortnightly gun shoots in the field behind. We can’t always just change the dog. It’s the humans that need to change what they do.

Staffie May Redirect onto Whippet

Staffie Maddie has extremely high stress levels

Maddie

Over the months the stress both in and between these two 9-year-old dogs has been building up.

Staffie Maddie is almost impossibly noisy, pushy, barking and jumping up when the lady owner has guests – if she is allowed to join them at all – and little Misty, a Terrier Whippet cross, is also very vocal but with more obvious fear. People can’t hear themselves speak. The way they try to calm Maddie is to do as she demands and keep stroking her as she lies beside them. Not only is it giving her a very good reason to behave like this, but also, even while she is being given the attention she’s demanding, she is getting more and more worked up!

When I initially arrived Misty came through alone and she was quiet, relaxed and sniffing. It was only when Maddie rushed in that she, too, started to bark at me. Once little Misty has stopped barking, she watches Maddie. Sometimes she shakes. Maddie intimidates her when she’s like this. See how anxious she looks.

Misty is intimidated by Maddie

Misty

Maddie’s stress levels are extreme much of the time. Small things set her off. This is now increasingly being redirected onto Misty and there have been a couple of incidents, one resulting in blood.

Ten days ago I went on a fascinating weekend seminar by Dr. Susan Freidman about behaviour, consequences and reinforcement. It was like she was sitting on my shoulder. The more noise Maddie makes, the more attention she gets – sometimes scolding sometimes petting – but reinforcement either way. The more anxious Misty becomes, the more attention and fussing that earns also.

As soon as the lady comes downstairs in the morning, Maddie starts the day by rushing at the gate separating her from Misty and giving her a loud, warning bark. When she comes in from the garden, she noisily demands her breakfast – which she gets. Quite simply, barking works.

Maddie excelled at dog training classes. This is another example where traditional dog training is largely irrelevant, especially if it doesn’t take into consideration the home dynamics. Commands don’t reduce stress. In fact, ‘silence is golden’. Both dogs get a lot of excercise with lovely long country walks.

Whilst I was there Maddie was learning very quickly that the only attention she got from me was when she was still and quiet. She tried so very hard, bless her. She was distracting herself with a bit of displacement scratching and chewing in her efforts to keep calm while she was beginning to understand what was required. I, too, was learning just what level of gentle attention was enough not to break through that fine line and fired her up again. She is so eager to please and only needs to understand what is required, and then for all the humands to be consistent.

It can be so hard for us humans to break our own old habits.

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

Stressed, Excitable Little Papillon

Papillon Tommy lying in the sunTommy is so cute. He is an 18-month old Papillon who has lived with his new owners for a couple of months now. He seems to have had rather a strange start in life and was very thin and very stressed when they picked him up. He has put on a kilogram and has calmed down considerably though there is still way to go.

They are concerned because Tommy has started to snap, bark and growl at certain people. He also did this to me (my fault) and it gave me a clue as to the reason. If someone walks in his direction he can feel threatened and he is warning them away. He is wary of men in particular and this may be because, being taller, they loom over him more. I guess the only way to get an idea how huge humans must look to something so tiny would be to lie on the floor looking up at people approaching, leaning over and walking about.

Tommy is a clever little dog and doing all he can to get the humans around him dancing to his tune, without their really realising it! He knows exactly how to get attention by winding them up – and it works. He jumps up and over people. He jumps on dining chairs and onto the table given a chance. He quite enjoys being scolded for eating plants on the window sill or being chased to retrieve something. What fun!

He can be intimidated by certain people coming to the house, particularly if he is approached, including the gentleman owner when he comes home. If he is told not to do something in a confrontational way, he may be defiant whilst at the same time being scared. He is very easily excited. He may grab ankles of people walking or running in the garden, and he grabs the lead when going for a walk; he gets frantically excited when he sees another dog.

Jack has a great number of good points, but a few small issues are escalating – especially the warning snaps. It is so easy with a small and seriously cute dog to forget he is actually a dog. Just because he is small doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have certain boundaries and treat people with respect. How vulnerable he must feel on walks, trapped on the end of a lead, and forced into situations he would probably run away from if he were by himself.

Tommy’s issues can be resolved over time by seeing things from his point of view and giving him calm, decisive, consistent leadership. Doing everything possibly to reduce his stress levels will alone make a huge difference. This may seem a bit boring, but he doesn’t need stimulation – he can get excited all by himself!

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