Touch Him. Growls. Guards Personal Space. Attacks Other Dog

No touch when sleeping

Flynn

If he’s lying down, Chester may growl when they touch him. He attacked their other greyhound when he suddenly disturbed him. This makes their owners very worried and unhappy.

Yesterday they arrived home from work to find three open wounds on Conor’s neck and back.

Chester is a stunning 6-year-old greyhound. They rescued him from the world of racing a couple of years ago when he broke his leg. What a reprieve! He lives in a lovely house with a couple who adore him and another dog he gets on with most of the time.

From the start he was scared by certain things about the real world, particularly out on walks. So they got him a pal – Conor, 5.

Dignified and somewhat aloof

A dignified and somewhat aloof dog, there is a lot more going on inside Chester than appears on the outside.

He is precious about his personal space. If woken suddenly he man growl and snap.

When he’s asleep or dozing and someone comes near, his automatic instinctive reaction on waking suddenly is to ‘protect himself’.

Sadly poor Conor has been his main victim. He has come too near Chester when he’s been asleep or relaxed and Chester has flown at him. Conor has received injuries three times over the past year. Twice while they were out and once during the night.

This doesn’t make Chester a bad dog. It’s an instinctive reaction with some dogs, particularly those who may not have been bred carefully or not had the best puppyhood – used to touch, handling and cuddles. The first few months of a puppy’s life are so important. Very possibly one of his parents had the same tendencies. 

Do Not Touch!

Because Chester is defensive when approached and most particularly to touch in certain situations, the first and most important thing is for everyone to stop touching him for now. A dog will only guard something, whether his own self or a resource, if he feels there is a threat of it being challenged. It seems to be human nature to keep trying.

‘No touch’ and he should relax.

To prevent proximity or any unwanted touch from Conor when Chester is lying down, they now have installed a gate. They will keep the dogs apart while they are at work. Chester, like all racing greyhounds, is used to wearing a muzzle which can give safety at other times if necessary.

Changing how Chester feels

The next step after physical control and management  is, over time, to begin getting Chester to associate a person approaching him while he’s resting or in his bed with good things. He should learn to welcome their nearness and, confident they won’t touch him, relax.

Conor with coat to stop him licking wounds

They will use clicker and food. Clicker to alert him. Food to make him feel good. (Here is a nice little article about teaching your dog to wake up gently).

Hopefully this will spill over onto Chester’s reaction to Conor unwittingly touching him too.

Neither dog is very responsive to his humans. They take little notice of requests to either come or to go out. They don’t respond readily to their names and may ignore their owners who then put in a lot of effort and cajoling. In a way this attention reinforces ignoring them.

Diffusing trouble

If the dogs were much more alert to their names and motivated to coming when called, the couple would have them on remote control. They would no longer need to physically manhandle or move them. If they could see Conor climbing into bed with Chester, all they need do is to call him to them, or call Chester to get him to look at them. Trouble diffused.

Both dogs will dogs learn to do as asked, well motivated by food rewards. Chester, in particular, will respect and pay more notice of them. With this kind of relationship, Chester may be more inclined to welcome their proximity. This is about working on a slightly different relationship between owners and dogs.

They will book a thorough vet check of Chester to eliminate any discomfort that could be making him more reactive to touch.

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, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

 

Human Hands. Space Invaders. Too Much Touch

A fluffy, cute little dog like young Cockerpoo Florence is a magnet for human hands. Human hands that feel compelled to touch her.

Just look at her and you can see why!

Like many dogs, she is very friendly with people she knows well but very nervous of other people, particularly if they try to touch her, and they nearly always do.

A big hand over the little dog’s head

A big hand coming over a little dog’s head could be intimidating at the best of times. Some dogs, like some people, are simply less tactile than others anyway.

People want to touch herIt’s possible Florence has become sensitised due to too much touching from the people who love her. She loves a cuddle with the young lady, but there is generally too much of it from four people.

I watched as she jumped up and lay down beside one of the men, a man she clearly adores. He put his hand out to fuss her and she leaned away, licking her lips. She yawned. Quiet clearly she was saying, in dog language, don’t touch me. He carried on and she slowly turned onto her back.

The man said ‘See, she wants me to tickle her tummy’. I see something completely different. She is saying exactly the opposite. Is the dog really wanting a belly rub?

The men of the family also play vigorously with her – with their hands. Florence will simply become overwhelmed. What might start off as play soon becomes too much – scary even. Certainly too exciting.

People want to touch her. She’s irresistable

Now the little dog is becoming increasingly wary of anybody that she doesn’t know well coming to close. “Oh no! A human hand coming at me again”.

Like most people, instead of insisting the person backs off and risking sounding unfriendly, her humans tell her off when she tries to do so herself by showing her teeth, growling and barking.

From the dog’s point of view this must be puzzling. The very people she trusts aren’t helping her out. Consequently, this makes people who come too close even more intimidating. Not only may she have to suffer being touched, but her humans may also get cross with her.

Loving a dog, from many dogs’ point of view, isn’t about being fussed and touched. It’s about feeling safe, being looked after and being given choices. Florence should be able to choose whether she wants to be touched or not. This is the case whether it’s by people she knows or by strangers.

We tried the consent test. I asked the man, who had stopped touching her, to slowly move his hand towards Florence again and touch her very briefly. Then to stop to see what she did.

She quiet clearly leaned and looked away. Had she wanted him to continue she would have leaned in towards him and actively participated. She wanted to be close to him. She didn’t want him to touch her.

The pub – an opportunity

They walk her to the pub at lunchtime where she sits, under the table as good as gold – unless someone comes towards her. People who have had a couple of pints aren’t always quite so sensitive! Why shouldn’t she say ‘Go Away’ after all?

The pub, however, could be a good opportunity to help her with people if done right. Whenever she is watching anyone moving about or coming in the door, from her safe and protected corner, they can drop her food. Gradually a person will herald food. They won’t be allowed to be a space invader nor herald scolding.

They can put a yellow ‘I Need Space‘ vest on her, to remind people.

Over time, any hands coming towards her should do so slowly, not from above, and have food in them.

Her family will actively teach Florence to herself touch an open hand upon cue; she should be able to trust that hand not to suddenly go into touching mode.

Success, where her confidence with other people is concerned, will depend upon the family themselves holding back on too much touching and petting. If they play a little hard to get and stop trying, it’s very likely that Florence will enjoy it more. Instead of physical fussing and rough-housing, they will be giving her brain more to do.

Success also depends upon them protecting her from unwanted attention from other people.

When we care for our dog so much, there are sacrifices to be made in the name of love.

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 Florence 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)

Changing No to Yes using a clicker

Bella is the most adorable, soft, cute, friendly and totally scrumptious Beagle puppy of six months old.

She greeted me with lots of jumping up. She jumped up at the counters. Bella jumped at and onto the table. 

Bella is told NO. She’s told GET DOWN.

Bella being taught Yes with a clickerWhen I arrive I usually ask the people, where possible, to cease all commands. I like to see what the dog does when not controlled.

Like most people they found this hard. It demonstrates, however, that the commands they are constantly giving her teach her nothing. ‘Get Down’ may work in the moment because she just obeys the word.

It doesn’t stop her doing it again.

In fact, I would say that it might increase the behaviour if attention is what she wants.

Being unable to scold her left them helpless. They can’t simply put up with the behaviour, can they!

They already had a clicker. We were going to turn NO into YES.

The little girl aged eight sat next to me. Her instructions were to click as soon as Bella’s feet were on the floor. She was a little genius.

The child clicked and then I dropped food on the floor for Bella.

Bella too was a genius. She caught on to what clicking was all about very quickly.

Kids in bed, Bella moved on to challenge us all further. She scratched at the door and chewed the mat.

How were we going to stop her without saying NO?

With a clicker we will teach her an incompatible behaviour – a ‘Yes’.

I put out my hand to her. In no time she was touching my palm with her little cold nose. Click. Food. The man took over and he, like his daughter, was a genius too.

In one session Bella and the man, both novices, had learnt what clicker was all about. He was able to put the action on cue with the word Touch’. He was very much on the ball. I took a short video of him.

Bella went to jump at the table, the man called ‘Bella-Touch’ from the other side of the room and she ran straight over and touched his hand. Click. Food.

Soon he will be able to drop the click altogether.

We had a little break with Bella in her crate, then the man carried on. Bella was now looking at me and at the table without jumping up. Yes. Click. Food.

Being constantly told No can be very frustrating for a dog – just as it would be for a child. Bella gets stirred up and may hump the lady. She humped me.

I stood still and froze. She would have to stop eventually. As soon as her feet were on the floor I clicked. Food.

They need food to hand all the time for now – she can earn her meals. If no clicker, the word Yes will do.

They are changing their mindset from No to Yes.

To give Bella something acceptable to take out any frustrations on, she will have a ‘box of tricks’. A carton that she can wreck full of safe rubbish from the recycle bin with bits of food buried amongst it.

She can really go to town on that.

 

 

Snapping, But Only at Family Members

I met Theo today!

Theo is a ten-month-old Cockerpoo who lives with another Cockerpoo, Otto, who is six years and much more sensible!

snapping at family members

Theo with a new haircut

Theo is a live wire, friendly, affectionate and funny.

For some reason, though, there are times when he snaps. They feel that he’s unpredictable, but on looking more closely, the snapping can actually be predicted – at least, the triggers can.

The snapping began immediately after he was castrated.

It was the second day after he’d been castrated a couple of months ago. They had taken his ‘lampshade’ off because he couldn’t eat with it on. It was when they went to put it back on that he went for them.

Things went downhill after this with Theo’s snapping.

Looking back one can understand at the time he may still have been suffering from the anaesthetic and the collar must have been a great annoyance. He simply didn’t want to by pulled about anymore. He snapped.

It took them totally by surprise.

One thing he will have quickly learnt is that snapping makes people recoil and back off. Now, whenever he doesn’t want to be touched or pulled about, he air snaps. Snapping works. They stop.

Very fortunately he’s not yet drawn blood but the direction things are going it’s only a matter of time before the snapping becomes real biting if something isn’t done.

It’s a shame because he is such a friendly little dog. He loves self-initiated cuddles. When out in crowds he seems to revel in lots of attention and being touched. The snapping has only happened to family members so far.

The incidents can be grouped into snapping when he’s been touched whilst resting or sleeping and most particularly if it’s come as a surprise; snapping when they try to take something off him; snapping when he’s pulled about in some way and simply doesn’t want it – like having his back legs toweled.

Like other people I have been to recently, Theo’s family is another that doesn’t regularly use food for reinforcement so they, too, are missing their trump card.

If the dog sees hands as the transporters of food, hands will be a lot more welcome!

One good thing is that he is fed on Bakers! Yes – this is good! It’s good because immediately they should be able to improve Theo’s mood by feeding him on something with healthier ingredients and without all those additives – better brain food.

Otto

Otto

They need to prevent any further rehearsal of the snapping. They now know his flash points and must avoid them.

No touching him when he’s resting because sometimes he snaps. No touching him when he’s sitting beside them on the sofa – because sometimes he snaps.

He sleeps on their bed. Inadvertently the other night, the lady put her hand on him and he flew at them in their own bed. He was wild, snapping repeatedly as they held up the duvet to protect themselves.

They will now shut him out of their bedroom.

They will no longer try to take anything off him. If something is dropped on the floor and he looks like he wants it, they will no longer simply bend over and pick it up – just in case he snaps at their hand!  

This is all well and good for now

It’s not a way to live into the future and it’s not realistic to expect people to be on high alert all the time, so work needs to be done.

I concocted some exercise and set-ups for the family to work through Theo’s issues with him. In brief these include:

Getting him to touch their hands when they ask him to with some clicker training.

When he’s lying on the sofa, sitting down away from him and calling him over. If he comes to them he gets a reward and a brief fuss. If he doesn’t they leave him be.

They will swap an item he’s holding for food, admire it, making a game of it, giving it back.

They will then swap items for food and sometimes keep them.

Because they are afraid to pick up dropped items without Theo snapping, they will deliberately drop things he might find interesting – little bits of rubbish and point it out to him – ‘Look!’. Having thanked him and exchanged for something better, if it’s something he would like they can give it to him.

Snapping is rarely totally unpredictable unless the dog is asleep and taken by surprise, which is predictable in a way with a dog like Theo. He will give some subtle warning. Maybe little signs in quick succession which with more knowledge they will pick up on. They can check when he does come over to him that touching is what he wants. Does your dog want to be petted – consent test

It’s a bit strange that Theo’s change in behaviour came on so suddenly. I’m told that in the past he has twitched or sort of hiccuped at times, and I noticed he made a few twitches like little spasms when he was on his back. If things don’t greatly improve with the snapping, he will go back to the vet for more extensive tests.

Being Theo myself, going to a Theo was funny!

I called him “Theo, Come! and gave him a treat. Reinforcement is vital.

If someone called me “Theo, come!” and when I got there the person simply shrugged and said ‘”nothing”, I would probably ignore them another time!

I would like Cadbury’s Wholenut Chocolate please.

TheoIt’s two-and-a-half months now: We are so pleased with Theo.  He is such a different dog to the one you met.  The best thing is that, with your help and guidance, it has all come about through kindness and understanding, which is how we have always wanted it to be.The more affection he gets, the more he wants.  He will often come and sit at my feet, asking for his tummy to be tickled, or will just come and rest his chin on my lap.  He walks around the house wagging his tail.  Theo is such a bright dog; we just love being with him each day. We seem to have reached a very happy understanding of one another and we have a routine that works for all of us. Thank you so much for all your help.  We are so grateful.
Three weeks after my visit: We have had another super week with Theo. No flashpoints, just a lovely happy dog. This morning I walked the dogs with a friend and her sensible Labrador. We let them all of the leads as we were on a track surrounded by fields. Theo was brilliant; he stayed on the footpath and came straight back whenever I called him, no matter how far ahead or behind he was.
Two weeks have gone by and I have received email feedback ending: “We are really pleased with progress far.  Your guidance has been invaluable.  Within the first week, we were all just feeling relieved at the improvement in his behaviour (and probably ours!) and we felt we could at least live with him.  Now, at the end of two weeks, I can honestly say it is a pleasure to be with him.  He is having fun, he is affectionate and more relaxed. We realise that we need to be aware of our actions and his possible reactions, but it is so rewarding to work with 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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Theo and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression of ny kind is concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)