‘Good! That’s the behaviour we want!’.
“I was born to be a guard dog. I am an entire male German Shepherd now reaching my prime – eighteen months old. I am ‘The Bodyguard’. My job is to keep my humans safe and to keep safe the environment around them.
When we are out, if someone comes too close I warn them Go Away. Lunging and barking has worked so far, but I may need to take it a step further one day.
Sometimes the person will look at me and make admiring noises. A hand will come out to over me. How dare they! This is my space. I’m not here to make friends but to protect. Continue reading…
It’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‘.
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.
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
One year old Cocker Spaniel Lucky will chase people walking past the fence and boundary bark. He is a lovely dog, doing exactly what most other dogs in his position would do. Particularly a working Cocker Spaniel with loads of energy both mental and physical.
Give a dog free access to fences, where people with their dogs walk past, he will very likely boundary bark and chase. No doubt from Lucky’s perspective he believes he is chasing them away – they always go, after all.
With each time he does it, the behaviour becomes more established.
They have had him for three months now. He’s landed on his feet with a wonderful home, and they have got themselves a wonderful dog.
I was called in order to do something about his general excitement and the boundary barking.
From the point of view of Lucky’s stress levels, this frequent charging from gate, up the side fence and back to the gate is not good. He gets so frantic he tries to dig out underneath.
The gentleman’s way of dealing with this is to chase after him with a slip lead and corner him. In such an aroused state Lucky sometimes gets to a stage where he can no longer control himself. On a couple of occasions he has redirected his frustration onto the man and bitten him.
It’s a bit like a child having a tantrum kicking out.
With frequently topped-up stress levels, Lucky will be much more nervous and jumpy in general, just as we would ourselves. Things that we consider may be fun for the dog – like repetitive or exciting hands-on play – can actually be adding to his general arousal levels. This will build up and remain in his system for days. Trigger Stacking.
Enrichment and fulfilment
A working dog needs breed-appropriate things to direct his energy onto. I understand this well, having a working Cocker Spaniel myself. He needs to hunt, forage, explore and to use his brain. Adding this kind of enrichment will tire him out in a much healthier way than simply exercise and physical play. It’s a lot harder work however than just letting the dog run around freely, doing his own thing.
A large aspect of Lucky’s life will be frustration. He will boundary bark but be unable to actually get to the person or dog.
As they can’t let him off lead on walks for fear that he would go off on a chase and not come back, walks must be frustrating for him also. Currently he is held close on a slip lead. With no freedom there will constantly be things out of reach that he can’t get at or sniff. I suggest giving him time on a long thirty-foot line in the woods or fields where he can make his own choices – and the man can follow him. This should enrich Lucky’s life greatly.
The line should be attached to a harness – a tightening collar could badly damage his neck.
Management gives less work to do
The first priority where the boundary chasing itself is concerned is to manage the situation better and to remove opportunity.
Allowing Lucky access to that gate when they aren’t right there on hand to deal with it immediately is simply asking for more trouble. Lucky has an anchor cable in the garden which gives him a lot of scope but keeps him away from the gate where the barking ritual kicks off. They should use this more. They may also be able to fence off the front part of their garden.
Chasing the dog
When Lucky does boundary bark, it needs to be dealt with appropriately. The man may be able to catch him eventually, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem at all. It won’t stop happening. It will intensify.
The humans should show Lucky that it’s their own job to protect him and the territory, not his. Their role of ‘protector’ can’t be just when they feel like it so they must be consistent and ready to react immediately he starts. If they delay he will have become so aroused that he will unresponsive and not even hear them.
Chasing and cornering him is the worst thing you can do with a dog. Lucky’s family will now work hard at getting him to come to them as soon as they call him.
They will condition Lucky to come to a whistle immediately and make it very worthwhile for him. As soon as he charges down to the gate they can whistle. Then, instead of chasing him, he will come to them. They can experiment with what works best as a reward. It could be a special treat, it could be scattering food around the place or it could be throwing him a ball.
Then, as well as relieving him of any boundary duty, passing people and dogs will be associated with something happy. This will result in them becoming less troubling to Lucky.
In time, if they do this every single time, he will be hearing someone approach and instead of chasing come straight to his humans for a reward instead – without having to be called.
So, Lucky boundary barks and chases which is the behaviour they want to stop. As well as approaching this directly there are other things to do. They won’t excite him unnecessarily. They’ll enrich Lucky’s life as much as they can. Importantly, they will use management to prevent free access to that gate whilst reacting to any boundary barking appropriately.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. it’s obvious professional help is needed in a case like this of a dog bite with no warning. Click here for help.
This is a story about my own dog, Cocker Spaniel Pickle, and the ball thrower.
I’ve hidden the ball thrower.
Pickle loves to chase the ball. He jumps to catch it and he would carry on till he dropped (though I can’t image Pickle ever dropping if the ball kept being thrown).
Why isn’t it a good thing? Dogs LOVE it.
Unfortunately they can become obsessed. Too much and they can even become adrenaline junkies. They are never happy unless a ball is being thrown for them.
A lovely walk can become nothing more than chasing a ball, fetching and dropping it to be thrown again. The richness of the countryside becomes lost to the dog. He should be using his wonderful nose to explore the environment and all the dogs, other animals and bugs that have passed his way before him.
Would a dog, freely out in the environment alone without humans, be doing anything quite so relentlessly repetitive?
Anything repeated over and over can be addictive and causes stress of a kind, even if the dog does LOVE it.
It’s almost like the dog is a clockwork toy (remember clockwork?) and with a key we are winding him up until he is over-wound.
My Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, would chase a ball all day given the chance. However, if there is no ball, he is happily ‘Pickling’. He does what instinctively comes to him which is running about, tail wagging, exploring with his nose. He may chase a pigeon or dig up a vole.
He’s a working dog, and needs to use his brain whilst exercising.
The day before yesterday someone took my dogs to the field with the ball thrower for Pickle. He threw the ball for him, over and over.
Over the past two days the fallout from that extended ball play on Pickle has been very evident. (I do myself play ball but it is for a few throws only then I stop. Adding some training and brain work goes a little way towards fulfilling his genetic needs).
Pickle never stops.
He brings the ball back, drops it where it makes it easiest for the person to pick up. He runs off in anticipation of where it might land before it leaves the ball thrower.
The day before yesterday after the lengthy ball play, Pickle charged back into the house ahead of the other dogs. I was sitting at my computer. He leapt into the water bowl, digging out the water all over the sitting room floor. Dripping, he charged all over the furniture and then jumped into and knocked over the larger water bucket the dogs drink from.
Any self control was simply impossible.
For a good hour he paced and he panted. Each small noise set him off barking.
Isn’t ball play meant to tire him out and make him calm? Isn’t a tired, physically worn out dog a good dog? Fat chance! It’s the opposite.
Pickle was on alert for sounds for the rest of the day. The next morning he was still high, getting vocal and excited for his breakfast, perfectly illustrating how stress chemicals remain in the body.
So, I have hidden the ball thrower.
Pickle has been out in the field with me several times, Pickling. No balls.
Afterwards he comes in, has a drink and settles.
Today the neighbours wheeled their wheelie bin down the passage. After just one token Woof Pickle settled again. No vocals before breakfast.
It’s taken three days to get him back to this.
If anyone reading this with a highly wired or stressy dog uses a ball thrower to chuck a ball repeatedly for their dog, just try something.
Try no ball throwing for a few days. Just allow freedom to explore and to sniff. Your dog may find ‘doing his own thing’ very hard to start with, but persist.
If the dog chooses to run, he can chase things he himself chooses to chase.
A less stressed dog will result in a dog being able to cope with all sorts of things life throws at him, whether it’s encountering other dogs on walks to being less destructive or waiting patiently for his dinner.
Stunning Flo is nine months old. She was rescued from Romanian streets at 5 months old – an Akbash – a Turkish sheep guarding dog.
I believe a series of unfortunate events has most likely coincided with a particularly vulnerable period in Flo’s life – a fear period. Had these same things happened a bit earlier (or later) and maybe not in such quick succession, all would have been okay.
Triggers stacking up.
The fears started just 2 weeks ago, before which Flo was confident and playful. The first of the triggers happened when the lady lifted her arms to shut the car boot door on her. It has happened many times before, but this time Flo panicked. The same thing happened a week later and now she wouldn’t get back into the car to go home.
The next of the triggers was a few days later – a bird scarer in the fields.
Then a motorbike revving scared her so this was added to the triggers.
Then another bang from the bird scarer. Flo was too close. She pulled the lead out of the lady’s hand and ran. Then, adding to the triggers, a boy on a bike made her jump.
Finally 10 days ago, off lead, another big bang. Flo ran off and was missing for 2 hours.
All these triggers stacking up over a short period of time has reuslted in Flo being in the state she’s now in.
Jumpy and stressed.
When I arrived, their other dog, Golden Retriever Zak, was out on a walk. Flo was scared of me. She startled when the gentleman happened to push the cutlery draw shut.
Then Zak came home. Flo was transformed. She was suddenly wriggly, confident and friendly!
Our work covers two areas: doing all they can to keep Flo’s general stress levels as low as possible and working on the triggers themselves – the bangs and other scary things.
This means no walks as Flo knows them just for now. Already on my advice they are leaving her at home when walking Zak.
Every time she’s out and caught unprepared by a bang of some sort – and now other things like a revving motorbike – it will merely make things worse.
Systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning.
They will manufacture their own bangs at home. These will start with soft taps leading to bangs eg: spoon on the table, saucepan lids gently somewhere out of the room or that cutlery drawer. They can build up to distant party poppers or cap gun – the other end of the house or way down the garden.
Recorded sounds may or may not work but worth a try. They can control the volume.
Flo can hear the bird scarer from inside their house if the wind is in the right direction. This will apparently carry on for another week so they can turn it into an advantage and work on it.
Exposing Flo carefully to bangs (desensitising), isn’t alone enough however. It’s what happens when the bang occurs that’s important – this is the counter-conditioning bit. A bang must trigger something good – in Flo’s case little bits of turkey will rain down (it has to be turkey as chicken doesn’t agree with Zak). The bang triggers turkey irrespective of what Flo is doing or feeling – whether she’s alarmed or whether she’s ignoring it.
They should have turkey to hand all the time so that unexpected ‘real life’ bangs always trigger turkey. We also looked into what to do if there had to be a short delay between bang and food.
Flo gets ball play in the garden for exercise and they are now starting to walk her again but near to home. Unfortunately Zak’s company on walks doesn’t help her reactivity to those triggers as it did with me in the house.
It’s just possible that Flo is also picking up on her owners’ own emotions. The lady is understandably very upset for Flo who had done so well after a difficult start in life. The effect our own emotions have on our dog.
Slowly slowly catchee monkey.
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 Flo. 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. The case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where any form of fear 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).
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.
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.
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)
Ruby simply can’t cope with life. They rehomed the Lakeland Terrier from an acquaintance at about three years of age – she is 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.
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.
Ruby’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”.
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)
Two-year-old Belgian Malinois Jake’s home is now with people who have considerable experience and knowledge as dog owners. I’m sure if Jake had gone to them as a puppy they would have nurtured him into a reliable and friendly adult dog.
Physical neglect and domestic abuse
Poor Jake spent the first year of his life suffering severe physical neglect and domestic abuse.
This is a far cry from the life he should have had – one where he was loved, given kind training and most of all, socialised with people.
In all respects Jake received the opposite.
My clients have made considerable headway with him, particularly with respect to training. There is nothing they won’t do in order to help him.
Their main problem is Jake’s antipathy to people, demonstrated by his aggressive barking at them.
When out, his lunging and barking has a fear component too. From the moment he leaves the house he is on high alert for people. He is necessarily muzzled and, for control, they use a head halter underneath it.
This is Catch 22. He must be under control to keep people safe, but he’s going to feel trapped and uncomfortable. They can’t do anything about the muzzle, but they can use better handling equipment where they have just as much control should they need it and with Jake feeling comfortable.
Aggressive barking and two attacks
He has attacked a couple of people and only didn’t cause injury because he was wearing the muzzle at the time. On both occasions, to his humans, it seemed without warning.
Jake is constantly ‘living on the brink’ due to his invisible internal arousal levels. On both these occasions there will have been a build-up. One was at the end of a walk with all it’s challenges and the other he was in a situation that was far too much for him. It only takes one small extra frustration to send a dog like this over the edge (see ‘trigger-stacking‘).
When anyone calls to the house, Jake is always shut away. It makes having friends or family visiting very difficult. Catch 22 again. Without encountering people how will he ever change?
Due to the lady’s work, many people do actually come and go. He will bark from behind the kitchen door; he will bark at people and other dogs through the long windows.
This daily and frequent aggressive barking at people in or outside his house, people he can’t get to, will be very frustrating for him. It is also constant rehearsal of the aggressive barking which, he will undoubtedly believe, drives people away in the end.
When I visited yesterday we set things up carefully. I needed to see for myself whether fear was involved or if it was simply rage that another person was in his house.
It looked like rage.
To Jake, his job was to get rid of me.
They had him muzzled up ready in the kitchen when I arrived, with a training lead hooked to both front and back of a harness and the man for company. I had announced my arrival on my mobile so as not to ring the doorbell. We wanted his arousal levels to be as low as possible.
I sat at a table as far from the door as possible. I could see through the open door and down the short passage from the kitchen.
The lady had instructions not to talk to Jake but just to walk him towards the room. As soon as he barked she was to turn around and walk him out of sight just round the corner.
As soon as Jake caught sight of me he exploded. He barked ferociously, lunging on the lead. The lady had to use her strength to remove him but because of the harness it would cause him no discomfort (discomfort would be yet another reason for him to hate me).
I asked her now to say ‘Jake – come’ each time she turned around and as he got a hang of the process he became less resistant.
Soon Jake was looking at me without barking.
After several attempts there was a distance outside the door where he could see me without any aggressive barking. He was quiet. The lady had worked previously on eye contact and he was looking at her all the time which she rewarded. I now suggested she waited until he looked at me, said ‘Yes’ and then fed him.
We worked on the lady approaching a step at a time, continually reinforcing Jake each time he looked at me. It didn’t take long before she could sit on a chair already placed some way away from me near the door beside the man, and Jake very soon lay down quietly.
After a while I tested this. I moved my legs. I stood up. Nothing. I got up and moved about a little and he was still relaxed.
I suggested the lady, hanging on to the lead, took his muzzle off.
He was fine and I even manged to take this photo (whilst looking the other way). I also chucked him food from time to time. This doesn’t look like a frightened dog, does it.
All went very well until something small happened.
I think the man got up to do something. This little bit of extra arousal suddenly sent Jake over the edge again and he lunged at me with aggressive barking as before. I was doing nothing.
It was almost like he realised he had forgotten himself and his job to get rid of me!
The lady took him straight back out.
We rehearsed the procedure again and then left him in the kitchen. We rehearsed it one more time before I left. Both times we finished at a point where it was going well.
They will now need frequent callers to work on.
Reducing Jake’s stress levels underpins everything.
Unless they can do lots of things to reduce Jake’s stress levels so that he is calmer in general, nothing will change. In this state he’s unable to exercise self-control. They then will be able to introduce activities to a calmer Jake that are incompatible with aggressive barking and lunging, maybe a ritual of some sort.
I did what I call a complete ‘behaviour health check’, looking for all areas where they could reduce excitement, arousal, fear, frustration levels. Accumulating stress levels can make his ‘explosions’ unpredictable – and inevitable.
In those most important very early months of his life, Jake had missed out on socialisation – encountering different people. When he should have been treated kindly and trained using force-free methods for the first year of his life, he received the very opposite.
They are now picking up the pieces. If anyone can do this, they can.
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 Jake. 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 aggression or fear issues of any kind are 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 (click here to see my Help page)
Beautiful Golden Retriever, Monty, really is the perfect family pet despite having a sad start to life. He’s now five.
It was so uncharacteristic that, from hearing all the circumstances before and during the event, I come to the conclusion that it was due to a build up of arousal – including excitement.
Without going into the exact circumstances, things probably came to a head and a fairly minor thing was the last straw. This resulted in Monty attacking a dog and injuring his ear. They want to make sure this never happens again, so they contacted me.
Head halter. Restricted and uncomfortable.
Monty is absolutely fine with all other dogs when he is off lead, which is much of the time.
When he’s on lead however it can be a different matter. He wears a head halter which he hates but he’s a big dog and he pulls. The lead is held tight, especially when they approach another dog.
He feels uncomfortable, trapped and understandably on the defensive when another dog barks at him.
Off lead he’s fine, free to avoid anything that worries him.
Actually he’s fine with most dogs even when on lead. The dogs he reacts to with lunging and barking are those who themselves are reactive.
Many walks start with Monty having to run the gauntlet of two or three barking dogs behind gates. He is held tight and walked on, experiencing discomfort from the head halter.
His stress levels will already be rising.
Added to this, at home he can hear a couple of these same dogs from his garden and will bark at them.
This reactivity is undoubtedly due to fear or at least his feeling acutely uncomfortable and vulnerable with proximity to certain dogs.
From now on Monty should have no more opportunity to rehearse barking at dogs he hears, so garden access will be controlled while they work on it. Dogs he’s uncomfortable with will now be associated with good stuff at a distance he can cope with.
Walking comfortably on loose lead from a harness rather than head halter means that Monty will feel less restricted. Already he should feel a lot more confident when encountering those other dogs.
Starting at home where there are few distractions.
We all walked him around the garden on a Perfect Fit harness, loose lead hanging from the front. The idea is for him to learn to walk near them wherever they want to go, like there is no lead at all.
Loose lead walking work will start in the house and garden where there are few distractions.
Soon Monty will get back to walking down the road, but on a loose lead. There should be no more walking past the barking dogs behind gates until he is ready. A comfortable distance from them can always be achieved even if they have to turn around and go back the way they came.
It may be necessary to pop him in the car for now for the five minute walk to where he can be let off lead.
The problem seems fairly straightforward. They will give Monty the feeling of freedom and not force him out of his comfort threshold where proximity to other dogs is concerned.
At this distance they will work hard at getting him to feel differently about those reactive dogs that may be barking and upsetting him. They will teach him what to do, rather than what not to do.
I hate to see frustrated and uncomfortable dogs trying to rub a head halter off on the ground. Without the need for one anymore, I’m sure walks will be transformed for the otherwise perfect Monty, and for anyone walking him.