Too Much Excitement. Too Much Lots of Things

‘Too much’ results in stress.

Ollie’s stress levels are at the root of the problems. This said, not all stress is bad and a lot is associated with fun – but it’s too much of everythiToo much excitementng that’s the trouble.

So many things add up during the day. The eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo has to have the lady in sight all the time and panics when left alone. He barks at every sound outside. He can’t control himself when other dogs are about.

Their young children are often excited around him. Too much arousal, too much petting (and too vigorous), too much prolonged, rough or repetitive play, too much physical contact. They believe it makes him happy and it does, in a way. But it’s too much.

It was evening, the children had gone to bed and Ollie gradually settled. I watched him go and snuggle on the sofa beside the man who immediately began touching him. Ollie licked his lips, then licked his nose, then yawned. A little uncomfortable? To me it suggested the dog wanted the closeness but wasn’t asking to be touched. He soon jumped down.

When they walk past him, he will roll onto his back. They assume it’s because he wants a tummy rub. Really? It will depend upon context, but often it will be appeasement. “Please leave me alone.”

Why should Ollie be so stressed?

I saw for myself how easily he becomes anxious. Sadly, as a twelve-week-old puppy, right in the middle of his first fear period, he had a painful medical problem that resulted in his being confined for six weeks.

Ollie is a lovely friendly dog. He should be having a lovely life. He has love, attention, play, walks and the best food, so why should he be stressed? It’s about everything in moderation. There is, simply, too much.

There may however be ‘too little’ of the things he really needs – down time, sniffing time, closeness without necessarily being touched, peace and quiet without being alone, brain work, healthy stimulation.

So, I would say that cutting down on the intensity of everything will make a big difference. This has to be the starting point. At the same time, we will introduce activities that help him to reduce stress and to use his brain, instead of working him up into a frenzy of excitement.

One very interesting thing they told me is that Ollie loves a tight-fitting garment they dressed him up in for an occasion last year. Recently, sniffing a box, he dug down and dragged it out. He then he took it off and lay on it. Apparently, when he was wearing it Ollie seemed calm and happy which is why they felt he liked it. This started me thinking. How does he react when his harness goes on, I asked? He’s calmer then also.

From this I just guess that there’s a good chance of him being one of those dogs a Thundershirt or Ttouch wrap could help.

Other dogs send him onto a high

Here is another strange thing. Ollie is only aggressive to other dogs when his humans are eating! If there is dog food or bones about he’s okay.

He has only ever shown aggression to humans when other dogs are around.

Ollie’s arousal levels shoot through the roof when he’s near dogs. He is so desperate to play that he overwhelms them. In his uncontrolled way, he charges about, jumping over them and has nearly bowled over a couple of owners who were not pleased. The presence of other dogs gives Ollie such a high that he’s uncontrollable. The lady is now anxious about walking him.

First things first

Number one priority, then, is to calm him down a bit. Then after two or three weeks I will go again and see what we then have and what we need to do next.


I went back to see Ollie yesterday, a couple of months after my first visit. He’s a changed dog. I introduced his lady owner to clicker training and the lady and clever Ollie mastered a hand touch on cue in about fifteen minutes. Here they are.
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 Ollie and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  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)

Reading the Dog Correctly. Responding Appropriately.

Reading the dog correctly is a skillReading the dog incorrectly can cause us to do the very opposite of what is needed.

Angus is a gorgeous miniature wire haired dachshund. He greeted me in a very friendly fashion and sniffed me (getting information about my own four dogs I’m sure).

He then rolled over onto his back, still looking very friendly, tail wagging.

His young owner said he wanted a tummy rub.

I wasn’t so sure. This needs to be taken in context and I am an unfamiliar person to him. There is a good chance it was a gesture of appeasement.

I didn’t touch him but just talked to him.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions when your dog does something like rolling onto his back.

As I found out more about Angus I feel I made the right decision. When he was a bit younger – he’s now seventeen months – he would do this with anyone new and may pee at the same time. He still may do so if greeted too excitedly even by someone he knows.

This would indicate too much pressure of some sort. Stress.

Reading the dog incorrectly can lead to other misunderstandings.

Angus may shake before going out on a walk. They assume it’s fear and possibly it is. It may also be in anticipation or a mix of the two. Walks may well be a bit daunting to Angus, particularly if he’s already slightly stressed.

They may encounter people who, because he’s so extremely cute, will want to touch him. He rolls over. For a belly rub? Surely not. He doesn’t even know them.

He is wary of many other dogs and his young owner has taken advice. She has worked very hard. She has been using a recognised system that works really well if the environment can be properly controlled. On normal walks however where dogs may just appear, it’s meant she’s not responding soon enough.

Some days Angus may just want to sniff and mark to the exclusion of all else. The lady will have trouble persuading him to move on and it worries her that if they don’t cover sufficient ground he won’t get enough exercise.

His walks will now be a bit different. They will be ‘Angus’ walks. 

Could the constant marking be some sort of displacement activity?

Is he avoiding facing possible encounters by doing something safe that he can control and that fully occupies him?

Reading the dog, in this instance, as attempting to avoid trouble rather than trying to mark territory will determine the appropriate course of action.

His walks usually take half an hour. Now they won’t have a set destination. If Angus wants to sniff, he can sniff all he likes. The lady will only move on when and if he relaxes from marking and sniffing. At present she lures him forward with food in front of his nose which means he stops to eat. Now she will drop bits of food on the ground in front of him as he goes to encourage forward movement, not stopping.

Then, instead of carrying on walking, she can stop him and invite him to sniff and mark again. No pressure. Understanding why he could be doing it will give her an insight into what needs to be done to avoid him feeling anxious.

She will now make sure anyone they meet hangs back and invites Angus over. If he doesn’t go to them, then he’s not to be touched.

I tried this as I was leaving. When, standing, I invited him to me he hung back – and he knew I had food too. Instead of moving over him to touch him which would undoubtedly have made him roll onto his back, I backed off. It looks like for all his friendliness he’s slightly intimidated by people when they are standing up which is understandable. He’s tiny.

Reading the dog correctly influences the appropriate response.

When in doubt, the best thing with Angus is to do nothing.

If I’m wrong about his reason for rolling onto his back, it’s better to do nothing than tickle when it’s not what he’s asking for.

If I’m wrong about the marking and sniffing being largely a displacement behaviour, it’s better to do nothing and leave him to get on with it if he likes it.

A couple of months later: I think he may just be beginning to trust me! Yesterday a man came towards us which we have met before. Angus moved forwards towards the man and then changed his mind and walked back towards me and sat next to me. It sort of felt like he was coming back to me for reassurance. As long as the dog is the same distance as being across the road Angus is quite happy. We have seen a few very unhappy dogs across the road who have quite angrily barked at us! And fortunately because Angus is happy at that distance he was not at all bothered. I think this process has probably been more about me having more realistic expectations.

Punish her and she will Learn

“If we punish her she should learn not to do it again”.

A few weeks ago nine-month-old Dandie Dinmont for the first time went for the older, gentle Cocker Spaniel, Mimi (12). She grabbed her ear and wouldn’t let go. Mimi was screaming. Pandemonium followed. The lady yelled at the dogs. She tried to pull the two bitches apart. She cried ‘Get a bucket of water’. Water didn’t make Dandie, Suzie, let go, in fact it probably fired her up further. Panic.



Eventually a handful of food broke it up.

Suzie was punished.

Now, to me, this first attack wasn’t really too serious. No blood was drawn. Suzie could have damaged Mimi’s ear badly but no blood was drawn. If she was really in the red zone, would she have stopped for food?

Human reaction, noise and panic will, over a few more similar incidents, have escalated the whole thing into another sphere, resulting in Mimi finally turning on Suzie. The man, caught in the action, was badly bitten, ending up in hospital with a bad bite that went septic.

Suzie wants to control not to kill. The man has now experienced what happens when the dog really means it.

With hindsight the first attack should have been taken as a big warning that something was going wrong with the relationship between the two dogs.

I shan’t here go into the various techniques of breaking up a fight once it has begun as there is no universal solution – one size fit all. It’s so easy to say ‘keep calm’ but experienced dog people who deal with this sort of thing on a regular basis wouldn’t panic. The aim now is to make absolutely sure it can’t happen again.

I wonder where it all started? The seeds will have been sown well before that first attack on Mimi. It will have been brewing. The little Dandie Dinmont was becoming increasingly growly when Mimi was fussed and would react badly if not given treats first. Mimi’s own weakness may well have brought out the worst in Suzie. Hindsight, again, is a wonderful thing, but this is the point at which teenage Suzie’s bullying of Mimi should have been addressed.

Its a nightmare for the whole family as they adore their dogs. They so badly want to keep Suzie (the breeder will have her back) that they accept they will need to do things differently now.

They were disbelieving when I suggested that punishing Suzie would only make things worse and I knew I had a challenge explaining why. 

To punish a dog opens a can of worms.

It damages our relationship with the dog.  Countering violence with violence can only make aggression worse and this is very well documented. If positive punishment, physical or otherwise, did work, instead of escalating there would have been no further incidents.

The (very understandable) human anger has had fallout. I doubt whether punishment will, to the dog, be directly related to the attack itself for several reasons. One is that punishment continues after the fight has stopped (the dog will have been hit after she had let go).

Another big factor is that both dogs will now associate the other dog with something terrifying – her humans losing it and becoming, to them, unpredictable monsters. Each time one dog looks at the other her emotions will be poisoned with this association.

I suspect this human contribution will have had far more impact than any pain or fear either dog has inflicted upon the other.


Scared Mimi

Both dogs are wary in their own way. It’s sad to see Mimi so scared, not only of Suzie but of her humans, after twelve years of happiness. Even Suzie is very appeasing. In the context she offered it, I don’t feel her constantly dropping to the floor and lying on her back is solely to invite a tummy rub.

The situation must now be reversed and it will take time and patience. Relationship-building between humans and dogs is now a priority. It should involve one-to-one time – walks, training, play – with each dog individually, earning her trust by motivating her, being consistent and predictable.

At present the two dogs tend to focus mainly on one another. The focus of each dog should now be more upon their humans.

Now each dog also needs to be helped to associate the other with pleasant stuff only.

We discussed the common denominators around the incidents. Doorways was one of them. Each time Suzie grabbed Mimi it was her ear – not a killer grab.  Each time it unleashed a tsunami of human panic and reaction.  The final time Mimi turned.

Punish leading to appeasement

Tummy rub or appeasing?

Everyone must play safe for now. Belt and braces. They will put up two gates. Both dogs will be introduced to muzzles as a standby.

Instead of having them mostly together (with Mimi now hiding) and separating them when they feel it’s necessary (if they remember), they should make the default being ‘dogs apart’. They will only have them together in a controlled and planned way when everything is calm, away from any doors to the outside.

We are looking at management and controlling the environment for the foreseeable future.

We are looking to build a stronger relationship between each dog individually with her humans.

We are looking at changing how each dog feels towards the other dog.

* Used here in the sense of ‘positive punishment’ not ‘negative punishment’.
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 and Lly and I’ve not gone into exact 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, particularly where aggression 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 (see my Help page)