Growling Warning Ignored. Springer Spaniel Bit Man’s Face

Jonny is a gorgeous, friendly dog – looking and behaving a lot younger than his supposed ten years. The elderly couple who had him previously could no longer keep him.

He has a lovely home now with activity and enrichment.

His two problems are around guarding, growling warning and chasing shadows – or just charging about chasing nothing.

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Unpredictable Explosions Predictable. Some Detective Work

I met a sweet little 11-month-old working Cocker Spaniel who greeted me at the door and promptly lay on his back. This was the first point where I felt his family may be jumping to conclusions and not quite understanding him.

They said ‘he wants a belly rub’.

I find this hard to believe from a dog that wasn’t over-confident and someone he has never met. It’s more likely to be his way of saying ‘be nice to me, I’m a good boy’. A dog rolling onto his back is not necessarily saying he wants his tummy tickled and sometimes the very opposite.

Unpredictable explosions

Quite a lot of conclusions have been jumped to regarding what they describe as Harvey’s ‘unpredictable explosions’. With some detective work they become much more predictable.

Aggression is predictableHarvey has a lovely life with his family of adult couple and two late-teenagers. He gets long off-lead walks, training, play and love.

The outbursts of aggression started quite recently.

They took him on a family picnic where they met up with another family dog. The dogs played for ages in a very over-excited way with Harvey pushing it. It ended, later, when Harvey was lying still, with his suddenly going for the other dog. Was it sudden, though? Was anyone watching him? What was his body language? Could this have been predictable?

They take him with them to the pub. On a couple of occasions he has shown what seems like sudden aggression, out of the blue, towards another dog. It’s a popular pub and always full and noisy. Harvey will by their table, held back on lead.

At training classes he has shown aggression two or three times, resulting on the last occasion with the lady being bitten on her leg. Was this a random thing that suddenly happened or was it predictable?

Common denominators.

Questions found certain common denominators to the ‘unpredictable aggression’. The main one is the presence of another dog or dogs. The ‘explosions’ are always directed at a dog.

Harvey has mostly been on lead.

On each occasion they have been in an active or noisy group of people.

Back-tracking to what leads up to each explosion we find a build up of arousal or excitement of some sort. From what I saw of Harvey, he’s a sensitive dog and it’s very likely that held tightly on lead he feels unsafe. Attack could be the best form of defence.

Another thing that happens is that when a dog is fired up ‘defending himself’ but held back on a lead, his frustration, fear, arousal etc. can then redirect onto the nearest person if he can’t get to the dog. I’m sure this is what happened when he bit the lady.

Reading his body language.

There is quite a lot that is very predictable when you know what’s happening. With more skill at reading Harvey’s body language they should, in fact, be getting some warning.

I have found it’s quite common for dogs to begin to become reactive to other dogs at around maturity. In Harvey’s case, it seems that he’s reactive due to a mix of things including fear and lack of self-control due to over-arousal.

The more a behaviour like this occurs – the more it’s rehearsed – the more likely it is to happen again. It’s like a door has opened that’s hard to close again.

For this reason, the scenario of excitement beforehand, a busy environment with several other people other dogs in close proximity and with Harvey on lead should be avoided. They can reduce excitement and arousal both immediately before social or training occasions and in life in general.

He should be allowed distance from other dogs, particularly when he’s on lead.

Off-lead Harvey mostly wants to play, though his dog to dog skills could be better. He doesn’t seem to know when to stop.

Work should be done to associate other dogs with good things happening (counter-conditioning) rather than allowing him to feel trapped and too close. At present it’s possible that, instead of other dogs nearby making good things happen, bad things in fact happen. He will be on collar and lead, sometimes a slip lead, because he doesn’t like his harness being put on. When a dog lunges and he’s pulled back or restrained, it will hurt his neck or at least be uncomfortable which is something people often don’t realise. This is the very opposite to what needs to happen.

Predictable? Yes.

They can now see it’s the combination of excitement and arousal; of people, other dogs – particularly if off lead with Harvey himself on lead – that triggers the explosions of aggression. These are all things that can be worked on.

Most important will be to have him in comfortable equipment and, when on he’s on lead, kept at a comfortable distance (for him) from other dogs until he’s ready.

Biting Labrador and Timid Border Collie

Border Collie lacks confidence

Maisie

People say their dogs are ‘members of the family’ which is why they treat them as they do. But do they really treat their family members the way they treat their dogs?

Black Labrador mix sometimes bites

Barney

When you come home, do you welcome your teenagers with ecstasy, kissing them and fussing them while they jump all over you so that the whole thing becomes almost unbearable with excitement? When you eat your meals, do you have your children jumping on yohttp://www.dogidog.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/Barney-300×190.jpgu, letting them help themselves from your plate? Do you expect your children to keep a look out for danger approaching, and then when they alert you, tell them to shut up? Do you let your children jump about and scream at you until you take them out for a walk? Would you have your children dragging you down the road, kicking and screaming at people you pass? Do you share your bed with your teenagers and do they have a tantrum if told to go? If you want to watch TV in peace, are your kids jumping all over you and demanding attention, and while they sit beside you are you touching and cuddling them all the time? With humans this would probably be considered abuse!  Would your teenagers follow you all over the place and make a fuss if you disappear out of sight? I could go on and on!

I guess there may be families where the kids are like this, but certainly not the lovely family I went to today!  I exaggerate to make my point, but they admit that over the couple of years or so since they have rescued their two dogs, after a sensible start, they have slowly relaxed the rules and boundaries, hardly realising they were doing so.  It’s easy to do. This can be unsettling and confusing for dogs. Dogs without boundaries and given the responsibility of decision-making can develop problems that are inexplicable to the owners who believe they are simply being loving. Two common results are nervousness and aggression – both of which are fear-based.

Barney, a Labrador mix, is always on the alert and he may bite. He has drawn blood several times. Things certainly can’t carry on as they are.  Maisie the Border Collie is nervous. Lack of leadership and too much fussing on demand can be scary for a dog like Maisie, especially if mixed with being scolded. She is hyper-sensitive.  There is lots of appeasingly lying on her back to have her tummy tickled ‘love me love me I’ve done nothing wrong have I’.

Both dogs need a dose of old-fashioned calm, quiet and kind leadership and being treated in the way that people really treat their well-behaved and happy kids. The dogs need to be treated with respect, not touched too much and to learn respect. Then Barney won’t need to bite and Maisie will be more confident.

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