Desperate. Her Puppy Jumps Up, Snaps and Barks at Her

“I am desperate!

“….I love my puppy so much and don’t know what to do. She bites, jumps up and snaps at me. I can’t eat in front of her. I could go on.

Skye likes to watch the dogs on television. I watch Victoria Stilwell’s programme. That’s how I found out about you.”

Desperate because of puppy's behaviourSkye is a four-month-old Westie.

It’s very easy to get into a spiral of despair when everything we do seems to make a puppy more wild or rough. All the time we are trying to stop the puppy doing things she gets worse.

The most dangerous is being underfoot and liable to trip the lady over which, due to her age, could be particularly disastrous.

Through different eyes.

The lady is now completely changing her perspective. She is looking at her puppy through different eyes. Instead of trying to counter unwanted behaviours with scolding and discipline, saying ‘no’ and getting cross, she will constantly look for and reinforce those behaviours that she does want. She already no longer feels desperate.

How does a dog or puppy know what we DO want? Ted Talk.

The clever puppy soon learnt that a click meant ‘Yes!’ Each time she jumped up, instead of reacting we waited. When she was back on the floor she earned a click – and food. This ‘brain’ work is exactly the kind of stimulation she needs.

We are also teaching Skye alternative behaviours that are incompatible with those things she now does that the lady doesn’t want her to do.

Where circling feet and grabbing trousers is concerned, she will be taught ‘Away’, running after a rolling piece of food. This way the lady can keep safe. She just has to make sure she has food on her for now.

We ask ourselves, what is it that drives the puppy to wildly jump up, bark at the lady, snap in her face when she bends over her, scratch her legs till she gets attention and so on? What is it that is causing the lady to feel so desperate?

Puppy over-arousal is at the bottom of it. Cutting back activities that stir her up and replacing with activities that use her brain and natural instincts like chewing and sniffing will help.

A little tornado!

It’s totally natural for a puppy to be excitable and have bouts of wild behaviour where she’s like a little tornado. Pressure has built up in her that has to explode somewhere! If she was with her siblings they would riot together and it would soon be over.

One great idea is a ‘box of tricks’ that Skye can go to town on and wreck. Biscuits are hidden in screwed up paper, food cartons, milk containers, loo roll tubes, old towels etc. The cardboard carton itself can be attacked.

If we want our puppy to be gentle and calm with us, then that is how we need to be with her. Friends and family need also to treat her calmly – no wild greetings and pumping her up.

Having a motivated puppy leads to good behaviour.

The lady should always reward her when she asks her to come to her.

It’s much better to call Skye away from something she shouldn’t be doing or chewing, rewarding her and giving her something acceptable to do. Much better than saying ‘No’ and scolding – trying to stop her.

This means having food in a pouch or pocket all the time for now.

No more feeling desperate.

From email a week later: ‘Skye is so much calmer I can’t believe how much we’ve achieved in a few days. The biting has just about stopped. I’m amazed that she appears to be getting the message so quickly.’ (It’s not so much about her getting the message, but the lady is communicating with her in a way she understands a bit better). 

 

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 Skye and 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 puppy may not be appropriate, and in many cases the owner needs training personally. Being able to see a professional demonstrate and react appropriately to a puppy’s behaviour can be necessary. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own puppy (see my Help page)

Resource Guarding Puppy. Meltdown

Resource guarding and still only a little puppy.

A week ago a very distressed young lady phone me in the early morning. The previous evening her Miniature Pinscher puppy, Rupert, only fifteen weeks old, had a total meltdown. He was an attacking, snarling, biting little resource guarding bundle of anger.

resource guarding puppyThe vet said he had not seen anything like it, but from what examination he achieved could find nothing wrong with him. The puppy stayed with the vet overnight. The only thing anyone could think of that could have pushed Rupert over the edge was he had eaten a cigarette end (he guards or eats anything he can find).

Could nicotine have tipped him over? Could there have been something else in the cigarette?

He’s just a little puppy, not yet four months old, but in the three and a half hours I was there he never rested, let alone slept. He’d not slept for a while before I came either.

He growls or flies at anyone who comes near to him when he has something of value (to him). Taking his lead on and off is a challenge. In addition to resource guarding he’s already started barking when hearing people walking past outside.

Was his total meltdown due to a build-up of events?

It is very unusual to find a puppy of Rupert’s age to resource guard items with such determination. On close questioning I feel that his scary meltdown on that day was the result of a build-up of events – trigger stacking. Three weeks ago he began to grumble when carried down the stairs to toilet outside (he lives in a flat) so now he walks. About ten days ago he was given a squeaky pig. He was dismembering it, as puppies do. When the lady went to pick up the stuffing, he went for her. He now might growl if he was approached when lying in his bed.

I do wonder whether the start of this had anything to do with a ‘fear period’.

Things went from bad to worse. More ‘triggers’ happened including, with the hot weather, the balcony doors being left open. He could see and hear people and dogs below. This triggered furious and constant barking.

Slowly, over a short period, his stress levels will have been building up. Finally, maintenance men did their regular weekly work in the building. Where before Rupert took little notice, this time he went ballistic.

Then he ate the cigarette end. They couldn’t take it off him.

This was the day that he turned into an ‘aggressive monster’. He had a meltdown. Tiny though he is, they were afraid of him.

Despite the checks the vet did, I’m not convinced that there isn’t more to this – a medical issue of some sort. If we make little progress, I would hope the vet is willing to take blood tests, including full range of thyroid tests and values. I would also hope the vet could help us with medication to help Rupert’s mental state, something easier to achieve in the US than here in the UK it seems.

This must be a distressing state for a puppy who should still be carefree at under 16 weeks. Being on high alert results in sleep deprivation, something else affecting his stress levels.

Aggressive resource guarding behaviour gets the desired result.

Rupert has learnt that his aggressive resource guarding behaviour has the desired effect, that of driving people away and leaving him with the item. This is a dilemma. If the item is then forcibly removed or he is cornered, he then will become even more of a guarder. If it’s left, he learns that his behaviour works.

Furthermore, he will now no longer do an exchange for anything – nothing is more valuable to him than the item he has in his mouth.

I look at the basic emotion driving the behaviour and what’s in it for Rupert. Resource guarding has to involve fear of losing something or insecurity, or else why would he feel the need to guard things or his own space?

The first step has to be for Rupert to know, whenever he is approached, that the person is a ‘giver’ and never a ‘taker’. That is fundamental.

Yawning

He is fed on what I consider excellent food – raw Nutriment, but I feel it’s worth trying some high quality kibble for a while. Sometimes a complete change in diet can change a dog.

The advantage of kibble over raw is that you can carry it in your pocket! Instead of being put down in a bowl, food can be used to emphasise the lady’s role as ‘giver’. Every time she has to walk towards or past Rupert she can just drop or throw food. Every time he has anything in his mouth such as a toy, she can drop him food whilst showing no interest in what he’s holding. Instead of guarding the item, afraid he’s going to be tricked into dropping it, he will soon learn he can put it down, eat the food and then pick it up again.

Two good games for dogs reluctant to let go or give.

I have two favourite games for a puppy with guarding issues:

Fetch, using two identical balls – they must be the same so the dog can’t prefer one over the other. Throw one but don’t throw the second ball until he drops the first. Throwing the second ball before the first is dropped is bribery. Throwing it afterwards is reinforcement.  If he decides to run off with the ball they will ignore it and ignore Rupert. Game over and fun finished. Battersea balls are unbreakable, a funny shape for random bounce, and light.

The Tuggy game played correctly is invaluable too for teaching ‘let go’ or ‘give’. Here are two very good videos from Victoria Stilwell: Teach a Dog to ‘Take It’ and ‘Drop It’  and then Teach Your Dog Proper Tug of War.

Amongst things Rupert picks up and guards are his lead, anything dropped on the floor or left within reach, stones and rubbish when out, sticks, a leaf….his own toys. Strangely, he doesn’t guard his food bowl.

Another problem is that when aroused, Rupert may fly at the lady. She has bites up her arms.  We have looked at ways to redirect his need to attack something onto wrecking a carton of recyclable rubbish with kibble dropped in it! It’s only happening because of his extremely high stress levels, of course.

The young lady is very switched on. She has already really helped Rupert with her research and patience. Had he gone to live with someone else, things could well be even worse. It is nothing to do with her. I suspect it’s primarily genetic, with maybe an element of early competing with his siblings for food and very possibly some sort of chemical imbalance in his own body.

Rupert is a project without a guaranteed outcome, but we will do our very best.

Five days have gone by. Things going in the right direction: My friend just came round who hasn’t seen Rupert in about a week and he said Rupert was the best behaved he’s ever been. No bite marks or anything. He even had a little nap whilst he was here and we were talking. 
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 approaches I have worked out for Rupert. 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 any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

Two Sighthounds and an Elderly Springer

The two sighthounds barely lifted their heads from the sofa when I entered the room.

sighthounds with Springer Spaniel

Rosie, Eamonn and their elderly Springer

I could hardly believe it when I rang the doorbell and from a house with three dogs there was no barking at all – not even from their elderly Springer but she may be a bit deaf.

When I entered the room both sighthounds were on the sofa. I don’t know if Rosie even opened her eyes.

Eamonn, curious, got down from the chair, stretched his long body in the way that sighthounds do and calmly came over to investigate me. His long, intrusive greyhound-like nose explored my work bag.

Rosie, a stunning Saluki mix, seemed unusually quiet and motionless. They say she is aloof and it’s hard to decide if this is all or whether she is also keeping her head down so to speak. She lives with the very polite and calm Eamonn, a Sloughi mix from Ireland (no, I hadn’t heard of a Sloughi either – a North African breed of Sighthounds found mainly in Morocco).

Both dogs are failed fosters – and I well understand why. They are sensational.

The people are experienced dog owners and fosterers of sighthounds in particular. They have watched many of Victoria Stilwell’s videos and because I am one of her UK VSPDT trainers I have the privilege of working with them. Sometimes it is necessary to get objective and experienced outside input.

The family has had the two sighthounds for around a year. Rosie, now five, had been used as a puppy-making machine in Wales and then dumped by the roadside when she was no more use to them and Eamonn, now about two, had been in another sad situation. Seeing both dogs now it’s hard to believe either had known anything but love.

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Some months later they fostered another dog.

All was well with both sighthounds until another foster, a female, came to live with them for about five months.

With this particular foster dog in her home, Rosie became increasingly tense and unhappy. The dog was needy and attention-seeking and this instability upset Rosie.

Unfortunately her aggressive attitude then spread to antipathy to other dogs that they met when out and Eamonn was sucked in also. They feed off one another.

Before the other dog came, both sighthounds were mostly fine with other dogs. Now they are walked with muzzles.

Rosie

Rosie

Rosie is a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde. When she is let off lead with Eamonn this quiet and poised dog can totally change. She goes crazy – charging around in circles, stirring herself up into such a high that she then redirects aggressively onto Eamonn who becomes quite scared and hides.

Why is she suddenly so aroused? Where has all that stress come from? It’s like she erupts. To me it suggest that though otherwise so quiet and undemanding, there must be more going on inside her. The regular encounters with other dogs when out, although already being worked on to some extent, may be contributing to well-hidden stress levels.

The foster dog has now moved on and Rosie is altogether much happier again in her own, introverted sort of way. They say they would like her to play but I suspect she’s not psychologically able to abandon herself to proper play.

The two main issues we are dealing with are Rosie and her reactivity to other dogs (Eamonn is fine without Rosie there) and Eamonn’s running off, maybe for a couple of hours, if he spots something to chase.

Eamonn

Eamonn

They will only walk the two dogs separately for now in order to concentrate on Rosie’s over-arousal of which there is no sign at home and her reactivity to other dogs, and on Eamonn’s recall.

In a way both Rosie’s attitude towards dogs (with a barking neighbouring dog to bark back at) and Eamonn’s prey drive (pigeons in the garden to wind him up) are behaviours being rehearsed at home.

They can take advantage of both these ‘problem’ situations by using them to create new strategies to use when out.

Sighthounds can spot potential prey from a great distance. The only way to prevent them running after something apart from having them restrained on a long line is first to train an immediate alternative reaction that redirects their instinct to chase onto something else. Once the focusing on the prey has broken into the chase stage it may be too late.

They will take it slowly with Rosie, doing their very best to make sure she doesn’t get closer to another dog than she feels comfortable whilst working hard to gradually decrease that distance by giving her choice and creating positive associations. It’s important meanwhile that there are no unexpected and uncontrolled encounters. Here is why.

Last year they took their two beautiful sighthounds on holiday where there were lots of other on lead dogs and they want to go again later this year. With hard work they will hopefully get Rosie back to her old self in time so they can all walk down the streets together as before.

Settling Into His New Home

Maybe STaffie Mastiff mix will open up a bit more during the next two weeks as he settles in. Other things may surface.Baxter had been found as a stray. He had been in kennels for one week and then a foster home for a few days, during which time another dog had attacked him – he bears the scars.

This doesn’t seem to have caused him to bear a grudge against other dogs. He has a lovely gentle nature. I feel someone has loved him sometime in the past.

Baxter is a somewhat camera-shy one-year-old Staffie Mastiff cross and the couple have had him for just under one week. They are fans of Victoria Stilwell (I am one of her UK trainers) and want to start their relationship off on the right foot making sure they are using positive methods similar to Victoria’s.

It was a very enjoyable evening, and a red-letter day for me – the lovely couple are my 2,000th clients! His look is saying 'Should I be here?'.

Underneath a quiet exterior I could read some signs of slight unease – it’s like he’s being careful. In the picture he has crept onto my coat beside me, and his look is saying ‘Should I be here?’. He is sussing out his new home.

He is growing increasingly anxious if the man goes out of the room, particularly if the dog knows he is still about somewhere. He whines the whole time the man is absent. If the couple goes out together and they creep back later to take a look, they find Baxter happily asleep on the sofa. Before this gets any worse the gentleman needs to take measures so that Baxter doesn’t grow too attached, including shutting doors behind him regularly. Instead of the persistent whining when he goes out driving the poor lady mad, she should watch for and acknowledge every time he stops and briefly settles with some sort of positive reinforcement.

By and large he has very few problems. Already, by using the right methods, he’s stopped pulling on lead.  He’s fine with other dogs. He is polite around food and very calm for an adolescent dog. He has proved himself something of a Houdini and they need to work hard on his recall if he’s is to run free.

Maybe he will open up a bit more during the next two weeks as he settles in. Other things may surface.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Baxter, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Refuses to Walk. English Bull Terrier Won’t Walk

English Bull Terrier refuses to walkThis is English Bull Terrier Indie and he is now two years old.

Ever since he was a puppy he would, throughout a walk, frequently put the anchors on. He refuses to walk. This starts a few yards from their own drive. He would simply lie down and ‘refuse to budge.

Indie is well known in the area!

Forcing him to walk

Believing that they should not be beaten, that he should not ‘dominate’ them, his owners would then drag him until he was forced to move forward again.

With one of the daughters he would sometimes go on strike and lie on his back in the middle of the road. There was simply nothing she could do while the cars had to drive around them.

The relationship between the dog and his family has deteriorated because he refuses to walk. It’s largely fuelled by anger at being ‘defied’ by him which has led to quite a confrontational relationship with the lady in particular. Indie is a constant trial to her now.

The dog gets all his attention from being ‘bad’. It has now got to the stage where the lady is at odds with her family. She feels so angry and upset with him, at her wits’ end, that she would be happy to see Indie go.

Misunderstood

Having put so much work and love into our dog, having done our very best, we can feel exasperated, let down and angry. It becomes a sort of downward spiral as we increasingly try to gain control. The relationship with our dog can become a shadow over our lives, making us feel helpless and unhappy.

What I saw was an intelligent and misunderstood dog that was seldom given the chance to please. He was frequently being corrected – crossly. His attention came either when he was insistent and demanded it, or when he was doing something they didn’t like.

Over the months their efforts to ‘control’ him have led to him growling and snapping. This is mostly when someone has physically tried to move him or when he is protecting a valued resource. This could be a huge bone or the daughter’s boyfriend.

Whereas the people would say NO as he tried to leap onto someone on the sofa, I gently clapped my hands and pointed at the floor with a gentle ‘Indie Off’. I knew that he would come down straight away and he was rewarded with ‘Good Boy’. With Indie it’s a question of showing him what he should do – not what he shouldn’t.

Refuses to walk, so no walks at all

He’s crying out for attention but is getting it for all the wrong things, like when he refuses to walk. Because of the problem on walks he now has little exercise or happy stimulation.

A mix of gaining his willing cooperation in all aspects of his relationship with his owners should change his life. They will do this through encouragement, reward and praise rather than force and confrontation. We created a cunning plan to get him walking willingly – making sure that if anxiety is anything to do with it that it’s treated appropriately.

This will make his owners happy too – especially the lady.

I bought a T-shirt at the Victoria Stilwell seminar I attended last weekend printed with ‘Kindness is Powerful’. That says it all really. But what is kindness? It’s not doing everything a dog demands and giving it control over you (spoiling it), and then despairing when it won’t cooperate when you wish it do to do something. Bonding comes through understanding and patience, not the use of force.