Big Change in Poppy’s Life. Wary of People, Traffic and Dogs

What a big change in living style the mix-breed terrier has had.

It seems Poppy came from a fairly manic household with comings and goings, unpredictable young people and lots of noise. Judging by how she may now wince or recoil from hands, it’s very likely she wasn’t handled very kindly.

It’s possible a man treated her harshly, though it is common for nervous dogs to be more afraid of men than of women.

Not sorry to lose her

They asked one of the older children if they were sorry to see her go. The child said, ‘Not really’. Continue reading…

Nips Legs. Barks at People. Walking Legs

Little Miniature Wire Haired Daschund, Ziggy, is scared of people he doesn’t know coming to his house. Particularly if they are standing up and even more so if they are walking about. He is a brave little dog. Instead of running, he faces his fear. He barks. He nips legs, particularly trousers.

Imagine how intimidating approaching and looming ‘walking legs’ can seem to a tiny dog.

Ziggy may react in much the same way if someone he already knows suddenly appears. If a child runs down the stairs and ‘explodes’ into the room, it will alarm him to the extent that he might rush to them and nip their legs.

A child was bitten on the leg.

Unfortunately this happened with a visiting child and, in the excitement, she received a bite to her leg.

This is a slippery slope. The more Ziggy’s reactive behaviour happens and seems to be successful (to his mind), the worse it will get. Ziggy barks at people as they come into the house through fear and probably some sense of territorial responsibility also. He behaves like he feels he must deal with them.

The adorable little dog is ten months old. He lives with an even smaller Miniature Wire Haired Daschund, Bea, a couple and their two boys.

Ziggy nips legs when people walk about.

His attempt to make people back off nearly always works because at the very least they may stop or recoil. When people and dogs pass by the garden fence he will believe it’s his barking that sends them on their way.

This is the way that matters inevitably snowball in the wrong direction.

To change the now-learned and well-rehearsed behaviour, Ziggy needs to be shown alternative, incompatible behaviours.

But this isn’t enough. Most crucially of all, his wariness of people he doesn’t know needs to be dealt with at source. He needs help to feel differently about them.

He always nips legs in a generally aroused environment. The calmer Ziggy can be general, the more successful the work will be. Calm isn’t so easy with children of around nine years old!


An important element for dealing with this sort of thing is management. With certain practical precautions in place they will simply make a recurrence of the biting incident with the visiting child impossible.

Practice makes perfect. An interesting read.

They can make the constant rehearsal of barking at their own children when they run downstairs and burst out through that door impossible – with a permanently shut baby gate that has to be opened. The time the kids have to take to open it, throwing food over first, will give Ziggy time to be prepared.

Use of the gate and of a lead will also physically manage Ziggy’s behaviour when visitors come.

Strategies for callers to the house include rolling food away from themselves for Ziggy – this immediately worked for me. He initially returned to barking between times but soon calmed down.

At any break in this barking, they can quickly say ‘Good’ and drop food, reinforcing quiet. This teaches him what they DO want. They can also reinforce him for looking at the person whilst being quiet – or doing anything else that they like.

Standing up and walking about.

I knew that the problem might start again when I stood up so I did so slowly – dropping food as I did so.

I carried on dropping food as I walked slowly about and he was fine.

Ziggy left the room. A minute later he came back in and I was still standing up. He went back to barking at me.

What worked best of all for Ziggy was, each time he began to bark at me, someone called him away brightly and rewarded him for doing so. They had Ziggy on good ‘remote control’. They were helping him out.

Every dog and every situation is different and it’s a question of finding the right individual approach. People probably need professional help for this.

With Ziggy, the physical barriers being in place like the gate will give his family the time, peace of mind and space to do the necessary behaviour work.

The little dogs have a lovely life with their family. No pressure. Nice walks. They have company most of the time and, to loosely quote, ‘they just live with us, keep us company, and have cuddles and love’. The fact that he nips legs demonstrates that things are not quite perfect for Ziggy just now.


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 Ziggy and I’ve not gone fully 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, particularly where fear issues of any kind are concerned – particularly anything involving children. 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)

Guard Dog. Protective German Shepherd

I am sometimes contacted by people wanting to make their dog be a guard dog. These people aren’t happy because their friendly or fearful dog is useless at protecting them or their property.

Training dogs to behave with aggression isn’t my bag at all.

Taking the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog.

guard dogI do however often go to dogs with guard dog in their genes and that are excelling at the job, but whose owners don’t want this behaviour. We’re trying to take the ‘guard’ out of the guard dog, if you like. These are often, but by no means always, a Shepherd breed.

I have just met a beautiful year-old German Shepherd called Dexter who morphs from an affectionate pet into a fearsome guard dog if a person comes near the house. Particularly if they enter.

The couple took him in at nine months old and despite diligent hard work this behaviour has escalated over the past three months.

A confident dog bred to guard.

I see Dexter as a confident dog doing what he’s been bred to do – to guard. Understandably, this guarding behaviour has become stronger both as he has settled into his new home and as he’s matured.

The work on socialising him with lots of different people and other dogs should have begun at a few weeks old and been ongoing. If this had been the case, the couple, his second owners, would probably not be having problems now.

Dexter was even more highly aroused than usual when I met him. In order to get him as calm as possible when I came, they had taken him out for some vigorous exercise earlier which probably had the reverse effect. My arrival and the first attempts to find the best way of working with him will have caused him extra frustration and stress, so much so that he redirected onto poor Max. Max is their very easy-going young Labrador.

Keeping his stress levels as low as possible will help Dexter to exercise more restraint, be less reactive. Training alone hasn’t worked – they’ve worked with an excellent trainer. It’s the emotions driving the aggressive behaviour that need addressing.

If Dexter were scared of people, then because fear was driving the behavior we would be working on his becoming less scared of them.

Dexter isn’t scared. He seems supremely confident, at home anyway. He simply doesn’t want other people near him, particularly not in his house. He will try to do whatever it takes to send them away.

It took me a while to see clearly how best to approach this, then I had a light-bulb moment. Instead of our aim being for him to just tolerate people coming to his house, we need to get Dexter to positively welcome them.

What might Pavlov do?

Pavlov used a bell. Whenever he gave food to the dog, he also rang a bell. After a large number of repetitions of this procedure, he tried the bell on its own. As you might expect, the bell on its own now caused the dog to salivate.

So the dog had learned an association between the bell and the food and a new behavior had been learnt. His body reacted automatically. (To be all technical, because this response was learned – or conditioned, it’s called a conditioned response. The neutral stimulus, the bell, became a conditioned stimulus).

Why can’t we use a bell too, a wireless doorbell with two buttons? On bell push can be on the front door, the other somewhere in the house. They both trigger the same plug-in bell. Instead of food, Dexter can have fun. He’s much more motivated by play anyway.

They can repeatedly over time pair the sound of the bell with a short game of tug or throw him a ball. They can introduce new toys for extra impact and rotate them.

Happy hormones.

When play is triggered by the bell, Dexter’s brain should flood with ‘happy hormones’ like serotonin.

I quote from the article Canine Emotion by Victoria Stilwell: ‘Serotonin, for example, has a profound affect over emotions and is responsible for regulating mood, enhancing a positive feeling and inhibiting aggressive response. Dopamine helps to focus attention, promoting feelings of satisfaction….’

After a great may repetitions over time, Dexter should feel happy and think of play at the sound of the bell, even when no play follows (although it would be a good idea to keep topping it up). His brain will automatically fill with happy hormones at the sound of the bell.

Eventually, when there is a delivery person at the door, instead of thinking ‘Invader’, guard dog Dexter should think ‘Fun’!

When a friend visits, instead of thinking ‘terrorist’, our guard dog should be thinking ‘Tug Toy’!

To give this the best chance of success, Dexter’s underlying arousal levels need to be as low as possible. Long walks and vigorous exercise such as he’s getting now may surprisingly have the opposite effect to what is required, as beautifully explained by Stacy Greer.

The main areas that need working on are Dexter’s hostility towards people and other dogs when out, and people coming to their house.

Avoiding altogether both people coming to the house and seeing people and dogs on walks as they are doing now will get them nowhere. However, putting the dog over threshold (too close, too soon or too intense) will probably make things even worse.

It’s a delicate balance.


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 Dexter. 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 or fear 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).

On High Alert When Out on Walks

There seem to be many things that worry Gibson, a beautiful three-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog. He was, apparently, an anxious puppy. If the couple hadn’t already done so many things for and with him, he could be a lot worse.

On high alert when out

On high alert? Not just now!

He reacts to sounds at home, mostly sounds associated with people, like car doors slamming, voices outside or the neighbour shutting a door.

He then barks.

Gibson is nervous on walks, mainly of people and occasionally dogs also. More recently he has also become jumpy at sounds when out, particularly when it’s windy.

They have been managing the situation well – apart from a couple of incidents when a person suddenly appeared and they were unprepared. The most recent involved him jumping at someone and he may have caught her hand. This is serious, not least because of the recent changes in the dog law. Someone now need only to feel threatened by our dog, with no damage done, for us to be in trouble.

On high alert on walks

Walks are miserable for a huge proportion of dog walkers who, along with their dogs, are on high alert all the time, looking out for people or, more commonly, other dogs.

For the lady in particular, walks are simply not enjoyable and have become something of a duty. They mostly cover exactly the same route and it’s taking longer and longer to get round. When not on alert, Gibson has taken to ignoring her and engaging in excessive sniffing and foraging for anything edible.

He may refuse to move. He’s a big dog.

She will now inject a lot more enthusiasm and interaction into their walking. She will engage more with Gibson – because this is part of the solution where feeling less threatened by an approaching person is concerned. They will make walks and themselves more relevant and unpredictable. Keep him on his toes and focussing more on them.

A person coming to the house.

When someone calls to the house he is noisy to begin with. Then there is excitement in which I see a big element of anxiety. He barks at the person as they try to walk through the door into the room. He is a big dog and he’s in the way.  I found what worked best was for the man to call Gibson back and out of the way, hold onto his collar and feed him (in Gibson’s case, cheese). The dog then was quiet. I then went through and sat down. He came and sniffed me, much more relaxed.

Sometimes it works best when the visitor drops the food. In this case I feel it gives Gibson comfort and support when the owner takes control of the situation and administers the food. He should, eventually, not need the restraint.

You might say, why food? Apart from motivating Gibson to leave the person and go to the owner, it helps to give him positive emotions about the person.

Gibson is a very good eater, so food is the answer to a lot of things!


Whenever Gibson is uneasy about something, they can counterbalance it with something he likes. I think of it like a see-saw. For instance, when he sees something new and looks worried, they can immediately feed him – associating it with food. If a door slams, they can drop food before he even has time to start barking.

Feeling better about people he sees on walks is done the same way and always from a distance at which Gibson feels safe. Currently they use food to keep his attention away from the person, to distract him, which is working well on the whole. Now, from the safe distance, they will want him to be fully aware of the person. The special ‘food bar’ opens. They may even point out the person – ‘Look, a PERSON!’ and then do some rapid feeding.

When the person goes out of sight, the special food bar closes.

In order to make progress they now need to have Gibson not merely being under control, but feeling differently about people he encounters.

Looking so gorgeous and cuddly, people of course want to pet him. Especially those people who ‘have dogs and love dogs’! Here is a way to increase distance without seeming rude.

They have come so far already, With a little change in direction I’m sure they will make another leap of progress and will no longer have to be on high alert for people all the time they are out.


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 Gibson. 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 fear or any form of aggression is concerned. 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).

Wrong Puppy Start – Terrified Dog

Springer Spaniel hidesThis picture isn’t actually two-year-old Springer Spaniel Jimmy because he didn’t come out of hiding for long enough for me to take his photo, but it’s similar. Jimmy lives with another confident and calm Springer, Jasper.

Jimmy’s Working Springer breeder kept the dogs outside in a barn, so Jimmy had been very little contact with people and no contact at all with the real world until he was nine weeks old.

Then, instead of his new family being able to catch up with carefully planned positive experiences for him, disaster struck. He screamed in pain throughout the first night, ending up in a veterinary hospital with some complication of a serious worm infestation. He then moved on to be with the local vet, still screaming – and still away from his new home. Alone for the first time in his life.

Siilar Springer with tail between his legsIt’s so important for puppies to be exposed to people, other dogs and life in general very early on (and people often still don’t realise this should start well before they leave the breeder), but it goes without saying that these exposures have to good ones. He was a terrified puppy and he is now a terrified dog, only relaxed and happy with his immediate family and one or two close friends. When he is at his most terrified, he will poo himself.

It is all so distressing for his family, who love him dearly and have tried everything they can think of including training classes. But – you can’t ‘train’ fear out of a dog.

Weirdly, out of the confines of the house and particularly off-lead, Jimmy becomes a different dog. He is fine with other dogs and accepts people so long as they don’t try to touch him. Interestingly, he will only toilet away from the house and garden.

Back at home he spends much of his time stretched out in his own little world behind the sofa. When someone is at the front door he rushes to the sanctuary of his crate in the dining room, barking. If it’s family he will come and say hello, but if anyone else is coming in they will be walking past his crate, so he then runs behind the sofa or a chair, still barking, and may well not come out again despite being enticed and persuaded.

This sequence of reaction to anyone coming into the house has gone on for so long that there will be an element of learned behaviour to it. Backing up this theory is that when he’s at the son’s house he’s a lot less reactive when people come in, even men, and he doesn’t bark or run at all. There are quite a few other little odd things that I found out. He may be under their bed during the night, but if someone gets up and goes out of the room, he will bolt to his other crate which is in their bedroom when they come back into the room.

People entering through a door, whether family or not, causes him particular stress. He probably feels trapped.

The big question is what to do about it. It looks like the two main factors involved in his fear are people arriving – most particularly people he doesn’t know and especially men – and his own home territory. We can work on both. They can work at making the garden the best outside place in the world which involves using food rather than fun – Jimmy isn’t playful at home. Fortunately he does like his food when he’s not too scared.

Work can be done around knocking on the front door, starting by the lady or gentleman simply standing inside the door and knocking on it whilst feeding Jimmy, moving on to knocking from the outside and so on. They will save cooked chicken for this work. Whenever anyone comes, they can throw chicken to him, wherever he is. When he does venture of hiding, the visitor can gently roll chicken in his direction. We will refine this as we go along. Basically – when someone enters the house the ‘chicken bar’ opens. When they go, it closes.

He has four bolt-holes: behind sofa, behind chair, under the table and his crate. We will work at very slowly shutting down a couple of his bolt holes to try to break the sequence – the habit element, leaving his crate of course. The crate is the furthest away from the door but still within sight from the sitting room. People coming to the house must not walk past it anymore. We will block just the chair or sofa initially and see what happens. All the time we must leave him the choice whether he comes out or not – never force him or even entice him. Persuasion is a form of pressure and the fuss could possibly be reinforcing.

It’s entirely up to Jimmy whether he stays out of sight, but the further out of hiding he comes the more reinforcing it should become. At present it is the opposite.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Jimmy, which is why I don’t go into exact detail details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs 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 dog (see my Get Help page).


One-Year-Old Boxer Brothers. Challenge of Siblings

Rambo on the left is a lot more confident than Bronsons. They watch and bark from the windowThere they are, on the left, up on the sofa at the window watching me leave – Bronson and Rambo.

Their young owners have been working hard to train them, but it’s not always easy.  Their dream of happy walks with two lovely, friendly dogs and of polite behaviour with guests to their house just is not working out.

The challenge of siblings

It’s a mix of problems really. Nothing extreme. Rambo is a lot more confident than Bronson and likes to put him in his place – with Bronson only being pushed so far. They may then have a bust up but in no time at all they are the best of friends again. This can be the challenge of siblings.The two Boxers relaxing

Bronson is the nervous one, and this has now escalated into his being scared of approaching people when on walks and reacting to other dogs. They can’t work out how or why it started. One day he simply went for a smaller dog and it has gone downhill since.

Bronson and Rambo’s walks should be more under the control of their humans.  A hyped-up dog, straining on a tight lead with the discomfort of a Halti around his face, is going to be stressed. Meetings and greetings, too, should be under the control of the humans. When they have proved to Bronson by their own behaviour that he can trust them (and it will take time and effort which I know they are more than willing to give), Bronson should relax.


When friends come to the house the couple has worked hard to train the dogs to stay away on their ‘place’ away from the front door. However, once released they are no less excitable – jumping all over people and maybe mouthing or nipping.

I feel this needs a ‘behavioural’ approach – dealing with the emotion that causes the behaviour – rather than ‘training’. Why do the dogs behave like this? Is it simply because they are so friendly? I think not. If a human were to greet a guest in such an overwhelming manner, it could be down to anxiety.

The dogs need to be removed from the situation until everything has calmed down. Welcoming people is another thing that needs to be under the control of the humans, and the guests need a firm lesson or two on how to behave when the dogs do join them!

When I arrived there was little jumping on me and no nipping. The dogs were relieved of pressure and responsibility. I turned away from the jumping up and asked the owners not to intervene;  I pointed out the lady’s tense and worried body language and she visibly relaxed. There were only calm and confident vibes for the dogs to pick up on.

They are superb dogs, living with a young couple who want to learn how to do the best they can for them; who have always only considered positive methods.

They simply need more strategies – more options, the sort of tricks and solutions I have picked up along the way by helping so many dogs.

Staffie May Redirect onto Whippet

Staffie Maddie has extremely high stress levels


Over the months the stress both in and between these two 9-year-old dogs has been building up.

Staffie Maddie is almost impossibly noisy, pushy, barking and jumping up when the lady owner has guests – if she is allowed to join them at all – and little Misty, a Terrier Whippet cross, is also very vocal but with more obvious fear. People can’t hear themselves speak. The way they try to calm Maddie is to do as she demands and keep stroking her as she lies beside them. Not only is it giving her a very good reason to behave like this, but also, even while she is being given the attention she’s demanding, she is getting more and more worked up!

When I initially arrived Misty came through alone and she was quiet, relaxed and sniffing. It was only when Maddie rushed in that she, too, started to bark at me. Once little Misty has stopped barking, she watches Maddie. Sometimes she shakes. Maddie intimidates her when she’s like this. See how anxious she looks.

Misty is intimidated by Maddie


Maddie’s stress levels are extreme much of the time. Small things set her off. This is now increasingly being redirected onto Misty and there have been a couple of incidents, one resulting in blood.

Ten days ago I went on a fascinating weekend seminar by Dr. Susan Freidman about behaviour, consequences and reinforcement. It was like she was sitting on my shoulder. The more noise Maddie makes, the more attention she gets – sometimes scolding sometimes petting – but reinforcement either way. The more anxious Misty becomes, the more attention and fussing that earns also.

As soon as the lady comes downstairs in the morning, Maddie starts the day by rushing at the gate separating her from Misty and giving her a loud, warning bark. When she comes in from the garden, she noisily demands her breakfast – which she gets. Quite simply, barking works.

Maddie excelled at dog training classes. This is another example where traditional dog training is largely irrelevant, especially if it doesn’t take into consideration the home dynamics. Commands don’t reduce stress. In fact, ‘silence is golden’. Both dogs get a lot of excercise with lovely long country walks.

Whilst I was there Maddie was learning very quickly that the only attention she got from me was when she was still and quiet. She tried so very hard, bless her. She was distracting herself with a bit of displacement scratching and chewing in her efforts to keep calm while she was beginning to understand what was required. I, too, was learning just what level of gentle attention was enough not to break through that fine line and fired her up again. She is so eager to please and only needs to understand what is required, and then for all the humands to be consistent.

It can be so hard for us humans to break our own old habits.

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