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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Poppy Doesn’t Like Being Touched

Border Collie with German Shepherd EarsPoppy is a Border Collie with German Shepherd ears. Look at them – and at that face!

Just as not all of us like too much fussing, pulling about and excitement, Poppy is a sensitive and somewhat fearful dog who isn’t keen on being touched unless she so chooses (to many of my friends a weekend of being pampered and massaged at Champneys would be heaven but to me it would be hell. I, unlike Poppy, have free will and can refuse).

There have been several biting incidents, on family members, and all have involved her being touched in some way when she doesn’t want to be touched – having touching forced upon her. All bites have also involved her already being in a highly aroused and stressed state.

She belongs to a couple with the man’s mum, a warm, effervescent and tactile lady who plays a big part in Poppy’s life, living just down the road. Unhappily, she is the receiver of the worst bites and understandably it upsets her greatly. Her manner is simply ‘too much’ for Poppy who probably feels overwhelmed.

Each incident has taken place when Poppy was already stirred up by something. She has undoubtedly given plenty of warnings over her three years which have been unheeded or punished. Sadly they have been watching the popular TV trainer who advocates dominance and pinning down and they are suffering the fallout.

The final and worst incident is an absolutely perfect example of how one thing leads to another as fuel is added to the fire, until some sort of explosion is inevitable.

Every day at lunch time the mother comes to the couple’s house to walk Poppy. Poppy may initially stay up the stairs growling at her. The lady does everything she can to get her to coax her down – and then the drama starts.

She takes Poppy out for a walk while the couple are at work. It is always the same ritual and route. The dog bolts out of the gate to the car. She is so wild in the car that in order to stop her redirecting her stress onto chewing the upholstery the lady muzzles her. At the field, she removes the muzzle and immediately throws Poppy a stick, otherwise she will attack the car tyres.

On this particular occasion she had her two grandchildren with her (8 and 10 – she never growls at them) who will, being children, have been playful and talkative – just as the lady is herself! They reached the river to find some excitable kids in a boat on the usually quiet river. Then a bird-scare gun went off. Poppy dropped to the ground. The lady bent over her to comfort her and she grumbled, but that was all. Then there was a second bang, the lady cuddled Poppy who immediately bit her on the hand which is now black and bruised. The dog then lay there and shook.

The lady, though scared by now, pinned Poppy to the ground – because she, like so many others taken in by the showmanship of this TV man, believed it was the right and only thing to do in the circumstances.

When she let go of her, Poppy bit her other arm.

A totally different approach is needed.

So today I was on the end of the phone with the lady and we did lunchtime differently. The emphasis was on quiet and calm with no pressure whatsoever being put on Poppy. She came in the front door and ignored Poppy grumbling up the stairs. No jolly, excited hellos or trying to entice her down – just ‘Hi, Poppy’ and walking on into the kitchen.

We had played a ‘Come when Called’ game yesterday and the lady did this from the kitchen with exactly the same words and tone of voice as we had used. Poppy came willingly for her – a first. She was learning that she was rewarded with a tiny bit of food instead of noisy enthusiasm and touching (which to her, because it seems to intimidate her, amounts to punishment not reward). Already she was choosing to come to the lady and be with her rather than lurking, grumbling upstairs.

As Poppy gets two other walks during the day, we have decided it’s best for the lady not to walk her for now, so we have thought up some calm home activities for lunchtimes with some mental stimulation but no excess excitement.

What if Poppy were a deer not a dog?. The lady would move slowly, speak quietly and not try to touch it because if she did the deer would run off.

She is feeling happy because already their relationship, based on better understanding, is improving.

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 Poppy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Friendly Dog Has Changed and Bitten

Bruce

Archie

Archie

Bruce he has now bitten four people.

The 3-year-old Golden Labrador was a friendly and well socialised dog up until about 9 months ago when things started to change.

He lives with a couple and their other dog Archie, an easy-going Chocolate Labrador.

What could have caused such a big change in him? The very first time he showed aggression to anyone was when a man put his hand through the open car window – despite the dog’s warnings he wouldn’t move away. That man asked for that bite.

Could this have been the turning point?

Nothing happened for a few more months though they report he was becoming more growly. Maybe because the growling made them cross he’s learnt not to growl. Growling is good. It gives us a chance to work out why and deal with that, and to save the dog from situations he can’t cope with.

The next three bites were on people in the house or the garden who he didn’t already know. Each incident has happened in the presence of the man, not the lady. One, a lady friend, was apparently just sitting still in a chair talking and the dogs were playing with a toy. As the man remembers it, the next moment, out of nowhere, Bruce had flown at her.

The most recent time, a few days ago, he broke a repair man’s skin.

Any angry reactions towards Bruce after each incident will undoubtedly have helped to push things in the wrong direction. People don’t realise this – they mistakenly think punishment will teach the dog not to do it again.

At first I thought that this was just going to be a case of over-attachment towards the man and territorial protectiveness. We would also work on the dog’s confidence along with the man altering his own behaviour.

Then I very nearly experienced for myself what Bruce had done to that lady and could have been bitten too.

Initially the man had brought Bruce into the room on lead. I sat still and avoided eye contact. Very soon he settled and I got absolutely no vibes of trouble that with my experience I am very tuned in to, so I said to the man to drop the lead.

Bruce seemed fine for a few minutes.

He ate a treat I rolled to him. He came calmly up to me and sniffed me. Then, all of a sudden and out of the blue, with no growling, he flew at me. Fortunately he didn’t use teeth. I gently asked the man to casually come over and pick up the lead. From then on he held onto it.

The very odd thing is that throughout the evening Bruce seemed mostly fine, playing with the other dog even – punctuated by similar outbursts. Each time it was without any warning or provocation that I could see – and I have seen a lot of dogs. The inconsistency and unpredictability are really very puzzling.

We will work on the behaviour issues – his confidence and protectiveness, and they will change his diet.

A visit to the vet is now a priority just to make sure nothing else is going on with his body, something that we can’t see but could be affecting his behaviour.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bruce, 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).

Doesn’t Like Being Cuddled by Little Girl

American CockerI have just been to see Max, a two-year-old American Cocker Spaniel.

I was expecting a whirlwind like my own ten month Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, but instead found a quiet and subdued dog. They have had him for a couple of months now. When they visited him initially in his old home, he was very excitable but calmed right down as soon as they picked him up and brought him home. This change in personality may be because he lived with another excitable dog or simply because his new home is a lot calmer. When a dog’s behaviour changes so dramatically the first port of call is the vet to make sure he’s not in ill or in pain. As Max has a persistant ear infection that is being treated, this may be something to do with it. He’s not carefree like you would expect, so maybe he is missing the other dog who may have beeen the more dominant and confident of the two.

Max is fearful of other dogs on walks and this is now going to be addressed over the next few weeks or however long it takes. More worryingly is that he has snapped at the little granddaughter who I will call Cara (not her real name).

Cara was so thrilled when they got him, to her he is a big cuddly toy. She simply would not leave him alone. She had to cuddle him all the time. She would touch him and lie on him. Poor Max gave her all the warning signals he could – from freezing, grumbling to a brief lip curl, but she either didn’t notice or ignored them. Her mother and grandparents had to watch and nag constantly, but in an unguarded moment last week he snapped.

Cuddling doesn’t come naturally to dogs. The nearest they do themselves is humping. The front paws grab the other dog and this is usually an act of dominance.  So poor Max would be reading something other than love into Cara’s actions. Unfortunately, if his warning signals are ignored, he can’t talk after all, he will learn that there is no point giving them at all and he may snap straight away another time.

This is a bit different from my usual cases because it involves child-training! Having explained that Max just didn’t like it and that he was scared (hoping she might listen to ‘The Dog Lady’ more than her family!), I then praised her every time she looked at Max and didn’t go to him. It is simpler initially to teach her not to touch him at all. What a good girl! Max was soon happily coming over to her because he wanted to. With lots of reminders and praise Cara was learning! When ‘no touching’ becomes second nature to her, she can then be taught where and how to touch him – and only when he comes over to her through choice. As an extra precaution they will be getting a crate to put Max’ bed in. The door will be open so he can come in and out freely and only shut if the adults are unable to watch. Cara will be taught that this is strictly a Cara Free Zone!

As I left I asked Cara, ‘What does The Dog Lady say?’

Cara said,  ‘Don’t Touch Max’!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.