Attack the Best Form of Defence

Just look at this dog! Isn’t she wonderful?

Billie is a four-year-old Aylestone Bulldog and they have had her for six weeks. Previous to this she had been used as a breeding bitch and ended up in a shelter, so she probably didn’t have a very good life.

She certainly has a good life now.

Scared – attack may be the best form of defense

Attack the best form of defenseShe is sweet-natured dog, maybe a little worried. She is a dream at home, but out on walks she is reactive to other dogs – obviously scared.

She has injuries on her legs which look very much like she’s been attacked or bullied by other dogs in her past life, so it’s no wonder she’s wary. Dogs that are scared, trapped on lead in particular, are very likely to take the approach that attack is the best form of defence.

In Billie’s case she will certainly also be picking up on the anxiety of her lady owner. Their previous rescue dog had escaped out the front and went for another dog, injuring it badly, and the poor lady witnessed this. Understandably, she’s not relaxed with Billie around other dogs and this message is sure to be passing down the lead. She is almost expecting him to attack or be attacked.

The walking equipment they use could be better. If more robust, it would help them to feel more confident. It would also help Billie to feel more comfortable.

Fallout from dreadful advice

With their previous dog they called out a member of the BarkBusters franchise and I don’t mind mentioning them by name because Billie’s humans have been taught by them.

BarkBuster’s system is one of terrorising a ‘disobedient’ dog. They advocate things like throwing chains on the floor in front of the already scared and reactive dog (something Billie’s people don’t do). The use ‘correction’ or spraying  the dog with water when it’s not ‘behaving’. It’s not far short of asking the owners to attack their own dog.

This has made the situation far worse. If a dog is afraid, no amount of bullying will cure the fear. If it seems to work, then it is because the dog is terrorised and has shut down.

How can people be asked to do this to the dog they love? Owners can be so desperate for help that they put their trust in so-called ‘professionals’, but the bottom line is that there is no such thing as a quick fix. Someone said ‘quick fixes usually become unstuck’.

At present when poor Billie reacts to another dog. She will be feeling the tension of her nervous owner down the lead while she’s ‘corrected’. This will be uncomfortable on her neck, she will be told NO and may be sprayed with water. No wonder she is increasingly believing that other dogs mean trouble – because they do!

Attack them and they may go away.

With positive, reward-based and understanding methods they can turn things around for their beautiful dog.

Punishment and Deprivation v. Reward and Enrichment

Punishment and deprivation? Is this the way to get compliance?

It’s hard picking up the pieces when a conscientious and well-meaning dog owner has been following old-fashioned, dominance-based advice using punishment and intimidation through ignorance, believing someone who sets himself up as an authority saying it’s the way to do things.

It’s also extremely upsetting for the owner when their eyes are opened. Fortunately, things can only get better now.

A short while ago German Shepherd Banjo returned from a £2,000 four weeks at a board-and-train establishment.

He returned obedient – and cowed.

Bit by bit he’s returning to his former ways and their punitive methods, necessarily intensified for ongoing effectiveness, are now ceasing to work as he grows immune to them.

The young lady took on a painfully thin one-year-old a couple of years ago, his third home.

For the first few weeks things went well. He would walk past people, dogs and traffic as though they weren’t there.

Bit by bit he became more reactive.

The history of the next couple of years after this is complicated and Banjo’s behaviour to people he didn’t know in particular worsened. The lady then had to move house.

To save Banjo from the upheaval of the move whilst also doing something about his aggression to people and other difficult behaviours, he was sent to to the board and train establishment.

What a great idea, one might think.

The lady brought Banjo home with a list of instructions.

All toys must be removed.

He must be given no chews of bones.

When walking he should not be allowed to stop and sniff.

Any stepping out of line had to result in punishment.

She must use a slip lead and yank him back if he stepped in front of her.

She should spray him with water and shout if he barked at anything.

He no longer could have breakfast – one meal a day only.

He must not be be given food rewards. No extras apart from this one meal.

She may not play with him.

Within a couple of weeks, having yanked him with the slip lead to the point where he nearly passed out, the lady ditched it and got a harness. She started to allow him to sniff once more on walks. Walks being Banjo’s only ‘allowed’ activity, she takes him out as much as she can despite the problems.

Any reactive encounter with a dog or a person would however still result in punishment by means of water being sprayed in his face.

She has been following advice, believing it to be the only way to help him. She cares for him deeply.

The level of punishment is no longer sufficient.

Because they couldn’t stop his barking at people passing the window, the response of the trainer when contacted was to get a Pet Corrector can of compressed air – ‘that would fix him’.

It did to begin with. Then it stopped working. It made him worse. Is that surprising?

It’s so distressing to see conscientious, responsible dog owners being led to believe by a so-called ‘expert’, totally ignorant of behavioural science, that this is the thing to do. The lady thought she had researched the best help possible.

Banjo operates on ‘bite first, think later’. He charged into the room, muzzled, and launched himself at my arm. Had I not been prepared I would have received multiple serious bites.

Working at a distance from the lady who had the muzzled Banjo on lead and by her feeding him through the muzzle each time he looked at me from across the room, Banjo was soon lying down relaxing which was a big surprise to them.

In behaviour work we look at what ‘function’ a Punishment isn't gong to make Blade like humans any betterbehaviour serves the dog. Why does it work for him? The function served here is obvious. Lunging to bite drives the person away. They will recoil. That’s just what he wants.

He doesn’t have good associations with people he doesn’t know. This will doubtless have started when he was a tiny puppy, under-socialised or else not socialised kindly.

Add to this the sort of experience and punishment to ‘train’ him that he will have suffered at the hands of this trainer, it’s little wonder he simply wants to get people out of his space asap.

Off with the old and on with the new.

To make any real difference we need to get Banjo to feel differently about people. Punishment for reacting can only make it worse.

When he’s at his most upset, the very humans he should be able to trust for some reason turn on him.

They will now reverse everything that trainer imposed, ditching punishment, water bottles, compressed air cans and slip leads, and adding plenty of positive stuff.

They will use food in training. Why should I use food in training?

Now they will either give Banjo two meals a day or use some of his food for brain work and reward – making him work for it.

Instead of trying to intimidate him when he barks at people walking past, rehearsing his aggressive reactions to them, they will address the root cause.

They will bring out all his toys again. When he’s shut away they will give him things to chew and do like stuffed Kongs. They will play ‘find it’ games and he can forage for some of his dry food. They will find ways of enriching his life.

He will now have a comfortable harness and a longer lead to experience some freedom.

Muzzled for everyone’s safety, all encounters with people will be dealt with in an encouraging and positive fashion at a comfortable distance. He will get help with his reactivity to traffic, not punishment.

Now Banjo’s owners can relax and treat the beautiful, intelligent, affectionate three-year-old German Shepherd as a family member with the right to make some of his own choices in a life which offers some enrichment, not as a slave.

Punishment and deprivation are ways of forcing slaves to comply.


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 approach I have worked out for Banjo and I’ve not gone 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression is concerned. 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)

Pootalian Now Goes For Other Dogs

NedAnother first for me. I went to an Italian Greyhound Poodle mix and on looking it up I find this is called a Pootalian!

Ned seems to be much more Italian Greyhound than Poodle. My source said, ‘This breed is best for homes with a fenced yard’. It also says that they are ‘easily trained and fast learners’ and lack of training may be at the route of Ned’s main problem in terms of immediately coming back when called and both trusting and focussing on the person who is walking him when required.

He is now five. He was initially very well socialised indeed, both with other dogs and with people. Then they moved to a quieter area and they let it slip.

A couple of months ago the delicate small dog raced across a field to ‘attack’ another dog that was on lead – for no apparent reason, and although there was no damage done it was a big shock to the gentleman.

After this the very caring and concerned owners tried taking him to a trainer, but he was too frightened to do anything.

The couple have been in their new house for only three weeks and already Ned has ‘gone for’ the dog next door, getting through a hole in the fence. To deal with the barking the lady has used a water spray which seems to have ‘worked’. The trouble with quick fixes is that they work in the present but the fallout comes later. What effect might trying to scare a nervous dog out of barking have on both his existing fear of other dogs and his relationship with his owners?

On walks Ned pulls on a lead attached to a thin collar. He is now increasingly straining, lunging, hackles up and barking to get at any dog he sees. Walks aren’t enjoyable. Like so many people would, the gentleman holds him tightly beside him and continues to walk towards the other dog which unintentionally must cause discomfort if not pain to a delicate neck.

The solution isn’t quick. There is no quick fix. It’s a question of looking at things in a different way. They hadn’t regarded the tactics they are using when Ned is near another dog as punishment (positive punishment if we want to get all technical). Anything that is painful – even just uncomfortable or frightening in any way that is caused by ourselves – amounts to punishment and this includes spray bottles and pain in the dog’s neck.

Punishment usually looks like it works at the time but it’s a patch over a wound that is still festering. The underlying wound itself, the emotion driving the behaviour is what needs to be dealt with otherwise it will just keep getting worse each time it happens. The only way to deal with Ned’s fear of other dogs or of people is to change the emotion and get rid of the fear. Punishing fear can only make it worse – or make the dog quiet because it shuts down.

Because unpleasant things happening when Ned sees another dog is making him worse, it stands to reason that the reverse is the way to go. We need to do the opposite – make sure that when he sees another dog only pleasant things happen.

As I see it, the process starts at home. They first need Ned to feel more secure in them to protect him at home, else how can he do so when they are out? No more open dog flap and boundary barking at the neighbour’s dog or sitting on the bed for a good view of anyone passing by to bark at. Who should be in charge of protection after all – Ned or his humans? He also needs lots of practise in coming immediately when called around the house, else how can they expect him to do so when he sees another dog?

While the home things are being put in place, they will be getting used to much more comfortable walks – loose lead walking with a harness. They won’t be ready to encounter other dogs for a while. There must be no more forcing him to pass them because that will have destroyed a lot of Ned’s trust and that needs to be built up again. They will do anything that is necessary to help their adorable dog.

When the time comes to work on his fear of other dogs, they can start at a distance where Ned can cope and work from there. Over time this distance will reduce if handled properly. His recall needs to be spot-on so that once again he can be free to run and let off steam in a way that a miniature greyhound should.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ned, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV 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).

Quick Fix Not Long-Term

Cocker Spaniel gets very excited and reactive to dogs on walksCocker Spaniel Henry is a gentle and friendly dog, well-trained and not overly demanding nor too excitable…… home.

Outside he’s on a mission. A joint mission of sniffing and looking out for other dogs.

If he picks up the trail of dogs that have recently passed his way, particularly dogs he doesn’t like (and he has a very good memory), he will hop, jump and lunge all over the place, very fired up. He barks on the way to the car and he barks when he gets out.

There are dogs that he likes and dogs that he doesn’t like, particularly when he’s on lead.

I watched the lady leave the house with him. Well trained, he sat nicely at the door. Then, as soon as the door opened the dog launched himself out, towing the lady behind him. He dragged her to the nearest bit of grass.

It’s strange how his indoor persona is so different to how he is outside. This must be because at home he feels safe.

The lady enriches his life in many ways, with plenty of scenting and hunting games both before she goes to work and when she gets home. She dedicates time each day to his training and play.

However, she can do nothing about his noisy reactivity to other dogs when they are out apart from resorting to an aversive gadget to shut him down.

Henry does have plenty of doggy friends, but he also has his enemies. Historically not all his interactions with other dogs have been good ones.

He was taken to training classes for a while. In my mind and, from personal experience before I knew better, ‘traditional’ puppy classes can be where many dogs are introduced to the notion that not all other dogs are friendly. These classes can be noisy with too many dogs in an enclosed place.  If a dog barks or ‘misbehaves’, always due to stress, he may be sprayed with water or intimidated in some other way.

One of the worst exercises is, dog on lead, to weave in and out of other owners and dogs and each time two dogs so much as look at each other or touch noses, both owners shout LEAVE IT.  What sort of negative associations does that give to the dogs? In modern dog training the dogs would be praised and rewarded when near another dog.

It’s not a big leap from this to using ‘quick fix’ devices like a citronella anti-bark collar (a smell dogs hate) to stop a dog barking at other dogs.

The big attraction of this is that, in the moment, it works. The dog stops barking.

However, the fear or frustration that will be causing the dog to bark at other dogs isn’t addressed at all. The very opposite in fact. The emotion will be getting worse every time the dog associates the other dog with an extremely unpleasant aversive.

Because Henry is fine with certain dogs, the lady will need to vary her own responses according to Henry’s own reactions.  If he shows little reactivity she need do nothing apart from calmly feeding him to reinforce him feeling good near a dog.

If he looks like reacting, then she needs to put more distance between them – quickly.  Eventually, Henry should see another dog and look immediately at the lady, thinking ‘A Dog? Good. Food!’. To get Henry to this stage will take a long time and hundreds of ‘safe’ encounters backed up with positive reinforcement, and the previous damage needs to be undone.  At the end of the day Henry will have positive emotions around other dogs. He won’t feel the need to react.  This, unlike suppression, is a real result.

Henry is very much worse on lead, so a longer loose lead on a comfortable harness is essential so he has more of a feeling of freedom.

The people who do best with their dog-reactive dogs are those who take things slowly and over time teach their dogs to associate other dogs with good stuff.  Allowing uncontrolled encounters meanwhile will merely set things back.

Four weeks later: ‘Thank you so much for your help and support. I really feel that we are making some headway now in this short time and I’m more confident. Henry’s dog walker has seen an improvement too, so that is also encouraging!’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Henry, which is why I don’t share all the exact details of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV 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).

Miniature Daschunds Barking

Very excitable miniature daschunds are extreme barkers

Blaze and Rolo

Butter wouldn’t melt!

I didn’t take this beautiful photo – at no stage were the little dogs either still or quiet enough.

Blaze and Rolo, three-year-old Miniature Daschund brothers, are very excitable and extreme barkers. In order to get them to stop even briefly when people visit they have had water sprayed at them, they have been shouted at, they have had a bottle of stones shaken at them and noisy compressed-air ‘corrector’ spray to frighten them out of it. Incessant barking can really drive one crazy.

These ‘solutions’ may work in the moment but they do nothing at all to ease the real problem apart from making it worse.

The tiniest thing starts them off. Blaze (in front) is probably the instigator, but they charge about in manic barking tandem!

To deal with any behaviour we need to deal the emotion that is creating it. In cases where barking is such an automatic reflex it’s also become a habit. The more they have practised barking, the better they have got at it. Automatic barking can be a difficult habit to break.

The times that worry the family the most are when someone comes to the house (whether familiar or unfamiliar) – and when their grandchildren visit. Blaze may accompany the barking with little nips. He is also obsessed with nappies!

Normally when someone arrives the dogs are put into the garden – or if they do join them it will be hectic. There was the spray water bottle on the side at the ready. I asked for everyone to ignore them. As I usually do, I wanted to see what happened without human interference. We could hardly speak and I had hoped we would be able to sit it out, but after about ten minutes they were still standing close in front of me as I sat on the pouffe – barking, barking, barking at me.

The lady took them out of the room and put them into their crate.  They still barked. We got on with the consultation.

Eventually they were quiet so I asked the lady to let them in again. This time we had tiny bits of cheese prepared and fortunately both dogs are very food orientated.

They came charging back into the room, barking.

I held bits of cheese out to them. They couldn’t bark and eat at the same time – but they could still bark between bits of cheese!  They also snatched the food, so I taught them a bit of inhibition and manners which meant they had to be quiet and back off for a moment before I opened my hand with the cheese – a few moments of blessed silence.

Soon we were at the stage when as soon as they started to bark again the lady called them back out of the room. They were reasonably willing because of the food reward – something they don’t usually get. After they joined us for about the fifth time the barking was minimal and the lady herself was doing the feeding. Progress.

These little dogs will be associating people coming to the house with panic and scolding. Blaze was even driven to bite a friend who insisted on picking him up against instructions. The aim now is for the dogs to begin to associate people with good stuff – food.

When the grandchildren visit the dogs will either be the other side of a gate or brought in on leads and taught not to nip fingers and jump on them using positive methods. Currently they have never been taught what IS wanted of them – only punished for what is NOT wanted.

The underlying problem of extreme excitement and stress has to be dealt with. This won’t be easy.  No more rough play from the teenage members of the family which is encouraging the mouthing and nipping.

Being so hyped up is not good for the dogs any more than it would be good for us, and not only causes problems for the family but also for friends, the neighbours and on walks.

From now on the motto should be ‘good things come to quiet dogs’. Food won’t go down until they are quiet. They won’t step out of the front door until they are quiet. They won’t be let out of their crate until they are quiet, they won’t be greeted until they are quiet, and so on.

If the people themselves are quiet, calm and consistent these adorable little dogs should eventually get the message.

About four weeks later: ‘The boys are definitely showing signs of improvement in several ways, they are a lot quieter, calmer and are not trying to be top dog with each other as much as they used to. I’m so pleased with the help you have given us so far and have recommended you to other people. Its so nice to enjoy the boys again rather than telling them off for all the noise they make. ‘

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Blaze and Rolo, 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 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Confused Cocker Spaniel

Cocker Autumn


I went to see five Cocker Spaniels – all females of the show breed and none of them spayed.  Everything was ticking along along nicely in the household until Autumn who joined the group about twenty-one months ago reached her first birthday. She then went for one of the other dogs.



Since then she has become increasingly unpredictable and aggressive to Lexus, the eldest, in particular. Things have reached the point where Lexus lives upstairs, and for much of the time Autumn is separate from the other three also. Their lady owner is on tenterhooks all the time.

Then very unfortunately to my mind, they enlisted the help of a dog trainer who encouraged spraying water at her, shaking a bottle of stones at her, shouting at her, intimidation and domination. Already more sensitive than the other dogs, Autumn is now really nervous. So worried is her owner, that every time Autumn goes near another dog, sniffs her or even stares, she shouts LEAVE or sprays her with water. I can’t see how this will do anything except teach Autumn to associate the other dogs with scary stuff and make her much worse.

Lexus is scared of Autumn


She has not actually done damage except to a human hand separating two dogs – yet. Lexus is mild and scared of Autumn, but Autumn’s other victim, Miami, a much more confident and independent dog than Lexus, will stand up for herself.

So far as they can tell, there has never been any conflict when humans weren’t about – mostly the lady, which gives a clue as to where the stress comes from. She is stressed, Autumn is stressed. The lady admits that she spoilt Autumn more than the others as a puppy and now, on the advice of this trainer, she is more or less ignoring her all the time. This must be very confusing. Ignoring demands for attention is one thing,  but that doesn’t mean the dog should have no interaction or love – only that it should be under your terms and not hers. Giving the dogs attention whenever they jump up or bark for it is one thing, and calling them over when you decide is quite another.

There needs to be some healthy relationship building between the lady and Autumn founded on calm trust, positive reinforcement, not punishment.  The lady is extremely worried and loves all her dogs dearly. She has done everything she possibly can that she knows of, she has hired a trainer and she has read books.  I find it amazing that there is still such a lot of nonsense going around when, if things are looked at from the dog’s point of view, with patience the solution can be gentle, encouraging and logical.

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

Border Collie and Kids on Scooters

Border CollieSky is a beautiful Border Collie. She is friendly and well-behaved but with one problem that is making her life less happy than it should be and worries her owners.

Sky is scared of metallic noises and wheels – especially young boys on those popular little scooters going past her garden and when out on walks. There are several living in their road. Listening for them passing her garden is becoming obsessive. She barks and charges about and gets very upset, and then take it out on the wheels of their wheelie bin! They manage to stop her barking by threatening to spray her with water, but to me that is like putting a sticking plaster on a dirty wound. It still festers underneath, getting worse, unless the cause of the problem is healed. Punishing barking is never a good idea. The dog is, in her mind, protecting herself and the family. Would we punish a child who screamed from the window ‘Help there is a man with a machine gun coming up the path’?

The final straw was when Sky managed to squeeze past them at the front door to chase a passing boy on a scooter. He dropped it and ran, and Sky ran after him. It demonstrates what a good dog she is that when she was told Come Back she did so.

Sky is also very scared of the metal ironing board, a metal ladder and noises associated with small wheels. This all seemed to start a while ago when she had a major hip operation, and I wonder whether the metallic sound of the cages being shut at the vets may have over-sensitised her so she now associates these sounds with a scary time in her life. We will never know.

The important thing is to find a way forward. This will be done by reducing all stress as far as possible along with not feeding her other little obsessive habits, like demanding ball play over and over, biting a table when the draw is opened and ‘catching’ feet. On walks, instead of allowing her to decide what to do when they encounter young children or scooters, they will make the decision for her – and lead her away to where she feels safe.

Then, with that and other groundwork in place, they will begin to desensitise her to metallic sounds and small wheels.

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