Tension on Lead Can Result in Pulling.

A short story about two nine-month-old Labrador sisters. They are bouncy, enthusiastic and friendly, perfect given their breed and their age.

Tension off leads for happy walksThe main problems are jumping up at people and pulling on lead. Walks are causing the gentleman considerable stress. For reasons not relevant here, he only took over walking them a week or so ago. Continue reading…

Young black labrador lying down

Aggression Around Food Bowl

Millie is a gorgeous five-and-a-half month old Labrador of working stock. Apart from some jumping up she really was the model dog when I was there, biddable and affectionate. She has a lovely family who do everything good dog-owners should.

Twice every day, when she has her meals, her stress levels rocket and afterwards she is so aroused and wild that she is chewing furniture, jumping around the place, humping her bed, stealing things and being quite a challenge.

From the moment the lady or gentleman goes to the cupboard to get her food out of the bin she is becoming fired up. I saw this for myself. I didn’t see what usually follows as I suggested we put the food somewhere high and went back into the other room until she had calmed down.

What happens is, as the food goes down Millie starts to snarl and her hackles rise. Her whole demeanour completely changes. As she gulps the food down she sounds ferocious. They have tried many of the most usual things suggested for food guarding and she merely gets worse. Trying to add good stuff to the bowl as is often suggested – even throwing it from a distance – may cause her to launch herself at them.

One thinFive and a half month old black labradorg that was a little clue to me is that, when she’s finished eating, she attacks the metal bowl and throws it about. I suspect this is as much about the bowl as it is about the actual food. When given a treat, for instance, although she may be a bit snatchy there is no aggression. She was like this more or less from the start and it’s getting worse and worse. She was the smallest puppy in the litter of eight. Food guarding problems can start when the puppies are all fed together out of one bowl and one is pushed out.

The family hadn’t fed her so we worked out a plan. They now had the food out of the cupboard ready (in future they will get the food out in advance). Millie had calmed down and we went back to the kitchen. I watched the lady over the breakfast bar as she followed my suggestions, to see if I had indeed hit upon a workable tactic.

(NB. If you have a dog with these sort of issues, please don’t assume that this approach as suitable for your own dog. It may be the very worst things you can do. It’s important to get professional help so that strategies are based on diagnosis of your dog’s own specific behaviour in context).

The lady was to feed her at the furthest corner from the door and away from any people passing, directly onto the floor.  Millie was calm. A container with her food (not her own bowl) was on the surface beside the lady who had her hands behind her back and was facing this corner. Millie was thinking – what’s this about? Where’s my food? She looked the lady in the eye who immediately said ‘Yes’ and dropped a small handful of the food on the floor in front of her. Millie ate it calmly. The lady waited. Millie looked into her eyes again, ‘Yes’ and more food went down. This carried on until the last handful whereupon the lady walked out and left Millie to it. She shut the gate behind her to pre-empt any wild behaviour being taken into the sitting room. There was none.

They will do this for at least a couple of weeks before upping the ante. Millie should be a lot calmer in general without these manic bouts twice a day and I reckon small signs of aggression that are developing in other areas will disappear.

The next step in the process will be to drop the food onto a flat place mat rather than directly onto the floor and see how that goes. There is no rush. After a week or two they can try something with shallow sides like a tray, moving onto a low-sided heavy baking dish, eventually using a large, heavy porcelain dog bowl and not the small metal bowl she now has.

There are other things to put into place also, but I believe the jigsaw will eventually be complete if they are sufficiently patient and try not to hyper her up to much in general.

Five weeks later: “I’m pleased to report that Millie is definitely showing improvement in most areas, including growling over her food. We are still feeding her onto a place mat but when it spills off the side I can reach down and push it back onto the mat without any reaction from her at all, which is good. We are doing what we can to keep her stress levels down and it’s definitely making a difference to her overall behaviour. “

NB. The precise protocols to best and most safely use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have planned for Millie, 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, causing danger even. 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).

Unruly Adolescent Black Labrador

unruly adolescentI fell in love (again)! This time it was with 8-month-old black Labrador Peppa.

Her increasingly demanding attention-seeking behaviour was becoming potentially dangerous for their six year old daughter.

Behaviour worsens in the evening

It tends to be worse in the evening – as it often seems to be with many young dogs. There is a lot of jumping up in general, but when the little girl sits down to do her homework or watch TV and mum is trying to cook tea, the battle commences. Peppa flies all over the child if not closely controlled. By the time dad has come home and the adults sit down in the evening for some peace and quiet. The unruly adolescent really gets stuck in.

She starts with climbing on them whereupon she is told to get down and pushed off. Commands make her defiant (she is a teenager!). Soon this escalates to grabbing clothes, barking for attention, air snapping and even nipping.

It goes on and on until they get so exasperated they shout at her. She is getting their undivided attention now!

Understandably they are only too pleased when she is quiet so when she’s being good they leave her alone. That way the unruly adolescent learns that the best attention happens when she is annoying. She isn’t shown an acceptable alternative way to get their attention.

She needs more planned interaction and stimulation

It is a bit like goalkeeper fielding all the balls. Instead of waiting for Peppa to instigate something and responding to her, they need to behave more like forwards. They need to instigate attention at times to suit them and they need to teach her alternatives incompatible with her demanding  behaviour.

When they simply want peace, they will first find a bit of time for Peppa. They can also give her things to chew and to do.

I soon taught her, instead of jumping on us, to sit and then lie down instead. Each time the urge came to demand attention by jumping she was redirected to lying down whereupon she was, of course, rewarded with attention and food. Soon she was doing this of her own accord.

We then added ‘stay’ which will be gradually increased over time. She liked that game! I also taught her the ‘touch’ trick which she learnt in just a few minutes. She was literally lapping it up and eager to learn. The unruly adolescent when bored is a very clever dog with a brain that is not sufficiently exercised.

One thing that may be adding to the problem is that she’s not fed until the evening, so it’s possible the late food is giving her an energy rush of calories.

So, on one hand Peppa needs to learn self-control and to understand that good things happen when her feet are on the floor and she’s polite. On the other hand she needs a vacuum in her life filled with some constructive activity.