leash reactivity

Where are my spoons? Why your dog runs out of calmness

How does heat affect your dog? We all know not to leave a dog in a car - but have you thought how the heat can affect his psyche? Read this post for some eye-openers! | FREE VIDEO WORKSHOP | #anxiousdog #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior, #heatindogs, #cooldog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

It’s a puzzle to so many people. Their dog is easygoing and tranquil, and out of nowhere he snarks at another dog - or snaps at a child - or even growls at you! 

Maybe your dog is not so easygoing and you have just learned to live with these “random” outbursts. You never know when he’s going to be in a good humour, and when he’s going to have a meltdown.

But you CAN know! 

If you’re aware of what’s using up your dog’s patience stores, you’ll be able to manage him so that he doesn’t run out entirely, and be left with no way to go except have an outburst.

What you need to learn about is known as Trigger Stacking. And at the moment we have a huge extra trigger that many people simply aren’t aware of.

Heatwave!

In the UK at the moment we are enjoying (or suffering!) extreme weather. Weeks of temperatures in the high 70s and 80s (that's the high 20s in new money) - we’re not used to it at all!

So spare a thought for your dog, who has to wear his full fur coat regardless of the weather. 

You doubtless know all the commonsense advice for dogs and hot weather: 

• Ensure plenty of fresh water is available

• Brush out the winter coat as far as possible, and trim and shear hairy beasties

• Cut back on walks - maybe none at all for a few days, and certainly only at the cool ends of the day

There’s more to keeping your dog cool in the summer than his physical comfort. It can also help with dog anxiety and general dog behavior. Read this post for some eye-openers! | FREE VIDEO WORKSHOP | #anxiousdog #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior, #heatindogs, #cooldog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

• Limit access to the garden UNLESS you have a paddling pool to entertain your dog, or unless he has enough sense to find a shady spot and stay there

• Check temperature of the ground with your hand. Have you seen people doing the hoppy dance on a hot beach when they have no shoes on? 

• Don’t leave your dog in a car, even with the windows open, without taking measures to keep it cool. This will include covering all the windows, ensuring a through draught, running an aircon, and - of course - parking in the shade.

• Consider a cooling mat for a double-coated breed, or a cooling shirt. A wet t-shirt will work well too, but you need to keep wetting it.

• Frozen food-toys may be popular

• Observe speed of panting and shape of tongue - a long spoon-shaped tongue means your dog is working hard to get rid of heat 

 

Heatstroke in dogs can be quick, and deadly. So please take the precautions above to ensure your dog is protected.

Hothead

But you also need to consider how this heat is impacting his mental state.

I’d like you to take a quick detour and bone up on Spoon Theory. This explains so well how limited stores of energy have to be farmed and managed carefully. The same applies for our dogs with their limited store of tolerance. 

Before you even step out of the door on a hot day, your dog is stressed. He’s already used up a boatload of spoons and may be running critically low. This could apply to the calmer dog as well as the “reactive” or growly dog.

You know how quickly you can get annoyed when you're uncomfortable - especially if you're not used to the heat? Think of airport rows and road rage in hot traffic jams.

There’s more to keeping your dog cool in the summer than his physical comfort. It can also help with dog anxiety and general dog behavior. Read this post for some eye-openers! | FREE VIDEO WORKSHOP | #anxiousdog #dogtraining, #newrescuedog, #puppytraining, #dogbehavior, #heatindogs, #cooldog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

Lots of people will be out and about in holiday mode, with dogs who are only walked on high days and holydays, and everyone will be hot and bothered.

So seek out quieter walks, shaded walks - if you can find a place for your dog to swim, so much the better! - and cut out the ball-throwing till the worst of this heat is over. It will be over soon enough, and all us Britishers can go back to talking about the weather in disparaging terms! 

And if you live in a permanently hot place, you’ll have worked out your own ways of keeping your home cool, and strategies to get about outside without boiling. A reader from Texas told me that she can only take her dog out for 20’ at 5 am - after that it’s into the hundreds and impossible. 

 

Triggers, and spoons

Armed with this knowledge, you can now look at your dog in a different way. Hopefully a more understanding and tolerant way. He’s not being difficult - he’s struggling in circumstances he finds hard at the best of times, and may now be finding impossible.

In the greater scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if your dog doesn’t go for a walk for several days - or even weeks. And contrary to what you may be thinking, you may be surprised to find that your normally hyper dog in fact gets calmer and more manageable, the less he’s walked!

Help him by managing his day carefully when outside influences are making it harder for him. He’s relying on you! 

 

 

 

Want to know more about keeping walks calm and pleasant? Whether your dog is “growly” or just a bit anxious on walks, you’ll find a lot to help you in this Free 5 Day Workshop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My dog wants to be everyone's friend! 5 Ways to make walks easier

Edited and reprinted from positively.com with permission. This post hit the spot with thousands of readers when first published, so I thought you might enjoy it.

My Dog wants to be everyone’s friend! 5 ways to reduce frustration on walks | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Reactive dog, problem dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | #dogtraining, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com


I’ve come across a few instances lately of people actually being pulled off their feet - and in one case rendered unconscious! - when their dog saw another dog approaching and decided he either wanted to play with it, or to dive forwards barking to make it go away.

Whether this poor behaviour is from a fear reaction or an over-friendly one, the upshot is much the same. Broken noses are no fun. So, unsurprisingly, the treatment is also similar.

I have given you some techniques in It's Not the Dog, It's You to help specifically with fearful dogs. A lot of that information is useful for absolutely any dog, including those who don’t appear fearful. 

So, keeping those methods in mind, let’s focus here on the super-friendly, over-ebullient dog who is determined to have a party with every dog or person he sees.

Picture the scene: owner is happily walking along the road, with dog on lead. Dog spots another dog! Hallelujah! Dog stands up on hind legs squealing with excitement before plunging forward with shrieks and barks towards the other dog.

It’s no use waiting till this is happening to try and change things. A knee-jerk response is not likely to do anything at all to help. Everything that needs to be changed has to be done beforehand, at home, in your kitchen, just you and your dog.

So let’s have a look now at what we can do to change this, before any more bones are broken.

1. What the Well-Dressed Dog is Wearing

If your dog is wearing a collar, then this is giving him terrific power to haul you along. Think where the collar goes on a horse in harness - right over the shoulders. Using the strongest part of a quadruped’s body - the rear legs and haunches - the horse or the dog can get great traction, to shift that heavy cart, or to pull you face down on the road.

Does your dog want to play with every dog he sees? Find out 5 ways to change this, for happier walks all round | FREE EMAIL COURSE | Reactive dog, problem dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | #dogtraining, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

When a dog is straining into a collar and tight lead, his body language is distorted. His eagerness can appear aggressive - this sends the wrong message to the object of his attentions.

The stress on the throat can also cause physical damage - and in the first place it'll serve only to wind your dog up more!

Pulling backwards against this power is fruitless. At best you’ll have an undignified retreat with you hauling your dog backwards, screaming. The dog will be screaming - but you may be too by this stage!

You need to teach your dog to respond to the lead, and turn of his own volition. Instead of a ten-ton block of frantic barking and scrabbling paws, you get a quizzical look from your dog as he turns and trots towards you. Really!

So the first move would be to investigate a no-pull harness. This is the one that I recommend.**  

One that attaches front and back will be the most effective. Good ones have an almost magical effect on even the most determined pullers. The harness needs to be comfortable to wear.

I would not use a headcollar for a “frustrated greeter” which is who we’re talking about here. If your dog is fighting to get the thing off his nose (most dogs hate them, unless slowly and carefully acclimatised) this is going to increase his level of frustration till he may possibly lash out (“redirect”) onto the nearest leg or hand. That would be your leg or hand. Ouch.

2. Loose Lead Walking, if taught well, is a trick

For your dog to walk close to you, keeping his nose level with your leg, he has to focus and concentrate. It’s not something that your dog will learn overnight - it runs counter to his natural desire to weave and run all over the place. 

The best force-free trainers make this exercise a game which the dog enjoys playing. Trying to frogmarch your dog along on a tight lead while yapping commands at him is not fun at all, for either of you!

The key is to have the lead loose, so that your dog can make a free choice where to walk. This may seem counter-intuitive to you, but it really does work very well when you’re in partnership with your dog as opposed to being his prison guard.

Once you have this skill, you can ask for this circus trick of trotting beside you, looking at you, when you need to distract your dog. If your history of rewarding him is great enough, he’ll be happy to oblige.

3. Impulse Control

We all have to learn impulse control. As children we have to learn to fit into society by containing our impulses and being able to wait patiently. This ability to delay gratification has been proven to be an indicator of a high achiever.

Your dog can be a high achiever too!

See Leave It! How to teach Amazing Impulse Control to your Brilliant Family Dog for a teaching method. Once he understands this skill, waiting politely should become his default behaviour - there’s no need to keep telling him to “leave it”.

And though the quickest way to teach this is with food, it isn’t just about leaving food. It’s about exercising self-control in the face of any temptation - bolting through the door, leaping out of the car, snatching something he wants ....

4. You Scratch My Back and I’ll Scratch Yours

If you do this for me, then I’ll do that for you, aka the Premack Principle. If, as a child, I demanded something I wanted, The Adult would say “What’s the magic word?” Asking for it again, but adding “please” this time, had the desired effect.

Your dog’s equivalent of the magic word can be a Sit, or Eye Contact, or just plain Silence! So when he starts agitating about something he wants, you can ask him “What do you think you should do now?” Wait for him to stop belly-aching and give you a sit, or look at you, or stop whingeing, then you can give him what he wants.

Don’t tell him what to do - let him work it out!

You probably already do this when you offer a treat - your dog may only get it if he sits. So extend it now - to everything your dog wants!

  • Your dog pulls towards the verge: “You want to sniff that grass?” Wait for a polite response then you can say, “Go sniff!”

  • He scrabbles at your knee: “You want to sit on my lap?” When he sits and gazes meaningfully at you, you can say “Hup!”

  • He wails with excitement when he sees a friend: “You want to say hello to this person?” When he gives you his attention for a moment you can say, “Go say hi!”

Before long, seeing the person or dog in the street will be a cue to your dog to focus on you to ask for permission to greet. You may or may not give this permission, of course, but you can certainly reward his polite asking.

5. Distance is Your Friend

Never forget Distance! If he’s unable to stop squealing and diving, get further away and ask him again: “You want to say hello to that person?”

How much further away? 20 yards? 40 yards? 100 yards? Whatever it takes! When he’s able to focus and engage in rational conversation with you, then maybe - just maybe - he’ll be able to hold it all together while he gets closer to the object of his desire.

He can’t? Then he doesn’t get any closer.

Get Frustration out of the Picture

You can see that these five suggestions have a common thread: giving control back to your dog.

I don’t want to spend the rest of my days trying to control my dogs (or my children): I want them to control themselves!

Nothing is as frustrating as feeling you are a helpless victim who is not heard or heeded. 

Empowering your dog by giving him strategies to get what he wants leads to a happy co-existence which you can both enjoy.

 

 

 

If your dog is fearful - and appears aggressive - rather than frustrated,

come along to our free 5-Day Video Mini-Course and blow your mind!
 

 

 

 


Resources

** Harnesses: 
www.goodfordogs.co.uk/products I supply the Wiggles Wags and Whiskers Freedom Harness in the UK and Europe. If you buy from me I will benefit, but you won’t pay any more!

2houndsdesign.com for the rest of the world.

Leave It! How to teach Amazing Impulse Control to your Brilliant Family Dog

Let’s Go! Enjoy Companionable Walks with your Brilliant Family Dog

It’s Not the Dog, It’s You!

Compliance depends upon consistency, not just marshmallows!

 

 


 

The isolation of the Growly Dog owner - 9 ways to change it all

Reactive dog, aggressive dog, fearful dog, dog behavior | Do you feel isolated with your Growly Dog? You are so not alone! | FREE EMAIL COURSE | #aggressivedog, #reactivedog, #dogtraining, #growlydog | www.brilliantfamilydog.com

 

  • Does everyone else seem to walk a calm, quiet dog?

  • Do you watch with envy as people walk their “good” dogs without a thought?

  • Do you wish you could go anywhere with your dog and not be embarrassed by her antics?

  • Do you feel a “useless dog-owner” because your dog doesn’t behave as people seem to expect her to?

  • Would you really like a trouble-free dog who you need do nothing with?

I tell you - we are the lucky ones. Those of us who have difficult dogs, growly dogs, aggressive dogs, shy, fearful, anxious dogs - we are the lucky ones. In learning about dogs, their language, their behaviour, we will gain huge insights into dogs in general, our own dog in particular, and the huge gap between what most humans think and what is actually true about dogs.

I feel so alone with this dog

Rest assured, you are not alone! There are many people around with dogs they struggle with. 

  • Some of them walk only at The Hour of the Difficult Dog, flitting furtively about like bats in the dark when they’re unlikely to meet another dog, or person, or cyclist .. or whatever it is that sets their dog off.

  • Some of them have given up and don’t ever walk their dog at all. And if it keeps them all happy, this is a good thing.

  • But there are plenty more who accept that this is the dog they have - not the one they hoped for - and they do their best to help their troubled dog.

Because a troubled dog is what you have. No, it’s not necessarily your fault (though you may have made mistakes along the way - as we all do - that has made it worse). But your dog is troubled all the same. Don’t fret over past mistakes, or wrong advice followed - start from where you are now.

You began with a puppy

However carefully you may have covered the socialisation, familiarisation, and habituation for your puppy up to the age of 14 weeks, something may have happened later (a car crash, a dog-attack, an explosion …) to make him reactive. Or it may just be the way he is. Guarding breeds in particular are bred to be alert to every movement and sound, and … despatch it! And herding breeds have extra sensitive hearing.

Possible complications with a rescue dog

Smidge in her safe place

Smidge in her safe place

It may be that you wanted to give an unwanted dog a home, and that is indeed a very good and laudable motive. But the dog you chose may have arrived with baggage from its previous life which you now have to deal with. What confuses some new rescue-dog-owners is that their dog seemed “fine” when he first arrived, and it was only a month or two later that he “became aggressive.”

There are two issues here. 

  1. It’s not aggression, it’s usually fear. More below.

  2. It can take 2-3 months for a dog to settle in his new home.

Before that he may be shut down and quiet, nervous of putting a paw wrong. Just like you would be if you moved into my house - it would be “Where does this cup go?” and “Is it alright if I sit here?” After a couple of months you’d have your feet on the table and be leaving cups all over the place! You’ve settled in and are behaving naturally. So that’s what your dog is doing - settling in and behaving naturally.

So why has my dog become aggressive?

This isn’t really the right question. “Being aggressive” is the interpretation you have put on her behaviour. What you want to look at is

  • why your dog does what she does,

  • when she does it, and

  • what you can do to change things so she doesn’t have to do it any more.

If something frightening approaches you, you have two choices - fight, or flee. If you are attached to someone else you are unable to flee, so you’re left with fight. So it is with your dog, who is on lead and unable to make the choice to scram. 

You (like your dog) may really not want to fight. Fighting is dangerous, can escalate quickly, and can maim or kill. So you’d probably use your voice first to try to keep the dangerous thing away: “Get away! Leave me alone! I’ve got a knife!” 

And your dog does the same: “Look! I’m ferocious! Keep away! You’ll get bitten!” and he does this by leaping about, raising his hackles, making himself look as big and tall as possible, swishing his tail up in the air, growling, snarling, and barking. 

Very often, this works for your dog. Either the other dog backs off, the other dog’s owner takes him away, or you - in your confusion and embarrassment - haul your dog away, quite possibly joining in with the barking by “barking” yourself.

Now you are upset, your dog is upset, (maybe the other owner is upset, but they may perhaps learn not to walk their dog straight at strange dogs in the future) and your walk has become a sorry mess.

When you got your dog you envisaged happy walks in field and forest, you thinking about birds and poetry and sunshine, and your dog trotting at your heels, keeping you company. Or maybe you’re the social type who foresaw walks with other dog-owning friends, days at the beach with the family, visits to cafes to chat, your dog being admired for her good behaviour. 

Instead, you’ve got this maniac that makes walks a misery. 

And no doggy friends for you.

Get your free email course here and get going with your new life!

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All is not lost! You can start making changes with your dog right away!

So instead of retiring hurt and licking your wounds, have a look at what you can do to change things right now.

 

1. Give your dog a total break from walks for 3-7 days. If every outing is as stressful as I described above, you’ll both welcome the chance to chill and resurrect your fun relationship together.

 

2. Be sure you are not using any aversive dog equipment (broadly speaking, you want to have your dog on a comfy harness with a double-ended lead attached at front and back). 

 

3. If you’re afraid your dog may bite, muzzle-train him slowly so he loves his muzzle. This will relax you enormously. Extra benefit: you’ll find this helps to keep people away.

 

4. Choose quiet places to walk him where you’re unlikely to meet his “triggers” (the things that set him off)

 

5. Look into hiring a private dog walking field near you - fantastic resource for the growly dog owner!

 

6. Seek out a force-free trainer to help you. Any use of aversive equipment, or training by intimidation and control will work against you and make your dog worse. You have been warned! I am frequently helping people whose dogs have been made worse by one of these so-called “trainers”.

 

7. Start learning about dogs, their behaviour, and - very importantly - their body language, which is sophisticated and as clear as day, once you can “speak” it. Beware the gaping maw of the internet, which can take you down many rabbit-holes! Find a force-free trainer and study their reading list.

 

8. Find out what your dog actually loves doing. This could range from lounging on the sofa with you, to playing Hunt the Toy in the garden, hide and seek with the children in the house, performing tricks, helping you about the house with tidying up … Look at what she’s telling you she likes!

 

9. Know that you are not a “useless dog-owner”. You have simply found yourself presented with a problem you didn’t know how to solve. But you do now! Onward and upward.

 

 

And, as I said above - we are the lucky ones. Those of us who have difficult dogs, growly dogs, aggressive dogs, shy, fearful, anxious dogs - we are the lucky ones.

For in our efforts to help our dog fit into our world, we will build a bond with our dog that can never be broken.

 

Start your new direction with this free email course that will take you through the steps for change - all force-free, of course, without intimidation or nasty gadgets.

Then hop over to take a look at the new online course that will take from where you are now to where you want to be with your dog.

 

Resources

www.brilliantfamilydog.com/growly-books 

Reactive Dogs UK facebook group: www.facebook.com/groups/1633448230248202  

Reactive Dogs facebook group (rest of the world): www.facebook.com/groups/reactivedogs  

Walking fields to hire (facebook has some regional groups)

 

Online courses; brilliantfamilydog.teachable.com 

 

Wiggles Wags and Whiskers Freedom Harness (UK): www.goodfordogs.co.uk/products 

Wiggles Wags and Whiskers Freedom Harness (rest of the world): http://2houndswholesale.com/Where-to-Buy.html 

http://www.xtra.dog 

muzzleupproject.com 

 

www.goodfordogs.co.uk/aggressive-dogs.html 

http://sue-eh.ca/page40/page23/ 

http://controlunleashed.net 

http://grishastewart.com/cbati-directory/

www.apbc.org.uk/help/regions  

www.apdt.co.uk/dog-owners/local-dog-trainers 

www.petprofessionalguild.com/PetGuildMembers

www.karenpryoracademy.com/find-a-trainer 

www.imdt.uk.com  

www.ccpdt.org

 

 

 

The Isolation of the Growly Dog owner

Can my dog’s behaviour be affected by me?

When people have a problem with their dog, they tend to see it as a problem with their dog. 

But it takes two to tango! And if your dog is presenting “problem behaviour” you can bet your boots that you have something to do with it.

Yes - it may start with your dog, but it quickly becomes enmeshed with what you do. And sometimes we can make things worse - when we really, really want to make things better. 

An interesting study was published recently, linking the owner’s hormone levels with the hormone levels of the dog in their charge. We’re talking here about Cortisol, known as the “stress hormone” because it’s released during stress. It operates the same way in the dog as in us.

The study, which you can see here, goes into great scientific detail about the links between our anxiety and the anxiety of our dog. Suffice it to say, that if you’re worried, your dog will be worried. And if your dog is worried, then you will be worried. An unholy vicious circle that causes poor behaviour to escalate.

That is, until you know how to handle the situations which have up to now been stressful for you. Once you know what to do, and how to lessen the stress for your dog, your own stress levels will automatically fall. 

Training people and their dogs together

What I find fascinating is how strong the link is between owner and dog. Never be tempted to say “Oh, it’s just a dog.”

This bond between dogs and humans is what enables the astonishing feats which we are beginning to take for granted - an assistance dog being able to predict an impending attack in an owner who suffers from certain conditions, for example. Seizure Alert Dogs help many people manage their epilepsy. And there are other diseases which cause dangerous imbalances which these dogs can anticipate, giving their owner the time to find a safe place and take their medication.

So if this link is so strong between us and our pooches, it brings into question the idea of having someone else train your troublesome dog for you.

The best trainers (by that I mean enlightened force-free trainers who understand the science of Learning Theory and what actually makes beings tick) spend a lot of time training the owner to view their dog differently. Some of my private training sessions, for instance, focus almost entirely on the owner’s state of mind. Any training I do with the dog is there to help the owner understand how to relate to their dog, rather than me training the dog for them.

And this calls into question the popularity of residential training for dogs - sending the problem dog away to a trainer who will fix the dog for you. It may be effective insofar as the dog can be taught new ways to respond to what he previously found overstimulating or frightening. But if handed back to an owner who has not had the benefit of this training - for themselves, not for the dog - there is not going to be very much change.

A quick handover session is not going to be enough to fundamentally change how a person views their dog - or their dog’s supposed “problem behaviour”. It’s no use doing magical training with the dog if the person the dog has to live with has not changed.

 

For your dog to change, you need to change

 

Learning to cope with a dog’s “problem behaviour” - often the dog’s inability to function freely in our world, manifested as reactivity or anxiety or aggression - needs a fundamental shift in the owner’s perception. If you don’t understand why your dog is kicking off at the sight of an advancing person, or a piece of litter on the ground, you will be caught unprepared and unable to change the situation. That’s enough to make anyone anxious! 

 

You can start the change by following this free course of lessons:

THIS E-COURSE IS A BONUS FOR YOU WHEN YOU SIGN UP TO RECEIVE EDUCATIONAL EMAILS AND OCCASIONAL OFFERS FROM ME. YOU CAN UNSUBSCRIBE AT ANY TIME PRIVACY POLICY

Control is not understanding

In society, our response to someone misbehaving is to put more controls on them. Restrict them, restrain them, prevent them. And so when confronted with a problem with our dog, we can have a knee-jerk reaction and follow the same process. 

But more control is not the answer!

 

I don’t want to have to control my dog - I want my dog to control herself.

 

Teaching your dog to control herself is going to require understanding from you - understanding what the problem is exactly (it may not be what you think it is - dogs are not humans) and why your dog is doing what she’s doing. Only then are you in a position to effect a change.

Most of us have busy lives. We got our pet as a companion to make our days more enjoyable, not to make them harder! So perhaps the easiest way for you to make the changes you may feel are necessary, is to find yourself a first-class, well-qualified, force-free trainer who will be able to teach the both of you. 

 

All “trainers” are not created equal

You’ll need to do some research to find someone reliable - but they are  there. You’ll find a list at the end of this post which will get you going in the right direction. Avoid anything that talks of Pack Theory, Dominance, or (the worst deception of the lot) “Balanced training”, which effectively means that they reward with one hand and punish with the other. 

And if you’re naturally an anxious person - think how learning how to alleviate your dog’s anxiety will help you to relax and feel better able to cope. Now your dog really will be fulfilling the role of companion and helper! You can both forge forward together.

 

You can start off looking for help with a free email course here, and you’ll find some very accessible books (no science or jargon!) right here.

As ever, add your thoughts in the Comments below, or contact me direct here.

 

And check out the results students are getting on our online course! Daily video lessons help you all the way

Click for details of our new online course!

For your dog to change you need to change
I don’t want to have to control my dog: I want my dog to control herself

Give your dog an instant safe haven on walks

This post of mine first appeared on positively.com and is reprinted here with permission. More than two thousand readers liked it enough to share it on Facebook. So I thought you'd like to see it too!

We’ve all seen a small child clinging to Mom’s neck while he safely views the world from under her hair.

A little puppy has the same need for a safe haven.

You may have seen your own puppy hurtle in from the garden when there’s an alarming noise, and dive into her bed. Plunging into the den at speed is an important instinctive survival mechanism for vulnerable pups.

Gradually your whole home will become a safe haven for your dog, a place she can always feel comfortable and relaxed.

But what about when you’re out and about?

A Safe Haven in the Big Bad World

For a puppy, your safe haven will be between your feet. You should always protect your puppy from incursions from other eager puppies or dogs (or children, shopkeepers, parades with oompahs, sheep, noisy trucks …). If she backs herself between your feet she needs reassurance that she can safely watch the world from there.

Don’t worry - she’ll come out in her own good time, as she gains the confidence you can give her. Forcing her to confront her fears will only make them stronger, so give her time.

Quite a few puppies start puppy classes from under their owner’s chair! That’s fine, if that’s what makes them feel less vulnerable. By week 2 or 3 those same puppies are out and about exploring. Letting the pup choose when to venture forth is key.

All Grown Up

But once your dog is grown and bigger, what do you do?

You’re walking your dog on a leash and something appears that worries her. Now for many dogs a quick glance and appraisal of the situation is enough, and on you go.

But what if your dog is fearful or reactive? A dog who is always surprised by anything new appearing in her environment, and whose first response is often to bark to get it to go away?

If that’s your dog, then you need to know that with a reactive dog, Distance is your Friend. The first thing you need to do is get further away from whatever it is that’s alarming her (big dog? paper bag? person talking on their phone?).

But sometimes that’s not so easy!

If you’re walking on the street and someone approaches you with cries of “Oh what a lovely dog!” “Hallo doggie doggie!” “Dogs like me!” etc, you need something quicker - and perhaps more socially acceptable! - than turning on your heel and walking smartly away.

Distance, Close Up

Here are some actions I’ve found helpful for Lacy - a very pretty dog who attracts attention, but doesn’t want it!

1. Talk to the hand! As someone is approaching and just ready to dive on Lacy, I step side-on in front of her, hold up my hand like a traffic cop, and say “Hang on!” This normally brings the approaching hazard to a full stop and gives me time to organise the next step.

2. Carwash

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This is where Lacy runs back round my right leg and dives between my legs from behind. She’s now sitting in her safe haven between my feet. I can squeeze my legs softly on her shoulders to make her feel more secure. She’ll often put herself there if worried, without me having to say “Carwash!”

There are three huge advantages to this position.

•    One is that as Lacy goes round my leg her leash is now behind that leg. So even if the “oncoming hazard” still bends over, she can’t lunge forward to intercept them.

•    But this second one’s a winner: Very few people are going to make so bold as to bend over right in your personal space and reach down between your legs to touch your dog! Success!

•    And the third one is to lighten the social mood a little. Once Lacy is in Carwash, I can lift my hand in greeting saying, “Say Hi!” Lacy will lift her paw in a big high five swipe.

So she’s still “said hello” to the persistent hazard, without having had to risk her life by emerging from her safe haven.

I can hear some of you mumbling … if your dog is very large and you are not - what can you do? You don’t want to end up astride your dog!

Try a simple Get Behind. Send your dog round you so that, again, your leash is behind your legs, and your dog is peeping out by your hip. If your oncoming nuisance is unusually persistent, you can move slightly to body block them. Eventually they’ll get the message that they’re welcome to chat to you, but not to your dog, who has taken a vow of silence when it comes to strangers.

But All Dogs Love People: Really?

There’s a lot of social pressure on us to have a dog that conforms to the popular view that all dogs are friendly and welcome cuddles. But, of course, like people, some just “want to be alone”.

It’s not our dog’s job to provide cuddles and dogginess to the general population. In the same way that strangers don’t reach down and scoop your baby up from his stroller saying “I love babies!” - imagine! - they also don’t have the right to touch your dog without permission from you (and her).

If your dog likes nothing more than chatting to new people, then go for it, and enjoy her enjoyment. But if your dog is shy, allow her to retire to her safe haven without having to interact with scary strangers.

She’ll thank you for it.

Have you found a good strategy for keeping your scaredy-dog calm? Let us know in the Comments below!

And for more ideas for helping your anxious dog, get your free e-course My Dog Doesn’t Like Other Dogs: How to Stop the Barking and Lunging

 

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 A safe haven for your dog when out
 A safe haven for your dog when out

Why is my dog a nightmare on lead when he's fine off lead?

This is a question that perplexes many dog-owners. Their dog is no trouble when off-lead, but he turns into a snarling hoodlum when on-lead.

There are a number of things happening here. Your dog isn’t actually a Jekyll and Hyde, rather he’s able to cope in one situation, but not in the other.

Sadly it’s often us who make the situation far, far worse! Although I know that’s the last thing we intend to happen.

So let’s have a look at what’s going on

1. Off-lead, your dog is able to come across other dogs - maybe even interact with them - without any trouble kicking off. If you watch what’s going on very carefully, you may see that your dog is displaying some excellent social skills. Because he’s not restrained on a lead, his body movement untrammelled, he can display body language appropriate to the occasion. If you video some of these passages or interactions you may see a host of calming signals being employed - perhaps by all the dogs involved.

This could include:

  • soft body posture

  • approaching indirectly

  • looking away

  • sniffing the ground

  • turning his body away

  • moving with loose-limbed movement and wavy tail

All those things are telling the other dog they’re no threat. When free to move away, your dog may even decide on a nose-sniff and a bum-sniff before moving on.

On the other hand, careful observation may reveal that your dog is actually anxious:

  • trying to get away

  • or frozen to the spot

  • licking lips

  • yawning

  • stiff and slow in movement

  • tiptoeing round the other dog

  • tail tucked or stiff

He may not be as “fine” as you think!

But it’s when we get into the picture that things can really start to go wrong!

2. On-lead, things can be very different. Because you are used to your dog getting upset when he sees or meets other dogs on the road, you are highly likely to tense up as soon as you see another dog. This lead-tightening tells your dog that you’re worried and that something dangerous is coming. He goes onto full alert and starts to square up to the impending danger. On his toes and ready to defend himself, he’s likely to start barking, bouncing, and lunging at the oncoming dog, in an effort to scare it away. Because the lead is tight, he’s unable to employ any of his natural body language skills and issue calming signals to the other dog.

And because these dogs are being forced to walk straight towards each other, with no chance to pause, look away, sniff the ground - or any of those other signals that work so well when left to their own devices - they become helpless to improve the situation.

What to do?

Now, if your dog is unpredictable and just as likely to start trouble off and on-lead, this doesn’t apply to you! This is for those whose dog has had only good interactions with others when off-lead.

  1. Acknowledge that your dog can handle things well when you don’t try to influence proceedings.

  2. Stop interfering!

How to stop interfering? Look back at what happens when you see the other dog coming. It’s probably you who tenses up first, winds the lead round your fist, pulls your dog in close, starts barking commands at him. So it’s you that needs to change things.

For your dog to change, YOU need to change.

If you can ensure that whenever you see a dog coming, the first thing you do is to relax your hands, keep the lead slack, and breathe normally - you may be very surprised at how calmly your dog behaves!

Stop it before it starts

I have often seen a barking and lunging incident snuffed out before it began - simply by the owner relaxing their hands on the lead and not reacting.

To begin with, this may take a superhuman effort on your part! It’s hard to change habits we’ve developed - especially if we don’t even know we have them!

But if you can rehearse the scene in your mind - perhaps take one which happened to you today or yesterday, and run through it in your mind - you can see exactly where you need to change something you’re doing.

Once you’ve cracked this, and you know exactly what to do and when, you’ll develop a new habit. And happily, good habits are also hard to break!

Dog Body Language? Whatever is this?

Hopefully this has piqued your interest in finding out more about how your dog communicates. I’ll come back with some more on this in a while. For now, become a student of your dog: each little twitch, blink, or sniff means something. And for more learning, get our free Growly Dog e-course here.

He’s telling us! It’s up to us to learn how to interpret what he’s saying, with empathy, and without pre-conceptions.

 

Why is my dog a barking, lunging nightmare?