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Dog Behaviour Problems: Your dog's behaviour

Sudden or recent changes in behaviour:

Question: I recently moved house and my boxer bitch went to stay with a relative who has her sister. However, since she has returned, she has become very nasty, growling and snapping, particularly at children. She has also taken a severe disliking to my cat and collie, both of whom she previously adored. I am considering using a muzzle to try and control some of the behaviour. Do you think this will work and can you suggest anything else that I could try to get my old dog back?

Answer: I think it would be worth trying to tactfully find out what happened at your relative’s house and how they treated her. It sounds like she had enough bad experiences there to shake her confidence and feel, suddenly, that the whole world is hostile. This doesn’t mean that they were unkind to her, but they may have unwittingly allowed her to become very frightened. This could have happened, for example, if she was bullied by another dog or a teenager.

You don’t say how old she is and she may be at a vulnerable age (e.g. puberty, adolescence, old age) which could have contributed. Is she unwell? It may be worth taking her to the vet just in case ill-health is contributing to the problem.

Time and kindness will help if she is recovering from a traumatic experience. Build her confidence by using reward-based training and keeping rebukes for bad behaviour to a minimum.

Give her time away from your other pets for a while and gradually reintroduce them as if she was a new dog to the family.

If her behaviour hasn’t improved after a few weeks, it may be a good idea to contact a member of The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors to get help with finding out the cause and solution to this problem.

Question: My 15-month-old spaniel was very sociable until around six weeks ago when we had a friend's bitch with us for a week. Unfortunately, they hated each other on sight. The bitch came into season at the time and, although she was kept separate from my other two dogs, they squared up to each other constantly. Being younger and smaller, my dog came off worst each time and, in the end, I had to keep all of the dogs separate. Since then, my dog has become aggressive towards other dogs which is very distressing as he used to be so friendly. He is shown regularly and has won many prizes, but is now miserable around other dogs. I'm afraid that this could be the end of his show career. Do you have any advice or suggestions?

Answer: Your dog has probably lost all his confidence in himself, as well as in your ability to defend him from threats. For this to happen through encounters with just one dog, his confidence must have been a little shakey anyway.

This could have a variety of causes, but is most likely due to a lack of sufficient pleasant encounters with different types of dog when he was a puppy.

It would be sensible to stop showing for the time being and take time to build his confidence up again.

Do this by finding other dogs that he can spend time with, play with and make friends with.

Start with gentle dogs that are very sociable and work up to others that may be more difficult to deal with. You will need about 10 dogs in all – not always easy to find, I know – but this will be enough to help restore his faith in other dogs so that he can hold his head high again.

The dogs will need to be of different shapes, sizes and characters and ensure that he is friendly and playful with each before moving on to the next.

Avoid all contact with the bitch that caused the problem for a while until he has learned to cope, and, if he is threatened by another dog in future, step in and help him sort out the problem.

Please also see Training for Life (everyday life) easy & fun training classes you can do at home, including:
  • Audio tape of noises your dog must learn to be unafraid of
  • Video on how to raise a friendly, well balanced dog that can cope with everyday experiences in the modern world
  • Explanation of training using rewards, toilet training, learning to be alone, chewing, adolescence, setting boundaries and saying ‘no, solving behaviour problems, tricks, games and having fun.

Question: My dog recently attacked my nephew for no apparent reason. He went to sit down next to him on the floor and began to stroke him when it happened. This is very out of character as he has never done this before. Do you have any possible explanation?

Answer: You don’t say how old the dog is or give me many details to work from. All I can say is that dogs that have been perfectly okay with people (and nephews) in the past and then suddenly develop problems are usually not well.

Pain or illness can make dogs more grumpy and unable to tolerate handling or close contact, and it would be a good idea to get him checked out by the vet as soon as possible.

Aggression that comes suddenly out of the blue is usually a sign that all is not well physically, but can also be the result of a bad experience (consider this if your nephew has been left alone with your dog at any time).

Alternatively, if your dog is new to you or your nephew, it could be that he may have been just coping with being with him in the past, but, for some reason, on that day, could not.

If this is the case, it would be wise to get further help before reintroducing them (try The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors)

Question: My dog is 3 years old. He has never bitten people before, he has always had a gentle nature. He has not been neutered. We recently moved houses, and the last 6 months we have had some close calls with our dog. He is frequently attacking neighbours and he especially dislikes children. We are worried that sometime we may not be there to intervene. What has caused this sudden change in character, how can we teach him not to bite? Thanks

Answer: Great Danes that attack people are no joke and it is your duty to always be there to intervene. It is also important to get professional help from a Pet Behaviour Counsellor (contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors) quickly before he hurts or terrifies someone.

Until then, do not leave him loose in the garden unsupervised and if you have little control over him, don’t allow him out without a strong lead and a muzzle. Make certain all your fences are secure.

It is likely that the house move has reduced his feelings of security and that, consequently, his fear of strangers which would always have been inside him, has now manifested itself as aggression.

He may always have had a gentle nature with your family, and perhaps people he has known from a puppy, but I would think that he probably did not have enough socialisation as a puppy and has a mistrust of strangers as a result.

Since he is now a young, strong, confident male, he is taking the option of trying to do something about it, rather than hiding behind you and hoping that what he sees as a threat to his home and family will go away.

You will need help to discover the exact nature of his fear and to set you a programme to help desensitise him and make he feel more comfortable with strangers, particularly children.

Question: We have three golden retrievers two male and one female. The oldest male (aged 8) began fighting with the youngest male (aged 2) about ten days ago. Up until then, they had been inseparable but now, if we sit at the table, a fight will ensue. As soon as we stop it they are fine again and start playing together. However this sudden change in behaviour is worrying me. Do you have any idea why it is happening and what I can do to stop it?

Answer: There could be several reasons and finding the root cause is the answer to stopping it. Since it is a problem of sudden onset, it is a good idea to get both dogs checked by the vet as there could be a problem with one of them (e.g. the older male may be top dog but the younger male may have spotted a weakness due to oncoming ill-health and is taking advantage.)

If this is not the cause, have a good look at anything that has changed recently in the family. House moves, visitors, changes in routine etc. are often enough to upset a delicate hierarchy.

If the fighting is around the table only, is it connected with food? Is either dog suddenly more hungry for some reason? Are both getting a full share of food? Once you have sorted out the reason, the answer should be obvious. If you need further help, please contact The Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.

Question: My 10-month-old Dalmatian bitch has a half hour session every night after her feed when she is naughty. This includes jumping on furniture, attacking her bed and generally pacing around looking for trouble. I've read that you shouldn't exercise a dog immediately after its feed, so how can I avoid this behaviour? Her food is dry and either Winalot or Pedigree Chum Complete. Are there any different brands that may calm this behaviour?

Answer: Since her behaviour changes so dramatically an exact amount of time after she has eaten, I would suspect a food sensitivity or allergy. Perhaps you could investigate this with your vet, ruling out wheat or gluten allergies and other products that can cause problems.

A basic lamb and rice diet is a good place to start, but talk to your vet about it so that you can ensure she is getting the correct nutrition for a young dog. It is also important to check she is getting enough play and exercise.

As I’m sure you will know, Dalmatian need plenty of free-running exercise, but also plenty of play to use up their mental energy.

Teach her to play and do tricks and respond to obedience commands, and you can then use these to help diffuse her ‘naughty’ behaviour and give her something constructive to do instead.

Question: My Dalmatian, Dolly, has recently started stealing food and washing and hiding it and jumping on my rescue terrier. She has never done anything like this before in the year I have had her and I cannot put her behaviour down to jealousy as I love all of my dogs equally. Do you have any idea what could be causing this?

Answer: It is difficult to say without more detail. If she is just one year old, the behaviours you describe could be due to her maturing and becoming more confident. However, sudden changes in behaviour in older dogs that cannot be put down to changes in the environment, often have a medical origin.

I would advise you to have her thoroughly checked out by a vet to ensure that nothing is wrong. If there is nothing physically wrong, try to think of anything that may have triggered these changes.

Hiding washing, stealing food and jumping on your other dog all point to excess energy. Is she getting enough exercise? Has there been a sudden decrease in the amount of play or free-running she is getting?

If not, try to think of what she finds rewarding in these behaviours and that may help you to understand why she is doing them and, hence, how to stop her.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding your dog's behaviour.

Question: We have had our Yorkshire terrier, Jasper, for eight years. Recently, he has become aggressive, and has tried to bite us on four separate occasions during the last 6 months. We are becoming somewhat wary of him, and would not feel comfortable leaving him in anyone else's care. His brother, who is one year younger, is very well behaved. What can we do?

Answer: If he has been well behaved for 8 years and has only recently become aggressive, it is important that you get him thoroughly checked out by your veterinary surgeon as there could be something wrong with him that is causing him to be bad tempered.

This is the usual reason for dogs that have been well behaved becoming snappy.

However, it could also be due to changes in circumstances. Have you moved house recently, had any additions to the family, changed his routine, or has he had any other experiences that could have made him react in this way? If the answer is no to all of these, it brings us back to physical problems in his body being the most likely cause for changes in his behaviour.

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