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Dog Behaviour Problems: Your dog's behaviour

Pulling on the lead:

Question: I wonder if you could help me with a behaviour problem I am having with my dog Mindy, a 4 ½ year old Doberman X Bitch. The problem is she pulls me on the lead like a Siberian husky would pull a sledge. We live twenty minutes from the local park, and as I work from home I walk her there three times a day and she whines continuously until we get there. I desperately need some help with this, as I don’t think my back will hold up much longer.

I have had so much advice from friends, vets and different dog trainers that I don’t know where to begin. I have used choke chains, water pistols, fresh chicken and nothing seems to work. I have recently been recommended an electronic collar that gives off an unpleasant smell by remote control, but this seems a bit drastic. None of my other dogs have had this problem as I used to live in the country and rarely used leads and collars with them.

At first it was funny, as neighbours would laugh when they saw our blurred outline pass, but now feel it is causing me to enjoy owning her less and less. She is a wonderful dog that would play endlessly if ever given the opportunity, she loves her walks so much and we play for hours with her ball on a rope. Please help!!!

Answer: It sounds as if Mindy enjoys being at the park so much that she views you as a dead weight that stops her getting there faster. The three walks that she receives on a daily basis are no doubt the highlight of her day as she loves to play so much. The rest of the day is probably quite boring in comparison and she is likely to spend her time watching you work and looking for clues that you are ready to take her again.

I agree that using citronella collars would be inappropriate to use for this problem. The other techniques and equipment you described will have failed because she is so motivated to get to the park that she is not concentrating on anything else.

All she is thinking about is getting to the park so that she can play. The harder she pulls, the quicker you will reward this behaviour with her favourite game so it is a self-rewarding process. This combination of pulling and reward is something that has been practised by Mindy three times a day, so it is not surprising that she pulls you down the street so determinedly.

To help ease your problem immediately, spend 50% of the time you would spend on each walk in your back garden playing Mindy’s favourite game with her ball-on-a-rope.

Although it may be a smaller area, even if you have to play in the house, you will be fulfilling Mindy’s desire to play which is the main reason that she so eagerly pulls you to your local park.

Ideally, Mindy needs to be panting with her tongue hanging out before the lead is attached to her collar and begin your journey to the park. You will find that Mindy’s desperation to race to the park will lessen dramatically and her concentration on other things such as training will increase.

When you get to the park, do some quiet, calm obedience exercises for the first 10 minutes of each walk, including some ‘walking on a loose lead’ exercises, then let her run free for a while, then finish with games with the toy. This will help to further reduce her desire to get to the park as the beginning of the walk is not as exciting.

Reducing her motivation like this will help you to train her but will not stop her pulling straight away as it has become a deeply ingrained habit. It would be wise to invest in a Gentle Leader, which is a head collar that will help to stop her pulling. Read the instructions carefully and following the training guide in the packet.

If you try all of these ideas together, you should soon find that it becomes much easier to take her out and walks become something that you both look forward to.

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 terrier cross is a rescue dog. He is sometimes aggressive towards other dogs and often pulls on his lead. What are the reasons behind this behaviour, and how can I correct it?

Answer: Terriers are renowned for being aggressive first and thinking later. If presented with what they see as a threat, they will readily go into ‘attack’ mode before thinking of other options such as moving away or appeasement.

If your dog is aggressive to other dogs to the point where he would bite them or frighten them, I suggest you seek help from a pet behaviour counsellor as this is not an easy problem to solve (forThe Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors). They will help you to learn what to do when you see another dog coming and teach you to focus your dogs attention on you rather than on the other dog. They will also help you to introduce him to friendly dogs and increase his circle of friends if this is going to be possible.

You don’t say if your dog pulls on the lead all the time or whether it is only when he sees another dog.

If it is the latter, he probably feels that the best form of defence is attack and pulls forward and puts up a good display to ‘see the other dog off’.

If he pulls on the lead all the time, he probably just wants to go faster than you do. This may be especially true if you don’t let him off the lead because of his response to other dogs.

The way to stop him is to safely make sure he has enough free running exercise and then to teach him to walk on a loose lead.

This is not difficult but you will require someone to teach you have to do this. Contact your veterinary surgery who should be able to recommend a good dog trainer in your area.

You may like to read The Rescue Dog which has more information on understanding & correcting this behaviour.

Question: I have a one year old chocolate labrador who loves everyone and everything, but who has become a total nightmare when he is let off the lead. He is fine until we see another dog or person in the distance. Then he takes off like a greyhound to join them and no matter what I do, he totally ignores me. I’ve tried whistles, treats, and toys, but nothing will make him listen to me. I’ve even tried hiding, but he doesn’t even notice I’m not there. I’m constantly having to trail after him.

The annoying thing is that in the house he will not let me out of his sight and follows me everywhere, but outside he does the complete opposite. He seems to be getting worse and I don’t want to keep him on the lead forever. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Answer: If you think of life from his point of view, he loves you and you are part of his pack, but when you go for a walk, other people and other dogs are new and interesting and he would rather be with them for a while.

He knows you are not far away and always wait for him (even if you hide, you always come out before he is worried enough to come looking for you), so there is no real incentive to stay around you.

What we need try and make you more interesting during walks. For the time being until he gets over this problem, cut down of the interaction you have with him at home. Don’t constantly talk to him, play with him or feed him titbits.

Save interactions for limited times when you choose to ask him to do something. This will help to increase his interest in you when you go out as rewards coming from you then will be a novelty instead of commonplace.

For the first week, take him to remote places where you are unlikely to come across other people so that you can teach him to concentrate on you. Let him off the lead, but have two washing lines tied together attached to his collar so that you can prevent him from running off.

Let him have some freedom, then call him back to you. Use the line to get him back, but once he is with you, be exciting! It doesn’t matter how you do this, whether you play with toys, feed him tasty titbits, jump up and down and run around, or whatever – what is important is that you and your dog enjoy it. Make his tail wag.

Play games that use up lots of energy. Chocolate labs have plenty of this and one of the reasons why he finds it so good to go after other people and dogs is that is uses up his energy.

Try to play games of fetch and retrieve, perhaps with a kong or ball that can be thrown a long way. Aim for just one minute, then turn off all your charm and continue with your walk. Do this often on walks during the first week until he is racing back when you call in anticipation of something fun happening. If you cannot motivate him enough, watch him interact with someone who can and find out what it is they do that makes him so excited.

After that first week, venture back to places where you know there will be people and other dogs, but keep him on the end of a long line (be careful not to get tangled in it). Keep your distance and use the line to prevent him reaching people. Try not to feel bad that he wants to be with them instead of you, and keep working on being exciting when he comes to you.

Try to make it fun for both of you. Keep practising and, as he gets more familiar with playing with you instead of other dogs or people, you can gradually get closer to them. If you keep this up for the next 2 months, he will being to see you as the source of fun and games when out, rather than other people and their dogs, and he will want to stay with you instead of running off to greet them.

In addition, it would help if you had more authority over him so that he sees you as a good leader who has the right to make decisions when you are out together. Review your status and make sure he comes last during important events, such as going through doorways and gateways, winning games, and getting attention.

In this way, you will become an important figure on his walks, someone to look up to and have fun with, rather than just someone who holds the end of the lead and shouts ‘come here’ from a distance.

Question: I have an eight month old German Shepherd who is an absolute delight, or should I say, was an absolute delight. She is very well socialised and the most friendly dog you could wish to have. Everybody comments on how great she is. I have been taking her to puppy classes since she was about three months old. I have found them brilliant for the both of us.

My problem is about a month ago she started ignoring recall, when we were in the park. Then when I tried to put her lead on to go for a walk she would back away. She is fine once the lead is on and we are out for a walk. She doesn’t get aggressive, but I have to trick her in to the kitchen to get her lead on.

When we are in the park and she is off the lead she doesn’t run away from me, she will make sure I am always in her sight. If I do go out of sight she will come running in a panic to find me. She loves me throwing her ball on a rope and will run and fetch it for hours, but she stops about three feet away and it is a fighting game to get the ball on a rope ton throw again. I don’t feel confident letting her off the lead, but I know it isn’t fair to keep her on the lead all the time. I want to be able to call her and she comes immediately. I hope you can give me some advice.

Answer: It is not uncommon for some dogs, when they reach adolescence, to become a little bit more independent of their owners then when they were puppies. From your description it sounds as if your young German Shepherd Dog has taken on the confidence of a young teenager.

Many owners go through this and feel that between the ages of 6-9months their young dogs are not as responsive or reliant on them as they were when they were younger. So do not panic, you are not alone! With good training and understanding of your dog, this phase won’t last long.

Your dog’s avoidance of you when you produce the lead to go for a walk, and her non-compliance to return her ‘ball on a rope’ to your feet, would seem to be a general reluctance to give you control, especially when you attempt to catch her using these methods. This competition for freedom can sometimes become a very exhilarating game, as your approach to resolving these matters can vary from day to day.

Start by attaching a six-foot line to your dog’s collar at all times when you are with her in the house. (Make sure that the line is taken off if you leave her in the house alone.) The line should trail loosely on the ground behind her, and she will get used to it very quickly.

When it is time to go for a walk, all you need to do is pick up the end of the line rather than ‘trick’ her into coming with you. Lead her to any room other than the kitchen, attach her lead, and detach the line from her collar. Give her a reward at this time that will make her tail wag, and then proceed with your walk.

Take with you two toys of equal value as this will enable you to achieve a reliable recall through game play. Begin by throwing toy one away from you, and encouraging your dog to fetch it, when she returns to you and stops three feet short, produce the second toy from you pocket and convince her that your toy is better than hers.

When she discards her toy, call her to you and ask her to sit, hold her collar for five seconds before throwing the second toy. When she is in pursuit for the second toy, quickly pick up the first toy and repeat the process.

Throughout this game, randomly attach her lead, walk a few paces and release her. This will stop the lead being seen as a cue that the game is about to stop.

It is clear from your letter that your dog loves to play games, particularly with you, and with this approach, hopefully, fun can be had by all.

You may like to read The Perfect Puppy which has more information on understanding & working on this behaviour.

Question: I have a 2-year-old Rhodesian Ridgeback who was diagnosed with Hip Dysplasia from about the age of 6 months. Once diagnosed, the vets informed up that excessive exercise would make matters worse, so instead of walking we took her swimming twice a week plus training classes once a week.

Our problem is that she gets so excited about seeing other dogs when we are out walking, either on or off the lead. If she is off the lead she will run at top speed to see the other dog and due to the size of her a lot of people have been angry that she wasn’t under full control. Once she has reached the other dog and said her hellos she is quite happy to come back to us on demand, but we are unable to stop her reaching her target.

We have been trying out the retractable lead theory so she still gets a run, but when she sees a dog and we call her, she cant make any mistakes, and treating her on her return. We have also tried getting her interested in one of her toys whilst over the park-but if there is another dog she has no interest at all in anything but the dog.

Apart form this she is a very obedient dog and loves the company of humans; I feel that not walking her in this environment when she was 6-12 months has encouraged this behaviour.

My question is; what you would suggest next to try and prevent this from happening?

Answer: Your problem centres around the fact that, when out walking, your dog enjoys your company but finds other dogs more exciting. If she was well socialised with them when very young, but had limited contact with them later because of her HD, it is not surprising that they are a source of fascination to her. For sociable dogs, meeting and greeting is a ritual that must be performed with every dog that they come across, and such an opportunity will generate great excitement in her since she has been restricted and unable to do so for so long.

In addition, she will probably have grown over familiar with predictable routines, and a little bored with people.

For instance, she may enjoy a game with her favourite toy at home, but realises the limitations of this game.

Hounds are not great object players as are herding dogs and gun dogs, and rapidly get bored with games of fetch. They much prefer games of chase with real live animals, whether they be prey or other dogs, and the offer of games with toys are no match for the chance to play with other dogs.

Unfortunately, despite your best intentions, you may seem a little dull in comparison with the dogs she meets, especially since she is a young dog with a bright nature and strong spirit who, due to her HD, has had quite a boring young life.

The key to overcoming this and to compete with her urge to run away from you and toward other dogs is to become more exciting. The previous training advice that you described sounded very good, but as you had little success I’m think that the methods you tried lack the excitement and thrill that the meeting of a new dog can have.

I would advise you to look at the things that happen in her life and see if you can make them more exciting and less predictable. By doing this you can teach her to expect different things from you in different places so that you are more exciting.

For example, your dog may receive a small tasty portion of her daily ration of food, half way through a walk, for returning to you when called. Receiving food randomly and in strange places is more exciting then being fed in the kitchen at the same time every day, and more importantly, makes associating with you more exciting.

Ring the changes with titbits – dogs enjoy variety just as we do and if you keep her guessing, she will begin to be more interested in coming back in case it is something wonderful this time. (Wrap up your titbits in tinfoil well in advance of the walk so that she cannot smell what it is you have in your pockets. She will then make her decision to come back based on what you may have rather that what she knows you have!)

Do things differently from how you have always done them occasionally, so that you keep her interested and keep her guessing.

For example, when you call her, run fast in the opposite direction so she has to chase and catch you (don’t allow any mis-beheaviour when she catches up with you. Divert her energy onto a toy instead if necessary). Or call while hiding behind the nearest tree so that she has to sniff you out; anything strange that you can think of will help!

At home, randomly select short bursts of playtime with toys. These toys should be kept out of her sight when you are not playing. The play sessions should be at times when she least expects them, preferably after a time when she has had little to do with you. When you take toys on walks, make sure she gets a good long chase by throwing them a long way, or using an old tennis racket to hit them further.

Toys that bounce unpredictably make for more interesting chases, and, with hounds, it is a good idea to buy large, light-coloured toys that you can find later when they have got bored with carrying them and dropped them before reaching you! Keep these games fun and, again, introduce as much variety and excitement to them as you can.

You may like to invite friends or relatives to accompany you on your walks, preferably your dog’s favourite selection of close human friends. This will add a novel edge to being in your company and keep things new and exciting. Also find different locations for walking, perhaps finding one that has a lake so that she can swim and learn to retrieve floating toys from the water.

Add contrast to your usual tone of voice when you call her, as dogs respond better to high pitch frequencies.

Always try to keep in mind that the secret is trying to be as unpredictable as possible as this will keep her on her toes and always guessing what you are about to do next.

If you combine the advice all this advice with that you have already sort, particularly with regards to the use of the extendable lead, and I am sure that things will develop more positively.

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 22 month old labrador, Rosie, is a real treasure and I love her dearly. The problem is she goes ‘deaf’ when we are out. She pulls on the lead, sniffs the whole time and doesn’t know what ‘come here’ means which stops her being able to run free. She won’t come back, especially if she sees other dogs or people. I have tried a choke chain and a Haltie to stop the pulling but neither worked. I have tried taking treats out with me, and she walked along with her nose near my pocket until she got fed up. She sits at the kerb so she isn’t untrainable. Help!!

Answer: Rosie isn’t untrainable and neither are you – you just need to know what to do to make her want to do what you want her to do!

A young Labrador will not be getting all the physical and mental exercise she needs from walks on a lead. She needs free running and play outside and part of the reason why you are unable to stop the pulling is that she is so full of energy.

The other part of the reason for the problems you are having is that she views you as nuisance on walks, i.e. someone who stops her doing what she wants, rather than as an exciting addition to the walk itself. Firstly, you need to tackle the recall problem so that she can use up some energy, then it will be easier to teach her to walk well on the lead. Begin this by practising in the house and garden.

Call her when she is not looking at you and reward her well for coming with tasty titbits. Hold her collar before you give the treats and let her free again afterwards. When she is racing to you whenever she hears you call, practice outside in a quiet area with her on a long line (be careful not to get tangled up in the line).

Reward her well for coming to you and let her free again. Practice this several times on walks in different places. When she will come to you when she is not doing anything interesting, repeat when she is intent on doing something else. Use tugs on the line to focus her attention on to you if she doesn’t respond.

Once you can let her free with reasonable certainty that she will return, ensure that you are an exciting part of her walk by sometimes calling her back and having a game with toys or feeding her titbits.

Make it fun for her to come to you and never tell her off for coming back long after you call.

Once she has had lots of exercise and has got rid of pent up energy, you can progress to teaching her to walk well on the lead. Use the Halti and persevere, or go to a dog training club to find out how to teach her to walk nicely on a loose lead.

It’s not difficult to do this, but does require good timing and practice and it’s not easy to describe. It won’t be easy to make improvements in Rosie’s manners successfully alone, so I would recommend you find a good dog training club that can help you.

Contact the Association of Pet Dog Trainers whose members guarantee to use kind, fair and effective methods.

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 is obsessed with playing with other dogs and goes completely deaf when involved in a game. How can I get her to come back to me? As I fear one day she could be in danger and I won't be able to get her attention.

Answer: Once dogs have learned to play with other dogs, games can often be so much fun that the last thing they want to do is stop and come back to you, especially if they then get put on the lead to go home.

Dogs quickly learn that there are no consequences to disobeying you when they are at a distance and so, weighing up the advantages and disadvantages from their point of view, it is not surprising that they just keep on playing. It’s like asking you to stop when you are in the middle of watching a favourite TV programme or eating a particularly favourite dinner.

It becomes even less likely that your dog will want to stop if he does not know how to play games with humans and so games with dogs are the only ones he gets. Added to that, some owners will scold or punish when their dog finally arrives back, making it even more likely that it will want to return quickly next time.

If your dog does not know how to have fun playing game with humans, it is important to teach him. We have all seen those dogs that follow their owners around the field waiting carrying their ball and occasionally leaving it in their path for them to throw. They are so carried away with their game that they are not even thinking about other dogs and are very easy to ‘catch’ when necessary. You may not be able to get your dog that obsessed with games with you, but you could probably make some improvements so that games with other dogs are not the only fun she has. In order to do this successfully, you will probably need to restrict games with other dogs while she learns to focus on you instead.

It is also important to teach a good recall so that she knows what you mean when you call her. Teach her come to you at home first and reward her well with whatever she likes most in life that you can provide. Continue this outside, choosing to call her only when it very likely that she will come to you – perhaps when she is running in your direction already. She needs to learn that you will not only reward her, but also let her go again once she has come back. Use a long line to help at first if necessary, but don’t get tangled up.

If you can find someone with well-trained dog, the final stage is a lot easier. When you call, get them to stop their dog from playing so that the incentive for her to ignore you is taken away. Reward her for coming and let her free to play again. Many repetitions of this in different circumstances with different dogs will 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.

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