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Some Paws In Hand case studies

Real life aggression case

As we approach the end of 2012 I have been pondering on the cases which challenged me most in 2012. This case has taken me through both highs and lows this year. My clients have kindly allowed me to share their case with you.

Harriet. An 18 week old toy poodle puppy run on by the breeder and not taken out for socialisation before she was acquired. Probably the most nervous reactive puppy I have seen. She initially suffered chronic separation distress and was generally highly anxious. She took time to start to settle in the puppy classes but then moved on to novice and freaked out at new dogs. She also showed aggression to strangers out on walks. Any walks outdoors provoked copious aggressive barking at anything and everything. Her owners became afraid to take her out as a result of this behaviour. Due to the lack of expected progress I asked the owners to take her to their vet to be checked. It was discovered she had elevated bile acid and was suspected of having a form of liver disease. She was then given some treatment for this.

We have been working with her for several months now. Her behaviour is complicated by her suspected liver disease. Liver disease affects chemicals in dogs which affect their behaviour. It can also affect the rate of learning. She is also apricot colour and a typical red head (sorry any red heads out there but this is scientifically proven, ha ha) with a "diva" ish personality!

Initially the only dogs we could trust her with were fake dogs in the training hall as she would bite if she got close. When she first met the fake dogs she attacked them. Sadly we didn't get this on video, it was only later we decided to video. Once she had attacked them she then decided to play with them as shown in the video below:


Harriet with fake dogs

Although only tiny bites we didn’t want to risk giving other dogs problems as a result of her hostile behaviour. Many of our dog aggressive dogs are aggressive because they have been attacked by other dogs and even tiny dogs can cause distress and lead to later aggression in the victim dog. So we settled her with two fake dogs for several weeks before letting her meet a real live Labrador "teaching dog". Her initial reaction was to intrusively sniff and then attack this teaching dog as you will see in this video:


Harriet meets teaching dog

Notice how upright her tail is and how manic she is. She was barking aggressively most of this time. Sorry no sound as my I phone doesn’t record sound. Bear in mind, by this time we had been working with her for about four weeks. We then, eventually, over the weeks introduced a second teaching Labrador. Harriet settled with this one too. When we started to work outside she was super reactive and we had to start from scratch again. The main problem was shouting her head off on sight of anything and not calming down, then showing aggression if anything got close.

I then tried to get her to meet Lily. At this time I felt depressed as every time we moved one step forward we also moved one step back. It was a low point when Harriet met Lily on her own without the back up of the teaching labradors. When Harriet met Lily (from about 50 feet away) she was so reactive she skinned all her paws until they bled. What a nightmare and so unexpected. I felt terrible, guilty and was ready to give up. Worse still so did her poor owners.

However, we tried again in a different location and let her meet Lily with the two labs several times off lead. Then we tried again in a different location. At last, we had success, something finally just clicked. Harriet is now meeting other dogs frequently and often joins Lily and me or Jo and her labradors for our regular walks to help to build up her confidence with a variety of dogs, as shown in this video:


Harriet with new dog and person

Here is another recent video which shows how much better her self control is and how much calmer she is with other dogs. This video is pretty typical now:


Harriet meets new dog out on walk

We have taught Harriet to meet and greet and then return to her owner so that we can be sure she is under control. As you will see if you compare the first video with the teaching dog (bearing in mind this was already after four weeks of work) to these later videos that Harriet is under much better control and responsive to her owners now.

I wish we had the film of her initial behaviour as it was pretty dramatic but at that time I had no idea that this would be such a challenge and didn't have the means to video either. At 18 weeks I thought we would be able to quickly help her. However, Harriet’s behaviour has been very complicated. I feel that a lot of her behaviour was as a result of lack of good social experience during the critical period whilst at the breeders. It also sounds as though she had no boundaries whilst at the breeder. She was seen running around in a pack of young toy poodles creating havoc. As a result she had an early lack of boundaries which led to her becoming angry when she couldn’t approach other dogs immediately. She had been allowed to bully the other puppies in her litter so now frustration set in when she was not allowed to do this to other dogs. In addition, she is a fiery little character, quickly becoming angry when her frustration was un- resolved. All this combined with a liver condition which also affects her behaviour.

The only issue now is her anger when she is not allowed to approach some dogs which are also on lead but we are working on this and it is improving a lot. She is now ten months old and is going through her teenage stage as well just to make things more difficult. This case shows just how important the early period is in setting boundaries and social skills. If you miss the first 12 to 16 weeks you can have huge challenges. Some dogs do better than others.

I feel that Harriet has been my biggest challenge this year as to be honest most of our dog aggressive dogs respond to behaviour therapy much more quickly. However, I feel Harriet was sent to teach me and has challenged my skills. My approach with her has had to be very different to how I have worked with other dogs. I think we are about there now, phew. Thanks to Harriet’s owners for letting me share their journey with you. I feel this has been a difficult journey for her poor owners, this was their first dog and they were let down by the breeder on all levels. Thankfully they would not give up even when I wanted to and it is testament to their commitment to Harriet that they are where they are today! Well done!

I am sharing Harriet’s story with her owners’ permission. This is a typical case where her health and background had to be taken into consideration during behaviour modification. We didn't know about her health until I asked for her to be checked by her vet and started to treat her problems as a behaviour problem rather than just socialisation. There had been no symptoms other than her behaviour. I believe her health at the time is likely to have affected her rate of learning and her ability to be able to cope with exposure towards other dogs and strangers. Her dire early social experiences turned her into a little bully and a nervous wreck. This has all meant that her progress has been unpredictable and slow. Knowledge of her suspected liver condition, with the support of her vet has helped us to understand this and to modify her plan accordingly. Unfortunately further tests and a liver biopsy is the only way vets will be able to fully understand Harriet's liver and the effect this is likely to have in the longer term. We hope this is not too serious and that these results were just transient which is a possibility as more in depth tests didn't reveal any serious issues. Her appetite has certainly improved.

Not all problems are solved quickly, but if you put in the effort and remain consistent you will surely see the results!

Real life-The one that got away!

And here is an example of a case which I was sadly unable to resolve. This involved a lovely Border Terrier which had been taken on into a new home. This dog showed aggression towards other dogs. I felt quite confident that I could help until I assessed this little dog. A little sweety indoors but when she met my fake assessment dogs she ripped both to bits! This was no normal aggression case. This little dog showed extreme predatory aggression. Both fake dogs were grabbed by the throat and shaken vigorously without warning. Had these been real dogs it would have resulted in the death of one of them. I was disappointed as I cannot solve predation and nor can anyone. This is a normal instinctive behaviour and can be very unpredictable. It is safer to ensure these dogs wear muzzles and are under control. However, we can teach methods to reduce the risk and alleviate difficulties with handling dogs that get highly aroused in the presence of "prey objects". So, not all cases can be solved sadly. But the clients are now aware of the risks with their dog and are in a position to ensure that she does not kill another dog. We have introduced mental stimulation ideas and impulse control training to help improve the situation.

Real life chase case

This lovely dobermann was aged 6 years old when her mum got two kittens. As a puppy Emmy had chased the previous cat and the cat had to be rehomed for its welbeing. However, it was hoped that aged 6 she would be better. It was not to be the case. Emmie was over excited and looked to chase the kittens even though they were kept in a separate room segregated via a gate. Emmy's mum, Caroline contacted me and after a very short space of time (approx 3 weeks) you can see the outcome from the photo below. This required a very dedicated owner who was very consistent in her approach. It takes effort but if you are prepared to put in the work the results can be so rewarding. Well done Caroline!

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Paws in Hand can help hold your paws and hands right through from 8 weeks and beyond so that you can start teaching your puppy and learning how to socialise your new puppy and "Read dog" from the earliest stage.

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Denise is a qualified and experienced full time dog behaviourist and trainer. She holds a B.Sc (Hons) in Applied Animal Behaviour and also an advanced diploma in companion animal behaviour and training, DipCABT (Coape).

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Denise deals with any behaviour problem, especially aggression and anxiety. Many behaviour problems can be caused by medical conditions which is why she must work on vet referral.

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Aggressive dog solutions

Denise deals with any behaviour problem, especially aggression and anxiety. Many behaviour problems can be caused by medical conditions which is why she must work on vet referral.

Read more