Canine Behavior/Bully Bulldog
QUESTION: Hi Jody, this was the first part of my email which you asked for...
"Hi Jody, once again I'm coming to you for help with a client's dog which I could do with a bit of extra help with.
Her dog has fear issues whenever carrying objects... but men in particular. I THINK it can be traced back (albeit partly) to where her husband (when dog was a puppy) used to block him from jumping up on his posh suits by blocking him with his briefcase whilst he was on the phone (the handyman remembers this clearly). Now, a four years on the dog attacks the briefcase (this has been going on for a long, long while and they found it amusing at first but now the husband says something needs to be done). The dog is also like it if other men like tradesmen carry bags, blinds to put up etc and with brooms or ironing boards.
With the object I am using usual desensitisation but he is scared of a lot of things and if they are moving targets he is a lot worse.
I wondered if there were any other tips you could give me. With me he backs down if I stand my ground with an object and get him to sit and praise him but the other day apparently he actually bit her son when he was wearing a suit and carrying a laptop bag like the husband. Please can you help? I only had one preliminary session with the dog but would be great to get more pointers please as I feel there must be something else I could do?
This is my 2nd email which you read:
Hi Jody, Further to my email of yesterday I have had a 2nd consultation with the owners of the 4 y/o neutered Bulldog and this time the husband was there so that I could see how the dog behaves with him. They have had him from 8 weeks of age and the wife is clearly the one who does everything with him and is quite confident. The husband (as I said yesterday) used to block him off as a puppy with his briefcase so as not to get hair/slobber on his nice suit. I THINK this is one of the root causes of the problem. He chases the husband out of the house every morning, attacking the briefcase, and barks once the husband is walking down the path away from the house. The dog then runs around to the other part of the house where the husband can be seen getting in to his car (obviously making sure he has seen him off). Both husband and wife feel he is not so bad if the husband is in casual wear. The dog has a fear of most inanimate objects, as I said, that are carried by humans.
I can work with him with the objects as I always do with fear of objects but what is worrying me is the husband. If the dog goes for his briefcase he goes around in circles trying to fend him off and backs out of the door so the dog obviously feels he has 'seen him off' and his behaviour is reinforced. Any other visitors in the home (female including myself) he is fine with including holding bags etc but when wife picked up the said briefcase he tried to attack it but not her. I can tell the dog is uncomfortable with the husband as he walks around him and when he tried to reach out to stroke him to prove to me that the dog does not have a problem he side-stepped him to avoid the stroke. However when the wife is not around (at the gym etc) he apparently is fine with husband. I assume that because dogs self-preservation means he is not going to initiate a conflict that perhaps he feels he could not win on his own. It's obviously a male thing carrying objects but with the husband it's him and the carrying of objects. He rushes out of the door and through corridors ahead of the husband so I have told him to make sure he goes through first and not the dog (get him into a sit whilst he walks out the door/hallway) and to get him to a sit and give him his meal but husband seems a bit reluctant to actually do anything to improve the situation. When I told the husband today to try and walk out the door as usual but NOT carry on walking once dog goes for briefcase but stand there until dog backs off the dog then went for HIM (I assume because he was doing this circling thing) Could you please help. It doesn't help when husband not willing to work with us, as I told him to make sure he goes through the door first, feeds the dog by getting him to sit first etc. He also follows the husband around the house and often tries to get in front of him. He isn't like this with other men, just if they are carrying anything but he is like this with the husband regardless. How do I get the relationship between husband and dog to change. He says if the wife is not around he is OK and will even sit by him. Surely I must get husband to stand his ground until dog backs down? He has never gone for the husband before today though, just the briefcase. Thank you!
Thank you Jody!
ANSWER: Thank you for the resubmission. It's an unfortunate situation that the dog has come to fear his male owner when the owner is dressed nicely and carrying the brief case. The dog has generalized "dressed nice" - we know this because he reacted the same way to the son when he was wearing a suit and carrying something similar to the husband.
Many dogs are nervous of inanimate objects being carried or that are sitting on the floor that get shifted/move without the dog seeing how exactly it's moving (e.g. a box on the floor and you nudge it with your foot on the far side from the dog so the dog can't see your foot making contact - suddenly that inanimate object is alive!!!!)
So... how to address this. The first order of business is to make sure the husband is buying into the need for fixing it and that he's willing to participate in the process. This is one of those situations where the only way we're going to change the dog's behavior is by first changing the human's.
I'm not sure what you mean exactly when you suggest that the owner "stand his ground" to insist the dog doesn't go through a doorway first. What does that look like? What is the owner doing to prevent the dog going through the doorway?
Also - being as broad as our industry is when we discuss training methodologies, it would be helpful for me if you could walk me through what you mean when you say, "I can work with him with the objects as I always do with fear of objects." I've learned over the years that the details of such language can mean vastly different things to different trainers, so I don't want to make any assumptions. So, what exactly does your process look like when addressing a dog's fear to inanimate objects?
With that information about the details of the work being done so far, I will be better able to guide you in how to refine the process to hopefully see more improvement. I have some ideas already for the exercises and management I'd be recommending if this were my client. But before I get into them, I'd like to know what exactly you're doing so far and if you're seeing any improvement - not just in a decrease in the overtly aggressive behavior, but also in the dog's appearance of stress/discomfort. Remembering that our aim is not simply to suppress the behavior, but rather to change the dog's emotional response to the situation so that he no longer has a need to behave that way. Suppressing the behavior doesn't change how he feels about the situation and our goal is to change how he feels so that his overt behavior changes....
I look forward to your answer and then we'll take it from there. :-)
Los Angeles Behavior Specialist
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: Hi Jody,
The way I am getting the husband to deal with the barging through the door issue is to get him to slightly open the door and if the dog tried to get through first to shut it again, wait for dog to back off back into the room and then open it and walk forward again and so on until husband can walk through first. If dog manages to get through it first to call dog back into the room and start again. Could he try this with the dog on the leash (in order to restrain him from exiting through the door first or would this further stress the dog out?)
As for the way I desensitise dogs to inanimate objects they fear is by starting from afar so that dog can see item at the other side of the room. Reward him with praise and treats for not reacting to it and gradually, gradually do the same as we move nearer the item until it culminates in the dog taking treats from on top of the item and ultimately the item being moved around the dog without him reacting at all whilst he is being praised and rewarded (for all of this process I use a high-value rewards such as tiny pieces of chopped cheese or tongue which I allow them to nibble from out of my thumb and forefinger - so that it is a longer stream of pleasure rather than gulping down several pieces). The gradual moving forward is done at a pace each individual dog can cope with without showing any signs of stress or fear, which for some has taken just an hour from start to the dog fully accepting the item to touch him and be moved around about him, for others it takes weeks to get that far. With the bulldog it will be the later since he is highly reactive and has many objects he fears.
Finally, to reiterate, the situation with the dog actually attempting to bite the husband versus just attacking the briefcase (which was all he had done on previous occasions) was when the husband stopped walking out of the front door and turned around to face the dog and started to walk back towards the dog whilst he was still attacking the briefcase, this he reacted to in an aggressive manner. As I said, as well as the husband, the dog is fearful of any man carrying an object.
Thank you! Melanie
Thank you for the explanations. You have a pretty good handle on process. Kudos.
So here are my thoughts....
1. Regarding going through the door. From the description of the owner's issues and how you're approaching it, it feels like we're trying to teach the dog a negative -- a "don't do". This is a very difficult way to approach training. It's far easier to the dog an action we WANT the dog to do.
If this were my case, instead of cracking the door to see if the dog will try to bolt through (setting the dog up for failure), I'd instead try to set the dog up for success:
teach the dog to Sit, possibly even a "Go to Place" (which means go sit in this specific spot - usually a dog bed or mat that's in the room several feet from the door) and work on approaching the door while the dog remains there. I'd do practice sessions of telling the dog to Sit, approaching the door, returning to the dog to reward and release him. Then build up to opening the door, stepping through and back, then stepping through and closing the door, etc.
See my video for "don't bolt out the door" link below. This is the concept I'd be using. Lots of love, praise and high value reward for doing the right thing. Note, my video is meant to teach the dog to stay and not rush through the door while it's left open and unattended for a period of time. Your goal is simply to allow the Dad to go through and close the door without fighting the dog to get through first. So for your situation, he would step through and close the door, then return with rewards. Increasing the time he's out before returning with rewards.
I'd also have him come home every day from work with at least 2 treats in hand (keep them in his car or outside the door in a closed container) so that he can walk in and have a greeting ritual where the dog comes running toward him and he tosses a treat to or just behind the dog, then repeats this as Dad comes further into the house and can set his briefcase down and then have a proper greeting that is based on a toy or game or even a few more treats. Just keep driving home that we're trying to change the relationship, which means we have to change the conversation and the only way to change the dog's half of the conversation is to first change the human half... So by Dad making these changes, the dog's response will surely change. He may not trust it at first and it may take a while for the dog to really understand that the conversation is changing, but once he does, my guess is that you'll see some pretty dramatic results.
2. Management, I'd block the view in the other room so the dog can't watch the dad leaving once he's successfully gotten out of the door. We don't want the dog to practice barking his head off with a sense of successful accomplishment at banishing the dad from the house for the day.
Along with this, I'd have something for the dog to do to engage himself upon Dad's departure so he's not as interested in charging to another room to see Dad off. Perhaps a partially full Kong with a portion of the Dog's breakfast, mixed with peanut butter or pumpkin puree and frozen so it'll take time for the dog to eat it all (at least 10 minutes).
3. I'd put Dad in charge of all feeding and most games. Let's build their relationship back up. Start with Dad in casual attire rather than the suit as the suit (along with the briefcase) are clearly triggers for the defensive behavior.
NOTE: the language I'm using here - defensive behavior, not aggressive behavior. Try to look at this from the dog's perspective and try to help the owners see it from his perspective. Starting as a young puppy, the dog came bounding to his male person to greet him "You're home!!!!" and instead of cuddles, pets, love, praise and games, he was met with what felt to the dog like an aggressive/defensive behavior when the owner shoved an object (briefcase) into his face repeatedly. The reasons behind the man's behavior is irrelevant. What's important here is how the dog perceived it. Male owner comes home, or tries to leave, dog tries to engage him with love and play, gets object shoved in his face repeatedly and irritated tone of voice and body language in return. Dogs are discriminating enough to learn that when Dad is in jeans and t-shirt, he's safe to engage with, though still not as fun as Mom. But when he's in suit and carrying that thing, he's dangerous. Now we have the set-up for the current and escalating behavior.
The dog has generalized that suits and carried objects together are dangerous (at least from men) which is why he lashed out at the son whom he's never done that to before...
So I'd have dad in charge of feeding. I'd have Dad hand feed at least the first half of every meal. This can be either literally handing the dog 1-3 kibbles at time, or if the dog is snappy with food, he can drop 1-3 kibbles into the dog's bowl, then after the dog has eaten it, he can drop a few more kibbles into the bowl. The meal will take 5-10 minutes to complete, so he should plan accordingly so he has time and is not rushed out the door. He should be relaxed - maybe having his morning cup of coffee or tea while he feeds the dog this way. Once the dog is excited and happy to engage with Dad, I might introduce some obedience here and ask the dog for a Sit before kibble gets dropped into the bowl or handed to him. Then, if the dog remains sitting - GREAT! If the dog gets up again, then after about 20-30 seconds, ask for the Sit again and reward compliance with a few more kibbles.
First this feeding ritual can happen while Dad is in his sleepware/robe in the morning or after he's changed out of his suit when he gets home. But then, as the dog is comfortable with the new routine, Dad can start doing this in the middle of getting dressed. Perhaps put on the suit pants and button down shirt, but then stop there and feed the dog before tie, vest, jacket and shoes go on. Continue there until the dog is comfortable and then add in the tie and vest. Then the shoes, then the jacket. So that the suit no longer is a trigger of defensive energy.
Then include the briefcase (get a cheap one from a thrift store to start) and use that as a tray on which to feed the dog. Let the dog eat directly off it. Put a tea towel down to protect the leather and let him eat the food off that. Then, when he's demonstrating that he can eat the kibbles without trying to destroy the briefcase, switch to the real briefcase with a tea towel down to protect the leather.
If Dad refuses this particular exercise, then set the briefcase on the counter near by and don't touch it while hand feeding. Then set it on a chair nearby, but don't touch it. Then set it on the floor several feet away, then closer and closer until the dog can comfortably eat kibbles given by Dad while the briefcase is sitting right next to him without being worried about the brief case. I'm sure you understand to take that slowly so that the case doesn't move any closer until the dog is very clearly comfortable and unconcerned about the briefcase at its current location.
Making the suit and the briefcase part of the good activities (slowly so that the dog has time to get used to them) and making Dad in charge of the best things - food, toys, play - will go a long way toward fixing this. But he'll have to take his time and respect the dog's sense of fear of him.
This dog isn't challenging him for hierarchy in the house. He's afraid of the dad because of past interactions. So now we have to completely rebuild that trust that was ruined (unintentionally, of course) when the dog was still a puppy.
Back to the leaving ritual for a minute... I'd work on the Don't Bolt Out Doors exercise as in the link above. But in the meantime, when Dad's in a hurry to leave for work and doesn't have time to do the formal exercise, I'd have that partially full, frozen Kong toy or some other long lasting treat, ask for a Sit a few feet from the door, then once the dog does so, tell him "Good job!" (and mean it) and then say "Get it!" in a chipper voice as he tosses the toy/chew a few feet behind the dog. This will distract the dog allowing Dad to walk out of the house without issue or confrontation. If necessary, he can set his briefcase outside that door well before he actually needs to leave (up to an hour before - or put it in the car the night before) so we eliminate that particular aspect of this confrontational scene until we've desensitized the dog to the briefcase.
As for other inanimate objects, your approach is pretty solid. I might incorporate some BAT work, allowing the dog to just investigate the object at whatever distance he's comfortable, going toward, moving around, keeping a distance, etc. But without food present. This allows the dog to be focused and think about what's happening and what's not happening (the thing isn't actively trying to kill me). It may be necessary to do some setups outside where there's more room and use a long leash (5 meters) so the dog can control his own movements as he makes his way toward and away from the inanimate object at his own pace. For examples of what BAT setups look like you can check out www.empoweredanimals.com Look for BAT 2.0 information.
The videos there may be using a dog as the trigger/decoy, but it works exactly the same when the trigger is an inanimate object.
Another thing I will sometimes do for certain dogs/certain objects depending on the situation and how fearful the dog appears to be - I will leave the dog to decide where he wants to be, but I will go sit with the inanimate object. I'll pet it, or just lay my hand on it and speak softly/sweetly to the dog saying things like, "see... it won't hurt you." and let the dog decide if/when he wants to come over to investigate it. For many dogs, when they see a human they trust interact with the object, they become more comfortable checking it out.
Of course, the moment it moves, the rules change. So allow the dog to see it and then let the dog move away before you, say, put it in your lap and invite the dog to come over to see it again... Or before you change its orientation (e.g. broom lying on the floor to broom held in working position but stationary, before broom being carried, before broom being used....)
Just some different exercises we can be using in that process. And you may find that different exercises are better suited to certain objects or circumstances than others. So while you might use the D/CC with food treats for some things, others might work better just letting the dog get to know the object without food present.
Please let me know how you progress or if I need to further explain anything in this response. Good luck!
Los Angeles Behavior specialist