Case file: Lexie, fear aggression

A few months back I had a dog with fairly severe fear aggression stay with me. I started out just taking videos for her mom, but decided they’d be good for the blog, too! Some of the narration starts out very quiet, as I was trying not to distract the dogs. Most of the time, I get louder. Sorry about that!

Lexie is a four-year-old yellow lab who was attacked by a jack Russel at about a year of age. Her fear aggression started after that, and got worse over time until her owner reached the point of crossing the street to avoid other dogs. Lexie would approach another dog submissively, and then when she got close, attack with panicked intent. While Lexie and her mom still have a lot of work to do, we’re making progress!

Lexie had stayed with me once before, last year, so she had some memory of Cash and Lily. However, I had Brady there as well, so she stayed in her crate the first night for about three hours. When she came out, I kept Brady on leash (to keep him away from Lexie), or kept Lexie on leash (to keep her near me). The first video picks up the next morning, after more leash and crate time to get used to each other.

If you just want to see a heart-warming change, watch the first and last videos. More dogs were added as the week went on; no dogs were harmed in the making of this film!



Narrator: Jenna
Lexie: lab, “fearful pup”
Cash: king shepherd, “dad”
Lily: pit bull, “grandma”
Brady: golden retriever, “happy brother”
Frances: Australian shepherd, “timid sister”
Obi: pit bull x boxer, “fearless bff”


Case files: Beau, separation anxiety and chewing

I got the following email, and thought it might be helpful for others! So, with the person’s permission…

My sister got us in touch, this way:

“Hey Jenna!

I’ve copied H on this email as she is the one needing help.
She owns a pit bull named Beau whose story is almost identical to Lily’s. Lots of shelters, new homes and people giving him back because he has separation anxiety and chews everything up when left alone.
H and D (her husband), want to work with Beau to try and get him to stop chewing, but are looking for advice and tips on how to proceed.
Are you able to offer up any advice?”
I sent:

“First, crate training is a MUST. There’s a bunch of entries on how here:

Second, does he chew things up when you aren’t home? Because if not, then start crate training, take him walking daily (the less energy he has the less anxious he’ll be), and wait about six months. It takes time for dogs to settle in; with separation anxiety and destructive behaviors, the big key things are to crate him when you’re not home, and then burn off the energy, and let time heal his emotional wounds! There’s a few other things you can do, too, if you want to email me back with some details. (Does he have crate trauma? Does he destroy things when you’re home? How old is he? How long have you had him?)”

And from H:

“[W]e think Beau’s about 2 or 3 years old.  He seems ok in a crate. We’ve only had him for about 2 weeks. He gets super upset when we leave and he starts chewing on wood, mostly door frames and doors haha.. So it’s not the easiest fix.
He gets lots of exercise! Between me and David, he probably runs about 3 miles every day! 🙂
We got him a crate today and he seems to be doing really well so far! First we put him in there when we were home and gave him his toys in there to get him comfortable, and we give him a little treat whenever he goes in the crate and lays down by himself. Hopefully he keeps doing well with the crate.  If you have any other tips for crate training, let me know!
Thanks again!

“Hi, Haley!

This all sounds fantastic! If he’s that comfortable in his crate, start leaving him in there. (He might say, “Forget it! I’m not going in anymore!” Tell him he has to, feed him in there with the door open to keep it a good place, etc. I often put a dog’s breakfast in their crate just before I have to leave for work, so that they go in to eat, I close the door, and there’s no argument!) Continue to make sure he has toys in his crate so he doesn’t get bored.

That’s the first big step. If he can’t be supervised, crate him. If you’re gone, crate him. Chewing for anxiety reasons has two big aspects to tackle:

First, it becomes a habit. We need to break the habit! That’s what the crate is for: so that he can’t do it. It’s breaking the habit, and teaching him what he should chew on: his toys and bones, which are in the crate! Now, to continue breaking the habit, when you see him SNIFFING the type of thing he would normally chew, give him a scolding and chase him away from it. (A squirt bottle works wonders for this.) This way he learns that wood things are off-limits, and because he’s crated when you’re gone he won’t learn “they’re off limits… until everyone leaves!”

Second: the anxiety. As we break the habit, we also work on the anxiety. He’s getting plenty of exercise: make sure he’s also learning down-time. He’s old enough now that he should be relaxing at night, so if he isn’t — if he paces, checks halls and doors, constantly asks to play, harasses you for attention — then he hasn’t learned how to relax. Put him on a leash with his bed nearby, and tell him he has to stay close. No wandering off. Put a couple of toys he likes within reach. We’re teaching him to stay put; eventually he’ll start getting bored, lay down, and chew on his toys. Soft, soothing pets are fine, then, but otherwise just let him be so he can figure it out. Teaching him to calm down will also help him alleviate his anxiety.

If he’s having trouble calming down after a few days, or if his anxiety is simply bad enough, consider Rescue Remedy. You can get it at Target, Whole Foods, pet stores, and a dozen other places! It’s expensive, but will last forever. A drop or two a day often helps. (Any form — for humans or dogs — is fine.)

Finally, when he is looking stressed out, don’t soothe him. You can praise him — “Good job! I’m so proud of you for staying calmer tonight!” or chide him, “Silly dog, there’s nothing wrong,” but don’t tell him, “Oh, honey, it’s okay.” When we do that our body language collapses, and what we’re really communicating is, “I can’t handle this, either!”

Phew! That’s our two-pronged attacked. Keep crating him when you leave until the anxiety is gone; it will likely take about six months. By that time, the habit should be broken, too! “

The result:
“Thanks again for all the help! He certainly doesn’t need much help calming down.. He is the laziest dog I have ever seen! That’s why we were so surprised at his anxiety problems. The crate has seriously worked wonders. I think it helps him feel safe too, so he really mellows out whenever he’s in there. Your tips were all so helpful! He totally obeys the “go in your crate” command now, and sometimes even walks on there when he sees my grabbing my purse and keys! He’s learning to love it! He’s an awesome dog, he just needed some rules. :)”
HOORAY, H and D! They’re well on their way to having an awesome dog, despite his trauma at being handed around. It looks like he’s found his forever home!

Testimonials and fun stories!

Just some snippets from emails I’ve gotten from clients…

From Doris, in regards to her lovely lady, Riley, after our sessions on recall in stressful and distracting situations:

Riley and C [Riley’s buddy] were running around off leash in a grassy area. A man was walking his dog, and turned around as soon as he saw the dogs. C and Riley started to walk over when they saw the dog, but then I called Riley over. Riley paused for a second (which scared the crap out of me), but then she ran over. C followed the dog. We found out later the dog used to be a bait dog, so she was NOT dog friendly. The owner acted very responsibly to keep C away, and C’s owner was able to grab C in the end. 

Well done, Riley! 

In other fabulous news, I just had a client cancel an appointment with her Great Dane, who was aggressive toward people. He’s done so amazingly well since our first two appointments that I’m no longer needed. I love that!


Videos of my dogs!

I found these while clearing off my youtube account. There isn’t much on there, and even less dog stuff, but I thought these were fun!

This first one is my dog, Sam. (I’ve spoken of Sam before!) He was the first human-aggressive dog I retrained, and he eventually came to live with me. Years spent in a 10×20 run had damaged his spine; when he started having a hard time walking, his owners agreed that I should take him to sunny SoCal (from Toronto). About six months later he was really struggling with walking, so the neighbor girl donated her bike and my landlord donated his welding abilities, and we got a doggie wheelchair put together!

This was filmed late summer 2006.

Here is the same dog, Sam, squeaking. Though I never told him he couldn’t bark when I brought him home, so many rules changed for him that he simply didn’t bark, trying to be on his best behavior. When he saw my sister’s little dogs give their high-pitched barks and get treats for it, he decided that was the thing to do! The picture quality here is very poor, but you’ll get the idea of the sound. Hilarious!

And finally, this is Cash at about a year old, playing in the same yard that I played in as a kid! My parents were petsitting for me while I was at a movie, I believe (from listening to the narration). That’s mostly my dad and younger sister talking. I can’t decide if it’s funnier to watch Cash, or funnier that my dad videoed for almost 5 minutes!

Dogs Helping Dogs

For the last month I’ve been boarding a puppy named Daisy. Now, Daisy has all sorts of issues arising from congenital aggression (i.e., a problem in her brain makes her aggressive). One of the many issues facing Daisy is the ability to deal with other dogs in a mannerly fashion. 

Now, she really likes dogs. I mean, she really likes dogs! But if they start to play too rough, it can overwhelm her and trigger her aggression. When she started boarding with me, my dogs, Cash and Lily, would play with her. Over the first few days they would play too rough (Cash, a 107-pound king shepherd, Lily, a 65-pound pit bull, and Daisy, a 20-pound welsh terrier), and Daisy would panic and try to make them back off. When they backed off, she would continue to attack. (That’s when I would step in, usually with a squirt bottle!)

Cash and Lily worked with Daisy patiently, rarely losing their cool. Now, I noticed that she was getting much better with them. She’d learned that when she played too rough, they’d yelp and if she didn’t back off, the other would cut in and shoulder her away until she backed down. (Cash and Lily quite often work as a team this way. It fascinates me to watch!) Soon, she’d learned that if they yelped or tried to bully her away, she needed to back off. Getting pushier wouldn’t work; they wouldn’t stop until she settled down, but they’d remain calm and keep from triggering her aggression. 

The next thing she learned was that if she got hurt or scared, she should yelp, and they’d back off. Once she’d learned this, her aggression lessened greatly. She’d never attacked my dogs with intent to hurt, but certainly with intent to scare: a small but significant difference in the dog world!

For three weeks, she got on quite well with my dogs. I was always there to step in (if I can’t see them, I’m listening for them) so that if someone yelped, I went out quickly to see what was going on. Nine times out of ten they’d already solved the problem, and were milling around sniffing each other carefully. The tenth time a sharp hist noise settled them down quickly. 

Well, one of the things we’ve been working toward is getting Daisy into Doggieville, a fantastic doggie daycare (among other things) center in Mountain View. My thought is that if other dogs can help Daisy remember she’s a dog, and wear her out at the same time, her mother’s job will be MUCH easier! It’ll also give her mom a nice break from running home to check on Daisy, who can’t be left for more than 5 hours at a time (yet).

Today (or rather, as of this writing on Jan 27th!) was Daisy’s evaluation, and let me tell you, I was biting my nails! She’s been doing fantastic with my dogs, but my dogs are supremely well behaved and there are only two of them. I didn’t know how she’d do with A) a bunch of dogs and B) dogs that aren’t so well mannered. Anna and Chris (head trainer and owner, respectively) brought in one dog at a time to see how Daisy would do, slowly increasing the number and type of dogs in the room.

My biggest concern was that Daisy wouldn’t do well with a dog that was in her face or chasing her around, and we figured that out right away! One of the dogs they brought in was determined to let Daisy know who was boss, and barked and chased and barked and chased. Daisy handled it like a trooper, though, using everything Cash and Lily had taught her; she retreated, played elsewhere, retreated, played elsewhere, and finally hid behind Anna’s legs when it was too much.

I was also quite proud because at that point I leaned down, touched her lightly and said, “Just settle, sweetie.” She did, which I knew she would, and the other dog went trotting away. Daisy followed a moment later. Chris commented, “Wow, her off switch is really good!” I gave a big grin, because we’ve been working on that quite a lot! One of the things about a dog who doesn’t turn themselves off is that it’s more important for them to listen to us when we ask them to focus and calm down, so we can help them when they’re not sure what to do. Daisy did that excellently!

Daisy’s now been enrolled in Doggieville, having gotten along with all the dogs and handled all the stress with the grace and playfulness Cash and Lily have taught her. Thank you, Cash and Lily!

More pictures!

I keep meaning to somehow put these on my webpage, but that hasn’t happened yet. Alas! Still, here are more adorable pictures!

Here we have Max and Ruby, two rescues, with their stocking from this year! Max and Ruby are very proud to be able to walk down the street, ignoring most dogs they meet. Even better, they’re fantastic at answering the door without barking, and they’ve stopped waking their mom and dad up in the wee hours of the morning. Yay! But MOST importantly… they’re really darn cute!









Here we have Layla, a boxer mix who suffers from biological aggression. Biological aggression can never be “cured,” but sometimes it can be managed. We’re still working on Layla’s food possessiveness, though it’s much better than it was! She’s also much improved in listening to her owners and not attacking dogs in the middle of play — two very important items that we’re glad to have managed!





Ahhhh, it’s a dog’s life! This is Bella, a goldendoodle puppy. One of my favorite things is seeing her and her owner — who is almost as small as Bella herself — walk down the street. What a pair they make!





And finally we have Donzi, Cash, me, Lily and Bella, all but my dogs from different families, but getting along spectacularly. It’s nice to have good dogs!


Dogs and Children

I’m going to give you two scenarios:

Scenario 1:

Matrix is a ten-year-old shepherd cross. She lives with 2 children, ages 4 and 2. Matrix doesn’t much like the children: she growls if they get too close, and has even snapped at them for playing near her. Whenever her owners leave the room, they call her with them because she can’t be trusted.

Scenario 2:

Max is a four-year-old terrier cross. He lives with one child, age 2. He loves children, and his child loves him. They play together and adore each other. Max can be trusted with children, and has never shown any aggression toward them, no matter what’s going on.

Which of these scenarios is better?

Matrix’s parents realized they had a problem, and they called me. We taught Matrix to leave when the children walked up to her. Her owners still call her with them when they leave the room, in case a child trips and falls on her, and when friends come over to play she takes a rest in her own room, protected from the children, with her toys and her bed.

Since Max didn’t have any problem with kids, there was no reason to call a trainer. (I do know Max, as he was in training for leash manners, and I saw him around his boy. There was no doubt they loved each other.) When Max’s boy tried to give him a hug one day, Max was trapped, unable to escape, and nearly crushed by a child much larger than he was. In a panic and hurting, he snapped to get away. The boy went to the emergency room, and Max was put down.

Small dogs and dogs in pain are at great risk from children. My dog, Cash, is 110 pounds and loves kids. That said, if one of them lays on him, he’s too big (and too fit and young) to be hurt by it, and he’s big enough to get away. Most dogs don’t have that ability; most dogs are either too small or too old to escape like that. If your child is too young to understand that they need to be gentle and never hang onto a dog that’s trying to leave, then they’re probably too young to be left alone with the dog. What will your dog do when it’s trapped and hurting? Grab your dog’s leg when they’re walking and refuse to let go, or grab them around the neck and lay on them. Whatever they do, imagine if they did that while your child’s face was next to theirs, because your child was giving them a hug.

Most dogs that bite are already aggressive. Once pushed to that point, they’ll bite more easily the next time because they learn that it works. This bit of truth is wrong, though, when small children are involved. A trapped, hurting dog will bite even if they’re not aggressive. Calling your dog out of the room with you takes two extra seconds, and ensures that your child won’t hurt your dog — and can, therefore, save your dog’s life.

I would like to say this doesn’t happen often, but this winter alone I know of two dogs — friendly, sweet, child-loving dogs — who were put down after biting children who hurt them, trying to hug them. Is a hug worth your dog’s life? Please, teach your children to be gentle. Teach them to let go when the dog leaves. And until they’re old enough to remember to do so reliably, call your dog with you when you leave the room. It could mean the world to your family.