Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Foxy Gryffin update

You may remember that we were doing some desensitisation work with this gorgeous little man a few months ago.

Gryffin needed his world expanded at a very slow pace. Gryffin reacted to so many things, especially new noises including household appliances. When stressed, he would also jump onto sofas, tables - any surface he could!

He has already learned that jumping up on surfaces or worktops is not really worth the effort and will  happily away if he is tempted!

Gryffin is now able to cope with various household appliances running if he has had sufficient mental stimulation/enrichment beforehand. The main focus now is getting him used to the sound and unpredictability of television!

Our session last time began something like this:

When the "scary monster" comes on (TV): a prepared licki mat with pate appears like magic!
After a number of repetitions, the TV coming on predicts the appearance of the licki mat.

We discovered during that session that it was the moving images as well as the sounds that triggered a reaction.

When I arrived today, he came to greet me but happily wandered off back to his enrichment toys without becoming over excited. What a star.



This session we ditched the licki mat and his lovely rescue lady set up the room with lots of enrichment prior to my arrival.
Gryffin wears a light trailing lead - just in case something triggers his arousal levels, giving us an option to use to prevent him practising any unwanted behaviour. We try to set dogs up for success and we didn't need it!

We began with the television on a very low volume. He noticed and looked at the screen – and received a treat and praise from me.

Scary monster = something wonderful


We did this several times and he returned to his “work” of finding the treats in the enrichment toys. Over the session, we gradually increased the volume. Gryffin continued to work his way through the toys, occasionally looking at the screen but quickly returning to his “work”.

At one point, Gryffin chose to self-calm and returned to his blanket to chomp on his ostrich bone. This is something he does to help him calm down. We turned the television off and waited until he was ready to engage with the toys again.





Gryffin made huge progress today. It is so tempting to try to rush things, especially if they are going well but this can lead to flooding and undo all the previous training.


The television was turned back on and we began to slowly, in small increments, turn up the volume, as he engaged with the toys. He looked at the screen several times and then returned to searching.

At one point, I took him outside to the garden and his lovely rescue lady turned the volume up for when we came back in. Gryffin was a star – no reaction – he quickly engaged with the searching again.


He is making so much progress and is lovely to work with.

Gryffin is sadly in kennels and needs a calm, quiet home with someone who will help this young lad adjust to life in a loving home. 

The desensitisation work will continue, and support will be given to his fosters/adopters to continue to help him reach his potential. 

Gryffin is with Terrier SOS. You can read more about Gryffin and the work that this wonderful rescue do with their dogs here Terrier SOS

Saturday, 28 December 2019

Willy washing and other bits.....


Be honest, the title drew you in.....!

Jack was very bonded with our first boy Rocky and then Tia when Rocky passed away. After Tia, Jack and Spudsy bonded quite closely.

Bringing a new dog into the house with two closely bonded dogs is always going to be potentially risky if it is not managed. 
We have to take things slowly and go at their pace, not ours.

To complicate things further, Freya had never lived inside a house before so that caused her anxiety. Jack is nervous of unknown dogs - more anxiety. Freya is very full on with other dogs which Jack would have been worried by. Put those together and if not carefully managed we would have had a disaster on our hands.


One of the reasons we talk about taking things slowly when introducing dogs is to avoid any negative situations. We must go at their pace, let them choose their interactions and help them feel confident and secure.

Nine months on and we are beginning to see moments of play. 
It starts with Jack rolling over and exposing his belly. Freya takes the time to sniff and clean him, from his willy to his ears....!



Then we see the beginning of play. It could get easily become out of hand so we interrupt it frequently to avoid it slipping into over arousal. We also need to take into consideration that Spud is in the middle of it and is quite a senior dog. She could easily get injured and possibly even snap at them.



You can see in both videos, lots of lip licking, ears back and shake offs, all indicating a bit of stress.

We have to put aside our agenda, our timetable and our expectations and let them go at their pace. 

The wait is totally worth it!!



Thursday, 19 December 2019

The importance of feeling safe


As many of you who visit the page will know, we adopted Freya back in March this year. 
When she arrived, we took it slowly, really really slowly. Taking time to integrate, time to slowly introduce her to new things, time to build the relationship and for her to learn she can trust us and the other dogs.
We didn't have any visitors to the home for months, until she had truly settled. Her safe space was the conservatory.


Freya is like any other dog now inside the house. She visits us in the bathroom (!), jumps up on the bed, snoozes on the rug, picks up toys and interacts with them, interacts with the other two dogs, instigates play with them and basically sleeps wherever she feels comfortable. 


She is now comfortable and confident enough to tackle harder enrichment toys too (when she has the patience)!



Outside of the house is a different matter. She is still quite nervous although will happily jump in the car. She doesn't really enjoy going for long walks (unless with another dog) and would happily stay home. As soon as we turn for home, she pulls - hard!  She is outside her safe place.

So, when we walk, we might only go 10 steps or we might go 200 steps - it is her choice, every single time. When she indicates she wants to return home, that is exactly what we do and each walk is getting a little longer as her confidence grows and because she chooses to walk for longer.

We should never underestimate the importance of  feeling safe for our dogs.  

With the holiday period fast approaching, it is worth thinking and planning for your dog as well as visitors, meals, presents etc. Our dogs routines may be changed or interrupted and there may be an increase in noise and activity.

Does your dog enjoy lots of visitors or does he prefer his own space? - set up a quiet comfortable safe area that your dog can go to if he chooses, away from noise and busyness. Provide him with a stuffed Kong, safe chew toys, snuffle mat or other enrichment toy.

Will your dog try to get in on the action and join in "opening" presents? - set him up for success with a licki mat, safe chew toys or stuffed Kong to keep him occupied.

Does your dog jump up on people when they come in? - use a stair gate and give your dog something wonderful to do while you safely bring people into your home and get them seated.

Does your dog try to dash out the front door whenever it is open? - use a stair gate to manage him while visitors enter.

Is your dog a food hoover? - remember to keep him occupied safely away from any forbidden food. A great deal of food (and alcohol) is poisonous to dogs so use a stair gate to separate him from temptation and provide him with wonderful things to do.

A little extra preparation and some additional mental stimulation prior to visitors arriving will help your dog and you enjoy the festive season and help your dog feel safe!

Have a good one!








Friday, 6 December 2019

Problem behaviour?


I recently posted up these images on my own personal Facebook page. The bed was chewed by one of my own senior dogs. Comments that followed were all humorous and in keeping with what I intended. The behaviour was not a problem to me. It is very typical of the way she plays - pouncing, digging, ripping, shredding and deading!


My little senior is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross. We have no idea what she is crossed with (and frankly don't care - we love her for who she is). 
She has some typical terrier traits.

Terriers, whether they be Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Jack Russell Terrier or any other kind of terrier often enjoy:
  • digging - she digs her bed, our bed and covers on the sofa
  • barking - yep, she enjoys barking for sure
  • pouncing, ripping and shredding style play - she has always loved pouncing on toys and ripping them to shreds

It occurred to me that we often talk about problem behaviours in dogs and these form the bulk of my work as a behaviourist. This shredding and deading of a dog bed could be identified as a problem behaviour and often is!
But who is the behaviour a problem for?  It certainly wasn't a problem for her - it is part of her natural behaviour repertoire. She thoroughly enjoyed pulling out the stuffing and slept soundly afterwards!

It might well be a problem behaviour for an owner though - dog beds aren't cheap! 
So what can we do? 

Dogs have various natural behaviours and preventing them from displaying these goes directly against welfare. Does that mean I should let her rip up all the dog beds? Not at all. Instead we must look for alternative ways to direct these natural behaviours.
  • A dog that digs up flower beds - could have a sandpit or a specific area where he is allowed to dig
  • A dog that enjoys ripping up toys - could have a cardboard box to be shredded or a selection of safe stuffed toys purchased from a charity shop
  • A dog that scavenges and raids the bin - could have his dinner scattered, hidden around the garden or given in interactive food toys

It is our responsibility as their owners to understand their needs and their natural behaviours and provide opportunities that are acceptable to us, while meeting those needs.

This is one of the reasons I always talk about enrichment opportunities and using scent games.

In respect of my little one ripping up the bed - well that was my own fault. I knew there was a tiny hole in it and hadn't sewn up the hole. Consequently she spotted a tiny bit of white fluff sticking out and so she did what comes naturally to her - shredded and deaded it!

Saturday, 12 October 2019

Update on Freya

It is now 7 months since Freya came to live with us and she continues to surprise us with how well she is doing. I can happily say she is fully integrated.


She had a laparoscopic spay at my fabulous vets just over a week ago. Considering how nervous she can be meeting new people and having only met Katharine once (my fab vet), she happily walked off with her ready for her operation. I am so lucky that my vets take time using fear free methods and truly understand nervous and anxious dogs.

My vets don't often use the inflatable or old style elizabethan collars, instead they use body suits. What a difference this has made to her confidence.

Just home from her operation

The body suit has worked in the same way thunder shirts work for some dogs. I've always been a little sceptical about these and hesitate to suggest these to clients due to the cost and the lack of studies to prove their efficacy. Well, it is safe to say, my view has now changed!


Freya sleeps in the bedroom, on her bed at the side of our bed - another huge step for her and regularly wanders around the house investigating!

We have discovered she has a toilet roll fetish too - she likes to remove them from the toilet roll holder and drop them, intact, along the hall! Hilarious.

All three dogs greet me together when I come home and all of them congregate at the door waiting for their walk!
She is learning about toys and often lies watching the staffies playing with a very inquisitive look on her face.


I cannot stress how important it is to take things slowly when integrating dogs. It is much better to go slowly and celebrate small successes than rush things and end up with a problem between dogs.

Freya's favourite toy


Monday, 23 September 2019

Gryffin update: 23/9/19

Gryffin has been learning how wonderful it feels to be calm. His lovely rescue person is slowly expanding his world in a carefully controlled way to avoid flooding him with stimuli. He is also learning impulse control, how to self-calm, and is slowly being desensitised to household noises and situations that would have provoked over arousal. 

Like many young dogs, Gryffin may sometimes try to jump up or even on things such as cupboards, people and window ledges. His rescue lady has been working on this and he now responds to his name being called in a happy positive way and leaves what he was about to do for a reward. It is essential not to punish or shout at dogs when they do things we don't want them to. 

In the past Gryffin had been quite stressed by household noises but he is now able to cope with various household appliances running if he has had sufficient mental stimulation/enrichment beforehand.

Gryffin could cope with the sound of a television but not with the moving images. In the image below, Gryffin chose to go to the bed and chew on his toy when the TV was turned on. 


The moving images (including a dog) provoked a fear response and Gryffin tried barking at it to see if he could make the scary monster go away.  Therefore, a little desensitisation and counter conditioning is needed around moving images on the TV. In other words:

When the "scary monster" comes on (TV): a prepared licki mat with pate appears like magic!

After a number of repetitions, the TV coming on predicts the appearance of the licki mat. After just a few repetitions today he was already looking to see if the mat was coming when the TV was turned on!

Over arousal is often mistaken for happiness but it can actually feel rather stressful. Whenever Gryffin's arousal levels increased, afterwards he gave a number of full body shakes.

People often say "I wish my dog could talk and tell me how he feels."

Dogs DO talk - with their body language. Have a look at the two images below. The first one was taken during desensitisation and counter conditioning with the TV on. Look how high his tail is and how alert his ears are. 
Now compare them to the image below. This one was taken a little later, after the desensitisation work had ended. Can you spot the difference?

Gryffin is waiting for his forever home with Terrier SOS. If you would be interested in adopting him, please contact the rescue - Terrier SOS website


Sunday, 8 September 2019

Coco the wonder dog aka The Ginger Ninja

Met up with this stunner again today to progress his loose lead walking. What a star. He did so well especially with a kamikaze squirrel running around in one of the trees.

I'm already using less treats this week but reinforcing his behaviour with praise now. It is so important to avoid bombarding our dogs with cues - let them choose to follow us and reinforce this when they do. We need to make sure we are relaxed and calm too - dogs pick up how we are feeling and if we are impatient or stressed - it will affect their behaviour and responses.

After a few repetitions in the familiar area we moved on to the car park. A difficult task for Coco as he thought he was going off in one of the cars.

Next, out onto the street. Although Coco is choosing to follow me and to interact, he is not sniffing or interacting with his environment. He is still on alert for any possible "threats" (or squirrels)! Calm, relaxed sniffing will come next as he starts to feel more comfortable.

It is essential to set dogs up for success and to work at their pace. Coco is coming on leaps and bounds but if we try to rush it or take him somewhere too busy, he will struggle to concentrate. First we teach the connection and then we slowly introduce more and more stimulating environments.
Remember the four C's 
  • Calm
  • Connection
  • Choices
  • Confidence




This is how we finished our session - snog and cuddle time ;)