gretta ford dog behaviour advice

We’re extremely excited to be running a guest blog this week with Gretta Ford, Founder of The Pitter Patter of Tiny Paws.

As a Clinical Animal Behaviourist, Gretta offers her clients personalised, bespoke advice and tailored training solutions for everything from handling the early days and successful training, to steering you back on course when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Her aim is to help owners feel confident, empowered and able to positively progress.

When asked if she would would answer some burning behaviour questions from our customers, Gretta was only too happy to help! Here are Gretta’s top tips and advice for everything you wanted to know…

MY DOG IS FOUR YEARS OLD AND HAS ALWAYS LOVED CHASING THINGS – CARS, BIKES, RUNNERS – EVEN TRAINS! WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO TRAIN A DOG NOT TO CHASE OBJECTS?

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A lot of dogs love to chase moving objects and there can be different motivations for this behaviour. For example, some dogs might be fearful of the stimulus and chase it to get it to move away (even if it was going to go anyway!) whereas others may have a genetic predisposition to want to herd or control the movement of things (especially certain breeds who have been selected for this over many generations).

Ideally, you should work with a qualified professional to work out what the issue is your case as then the approach can be tailored to your individual dog and their needs. However, there are a couple of things that you can do yourself as well. Firstly, you need to prevent further rehearsal of the behaviour, as every time it is being repeated it is potentially strengthened by the fact that it ‘works’ in some way for your dog (whether that is seeing off a perceived threat or getting a ‘buzz’ from the chasing itself).

You could potentially prevent your dog from practising this problem behaviour by walking them in places where there is less opportunity to do it, keeping them on a lead, keeping your distance from anything that they might want to chase and keeping them occupied with you by doing something else with them, such as playing tug or practising some fun tricks.

Secondly, chasing behaviour can potentially be inadvertently encouraged by doing a lot of ball/ frisbee play so it may be worth reducing that if that’s something you do. Instead, encourage your dog to use their nose to hunt out hidden treats (or even their ball which you have hidden – not thrown – if they’re ball obsessed) in the grass or investigate the environment, rather than constantly looking for something to chase.

What’s the best way to deal with separation anxiety? We’ve tried leaving regularly for short periods and he’s happy to go out to playschool but doesn’t like it when I go out, even if someone else is home.

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You’re not alone! It is estimated that over 20% of dogs struggle to be left alone and, given that they are a social species, this is not surprising.

Again, getting support from an ABTC Registered Clinical Animal Behaviourist would be best, as it is helpful to determine exactly what is going on for your dog at an individual level, so that you can get the best advice for your case as there can be multiple factors at play.

If your dog has been unhappy each time that they are left alone then repeating this (even for short periods) is likely to make the situation worse, rather than better. Instead, you need to do your very best to not leave your dog in the situation that they feel unsafe in and tackle it at their pace.

This is a challenge! You may need to find some friends/ family or neighbours that can stay with your dog while you go out for short periods for now. It’s good that your dog is happy to go out to playschool – you may need to make more use of this while you work on the issue in the longer term. You will then need to gradually teach your dog that they’re safe when left alone and that you will be coming back – this is rarely a quick fix.

There are some good resources here, which you might find helpful: www.subthresholdtraining.com. In terms of your dog struggling even when someone else is with them, I would work on encouraging them to build positive relationships with other people who stay with them so that they become a more trusted figure who your dog can rely on to help them to feel safe.

Having them play with your dog, do scentwork together and engaging them in fun, positive, reward-based training are all really good ways to do this.

My 7 year old border terrier used to be very unpredictable around other dogs, barking aggressively at most of them.  He seems to be calming down as he gets older, as he now only barks aggressively at some dogs. Obviously, I’d rather he didn’t do it at all. Is there anything I can do to prevent it?

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I’m sorry to hear that your dog is struggling with this (I know how stressful this is for everyone involved!) but it’s good that the issue has improved over time.

The first thing you should do is to ask your vet for a thorough examination (and possibly also a blood test) to rule out any medical issues that might be impacting on his behaviour, as pain and other clinical issues often play a part in this sort of problem. Changing this behaviour will likely take time and need support from a specialist but there are some things you can do to prevent the behaviour as much as possible.

Firstly, I would try to ensure that your walks are in quiet places where he is unlikely to come across other dogs (or where he can be kept at a comfortable distance from them), in order to stop him feeling the need to bark at other dogs. You can also buy a hi-vis jacket to put on him, asking other dog owners to keep their dogs away if he doesn’t like other dogs rushing over to introduce themselves.

Alongside this, it would be helpful to see if you can spot any patterns to his behaviour. For example, does he react more negatively to other male dogs? Entire or castrated? Is he more likely to react badly to certain types of dogs (either their appearance or their behaviour)? And so on… Knowing more about the patterns and triggers can be useful in understanding how best to help him.

One of the most important things you can do is to make sure that you don’t use any punishment-based methods (to try to show him that he’s doing something that you don’t like) as, although it can seem like a sensible approach from a human perspective, it can make matters worse and doesn’t do anything to address the underlying issue.

A Clinical Animal Behaviourist will be able to help you determine your dog’s emotional state associated with the behaviour and therefore offer an approach suited to him. In the meantime, you might want to have a look at the following book: ‘Inspiring Resilience in Fearful and Reactive Dogs’ by Sally Gutteridge and the site Brilliant Family Dog

My dog barks at my father in law. He is nice to her (but frightened her once when she was a puppy). Any tips?

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It’s not uncommon for dogs to remain fearful of things (or people!) with which they have had negative experiences as a puppy. Staying safe is a powerful need for any animal and strong associations can be made with anything which causes your dog to feel scared, especially if it occurred at specific periods in their development. My two top tips for you would be:

Firstly, ensure that your dog always has a choice about interacting with your father in law – don’t allow him to approach her, pick her up etc. and don’t be tempted to get him (or you) to lure your dog over to him with food (this usually goes wrong!). Instead, he should be casual about being around your dog and leave her alone unless she specifically chooses to interact with him. If she chooses to approach him, allow her to have a sniff and investigate without him (or anyone else) trying to get involved with this – she may just be gathering scent information, rather than wanting him to engage with her at this stage. If she actually seems to want him to interact with her then he could do consent testing to make sure that he is listening to her and giving her a choice to move away/ not be touched if she wants it to stop at any time. I’d also suggest taking a look at this video for further support.

Secondly, try to make nice associations with your father in law. Some suggestions for this include: scattering tasty treats on the floor when he is in the room (not too close to him – you’re not trying to lure her over there, remember!) and seeing if she will play with him in a game which doesn’t involve getting close eg. catching treats that are thrown for her or having your father in law throw a treat beyond your dog every time she looks at him – so that she gets to move away to get the treat and then come back towards him a bit to see if he has any more!

Over time, if you follow the advice above, she is likely to start to feel safer in his company and, therefore, not feel the need to bark at him. If she doesn’t improve or you feel that she poses any risk to anyone, you should consult your vet and a Clinical Animal Behaviourist for more specific advice.