Limo’s bucket list: Why is my dog behaving that way?

Blog post by dog behaviourist Laure-Anne Visele, The Hague: on the many factors that lead to ‘misbehaviour’ in dogs.
Written in: August 2018.

Privacy: Details and photos shared with explicit permission from the owners. Important details where changed so the owners could not be recognized.
Illustration credits: all photos are my own. All rights reserved

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague


Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Visele

My name is Laure-Anne and I am the dog behaviour therapist at Canis bonus, and Head Trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school) in The Hague.

I help people from The Hague, Rijswijk, Delft, Westland and region with their dog behaviour.

I have a degree in Zoology, am a certified dog training instructor, and have a Postgraduate in applied animal behaviour (Magna cum laude).

If you want dog-friendly and evidence-based tips, drop me a line briefly explaining the problem and I’ll tell you if I think I can help.

Why does my dog behave like that?

Meet Limo, a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen. I saw him in consult the other day.

Why did they ask for help?

1. Limo goes beserk when he as much as smells another dog outside. Sometimes, he oddly doesn’t seem to see them coming and only reacts (hysterically) when they are right next to him.
2. He has bitten his owners and guests several times when touched whilst on the couch. They think it’s territorial aggression, but he’s perfectly happy letting them approach when he rests there, provided he is facing them and awake.
3. He is friends with the mother-in-law’s dog, who frequently visits, at all times except when his owners approach the guest dog. He then blocks his passage and drives him to the garden.
4. He is nervous, flighty and can get aggressive in the presence of children

The owners suspected territorial aggression for the couch/chair stuff, and jealousy when it came to the other dog and kids.

But I wanted to dig deeper, so we had a detailed conversation. Without digging deeper into what is causing, exacerbating and maintaining the behaviour, I might as well let the dog eat whatever homework I prescribe.

The dog behaviour bucket

It turned out that, as usual, the problems were multi-factorial: many things had contributed.

I like to explain multi-factoriality to my clients by drawing an overflowing bucket, each incoming drop representing one factor. This was LIMO’s bucket:

This was Limo’s “bucket list”:

1. A history of being pushed and shoved off the couch
2. Suspected sensory problems (hearing)
3. Possessive aggression (with owners as resource)
4. A traumatic first encounter with another non-related dog aged 14 weeks
5. No systematic socialisation to other dogs or to children
6. A fearful temperament (already as a young pup)
7. A Type-A coping style with stressful events (act first, assume the worst)
8. Stress signals being ignored
9. Reaching social maturity
10. Suspected hearing problems. We are having the vet check this.
11. Fear as the underlying emotional motivation for biting on the couch and other dogs.
12. Jealousy (exacerbated to possessive aggression level) for keeping dog #2 away

A custom-made dog behaviour program

I was able to draft a behaviour plan that drew on Limo’s bucket list.

We’ll be doing a BAT derivative, focusing on his problem with dogs at first, and gradually expanding to his other triggers, including kids.

In terms of Behavioural First Aid (survival advice I give when I walk out the door, to tide them over until my next visit), I left them with these recommendations:
1. Avoid negative exposures to the triggers for now, with the logistical forethought and planning to go with this
2. Good ole cognitive feeding
3. Reward and honour his stress signals.

As for his mother-in-law’s dog, not all dogs can be expected to welcome other dogs with open paws, and I advised they seek an alternative solution next time mother-in-law comes to town.

As usual, let’s see what a few weeks of this will do, and then re-group.

Resources on the etiology of dog behaviour problems

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