A new puppy isn’t what Jack Russell Charlie wanted at all.
There were two older dogs in the house when he himself arrived as a puppy ten years ago. The three dogs got on fine. A couple of years ago both older dogs died and now they have a new puppy, Daisy.
Daisy is the sweetest nine-week-old Miniature Schnauzer.
The couple were determined that the two dogs should integrate from the start.
Unfortunately, Charlie wasn’t consulted.
His very obvious warnings and signs of unhappiness were ignored. Instead, he was forced to accept the puppy near to himself in his own special places, like on their bed in the morning and on the sofa.
He was scolded for growling at her.
Things reached crisis point the day before I came. The man was getting ready to take him for his morning walk. Before walks there is a kind of battle that I witnessed. Charlie barks frantically and is shouted at to make him stop (if it worked he would no longer do it).
Arousal levels will have been very high.
Daisy was at the bottom of the stairs and Charlie had to get past her. He attacked the new puppy, grabbing her by the neck.
The man smacked him.
Poor Charlie. He’s never been relaxed around dogs, he has a new puppy in his house and now the man ‘attacks’ him.
This new puppy really is very bad news for poor Charlie.
This the situation I came into:
Daisy was on on the man’s lap. Charlie was on the back of the sofa, high up where the puppy can’t yet go and as far away from her as he could get. I have no doubt he chooses to be behind the man for protection.
New puppy Daisy has free roam of the open-plan house. Charlie can’t escape her. He spends a lot of his time up on the back of the sofa now.
Three things must happen if Charlie is going to eventually relax and be happy with the puppy.
Firstly Charlie must be consulted.
He is giving out strong signals. He’s trying to tell them. From the back of the sofa he was licking his lips and his body was tense. He was deliberately looking away from Daisy.
My two photos are after he had relaxed a little and Daisy was no longer on the sofa. They were taken after we had done some work with him but he still looks unhappy.
The couple can’t understand why the little dog they love is being so difficult. I wish I had a tenner for everyone who said ‘I never had any trouble like this with my previous dogs’!
By ‘consulting’ Charlie, I mean they must watch his body language. They now know what they are looking for so will see when she is too close or doing something that worries him.
They will now help him out by moving her further away to a comfortable distance.
The second thing is that Daisy needs a pen in the large area where they sit as there is nowhere to put a gate. If she is contained then Charlie can again move around freely in his own home.
They must now change how Charlie feels about the new puppy.
Lastly and most important of all, they can change how Charlie feels about the puppy. They need to watch him carefully because in his own way he will be speaking to them.
Keeping at a distance where he’s not exhibiting fear or unease by looking away, licking lips, yawning and stiffness, they can start to make good things happen.
I helped them feed Charlie every time he glanced at Daisy before quickly looking away again. A clicker was useful to mark the exact moment because it was sometimes fleeting. He visibly relaxed a little.
With Daisy in a pen, they can reinforce much more interaction because Charlie will be more confident, eventually leading to encounters nose to nose through the bars.
He should gain confidence so long as they don’t suddenly destroy his trust again by forcing him to have her too close before he is ready. It’s so important that they take this slowly as they first have to rebuild trust already lost.
Every time that force has been used will have made Charlie feel worse.
Scolding Charlie for reacting aggressively to the new puppy does no good – the opposite in fact. The very person Charlie should trust when he’s finding things difficult suddenly seems to turn on him where he should be giving him protection. He will be associating Daisy with bad things.
It’s very confusing for a dog to be spoiled and loved one minute then unaccountably punished the next just by trying to show how he’s feeling.
He adores the man and the feeling is mutual.
So they must now work hard on getting Charlie to feel differently. They have some other things to put right, not least working on Charlie becoming calmer at certain flash points like before walks. This will never happen using shouting.
I’m sure now that they understand and have seen Charlie relax when I was with them, that they will do this sensitively and gently.
Here is a favourite video of mine graphically illustrating desensitising and counter-conditioning from Donna Hill.