Today I visited an English Bull Terrier-Staffie mix, a surprisingly small and very attractive little dog. Ivor was found as a stray about eighteen months ago at one year of age, and he now has a lovely home. Indoors, apart from being somewhat over-excited and jumping up when people come to the house, he is absolutely fine. Out on walks it’s like he doesn’t know how to behave towards other dogs. He came with scars and it’s probable his experiences of other dogs during the important formative weeks of his life were intimidating.
Because of the excessive pulling, screaming, flipping over and freaking out when they encounter other dogs, they have tried all sorts of gadgets of ‘force’ I would call them, contraptions to make Ivor unable to lunge. These include a prong collar (disapproved of and unavailable in this country), and various types of lead including an elasticated slip lead and ‘no-pull’ harness.
There are at least three dogs that Ivor is OK with, so things are probably not as bad as they seem. Just imagine how he feels when he’s out. Before the walk starts he’s wildly excited – probably not pure joy but apprehension as well, as we might feel before a bunjee jump! He charges out, pulling his strong young male owner who uses his strength to correct and control him. Ivor must be very uncomfortable indeed as he pulls on the short lead – especially if on the prong collar. He will resist the pain and become even more frantic, some of which will understandably be an automatic response to pull away from the discomfort. The lead is constantly being jerked back and he’s scolded. What a tense situation. Then, trapped on lead to a person who is getting frustrated, he sees a dog. He’s in no state of mind react appropriately, is he.
Don’t get me wrong, this little dog is dearly loved and everything else they do is kind and gentle, but the behaviour of their dog on walks, especially with pulling and ‘aggression’ towards other dogs, can drive people to despair as they try everything they can to find a solution. A dog that’s not had the right start in life needs special understanding which most people simply aren’t equipped for. He needs to be taught how to approach other dogs appropriately.
I have found over and over again that for people who are prepared to start from scratch and put in the time and effort, the walk can be transformed. Ivor needs to learn to be tuned in to the person walking him. To achieve this, the humans need to work at becoming relevant and rewarding to be with – and to be trusted to make the right decision around other dogs.
It is a step by step process, which only falls apart if people won’t spend sufficient time on each level before attempting the next, resulting in the chaos of meeting another dog too soon and unprepared. There is simply no quick fix unless it is, basically, an instrument of torture and mostly these only work short term and make things far worse in the long term. Applying certain TV programme techniques can be dangerous.
‘Socialising’ is something that can’t be done with a reactive dog. You can’t force socialising onto a dog. The first step is for the dog to simply accept other dogs nearby without reacting – then build from there in a controlled fashion.