A Complicated Situation to Unravel
The couple have two young rescue dogs. Cocker Spaniel Shadow joined Terrier Duchess under two weeks ago. Duchess herself has only been with the couple for about nine months, but it is Shadow’s so-called aggression that is concerning them.
It seems to them that Shadow is protecting the lady – something he probably did in his previous home. Whenever the man approaches the lady, Shadow growls – or attacks him. There was an occasion where Shadow had gone into full attack mode. The man felt he solved that by holding Shadow down for about twenty minutes until he finally gave in.
The gentleman feels that he must, in order to show he’s boss, be confrontational with Shadow. He sets him up deliberately. He tried sitting in front of the lady so Shadow couldn’t get to her, which made Shadow pace in panic until eventually he took himself off. These techniques seem to work on the surface as a ‘quick fix’, but I can see that Shadow is very wary of the man who, following his interpretation of a certain TV programme, with the best intentions is doing what he thinks is necessary to solve the problem.
The more I watched and listened, the more complicated a situation it became to unravel. As the evening wore on I began to feel that Shadow was actually wary of the man approaching him – not so much the lady, but he is usually in front of her or by her. Shadow was near me at one point and the gentleman experimented with walking towards me – and Shadow growled. Shadow also growled when I approached him, away from the couple, but was friendly if I called him over.
I believe any physical dominance is merely like putting a cap on a volcano. It doesn’t solve the problem, and the eruption is inevitable. What is happening here is that the dog is becoming more and more wary of the gentleman. When he growls, he’s not being a bad dog trying to be dominant, he is a scared and confused dog. He doesn’t growl when approached by the lady, and I think this is to do with her manner and body language. Possibly he is not used to men. She doesn’t walk up to Shadow, loom over him and stare him in the eye. He probably feels he’s safer near to her.
I am really happy that the man is now going to use a different technique and give the little dog time to settle in and become more confident. He needs nurturing, not dominance. At the moment they have deliberately been pushing Shadow into situations to ‘force him out of it’ and ‘show who’s boss’. I believe they need to do the very opposite. Avoid putting Shadow into stressful and scary situations that make him growl. Growling is saying ‘I’m scared, keep your distance’. The sure result of continuing as they are means that Shadow will learn that growling is ineffectual and pointless, so he will then bite straight away instead. This technique teaches aggression.
The lady needs to be more proactive if she feels the dog is growling because she is being approached. It’s her job to show him that she doesn’t need protecting, not the gentleman’s job to force Shadow to back down.
To further complicate things, the other rescue dog, Duchess, has her own issues. She is already trying to ‘sort out’ Shadow when he starts to growl. I fear if they don’t turn this around and work on giving Shadow more confidence, the relationship between the two dogs could escalate into something worse.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.