Aggression towards other dogs when out on walks might be the problem but the causes probably have tentacles in other areas of her life.
Reactivity is always as a result of some sort of stress – fear being the most likely. Stress isn’t a thing that is there one minute and gone the next. The surprise or shock may be sudden, but the effects linger. We know with ourselves that once things start to go wrong nothing seems to go right. We get into a progressively touchy mood. Stress builds up.
The other day Indie had negotiated cows in a field which seriously spooked her before breaking her collar to get to a dog she encountered immediately afterwards.
The lovely four-year-old Wheaten Terrier greeted me politely, had an interested sniff to find out all about my own dogs and then went and lay down.
It can be hard to reconcile the dog one sees in the house to that dog that goes bonkers on the end of a lead at the sight of another dog. Indie ‘changes personality’.
Six months ago Indie changed
Indie has always occasionally been a bit prickly with dogs she doesn’t know, but about six months ago this took a turn for the worse. To quote the lady, ‘I want the old Indie back’. They used to be able to enjoy socialising in their local pub with other people and their dogs, but now Indie’s behaviour is embarrassing and people are taking their dogs back to their cars. What a shame.
Indie’s increasing aggression towards other dogs is stopping their enjoyment in life.
These things, once started, snowball as the dog rehearses the reactive behaviour – unless and until thrown into reverse with a different approach to what the dog’s humans are currently doing and which isn’t working.
There were a couple of factors in Indie’s life about six months ago which may be relevant. One is her starting some ongoing medication which may have side effects for her. Indie has been checked by the vet who has now changed her onto a different drug.
Analysing impact of home life
We began by looking at the areas of her life where seemingly minor stressors could be building up and how the couple can help her out. For instance, she barks and cries when she hears the frequent church bells near their house (we already made headway with this while I was there). She attacks the vacuum cleaner. She hates metallic noises. We looked at ways not only of avoiding or dealing with stress, but also of helping her to de-stress and calm herself.
Another area that has a bearing on a dog’s behaviour when out is her relationship with her humans at home. Their being able to get and to hold the dog’s attention when out and in the presence of other dogs is vital. If the dog receives all the attention she requires upon demand, ignores requests to come to them when she doesn’t feel like it, is she likely to give them her attention in distracting situations when out?
Also relevant is the dog being able to trust them to look after her. They need to be there for her where any perceived danger is concerned and this starts at home too.
The lady used to do a lot of fun training with Indie but that has gradually stopped over the past couple of years. I suggest she starts again as this is good relationship building stuff. Indie’s not a dog interested in cuddles (though I was honoured with an ear snog when I knelt down to say goodbye to her!), so action is better.
Aggression towards other dogs
On walks Indie is friends with dogs she already knows. As soon as the lady spots a friendly dog she excitedly tells Indie ‘Look, there’s so-and-so’! However, when an unknown dog approaches, she tenses up and says nothing. We have so much more influence over the behaviour of our dogs than we can see, being unable to look at our own actions and reactions objectively.
Finally and as I always bang on about, a dog that on walks feels comfortable and not too restricted by using the right kind of harness and a longish lead (rather than collar or head halter with a short lead or, even worse, retractable lead), that walks nicely on a loose lead, is going to be in a much more relaxed state of mind and less likely to show aggression towards other dogs.
Rome can’t be re-built in a day and this will be a slow process, but I’m sure in the end if they persist they will have their old dog back and be enjoying taking Indie to their local pub again.