Alex is a young man who likes to take his five-year-old Airedale, Jesse, to the pub with him. It sounds perfect, doesn’t it. However, he has a big problem. Jessie doesn’t like people to enter her space, bend over her and touch her, and in a pub atmosphere this is sometimes hard to prevent!
The other day she bit a man she knows well. He was standing at the bar beside her owner and she was between them. All he did was casually drop his hand onto her head and suddenly her teeth were in him. As he withdrew, she bit again – as though to make sure he really was going away.
Jesse has always been uneasy about being approached, never willingly coming over for attention unless under her own terms when she wants something and the only way the man can show her affection is if he goes over to where she is lying – and then she may growl at him. The biting of people really started a while ago when someone ignored all her signals and repeatedly kept coming back to touch her. You can understand why – she looks like a big teddy bear! Eventually she was so provoked that she went for him. Unfortunately he had learning difficulties and should have been protected – as should Jesse, but telling people to back off can seem unfriendly and rude in the best of circumstances. From that time she has been a lot more unpredictable. Unheeded warnings have proved pointless, so she goes straight into the bite.
If it weren’t sad, how she treats her male owner would be quite comical. She sits with her back to him and I can only call it disdain. She ignores him. To quote him – she’s ‘indifferent’. The only times she does willingly communicate with him are to get him to jump to her tune.
Making all the decisions is no better for a dog living in a human environment than it is for a child.
I saw Jesse come to life towards the end of my visit when I called her over (she came promptly instead of the usual repeated calls followed by causal sauntering up sniffing things on the way!), and asked her to do a few things for me, quietly and just the once. She became focussed and looked very happy. I see with many dogs I visit how they love to work for someone when they understand exactly what it is they should be doing and when they find it rewarding. This is the sort of relationship the man needs with his dog. It’s easy for me because I have no past history and can start with a dog the way I mean to go on.
My expectation is for Jesse to cooperate, the owner’s expectation is to be ignored. The respective tones of voice and attitudes are self-fulfilling.
As her ‘guardian/leader’ it’s up to the owner to protect his dog from unwanted attention – and as politely as possible to be forceful. This is something I now find a lot easier than I did at his age! I am sure that when Jesse feels less defensive when people are nearby, less important and more relaxed, she will become much more tolerant of the occasional mistaken hand placed on top of her head, even if never really enjoying it.