Dogs have attacked Coco. Three times.
Off-lead, out of control dogs can cause so much damage. The actions of people who risk letting their own reactive dog run freely up to another dog can completely spoil the future walks of both the dog it attacked and his owners.
The young lady did everything possible to give her beautiful Shiba Inu, now eighteen months old, the perfect start in life. She chose Coco so carefully from a good breeder and socialised him brilliantly to people, other dogs, noise etc. They lived in a flat in London and took him everywhere with them, habituating him well to daily life.
She really couldn’t have done more.
Attacked three times.
In giving him the opportunity to play and get to know other dogs, like all of us she took the risk of his encountering ‘the wrong’ dogs. On three separate occasions another dog attacked Coco. It seems they were males each time.
It’s no wonder he is scared and reactive now. A dog, attacked three times, is bound to be on the defensive. He won’t feel safe.
Because Coco himself now acts with aggression towards other male dogs, they keep him on a short lead. Being so trapped will make him feel even more vulnerable. He can’t escape. He gets quite close before reacting, then lunging and barking at an approaching dog is his only option.
It’s also certain and understandable, on seeing another dog, that they themselves will tense up. This message will pass down the lead.
Being with the gentle, sweet dog in his house, I found it almost impossible to imagine him being anything other than soft and friendly.
Hiro plays with the girls.
If the approaching dog is obviously female, maybe with pink collar or coat, the young lady relaxes and lets Coco get to it. There is no aggression and they may play. How much of this is because the lady herself, on spotting pink, relaxes, whole demeanour changing?
Unfortunately we can’t change the world, or irresponsible people who don’t take sufficient precautions in restricting their own dog-aggressive dogs. Someone may simply have let their dog loose by mistake when another dog is attacked. Life happens.
We can only build up some resilience in our own dogs and work on their own mental state. Why is it some dogs are never attacked while other seem to be repeated victims? This could be an interesting area for some research.
The answer for Coco is for them to change what his walks actually are. Instead of holding him tightly on a bungee lead, designed with pulling in mind, they will get him a longer lead. Walks should be more relaxed loose-lead ‘mooches’ with as much sniffing as he wants, with no destination necessarily in mind.
Once they reach the field or park, they will give him a lot more freedom – by changing his shorter road leash for a long line.
The young man when walking Coco avoids dogs altogether. The young lady rushes past, trying to keep his attention on her.
Both these approaches manage the situation but neither helps Coco’s fear of other dogs – particularly male dogs.
An opportunity, not a potential crisis
They will now work on getting Coco to feel differently when he sees another dog. This means they need to feel more positive about seeing another dog themselves – to be upbeat and cheerful.
They should consider seeing another dog as an opportunity to help Coco, not a potential crisis.
They will immediately increase distance – sufficient to keep him happy and relaxed – whilst also encouraging him to look at the other dog. It’s not about pretending the other dog isn’t there at all. Then good things will happen. They will give Coco tasty bits of food.
As time goes by, a more relaxed Coco should get a lot closer before he shows any reaction.
In many cases he will walk past without their having to increase distance at all, just like he did before he was first attacked.
In the parks he would be a lot more confident off-lead, but this can only happen if he has spot-on recall. Meanwhile, as responsible owners, they will keep him on the long line with twenty or thirty feet of freedom.
They will call him back every time they see a dog. Then it’s their decision whether he plays or whether they increase distance and feed him to build up positive associations.
What can they do about the ever-present threat of an off-lead male dog going for Coco again? Without either walking in places with no dogs at all or where all dogs are on lead, the risk of his being attacked can’t be avoided altogether.
Whether areas should allow off-lead dogs is a hot topic at the moment. Seeing our dog run free and playing with other dogs, is wonderful. Even in places where dogs should be kept on lead – and a long line is a lead after all – our dog can still be attacked. There are always irresponsible people who ignore rules.
Here’s a good blog by Nancy Tanner: Strategies for dealing with off-leash dogs in on-leash only areas