Show Cocker Ralph is generally very friendly – but not with children. He was fine as a young puppy but very likely a child had in some way scared him during a sensitive fear period.

The family doesn’t have any children so he has been unable to build any positive associations. Any socialisation came to a stop due to Covid. He’s now three years old.

Go Away. Go Away. Come No Closer.

If Ralph sees a child or any young person that is too close, he barks at them to go away. Especially if they are approaching him.

He’s been very happy around their other horses until they introduced a new horse – Snowball. On first meeting Snowball had either snorted or stamped at him and this scared him.

Now he barks Go Away as soon as he gets too close to Snowball.

The situation is difficult for the young lady because her paddock is next door to a children’s nursery. She is unable to chat to mothers over the fence without Ralph barking at them. She is embarrassed.

It seems there is nothing else in Ralph’s life that he can’t cope with – only children and the white horse.

Desensitise and counter-condition

The young lady takes both their two Cocker Spaniels to the paddock twice a day while she sees to the horses. Ralph has to encounter Snowball and often nearby children.

There is only one way to deal with this. That is desensitising and counter-conditioning.

Both children and Snowball need to trigger good things for Ralph. In his case this is most likely food. She must maintain distance.

Starting with Snowball

They can start on Snowball as it’s a situation they can closely control. Meanwhile they will keep well away from the children’s nursery.

It will mean the girl changing her life around a bit for a while. She can take their other dog to do the horses morning and evening. Then she should take Ralph by himself to the paddock to work on Snowball.

From a distance that he can cope with, looking at Snowball will trigger bits of chicken.

Why not also change Snowball’s feelings about Ralph? She can throw him bits of carrot at the same time!

Ralph also panics if he’s tied up somewhere away but watches the young lady approach the horse. She needs to build this into the work too.

He barks at children

She can then work on children in exactly the same way.

It would be easiest to find an enclosed playground where a safe distance can be found. Safe to Ralph, that is.

It will mean a bit of upheaval to her life and routine. Meanwhile it’s vital he’s not pushed over his threshold. Too close to either Snowball or to children.

If they and other family members can stick to it for however long it takes, they will get there.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help