Bentley was very excited when I arrived, and his jumping up seemed to be relentless. This was my responsibility because I had asked the owners to leave the dogs alone so I could see what they would do whilst demonstrateing my way of dealing with it.
English Bulldog Bentley is now fourteen months old so if their usual way of stopping him jumping up worked – which was to tell him to get down or to grab him – he wouldn’t be doing it any more. His super-arousal then caused Flo to ‘tell him off’. It is for this reason that I wear tough clothes – to protect my back and my legs from dogs’ nails and of course I would always ask for their help if I needed it.
Scolding the dog may get him down at that moment, but it doesn’t teach him not to jump at people the next time. In fact the attention probably makes it even more likely. The question to ask is, what’s the dog getting out of it (probably attention of some sort) and to remove this reinforcement. To make success quicker, this desired attention can be given to him for doing something more acceptable instead.
The days start calmly enough apart from Bentley’s barking at 3am demanding to be let out, but as the day progresses and people start to move about the dogs become increasingly excitable. This leads to Bentley jumping and grabbing people or chasing and biting feet. He targets the adult son in particular who feels he’s being mugged every time he walks through the door.
I did some ‘walking around’ work with the son, showing him to move more slowly and instead of throwing food across the floor so he can make a dash for it, dropping little bits of grated cheese just behind his feet as he walked. This has the added benefit of rewarding Bentley for following nicely without nipping or jumping. Instead of trying to escape, he can talk to Bentley, call him and invite him to follow him, giving him some of the craved-for attention for doing as he’s asked.
Key to the plan has to be a gate in the sitting room doorway. Currently the dogs have the run of the downstairs and there is no escaping them. The gate should not be opened until they have had time to calm down and feet are on the floor. That will make life far easier for everyone.
There can also be minor fights over bones and chews which means these useful resources for helping a dog to unwind aren’t available to them. A gate means the dogs can have calming things to do and chew whilst not being able to actually get to one another.
When I was there the two had been out in the garden for a while and we heard barking. When they came in Bentley had an extra small cut on his neck to add to existing scars and Flo’s face was red and sore around her jowl. The two dogs are allowed to play too roughly. I would step in a lot sooner because, just like the nipping of feet, the more the behaviour is rehearsed the more entrenched the behaviour becomes.
Removing opportunity for unwanted behaviours is the starting point so the two dogs shouldn’t be left alone together out of sight for more than a couple of minutes unless they are lying down and relaxed. With a bit of forward-planning quite a bit of temptation can be removed. For instance, as a favourite trick of Bentley’s is to attack feet when people go outside to the washing line, why don’t they leave him indoors?
In order to find out more about their dogs, new owners often start by reading breed-specific books and talking to the breeder or other owners of the breed which can give them a skewed view of dogs in general. They often attribute behaviours to inevitable breed traits, excusing things that aren’t really desirable from any dog, whatever the breed. The books may say Bulldogs are ‘stubborn’, but that simply means we need to be more motivating. Other owners may say their Bulldogs like to ‘play rough’, but that merely means we have to be even better ‘dog parents’. Rough play isn’t a good behaviour to rehearse for the sake of other dogs or people – particularly children.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bentley and Flo, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).