CairnBella1Ben (we will call him Ben) is terrified of the puppy – a tiny eighteen-week-old Cairn Terrier.

His mother has always been scared of dogs and this is part of the problem. There are four boys altogether and none of them like Bella much. It was the dad who wanted her. They have now had her for ten days.

It is often fearful dogs that I go to. In this unusual case it is a bright, strong ten-year-old boy.

Fear is no less real because it’s irrational

For someone like myself it’s impossible to imagine being scared of this puppy, but I do know what fear is like. It eats into one. Like nearly every other puppy, Bella will nip, jump up and chase feet. She has lots of indoor ‘accidents’.

The people don’t realise what a fantastic stable personality the little dog has. She seems unfazed. Whenever the younger boys are about she is shut outside by herself in the garden. She doesn’t fuss.  As soon as I arrived she peed on the floor and immediately she was scolded. The lady said ‘but I was told to be cross and rub her nose in poo’. The family told me that all day they were ‘having’ to say No, No Bella, Stop Bell, No!

How can Bella know what chewing is allowed and what isn’t unless she is shown? How can she know to toilet outside unless she regularly accompanied out there (they had put a dog flap in so she could take herself out)? How can she learn people don’t like being jumped on or grabbed unless she is shown what they DO like?

First I showed them how much more could be achieved by showing the little dog just what we DO want – by using a clicker. No more “No”!

Bella learnt so quickly! In no time I had her touching my hand wherever I held it out. Next I handed he clicker to Ben who was sitting safely on a high stool out of Bella’s reach. He was going to click the moment Bella touched my hand while I delivered the treat. His timing was brilliant. Soon he came and stood on the floor in front of where I was sitting, a big achievement, and I held his hand out in mine. Bella was actually touching Ben’s hand now and he wasn’t panicking. Twice she put her feet up on him and he clicked the moment they were back on the floor. Then he even found the courage to treat her himself but that was the point where he became anxious so, just as we would do with a fearful dog, we retreated.

What a good start. Dad then took over and taught Bella to sit using just the same method. He was a natural also. In the picture she is sitting for a click and cheese.

They now have a puppy pen so that Bella can be in the large kitchen with them and no longer banished to the garden. She will be more contained which will help the toilet training. Her continual presence in the room whilst being safely unable to jump or nip should gradually begin to habituate Ben. I suggested he should be getting rewards too!

I predict that it won’t be long before Ben is a dog-loving clicker expert and mum realises that she loves the puppy after all!

Two weeks later:  Ben is doing really really well. Growing in confidence every day.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ben and Bella, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).