Bobbie with her head on my leg

The vet said ‘bring her in tomorrow at 11am to be put down’. Condemned to death solely based on the behaviour in the vet’s room of a terrified dog who hates being touched by strangers. She was so frantic she managed to tear off the muzzle.

I was initially a little wary of the two-year-old Bobbie, but only based on what I had been told. It’s hard to read the face or tail of a Shar-Pei. She didn’t bark when I arrived and was simply interested in sniffing me. I could see no hint of a dangerous dog. I knew that she doesn’t like to be touched by strangers and why should she? Do we? It could be that she lacks some peripheral vision due to the wrinkles and gets no warning of an approaching hand.

Bobbie (name and details altered) hasn’t actually bitten anyone!

Her behaviour had changed dramatically over the past three months, coinciding with changes in other circumstances and with a male friend now coming in daily to take the dog out for walks. He may over-excite her and thinks teasing is a game. There had been few unpredictable happenings to badly scare her.

At about the same time Bobbie began to change towards the 14-year-old daughter also. From being an affectionate dog he started grumbling at her, walking away when she approached. It came to a head when the girl touched Bobbie while he was lying between her and her mum. The lady had been petting Bobbie. The dog jumped on the girl, pinning her, snarling into her face.

The fact she didn’t bite when she could have done in fact shows considerable inhibition. What suddenly made her feel so angry? Was it pain? A vet check is very difficult at the moment. Was it jealousy – “go away, she’s mine”? Her hand may have been moving over the dog towards the lady – was it protectiveness? My own feelings are that because of the heightened, stressed and confused state Bobbie has been in for the past three months, it would only need something very small to finally tip her over the edge.

The lady has done a lot of great work training Bobbie. She is very perceptive where her beloved dog is concerned so it’s surprising that, when out on the walk which she fits in at the start of her very busy day, she gives Bobbie little opportunity to make her own choices or relax on a longer, looser lead, controlling even her toileting which must be in a chosen place and on command. She is under tight control and the lady has a strict routine. The man on the other hand doesn’t try to control her at all but may be erratic and inconsistent.

They need to put things back to where they were three months ago before all this started. The lady is happy for the man not to call in any more to walk the dog when she is at work so that things can be more calm and consistent.

She will try to relax a little where walks are concerned and let go of her tight schedule a little, bearing in mind that a dog walk should be fulfilling the dog’s needs. So long as she spends the same length of time out, how this time is filled can be more flexible. Poor Bobbie can be a bit obsessive about things and wants to constantly mark when out. The fact she is forcibly prevented from doing so could well make her need to do so all the greater.

This is not an easy start to the day for a dog and it may be more of a coincidence that the incident with the daughter took place in the morning, after Bobbie’s walk.

The lady wrote me a long list of things that stress, over-excite or scare Bobbie and dealing with these is our starting point. Giving Bobbie self-calming things to do will also help. Her dislike of being approached directly and touched by people she doesn’t know well should be respected. Work now needs to be done in a calm and consistent way where her reactivity to other dogs is concerned and she needs to trust the person on the other end of the lead. Trust is so important.

Gradually Bobbie should start to relax back to her old self. It has been heartbreaking for the lady who has read and researched in order to do her best. It can be hard to see things objectively that you live in the middle of.

AND – they will change vet! Bobbie can be walked into the waiting room many times over the next few weeks and there she can be given treats. The lady, who has done so much great training with her dog, can work on weaning her into happily wearing the muzzle. A good vet will take his or her time to help Bobbie relax before touching her.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bobbie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).