I went to see five Cocker Spaniels – all females of the show breed and none of them spayed. Everything was ticking along along nicely in the household until Autumn who joined the group about twenty-one months ago reached her first birthday. She then went for one of the other dogs.
Since then she has become increasingly unpredictable and aggressive to Lexus, the eldest, in particular. Things have reached the point where Lexus lives upstairs, and for much of the time Autumn is separate from the other three also. Their lady owner is on tenterhooks all the time.
Then very unfortunately to my mind, they enlisted the help of a dog trainer who encouraged spraying water at her, shaking a bottle of stones at her, shouting at her, intimidation and domination. Already more sensitive than the other dogs, Autumn is now really nervous. So worried is her owner, that every time Autumn goes near another dog, sniffs her or even stares, she shouts LEAVE or sprays her with water. I can’t see how this will do anything except teach Autumn to associate the other dogs with scary stuff and make her much worse.
She has not actually done damage except to a human hand separating two dogs – yet. Lexus is mild and scared of Autumn, but Autumn’s other victim, Miami, a much more confident and independent dog than Lexus, will stand up for herself.
So far as they can tell, there has never been any conflict when humans weren’t about – mostly the lady, which gives a clue as to where the stress comes from. She is stressed, Autumn is stressed. The lady admits that she spoilt Autumn more than the others as a puppy and now, on the advice of this trainer, she is more or less ignoring her all the time. This must be very confusing. Ignoring demands for attention is one thing, but that doesn’t mean the dog should have no interaction or love – only that it should be under your terms and not hers. Giving the dogs attention whenever they jump up or bark for it is one thing, and calling them over when you decide is quite another.
There needs to be some healthy relationship building between the lady and Autumn founded on calm trust, positive reinforcement, not punishment. The lady is extremely worried and loves all her dogs dearly. She has done everything she possibly can that she knows of, she has hired a trainer and she has read books. I find it amazing that there is still such a lot of nonsense going around when, if things are looked at from the dog’s point of view, with patience the solution can be gentle, encouraging and logical.