Matty is a lovely friendly little dog, six years of age. He was with the breeder for the first three years of his life and came to my clients not well socialised at all.
They have worked very hard and with great success at habituating him to real life, people, traffic and other dogs, and he is now a pleasure to walk – with the odd lapse when he sees a dog that for some reason he doesn’t like.
Recently a new child joined the family – a three year old boy, Sammy. However, Matty isn’t happy with him. There have been two mishaps. One when Matty suddenly leaped across the room, barking fiercely at the child and was fortunately intercepted by the lady, and another occasion where he grabbed his shorts. The lady, already nervous, is now on tenterhooks. In addition, there is a new baby due in a few months’ time.
The main ongoing problem has been that Matty is very reactive to all noises, on guard duty at the front door and charging around barking. He can wind himself up into a frenzy. The gentleman who works from home is finding it very hard, especially when he is talking on the phone to a customer and Matty is barking frantically in the background. Understandably Matty is shouted at which may stop him temporarily but doesn’t help him at all long term. All this barking will be raising his general stress levels, leaving him less tolerant of little boys and other dogs.
If the child is always kept away from Matty he will never learn that he’s harmless. In the same way that they have patiently socialised Matty by habituating him to real life, traffic, the town and so on, they need to do the same thing with the child – but making sure the environment is completely safe for both of them – in the same room but unable to actually make contact. Everyone must be relaxed and not fussing or on edge else Matty will pick up on it, and calm behaviour from Matty can be rewarded with food. It can be a slow process.
Matty’s humans need to take charge of the ‘perceived danger’ and barking, and help him out. A calmer dog will be much better able to cope with an active little boy.