Bella has always been a bit defensive when approached by other dogs. She just wants to be left in peace.

The four-year-old Cocker Spaniel lived in harmony with older Cocker Mikey. Then the family added two puppies to their Cocker Spaniel gang – Bonnie and Nellie.

The pups are now six months old.

Touchy and defensive

Bella is on the defensive every time one of the pups approaches her. She shows her teeth, snarls and growls. Sometimes she will snap.

The man insists she’s not ‘aggressive’ and I quite agree. It’s totally unfair to label a dog ‘aggressive’ when she is trying to communicate as well as she can that she wants to be left alone.

Because her pleas are ignored, she has to intensify the signals. If it ends in an aggressive response it still doesn’t mean that she’s ‘aggressive’. If sufficiently annoyed, the most mild people may become physically defensive if pushed.

Bella will often go over and lie beside a sleeping pup. She herself is okay to approach and sniff another dog so long as they don’t do the same to her.

For Bella to be less touchy in general

My plan is to save Bella from as much arousal as possible so that she’s generally less touchy and defensive.

This includes separating the pups from the two older dogs at hyper times of day like first thing in the morning when all four dogs reunite. The pups are manically excited to see Bella, leaping all over her. That’s not a good start to the day for her.

Here are a few things they can do differently that should help how Bella feels and how excited and annoying the pups become:

They take a ball thrower on walks which will hype the dogs up unnecessarily. This denies them full engagement and benefit from the environment.

Unfortunately also, before they knew better, they had played with a laser light with Bella and triggered a light-chasing obsession. This could contribute to her being a on edge and consequently a bit defensive.

Avoiding unnecessary arousal for Bella could also mean installing an outside letterbox. She goes mental when the post comes through the door and tries to guard it.

To protect Bella

They should now do all they can to ‘protect’ Bella from unwanted attention. They will no longer scold her when she’s defensive with ‘No’ or ‘Pack it in’. The lady has also tried ‘comforting and calming’ her which could well just be annoying.

Instead, at the first hint of Bella reacting they will immediately call the offending pup away and reward her for coming. Keeping everything upbeat.

At present the pups have access to Bella any time they want apart from in the night. When they tear around as puppies do they may bump into Bella. Immediately on the defensive, she lets them know she doesn’t like it.

I suggest Bella has somewhere she can escape or that they put the pups behind a barrier for a while if necessary.

Fulfilling activities

The family has done some great training with all four dogs. What is needed now is to do with Bella’s state of mind – her emotions – not training.

A good way of choosing the best things to aid the dog’s calmer state of mind is to consider whether humans are involved or not. Often the less involvement of humans in activities, the better for the dog! For instance, ditch that ball chucker. Walks can be mainly sniffing mooches, not training sessions.

I also suggest some happy group activities for all four dogs together like scatter-feeding over the grass. Or a Kong for each dog.

With work, I’m sure Bella will react much less to the pups coming into her space; she will be more tolerant. Being less on the defensive may also spill over onto how she reacts to dogs she encounters on walks.

(Bella has been thoroughly checked by the vet for any physical issues causing her to be touchy and defensive).

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help