Poor little Teddy is now on the defensive. He is very small, weighing only about 5kg. The three-year-old is a cross between a Shih Tsu and, surprisingly, a Border Collie – they saw his mother.
The friendly and confident little dog has had two setbacks recently.
Other dogs had never before bothered him.
Two unfortunate incidents
A while ago, the large, friendly and boisterous dog next door had jumped over the fence into Teddy’s garden. He jumped on him, terrifying Teddy. Now Teddy races up and down the fence, boundary barking.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, about to jump into the car, he had an altercation with two larger passing dogs. They jumped on him. They pinned him down and he was bitten on the neck. Teddy screamed and screamed. The young lady says it was one of the most awful experiences of her life.
Since then Teddy has been on the defensive.
They are really worried this may have scarred him for life. Their well-behaved little dog is now tense and reactive. To quote the lady, ‘I’m so upset about it I just done know what to do’.
Where before he would walk past a house down the road with barking dogs at the gate, he now barks before he even gets there. He is on the defensive irrespective of whether the dogs are out or not.
Teddy’s defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs is totally understandable as it is all about basic survival and feeling safe. Bad experiences have fallout – a sort of PTSD. Although the ‘disaster’ itself can be very brief, the effect can take considerable time to recover from. Sometimes it will be permanent unless the dog, like a human, gets specialist help.
Teddy lives in a family of three generations and they all totally adore him! Although they spoil him rotten – he doesn’t actually behave spoilt. They have taken time and trouble training him. He’s beautiful.
Sadly, he has become increasingly territorial and nervous since these incidents.
There is more involved than just dealing with defensive behaviour towards certain other dogs itself. I have broken the work down into about four areas.
A calmer dog
Firstly, if they can keep Teddy as calm as possible it will give him a greater tolerance and he will be less jumpy. This means moderating some of the things they currently do with him that make him wildly excited.
Secondly, key to the whole thing is being able to use food. Food is available all the time to Teddy. His humans share their food with him. He gets chews that are, relative to his size, huge. Food simply has no value as rewards.
This will be a big challenge for one family member in particular!
They will now save the very best food for working with. For instance, if they already add cooked chicken to his meals, what good will cooked chicken be for making him feel better about something he’s scared of? If he’s already full of food and snacks, if he can also help himself to dry food whenever he wants, why would he take any notice of the food they need to use?
Thirdly, he needs help with his territorial and guarding behaviour which, because the incidents happened so near home, has intensified. They will show him that it’s not his job to protect the garden. This means he shouldn’t for now have free access unless someone is around to help him out.
His humans, the young lady in particular who witnessed the second incident, are themselves nervous. She is not acting like the ‘protector’ that Teddy needs. He will sense everything that she is feeling. She needs to work on acting strong and cool.
Finally, what can they actually do?
What do they do about the big dog next door that jumped over the fence into his garden and terrified him? About the house with the barking dogs that send him into a frenzy of defensive barking when they walk past? What do they do about those dogs and situations they may meet when out?
The work is done using desensitisation and counter-conditioning. This involves keeping within Teddy’s comfort zone – and I would say the young lady’s also. When they near another dog or the garden with barkers, they need to watch him carefully. At the first sign of unease they will increase distance from what is troubling him, before he becomes defensive and starts to bark. It could involve turning around and changing their plans.
This is when food having value becomes vital. Pairing something he should love (food) with something he is uneasy or defensive towards (certain other dogs too close) is the way to go.
Together with the neighbour, they can work on their dogs each side of the now raised fence, using leads, distance and food (or play).
I hope it’s not too long before little Teddy becomes less defensive and can all feel safe on walks and in his own garden again.