Stanley is an English Bull Terrier of under a year old, and his new owners have had him for two weeks. They are worried because he ‘squares up’ to their 16 month old toddler. He is fine so long as the little boy isn’t on the floor at his own level. Children stare and this may be part of the problem. Dogs can find direct eye contact either intimidating or confrontational.
Stanley is a slightly strange case. He is aloof. It’s like he grants people the privilage of being allowed to touch him. He gets attention whenever he asks for it, then walks off – ‘I’ve had enough’. I noticed when I walked about that he stood sideways in front of me blocking me, and made no effort to move as I approached him.
In the two weeks that they have had him Stanley has been allowed to consider the house his own personal kingdom. There is nowhere he’s not allowed to go including all the family’s beds. I fear that if he carries on like this it will only be a matter of time before he begins to object when someone wants to remove him. He’s still testing the waters. It’s quite a small house with eight family members spanning three generations, so there is a lot going on. He goes where he wants and does what he wants – including wrecking the garden.
If Stanley is allowed to believe that he rules the family, he may believe it’s his job to put the little boy in his place. He may not welcome an uninvited intrusion into his important personal space. So, the family owes it to Stanley to put some rules and boundaries into place for him pretty quickly. There should be certain no go zones in the house. Most importantly of all, they need to work on the relationship between the little boy and the dog. First and foremost they need to play safe, and get a gate so that the two can be kept apart unless closely supervised. Because everybody is on tenterhooks when the two are together, this will be picked up by Stanley and not be helping the situation. So, for security and so that they all relax, Stanley must be on lead and maybe even the toddler attached to reins. Then that the people can gradually work on the situation, with Stanley associating the little boy with good things like treats, learning to come away when asked or when he feels stressed by the toddler, and also encouraging the child not to stare if that’s possible!
Stanley is a case of a rehomed dog where you don’t quite no what you have got for the first few weeks. As dogs settle in and establish their boundaires (or lack of!) their real personalities and possible former problems will surface. It’s good to start with firm rules in place. Better too strict than too lax, and fairer on the dog, but without too many demands or commands. It’s human nature to do the opposite – we want to over-compensate for the past in the mistaken belief that in order to make him feel at home he needs no boundaries and lots of fuss!