However, I soon realised that this was just one symptom of a much wider issue than being aggressive to dogs on walks – the six-year-old Jack Russell’s general anxiety and stress levels.
He lives with two young ladies who each do things very differently. One gives him firm boundaries and even carries discipline a bit too far in my mind. The other lady, who he actually belongs to, is very soft with him, does just what he wants whenever he wants, and encourages his general excitement with wild greetings and reinforcing behaviours like jumping up on people, lots of barking for attention and to get what he wants and so on.
Like with many people I go to, some of it’s about getting the people to do things the same way – drink from the same water bowl so to speak, and consistency. One is pushing him off the sofa and the other is encouraging him up. One will entice him to give up stolen items where the other will force things off him then tap him on the nose for being naughty and has been bitten in the process.
This little dog needs to be a lot calmer at home before he can have sufficient self-control when encountering other dogs. They will work hard on loose lead walking around the house and garden, and lots of trips down the garden path and no further – standing still while he does as much sniffing as he wants. If done many, many times the outside world will become less overwhelming and then they can gradually start to go further.
I am trying something a bit different with the manic jumping up and barking, and this is for the sake of his lady owner as well as the dog. I would usually say that from now on he must know that barking and jumping up get no attention at all where feet on the floor and no barking get especially nice stuff. However, I think they may have to wait too long and meanwhile the frustration could lead to Hugo becoming even more stressed, and because he tugs at her heartstrings the lady herself will not be able to outlast him. Consequently I suggest they work on it in stages.
When he’s jumping and barking at the back door to be let out, instead of opening it immediately as they normally would, I suggest they wait for a slight improvement – feet briefly on the floor or a break in the barking, before opening the door. They can also use ‘Yes’ and food to mark those moments. When he’s used to that, they can wait till his feet are firmly on the floor even if still barking, then they can wait for a second of quiet also….and so on.
It will be the same when the lady comes home. Instead of the rapturous and frenzied greeting he gives her and to which she responds in a similar manner, she can hold back for just a second initially, and then gradually over time, day by day, wait for and reward a bit more calm, until Hugo has better control of himself and can greet quietly with feet on the floor. This way the lady, too, will be able to learn different behaviour!
Dogs do, so clearly, reflect their owners sometimes.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Hugo, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good, particularly in cases where aggression is involved. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).