The couple have had four-year-old Rosie for about 7 months. She came from a household with several children and lots of people coming and going….but no dogs. She was seldom taken out anywhere.
Without this vital habituation from an early age, other dogs were scary enemies and traffic terrifying. The couple have worked hard at getting her used to traffic – but the ‘other dog’ situation gets worse.
So, we have a dog that is wonderfully socialized to people – old and young, and used to all household things like vacuum cleaners – completely fearless at home, but a dog that is very reactive and scared of other dogs when out.
Put the lead on and open the front door, and Rosie completely changes. She is on ‘dog-watch’. She goes mental if she sees another dog.
Soon after she arrived in her new home, little Rosie rushed out of the front door to attack a Labrador that lives opposite. Undaunted by the dog’s size, she apparently had it by the throat. Not good for neighbourly relations!
Like many modern houses, theirs is surrounded by houses with dogs – statistically there is a dog living in every 3 or 4 houses in the UK. Every morning ‘before-work’ walk is an adventure, avoiding dogs where possible or dragging a frantic lunging, barking Rosie past one dog after another. The lady holding the lead may as well not exist where Rosie is concerned. The difference between the dog indoors and the dog out on walks is like Jekyll and Hyde
The first point to address is the relevance of Rosie’s humans and the second is the value of the currency that will be used to desensitise Rosie to other dogs – food. Only then can they use food and attention when they find the distance (threshold) at which Rosie knows there is another dog but can tolerate it. Then the real work begins – that of holding her attention and associating the dogs with good stuff whether it’s food or fun – not the usual pain in the neck as the lead tightens and anxiety of owner going down the lead. Someone had advised spraying water at her – disaster! It may temporarily interrupt the behaviour by intimidating her, but long-term be yet one more negative associated with other dogs and eventually she would become accustomed to it anyway and ignore it.
Both food and attention need to gain much more value at home. Currently they are constantly seeking to give Rosie the food she likes best for her meals where they could be saving the most tasty stuff for dog encounters. They are lavishing the little dog with attention whenever she asks for it when they should be saving some of it for getting her attention when another dog is about.
This will be long-haul. Every unplanned encounter will set things back, but each controlled, properly managed encounter will advance things.
The magic ingredient is patience. We can’t reverse four years in four weeks.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Rosie, 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. 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).