To address the problems the lady faces with Harry and Toto, management has to come first. Harry is an 8-year-old terrier, and Toto a Bichon Frise age three.
Over the years, Harry has bitten several times when out, including a child. Fortunately so far he has done little more than to break the skin.
Toto, a more recent rescue, is fine outside the house, but may go for the feet of anyone moving about indoors.
Toto bit a child
A week ago Harry nipped a child. Nobody saw it, but the lady assumes it was Harry.
The lady opened the car as usual at the start of their walk – neither dogs were on lead. A way off, two young boys were running about, playing excitedly and noisily. Both dogs immediately charged over to them, ignoring (probably not even hearing) the lady’s calls. She was also trying to shout at the boys to stand still, confident that had they done so, nothing would have happened.
One screaming boy had a small nick on his leg. Harry was blamed as he had bitten before.
The lady had a visit from the police.
Even training good recall may not have stopped both dogs in their tracks without some sort of management. Recall training will now start. Meanwhile – and for always – management will be needed.
Harry must be on a long line at all times when people, particularly children, are about. Toto takes himself off at the end of the walk, down a road and into people’s gardens instead of going to the car. He, too, must be on lead or a long line unless or until his recall is reliable.
Belt and braces
The lady has to start all walks by car due to Harry’s fear of so many things whilst Toto prefers sniff walks around the streets and doesn’t want to go far. Harry likes a good run. She will now walk one dog at a time, leaving the other in the car. She can give them some individual quality time as they have such different needs.
The change-over from now on has to be belt and braces.
She will attach a permanent anchor lead to a head-rest. When changing dogs, she will anchor one dog before doing the swap. With management, she has to make it impossible for either one or both dogs to rush off.
To add to their troubles, the neighbours have complained about constant barking in the garden. They said the noise was driving them mad. She had a visit from the dog warden.
They have a large dog flap that is permanently open with no easy way to shut it. The dogs have a view out of the front window that means they bark at passing people and dogs.
She must block the dog flap somehow. The dogs can be let out and in again, but only when the lady is about to deal with the barking. Not by scolding but by telling them it’s okay and calling them in immediately. Then reward them for coming (good recall practice).
The bottom foot or so of the front window can be covered with plastic frosting so the dogs don’t see out. No barking at passing dogs and people. Management.
In the car, both dogs bark non-stop when they see another dog out of the window. Again, a degree of management can help. Car baby blinds could be attached to the back windows (they have to travel on the back seat).
Toto is a puzzle
At home, Toto is a puzzle. He prefers the presence of one person at a time only. The lady lives with her elderly mother. When she is out, Toto cuddles up on mum’s lap, loving the fuss. As soon as the lady comes home, Toto turns on he mum, nipping her arms and growling.
Sitting on the sofa in the evening with the lady, when the old lady walks about he goes for her feet.
He did the same thing with me. It was weird because he really does give no warning. He looks quite happy and relaxed both before and after ‘biting’. (The bits is more of a nudge with teeth, or a nip, than a serious bite).
When they watch TV in the evening and the old lady moves, Toto is warned NO! I would like the lady instead to call him to her any time she looks like getting ‘funny’ with mum. Sometimes he will go for the old lady’s arms ‘for no reason at all’ even when he’s sitting on her lap.
I have suggested an anchor point in the house also. If the ‘second person’ is going to move about, the lady can hook Toto up. She will reward him for coming to her and anchor him just out of reach of the old lady when necessary.
We tried this management when I got up to go and it worked a treat. Toto showed no sign of distress at being unable to get at my feet.
Over time they will hopefully break the habit.
Management and behaviour work together
Working on two things will be the way forward: management (preventing opportunities for biting and other unwanted behaviour) and behaviour work (changing how the dogs actually feel about certain things).
The lady needs to play very safe outside the house. The new dog law isn’t sympathetic, as she has nearly found out.
Extensive training isn’t feasible in the circumstances. It would involve working on the dogs one at a time and due to other life circumstances it’s something I wouldn’t ask of the lady. Just lowering stress levels and treating the dogs as individuals could make a big difference.
It’s hard for us (and the dogs) to get into new habits, but if the lady keeps checking through our plan, bit by bit she will do things differently. A new routine will be simpler for her in the end.