Callie nips little children.
She’s okay with women but isn’t happy too near small children – or some men.
She welcomed me in a friendly fashion with lots of sniffs and a couple of little jumps but I took little notice of her until I had sat down. Then I gently said hello. She immediately and subtly shrank away a little.
The little Jack Russell Chihuahua mix is probably more nervous generally than they realise. People often find it hard to read the more subtle signs in their dog’s body language.
She had had four homes before she was even four months old. A man was giving away Callie and her tiny siblings in a car park. The crucial formative weeks of her life won’t have been the best.
However, fortune shone on her when she came to live with the couple, my clients.
Build up of arousal or excitement
On analysing the occasions when she nips a child, each has been either in a moment of high arousal or excitement, or after a build-up of things happening. Things like someone arriving at the door, too many people in the house (for her) or a child running about kicking a ball.
They live in a new-build area with lorries constantly passing behind the garden, the tops visible to Callie over the fence. This seriously alarms the sensitive Callie.She barks and charges back and forth, barking and getting thoroughly worked up.
Like many nervous dogs, she is scared of men. She nips in times of arousal, most likely in order to increase distance – and it will usually work of course.
I am pretty certain that the nips are due to a mix of fearfulness in conjunction with arousal and stress. So is her varied reaction to certain other dogs when she’s on lead.
Two main areas to work on.
The first challenge is lowering the sixteen-month-old Callie’s general stress levels, calming her down and increasing her confidence.
This requires no longer taking her into situations where she’s uncomfortable.
The second is desensitising and counter-conditioning her to children, men, certain dogs and passing vehicles. Without working on her general stress levels, their specific work on children, men, vehicles and dogs will be less successful.
Different kind of walks
They will now be giving Callie much more relaxed and casual walks, allowing her to mooch with plenty of sniffing. She can even choose where she wants to go. This will be not only more enriching but is the kind of activity that will help her be more calm and confident.
She is much more worried by dogs, children and men when she’s on lead which the man tightens as they approach – as people do. At the moment this is an extendable lead which, because it’s sprung, will add to her feeling trapped.
Instead of over-exposing Callie by taking her too close whilst trapped on lead, they will now put more distance between them. Then, far enough away for Callie to feel safe, people, small children and other dogs will trigger only good things.
It’s so important not to push her into situations that are too much for her. Stress builds up over days even so the fallout can come later. It’s when she’s scared or overwhelmed that she nips.
I have given them three exercises
‘Lorry Watch’ in the garden: They will stand in the garden listening for lorries. As soon as Callie hears one approaching the man will drop a few bits of chicken on the ground and continue dropping chicken as the vehicle goes past.
‘Small Child Watch’: They can find a child’s playground and teach Callie that little children screaming and running at a safe distance are good news, triggering food and fun, not nips.
They will go on a ‘Man Watch’, initially from inside the car where she feels safe. Men will now trigger food and fun.
The gentleman in particular has worked really hard this past year since Callie came to live with them. She has a lovely home. Her nervous nature will go back to either genetics or the first few weeks of her life – or both.
It’s certainly not their fault and they have helped her already. They can now take Callie’s confidence-building to the next stage.