Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but had he had more intensive socialisation at a much younger age things could be different. As it is, the lady only had him living with her from the age of six months and since then she has moved with him from a home overseas with lots of open countryside where they met few people and dogs to life in a town.
It’s tragic that the dog into which she has put in so much training, effort and love is also spoiling her life. His reactivity to both people and other dogs means she can’t freely go out with him or meet friends and it makes people coming to her house difficult because she has to watch him all the time. When she chose him it was to have a companion that could share all her activities, not a bodyguard.
Jake had been barking at me from his crate as I stood beside the lady who was making us coffee, probably in a panic because he was powerless to protect her from a stranger, Let out, he now followed at her heels, panting, as she moved around the kitchen. We had sat down for a while and in order that he would associated me with good stuff, I threw food well away from myself onto the floor. He ate my food but ignored me completely. Without looking at him I then casually held my hand down with a piece of food in it. He came over to take the food and as he did so I heard the lady quickly draw breath – and Jake heard it too. He very suddenly barked at me and snapped – not making contact.
It’s easy to underestimate the effect of a human’s state of anxiety upon her dog. There is an invisible cord between dog and lady, the dog as much on high alert to her every signal as she is to his. Because she’s on tenterhooks her overprotective dog could sense vulnerability I’m sure.
This was one very confident dog doing his job, that of protecting the lady. He was in no way fearful of me.
Bearing in mind that consequence drives behaviour, what does he gain by barking at someone? It will usually result in withdrawal of some sort. It will always result in attention from the lady.
Jake’s reactivity and unpredictability out on walks is all part of the same overprotective thing with an added component – he is trapped on the end of a lead, helpless against other dogs who may come too near and be a threat to his human or to himself. It’s understandable that he ‘goes berserk’.
Being overprotective is at the root of everything. The young owner has a friend who walks Jake and visits her house. When she’s not there he is apparently a different dog. As soon as she comes home he changes his behaviour towards the friend and goes into bodyguard mode.
The lady knows of nowhere else to walk before and after work when time is short but the local park and there are always dogs in the park. Even when just walking the streets she can’t avoid other dogs. She has made great headway with getting Jake used to passing people when they are out, but dogs are another matter. You can’t control other people’s dogs (wouldn’t it be great if we could!).
It is simply impossible to work on a proper counter-conditioning programme in uncontrolled situations as finding that ‘threshold’ distance from another dog is crucial. The only solution is to find a place to go by car made impossible by time constraints. There must somehow be a way.
Dealing with the whole issue of Jake being overprotective rather than dealing specifically with his reactivity to dogs and people should help. Primarily, this means reducing his need to constantly protect the lady which requires a change of emphasis in their relationship with one another. The more opportunities she can find to be the ‘protector’ and decision-maker and the more she can act independently of him when they are together, making breaks in that invisible cord connecting them, the better.