Both Holly on the right and Berry on the left came to live with my clients early last year. Both dogs are between two and three years old.
Berry is yet another Border Collie picked up as a stray in Ireland. Collie cross Holly, right, started life on the streets of Romania. She was picked up at seven months old with a broken leg and then went to live with another English family before moving into her forever home.
Holly quite well illustrates the difference between Romanian street dogs that are used to being around people, and other dogs that are coming from the same part of the world but have been living wild – feral dogs not used to humans. These feral dogs are a lot harder to settle and there have been some heartbreaking stories of failed homings.
Considering their past, these two dogs are doing brilliantly. They get on very well together. The problems their humans are finding manifest themselves out on walks. Both are reactive to people and dogs. In order to make further progress the people need to do things a little differently. If they carry on the same, so will the dogs.
Romanian Holly is a little aloof, but is polite and confident in the house though reactive to dogs outside. Interestingly, she is absolutely fine with other dogs when away from home, so it seems she is being more territorial than fearful. The main barker from inside the house, she is allowed free access to upstairs window where she can bark at passing dogs. She is merely practising the unwanted behaviour and getting better at it.
Berry, on the other hand, is much more excitable in general and reactive to all people and dogs; she is alarmed if anything appears suddenly or looks unfamiliar, irrespective of where this happens to be.
Both are very clever dogs and Berry in particular, who is much more wired up than Holly, needs more controlled stimulation but also better defined boundaries – especially when out. Repeatedly throwing a stick isn’t enough (throwing sticks is dangerous).
In order to keep their dogs focussed on them when out, their humans need to be more relevant to them – starting in the home. At present the dogs probably feel that they are the main decision-makers. The decision-making and protection side of things needs to be the responsibility of ‘mum and dad’, and needs to be in place before they can expect to successfully convince their dogs that they also have this role outside when faced with perceived threats.
The humans need to be a lot more involved, proactive and relevant in the face of things that the dogs are wary of – particularly if the dog is on a lead. They need to make themselves irresistible (food/fun/action/attention). Tightly holding the lead makes things worse. Forcing the dog to sit can make things worse. Avoiding situations altogether is useless.
They need to avoid pushing the dog over her comfort threshold and work at it. Using this method, that threshold will gradually diminish.