After a run of German Shepherds I have been to recently who barked frantically when they heard me at the door and continued to bark at me when I entered the house, I was really surprised to ring the doorbell and to hear nothing.
Tia, a very youthful nine-year-old, stood calm and friendly beside the lady as she opened the door, and followed us into the sitting room.
I knew already that the lady would be telling me her problem was her dog’s behaviour when out of the house and on lead, but I wanted to take a holistic approach and get some knowledge of Tia against the background of home life before exploring what was happening outside, why it was happening and what we could do about it.
Tia is the lady’s first dog, and she got her when looking for a puppy some six years ago. Tia was the mother dog and the breeder more or less said she ran a business and Tia was merely a puppy-making machine to her and now expendable. So the lady took her home.
The bond between the two is incredibly close and the lady describes herself as devoted to her. It is just the two of them. I noticed how the dog spent much of the time gazing at the lady, or asking her to do something like fuss her or throw a ball – and she was never disappointed. There are all sorts of human emotions here that the dog will be picking up including adoration and also some guilt that she can never do quite enough for her beloved dog. On balance this must be working very well as Tia is the perfect dog indoors with everyone – visiting young children included.
However…. when she steps out through the front door and anything moves, Tia morphs into a lunging monster! She is ready to have a go at anything and the lady, slight in build, has trouble holding her back. She has been pulled over at least two times. I saw Tia’s transformation for myself. It was amazing to see how a dog who is so relaxed and friendly in the house could change to being so reactive outside, only a few feet from the front door.
The only time Tia does go out of the front door is to go for a walk, so the whole walk process needs looking at. There is a lot of excitement from the moment the lady starts to get ready. She may then run the gauntlet of getting Tia to the car in order to take her to a playing field where the dog can be let off lead. There is no evidence that Tia is anything but friendly when running free.
It seems that, as the behaviour starts immediately outside the house, to Tia this is where her territorial protection duty begins. She is pulling, lunging and barking at anything that may move whether it’s a bird, person, cat or dog. She’s fine with dogs elsewhere and they have a cat themselves. She welcomes people in the house – but not outside when she is on lead.
The lady needs to show Tia, starting at home, that she can look after herself and make her own decisions. She herself describes Tia’s following her about as ‘ushering’ her and that probably says it all.
The desensitisation process needs to be taken step by step, little by little. Every single element is to be worked on individually: The lady picking up her coat. Lifting the lead. Picking up her keys. Attaching the lead. She can vary the routine by putting on her outside clothes in different places and attaching the lead first. Next she’s to wait for calm at the door. Open the door – wait for calm again.Take a step out and wait for calm. Stand and look about, then go back in again. No longer will going out of the front door necessarily be a precursor to a walk.
Advancing a step at a time, in very short sessions (whilst being ready to take action as specifically planned as soon as there is any reactivity from Tia) the next goal will be for her to see something a bit distant that is moving without instantly reacting so that the desensitisation/conter-conditioning process can begin.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tia, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet 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).