Safe Place. Safe Haven. Cocker Spaniel Scared of Toddler
She seldom feels completely safe. Lucy’s fearfulness affects everything, most importantly her reactions to their baby daughter.
So many things she fears
With fear being at the root of all the issues that are a problem for the seven-year-old Cocker Spaniel’s owners, general fearfulness is what we must address.
Specific fears include alarm barking at every sound which ruins the lady’s day with her toddler daughter. She panics when left alone – shaking with fear as they get ready and goes frantic, circling and crying when they leave. They go out for a couple of hours most days.
Lucy barks at anything sudden, whether it’s the appearance of a person when out or any sound when indoors. She is scared of people she doesn’t know coming into the house. She is totally terrified of the dishwasher.
The most urgent problem is Lucy’s fear of the tiny child.
Lucy needs desensitising and counter-conditioning to life in general. This involves doing their best to keep her feeling at a safe distance whilst pairing things she doesn’t like with something she loves. As the worried dog is not interested in play, this has to be food.
It also involves doing their best to rescue her from situations she can’t cope with, avoiding scary situations altogether if possible.
There are lots of small things that they can do a bit differently which, when all added together, should make a difference.
If with hard work there is no real improvement in a month or so, then we must talk again to their vet. No human would be expected to live in this state of anxiety without medical help but I do find sometimes vets are reluctant to prescribe.
Lucy was a fearful puppy from the start which indicates that her fearfulness has a genetic component.
When their little girl runs too close to her or approaches her bed, she may growl. Scolding growling and general anxiety can only make things worse.
It’s the same with the alarm barking at sounds. It is fear driven, so it’s the fear that needs working rather than the barking itself.
Lucy simply doesn’t feel safe. This is what must be addressed.
Because Lucy follows them everywhere, she’s always in the way when the little girl is toddling about doing her own thing. This creates anxiety also for the parents who may tell her ‘No’.
This isn’t the way.
Lucy is good at coming to them when they call her, so they can have her on remote control. Instead of saying ‘No’, they will now call her kindly to them at any time they are worried – and reward her. Instead of waiting for her to growl, they will now read her body language for signs of unease like looking away or licking her lips.
Growling is valuable. Teaching a dog not to growl merely makes it more likely she will ultimately feel forced to take it to the next stage – a snap.
A safe haven
Trusting Lucy around the little girl largely involves management. They will make the dog a safe haven where nobody goes – not even themselves. Around her bed they will place a puppy pen. They will face the pen opening to the corner of the room so she feels safe and they will leave it open. They will give her lots of good things in her safe ‘den’ to encourage her to use it.
I suggest a chalk ring on the floor all around it, about a foot away. A sort of halo. They will teach the little girl not to step over it. The child can have a game of throwing food to Lucy over or through the bars. Lucy, safe from the child coming too close, could learn to welcome her approach.
Finally, Lucy sleeps on their bed which is fine. She feels safe during the night. However, in the morning when the little girl joins them, if the child goes near to her she growls.
They will teach Lucy, kindly and gently and with food, to jump off the bed before the child gets on.
All in all our whole plan is about making Lucy feel more safe. We will specifically concentrate on two things – Lucy with the little girl and her panic at being left. Any little bit of improvement is a step in the right direction.
The couple see their dog now through different eyes and understand her better.