She is such a friendly, confident and to my mind faultless little dog at home, living with the perfect family for her. She’s wonderful with the little boy and friendly with everyone, so this other side to her comes as a big surprise.
All was fine until about a year ago. It’s often hard to work out why something has changed, so we look at just what the dog does now and deal with that.
Tracing back it was probably a chain of events as things so often are, each one pushing her a little further down the road to where she is now. She was attacked by another dog whilst still in the vet immediately after having been spayed and before she had fully come round (how awful), then they moved house to find there was an aggressive barker next door, then she went for another dog outside the house, then she came back from a new groomer an unhappy dog. Each thing will have gradually sensitised her to other dogs and she now displays fear aggression big time.
However, we do know what we have now: a little dog who believes that many other dogs, particularly those bigger than herself, are bad news. She is fearless! If she doesn’t like the look of one she goes for it! No dog is too big for her to take on.
She has doggy friends. There’s not a pattern. Some new dogs that she meets she doesn’t react to at all, which suggests her state of mind at the time and the input from her humans both play a part.
Owner reaction is so important. Tightening the lead and forcing her forward even if at the same time talking to her in an ‘encouraging’ way, won’t help at all – particularly if this begins before she herself has even seen the dog. It’s like an announcement ‘uh-oh…a dog. Time to get worried’.
Until this change in her about a year ago, Elsie was never walked on lead (not something I would actually advocate for safety reasons), but it shows how reliable she was.
Now she has a collar with retractable lead attached which by definition never hangs loose. She will feel trapped. When she is held tight or lunges there will be discomfort to her neck. More and more she will be associating other dogs with bad stuff.
This is an issue of trust as much as anything else. When someone is holding the lead, the dog has to trust them. Trust will be worked on in other areas of her life also. They have exercises to teach her to give them full attention when they ask for it and to make food as valuable a reinforcer as possible.
They also have a trump card – golf balls!
She accompanies her gentleman to the golf course where she always stays close, and she also plays with the balls which she particularly loves. (I personally don’t recommend golf balls for safety reasons but she’s been okay).
If, in addition to using food, they now reserve golf balls solely for when they approach another dog, she should eventually be thinking ‘ah-ha, a dog, good, where’s my golf ball’!
It’s all about timing and working out what strategies are best for that particular dog. Never does ‘one plan fit all’.
This will take time but with patience and consistency they will get there. Elsie is not only very clever dog, she is normally very biddable. A dream.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Elsie, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV 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).