People who suddenly appear upsets Spanish Water Dog Polo and this can even be someone with whom he is familiar before he realises who they are.
When a dog is wary of people it can affect so many areas of his owners’ life.
Polo is not yet two years old and lives with a more confident year-old Spanish Water Dog, Rolo who is confident and very friendly. They are a stunning pair and look and feel a bit like sheep!
Polo’s problems with the arrival of someone are usually over within a minute or two and then he’s quite accepting of them unless, perhaps, they walk out and then suddenly appear again a short while later.
Until recently the couple used to take both dogs to work with them. Polo knows the regular workers but other people, including deliveries and post, may suddenly appear also. Shut in their office with them, it can mean Polo barks at the sounds of people opening doors and walking about outside, and someone may suddenly open the office door.
His reactivity has built up and he now has nipped a couple of unfamiliar people at the workplace.
Where do these things start? One unpleasant experience followed by another can soon take hold. Right from young he will have rehearsed his scared barking at the neighbour who would suddenly appear in his garden and, like many people with a barking dog next door, become riled so has compounded matters by shouting at him and kicking the fence.
Another run of unpleasant experiences which probably have contributed is a man they frequently see when out – a strange person that spooks Polo and who also shouts back at him for barking.
It’s got to the stage that it’s hard for the couple to have people round to their house because unless initially restrained Polo will fly at them, barking, which can scare them.
They can no longer take him to work on account of the aggressive-sounding barking and charging at people and he can’t be allowed to wander around freely anymore now that he’s actually nipped a couple of people.
We looked at each situation where Polo reacts to a person and have developed a plan for working on each in easy stages with desensitisation and counter conditioning. He’s to learn that people, herald good stuff and are no threat – he’s particularly reactive to men which isn’t unusual. Anyone who could indeed be a threat in terms of maybe shouting at him or scaring him needs to be religiously avoided for now.
In order to move things forward, I suggest Polo is taken back into work for half an hour a day, on a long lead, starting at times when it’s quiet and everyone is familiar. A special ‘food bar’ can open – a bar that only dispenses a particular favourite food and only when people are about. Lots and lots of very small bits will be required.
Having established a happy dog who is relaxed around these people when they are moving about, the dogs can begin to stay in the office for short periods, but only when the man or lady has time to give Polo full attention if necessary.
A gate in the office doorway will mean the dogs will more aware of approaching people and taken less by surprise. Polo will be aware of all movement outside the office and this can be more opportunity for the continuing counter-conditioning work. The pairing of people with the good stuff must continue.
On a nice day at home, they can take Polo’s special ‘people’ food into the garden and work on that neighbour also.
Here is an illustration local to myself of how, once a fear gets under a dog’s skin, it can spread – beyond that particular dog even. Just down the road from where I live there are a couple of Boxers loose in the front garden. Whenever anyone with a dog goes past, these two go mental, to the extent that they then, in their frustration, attack one another. This is unfortunately the only route to the best local dog walk. Gradually, over the weeks, other dogs who weren’t reactive before have started barking back. Still aroused, these usually friendly dogs will now bark at the next dog they meet who in turn, taken by surprise, barks back, and so it goes. The whole area is a bit noisier just now, and just imagine the behaviour that those two Boxers are rehearsing. I may get a call soon!!
I use this as an example of how a wide berth needs to be taken around scary things. The dog may survive one encounter so long as you move away and on quickly, some maybe two or three, but eventually there will doubtless be a reaction and the more exposure the worse it will get. A dog may start to anticipate this bedlam from the top of the road or before even leaving the house. There is nothing to be gained whatsoever in forcing a dog to confront things he’s unable to deal with in any other way than in self-defense – lunging and ferociously barking in order to chase them off and keep himself safe.