Unpredictable only because they can’t see inside Banjo’s head. If they could, and if stress was visible, they might see a little pressure cooker in there; they would see how over the past five months or so things have simply become too much for him.
Unpredictable also because they don’t realise how small a final trigger has to be to make the pressure cooker blow.
Frenchie Banjo is eighteen months old. He has what sounds like the perfect life, full of people and action.
A new baby – and another dog.
Banjo lives with a young couple and their large family – three generations. There are two or three children. With the couple’s baby born five months ago, Banjo was now no longer their number-one baby.
Shortly after this another family member moved back home with his one-year-old Labrador, Ellie. So now Banjo was no longer number-one dog either.
Life now became a lot more arousing with endless play. Banjo carries on long after Ellie would like to stop.
Then Ellie came into season. They were kept apart, causing Banjo great frustration.
Things now escalated with Banjo growling and flying at and grabbing the sleeve of a family member who was playing excitedly with one of the young children. He became aggressive when she was playing tug with Ellie.
Banjo had got on very well with the cat but now was going for him too.
He was becoming increasingly possessive around chews and food.
Banjo attacked the man’s foot.
It came to a head a few days ago when Banjo was on the floor by the grandfather. Beside him was a chew – a chew that Ellie had left. The man moved his foot towards it and Banjo flew at him.
At that moment this small act pushed him over the edge. He would have bitten repeatedly had the young lady owner not grabbed his collar.
Another contributing factor will be that with each show of aggression the little dog has been misunderstood. It’s understandably been met with a strong reaction. Meeting aggression with aggression can only make things worse.
The vet recommended they re-home Banjo. The thought of this upsets them greatly.
Vets only have what the owners tell them about a dog’s behaviour and what they can see in the unnatural environment of the surgery. A good behaviourist will go to the dog’s home and see the whole situation in context. It is impossible for owners to relay a clear picture of what is happening. They are too close to it.
Going to the little dog’s home and seeing him and the whole set-up for myself, I believe that his continually topped-up stress levels are the cause of his behaviour.
Reducing stress is the place to start.
Banjo won’t understand games like ‘Peep-Bo’ and ‘BOO!’. If someone is playing excitedly with one of the small children or Ellie, instinctively he may try to break up what he sees as ‘potential conflict’. Similarly, when someone dangles the baby he may become concerned. A third dog will split up worrying behaviour between two other dogs.
Banjo stares. Banjo watches.
Baby’s dad buries his face into the baby’s neck to kiss him and Banjo growls. After all, if a dog grabs another dog by the neck, this can be potential trouble. Is he intervening?
They will learn to understand Banjo better. This includes learning to read read him – though a Frenchie’s face may be a bit harder to read than some. Staring with hard eyes will be watched for. Stillness can be a warning.
Looking at things through Banjo’s eyes without our own human interpretation they can look quite different. He’s not an ‘aggressive’ dog at all. He is simply responding in an aggressive manner to things that confuse and upset him in some way.
Work to do! They will work on Banjo’s possessive behaviour around food and chews. They will be doing more to enrich his life. Getting his brain to work and letting him work for some of his meals by foraging and hunting will help him to adjust. They will control the play between the two dogs.
Possibly Banjo’s behaviour is, actually, quite predictable. Too much has changed in the Frenchie’s life. The baby. Another dog. Too much uncontrolled play. Ellie coming into season. Add to this people coming and going. Excited play. Excited homecomings. People winding him up before walks…..
Life has changed in another big way recently with poor Banjo no longer sharing their bed as he has done for the past eighteen months. Might he feel pushed out? He has never shown any aggression whatsoever with baby but they have done this on advice because the dog is ‘unpredictable’. It’s a shame because it was a good baby-bonding opportunity but it’s always best to err on the safe side.
My prescription? A big dose of much less excitement, more quiet and more calmness from all the humans around Banjo. Learn to read him for warning signs of stress – and stop what they are doing if it’s troubling him. Then work on getting him to feel differently about whatever it is.
A calmer dog is unlikely to show unpredictable aggression. A calmer dog will be a lot more tolerant. There are no guarantees, but with work and with the whole family pulling together, Banjo should hopefully get back to being his old self.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Banjo because neither the dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where aggression are concerned. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)