Yesterday I met Bailey, a cross between a Cairn Terrier an something else. He is two years old and they have had him for one year.
At home he’s the model dog. He soon gets used to someone new coming into his house and is friendly – though it can take longer with a man, particularly if he’s tall or loud.
As time goes by Bailey is becoming more and more of a barker when out, particularly barking at people on walks.
He also barks at bikes, scooters, motorbikes and big stationary vans. He may circle a child on a bike, barking, which is very intimidating.
Bailey goes absolutely mad in the car when he sees bikes and motorbikes in particular, also people, very distracting on journeys.
The barking at people on walks is variable.
His barking at people on walks can be a bit variable. It may depend upon the person and it may also depend upon the mental state he’s already in and whether he has already encountered arousing or scary things and can simply not cope with more.
If the person is a man and if he is walking towards them it’s a lot worse. Retreating men and most women cause Bailey no problem.
The window cleaner is a huge challenge. Seen through the eyes of the dog, what is this man doing waving at the windows and wielding something that looks like a stick outside his house?
The couple belong to the local bowls club and like to take Bailey with them. He’s fine with some people but there are a couple of men in particular he just can’t take to. It upsets one man who does all he can to make friends with him. This may be the problem. If he ignored him or looked away, particularly if he sat down, it would help.
It is likely that Bailey wasn’t sufficiently exposed to the outside world when he was really young. Possibly he was seldom taken out.
Now they must do all they can to desensitise him – and counter-condition him to things he’s wary of. In this way the lady can help him with things that worry him when out and work on the barking at people on walks.
Put very simply, desensitisation is as much exposure to the thing as possible but only at a distance Bailey is comfortable with – his threshold or comfort zone.
Counter-conditioning is adding in something he likes – usually food.
Combining both desensitisation and counter-conditioning works best.
The lady always walks Bailey. She now will keep as much distance as she can from the things he fears. Avoiding them altogether will get them nowhere, but at a comfortable distance she can then feed Bailey some tiny favourite little snacks to get him feeling more positive about something he feels scared of when closer.
If he won’t eat or if he snatches, it’s telling her she is still too close so she needs to increase the distance further.
It’s hard for people to change walking routines so that instead of going from A to B regardless, they fill the same time with doing distance work which involves advancing and retreating.
Nearly all Bailey’s barking problems are when he actually sees the threat.
In the car he simply must be put somewhere he can’t see out to bark at bikes, motorbikes and people. The lady, like many, doesn’t like the idea of caging her dog but I feel it’s vital in some cases. Calling it a ‘crate’ or ‘den’ helps. A crate in the boot can be made into a comfy den and sprinkled with food. They can start with short journeys and build up from there.
Where the window cleaner is concerned, Bailey simply should not be in the house. Alternativel,he should be in a room with no windows to be cleaned.
When out at their club, Bailey must be protected from unwelcome advances. He looks so sweet people are drawn to him! They should sit in a corner with Bailey behind them and be his advocate to protect him. A yellow ‘I Need Space‘ shirt would be helpful.
Is Bailey too emotionally attached to the lady?
There is one other element to this and that is Bailey’s increasing protectiveness towards the lady. She adores him. That’s understandable – look at him!
Does she perhaps need him too much? He may feel that she’s reliant upon him and this could put pressure on him. Allowing Bailey to be more independent by fussing him a bit less could help him.
Things came to a head recently. Bailey was off lead and a jogger suddenly appeared. He charged at the man, barking. The man gave the lady an earful and then Bailey chased him out of the park, returning to the lady, to quote her, ‘pleased with himself’!
She walks him only on lead now. It’s a Flexilead which, by how it works, always has tension on it. She tightens it further when she sees a person approaching which will convey her own anxiety to Bailey.
Now she will use a longish, loose lead and instead of anxiously reining him in, increase distance and remain upbeat. They probably bounce off one another emotionally.
Barking at people on walks can only be resolved with time and hard work. The more consistent they can be, the more over time Bailey’s confidence should grow.