Looking at her history, she had little or no socialising for the first year of her life. Her new owners hadn’t been told that she was going to be so reactive to people – and to other dogs.
They hadn’t been warned.
Like so often happens unfortunately, new owners don’t get what they had bargained for. In this case, the rehoming organisation had taken the previous people’s word for it and passed her over on the same day. They had done no assessment of Tara themselves.
The couple had specifically requested a dog that gets on with people and other dogs. They wanted a dog as part of their lives for the next ten years perhaps.
Instead, when their first visitor calls, Tara horrifies and shocks them by suddenly morphing into a wild dervish, barking and lunging. She is just the same with people she meets out on walks, leaping and lunging.
An old-school trainer who used punishment.
Then they called in a trainer and OH DEAR!
The dog was already highly aroused by the man’s presence. Instead of helping her, he threw metal discs crashing on the floor in front of her. His aim was to intimidate her and make her submit. He then added the horrific sound of a compressed air from a can, something sometimes used to break up fights.
It sent poor Tara into a total frenzy. I would say it’s very fortunate the man wasn’t badly bitten. He deserved to be in my mind.
Fortunately the couple weren’t having any more of this with the dog they were growing to love.
They have had Tara for several weeks now and have made great progress at home – so long as it is just themselves. They are at their wits’ end and wondering what to do when other people are involved.
I don’t usually go into as much detail as I have here. The reason is that the strategies are fashioned around a particular dog’s problems and their causes. This method won’t apply to every dog that barks at people. If you have a dog like this, it is very important to get professional help so the strategies are appropriate to your specific dog’s needs and problems.
Barks and lunges at me
When I arrived Tara barks and lunges at me, straining on the lead which was tightly held by the gentleman. The lead was attached to a collar which would have added pain to the situation (dogs necks aren’t much different to our own).
I could see that the restraint was making her worse. With no known history of actual biting I suggested he dropped the lead whereupon, as I expected, she charged at me. I stood still, sideways to her, explaining to the couple the calming signals I was using – slow blinking, looking away, relaxed posture, breathing slowly. We carried on talking over the noise for a while. I pointed out that their own posture should be relaxed also (not easy!).
I then asked them what they would usually do. They had developed a strategy for when people did visit of training an incompatible behaviour. This was getting her to lie down and put her chin to the floor. This could have been good but only lasted a couple of seconds before she was up and barking again. Lying down did nothing to change her inner emotions and fears.
We worked on removing her from what she was finding a scary situation immediately the barking started. At the same time we associated my presence with good stuff, using a clicker.
They put a harness on her to avoid any unpleasant association with pain in the neck with myself if she lunges again. I sat down at the table to make things as easy as possible for her. I asked the man to take her just out of sight until she stopped barking. Then he’s to bring her back, being ready turn around again the very moment she begins to bark again.
Now, as soon as she was quiet he brought her back so she could see me. Timing is extremely important. As soon as she looked to me without barking, he clicked and fed her chicken. This went on for a while until I could walk around the room and she was relaxed – click/chicken.
Next we experimented with my going to the front door area and appearing again – upping the anti. Next I opened the front door and shut it again before coming into her presence.
This method needs to be used when they are out also, being careful to keep within her comfort threshold distance form people. If she barks or lunges they are too close. They will work on the ‘advance/retreat’ and clicker whenever she’s quietly watching someone. They have a big job to build up her trust in them and undo past history.
They need to practise with anyone they can get to visit – starting with people Tara has met before. It can be done with the neighbour whose presence looking over the fence sends her into a panic. As they turn, they can add ‘Let’s Go’ in preparation for encountering unexpected people or dogs outside. It’s just as much teaching the owners as teaching the dog. Good timing is essential.
Habituate and to a doorbell
Many dogs hate the sound of people banging on the front door which is understandable. I suggested a cheap wireless doorbell.
Before putting it up outside the door they could repeatedly ring it indoors and for several days associate the sound of it with food or games. When the bell is put up outside the door, they should continue to ring it for no reason at all. In this way when people come Bella won’t be fired up so early in the process.
One other point is that their sort of walks are probably not helping her to keep calm. A dog barks an lunges at people more if already aroused. They are over-stimulating Tara in terms of play and scary encounters.
It’s a big ask to get new owners to avoid close encounters for as long as it takes, but there is no other choice. Where there’s a will – there’s a way.
You can’t exhaust a dog out of being fearful.