Dog Feels Unsafe out on Walks

British Bulldog sitting like a humanWhen I arrived British Bulldog Bentley was very interested in sniffing me as most dogs are – they probably know all about my own four dogs within a few seconds!

He didn’t seem nervous of me initially and was happy with me tickling his chest as he sat on his bed beside me, but when later I asked him to come to me he withdrew and watched me from a distance (as you can see from the photos). He is wildly excited when people he knows come to the house, but is wary of anyone new.

Because he was so quiet I never saw the real dog – who has a full repertoire of gimmicks to get attention! You’d think butter wouldn’t melt to look at him! He will scratch persistently at the door to have it opened but may not then go through, he has a sequence starting with grunts that lead up to barking at the man to get the attention he wants, he won’t let the lady talk on her mobile and he steals then runs off with things – all for the chase, then won’t give them up.

He is quite comical in a way – look at how he sits!

Bentley is two years old, and until the end of last year had the ‘back up’ of an older dog who has now died. His British Bulldogproblems, mostly to do with feeling unsafe, particularly outside the house, seem to have become a lot worse since then.

He is ambiguous about walks. When the harness is produced he runs away to his bed, but once it’s on he seems happy to go out. The further they walk away from the quiet area in which they live however the more anxious he gets, pulling and panting, and getting very noisy when he sees another dog.

They usually route leads beside busy roads or to a local park, which is very popular and noisy with children, people and dogs. Only when they get back near to home again does Bentley calm down a bit.

Both humans and dog arrive back home more stressed than when they started out – certainly not what walks are designed for.

Added to all that, even in the park, fields or woods he is still held on the shortish lead which must be very frustrating for him. They dare not let him off as sometimes it is hard to read his intentions towards other dogs. Because he has a tiny, twisty tail that doesn’t give out the usual signals and a face that whilst looking amazingly cute to us, maybe be difficult for another dog to decipher, he himself may be unwittingly inviting negative responses.

Just as with the two black dogs I went to last week, we will separate the currently stressful pavement walking from the countryside walking so that he can slowly be desensitised to traffic whilst also getting healthy stimulation and exercise. They can pop him in the car and take him to the fields.

So far as ‘normal’ walks are concerned, the bottom line is that he doesn’t feel safe at the moment, and that has to change.

Bit by bit, starting in the garden and then out in the road near their house where Bentley is still reasonably comfortable, they will work on his walking on a longish loose lead. The walk is about the journey, not the destination. Several short sessions on a loose lead with encouragement and food rewards will do much more good than one long session.

They will very gradually go a little further from home., a few yards at a time. As soon as he starts to be even slightly agitated, they should take a few steps back into his comfort zone and then ‘lace the environment’ – sprinkle food about on the ground. He needs to learn that the environment with other dogs, traffic and people at an acceptable (to him) distance is a good place. If he won’t eat, then they need to increase the distance further.

If they take this sufficiently slowly Bentley should gradually be able to get further from home before he starts to get agitated, until the time comes when then can walk instead of drive to the nearest off-road open area. It will take considerably longer to desensitise him and build up his confidence sufficiently to get back to their former route beside the busier roads.

It’s essential that in order to feel safe Bentley trusts the person who is holding the lead to look after him. This requires general relationship building which starts at home. He is a much-loved dog with people who just need pointing in the right direction.

NB. For the sake of the story this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an angle. Also, the precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bentley. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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).

 

 

German Shepherd Barks at People

nualaThough she’s not completely comfortable with having her photo taken, Nuala and I made friends very quickly! What a stunning dog the two-year-old cream-coloured German Shepherd is.

She lives alone with a lady in a quiet country cottage, where anyone even coming up the path is a major event. Like so many German Shepherds that I go to, she is very reactive to people who come near to her. Her response is to lunge at them, jumping and barking. She has never bitten.

Nuala is very good with other dogs – she has mixed more with dogs than with people. The lady began by taking her to puppy classes and then, due to an operation for elbow dysplasia, the young dog was confined for quite a long time. Since then her dog walker has taken her out with other dogs and the lady also takes her on Big Walkies. Like many dogs, if the humans have dogs with them Nuala is fine.

The situation has come to a head because the lady is having to spend several days at a time at her daughter’s house, looking after her seven grandchildren.Nuala1 Where, strangely, Nuala gets on fine with the smaller children, there are five teenagers who are as scared of her as she is of them – understandably. As soon as one enters the room, if not caught fast enough she flies towards the child, barking.

The lady could see from how quickly Nuala calmed down when I arrived just how the few other people who do come into her house should be asked to act.

The two main challenges for a dog like this are people entering the room and people getting up and moving about – even people the dog has met before. Often the dog is worse with men.

The teenage grandchildren are very cooperative and not over-noisy. They will do their best to help, so we have devised a plan. Unfortunately they live too far away for me to visit their house too, else I would do so.

‘Safety First’ is vital. Even with the younger children the lady should be looking out for signs of any stress from Nuala – lip-licking, yawning, looking away etc. It’s easy to assume a dog is enjoying a fuss when really she may only be tolerating it.

The older children will do lots of walking in and out of the room through different doors. Nuala will be on a lead (I decided against asking her to sit or lie down as not only could this put more pressure on her, the ultimate ubject is to have her walking freely and happily about). As they do so the lady will feed her something especially tasty. The child will walk in quietly – not burst in! Soon the children could be throwing her food as they walk in. If it happens enough times and they blitz her with comings, goings and food, I’m sure Nuala will become sufficiently desensitised for the leash to be dropped – until possibly after a period of quiet like when the kids suddenly appear again having been at school when they will need to do some more desensitising.

The older kids will also teach her to be happy while they stand up and move about. Again, bit by bit, moving slowly and so Nuala remains comfortable whilst also being on lead, they can work on this. They can be taught the best way to move and the body language to use.

When the lady comes back to her own home she can spend a couple of weeks weaning Nuala into wearing a muzzle – just as something to fall back on and so everyone can relax a bit next time. She should regularly take her somewhere a bit more busy to get her used to people. They can start at quiet times of day and the other side of the road from a passing person at a distance that doesn’t stress her, and gradually go at busier times as Nuala’s confidence grows.

In my experience, in many of the cases where a German Shepherd barks at people it’s because the dog hasn’t been adequately socialised with people in the first few vital weeks of her life – well before she has even left the breeder – so we are playing catch-up. It can be a big challenge requiring a lot of hard work.

PS. Here is an excerpt from a recent paper which scientifically backs up the importance of early socialisation where German Shepherds in particular are concerned: http://www.journalvetbehavior.com

One month later and the lady has decided to upgrade to my ‘lifetime’ option: ‘Nuala and I are making progress and are an on-going project and I am very aware of that.  I am so delighted with the consultation and plan and have been recommending you to everyone. I do wish to take up your continuing support.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Nuala, which is why I don’t go into 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).