Abandoned by travellers.
Olive, now 10, was abandoned by travellers three years ago. My clients had gone to the rescue for a Staffie type dog and came home with the tiny Chichuahua Yorkie mix (the photo makes her look larger than she is). She was cowering in the corner behind her bed, shaking. They just couldn’t leave her there.
It soon was apparent that she was in bad physical shape. She had luxating patellas in both knees which had to be dealt with one at a time, each meaning twelve weeks of restriction.
Olive was, and still is, extremely reactive to people either passing or coming into her house. She will bark fiercely at them. Go Away!
If anyone tries to touch her she snaps at the hand.
The young couple had begun to make some progress with Olive and then disaster struck. The tiny dog was attacked by a Lurcher. This sent her fragile confidence spiralling downhill.
Barking ‘Go Away’ works. People do go.
Olive has learnt, probably throughout most of her life, that if she barks ‘Go Away’ the person usually, eventually, will go away.
She barks from the front window at passing people and dogs to go away. They go. However, when someone actually comes into the house, she’s no longer successful in sending them away. She may have to try harder.
Olive has also learnt that if she snaps ‘Go Away’ at any hand coming towards her, the hand is immediately withdrawn. It’s impossible not to automatically recoil when a dog snaps!
For Olive, snapping is successful.
It is very likely that for the first seven years of her life she has been in some sort of pain. Hands may well have hurt her. She may always recoil from hands. If it keeps being put to the test with people putting their hands out to her with snapping working, it is less likely to improve.
What prompted them to get professional help now is that they are expecting a baby at the end of the year. They need her to be a lot more accepting of people coming to their house.
To achieve this, practising barking Go Away at people through the front window needs to stop. They will block her view.
She barks at children one side of their garden and a talkative man who pops his head over the fence the other side. They will work at getting Olive to feel better about the neighbours. We have a plan.
When people come to the house it would be better if Olive isn’t in a doorway that the person has to walk through, advancing upon her. They will get a gate.
All callers must be trained!
When the person comes in, they will drop a Kong with something tasty in it over the gate to Olive. Even if she ignores it until later, there is a message. A person coming into the house triggers the Kong.
They will explain the importance to the person of not putting their hand out to Olive. People simply can’t resist trying to ‘make friends’! I suggested a reminder with a yellow vest on the dog saying ‘No Hands’.
They can allow Olive to calm down a bit before letting her out. They will have her lead handy. The work will begin.
Now they need helpful friends and family to work with her.
Most walks are an ordeal.
She is often very reluctant to go out of the door for a walk. Our overall aim being to increase Olive’s confidence, I suggest they ‘ask her’ if she would like to be carried. She’s fine when in their arms. So instead of walking her they will from time to time put her down and ask her again if she wants to walk or to be carried. They will see her answer from her body language.
People are often worried that picking a tiny dog up isn’t the ‘right’ thing to do. I feel that, if the dog is scared, it’s essential. Here is a short video from Steve Mann about picking up a little dog: Small Dog Syndrome.
Once in the field Olive loves to run off lead – free. After the attack on her they are very careful. They can’t risk another bad encounter. Fortunately she never goes far and her recall is excellent.
Olive did get used to me after about ten minutes and came up to me. I made it easy for her with my own body language. She took food from my hand. If I moved my hand even a little towards her she suddenly snapped and of course I quickly recoiled.
She was more comfortable on a lead, a support line, almost like responsibility of dealing with me was removed from her, being taught to settle on a rug next to the lady where she feels safe.
Building up Olive’s confidence and associating people with good stuff is the way to go, along with giving her something to do when people come to the house that is incompatible with barking at them – settling on her blanket.
Ten days later – beginning to prepare dear little Olive for the baby.
Five months later and baby has just been brought home: ‘Still early days obviously but so far Olive is being so good about the arrival of baby. She’s not overly interested and is happy to sit calmly besides us holding her. No barking at her which is lovely! !
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Olive. 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 fear or aggression of any kind is involved. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).