Whilst Bill barks and backs off, Little Ben (now one year old) charges at people coming to the house. The person then recoils of course, and Ben achieves his result – the person backs away. Now he is actually making contact with his teeth.
Both dogs barked frantically for a long time when I arrived – I didn’t recoil when Ben made contact! We tried various strategies. I took no notice of them. I looked away. I stayed sitting down. I moved slowly. Eventually I dropped treats gently onto the floor. Any sudden movement made them jump away.
This isn’t aggression at all – it is pure fear.
I asked the owners to show me what they did when people came. Like many people, they have reinforced the behaviour, maybe sitting on the floor with them and petting them while they growl and bark Go Away – in effect backing them up in their belief that the ‘intruder’ is an enemy. Then, having had enough, they will loudly command them to be quiet. How it is currently dealt with must be confusing for the dogs. Reinforcing them for NOT barking makes more sense.
These little dogs need to learn that visiting people mean good stuff – calm owners, nice treats and eventually fun, but being removed when things become too much for them. The people also need more ‘guinea pigs’ to the house to work with.
Because they have few visitors it’s a vicious circle. The more reactive their dogs are to visitors, the less the owners feel able to involve their friends and family.
Unsurprisingly this fearful and noisy reactivity, barking Go Away, extends to people on walks – and to dogs.
The wrong type of dog training
I would say that old-fashioned formal dog training classes have made things worse, especially with Ben. I felt really sad to hear that, because of his barking, he had been pinned down in the middle of the hall and forced to lie there while the other owners and dogs walked around him. It’s hardly surprising he believes people and dogs are bad news!
Knowledge of what makes dogs tick and how to train them positively based on scientific fact has advanced hugely over the last few years, but unfortunately a lot of existing trainers simply haven’t kept up. Old-fashioned dog trainers just keep on doing what they always have done, and dog owners, in their ignorance, believe in them.