The family have now had Manchester Terrier Muffin for five years and they were the seven-year-old’s fourth home. She didn’t have a good start in life and they have come a long way with her. Some of her past included being locked up day and night and time in rescue surrounded by other dogs barking.
Muffin has problems meeting other dogs when out.
It’s not all other dogs though and it’s variable. She has her dog friends.
Muffin is a highly-strung dog in general. She is initially anxious and noisy when people come to her house. She, with a little help from their other dog, Cocker Spaniel Sparky, is on high alert for sounds.
For much of the day she is on sentry duty at the front window.
Muffin is looking out for other dogs.
As soon as she sees other dogs walking past, she will start to bark.
It’s more of a problem on walks. Muffin has slipped collars and harnesses. She then runs off and ‘terrorises’ other dogs or may rush at people, barking and jumping at them. A child could be scared.
Muffin has a wide neck and a small head and she simply backs out of collars. She neatly draws her front legs back out of harnesses too. Then she’s off.
One of her previous homes had given up on her because she was an escape artist.
My clients are responsible dog owners and have tried every bit of equipment they can find. The only way the gentleman who does the dog walking can feel confident that she can’t escape by backing out is by using a prong collar.
When they get too close to other dogs, unable to back out of her restraints, Muffin will rear up, hackles, barking and lunging. This simply has to be painful. Dogs’ necks are made much the same as our own.
Bin the prong collar!
Pain will merely add to negative feelings she already has about the other dog. We need to do the very opposite, to associate other dogs with as much good stuff as possible.
I would defy any dog to get out of a Perfect Fit harness if fitted properly. Muffin will be getting one and they will ditch the prong collar.
It’s vital that when Muffin sees other dogs that only good things happen.
To move things forward, the man had decided to expose Muffin to other dogs whenever he could. This isn’t improving things. She needs to feel differently about them – and flooding her will merely make her feel a lot worse. She’s trapped on lead, so as she gets closer will be feeling a degree of panic – and pain too as she rears up on her back legs.
Avoiding other dogs altogether will get them nowhere, but close badly managed encounters are even worse.
When she sees other dogs, the man will now watch her carefully. She focuses on a dog from a distance, becoming oblivious to anything else. Pushing ahead until she rears up and has to be forcibly held back does no good at all. This can in one stroke undo any good work already done.
It’s like a game of snakes and ladders.
I did one of my Paws for Thought blogs on the subject.
Working with other dogs at a comfortable distance, using food or fun as instructed, takes the dog up a ladder.
Unmanaged encounters with other dogs, either dogs that suddenly appear or dogs that come too close, will send her back down the next snake.
The snakes are a lot longer than the ladders! That’s life for you.
It’s a set-back. But this happens all the time because we live in the real world with other dog owners being less responsible. So, pick it up again and search for more ladders to go up – dogs at a distance she can cope with and is relaxed enough to associate with good things like food.
Because Muffin’s reaction to other dogs is affected by how aroused or stressed she already is, it’s important they help her to be calmer in general.
This means blocking her view out of front windows. No more watching out for other dogs to bark at and rehearsing the very behaviour they don’t want.
Her walking equipment will be comfortable and over time, if no longer forced too close and sliding down too many snakes, she will happily carry on walking when near other dogs. If the other dog itself has problems, they should increase distance for his sake as well as Muffin’s.
The practical details will vary per dog, but here I describe the general principal. This approach is backed up by science.
From a message three weeks later: ‘Thankyou so much for your support, we are astounded by how well the little things are making such a big difference’.
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 approach I have worked out for Muffin and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. 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 concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)