Nips People Who Visit

AchillesIndieBeautiful Indie is another Shepherd-type dog that is reactive to people – particularly people coming to his house. He was abandoned as a puppy of three months old on the streets of Romania and spent the next three months in kennels – crucial months in his development.

The reason he nips people is probably a mix of being territorial, fear of new people – of men in particular, and some instinctive herding of people in order to control them when walking around his house which he had done from the beginning and well before he began to show any aggression.

The young lady has worked so hard with her beautiful dog and is very distressed that he changed so drastically. Before that she could take him to work and he would accompany her everywhere. Now she can’t trust him.

His behaviour changed when he became adolescent. At the same time, just as he had settled into his new home over here, the lady went away for a month and had to leave him behind. There would have been a big break in his new routines and very likely he felt insecure.

Sudden movement seems to trigger immediate barking followed by a nip – on the person’s leg. The only incident outside his house was when, on a walk, some people suddenly appeared out of the woods and the man was brandishing a stick. This really upset Indie, particularly because the man then fended him off with the stick.

He was on edge for several days after that, growling and barking at everyone he saw.

Like lots of dogs who are reactive to people in their own territory and who startle and lunge when someone may suddenly appear, Indie is fine in busy places with lots of people and dogs. Strange isn’t it. Like us, if we are alone in a field and a person suddenly appears we can feel quite exposed. If the field is full of people we feel a lot safer.

Indie used to accompany the young lady to work but because of his unpredictability she has been leaving him at home where, though he has company, the methods used with him are totally different – more along the ‘old-school’ methods rather than positive and reward-based.

So she will start to take him to work with her again and she will manage the situation better. It is fortunate that she works for herself. The times when he’s most upset with stuff going on he can be put in the car where he is happy and relaxed. If she needs to wander about and go anywhere with hands free, she can tie his lead to her waist which will keep him and other people safe.

Every time Indie hears or sees a person, however distant, the ‘food bar’ will open. When nobody is about it will close.

More visitors to the house are needed also – but only when the young lady is at home to make sure things are done in the right way.

Whatever the main root cause – probably a mix of herding, guarding and fear – it boils down to Indie not feeling safe when the person moves about or makes a sudden movement. It’s not every time – which makes him all the more unpredictable. I saw it for myself when, although earlier I had been walking around with no problems, I stood up when he was asleep. He reacted immediately – the lady was ready for it.

It is possible to teach him alternative behaviours incompatible with barking and nipping as the young lady has been doing, like Sit or Down or Bed along with watching her – but this means she has to constantly be on tenterhooks each time the guest is likely to move in order to give Indie the correct cues. One day she may forget or be out of the room.

It’s far better to treat it right at source, I feel, and deal with the emotion which is driving Indie to behave like this, to have him associate people with good stuff, to desensitise him so far as possible to sudden movements and help him to feel more confident around people.

The work can begin with people in situations or at a distance where Indie feels reasonably comfortable. At work, the people don’t actually enter the work area but there is frequent traffic walking past his barrier of people who will ignore him if requested to do so. He can also be taken to busy places with lots of people and dogs because he feels reasonably safe there also.

When out he can wear a yellow high-viz jacket bearing the words ‘Ignore me, I’m in training’. He is fine so long as nobody walks directly up to him. He is such a beautiful looking dog it’s easy to understand why people should want to touch him.

Bit by bit the bar can be raised.

I wrote a short blog in my Paws for Thought series about ‘sudden’ and dogs.

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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Indie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. 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).

Roaming Free, Now on Lead

Elderly rescue dog

Charlie

Two little dogs were strays on the streets in Romania

Bonnie and Elma

Two of these little dogs had been fending for themselves on the streets of Romania.

The two girls, black and white Bonnie with little terrier Elma (both on the right) were probably abandoned pets.

The lady is an experienced dog owner – particularly with rescue dogs. She took on much older Charlie, left, seven months ago and the other two only three months later.

The three are extraordinarily well-adjusted in the circumstances. The lady has worked hard.

Sometimes it’s hard to see one’s own situation clearly and she needs some help to take things to the next stage.

Bonnie is very reactive to other dogs. With her history of roaming free on the streets and considering how quickly she fitted in with the other two dogs, I strongly suspect her reactivity has been getting worse because she is on lead.

She’s not free any more.

Nor can she be let off lead. Shortly after she arrived she disappeared for two hours.

The solution to this is largely about groundwork. The work doesn’t simply start when out on walks and they meet a dog. Fundamental is getting her full attention at home at the sound of her name along with getting instant recall when she is called around house and garden. These things need to become an automatic response.

She needs to learn how to walk nicely. Only then will the lady be ready to work on other dogs, finding the threshold distance where she still feels safe – and building up her confidence. She can help Bonnie to feel more free by making sure the lead is always slack. This is a time-consuming business and has to be taken slowly.

Over time Bonnie should begin to associate other dogs with nice stuff, instead of fear and feeling trapped on lead with a tense human holding it tight with resulting discomfort to her neck.

Fortunately neither of the other two dogs has these problems, so the lady will work on Bonnie by herself until gradually doubling her up with one of the others and then all three together.

Recall will be worked at for as long as it takes before Bonnie is ever let off lead again.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Charlie, Bonnie and Elma, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).