When 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 problems, 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).