Two-year-old English Bull Terrier/Staffie mix Norma is a good example of what happens when a dog lacks any socialisation to people and everyday life in the first three months of life – the crucial period for encountering things before fear responses start to kick in. Puppies usually start off being trusting and carefree.
I didn’t take this photo – she was not this relaxed with me there.
Norma started life probably in a shed or barn – a puppy farm, then at two months old the litter was taken to the vet to be put to sleep but the vet refused and they ended up in kennels. She was there for four months until her current owners adopted her at six months old.
Her people are conscientious and caring, with a good natural insight into Norma’s needs. They have come a long way. They now have a new baby and they are worried about the future.
Whenever anyone comes to the house Norma growls and barks aggressively. She then seems almost to lure them into eye contact by staring or leaning on them – whereupon, when they look at her or move, she springs back into growling and barking. It is a strange case. She is quieter out of the room behind the gate where she can still see the people, but whilst there she will shake until they have gone.
Outside the house it is just as bad. She panics and wants to come home if out of sight of their home. The only way to get her walking enthusiastically is to carry a football and then keep kicking it to the point where she has become obsessive, but at least it keeps her mind of anything else. This is not a natural pastime for a dog and simply stirs her up more. If she sees a person approaching her hackles go up and she barks and lunges, and already fired up it’s hardly surprising. Norma first needs to learn to walk on a loose lead, to enjoy proper ‘dog walks’ with sniffing and doing doggy things. With hard work she should gradually learn that people are not a threat. This will take a long time, and I shall behind them all the way for as long as it takes.
There is hope. Once Norma does get to know people, she is very friendly – a well-behaved and biddable dog. Her people are really on the ball and prepared to give it their all. They are already going that extra mile. They have a supportive family who are also on board.
Possibly fear of humans could be the most difficult thing to remedy because you can’t put the clock back.