When the elderly gentleman walks into the room, Bella changes personality. She growls, she barks and the other day she flew at him and bit him.
Bella is a typical happy, sometimes demanding, young Cocker Spaniel. She is generally friendly and loving towards the man so this is completely out of character so far as I could immediately see. I now needed to get to know her a bit better.
As I had no personal history with her she didn’t play me up at all, and she was soon happily dropping things for me (something she may not usually do) and waiting without barking (which was also unusual). She showed me her training tricks after just one, soft request.
Hopefully it is motivating for people to actually see what is possible if their relationship with the dog is a bit different.
Having asked lots of questions and found out as much about Bella as I could, from what she is fed on to how she is out on walks and much more, I then looked into the circumstances surrounding the uncharacteristic barking and aggressive behaviour towards the gentleman.
For starters, Bella only behaves like this towards the man in two particular rooms in the house, a small narrow study and an even smaller ironing room. Secondly, she only behaves like this when the lady is in one of these two rooms too.
We then set the scene so that I could see exactly what happens.
The lady sat at her desk in the little study with Bella beside her. I hovered beside the doorway. The gentleman walked through the door and approached the dog in a friendly manner. Bella licked her lips. He looked at her and talked to her as he usually did, hand outstretched – leaned over her. She barked furiously.
Bingo – I could see what was happening. She felt trapped in the small room and to her he seemed to be bearing down on her. It looked like he was looming (he’s unable to lower himself due to a hip problem). From a dog’s perspective his body language, his full-on approach, his gaze and outstretched arm whilst she was trapped in a very small space simply was threatening.
It seems the man never has cause to go in either of these two small rooms unless the lady is already in there. Was the problem because of the man’s body language and because the space was small alone, or was the lady’s presence something to do with it? We experimented with the gentleman walking into the room with me in there instead of the lady and Bella was fine.
Whilst the lady and Bella were both in the little study, the gentleman practised on the coal scuttle in the other room – the coal scuttle was Bella! The man rehearsed walking past the coal scuttle (Bella) with the least threatening body language possible, not looking down and
not walking directly at her. All the time he would be dropping food.
Then we tried it for real. I had first put some little bits of food on the shelf in the study. The man walked into the room, picked up some food near the door, didn’t look at or talk to Bella and moved slowly past her, slightly sideways, until he reached his wife, dropping food all the time. All Bella was interested in was the food.
We then did the same thing in the ironing room, the little room where the man had been bitten. No barking.
When he approaches the room, the gentleman will announce himself with some words or sound so his appearance in the doorway isn’t sudden. If the dog does happen to bark, then the lady needs to take control and teach the dog to come to her and lie down whenever the man enters the room, but I don’t think it will come to that.
His instructions are, for the next few weeks, to ignore Bella totally in these two small rooms – apart from dropping food. They will set up lots of sessions and Bella should soon be thrilled to see him in the doorway!
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bella, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs 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).