Tonight I have been working with an Italian greyhound that has a barking problem around other dogs as well as a deep fear of other dogs. It doesn’t matter where her owner takes her, she will see a dog and start barking and lunging, she has a very loud bark for such a small dog and she can go on for a long time. From the moment her owner brought her out of the car, she was in full cry, barking, pulling and stressing.
The behaviour and the level of the behaviour were really worrying the owner. She has had the dog since she was a baby and the dog is now 18 months old and has apparently, been behaving like this from a very early age.
Now, when you get a dog behaving in this way from a very early age, there is a reason for it but what is even more remarkable is the owner has put up with it for so long. Italian greyhounds are not very common as pets, I have only seen a handful in all the years I have been training dogs and they are a lovely breed so what had happened to this young female to make her behave in this manner?
If you have read any of my work, you will have heard the phrase “we create the dogs behaviour” and the same is true here and when I had a conversation with the owner about the early days of having the dog and what she was allowed to do, the inevitable pattern began to emerge. To be fair, it is not the owners fault as they were just following all of the usual advice that is trotted out and regurgitated ad nauseum by every dog owner you ever meet because they have heard it from every dog owner they ever met so it must be true. That advice is you must socialise your puppy and get her used to other dogs. The trouble is most owners interpret this to mean you let your puppy approach other dogs and learn from the consequences, whether good or bad. Owners seem to believe all dogs will be fine with all the dogs they ever meet so they gladly send their new puppy away from them to meet and greet older dogs at will and hope the puppy will know what to do!
Do you think the puppy’s mother would allow her baby to put herself in danger? No she would not; she would make sure her baby is safe and secure with her. So, by letting a new puppy approach other dogs, do you think you are becoming a suitable replacement for your puppy’s mother? Well that is exactly what you should be doing, just because it is a dog, she still needs caring for and looking after, not being positively encouraged to leave you and see how she fares with older dogs she does not even know.
To put that into context, would you let a three year old child go and play with a group of children with an age range of 9 – 14 years and leave them to their own devices? I would hope not yet we seem to think it is perfectly OK to do just that with our puppy, who is just someone else’s baby we have taken on to look after.
What does this mean to the puppy? It means she will find the company of other dogs fearful and stressful because she is literally on her own and is relying on her wits and instincts to survive. Her new family are nowhere to be seen so they clearly do not care about her so she feels completely on her own.
Because this is repeated, probably every day, she learns if she runs at the other dogs barking, their owners take their dogs away from her so she does not have to meet them and be scared. Then this behaviour becomes reinforced by her owner who will tell her off for barking and will try and call her back from the other dog. This, of course, just reinforces the behaviour because she interprets your interaction as a reward so she does it more and you give this behaviour even more reaction and it quickly becomes an established and entrenched behaviour which is teaching the dog to be ever more stressed around other dogs.
In the space of an hour, she was walking on a slack lead with her owner ignoring the other dogs and this was achieved without force, fear, commands, food or toys. When the dog gave the behaviour the owner wanted, she was rewarded with praise and fuss, when she went towards another dog, this behaviour made her owner walk in the opposite direction so the puppy followed her and received praise and fuss for making the right decision. It is as simple as that, when you know how.