Most dog owners think a few training classes will solve their dog’s problem, when in truth it could make matters worse.
The most frequent problem I deal with is aggression, to people or other dogs, sometimes both.
The owners are often convinced that all their dog needs is to get used to other dogs, in a class situation.
My first question is, “What does your dog do when he sees a dog in the street?”
“Oh, he barks and tries to get to them, sounds really nasty, but I think he only wants to make friends.”
I explain that this is a very common fear reaction and how their dog would feel very threatened in a class situation, and how the dog would frighten and upset the other dogs in the class.
I offer them an individual program of control that they need to help their pet.
Some owners are sure their dog is not frightened, just unsocialised. “If he was frightened he wouldn’t try to get to them would he?”
I always explain to owners how their dog feels and ask them to put themselves in his place.
“Imagine you are walking down the street and I have you on a lead so you are unable to escape, you see something coming towards you that you are very afraid of – for me, that would be snakes.”
The owner usually reacts by telling me what they are afraid of, maybe snakes or spiders. “…but I have told him not to be frightened, I make him sit and leave and not to be so stupid.”
“So, if I told you that and made you sit and shouted at you to leave, as your worst nightmare approached, what would you do?”
This question normally stuns them into silence, realising (I hope) just how frightened their dog must feel.
Some owners just go away to try and find a training class that will take their dog.
No amount of shouting, or threatening the dog while he is in a high anxiety state, will alleviate his fear.
If only dog owners would stop and think how their pet feels in this situation, it would help them deal with the problem.
I use the same methods for dogs with fears and phobias as are used to help humans, i.e. ‘systematic desensitisation’. The other method of treating fears in humans is called ‘flooding’, where the subject is confronted with his or her fear. Putting the person or dog right in the middle of his/her fear, i.e. a hall full of dogs – or, if it were me, a hall full of snakes.
I can tell you now that I would end up a gibbering idiot.
The difference with human subjects is that they are told how the system works and, of course, they have to agree to the ‘flooding’ method for it to work. I believe, in most cases, the ‘systematic desensitisation’ has the greater success.
There are so many things an owner must accomplish before taking the correct action in the street. The dog must have complete faith in his owner and trust that he will do the correct thing. Respect on both sides is imperative.
Out in the street, the first step is to avoid dogs. Once the dog is triggered into fear, he will be anxious for the rest of the walk. Allowing him to see dogs at a safe distance, and then walking quickly away, will start to help the frightened dog to calm down and trust his owner will take the correct steps to help him.
Every dog, owner and situation is different, what will work for one partnership will not work for another.
The very best advice I can give you is to put yourself in the dog’s place, imagine how he feels, and NEVER SHOUT.
It is important that you seek help from a qualified behaviour consultant.