The Unfortunate Incident of the Dog in the Morning

We recently had our Sunday morning dog walk cut short.  We had stopped to chat to the owners of a similar, but much larger, dog.  Everyone was off lead and no-one, canine or human, seemed anxious about that.  Our dogs have been very well socialised from puppies and whilst they are never going to win the obedience class at Crufts, they are largely responsive and reasonably well trained.  Moments in though, play turned nasty and it was clear that the other dog became aggressive towards one of ours.  It was very noisy with fur flying and none of us knew how to intervene.  Fortunately, rather than run in panic away from us, our dog ran TO us and cowered as close to my partner’s legs as possible, screaming.  He had a nasty bite to his ear, but more upsetting was his fear.  The people obviously apologised and went on their way so we could head home in the same direction, to try and sort the wound out.  It was at this point that a family who had witnessed the incident, approached us to say that they recognized the aggressor because he had done exactly the same to their dog previously.

After a trip to the vets and some TLC, the wounded ear has largely recovered, but what is going to take much longer is re-gaining our confidence.  I am grateful that I knew immediately who to contact for help and advice.  Claire Sayles (BScHons, DipCABT) from Paws4Thought has been with us from day one puppy classes.  Her quiet, gentle manner with dogs (and people) is something I have always appreciated.  As too her reward based, force free methods.  So, we’ve been for some one-to-one training at Claire’s base in Marlow to learn how to manage his new fearful behaviour whilst out walking.  I thought it might be useful to share some of these tips in case any of you find yourselves in a similar situation – and I most certainly hope that you don’t.

  • I know I am now tense when we see a dog we don’t know – and even some that we do know.  I have to try to relax so that my tension is not picked up by the dogs. Claire has watched our boy carefully, and saw him react when a dog happened to touch the ear where he was bitten.  She has advised me not to rush in anxiously should anything similar happen.  She can see he is not being nasty, it is a warning and it will be understood by another other dog as such.
  •  I am to give lots and lots of praise for good behaviour around other dogs.  Sausage for walking calmly by a dog close by, biscuits for walking nicely with a dog in the distance.  With lots of reassurance.
  • Keeping a new dog on the lead with our's off lead, free to come up or not as he chooses.  We did this at Claire’s and it was very upsetting to see how for the most part, he wanted plenty of distance between him and his new companions.  He has always been such a friendly soul.  When he did approach, Claire pointed out how he approached “bottom first”, thus avoiding the dangerous end (and that was only a little Pug)!
  • When we do see dogs close by, I need to keep him as focused on me as possible.  So I am going to take a tuggy rope or similar toy out on walks with me.  If we see another dog, it’s no drama, it’s time for a quick game of tug so that he is thinking about me and not the other dog.
  • It’s important now to keep things as stress free as possible.  The worst thing that could happen would be another anxious incident.  Using a fence as a tool to control meetings is a good idea – so they can sniff one another through the fence but not get any closer.  Again, this is something we practiced at Claire’s.
  • Walking with doggy friends is good too.  He has two favourite canine companions, big soppy Retrievers, who he has seen since.  Carrying on our normal routine of walking with them is a good thing.
  • He’s going into re-hab.  Claire and her team will have him for a few hours once a week on a quiet doggy day care day.  He will be supervised in a safe and controlled environment, but exposed to dogs he is unfamiliar with.  Over time, this should help him to build his confidence again.
So no longer do I have my morning dog walk to let my mind wander and solve life’s little problems.  I have to be focused on the dogs and quick to anticipate what he might react to.   I truly hope that we can both get back to the confident, happy individuals we were before this incident.


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