Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Living with a shouty bitch!

We don't know anything about Muffin's past but it is clear that lots of things were new and scary to her when she came home. Once she had settled, she appeared to feel secure inside but going out was a whole different story. Throw into the mix, a human who knew nothing about dogs and walk time used to be a stressful time for both of us. Initially I couldn't even get her to walk at all as she found it scary to be by the road.

Muffin was worried about bikes, horses, cars, vans and especially other dogs. She would bark and lunge when she come across any of these scary things. Not really understanding, I was worried that she was aggressive. I had lots of advice and many people said she should be around things that caused a reaction so she got used to them. Twice she was jumped on by another dog and pinned down and once she started a fight. Luckily it was all noise and bluster! These experiences did nothing to ease her worries when it became apparent that she needed to be on the lead, she was even more stressed around dogs.

If I wanted to get her used to being around dogs, she would have to be on the lead and often other dogs would be loose and sometimes in her face. Things just got even harder for her. Training a dog who's reactivity is fear driven is no easy task.

I made the decision to walk her off the beaten track and give up on the idea of spending time around lots of dogs. Immediately both of us relaxed and started to enjoy our walks.

After lots of research, I began to realise that fear was at the heart of her issues and started to use positive reinforcement. We carried high value treats and gave generously for staying calm around scary things. We didn't get too close if we could help it and any successes were heavily praised. She quickly got better near the roads. I think she realised we would soon be away from the traffic and that helped her cope better. She doesn't react to horses at all now or bikes. Dogs are still hit and miss. Once she knows a dog, she is fine. She is generally happy to pass another dog if there is plenty of room. There is one narrow path where the lead has to be kept a bit tighter and she can react on passing. She did so well in a park with lots of on lead dogs, that we took her to a dog funday. She had a few altercations but was much calmer than the first time we had gone. So good in fact, that we took her to a village fete this weekend.

Muffin certainly got into the spirit and when we passed the folk band, who were singing their hearts out accompanied by acoustic guitar, Muffin felt relaxed enough to join in! With a rendition similar to her Christmas wish video, I am not sure she enhanced their performance. She did raise a few smiles though, which makes a change from the dirty looks I have become more accustomed to.

We are so proud of how far she has come. I think the key for us was accepting how she is and working with it rather than trying to get her to fit in a box of our making.

I always try and have a friendly smile when I see somebody else going through a similar thing with their dog. I have had my fair share of negative looks and comments but wish people would understand that she is not nasty or evil. Reactive dogs have the right to be out. We already walk at unsociable hours. We have walked on routes less travelled  even when they have been overgrown with nettles and thistles, just so we don't upset anyone. I wish people who are out with their well adjusted off lead dogs, didn't look outraged when their dogs approach my anxious on lead dog and get shouted at. She is on the lead for a reason. Our skins are thicker  and our resolve is strong. We will no doubt have more bad days. The darker nights drawing in often set us back a little, but we will take each day as it comes and celebrate every success.


  1. Hello Muffin!!! So nice to meet you! Love your pretty face!

    The Painter Pack

  2. Fiona, I totally understand. We have a terror terrier, too, who we adopted with issues. Barking, lunging, even biting. It's taken one year, a village of people - 3 trainers, obedience class, play care and more - and lots of training by us, everyday, to get jasper to a place where he's a bit more predictable. Rare barking and lunging, mostly when his sister sets him off. I've talked to trainers, behaviorists, oh right, forgot the animal behaviorist and having him on Prozac for a minute, and read a bunch of books. Sometimes it's the simplest things that really work. But time, consistency, boundaries, giving a terrier a job to do all the time and love...those are the things evolving into a good citizen are made of. Wishing you much success with little Muffin. He's quite adorable. :-)

    1. We go through similar with Kilo. Progress is very slow with other dogs. Sigh. He is so afraid we usually now just stay on leash in his zone, but he defends it like a terror. We both failed obedience class attempts.

  3. wow, I understand this story. Our poodle is similar. The fear response can be dangerous even though motivated by fear. Just like people actually, the fearful ones are prejudiced and often aggressive to protect themselves. Cole calmed down more when he realized I was going to be in control and he could stand down a bit. We got him at 11 weeks, so he just came with that temperament. As a pup we learned a tired dog is a good dog. He's 13 now, and we still have to tell little kids not to run at him, we still have to wonder if a strange dog will be a good meet or not. Like you love Muffin, we love him, quirks and all. LeeAnna at not afraid of color

  4. Our Maggie had lots of fear issues when we adopted her three years ago - it's takes lots of love and patience to work them out. Good luck.

  5. We are plugging away with a mix of training and avoiding with Kilo too. Slow progress.