Scotties are an intelligent and hard-working breed, so their minds need to be stimulated and their batteries run down for them to be content in their lives. They love to interact with their owners and with the outside world – it stimulates them and stops them getting bored.
When people get a rescue dog, it often comes with issues. A lack of socialisation in the dog’s former life can often be the reason behind some of those behaviours. They’re scared of things they are unfamiliar with.
Probably because of the lockdowns during the pandemic, at STECS we’re seeing more evidence of anxious and nervous dogs who bark and snap when people visit or have a go at other dogs out on walks.
We’re asking a lot of our dogs – to adapt their behaviour to suit us. So, it’s beholden on us to help them learn how to engage with their environment, humans, and other dogs in a good way. In most cases, with kindness and patience, we can use positive reinforcement training techniques to counter unwanted behaviour
By looking at the world from the dog’s perspective, understanding what makes them anxious and then rewarding good behaviour, we can coach them. With dogs that are uncomfortable around other dogs and/or people, give them time and space to learn how to deal with things. And if your dog looks uncomfortable at any point, remove them from the situation.
If your dog is reacting by barking excessively when people visit your home, brief a few of your friends beforehand. Ahead of their arrival make sure your dog is secure – either behind a child gate or in another room, so he can’t bolt out of the front door when guests arrive. Once the front door is shut behind them, your guest should immediately start dropping treats. Then let your dog free to approach and consume the treats. He will then start to associate treats (good things) with people visiting. Ask your visitor to ignore the dog completely for the first five minutes while still dispensing treats. This gives the dog time to get used to the visitor and eventually he should calm down. Repeat this and things should improve.
Many rescue dogs have led very quiet lives with little exposure to what we consider to be normal day-to-day things. They’ve probably never seen brollies before, or people in hoodies, or bikes. You don’t need to immerse your dog into too much too soon. Try sitting with them in a park and take a chew or some treats they can enjoy while watching the world go by.
Another idea is to take your dog with you on a lead to an outside café. Again, expose your dog to new sights and sounds and reward him with tasty treats and praise as he encounters those new experiences; people with prams, noisy children, other dogs, cars, bikes and so on.
The best teachers for dogs are other dogs. Observing and participating in pack behaviour is the way dogs learn how to socialise with each other – how to approach and engage with other dogs politely. Ask a friend with dogs or a friendly dog walker if they would be happy for you and your rescue dog to accompany their pack on walks to help him socialise. Most people are happy to help. Even if reactive, your dog will usually be intimidated enough by the number of other dogs in the pack not to lash out but instead to observe how they interact. It’s a fine line between play and aggression which dogs can only learn through watching their canine companions.
Getting your dog to pass other dogs without reacting can be done with the luring technique. Using tasty treats like cheese, frankfurters, or liver, bend down and hold the treats in front of your dog’s snout as soon as other dogs come into view. Use the ‘leave it command’ as you pass. When your dog remains quiet and focused on you and not the other dog, let them know how much you like that and reward them with praise and by delivering the treat.
This technique also works for anything your dog has a particular adverse reaction to. Using the treats, lure them past people on bikes or skateboards and so on. It will take time, so persevere.
And when you’re ready, you can take this to the next level by employing the same technique with your dog on a ten-metre longline, and then once you’re comfortable with progress you can drop the longline (it’s easy to regain control of your dog with a trailing longline).
If you’re really struggling with a reactive dog, you could also try Calm K9, a powder supplement to add to food. This and the Karma Wrap are useful aids for helping to calm anxious dogs. They are particularly useful during storms or firework celebrations.
If you’re struggling with any behavioural issues with your dog, get in touch with one of us in STECS and/or a local dog behaviourist.