“It’s ok, he only wants to play!”

bullmastiff playing in a field

“It’s ok, he only wants to play!” These words strike fear and dread in dog walkers the length and breadth of the country, writes Kirsty Peake.

I was walking in the park with a client and her dog. The dog had been experiencing anxiety attacks when away from home and we had made huge progress and were now doing our first walk in the park. Needless to say, I had my eyes peeled for loose dogs and scary looking people.

As we moved into another part of the park, I spotted an elderly gentleman and his equally elderly Border Terrier, on-lead, walking on the path ahead of us moving in the same direction. I also saw a woman and her black Labrador, off-lead, walking towards us. When the Labrador spotted the terrier, he broke into a run and headed straight for him.

‘My message then would be to remind everyone that if their dog is off-lead, and is inclined to rush up to others, just think about the other dog.’

The elderly gentleman started to manoeuvre himself between the Labrador and his dog.
“It’s all right, he just wants to play,” came the cry from the owner.
“Well, mine doesn’t,” came the reply.

I started to move forwards as the Labrador, with his head down and hackles up, did not look as if he wanted to play.

3 dogs outside

Before I could get there to help, the Labrador bowled into the terrier just behind the ribcage.
The terrier just fell over on his side and lay there. I arrived in time to drag the Labrador away and return him to his owner, suggesting politely that perhaps she should keep him on a lead. The terrier was still lying there.

Eventually, he struggled to his feet and I suggested to the owner that a check-up at the vet would be wise. I continued my walk with my client and went home.

Three days later, I had a phone call from my vet, saying they had a client with an elderly Border Terrier, who had become frightened of going out. I put two and two together…

The terrier, Bob, had been so traumatised that he no longer wanted to go out. Bob, I discovered, had very little sight left and was deaf. The arrival of the boisterous Labrador had been a complete and utter surprise to him.

…contact the Yellow Dog UK group, which the CAPBT sponsors, and get one of their dog jackets that states, ‘I need space’.

When I arrived for the consultation, I was given a warm welcome by Bob and his owner, David. David lived in a groundfloor flat, with a small garden, and it was important that Bob, aged 14, had his daily little walks in the nearby park. I asked David to get Bob’s lead out and this had an immediate effect on Bob, who retreated to the bedroom and hid under the bed. He was shaking and quite distressed. He was still happy to go out into the garden, but it was only the size of a postage stamp. As a member of the CAPBT, I was fully armed with how to use the Emra (emotional, mood state, reinforcement assessment) approach of working with a dog’s emotions.

It is important to realise that an older dog’s cognitive abilities may not be as sharp as a younger dog’s, and it would therefore be more difficult to turn Bob’s new fear of being outside back into something he enjoyed. Also, the park is well used and a lot of dogs run free. Add to this his limited sight and no hearing and I had to think a little outside the box to get Bob interested in going out again.

My first suggestion was to buy a new lead of a different fabric, feel and noise. Fortunately, I have a friend with a very affable female Border Terrier; not quite as old as Bob but mature at a mere eight years of age. Bob gets on well with other dogs and when David’s family visit, they bring their dogs with them. I felt it was worth a try to see if having another dog around would help restore Bob’s confidence.

Our first plan was to ask David’s daughter, Amanda, to visit with her dog. This worked really well; Bob had a good sniff and soon realised who it was. Amanda then took her dog outside and we met up with my friend, Sue, and her Border Terrier, Mabel. Mabel and Amanda’s dog got on well, so we all walked back into the garden. Bob soon realised that there was a new dog in the garden. He approached Mabel, had a sniff, and was given a lovely food reward for doing that.

Soon, all three dogs were in the house and Bob was following Mabel around, as if to show her his home! Amanda had travelled some distance to help her father and she left first with her dog and, after a short time, Mabel, Sue and I left as well. Apparently, Bob slept very well that night after all his socialising.

If your dog is off-lead, make sure he will come back immediately when called.

Human Sheild

We continued with Sue and Mabel visiting David and Bob on a regular basis. I then had to decide whether Bob was confident enough with Mabel to go with her just into the park. With help from colleagues, we formed a semi-circle of people, just inside the park, so they could make sure that no dog ran towards Bob and Mabel. Bob hesitated as he left the garden, but we kept Mabel close to him and, with the rewards handy, we arrived at the park. Here he froze; he knew where he was. We just stopped and chatted, keeping everything low key.

Once he relaxed a bit, we turned round and went home. It took several weeks of working like this until Bob and Mabel were regularly walking together in the park, as were David and Sue! It was then time to widen Bob’s circle of friends so, very carefully, we introduced him to my ‘socialising group’ of dogs.

He was a bit unsure to begin with, but, with Mabel at his side, he soon had a bigger group of buddies. It was very useful to work in the group, as Bob would be in the middle and any off-lead dogs approaching would be deflected by one of the socialising group.

border terrier

Next, we started moving Mabel away from Bob during walks so that Bob was back on his own with David. Lots of treats reinforced the fact that he was safe. David now kept a very watchful eye on other dogs walking in the park. I suggested to him that he contact the Yellow Dog UK group, which the CAPBT sponsors, and get one of their dog jackets that states, ‘I need space’. This has worked well and regulars in the park now know that Bob needs to be given space, taking care with their dogs if they are running free.

David and Bob now walk in the park as they did before. They are regulars in our socialising group, and Bob and Mabel have become great friends. I think word got out about what happened and, when I see them, I’m aware of an almost invisible safety net around them from other dog walkers in the park.

My message then would be to remind everyone that if their dog is off-lead, and is inclined to rush up to others, just think about the other dog. Not every dog can cope with this, especially when the dog rushing up is much bigger. If your dog is off-lead, make sure he will come back immediately when called. Do not use the words “He just wants to play” as an excuse to hide the fact that your dog is not under control.

Kirsty Peake (First Published in Dogs Monthly)

About the author: Kirsty Peake is a CAPBT practitioner. She runs Pet Matters, a pet behaviour and training practice in southwest Devon, with two other CAPBT members. She was the founding chair of the Coape Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers and is a specialist advisor to the UK Wolf Conservation Trust. She lectures around the UK and Europe on dog and wolf behaviour, and moves between living in Dartmoor National Park and near Yellowstone National Park in the US.

Any questions? Please get in touch
Read more about CAPBT here: CAPBT Website

Share this Post

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *