A lady owner and her friend came along to see me at my training school with Bruno, a 15 month old Staffordshire Bull Terrier – very large, well built, and excitable. Bruno had been with the present owners since he was a puppy.
He had been enrolled in a small dog training class a few weeks previously, but was politely asked to leave because of the way he behaved, which consequently had upset the rest of the dogs. I saw Bruno in a separate room away from my training class.
As with many of the Bull Terrier breeds, he was wearing a brass studded collar and the owner had it on a single leather lead. Generally, this will be satisfactory for a dog without behavioural problems. However, the first thing I do with any dog where there is a behavioural problem is to ensure I have the correct type of lead and collar to control the dog, mainly for safety, but, it also ensures that I do not have the same problem as the owner using equipment that is clearly not suitable. I selected a ‘Kombi’ and a ‘Juster’ 1″ double training lead for Bruno. Anyone who handles Staffie’s will know that they are a very powerful dog, so, given Bruno’s size, I could understand the difficulty this lady was having in attempting to control him on the type of lead and collar that she had been using. I soon found out Bruno loved treats so at least it was quite easy to keep his attention. The problems the lady was having with Bruno were (1) controlling him, and (2) the dog was showing aggression to her husband.
1) Although Bruno was excitable, he was not anti social to either people or dogs. The owner was quite amazed when I handled Bruno without any difficulty as she thought he was anti social to all male people. This was because of the difficulty she was having with the dog and her husband and the difference in my approach, getting the confidence of the dog first. Having changed the lead because of the pulling problem, I fitted a Kumfi Stop Pull Harness. A word of warning, these harnesses, particularly the cord ones, should have some padding under the forelegs or constant use will create sores. The Kumfi or Hi Control Stop Pull Harness (large size) is manufactured in one inch soft webbing and also has very comfortable soft sleeves under the forelegs. The objective of this type of harness is that when the dog pulls there is a gentle lift under the forelegs which takes away traction and inhibits the steering ability. With some dogs, results are immediate but a little instruction on lead handling is always important.
When using a harness the handler has very little manual control over the dog’s head, which can create difficulties in a training class, particularly with anti social dogs and more enthusiasm from the handler may be required. In Bruno’s case, because of the very square shape of his head, fitting a head-collar was a little difficult. If Bruno proved suitable for the training classes, I would use the harness and kombi combination, holding the harness in the left hand and controlling the head with the lead and kombi in the right. This has proved invaluable with some excitable dogs. (2) As for the dog showing aggression towards the owner’s husband, the fact that her husband would not come along to the consultation made me think that things would be a little difficult. He appeared on the face of it to have very little interest in the dog, infrequently exercised it and appeared to fear the dog. I arranged for Bruno to come along to the classes for the next ten weeks, out-door at first, socialising at the agility session. Subject to progress here, he may eventually be in a position to join the indoor class. I asked the owner’s husband to come along as this would help immensely.
For her husband to overcome the problem he was having with Bruno, he would have to be persuaded to take over a lot of the things that his wife did for Bruno, such as exercising and feeding him. When the husband was in the house his wife would have to ignore Bruno. Even if the dog came over to her, she would have to turn and walk away. The dog would have to sleep in a separate room so that the husband could be the one that greeted the dog each morning. If the dog showed aggression at the husband then he should ignore the dog until it came around again. Bruno was ‘tit bit’ crazy, a factor that could be controlled and used to the husband’s advantage, but he would have to ensure that he did not reward aggression.
Aggression must be ignored as, sometimes, any attempt to correct it can make matters worse and extreme care should be taken. On the other hand, rewarding good behaviour is important and part of the therapy. A word of advice was given regarding aggression. If a dog is in a territorial situation, for example under a chair, under a table, or in a corner, and showing aggression, never try to correct it or put your hand in to remove the dog. The dog will retreat further into his little ‘den’ and will, through fear, become worse. Remove the chair or the table, or block them off by all means. This will stop the retreat into a territorial situation and may prevent future occurrences. A training exercise of leading the dog on the lead into these territorial situations, and then bringing the dog out with a little praise will increase confidence.