My dog Sassafras is for the most part, a very good dog. She loves people, she’s well-behaved, she doesn’t jump or chew on things. She’s known to sneak off and pee on the bath mat if she doesn’t get a walk when she wants one, and she’s pooped on a friend’s carpet twice — but other than that, my little Boston Terrier/Chihuahua mutt is a really good girl.
Well, except when she meets other dogs. Then she turns into a snarling snapping monster prone to lunging and chasing dogs 10 times her size. Stupidest was when she tried to take on a Great Dane. WTF, dog? Are you suicidal? What’s wrong with you?
In her former life, Sassy was one of four dogs. I’m guessing she was at the bottom of the food chain and learned to be heinously defensive with the other dogs and so, here we are: unable to introduce her to other dogs without her FREAKING THE FUCK OUT. She makes friends eventually, as we know from her demonstrated fondness for her dogfriend Wyatt. But introductions are always awful, to the point where I apologize to other dog owners before it even happens.
“Is your dog friendly?” they say.
“She gets snappy…” I say.
“Har har,” they say. “My Fido is so patient with little dogs,” and then Sassfras tries to eat Fido’s face.
“Oh I guess I see what you mean,” they say, shaking their heads and walking away.
I finally decided that something had to be done. It was stressful for Sassfras and stressful for me, and quite honestly, a little embarrassing too. I’m the lady with the dog she has to apologize for.
I got this book from the library called Click to Calm and have been slowly using its ideas to train Sassafras to be better about meeting dogs…
We started with click&treating whenever she even just LOOKED at another dog. Even if the dog was across the street, if Sassfras looked at it, I would click&treat before she could get pissy. (Caveat: I’m no expert on dog training, so I’d read the book before you take my advice.)
Then I started click&treating when she got closer to dogs. I keep saying “Be nice,” and if she could go 1 second without freaking out, she got a click&treat. She’s getting to the point where now when she sees a dog coming, rather than get scared or anxious, she gets happy and plops down waiting for her click&treat.
I try to make a point to end on a positive note, BEFORE she can freak out … which has meant some neighborhood dog owners have gotten a 10 second swing by and then a click&treat and “Off we go sorry I’m trying to catch her before she can freak out!” called over my shoulder.
Monday I got an indication that it’s going to work. Granted, it was the easiest scenario: we were out walking and ran into a man with another chihuahua mix. Chihuahuas are notorious breedists, so it was a relatively easy strange dog to say hello to.
“Be nice,” I told Sassy as the dog approached, and she responded by sitting and calmly waiting for a treat. Because now strange dogs = happy times with treats.
The dog approached. “Be nice,” I said to Sassafras, and gave the dog’s owner a quick explanation.
He cautiously let his dog approach … AND THEY TOUCHED NOSES! You know, like normal dogs do when they say hello. I managed to have my clicker in hand and click&treated at the exact moment they sniffed sans freak out. SCORE!!
Then I stood and talked with the dog’s owner for a while, and Sassafras continued to not freak out, even when I gave the other little chihuahua a treat for being so patient.
Next step: clicking & treating when a dog sniffs Sassy’s butt. The goal is to make her think of ass-sniffing as happy instead of scary. Because really: if you get enough treats, ass-sniffing IS happy.