Meet Sally, an ALPL dog currently being fostered in Calgary. Sally is a Corgi-Shepherd mix, aged somewhere between 1 year and 15 months. Sally has some issues, and ALPL has called on me to help her get sorted out.
I met Sally at her foster’s home earlier this week. She immediately showed me her stripes by ferociously barking at me and refusing to allow me in the door by mock-charging me. This went on for a couple of minutes before I finally asked Darryl, her foster, to leash her so that I could at least get in the door. As he was leashing Sally, he told me she doesn’t usually behave this way; he added that when people come in the door, he has them offer her a treat, and then she’s fine. Inwardly, I sighed; offering treats in this type of scenario reinforces the unwanted behavior. It doesn’t correct it.
Once inside, Sally continued to bark at and mock-charge me. She also presented a sneaky move in which she tried to attack me from behind: when I turned my back on her, she rushed the back of my legs with the intention of nipping or outright biting at my calves.
Throughout the assessment visit, Sally continued to bark, growl, charge at, and get behind me to bite at my calves. Darryl suggested that we go to the back yard, where he tried to distract her with toys. Each time I tried to move close to Darryl, Sally charged me, barking the entire time.
A break in the situation came when I stepped to her. Sally got very close to the front of my legs, intending to bite because I was too close to Darryl. I stepped towards her… and she took off running, barking loudly and persistently as she tried to figure out how to drive me away. Watching her movements and body language very closely, I saw that she is fear-aggressive – meaning: she acts aggressive, but she’s really just very fearful. This does not mean she won’t nip or bite if she gets the opportunity. She absolutely will. But seeing that her behavior is coming from a place of fear told me she has no confidence and definitely no trust in humans.
Darryl told me several times that Sally doesn’t usually behave with people the way she was behaving with me. He said he’s introduced her to several new people since she’s been with him, and she’s been fine. But he also said she “runs hot and cold” with people. In my experience, the kind of behavior Sally is presenting doesn’t happen suddenly or even overnight. Rather, the behavior has been learned and reinforced for some time. Offering treats to Sally while she’s barking and lunging is a reinforcement of that behavior.
I have a lot of work to do with this beautiful girl – the first, most important work being that of earning her trust… and teaching her foster when to reward and when to correct.
Welcome aboard the Happy Dawgs train, Miss Sally. Your life is about to start changing for the better…