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Monday, 25 February 2013

Walking on eggshells

Hello Dogs Today,

I read your magazine regularly and would like some help with my Border Terrier, please. She is two
 years old and is a lovely companion.

The problem is when she is out on the lead for walks. She barks furiously at every dog she sees. Off lead on local pasture land she plays happily with other dogs and has good recall although, just recently she was playing with another cross-breed terrier and it developed into a fight and I don’t know which dog started it. Also, my dog started humping the other dog and I have never seen her do this before. 

When walking her on lead I try to distract her when I see another dog approaching. I ask her to look at me and offer her a treat and keep doing this until the other dog has got a good way past us. This is working if I see the other dog before mine spots it and also if the other dog does not pass too close to us, otherwise I have no chance of distracting mine and thus we have the furious barking and black looks from everyone around us including the other dog’s owner. Sometimes the other dog’s owner will laugh and say they understand. 

It is really hard work walking her out now. I have had Border Terriers before but not had this kind of behaviour to contend with. My husband often used to walk our dogs, too, but he passed away. I have got this Border after he passed and so I have brought her up on my own. I have been told by other dog owners and a vet that she is protecting me.

Please can you advise me because she is wearing me out and I am not as young as I was? If I had known what I know now I would maybe have got an older rescue dog but I thought, having had Borders before, I knew what I was getting and with rescues I maybe wouldn’t be too sure of their temperament and adaptability. I like that all my Borders have been bomb-proof and fearless but this one has gone a step too far for me.

Kind regards,

Libby Coles, by email


  1. It sounds like she may have some anxiety that needs worked through, you're best bet is to contact a registered behaviourist - try the APBC website to your nearest member. This is something that is best dealt with sooner rather than later, but it needs dealt with in the correct manner - using the wrong training techniques may negatively impact not only your relationship with her, but may affect the level of anxiety she is feeling, which can cause not only behavioural issues but also health problems if the stress is allowed to build up.

  2. Hi Libby,
    Unfortunately one of your methods may have backfired somewhat. By attempting to distract her as another dog approaches, you are actually alerting her to the other dog. Anxiety, stress and barking follow. By this time, the treats are worthless.

    The method I teach is allowing the anxious dog to see another dog and then the treat arrives. This has to be built up from a distance to allow the anxious dog to see another dog and then focuses on the owner. The other dog becomes the precursor to the good stuff, which comes from the owner. The food creates a better association to the other dog and also helps to train the look back and focus. No words or commands are needed. When there are no other dogs around nothing spectacular happens for the nervous dog, when other dogs are around the 'food trolley' opens. This training has to be to be orchestrated so that it is safe and successful.

    Contact a qualified canine professional who can assess your dog to get to the cause and help you both overcome this.

    1. Thank You Sam and Tony
      Sorry to have been so long replying - just didn't know how to use this facility.
      I am trying the method that Tony has recommended and to a certain degree it is working if we are far enough away from the other dog when we spot it. Guess it's going to take some time before we can pass by dogs quietly and calmly within a 3 foot wide space which is an average pavement width.

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