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Is this the end of the road?(39 Posts)
We have a lovely, feisty little Lakeland terrier who is 10 months old. We also have a 20 month old daughter and in retrospect, no there is no way I would advise anyone takes on a puppy and a toddler. It has been a tough journey managing both of them, but we have finally felt as if we are turning a corner; he is so much more happy to chill around us and is really part of the family now.
The biggest issue we have had with him has been him barking at small children. I have never encouraged my daughter to be overly touchy feely with him and have always managed their interactions carefully. I have read and watched stuff on dog body language and he never shown any signs of being anxious or defensive in her company. But there has been numerous incidences of him barking at small children on walks and when we are in the car. I have sought advice from a behaviourist as it has obviously concerned me greatly. I have been following her advice eg avoiding all situations where at all possible, using open bar/closed bar when children in sight etc and I thought we were seeing progress.
Last weekend we went away with family and went for a walk. A group were walking ahead of us including a few small children. Dpup noticed them and at times wanted to pull ahead as they were playing in puddles etc which he loved but on the whole ignored. I kept lingering a little though as was keen to keep as far away as possible (dpup on lead the whole time obv). Eventually they stopped and the dad came back to speak to us as he had a similar dog in the past. Dpup said hello to him fine but I hadn’t realised the daughter was coming over to say hi to him as I was talking. Totally my fault - I let my guard down - but as she put her hand out to say hi (in gloves btw but not sure if this is relevant) he lunged towards her. No contact made and she was totally nonplussed, as was her dad, but tbh I was devastated. This is a game changer for me.
So what do I do next? Obviously I do not want to just pass this problem onto someone else. I know without careful managing and training this could get worse. I am taking him to the vets and hoping to get a behaviour training referral once anything physical has been ruled out, but I’m not sure even if I put the work in, if I can ever totally trust him. I have lots of nephews and nieces and friends with children and I’m just not sure I could ever say for definite that he won’t lunge or bite. I feel so awful. I feel like we have let him down even though I’m not sure what we could have done differently. Is there a chance he will grow out of this or do we have to seriously start thinking about rehoming to someone who doesn’t have regular contact with small children. Sorry for the essay!
Lunging isn't necessarily aggressive, though surely? Just excitement. He's very young- training and supervision go only so far, there will be occasions when he makes mistakes. The trick is to minimise the damage from a mistake- as you did, keeping him on lead.
God @Sprinklemetinsel I hope you’re right and I’m just catastrophising.
If you keep up the training, he will get better with age. As will your DD- though I'm sure she's learned lots already. Basically, lots of risk management- supervision, training etc. He's due to be a bit tricky (stubborn/silly) as he goes through his teens, but there's no reason he won't be a lovely dog!
Everyone was non plussed because most people know that dogs generally get excited around kids.
He didnt lunge aggressively. He was excitable. Are you generally anxious? To be devastated over this is an over reaction as is considering rehoming.
The lunging was not of an over friendly puppy kind. If it was there would be no issue. It was a definite response to some kind of perceived threat. He was being aggressive in a way that non of us had seen before. Everyone literally took a sharp intake of breath. The other family were very easy going about but we were just lucky.
Rehoming would be the absolute last case scenario but if I do not feel he is 100% bomb proof around all children, it has to be on the table. It would most likely be to friends who have already said they would love him and are childless. Nothing would be done without us working with a behaviourist first.
No dog is "bomb proof" around children though.
You sound quite anxious, could you be passing this tension on?
If he is a dog owner and non plussed at a dog lunging at his child and the child wasnt scared, chances are that you are all over reacting. It either was aggressive or nowhere near as bad as you and others there think.
I get it. I have an incredibly cold frie dlt spaniel. But when she was younger I was so worried she would hurt someone, when out and about. Especially children. She would make a bee line straight for them. Our previous cocker was sat on the grass with us at a craft fair watching a show. A toddler and her mother came over and tried to stroke the dog with an ice cream. The dog made a lunge at the ice cream (she was only about 6 months). I obviously replaced it and felt awful. The woman should have let her toddler just stroke a random dog, they walked up and didnt even say anything just tried to stroke her. But I still felt bad. It's a big worry for responsible dog owners. But I do think you are making this worse. The dog will also pick up on your tension.
I have a well trained and well socialised 2 year old retriever cross. She behaves with unknown children exactly as you describe your dog doing and I consider it normal 🤷♀️. She is happy and comfortable around familiar children in our family, but I totally don't expect her to be "bomb proof" around unknown children.
To dogs, children are very odd looking (tiny, erratic versions of humans), they are loud and are usually riding scooters or bikes which can be very scary/arousing for a young dog.
If I see children around, I put my dog on the lead, reward her with yummy treats for walking by me and if necessary I move farther away to give her the space she needs to behave appropriately.
I'm sure a behaviourist could help you- but make sure you get one with qualifications (it's an unregulated industry). Look for APBC or IMDT qualifications
I think lunging almost always is a key sign of something going on and should not be ignored. All behaviour is meaningful and what can be an excited lunge at ten months can - without good handling - lead to fearful ones later on. It indicates a dog that found the situation over stimulating.
However at ten months old you just haven't had the chance yet to give counter conditioning (which is what open bar is) a proper chance.
Even in young dogs it can take months.
This dog is young and so some of his reactions are a result of youth as well as a apprehension around children. 10 months is prime secondary fear phase territory.
I would be extremely reluctant to declare time on a ten month old dog. Keep up the counter conditioning and see where he is at 18 months. You will have a much better idea then of his adult temperament.
In the meantime there can be no letting your guard down. Bad experiences now play a large role in influencing how he feels about children when he is mature.
if I do not feel he is 100% bomb proof around all children
No dog is. Especially feisty Lakeland terriers.
In addition to the above I also think you need to readjust your expectations because bomb proof is an unfair standard.
Rehoming would be the absolute last case scenario but if I do not feel he is 100% bomb proof around all children, it has to be on the table.
I think your expectations are incredibly unrealistic. He's a dog. No dog is ever going to be 100% bombproof around anyone because they're living, breathing animals, not robots.
He's also ten months old and bang in the middle of the teenage phase. He's also a terrier and they're not known to be the calmest of dogs. Did you do any research on the breed?
Lakelands are, like most terrier breeds, bred to work independently and have huge amounts of energy. You need to be working him both physically and mentally in order to tire him out and to make him happy.
Working breeds need lots of stimulation - what kind of exercise does he get and what training to do you do? Plenty of mental and physical exercise will help him settle and he'll be much happier and calmer as a result.
@iWantToBreakBrie is so right, all behaviour is meaningful communication. It might help to have a look at the canine "ladder of agression" OP. Not to say that the behaviour you saw was necessarily "agressive" but dogs have lots of subtle signs that they are not very comfortable that come long before a lunge, snap or bite. Many people miss these signs because they don't understand dog body language and will say "the bite came out of nowhere". Knowing these signs can be very empowering and means you can advocate for your dog better.
Ignore the posters minimizing this, they were not even there. You are aware the dog has problems with children, the behaviourist has presumably witnessed similar behaviour and you've just seen an escalation.
You should definitely take him to a vet for a check up but it may be hard to find the source of the pain, if pain is at the heart of all this, without other symptoms.
Do talk to your behaviourist again to get their opinion. I assume you've been trying desensitization techniques and training incompatible behaviours?
Then I think you have a very difficult choice. You can chose to keep the dog and manage his behaviour. You will need to be 100% vigilant, which is not possible, there will be times when you will be distracted, make a mistake, etc. so you will need more than one precaution between the dog and children, e.g. not just on lead, but also a muzzle in public perhaps? As your DC grows up you will have a lot of other children in the house for play dates, parties, etc so you will need similar, double precautions in your home. So the dog can't just be in another room, anyone can open a door by accident, the door has to be locked and the key kept by you.
You also need to consider the risk of the dog potentially becoming aggressive with your own DD.
Or you can try to rehome the dog through a reputable rescue and with full disclosure of his problems with small DCs, but it is a difficult ask to find someone with the experience and willingness to deal with this kind of problem.
Apologies I see you are using counter conditioning already. How long have you been trying this? In my limited experience it requires quite a bit of skill to find the point at which the counter conditioning works rather than the point where the dog is overwhelmed by its fear and stress from repeated exposures.
Thanks for all the helpful posts. Yes I agree 100% bomb proof is an unrealistic standard. I guess I mean that I would only feel confident with other children coming round to our house if I wasn’t seeing any kind of fear reactive behaviours towards children (which I and the behaviourist believe these incidents were). I wouldn’t make any decisions about his future before we had done a full program with the behaviourist and until I knew we were fully out of the teenage phase. I am really hoping that is contributing to his behaviour.
Yes of course I researched the breed. I have known his mum for 5 years as well as growing up with terriers myself. This is not an issue that I think is breed specific as if I had had any flags that this was a Lakeland terrier potential issue, there is no way I would have got one.
Off to the vets today so we will see what she says. Thanks again.
@Booboostwo we’ve been doing it for a while but I do think with Christmas etc we’ve probably dropped the ball a bit. His routine was all over the shop and we stayed at a few different people’s houses. All trigger stacking I’m sure.
@adaline yes he gets lots of physical and mental stimulation normally, though over Christmas was probably more physical than mental which doesn’t always work well for him. I’m aware this all contributed to his behaviour.
Unfortunately the problem is very few people can adjust their lives around a dog that needs very careful management. Most of us will have moments when we are inattentive, overwhelmed or just make a mistake.
If you are thinking of things to try, Zylkene sometimes helps fearful dogs that are low in magnesium, and it might be worth looking at his diet and changing to a low protein food, high protein food is sometimes associated with aggression, although it is usually dog to dog aggression.
Sorry OP, I've just reread your first post and I see you've done quite a bit on CC and body language already.
I was lucky to find a good, IMDT behaviourist early on with my dog, and it made a huge difference to us. Just to qualify my earlier post- part of why I consider the behaviour "normal" is because I have had to readjust my thinking to accept that my dog is just not that comfortable around children- that is her personality. I adapt my life accordingly, rather than trying to change her, as such. She is still a great dog and we have fun doing other things.
Definitely spend some time with a good behaviourist but also you may need to readjust your thinking, as I have done.
Best wishes, hope you find an answer that works for you.
Whilst not breed specific, terriers are (in my experience) less likely to suffer fools gladly and be more willing to use behaviours to warn they are unhappy, earlier than another dog. That is not necessarily a bad thing but does mean, on average, they are more likely to bark and lunge at an earlier point than a less proactive breed.
The reality of that, and of this dog's specific behaviour, is that you might never be able to trust him arounf visiting children and always need some additional security to keep everyone safe - e.g.a baby gate. As muh to protect him as protect from him.
Whilst many dogs are under exercised etc, terriers also have a knack of being over stimulated very easily - a behaviour that is required for vermin hunting when they need to be ON instantly to be in with a chance of catching a mouse etc. I wouldn't be surprised if your conclusion that Christmas has been a bit much isn't true. For a 10 month old dog, just the day itself is likely to have been massively mentally stimulation - just processing what was happening, change of routine etc. This will impactreduce his ability to cope with even mildly stresful circumstances. This kind of resilience does tend to get better with age as things like Christmas become less tiring.
fleas speaks the sense of someone who has walked the same path as you. It is absolutely still possible to have a great life with a dog that is not keen on children but does require adjustments. It's probably also worth considering in context that there are far more dogs like yours than dogs that will just accept all children happily. Far more. In fact, now I sit and thing about the 50 odd dogs I know right now through one channel or another I can only recall 2 that I would consider close to 'bomb proof' and one of those is literally a bomb detection dog (retired).
In my limited experience it requires quite a bit of skill to find the point at which the counter conditioning works rather than the point where the dog is overwhelmed by its fear and stress from repeated exposures.
This is absolutely true and one of the reasons it's so hard is because it is almost impossible for a owner to both counter condition and observe the situation objectively.
Working as a tag team with a partner or your behaviourist really helps here. One to do the actual training and and agreement that the other simply stands beack to look at what happens.
For exmaple (and this is just an example) it is possible that upon seeing the child get too close for your comfort, you tightened the lkead slightly and it was this tightening that then triggered the dog's reaction. This is fairly common but you would have to be super human to recognise yourself doing it because you are, in that moment, also in an automatic stress reaction.
But you do need to know you'e done it because you need to try to not tighten the lead in future (really hard!).
Your behaviourist may have already gone trough this kind of thing with you, but if not then it is worth exploring with them and thinking of ways you can get that kind of objective observation on how you train.
That is so true about far more dogs disliking children than liking them. I have grown up around dogs all my life, but it is only since having this one that I have really learnt about dog body language. The amount of people who say their dogs are great around children, whilst their dogs are saying something completely different, is amazing.
This possibly isn't super helpful but I used to work at a dog boarding kennels/daycare and there were a few lakeland terriers which were regulars. They all did this sort of semi-agressive lunging thing if they were overstimulated (excited or scared) and one became really quite aggressive around 2 years old- he was the only dog to bite me in the 2 years I worked there. Maybe this isn't typical of the breed but when I saw he was a lakeland terrier, I could absolutely guess where the thread was going.
Maybe it's not seen as a known issue within the breed as until recently they were quite rare and mostly in country/working homes. I think a lot have high prey drives and need somewhere to direct that aggression and energy. I think they are becoming more popular as pets, and it is a breed I worry about. There are very few breeds of dog I stereotype, but this is one.
Anyway, I do think it sounds like you are doing all the right things. I would consider a muzzle when you are out and about at the moment, if he will tolerate it- not because I think he will definitely bite, but just because it's better to be safe than sorry. I'd also look at removing him from situations as soon as he appears to be getting overwhelmed if at all possible (I know this is difficult).
If possible I'd try to find some kind of outlet/job for him- I don't know if there's anything out there that's specifically geared for terriers, but something that hopefully isn't too high demand for you, but gives him the chance channel his terrier instincts into something useful.
Wow thanks. God that’s interesting. Wish I’d spoken to you a year ago! Well all we can do is give it our best shot whilst ensuring everyone is protected. I’m going to look at muzzle training.
Went to the vets and he absolutely FREAKED. Has never had an issue there before. She was more than happy to refer him to my choice of behaviourist (just to get rid of him I think!!).
What exactly did he do at the vets?