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Reactive Cairn Just Can't Get Along with Other Dogs


klvan
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My 9 year old Cairn Terrier has an impossible time just seeing, let alone getting along with other dogs... She's a rescue so we don't know the whole story but based on her other behaviors we think she might have been in a household where there was a lot of yelling and/or she was at the bottom in the pecking order in a pack of dogs. She's so so timid (has gotten better in the few months I've had her) but not exactly trained. There's bits and pieces of it, like maybe she was trained as a puppy, but just getting her to sit consistently is a challenge. That said she is the sweetest dog who loves people and will let you do just about anything to her - reach in her mouth to grab toys or reach around her food, she gets eye drops twice a day and while she doesn't like them she doesn't growl or fight...

...But when we walk she's a whole other dog. She'll a puller, but I can handle that. The issue is how she reacts when we see another dog. It started out with just barking but she's graduated to having a full on tantrum: barking, growling, pulling, the whole nine yards. For a while I was just picking her up and walking her away from the situation (which I realize is avoiding, not solving the problem) but even that doesn't work anymore, she just fails in my arms barking and fighting me until the dog is out of sight. I've done quite a bit of reading on reactive dogs so I know it's likely a fear or protective response but I don't know how to overcome it. I've seen the suggestion of trying to gradually introduce her to other dogs from a distance but we don't really have anyone close to us who owns a dog that could help and we're at an apartment where we run into people randomly. In our old apartment there was a chihuahua we ran into a lot and eventually she got to the point where she wouldn't bark at that dog when I stopped to talk to her owner so I know it's possible. Any thoughts, suggestions, ertc. of tools or tricks that worked for others? I don't need her to like or play with other dogs, just to listen to me when I tell her to stop barking/pulling when she sees them. 

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Welcome.

I generally go with distraction and encouraging behaviors that are incompatible with focusing on other dogs. This is not "stop doing that" but rather "if you are doing *this* than you have no time or attention to give *that*."

If you can teach her to reliably do sits and downs, that gives you some tools to use to focus her elsewhere. Even clicker training her for attention —  "look at me" — may be enough to get some leverage. The goal being to allow her to make a good choice, such as looking at you for a treat, rather than telling off a distant dog.

There is no shame in avoiding situations that can only be lose-lose. I absolutely will reroute my walk to prevent a dog who's reactive from even *seeing* one down the block. With this sort of dog you have to scan the horizon and stay well ahead of the game. In time she may gradually improve in certain situations which you will be able to take advantage of in very gradual desensitization. 

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i think getting her off her feet is a good first reaction, in addition to distraction, etc. make sure she has a handle --a really sturdy harness (a vest really) with a big handle that you can quickly grasp and securely get her off the scene without anybody get hurt or insulted too bad. i have always used Ruffwear for. my dogs but there are surely comparable alternatives. it has to be something that makes this quick and easy for you. 

i had a very reactive cairn who, for some reason, when he was about 9 or 10 decided on his own to detour when he saw a dog coming the other way. he would just turn down the first alley or street we came to --or one right behind-- and carry on. i'm not sure how he got the idea but it was far superior to encountering other dogs. 

i think desensitization will work. in the meantime maybe keep in mind that this is not all your dog's problem --i'm convinced on years of seeing this that there is something about terriers that other dogs simply don't like. terriers and other dogs seem to trigger each other. i sort of think my dog had a little concept of this when he started to detour. it just wasn't pleasant for him to encounter most dogs, not least because getting triggered is stressful and distressing for the cairn him/er self. cairns have hair triggers, which is kind of their superpower, but it does have to be harnessed (so to speak). David Banner smashed up a lot of public property before he learned to control himself. 

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Agree with PK and Brad. Avoiding confrontations  with dogs that trigger aggression is best. Terriers  by nature I think are  reactive to other dogs. It’s all about body language from the other dog...Sam’s best friends are a huge Kuvas and a low land Polish Sheepdog...both dogs are chill. Terriers  think they are bigger and stronger than any canine which of course can get them in serious trouble. We have had Scottie’s and Cairns and both breeds will take on anything they figure in their terrier brains is a personal threat or if there is a chance for a good chase and if you are small and furry, a kill. Control on a good harness is a must, and a firm command is required (but good luck with that if they are threatened) ....at some level one has to accept the nature of a terrier. Gotta love a terrier 🐾🐾💕

Edited by Sam I Am

Until one has loved an animal, a part of  one's soul remains unawakened.  - Anatole France

Adventures with Sam &Rosie

 

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Lynn is very wise --the key to a happy life with a terrier is to accept that some things are just terrier (and within that, some things are just cairn). but within that, individual terriers can find their own frequency. i expect your girl will eventually calm down a little. in the meantime, i do suggest a harness sturdy enough, supportive enough, and with a big enough handle  (a handle right next to the leash clip is ideal) that you can simply pick her up and walk away --if she is squirming, fighting or just too gone on frenzy to listen to sense, carry her in one hand like an overnight bag till she comes to. the. more tools you have to be calm and confident, the better the chance that your cairn will model you at least a little bit and become calm and confident in return. 

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I generally vote for avoidance as a first/best technique. Here is why picking up sometimes doesn't work...

Many years ago, when our community opened dog parks, a friend and I would take our dogs (best friends - Walter was a border collie, and Allie a cairn) for a romp there.  We always took them on lead to the far edge of the park, where we would throw balls for them to retrieve.  They were both really high energy dogs, and we could actually wear them out when we gave them a long distance to run.

However, some owners were not as observant or careful with their dogs.  There was a mid-size mixed breed black dog that simply should not have been at the park. He started fights, aggressively stole toys, etc.  The owner parked herself on a bench by the entrance gate and just let her dog loose.

I kept Allie in a harness for our walks and at the park.  The black dog came to our side of the park one day and began bothering Walter and Allie, trying to steal their balls. Walter was such a love -- he always backed down if a dog was aggressive with him (Allie always stole his treats...hmmmpf.)  Allie, though, would tussle.  I saw the dog bothering her and ran over to scoop her up, grabbing her harness and hoisting her into my arms.  She still had the ball in her teeth -- and she was not about to give it up. That dog started to jump up on me to get the ball and, when he could not get it -- HE BIT ME IN THE THIGH. Drew blood right through my jeans, and left me with a large, 6-inch diameter bruise. 

Miss Bad Dog Owner saw this, ran over to leash her dog, and hightailed it out of the park -- without even asking me if I was okay. I checked with other owners after that, and they never saw her again. I never went back to the park again either.

The harness was useful with our dogs when they went into a frenzy barking at a squirrel, and Angus had a habit early on of barking at passing cars, and scooping him up and diverting him worked with other techniques (sit-hold for a treat) in stopping that bad habit. But we still walk a lot of alleys (and I have discovered some lovely backyard gardens on my walk that way...)

About half of the cairns I have owned liked other dogs -- the other half didn't think much of them, and particularly seemed to be put off by terriers. Cairns definitely come with their own well-developed personalities. I think it's really great that your pup gets along so well with people!

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Kathryn glad you didn’t land up being really seriously bitten..ie in the face as you scooped up angus. I have also picked up our dogs in a hurry when confronted by a bad dog/owner without thinking of the consequences...but I know there also isn’t one of us that would have left our Cairns to be attacked. The bond that most of us share with our dogs is a very strong one even in the face of us being injured. 

I did read somewhere perhaps even this site where carrying a quick opening umbrella works really well, which basically blocks the attacking dog reaching either us or our dogs...plus a pointy umbrella is a formidable weapon  in a crisis. 

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Until one has loved an animal, a part of  one's soul remains unawakened.  - Anatole France

Adventures with Sam &Rosie

 

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 I think you are right that your cairn is barking growling etc from fear. As you say who knows what happened to her in her former life. You just have to do what you can now.

She loves people and that is a huge plus. And she learned to tolerate the chihuahua eventually so this is a good sign. Gradual exposure to other dogs will surely help. Do you have someone with a dog you could set up meetings with? Have the other dog be far away at first. Try the distraction techniques and then gradually move closer as time (months) go by. 

It's especially difficult living in an apartment where you can't avoid meeting others going in and out I'm sure.

Very best of luck. She loves you. She trusts you. It's a great start.

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Thanks to all for the advice! And PK, love the David Banner reference - we actually do call her The Hulk 🤣 Sweet and unassuming most of the time, but man, you really would not like her when she's angry!

Definitely think that time and training are going to be what helps her most, but it's good to have some reassurance that I wasn't totally off base with some of the avoidance I've been relying on. It's not a long term solution but I also don't want her to get too overworked or hurt herself in the process, would prefer to avoid the outburst all together when possible. I also have a theory that she didn't spend a lot of time walking on a leash in general before I got her either... likely a backyard dog... but with how she reacts to squirrels, rabbits, etc. and her general lack of training I have no clue how they ever got her back in the house! Glad to hear you're OK Kathryn - thankfully we're not dog park people and she almost always spots dogs from far enough away that I can pick her up without being anywhere near the opposing dog. But a warning I will heed for sure. 

I just got her a new harness so hopefully having some a bit more structured will help. Any thoughts on walking with a front lead (this harness has a front and back option)? Everything thing I read says that's the best method for walking a reactive/pulling dog, but whenever I try it she just seems to get her legs caught in it. Like she's too short to really walk effectively. I get that the point is for her to learn to walk next to me at my pace so she doesn't trip - but seems like a long road to get there. 

 

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there must be cairns who know how to heel. it has to be a very hard thing for them --taking all the cues from a boss is not their way. but they will probably walk happily beside af friend they are proud of.

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Teaching a puppy to walk can test your patience. Early days we never make it out of our driveway with all the abrubt turning around direction changes we do each time they hit the end of the lead.

I never had much luck with the front-attach harness. I am very familiar with the tangling you describe :whistle:

We tend to use a harness only at the beach or similar where they might be allowed to hit the end of a flexi at full tilt, and that's to prevent injury. (Flexi's are generally terrible for intentional walking with untrained doggos, but at the beach we let them express their exuberance with considerably more latitude.) For that I wouldn't want a front-attach or a regular collar as it would spin them around in a way that might be bad for their neck. Harnesses are good in situations where you might need to snatch the dog up quickly, or you don't mind them pulling. My personal experience has been that it allows and may even teach the dog to pull. 

pull4.png

Haggis in a sled-pull harness, although that's a particular sport unrelated to walk-about harnesses, to be fair. :P 

CAIRNTALK: Vote! |  Questions? Need help? → Support Forum Please do not use PMs for tech support
CRCTC: Columbia River Cairn Terrier Club 
ME: labroad.us 

 

 

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