Recently I was asked to help Kablamo, an English Bulldog that was exhibiting (what the owners thought was) aggressive behaviors. He had lunged at a few guest and even at his human mom. We talked a bit on the phone, the couple was at their whit’s end having tried other trainers and other methods, as they said, this was their last hope.
I arrived and met the couple and Kablamo on a beautiful Saturday morning at their home. Kablamo was initially suspicious of me and guarded the door – looking up at me with a quite peculiar look. I asked what was wrong with his eye. Kaya told me that he had it surgically removed before they ever rescued him. We then talked about the circumstances that led up to his “aggressive behaviors.” All the while I was hearing about these incidents Kablamo sat by my side nuzzling me for treats -which I dispensed freely.
Surprisingly every incident involved one common thread – his head.
• someone roughly handled his head, including the area around is removed eye
• while he was sleeping someone snuck up on him when his good eye was face down.
• someone snuck up on his side (bad eye side).
and the list went on.
When I suggested my theory, the couple was surprised that no one else had suggested it before. It suddenly made sense to them. It was so obvious to me, but then again, sometimes the most obvious things are overlooked. I further explained that this boy not only had problems because he is missing his one eye, but also has other problems because of the excessive skin over his remaining eye. Basically he has very poor visibility, and because of this he acts out defensively and this is seen as aggressive.
My suggestion was to “desensitize” him to contact on his face. This can easily be done by someone he trusts using treats and rewards. Start by touching the area and immediately offering a treat. Doing this a few times and showing him that he has nothing to fear will set the stage to overcoming the fear. Learning that he has nothing to fear will eventually make the fear completely subside. This is the important part: he should not be flooded with the experience. just once or twice a day to start and just one touch is enough. Going too fast will cause him to react in fear, even if there is nothing to fear. Building it up over a long period will diminish the fear.
Once he gets used to it from his immediate family, others can get involved – but they start off at square one. Just because it’s OK that one person does it does not make it ok for someone else to do it.
I try to desensitize dogs to their fears slowly and positively. It takes time, but the results are worth every minute.