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My BC is really afraid of small dogs. Help?

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Hey Folks,


I have an 8 year old rescue BC. I've posted a few times here and have learned a lot. Luke is very friendly and great with dogs and people in general - off and on leash.


He has met and played/herded with (because I know play and herding aren't the same) dozens of dogs - but he is actually almost mortified by small/tiny dogs. Or it seems that way.


He will meet up oftenly on a walk with a pair of small English spaniels and and he will jump frantically (on leash) and try and get away and avoid all eye contact completely with the dogs - he makes an effort to not look at them and is non responsive to any of my training commands and looks genuinely terrified. This is really abnormal for Luke because he is so balanced and well tempered normally and the dogs are not particularly unfriendly or aggressive - at least in a way that I can perceive. We might encounter 10 dogs on a walk and he is wonderful every time (except the spaniels).


He also goes to work with me and recently a partner of mine is bringing his pair of Chihuhahas into the office. They are slightly barky, but not aggressive - and he is also absolutely terrified of them. I've tried walking them together in parallel on leash and they are fine - but he avoids even looking at them. They will get close and sniff pee together but when back in the office, he becomes terrified of them again. To the point that he runs around the perimeter of the office knocking stuff over trying to get away and they may not even be chasing him.


This is a dog that has no problem playing/interacting with large hound dogs, other border collies, including puppies, and various other dogs, and also strangely his best friend is a Corgi. Small but stocky.


I'm curious if anybody has similar experiences? I can't figure out if it's because of something the dogs did, or if it's because there are two small dogs in both examples, or if it's something from his past that I cannot know, or just something BC's don't enjoy - smaller dogs.


Luke gets plenty of exercise and runs daily off leash and is very happy. Just about every dog owner that meets him asks me how I got him 'so sweet'. Which, of course, I didn't since I've only had him for a few months.


Any help appreciated! Specific thoughts on how to help positively train him to be OK around these tiny dogs mega appreciated.



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Honestly it could be something as simple as 'augh that should not be a thing'. If that makes sense.


Life-size portraits evoked the same reaction from my dogs, or a statue of a sheep- it's so tempting to attribute the 'uncanny valley' idea to that, that it's that it is like an alive thing but not an alive thing. They haven't had the same for very small dogs but some of those dogs obviously do not register as 'dog', they register as 'rabbit' (try explaining to the owner of the yorkie that yes, my dogs are happy to see yours and no, you can't bring it over to 'play', it'll end badly, and ignoring me because 'they're wagging their tails' will not help that.)


It could be that something about those dogs is not registering as 'dog' for yours.


I've seen dogs the same for kittens (scary), hamsters (scary), just something about it freaks them out.


Lots of things you can do- you can start to desensitize him from a distance. Particularly if you know someone who has a small dog. Start with one small dog a distance away that he can see it but isn't afraid, reward him, and then move away from the small dog and end the session. Gradually reduce the distance over the course of different training sessions.


How food motivated is he? I'm in a situation where I have to walk pretty nearby some things a dog I walk is afraid of, and I've found having high value treats and shovelling them in to her whenever we see a 'scary thing' has worked reasonably well for being so unscientific. Having said that we had to keep distance and exposure low enough at first that she would eat the treats, they won't eat them if they're panicking.

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The refusal to look at these dogs is dog-speak for "I'm no threat to you." It's an appeasement gesture. He's doing his best to tell these little guys that he doesn't want any confrontation from them. (You might find Turid Rugaas' book Calming Signals an interesting read.)


Since you don't know his past experience (and sometimes even if you do) it's hard to say why he's afraid of small dogs. And when it comes right down to it, it's not really important to know why in order to work with it.


I'd start working with desensitization and counter-conditioning techniques. Look at That from Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed (puppy version is more detailed) is a great one. Emma Parson's Click to Calm is also a great choice. And there are explanations here if you search the archives.


The idea is that you want to work to change Luke's emotional response to these little dogs. He may never end up really liking them, but it should help to alleviate his fears, at least somewhat. In the meantime -- and perhaps always to some degree, you should protect him from what it is he's afraid of by making the little dogs keep their distance.


Also, for DS/CC to work, you have to figure out what his threshold is. How far away do the little dogs have to be before he starts getting scared? You have to keep him under threshold for this to work, because the brain s flooded with the fear, not allowing the dog to process what you're trying to teach him.


It takes time and it takes patience. But it can help a lot.


Best wishes helping him learn to be OK around the little guys.

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My Gibbs generally really likes small dogs and is very good with them. However, we have friends who have a chi mix who loathes and despises Gibbs. He does his best to ignore her now, but she still hates his guts.Thankfully, it hasn't changed his good opinion of other small dogs, but it makes me wonder if something snarling little, bulgy-eyed maniac snarled/barked/bit your boy before you got him.


If he's had a couple or even one bad experience with a small dog, ALL small dogs might make him fearful. You can do the counter-conditioning and de-sensitization work, it does take time. And it can help. It could also be just something he thinks isn't quite right. In either case, you might be able to at least have him be less afraid.


If you have a friend with a calm, perhaps older small dog that you could do some of the above work with, that would help a lot. Parallel walking with such a dog could help a lot as well.


Good luck!


Ruth and Gibbs

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If your dog got shocked by an ecollar for interacting with small dogs, then it would be kind to give him a place or space to retreat. A generalized fear of all small dogs makes me wonder if that is what happened....

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