Seldom do I go to see dogs that so clearly reflect the state of mind of their owners.
Poppy is a ‘Yorkiepoo’, a tiny underage pitiful little puppy for sale three years ago in a shop. One can only guess that she came from a puppy farm somewhere, very possibly shipped over from Eastern Europe as so many are. Not a good start in life.
Ollie is a Miniature Schnauzer, chosen to keep Poppy company and to give her a bit more confidence which hasn’t really worked.
The most concerning thing is how inseparable they are from the adult daughter, Poppy in particular. They won’t let her out of their sight. If the daughter moves, she moves. All the time I was there Poppy sat beside or or in front of her, scared but protective. Even thought the yound lady wasn’t touching her, a sort of invisible concern cloaked her.
The girl herself is equally needy of the dogs and worries and watches over them them constantly (as do the whole family to a lesser extent). She hates going out to work, conjuring up all sorts of scenarios of their coming to harm when she is out. This started, somewhat understandably, when the tiny, scared and vulnerable Poppy came into their lives.
When I arrived it took Poppy quite a while to stop barking at me, keeping me away from the young lady. When the lady goes out, she cries at the door, even when other people are in the house. She then transfers her ‘following’ onto the mother. The family has not felt able to go out in the evening for two years now. Predictably, Poppy is very scared of people and other dogs, and when off lead may run away and hide. Both she and Ollie bark constantly at anything they see. Ollie is a much more stable character in general, but is affected by Poppy’s barking and panicking.
We discussed ways of dissolving the invisible umbilical attaching Poppy to the daughter. We looked at ways of enriching the dogs’ lives and encouraging independence. The humans’ tone of voice and body language can make a huge difference – hellos and goodbyes can be matter-of-fact. We put in place little changes in many aspects of the dogs’ lives. A bit like a jigsaw puzzle, if all the bits are slotted into place then you start to get the whole picture looking different.
One day later I received this email – before even they had received their written plan: ‘We made all of the changes that we could remember and the transformation with Poppy has been absolutely astounding. It is literally as though someone has pressed a switch. I can’t explain it any better than that. She is like a different, chilled out little dog. Would you believe that neither Poppy or Ollie followed ……… when she came home from work today? They stayed in the living room, sprawled out and (hopefully) carefree. They both ate all of their dinner. The baby was here today but they did not seem as interested in him as they usually would be’.
I did give them one word of warning. A familiar pattern I see is dramatic improvement immediately, followed by a downturn as the dogs start to adjust and test the new boundaries, maybe even becoming frustrated. If this does happen, the people can now see what they are aiming for if they work through this and remain consistent.