The lady met me at the door with Paddy on lead – this being the only way she could open it without her little dog running out. As I walked in he was bouncing off the floor, barking at me, leaping at me, biting my clothes and nipping my arms.
This frenzy didn’t last too long once the lady gave me the tiny bits of chicken she had prepared for me. Very much like the last dog I went to, English Bull Terrier Millie, Paddy quite soon got the idea that staying on the floor was a lot more fulfilling than jumping up and barking at me. If he was shouting at me to go away I was going nowhere.
Paddy has three main issues – all part of the same problem – the extreme stress that results in him being super-reactive and constantly on high alert.
The first issue I discovered was that he scratches himself raw. The vet has prescribed all sorts of things to no avail. I guess most dogs are stressed at the vet so it would be harder to tell, but in his home environment it was obvious stress was at least involved. As soon as he had got over a bout of barking or there was any pressure on him, he was scratching himself.
He can’t be allowed to harm himself, but stopping him with a command or a distraction, or holding his foot to restrain him will be adding to his stress. I suggested trying a dog T-shirt with sleeves. He could then scratch without harming himself and the lady could relax about it. She is very motivated to help her dear little dog and I’m sure that as she works on everything else the scratching will reduce or even stop.
There are predictable triggers. They live near a school and so for half and hour each morning and half an hour each evening Paddy’s going mental in the garden. He is furious at letters coming through the door. There is a car park out the front and he reacts to every car door shutting by running back and forth from kitchen to front door and then into the garden.
While I was there he barely barked at all – and that is because we really worked on it. At every sound, even before he could bark if possible, I reassured him with ‘Okay’ and dropped him a bit of chicken. Car doors slammed outside and the lady couldn’t believe that Paddy wasn’t reacting. On the couple of occasions when he rushed out into the garden, we called him in immediately before he had time to get really started. Because we were so quick he came in and was rewarded. We shut the door.
If the lady keeps her eye on the ball and cuts down on his barking opportunities, she will find things very different. If I were her, I would put up an outside letterbox. I would keep him shut in the sitting room away from the front at start and end of the school day. I wouldn’t give him access to the garden where he barks at the gate unless I was at hand to help him out. When I went out and left him alone, it would in the quietest place – the sitting room – with no access to anywhere else.
The last big issue I discovered towards the end of my visit. Having been sitting down for a while, I stood up. He thought I was leaving. He changed in a flash from this little dog who was doing so well with me into a dervish. He barked ferociously – much worse than at the start, flying at me and biting my clothes. Standing still and using my original technique I eventually calmed him down again and all was well for a while until, still seated, I picked up my keys to see what he would do. He went frantic once more.
The lady understandably wanted to know why he did this when people got up to leave, and my best guess is that he has a need to control comings and especially goings. He will be picking up on the lady’s understandable anxiety. The need to be so controlling must be due to underlying insecurity which is a sort of fearfulness. It’s complicated. He has actually bitten the lady a few times at the gate or at the door, when she has taken his collar to remove him during one of his ‘sessions’.
Many years ago I inherited a labrador from an old lady (we bought her house when she went into a home and her dog remained). He was welcoming to everyone who came to the house, but I used to say that he would rather kill someone than let them leave.
So, all in all, I believe just by reducing the barking alone the lady will cut down a lot of Paddy’s stress. The visitor situation, most particularly being aggressive when people leave, needs to be managed completely differently.
Last, but not least, Paddy needs more exercise and freedom to be a terrier – away from the confines of a small bungalow. When he goes out it is with a short, tight lead attached by his collar. He will feel a lot better when the lady gets a harness and a long training line. He will have thirty or more feet of freedom to sniff and to explore. The lady can feel secure that he won’t escape and she now has some things she can do when people or other dogs appear.