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Polly is aggressive when people leave. I had been sitting on their sofa for a couple of hours and had slowly made friends with her.
Then I stood up.
The dog thought I was leaving. She changed in a flash into a snarling, barking, biting dervish.
There is a lot more to it, however
The lady met me at the door with Polly on lead — this being the only way she could open it without her dog running out. As I walked in, Polly bounced off the floor, barking at me, leaping up at me and biting my clothes.
This frenzy didn’t last too long once the lady gave me the tiny bits of chicken I’d asked her to prepare for me. Polly soon got the idea that staying on the floor was a lot more fulfilling than jumping up and barking at me.
Her extreme arousal levels result in poor Polly being super-reactive and constantly on high alert. Stress levels have fallout in other areas. They are a large part of the reason she goes mental when people leave.
Polly scratches herself 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 watching her in her home environment, it was obvious stress was involved to large degree.
As soon as she had got over a bout of barking or there was any pressure on her, Polly scratched.
The lady tries to stop her with a command or a distraction — or by holding her foot to restrain her. As Polly only scratches to try to relieve her stress. stopping her without providing an alternative only adds to it.
I suggested a dog T-shirt with sleeves. She could then scratch without harming himself and the lady could relax about it while working to help relieve Polly’s stress.
Bearing in mind that the lady is so upset by the situation, anything that helps her will help Polly, and visa versa. Our own emotions can have a big effect on our dog.
I was sure that as she worked on everything else, the scratching would reduce or even stop altogether. I was right.
The next problem is constant barking at every sound. How can someone stop a dog like this from barking?
A previous trainer had suggested spraying water at her. She’s already in a panic. How can scaring an already aroused and panicking dog not make her even more frantic?
There are predictable triggers. They live by a school. For half an hour each morning and half an hour each evening Polly goes mental in the garden.
She goes mental with barking when letters drop through the front door.
There is a public car park out the front and she reacts to every car door she hears shutting. She runs back and forth from kitchen to front door and then into the garden, barking.
While I was there she barely barked at all — and that is because I worked on it.
At every sound, even before she could bark if possible, I reassured her with ‘Okay’, called her and dropped her a bit of chicken.
Car doors slammed outside and the lady couldn’t believe — Polly wasn’t reacting. On the occasions when she rushed out into the garden I called her in immediately. I called her before she had time to get stuck in — and rewarded her. We shut the door.
If the lady keeps her eye on the ball and cuts down on all barking opportunities, she will find things very different. It will be hard work and every little bit helps.
She will immediately install an outside letterbox. She will keep Polly shut away from the front of the house at school-run times.
I also advised her not to give Polly free access to the garden unless she is at hand to help her out.
When she goes out and leaves Polly alone, it should in the quietest place — the sitting room — well away from the front of the house, passing people and slamming doors.
Aggressive when people leave
The third big issue I discovered towards the end of my visit. Having been sitting down for a while, I stood up.
Polly thought I was leaving. She changed in a flash from this little dog who was doing so well with me, into a dervish.
She barked ferociously — even worse than at the start when I arrived. The little dog flew at me, grabbing my clothes. She was in total panic.
Standing still and using my original technique, I eventually calmed her down again. All was well for a while until, still seated, I slowly picked up my keys to see what she would do. That was enough. She went frantic once more.
The lady understandably wanted to know why her dog does this whenever someone gets up to go. Why is she so aggressive when people leave? What memory might it trigger?
Who knows what the rescued dog’s previous life had been like.
In her panic, Polly has bitten the lady several times at the gate or at the front door. She had gone to move Polly during one of her ‘mad sessions’.
(Many years ago I inherited an old Labrador when we had bought a house from an elderly lady who went into a home. Her dog stayed. I used to say that Angus would rather kill someone than let them leave).
Back then I didn’t know what I know now.
Cutting down on Polly’s stress levels is the key
So, all in all, just by reducing the barking alone the lady will cut down a lot of Polly’s stress.
Cutting down on her stress will contribute to her not being aggressive when people leave.
Polly needs more exercise and freedom to be a terrier — away from the confines of a small bungalow. Her walks aren’t daily. They are currently along the roads on a short, tight lead attached to her collar.
She will feel a lot better when the lady gets her a comfortable harness and a long training line and takes her somewhere more open. She will have thirty or more feet of freedom to sniff and to explore. This way she won’t escape whilst having some enrichment in her life.
I visited this dog two months before writing this article. Polly now is a lot less excitable when someone comes to the house. She still barks but it lacks the panic and the lady, who has worked very hard, can reassure her so she stops. She seldom scratches.
Best of all, when a friend visits and they get up to go, Polly is chilled. She has learnt to associate people leaving with two good things — play and food.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help