Ruby simply can’t cope with life. They rehomed the Lakeland Terrier from an acquaintance at about three years of age – she Attacks feetis now five. Busy people with young children, it seems they ran with her early morning to ‘get rid of her energy’ and then shut her away in a crate for the rest of the day.

As is usually the case, if over-exercised without time to sniff and do dog things, the dog is likely to come home needing to unwind rather than tired and relaxed.

In this state they shut her away and left her for the day.

It’s not hard to attribute the two most significant symptoms of her stress levels to three years of this life.

Ruby licks doors and attacks feet.

She panics when anyone walks towards a door and attacks feet. She has caused injury and destroyed shoes.

When behind a door and unable to get to the person the other side, she will frantically lick it – more dragging her tongue over it than licking.

They tell her ‘no licking’, but with stress levels so high what else can she do to help herself? She spent her earlier days in the crate doing just this to gain some relief.

Trigger stacking

When I was there, the degree to which ‘trigger stacking’ of stress affects why she attacks feet became obvious.

When I first arrived she fairly excited and sniffed me curiously but quiet friendly. Her little body however was stiff with tension – as it was all evening. Her tail constantly quivered.

I needed to read her reactions. I got up and walked slowly for a few steps, dropping food (which she didn’t eat). Nothing. I sat down again.

A bit later the lady got up to show me what happens when she walks out of the room. Instant panic. Ruby stood with her nose against the door; she ran back to us as if to check we were exactly as she had left us and then back to the door. Poor little dog.

After a while the man did the same. Her reaction was even stronger this time. I could see she wasn’t far short of biting his feet. I could also see she was about to lick the door.

stress bucketRuby’s ‘stress bucket’ was now overflowing. So much so that when the lady got up to go to the kitchen Ruby went for her feet, biting a couple of holes in her fortunately padded slippers.

Later I slowly stood up again. I wondered whether throwing something could redirect her away from feet. I threw a squeaky ball as I stepped away from my chair. She went for my foot. (I was wearing tough shoes and didn’t feel it).

The squeaky ball was my idea and not a good one as it was too arousing. It’s a process of learning and investigation.

As soon as I sat down again it was like nothing had happened.

I quietly told her “sorry”.

‘Operation Calm’.

This was proof that reducing stress levels is the only place to start – ‘Operation Calm’.

We will make no progress with Ruby in her current state. They will do all they can to reduce stress and excitement levels for two or three weeks and then I will go again and review the situation. With stress levels this high there is little they can do without making it even worse.

Currently they tell her ‘No Licking’. I said to ignore it completely. It does no damage and if she can’t lick, where does the stress go to now? They can’t give her something to chew instead because she is then on a frantic quest to bury it.

Her ‘thing’ is about people walking away from her and the door shutting behind them. It doesn’t matter who it is when she attacks feet. It’s not like it’s necessarily someone she knows and loves that you would understand her not wanting to lose.

Interestingly she seems relaxed when left all alone, which isn’t often. She settles. It’s a paradox.

She goes frantic when she can’t get to them when they are at home, particularly if she can see or hear them. She can’t handle anyone walking out on her – it’s like she needs to keep an eye on everyone in the house, whoever they are. The real problems start when they have friends round. The more people there are, the worse it is for Ruby.

She gets so distressed that she….attacks feet.

Being on high alert all the time for someone walking out on her and keeping people in sight at all times means she must be seriously sleep-deprived too.  ~We all know how that feels.

Where do we start?

We unpicked Ruby’s days, looking at each thing in her life that stresses her and how she can be helped in every way possible.

If our efforts don’t significantly improve her over the next two weeks, we need talk to the vet with regards to medical help. After all, no human would be expected to live in this state. Like many, they are reluctant to go down the medication route.

For this fortnight I have suggested they try one or two natural things including a Thundershirt, a Pet Remedy plug-in and either Zylkene or L-theanine. When everything is added together one may support another.

Only later can the work on changing the behaviours themselves start. The fact she attacks feet is a symptom of something else and it’s the causes that needs addressing.

Things will be broken down into tiny increments, each stage worked on until she is okay with it before going on to the next. It will probably be a long slow job.

For example, getting her okay with people walking away from her without even going out of the room is a start, teaching her to stay rather than to follow. Then a person getting up quickly. The man or the lady walking towards a door. A guest standing up, a guest walking towards a door. Walking through the door but not shutting it. Shutting the door….and so on.

Ruby’s real nature is very friendly. It would be inaccurate to label her an aggressive dog, but panic takes over.

They give her a lovely home where her needs are always put first. The little dog’s state of mind causes them great distress also.

Three weeks later: ‘There has been great improvement with Rosie …….,The family can’t believe the change in her, so much calmer.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Ruby and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)