Woody has changed.
If I had gone to see him about three months ago, the Cockerpoo, then about 8 months old, would have been very friendly and happy to see me. In fact, I would not have been needed at all.
Instead, when the man opened the door to let me in, Woody continued barking at me. He was obviously very scared – and brave.
Beside him was their adorable new 8-week-old puppy Fred who wasn’t fazed at all.
Puppy Fred is how Woody used to be. They come from the same breeder with the same father. Woody was a carefree, happy puppy. He loved everyone.
Then everything changed.
I tried to unravel the puzzle of why, over such a short period about three months ago, Woody had changed so completely from being carefree and confident to so nervous, fearful and barky. He is great with other dogs – and puppy Fred. It’s people and noises associated with people that scare him.
I don’t think they will ever get to the bottom of it. I strongly suspect something happened in the middle of a second sensitive ‘fear period’ – something involving a person, or people. Something as simple as shouting.
The young couple are the most conscientious dog parents to adorable Woody. He should be having a great life. He loves his daily group walks with their dog walker and they make sure they don’t leave him alone for too long.
They always consider what’s best for him, even to getting the puppy to keep him company.
Going back to when I arrived. It was interesting. He barked fearfully at me as the man and I tried to talk. Stopping barking for a moment, he caught sight of his reflection and jumped. The man moved, he jumped. He looked at me and barked again.
The lady arrived home about ten minutes later. Immediately she walked in, Woody stopped barking and picked up a slipper.
He is reactive to the smallest sound. I saw him in the garden simply standing, looking and listening, like he was inviting something to bark at. Sure enough, he heard something and a quiet bark quickly escalated.
A frenzy of panic barking
The couple work from home a couple of days a week. There is a particular sound he regularly hears during the day and that they don’t. This sound sends him into a barking frenzy of panic, making it impossible for them to work, particularly to make phone calls.
There is an anomaly. It seems, from their camera and the neighbours, that when they are not at home Woody doesn’t bark at all.
When he’s with his family he is very scared of anyone coming into the house. He barks and he barks. Another anomaly. It seems he’s more scared of people only when the couple are with him. When the dog walker puts her key in the door he doesn’t bark. He’s quite confident when left with the groomer.
Why the difference in Woody’s changed behaviour depending upon who he’s with? It seems most extreme when the man is about. It’s likely that the lady as an individual is calmer and more consistent than the man who may be more enthusiastic and unpredictable by nature which may affect the jumpy dog.
No more addictive ball play
Wilson is addicted to ball chasing. I believe this isn’t helping. While he’s obsessing on his ball on walks, he’s not benefiting from the enriching environment, the smells etc.
The ball will now be super-desirable because they will starve him of it. He will go cold turkey! No more ball-thrower.
To help him with that sound they can’t hear but that triggers panic in Woody, they will counter-condition him. That is to pair this sound with something he loves, immediately and before he gets stuck in. Even though they themselves can’t hear it, they know when it happens from his reaction. Immediately they will either throw chicken on the floor – or throw him his precious ball.
Apart from this, Woody’s main fears are around people he doesn’t know coming to the front door. They will be arranging things differently when people come into the house he’s out of the way and the person is already in and sitting down before he joins them.
They have trained him well, but not using a clicker. I love clicker because it makes the dog work things out for himself. He caught on to clicker for touching my hand very quickly. His brain was working hard! It was lovely to see him focused and confident. No longer was he scared of me.
Touching hands like this may help his fear of hands.
Whenever a bout of barking starts they should deal with it immediately. Bearing in mind it’s fear they are dealing with and not actually the barking itself, it needs a positive response. Scolding isn’t appropriate as a response to fear, is it.
They will need food. And the ball.
Not rewarding the barking
Like many people, they worry about feeding him when he’s barking – thinking it’s rewarding barking and will make it worse. Because he’s barking due to fear, food can’t reinforce the barking. One can’t reward fear. Anything nice like food helps to balance out fear.
Because Woody has changed, because he used not to be fearful and jumpy until about three months ago, with consistent work I don’t see why he shouldn’t become that way again.
It’s lovely to see him playing with puppy Fred. Suddenly happy and playful.