Human Emotions. Humans Have Feelings Also
Most extreme behavior issues will take considerable time and work to resolve.
The case of two of little dogs I went to a few weeks ago, was very unusual in that the dramatic change was virtually instant.
It was all about the human emotions and not about the dogs at all. Seldom have I been to dogs that so extremely reflected the state of mind of one particular person as these two did.
The human emotions part of the equation
People like myself are called out to help with the dogs’ behaviour. We also are well aware that the human emotions and behaviour influences the behaviour and emotions of their dogs. This case brought so strongly home to me the awareness, sympathy and empathy that is needed for how the human part of the equation may be feeling.
These little dogs did fantastically well. The young lady owner (age 22 and who I shall call Clare) did not do well at all initially.
Breaking this connection with her dogs felt to her like a bereavement. She, too, needed help. Along with over-attachment to their previous dog, she had ‘lived for and through’ her dogs since she was about eleven years old.
Here is the ‘story’:
Poppy is a ‘Yorkiepoo’, acquired three years ago as a tiny under-age pitiful little puppy for sale in a shop. One can only guess that she came from a puppy mill somewhere. Very possibly he had been shipped over from Eastern Europe to the UK as so many are. Not a good start in life.
Ollie is a miniature Schnauzer. He was chosen to keep Poppy company and to give her a bit more confidence which hasn’t really worked.
Invisible cloak of concern
The most concerning thing is how inseparable the two little dogs are, not from one another but from Clare, Poppy in particular. They won’t let her out of their sight.
If Clare moves, Poppy moves. All the time I was there Poppy sat beside or in front of her, scared but protective. Even when Clare isn’t touching the little dog, she surrounds her with a sort of invisible cloak of concern. The human emotions were almost tangible.
Clare herself is completely needy of the dogs. She worries and watches over them constantly (as do the whole family to a lesser extent). She hates going out to work, conjuring up all sorts of scenarios of the dogs coming to harm when she is out.
When I arrived, it took Poppy quite a while to stop barking at me. She demonstrably made sure I kept away from the young lady.
When Clare goes out, she cries at the door, even when other people are in the house. She then transfers her ‘following’ onto the mother who is also anxious.
Other manifestations of the problem include Poppy not eating well. She constantly toilets around the house. There are problems with both dogs around the toddler grandchild.
Unable to leave the house as a family
Predictably when out on walks with Clare, Poppy is very scared of people and other dogs. When off leash she 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 even he is affected by Poppy’s panicking and the general anxiety.
They have felt unable to go out as a family in the evening for two years now.
We discussed ways of dissolving the invisible umbilical attaching Poppy to Clare, recognising the relevance of human emotions. Together we looked at ways of enriching the dogs’ lives and encouraging independence. 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.
The humans’ tone of voice and body language can make a huge difference – hellos and goodbyes can be matter-of-fact. This case highlighted just how important the human emotions – what the humans are feeling inside also is.
The next day after my visit before I even had time to send my report and plan, I received this email: ‘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 Clare 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 (the dogs’ behaviour around the toddler grandchild caused massive anxiety) but they did not seem as interested in him as they usually would be’.
I did give the family one word of warning. A familiar pattern I see is dramatic improvement immediately, followed by a downturn. This is 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. In this case of human emotions, it could be the human that regresses.