Stress. Is it cause or is it symptom?
It’s like merry-go-round. Chicken and egg.
Barking for attention = stress = barking for attention
Barking at the neighbour’s dog = stress = barking at the neighbour’s dog
Shredding the mail = stress = shredding the mail
Wild excitement before meals = stress = wild excitement before meals
Barking in late evening when people gathering outside the pub next door = stress = barking in late evening
Attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher = stress = attacking the lady while she loads the dishwasher
Attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal = stress = attacking the lady while she’s preparing his meal
Guarding behaviour = stress = guarding behaviour
Growling when approached with lead = stress = growling when approached with lead
Barking non-stop for attention = stress = barking non-stop for attention
Stealing things for attention = stress = stealing things for attention
Wrecking things = stress = wrecking things
Humping her bed = stress = humping her bed
Fear of bangs = stress = fear of bangs
Stomach issues = stress = stomach issues
Pulling on lead, discomfort to her neck = stress = pulling on lead
Obsessive chasing balls and sticks = stress = obsessing
Lunging at dogs = stress = lunging at dogs
Because people eventually for their own sanity give in to barking if she carries on for long enough, she’s in effect been taught to do it.
The couple have had Noodle for eight years, since she was a puppy, and have given her everything a well-loved dog could wish for. There will be a genetic component to her problems.
The common thread running through everything is stress and over-arousal. If we can reduce the eight-year-old Jack Russell’s general stress levels, the resulting behaviours should largely take care of themselves.
In over three hours that I was there Noodle didn’t settle once.
Apart from short sessions spent upstairs to give us and herself a break, she barked for most of the time unless I was focusing my full attention on her, teaching her an incompatible behaviour to barking whilst reinforcing quietness. This is something that will need to be worked on over weeks.
The only real relief for both her and for us was while she determinedly employed herself at dismembering a toy I produced. I could see by the way she was frantically going at it just how much she needed to vent all the pent-up stress inside her.
In order to get Noodles’ stress levels down, anything that stirs her up too much must be reduced in every way possible. Control and management will play a big part in saving Noodle from herself and putting an end to rehearsal of certain behaviours.
We looked at ways they can regularly initiate healthy stimulation to keep her mind busy with stuff that, instead of being arousing, will calm her down and help her to feel fulfilled so that she’s less likely to resort to stealing things, destroying things and guarding things.
We also looked at ways to help her to calm herself down. Chewing, foraging and hunting are all great ways to achieve this.
Her tendency to guarding behaviour will be worked at. She will play fun games that require exchanging objects for something else.
With a dog like this it’s less about dealing with the behaviours themselves beyond putting in management like blocking views out of windows, installing an outside mailbox and using a baby gate, and more about changing the dog’s inner emotions that drive the behaviours.
We discussed how they can make her feel better about the sounds she hears outside – people chatting outside the pub and the dog opposite – by associating them with food. They had only thought about trying to stop her noise, not trying to address the emotions which were causing the noise.
“Surely if you feed her when she’s barking are you not teaching her to bark?”, the man said.
Yes and no.
‘Yes’ if you are feeding to reinforce a behaviour like begging for food and ‘no’ if you are feeding to change an emotion, like the fear which is causing her to bark at sounds.
Feed a behaviour and you make it more likely – that way you can successfully teach a dog to bark. This has in effect happened with the ‘I want something’ barking.
Pair food with an emotion like fear (starting at the mildy uneasy stage where she will still eat) and you reduce the fear and that way reduce the barking too. This way we are dealing with the behaviour at source. See this ‘Can you reinforce your dog’s fear‘.