Aggressive When People Leave

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.

Constant barking

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.

Simple management

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.

It’s complicated.

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

Attacks Feet When People Leave. Highly Stressed.

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.


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)



Living with the Weimerana is a Battle

DiefenAs I walked in, 6-year-old Weimerana Dudley was jumping up at the child gate near the front door, barking somewhat scarily. Following the young lady into the living room, he leapt up at my face. I just kept turning away until he got the message and sat down and then I briefly tickled his chest just to show him I appreciated a polite and controlled greeting. I quickly discovered that positive feedback for desired behaviour was lacking. When he is quiet and good they quite understandably and literally ‘let sleeping dogs lie’ so as not to start him off again.

Dudley has been staying with his young lady owner’s parents for several weeks and he has turned their lives upside down. They are doing very best to meet the challenge. His owner is trying to sell her house and because of his behaviour can’t have Dudley there when she is showing people around. In fact I was the first guest the parents had dared have to their house in the weeks they had had him there.

There were such a catalogue of things that need dealing with that it was hard to know where to start without overwhelming them. They all fed into Dudley’s almost obsessive need to control them. With their attention not on him, he whined constantly knowing they all have a breaking point and will give in – I watched him whine at the lady until gave up her place on the sofa to him.

Dudley whines for them in the middle of the night if he hears any movement, he whines if they are talking or on the phone, when he shares the lady’s bed he will bark at her if she moves her legs, he guards the door to stop people leaving. In addition to his own meals, he whines while they are eating so they give him some of their own food.

He’s not as brave as you’d think, though. He backs away and shakes when approached with his collar or lead, and is likely to snap if they’re not careful. They use a Gentle Leader head halter to control his pulling – you can see the mark on his muzzle in my photo (I find it hard to see how this is ‘gentle’ but he is extremely strong and heavy; I hope he will soon be walking nicely without it).

Worst of all, Dudley has bitten several times, drawing blood. He bit the father a couple of times while guarding something he considered a resource, he has suddenly bitten ‘out of the blue’ when stroked, he has bitten the mother on a walk when she bent to untangle the lead from his legs. He may lean his heavy body on them, growling and grabbing an arm or sleeve if he thinks they may be going out somewhere, and may attack the door handle.  ‘Commanding’ him invites defiance. Using rewards can be difficult because he mugs the hand with the food in it.

His behaviour took a dramatic turn for the worse after he had been left with a dog sitter for a week a couple of years ago. One can fairly safely guess that this person used ‘dominant’, punishment-based methods on him in order to force him to comply. It seems that poor Dudley is totally confused and it is all about STOPPING him from doing things. It’s a battle. I started by suggesting they control his food and control his access to certain parts of the house.

I showed them positive feedback for desired behaviour instead. I got them to completely ignore all the whining because he would have to take a break eventually, and we then immediately and in silence dropped tiny treats on the floor in front of him. We did the same whenever he sat down quietly, whenever he lay down – in fact, whenever he did something good. I called him quietly, rewarded him, asked him to lie down which he did, and I worked him. I used gentle ‘requests’, not ‘commands’, and simply waited until he did what I had asked. Then I demonstrated how to get him to take a treat from my hand politely.

Dudley was focussed; a different dog. He needs more fulfilment in life so that he no longer needs to create his own.

This beautiful boy is going to be a big challenge and they will need to be determined, patient and consistent. They have shown already how committed they are. I shall keep closely in touch with them until they feel they have turned the corner. Understanding the things he SHOULD do will take a huge weight from him and he should become a lot more relaxed and cooperative.


Another Herding and Scared Border Collie from Ireland

Border Collie spent first year of her life on farm in IrelandIt’s not surprising that a Border Collie who has spent the first year of his life on a remote farm in Ireland is terrified of traffic and wants to round people up like they are sheep. Cabra is one such dog, now aged about two and a half. A few days ago I went to Lottie, another Collie with similar issues. It’s probable, because Cabra has knee problems already, that he was worked from too young an age and then dumped when no longer useful.

What a beautiful looking dog!

The home situation is tricky because he lives with a lady and her very elderly parents, both with mobility problems. Each time the old gentleman gets up and slowly walks towards the door, Cabra circles him and when he’s through the door and no longer in sight, charges from room to room, barking quite ferociously. Cabra has run of the house and circles the man on the stairs too. It’s dangerous – it’s only a matter of time before he causes the man fall.

Cabra is wary of all people except his family and their carer, but he is worst when they leave, with his frantic ’rounding up’ and distress at the door.

The first priority is to manage the situation so that Cabra is out of the way when the gentleman is moving about. He should no longer have free run of the house to come and go as he likes – it’s only his humans who should be able to do that.

Psychologically what needs to be worked on is Cabra’s acceptance that people moving about are not his responsibility, and he needs to learn other behaviours instead that are incompatible with herding. Once he has started into the behaviour he is deaf to instruction, so forward planning is necessary.

Cabra is absolutely terrified on walks, terrified of nearly everything including traffic and other dogs, but this is another tricky aspect as the parent’s carer is having to walk him and hasn’t the time to work on this – and it’s not her job.

They have had him for about a year and he has gained some confidence, but here is a lot of work to do, and the degree to which he improves will depend upon how much the people are able to do, both physically and time-wise. Slowly he should become less fearful and be able to calmly to accept people leaving.