People Too Close to Each Other. Connor Story Part One.

Connor’s will be a story in two parts. This first story is about Connor and his frantic agitation when two people get too close to each other.

He came to them a year ago, probably only weeks away from death. The dog, scarred with broken teeth, scared and skinny, had stopped eating. He had been in the kennels for two years and seemed to have lost the will to live.

From the moment the couple took him in, the Staffie Greyhound mix, now five, surrounded by patient love began to blossom.

Too close to each other or hugging.

Frantic when people too close to each otherFrom the start Connor became agitated when either the man moved too close to the lady, or when the lady approached the man. Continue reading…

Agitated. Anxious When They Talk to People

Trevor, an absolute sweetie, was extremely agitated by my being there. He is a small, very young-looking black Staffie age ten.

He never stopped pacing, chewing and panting all the time I was there. Two-and-a-half hours.

This is how he behaves when anyone comes to the house. When alone with the couple he is relaxed and calm. No pacing or panting, that’s for sure. Apart from when the grandchildren are there, who Trevor adores, it’s a quiet life.

Was it scenting?

Interestingly, as soon as I arrived he wound himself vigorously around my legs like a cat for a while which I suspect was about putting his scent on me. Possibly he feels more secure when people coming to his house smell like ‘family’? My own dogs certainly showed more interest than usual in the scent on my trousers when I got home.

Agitated

Never stopped moving for a photo

Although very friendly, he became increasingly agitated over the time I was there. This is the opposite to what normally happens though many dogs don’t settle, not used to people simply sitting still and talking to each other in an intense kind of way for this length of time.

As soon as I left they tell me he settled, lay down and went to sleep. He was exhausted.

Trevor on walks is the perfect dog, just as he is at home. He is good with all dogs, he comes back when called, he doesn’t pull. The only problem is when they stop to speak to someone. Poor Trevor’s tail goes between his legs and he shakes. He becomes very agitated.

Could it be something to do with his previous life?

For the first six years of his life Trevor lived with a younger couple. They had obviously loved him and trained him well.

Then they split up. Neither could take him.

He has lived with my clients for four years now.

It is pure speculation, I admit, but is it possible that in his past life animated conversation sometimes ended in a row which scared him? (If the man forgets himself and shouts at TV, Trevor is terrified).

Agitated and anxious. Worse recently.

Sticking to facts, he is a relaxed and calm dog when alone with the couple. He loves his off-lead walks but is not happy if they meet someone and the humans start talking. He becomes very agitated when anyone, including family, comes to the house.

Recently it has become worse. This has coincided with the lady retiring. It suggests a change in routine is unsettling the sensitive dog.

No longer going out to work, the lady has friends coming to the house to see her more often. This will mean there is more animated talking going on.

Trevor paces, he pants, he frantically chews something. He stops briefly to be touched (I tried gentle massage but he couldn’t stay still) and then moves again. Round and round. He licks his lips. With nothing to chew, he may chew his feet.

For starters, we want to get Trevor back to how he was until a few weeks ago when the lady retired and his agitation and anxiety accelerated. He always has been agitated with people about, but not this bad.

They will try to make his routine more like what it used to be where possible. They will avoid things that obviously stir him up where they can and give him activities that help to calm him. There are things like Thundershirt, special music, a plug-in and a calming collar that they could try as well.

I am hoping that, as a certain supermarket says, ‘every little helps’ and that things added together produce results.

No talking.

When friends come round, they will experiment with silence, with the person being very calm and trying ‘no talking at all’ from time to time. Is it talking that’s the problem? I didn’t try five minutes’ silence myself because the possible connection with talking only dawned on me as I left. Like so many cases, it’s about detective work.

When they meet someone out on a walk, the lady can stand Trevor further away. With more distance he should feel safer. The lady can drop food for him, he is fortunately very food motivated, so that he can begin to associate his humans stopping to chat with something good. Over time this should replace any possible previous negative associations.

They will involve the vet, both to check Trevor has no developing medical problem and maybe to back up the behaviour work with medication. In cases like this we should not forget complementary therapies.

Our end aim is for Trevor to stop being agitated when they are talking to someone whether this is at home or out on a walk. This fear is blighting the sweet dog’s life.

From an email three weeks later: ‘Just a quick update. Had a friend round last week. Before she came Trevor was out in the garden searching for “sprinkles” for about thirty minutes, I used Pet Remedy spray before she arrived and I put his Thundershirt on him as well. She commented on his behaviour as soon as she arrived, as to how much calmer he was. Before very long Trevor was lying on the sofa next to her, just like he does in the evenings with me.’

 

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 Trevor 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 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)

Agitated Dog. Excited, Alarmed, Relentless

agitated daschund

I could only catch a back view without him rushing to me!

The Miniature Wirehaired Daschund charged about barking, agitated whilst at the same time as ecstatic to see me. He flew all over me.

It was relentless. At my request we were all doing our best to ignore it.

I continually turned away and tipped him off.

I then asked the lady to show me what they usually did when someone came and he was barking like this. She pointed her finger at the agitated Monty and shouted NO a couple of times.

Monty stopped. Briefly. Then he focussed his barking on her.

Monty was also ready to bark at the smallest sound outside, but this time a different kind of bark. An alarmed bark.

The agitated Monty panted and scratched.

He scooted around the carpet – he has recurring anal gland problems that can only add to his stress (he has an appointment with the vet who will check him all over too). He chewed his feet.

Then he was flying around again. A stuffed Kong later on gave him and us a short respite.

It is so very hard for people to deal with this sort of thing and I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that, much as they love their adorable little dog, he is driving them nuts. They have spent money and they have taken advice. They are at their wits’ end.

The humans are agitated and the dog is agitated. A vicious circle.

Monty barks at people, he barks at planes or helicopters. He barks at church bells and things on TV. They can’t have friends round because from the moment he hears the doorbell he is jumping up, flying everywhere, agitated and barking frantically.

Some months ago an old-school dog trainer advised spraying him in the face with water. This did stop him – briefly.

There are two things particularly wrong with this.

Trying to terrorise an agitated dog does nothing for the underlying reasons for the barking. It undoubtedly makes them worse, whatever the cause of the barking.

The other very wrong thing is that the dog quickly gets immune to water spray, so then what?

They were advised to move on to an ‘anti-bark’ collar and other remote-controlled anti-bark devices. Here is my favourite video demonstrating how aversives can only add to stress and confusion.

Things have progressively got worse. They are people doing their very best with the information they can find. How do people know where to look? They are at their wits’ end.

They feel they have really tried everything.

Fortunately, they have not tried everything.

Not at all.

For a start, they haven’t tried doing everything they possibly can to cut down on Monty’s general arousal levels using only positive methods. Nobody has suggested that.

They’ve not tried helping him out with the alarm barking – basically thanking him instead of punishing him. Yes – thanking him – and using food!

The usual question then is, ‘am I not then rewarding my dog for barking?’.

Not if he’s alarm barking. They are addressing the fear that is causing the barking. Already with me being there they could see how that worked. A plane went over. He pricked up but didn’t bark. If they are sufficiently on the ball and can spot when he first hears something, they can catch it before he even starts – pre-empting barking.

Poor little friendly dog. What a state to be in.

People coming into his house cause a sort of total meltdown in Monty, to the extent that he may lose control of his bladder.

He did lie down a few times briefly. He lay in front of me on a stool and now that he wasn’t clamouring for attention anymore I slowly touched him. He lay still. I did it again and he charged off around the room once again.

Now when Monty is calm, instead of gratefully letting sleeping dogs lie, they will sometimes initiate activities. We looked at things that would both fulfill him and help to calm him down.

Getting to the underlying reason why he’s barking and dealing with that is the key. Any punishment is like putting a plaster on a festering wound. The wound continues to get worse underneath.

Now they have the tools for dealing with their beloved dog’s barking and agitated behaviour in a kind and positive way, they will be much happier.

And so will Monty.

Just one more thing – Monty is perfect out on walks. He doesn’t bark, he doesn’t pull and he loves other dogs!

Herding Behaviour When Indoors

Two Border Collies

Molly and Ben

Sometimes what our pet dogs were originally bred for can make some aspects of modern life within the confines of a house hard for them.

Border Collie, Ben, is one such dog. From the first time their baby granddaughter came into their house the very friendly, well-socialised dog became extremely agitated. Now that she’s a toddler he is even more distressed.

He whines and paces around her, he pants and sometimes barks and they feel might nip her if he got the chance. In addition to what seems like a version of herding behaviour when in her presence, he continues to whine and stress all the time she is in the house, even when he’s shut somewhere else. It’s like he is obsessed with her. Obviously they are never left alone. The little girl is unfazed and their other Collie, one-year-old Molly, loves her.

Sitting with the two very friendly and relaxed dogs who had calmed down after their wonderful welcome of me, it was hard to believe that six-year-old Ben could be any different, until they tuned into an animal programme on the TV.

At the sight or sound of an animal Ben whines and runs about. He paces and crouches. He will then get into more of a frenzy and lunge and bark at the TV.  I saw this for myself.

I started to work with him with the TV on and instead of the usual trying to stop the behaviour, I concentrated on showing him what he could be doing instead each time he looked at the animal. He reacted calmly for a couple of minutes or so before becoming aroused, not helped by Molly who was now joining in by barking at Ben.

It was obvious that they will need to put Molly behind a gate and work in very short sessions with Ben. They will start by making things as easy as possible, maybe the TV on mute or an animal image paused. They can slowly, over time, build up from there.

What is interesting is that the dog acts in such a similar way with the little girl. They can be using much the same sort of approach around the child as they do around the TV.

Border Collie lying on carpet

Ben

They will do repeated very short sessions.

I deliberately don’t describe exactly what we did because the specific strategies may not work in all cases and if wrongly interpreted may make matters worse.

Molly must be out-of-the-way and they can start when it’s easiest on Ben – when the child is sitting still in her high chair (they can’t sit her in front of the TV of course, because an animal may come on!). One grandparent can be with the child and the other bring Ben in on a long and loose lead, attached to a harness, so they have complete control over him all the time and so that he’s comfortable also.

Gradually, as Ben settles, they can have the child walking about, holding one grandparent’s hand while the other grandparent works with Ben.

Interestingly he’s only like this with the child when they are indoors. Out in the garden or off lead on a walk, he takes no notice of her.

There is one other big thing that I feel majorly affects Ben’s anxiety and stress around the TV and the baby, and this is both dogs’ lack of self-control. When they go for a walk, there is frantic and excited barking – to see who can rush out through the door first. Multiple commands go on deaf ears. Molly also is a big jumper at people. Again, commands do no good.

So, before they get to work on TV and baby, a calmer, more controlled environment needs to be created. With patience, the dogs will learn that the back door isn’t opened until both of them are quiet and hang back a bit – and this need not be done using commands at all. At present their noise and jumping is rewarded with the back door being opened. It now simply has to be the opposite!

All this arousal needs to be reduced in order that Ben’s stress levels are as low as possible before they embark on their work with him. Getting the background stuff in place can initially seem a lot for people to do, but these things have to be put established first so that they can make good progress with the lovely, friendly Ben.

They need also to work on doggy ‘remote control’! In addition to coming immediately away from something when asked, both dogs should also be trained to go to a bed or mat when asked so they can be sent away to settle down if necessary.

It would be great if, one day, the little girl could be watching the TV with both dogs lying peacefully on the floor nearby or in their settle places. Border Collies are so clever and trainable that with hard work and patience they should get there in the end.

 

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 Ben and Molly. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

Staffie Scared of Bangs

If Staffie Dudley were a human he would probably be on Valium! A person like Dudley would be on the go non-stop, nevDudley has to be held to keep him still for the photographer stop talking, chewing their nails, demanding attention all the time, unable to listen properly because so preoccupied, jumping into the air and screeching at sudden sounds and being inappropriately demonstrative to strangers! Dudley is extremely reactive to things. The only time he is still seems to be when he is chewing something – chewing releases pheromones that help to calm him; the things he chooses to chew aren’t always suitable and then getting them off him may be difficult. Dudley never stopped moving all the time I was there. He took a newspaper, a dish cloth, tried to stand up at the side, but his nose in a tea cup, bit my pad, jumped on people, jumped on the sofa – all things he knew he shouldn’t do and all things that usually would win him attention in the form of scolding.

He seems to be calmest of all when the young lady and her mother, who he has lived with since he was a year old, are out or at night when he’s asleep, which seems to indicate that humans cause the problem. During the day when he’s alone with just the mother he’s not too bad, but if she has friends around he goes manic which makes her stressed and anxious too. That will only add to the problem.

Dudley is very reactive to bangs, made far worse a while ago by a bird scarer and now he will frequently freeze on walks if he hears something. He refuses to go anywhere near the field where the bang had occurred.

Soon it will be November 5th and fireworks. He is terrifid and usually runs upstairs and hides in the bath. There are certain strategies here on the ‘Fireworks’ page. In Dudley’s case a DVD of bangs and noises could be very helpful. It could take weeks, starting off very soft and gradually increasing the volume, always ready immediately to take it back a notch if he gets worried. The behaviour of his humans during the firework sounds is key.

When people come to visit they can help him out. Nobody should excite him and if he’s given something special to engage his mouth on, like a bone or antler bar, it should help him keep himself calm. He really does his best. People sometimes think their dogs are naughty and see them in a whole new light when they understand why they are doing the chewing. The lady and her mother need to keep him as calm as possible, and this means they themselves need to be calm around him. His fears of walks need to be dealt with very slowly. Walking him happily out of the door would be a start, and they can build on that in tiny increments.

Dudley is three years old, a young dog. He is gentle and loving and has great potential. He is much loved and I know they will put in the work necessary to give him a calmer, quality life, not frantically stressing when people come or terrified of sounds out on walks and enabling him to relax. Helping him out with special things to chew at stressful times will help, and rewarding good calm behaviour with attention.

Three days later:Amazing response already. Much calmer. Not taking things nearly so much.”. Twelve days later: “I feel that our own behaviour has had a positive impact on Dudley, the way we deal with things now.  Dudley is responding really well to us being calmer”.