Constantly Chewing Herself

JRBella2Jack Russell Bella is constantly nibbling, sucking and chewing herself – or scratching.

She has many seasonal allergies and allergies to food, but the nibbling and sucking was something else. The intensity and manner in which she was chewing herself looked to me like she was deliberately shutting out the world.

How could this be when she is loved so much?

I could see that she was enormously stressed. In fact, the lady and her daughter were also anxious and fearful – mostly about Bella, something she would be picking up on.

The dog is the centre of their universe. She is treated very excitedly whether it is physical play, cuddles or when one of them arrives home.  I have found that constant focus on a dog can be a burden for it – as it would for us. Caring owners however should never beat themselves up when they are doing things with the very best of intentions.

I experimented and found she liked being touched very gently but not vigorously at all. A little tickle behind her ears or a tickle on her chest. A hand stretched out over her made he cower slightly. It is enlightening for people to read a bit more of their dog’s body language.

Little Bella is extremely jumpy. Any small sound of a cooking utensil sends her running and she is also scared on walks – a car door slamming causes her to freeze or try to run for home.

It didn’t help that a while ago when they were out, neighbours reported a break-in and three police officers smashed through the front door with poor little Bella the other side. Also, last year a large dog got into their garden and in protecting little Bella the lady was very badly bitten and is now terrified. Watching out for dogs makes walks a nightmare for her as well. There have been some hard times.

We had a lovely evening. We gave Bella little attention – something they never would normally have considered. Instead of focussing on the scratching and sucking and constantly trying to distract or stop her, the daughter quietly gave her a tiny bit of food each time she stopped.

They said it was the calmest the house had been for years.

I have just received an email to say that Bella slept better than ever last night and didn’t wake until 9.30.

It is my bet that as she relaxes her allergies will improve and she will also stop chewing herself.

Just a couple of weeks later I have received this message: We are so happy with our beautifully behaved, quiet little dog.  The house is so quiet and calm and we really cannot believe the difference already.  She is doing so well and the only time she slips up is when I am not so on the ball (she has learnt quicker than me), but she is much younger !! it is a real learning curve for us too.
And a week after that, ‘Well, I have to say that Bella is a transformed dog, I barely recognise her, she is so different. Mum has done so well and is really firm about the new changes, and regime. I am comforted in the fact that she is so calm when I don’t make a big thing of greeting her.  It was so hard at first, I had to go into another room as I had tears in my eyes! Oh dear. Thank you so much again for all your solid advice, it makes so much sense and we could not have done it without you.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Bella, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).

Two Staffordshire Bull Terriers

Two Staffies sitting on the doormatStaffies have a very bad press – mostly to do with (dare I say it) stupid humans. I try not to generalise too much about any breed because there are so may exceptions, but I would say that Staffies by and large are friendly and gentle – with humans. To other dogs may be another matter. The problem of dogs bred for the wrong reasons from unreliable stock, parents who are chosen for their aggression towards other dogs for instance, has resulted in the rescue centres being inundated with Staffordshire Bull Terriers. I love them. Just look at the photo of these two. They are so wanting to please!

Candy is laid back and would be very happy were it not for severe allergy problems. Alfie is friendly, gentle, biddable, a bit pushy with his persistent jumping up and also quite easily scared.

However, unlike Candy, he has the so-called Staffie trait of being ‘aggressive’ to other dogs. In Alfie’s case I am sure this is fear. As a three-month old puppy he came already with scars, and he is fearful of quite a lot of things.

The owners would like to be able to walk Alfie as nicely as they do Candy – on a loose lead and ignoring other dogs, especially as in some months’ time they are expecting a new baby and want to be able to walk both dogs together beside the buggy. Alfie’s jumping up needs to stop along with jumping on the furniture. Loose lead walking needs to be established and his reactivity to other dogs sorted; ignoring them altogether may be the best we will achieve.

This all needs to be well in place before the baby arrives. Both dogs are good with young children so I don’t foresee any problems, particularly if they make sure people associate being around the baby with pleasant things, no scolding or anxiety whilst of course playing safe (see my previous post about Benjie the Westie and their cat). Naturally, dogs and young children and babies should never be left alone together.

From a lovely email five years later! “I just wanted to say a massive thank you. We still pull your guidelines put from time to time and make sure we are doing things correctly. Thanks to your help, Alf is a different dog. Nothing like the little puppy called Tyson we picked up.”
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.