Angry When Suddenly Woken. He Bites.

Diego is a cute and characterful Shih Tzu, two and a half years old. He lives with a young lady, her mother and her grandmother. Three generations.

Angry? Diego? You wouldn’t believe it.

He wakes up angryDiego (what a great name) is the youngest lady’s dog. As she is out at work all day, her mother in particular is involved with looking after him.

The elderly lady is scared of him.

The main reason I was called in is due to Diego’s seemingly instinctive angry and aggressive reaction when suddenly woken or disturbed.

He flies at the two older ladies. They have bites to show for it.

The grandmother has a stool on which she puts her feet. Diego’s favourite sleeping place is on the floor by the footstool. If the lady so much as moves her foot Diego may wake and fly at her.

The mother also has bites from when she has moved suddenly.

If it’s the young lady who moves, Diego doesn’t go for her, she goes for one of the others!

She told me that sometimes she whistles to warn Diego. That gave me my idea.

They will buy three cheap plastic whistles and wear them around their necks. Regularly then can whistle and immediately drop something particularly tasty for Diego. In time they can build up a conditioned response: whistle-food.

They can then do the same when he is sleeping – if they want to move. It will give him warning. Waking suddenly, he will look for the food instead of flying at them, angry.

The lady can then move freely.

Diego is much worse in the evening.

I believe from other things they told me that stress is building up in Diego during the day. He is on high alert for outside sounds to bark at.

The ‘angry waking’ is much worse in the evening. His stress build-up accelerates with the young lady coming home from work. She gives Diego a rapturous and exciting greeting.

She then takes him for a lovely walk – but surely too stimulating. They may meet lots of other dogs in the park and he will play frantically. Playing with more than two or three dogs, some much larger than himself, must be very arousing – slightly scary even.

He comes back home highly aroused and then it’s tea time. At about 7.30pm they  understandably want to settle down, but Diego has only just started! Now he begins the stealing of items, hoarding and guarding them.

Dealing with the over-arousal and resource guarding which I’m helping them with will undoubtedly mean that Diego will be better relaxed when he rests. We ourselves know that we don’t sleep well when over-stressed. Better quality sleep must surely help his angry waking problem.

The young lady has made herself very well-informed and it was a pleasure to work with her. She understood what I was talking about as we discussed solutions and ways of de-stressing Diego. For a start, she will ‘redesign’ walks to give him much more time sniffing and exploring in peace.

It’s probably been going on for a couple of years now so waking angry will be a habit – a learned behaviour. By calming him down in general, dealing with the resource guarding and giving him warning when they are about to move, I am hopeful the behaviour will die.

Their three months with me has now come to an end and I have received this lovely email: I really just wanted to drop you a line to thank you – the help and guidance you provided has really helped. The difference in Diego (and me!) from when we first met is astonishing. I firmly believe he is a much happier dog, I know I am a much happier human.
Diego is now happy and balanced enough, that starting daycare didn’t phase him at all. He had his first session and the man who runs it was so impressed at how Diego behaved with his dogs (5 St Bernards) and the other boarders. In fact when I brought Diego home you would never have known he spent 7 hours somewhere new – I firmly believe he wouldn’t have been able to handle that situation 4 months ago. So all in all we’re all a lot happier and most importantly, Diego is happier. It really is lovely to see him smile so much again! 
Five months after we met: I thought you’d like an update on how Diego is doing. For a start we’ve found a lovely dog sitter for him. Diego now spends usually a day a week with 4 St Bernards (the owners) and a few other dogs that are being looked after. He’s been so well behaved (apart from showing off how quick he can slip his collar), the gentleman who looks after him says he’s as good as gold.
On and even bigger note, Diego also had his first holiday last week. We stayed for 2 nights at a lovely dog friendly b&b – he was spoilt rotten with eggs and bacon for breakfast.  We were so pleased at how well he handled himself in an unfamiliar environment and with all the car travel – 2 hours! I know for a fact if we hadn’t called you in we wouldn’t have been able to take him away.
Our knowledge of his stress levels is so much better now and we’re always checking and adjusting depending on his needs. Diego really seems like a much happier dog now 🙂
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Diego. 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. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).

 

Muzzle Saved Me From Multiple Bites.

JRRockyIn my years of working with dogs I can remember few dogs quite as aggressively reactive as Rocky .

Usually they would have left the 4-year-old Jack Russell upstairs in a bedroom but I wanted to see him. If they do have him in company, he is always muzzled – thankfully.

As soon as he was let into the room he charged at me and attacked me! Had he not been muzzled I would have had multiple bites. I always play safe, but normally I would advise people to bring the  dog in on lead rather than muzzling him, but they can’t do this with Rocky. If he can’t get at his target he then redirects onto the person holding the lead and attacks them instead.

It’s not only people that he doesn’t know coming into the house that causes this reaction. He goes frantic if one family member so much as stands up to leave the room – and will attack them if they try to go out of the house, again redirecting if someone tries to restrain him and attacks them instead. Triggers such as someone putting shoes on or the lady walking towards her handbag distress him to such an extent that it is pitiful to see. He is beside himself.

The young lady sat on the chair next to mine and Rocky sat in protective pose between us (he now had his lead on as well). He ate a treat. I caught his eye and he flew at me again. This was not fear. This seemed more like rage.

Causes for aggression may be fear, stress, guarding/territorial behaviour or anger. I would say that with Rocky it’s all of these. He’s undoubedly protective. He barks constantly when out at any person or dog he sees. He is held on a tight lead on walks so gets no release of any sort for his frustrations. He can’t be trusted off lead even in the garden in case he escapes – he’s expert at breaching the fence. He barks at any sound out the front of the house and goes mental when post comes through the door.

All four family members have been bitten repeatedly and clothes torn.

He has been gradually getting worse since they took him on from friends a year ago. He had been passed around from one family member to another and they have proof that he was badly treated. He has been punished and hit for showing aggression which will without doubt have escalated things.JRRocky1

This poor little dog is only relaxed when the whole family is together later in the evening with no risk of anyone going out.  Much of the time he is living a nightmare. The family acknowledges that there are things they have been doing that haven’t helped and really want to help him. From a behaviour point of view they now have a plan of action for desinsitising and counter-conditioning. He will be very gradually desensitised to people going out, a tiny step at a time.

Rocky is in such a stressed place and is so conditioned to react aggressively in so many circumstances, that in order for the family to make any progress with the behaviour work he may need some back-up medication of some sort in order to allow them to work with his problems. I have advised a vet visit to ensure there are no medical issues as some disorders can cause aggression. His case is so extreme that natural things like Zylkene, DAP and so on I don’t feel would touch him.

Without some drastic steps being taken, Rocky’s days may be numbered.