People walking away from him causes Barney to lose it.
Barney’s lady owner had been so sure that due to his odd behaviour he had something either wrong with his brain or a chemical imbalance in his body, that he has undergone extensive tests including an MRI scan. All is clear.
His behaviour however is troubling. I suspect this is because he himself is troubled – an upsetting thought for his dedicated lady owner.
Six-year-old Hungarian Vizsla Barney is very well-trained as a gun dog, but training alone doesn’t make a well-adjusted and happy dog. In fact, I have been to dogs where the opposite is the case. Sometimes the owners just try too hard.
The lady is an exceptionally conscientious dog owner and has structured her life around Barney. They have been more or less inseparable for the past four years. He has always been panicked by his people walking away so she has avoided it as much as she can.
People walking away from Barney triggers an attack. One can safely assume this is in an effort to prevent them from leaving.
When they shut the boot of the car and walk away, even if only to go to the driver’s door, Barney goes wild with barking and panic. The whole car rocks.
Recently the lady has gone back to work full time and Barney is getting worse.
He does other odd things. Each evening he will have a lengthy bout of staring and fixating at the garden window, drooling. He will then do the same to his humans. They don’t let him out, they ignore it believing it to be the right thing to do. It’s almost like a contest where he must not win.
If a child were behaving in this troubled fashion, the parents would help him out. If they don’t want the dog to rush out barking at pigeons or trying to kill a hedgehog (he has come back in covered in blood), they can call him away and do something else with him. Currently he’s so fixated he may not even be aware of them calling, but fortunately he’s food driven and we found when I was there that it was easy to get his attention with food.
Having called him away, they can give him something else to do, incompatible with his obsessing. They will cover the lower part of the windows.
The ordeal of going out
At present when they need to go out they have a ritual. Amazingly, having watched the picking up of keys and all the other signals that they are about to go and when the front door is opened, Barney has been successfully taught to go to his bed in the sitting room. They then go back and give him a carrot (the one time when food is used to motivate him) and rush out of the room and out of the front door.
However, if he finishes the carrot before they are out of the door they have to try again.
For now the problem can be temporarily managed by the use of a gate in the sitting room doorway. They can also make the carrot-eating slower by stuffing it into a Kong.
For Barney’s mental health and general stress levels the panic and emotions that drive him to behave like this need to be worked on, slowly and gradually, desensitising and counter-conditioning until he accepts and ultimately even enjoys people walking away.
They believe he is fine once they have gone, but I’m not convinced and have asked them to video the first fifteen minutes or so. A dog walker calls daily and he’s the same with her when she goes.
Life must be a bit confusing for the highly-strung dog. He is ruled by commands whilst at the same time being worshipped. I would reverse both. I would work on motivating him by using food so he makes more of his own choices with fewer commands, and I would advise worshipping him less!
Humans relax. Stop watching and worrying over him.
He was beside me staring out of the window. He lay down, still staring. Then his head dropped onto his bed. I silently fed him. Each time he relaxed I did this. He now needs positive guidance into how to relax.
I’m sure the very caring lady will herself also feel a big sense of release and relief if she can let go a bit and stop worrying so much. Instead of stressing because Barney is stressing, they can work on Operation Calm, silently feeding when he relaxes and settles. They will give him activities that will help him to calm himself down including chewing and foraging. He has three walks a day – could this actually be too much?
I am sure that if they now use motivation and food and work hard at teaching him that people walking away from him results in him getting something nice – and that they always come back – they won’t need that gate in the doorway for ever. Here is a great little video about motivation.
One strong influence is the lady’s following of breed-specific Facebook groups which has coloured her life with Barney. These groups spread the idea that a Vizsla isn’t the same as other dogs, like it’s a different species. Individuals in these groups can give mis-information and outdated training advice still unfortunately prevalent in the gun dog world.
Primarily Barney is an animal. Secondarily he’s a dog. The fact he’s a Vizsla and a gun dog doesn’t affect the basic principals of behaviour, that positive reinforcement teaches a dog what we want in a way that is most successful both in terms of him understanding what is wanted and in his feeling of fulfillment.