Six weeks ago Greyhound Jo was a happy dog, if somewhat quiet and sensitive. She is a six-year-old ex-racer who has lived with the elderly lady for over a year now.
Then, one day, she and her elderly lady owner came back from their usual morning walk and Jo stood outside the back door and refused to move. Why this happened is anyone’s guess. So far as the lady can remember there was nothing out of the usual in the house or in the doorway, and nothing untoward had happened on the walk.
How the lady reacted was, she admits with hindsight, unfortunate. She got cross and shouted at the sensitive dog, then tried to drag her in by her collar – finally lifting her and forcing her through the door. Things have gone downhill since then. Every time they have been out Jo simply refuses to come in.
Fortunately the lady knew what she did was the wrong way to go about it and wasn’t cross again. She has since tried to cajole her through the door, unsuccessfully. she shuts her out and five minutes later when she opens the door the dog flies in. Hugging the wall, she shoots right round the kitchen dining room to her bed in the far corner.
Since that time about six weeks ago she has also been weird at other doors entering this same room. It is an old house and there is the back door, a door leading to a utility room, a door leading to the sitting room and a door leading to the front of the house.
When the lady comes back after leaving Jo at home, the dog won’t go further to meet her than a few feet from her bed, and as the lady approaches she turns back and gets on her bed once more. If the lady goes in the sitting room, Jo will now no longer go in with her but will creep in to join her later. When the lady gets up to go back into the kitchen dining room, Jo goes no further than the door. Front feet over the threshold, back feet in the sitting room, she hovers, just as she does at the utility entrance.
The lady just leaves her now and eventually she will hear the dog suddenly shooting around the edge of the quarry-tiled room to the safety of her bed. She has left nail marks on the floor as she skids in her desperation to get there quickly.
It is like this room is haunted in some way. The dog has built up a fearful ritual of waiting/hovering in doorways and then making a dash round the edge of the room for her bed, as though there is an invisible monster lurking in there ready to pounce on her. Most of Jo’s odd behaviours only takes place in the presence of the lady. The cleaning lady looks after Jo sometimes and she is fine with her. She runs to welcome her at the door and displays none of these behaviours at her house.
Apart from on her bed where you can see she is totally relaxed, Jo also feels safe in the garden which is the only place where she ‘lets her hair down’ and rushes about – leaping over the pond and having her own mini racecourse! She is happy to have the lady with her when she’s outside. Indoors there is one room she feels safe with the lady – a little office – a room that doesn’t lead off the kitchen.
Because Jo reacts in a much more relaxed way and with more enthusiasm to other people that she knows than she does now with her owner, it is clear that for some reason the problem is specific to the lady. She seems unafraid of the doorways and gap between kitchen and dining room when it’s the cleaner coming in.
We need a two-pronged approach. First to ‘exorcise’ the room of its demons so that it represents good stuff and not fear, and we need to rebuild Jo’s trust and respect for the poor lady. All force must be abandoned so Jo can make her own choices, and the lady will now be liberally using food for ‘lacing the environment’ to exorcise the room – sprinkling and hiding tiny tasty bits all around the kitchen dining room and then keeping well out-of-the-way and out of the picture while Jo forages and hunts. The lady will also use food whenever Jo comes to her, even if she was coming anyway, or when she follows her. She will use food whilst doing lots of going in and out through doorways – starting with the comfortable door into the tiny office.
I’m sure if the lady is able to do these things and for long enough, she will re-build her old relationship with her lovely dog who then will no longer be a dog who refuses to come in and the room will no longer be ‘haunted’.
As with any sudden change in behaviour, it is also important to have the dog checked over by the vet to make sure there is nothing physical going on.
Great news. Just over two weeks have gone by and the lady has been following the plan closely – and Jo is back to her old self. The room has lost its ‘ghost’. Jo walks in and out happily. There is no more hanging back at doorways and she and the lady are once again enjoying one another’s company in the house.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Jo, which is why I don’t go into 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 dog (see my Get Help page).