Aggressive When People Leave

Polly is aggressive when people leave. I had been sitting on their sofa for a couple of hours and had slowly made friends with Polly.
Then I stood up.

The dog thought I was leaving. She changed in a flash into a snarling, barking, biting dervish.

There is a lot more to it, however

The lady met me at the door with Polly on lead — this being the only way she could open it without her dog running out. As I walked in, Polly bounced off the floor, barking at me, leaping up at me and biting my clothes.

This frenzy didn’t last too long once the lady gave me the tiny bits of chicken I’d asked her to prepare for me. Polly soon got the idea that staying on the floor was a lot more fulfilling than jumping up and barking at me.

Her extreme arousal levels result in poor Polly being super-reactive and constantly on high alert. Stress levels have fallout in other areas. They are a large part of the reason she goes mental when people leave.

Polly scratches herself raw

The vet has prescribed all sorts of things to no avail. I guess most dogs are stressed at the vet so it would be harder to tell, but watching her in her home environment, it was obvious stress was involved to large degree.

As soon as she had got over a bout of barking or there was any pressure on her, Polly scratched.

The lady tries to stop her with a command or a distraction — or by holding her foot to restrain her. As Polly only scratches to try to relieve her stress. stopping her without providing an alternative only adds to it.

I suggested a dog T-shirt with sleeves. She could then scratch without harming himself and the lady could relax about it while working to help relieve Polly’s stress.

Bearing in mind that the lady is so upset by the situation, anything that helps her will help Polly, and visa versa. Our own emotions can have a big effect on our dog.

I was sure that as she worked on everything else, the scratching would reduce or even stop altogether. I was right.

Constant barking

The next problem is constant barking at every sound. How can someone stop a dog like this from barking?

A previous trainer had suggested spraying water at her. She’s already in a panic. How can scaring an already aroused and panicking dog not make her even more frantic?

There are predictable triggers. They live by a school. For half an hour each morning and half an hour each evening Polly goes mental in the garden.

She goes mental with barking when letters drop through the front door.

There is a public car park out the front and she reacts to every car door she hears shutting. She runs back and forth from kitchen to front door and then into the garden, barking.

While I was there she barely barked at all — and that is because I worked on it.

At every sound, even before she could bark if possible, I reassured her with ‘Okay’, called her and dropped her a bit of chicken.

Car doors slammed outside and the lady couldn’t believe — Polly wasn’t reacting. On the occasions when she rushed out into the garden I called her in immediately. I called her before she had time to get stuck in — and rewarded her. We shut the door.

Simple management

If the lady keeps her eye on the ball and cuts down on all barking opportunities, she will find things very different. It will be hard work and every little bit helps.

She will immediately install an outside letterbox. She will keep Polly shut away from the front of the house at school-run times.

I also advised her not to give Polly free access to the garden unless she is at hand to help her out.

When she goes out and leaves Polly alone, it should in the quietest place — the sitting room — well away from the front of the house, passing people and slamming doors.

Aggressive when people leave

The third big issue I discovered towards the end of my visit. Having been sitting down for a while, I stood up.

Polly thought I was leaving. She changed in a flash from this little dog who was doing so well with me, into a dervish.

She barked ferociously — even worse than at the start when I arrived. The little dog flew at me, grabbing my clothes. She was in total panic.

Standing still and using my original technique, I eventually calmed her down again. All was well for a while until, still seated, I slowly picked up my keys to see what she would do. That was enough. She went frantic once more.

The lady understandably wanted to know why her dog does this whenever someone gets up to go. Why is she so aggressive when people leave? What memory might it trigger?

Who knows what the rescued dog’s previous life had been like.

It’s complicated.

In her panic, Polly has bitten the lady several times at the gate or at the front door. She had gone to move Polly during one of her ‘mad sessions’.

(Many years ago I inherited an old Labrador when we had bought a house from an elderly lady who went into a home. Her dog stayed. I used to say that Angus would rather kill someone than let them leave).

Back then I didn’t know what I know now.

Cutting down on Polly’s stress levels is the key

So, all in all, just by reducing the barking alone the lady will cut down a lot of Polly’s stress.

Cutting down on her stress will contribute to her not being aggressive when people leave.

Polly needs more exercise and freedom to be a terrier — away from the confines of a small bungalow. Her walks aren’t daily. They are currently along the roads on a short, tight lead attached to her collar.

She will feel a lot better when the lady gets her a comfortable harness and a long training line and takes her somewhere more open. She will have thirty or more feet of freedom to sniff and to explore. This way she won’t escape whilst having some enrichment in her life.

I visited this dog two months before writing this article. Polly now is a lot less excitable when someone comes to the house. She still barks but it lacks the panic and the lady, who has worked very hard, can reassure her so she stops. She seldom scratches.

Best of all, when she has a caller and they get up to go, Polly is chilled. She has learnt to associate people leaving with two good things — play and food.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you can do more harm than good. Click here for help

Too excited, over-aroused

Too excited, arousal and raised stress levels.

Some dogs and certain breeds of dogs, as we all know, are a lot more prone to being too excited than others (with many exceptions of course).

Jack Russell gets too excited

Jill

I went to the sweetest pair of Jack Russells yesterday – I’ll call them Jack and Jill. Jill is four years old and Jack eighteen months. We love our perky, bright and quick little dogs but because they are so reactive to things their stress levels easily rocket and this high state of arousal spreads tentacles that can adversely affect many areas of the dogs’ (and their owners’) lives.

A bit like the swan analogy of serene above water but paddling frantically underneath, even when dogs like this that get too excited appear peaceful or asleep, the adrenaline and arousal chemicals are still circulating inside their bodies.

It can take several days for the increased cortisone levels raised by a sudden shock or high excitement to fully go away but this will seldom happen because the next lot will come flooding in. It doesn’t take much to increase the heart rate of an already innately excitable dog – ball play, mail landing on the doormat,  encountering another dog when out or even someone dropping a spoon can trigger a flood of adrenaline and cortisone.

We obviously don’t want our dogs to be comatose, but continually being ‘too excited’ isn’t healthy either.

With Jack and Jill’s arousal levels lowered a bit, it will affect most areas of their lives.

JR who can be too excited, calm on his bed

Jack

When they are prevented from looking out of the front window, Jill in particular will no longer get into a barking frenzy when the children pass by on their way to and from school.

When upon coming home their humans allow the dogs to calm down before giving them too much fuss, Jack’s arousal levels will no longer drive him to leap about and grab hands.

When the key goes to unlock the back door, the dogs currently yo-yo up and down, barking and scratching the door, winding themselves up massively and ready to burst out. They no doubt believe their excitable behaviour actually causes the door to open. It will no longer happen.

When, on letting the dogs out, they attach a long lead to Jack for the first couple of minutes until his excitement abates a little, he won’t in an overflow of arousal redirect onto poor Jill who may then, equally wound up, snap at him.

By doing all they can to avoid the dogs getting too excited needlessly, they will help Jill to become generally calmer and less jumpy. She will be less fearful. Being less fearful, she will be more relaxed with people entering her house. Being less jumpy and fearful she will be less reactive to sudden sounds. She will bark less. Jack will bark less.

The dogs will gradually learn to calm themselves; they will work it out that calm now works best.

A calmer backdrop will in itself, over time, transform the walks for both Jack and Jill, and their humans. No longer will young Jack be so excited that he pulls in a barking frenzy as soon as he see another dog, joined by a hyped-up Jill who may then snap at him.

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 Jack and Jill. 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. 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)

Rescue Dog Settling In

VinnieI suggested they start all over again just as though Vinnie had never been walked before!

They have had the young Jack Russell for just over one week now and he is a rescue dog slowly finding his feet.

It’s very likely that he had seldom been outside his home and garden during the 2 1/2 years of his life which was apparently with a terminally ill person. He is another dog that reacts badly when seeing other dogs and where the groundwork needs to be put in at home first.

Each day he becomes more relaxed with them and although he’s an independent little dog he now will enjoy a cuddle.

He has a couple of strange little quirks.  He is completely quiet when anyone comes up the front path, rings on the doorbell, delivers a package or comes in the front door. However, when there is any noise from out the back – a dog barking or a car door slamming, he will rush out barking.

He’s very reactive to anything sudden, even someone coughing (they will gradually desensitise him to that in very small stages and using food). I do wonder whether the general background noise in his previous home may have been higher. One can only speculate. Now he lives with quiet people in a quiet area and against this background most sounds may well seem sudden.

The other strange thing is that from time to time he stands still, almost trance-like with his eyes closing. I did wonder whether it was because he was anxious, but there were no other indications such as lip licking or yawning. I took a video. On advice, I have suggested they get this checked out with their vet.

They will first start walking Vinnie in the garden until both humans and dog have the technique and a loose lead. As they go along they will work on getting and keeping his attention.

Only then they will venture out of the gate – but they won’t be going very far!

Bit by bit they will build on this until he is walking happily down the road on a loose lead. Only now will they be ready to work on dogs and Vinnie should be a lot more confident. They must do their best to keep at a distance where Vinnie isn’t too uncomfortable to take food or to give his humans his attention.

The secret to success, particularly with a rescue dog, is being prepared to put in the necessary effort and put in the necessary time – as I know Vinnie’s people are (see my ‘Reality Check’ page).

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Vinnie which is why I don’t share all the exact details 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).