Attacks Feet When People Leave. Highly Stressed.

Ruby simply can’t cope with life. They rehomed the Lakeland Terrier from an acquaintance at about three years of age – she Attacks feetis now five. Busy people with young children, it seems they ran with her early morning to ‘get rid of her energy’ and then shut her away in a crate for the rest of the day.

As is usually the case, if over-exercised without time to sniff and do dog things, the dog is likely to come home needing to unwind rather than tired and relaxed.

In this state they shut her away and left her for the day.

It’s not hard to attribute the two most significant symptoms of her stress levels to three years of this life.

Ruby licks doors and attacks feet.

She panics when anyone walks towards a door and attacks feet. She has caused injury and destroyed shoes.

When behind a door and unable to get to the person the other side, she will frantically lick it – more dragging her tongue over it than licking.

They tell her ‘no licking’, but with stress levels so high what else can she do to help herself? She spent her earlier days in the crate doing just this to gain some relief.

Trigger stacking

When I was there, the degree to which ‘trigger stacking’ of stress affects why she attacks feet became obvious.

When I first arrived she fairly excited and sniffed me curiously but quiet friendly. Her little body however was stiff with tension – as it was all evening. Her tail constantly quivered.

I needed to read her reactions. I got up and walked slowly for a few steps, dropping food (which she didn’t eat). Nothing. I sat down again.

A bit later the lady got up to show me what happens when she walks out of the room. Instant panic. Ruby stood with her nose against the door; she ran back to us as if to check we were exactly as she had left us and then back to the door. Poor little dog.

After a while the man did the same. Her reaction was even stronger this time. I could see she wasn’t far short of biting his feet. I could also see she was about to lick the door.

stress bucketRuby’s ‘stress bucket’ was now overflowing. So much so that when the lady got up to go to the kitchen Ruby went for her feet, biting a couple of holes in her fortunately padded slippers.

Later I slowly stood up again. I wondered whether throwing something could redirect her away from feet. I threw a squeaky ball as I stepped away from my chair. She went for my foot. (I was wearing tough shoes and didn’t feel it).

The squeaky ball was my idea and not a good one as it was too arousing. It’s a process of learning and investigation.

As soon as I sat down again it was like nothing had happened.

I quietly told her “sorry”.

‘Operation Calm’.

This was proof that reducing stress levels is the only place to start – ‘Operation Calm’.

We will make no progress with Ruby in her current state. They will do all they can to reduce stress and excitement levels for two or three weeks and then I will go again and review the situation. With stress levels this high there is little they can do without making it even worse.

Currently they tell her ‘No Licking’. I said to ignore it completely. It does no damage and if she can’t lick, where does the stress go to now? They can’t give her something to chew instead because she is then on a frantic quest to bury it.

Her ‘thing’ is about people walking away from her and the door shutting behind them. It doesn’t matter who it is when she attacks feet. It’s not like it’s necessarily someone she knows and loves that you would understand her not wanting to lose.

Interestingly she seems relaxed when left all alone, which isn’t often. She settles. It’s a paradox.

She goes frantic when she can’t get to them when they are at home, particularly if she can see or hear them. She can’t handle anyone walking out on her – it’s like she needs to keep an eye on everyone in the house, whoever they are. The real problems start when they have friends round. The more people there are, the worse it is for Ruby.

She gets so distressed that she….attacks feet.

Being on high alert all the time for someone walking out on her and keeping people in sight at all times means she must be seriously sleep-deprived too.  ~We all know how that feels.

Where do we start?

We unpicked Ruby’s days, looking at each thing in her life that stresses her and how she can be helped in every way possible.

If our efforts don’t significantly improve her over the next two weeks, we need talk to the vet with regards to medical help. After all, no human would be expected to live in this state. Like many, they are reluctant to go down the medication route.

For this fortnight I have suggested they try one or two natural things including a Thundershirt, a Pet Remedy plug-in and either Zylkene or L-theanine. When everything is added together one may support another.

Only later can the work on changing the behaviours themselves start. The fact she attacks feet is a symptom of something else and it’s the causes that needs addressing.

Things will be broken down into tiny increments, each stage worked on until she is okay with it before going on to the next. It will probably be a long slow job.

For example, getting her okay with people walking away from her without even going out of the room is a start, teaching her to stay rather than to follow. Then a person getting up quickly. The man or the lady walking towards a door. A guest standing up, a guest walking towards a door. Walking through the door but not shutting it. Shutting the door….and so on.

Ruby’s real nature is very friendly. It would be inaccurate to label her an aggressive dog, but panic takes over.

They give her a lovely home where her needs are always put first. The little dog’s state of mind causes them great distress also.


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 Ruby and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  Listening to ‘other people’, 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, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned. 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 Help page)



Can’t Be Trusted Off Lead

TillyTilly was attacked by another dog a while ago and she hasn’t been the same been the same since.

The lady has lived with the problem until last week when things came to a head.  A workman left the gate open and Tilly rushed out and attacked a dog walking past the house, resulting in an injured dog and a very angry owner.

Now she can’t be trusted off lead. Look at her – you can’t imagine it, can you!

Tilly, a four-year-old mix of Patterdale Terrier and Lakeland,  is an extremely good little dog in the house. She is great company for the lady and sociable with her friends.

Out on walks, however, things are different. As soon as they now see another dog the lady becomes anxious. She tightens the lead. Tilly will then hackle, lunge and bark. She has earned a bit of a reputation locally for her noise. This is a shame because she is great with dogs she knows, and in the past has been fine when off lead.

She is also ‘funny’ with men when out, and doesn’t like bikes and joggers. The lady dare not let her off lead anymore, scared she may bite.

Needless to say, the situation will continue to get worse unless the lady does things a bit differently.

There is quite a lot of groundwork to do at home. Tilly needs to be relieved of any guard duty so she doesn’t practise barking at passing people and dogs. The lady is going to work at getting her immediate and full attention as soon as she says Tilly’s name. It needs to become an automatic reflex. If she can’t get her attention at home, then she certainly won’t get her attention when she’s out.

Walks and other dogs will be approached very differently and this will take considerable time and more help.

There is no reason why she shouldn’t be on a very long line in open spaces and allowed to play if it seems okay.

Like the automatic response to hearing her name, she needs a similarly automatic response to being called. This work also needs to begin at home and where there are few distractions.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tilly, 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 dog 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).

Boundaries and Out of Control

6-month old Chocolate Labrador Chocky is nervous and now copying the terriers' reactivity on walks


The two Terriers have killed a couple of their free-range chickens and although they have boundary wire, the little monkeys can dig underneath.

The people really only want two things at the end of the day. One is for the their dogs to be able to run freely in the garden. How can they do this when the boundaries aren’t secure?

My new clients have three young dogs – two Lakelend/Jack Russell mixes of one year old (brother and sister) who we will call Mac and Mabel, and a 6-month old Chocolate Labrador – Chocky.

They are a very busy family with insufficient time to put in all the work really needed, so this is a challenge of breaking things down into essentials, choosing priorities and creating a plan whereby it’s less a question of spending extra time but more of doing different things in the time already allocated.

One of the Lakeland/Jack Russell Terriers

Mac or Mabel

Their other aim is for the dogs to come back reliably when called. The Terriers are highly reactive to any person or animal they meet and respond aggressively, becoming hard to control physically. Now Chocky, an unusually nervous dog for a 6-month-old Labrador, is joining in. They want their dogs running off lead but have to be able to get them back when another dog, a horse or a person appears.

Unfortunately these people simply don’t have the time to work properly on the root of the problem – under-socialisation and the fear and reactivity itself, though they agree they need to do something with Chocky’s walking before he gets much older and bigger. He is seldom walked on lead. They live in such a quiet area that they can often go out and meet nobody at all.

As they simply don’t have time for all the training work involved, the first issues would be best addressed by getting better fencing so the dogs simply can’t escape from the garden, along with a pen for the chickens.

The second issue – that of recall – is more difficult.  Firstly, they need to stop leaving food down all the time (Chocky is an unusual Labrador in that he doesn’t devour the whole lot as soon as it goes down) so that food has some value – why should a dog come for no reward when called if it’s not worthwhile, particularly if there is something more pressing to do? The children can do whistle recall games around the house and garden so that the dogs begin to become conditioned. Whistle = come quickly = high value reward.

I have tried to break things down into small tasks so that hopefully, at the end of the day, everything will start to come together and they will be able to see their lovely dogs running free without constantly worrying about who or what they might encounter next.

Three months later: ‘We are continuing with the programme. Bella does’nt get so hysterical when she sees me now and I see I was causing this. We are having quality time together which I love. She really responds now to “Yes!”. The “abort the walk” thing has helped so much, I used to get so stressed if she would’nt walk, carrying her to the garden etc, but if she’s not bothered, then I’m not. As you say, its for life, and we are really committed to making her life happy.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Mac, Mabel and Chocky, 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).

Why Not Positive Training Methods, Using Praise and Rewards, for Gundogs?

Lakeland Whisky is giving the Labrador 'that look'Little Lakeland Terrier Whisky is seriously reactive to other dogs. As soon as she sees a dog she begins to scream, and if she can get to it she will attack, grabbing its neck and holding on.

She lives with a lovely 2 year old Labrador, training to be a gun dog. Bramble also has felt those teeth. They are getting on reasonably well now because Bramble has learnt that, when Whisky gives her ‘that look’ (see picture on the left), she’s to back off!

I have certain issues with the training methods used with Bramble and which are also now applied to Whisky. Bramble is taken to gun dog training classes. There is a lot of ‘correction’ and negative stuff like ‘Leave’, ‘Down’, ‘Off’ and ‘No’ rather than positives – what they should be doing along with praise and reward. In fact their trainer says don’t use food rewards at all.  Would you happily work for nothing? Here is just a small example of how it goes – the lady ‘commanded’ Whisky to sit several times and eventually had to touch her back to get her to do so. I later asked her to sit, quietly, just the once, and waited. And waited. Whisky sat. Then I rewarded her. After that she was totally focused on me. If she were my dog and I built on that bond and relationship, I am sure I could make progress when out where Whisky and other dogs are concerned, because she would be focusing on me and trusting me.

Whisky lying on her bed


I don’t know if it’s a gun dog thing, but commands like ‘Sit’ are also accompanied by peeps on the whistle – like Captain Von Trapp in the Sound of Music getting his family into line.

They also have problems with both dogs’ recall – especially when there is another dog about. Bramble wants to play, Whisky is scared stiff, screaming and ready to attack. If I were a dog I would be much more likely to come back when called if I were called in an inviting voice rather than  ‘ordered’ and if I knew that there was something in it for me.

Behavioural theory has proved beyond any doubt that positive and reward-based training is more effective – and it works just as well for gun dogs, traditionally trained in the old-fashioned way using a degree of force and even aversives. Positive methods help to form a healthy and trusting bond between human and dog.