Agitated. Anxious When They Talk to People

Trevor, an absolute sweetie, was extremely agitated by my being there. He is a small, very young-looking black Staffie age ten.

He never stopped pacing, chewing and panting all the time I was there. Two-and-a-half hours.

This is how he behaves when anyone comes to the house. When alone with the couple he is relaxed and calm. No pacing or panting, that’s for sure. Apart from when the grandchildren are there, who Trevor adores, it’s a quiet life.

Was it scenting?

Interestingly, as soon as I arrived he wound himself vigorously around my legs like a cat for a while which I suspect was about putting his scent on me. Possibly he feels more secure when people coming to his house smell like ‘family’? My own dogs certainly showed more interest than usual in the scent on my trousers when I got home.

Agitated

Never stopped moving for a photo

Although very friendly, he became increasingly agitated over the time I was there. This is the opposite to what normally happens though many dogs don’t settle, not used to people simply sitting still and talking to each other in an intense kind of way for this length of time.

As soon as I left they tell me he settled, lay down and went to sleep. He was exhausted.

Trevor on walks is the perfect dog, just as he is at home. He is good with all dogs, he comes back when called, he doesn’t pull. The only problem is when they stop to speak to someone. Poor Trevor’s tail goes between his legs and he shakes. He becomes very agitated.

Could it be something to do with his previous life?

For the first six years of his life Trevor lived with a younger couple. They had obviously loved him and trained him well.

Then they split up. Neither could take him.

He has lived with my clients for four years now.

It is pure speculation, I admit, but is it possible that in his past life animated conversation sometimes ended in a row which scared him? (If the man forgets himself and shouts at TV, Trevor is terrified).

Agitated and anxious. Worse recently.

Sticking to facts, he is a relaxed and calm dog when alone with the couple. He loves his off-lead walks but is not happy if they meet someone and the humans start talking. He becomes very agitated when anyone, including family, comes to the house.

Recently it has become worse. This has coincided with the lady retiring. It suggests a change in routine is unsettling the sensitive dog.

No longer going out to work, the lady has friends coming to the house to see her more often. This will mean there is more animated talking going on.

Trevor paces, he pants, he frantically chews something. He stops briefly to be touched (I tried gentle massage but he couldn’t stay still) and then moves again. Round and round. He licks his lips. With nothing to chew, he may chew his feet.

For starters, we want to get Trevor back to how he was until a few weeks ago when the lady retired and his agitation and anxiety accelerated. He always has been agitated with people about, but not this bad.

They will try to make his routine more like what it used to be where possible. They will avoid things that obviously stir him up where they can and give him activities that help to calm him. There are things like Thundershirt, special music, a plug-in and a calming collar that they could try as well.

I am hoping that, as a certain supermarket says, ‘every little helps’ and that things added together produce results.

No talking.

When friends come round, they will experiment with silence, with the person being very calm and trying ‘no talking at all’ from time to time. Is it talking that’s the problem? I didn’t try five minutes’ silence myself because the possible connection with talking only dawned on me as I left. Like so many cases, it’s about detective work.

When they meet someone out on a walk, the lady can stand Trevor further away. With more distance he should feel safer. The lady can drop food for him, he is fortunately very food motivated, so that he can begin to associate his humans stopping to chat with something good. Over time this should replace any possible previous negative associations.

They will involve the vet, both to check Trevor has no developing medical problem and maybe to back up the behaviour work with medication. In cases like this we should not forget complementary therapies.

Our end aim is for Trevor to stop being agitated when they are talking to someone whether this is at home or out on a walk. This fear is blighting the sweet dog’s life.

From an email three weeks later: ‘Just a quick update. Had a friend round last week. Before she came Trevor was out in the garden searching for “sprinkles” for about thirty minutes, I used Pet Remedy spray before she arrived and I put his Thundershirt on him as well. She commented on his behaviour as soon as she arrived, as to how much calmer he was. Before very long Trevor was lying on the sofa next to her, just like he does in the evenings with me.’

 

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 Trevor 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 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)

Springy Springer Spaniel

Springer Sophie can't settleSophie is a 7-year-old Springer Spaniel. She is stressed and hyperactive for much of the time, panting, pacing and crying. This can continue for hours and she only really settles within the confines and restrictions of her crate. It can be very tiring for her family. Sophie is also friendly and gentle. She’s adorable but for some reason troubled. Possibly some of it is genetic as apparently she was even worse when she was younger and they have had help from two or three trainers over the years. Instead of improving she is now getting worse.

Because out on walks she has taken to literally screaming and lunging whenever she sees one of the many cats in the neighbourhood or other dogs, and because her pulling on lead is such a strain, she no longer is taken on walks. All that ‘training’, along with having tried most gadgets they can get such as head halters, various leads and harnesses, has not stopped Sophie pulling. This is because she still wants to pull! I would be willing to guarantee, if they put in the time and effort to do it my way, that she will eventually be walking nicely and willingly beside them on a loose lead, not wanting to pull. I have many many successful cases to prove this. Time and patience are the two operative words – along with knowing the technique. Sophie now is taken out so seldom that the outside world is simply a sensory overload of smells, action, sSpringerSophieounds and potential danger.

Calm walks don’t start at the door, they start with a calm dog at home who has impulse control before encountering all the added stimulation of the outside world – so at home is where it starts. Sophie’s stress levels need to be reduced dramatically and she needs to learn to focus on her owners and what they are asking of her. To achieve this, they will need to earn her respect and attention by how they themselves behave with her.

Sophie is a clever dog but a frustrated dog, with no outlet for her energy or her brains. This will now change (I hope).

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Poor Sabre was Badly Provoked

A brief respite from Sable's attention seeking activitiesSabre is a rescue German Shepherd, probably around eight years old. He has a very friendly temperament. In the evenings poor Sabre can become almost obsessively attention seeking and stressed.

It took Sabre getting on for three hours to calm down completely. All evening he was whining for attention, jumping up on his owners (he is a large dog), pacing, squeaking, barking and persistently asking to go out – anything to get them to react to his demands. He has learnt that this behaviour does eventually get him what he wants because it is so hard not to give in, and now he just carries on and on, becoming more and more worked up. Even when he wins the attention he continues to want more. His stress was evident by the panting, licking of his lips and nose, and excessive drinking of water.

We worked on how to react appropriately – like another stable dog would do if pestered. It was lovely to see him eventually lie down, sigh and relax. Soon he will be able to get plenty of attention – when he is polite and calm, and not always on demand.

Sable himself is very good at giving other dogs messages that say he doesn’t want to be jumped on and pestered so I am sure he will get the message if it’s done in a way he understands. He’s not interested in other dogs and wants to be left alone, which is fair enough.

An unfortunate incident happened recently. He was out with his gentleman owner when two very boisterous smaller dogs ran up to him. The gentleman put Sable on lead and then tried to walk away. Sable would have been doing his best to ignore the dogs, turning away from them and looking away – giving all the doggy signals he could that he wanted to be left alone, but they simply followed and would not give up. He will have warned, shown his teeth and growled and still he was ignored. The owner of the other dogs never called them back. So Sabre, as a totally logical thing to do in his mind and after all his very reasonable and patient warnings had been ignored, bit one of the dogs on the tail. Sable was blamed.

If we have off-lead dogs, then it is our reponsibility to call them back if we see a dog put on lead. There must be a reason. It’s our duty to control our dogs and the poor dog on lead who is trapped is all too often blamed. If dogs don’t come back when called, then they should be kept on lead around other dogs until intensive recall work has been done. So far as Sable is concerned, his owners need to know how to react as his leader and protector – how to step in on his behalf and how to spot the signs when he has had too much. They also need to reduce his general stress level so that he will be more tolerant.

Email received about five days after my visits – and they have gone from strength to strength: “We have had some unsettled evenings for the first couple of hours. I don’t want to jinx it, but sabre has been fantastic today!. We’re amazed that in such a short amount of time he’s come so far. We’re looking forward to calm walks! We’re still feeling very confident and comfortable with all of the points, the hardest thing has been not getting him excited again once we have him calm…On the whole, early days though it is, we feel already that a huge amount of progress has been made!”
Nine months after we met, things still going well: “We are doing great! I was away (working abroad) for about five months and was amazed to see the difference in Sabre on my return home. Ben has been following all the new rules you gave us….Walks are relaxed now and Sabre seems pretty disinterested in other dogs on the whole…..Even when I walk him on my own I experience no problems with him. So on behalf of all three of us, thank you! Thank you very much for being able to point out our flaws and helping us to find a resolution for them and for Sabre!
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

 

Stressed Border Collie

Highly stressed Border Collie Coco is panting

Coco

Coco looks a little like Basil Brush, with one ear up and the other down! She’s an unusual colour for a Border Collie. This is the best photo I could manage, because she was pacing  all the evening.

She lives with a much calmer Border Collie, Shep. The fact the two of them are exactly the same age though from different backgrounds and both treated the same by their owner, just shows the importance of stable genetic makeup.

Apparently I saw Coco at her worst as she was already unusually hyped up before I arrived. She had had a particularly stimulating walk involving lots of ball play, and there was Trick or Treat out in the street. There may have been other happenings during the day contributing to the build up of her stress levels. Once things get to this stage there is little one can do. From the moment we mentioned the ‘W’ word in conversation, she was pacing to and from the door, whining, panting and jumping onto people. This carried on for over three hours. Restraining her in any way simply made her worse, or made her redirect onto poor Shep.

The  perpetual stress results in her being reactive to dogs and scared of people, chasing traffic, barking in the car at anything moving and being especially frantic around small children who visit. Consequenlty her owner is anxious, and clever Coco will know this.

Where it’s tempting to spray with a water pistol to simply stop her barking at children, or to physically scold and hold her back from moving vehicles, this is not dealing with the problem. Techniques like this will only associate children and traffic with more unpleasant stuff.

The problem has to be dealt with at source by removing all stress possible, and looking at the sort of rules and boundaries that would make a dog feel secure. Often things that dogs seem to love like prolonged ball play, walks preceeded by frantic excitement and lots of running about in general, can prove just too much. Coco loves brain work and I feel this is healthier stimulation for her at the moment. At home, although well trained so far as commands are concerend, she has few restrictions, and may feel safer with some physical boundaries and rules.

I would prefer a stable dog with little formal training to an unstable dog that that is highly trained. ‘Training’ is the icing on the cake. We need to get the cake right first. Collies like Coco who came from a farm, being extremely intelligent working dogs who are no longer doing what they are bred for, can be a challenge. People so often think that hours of running around and stimulation can replace hours of waiting patiently beside a shepherd, running off when commanded to do their job, and then returning when instructed. Where they go and what they do is controlled by their master and the relationship between the two is clearly defined. What Coco does and where she goes is largely controlled by herself, and the relationship between her and her owner is not sufficiently defined to give Coco confidence in her.

So, giving Coco fair, consistent physical boundaries and working on reducing excitement and lowering her stress levels will do wonders for her I am sure.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
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Leonberger Born to be King

leonberger Leo wearing muzzle and standing over the other dogHere is Leonberger Leo, making sure even larger Irish Wolfhound Pluto knows his place – beneath him!

Leo is another example of people who chose the bravest and pushiest puppy in the litter now finding him hard work. At two years of age he has grown into his early promise – a very kingly dog, making use of all the doggy dominance tricks. As with a King, it’s unwise for someone to approach or touch him uninvited, particularly if they lean over him.  He has bitten non-family members a couple of times, and together with the much more docile Pluto, he is kept well out of the way when people come to their house. When in doubt, he is muzzled.

First Pluto joined us and when he had calmed down, Leo was brought in on lead, muzzled just in case. I myself wasn’t worried as I knew with the signals I give out, not taking any notice of him and avoiding eye contact in particular, that I would not be bitten, but it helped the family not to be tense which is key. The lady dropped the lead. Very soon both dogs were lying down and the family relaxed.

I am sure that Leo would make an excellent leader of a pack of wild dogs, but in the human environment it is an impossible task for him. He simply cannot do the job. Just imagine yourself being employed to do life-or-death job where you had no freedom nor the required tools to fulfill the role. The kingly role Leo has been born into, subsequently reinforced by humans, involves protecting his pack, being in charge of all resources including food, areas like doorways, people and Pluto, leading when out and decision-making.  Poor Leo is thwarted on all counts. Imagine his frustration. It is actually surprising his behaviour isn’t a lot worse.

They have tried choke chain and the ‘police dog training’ type of approach and it’s simply not worked. It is neither appropriate nor possible for a dog looked after mainly by a slightly built lady and her two teenage daughters. Having just the man of the family treating Leo in this fashion can make the dog respect the others even less. Moreover, it is not the human equivalent to the way a stable dog leader would behave towards other dogs.

This is going to be hard work. In essence, Leo has to be kindly and patiently deposed, his crown removed, so that over time he is relieved of the burden of responsibility. He will then become more tolerant of being touched, wanting less to do such things as kill passing cars and chase off joggers. He will stop his pacing, cease his bouts of destruction, humping and weeing on poor Pluto and so on, and RELAX!

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Little Staffie

Sophie is a perfect example of how wrong is a Staffordshire Bull Terrier’s reputation for aggression. It is the owners, not the dogs.  I have been to a good number of Staffies, and in only a very few cases was aggession involved, mostly between siblings of the same sex.

Sophie was rescued by Wood Green Animal Shelter and went to live with her new family at the age of fourteen weeks – she’s now a year and a half old and still quite small. She is very restless indeed. She rarely settles. She flies all over people, leaps right over the chairs, she chases her tail, licks people compulsively and chews her feet. She spends a lot of time pacing about and whining. She also has a skin condition which I’m sure is made worse by her general stress levels.

When I was there she settled a lot sooner than usual when people come to the house because I insisted everyone, including the two children, took no notice of her until she had relaxed – which took a long time. Of course, one touch or word, or even eye contact and off she went again – patrolling, whining, pacing, licking, chewing.

Sophie is a mix of playful and submissive with other dogs on walks, though tends to get excited and jump up at people. She pulls so much she has to wear a Gentle Leader which she hates. After most of my recent cases, it is nice to go to a dog that has no aggression issues towards other dogs – and this a Staffordshire Bull Terrier!

Walks, given because they are meant to calm her down, are having the reverse effect. When she gets home it takes her a long time to unwind – she is even more manic than when she started out. This is a clear indication that walks, as they are now, are doing her no good at all. It’s a case of ‘less is more’ for the time being.

Sophie has a lovely home with a lady who is conscientious in trying to do the right thing, and two helpful children.  This family would like another Staffie puppy in the fulness of time, but agree they must get Sophie ‘fixed’ first, and then they will know how to get things right with a new puppy from day one.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.