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.
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.
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.’