Distressed, Trembles, Whimpers at Bedtime.

Millie is a Beagle, a Lemon Beagle, ten years of age. She has lived with my lady client for eighteen months.

She is a sweet and gentle dog but she carries some baggage. Three things in particular make her very distressed. Her bedtime behaviour, her panic when left alone and continuous barking and crying when being driven in the car.

Distressed at bedtime

distressed at bedtimeBedtime is a puzzle. Last thing at night Millie is asleep on the sofa beside the lady and very comfortable. She has to be woken and goes out into the garden calmly.

The lady then fetches Millie’s bed and takes it into her bedroom, followed by Millie. She gets ready for bed then gives the dog a treat for getting into her own bed. She goes to bed herself.

Immediately everything changes. Millie jumps onto the lady’s bed.

She trembles. She whimpers, jumps on and off. Obviously very distressed, she drools.

This can go on for a couple of hours before she gives up. She has done it from the day the lady brought her home eighteen months ago.

Millie has sometimes asked to be let out and then does nothing but mooch around the garden. She doesn’t need to toilet. There is nothing in the bedroom that is different from daytime apart from the fact the lady is in bed. Leaving the light on makes no difference.

Meanwhile the lady is repeatedly saying, ‘Go to bed, Millie’. Understandably she is tired and will be getting a little cross and stressed, unable to do anything about her dog’s distress.

Eventually, after an hour or two, Millie settles on her own bed on the floor. 

The ‘why’.

The same ritual is followed every night and will now be a pattern of learned behaviour. Normally if we can deal with the ‘why’, the behaviour improves. We are doing a bit of detective work along with trial and error in an effort to get to the bottom of why she gets so distressed, so immediately and every night.

The night-time behaviour will most likely have its roots in her past history. (While I am writing this I wonder whether it could be something perfumed on the lady st bedtime that Millie can smell with her Beagle nose. Something she associates with a past terrifying experience).

One thing is certain, if the lady carries on doing exactly what she’s doing now, so will Millie.  Changing the ritual has to be a place to start.

I suggest the lady lets Millie out to toilet a bit earlier and then lets her go back to the sofa for another hour or two. She can ditch her whole bedtime ritual and just get herself ready for bed. Millie can choose for herself what she wants to do.

Shutting her out of the room isn’t an option. The second major problem the lady has with Millie is separation – another matter we will be working on. She can’t let the lady out of her sight.

It will be hard, but I suggest that the lady tries turning over and ignoring all Millie’s distressed pacing, whining and drooling. Her constant trying to tell her to settle doesn’t help at all. It’s just possible that her constant agitation and ‘Go to bed, Millie’ is in some strange way reinforcing.

Could pain be involved?

We also noticed that Millie looks a bit awkward when she sits and when she lies down. She was spayed recently and nothing picked up, but I wonder whether she has pain in her hips. Her distressed behaviour at night is certainly panic, but maybe it’s pain as well. Pain always affects behaviour

The separation problems will also be baggage she brought with her. The way forward is to deal with the emotions she is feeling – the panic – and gradually get her to feel differently about being left.

Getting into such a distressed state at night time and again about four times a week when she is left alone for a few hours, Millie’s stress levels must be constantly raised. Added to this is the car ordeal. This happens daily as they have to drive somewhere for her walks.

Although Millie looked calm and slept while I was there, there will be more going on inside.

All her problems are due to fear in one way or another. Each thing we can do to build up the lovely, gentle dog’s confidence and reduce her stress levels will have a knock-on effect.

A month has gone by and real progress made: ‘An update for you: the night time routine is going well (no more trembling, whimpering or distress). Even when I come home late and go back to the old routine she only stresses for a short time before she settles, so that is good…I am pleased to say that I have been out a few times recently and there hasn’t been any tiddles, I leave her as you said and with a kong….She is much better with other dogs now, if I think a dog is one she doesn’t like I go in a different direction and give her a treat! So things are definitely improving and hopefully her stress levels are beginning to go down.'[divider type=”white”]
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. Fears need professional help. Click here for help.

Border Terrier a Bundle of Worry

Border Mitzy is a highly stressed little dogLittle Mitzy is a seven-year-old Border Terrier. Mitzy is a bundle of worry.

I watched her shaking, regularly lifting her paw and licking her lips like she was taking a bite of air.

I was called because they no longer take her for walks due to her ‘aggression’ towards other dogs. This I’m sure is due to terror, and she nearly strangles herself lunging at them.

Mitzy is in a state before she even leaves the house. She shakes when her harness is put on. She pulls down the road, already highly stressed, and that’s before she even sees a dog. Even though she has never actually harmed a dog on a walk, they were so worried that they had been muzzling her which would have increased her feeling of helplessness.

We have listed all the things that stress poor Mitzy and these need working on. Reducing her anxiety at home must be a start, because if she is permanently aroused she’s in no a fit state to face the scary outside world.

The lady and her two daughters are going to go back to basics with the walking and break it down into tiny steps. Any walking at all – even five minutes two or three times a day – is a lot better than she’s getting now.

First she needs a comfortable harness. Nothing more should happen until she is happy having it put on and wearing it – no shaking. – so she may need it left on for a few days. Then they need to walk her in the garden where she feels relatively safe, teaching her how pleasant it is when the lead is loose, treats and encouragement are used and they themselves are relaxed. This could take weeks! Next step is to venture through the gate. Only when she can do that calmly should they try walking outside. She won’t be ready for ‘other dogs’ yet! I myself sometimes use a ‘stooge’ dog – a realistic stuffed boxer I call Daisy that I can place at a distance. This can be done with real distant dogs, but Daisy is predictable and stands still!  The people can then remain relaxed whilst rehearsing their procedure for meeting dogs. They need to manage the environment and choose quiet times. Having an unscheduled close encounter would set things back at this stage.

The lady and her two teenage daughters are very committed to helping Mitzy and I”m sure they will give it as long as it takes which could be many months. Mitzy will start to enjoy walks. There is no reason why, after she can negotiate going out as far as the car calmly and happily, they should not drive her to somewhere open and dog-free, put her on a long line, no muzzle, and give her some freedom.

Separation Panic

Staffie mix

Hercules

Staffie mix

Shadow

Hercules, on the left, lives with Shadow. I am told they are Staffordshire Bull Terriers, but believe they must be a mix. They are both eleven years old.

Hercules isn’t as strong and brave as his name suggests. He is very nervous, and starts to shake at the slightest thing.

The main problem is the terrible distress he suffers when his owners go out and leave him, and being with Shadow doesn’t help him.

Hercules has always suffered from separation distress. This was compounded by six months in kennels in quarantine when the people came back to this country. A short while ago his lady owner went back to work after maternity leave and for a year the dogs had got used to not being left alone for very long.

Hercules did an amazing amount of damage to the house and furnishings when left in the past; they tried a crate and he broke out, damaging himself and losing teeth, and he also managed to escape from the house which involved the police. So they have converted a shed in the garden into a comfortable and safe kennel. Unfortunately Hercules goes into an utter panic when shut in there in the morning, and cries and howls all day without a break.

The neighbours have been very patient, but the council has now become involved.

This is a very difficult situation. The dogs are eleven years old and set in their ways. If I had come six months ago while the lady was still at home, we would have had the time needed to very gradually work on Hercules being left for very short periods, very frequently, and gradually build it up.

Now we have a tragic situation where Hercules is so stressed his life is almost unbearable at times. His owners also are extremely worried about him. The neighbours understandably have had enough.

We are looking at every behaviour aspect we can along with strategies to show the dogs that as ‘leaders’ the owners should be able to come and go as they wish and can be trusted to return. Within their time constraints they will be working on frequent small separations, starting by shutting doors behind them in the house. In addition to behaviour work, we have also been looking at management. Funnily enough, he is fine if left in the car, so maybe a ‘den’ in the shed would help, an old table with the sides covered perhaps. There are a lot of small ideas which, added together, I sincerely hope will help Hercules.

As a normal rule curing separation issues can take a long time, and in this case there simply isn’t time – either from the harm it must be doing to Hercules, the stress to the owners at a difficult time when the lady has to adjust to going back to work as well as organising the baby, and the impact on the neighbours.

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

Maisy Shuts Down and Shakes

Nervous

Maisy nervous

Maisy is a Labrador.

She is very well loved and here she is on the left, her happy old self, in her bed with the cat.

Now something strange is happening. For the past month Maisy has had periods of complete shut down. She looks miserable and sometimes shakes. This seems to come over her for no reason at all. You see a different dog on the right. Her ears are flat and she is still, and not really engaging in what is happening around her. It’s almost like she is somewhere else in her head. I just touched her gently with one finger and she startled.

We have been doing detective work starting with a thorough check by the vet. Maisy has had a lot of upheavel over the past few months with crashings and bangings as restoration work has been done on the house which she seemed okay with at the time. The final straw may have been, after an especially noisy period, a door slammed loudly beside her.

Maisy relaxed

Maisy Relaxed

Maisy seems more or less fine when she is out of their own home and garden, so it’s not continuous. Is it prompted by the house, the ladies’ presence, or both?

They are keeping a diary of all the circumstances when they notice her going downhill – who is about, where they are, what they are doing and so on. She is fine and relaxed when they get home having been out for a few hours, but starts again after a short while. They hope to set up a camera to see what happens if they both walk out for half an hour when she starts to shut down or shake.

The situation is compounded because everyone around her is so concerned. She is constantly focussed on and loved, which may make her feel uncomfortable. When I sat down on the sofa she came up between me and one of the girls and lay close up to me and relaxed. I believe she felt reassured by my calm confidence and that I was matter of fact and not anxious about her. I made no fuss of her and only gave her the occasional touch, but she would be able to feel that I loved her and that I loved her presence beside me.

Maisy doesn’t need to be fussed to feel loved.  This is probably the key to her rehabilitation. It may take a while or the cloud may suddenly lift. We will see.

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

Worried Little Lizzie

patterdale Staff mixLizzie is a Patterdale Staffie X.  Her previous owners split up and Lizzie has now lived in her new home for four weeks. She used to live with another dog.

Lizzie is a quiet little dog. She also seems a rather worried little dog. She is only three years old and should perhaps be a bit more carefree. She sometimes seems to shake with fear for no apparent reason. When her very loving gentle owners come home she sometimes cowers slightly, she has peed, or she may lie on the floor and wriggle appeasingly towards them – especially the man.

In the time I was there Lizzie looked asleep but you could tell by her ears she wasn’t really relaxed. She likes to jump on the people and to sit on them, but doesn’t seem to enjoy being stroked so much. While being stroked she was yawning and licking her lips – classic signs of unease. By reading her body language, her people can learn when to just let her be near them without constantly petting her.  A little gentle tickle from time to time seemed to work best.

We assume that because our dogs like to be beside or on us that they want to be petted, but this isn’t necessarily so. We also assume they jump onto us and even walk all over us because they love us, where they might be simply be showing us our place – ‘beneath them’. Just sometimes this is the case, not always. A dog does not necessarily jump onto us because it wants affection.

Constant petting may even be telling our dog that we are needy which is a big sign of weakness and no good to the dog at all. Playing a little hard to get can be a good thing! It’s very hard for us humans to resist a lot of touching of our dogs – they do feel so nice!

Lizzie is increasingly showing wariness of other dogs. This may just be because, having had time to settle in her new home, her true traits are now coming to the fore; it may also be because with ‘weak’ owners she feels both unprotected and that she has to protect them. She is very submissive as soon as she sees a bigger dog but may grab smaller dogs by the neck and try to dominate them. The incidents are increasing.

Lizzie’s behaviour with other dogs is the only behaviour that actually impacts upon them, but this case is a good example of how nothing can be taken in isolation and is part of a bigger picture. Lizzie needs to be more confident at home, more confident in her owners’ leadership and generally more chilled. In a less stressed and more confident state of mind, along with owners who know how to react appropriately as leaders when other dogs are about, she will then be better equipped to face the big outside world and other dogs with confidence.

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