Angry When Suddenly Woken. He Bites.

Diego is a cute and characterful Shih Tzu, two and a half years old. He lives with a young lady, her mother and her grandmother. Three generations.

Angry? Diego? You wouldn’t believe it.

He wakes up angryDiego (what a great name) is the youngest lady’s dog. As she is out at work all day, her mother in particular is involved with looking after him.

The elderly lady is scared of him.

The main reason I was called in is due to Diego’s seemingly instinctive angry and aggressive reaction when suddenly woken or disturbed.

He flies at the two older ladies. They have bites to show for it.

The grandmother has a stool on which she puts her feet. Diego’s favourite sleeping place is on the floor by the footstool. If the lady so much as moves her foot Diego may wake and fly at her.

The mother also has bites from when she has moved suddenly.

If it’s the young lady who moves, Diego doesn’t go for her, she goes for one of the others!

She told me that sometimes she whistles to warn Diego. That gave me my idea.

They will buy three cheap plastic whistles and wear them around their necks. Regularly then can whistle and immediately drop something particularly tasty for Diego. In time they can build up a conditioned response: whistle-food.

They can then do the same when he is sleeping – if they want to move. It will give him warning. Waking suddenly, he will look for the food instead of flying at them, angry.

The lady can then move freely.

Diego is much worse in the evening.

I believe from other things they told me that stress is building up in Diego during the day. He is on high alert for outside sounds to bark at.

The ‘angry waking’ is much worse in the evening. His stress build-up accelerates with the young lady coming home from work. She gives Diego a rapturous and exciting greeting.

She then takes him for a lovely walk – but surely too stimulating. They may meet lots of other dogs in the park and he will play frantically. Playing with more than two or three dogs, some much larger than himself, must be very arousing – slightly scary even.

He comes back home highly aroused and then it’s tea time. At about 7.30pm they  understandably want to settle down, but Diego has only just started! Now he begins the stealing of items, hoarding and guarding them.

Dealing with the over-arousal and resource guarding which I’m helping them with will undoubtedly mean that Diego will be better relaxed when he rests. We ourselves know that we don’t sleep well when over-stressed. Better quality sleep must surely help his angry waking problem.

The young lady has made herself very well-informed and it was a pleasure to work with her. She understood what I was talking about as we discussed solutions and ways of de-stressing Diego. For a start, she will ‘redesign’ walks to give him much more time sniffing and exploring in peace.

It’s probably been going on for a couple of years now so waking angry will be a habit – a learned behaviour. By calming him down in general, dealing with the resource guarding and giving him warning when they are about to move, I am hopeful the behaviour will die.

Their three months with me has now come to an end and I have received this lovely email: I really just wanted to drop you a line to thank you – the help and guidance you provided has really helped. The difference in Diego (and me!) from when we first met is astonishing. I firmly believe he is a much happier dog, I know I am a much happier human.
Diego is now happy and balanced enough, that starting daycare didn’t phase him at all. He had his first session and the man who runs it was so impressed at how Diego behaved with his dogs (5 St Bernards) and the other boarders. In fact when I brought Diego home you would never have known he spent 7 hours somewhere new – I firmly believe he wouldn’t have been able to handle that situation 4 months ago. So all in all we’re all a lot happier and most importantly, Diego is happier. It really is lovely to see him smile so much again! 
Five months after we met: I thought you’d like an update on how Diego is doing. For a start we’ve found a lovely dog sitter for him. Diego now spends usually a day a week with 4 St Bernards (the owners) and a few other dogs that are being looked after. He’s been so well behaved (apart from showing off how quick he can slip his collar), the gentleman who looks after him says he’s as good as gold.
On and even bigger note, Diego also had his first holiday last week. We stayed for 2 nights at a lovely dog friendly b&b – he was spoilt rotten with eggs and bacon for breakfast.  We were so pleased at how well he handled himself in an unfamiliar environment and with all the car travel – 2 hours! I know for a fact if we hadn’t called you in we wouldn’t have been able to take him away.
Our knowledge of his stress levels is so much better now and we’re always checking and adjusting depending on his needs. Diego really seems like a much happier dog now 🙂
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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Diego. 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, particularly where fear or any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).