Daisy is a Labrador X. She was originally found at one year old starving, pregnant and tied to a lamp post. She has lived with her family for six years now. Until a few weeks ago she was happy, outgoing and willing.
For the past two or three months Daisy has become a different dog. She looks miserable and has shut down. She has little interest in food or play. She seldom gets up when people come home. Consequently the family are falling over themselves to humour her and wait upon her. She is the centre of much conversation and anxiety. She will sense this.
I was called out because, from a dog that never jumped up on anything, not even chairs, she has taken to jumping on window sills, kitchen surfaces and even the piano keys. This happens only when they are out or in bed. Valuables have gone flying. When they come into the room the owners are met with a panting, excited and stressed dog; frantically appeasing behaviour.
It is hard to get to the root of this for sure – but I can guess. First, I made sure she had been thoroughly checked over by the vet.
Probably, weeks or months ago, Daisy had started by creeping onto beds. In retrospect there had been evidence of this. Because there was nobody there to say ‘no’, she probably thought it was OK while she was alone. A dog isn’t going to reason things the same way as we do. She probably started to increase her activities and jump on more and more things, unchecked. Then there was an incident in the middle of the night when the TV suddenly came on loudly and the parents rushed downstairs thinking they had burglars, and Daisy was terrified. She possibly could have caused this herself by jumpng on the remote control.
The owners, who know their dog well, are convinced that she knows she’s being ‘naughty’ by jumping on things. If they are right, it’s logical to suppose she took their reaction to her excited, appeasing behaviour before they knew what was happening as endorsement for what she had been doing. Then later, out of the blue (to Daisy, and because there was damage as evidence), one day they were angry. Then another time she was smacked.
The official line is that dogs don’t feel guilt (read ‘In Defence of Dogs’ by John Bradshaw). They are, however, absolute experts in detecting human mood and body language. From the moment the person opens the door she will read how they feel and consequently, especially remembering previous anger, she will be grovelling, jumping up, panting and appeasing them.
The gentleman took timed photo clips one night. No panic! Daisy’s tail is relaxed and she’s not showing any signs of stress. She is systematically and calmly, without a care in the world, jumping up on things, something I’m sure that she believes she is allowed to do when she’s alone. I suspect now not only is it a habit, but because she is under so much pressure during the day by the anxiety around her and to ‘perform’, when she’s alone she feels a terrific sense of release and simply does just what she feels like doing because she can.
From a predictable life where she thought she knew what was what, things are now a puzzling mess. Humans are falling over themselves to ‘make her happy’, giving her far too much attention and deference, then being unpredictably cross with her. The more they try to bring her out, the more she withdrawn she becomes. The more withdrawn she is, the more approval she seems to receive. She will feel that they want her to be withdrawn.
Whether or not I have the details quite right, backing right off is key. Fortunately Daisy is happy in a crate so she no longer will have free run when left alone. The situation can be managed while they readjust the balance of their relationship with their dog, however long it takes.