What is causing Poppy’s sudden worsening behaviour?

why the worsening behaviourTwo weeks ago a family member came back home. Two weeks ago sixteen-month-old Jack Russell’s behaviour took a turn for the worse. Is this a coincidence?

The tiny dog is now getting much more attention and is left alone by herself much less. Surely that’s good. Could the big change in routine be affecting her however.

Already there were three big humans giving her attention along with a visiting  young child, all getting her excited and giving her attention. Now there are four – and the fourth is at home much of the time.

The lady phoned me, really worried. In just two weeks Poppy had started growling when people touched or hugged each other; she is barking at people coming into the house; she had nipped the little boy and had attacked a couple of dogs when out. What gets them most exasperated of all is her increased toileting in the house.

What is wrong with Poppy?

There are various possibilities as to why she now poos indoors and maybe it’s a mix of several things. She may feel unsettled. She may have some form of separation anxiety. Poppy may simply not be getting outside when she needs to or for long enough. Anxiety can be a cause of pooping indoors and as she’s been scolded this could add to anxiety.

What she eats and when she eats could have something to do with when she defaecates too. Stress could be a big factor.

We will cover all angles.

Too much attention, particularly of the exciting kind, will raise her stress levels. There are a lot of people giving one tiny dog fuss and vigorous play. Once she’s aroused the damage is done; it stays in her system for days. She can never get fully calm as more things keep happening. Stress isn’t only bad stuff. It can be too much of anything – play, fussing, attention, exercise. See this: What is Arousal in Dogs and Why Should I Care.

In an excited state Poppy is going to be much more reactive and intolerant to things like people hugging. It troubles her and she doesn’t understand it. Is it potential conflict? She wants to try to stop it.

In a stressed state she will be a lot more unpredictable with other dogs too.

Her growling, barking and aggressive responses then make those same humans that fuss and cuddle her, angry. How confusing life must be to a dog sometimes.

The first thing they all should do is to work together at calming her down. With several people involved a group effort is vital. Reducing stress levels underpins everything.

They shouldn’t wind her up with rough play or allow her to play chase games with the four-year-old boy. He has now been nipped. When she’s lying down peacefully, they should leave her in peace. This also means not making noises to get her attention.

Could medication have contributed to her worsening behaviour?

She had developed a rash a few weeks previously. It’s possible that the steroids played a part in triggering her worsening behaviour. Too many things have come at once and to top it all, there have been a couple of nights of strong wind in the past two or three weeks. Wind really scares her.

After two or three of weeks with the whole family working hard at keeping Poppy calmer and working on the strategies given, I will go again to take a new look. More may then need to be done.

A couple of months later: Poppy is a lot calmer. She has stopped all toileting indoors. She is a lot calmer and now no longer growls when family members hug one another, she no longer reacts to traffic and she’s a lot better when meeting other dogs.
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 Poppy and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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 aggression is concerned. 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)