Is living in today’s world simply too much for some dogs?
He suddenly morphed from friendly to frantic.
I had been sitting on their sofa for a couple of hours and had slowly made friends with him.
Then I stood up.
The little dog thought I was leaving. He changed in a flash into a snarling, barking, biting dervish.
The lady met me at the door with Paddy on lead — this being the only way she could open it without her little dog running out. As I walked in he bounced off the floor, barking at me, leaping at me, biting my clothes and nipping my arms.
This frenzy didn’t last too long once the lady gave me the tiny bits of chicken I’d asked her to prepare for me. Paddy quite soon got the idea that staying on the floor was a lot more fulfilling than jumping up and barking at me.
In addition to being so aggressive when people leave the house, Paddy has two more main issues — all part of the same problem. Extreme stress levels result in him being super-reactive and constantly on high alert.
The first issue I discovered was that he scratches himself raw. The vet has prescribed all sorts of things to no avail. I guess most dogs are stressed at the vet so it would be harder to tell, but in his home environment the extreme level of his stress was obvious.
As soon as he had got over a bout of barking or there was any pressure on him, he began scratching.
The lady can’t allow him to harm himself. Preventing him with a command or a distraction, or by holding his foot to restrain him, only adds to his stress.
I suggested a dog T-shirt with sleeves. He could then scratch without harming himself and the lady could relax about it. Bearing in mind that she is so upset by the situation, anything that helps her will help Paddy and visa versa. Our own emotions can have a big effect on the dog.
I’m sure that as the lady works on de-stressing him the scratching will reduce or even stop.
The second problem is his constant barking at every sound. How can someone stop a dog like this from barking?
A previous trainer had suggested spraying water at him. He’s already in a panic. How can trying to scare an already frightened dog not make him even more frightened?
There are predictable triggers. They live by a school. For half and hour each morning and half an hour each evening Paddy goes mental in the garden.
He is furious when letters push through the door.
There is a public car park out the front and he reacts to every car door shutting. He runs back and forth from kitchen to front door and then into the garden. Barking.
While I was there he barely barked at all — and that is because we really worked on it. At every sound, even before he could bark if possible, I reassured him with ‘Okay’ and dropped him a bit of chicken.
Car doors slammed outside and the lady couldn’t believe Paddy wasn’t reacting. On the couple of occasions when he rushed out into the garden we called him in immediately. We called him before he had time to get really started — and rewarded him. We shut the door.
If the lady keeps her eye on the ball and cuts down on his barking opportunities, she will find things change. It will be very hard work.
I advised her to install an outside letterbox. She should also keep him shut in the sitting room, away from the front of the house, at school-run times.
I also advised her not to give him access to the garden, where he barks at the gate, unless she is at hand to help him out.
When she goes out and leaves him alone, it should in the quietest place — the sitting room — with no access to anywhere else.
The third big problem I discovered towards the end of my visit. I had been sitting down for a couple of hours while we chatted. I stood up.
Paddy thought I was leaving.
He changed in a flash from the little dog who was doing so well with me into a ball of panic and fury.
He barked ferociously — even worse than at the start when I arrived. He flew at me, biting my clothes.
Standing still and using my original technique I eventually calmed him down again. All was well for a while until, still seated, I picked up my keys to see what he would do. That was enough. He went frantic once more.
The lady understandably wanted to know why he does this when people got up to leave.
What memory might it trigger? Who knows what his previous life had been like?
It’s complicated. He will also be picking up on the poor lady’s understandable upset. He has actually bitten her several times at the gate or at the door. when she has gone to take him by the collar during one of his ‘sessions’.
Many years ago I inherited an old Labrador from an old lady. We bought her house when she went into a care home and her dog remained. He was welcoming to everyone who came to the house, but I used to say that he would rather kill someone than let them leave.
So, all in all, just by reducing the barking alone the lady will cut down a lot of Paddy’s stress. The visitor situation and being aggressive when people leave needs to be managed completely differently.
Last, but not least, Paddy needs more exercise and freedom to be a terrier — away from the confines of a small bungalow. He’s a working dog living a life where all his natural instincts are unfulfilled. He should be hunting down and killing rats in haystacks, after all.
When he’s walked it is on a short, tight leash attached to his collar. He will feel a lot better when the lady gets a comfortable harness and a long training line and takes him somewhere more open. He will have thirty or more feet of freedom to sniff and to explore.
This way the lady can feel secure that he won’t escape while he can just be a dog. She now has some strategies for when people or other dogs appear.