Case Study – an owner’s frame of mind is so important

Recently I told a tale of how the mood and assumptions of a dog’s owner affect the way a dog feels. It put me in mind of a situation I came across not so long ago in which I was asked to help a young couple with their dogs.

They had been married a few years and told me that as they couldn’t have children, they had acquired two small terriers. The husband seemed a sensible, hardworking and calm type of guy and his wife was bouncy, chatted all the time and couldn’t sit still. She had problems with her hearing so tended to raise her voice a lot. Their dogs were like children to them. They slept on their owners’ bed, they sat on the furniture, they had a bowl of dog biscuits brimming over, constantly available to them on the floor. They really had it made! The problem was that the pair of them barked continually outside the house if they met anyone, or a neighbour dared into their own garden. If visitors came, they barked for their entire stay and the distraught owners took to locking them in the car when people came to call.

They came to me after several complaints from their neighbours. On meeting the dogs I could see that they were hyperactive and appeared to be unable to hear any commands given to them in their excitement at my visit. They jumped and leapt about and became snappy as the lady of the house shouted at them to be quiet.

I recommended several measures initially to improve the situation:

They removed the large bowl of biscuits from the floor and were instructed to feed the dogs on a regular basis and leave food down for no longer than 15 minutes at a time, after which time it should be removed.

They were asked to stop the dogs sleeping on the bed and the furniture.

Regular walks were suggested, which they hadn’t previously undertaken.

When the dogs barked at the sound of the door bell they were to train them to sit in their beds as a displacement activity.

It soon became clear to me that this couple were not getting anywhere with the dogs and the noisy behavior continued. On my next visit the biscuits had gone but the dogs were still on the sofa and there was a suspicious dirty dent in the double duvet! The atmosphere in the house was frosty between the owners and the dogs whirled about them. I reinforced my suggestions, added one or two more thoughts, and left.

I contacted them a couple of months later as I hadn’t heard from them, to be informed that sadly they had split up and the wife had left the marital home. The next time I was passing I called at the house, to be greeted by the usual barking. When I was let in, the barking stopped within about 10 seconds and for the first time the two dogs calmly approached me for a pat! I asked the husband if he had maintained the program I had recommended and he sheepishly admitted that he hadn’t as he’d been too involved with the problems in his marriage. Despite that, the dogs were so much calmer and appeared happy and relaxed. The answer had to be the change in the home. The disruption in the calm atmosphere in the home due to the couple’s marital problems and possibly the high energy of his wife had worsened the barking and snapping behaviours and now that life was peaceful, so were the dogs. He confirmed that they’d started to settle within a few weeks of the final breakup.

We often don’t realise that the energy and mood we project is picked up very clearly by our dogs. If your dog has started behaving in an unusual fashion, don’t discount the possibility that your own behaviour is influencing his. A calm assertive attitude is so important when bringing up your dog to be happy and obedient.