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Thursday, 18 October 2012

Behavioural change

Hi all,

Advice will be greatly appreciated here as I am feeling quite desperate.

We are fostering a little dog, a female Lab/terrier mix. Although it’s hard to know, we estimate she is about two years old.

She was spayed recently by our local SPCA branch who is now offering her for adoption. We have had her since September 5 and she has been a really well behaved little dog to date. Only in the last few days have some problems presented. On Saturday evening, we discovered she had soiled on our bed. She managed to get back into the bedroom unnoticed the following evening and soiled again, with poo this time. Aside from the major clean up situation, this has never happened before and she has been very clean in the house. No accidents or anything. Nor has she shown the slightest sign of anxiety to date. She was a bit nervous at first but she soon settled in.

Also, when potential adopters came to see her on Sunday evening last, she growled and snapped and refused to walk with them on the lead. Again, this caught us completely by surprise as she has always been very placid around visitors who have called to the house. Another fosterer took care of her for a weekend a few weeks ago when we were away and this fosterer has young children and found that she was very good with the children. However, now she is also reacting to any dog she meets outside on walks. She gets on very well with our schnauzer Isaac and our boxer Barney but when walking her, it is as if she is going frantic to get at the other dog.

This is escalating is the space of a few days. By this morning, she was hysterical, pulling on the lead when she was approaching areas where she knew there were dogs in the yard or behind the fence, literally spinning and jumping on the end of the lead as if charged with electricity. If not on the lead, she would have ran straight out under traffic. I was almost in tears by the time I arrived home. Nothing distracted her, not even pieces of sausage meat I was carrying as treats.

The puzzling thing is that these bad behaviours have only presented themselves in the matter of a few days. The vet checked her out on Friday and she is in perfect health. My local SPCA branch have been very supportive but there are no behaviourists in our area.

No-one will adopt her if this is not sorted. A potential adopter is coming to see her this week, an elderly lady who is looking for a companion and best friend. Sounds like the home of dreams for this little dog but not if she keeps this up.

Thanks in advance,

Fiona Robbins, Ireland

Karen Wild, behaviourist, advises...

The fact that you describe a sudden onset of problems leads me to think that this needs urgent professional involvement rather than speculation and you did the right thing getting a vet check straightaway. It might be that there has been a traumatic event to set this off or something else underlying that could need further medical investigation, and more indepth behaviour screening. As we know dogs have especially clear memories especially if it is of something unpleasant happening in the past. Equally they often have not had a great deal of 'real-life' experience which can cause them to be fearful (they may toilet inappropriately) or defensive through aggressive display. It might even be that the recent trauma of moving between foster homes (no matter how nice the homes are as they sound very caring), could be causing the dog distress?

Can the vet or rescue centre suggest someone professionally qualified to help? Most vets have a behaviour referral service that they rely on locally and most good rescue centres provide behavioural support for the dogs they rehome in one way or another. A dog's best chance of success when rehoming goes along with a professional behaviour assessment that is thorough - Wood Green sends out excellent, accurate and thorough reports with every dog they rehome, for example. The SPCA or vet should be able to suggest someone with a kind approach who can really work through this to give this little girl the very best chance of success.


  1. This is not the dog for an elderly woman, first. Second, is she crated when nobody is around to watch her? Third, these are probably, to some degree, behaviors she has had, maybe the reason she was put in rescue. Foster dogs go through a honeymoon period. When they start to feel comfortable in their environment, their true nature emerges.

    Find a good POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT trainer, not a dominant prong collar type, to help you work through the problems. Check out veterinary behaviorist in your area.

  2. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.
    dog expert

  3. Have you come across Tellington Touch? This is a very gentle bodywork which can really change a dog's behaviour by helping them to relax and feel more comfortable in their own bodies (maybe she has nothing wrong healthwise that a vet would pick up but could still have subtle muscle tensions or even misaligned vertebrae that make her feel uncomfortable and would therefore affect her behaviour). Have a look at the main UK website, as there are some practitioners in Ireland, although I don't know if any would be near enough for you:

    Another thought is that maybe she's adjusting to the change of hormones caused by spaying? (I know of a friend's bitch who became aggressive to other dogs shortly after spaying but don't know if this is a common occurrence?)

    Best of luck with her