Understanding a Behavior Problem is Key to Solving It
Today a woman contacted me about a behavior issue she was having with her Beagle named Belle.
Belle it seems, had been in mourning since the recent death of her litter sister, Anna who lost her fight with cancer..
Since Anna's death,Belle had become a chronic barker. So much so that two dog trainers had already been consulted. One trainer had the horrible suggestion of crating her and when she barked, to spray her with water. The other trainer said it was a breed trait and the only way to stop her was to purchase an electronic shock bark collar. And the vet said she was in mourning for Anna and wanted to treat her with anti-anxiety drugs, most likely Prozac or Diazepam.
“Does she bark when you are with her?” I asked.
“No, only when she goes out in the yard or when I go to work”, she replied.
“Is it a repetitive woof that goes on and on and on without ever changing?”At which point I woofed in an attempt to imitate a dog.
“That is exactly how she sounds!” the woman said.
And lastly I asked, “ Since Anna's death, does she follow you around the house sticking right with you?”
“Like I was glue!”
“Belle is deaf.” I told her.
The woman was very quiet as my words sunk in. Then she said that Belle had stopped coming when she called her. She thought it was stubborness.
She had also noticed that she could walk up on her when she was asleep without waking her. The vet said it was because she was barking herself into exhaustion.
No, I told her, it was from deafness...
Anna had been her hearing aid dog. The two litter sisters had been inseparable all their lives. As they got older, Belle depended on Anna to hear commands to come and to initiate barking if the 'bogeyman' made a noise outside. Belle then followed suit. But on her own, Belle was lost. Older dogs who are hearing impaired quite often bark incessantly when they are alone, even if it is just to go outside for a potty run. Since they know that they can't hear an approaching threat, they take proactive measures and bark...and bark...and bark...and bark.
Belle wasn't 'in mourning', but she was insecure now that Anna was gone, and her owner was going to have to take measures to provide the old girl with a sense of security...
We discussed a few options.
She said Belle was very active, with no signs of arthritis at all, so I suggested she get up earlier and take a long walk with Belle in the mornings.
Feeding her main meal in the morning (instead of at night) just before her owner goes to work will bring on relaxation and sleep. Dogs feel more secure when their tummy is full.
I gave her directions for using Bach Rescue Remedy, 4 drops in purified or spring water in her water bowl at all times, every day to just give her a general sense of well being and help alleviate fear.
Bach Rescue Remedy is actually five flower essences that work in harmony together. Those are Clematis, Rock Rose, Star of Bethlehem, Impatiens and Cherry Plum And I suggested 4 drops of the Flower Essence Heather, which is often given for dogs who whine or bark when left alone.
Her niece will come by during the day and check on Belle and at bedtime, she will be sleeping upstairs in the master bedroom instead of downstairs alone.
I don't think anything will really be the magic bullet as Belle has never before been alone in her entire life of 13 years. That is hard enough for a dog to adjust to without also coping with age related deafness. But her owner feels better already, now that she understands the underlying cause of the behavior. Her frustration with Belle has been replaced with compassion...and that makes it easier for everyone to cope.