understanding Isis: rages



Posting days: Sunday and Wednesday and, sometimes, maybe, extra ‘news flashes’!


Wednesday February 17th 2016


It has taken a very long time to disentangle and categorise the many disparate threads of Hairy One’s ‘strange’ behaviours.

As some may remember, for many months, as I struggled with her apparently inexplicable rages, I feared that she might be too disturbed to respond to training, that she would always be an angry and frustrated dog, that her fits of rage emanated from neurological damage and that  her condition would deteriorate. In the early days, when I took her to her vets at RSPCA Newbrook Farm, I was very afraid that they might diagnose an incurable brain disease and recommend that she should be put to sleep. (Always the optimist.)

Gradually, I have recognised patterns in her behaviour, and most of what were once very disturbing and upsetting phenomena now seem reasonable responses to distress.

Tail chasing seems to emanate from frustration. And Isis, unsurprisingly, had a very, very low frustration threshold. Having her collar and lead put on, waiting by the door even for a few seconds, being restrained for any reason, having food taken away, e.g. scraps she’d picked up in the park, frustration at having emptied her food dish: all these would spark tail chasing and barbering and, until relatively recently, biting her tail hard and making it bleed.

At the moment she has a ridiculously long tassel on the end of her tail. This marks the length all of the tail hair would all be if she hadn’t intervened with nature. During each of the two autumns which she has spent with me, she has razored the longest hairs from her tail until only a few strands remain.

Her ‘shaved’ right thigh and her persistent and furious gnawing and biting of her back feet, though, I now believe to be associated with her anal gland problems. Apparently, her gland openings are very small and block easily which is why she needs to have them emptied monthly. Since this has been addressed she has not bitten her feet hard enough to break the skin, and no longer barbers her thigh.

But she still has sudden bursts of anger when she snarls loudly, sticks a back paw in her mouth and utters explosive YARR, YARR, YARRs as she worries it. This, I have discovered, is most likely to happen if she is startled when she is sleeping. It happens when I am close by and accidentally touch her with my foot. It happens too when a light is bothering her.

The most violent ‘attacks’ – and they really are attacks – come, apparently, out of the blue and occur most often during the night. One minute she is sound asleep and the next she is snarling viciously and grabbing at herself like a deranged hen. She appears to be beside herself, and it is easy to get caught in the crossfire. But she never deliberately bites me. These attacks only happen while she is sleeping or on the verge of sleep and are most frequent at night. Watching her it is hard not to conclude that she is having dog nightmares. Once I touch her awake, she winds down very quickly and soon drops off again.

Harriet has said that I can keep her dog Penny’s Thundershirt for a few weeks. The results so far have been promising and I decide to record exactly what happens before and after on each occasion Isis wears the shirt.



Isis models Penny's Thundershirt.

Isis models Penny’s Thundershirt.




For some reason, last night was punctuated by snarly wake-ups. Tonight the shirt comes to bed with us and we’ll see what happens.


Isis came from the Aeza cat and dog rescue and adoption centre in Aljezur, Portugal. For information about adopting an animal from the centre, contact kerry@aeza.org or  www.dogwatchuk.co.uk

This entry was posted in food rage, self-damaging, self-harming, strange behaviour and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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