Why does my dog go mad at everything?
(Q) We have a two-year-old Bearded Collie, who has a few issues. When the phone rings she goes mad, going for our ankles. It's the same when the postman puts a letter through the door. If she hears a dust cart in the street she gets very scared. Is there anything we can do to calm her down?
(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: Without seeing your dog's reaction it is hard to determine whether she is overly sensitive to noises or just very excited by the phone and the postman.
First of all, make sure that she has a good understanding of basic training commands so that she is used to focusing and listening to you.
Training sessions where your dog is exposed to the problems in a controlled way can be helpful.
Turn the ringer volume on your phone down low to start with. Settle in the living area with a pot of tasty treats and dial your home phone from a mobile. Stay calm and wait for your dog to pause in her reaction as she wonders why you aren't rushing to answer it. As soon as she quietens, praise and reward her (and hang up). This may require some patience and lots of repetition.
Once she is sufficiently calm, ask her to sit, or to perform some other incompatible activity such as fetching a toy, in place of the hyped-up response. Over several sessions, practise standing up and moving, stopping every time she starts to react. Reward her for remaining calm each time. Keep a pot of treats ready so that you can always try to encourage good behaviour even when caught out by an unexpected phone call.
You can practise teaching manners when the postie arrives in a similar way. Collect some flyers and old envelopes and ask a patient family member to act as postman. You can remain indoors ready with a pot of rewards to offer your dog for remaining calm and not rushing at the door. A house line fixed to her collar might help you to limit the reaction as the letters are posted through.