Jumping to conclusions

If we jump to the wrong conclusions as to what’s behind a behaviour, it stands to reason the behaviour’s unlikely to improve.

When the dog does something we want to change – like digging the carpet – we should be dealing with the underlying cause.

When the cause is addressed, then there will be no more need for the dog to dig.

If we assume the dog is digging because he wants attention rather than, as I believe, due to over-arousal, it’s likely the digging will get worse.

We should be arousal-busting, not trying to stop attention-seeking.

15-month-old Milo is a Working Cocker. They have a 4-month-old baby.

When he’s at all worked up about anything, Milo’s response is to dig, chew and scratch.

He scratches if one of them gives the baby attention, particularly when leaning over her playpen.

They have assumed Milos scratching of the playpen is due to attention-seeking.

I interpret it differently. Something arouses Milo to the extent that it tips him over. He reacts in the only way he can to manage his arousal.

It’s like a pressure cooker that starts to release steam.

When they are on the sofa in the evening, he may pull his blanket off and chew it. They assume it’s attention-seeking. I believe he’s arousal-busting.


When they prepare food in the kitchen, they push him down from the sides. He then may scratch and dig at the floor or skirting.

They assume he’s annoyed.

I believe it’s arousal-busting – dealing with frustration.

When the family is upstairs he may bark from the bottom of the stairs.

They put this down to Milo being annoyed also because he can’t follow them.

I believe he simply doesn’t want to miss out. Like many active young dogs, he wants to be where the action is.

Looking at Milo’s behaviour from a different viewpoint.

So they will now concentrate on various stress-busting strategies to address over-arousal.

I gave them various arousal-busting ideas including improving his diet. Food has a big impact on mood and behaviour.

Arousal-busting activities are mostly things that don’t involve humans. Things to do with the dog’s nose, his mouth, jaws and his brain.

Walks will be ‘dog walks’ not training sessions. He can do more mooching and sniffing – with less ‘training’. They are his walks, after all.

They will involve Milo when they give baby attention – using food and encouraging, kind words.

Arousal-busting strategies will enable Milo to unwind. in ways that don’t worry his humans.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help