Grounded Pup, Excitement and Cats

Published by Theo Stewart on

Poor Apollo.

He has been allowed only restricted mobility for several weeks now, having had complicated surgery on his leg.

Apollo is a very energetic six-month-old German Shepherd with a fantastic temperament. He’s confident and friendly with both people and with other dogs.

There are two things at the bottom of the lady’s problems with Apollo.

Enforced inactivity

Despite the lady providing as much enrichment as she can think of already, Apollo is lacking action, enrichment and exercise.

The two cats

The other problem is their two cats. The cats won’t come downstairs.

However, every time Apollo can hear them either jumping off something or scratching in the litter tray, he goes mental.  He is fixated by them.

This happens on and off all day. Consequently, Apollo is in a permanently aroused state.

When they are out he ignores cats and even squirrels. It’s their own two cats only that wire him up. It’s likely he considers them to be intruders.

The fallout from over-arousal

As Apollo becomes more aroused by the cats, his reactivity spreads to other things. On an adrenaline high, he attacks the cushions and shakes them – then sucks and chews them.

When excited, he jumps up and is rough. Most of the kitchen furniture is chewed and destroyed along with the door frame.

When the lady is sitting quietly working, Apollo is relaxed. He sleeps. It’s when she begins to move about that his latent arousal comes to the surface. He constantly drops things for her to throw. The more she plays with him, the more excited he gets.

Where do we start?

It would be nice start with the cats. This is a big challenge.

I have introduced ‘clicking for calm’. Already the lady has done some clicker training. For now she won’t use it to teach cues (‘commands’). She will have a pot of food and simply click and reward any small behaviour that he offers that she likes.

It may be simply standing still. He may sit. He may look at a cushion without picking it up. He may look up at the ceiling!

When he gets the hang of it, he should be offering behaviours. Using his brain.

The cats upstairs.

The lady will have her clicker ready. As soon as either she hears a cat or sees Apollo suddenly alert, before Apollo starts barking if possible, she will click.

He will come to her for the food that always follows the click. (The food will need to be special).

Once though he has started barking and charging about, she may simply need to chuck kibble about.

The usual question is ‘am I not rewarding him for barking at the cats?’

Not at all. It’s not actually the barking we are working on but the emotion that is driving the barking – I guess a mix of excitement and guarding. Making him feel different about the cats.

We want him to associate the cats with ‘the good stuff’.

(As I write this I have had an idea. There isn’t space to shut the cats anywhere else, but she has a dog crate she doesn’t use. I wonder whether she could crate the cats while she is working so they are quiet if she’s unable to give Apollo the attention needed to be consistent).

Repertoire of enrichment ideas

I added a few more ideas to her already good repertoire for keeping him occupied and giving him things to chew. The one which pleased her most was the idea of breaking away from the traditional ‘two meals a day’

She will spread ‘eating occasions’ throughout the day, in various ways that help Apollo to calm down and be busy – like feeding frozen in Kongs or scatter feeding outside.

Only allowed short lead walks, she can take Apollo out for mooching and sniffing more frequently, even if it’s only to stand about.

With more short outings and more ‘eating occasions’, Apollo’s day will become a bit fuller. The cats then remain the big challenge.

All being well, when out and about again he will be less fixated by them.

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
here -->