Jumping all over people, flying behind them around the backs of the sofa, leaping up at faces when they are standing, stealing things then destroying or eating them, tail-chasing round and round, and suckling his blanket, Staffie Marley is a loveable but exhausting, hyperactive dog.
However, when they are out and he is all alone, Marley sleeps.
As is usually the case, his hyper and stressed behaviour is largely influenced by his human’s own behaviour, completely unwittingly of course. He wants their attention constantly and it seems the more people there are together, the worse he is; this isn’t unusual actually. There were three generations of people in the room. The more that people have their attention on something else – whether it’s talking to someone, on the phone or even watching TV – the more wild Marley gets. The more wild he gets, the more attention in some form or other, he gets – even if it’s to be shouted at or chased.
Marley was taken away from mother at four weeks old and was removed from the next place by someone who saw him being seriously abused at just eight weeks old. What a terrible start. He is now three. His family feel they are paying for ‘over-compensating’ by spoiling him, but I’m not so sure. If the poor puppy had not received lots of love, things could be a lot worse than they are now.
He is obviously highly stressed and confused. This is not helped by the various methods used to ‘control’ him nor by the fact he no longer goes for regular walks. The young man gets impatient and also feels he must be the boss, so is inclined to shout and be rather harsh at times. He feels that his mother, on the other hand, is ‘too soft’.
I am pleased for all of them that they are now getting some help and will now be working together. The young man has taught Marley many tricks and is very concerned for him. He is a clever dog. They have done their very best as they know it, but over the past six months his behaviour has escalated into something new – reacting aggressively when somebody he doesn’t know comes into the house.
I myself did not see so much of the Marley that I describe, because I orchestrated the occasion carefully – as I do!
Marley joined us when I was settled and he was friendly from the start. He had bouts of tearing all over the place, jumping all over us all, but apparently not nearly as severe as usual. In every way possible we created a calm atmosphere, to show him by our behaviour that leaping on us was not to be rewarding in terms of attention – whilst reinforcing the behaviour we did want instead. He had one short bout of tail-chasing and actually did lie down for some of the time – unheard of. He then looked so adorable that it made us want to cuddle and fuss him, but more than a very casual, gentle touch would merely start him off again.
Because he destroys and even swallows anything he can find, he doesn’t have toys and they dare not give him bones, but I found a Stagbar did the trick. It was something more or less indestructible onto which to direct some of his angst. Chewing and sucking are calming activities for dogs – just as they are for humans.
This case is a good example of the manifested behaviour that they wanted help for – that of his deteriorating attitude to people he doesn’t know coming into the house – being really a symptom of other underlying things. An active, clever three-year-old Staffie needs occupying, so daily outings are a must. They need not always be long walks, two or three short trips and loose-lead walking work or casual ‘sniff’ walks would make a huge difference to his well-being, along with evenings being punctuated by other owner-initiated activities, training and play.
With stress-levels through the roof, all sorts of problems can develop. Lowering stress is key. Everything should be done to give him some realistic boundaries in the kindest way possible.
The young man did ask shortly before I left, in reference to not shouting or being ‘firm’ with Marley anymore, ‘So this really means that we no longer try to control him?’ I don’t think he expected me to agree, but my answer was, ‘Yes, because he will be learning self-control instead. He has begun already’.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Marley, which is why I don’t go into all exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).