Compulsive Behaviour. ‘Stress Bucket’ Overflows.
Rottweiler Amber has a lovely temperament, friendly and confident. They have obviously come a long way with her compulsive shadow-chasing etc. in the two years since they adopted her at six months old. She was already doing it then. Her problems probably are due to a mix of genetics and what her life was before she came to live with them.
Unless all is still and quiet, Amber doesn’t settle.
The smallest thing prompts a compulsive sequence of chasing shadows, digging the floor or licking the carpet. She won’t leave their other dog alone.
Outside on walks she chases shadows – particularly those caused by people; she runs back and forth from the sun then digs and pants.
It’s distressing to see her become so frenzied with so little provocation.
Apart from this compulsive behaviour, Amber is a dream dog. A friendly, gentle Rottie that is good with other dogs and people. No trouble. She lives with people who give her plenty of time, training and enrichment.
From her constant patrolling and panting, it’s obvious that her internal stress levels are so high that frequently she simply can’t cope. Her ‘stress bucket‘ is ready to overflow.
Stress accumulates and can last in the system for days, and dogs like Amber live in a constant ‘ready for action’ state.
It then erupts into certain patterns of compulsive behaviour that must give her relief in some way.
When she frantically digs, licks the floor or chases shadows etc, she completely focuses on something that is shutting out real life.
In a weird way it may give her some control.
The smallest thing starts her off. Over time these rituals become a habit – learned behaviour.
They have been using distraction, commands, gentle massage, food and so on. This attempts to deal with the situations as they happen, without getting to the root cause of the compulsive behaviour.
Shutting her in her crate is the only way to give both Amber and her humans a break at times. Interestingly, after a quiet night in her crate with hours to de-stress, she starts the day calm.
We will start by concentrating on one thing only – bringing down her arousal levels. Taking away as much pressure as possible. ‘Operation Calm’. They should make stress-reduction a priority.
Let’s then see what happens and reassess.
When I was there we found that a ball made a great pacifier. With a ball in her mouth she is a lot better, although she then persistently uses it to ‘tease’ by nudging with it without letting the person have it.
We also captured calm moments with clicker and food (until she stole my clicker!).
Over the next few days I have asked them to spot areas they might be able do something about, with a calmer Amber being their end aim.
They will look out for any things that stir her up (looking for lip-licking, panting, drooling etc.) and see if there is any way they can change them (there may not be).
Every little helps – every small piece of the jigsaw.
I’ve listed some of the things in Amber’s life I thought of that possibly cause elements of stress/arousal, even if at the same time she likes some of them. Can they think of any more?
- People coming into the house.
- Being shut in her crate when there is action outside it – she licks the crate and drools.
- Hydrotherapy (she would probably prefer to swim free)
- Being left in the van with the other dog while the man is at work. (Would left crated at home be less stressful?)
- Riding in the car
- Walks. Would more comfortable walking equipment help?
- The sight of cattle or horses
- Something coming through the door (put up an outside letterbox?).
- Very high value items like bones
- Dog sports
If four weeks of effort doesn’t bring significant results, I believe it’s time to get medical help. Any human in this state wouldn’t be expected to cope without meds.
Increase in compulsive behaviours.
It’s distressing how many dogs I go to nowadays with repetitive, obsessive compulsive behaviours, dogs with owners who do all they can for them. Are dogs being bred for temperament suited to modern life? Is this getting worse or is it just me?
I quote Pat Miller: ‘One would expect that the rise of force-free training methods and the increased awareness of and respect for dogs as sentient creatures would make life easier for them. We should expect to see a corresponding rise in the number of calm, stable, well-adjusted dogs who are happily integrated into lifelong loving homes. But many training and behavior professionals note with alarm the large number of dogs in today’s world who seem to have significant issues with stress and anxiety, with high levels of arousal and low impulse control.
It’s quite possible this is a function of societal change. There was a time not so very long ago when life was pretty casual for our family dogs. They ran loose in the neighborhood day and night; ate, slept, played, and eliminated when they chose; and many had jobs that fulfilled their genetic impulses to herd some sheep or cows, or retrieve game felled by a hunter’s gun.
In contrast, life today is strictly regimented for many of our canine companions…..Owner expectations and demands are high. Dogs are told what to do from the moment they are allowed to get up in the morning until they are put to bed at night…..They have virtually no control over what happens in their world….’