The young couple, with their dog, are caught up in a downward spiral of manic behaviour, destruction, scolding and nearly tearing their hair out. The young lady is reduced to tears.
They have a well-behaved but slightly odd Staffie called Saxon, 5, and Border Collie/Staffie Mix, Lola – a one-year-old adolescent behaving badly.
I say Saxon is odd, because his normal lying position is with his back to people, and every now and then, whatever he is doing, he may freeze or shake. These are thing which we can look into later, but at the moment their main issue is with Lola.
Over time, in addition to wrecking other furniture, Lola has destroyed one sofa and has now started digging a big hole under the cushions of the new one. This has happened when they are out. She is bored and alone despite the company of Saxon, and if she’s feeling restless (which she is much of the time) she will start to chew furniture. It could also now have become a habit.
Yesterday she started chewing on the bottom stair while the lady was upstairs – the stair gate was open and she was free to follow. Once Lola starts a ‘project’ she will continue!
When they go out she is left with food in various places with the intention of keeping her busy, but she starts on it before they have even left and has finished it all soon after they are out of the door. They have videoed her.
They have a little girl age three and the young man works shifts, so finding time to give Lola the amount of daily stimulation and exercise she needs is difficult. It’s not safe for the lady to walk Lola if she has the child with her.
Lola is constantly on the move. She may prance about and make little growly sounds if someone is on the floor playing with the little girl and ignoring her. Saxon takes as little notice of her as he can! In this state she is just constantly looking for ‘trouble’ – stuff to occupy her and to release some of her stress. At my suggestion they will now have a gate on the sitting room doorway so Lola can be removed if necessary to avoid possible accidental danger to the little girl (a child who gives the dogs space and who both are very good with).
While I was there we ignored jumping up – looking away and tipping her off, whilst constantly rewarding calm behaviour. She became more settled than they had ever seen her. As often happens, the day after I left she was so much calmer and happier, and so were the people. Then the next day, yesterday, she chewed the stair carpet. Then they had an excitable visitor and the day continued to go downhill.
There is a common pattern where things start off brilliantly then go rapidly downhill for a couple of days. This is the time that people must hold firm and keep faith – and consistently stick to the plan until they work their way through this until things start to improve steadily, if slowly. There are all sorts of other related things to be dealt with at the same time that when established should influence the eventual outcome.
Because the lady goes to work a couple of days a week, Lola has to be left alone and logistically there is nowhere else other than the sitting room to leave the dogs. Whenever she is left they could either come home to destruction or to no damage at all. I suggest for now leaving her all sorts of items she can chew and destroy – cardboard cartons, toilet roll tubes, empty water bottles with lids removed, maybe stuffed calcium bones. I am always wary of dogs being injured by chewing on things left for them, but in this case stuff around the room could be a lot more dangerous. I so hope that this helps while they work on her.
I have also lent them a crate. I have known very restless dogs who, when crated, settle. They won’t be able to use it straight away though. If they can spend the next couple of weeks getting Lola to love that crate (and it is possible if taken slowly enough and associated with fun and food), they can start to leave her shut in there for the shorter absences.
If Lola is happy in the crate they can relax. If she is given more exercise and stimulation this will help her mental state – and they will have to find a way somehow if they want to improve the situation. If she simply has no opportunity to chew inappropriate things for long enough, she should get out of the habit too.
It is going to be hard work.
A week has gone by and I received this message: ‘We are really good, feeling a lot more positive and actually enjoying our dogs which is great, dont get my wrong we still have a long way to go but the change in a week has been amazing! Since Tuesday the dogs have been left on there own on the Thursday, Friday, Tuesday and today. Now I do not want to jinx anything however so far no damage at all.
Lola and saxon are left in the lounge with the babygate closed. They have a box of toys and chew left the room, I have found if I leave it in the box lola likes to help her self its more exciting for her, we also leave milk cartons with a few biscuits in (no lid) and the odd toilet roll etc. we also put our ironing board and washing basket on the sofa and our washing airer in front of it to stop them jumping up. We have had a couple of sucessful trips in the car without any dribbling or sick ( this is a true turning point for her)’.
NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lola and Saxon, 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).