gun dog Labrador Cocker mixTen months of age, Gonzo goes to gun dog training classes. His lady owners work hard on his training every day. They are very diligent.

Before work, the day begins with some fun play and then a training session. When they take him out for a walk, they treat it as a training opportunity.

They have done such a brilliant job with their Labrador-Cocker Spaniel’s training. They did all the right things when he was a puppy to make him bomb-proof and socialised. They do their very best by him in every way they know.

The couple work all day but wouldn’t have taken him on without making excellent provision for him. Even so, they feel guilty at leaving him. A dog walker picks him up for two hour-long walks each day where he gets to run with a couple of other dogs.

Increasingly hyper and jumpy

Over the last few weeks Gonzo has become what the ladies describe as ‘hyper-vigilant’ at home.

He is now barking a lot and has becoming increasingly jumpy and alert. In the evenings he can’t settle.

What they describe as ‘hyper-vigilance’ seems really to be three different things, each of which cause Gonzo to bark:

  • Sounds from outside in the evening and during the night like a car door shutting. Sometimes he barks at ‘nothing’ but I imagine with is better hearing it is something real.
  • Demand barking for attention of some sort 
  • Most significantly he’s generally on edge. I suspect this is in constant anticipation of someone arriving. 

A typical day, after the fun and training early morning, involves the last lady shutting him in his large crate before going off to work. She does all she can to give him a good time before she leaves. Could it be too much training for the start of what they hope will be a settled morning?

Twice during the day the dog walker arrives to take Gonzo out for the walks.

In the evening,  when the first lady comes home she gives him a huge welcome and then his tea. He may have a training walk.

A couple of hours later, the other lady returns. Another huge welcome with hugs and reinforced jumping up.

Listening out for the next arrival

I strongly suspect Gonzo spends much of his day, shut in the crate, listening out for a car door which will herald the next arrival and ACTION. Because when the ladies return home the greetings are massive, he may well be waiting in anticipation of the party!

I feel their beautiful young dog actually needs far less stimulation of the exciting, demanding or training kind. More of the calming kind. He may be getting too much training and human-generated fun.

Starting and ending the days differently

Instead of giving Gonzo intensive play and training before she leaves for work, the last lady to leave will let him hunt, forage and work for his breakfast. She will concentrate on calm activities. 

Gonzo is at his most hyped-up in the evening, after the second lady has returned home. She brings with her another huge welcome involving jumping up, cuddles and excitement.

His evening walk is in effect is another training session.

They will manage the evenings differently too. On the walk which previously had been about practising his gun dog training, they will let him make his own choices like where to go and where to sniff. It will be largely Gonzo’s walk now without too much training involved.

The ladies will tone down their arrivals. It’s possible that if Gonzo has been on high alert and anticipation all day, waiting for the next person to come in the door, he may also be sleep-deprived. That would add to the peak in his arousal levels during the evening.

A couple of days after my visit he began to alarm bark on and off all night. This then became the overwhelming problem for them.

After a second visit and some detective work it seemed very likely that the barking coincided with nights maintenance work was being done on the very nearby railway track.

They will get a camera to see exactly what does happen when they are out. Does he sleep? Is he constantly listening out?

He’s like clockwork and they are turning the key

Despite making sure he has enrichment and walks during the long days, like many dog owners they feel guilty. In order to make his life as exciting as they can, they pump him up  – like he’s clockwork and they are turning the key.

They do this believing it is fulfilling his needs; It will reflect some of their own emotions – like guilt for leaving him. He has to soak this up as well.

Now Gonzo should be encouraged to relax more when they are at home – as they, too, should . If they wear ‘calm spectacles’ to view everything they do with him, they will find ways to help him to calm instead of doing the opposite.

Too much training?

Great though it is, they may be doing too much training work. They will give Gonzo much more time doing his own thing. There can be too much of a good thing.

Our dog often reflects ourselves. If we are excitable then so is the dog. The same with anxiety – and calm.

I’m sure if they ease off all pressure on both Gonzo and themselves, exchanging too much training time for more free walking when out, they will notice a real change. 

Email six weeks later: ‘Thank you so much for all your help with (Gonzo). We are so happy with the results to date, his like a new dog! 
We both understand that the last 6 weeks has not been a miracle cure but we are most certainly moving in the right direction and your help, advice and expertise have been invaluable and an enjoyable lesson for us both.
We have now experienced 12 consecutive nights of no barking which is wonderful. We are move confident with Gonzo now and he is much calmer.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs it can do more harm than good. Click here for help