Click for Calm. Addicted to Ball Chasing

click for calm helped him to settle

The young couple has a beautiful Border Collie pup called Sabre, soon to be sixth months old.
 
He greeted me outside the house, pulling hard to get to me. Most of the time I was with them he was flying all over the place or barking at the young man in particular. He barked for him to throw a toy.  The man always complies because the barking goes right through his head.

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I’ve Hidden the Ball Thrower. A Cautionary Tale.

This is a story about my own dog, Cocker Spaniel Pickle, and the ball thrower.

I’ve hidden the ball thrower.

Pickle loves to chase the ball. He jumps to catch it and he would carry on till he dropped (though I can’t image Pickle ever dropping if the ball kept being thrown).

Although the dog loves it, the ball thrower really may not be a good thing unless used very sparingly. People with ball chuckers seldom use them sparingly, like five throws then put it away.Play with ball thrower

Why isn’t it a good thing? Dogs LOVE it.

Unfortunately they can become obsessed. Too much and they can even become adrenaline junkies. They are never happy unless a ball is being thrown for them.

A lovely walk can become nothing more than chasing a ball, fetching and dropping it to be thrown again. The richness of the countryside becomes lost to the dog. He should be using his wonderful nose to explore the environment and all the dogs, other animals and bugs that have passed his way before him.

Unnatural.

Would a dog, freely out in the environment alone without humans, be doing anything quite so relentlessly repetitive?

Anything repeated over and over can be addictive and causes stress of a kind, even if the dog does LOVE it.

It’s almost like the dog is a clockwork toy (remember clockwork?) and with a key we are winding him up until he is over-wound.

Pickling

My Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, would chase a ball all day given the chance. However, if there is no ball, he is happily  ‘Pickling’. He does what instinctively comes to him which is running about, tail wagging, exploring with his nose. He may chase a pigeon or dig up a vole.

He’s a working dog, and needs to use his brain whilst exercising.

The day before yesterday someone took my dogs to the field with the ball thrower for Pickle. He threw the ball for him, over and over.

Over the past two days the fallout from that extended ball play on Pickle has been very evident. (I do myself play ball but it is for a few throws only then I stop. Adding some training and brain work goes a little way towards fulfilling his genetic needs).

Pickle never stops.

He brings the ball back, drops it where it makes it easiest for the person to pick up. He runs off in anticipation of where it might land before it leaves the ball thrower.

The day before yesterday after the lengthy ball play, Pickle charged back into the house ahead of the other dogs. I was sitting at my computer. He leapt into the water bowl, digging out the water all over the sitting room floor. Dripping, he charged all over the furniture and then jumped into and knocked over the larger water bucket the dogs drink from.

Any self control was simply impossible.

For a good hour he paced and he panted. Each small noise set him off barking.

Isn’t ball play meant to tire him out and make him calm? Isn’t a tired, physically worn out dog a good dog? Fat chance! It’s the opposite.

Pickle was on alert for sounds for the rest of the day. The next morning he was still high, getting vocal and excited for his breakfast, perfectly illustrating how stress chemicals remain in the body.

So, I have hidden the ball thrower.

No ball thrower yesterday and no ball thrower today.

Pickle has been out in the field with me several times, Pickling. No balls.

Afterwards he comes in, has a drink and settles.

Today the neighbours wheeled their wheelie bin down the passage. After just one token Woof Pickle settled again. No vocals before breakfast.

It’s taken three days to get him back to this.

This is such a classic example of trigger stacking and the importance of the right kind of exercise that I have written my story about Pickle this time.

If anyone reading this with a highly wired or stressy dog uses a ball thrower to chuck a ball repeatedly for their dog, just try something.

Try no ball throwing for a few days. Just allow freedom to explore and to sniff. Your dog may find ‘doing his own thing’ very hard to start with, but persist.

If the dog chooses to run, he can chase things he himself chooses to chase.

A less stressed dog will result in a dog being able to cope with all sorts of things life throws at him, whether it’s encountering other dogs on walks to being less destructive or waiting patiently for his dinner.

PS. Dangers to be aware of if your dog loves ball play. 

Bark Bark. Excitable Vocal Clever.

Winnie is so cute. She is soft and fluffy.

She is also NOISY!

The adorable Cockerpoo is now eighteen months old and she has something to say about everything. We get people like that don’t we, who just don’t know when to stop talking!

She will bark at everythingShe is on high alert much of the time and, being the vocal kind of dog she is, she reacts by barking. A good bark, whether because another dog may be walking past the house or a bark for some attention, always works in some way.

An alarm bark session drives the person or dog away (people passing the house don’t hang about, do they) and a good bout of barking for attention gets it – even if it’s to be told to stop.

A Poodle mixed with a Cocker Spaniel.

You wouldn’t mix these two breeds and guarantee an easy life. I have read that a Poodle was originally used as an aid for duck hunters and loves water. Winnie loves water. The Poodle comes second to only the Border Collie on the doggie IQ ranking. The Working Cocker Spaniel? An energetic hunting dog, a sniffer, a tracker; highly alert, vocal. (This describes my own Cocker Spaniel, Pickle, perfectly).

The working dog in Winnie doesn’t have enough work to do. A good walk each morning for about an hour, perfect for many dogs, isn’t alone sufficient stimulation or interest for a dog like Winnie.

She spends much of the rest of the day ‘making things happen’.

Repeatedly chasing a ball fires her up.

Ball play can become addictive when a dog is bored. It not only winds her up, getting her more and more excited which makes her bark more, it also makes the man her servant. He’s constantly on hand to throw the ball for her. If he doesn’t obey her, what does she do? Bark!

Activities like repetitive ball play are not natural – not things she would be doing if not with humans. If out by herself, any chasing would be spasmodic – only when she saw an animal or a bird or if playing with another dog.

Barking also probably makes Winnie feel better, even if only to vent some of the arousal, stress or frustration that has built up inside her. A lot of it now will simply be a habit.

Giving her more healthy stimulation and enrichment, stuff that activates her brain and her instinct to sniff and hunt, will cause her to bark less.

A bright and alert dog, she will bark at new or sudden things.

Because they live somewhere quiet, she reacts to things to which she’s not habituated. If they took her for more frequent but shorter walks, she would find going out less arousing. Encountering more dogs (at the right distance), she would become more accustomed to dogs. If dogs had constantly passed the house since she was a puppy, she would take no notice of dogs passing the house. If they had frequent visitors to the house or the house was always full of people, she would not bark at people coming to the house.

Some of these things can’t be changed, but some habituation can be done. They can take her on several extra very short walks for instance. People who live in flats whose dogs have to go out several times a day to toilet, are much less likely to get excited when the lead comes out.

Any scolding, ‘no’ or telling her to be quiet may work in the moment but, in the end, will make her bark more. They will add to the stress and pressure she is feeling and not address the cause.

You can’t ‘train’ the dog out of feeling alarmed.

The feeling itself has to be changed.

They will be working on doing all they can to calm Winnie down whilst enriching her life with suitable activities. The rough and tumble play will stop and hunting, sniffing and brain games introduced. A stirred up dog will bark more. A mentally satisfied dog will bark less.

When new people come to the house the barking normally continues for quite a while and she starts again if they stand up.

When I was there, Winnie didn’t actually bark much at all. That is often the way!

We had arranged things so that when I arrived it would be as easy on her as possible. Consequently she relaxed with me almost straight away. I also made things easy for her when I wanted to get up by warning her. I called her and dropped a bit of food and then moved about. No barking.

“What do you do when your dog barks?”

I usually ask people, when their dogs do something they don’t want them to do, what they themselves do in response. In the case of alarm barking, the answer is usually something that would ‘put a lid on it’. In the case of barking for attention, the dog would get attention even if it was to be told to stop.

The next question has to be, if they have always been responding in this way, has the dog improved? Usually the dog has, over time, got worse.

So, things need to be done differently. The barking itself is just a symptom and something that works for the dog. This may be for no better reason than to bark makes a stressed dog feel better. It gives a vent.

They will start working on the underlying emotions that are causing Winnie to bark.

The delightful dog will always be vocal, because that is Winnie. They can however help her to be calmer and more confident and therefore to bark less.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Winnie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page).