Bored, Over-excitable and Looking for Trouble

German Shepherd Kerry is bored.

Bored German Shepherd

Kerry

Although it’s natural for adult dogs to sleep for up to seventeen hours a day, this is only so if the rest of the time is filled with stuff natural to the dog – and its breed. Sleep probably won’t be in long blocks of enforced inaction during the day, but dozing between doing other things.

Young dogs in particular need action and fulfilment (just like young humans) or they get bored.

Kerry is a beautiful eighteen-month-old German Shepherd living with another GSD, Lemmy, aged four. They are both gorgeous dogs with lovely, friendly basic temperaments.

Young Kerry, unfortunately, probably isn’t getting enough action in her life and she’s very easily aroused. I saw this by how the smallest thing results in her leaping at someone, me in this case – grabbing my clothes and even hair with her teeth. 

Hyperasousal.

There is only one thing on this illustration I didn’t see, and that’s because she’s a female.

We sat around the dining table, myself, the couple and their young adult son. Having demonstrated what to do, the lady (a natural) was now reinforcing Kerry for every smallest bit of desired behaviour, using a clicker (and food).

The lovely dog was very quick to catch on – so quick that she was soon working us! She started jumping up in order to go back down in order to be clicked for feet on floor in order to be fed.

We taught a quiet ‘Off’ and then just a small hand signal when her feet were on the table. We also waited until she worked it out for herself. Kerry wasn’t bored anymore.

Until now commands have been shouted and repeated over until she’s complied.

She obeys the man more because he is louder and more forceful and she seldom leaps at him with her mouth open. As is often the case, the lady is usually her main victim, when there isn’t a visitor like myself she can get at.

Eventually she was sitting by us and resisting the jumping. Lemmy, bless him, was polite throughout. We were giving Kerry the kind of attention she yearned for. She settled….until…..

Someone laughed, or someone moved or there was a noise somewhere. Immediately she was back jumping and grabbing, wth most of her focus upon myself.

Enrichment and freedom.

Loving dog owners get a clever, active breed of dog, little realising what they may be taking on or the time, training and commitment involved. Only yesterday I was muzzle-punched in the eye by another excitable, bored young Shepherd with the same jumping and grabbing behaviours.

Both yesterday’s dog and Kerry’s lives contain insufficient freedom and enrichment; much of their behaviour is due to boredom and frustration so they orchestrate their own action. Insufficient early training has resulted in their lack of freedom.

Being bored is almost certainly why she is destructive.

During the day when they are at work, Kerry is crated. Because she destroys all bedding, there can be no bed. The other day they decided, quite rightly, that she would be happier with run of the downstairs with Lemmy. Unfortunately after a couple of days they came home to a wrecked sofa. Now she’s back in the crate.

For a healthy mind, young dogs in particular need ‘dog things’ to do like sniffing, exploring and foraging.

For the dog to change, the humans have to change what they do.

Lemmy

The main change in the humans’ own behaviour should be resisting shouting and too many commands whilst looking out for and rewarding the behaviour they want. The dogs can begin to earn some of their food. This behaviour training can’t be done without food (play is also rewarding but with play comes the excitement).

As our dogs tend to reflect ourselves, acting calm will help.

When one person, usually the man, controls the dogs through strength and dominance, it often means that if another family member can’t do this the dog seems to take advantage. The dog, though ‘under control’ with the man who commonly says he finds the dog no trouble, will often be lacking self control around other people.

Talking to our dogs is lovely – we share our thoughts, problems and life stories. However, if they want Kerry’s brain in gear and to do something for them, the fewer words they use the better. A lot of things, like sitting before receiving food if that’s what they want, the dog will do anyway if they wait. Lots of talking simply stirs her up.

I suggest that every time the jumping and biting behaviour occurs, they look at what has happened immediately beforehand for the reason why. As we saw, it can be as little as someone laughing.

‘Operation calm’ is the starting point.

The lower Kerry’s general stress levels are, the more tolerant she will become of the current triggers.

Operation calm includes doing something about walks which currently do more to stir both dogs up than to relax them. Because they are big pullers, ready to lunge at cats and even birds and reacting to both dogs and approaching people, it takes two people to walk them together. For physical control, both dogs wear Dogmatic head halters on shortish leads.

They really do need a bit more freedom like on long lines in fields or woods. There is a good website with secure dog fields that can be rented by the hour.

They need to walk comfortably on longer, loose leads. I can’t see much progress being made with either pulling or their reactivity to people and dogs unless walked separately for now.

The daily hour-long walks will be different. A to B is unimportant. The walk is about the journey not the destination. With one dog at a time they can now go in different directions and begin to work on each dog’s reactivity without them bouncing off one another.

We get home from work tired, just wanting a break in front of the TV. We often don’t realise some young dogs like this will be such a big, time-consuming commitment if they are to be easy to live with.

While the humans are at home, they will now initiate more activity and brain work for Kerry.

Bored. The devil makes work for idle paws.

Boredom is a big problem for young, active working dogs – the devil makes work for idle paws!

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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Kayleigh and Lemmy and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog, you 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. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Help page)

Yorkie Pup’s Separation Barking

Yorkie pup who suffers separation

Gizmo could fit in my bag

The tiny six-month Yorkie is so beautiful I could not resist three photos.

Gizmo cries when left alone.

The key to relieving him and his young humans from all the anxiety and stress around separation is to find out just why he is unhappy when left.

Separation Anxiety is a blanket term that covers a lot of possibilities.

In many separation cases the dog won’t let a particular person out of his sight. Gizmo is fairly independent and is perfectly happy to go into the garden alone. He’s a confident little fellow and he has a lovely life, being trained and treated as a ‘proper dog’ despite his minute size.

He may cry at the gate, however, if the lady goes upstairs for more than a minute or so. I’m sure he believes that his noise is what brings her back down (because it always does).

From looking at the whole picture of his life, like any puppy he generally doesn’t want to miss anything that could be action or fun, and he’s learnt barking is a way to get it.

Gizmo wearing a hat?

In the early hours of the morning he barks, which results in someone coming downstairs and letting him out, then taking him up to bed with them. For the past week they have tried having him in their bedroom all night, but he’s still barking at the same early hour.

When Gizmo stays with the young lady’s mother for a night or two he doesn’t bark at all and he will sleep in until much later.

These two things rule out the barking at night being due merely to loneliness, and it’s not that he can’t last through without being let out to toilet.

Everything points to the fact that unintentionally they have taught him to call them. Gizmo wants action and company and usually gets it when he barks!

They have very helpfully taken a video of his first ten minutes alone.

The little dog seems unconcerned about being left initially. He starts by working on the Kong he has been left. Gradually he gets tired of that and starts looking around for company. This develops into some wandering around and pacing like he’s looking for them, some crying for them. He gets a bit more agitated, probably because he’s getting no response. Then he eats the food he’s been left.  A really distressed or scared animal would not want to eat. Food finished, he’s barking and wandering almost like he’s looking for something else to do and for some company. He only briefly goes to the back door the lady had walked out of.

Certainly he’s distressed, but not in a real panic.

When the lady does get back after two or three hours, never longer, Gizmo is getting out of his bed.

This pattern seems to be much the same at night when, if left to carry on crying, after about half an hour he gives up and settles.

Gizmo’s humans will work on him being happy to be by himself for longer while they are in the house. We have worked out a few carefully controlled and graded exercises with them leaving him to go upstairs, leaving him behind the gate in the kitchen and leaving him to go out of the house.

Added to this, more fun things should be available when they’re not there and not always when they are there.

Sleeping Yorkie pup

Gizmo asleep

People have more control over the situation than they realise. Gizmo’s humans can influence what happens before and what happens afterwards.

They can prepare Gizmo for people departing. The exercises will help this. They can put in place much more imaginative things to occupy him when he’s left. There are several things they can work on to help him associate being left alone with good stuff and with relaxing.

They can pre-empt the barking for attention in the evenings by initiating more fun themselves instead of responding to his barking, in order to teach him that barking is not the way to get what he wants. They can rehearse over and over tactics for getting him used to being left for short periods and they can change their rituals immediately before leaving for work. Being left will be associated with all sorts of good stuff.

And what happens afterwards? They have control over that too and how they respond. If reuniting is too big an event, it gives the dog yet another thing to bark for. Barking generally ends up in attention and fun, after all.

With separation issues, whatever the reasons, the dog is not happy. This makes his humans unhappy too.

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. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Gizmo. 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 which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. One size does not fit all and there are various causes for separation issues so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Helppage)

Barking Upsetting the Neighbours

LucyLurcherLucy barks when they go out and leave her. Now they have had a letter of complaint from their neighbour.

You would not believe that Lucy Lurcher, a cross between Lurcher and German Shepherd, is now nearly sixteen years old which in itself merits two photos!”

Lucy is absolutely no trouble at all, spending a lot of her time sleeping – that is until she is left. A change in circumstances a couple of years ago meant she was left alone all day, something she wasn’t used to; she barked all day.

The man now drops her off at his mum’s on the way to work, but the barking problem occurs when he and his wife want to go out in the evening or weekends.

Not only does it annoy the neighbours, it’s not at all good for Lucy herself.LucyLurcher1

Many questions didn’t quite give us the complete answer as to why she’s doing this. There are several possibilities.

It could be loneliness – when any company would do. It could be specific separation from a person – and this would be the gentleman not his wife because Lucy follows him everywhere and cries if she can see him talking to a neighbour through the window, even if his wife is in the room with her. She says Lucy is quiet in her company when the man has disappeared out of sight.

Separation problems can be caused by boredom which won’t be so in Lucy’s case.

The other thing they hadn’t considered and I feel is a strong element, is that she or hears sees something outside and that starts her off, and that there could be a mix of causes.  Her food bowl is left just outside the window and a visiting cat and birds regularly come to eat unfinished food which causes her to bark. There is no curtain.

They will be setting up a video camera which should give a few answers. They will also put static window frosting over the garden window so she can’t see out and they will be feeding her indoors now. Finally they will be working hard at desensitising her to the triggers that herald their departure along with other ‘separation’ strategies.

This beautiful old girl deserves to live out the rest of her life to be devoid of this distress and panic.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Lucy, 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 dogs (see my Get Help page).