Obsessing, stressing, panting, licking

Obsessing; pacing; compulsively licking the floor.

The root to everything is down to Cocker Oli’s permanently aroused and stressed state – he only gets respite at night or when shut away during the day.

If he’s not compulsively bringing things to be thrown he is licking the floor (I suspect this will have started because his own shadow moves) or pouncing on imaginary things outside.

He paces. He pants. He is constantly obsessing on something. His stress infects the other two Cocker Spaniels, Charlie and the younger Billy. There is no respite for him.

Slow massage when the other dogs were out of the way seemed to calm him briefly.

He is offered zoopharmacognosy (the process by which animals in the wild naturally forage and select plants to self-medicate) which is helping him.

If we can get him to relax more, other things will fall into place. His arousal builds up to such an extent that in the evening it boils over. Several times he has suddenly gone into the red zone and attacked one of the other dogs for simply being too near either the lady or gentleman when he’s standing or sitting beside them.

On a couple of occasions he has attacked the lady as she has walked towards him. Such a highly aroused dog in his state of constant obsessing will have little control of himself.

In order to reduce the excitement and stress in all the dogs – to create a calmer atmosphere – his humans will adjust too. Changing some of their own actions is also necessary.

‘Project Calm’

We are putting in place ‘Project Calm’ and already, in one day, the couple have made great strides.

also affected by Oli's obsessing

Billy and Charlie

There are trigger points throughout the day when the dogs get much too excited and noisy.

When let outside first thing in the morning, coming back in triggers great excitement because breakfast follows.

Then, because a walk always follows this, more mayhem at 5.30 am as they charge to get into the car.

Things must change.

Now the man will come downstairs, put the kettle on and ignore the dogs. He will wait for calm before letting them outside – first putting Billy’s lead on so he doesn’t tear around the garden barking anymore.

When they come back in, he won’t feed them immediately. He will wait for calm again. He can finish his cup of tea!

Next they now have a calm method for getting the dogs into the car.

Peaceful when humans aren’t about

The dogs have ‘their room’ during the day and in here Oli is calm. Although the lady works from home she has found that Oli is much more at peace in there with the other dogs.

When she lets them out there is bedlam again. They charge out of the door into the garden. Now, before letting them outside, she will ‘lace the grass’ with kibble. The dogs will then spend five minutes’ food-hunting and foraging which will take the edge off their excitement.

The couple will break the connection between their returning home and immediately going out for a walk.

At night-time when it’s time to let the dogs out, they do a very slow robot walk to the back door. When they get there they wait for no jumping up before slowly opening the door.

Robot-walking does wonders for creating calm!

For a couple of days the couple have now been changing their routines and these simple procedures are already working.

A smallish crate in the corner may well help Oli too – somewhere that contains him. They can give him a special tasty filled Kong that he never gets at any other time. At first indication he wants to come out they will open the door. If he knows he is never shut in there against his will he should be happier for longer periods of time. It’s certainly worth a go – in effect saving him from himself – and giving the other dogs a break from him.

They will also try very soft ‘Through a Dog’s Ear’ music in there. It can be therapeutic.

Because the lady walking towards him seems to be a trigger for sudden eruption, she will teach him to like it! Being a Cocker Spaniel I’m sure he’s good at catching things. So, starting from a distance and advancing on him, she will throw food as she goes until she pops a piece in his mouth.

She can do this in various places, particularly if he is near to the man.

The three dogs should be treated as individuals sometimes. One at a time they can come out of their room and have a bit of quality time with the lady while she takes a break from work during the day.

Instead of just ‘coping with Oli’ in the evenings when he’s at his worst, they will plan activities. They will introduce more healthy stimulation – activities that will help him to de-stress himself and to use his brain. It’s impossible to be in a cognitive state and an emotional state at the same time.

They will have zoopharmo sessions; they can let the dogs out of the kitchen individually or in pairs for special attention; Oli can have a hunting game in the garden hiding something smelly; he could take a trip on lead around the block etc. etc.

Giving our dogs enrichment is hard work

He needs a little something to fulfil his breed drives but not feeding his obsessing. A short ball game in the garden – maximum 5 throws with a ball that appears from nowhere as though by magic and disappears again afterwards. After the 5th throw they can chuck some food over the grass so he can unwind.

As with many over-stressed dogs, genetics is certain to play a big part. However, humans have to be at the heart of the problem too, so how the humans behave is crucial. Oli is at peace during the night away from them and during the day when shut in the dogs’ room.

When eventually a much great degree of calm is achieved and Oli is able to settle for himself, other things may well come to the fore. At the moment we can’t see past poor Oli’s arousal levels and his obsessing which is affecting the lives of the other two dogs too.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete report. Details and names may be changed. 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. Click here for help

Alarm Barking. How ‘Stopping’ the Barking Can Make Barking Worse.

It was hard to imagine as I sat with Cocker Spaniels George and Rupert that the problem is alarm barking. Having had a sniff of me they simply settled down for the evening.

These two dogs have a very good life! They want for nothing. They go to a very good daycare while the couple are at work. They are taken on holiday with them and are very much loved.

Neighbours have complained.

Continue reading…

Defensive Behaviour, Growls When Approached While Resting.

They have done wonderful work with their two beautiful dogs, 18-month-old Cocker Spaniel Pudding and their eight-month-old Australian Shepherd pup.

Both are obedient and polite and were it not for Pudding’s recent ‘defensive behaviour’ problem rearing its ugly head, all would be well.

The young owners are fortunately now nipping this in the bud.

Growling ignored

defensive behaviour when in bedThe incident that started everything was a couple of months ago. Continue reading…

‘No Touching’. Breaking the Behaviour Pattern of Biting.

‘No touching’ for a period of time is the way to go now.

no touching the dog is the way to goIn all respects apart from the biting, Cocker Spaniel Lupo is wonderful. The young couple have worked really hard and most of the time he’s soft and affectionate. They have had help before and have conscientiously done their best. This hasn’t stopped both of them being bitten many times. Continue reading…

Safe Place. Safe Haven. Cocker Spaniel Scared of Toddler

She seldom feels completely safe. Lucy’s fearfulness affects everything, most importantly her reactions to their baby daughter.

So many things she fears

With fear being at the root of all the issues that are a problem for the seven-year-old Cocker Spaniel’s owners, general fearfulness is what we must address. Continue reading…

Cocker Spaniel Won’t Play With People. Will Play With a Dog

Rocco is a young Cocker Spaniel who won’t play. Unusually, he’s not at all interested in chasing something that is thrown for him.

He does, however, get a huge buzz out of charging, barking, at approaching people.

He won’t play tug games either with his humans, though loves to tug something with their other dog.

Why won’t Rocco play?

Continue reading…

Something So Endearing About a Cocker Spaniel

Show Cocker Spaniel Toby is a beautiful boyThere really is something so endearing about a Cocker Spaniel!

Cockers haven’t been put on this earth to be ignored.

My own Cocker, Pickle, is totally different to Toby in that he’s not a guarder, but he, too, can be a handful. He is a working Cocker and keeps himself, and me, busy. He is the smallest of my dogs but more trouble than my three other dogs put together.

Pickle keeps me on my toes!

Toby is a Show Cocker and a beautiful boy.

His start in life wasn’t ideal in that he was hand-reared along with his siblings. The downside of this is that he hasn’t been taught by his mother when his teeth hurt as usually happens when suckling. If she feels puppy’s teeth, mum gets up and walks away. Puppy learns about teeth because his food supply disappears.

Toby guards people, places, locations, himself.

Their problem with Toby is that he guards things in that he ‘possesses’ them. They are HIS resources; ‘Stay away’. He guards places also, various private bolt-holes in the house where he takes his ‘trophies’. These are places like under the coffee table beside his lady owner (whom he also guards).

The Cocker Spaniel may also guard food while he is eating, he guards chews and bones, he guards his own personal space and he will guard toys. He does quite a lot of growling that they are now immune to – but growling has a purpose, it’s a warning.

Recently Toby bit someone who approached something he was guarding and who ignored his growling.

Toby chooses.

Toby gets what he wants, when he wants. He chooses when he comes in at night, he chooses where he sleeps. Toby chooses when he eats. He chooses when he gets touched. He chooses when he should play ball (but the ball has to be wrestled off him). His demands are nearly always immediately met.

Food is always available and their own food is shared. Nothing has to be earned. If £50 notes were showered on you, would you want to work for two pounds? Their attention is given freely, every time he demands it. How relevant does he find his loving humans when they want his attention?

I asked the man to call Toby to him. Toby just looked at him! (Toby now expected the man to repeat the request and put in a lot of effort). I said to the man, “Toby’s had his opportunity and lost it. Leave him”.

I must say, I can’t imagine any of my dogs growling at me. This isn’t because they are any different from Toby or other dogs I go to. It’ s because I never have used physical force but rewards instead. I mostly save giving them treats for when they do something I like. They are always willing. I am relevant. I hold the ‘cards’.

We control the resources, not the dog

Here is a quote from Jordan Rothman, ‘To control your dog, control what motivates your dog: food, toys, belly rubs, attention, access to other dogs etc.’

I introduced Toby to clicker training. It took a while for him to catch on to the notion of having to EARN food (cheese). Once he got it, he was 100% attention, poised to work for me. It was lovely to see and shows what is possible. He was a focused and happy dog; all I was teaching him as a starter was to look me in the eye, to give me his full attention.

Loving a dog to bits is a bit of a two-edged sword. Indulging a dog’s every whim is actually not good for him. It’s no different than with one’s children.

Boundary Bark. Boundary Chasing

One year old Cocker Spaniel Lucky will chase people walking past the fence and boundary bark. He is a lovely dog, doing exactly what most other dogs in his position would do. Particularly a working Cocker Spaniel with loads of energy both mental and physical.

Boundary bark

Give a dog free access to fences, where people with their dogs walk past, he will very likely boundary bark and chase. No doubt from Lucky’s perspective he believes he is chasing them away – they always go, after all.

With each time he does it, the behaviour becomes more established.

They have had him for three months now. He’s landed on his feet with a wonderful home, and they have got themselves a wonderful dog.

I was called in order to do something about his general excitement and the boundary barking.

Uncontrolled arousal

Boundary bark and chase dogs and peopleFrom the point of view of Lucky’s stress levels, this frequent charging from gate, up the side fence and back to the gate is not good. He gets so frantic he tries to dig out underneath.

The gentleman’s way of dealing with this is to chase after him with a slip lead and corner him. In such an aroused state Lucky sometimes gets to a stage where he can no longer control himself. On a couple of occasions he has redirected his frustration onto the man and bitten him.

It’s a bit like a child having a tantrum kicking out.

With frequently topped-up stress levels, Lucky will be much more nervous and jumpy in general, just as we would ourselves. Things that we consider may be fun for the dog – like repetitive or exciting hands-on play – can actually be adding to his general arousal levels. This will build up and remain in his system for days. Trigger Stacking.

Enrichment and fulfilment

A working dog needs breed-appropriate things to direct his energy onto. I understand this well, having a working Cocker Spaniel myself. He needs to hunt, forage, explore and to use his brain. Adding this kind of enrichment will tire him out in a much healthier way than simply exercise and physical play. It’s a lot harder work however than just letting the dog run around freely, doing his own thing.

A large aspect of Lucky’s life will be frustration. He will boundary bark but be unable to actually get to the person or dog.

As they can’t let him off lead on walks for fear that he would go off on a chase and not come back, walks must be frustrating for him also. Currently he is held close on a slip lead. With no freedom there will constantly be things out of reach that he can’t get at or sniff. I suggest giving him time on a long thirty-foot line in the woods or fields where he can make his own choices – and the man can follow him. This should enrich Lucky’s life greatly.

The line should be attached to a harness – a tightening collar could badly damage his neck.

Management gives less work to do

The first priority where the boundary chasing itself is concerned is to manage the situation better and to remove opportunity.

Allowing Lucky access to that gate when they aren’t right there on hand to deal with it immediately is simply asking for more trouble. Lucky has an anchor cable in the garden which gives him a lot of scope but keeps him away from the gate where the barking ritual kicks off. They should use this more. They may also be able to fence off the front part of their garden. 

Chasing the dog

When Lucky does boundary bark, it needs to be dealt with appropriately. The man may be able to catch him eventually, but it doesn’t get to the root of the problem at all. It won’t stop happening. It will intensify.

The humans should show Lucky that it’s their own job to protect him and the territory, not his. Their role of ‘protector’ can’t be just when they feel like it so they must be consistent and ready to react immediately he starts. If they delay he will have become so aroused that he will unresponsive and not even hear them.

Chasing and cornering him is the worst thing you can do with a dog. Lucky’s family will now work hard at getting him to come to them as soon as they call him.

They will condition Lucky to come to a whistle immediately and make it very worthwhile for him. As soon as he charges down to the gate they can whistle. Then, instead of chasing him, he will come to them. They can experiment with what works best as a reward. It could be a special treat, it could be scattering food around the place or it could be throwing him a ball.

Then, as well as relieving him of any boundary duty, passing people and dogs will be associated with something happy. This will result in them becoming less troubling to Lucky.

In time, if they do this every single time, he will be hearing someone approach and instead of chasing come straight to his humans for a reward instead – without having to be called.

Summing up

So, Lucky boundary barks and chases which is the behaviour they want to stop. As well as approaching this directly there are other things to do. They won’t excite him unnecessarily. They’ll enrich Lucky’s life as much as they can. Importantly, they will use management to prevent free access to that gate whilst reacting to any boundary barking appropriately.

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’. Listening to ‘other people’ or finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. it’s obvious professional help is needed in a case like this of a dog bite with no warning. Click here for help.

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.