Excitable Dalmatian Milo can get from zero to a hundred in a second!!
He barks persistently at people coming into the house- though didn’t at me. I’m calm and the lady and her adult son were asked to ignore him initially. Nobody was stirring him up. It was in the morning and there had not (yet) been any build-up of excitement. Milo was still relatively calm.
He has recently become a little bad-tempered when approached by another dog on a walk. This has only happened a few times but it’s spoiling walks for the lady who is now on the constant look-out.
Milo now barks at dogs on TV – even at the theme music introducing Supervet. He barks at dogs passing his house.
He has always been great with dogs and regularly goes on ‘Dally Rallies’. The three-year-old dog has a couple of particular dog friends he meets and plays with every week.
Telling another dog ‘Go Away’
The first incident occurred when the excitable Dalmatian and his special dog friend were playing. A young dog ran up to them and Milo saw it off. The owner wasn’t pleased but no harm was done.
The other couple of occasions have each been when another dog has come up close – a big dog. On one occasiona he and an approaching Boxer had to be pulled apart. It’s such a rare occurrence so far that I’m convinced it’s to do with the excitable Dalmatian’s arousal levels at the time making him grumpy. As we know, stress levels stack up.
The lady fears he will be labelled as aggressive locally which he plainly isn’t. He is, however, sometimes much too quick to react.
Winding up the excitable Dalmatian
For instance, when Milo meets this dog friend, another Dalmatian, the lady gets him excited with eager anticipation before even leaving the house. She says ‘we are going to see Benji!’ and the excitable Dalmatian is already beside himself before the two dogs even meet up.
Key to their success both with the occasional ‘other dog’ issue and with his reactivity to people coming into the house is not stirring him up. It may seem fun at the time, but the fallout comes later in some form or other and is inevitable.
Over-excitement and self-control are incompatible
These two things are incompatible: over-excitement and self-control. They simply don’t go together.
If they want the end result badly enough, then the son in particular needs to sacrifice some of his own fun.
I had given Milo a couple of chew items to help him calm while we chatted. This worked until the young man began to use these same items to generate a game. He feigned throwing the antler chew until the dog was really excited and then skidded it along the wooden floor. Milo then took it back for more.
Result: loss of self-control.
The chew items are meant to be associated with calm. Chewing is a major way the excitable Dalmatian can calm himself down. If they then use the antler for play instead of for calming him, it will do the opposite. Milo will demand continued throwing until people have had enough of him.
Then, like a pressure cooker, he blows.
The dog then raids the bin and jumps to see what he can siphon off the counters. He can’t help himself.
This ends in commands and scolding.
Enriching activities using brain and nose
The family can replace this arousal with the kind of activities that are enriching to Milo and require him to use his brain or nose. This is, actually, a lot kinder.
He is a beautiful boy – and clever. The lady worked hard on his training and now the family should work together for calm. Without a concerted effort to keep Milo’s arousal levels down it’s hard to see how they will make progress. Excitement and over-arousal are the main emotions driving the barking at people coming into the house, the dogs on TV and the reactivity to some dogs on walks.
We discussed how the lady can enjoy walks again without worrying about whether her excitable Dalmatian will be reactive towards an approaching dog. When calmer, he’s more tolerant.
Milo’s recall is excellent, but what they can’t control is the behaviour of other dogs.
Stress builds up over time so it’s not only what the lady does immediately before they leave the house. When everyone replaces winding him up with giving him calming, sniffing, chewing, foraging and brain activities they should find things improve. (Maybe more boring for a young man – but a lot better for Milo).
The key is simple. It’s about keeping their excitable Dalmatian calmer which will allow him to gain self-control.