The three Lurchers I have just been to live in Dog Heaven!
In a fairly small environment they are allowed a great deal of enrichment in terms of things to chew and explore with no owner panic if they make a mess! I have to persuade many people to give their dogs things to do, chew or wreck to keep them busy and to calm them down as it can require quite a bit of clearing up afterwards.
Nor is undue pressure put upon the three Lurchers in terms of training or correction. If they have dismembered the stuffed tiger, so be it – it is repaired.
The lady has had Cassie since she was a puppy twelve years ago. Zak, a Lurcher with collie in him has lived with her for two years and young Jerry, eighteen months old, she has had for just ten days.
There is underlying pressure on Zak in particular in terms of stress build-up. This beautiful Lurcher whose life is ongoing rehabilitation from a dreadful past is particularly in tune with the lady. If she is excited, anxious or down, he will pick up on it.
The first prerequisite for a calm dog is for us to be calm ourselves. Even if we don’t feel calm inside (and the dog may not be completely fooled), we need to behave calm.
Humping is the way Zak vents his stress.
He has calmed down a lot since the lady adopted him. He used to regularly hump a huge stuffed tiger (dismembered yesterday by one of the dogs and not for the first time). Mostly unchecked, humping has become a well-rehearsed behaviour that has helped him to cope in some way.
There will now be an element of habit to it. It’s his default when over-aroused.
His new target is Jerry.
The past couple of days had been particularly hard on the lady and she has been feeling very emotional. She had discovered there was something badly wrong with young Jerry’s hip and the vet at first feared cancer. It turns out to be an old injury to his hip joint, the femoral head. This is a relief but will involve extensive crate rest after an operation.
So when I arrived Zak had a head of steam where arousal is concerned. He’s still getting used to the energetic but sweet Jerry. He is picking up on the stressed lady’s own emotions and then I, a visitor, arrives.
His head goes over the back of Jerry. He moves his body around and he starts humping.
It seems that Jerry, by just being Jerry when he’s moving about, is the trigger. He has only been there for ten days. He is he settling in to his new environment and he is understandably quite excitable himself.
When unable to cope with build up of ‘stuff’, Zak now redirects his arousal and frustrations into humping him – possibly also to control him by stopping him moving about.
Humping must be the very last thing Jerry’s hip needs at the moment so we are in a situation where it’s not good to forcibly pull a dog off but it’s even worse for him to continue. Calling him off for food didn’t work. Once he got started he became deaf. Now as soon as he simply turned towards Jerry we worked on calling him, marking and rewarding as soon as he turned to us instead. Pre-empting is the answer coupled with removal of opportunity which isn’t easy.
It’s hard to redirect him onto something else – something to chew for instance – because it could possibly cause competition between the dogs. A gate should solve that.
Having together managed to get Zak away from him, Jerry would then move back to Zak! Both dogs were now on lead. When the lady is alone how will she cope?
Various management strategies are already being put in place including a gate between kitchen and sitting room. Zak needs a different outlet for his arousal but most importantly, the arousal itself needs addressing.
The lady herself is the key. At important times there will be less loud, excitable talking to the dogs; she will move about much more slowly. This doesn’t mean she can’t generally be her chatty, cheerful self at other times. Dogs, like people, listen and learn a whole lot better when all is quiet, something I made good use of years ago when I was the music teacher in a boys’ school.
Act calm and you start to feel calmer, don’t you.
It’s working already.
A while ago I wrote one of my short Paws for Thought blogs about the subject: Humping – What Is It Really About? To quote Marc Bekoff in Psychology Today, humping is ‘a displacement behavior, meaning that it’s a byproduct of conflicted emotions. For some dogs a new visitor to the house could elicit a mixture of excitement and stress that could make for a humping dog’.