Compulsive Behaviour. ‘Stress Bucket’ Overflows.

Rottweiler Amber has a lovely temperament, friendly and confident. They have obviously come a long way with her compulsive shadow-chasing etc. in the two years since they adopted her at six months old. She was already doing it then. Her problems probably are due to a mix of genetics and what her life was before she came to live with them.

Unless all is still and quiet, Amber doesn’t settle.

The smallest thing prompts a compulsive sequence of chasing shadows, digging the floor or licking the carpet. She won’t leave their other dog alone.

Outside on walks she chases shadows – particularly those caused by people; she runs back and forth from the sun then digs and pants.

It’s distressing to see her become so frenzied with so little provocation.

Rottie with compulsive behaviourApart from this compulsive behaviour, Amber is a dream dog. A friendly, gentle Rottie that is good with other dogs and people. No trouble. She lives with people who give her plenty of time, training and enrichment.

From her constant patrolling and panting, it’s obvious that her internal stress levels are so high that frequently she simply can’t cope. Her ‘stress bucket‘ is ready to  overflow.

Stress accumulates and can last in the system for days, and dogs like Amber live in a constant ‘ready for action’ state.

It then erupts into certain patterns of compulsive behaviour that must give her relief in some way.

When she frantically digs, licks the floor or chases shadows etc, she completely focusses on something that is shutting out real life.

In a weird way it may give her some control.

The smallest thing starts her off. Over time these rituals become a habit – learned behaviour.

They have been using distraction, commands, gentle massage, food and so on. This attempts to deal with the situations as they happen, without getting to the root cause of the compulsive behaviour.

Shutting her in her crate is the only way to give both Amber and her humans a break at times. Interestingly, after a quiet night in her crate with hours to de-stress, she starts the day calm.

We will start by concentrating on one thing only – bringing down her arousal levels. Taking away as much pressure as possible. ‘Operation Calm’. They should make stress-reduction a priority.

Let’s then see what happens and reassess.

When I was there we found that a ball made a great pacifier. With a ball in her mouth she is a lot better, although she then persistently uses it to ‘tease’ by nudging with it without letting the person have it.

We also captured calm moments with clicker and food (until she stole my clicker!).

Over the next few days I have asked them to spot areas they might be able do something about, with a calmer Amber being their end aim.

They will look out for any things that stir her up (looking for lip-licking, panting, drooling etc.) and see if there is any way they can change them (there may not be).

Every little helps – every small piece of the jigsaw.

I’ve listed some of the things in Amber’s life I thought of that possibly cause elements of stress/arousal, even if at the same time she likes some of them. Can they think of any more?

  • People coming into the house.
  • Being shut in her crate when there is action outside it – she licks the crate and drools.
  • Hydrotherapy (she would probably prefer to swim free)
  • Being left in the van with the other dog while the man is at work. (Would left crated at home be less stressful?)
  • Riding in the car
  • Traffic
  • Walks. Would more comfortable walking equipment help?
  • The sight of cattle or horses
  • Something coming through the door (put up an outside letterbox?).
  • Very high value items like bones
  • Dog sports

If four weeks of effort doesn’t bring significant results, I believe it’s time to get medical help. Any human in this state wouldn’t be expected to cope without meds.

Increase in compulsive behaviours.

It’s distressing how many dogs I go to nowadays with repetitive, obsessive compulsive behaviours, dogs with owners who do all they can for them. Are dogs being bred for temperament suited to modern life? Is this getting worse or is it just me?

I quote Pat Miller: ‘One would expect that the rise of force-free training methods and the increased awareness of and respect for dogs as sentient creatures would make life easier for them. We should expect to see a corresponding rise in the number of calm, stable, well-adjusted dogs who are happily integrated into lifelong loving homes. But many training and behavior professionals note with alarm the large number of dogs in today’s world who seem to have significant issues with stress and anxiety, with high levels of arousal and low impulse control.

It’s quite possible this is a function of societal change. There was a time not so very long ago when life was pretty casual for our family dogs. They ran loose in the neighborhood day and night; ate, slept, played, and eliminated when they chose; and many had jobs that fulfilled their genetic impulses to herd some sheep or cows, or retrieve game felled by a hunter’s gun.

In contrast, life today is strictly regimented for many of our canine companions…..Owner expectations and demands are high. Dogs are told what to do from the moment they are allowed to get up in the morning until they are put to bed at night…..They have virtually no control over what happens in their world….’

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 Amber 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 much 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).

 

Westies and a Thundershirt.

Westie in ThundershirtA while ago I went to see two entire male Westies that had previously played and slept together, and now had started to growl and go for each other.  They were doing really well until a month or so ago when things went downhill again. There had been problems at home with worry and tension and these little dogs will probably have picked up on it. The people have been inconsistent. I went to see them again last night.

Both dogs were back to their compulsive carpet-licking. Westie Milo was barking at any animal on the huge TV. Both are back to charging out into the garden, trying to get ahead of each other, often sparking off trouble.  Every little thing gets them going and it snowballs; the more aroused they become, the more reactive they are so the more aorused the become, and so on.

We have put some new management suggestions into place. Both dogs are shown (one is entered for Crufts this year) and accustomed to being in a crate. I suggested one soft crate in the sitting room. Then the instigator of the growling can quietly be put in in the crate and both given something to chew – an alternative to carpet-licking that helps them to calm themselves (they can’t usually be given bones or chews because it could start a fight). With Milo’s barking at TV, again he can go in the crate and it can be covered. He is on ‘animal watch’ and his keen eyes spot the smallest animal on the screen! Something to do with dog’s eyesight and HD TV makes this possible. We let them into the garden, but before doing so the lady slipped a lead on each dog, waited at the door for calm, stepped out and only let the dogs off lead one at a time – the calmer one first. This worked perfectly. The people must remember to do it each time now for a while.

They had a Thundershirt for Milo and the fireworks (Merlin isn’t bothered by them). It made little difference apparently. While I was there we experimented with the Thundershirt and the carpet-licking. The Thundershirt went on Merlin and he stopped the licking and relaxed, completely calm. We put it on Milo and it made no difference at all. It was a graphic illustration played out before my eyes with two dogs of the same breed with the same habit, and of how a Thundershirt works very well with some dogs and not with others.

Here is the link to the story of my original visit: http://www.dogidog.co.uk/?p=9323

A week later and things are settling down again: “Thought I would give you a quick update a week after your visit.  After having to put Milo in the crate a couple of time on the first couple of nights, things have greatly improved…..there has been very little, if any, growling.  In fact, they have been playing the last couple of mornings when I have been having my breakfast.  And evenings have been very good as well.  So, hopefully we are moving in the right direction again”.

Male Westies Started Falling Out

Milos is the more confident Westie

Milo

It took me a while to tell these two beautiful little dogs apart, but they are very different really. Milo is more nervous but more bossy, and Merlin is more confident but the bigger barker. Milo loves to be cuddled, but Merlin may grumble if touched or moved against his will.

Both are show dogs so they are entire. You can see how beautifully groomed Milo on the left is. The two used to play together and get on famously until, strangely, a few weeks ago their diet was changed. It was changed to raw meat, chicken wings, cooked rice and what should be an excellent diet. However, it brought out food aggression, especially over the chicken wings, and although they have been withdrawn things have never been the same since. With feeding ‘real food’, raw or cooked, it can be quite a responsibility getting the dietary balance right. It’s a known fact that too much protein can affect hyperactivity just as the additives and colourings in certain complete brands can.

All is not quite well in other respects though, so this was maybe just the catalyst. Both dogs have been obsessive lickers of carpets, sofas etc. As soon as there is any stress of any sort, they turn to licking in order to ease it – releasing the calming pheromones. It’s understandable to keep shouting at them each time they start, but we demonstrated while I was there that although they wouldn’t be distracted, by ignoring it they actually stopped a lot sooner.

The dogs are now growling at each other much of the time.  Milo eyeballs and controls Merlin. Merlin growls. Milo thenThe two Westies asleep together growls. They growl around the lady owner and around doorways. They are constantly ‘ready to go’ as soon as they hear something outside. Barking frantically they skid across the kitchen floor in a race to get to the back door first, resulting in a scrap when they get there. Again, shouting at dogs for barking makes it worse, they could even think you are joining in with more angry noise. It’s also unfair when the dogs are doing the job they have been given. Best is to relieve them of the job!

I suggest the dogs revert to their original diet seeing as it was working well. Having chosen the highest quality dry brand available, they should avoid all the extras which have no nutritional value and upset the careful nutritional balance. Everything should be done to keep the dogs as calm as possible.

When I ask people for a list of the things that stir their dogs up, it’s surprising just how many stressful, over-exciting or over-stimulating things can be cut right down or avoided altogether.

A month has passed by: “we have seen a vast improvement since we first saw you…… they played a little last week.  It was only for a minute or so but Milo was the one who instigated it, which made me really happy.  I haven’t seen them play together for so long, so it was really nice – made my day and showed that we are doing the right things.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog. Please just check the map and contact me.