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)

Adolescent Dog is Uncontrollable

Sammy giving us a break while he chews

Sammy giving us a break while he chews

I was met at the door by the lady restraining a manic, stripey dog! As soon as the door was shut behind me I asked her to let go of him and the tiger was unleashed!

I ignored it as he jumped at me grabbing my arm (I wear tough clothes) and turned away quickly as he leapt to punch me in the face with his muzzle.

This would have been a lot more alarming if there was any hint of aggression, which there wasn’t. The lady has bruises all up her arms and admits she’s now getting a bit scared of her adolescent dog. It’s really all to do with lack of self-control. He has no idea how to inhibit the use of his teeth – or anything else for that matter. This is little surprise considering what little the lady knows of his start in life.

Seven-month-old Sammy, probably a Beagle cross, may have come from Ireland but the story probably shouldn’t be believed. He was going to be ‘sent back where he came from’ and put to sleep if the lady didn’t buy him.  She was told he was eleven weeks old but the vet said he was a lot younger.

I would guess he was removed from his siblings far too soon to have learnt the valuable lessons of bite inhibition and manners, all in order for someone to make a quick buck.

He is a stunning dog and he is clever. However, he is on the go nearly all the time when not asleep at night or when the lady is at work. It is non-stop. She has taken all sorts of advice and also taken him to training classes, but still finds him uncontrollable. He has plenty of exercise. The slightest bit of stimulation sends him over the top.

brindled Beagle mix

I managed to catch Sammy standing still

It was hard to know just how to begin. We couldn’t shut him away because the lady lives in a flat and he can’t be allowed to bark too much. In the end the only thing I could do was ask her to put a lead on him and then stand on it so he simply couldn’t hurt me – we later attached the lead to his harness for the sake of his neck.

Then I did some work with him, walking him around whilst being ready to react fast to being ‘attacked’, rewarding him for sitting and reinforcing times when he didn’t try to jump. It’s so natural to ignore the good behaviour, making the best of any short break, but this means he gets all his attention for the wrong things.

I taught him not to mug my hand with both teeth and nails for the food. Already he was displaying just a little bit of impulse control.

It was a start.

I keep a Stagbar in my bag which I gave him to chew. While the lady held onto his lead and he worked on the Stagbar, we managed to get some talking done and devise an initial plan of action. Until he has calmed down and learnt to control himself a bit, very little more can be done.

The lady will need to wear tough clothes so that she doesn’t have to give in to the rough behaviour by giving him the attention he craves. She may also need to have an anchor point in the room to hook him onto when he goes really wild, for her own protection. She will have a special box of things to keep him busy when anchored as this must not be done in the spirit of punishment

But protecting herself  and containing him is only half the story. Sammy needs to learn that it’s a different sort of behaviour that is now going to get the best results. We have made a list of about ten activities she can initiate at regular intervals, things that will focus his mind and calm him down, so that instead of spending most of the time they are together simply fielding and responding to his antics, she herself will initiate frequent constructive things for him to do in very short sessions. She will keep him busy but under her own terms. She will reward every small thing that she likes – looking out for the good in him.

Eventually, after two hours, Sammy had tired himself out

Eventually, after two hours, Sammy had tired himself out

This isn’t going to be easy because after seven months his crazy behaviours are a habit and won’t be changed easily. She will need to be very patient and persevere, rejoicing in the smallest of improvements as they occur. All she has been able to do in the past is to shout at him and give him commands – he knows to sit and lie down when in the mood but when aroused it simply makes him worse.

I see this as a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. Before real work can be done there are a number pieces to be put in place that will calm him down and focus his brain. These include a suitable diet. One would see the connection between diet and behaviour with a hyperactive child with ADHD, but this doesn’t occur to a lot of us where our dogs are concerned.