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

Repetitive Behaviour. Working Dog. No Job.

Sometimes it’s hard to see the wood from the trees. Oscar is a dog, like many of our dogs, living in a world that he’s not been bred for. The couple do all they know to give him a good life, particularly by way of long daily walks, but it’s not enough unfortunately.

Oscar resorts to a ritual of repetitive behaviour.

The way to improve his life involves lots of changes. They want a family pet that is affectionate, reliable, companionable and to be trusted around children. Oscar’s primary needs are different.

There are so many things to deal with from his diet through to feeding his clever brain. Each little change links to the next so it is impossible to simplify things and extract just two or three things for them to concentrate on. It’s complicated.

repetitive behaviour

Oscar getting no reaction during his ritual

Oscar is a beautiful Border Collie, age five. They have had him since he was a year old and they were already his third home.

He is extremely easily agitated and aroused. Things that wire him up include noises outside, animals and sounds on TV, bangs and young children.

He tries to bite when they brush his long hair. He paws persistently and painfully for attention – which he always eventually gets in some form. When the phone rings he goes mental. These are just a few of the daily challenges the retired couple face with Oscar.

Staring the dog down

Unfortunately, the man believed in advice that dominating him by staring him down would make him respect them and change his behaviour. This, to my mind, will have made things worse and actually caused him to bite those few times. He has only gone for people who have challenged him like this – the man, their son and another man they met when out.

The start of the sequence – staring and licking his lips

I saw how arousal affects Oscar and causes his repetitive behaviour during the three hours I was there. People talking or his simply being ignored triggers the start of a ritual.

He runs to the window and starts to stare like he’s seen a fly to chase – he’s an obsessive fly-chaser. He then starts barking and scratching at the door. This is the start of a repetitive behaviour sequence. It results in the man getting up and letting him out – every time.

However, it’s not as simple as just letting him out. He is told ‘Sit’ and ‘Stay’ before the door is opened otherwise he will jump at the man, barking.

Once out, Oscar’s ritual involves running exactly the same circuit of the small garden, across a little path and then back to the door again. The man then gets up again and lets him in. This earns a ‘Good Boy’.

By the third time of exactly the same sequence in a short time it was obvious Oscar couldn’t possibly need to toilet again. I could see this was a repetitive behaviour – a ritual that probably gives him some control over his own life and over those around him.

Breaking the cycle

I asked the man not to get up. Let’s see what happens.

This triggered lots of frustrated door scraping and loud barking and we braved it. Oscar stopped briefly. Immediately I quietly said ‘Good’ and dropped a tiny bit of food. He went back to scratching and barking and I repeated this process many times. Eventually he walked away from the window.

‘Good’, then food.

A short break to lie down. ‘Good’.

He then went and lay down. ‘Good’ and more food. Any more chatting to him would simply arouse him again.

A few peaceful minutes would go by then Oscar would be back to the start of the routine of repetitive behaviour again, scratching the window and barking. The man, on automatic, started to get up. I stopped him.

This happens repeatedly when they are sitting down in the evening, punctuated by barking at TV and pawing for attention.

His very failure to get the man to engage in his routine of repetitive behaviour was now frustrating in itself.

Understandably, when he is peaceful they breathe a sigh of relief. Let sleeping dogs lie!

Oscar is generating all his action by pestering and getting no reinforcement or action in return for being calm and non-demanding. This needs to be reversed.

Clever brain

I gave them a list of suggestions of things to exercise Oscar’s clever brain and enriching activities that include scenting, sniffing, hunting and so on. I shall go back and do clicker work. He will love the problem-solving.

Oscar has long walks but this isn’t enough – in fact, when he returns he is sometimes more aroused and demanding than when he left. This indicates that even the walks should be done a bit differently.

The first challenge is to bring his stress levels down as low as possible. Only then will they make significant headway. Robbed of his rituals of repetitive behaviour, he needs other things added to his life to bring him enrichment and action.

Unfortunate incident involving a child

With lower general stress levels, Oscar should be better able to cope with the things that scare or intimidate him like staring men and little children. Very unfortunately a child came from behind him and hit him with a stick when he was lying beside them in an outdoor cafe. Before this he had no problem with children. Unless and until they manage to change how he feels around them – yet more work for them to do – he should be muzzled when kids are about just in case. The law never takes the side of the dog even if he’s provoked.

There is a lot to deal with. Oscar, born on a farm in Wales and now living with a retired couple in a bungalow, is bred for a different kind of life. They are very committed to doing the best they can for him. It’s not by chance that Border Collies are the dog of choice for trainers who work hard with their dogs and get them to do amazing things.

Here’s a strange thing. After a couple of weeks in kennels when they go away he is a lot more relaxed. It does him good. Is it because the rituals of repetitive behaviour that he himself creates to make ‘things happen’ in themselves stress him? Is it because the usual triggers such as TV and telephones won’t be there? In the kennels he has an enforced break.

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 Oscar 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, particularly where fearfulness or aggression is concerned. 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)

Border Collie Being a Border Collie

Border Collie Holly has several of the more difficult traits in Collies without work that I go to, bearing in mind that I only go to dogs that need help in some way.  This won’t represent the majority of their breed out there.

A Border Collie, being a Border Collie, is bred to herd sheep isn’t she.

Border Collie wants her ball

Where is my ball?

If she has no sheep to herd then Holly may find other things to round up – people, animals or objects.

Four-year-old Holly goes into herding mode when her stress levels tip over and this is mostly when the gentleman comes home from work or when she is even more aroused than usual.

She will then immediately begin to circle and nip the heels of the older lady in particular. She may also pick on this lady when they are all sitting down eating. Holly will, in effect, be making sure her sheep stays put! The dog puts her head on the lady’s lap but not to be touched. If the lady moves she will growl, show her teeth and snarl.

The lady is scared. Holly will know this.

Someone else will sternly command her ‘AWAY!’ which resolves the situation in the present but doesn’t prevent it from happening the next time.

It’s only a matter of time before she bites unless things are done differently.

A Border Collie, being a Border Collie, is bred to focus.

Hollie is bred to focus on and to control sheep. She is also bred to follow a human’s subtle directions.

So many Border Collies who are family pets have no substitute activity for their brains. They so very easily become obsessed with something of their own making.

I have been to many a Border Collie that fills this vacuum by obsessing over shadows, lights or reflections. One dog would stand all day simply looking at a wall, waiting for a flicker.

Holly’s obsession, like that of many another Border Collie, is her ball, or failing that, any throw-able toy. With this ball she constantly and persistently demands the attention of her humans. They must throw it over and over. She never has enough.

If her four humans don’t comply immediately, Holly barks. She has learnt that they have a breaking point and if she persists for long enough they will feel forced to give in.

My advice is to put all the balls and toys away in the garage.

Everyone, including Holly, will need to go cold turkey. They will have to put up with the barking until she realises it no longer works.

The constant throwing is like winding a large key in the side of a clockwork toy. The more you wind the faster it goes – until it’s over-wound and something snaps.

Perpetual activity – and their are four family members at her beck and call most of the day with the ball play – means also that she is sleep-deprived too which won’t be helping.

Just ceasing throwing the ball for Holly isn’t nearly enough. It needs to be replaced with other things – activities that will stimulate a Border Collie’s clever brain whilst also teaching her to be able to settle.

Holly is walked three times a day which sounds great but isn’t.

She is very scared of traffic.

She used to do another Border Collie thing – try to chase the wheels, but now she will hang back, cower away and have to be dragged and enticed for the five minute walk beside a busy road, necessary to get to the park.

The whole walk thing is an ordeal for her three times a day; each time she tries to avoid having her lead put on.

A Border Collie is the dog of choice for many trainers because it’s so clever and so receptive to training. It relishes the challenge, the directions and the brain work which compensates for the lack of sheep to work with.

As family pets, many are simply frustrated. Holly, I know, would far prefer to be working than to be cuddled.

She was so quick learn an alternative behaviour to all the barking at the toy cupboard where the balls had been put away. I taught her to settle on a towel, quietly and kindly. With the smallest gesture she understood what was being asked of her. Being quietly on that towel was a rewarding place to be.

There will be a lot more emphasis on reinforcing all the wanted behaviours and finding ways of giving her better things to do instead of scolding her.

Peaceful at last, on her new 'mat'.

Peaceful at last, on her new ‘mat’.

Being able to send her to her mat for a reward and with something to do at those tricky moments will solve the herding problem when the man comes home. They will get a gate for the sake of safety and all welcomes will be low-key now.

Holly is sure to revolt but they must persist.

Currently Holly’s walks are doing her more harm than good.

Exercise isn’t always the cure-all people think it is – read this. They will for now pop her in the car to get to the park whilst working on hear fear of vehicles. I suggest they take a chair and sit in the pathway beside their house, well away from the road. Holly can be on a long loose lead so if a vehicle is too noisy she can run away. Each vehicle she looks at can be associated with something nice. Food.

Over time she will be sufficiently confident to get nearer to the passing vehicles.

Another common Border Collie trait that I have found (not only Border Collies of course) is a particular sensitivity to bangs. One explosion of a bird-scarer sets up a lifelong sensitivity. Poor Holly now even retreats at the sound of a click, a door shutting, a child bouncing a ball and so on. Fireworks are a nightmare.

I did notice however that after she had been calm and settled on her mat for a while I repeated a click that had sent her running behind the sofa earlier, from a distance, throwing her food at the same time. She ate it and she held her ground.

This is yet more proof that a generally calmer dog can cope a lot better with the things life throws at her.

 

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 with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Holly and I’ve not gone into exact precise details for that reason. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog 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, particularly where fear is concerned. 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)