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).

 

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)

Laser Danger. Obsessive Light Seeking, Light Chasing

Laser lights, usually cat toys, are DANGEROUS to dogs! They should come with a written warning on the packaging.

I went to a gorgeous little Cavapoo yesterday, called out because the people couldn’t understand her odd behaviour.

They showed me this video. The six-month-old puppy runs about frantically looking for something, highly aroused and increasingly frustrated to the point, at the end, of barking.

This would go on for hours if she were left.

At first I couldn’t understand the behaviour. Then the lady mentioned that the puppy had stayed with her grandchildren. Little Sophie would play with the cat – and the children had her chasing a laser.

A laser!

Of course! Everything fell into place.

I have been to quite a number of dogs over the years who have obsessively chased shadows and lights. One, a Border Collie, would sit all day looking at a wall, just in case a light or shadow might appear on it.

Many dogs’ obsessive behaviour has been triggered by chasing reflections or a laser in play. It seems such a harmless and easy way of giving the dog something to chase.

The fallout was entirely unpredicted with little Sophie. They thought she liked it which in a way she does – to the extent that it’s all-consuming.

One small thing can start her off, usually in the covered area outside. The lady had played light-chasing in there with her. Now the sun reflecting on something or even the light catching on her metal name tag and reflecting onto the floor could trigger it.

Laser lights obsessive chasing

Sophie of course is unable ever to catch a light. She constantly looks for it. You can see from the video that she gets frustrated to the point, at the end, of barking at where she thinks ‘it’ could be hiding.

She does less light-chasing indoors, but before I left something happened that confirmed my diagnosis.

In the kitchen the lady showed me the laser. Before I could stop her she had turned it on briefly. That was enough for the little dog to go into exactly the same behaviour as shown in the video – in the kitchen.

Curing this will need systematic work as well as removing as much opportunity as possible.

Preventing further rehearsal.

It’s most important to prevent further rehearsal in every way possible. The more she does it, the more she will do it. As with a child and anything compulsive, telling her to stop won’t help at all but just create further pressure.

They will throw the laser thing away and keep Sophie out of the covered area as much as possible, maybe blocking it off.

She normally has free access to the garden through a flap which I advise is kept closed. I suggest they change the metal name tag to a plastic one.

What to do when the obsessive seeking-chasing starts?

Sophie should be taken outside on a harness and long lead. The lady then will stand and watch her. As soon as Sophie starts light-obsessing she will immediately call “Sophie Come”. She will throw some pieces of food on the floor in the other direction.

Sophie then comes away from the wall and has to look down to pick up the food. If she is so obsessed she doesn’t hear, she can be helped with the lead. The idea is to redirect her compulsion onto doing something else, something real that she can see – and eat. Once eaten, it’s gone.

We may also experiment with a squeaky toy instead of food, squeaking it to redirect Sophie’s attention and dropping it on the floor.

The family has played laser chasing with Sophie for several months now, so it could take a long time to change. Possibly there will always be the tendency to do it again if something starts her off. It’s impossible in real life to remove all light triggers.

For now they need to be ready with the instant distraction and redirection onto something she likes – that’s real and tangible.

 

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 Sophie and because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same. Listening to ‘other people’, finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog may not be appropriate, and in many cases the owner needs training personally. Being able to see a professional who can accurately diagnose a dog’s behaviour can be necessary. 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)

 

That’s Not Punishment, is it?

What exactly is punishment?

This is not the place to get all technical with semantics and the definitions of punishment. It’s enough to say here that it’s anythinPunishment can be as subtle as disapprovalg the dog doesn’t like, done by us, in order to stop him doing something we don’t want him to do – correction.

Punishment doesn’t have to be wielded with obvious things like a stick, shock collar, water spray or shouting. To a sensitive dog, a warning tone of voice or even a certain look could be punishment. Some might say that psychological punishment is worse than physical punishment, anyway.

Basically, anything imposed on the dog that he doesn’t like, is, to that particular dog, punishment. Being thrown into the river would be traumatic for one of my dogs but heaven to my Cocker Spaniel!

In the case of delightful Collie Staffie cross Banjo, there are things that his humans would never have regarded as ‘punishment’ at all which have been punishing to Banjo. They love him dearly and would never hurt him.

Why is it that today, despite all the evidence, many people still reject the regular use of food for reinforcement when getting their dogs to do what they want and still rely on correction?

One problem with anything aversive is that it can contaminate other things present at the time – or things the dog may associate with the scary event.

Here an illustration of this – not related to Banjo. A wellington boot is dropped by mistake or thrown in anger, scaring the dog; he could then become frightened of all wellington boots, or of anything dropped or thrown, or of the room it happened in, or the washing machine which happened to be on at the time or even of anybody wearing wellington boots.

 

People can be surprised when they realise something they do is, in fact, punishment

Surely punishing a dog would be something physical – or at the very least, shouting?

‘Punishment’ can be a lot more subtle and the fallout from subtle things that are aversive can be a loss of confidence in general.

Using positive, reward-based and force-free methods doesn’t mean we have a dog without boundaries that can run wild. It just means that the dog learns to enjoy the behaviour that we want because it works best for him, rather than just hitting upon the desired behaviour because it’s the one that doesn’t lead to unpleasant consequences.

Three-year-old Banjo comes over as a rather worried dog. He is easily effected by the emotions of his humans and it’s quite a volatile household with the lady and her two adult sons. Each one is different with Banjo. One son is the disciplinarian and has done a great job with teaching him training tricks, the other son is more sensitive and probably less consistent, and the lady is a pushover! They find it hard to agree on how to treat the dog and this predictably leads to disputes.

One can imagine how this can be confusing to a dog, particular one that doesn’t like raised voices.

Maksad2

Banjo is generally obedient but rewards are seldom used. He is taught to avoid the consequences of being disobedient and even though few dog owners would class these consequences as ‘punishment’, to Banjo they can be.

Of late the young man has introduced ‘time-out’ when Banjo does something unwanted or doesn’t do something he is told to do. Are we sure that Banjo actually knows what it is that he shouldn’t be doing? The man counts down “3-2-1” and then Banjo is shut in the porch.

Apart from learning that the countdown ends up with his being sent to the porch, I doubt whether Banjo always knows why – or is actually learning what he should be doing. Because the counting will sound threatening, he will no doubt stop anything he happens to be doing whatever it is; the counting alone will have quite a high ‘punishment rating’ to a dog like Banjo.

One of the probable fallouts from this ‘time-out’ process is this: Banjo has become scared when the younger brother comes home from work and initially runs and hides. He then behaves in an appeasing manner before settling back to his normal friendly and excitable self. My guess is it’s because he has been on imposed ‘time-outs’ in the porch on one or two occasions when the young man has came in through the front door from work. Negative associations.

Punishment or correction can seem to come from nowhere – out of the blue.

How do we feel when with an unpredictable person who is loving one minute and angry with us the next? I have lived with someone like this and it’s like treading on eggshells and you can’t relax. (Take another look at my favourite video – the poor man doesn’t know when the next punishment is coming or what it’s for).

There is another more obvious example where fallout of punishment (which they may not have regarded as punishment) has affected Banjo. It is probably responsible for his more recent wariness of children.

A young child and her mother came to stay with them for a few days over Christmas. Banjo seemed fine with the child initially – if he was uneasy they didn’t read the signs. The child wasn’t actively supervised all the time and would be pestering him. Banjo growled. Everyone reacted angrily and Banjo would have been frightened.

The dog will not have understood why, despite all his polite warnings, he was eventually forced to growl in order to protect himself. The result, to him, was his humans suddenly acted irrationally and in a way that scared him.

It’s not a big step to conclude that his fear of children approaching him when they are out since this episode is fallout from this ‘punishment’. He has built up a negative association.

They had Banjo from eight weeks of age, and very early on one of the adult sons played light-chasing games. He still regularly ‘entertains’ Banjo by nudging the lampshade to make shadows dance around the walls and floor. Each time someone picks up their mobile phone the dog starts looking for a light to chase, as a mobile phone light has been used for chasing games.

It’s such a shame. Sensitive dogs so quickly get OCD-type obsessions.

The young men will now do all they can to avoid light chasing games and anything else that stirs up their sensitive dog or scares him.

With a more positive and consistent approach by his humans, with all three ‘drinking from the same water bowl’ so that they become more predictable, Banjo is sure to become more confident.  More confidence will affect his whole life, particularly when out on walks.

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 Banjo. 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. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page)

 

Human Control v. Self Control

Pug Jack Russell cross stressed and pantingBecause Pug-Jack Russell mix Freddie wasn’t being ‘controlled’, he was all over the place. He was waiting to be told what to do – or more what not to do. Like so many people, they do their best to control his behaviour by using NO and constant commands like ‘Get Down’, so Freddie is seldom left to work things out for himself and it’s not surprising that he lacks self control.

This isn’t to suggest for one minute that he’s not well treated – he is adored by the whole family who do the best they know how. The bottom line is, though, that if what they currently do worked they wouldn’t need help, so they need to be doing something different.

Freddie is more Pug than Jack Russell

Freddie is more Pug than Jack Russell

While I was there Freddie did all sorts of things ‘he never does anymore’, like jumping up behind me on the sofa and humping my arm, chewing my ear and grabbing and pulling at my sleeve.

I allowed this to happen to show them how to teach Freddie the behaviour that we do want, not because I feel these are in any way desirable behaviours. I needed him to do the unwanted behaviour so I could show him that it got no reaction or attention whatsoever and to show him how much more rewarding it is when he’s not doing it! I used clicker for marking every moment his behaviour was even momentarily what we wanted and both Freddie and the three family members caught on really fast. We can look at teaching him alternative acceptable behaviours when he’s in a calmer state.

He has an almost OCD ritual when he goes out into the garden – he is frequently asking to go out. He flies up at the door handle until it’s opened, then he spins, barking, just outside the door, followed by running a barking circuit of the garden. Then he may either toilet or want to come in again.

Teaching two-year-old Freddie self control and self calm is going to take time and stress reduction is the priority. All evening he was pacing, panting, drinking, asking to gWhat a long tongueo out, barking at TV when it was on briefly, humping me or grabbing my clothes and back to pacing, and so on. Not getting his usual responses was very hard on him so the behaviour intensified. He only settled briefly twice – and we made sure we marked and rewarded those moments whilst not setting him off again.

His high stress levels are at the root of all the things they want to eliminate, his barking at TV, his reactivity to people and dogs on walks, his fear of traffic, his jumping up and so on. Telling him off for barking or sending him to his bed doesn’t help him at all.

He needs to be allowed to work out for himself what works and what doesn’t. Already the 16-year-old lad who is very involved with the little dog has shown him that the door opens when he’s not jumping at the handle – simply by waiting until he’s sitting, saying ‘yes’ immediately and quickly opening the door. He then accompanied the dog out – walked Freddie well away from the door, thus breaking the sequence of his spinning ritual.

Freddie’s reactivity is inconsistent – the main variable being, I’m sure, his stress levels at the current time. In the mornings he is a lot calmer both at home and on his walk, having had the night for the stresses of the previous day to subside a bit. As the day wears on, things simply build up. Only when the whole family finally settles will he, too, settle – so long as there’s nothing to bark at on TV.

The ultimate goal is for FFreddiepug3reddie to live happily with the daughter’s dog when the two families move in together. Introducing the two dogs will need to be done very carefully and only after Freddie has made considerable headway.

Five days have gone by and the family is really pulling together. They have a long way to go, but today’s news is really encouraging and they have been doing their best to keep Freddie as calm as possible. They sent me this lovely photo and message: ‘Freddie chilled with me TV quite noisy, he’s had a lot of praise today’.
Two weeks later:  ‘I am curious that over the last few days Freddie has started to sniff and stop more when we are walking,walking along sniffing the floor not pulling.I am taking this to mean he is less agitated and therefore more curious about his surroundings.This morning I chose to walk along by the road away from the path on the grass about 10ft from road.He was sniffing and searching.This totally distracted him from the passing cars,I also praised him for this and gave him chicken. He alerted to one dog although I turned around and he was fine’.

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Freddie, which is why I don’t go into exact details here of our plan. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dogs can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Cairn Terrier Chasing Shadows and Biting

Cairn Terrier Charlie looks worried Cairn Terrier Charlie is stressedDuring the whole time that I was there, poor little two year old Cairn Terrier Charlie never settled.

First of all, my arrival stirred him up.  He did a lot of jumping up.  Then he started looking for shadows and reflections and was obessively chasing them barking and growling at them.  He was very restless all evening. He even had to be held still so I could take a photo of him.

Charlie had always been a rather highly strung little dog but a few weeks ago his behaviour took a turn for the worse.  He started to behave in a very agitated manner.  He also felt threatened when two people had leaned over him to touch him so he bit them.  This was entirely out of character.

It seems that the main change in his life was that instead of being shut safely in his crate during the day when they were out, and during the night – something he had been used since he was a puppy, they decided he would be happy with more space, so gave him the run of much of the downstairs.  During the day he was now very likely to be watching out of the window, barking at birds and cats and getting himself into a state. Very likely he no longer felt safe.

Looking back couple of months earlier, he had been encouraged to chase a laser beam in play and this could well have been the start of his obsessive behaviour. It is surprising just how quickly a dog can start something like this.  As his general stress levels had been rising it manifested itself in shadow chasing.

Most dogs need 17 to 18 hours sleep a day.  Imagine that the little dog now is on patrol for most of the day and then, when the family comes home, he is wild with excitement and only settles in the late evening. We know how we ourselves feel when we are sleep deprived, don’t we. He is much more likely to be touchy and scared when someone looms over him and puts their hand out on top of him, something which to a dog can seem like threatening bad manners. We also forget that a little dog only sees somebody up to about knee level and so they will be relying upon their noses, and the first person he bit smelt of cats, one of Charlie’s pet hates.

So they will now reintroduce the crate. I’m sure when they reduce his stress levels the shadow chasing will stop, meanwhile they will use distraction and maybe brief time out for the peace of his crate where he loves to be.

Human visitors will need to be taught how to touch him and not to loom over him.  I am sure this is just a temporary thing.  When a dog bites and is met with anger, which to the dog must seem like unreasonable aggression on our part, he is much more likely to bite again.  I know that to us it seems like we are condoning the behaviour if we don’t punish the dog, but it is far better to keep calm and simply remove him from the situation. Then try to get to the bottom of what is really happening.

The underlying problem needs to be sorted if the matter is not to escalate. In any sudden change in behaviour, a vet needs to be consulted to make sure there isn’t physical problem.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Troubled Jack Russell

Jack Russell Jack;s tummy is red and sore from compulsive licking himself

Jack

Jack Russell Jill is sitting in her bed

Jill

Little Jack is ten years old and lives with Jill who is also ten.

They are both very good little dogs as far as obedience is concerned, but both, Jack in particular, is troubled. Although both dogs have a very good life with a loving and sensible owner, it is possible that something in the past is overshadowing their present life, because their change in behaviour coincided with that particular time.

Jack is unsettled and this is manifesting itself in regularly marking and peeing indoors, in growling when he is made to do something and by compulsively licking himself. There are one or two people he is scared of to the point of aggression.

He looks relaxed on the right, as he was when I took the photo, but one can see his red and sore front due to the obsessive licking.

Jill also is stressed but to a lesser extent. They may be left alone for a long time and bark and cry intermittently throughout the day.

Jack and Jill at peace

Jack and Jill

We looked at all the possible causes of stress in the little dogs’ life at the moment – and this includes anything that stirs them up in any way, and the list can be surprisingly long. Here are some of them:  being left alone, post coming through the door, scolding, being told off and commands, humans being cross, Jill obsessively licking Jack, Jack persistently licking or humping Jill, Jack chewing and licking himself and being told off, behaviour of visitors and family, going to other houses, vacuum cleaner, excitement before walks or going in the car, discomfort and tension when being walked on lead, agility classes, obsessive ball play, barking itself increases stress, constant jingling of collar tags.

So we are finding ways of reducing stress in every way possible. Being consistent is essential. Using encouragement and reward rather than commands and scolding is also key.

There is the dear little Jack on the left, and lying in their bed with Jill below.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.

Obsessive Digging for Moles

Red Golden Retriever Louie is recovering from an operation

Louie

Beautiful and much-loved Louie (on the left) and Kiki have recently had a huge change in their lives. Five-year-old dark red Golden Retriever Kiki is a stable and confident dog and it seems not to have affected her, but Louie has only lived with the couple for about two years – he is now nine years of age – and life had not been good for him previously. The lady moved with the dogs to the UK about four months ago and the gentleman, who has a very close relationship with Louie, stayed behind and has only just joined them.

Louie, a Red Setter, had a ‘lampshade’ around his head. He was recovering from an operation on his foot to an injury brought about by his obsessive digging. Where most dogs might hear a little animal under the ground and dig for a short while (their ears are so much better than our own), Louie becomes obsessed. It is even possible now that he is now digging for the sake of digging. He cries and growls as he digs. If he has doggie boots then frantically he tries to bite the ground instead.

Before leaving the house Louie is so overwhelmed with excitement that he can hardly breathe. He is gasping.

Red Setter Kiki looking regal

Kiki

When they had him about two years ago he had lots of phobias and they have come a long way. It is not surprising that the upheavel in his life has brought on a new one. This is also a case of  owners over-compensating for the past and maybe also because they have to leave the dogs alone all day – by allowing them to make nearly all their own decisions – whether it’s where to sleep, when to be fed, when and where to go out or when they will get attention. This can be just as much a burden for a dog as it would a child. It can make a dog needy, resulting in separation issues.

These are wonderful, friendly dogs. There are a few behaviour things that need ironing out, from Kiki’s wanting everything under her own terms, refusing to come when called and going on strike if asked to move when she doesn’t want to, to Louie’s distress when left alone with just Kiki, his restless pacing and digging obsession.

It is now three months later, and I have just received this email: “I had a preliminary visit of a dog sitter this weekend. We went for a long walk together and they were good. They obeyed the entire time even when let off the leash. I also showed her your web site entry about the dogs to make her aware of possible complications. Then I mentioned that Louie has high stress levels, etc… The dog sitter looked at me and just said: “What stress levels? Look at Louie he is just lying there peacefully. He doesn’t have high stress levels.” I had comments from the vet…that Louie calmed down a lot. However, since I spend every day with him, the gradual change was not so striking to me. So this comment from a person that is in contact with many dogs, really made me aware of Louie’s progress. We really came a long way thanks to you and your suggestions.
I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.
 

Stressed Red Setter

Red SetterIt was quite exhausting being with poor Archie, a three year old Red Setter. It took an hour for him to settle down – briefly – before he was on the go again, catching imaginary flies and lick lick licking the sofa. Toileting indoors is also part of the picture, and energy rushes where he tears all over the place, over the sofas and dangerously near to knocking over their toddler.

It was like being in the presence of someone struggling with a nervous breakdown. One can understand that living with this can be frustrating for people who don’t know what to do about it.  They love their beautiful, gentle dog – very small for a male of the breed – but their way of coping is the very opposite to what I would myself do.

I work on the theory that whatever people are doing, it isn’t working, else the dog wouldn’t be doing it any more. So, try the opposite or at least something very different. They had resorted to an electric shock collar, mostly used on ‘beep’, and compressed air spray, to shock the dog into stopping, and when he charges past the little girl they may resort to shouting and pinning him down. He is punished after the event if he has chewed a door frame when left outside alone, or if they find poo in the house.

I don’t want you to get the idea that these people want to be cruel, but they don’t know different and they are at their wit’s end.  Methods advocated for correction in a certain popular TV programme and taken out of context are largely to blame.

I explained how you can look at stress levels rising in a dog like water rising in a bucket. Each time something happens – the postman comes, the dog gets left alone, he gets chastised and so on – a little more water drips into the stress bucket. A dog’s stress levels can take days to go back down again, so it’s not hard to see that the bucket will eventually overflow.  In poor Archie’s case, it’s at the brim constantly, and each time the owners respond as they do it merely tops it up.

So, de-stressing big time is the order of the day. He does no repetitive stuff when out of the way in his crate. They will gently and quietly put him in there for calming ‘time out’ when he gets out of control with himself. They will have alternatives to hand for him to chew, to distract him from sofa licking but so he can still release the calming pheromones licking and chewing give him. They will ditch gadgets and punishment. They will look at positive ways to reward him and encourage him instead of negative methods.

They have a much better understanding of Archie now. By nature he is highly strung, but I am sure before long they will see a different dog.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.