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.
We are putting in place ‘Project Calm’ and already, in one day, the couple have made great strides.
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.