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).

 

Coming When Called is Coming When Called

‘Well-trained’ isn’t always enough.

The three dogs, 7 month old Rottie pup Kaiser, Jack Russell Budd, 7 and Jack a Chihuahua Jack Russel mix aged 8 have been taught some impressive training tricks by the lady.

This case is interesting because three problems exist despite the training.

Kaiser will soon be coming when called

Kaiser

Kaiser is so excited to see people he jumps all over them. He’s already large and it won’t be funny to have a full-grown male Rottie jumping up at one. Already it hurts.

Secondly, all dogs need to pay more attention to their humans on walks, Kaiser because he’s so excited to see people and dogs, and the two little dogs because they get scared and noisy when on lead and see a dog.

Thirdly, the dogs come when called but not when it really matters.

When people come to the house Buddy can be taught to calm down before he gets any attention. Even being pushed and being told to get down is attention, isn’t it. It may get him down but won’t stop him next time.

He can be taught to do something polite like to sit before being given attention.

Because he is just so excited, sitting is difficult for the pup, so it’s the excitement that needs to be addressed first. Jumping up is a problem easily solved if all parties are consistent.

Getting the dogs’ attention when out starts at home.

In essence all dogs need to clock in to their humans when asked to. At the moment why should they? What’s in it for them? A quick fussing? They get fussing for free so it’s not a reward.

Jack and Buddy

Jack and Buddy

Each dog should respond instantly to his name when he hears it, with eye contact. Yes – Me? They can work on holding the gaze for a short while. There has to be something in it for the dog, though. or he will soon learn to ignore them.

Giving eye contact when he hears his name needs to become an automatic reflex, just the same as you would blink if someone pretended to throw something into your face.

An automatic reflex only happens if it is practised enough times. Hundreds of times.

Coming when called starts at home too.

Reliable ‘coming when called’ is a lot harder and the work also starts at home.

They can work on a ‘coming when called’ reflex in the same way. For these three dogs I have suggested they charge a whistle by pairing the whistle with tiny special food hundreds of times.

Meanwhile if the dog’s not certain to come – don’t call. They won’t set themselves up to fail and thus lose the power they are building up. In places where running off could be a problem, like chasing children he wants to play with, Kaiser should be kept on a long line for now.

Getting attention and coming when called are the solution to other minor problems they are having. Kaiser likes to eat dog poo (coprophagia). Instead of yelling NO and giving it value, they can call him away and reward him. In fact, repeated sufficiently often he can be taught to automatically come to them for a piece of his kibble when one of the other dogs does his business. Obviously in order to avoid rehearsal Kaiser needs to be accompanied when outside.

By saying ‘Kaiser’ and getting instant eye contact, they can call him away when he’s about to jump on the sofa. Problem solved.

When he sees a child out on a walk, instead of running excitedly up to it and possibly chasing it, they call ‘Kaiser!’ ‘Yes – Me?’ ‘Come’. Reward. Problem solved.

Here is a nice little video: ‘A recall is a recall‘.

Ultimately the family should be able to blow the whistle and all three dogs will come running to them EVERY TIME, regardless of other dogs and things to chase and best blown before they are in full flight. Obviously some breeds are easier to train to come back than others, notably retrieving breeds. I know people who will correct me and say their breed will never reliably come back when called, but I still need to be convinced.

Ultimately the family should be able to call just a chosen dog, calling his name, get his instant attention and then ‘COME’. Reward.

Most people I go to say their dog has good recall – except when he sees another dog or has something better to do. That to my mind isn’t good recall. It’s a dog that has been ‘trained’ to understand coming when called and may be brilliant in the environment of his training class, but has chosen to do so in his own good time when out in the real world.

Training is largely about the dog’s relationship with his humans – and that is home stuff.

My own dogs’ formal training is limited to sit, down and stay, but coming when called is something they do reliably(and one is a Lurcher). Coming when called is basic for their own safety and for my sanity.

Don’t Want Their Females Fighting

Females fighting – nipping things in the bud before they escalate to something worse

Rosie

Rosie

I have just been to another family that really pulls together where their dogs are concerned.

They have a situation with two females – a Labradoodle and a Rottie, both a year old.

The two dogs got on very well to start with, but as they reached maturity what was a bit of bullying from excitable Rosie, the doodle, became rougher as she jumped on the more placid Missy.

Predictably there came a time when Missy had had enough and she retaliated. It escalated to growling and snarling with each dog held back on leads as they reared up on their back legs. Now, to make sure there is no chance of their females fighting, the two are kept separate except on certain walks which have to be fairly carefully managed.

It’s a large family with members ranging from their twenties down to three years old. The older teenage girls do most with the dogs. Labradoodle Rosie belongs to the seventeen-year-old who had worked hard with her, teaching all the basic training cues.

Things aren’t so good now for Rosie. The dogs have just the fairly small kitchen area and utility room. The more peaceful Missy lives in the kitchen with people coming and going and Rosie spends all the time she’s not out on a walk alone in the conservatory. She doesn’t seem to expect to come in, but she occupies herself by chewing things. She goes out into the garden for short periods, but due to her digging and eating things they don’t leave her out for long.

Missy

She’s a clever dog and she is very bored.

The people don’t know what else they can do. She does have two quite long walks every day. One walk is Rosie alone with her 17-year-old person. The walk is largely spent chasing a ball thrown from a chucker to tire her out, but she doesn’t come home from this walk tired out and satisfied.

I have asked them to leave the ball thrower at home. She doesn’t need it. There is a belief that the more you can tire a dog the better it will be. It can be the opposite – see here. A hyper dog anyway, she needs activities that stimulate her brain and allow her to unwind a bit, not the opposite.

Her second walk is interesting and works better for her. They take both dogs. One daughter has a head start with one dog followed by the other dog some minutes later. They meet up at a field with a pond. The dogs run around off lead and the situation is controlled with the ball chucker. At the first hint of any trouble they throw the ball into the pond and Rosie, who loves water, runs in after it. Missy hates water and thus the dogs are parted.

They walk home together and all is fine.

After the walk, having been hosed down the two dogs are left briefly together in the utility room. Someone watches them through a window. After a shake-off one dog will usually lie down. It takes a very short time before the other dog jumps on top of her and the conflict starts. They are immediately parted and Missy returned to the kitchen.

I see this couple of minutes as a window of opportunity – a time when both dogs are briefly sufficiently calm and already together. They can build on it. The girl can stay in the utility room with the dogs after the walk. When, having shaken off, one lies down, she can ask the other to do the same and reward them both. She can work on a short ‘stay’ before letting Missy out into the kitchen in a controlled fashion. Over the days the duration of the ‘down-stays’ can be extended.

Instead of waiting for the conflict to start thus daily further rehearsing the behaviour, they can be taught a desirable behaviour instead.

When the family has made some progress I will be going back. We will take things to the next stage. It needs to be carefully stage-managed.

Meawhile, the girl has considerably more work to do with Rosie if they are to get these two dogs back together in harmony. While Rosie is so frustrated, stressed and bored, she will lack the self control required. Because she seldom goes into the kitchen, she is understandably extremely aroused when she does so and in the totally wrong state of mind required for getting together with Missy. Both must be calm.

The girl is going to swap the dogs over for a short while each day and give Rosie some quality time in the kitchen – doing ‘clicking for calm’ and other games that require some brain work and some self-control. People will be coming in and out of the room which is necessary for her continued socialisation.

Finally, there is the big question of whether both dogs would be more likely to get on if they were spayed. People have strong feelings and reasons of their own regarding neutering their dogs which I respect and must make their own decisions. I have suggested they have a chat with their vet.

Once the dogs do have one full-blown fight there is no coming back from it – particularly in my experience if it is females fighting. It can’t be undone.

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 Rosie and Missy. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly if aggression of any kind is involved, as the case needs to be assessed correctly which it’s hard for someone to do with insufficient experience and living too closely to their own situation. 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 My Help page)

 

Another Rescue Can’t Be Left Alone

Young Rottie has been in her new home for one weekIt’s hard to believe that dear little Rottie (perhaps Rottie mix) Dotty had been languishing in Wood Green Animal Shelter for four whole months. Not only is she beautiful to look at, she is amazingly calm for a dog who is probably less than eighteen months old.

Dotty had been picked up as a stray, but obviously had enjoyed home life before. She has had some training and has very good manners. I can’t imagine how anyone could abandon a dog like this. If someone had been looking for her they had plenty of time to find her.

She has landed on her feet with experienced dog owners, people I in fact helped about six years ago with their previous dog who was a much greater challenge.

Very wisely they decided to start as they mean to go on. Because of the level of management their other dog needed, it’s possible they are actually trying a little bit too hard and need to relax a bit. Just let Dotty settle in gradually. I don’t feel there is any risk of her going off the rails!

The main, overwhelming need, is to be able to leave her alone. This seems to be fairly common with dogs who have been in rescue kennels for a while, and nobody knows until the dog is in a home that separation will be an issue.

On the third morning the lady needed to go out. She walked Dotty and then shut her in the crate (where Dotty happily goes voluntarily). She had done no more than pick her bag when, in the lady’s words, Dotty had a meltdown. She went frantic. Needless to say, the lady didn’t go out.

It is fortunate that she works from home, and that her husband can cover for her if she needs to go out, because ideally this sort of thing needs to be done gradually. Already, and I only saw her a couple of days ago, Dotty is happily left downstairs while the lady is upstairs. She is behind a gate.

All the triggers like picking up a handbag or keys need to be associated with good stuff and commonplace. They will now be working on closing doors with a departure signal – or more accurately a ‘certainly coming back’ signal. Whenever they go out of her presence they already are saying ‘Back soon’. This signal, accompanied by food, will gradually make their departures pleasurable and reassuring for Dotty and with the work they are going to put in she will, in time, be convinced without doubt that they are definitely going to return.

Returns from all these short exits will be boring – nothing to get excited about – something that is ‘a given’.

It is very early days and impossible to tell whether Dotty being okay left alone will take weeks or even months, or whether they will get a sudden breakthrough as she begins to trust the routines of her new life.

It is now almost two months later, and this is the latest feedback on Dotty’s separation issues: ‘Home alone is better – she has gone from ‘don’t leave me’ to ‘put the toy box down and get out!’. Asleep when I get back and not out of her mind to see me.  I make a ‘toy box’ – treat ball, yummy bones, toys etc that she only gets when I go out. Hide the lot in a cardboard box so she has to work to get at them. She has a great time with that lot and then climbs on the kitchen chair and goes to sleep.’

NB. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Dotty, 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).

Rottweiller Agitated by New Baby

KodaMy last visit was to an older dog being introduced to a new puppy. Today it was another older dog and a tiny brand new baby.

Rottie Koda is a very fit 8-years old and the baby is under 6lbs in weight. You can see from the panting the stressed state Koda is in. He only relaxed very briefly in all the time I was there – four hours.

Because he is such a well-trained, obedient dog they hadn’t considered him having difficulty accepting the baby. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but things would now be a lot easier with preparation over several weeks or months.

Koda has to keep the new baby in sight all the time. Fortunately he is able to stay temporarily with the lady’s parents, and they are taking baby around there for just an hour every day.

Koda wants to put his big head under the pram hood. He wants to jump on the pram and on the occasion he succeeded it was to give the baby a big slobbery lick. His intentions may well be good, but the sheer weight of his head would be several times that of baby and the natural anxiety of his humans isn’t lost on Koda. With a small dog they wouldn’t need to worry too much.

Not only does he want to get at baby, he constantly barks at family members as though to tell them to give him the baby.  Barking to get things he wants has always worked in the past – in fact it is one downside to a well-trained dog being taught to bark for things. Koda goes frantic when baby is picked up. When baby is taken out of the room or back home, Koda is almost in meltdown.

I believe that this is a sort of resource-guarding issue, the resource being the baby.

I imagine that in the past, Koda being their ‘baby’, anything exciting (noisy or smelly or cuddly) that has been brought home has been for him. I wonder whether he feels baby belongs to him and it seems like he is increasingly frustrated because despite all the barking nobody will give baby to him.

Quite a few changes need to be made in Koda’s own behaviour and his family’s behaviour towards him.  As he’s used to calling the tune, he expects his persistent barking to get what he wants – the baby. He is obsessed, poor dog.

With a bit of experimentation we worked out a plan, stopping negatives like scolding and using clicker and reward instead. We had Koda on long lead.

With baby quiet in his pram, Koda began to realise that if he pulled the lead tight to touch the pram with his nose he could go no further. There was no scolding. As soon as the lead relaxed click and treat. He was learning! He was also learning for himself that lying down was much more rewarding than pulling towards baby or barking.

Soon Koda was responding even when the baby was crying in the pram. He began to find it harder when the young lady stood up and went towards the pram, so we worked on that. Then she touched the pram. Then she touched baby. Still we clicked and treated. When she lifted the baby, Koda was well over his threshold and no longer reponsive to clicks and treats, so the lady put baby back. We need to break it down into even smaller increments.

I suggest that they start their routine with a doll wrapped in baby-smelling blankets before going on to the real thing.

With patience I’m sure Koda will begin to lose interest in the baby and they will be able to settle down to normal family life with their lovely baby and beautiful dog.

Rottweillers, Guard Duty, Puppy, Children.

Rottie Jake is a mellow character

Jake

I went to Rottie Jake and 11-week-old Bert yesterday. Jake is a very mellow character who, despite being given the free run of many unfenced acres day and night and is a formidable guard dog, encouraged to chase visiting cars down the track as they leave,  is also a gentle family pet with their children, something I found really surprising.

And now they have Bert who so far was behaving like the perfect puppy! I was considering calling the meeting off.

Bert was so far behaving like the perfect puppy

Bert

Soon I discovered that Bert was an altogether different personality to Jake. He is allowed to give Jake grief and they leave Jake to ‘teach’ him. If all Jake’s quite scary warnings continue to be ignored he may eventually crack and hurt Bert. Despite Jake being extremely self-controlled, Bert is learning that aggression, growling and snapping is acceptable as is his own pushy, rough behaviour with Jake. He has been hit for doing the usual puppy things of grabbing and nipping the girls’ clothes and skin – and apart from anything else, this can’t be the way to teach him to be gentle. He has already started to growl at the children if they touch him when he’s resting.

Don’t get me wrong – the dogs are greatly loved, and little Bert is given plenty of time in training and being taught manners. The children play an active part.

The overall situation could well become difficult when Bert is bigger, with two large male Rottweillers running free outside, especially if the two dogs ‘pack up’. I hope the relationship between the two dogs doesn’t become a problem when Bert, a much more dominant character, grows able to physically assert himself over Jake. For an environment that includes children, the dogs in my opinion have far too much freedom and ‘ownership’ of territory. Jake has never run off, but who knows what a bigger Bert might do if he sees a deer or a hare?

Some of my forebodings were justified as I was leaving and saw just how stressed Jake was and how he very nearly redirected onto the man – one step further and he would have bitten him. This was due to a build up of stressors. Jake was surrounded by people as he lay on his bed – enough to make any dog uneasy. I had been taking a photo of him which also made him uneasy. He was licking his lips and nose – a sure sign of anxiety. Bert was then on top of him giving him grief. The man then knelt down and stroked him on the head which, with Bert all over him, would have been the last thing he wanted. His warnings to Bert (and possibly the man too) went unheeded and nobody helped him out, so it quickly escalated. The wonderful boy did his very best to keep himself calm, but there is a breaking point.

Poor Jake is now living under a lot more pressure and I would worry if the children were alone with the dogs when stressors build up as they did just before I left. Family pets need parenting/leadership, and this means physical boundaries with owners making the decisions as to where the dogs go and when, to take responsibility for protection and guard duty along with control over how their dogs behave towards one another.

All this freedom day and night may be okay for guard dogs, but not good for family pets.

Baxter was like a different dog

Today I visited Baxter again – the delinquent young Rottweiler I wrote about a few days ago. I must confess I was feeling a little apprehensive on the way there, knowing what a big undertaking this is going to be for his new owners.

For the past week his they have worked hard at being non-confrontational and keeping Baxter as calm as possible, doing all they can to give him kind, consistent, convincing leadership and keep his stress levels down. Four days ago I had a message from the lady saying he was being so bad she felt she couldn’t cope.  I begged her to stick with it.  Any attention she did give him immediately turned him into a growling, barking and biting demon, yet he did the same when she ignored him.

This is a familiar pattern, where things go worse before the corner is turned.

They have just had two good days without the manic episodes where Baxter loses control of himself, jumping and biting when he can’t get his own way.  This might just be two days’ grace and a flash in the pan, but if he can be like this for a couple of days now, it can later be three days, then four – and is an indication of his true potential as his stress levels reduce, and he learns self-control and respect.

Baxter’s new owners are learning the very delicate balance between the amount of attention they can safely give him and overstimulating him – which quickly turns him into a dervish!

I could see a huge difference to the dog I met just one week ago. Today he was quickly calm, he only jumped on me a couple of times instead of the persistent fight I had last time, feeling his teeth and mouth and repeatedly having to tip his heavy weight off me.  Today he didn’t use his mouth on me once.  He was affectionate and biddable.

We must be under no illusion that there won’t be very challenging times ahead, but I am much happier about Baxter.

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