Too Much Excitement. Too Much Lots of Things

‘Too much’ results in stress.

Ollie’s stress levels are at the root of the problems. This said, not all stress is bad and a lot is associated with fun – but it’s too much of everythiToo much excitementng that’s the trouble.

So many things add up during the day. The eighteen-month-old Cockerpoo has to have the lady in sight all the time and panics when left alone. He barks at every sound outside. He can’t control himself when other dogs are about.

Their young children are often excited around him. Too much arousal, too much petting (and too vigorous), too much prolonged, rough or repetitive play, too much physical contact. They believe it makes him happy and it does, in a way. But it’s too much.

It was evening, the children had gone to bed and Ollie gradually settled. I watched him go and snuggle on the sofa beside the man who immediately began touching him. Ollie licked his lips, then licked his nose, then yawned. A little uncomfortable? To me it suggested the dog wanted the closeness but wasn’t asking to be touched. He soon jumped down.

When they walk past him, he will roll onto his back. They assume it’s because he wants a tummy rub. Really? It will depend upon context, but often it will be appeasement. “Please leave me alone.”

Why should Ollie be so stressed?

I saw for myself how easily he becomes anxious. Sadly, as a twelve-week-old puppy, right in the middle of his first fear period, he had a painful medical problem that resulted in his being confined for six weeks.

Ollie is a lovely friendly dog. He should be having a lovely life. He has love, attention, play, walks and the best food, so why should he be stressed? It’s about everything in moderation. There is, simply, too much.

There may however be ‘too little’ of the things he really needs – down time, sniffing time, closeness without necessarily being touched, peace and quiet without being alone, brain work, healthy stimulation.

So, I would say that cutting down on the intensity of everything will make a big difference. This has to be the starting point. At the same time, we will introduce activities that help him to reduce stress and to use his brain, instead of working him up into a frenzy of excitement.

One very interesting thing they told me is that Ollie loves a tight-fitting garment they dressed him up in for an occasion last year. Recently, sniffing a box, he dug down and dragged it out. He then he took it off and lay on it. Apparently, when he was wearing it Ollie seemed calm and happy which is why they felt he liked it. This started me thinking. How does he react when his harness goes on, I asked? He’s calmer then also.

From this I just guess that there’s a good chance of him being one of those dogs a Thundershirt or Ttouch wrap could help.

Other dogs send him onto a high

Here is another strange thing. Ollie is only aggressive to other dogs when his humans are eating! If there is dog food or bones about he’s okay.

He has only ever shown aggression to humans when other dogs are around.

Ollie’s arousal levels shoot through the roof when he’s near dogs. He is so desperate to play that he overwhelms them. In his uncontrolled way, he charges about, jumping over them and has nearly bowled over a couple of owners who were not pleased. The presence of other dogs gives Ollie such a high that he’s uncontrollable. The lady is now anxious about walking him.

First things first

Number one priority, then, is to calm him down a bit. Then after two or three weeks I will go again and see what we then have and what we need to do next.

 

I went back to see Ollie yesterday, a couple of months after my first visit. He’s a changed dog. I introduced his lady owner to clicker training and the lady and clever Ollie mastered a hand touch on cue in about fifteen minutes. Here they are.
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 Ollie and the because neither dog nor situation will ever be exactly the same.  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, particularly where fear or aggression is concerned. 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)

Chasing Shadows and Lights

Bichon Frise looking for shadows

Looking at the wall for shadows

It’s really strange how it all started.  They have had the little Bichon Frise for just a few weeks – he came over from Ireland with an unknown past – and the young lady quite unwittingly bought him a laser light thinking that he would enjoy chasing it.

Just a few minutes triggered something in the adorable and affectionate Buddy that has been unstoppable since.

The slightest shadow or reflection starts him off, as even do flying birds. On a walk recently some swallows swooping about overhead had him leaping about and barking frantically.

The behaviour seems to be triggered by stress and excitement as well as any actual shadow or light. When I was there, someone coming back into the room was enough to start him off again. If there is no shadow to see, the young dog will look for it.

It follows a three-stage sequence which starts with Buddy prowling about, his eyes up at the walls. Next he becomes more agitated, to the extent that by now he is deaf to any calling or distractions. Finally he erupts into a wild fit of barking, charging about from room to room and now it’s hard to catch him.

They have tried everything they can think of including putting him in another room which seems to settle him.

This is particularly hard to deal with, mainly because with most behaviours that we want to eliminate we arrange the environment so the dog has less opportunity to rehearse them. In this case the shadows may not actually exist in order for him to start fixating.

It was evident early in our meeting, by listening to the lovely family and watching the little dog, that he spends much of his life far too aroused. They feel that he was probably neglected in the past and bless them they are doing all they can to compensate for this now. They feel guilty when they leave him alone so make a big issue of their comings and goings. He has more or less constant attention. He may have four walks a day, one possibly for as long as an hour and a half.

When he gets home from walks he can be in a hyper state which tells me that the walk hasn’t really done what it’s meant to do. Over-exercise and stimulation is possibly little better than too little.

They have had him for three months now and want to make his life as fun as possible, so, like many people, they stir their dog up intentionally in the belief that exciting him is the way to make him happy.

I suspect that everything is simply too much. Probably the contrast with his former life is also simply too much also.

Our approach is to tone down everything. Lower, softer voices, gentler petting, no deliberately exciting him before going out, short and calmer walks where he can do a lot of sniffing.

Play should be careful. At present it’s far too exciting. He grabs something and ‘loves to be chased about’. Toys and balls are thrown for him to run after which can simply be fuelling his fixation with moving things. We looked at calm games that will exercise his mind like hunting and foraging.

We did some gentle clicker training, the aim being to get him to touch a hand – a way of calling him away from shadows before he gets stuck in. Using a clicker, we also marked and rewarded him each time he chose to take a break from looking about, before he got too carried away. There may be other things he can be taught to do that are incompatible with chasing shadows – like settling somewhere or looking away at something else instead.

The environment needs to be made as helpful as possible. If doors are shut he can do less charging about when he’s in a frenzy. If he’s less stimulated by letters coming through the door and so on, there will be fewer triggers.

Finally they need to step in a lot sooner than they have when taking him out of the situation to calm down. The ‘quiet room’ is a room where he’s happy to be alone – a spare bedroom. It can be dark, with soft music especially produced for calming dogs.

It’s sad when everything has been done to give him a great life by his new family that it’s backfired on them so badly. Over-exciting him hadn’t occurred to them as part of the problem.

It’s very possible that the laser light merely woke a latent behaviour in him that he had done in his previous life. We will never know. I am convinced the key is to get him calmer and more relaxed on all counts which means that his humans must be calmer and quieter around him too.

Each shadow-chasing dog does it his own way, so I don’t go into complete detail here as to our approach. Anyone with a dog who fixates needs professional help. A clicker isn’t a magic tool, it’s just a bit of plastic. It’s worse than useless unless used properly.

It would be a good idea if these laser lights sold in pet shops for cats, came with a written health warning.

Westies and a Thundershirt.

Westie in ThundershirtA while ago I went to see two entire male Westies that had previously played and slept together, and now had started to growl and go for each other.  They were doing really well until a month or so ago when things went downhill again. There had been problems at home with worry and tension and these little dogs will probably have picked up on it. The people have been inconsistent. I went to see them again last night.

Both dogs were back to their compulsive carpet-licking. Westie Milo was barking at any animal on the huge TV. Both are back to charging out into the garden, trying to get ahead of each other, often sparking off trouble.  Every little thing gets them going and it snowballs; the more aroused they become, the more reactive they are so the more aorused the become, and so on.

We have put some new management suggestions into place. Both dogs are shown (one is entered for Crufts this year) and accustomed to being in a crate. I suggested one soft crate in the sitting room. Then the instigator of the growling can quietly be put in in the crate and both given something to chew – an alternative to carpet-licking that helps them to calm themselves (they can’t usually be given bones or chews because it could start a fight). With Milo’s barking at TV, again he can go in the crate and it can be covered. He is on ‘animal watch’ and his keen eyes spot the smallest animal on the screen! Something to do with dog’s eyesight and HD TV makes this possible. We let them into the garden, but before doing so the lady slipped a lead on each dog, waited at the door for calm, stepped out and only let the dogs off lead one at a time – the calmer one first. This worked perfectly. The people must remember to do it each time now for a while.

They had a Thundershirt for Milo and the fireworks (Merlin isn’t bothered by them). It made little difference apparently. While I was there we experimented with the Thundershirt and the carpet-licking. The Thundershirt went on Merlin and he stopped the licking and relaxed, completely calm. We put it on Milo and it made no difference at all. It was a graphic illustration played out before my eyes with two dogs of the same breed with the same habit, and of how a Thundershirt works very well with some dogs and not with others.

Here is the link to the story of my original visit: http://www.dogidog.co.uk/?p=9323

A week later and things are settling down again: “Thought I would give you a quick update a week after your visit.  After having to put Milo in the crate a couple of time on the first couple of nights, things have greatly improved…..there has been very little, if any, growling.  In fact, they have been playing the last couple of mornings when I have been having my breakfast.  And evenings have been very good as well.  So, hopefully we are moving in the right direction again”.