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Canine Behavior/change in older dog behavior

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QUESTION: Melissa-

Hello.  I adopted a 9 year old, female Lab/Hound mix over a year ago.  She was seriously over-weight and lacked some basic discipline.  Essentially, the previous owners allowed her to be the pack leader, even over the humans.  I was able to drop almost 20 pounds off her through daily walks and a change in food/rationing, and began working on basic commands and letting her know that I was the pack leader.  She still has some issues with little things, and being a hunting dog (and with a new energy level) she tends to run off if she gets a tiny little opening.  She is an extremely intelligent girl (cognitive thinking toys only last a few minutes before she's got them figured out)and she's uninterested in fetch & return.  But when locked in on a scent or found a prey there is little that will pull her off.  When she runs off, she disappears for hours, and cannot, will not, be found and brought home until she is good and ready.  All her shots are up to date, and her tags are on with numbers and the neighbors all are aware of her little jaunts.  We call her the neighborhood watch dog.

My concern is that lately, her behavior has gotten really bad.  I describe it as 'Diva' behavior.  I said that if she were a teen, we'd be on Dr. Phil as the next 'family in crisis'.  She steals food like we're starving her (she is not losing weight, nor gaining, and I've not changed her food in any way).  I caught her eating my lunch, that I had placed in the center of my 4.5 foot high counter, she took a jar of peanut butter off of a table and chewed through the lid and jar, she gets up on the cat's pedestal (again, almost 5 feet high) and eats the cat's food, and we've had to basically lock everything down.  She is becoming very aggressive for attention as well.  She will not leave people alone, she is in your face constantly, hovering, pawing, staring, climbing on people, shoving her head under their hands.  She's always been an attention hog, but it's gotten so bad my daughters are disgusted with her and are pushing her away.  Even my youngest who used to beg for the dog's attention. She is shoving people out of the way of her favorite spot to sleep (in front of the fireplace). Lucy (the dog) has begun to 'back talk', or grumble and snort when reprimanded.  When given the command to 'lay down' she will look at you and refuse to comply, or comply and back talk, or comply briefly.  She is more demanding when wanting back in the house and even goes so far as to stand under my bedroom window and bark incessantly until someone goes and gets her. She used to be happy outside for hours, but now she goes out, does her thing and demands to be immediately brought back in. She has literally become a 55 pound canine diva.  The only change that has been made in the family structure happened this summer, and that is that my boyfriend is now spending more time at our house.  I am wondering if Lucy is jealous, or feels misplaced somehow.

Lucy is allowed to sleep in my bed, on the couch, and has a blanket in the living room, but in no other bedroom, and she's been sneaking into my oldest's room (off limits because that is the cat's 'safe room'.).

I know she needs a lot of exercise, being the breed she is, and I do not reprimand her when she 'trees' something, or goes into protect the house mode, as that is what God designed her to do. I usually praise her for doing her job. There are not any agility courses in our area, and she is anti-social with other dogs as it is so dog parks are out of the question.  Temperatures are starting to get really cold out, and exercise is getting limited.  Her old owners tried crating her during the day, but they said she defecated and urinated in the crate, so they quit crating her.

I'm kind of at a loss with my girl here.  She's always been a bit head strong, but she's out of control now and I know it's behavioral, and I know she's trying to tell me something, I just don't know what.  What is she saying and how do I help her?  She's also an incessant licker.  As in, licks the couch or the carpet until there is a very large, very wet spot.  Sometimes there are several of these spots.  She is also prone to lick our hands, arms and legs like this.  But, she never licks herself like this.

Can you help?

Holly

ANSWER: It sounds like she needs a reminder course of manners. Even my own dog has gone through a couple of reminder courses in her day. Since she is seeming so excessively anxious, I would recommend a combo of both scheduled play/training time and scheduled do absolutely nothing time. It really is hard to say if she is acting out since your boyfriend is spending more time at the house; regardless she needs to relax. And one thing I'm going to tell you is something you might not want to hear and that's not allowing her to lay on your bed. Doing this shows her that she's equal and we need to remind her that is the family pet. Another approach to enforcing you as the alpha.

Initiating the scheduled play/training times and relax times are benefitial as she gets reminder lessons on manners as well as allowing herself to realize she doesn't have to have all the time be "her" time. When doing this all you do is place a leash on her without any slack and even a little shortened so she has no choice to lay down. I guarantee you will have a short war as she will have no clue what is going on or what is expected of her. She will be rewarded with calm attention or treat whenever she reaches a new plane of relaxing and will be reinforced by using a command of "good stay" or similar. This will retrain her brain that everything is not about her and she will even get a reward when she's doing absolutely nothing.

The hard part is what to do to manage her getting into things like food she shouldn't be having. I am a big fan of crate training, but the right way. I do want you to enforce this, but start with you in the house/area and completely ignoring her when she freaks out. I would start with allowing her to go and out and toss an occassional treat in there so she doesn't instantly hate it. Begin walking further away or outside and back in very casually and open the door nonchalantly and walk away without giving her any attention. What we're programming her brain to realize is that there is no reason to freak out and the day will go on.

Please keep me posted and any behavior/activity change to know how to continue with the training.  

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thanks for the help!  I do have a few training questions then.  I am NOT looking forward to this...  LOL!  I've read in certain blogs that you put the leash on and then attach it to your waist and make them go with you and wait for your attention and your permission to do things.  Is this something you're suggesting?  I am not clear on what you mean by the scheduled leash on with no slack time.  With the crate training, how big of one do I get?  I am 5' 9" and she hits me at about my knee or slightly higher, she's about lab length as well, maybe a bit shorter and is roughly 55 pounds.  Not sure about the size and do I start by just leaving the door open when I'm home, put in her blanket that she sleeps on and a treat to 'lure her in'?  How do I work up to being able to put her in the crate for long periods of time?  I am out of the house weekdays from 6:30 am to between 4 and 6 p.m.  Would I crate her overnight as well to break the sleeping on mom's bed habit?  Would you suggest me putting her in it for awhile for the 'relax time' and ignoring the freak out behavior and rewarding the calm behavior while in the crate?  I am sorry I have so many questions.  I do know I need to walk her more even if it's cold out.  She loves it so much and it's so good for her (and me if I admit it) and she's been good about staying in the yard for a while now which usually means she's due to break away and run off for awhile.  Any advice or suggestions on training her and the crate would be so very appreciated it!

Holly

Answer
Don't be afraid of training. Think of it as playtime and lesson time for the both of you! As far as the crate size, it needs to be just big enough for her to stand up and turn around- and no bigger. If it's big enough for her to use it as a bathroom as well, she might take you up on that. And you are correct. Start with leaving the door open and have her blanket and a toy or treat so she doesn't think of it has the "bad place." It's perfectly okay to lure/force her in their if she absolutely refuses to even look at it. But hold onto her until she quits resisting...which could take a few minutes...then reward her for being in it with a treat and allow her to stay in there a few seconds before actually walking away and letting her loose.

It could take a little while, but you will be able to walk away longer and longer the more she gets used to the idea of having her own little area. And yes, it's perfectly okay to have her in it overnight.

As far as the forced relax time, if you can place a leash on her while she's already laying down is perfect, but the object is to only give enough leash slack to make her stay in the laying down position, then reward every time she gets a little more relaxed. I'm not opposed to the relax time in the crate, but you might find quicker results with the leash. And not such a potential headache as well. :)

As far as the question regarding the leash around the waist; I do that for dogs that insist on pulling and it's far easier than trying to have a constant pull on them. The goal is the same- you always want them to know that "when you say stop, it means stop, and if you try and pull, we don't go anywhere."  

Canine Behavior

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Melissa Burg, RVT/Behavior Consultant

Expertise

I have experience with multiple obedience issues, including anxiety, different types of aggression, introductions to a new pet and basic obedience situations, such as housebreaking, excessive leash pulling and excessive barking. There are several approaches to each behavior issue, depending on the animal's environment, as well as the breed, sex and age. I can also help you decide whether the problem sounds medical or behavioral.

Experience

I recently graduated with a Veterinary Technician degree with an emphasis in behavior and obedience training. I spent 5 years working in animal shelters where I trained shelter dogs in basic obedience and corrected behavior issues and educated adopting owners how to continue the training at home.

Publications
"Pawfect Pets;" a weekly column on canine and feline health and behavior tips.

Education/Credentials
Associate's Degree in Veterinary Technology from Des Moines Area Community College in Ankeny, Iowa.

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