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Canine Behavior/My dog benji

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QUESTION: Hi, I have a female shih tzu, who is 5 years old.  She is very quiet all these years, she barely barks at all.  However, over the past week almost every night and sometimes days she is barking at the hallway in my house as though she is seeing a ghost!!!  This is freaking me out.  She also sits on the hallway and stairs at this one place as though she is seeing something!!!  During this time, she wants to go out through the back door and once I let her out she just sits on the grass and does not want to come in!!!
She usually sleeps with me upstairs in my bedroom, but she refuses to come upstairs, every time I bring her up, she goes back downstairs and lays on the rug by the place in question!!!
I must add that around morning or before that she does come to the bedroom and sleeps with me.
I thought I had a mouse so I went and got mouse traps and everything else but no mouse at all
Any help would be greatly appreciate it very much.

ANSWER: Whenever we see a sudden behavior change, the first order of business is a complete vet exam. We need to make sure there is no medical cause for the sudden change. At 5 years old, your dog is only just entering middle age so I wouldn't be particularly concerned with cognitive decline as we see in senior dogs. But she could be experiencing any number of other health issues from vision issues to hearing to hormone levels. I'm not a vet and could not diagnose in this forum even if I were. But if my dog were suddenly behaving oddly and I couldn't immediately determine the trigger for the behavior, I would schedule a vet check. I'd rather spend the money for a clean bill of health than find out later there was something I missed and could have easily treated.

Now, we should consider if there are easily identifiable triggers. . .

If the dog is showing special attention to one particular place (wall), then the most likely thing is that there is or was something in that wall. The idea of a mouse is a good one. It could also have been a rat or some other small critter (too big for a mouse trap). It's also possible that what she heard the first day, that prompted her to bark, is actually no longer there but she thinks it might be.

You may want to have a pest control person out to inspect - just to be sure. I'd have them look for anything from small mammals to bee hives to termites as she may be smelling or hearing something that you're just not yet aware of. Heck, she may even be smelling mold growing if there's a water pipe behind that wall that could have a leak. Or she could be hearing the water leaking from that pipe (if there's a leaky pipe back there).

Here's the tricky part - it may have nothing to do with the wall at all. It could be that she heard something one night that startled her and she happened to be in that spot (possibly even looking at that wall) when she was startled, and now she's associated that area with the thing that startled her and is acting strangely because of it.

What has your weather been like this past week compared to the previous several weeks? Has there been a change in barometric pressure? Humidity up or down noticeably? Thunder storms? Have you had critters out at night (local wildlife) wandering the neighborhood? Has there been any change in your house such as someone moving in or out? Has there been any change to your schedule such as a new job or new shift? Has there been any construction in your home or anywhere in the neighborhood? Have you rearranged any furniture or gotten new furniture? Painted any walls?

Any of these things, and others that might seem totally innocuous to you, may have caused your dog to feel stressed.

When she begins barking, how do you respond? And how does she respond to you? Can you interrupt the behavior and distract her with something else? If you bring her to your room and close the door with her in the room with you, how does she behave? Does she settle down or does she become agitated, wanting to get back to that part of the house to bark?

If this were my dog who has been deemed healthy by a recent vet check, and I was sure there was nothing living in my walls, I would first try to distract her with something interesting to occupy her such as a Bully Stick to chew on or a game of fetch or tug or cuddle time with me. Maybe even a leashed walk around the block. If I can distract her with some other enjoyable activity, then I would set my alarm so that I can get ahead of her usual barking episode to try to break this new and strange habit. If she's barking every evening around 8pm, then I'd set my alarm for about 7.45pm and at that time, I'd set her up with an activity that will occupy her until at least 8.30. This may require more than one activity such as a game with me for 10-20 minutes followed by a chew item like a Bully Stick or marrow bone.

It may be as easy as distracting her away from the activity for a couple weeks to eliminate this new and odd behavior. Preventing her from practicing the behavior by distracting her with other activities before she begins barking will produce the fastest elimination of the behavior if there's no actual trigger for it present anymore. If you wait until she begins barking to distract her, it will slow the process down as she's still getting to practice that behavior.

It's also possible that since it's only a week old (this behavior) that it may disappear on its own just as quickly as it started - especially if the trigger is some temporary environmental thing such as a weather pattern or nearby construction. This becomes less likely as she gets more practice at it.

So, the first order of business is a complete vet exam to rule out any medical reasons for the sudden behavior change. If she gets a clean bill of health, the next step is to set her up for success by occupying her with activities that prevent her hanging out in that area, barking. Activities such as chew objects (e.g. bully sticks) may help as she enjoys chewing on those, she can't also bark at the same time. Activities that take her focus may be useful as playing Tug (uses her mouth so she can't bark) or Fetch allow her to focus on engagement with you rather than focusing on that particular area of the house.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to followup if I can be of any further assistance.

Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist
http://NutzAboutMutz.com




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

QUESTION: Thank you so much for your response, the notion of a spirit is it a silly thinking?
do dogs really see ghosts? or its all part of their behaviors sometimes.
by the way I really really appreciate you helping me.

I can tell you this, we saw a mouse few nights ago sneaking under our deck outside but the deck and where she is barking at are kind of far.
The strange thing is, when I let her out during these barking periods she does not want to come back in.
As you asked, I have brought her back in the bedroom and closed the door and she seem very very uneased and keep scratching the door and wants to get out and get back downstairs and be around where she barks at.
Also the weather have been good...a little chilly in the morning only...no thunderstorm or even rain for weeks....I have not move any furniture or have not bought anything new either.

Thanks so much again for your help.

Answer
Since we don't know if ghosts or spirits really exist, there's no way to know if dogs can see them. When we look at odd behaviors, it's important to start with the simplest explanations.

In this case, you saw a mouse recently heading under your deck. It's likely that they're nesting under there or from under the deck they are accessing the crawl space of your house and thus getting into the walls.

Since you actually saw 1 mouse, you can assume there are at least several living under/in your home at this time. This then becomes the simplest explanation for what is causing your dog her current stress. Mice are also active at night and sleep during the day and so it makes sense that it is at night that your dog is more stressed about it. It's possible that they have built a nest just inside that wall where she's barking. Maybe she's hearing them move around. Maybe there are newly born babies squeaking back there that's just too soft for you to hear.

I would have a pest control company come out and check and then have them mouse/rat proof the home. This is a process where they set up traps inside to catch whatever is in the walls/attic/crawl space. They also go around the entire house and cover any holes they find that are large enough for a mouse to get through with a heavy gauge metal that the mice can't chew through. They then come back every couple days to check the traps they've laid out until they stop catching anything.

We had to rat proof my house a few years ago after we saw one on our kitchen counter in the middle of the night!!!! After covering all possible access points, and checking traps daily or every other day for 10 days, they only caught one or two rats and we've been rat free ever since.

As an animal lover, I never want to harm a living critter, but there are safety and health factors that we need to address and it's just not feasible to do a catch-and-release program with rodents. So in this situation, the best option is the rodent proofing of your home so that you can get rid of them. Once the walls are empty, I expect your dog will settle down again.

Good luck.

Jody, CPDT-KA, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist
http://NutzAboutMutz.com

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, CPDT- KA, APDT

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IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 5 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com/ If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.

Experience

I have been professionally modifying behavior and training obedience for 7 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I have just changed the name of my business. It is no longer Good Dog! Dog Training. The new name is Nutz About Mutz!. If you see previous questions with the Good Dog! website information, that is my response.

Organizations
I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications
http://NutzAboutMutz.com ; http://CashewsCorner.wordpress.com ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

Education/Credentials
I have a graduate education in animal behavior and learning. (While I completed my coursework and did the requisite research, I did not defend a dissertation. I am qualified, but not certified and so technically not a doctor. This is commonly referred to as Ph.D.-ABD which means All But Dissertation.) My educational focus was with non-human primates, but my personal interest is with domestic dogs and their relationships with humans and other animals. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences.

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