Canine Behavior/Dislike of the office
QUESTION: Hello, we adopted a 4 year old Labrador just over 3 months ago. On the whole, she is doing very well with settling in, but there is a particular situation where she is struggling. My partner takes her to work with him each day - he works in a small office, 11 employees who all love having her there. She has a bed in the office, water and her favourite toys are all available to her. Unfortunately, she just doesn't like the office. My partner has tried playing with her, giving her toys and chews to keep her occupied, and done all of her favourite things from home at work to try and make her happy, but she just doesn't seem to like it. She has a walk before work, let out mid morning, walk at lunch-time, let out mid afternoon and another walk in the evening once I'm also home from work. She generally refuses to get out of the car at work - we have slightly fixed this problem by feeding her breakfast in the office so she is slightly more enthusiastic to get out, but it still takes a lot of encouragement. Is there anything we can do to try and get her to like the office more and settle there? We are struggling to understand why she has such different responses to home and the office given we've been taking her to the office for as long as she has known our house! Many thanks in advance for your help.
ANSWER: We have absolutely no way of knowing what happened to this dog before you adopted her (and God bless you for that). It appears to me that she is being "flooded". This means: exposed to too many people, too much activity. This explains her response.
I understand the logic that it's far better for her to be with your partner rather than at home,alone. But this just isn't working. Will it improve? Well for three months it appears she has not improved. So I think her constant exposure to this environment might be actually increasing her anxiety. Is it possible for your partner to take a break at lunch time and bring her back home, leaving her in the kitchen with a Buster Cube (dispenses small portion of food), soft bed, water, and radio on classical music station? You can continue to feed her MORNING portion of her two daily meals at work; however, as much as this might seem to encourage her to go there, it may actually inadvertently be rewarding her fear. And making her first meal very uncomfortable.
Since she is refusing to get out of the car at work, this appears to be response perseverance: a dog that was not properly socialized to people is highly anxious when surrounded by people, no matter how loving they are. I suggest that her morning "visit" to the work place should include EVERYONE TOTALLY IGNORING HER. Your partner should not offer treats, play with her, give her toys or chews; her anxiety is high and she does not perceive these things as rewarding except for reward of her FEAR and anxiety.
It appears your partner might be a "boss"; in that case, s/he can leave to go back home (if the distance is not far) to let her out during mid-day, then offer the Buster Cube and casually (without saying a word or making eye contact) leave the home.
Perhaps you should attempt this, if possible, for a few weeks. Then report back, using followup feature, to tell me how she is doing alone at home with a visit from your partner mid-day. She can then be habituated to the work place on weekends, slowly, when no one else is there, for short periods extending to an hour PLUS. Also: I suggest you find a positive reinforcement training venue (check credentials of the trainers, be certain they are certified, and observe a "social" class at least twice before bringing the dog.) Basic positive reinforcement training, or socialization, class will introduce to her a number of people with dogs and help her make the adjustment to being "surrounded" by "strangers". Slowly, this can help her to habituate to "strangers" in "large" numbers. After three months, she has not done a turn-around; this will take some finesse in order to change it. I often ask people to do things and use followup to report back and 8 out of 10 never do it. So please don't be a drop out. ;o)
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
Many thanks for your detailed response - it certainly gave us a lot to consider. The main thing is - she's got a lot better!! We weren't able to do all the things that you suggested, but were for example able to take her in to the office at weekends with just us to help her get used to it. We were able to help her get excited and see it as a happy place, rather than a boring place which is good.
She is a bit useless with her kong...we have tried at home with every filling we can think of and she seemingly just can't be bothered, and gives up if she can't get it all out within about a minute. She doesn't live up to her labrador name in that respect!
We have moved her bed away from my partners desk to nearer the front door as she kept going there anyway. This seems to have helped her, and she shows no inclination to want to run out the door at all anymore - we had to be a little careful to start. We think it's a little quieter over there as it isn't within the people moving around, and also she likes looking out the window.
Although she still doesn't jump out the car, once she has been lifted or encouraged (with a lot of work!) out, she is perfectly happy and trots into the office happily.
One thing that has happened since my last message is that she was treated for a worm caused by dirty water (can't remember what it's called) - although she wasn't confirmed as having had it, our vet said that she was showing a few signs and is something she easily could've picked up before being rescued. We have also started giving her pro-biotic yoghurt once a day. This seems to have coincided with her calming down (anxiety wise) and also being less itchy which is great - although we're not 100% sure whether it was these things that helped.
In terms of strangers, she is getting better with this too. Less so with men, but she has still improved a little with men. It's an ongoing project to get her better with strangers!
All in all she's doing much better, thank you for your help and advice. Hopefully we and she will continue to make progress!
I am glad to see that some of the counter conditioning I suggested appears to be working. When any dog refuses a "treat" (you say she is not interested in her "kong") that is a sign of anxiety. However, from your report back (AND THANK YOU FOR THAT, MOST PEOPLE DON'T DO IT, and I have no idea why not), she seems to be improving. BE CERTAIN the improvement continues; if you begin to see signs of former anxiety, STOP, and re-post. I think you must have at least one Follow Up post available. So far, so good. We don't expect miracles; counter conditioning takes time and patience.