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Canine Behavior/Obsessive snffing

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Question
Hello, I have a very fit and healthy 11 year old springer spaniel who has recently started sniffing the ground in the garden obsessively.  He has always been a very greedy dog, but he has even been known to sniff past his meal time which in unheard of.  He behaves completely normally on his daily walks and in the house, and does not seem stressed in any way.  Our garden has lawn and a wooded area, he sniffs it all, without ever finding anything or trying to dig.  We now keep him out of the garden which is such a shame as he has always loved it - do you have any ideas?  (he is going very deaf, so verbal commands etc don't really work).

Answer
First:  information on how to cross-train a dog (change training regimen totally) for any reason, this link designed for dogs that are deaf:

http://www.deafdogs.org/training/

Now: the Springer Spaniel is a hunting breed that relies heavily on all three senses: sight, hearing, scent.  Your dog is now deaf and unable to rely upon his hearing; other senses are now exaggerated, especially scent since his eyesight is also most likely changing (normal in older dogs).  The sniffing in the garden area is an obsessive compulsive behavior at this point which is extremely rewarding to him for some reason (since he sniffs through his meal time).

It does not appear to me that your dog is presently "enjoying" this behavior in the garden.  Therefor, it is not as big a loss to him if you keep him out of the area while you re-train him using cues and techniques you can find in the above link.  There is also a clicker related portion found at that link:

http://www.deafdogs.org/training/

Your dog is most likely scenting things you cannot see or hear (little visitors underground or a trail left by night time visitors such as possum, raccoon, deer, etc.)  The Springer Spaniel is rarely a "digger".  The fact that he behaves normally on LEASHED WALKS tells me he has most likely disconnected cognition from this "seeking" behavior in the garden.

Until you have introduced the new training, take him out, on leash; do not turn him out into the garden, it will only reinforce his acquired obsession.  I also suggest you find a veterinary behaviorist who will be able to assess not only your dog's hearing loss but also any loss of vision and his cognition; leashing a dog is not merely a physical restraint, it is also psychological and emotional.  This means your dog feels more secure with you at the other end of his leash; if his sight is compromised, this is of great comfort to him.  (BTW...a totally blind dog can make his/her way around a well known home environment with absolutely no clue to the owner that the dog cannot see.)  You can find a veterinary behaviorist by calling the veterinary teaching college in your geographical area or from the following:

http://www.veterinarybehaviorists.org/

If his hearing AND sight are both impaired, it is far kinder to keep leash walking the dog.  I strongly suggest a sophisticated veterinary assessment.  

Canine Behavior

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.

Expertise

I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.

Experience

30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for ThePetChannel.com for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, K9Shrinks@egroups.com. Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Organizations
Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Publications
Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Education/Credentials
Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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