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Monday, 22 June 2009

Mind games

I have a lovely 15-month-old GSD-collie cross called Kye. I have only had him for four months but he has come on in leaps and bounds. When I first got him he was not lead-trained but now he walks beautifully to heel. He lived with three other dogs so any dog he saw in the street he would bounce and bark at them, but now he can walk past with just a sniff and a hello. He loves people and children so I couldn't ask for a better dog.
Kye is a very active dog. He is taken for a two hour walk in the morning and a two hour walk in the afternoon, but still wants to play - definitely the collie in him. So to keep his mind active he has a Dog Pyramid, which he now throws against a wall to get the treats out, and two different Kongs, from which he can remove the treats in seconds. I have also enrolled him in an agility course which we attend every Monday.
However, whenever he is left alone he will destroy everything he can get his teeth on. We learnt the hard way with paper so now all objects are kept out of the way. But he has now started on the furniture, even when we are in the house and he's not getting enough attention. How can we stop this? I also wondered if there is anything that can keep his mind active without using food as I worry about him putting on weight now that he has been castrated.
Jess Ottaway, by email

Carol Price, trainer and behaviourist, advises:
There are probably several issues going on with Kye, given that, as a rescued/rehomed dog you won’t know everything about his past life or problems. Do you think, for instance, that his tendency towards destructive behaviour is the reason why his previous owners got rid of him?
Kye may come across as ‘high maintenance’, but an alternative possibility that immediately strikes me is that he is actually being consistently over-stimulated. The amount of exercise you give Kye is to be commended, but in your quest to constantly ‘keep his mind active’ you could just be over-doing it!
The more you stimulate—physically and mentally—breeds like collies or GSDs, the more of an adrenalin buzz they get, and the more stimulation they will then seek and desire in order to sustain this aroused state of mind. It becomes, in short, a highly addictive behaviour pattern for them. When your dog is constantly over-aroused in this way, his body is also coursing with stress hormones, which shut down the calmer ‘thinking’ part of his brain. This in turn makes it ever harder for him to settle down again, or concentrate on and respond to any commands you may give him.
So many collies, in particular, that I see are condemned as ‘manic’ or ‘hyper’ simply because their owners do not understand this psychological quirk in such an energetic working breed. They either over-stimulate their dogs with constant ball and chase games, or allow their dogs to endlessly self-stimulate through eyeing/chasing other things.
It’s also important to understand that the more attention and stimulation you give to a dog when he is over-aroused, the more you are perpetually exacerbating this behaviour and rewarding him for being in the ‘wrong’ frame of mind.
Thus a priority for you, right now, is to stop looking for even further ways to stimulate Kye, and concentrate instead on training him to be a calmer dog, who will settle down more readily on command. By using destructiveness to get your attention, Kye is also showing very controlling behaviour. This in turn is because you have not, yourself, set any better limits on the way he behaves.
The first thing you should do is get an indoor kennel that you will make into a special ‘den’ for Kye. Make sure this kennel is sizeable enough for him to easily stand up in and move around in, and that it is placed somewhere quiet, with fewest possible sources of stimulation or human coming and goings.
Cover the top and surrounding three sides of this kennel with a blanket, and put some less destructible fleece bedding inside, plus a chew item such as a Nylabone to keep him occupied. This special ‘den’ is where you are going to ask Kye to go whenever you want him to settle down, especially after a walk—when he may still otherwise keep buzzing—plus at night, when you go out or whenever he indulges in more manic or destructive behaviour.
Get Kye used to this kennel gradually, by initially feeding him his meals in it, with the door left open. Then move on to getting Kye to lie down in the kennel and stay down—again with the door left open. As he is lying down and staying down, say the words ‘settle’, then really praise him well and give him a tasty treat for complying. Then try to get him to ‘settle’ in this way for ever longer periods of time in the kennel—still with the door left open—always remembering to praise him fulsomely each time he co-operates and give him a treat.
Next, try shutting the kennel door while Kye is lying down. If he makes a fuss and immediately tries to get out, totally ignore this—however long it takes. Only as soon as Kye is quiet again, say the word ‘settle’ again while he is lying down, then immediately open the kennel door, praise him and give him a treat.
If dogs are not used to indoor kennels, you have to progress in this painstaking way to avoid them freaking out. Once you do get dogs used to being in an indoor kennel, however, they can often then get to love them as their own special and secure refuge areas. Kye has to be taught not only that he cannot have access to you all the time, but also that when you ask him to go into his kennel and say ‘settle’, there will never be any more stimulation, or attention from you, again unless he does settle and remains quiet.
I would also ask Kye to go to his kennel overnight. Everytime he remains settled in his kennel always remember to praise him. To date all you have been doing is reward Kye, with attention and other goodies, for being manic. Now you have to turn all these rewards on to him being settled instead.
Please also get rid of all the treat dispensing devices. Use food/treats only ever as a reward for Kye in return for him complying with some command from you that keeps his behaviour calmer—e.g.’ sit and wait’, ‘down and wait’, or ‘settle’(as outlined above). And keep drawing out the amount of time Kye has to ‘sit/wait’, ‘down/wait’ or ‘settle’ before being rewarded with praise and/or a treat.
At home, also put any toys away. Use these only when you are out with Kye. Once you have allowed a dog to expect, and demand, endless play at home, through persistently pestering you, you have not only made a rod for your own back but also have the makings of a dog who will find it ever harder to settle down again.
One more thing; do please ensure that none of the food or treats you give Kye contain any artificial colourings or additives whatsoever, as these can make some dogs far more hyped up in their behaviour. The same can be said of a canine diet that is too high in protein.
I do hope this advice gives you a better idea of what may be going wrong with Kye and that you can now work towards having a dog who is a lot easier to live with!

Hi Jess,
Well I have got to say it is lovely to hear a dog owner be so dedicated to their dog. You seem to be giving Kye plenty of exercise and mental stimulation, which is so good to see. In my job I see plenty of dogs chewing because of boredom and frustration and its so sad, especially when owners say they don't have time. Well normally I like to meet the dog and get a full picture on the problem, but being a fan of the Dogs Today Think Tank here are some training tips that may help..

First things first, remove all toys from the floor and garden. If toys are left lying around for picking up and chewing when Kye likes then he may not learn to respect other objects. Provide a toy box with a lid and he can have his toys when he is training or working with you i.e. Agility or going on your walks and Kongs and Nylabones for his 'being left routine' which I will go into shortly when talking about crate training.

Have you considered crate training? If you get a suitably sized crate for Kye and train him to go into it happily, this will help prevent chewing with you out of the house and help break that habit. He is still a young, adolescent dog and needs to simply learn the rules of your home. You can then go out and leave Kye in his crate with a nylabone to chew and a kong. This will be his treat times, so you going is actually positive. Try being adventurous with the Kong and fill with some biscuits and smooth peanut butter. You can then freeze it, and it will take him longer to get it out.

If are going to crate train for the first time, begin by setting it up in a quiet position and cover it with a blanket on the top to make it cosy. Encourage him to go in and explore it - place his bed in there for him. Toss in some treats, make it a pleasant experience. You can also feed him in there and give him a Kong in there. Gradually do this and shut the door and let him out after he has eaten. Build up the pleasant experience by leaving him a bit longer. You basically want him to see this as his safe place and not a punishment area. Crate training is an excellent tool for training and does not have to be a permanent fixture but sometimes dogs end up loving their new bedroom! Remember that a crate should not be abused in any way by leaving a dog in their all day long without a toilet break and stretch of the legs, so a lunchtime home visit is always recommended if you go out to work during the day. If you cannot get home, maybe a neighbour or local dog walker can assist.

Let me just go back to your exercise routine - he is certainly getting plenty of exercise and because he is there is no reason for him to learn to 'chill out' at home. It has been known that people keep their dogs so active and in the home with playing games that the dog doesn't know how to relax, they begin to attention seek even more. This could be your case. Are you playing lots of games at home as well? His chewing with you in the home could actually be attention seeking or frustration for the need to do something. What I recommend is you teach him the home is a place to come and relax. Try teaching a settle command -

So what is the settle command? Whenever we stop to talk to someone in the street, sit down in the vet's waiting room or just when we sit down in the evening to watch a favourite TV programme we want our dogs to be well behaved and sit or lay down quietly beside us. If we give him a specific command such as "sit", it is likely that after a few minutes he will either get up or lay down thus desensitising him to the command. We could of course insist that our dog stays in that exact position for the duration of our period of rest but in fairness this is unreasonable in most cases and virtually impossible in some! The average dog will find it uncomfortable to stay in one position for any length of time and with larger breeds it could even be damaging to force them to stay in a sit for long periods.

With the "settle" we are only insisting the dog is quiet, calm and relaxed. He is allowed to shift positions to make him-self comfortable. As long as the dog remains on the floor sitting, laying down or shifting from one position to the other are all acceptable.

To best practice the settle your dog needs to have a lead or house line attached. To start with it is easiest if the handler sits comfortably in a chair. The lead should be passed under the soles of the handler's feet and the end then kept in the hand. The lead should be comfortably long enough to allow the dog to stand, sit or lie down but not long enough for the dog to move away from the handler nor to jump up. You will need a good supply of small tasty treats or even better use his dinner allowance for this and have it in a pot next to you. Now we can simply ignore our dog until he offers us a calm "settled" behaviour, this may happen straight away or may take several minutes. As soon as the behaviour is offered, immediately reward the dog with a treat and the verbal reinforcement of "settle". If the dog instantly gets up then simply ignore again until another "settled" behaviour occurs, once it does then reward again. If the dog remains "settled" then we need to keep the rewards coming, don't be mean we want to teach the dog that staying in this position is indeed a very rewarding thing to do. As the dog starts to get the idea, we can start to leave gradually increasing gaps between rewards.

It is best to give food rewards on the floor, we want being on the floor to be the rewarding place to be, not clamoring for the owners hands.

If practiced regularly we should soon have a dog that can remain "settled" for 20 to 30 minutes easily. Remember not to nag the dog, we simply ignore him if he gets up, we are teaching him the best way to get our attention is to "settle".

Another thought what is Kye like being left - have you actually monitored his behaviour? Is he showing signs of stress before you leave? Does he bark, whine or cry? I am wondering if he is actually anxious about you leaving the house. Sometimes this is where chewing behaviour can begin. To be sure, it is a good idea to try and set up a video camera of him when you leave the house and observe his behaviour. If you are in doubt a good reputable trainer that uses kind and positive methods would be able to help you or and of course you are welcome to contact me.

Finally, because you are concerned with the amount of food that you are giving him, you can monitor this by reducing the amount of dinner he gets to compensate the treats he is being given or of course use his daily dinner allowance for training. Good training treats are; boiled chicken, ham, cheese (not too much), hot dog sausages or home made tuna cake.

I hope this helps and you get to see some improvement in Kye very soon, he sounds like a fantastic dog. Best of luck. Emma Collings (School For Paws Dog Training)

June Williams, COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers, says…
The more exercise you give collies and collie types, the more they want. You need to teach him to settle down and enjoy a chill out time. I would find a clicker trainer to help and clicker training will stimulate the brain. Be careful that you are not rewarding any attention seeking behaviour; eye contact, telling off. Use time-out instead. You can stuff a Kong so that it takes a dog 40 minutes plus to eat, especially if you freeze it. Push something very yummy in the end and then jam in large biscuit type items that need work to dislodge, interspersed with tantalizing yummies. Give him something to rip apart when you leave him; wine cardboard boxes that do not have metal staples, dog food bags. You can put small treats inside that he has to find. All you have to do is clear up when you come home. You will not be teaching him to destroy human items, but you will be giving him something to do. Nina Ottosson makes fantastic dog puzzles.

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