Saturday, 17 January 2009

The Animal Behaviourist

And now a word or a thousand about Jake's appointment with the animal behaviourist.

We drove Jake to the vet school teaching hospital where the AB showed us into a room with three vet students and another woman, whose function I never determined.

I thought she'd start off asking us about our concerns and had written some notes to take with me. She didn't. She started by asking us all sorts of questions about Jake: why we wanted a dog, why we chose a Border Collie, where we got him, where he sleeps, eats, is allowed in the house, how much time he spends alone in the day, who feeds him and when he gets fed, what other animals are in the house and how old are they, how many children in the house and how old are they, how much contact he's had with other dogs and when, how he behaves toward visitors to the house. She asked if we ever used spray bottles on Jake. I said we had for a short time when he was a puppy, but abandoned the idea because it didn't seem to work. She asked if he messed in the house at all. I said he hadn't messed in the house since I got the puppy crate. She asked if he chewed furniture. I said he did for about two weeks, then stopped. All this time she took notes and observed Jake and us as well.

Jake, for his part, seemed completely at a loss as to why he was there and alternated between hubby and me, sticking his nose in our hands, jumping on hubby, barking at the door occasionally. He didn't venture far from us for a very long time. When he did, he sniffed around the AB's shoes, then peed on her. I shouted no, Jake ran back and hid behind our chairs, ears back. AB calmly got up, got some paper towels and spray and cleaned the mess. He was marking his territory, she said. She found his reaction most interesting.

She asked if loud noises bothered Jake (they do) and chastised us for having a fireworks party at our house. Her words were, "You have a dog and you had a fireworks party?" Then she got to the nitty gritty of the biting incidents, the pulling on the lead, and the aggression toward other dogs.

First of all, I hold my hand up and plead guilty to reading this dog completely wrong. He is not by nature a dominant dog and doesn't need to be treated as one who needs to know who's boss. He knows who is boss (me). He is a very anxious, insecure dog who also has had quite a bit of trauma in his short life due to the hip dysplasia and other factors. When his ears are back and he is acting attention-starved, this shows his anxiety and lack of confidence. My shouting at him when he barks at door, speaking sternly to him when he growls, very occasionally rolling up a magazine when nothing else will make him do what I want are exactly the wrong things to do. (I hasten to add I have never hit this dog with magazine or anything else.)

Two of the biting incidents -- the vet surgeon and once when he bit hubby because another dog had attacked when he was on the lead -- were due to fear. The others were anxiety-driven, she said. He is not a malicious dog. Well, I knew that. He's a sweetheart. She thinks he's still in pain, particularly on the left side. When I told her and the vet students that he had had no cartilage left on his left hip when they operated, we all nearly cried. This is a dog who has suffered and is still suffering.

Some of the aggression towards other dogs is normal dog behaviour. Most of it is because he doesn't trust other dogs. This probably started when I took him to obedience training classes before I knew about the hip dysplasia. A lab puppy did what boisterous lab puppies do and jumped on him while he was on the lead. No wonder he doesn't like lab puppies. Another border collie barked incessantly during the classes. He only liked the quiet chihuahua next to him. And he still prefers small dogs. Like other hip dysplastic dogs, he is sensitive and protective of his back area. And where do all dogs go to sniff other dogs? She said aggression toward other dogs was common in dogs with hip dysplasia.

She asked what I'd tried to stop the pulling on the lead. I reeled them off: harness, two Haltis (shredded in minutes), a whistle apparatus, turning the opposite way whenever he started pulling, and most recently treats. She said the pulling wasn't a training problem; it's a behaviour problem. I'd already suspected that.

So, the solutions. No more shouting, rolled-up newspapers, or other negative reinforcers. But also no more cuddling and kissing. Dogs don't lick to show affection. In his case, it's another manifestation of his anxiety and leads to overexcitedness, which could in extreme cases lead to more biting. She gave us a DAP diffuser, which contains pheromones that a female dog releases when she is nursing puppies. The pheromones calm the puppies so they nurse better. Jake, and we, have been calmer since we plugged it in. She gave us a clicker to use with treats as a positive reinforcer of secure, confident behaviour. Example: He keeps nudging us to pet him. We ignore him till he gives up, then we press the clicker and give him a treat. He loves this.

We are to walk him only in wide, open spaces like the beach so he doesn't feel trapped and confined if he comes across another dog. We use the clicker with treats every time he passes a dog with no incident. This way he will come to associate something good with other dogs and gain more confidence with them. We aren't to use the muzzle or keep him on the lead as these will reinforce the negative feelings. We are also to take him back for another session at the vet hospital with one of their dogs so he can gain more confidence with other dogs.

He is to be fitted with a Halti harness and we are to bring him back to the vet hospital for a session with the trainer there on how to use it.

He is to see a pain specialist at the vet hospital to assess his pain and put him on appropriate medication.

I'm also to stop watching "The Dog Whisperer."

We emerged three and a half hours later exhausted. The appointment was only supposed to last two and a half hours and any additional time was to be charged. I think she took pity on us when she found out we weren't insured when Jake had his surgeries and that the insurance probably wouldn't cover her either as I'd already consulted with the vet about the biting before we got it. I kept thinking "Kerching!" every time she mentioned another appointment.

I have some advice to anyone out there reading this who is thinking of getting a dog. Don't be cheap. And don't go to a farm in North Wales. This £30 bundle of love has turned into a very expensive dog.

But he's worth it.

I'm also thinking of getting a clicker and treats for my son. Every time he does well in school, he gets a treat. It might work.

18 comments:

-Ann said...

I'm glad to hear it went well and that you have some strategies and solid advice. Good luck with it!

softinthehead said...

I feel for you, it is a tough situation, especially when he is in pain, you obviously want to forgive him everything - wishing you the best of luck. I expect the appointment has helped just telling you want to expect.

Fire Byrd said...

That sounds fantastic to be able to get to the bottom of Jakes behaviour and all of you learning together. Lets here it for a clicker.
xx

laurie said...

wow. nearly four hours. good for her AND you.

she sounds very smart and sensible.

Kaycie said...

Sounds like you have found just the thing. Fingers crossed!

Henry the Leaphound said...

Oh goodness, my Other Half recently aquired a Border Collie pup and all I do is worry about what sort of dog he will grow into. Thank you for posting about Jake, it's made me feel allot more positive about dealing with any issues we may or may not come accross with our wee pup.

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

-ann: The hard part now is following it.

softinthehead: Yes, it has.

Fire Byrd: I think the whole family and Jake need group therapy.

laurie: She was so much better than I thought she'd be.

Kaycie: But now I have to get the rest of the family on board.

DogLover said...

Most enlightening! I'm on my eighth dog and still learning!

What a sensible sounding woman and I'm very impressed at how much of the advice you have remembered. As you say, it'll be hard going to follow it all, but good luck.

Good luck with your son, too. The clicker may not prove so successful as the rolled up magazine ...

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

Henry: I was so naive about getting this dog. BUt now we have him so I have to do the right thing for him. Border collies are fantastically loyal, easily trained, very intelligent dogs. That intelligence can be their downfall too. You have to keep them occupied physically and mentally or they go a bit berserk. Poor Jake has had his physical activity curtailed a bit because of his hips, which made him very neurotic, I'm sure.

Doglover: I might use the magazine on my son now. This woman had such great insights into not only dogs, but also people.

Coachdad said...

Tricks and treats do work. I know being rewarded for good behavior works wonders for my student. What a great site you have.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

It's not an easy task having a dog is it! But you're right, they are worth it and I'm sure Jake is no exception. Collies are incredibly intelligent creatures and need a lot more stimulation than many other breeds. Just attending an appointment like this has shown how committed you are to making sure Jake has a wonderful life. And you remain bite free!!!

Take care,
CJ xx

Flowerpot said...

well done yuo for going to all this trouble. I think all dogs are worth it but many wouldn't dream of it. GOOD FOR YOU! Jake will end up one happy dog - and you will all be so much happier too.

Expat mum said...

Tell her I'm shipping my three (kids, that is) over next week!

lady macleod said...

Good for you. I bet he will be a joy for many years to come - and so will the dog once he is more calm and used to the clicker

Mean Mom said...

Such an interesting post. It's good to meet someone who talks good sense, isn't it? I'm glad that the visit went well.

Sorry about all of the expense.

I do hope that you see some good results. It sounds as if you already have, to some extent!

Those clickers sound great! I'm wondering how I could use one. Husband perhaps?

MBNAD woman said...

Hello - you have been tagged for a lovely blog award by Mossie's MBNAD woman. Enjoy!

wakeupandsmellthecoffee said...

coachdad: Thank you very much. Yep, the old saying you catch more flies with honey than vinegar is true.

CJ: I'm bite-free probably because I move quicker than my hubby. Hope things are going well for you.

flowerpot: I feel like either laughing or crying about this dog. I can't believe how much money we've spent on him.

expatmum: Yeah, I'm sending my kids there too.

lady M: You made me chuckle. Thank you.

Mean Mom: I'll let you about the clicker's effect on husbands. So far, not much response.

MBNAD woman: Oh, thank you. I do like awards.

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