Friday, April 26, 2013

Behavior issues. Toys were the answer AND the problem.

Behavior issues are one of the most challenging subjects that Used Dogs get calls about and they are one of the main reasons dogs end up in shelters.  We always are working on behavior issues here. Sometimes they are typical and sometimes they are very unique. 

 The way dogs respond to various 
problem solving approaches, shows us time and time again,  that the individuality of all dogs trumps breed and that what works for one dog may not work at all for another. Dogs, no matter the breed, are not one size fits all.

The first thing thing to do when dealing with a behavior issue, is to make sure there is not an underlying health issue. Keeping your pets healthy and keeping yourself informed on different ways to address problems is the best way to go. Should you give your dog pet meds or would a thunder shirt work. The interesting thing about Daisy is that TOYS were the answer...AND the problem.

Daisy now has much better play manners. She learned that it's about the game and not just the ball. She has gotten so much better at including us in her play and not just obsessing on the ball. It took some trial and error, and believe it or not , turned out to be about the types of balls we used!!!

Here is how it happened:

Daisy, a very smart dominant female, came here with very obsessive play manners, which was really a problem, since she doesn't do well with other dogs. For Daisy, playing with humans, toys and walks are the only ways she is going to have fun, get exercise and get engaged with life. And when a dog doesn't do well playing with other dogs, toys are even more important!

Daisy was VERY obsessive about her toys. It wasn't even really regular rescource guarding, it was always just ALL about the toy, NEVER about the game. Once she got the toy in her mouth there was no way to play WITH her. A dog that  obsesses to that degree  over her toys and can't play with other dogs, doesn't usually have very good adoption options. 

Her obsession was SO intense that it was sometimes dangerous and  even though she was super smart, at first I was at a loss as to what I could do. First I decided to take away toys since they ramped up the obsessiveness so much in her behavior. That got boring real fast!  And consequently, since Daisy doesn't like being out in the yard unless she has a toy to obsess on, Daisy began to spend more and more time inside alone in her crate. And surprisingly, she didn't seem to mind. Since the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and we have lot of squeaky wheels here, Daisy stayed in doing a lot of nothing. She would go out to to do her business and go on walks. Then I hurt my knee, so walks were even getting fewer for her as she is A LOT of dog and only certain volunteers could walk her.

SO, I thought about changing the toys. I gave her toys that gave her no shaking satisfaction and  that were VERY sturdy and toys she could not "kill".  That was better, much better. But she still just wanted to play by herself. Getting the toy away from her, so that we could play together and give her more exercise, rather than her just sitting and obsessing was still impossible.  Even just to get the toy away from her when play time was over, was very difficult and even a little dangerous as she was so obsessed with the toy, that it was clear that she might accidentally bite me, trying to get to the toy before I could, when she would occasionally let go of it or get interested in something else for a minute.

So THAT was my next move, getting her interested in other things while she was playing with the toy. Previously that was IMPOSSIBLE, but now with the new kinds of toys it seemed possible.

It turned out that other toys did not work so well, but treats did. However once she became interested in the treat all was on good, until she noticed me going towards her toy. Then she was back to the toy in a FLASH and she is a very quick dog. Her trying to get to the toy before me, made the chance of a bite even MORE likely, as she was VERY excited about getting to the toy before I did.

That was when I realized it would take two trainers: one to distract with a treat and one to take away the toy. Working in pairs and in some instances the whole family is often what it takes to deal with difficult behavior issues.

It worked like a charm. SO well in fact, that we decided to go pick out some new toys for her. This time, there happened to be some new sturdy ball type toys that made a variety of sounds that I hadn't seen before. One had a bell and texture, one had crunching sound and one had a squeak. I had stopped using toys with noises as the squeaky toys were originally the ones that she was the worst with!

But it turned out to be the variety of sounds that really engaged her with us and made it more about the game and less about the toy. The variety of toys with different sounds allowed us to make a MAJOR breakthrough!!  When there were several balls with different sounds, the part of her that had to think and choose opened her up to playing WITH us and not just the toy.

It was a happy day indeed!!


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  4. This is a great article. I love my dogs so much and I try to do as many activities as I can with them. They like going for runs and to the park with me. However, I hate when I have to leave them on the weekends sometimes. Thankfully, they offer dog day care in northern va which is always a great option. My dogs love playing with other dogs and these day cares are great for that.

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