Affection or aggression?

One of Ray’s obvious issues, which became clear soon after he settled in here in March 2013, was his dependence on our company. He exhibited severe separation anxiety.

It could be said that we did a wonderfully effective job of making him feel at home with us, but being dependent on us was not part of “the plan” and was not fair on either Ray or us.

All dogs with separation issues will potentially behave irrationally if left on their own however German Shepherds, in particular, are known to lose their self-control such that they can severely hurt themselves by either destroying objects; by charging around the home, or by self-mutilation.

Because of the sensitivity of the issue, we have progressed very slowly and methodically but, unfortunately, consistency has not been our strength! Our initial attempts had to be put on hold due to Ray testing positive for heart-worm which dictated a distinct shift in priorities. This effectively delayed separation training for close to a year.

The delay due to his heart-worm treatment program put us back to the very beginning regarding separation training but, once again, we started working on it. Slow progress was being made until it was recommended to us that the anxiety medication that he was on be switched to a more recent formulation that had recently become available.

Transitioning between the two medications was very precise. We had to slowly reduce his current medication to zero, and then allow a couple of weeks of being medication free before slowly introducing his new medication. Given that these medications were to control anxiety issues, we once again had to suspend all separation training for a few months and, once again, it put us right back to the beginning.

With all that behind us, and over the course of the following few months, I was eventually able to leave him alone for 30 minutes! This was orchestrated by giving him a couple of hours to adjust to Carol leaving and going to work, and then wearing him out a little with a long walk. This progress was, yet again, lost when Carol retired and our routines inevitably changed. Of course Ray was ecstatic as he now had both of us around all day!

At that point in time, Ray was occasionally exhibiting a strong dislike for when all three of us were out walking, and one of us entered a store! We just put it down to his herding instincts and thought it must be very frustrating for him to have no control over his “charges”! There were isolated incidents where, upon my coming out of a store, he would jump up in some possible display of frustration.

We have recently started, once again, to try and convince Ray that all will be well when he is on his own, but this time we were both leaving at the same time. Progress, as before, was extremely slow however we have built up his “alone time” from 10 secs …… 30 secs ……….1 min ………. 1-1/2 min……. up to (as at today) 5 minutes!

What has happened however is his “jumping up” trait has become an additional factor to resolve! He recently jumped up and “mouthed” my arm, which I just put down to over exuberance (he was pleased to see me?). More recently he greeted Carol in a similar manner, but left some bruising, so now that behavior has to be addressed.

Why is he doing it? We have a couple of thoughts, although both are academic as the behavior is unacceptable regardless of the explanation.

One is that it is simply an over exuberance which turns into a “let’s play” mouthing routine. This has a degree of credibility in that when he is in a playful mood in the garden he will often start a “mouthing” action. He has however always checked himself in the past so would seem to know that it was not appreciated.

A rather contrasting theory is that he is really frustrated at his “herd” continually making it impossible for him to do his job, and it is more an anger based gesture. We then have to consider how much of this latter explanation is exacerbated by his separation issues!

The current status is that we can avoid the jumping if the “delinquent member of the herd” (usually me) returns slowly and waits for Ray to get into a sit position before coming within reach of him. Any bad timing on our part, which allows a jump on his part, will always result in a reprimand. We must now continue with his separation training and who knows, we may well resolve his desire to jump and “mouth” us at the same time?

 

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44 thoughts on “Affection or aggression?

  1. If only we could get inside those brains and find out what’s really going on!!

    It does sound like you are doing a good job helping him adjust and finding ways to deal with his issues. Keep up the good work.

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    • We’ve had no “life” without him for 2-1/2 years, but we keep working on it! We’ve also had so much help from the Humane Society trainers, and have been through a number of programs with him which produced helpful contacts. We had some time with a behaviorist which was educational, and provided a huge resource of behavior related material. He has certainly not been easy, but he has made huge progress in various areas. 🙂

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  2. As per Maria, it’s very interesting reading! Tillie and Elvis are good with people but still hopeless with other dogs. I’m afraid we have reverted to just avoiding other dogs while out walking – time constraints mean that it’s hard for us to walk them separately and both get anxious (naturally) if the other is taken out

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  3. Sam has been a jumper since I got him at age 2 and despite constant and consistent correction still jumps for joy whenever I come back into the house (his previous owners encouraged that behavior inexplicably). Im glad he misses me, but the pogo stick routine has gotten especially old as I’ve gotten older. Sigh. I know that separation anxiety can be a huge issue and I applaud you and Carol for your tenacity and caring attention with Ray. Best wishes for continued success with Ray every day. 😉

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  4. I love reading your blog and getting info from you on Ray and comments from others. First off I DNA tested my dog, like you had done with Ray and was surprised at the findings. He has very strong separation anxiety and I too am using medication, which seems to calm him down a bit. I lost part of a wall and a door jam and he went out a screen window 2 times before putting him on the medication. Oh, He also broke out of a crate and was bleeding around the house, so I can’t use the crate. If I want to go out for the evening or have anl appointment I give him another medication which lowers his blood pressure. This seems to be working and I can leave at most (sometimes) for 1 1/2 hours. My social life involves people coming to my house, instead of me going out. Keep up the writing. Thank you.

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    • Hi Maria. I am so pleased that you are finding useful information here. I too find the input from other readers very interesting and informative. I would love to know what the DNA results where vs what you expected them to be! In general, we have to be very careful about people visiting us as Ray is extremely protective. He has made huge progress since he moved in with us but we still have to watch him carefully. We are fortunate in that one of the Humane Society trainers really bonded with him during his time there, and she is the only person who can safely stay with him without us being around. She is therefore our only “qualified” (= Ray approved) dog sitter. We therefore can have the odd “date” without Ray as long as Heather is available, and in the Summer we frequent anywhere with an outdoor patio and which encourages dogs. We know a couple of cafes and a pub that meet that criteria!!! 🙂

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      • I had adopted my dog from a golden retriever rescue in CA. I had thought he was 1/2 Great Pyrenees and the other half golden retriever. Well, he turned out to be definitely 1/2 Great Pyrenees and the other half ,mixed breed with mostly hound in him. No sign of retriever at all.
        I would love to eat out on a patio with my dog, but so many people here in CA have their dogs with them when eating out that I am not able to do this. I have certainly learned to compensate with my dog.

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        • Hi Maria – You may be interested in the Post “Dingo Lingo” – August 8, 2015 and particularly the Comments dialogue with Michael Morales regarding B.A.T. programs. That’s quite the dog mix you have! 🙂

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          • thanks for the good rad of dingo LIngo. I have been working with a dog trainer and she has been using the B.A.T program. Basically when my dog sees something while I walk I say “yes” and then have him turn his head to me and give a treat. A lot of treats and a lot of patience.

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            • That’s exactly what we do…. and we’re still doing it but at least it diverts his attention and supports the dogs = treats message! We also keep in mind that Ray is not going to like every dog he meets regardless of treats, but then I don’t like everybody I meet either so consider that to be normal. 🙂

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  5. It is amazing how awake you have to be all day long regarding Ray. You need to be much more attentive than I think you had to with a little child. Which is not a bad thing. It is interesting how you discover the psychic of your dog.

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    • I believe the mental ability of a dog is considered to be close to that of a 3 yr old child. A young child can however express themselves vocally more effectively than a dog …. but a dog’s reading of body language is vastly superior to that of a child. Regardless of Ray’s issues, he is still easier to live with than either of my offspring were when in their teens! 🙂

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  6. Bless them they always keep us wondering..i am more inclined to wonder if the medication is the issue ? even the smallest chemical change may have an adverse reaction…so i would ask the vet about the meds..Forrest is on Lovan.a change from the stupidly expensive Reconcile which is exactly the same chemical composition..just wondering..might be worth asking..:)

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  7. I had a friend whose German shepherd ate a door while she was at work. That was many years ago and I don’t remember what she did to curb it. My cats say, “Great! She’s gone. Now what mischief can we get into.” And then they take a nice long nap. I have come home to “stuff” all over the floor but unless there is spraying, cats don’t usually do damage.

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  8. Hi, this is Liz, Maggie’s Mom. I had all the same issues with Maggie. She had a very rough beginning, and when I got her from the shelter, she would jump and “mouth” my arms and hands. I took her firstly to an obedience school where they explained she was energetic and looking for “rough play”. She had to be taught that “rough play” was for toys outside of the home. Secondly, because of her past abuse, her separation anxiety is so great that she, too, would destroy the house and/or hurt herself. A three-pronged attack: 1. placing her into a crate when she is going to be alone. (She does not like it but settles down quickly). 2. Medication from the Vet. 3. A long walk of exercise about an hour before bed. This approach seems to be working. I do hate to crate her (her crate is large and clean) but the few times we left her alone she destroyed everything and I was afraid she would impale herself on an upturned chair or whatever. Finally….the Vet did give us a large handout about separation anxiety and said, “This usually does not get better when they get older” so the more proactive you are now, the better your results will be. Good luck and let me know how it goes. 🙂

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    • Hi Liz. Clearly you have “been there”! Ray chose the crate as his “retreat” as soon as he moved in. He goes there if he does not want to be touched and, as he is very happy when he goes in there, we really don’t want to disturb that state. Shepherds can be really terrible in confined spaces so, again, we are not considering changing the role being played by his crate. He was put on anxiety medication as soon as he went into the adoption area at our Humane Society because of his clear problems with spending time in a limited area (he was assessed as possibly being a farm dog in his earlier life). He is still on anxiety medication but we do have the option to increase his dosage, but that would be our last resort! As for long walks? We are often out for 1-1/2 to 2 hrs during which he gets lots of “nose exercise” time, and he always crashes out when we get home. As I was writing this, Carol just came in and suggested trigger stacking as a possible explanation. We can test that one easily enough. Will certainly be following up on this one. Many thx for your thoughts.

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  9. My dog Little Monkey leaps right up in the air with all four feet off the ground when excited – feeding time etc. I never let her touch me, but walk towards her as she backs off – leaping as she goes – until she sits or lies down.
    It may be excitement on Ray’s part, but you are quite right in not letting him mouth you. You could try moving towards him when he leaps and see if he also backs off.

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      • Well I’d still be tempted to try it and throw him off balance. He should think twice before jumping on you again. By you moving forward you are going into his space, and not him into yours, and so you show you are the boss/leader. You have to walk firmly and quickly, with intention. It certainly stopped my dog encroaching on my space. – And yes I admit she is smaller, but the principal applies.
        Anyway Good Luck on whatever method you find that works for you and Ray. 🙂

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  10. A difficult issue to resolve. The mouthing could be an instinct to keep you under ‘parental control’ as an adult dog would do with a pup. I’m certainly no expert in dog behaviour, which is why I took the 6 week college course on canine psychology. Maggie started to launch herself at me if I’d been away, say in a shop. We got round it by bending down and putting our hands in front of us saying ‘gently’ which seems to do the trick on most occasions. She does forget herself though. In a way we were lucky to have her since she was a puppy, but of course our initial bad habits have stuck. She doesn’t like to be alone, but on some occasions when we’ve left her in the car, she curls up on the front seat and goes to sleep. It’s never for long though, so maybe she accepts the car as an inbetween place. I’d love to know how they think, and I bet I am miles off with my reasoning! 🙂

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