Kikko (A Special One de Aradik), 9 month-old Drever puppy, has come back home for a while. He has been having some problems my mom can’t handle at the moment, for several professional and personal reasons.
Kikko’s infancy was different from that of a normal puppy, to say the least, which has contributed to some of his problems. He had osteomyelitis, which lead to one of his arm’s radius and ulna break in several pieces. So, he spent several months with his arm on a splinter, waiting to grow up enough to undergo surgery. After that, he spent some weeks with the pins in the arm and then again with the splinter. So, he spent several months with very controlled and restricted movement, with short walks on a short leash. This is something very complicated on a naturally very active puppy, and unavoidably lead to him having a high stress level. Truth be said, Kikko has been the living example of how dogs have no notion of their limitations and has always been an overwhelmingly happy dog with everything and everyone. However, all his restrictions growing up built up frustrations, and those subtle stress signs (as, for example, the lips too pulled back) were always present. And stress led to even more activity (which is something a Drever puppy usually does not lack!)
Kikko also has separation problems. Not the type leading to home destruction (fortunately), but the type where he barks continuously when there are no people around – and a Drever has a nice set of lungs! Something that probably did not help were the frequent visits to the vet – as my mom’s and the orthopedic surgeon’s work schedules were normally incompatible, he would often spend a good part of the day at the vet’s – barking continuously. This did not make him afraid of the vet office, quite on the contrary, he still happily goes there, but certainly added to his anxiety.
And as only recently I managed to convince my mother to use a crate, to help solve Kikko’s lack of hygiene at home, especially when no one is there for a few hours, he is still in the middle of this learning.
So, at the moment, there are several issues to deal with:
- excessive barking when no people are around (even if his favorite canine playmates are around);
- excessive pulling on the leash, due to excitement (and a Drever has a strength inversely proportional to his size!);
- lack of crate manners (despite him staying quietly at night);
- the somewhat frequent “accidents” at home (which I think are a combination of lack of hygiene and stress-related).
So, what am I doing?
Kikko has only been here for 6 days, but there are already some progresses.
A good part of his frustration was due to his restricted movement during growth. At the moment, his leg treatments are over, so he can finally start having a normal life. Here I can have the dogs loose in the yard a few hours a day, so the increase of free exercise is starting to show some results. Even his bark no longer has that tone of anguish. When he barks for a long time because no person is around, it’s no longer the rapidly succeeding barks, but rather a “normal and frequent” bark (hmm… how to describe it without sound?), intermingled with some (short) breaks.
I got a Kong, a rubber hollow toy, which can be filled inside with food and/or treats; dogs usually love it and can spend a long time (hours even) with it, trying to reach all of the inside. As it was an instant success, I’m using it to get Kikko to willing go and stay in his crate. I’ve started already to close the crate’s door for a few minutes at a time. The plan is to gradually increase the time he can stay in the crate without barking, so I can leave home and leave him quiet and safe, like the rest of the dogs.
I’m also working on his “crate manners”, by only getting out when I tell him to, so he learns to control the anxiety – something he is learning so well a few minutes ago I opened his door and wondered why he was not getting out, only after did I realize he was waiting to be released! ;)
As for the separation anxiety, I’ve been ignoring his barks when I leave the house or the floor and ignoring him when I get home and he jumps over me. I only give him attention when he calms down. As my house has a balcony than runs along half of it and can be accessed by different rooms, as well as a garage at the ground floor, with an internal access to the upper floor. So I am leaving and entering the house from different rooms, so the front door isn’t exclusively associated with me going away. I’ve also putting my coat on and off without necessarily leaving, so as to try to break the associations the dog may have made regarding the different “rituals” people have when they’re preparing to leave home. This will be the most difficult issue to deal with.
Also, moments of petting and cuddling are reserved to when the dog is calm, and interrupted when he gets too excited. The idea is to start creating habits of self-control, decreasing over-excitement.
The next steps will be to get a head halter, which unfortunately I can’t find where I live, so I can start working better on his pulling on the leash. I also plan to star teaching him basic obedience, so I can replace unwanted behaviors (like jumping up on people) by other, incompatible, ones (like sitting down). At the same time, as these are static positions, they may help decrease the excitement level.
As for his hygiene problems, I think they will work themselves out, as Kikko adjusts to our rhythm, to being out loose for quite some time and as the general stress level decreases.
Finally, another thing I’ve been trying to do is… work on my patience! ;)
I have the advantage of working mainly from home, which allows me to be more available to small details I can work with Kikko. Also, at this time of the year, temperatures are a lower, so when I leave home I can take him with me in the car instead of leaving him barking at home (in the car he stays quietly in his crate), at least until I can trust him there. However, I also have the disadvantage of having jobs that require too many hours and having several dogs, so I cannot pay the attention I would like to some details. But we’ll get there with time…
Kikko has only been here for 6 days. I can already see some improvements, such as an overall decrease in anxiety, but some days go better than others. And he is still adjusting to a new environment, which he only knew from the occasional weekend spent here. Only in the next days/weeks will he start feeling at home and showing his true “colors”. Anyway, this will be a lengthy path, but I think as his trust level (on others and himself) increases, and with some guidance, he will end up a well adjusted dog.
If anyone has any ideas or suggestions to ease this process, I’d love to hear them!