Responding to Change

My blogging, never consistent at the best of times, has become almost non-existent. So has my blog-reading. For some reason, my mind has been elsewhere for the last few months.

A change in routine affects everyone, including the dog. At first, I didn’t notice much difference in Our Best Friend’s behaviour after The Spouse moved out. I figured it was because I’m the one who feeds him 95% of the time,  walks him 99% of the time (I now allow the Middle Child to walk him up and down the street, though I probably shouldn’t), and takes him out back for his final relief of the night 50% of the time (the Oldest shares that responsibility– grudgingly and with a lot of complaints). And of course, I take him to the dog park 100% of the time. The Spouse almost never did any of that, even though keeping OBF was his idea in the first place.

The Spouse has been gone a while now. In the last few weeks, I’ve noticed a change in Our Best Friend, and it’s not a positive one.

He barks more.

He used to bark whenever someone came to the door, or when the doorbell rang. We never managed to train him to stop barking on command (to be fair, we never really tried), and though it was annoying, it was never ridiculously prolonged. Plus the trigger was consistent– the door. Ingress to the home. He’s a German shepherd mix. This makes sense.

Well forget the mix part. These days he’s all German shepherd guard dog. The slightest sound gets him barking, and he’s almost impossible to stop. Picking up the leash also sets him off on an unstoppable round of high-pitched yips and woofs; only the deeper bass of a big breed precludes one from thinking he’s a small yappy type. Of course, as usual, he’s under-exercised, especially since I was bedridden for almost a week during Passover with fever and a sore throat that was not strep and thus did not get better with penicillin, and other than potty breaks he was house-bound FOREVER. We are just getting back to a good routine of a walk every morning after the kids leave for school, a walk that’s way too short and gets cancelled in rain or because of unseasonably cold temperatures. So, yes, berserk excitement at the concept of “out” is to be expected.

But he’s barking more in general. This spring we’ve been infested with spiders. And not small ones; the one I killed last night could have played Aragog in the Harry Potter movies. When the girls or I come upon one of these eight-legged beasts, we’re apt to squeal (or even yell at the top of our lungs). These vocalizations inevitably bring Our Best Friend racing into the room, barking his face off, ready to defend his family against whatever horror they face. And he’s hard to calm down, maybe because the threat is invisible to him, but he knows it’s there.

I’ve want to fix this. When I’m not rushed, I do what I’m supposed to do: I wait for a break in the barking, then praise and treat. I don’t put on the leash or take him out until he stops. He’s a tiny bit better, but as I’m the only one doing it, and I’m not doing it consistently, it’s easy for him to fall back into his barking ways. However, other than annoying the new tenants (who thus far haven’t complained, G-d bless them), the barking might drive us crazy but doesn’t actually hurt anyone. Last week, though, we had a stereotypical dog event that really shook me– he chased the mailman.

Our Best Friend and I had just returned from our morning walk. I have gotten into the bad habit of unclipping his leash from the collar right at the front door of the building. The house is a duplex; we live on the bottom, the tenants have the top, and we share an entrance, with a set of interior stairs leading first to our door, then up a flight to the tenant’s apartment. I hate being dragged up those stairs, so I unhook the leash and let him run up. This time, however, before I got the door open, he suddenly turned and hared off across the lawn, barking madly. I looked around to see our poor postman with his hands in the air, backing away slowly.

Mortified doesn’t cover it. I called the idiot dog, re-attached the leash, and apologized profusely. I made OBF sit on the lawn and watch the mailman put the letters in the box. Fortunately, he sat and watched without lunging or barking. I apologized six more times. He said, “We are trained to deal with this– don’t worry!” Too bad someone else wasn’t trained properly to deal with the mailman.

I was quite shaken; while it’s nice to know there’s a big, barky dog holding down the fort when three girls are home alone (and with a teenager in the house, I don’t have to pay for a babysitter anymore!), I don’t need him chasing random strangers. I don’t want any complaints about him made to the police. So far he’s never bitten anyone, not even another dog in a fight. But still, I’m scared of what he might do one day, all because he takes his role of protector of the realm too seriously.

This post is part of the Monday Mischief Bloghop, sponsored by Alfie’s BlogSnoopy’s Dog BlogLuna, a Dog’s Life, and My Brown Newfies Please click on any of the links to join in the fun! (Chasing the mailman is just mischief, right???)

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About one person's view

I'm the mother of three girls, three cats, and a dog. All need constant attention, but only the dog likes to go for long walks!
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11 Responses to Responding to Change

  1. 2browndawgs says:

    I understand your dilemma. One thing we work on all of the time with our dogs is that they are not to guard. We will take care of any perceived threats. By nature Chessies can be protective of their people or their places. Ours have never shown an inclination to bite, but as you say it is not something we want to chance. Storm is a barker but thankfully will stop when we tell her. But she always tries to guard. It can be irritating.

  2. Sounds like OBF is feeling the change. Dogs can sense a lot, not just physical changes but also emotional ones. He probably feels like the man in the house now, with a gaggle of girls to protect, and is taking his job seriously 😉 Hopefully he’ll settle down soon. Hugs x

  3. wantmorepuppies says:

    You’re right – it definitely sounds like OBF is reacting to the changes. I’ve actually seen it happen in my own family – after my mom passed away, my dad’s two big dogs suddenly started fighting all the time. (They’d grown up together and had never had any problems before.) Animals are definitely sensitive to family stress, even when we don’t think they’ll really notice the changes. On a positive note, my dad worked with the dogs and eventually they settled into the new normal and stopped the fighting. It may take some time, but I’m sure OBF will get there as well. 🙂

  4. Kristine says:

    I’m sorry. It’s so hard when you already have enough to deal with on your own, without worrying about YBF’s behaviour. I read many stories about dogs providing great comfort during times of stress but I think it’s more often the opposite. Hopefully you will all adjust to the changes soon and that will help him relax again.

  5. Jodi Stone says:

    First, did you try the reducto charm on the spider? Had you done that, perhaps the screaming wouldn’t have been quite so bad. 🙂

    We had a GS mix when I was growing up, he was a tough dog. Different times and all. He was my dad’s dog and when my dad was killed in a motorcycle accident my mother explained the situation to the dog. Yes, she actually told the dog that he wasn’t coming back and the dog seemed to understand.

    As others have pointed out, animals sense things. YBF knows there are changes and he knows that everyone is unsettled (even if they seem settled to you.) Not to compare dogs to children but when my first husband and I split the kids got really crazy, they were 6. I had a couple of days where I was a mess but then I shook myself off and soldiered on and I was really happy he was gone. 🙂 The kids kept it up and finally I sat down with them and they had the misconception that the donor and I were going to split them up! Where would they come up with such an idea? I put the KIBOSH on that ASAP and they eventually settled down.

    My point is that you can sit and explain things to your children, but the dog may not understand it. It may take YBF some time to settle into the new routine. Time and patience and perhaps a little management will help with the transition. Keep the faith.

    • I am so sorry you lost your father in such circumstances. It’s always hard to lose a parent, but I personally believe it’s harder when it’s sudden.

      The kids will have their hurdles and issues. I know that, and I have resources lined up when they feel ready. Wish I could explain it to the dog. 😦

  6. Sorry to hear you spent some time sick. Not fun. Is it disrespectful to ask if you were praying for Elijah to visit the Passover table with some sore throat medicine?

    It sounds like YBF is doing his best to cope with a new order in the house. Hopefully he’ll be able to add his love for you to his trust in your ability to keep everyone in the house safe (with his help, but only if you really need it).

    Be kind to yourself and to each other.

    • Disrespectful no, sacrilegious maybe, but HILARIOUS definitely! (I was so sick I couldn’t even make it to the seder table; I sat in the kitchen long enough to hear the Youngest ask the Four Questions, and went back to bed.)

  7. The Hook says:

    Good luck with you noise level!
    I wish I had some constructive advice, but I got nothin’!

  8. thatjenk says:

    Speaking of catch-up…

    Sounds like YBF (and everyone) is adjusting to the new family dynamic… I’m sure he’ll calm back down (and you can predict my advice about exercise) in due time.

    The SPIDERS, however, are unacceptable. I would move. That’s disgusting. I’m itchy just thinking about it.

  9. Oh how scary about the mailman incident! Glad nothing happened. Leah (also a GSD mix) is very protective of me, and I know how it can be a mixed blessing. I’m much more careful with her management than with the others. Maybe the increased walks now that you are feeling better and determined might help.

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