Growling and talking

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Postby amalie79 » May 21st, 2010, 10:08 am

Early on, we had an instance of unmistakable resource guarding one day when the dogs all had bones where Robin snapped at me and Simon, and later that day I thought she growled and snapped at me over a toy.

To add a little confusion to the mix, we've discovered that she loves to growl when she plays. She's a talker that way. Problem is, sometimes it's very, very obvious that she's playing, and sometimes it's not. :? This morning, she was carrying her cuz around, had asked me to tug it and throw it, and then followed me into the bedroom and plopped down to chew on it. When I started to pet her, she looked up at me and growled, a little less exaggerated than she was when we were playing before (tail still wagging, though I know that doesn't necessarily mean "happy"), but then she followed me out of the room still carrying her toy, happy as can be. Yesterday, she had pulled some strings off her rope toy, and when I approached to take them from her and asked what she had, she growled then too.

I DO NOT want to simply end up teaching her not to growl-- in other words, I'd rather have a growler than a biter. She should be able to say "no" and communicate with me. But I'm curious about how to handle these situations. I will continue the drop-it training and add the larger protocol for resource guarders where I do walk-by food-drops while she's chewing or eating (though, so far, no resource guarding with her food bowl). When she does it while chewing something I need to take from her, I go get a treat and trade; if I'm holding a treat to her nose, I can yank anything out of her mouth (things like string don't really "drop" from her tongue :mrgreen: ). But by simply walking away when she growls, is she just learning to growl MORE? I don't know how OK I think that is. I know that the long term solution is more obedience. We are working on that. In the short term--??? I need to know how to handle those incidents when they do pop up. Chances are, sometimes it's play, but sometimes it's communication, and I'm having a hell of a time figuring out which is which. :|

Thoughts?

On a happy note, we've been going to the pet store and practicing down-stays while customers and workers putter around the shop, as well as working on down stays and leave-it exercises with treats on the porch in full view of the kitty she really wants to get (this is the outside cat who is not a cat at all in her mind, but a fuzzy outside thing to GET!). She is doing very well on all those counts. :dance: And her sits, downs and stay are all getting much more responsive-- much crisper!
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Postby amazincc » May 21st, 2010, 11:03 am

I have one VERY vocal dog myself... Sepp will bark and growl at me occasionally, but it's usually to demand attention if/when he wants me to play w/him.

He also went through some sort of weird "fear period" when he would growl/bark at me if I had specific objects in my hand, like the remote for the TV or a fork... I still have no idea why that would set him off, but for a while he was pretty unpredictable... lots of barking, growling, showing teeth, and backing up.
I used to ignore him at those specific moments, and re-visit those objects once he calmed down... we did tons of "touch it" and treats, and I can now change the channel without him throwing a hissy fit. lol

Is Robin solid w/the "drop it" command yet, or is it still a work in progress? Does it scare you when she growls at you? Dogs are very good at reading body language, so if she *thinks* you are intimidated by her growling and it *does* make you go away/leave her alone... you could be *teaching* her to communicate that way more and more.
I still say keep her on a drag leash in the house for now, so you have a little more control over her... you can simply remove her (crate her) when she growls at you for wanting to take a toy, without having to say anything.

And CONGRATS on all the hard work you guys are doing in the meantime... it sounds like it's starting to pay off!!! :D
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Postby amalie79 » May 21st, 2010, 11:54 am

He also went through some sort of weird "fear period" when he would growl/bark at me if I had specific objects in my hand, like the remote for the TV or a fork...


How old was he during that? I've hear that dogs can have another fear period around a year (9-18 months or thereabouts)...I've wondered if that is some of Robin's issue, and we are also working on a touch command. She cracked me up while she walked HUGE circles around a chunk of asphalt in the parking lot the other day. She wasn't going anywhere NEAR that thing. :crazy2:

The "drop it" command is far from solid in the real world; it's pretty good when we've got the clicker out. :rolleyes2: Though she is getting pretty good and understanding she has to drop it when we play tug, or the game doesn't continue and she doesn't get treats. She's at least getting conditioned to that circumstance.

Convincing everyone else in the house that she needs to be tethered would be difficult, but honestly, as long as she's monitored, she's pretty darn good. We've been making an effort to keep the place puppy-proof (our other two dogs have spoiled us with not getting into trouble) and if I see her going for something (including the cats), I can ask her to "leave it" and "come" and she does (maybe 80%+ reliability?); keeping treats on my person at all times helps tremendously with that portion of her training. I bought some Charlee Bears since they are tiny and dry and won't make my pocket slimy. :D

Dogs are very good at reading body language, so if she *thinks* you are intimidated by her growling and it *does* make you go away/leave her alone... you could be *teaching* her to communicate that way more and more.


Unfortunately, this is what I think is happening. It surprises me and I jump back. Having also lived so many years with a dog to whom I was eternally grateful every time he would growl and NOT just bite, I'm hyper-sensitive to not training OUT the warning, and also to knowing that dogs do bite-- just because they are your sweet family dog, it doesn't mean they won't use teeth. And it doesn't make her a bad dog. It makes her a dog. But it still surprises me. I need to make extra effort to just calm down.

But on the other hand, if she growls what should I do? When she's giving me a warning, I don't want to push her to more escalated warnings, and at the same time, I don't want her to think it's ok for her to always call the shots. Sometimes I'm going to need her to do something she doesn't want to do. Such a catch 22.

The other thing I can say I've noticed is that she doesn't like being pushed around, and will growl or go still if she thinks she's being forced to do something. Sometimes, she doesn't want to be moved from where she is by collar or by picking up her legs. I know that's a bad move, but I think we took her otherwise good temperament for granted. I work on an "off" command, and general handling-- and, again, learning recall has helped tremendously. We just have to remember she came to us with no obedience whatsoever, and we're all learning to live together and get to know each other. The more SHE learns, the easier it is for ALL of us, as we are already seeing! :dance:

Just have to carry on! Everyone's help and encouragement here has been invaluable!!!
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Postby amalie79 » May 21st, 2010, 11:57 am

I guess I should also add that we need her to love her crate for the handful of hours she spends in it during the day while we our work hours overlap, so I hesitate to use it for anything that could be perceived as punishment...
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Postby amazincc » May 21st, 2010, 12:39 pm

amalie79 wrote:

The other thing I can say I've noticed is that she doesn't like being pushed around, and will growl or go still if she thinks she's being forced to do something. Sometimes, she doesn't want to be moved from where she is by collar or by picking up her legs. I know that's a bad move



Uhm... yeah... hence my suggestion to use a drag leash. :shock: :wink:

And the crate does not have to be a *punishment* at all, but can be a place where she can calm down and get her bearings, so to speak. You can keep a stuffed kong or some other favorite toy/treat in there to make it seem less like punishment and more like a "you-need-to-calm-down" thing...
If it was me (being growled at) I would simply remove the dog from the situation for a few minutes without saying anything, and revisit (set up) the same scenario at a later time while being prepared as much as possible. If Robin growls over a toy... play w/that toy, but end the game on your terms. Every time.
I'm not trying to over-simplify the problem/solution... but some dogs only learn by repetitive conditioning, and there is no quick fix... you know what I mean?
Somewhere Robin has learned that her behavior "worked", and it might take twice that long (or longer) for her to unlearn it now. Dogs are creatures of habit, so... :|

Oh, and Sepp was around 12-18 months old during his remote control phobia... it took a few months of almost daily "touch" to show him that his suspicions were completely unfounded. Still, now, every so often the remote (or the fork, or whatever) gets the stink eye, but the growling/backing up has stopped. :crazy2: lol
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Postby amalie79 » May 21st, 2010, 12:57 pm

Do you think a light-weight drag line that I can grab if I need to would be sufficient, or would I need to full on tether her to me?

I'm not trying to over-simplify the problem/solution... but some dogs only learn by repetitive conditioning, and there is no quick fix... you know what I mean?


Those are all such good suggestions. I worry that I'm over-thinking some of this-- that I over-think dog training in general! Like, will she learn that growling means I go to my crate and get a kong? I guess the key is to make things as neutral as possible and to set up as many good experiences as we can, eliminate as much possibility for bad experiences as we can, and work on her overall obedience with diligence. She definitely learns by repetition--and quickly, at that--so it's just going to take consistent work. We know what we've done with her over the last few months, but who knows what in her first year of life we're having to undo on top of that?

The fact that she now brings toys to me and puts them willingly into my hand is huge, but it took a lot of continued trading for treats and games of tug.

Thanks again-- we'll get there.
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Postby amazincc » May 21st, 2010, 3:42 pm

amalie79 wrote:Do you think a light-weight drag line that I can grab if I need to would be sufficient, or would I need to full on tether her to me?

Light-weight drag line is absolutely sufficient... you just want to be able to grab/remove her safely, without having to get too close to the growly face (collar), or physically wrestle her off furniture or "forbidden" places.
I also think that when she growls, and you stay calm when you put her in the crate, she's not going to make bad or good associations... it just is what it is. She might learn that growling doesn't make YOU go away, but it's HER who has to leave the situation... because YOU say so. Does that make sense?

I'm sure some of the more savvy trainers will chime in and have some good suggestions for you... I usually fly by the seat of my pants. lol
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Postby TheRedQueen » May 22nd, 2010, 9:48 am

Sawyer (5 year old Aussie) was very much like this when I first adopted him...he'd growl, air snap and generally be a snarly butt-face. He was found as an 7-8 month old stray, spent 6 weeks living in a kennel at a vet's office before I adopted him-sight unseen from MO) He was like this when asked to do anything. After trying to get physical with him (yeah...I know, I know!)...and having the scars to prove it...I decided to go completely HANDS-OFF with him.

He didn't have a drag line on, because I abused it too much...(you wouldn't like me when I'm angry). ;) It was too easy to fall into the habit of jerking/popping that leash and giving him collar corrections...even if I didn't really mean to do it. So we did a multi-pronged effort towards attitude readjustment.

1. NILIF...he had to earn everything...but it had to be offered freely...I didn't put him hands on him at all...no gentle "reminders", no collar grabs to keep him inside the doorway, nothing. He had to offer that behavior. We worked on all of his basic cues...sit, down, etc...all hands off, all with treats.

2. Treats for all good behavior...no matter what. There was one day where he ran outside, and hid under John's van...I had to tamp down my irritation, go get some really good treats and lure him out. Of course if he'd had a drag line on, I could have pulled him out...but that wouldn't have done any good for our relationship!

3. Time outs were done with treats...it he had to take a time-out, it was done in a non-confrontational, gentle manner...just a word to let him know..."Uh-oh!" and escorting him (no leash, no touching) to the crate, and putting him in with treats. (he HATES the crate...he hated it before he came to me). He'd spend a few minutes in the crate (he had to be quiet to come out).

4. Moving him around the house was done OFF-LEASH...using only body blocks. I basically would herd him around the house...with my body...no drag line. I'd just step into him if I needed him to move away from something he wasn't supposed to have.

5. Treats were used for trading objects (he always had something in his mouth that he wasn't supposed to have!) Lots of really good treats were used to keep him from guarding...and to keep him giving up items willingly.

6. We played lots of "Gotcha!" collar grab games when we were both happy and relaxed. Collar grab=click-treat.

He was a little twit that had never had rules...and a short-fuse for man-handling. Now, years later...he's John's Service Dog...playing flyball, being a K9 blood donor and being a good boy. Yes, he still grumbles and growls if things don't go his way...but he doesn't automatically decide to back it up...and we realize that he just likes to complain at times (just like JOHN!). I still go hands off if he gets really ticked...but that's rare.
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Postby tiva » May 22nd, 2010, 10:40 am

Back when we rescued our Vanya, he was also a growler and resource guarder, but because he growled in play as well, it was sometimes hard to know when he was serious and when he wasn't. Here's what worked for us and might work for you:
1. I absolutely stopped ALL manhandling--no collar grabs, no hauling him from pt A to pt B. Same as redqueen, I only used body blocks, lures, and trades. My husband was pushing him around on the bed, and Vanya was grumbling, and this eventually led to a snap because my husband wasn't taking the grumbling seriously.
2. I stopped ALL taking of anything from his mouth--instead, I worked on teaching him to drop things on command, using amazing treats. I did this in order to really lay a strong foundation for good work on resource guarding, using the protocols from MINE (Jean Donaldson), and advice from Greta over on Clickersolutions list (an amazing resource if you're not already a member). If you join the clickersolutions list, put into the search engine "vanya growling greta" and you'll find some great threads of detailed advice about exactly what you're dealing with.
3. I also taught a good "watch" command, so that I could approach him when he had something, ask for a watch, then reward heavily with cheese. This way, he never felt that he needed to growl, because I never surprised him.
4. The couple times when Vanya did growl, I learned to stand still--not backing off immediately, but not reacting in a hostile or frightened away. Then, once he calmed down, I would go away and come back with a great treat to play a game he could do.
5. and I counterconditioned him with great treats to all the handling by my husband that had once set him off--collar grabs, too much petting, etc. (Most importantly, perhaps, I worked a lot with my husband to help him understand how Vanya wanted to be handled--Frank just wasn't seeing Vanya's many, many signals that he was nervous around Frank's particular handling style).

Vanya especially used to growl if Frank left the chicken feed in the car , and then Vanya hopped in the car and started eating it, and then Frank tried to grab him and pull him from the car. So we worked on this a lot--mostly on Frank never reaching into the car to grab the dog, but instead learning to either get me, or else call Vanya out of the car, with a lure if necessary.
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Postby amalie79 » May 30th, 2010, 10:01 am

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. We're implementing a mix of these solutions-- mostly continuing training and going hands off and adding time outs when she's too worked up. So far so good. :D

I had a little scare this morning, though, with her and my older dog, Simon. :( The two of them were in the bedroom with me, and everyone was doing ok. Robin was occasionally watching for birds and critters out of the windows and napping at the foot of the bed; Simon was pacing around the room as he does in the mornings. I heard Robin jump off the bed and get into a noisy scuffle with Simon. Sometimes, she wants to play with him, and he's not very good at saying "no" very clearly and eventually snarls at her. We usually see it starting and redirect her to leave him alone, so I thought that's what had happened. And if it does get to the point of a snarl, she backs off. I let out a loud "ah-ah" and Robin jumped back up on the bed. No problem. A few minutes later, Simon wandered at the foot of the bed again, and she lunged off the bed onto him, making a big show of things. I don't think she ever connected teeth-- it's pretty much all display, akin to her response when he got too close to her bone (same incident where she snapped at me over the bone, hence, no more bones!). Poor Simon just falls on the ground when she does that and seems shocked :( .

I grabbed Robin and my husband pulled her back onto the bed. I had to get a little hands on in the immediate moment, though my "ah-ah" at that point at least caught her attention. Then I escorted her out and told her to go to her room (that's her crate command). I stayed neutral, gave her a treat in the crate, and let her wind down for a few minutes. Best I could figure was that she was guarding one of the windows that she vigilantly watches out of; I've closed all the blinds and am continuing to put her in little neutral wind-down time outs this morning as she gets rowdy.

I know that pups can develop a little DA or at least more doggy attitude as they mature. She's a little over a year old; the only similar thing I've seen out of her was over a resource. We never leave without her being crated. She is occasionally left in the house for a few minutes at a time while we sit on the porch, but she almost always just watches us from the window, so we can see her, but that will stop. She'll be separated when we go outside. After she calms down, everything is fine. She'll sit next to Simon and get treats, she'll watch me pet him, follow us around the house. Who knows. Something set her off, but it wasn't immediately obvious. Luckily Simon has his own bed that the other two are not allowed on (he's 15 with spinal arthritis, incontinence, among other ailments, so he is given a very wide berth) and he generally retreats to that.

Ah, life among the animals. :rolleyes2:
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Postby plebayo » May 30th, 2010, 3:54 pm

I think you need to implement a no free lunch policy and neither dog should be allowed on the bed. The bed easily turns into a resource, then you have the toy and the bed being an issue.

I don't have suggestions for this situation because my opinion differs from a lot of people on here. I just want to say, if either of my dogs ever growled at me over a toy, the experience that follows would be unpleasant enough they would never want to do it again. Your dog shouldn't be allowed to give you a warning before they bite because YOU are the one in charge and that should never be challenged - biting or warning, or warning and biting shouldn't even be an option. The toys do not belong to them, they belong to you.
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Postby pitbullmamaliz » May 30th, 2010, 5:04 pm

But you have to be careful not to "correct out" the growl, otherwise you may end up with a dog that bites w/o growling first. Resource guarding is easy enough to deal with (in theory!), it just needs to be a slow, careful process.
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Postby amalie79 » May 30th, 2010, 5:05 pm

We do practice NILIF around here...and the 15 year old is never on the bed because he neither wants to be up there nor CAN be up there. He can't stay standing on the mattress and hates it; he barely gets up the front stairs, much less onto the bed. Maybe Robin sees him as a threat to the bed space, but I don't think so. River (dog number 3) is on the bed as well, with no trouble. I think Robin has begun guarding the space in front of the foot of the bed-- not the bed itself. She's been patrolling that area, going from the window, along the front of the bed, up on the opposite side of the bed, back down in front of the window to stare at critters, and back again-- which is why I closed all the blinds in the room. It's been a MUCH more peaceful space since we did that. :)

As for growling, I do really appreciate the warning. We are working consistently on good release commands. Simon, the 15 yo, was a very nervous, high strung guy, who I never thought would ever hurt anyone who wasn't up to no good. Somewhere along the line, he learned that growls go ignored or, worse, that he gets punished for them. He learned to skip straight to snapping for the folks he knows, and maybe more for the ones he doesn't. He's come a looong way with these issues, and learned a lot of self control, how to be around strangers, how to growl when he's unhappy-- which is especially important now, because every part of him seems to hurt at one time or another and I need to know when the head or paws or back are off limits. I learned that lesson the hard way. Robin is a bit nervous and high strung, too (not quite as much as he was), and she was a stray when we found her at a year old. She's had next to zero experience with civilized society. For all she knows, we are all out to take her things and all the strangers we meet outside are out to kick her off their lawns. It's not that I want her growling, but we have a relationship of trust that we've yet to fully build, and I don't expect smooth sailing. I want her to learn that growling just isn't necessary-- not that it isn't understood. :neutral:
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Postby amalie79 » May 30th, 2010, 5:06 pm

Liz said what I just said in a much more concise nutshell ;-)

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Postby amazincc » May 30th, 2010, 5:30 pm

amalie79 wrote:I want her to learn that growling just isn't necessary-- not that it isn't understood. :neutral:


I think that's an excellent approach for a dog like Robin. :)

There IS a time and a place for a "come-to-Jesus" moment on occasion, for some dogs, but IMO it would just re-enforce Robins belief that she DOES need to be on guard at all times, and that people are NOT to be trusted.
Who knows what her experiences have been w/people when she was a stray for a year... :|
It'll take at least another year (or longer) to undo those behaviors, and establishing a solid foundation of mutual trust is vital. :wink:
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Postby TheRedQueen » May 31st, 2010, 9:42 am

Robin was probably guarding the bed and the area with the window...she finds it a great thing to do...thus it is a VALUABLE resource in *HER* mind. Doesn't matter if anyone else finds it desirable...SHE does! Since she's already guarding other resources (bones), you're gonna have to watch for other guarding behavior. Again, it's not what we or anyone else thinks is a resource, it is what the guarding dog views as desirable. My Inara guards my bed from boarding dogs...it's HERS...(in her eyes) and keeps everyone else (other than siblings and cats) off the bed with a big show of teeth and noise. She also guards the trashcan in the kitchen and the kitchen counters (again, only with non-family dogs). I allow her to continue to a point...because I find it useful to keep fosters and boarders out of stuff. ;) I don't encourage others to do the same. 8) She's a special case, my Inara. :giggle:

So honestly, I'd do two things with this bed situation. 1. Keep her from getting on the bed when you're not around...and limit her access to that area. Prevent a big issue from becoming bigger. 2. Let her up on the bed as a REWARD for good behavior. Simple sit, down, etc and she's INVITED to get up on the bed...with Simon safely put away in another room.

And again, nope...you don't want to use positive punishment/physical force to work with a growling dog...uh-uh, no way! That's not only really bad for the relationship with the dog...it's also a one-way road into getting seriously hurt by the dog. :neutral:
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Postby amalie79 » May 31st, 2010, 10:29 am

I see what you're saying, Erin. She hasn't guarded the bed from River, though River doesn't really let anyone walk all over her; and I guess I was baffled by the bed itself being a resource from Simon because he has never been on it, put his paws on it-- nothing. But it's what's in her mind that counts. At this point, Robin and River sleep on the bed with us; Simon has his bed on the floor beside the bed. I've considered crating Robin at night since she sleeps pretty soundly once she's out, but others in the house feel bad about it because she spends a number of hours a day in her crate while everyone is at work (between about 8:30 and 3; after that, she's out). I'm adding another dog bed for Simon outside the bedroom because he gets overwhelmed by the activity sometimes, but he's slept every night in that same spot for a couple of years now. I'm hopeful that he'll prefer his bed outside the bedroom. That way, we can keep the bedroom from being a free-for-all space. River usually moves to her chair or the couch in the middle of the night, but Simon and Robin pretty much stay put until the old man can't hold it any more in the AM.

This one's a dilemma. :(
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Postby tiva » May 31st, 2010, 10:14 pm

Oh no--I just wrote a long response and hit the wrong button. Briefly this time: Amalie, this is actually pretty common behavior when one dog is getting quite old. It can have less to do with classic resource guarding, and more to do with social maturation. Very careful management is usually the best bet, because otherwise the older pet can end up seriously stressed.

Our Vanya did this with our Alaskan Husky, whom he had always adored, when she reached 15 years and began stumbling. For some reason, he began lashing out at her, growling if she came near his bed, and nipping at her once or twice. We kept her calm by using baby gates, so she didn't have to worry about him trying to displace her (or whatever he was doing).

A year after Juneau died, Vanya began growling when Tiva, our 14.5 year old pittie, bumped against him on his bed as her eyes and balance got worse. Tiva had always been the cool, collected queen of the household, and this shocked her. We again used baby gates to keep them separated at night (and during the day if we weren't around), so she wouldn't trip against him and set him off. For the two of them, we also began a lot of shaping calmness in him when she approached. Because he was getting tense when he was on the bed and she approached, we played a ton of Look at That games with him, her, and the bed. My husband sits on the bed with Vanya and a pile of treats. He rewards Vanya for calmly glancing at Tiva then looking back to him. I walk with Tiva, very slowly, closer to the bed, staying well under Vanya's threshold. We're teaching him that, when Tiva approaches the bed, very good things happen and he has no need to get guardy or tense. We did this a lot over the winter, and it seemed to have eliminated all his growling and tenseness at Tiva. But still, we manage them extremely closely, mostly so Tiva can have her rest and less stress.

Old age can become an odd signal to maturing dogs, and violence against very old dogs is unfortunately not rare. The kindest thing we can do, often, is to use management to protect the old dog from stress and from whatever is going on in the head of a maturing young dog.
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Postby TheRedQueen » May 31st, 2010, 10:24 pm

Good points about the old dogs...I forgot that we were talking about an old dog and young dog...:) Either way, yeah...I'd really work on managing the situation, and not letting it spiral out of control.
"I don't have any idea if my dogs respect me or not, but they're greedy and I have their stuff." -- Patty Ruzzo

"Dogs don't want to control people. They want to control their own lives." --John Bradshaw
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TheRedQueen
I thought I lost my Wiener... but then I found him.
 
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Postby amalie79 » May 31st, 2010, 11:32 pm

Thanks everyone; the age thing has occurred to me. We are definitely going to manage it. The bed is now only allowable when invited for Robin. It's important to me not to upset Simon's life too terribly much under the circumstances. Robin has, with only these few exceptions, seemed to really love him. She wants to play with him all the time, but he's just not capable. He also has CCD, and seems a but confused some of the time. If only he was still a younger dog...they would have really adored each other.

I was off work today and could start implementing some of these things. Robin is still very closely watched when she's out and about in the house, and even doing things like closing the blinds has improved her overstimulation; she also winds down pretty quickly in her crate, so that's a huge help, too. I also got a new waterproof mattress cover for a second bed for Simon out elsewhere in the house. He still appreciates getting away from all of us, and I can't blame him.

Thanks again. You'll definitely hear from me if it goes awry...
"In these bodies, we will live; in these bodies we will die.
Where you invest your love, you invest your life." --Marcus Mumford

--Amalie
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