New Rescue: Borderline SA or Normal Behavior?
I was hoping to get some opinions on the behavior of our newest addition, Greta. We have an appointment with our trainer at the house coming up on so she can evaluate her, but I thought I would also tap into the experience of everyone on this board. Iím trying to discern whether Greta has separation issues or is just a mischievous puppy, or some combination. Here is some background and Iíll try to keep it brief:
We adopted Greta only two months ago. She is 1.5 years old. The rescue was able to get a pretty decent history although she was found as a stray. She originally came from a breeder (sounds like a BYB) who sold her as an intact adult (she is spayed now) to someone who then dumped her in a park where she was picked up by the local ACO and sent to a boarding kennel. The purchaser could not be located and so the breeder asked the rescue to keep and place Greta. Greta spent a few weeks at a boarding kennel, then only 1.5 weeks at her foster home. She bonded strongly to a woman at the kennel, then to her foster mom, now to me. So, she has been bounced around a lot in a short time.
I am told she was crate trained at her foster home, but she absolutely lost her mind when we tried crating at my home. She barked non-stop and spun in circles and shredded her crate mat. Iíve been working on positive associations with the crate since then, but have not forced her to spend time in the crate (unless she has a bully stick and I am home) as I am concerned she could hurt herself trying to escape. Iíve been lax working on the crate training, to be honest, so I should probably step that up. I know difficulty with crating is a common SA symptom.
She is young and a very high energy dog, but has a great disposition. She gets along wonderfully with our other GSD (Lefty, a 3yr old rescue weíve had for a year) and is loving and just plain fun. We just started training classes and I plan on pursuing agility with her to focus that energy (we do lots of training work at home too). She is an outgoing and confident dog who does well with other dogs and new people. She is pretty happy-go-lucky most of the time.
Ok, so here is my concern. She gets very anxious when I am not home or she canít access me. If no one is home, or I am in the bathroom for a few minutes with the door closed, she goes on a search and destroy mission for our things (shreds things, like my bedroom comforter or Leftyís dog beds). When I get home from work, she is so incredibly excited she is panting and jumping out of control. I get a treat and make her sit to try and refocus her, but we usually have to go outside in the backyard so she can run off the excitement and anxiety before she can be calm again. She only destroys her own toys when we are home, but she is definitely a heavy chewer/shredder of toys.
Now, from day 1 I have made sure to be nonchalant about my comings and goings. I make her sit for attention and meals, etc. So, we are implementing a lot of the protocols for separation issues (and NILIF) and I have read quite a bit about it. She definitely does not have true separation anxiety, but she may have some separation or isolation distress. Or, it could be that she just has puppy brain and too much freedom, mixed with some lingering anxiety. She is definitely very puppy-ish. Oh, she also barks non-stop in the a.m. and sometimes at bedtime, sometimes at noises and I suspect sometimes just because she wants to trick us into getting up. This didnít start until recently and Iím not sure it relates, but I figured Iíd mention it.
We have been making sure, with very few and short exceptions, that someone is always home with her. Iím told that her anxiety when I leave is improving. She is getting a little (very little) better about my returns. Greta hasnít been with us very long, so we are hopeful that her improvement will continue.
She does not dig at doors or windows and she has become reliable on pottying outside now. She does not have a meltdown when I get ready for work. I am her favorite person so my comings and goings are a bigger deal, but she is ok as long as she has a person and Lefty there (she was very upset when Lefty had to leave for a recent vet appointment, despite having my mom come over to stay with her). Really, other than the destruction, I tend to see her behavior as somewhat typical, especially considering she is a fairly recent rescue; itís just amped up a notch.
I have the pamphlet ďIíll Be Home SoonĒ and can start working on the implementing the separation anxiety treatment plan in that. However, if she is just being a puppy and still adjusting, that may not be the right program. I can try and contain her to one room in the house, but I have been fearful that will not go well and she will try to tear down barriers and be extra distressed to be separated from Lefty. (I would not confine both her and Lefty in one room together as I donít want him to get frustrated or upset if she is.) If we do have some separation distress/anxiety issues, the last thing I want to do is risk making it worse.
In summary, she is a fairly new rescue, high energy young dog. We know the importance of exercise and training and work hard to make sure she gets lots of both. She is anxious when I leave and beside herself with joy when I return. She shreds inappropriate things only when there are no humans at home, so we make sure a human is home with her at all times (the shredding incidents happened in very short windows of time-weíve never left her unattended for an extended period). She has shown improvement on handling my leaving as long as she has a human with her and Iím working to make my return less exciting. Crating her has not been a viable option (so far) due to her distress. Weíve implemented some, but not all, of the SA treatment recommendations, including NILIF. We have an appointment with our trainer to evaluate her.
So, based on your experiences, is she borderline SA or is this mostly a maturity issue? Would you try confining her to one room or step-up the crate training or both? Should I implement the SA counter-conditioning program or does she just need some additional time to settle in? Someday, we would like to be able to leave her unattended. Right now, we are just managing her so she canít practice her bad behaviors.
Thank you in advance for any insights you may have. I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment!
As an update and, in case it's helpful, I'm pretty sure now that there is some SA to her behavior. She seems to zero in on the last items touched in the house. For example, a mug, a mouse, a mouse pad, poop bags, a newspaper, an EZ walk harness...these were the items chosen for chewing when she had blankets, pillows, couches (gasp!), and many other more interesting items within her reach. It was really the mug that clued us in. What could be appealing about that? It turns out, my husband moved it just before leaving for work. It was a 'sit on the desk and hold things' kind of mug.
Unfortunately we had some emergencies come up and were without a puppy sitter for an hour or two both yesterday and today, which is how we learned this. Hope this helps (and sorry my first post was so long)!
It sounds like you are working awfully hard with Greta. Did you just put her in the crate, when she got to your home, or did you slowly introduce her? - like leaving the crate door open and treating her for going in. I used to give my dog an awesome chew that he only got when he was in the crate. He would get the chew, usually an antler, when we were going out. I still leave the radio or TV on. It seems to me that if you could get her used to liking the crate, your problem would be solved.
I read your entire post. It seems like you have really done your research and are on top of things. Hopefully, the trainer can offer some good advice.
Thanks Stevenzachsmom. I did just quickly show her which crate was hers and had her go in right away. I thought since she was crate trained it would be good to put her in her new crate right away at least briefly. As soon as I realized that wasn't the right move, I went all the way back to developing positive associations with the crate. She only gets bully sticks if she is in the crate, so that's her special treat. We've been working on so many different things I've sort of let the crate training slide, but I think we definitely need to get back to working on that daily.
Just in case anyone has a similar issue in the future, I will update now and at least once more when we (hopefully) are past this and enjoying our blissfully well-adjusted pup who can be left home alone without issue. :)
Our trainer did recommend that we step up the crate training massively. In and out multiple times a day. Sometimes waiting two seconds to let her out, sometimes longer, but always varying. We will do some extended stays with a Kong or bullystick as we putter around the house. We will practice opening and closing the crate door while she is in there, but making sure she knows she cannot come out until calm and given the release command. We are also making sure to practice stay/wait exercises to help build self-control. We are giving meals in the crate.
So far, she is doing wonderfully with it. We have a long way to go before I'll be comfortable with leaving her in there while we are not home, but I think we will get there.
Another interesting thing is that we need to practice, as much as schedules permit, is on leash training with both pups in the house, going in and out of sight of one another and switching off handlers between my husband and I. This will help get the pups used to being apart and being worked by different handlers (I do all the obedience classes and exercises, so they are not used to it with my husband). It will also help diminish the excitement of leashes and collars coming out.
Ah, so much to work on, but at least it is all simple things! I love my trainer. I always feel so positive when she leaves. It is amazing to me how much the little things add up for the dogs and how going back to basics is reassuring for everyone.
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