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Old 12-26-2012, 08:41 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Backyard Obsession

Sorry in advance that this is so long.

I have a 6 month old female shepherd who is wonderful in almost every way, but in the last month she has become OBSESSED with the backyard.

So, about a month or so ago, my mom put out a bird feeder that the dogs can see from the back door. It attracts a lot of birds and squirrels and my puppy was just coming into her KILL ALL SQUIRRELS phase at this time and was understandably excited about all of the new critters to chase.

Unfortunately it has gone from her running out to the feeder when we open the door to her becoming EXCESSIVELY obsessed with going outside. If anyone walks in the kitchen (where the door is) she starts whining and jumping around. If someone touches the door she SMASHES it with her entire body in attempts to get out. When she came home and the screen door was up she "punched" it and knocked it out of the frame, and if we are not near the door she comes to us and insists she HAS to go out (which we often comply with since she COULD have to go potty)
When I do let her out she runs top speed, leaps off of the deck, and does a crazed circle around the yard, barking and doing unnecessary jumps and a few times she has hit the back wooden fence so hard that she has come away limping.

Now, when we are coming back from walks (walking or in the car) she starts crying about a block away because she knows she is almost to the door. I open the car door and she runs to the front door, ignores the family/ other dog and runs and sits at the back door crying until we let her out.


To answer some of the most likely questions...

1) Exercise: We generally do 2-3 walks a day. 15 minutes, 1 hour, 15-25 minutes. We do 2-3 short training sessions and basically every other moment I am not eating, showering or sleeping I am entertaining her in some way. We have an older dog who plays with Maya constantly (intense running and wrestling). Weekends and days off we go to the dog park and go for very long walks and hikes. She has been through puppy kindergarden, is VERY smart and we are training for CGC and eventually want to train her for agility.

I realize this exercise plan still isn't enough to truly kill off her excess energy and we have been trying to get into several new training classes, one begins in about a week. So, more exercise would certainly help, but I am not entirely sure how to fit it in, since if she had her way we would be playing EVERY SECOND.

2) There is no reason why she CANT go outside, I just do not like that she is OBSESSED with it to an extent where she cannot enjoy other things, and I am worried she is going to get hurt by the way she SHOOTS out of the door. While I tried to "ignore" the behavior at first, this became difficult because we HAVE to let the dogs out when they ask because they may need to go to the bathroom. To come in the front door she has to sit and wait until I give a release command and she is really good at that, so I tried it at the back door, but it had the opposite reaction and she complied, but acted more like I said READY SET GO than wait.

3) Lately I have been working with her by opening the door, holding her collar, walking outside and making her sit and stay on the deck. I then give a release command and she runs off. It does seem to lessen her extreme race around the yard, but my mother (who is with the dogs for several hours during the day) is not willing/ able to do this technique when I am not home, so it is hard to be consistent.
It is a little unrealistic to do this EVERY TIME, although I have been trying to for the last week. Also (while it may be silly to think this way) she takes her squirrel chasing job VERY SERIOUSLY and I hate to take that away from her.

4) Our older dog is also very annoyed by her behavior and when they are going out together he will nip her before the door is opened. She does listen and crouches down and slinks past him before running.

5) I have also tried to incorporate NILF from the start (before these problems) and always make her touch before she can go out. She will still listen and do touch when I ask her to, but then she is body slamming the door to go out.

6) When the door is left open she will do one circle in the yard and then come inside and lay down. She is only insane when the door is closed with the possibility of being opened.

So.. thank you for reading my very long post. Aside from more exercise, what can I do???

Last edited by Maya27; 12-26-2012 at 08:46 PM.
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Old 12-26-2012, 09:21 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Welcome to the board!

Is the feeder still out there? I would take it out.

I would be happy to know this about my dog - good or bad - because it clues me into possibilities for a little OCD type behavior - or her drive - (can't see her can't tell what she's really like) and work to tire out her mind a bit more. You can do some looking at books like Control Unleashed, google crate games, and since you are looking at agility, playing with a tug and doing some clicker work.

I think I am missing some stuff like replacement behaviors, etc, but right now all I can think of is get that feeder out of there.
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Old 12-26-2012, 09:35 PM   #3 (permalink)
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My boy is about the age of your girl and, while he sometimes fakes a "I gotta go" to get outside, he never does the things your dog is doing. He enjoys barking at squirrels and such, and he is sometimes a bit rowdy while waiting for the door to get opened (we're working on that), but it isn't anything like what you are going through.

This behavior sounds borderline OCD-ish to me, as opposed to normal rowdy puppy behavior.

I hope others can give you insight on what to do to help calm the obsession.
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Old 12-26-2012, 09:38 PM   #4 (permalink)
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Get rid of the feeder and don't give in to every demand to go out. At 6 months old she should be house trained and able to hold it for at least 4 hours so put her on potty schedule spaced out, say, every 3-4 hours. If you have to, take her out on a leash. Distract her from her critter chasing with a ball or favorite toy. Do obedience in the yard. Do things other then just letting her run around.

As you're well aware she also needs way more exercise then you're giving now. It will help to take the edge off. The amount of time you exercise doesn't tell us very much, though I do have to say a walk that lasts 15-20 minutes is a joke to a herding dog. What you do during that time is also important. Having my dog running after his flirt pole for 30 minutes is going to make him way more tired then an hour walking.
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Last edited by Verivus; 12-26-2012 at 09:44 PM.
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Old 12-26-2012, 10:34 PM   #5 (permalink)
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Yes - I would take out the feeder, up the exercise, take her out on a leash only - work on obedience - sign her up for clases as you plan to do- agility, obedience, possibly Schutzhund - if they are available in your area, play lots of fetch/tug with her and let her win so she can have an outlet for her prey drive. But with your mother "dog sitting" daily, I would also try reverse psychology, because of what you listed in #6 " When the door is left open she will do one circle in the yard and then come inside and lay down. She is only insane when the door is closed with the possibility of being opened" - so I would install a dog door - she can go in and out.
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Old 12-26-2012, 11:26 PM   #6 (permalink)
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Thanks for the good advice everyone, I really appreciate you taking the time to answer. Here is another long reply.

Unfortunately, living at home, there is only so much I can demand be changed, so the feeder will not be moved (I realize this would have probably solved the problem on day 1 since no squirrels= no obsession). I would love to, but I am told it is non-negotiable and in fact another two feeders are going up tomorrow. Yes, I know... FML.

She is VERY high drive. I never set out specifically to get a high drive pup, but frankly I am thrilled 99% of the time about it, since I would LOVE to do agility/ schuzthund (and plan to), either of which I think she would excel at wonderfully.
In all other aspects she has been a WONDERFUL puppy. She loves our other dog, is extremely well tempered with dogs and people, has never destroyed anything that wasn't hers and calms down wonderfully when she has to. She is extremely smart and has learned just about everything I have thought to teach her in record time. She got a hoola hoop for Christmas and already learned to leap through it (in the air) like a circus tiger!

I have had shepherds all of my life and recently started working part time (4.5 hours a day) specifically so that I would have enough time to devote to this new puppy. She has someone home with her all day long, but unfortunately due to my mother's health problems, the pup only gets walks and high level play when I am there. I think I may consider investing in a midday dog walker, although I am not incredibly fond of someone else walking my dog.

The shorter walks are just to start and end the day with a lot of socialization since we see many people and dogs along the way. The longer walk is fairly active with her chasing sticks, playing tug, running on trails, playing with other dogs and doing obedience throughout. She is generally tired for an hour afterwards. Obviously the summer is much easier since she can also go swimming and there are many more dogs to play with.
At home we do intensive games of tug, soccer, fetch, training sessions and flirt pole. All of which she loves, but obviously tires me out much quicker than it does her.

We often play in the backyard and do obedience there without a problem. She isn't nervous or upset at ALL when she is in the backyard, it is just the INITIAL door opening. It is like she is being shot out of a cannon.

We do not crate, but accidents are not an issue. She was housebroken within the first week here and has never had an accident in the house. I do try to ignore her desire to go out when I know she has just been out/ on a walk, but I hate to do that too much since sometimes when I do relent it turns out she really DID need to potty and I don't want her to think she isn't suppose to let us know when she needs to go out (just teach her not to lie about it).

I don't think we would do a dog door because I don't want the dogs outside unsupervised. We have privacy fences of course, but there is still always the chance of them getting into something dangerous or finding a way out. When it gets warmer things will be much easier since we can leave the door open all of the time and maybe she will just grow out of this obsession, but right now the weather is AWFUL so there is a lot of opening and closing doors.

If I play with her outside she is fine, if the door is open (and she does her circle) she is then fine, If I take her out on a leash she tugs and whines and cries and won't settle down until she can run once and then she is fine. OCD sounds about right...


TLDR: Ok, so I have heard: MORE EXERCISE (I will do my very best and I will be giving her more training/ a job as soon as humanly possible.)
: Move the feeder (I agree, but it won't happen)
: Dog door (Good idea, but probably not safe for them)

Thanks for the advice so far and thanks for the welcome to the board! Sorry for the really long posts, being concise is not a strong point..
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Old 12-26-2012, 11:26 PM   #7 (permalink)
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on point number 2 if there is no reason why she can't go outside other than the one you gave..."just do not like that she is OBSESSED with it..." i would would give her full access to it at all times, thats just me tho.

i think dogs like humans put more value in things they are restrained from, evrything loses value with open access. and so what if it doesn't, the backyard doesn't seem to be a bad place really if the dog enjoys hanging out there.

my dogs have a very large area to free-range, they all have there own preferred place to hang out for reasons i will never know. strangely i learn from watching my own dogs they do not need or utilise a large area, they hang around their spot of choice, inside the house is not one of them.

and as far as excercise if it isn't fun or stimulating somehowto the dog (not you) it is counterproductive.

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Last edited by x11; 12-26-2012 at 11:29 PM.
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Old 12-26-2012, 11:34 PM   #8 (permalink)
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Thanks X11, and yes, it would certainly make life easier.

The only reason this doesn't work is (1) because it is very cold and rainy and miserable lately so we cannot leave the door open 24/7 and (2) because I do not want the dogs being outside unsupervised. It is an enclosed area, but if she REALLY wanted to she could probably jump the fence or dig out (if given all day to do so).
Also, the next door dog has figured out how to jump into our yard whenever he wants. They are all buddies, but our older dog is a bit possessive of "his" puppy and I don't want them all playing without supervision.

The puppy loves outside and does spend a good amount of time in the yard playing with toys and sticks and our other dog. However she can play for two hours, get SUPER tired and the moment we touch the door handle she still leaps up and body slams the door trying to get out so..

I will try to spend more time with the door open when I am home and able to supervise everything and it isn't sleeting
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Old 12-27-2012, 12:19 AM   #9 (permalink)
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no offence but give a few hours and i will make any back yard dog proof 110%.

ok i had to reword that as i had "offence" and "fence" in same sentence and it just sounded like a lame pun. sad i can crack myself up so easy.

altho new to the breed and only ever owning smooth coated dogs before i can say that the gsd coat equips it well for what we perceive as horrible weather conditions. my idiot ceratinly will not come out of a storm and sit inside if there is any more interesting stimulation outside like a dam ball left out.

i know folks are big on the supervision thing and rightly so but personally i effect an environment where a dog can have its freedom to be a dog 99% of the time AND be unsupervised.

i think i must be a genius in this one thing cos the experienced folks generally say it can't be done - it can, i do it.
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Old 12-27-2012, 02:13 AM   #10 (permalink)
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Well I hope your mom knows that she is setting traps for the birds and squirrels, because soon your dog will be catching and killing them. My dog caught a squirrel and killed it, not a pretty site to see. I don't have feeders and try to keep them away. Why would your Mom want to trap them like that?
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