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Springer with OCD - advice and experience please

(16 Posts)
busyhouseof8 Wed 25-May-11 15:02:41

Charlie, my 2 year old English Springer is a fantastic dog - child friendly, cat friendly, everything friendly, with a permanent grin on his face. HOWEVER, he has a major compulsion to chase dust. If he's on any hard surface (patio, pavement etc) he spends his whole time manically staring at the floor, leaping about and snapping at God knows what that he thinks he can see moving. When he gets really excited he starts yipping and barking too.

When we go for a walk, he is so obsessed with leaping after every dust ball and leaf blowing past, he pays absolutely no attention to any form of command. He's a strong boy, so the only way I can take him out is on a Gencon collar and even that doesn't hep much on a windy day!

If we are out in the garden he will run and spring from one end of the paving that goes round the house to the other. Given half a chance he will do it for hours, only stopping for a rest when he's completely out of breath before starting again.

Walks we can manage, but the problem with him chasing dust in the garden is that he gets so excited he wags his tail like a lunatic and doesn't notice that he is bashing it against the brick wall, fence, chairs etc. You won't believe how many barriers we have put up against hard objects in the garden, but somehow he always manages to bash it. As a consequence he keeps splitting the tip of his tail.

Once split, his tail takes forever to heal as he just opens up the wound over and over. We've had loads of trips to the vet as it ends up getting infected and he has to have antibiotics.

Vet recommended some natural remedy pills called Nutri Calm for Dogs. Recommended dose was three pills a day, but there was no noticeable difference and cost was £30 per bottle of 50 pills, so that's a non-runner.

We are now at a point where the vet has recommended that we have his tail docked, which we are loathe to do. Any suggestions for how to deal with the compulsions (and what might be causing them) before such a drastic step?

Thanks to you all

ellangirl Wed 25-May-11 15:39:17

If he only gets a walk on a lead at your pace, I would suggest that he needs way more stimulation and exercise. Springers are a very active breed, as I'm sure you know!

terrier141 Wed 25-May-11 16:18:26

I would also suggest some mental stimulation as well - as Springers are a very clever working breed. Try some hiding games with treats hidden around the house, kongs, and other clever games that you can get at Pets At Home - there are some where the dog has to move squares with his nose/feet and work out how to get the treat.
Or how about trying to move his fixation away from dust and onto something more manageable like a ball. This could be done by positive reward based training for all ball focussed attention. Obviously do NOT react to his inappropriate dust focussed behaviour in any way as this will just re-inforce the behaviour. Try to distract him by bringing his attention to the ball/other appropriate behaviour and then reward this when he does smile
also can i ask what food you are feeding him? Certain foods are thought to bring out the worst in some dogs - so this could be a contributary factor??

jordannarikki Wed 25-May-11 16:20:24

Mine does this too!

She has health problems which mean she can't go offlead.

Mine chases shadows and lightfalls rather than dust though. Does chase leaves.

We tried to distract her for ages then gave up and gave her ways to channel it. She has a bubble machine in the garden and she just jumps around chasing the bubbles. It seems to help, in a weird way, gives her an outlet, if that makes sense.

(mine's a springer too)

jordannarikki Wed 25-May-11 16:26:06

Sorry, just read you wouldn;t want him jumoing around in the garden because of his tail.

busyhouseof8 Wed 25-May-11 16:56:45

Thanks for your comments everyone.

I do walk him mostly off lead - taking the easy way out really as he's so pully on lead. He's happy as Larry chasing across the fields leaping about at the leaves that blow. If we come across people and other dogs he just ignores them and does his own thing chasing leaves, dust etc.

terrier - thanks for the suggestion re ball training. He will play fetch for a while, but after a few minutes the call of the dust is too great and he takes himself off to chase up and down after it. Maybe at that point I should bring him into the house so he knows that if he chases dust then outside time is over. Do you think that might help?

I feed him a food called Symply - supposed to have no additives etc. Practical reason is it's the only food my Working Cocker will eat as she's a real fuss pot.

I'll try the bubble machine more often. He does really love it when my DD plays with hers. I'll just put in on for him instead in the middle of the lawn where there's nothing for him to crash into!

Batteryhuman Wed 25-May-11 17:03:54

As a former springer owner I can sympathise. With springers, collies and other highly intelligent and energetic working breeds it is often a case that if you don't provide them with employment they go self-employed. This is why these breeds are so often mentioned when problem behaviours are discussed but also why they are the breeds that professionals turn to when they have complicated jobs to do.

Have you read some of the clicker training threads on here? They have unlimited ideas of ways to stimulate mind and body.

But don't worry he will calm down eventually, about 12 years should do it if my springer was anything to go by smile

busyhouseof8 Wed 25-May-11 17:33:58

jordannarikki - I just thought. Maybe Charlie is also chasing the shadow of his own ears on the ground rather than dust! Usually we can't see anything for him to be staring at. He also started out on this jorney with snapping at lightfalls.

I look for the clicker training threads. I've always thought that I'd be hopeless at it so been a bit wary of giving it a try.

MissFenella Wed 25-May-11 17:39:49

Personally I'd go with the docking. What he is chasing isn't really the point - it's the fact he doesn't notice the damage he is doing to his tail (so not much feeling there). he could do something really nasty to it if he doesn't feel.

busyhouseof8 Wed 25-May-11 17:54:43

You don't think docking would be cruel and unusual punishment? Vet (who I do trust and has been great with all our animals) does say that we'll feel more upset about it than Charlie but it breaks my heart to do it to him.

ellangirl Wed 25-May-11 18:24:33

Sorry for assuming he doesn't get off lead walks- it's just because you said about the collar. I don't think docking for medical reasons would be cruel. I think there is a lot more risk and pain involved in repeated injury to his tail. You don't have to have it fully docked- make sure there is enough for him to wag properly!!

minimu1 Wed 25-May-11 18:54:48

This is a very common problem with spaniels and other breeds as well. I would certainly look into clicker training as it does keep the dogs mind active and is not too difficult for owners either. You can clicker train from the sofa!

Once clicker training is established you can begin to click the pause in the chasing.

There are two main approaches and it is hard to say without seeing the dog.

Some work really well with just ignoring the unwanted behaviour and going overboard on treats and rewards for the good behaviour. So instead of chasing dust if the dog gets rewarded for another behaviour that becomes more rewarding. I would work on this first and be prepared for it to take time.

However often the chasing behaviour has become entrenched (and we know how hard it is to change our behaviour and the same for the dog) It may need some distraction noise training. So when he starts to chase drop a saucepan lid and then as he turns to the noise praise like mad.

I would not recommend anyone doing this though until the dog has been assessed by a qualified behaviourist. If the behaviour is due to anxiety and stress obviously the noise of the saucepan will just make things 100% worse.

I would up the exercise and the training but again watch out and see what happens sometimes a stressed dog will actually be worse if they are over stimulated. So I would also look to see if a lazy day and a quiet day brings down the stress level in the dog and less chasing. It can take over 24 hours for the stress levels to come down in a dog.

Case history time:- I had a client with a really hyper collie that would just chase every leaf, was so obsessed that she would just stare at them all the time. So the owner upped the exercise, every walk was a ball chasing epic took her to agility,flyball didn't give the dog a second to chill. On my recommendation she did not take her out of the garden for a week, no walks just a bit of quiet calm training. The dog was like a different dog. She gently reintroduced exercise without the ball and kept things calm and chilled and the dog was much more relaxed and no more leaf chasing or obsession.

MissFenella Wed 25-May-11 19:45:23

Busy - I think its a lesser of two evils. A dog who doesn't feel pain in it's tail could do all sorts of horrors and end up needed an emergency amputation anyway. I'd trust your vet, they are unlikely to say it if not absolutely necessary.

Our springer is just as giddy as the others here but her waggy tail def feels pain (having stepped back on to it in the kitchen on the weekend!)

kid Wed 25-May-11 21:51:04

I attended a mental stimulation dog class recently and one game fir my springer that I absolutely love is really simple. You need a muffin tray (metal or plastic) several balls and some tasty, smelly treats. You put treats in the tray and then cover with a ball. Your dog then has to figure out how to get the treat.

Another game is put treats in a box or bottle and make holes in it. Then tape the lid on and then let your dog find a way to get the treats. My dog loves these games, yet they are so simple.

jordannarikki Wed 25-May-11 22:45:06

Kid, thanks for sharing I'm going to try those too!

kid Sat 28-May-11 01:03:42

I was playing a fab game with my pup earlier. I got his most favourite toy let him have a play with it by throwing and rolling it around. Then
I made him sit and wait while I hid it. I then instructed him to find it. I honestly don't know who enjoyed the game more, me or him!

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