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Sudden change in dog's behaviour - 8 years old, suddenly reactive to other dogs

(9 Posts)
moosemama Sun 23-Feb-14 19:21:05

I have an 8 year old Lurcher who for his whole life has been the sweetest, most friendly, laid back lump of dog. We could take him anywhere and he would happily mix with any dogs.

He was entire up until last June, when he had to be neutered due to prostate problems.

A few months later, probably about 3 months, he had his first ever scuffle with another dog. In fact it happened twice in as many weeks. Both times were when off-lead out of control juvenile labs that careered across a big field and jumped on him, so at the time time, although concerned I put it down to him telling them off for being so rude. It was all noise and bluff, no injury and on the second occasion the lab had also made the mistake of grabbing my boy's tennis ball, which he dropped as the lab jumped on his head. I stopped taking his ball out with us after that, just in case that was the trigger, as he has a ball with him both times.

Next few months were uneventful. We took him away with us over the Christmas holidays and he was fine on the beach around lots of dogs of varying breeds, although most were on lead, as was he, so he didn't actually interact with any of them.

Fast forward again to February and he has suddenly started barking at other dogs. I know a bit about behaviour and whilst the barking itself doesn't sound aggressive, I'm concerned at his body language when he does this. He does seem hyper excited, but he stiffens up and pounces up and down and his whole demeanour looks too tight for it to be just excitement.

We haven't had any more 'incidents' but over the last week or so, every single walk he has ended up barking at other dogs, not every dog - he seems to pick and choose. Each time he's done so he's been on the lead, with the other dogs at a distance - both on and off lead, but not actually approaching him.

On Friday he was surprised by an out of control, off-lead Staffie. She was friendly but charged at him when he was lying quietly by my feet and he shot towards her and barked, but settled again straight away as soon as the owner managed to catch her and was calm enough to do some sits, downs and watch me's while she was still close by.

Yesterday he took exception to a border terrier in our local park. He didn't bark, he did something very odd. I wasn't their myself, but dh said he dropped into a stalking position and fixated on it. Dh put him in a sit and rewarding him for focussing on him instead of the other dog and he was fine once it had gone.

Dh took him out again today (I'm not well at the moment, so can't walk him enough myself). Apparently today he decided to bark at two different dogs, one a small terrier, the other something like cockerpoo. Dh said they were both long coated and he couldn't tell if they were dogs or bitches, but neither dog had approached him and all of them were on-lead. Again he sat when asked and was rewarded for sitting quietly while they passed by.

He's booked into the vet for a check-up this week, as obviously I want to rule out the possibility of an underlying health problem.

The only other change in his life was us getting our new pup last August. Pup is now almost 9 months old, had delayed vaccinations due to illness and I have spent a lot of time and effort on getting him past his own fear of other dogs due to the delay in socialisation. Now they can't be walked together, as I don't want my old lad's strange behaviour setting the pup back.

Could it be the castration? I have usually heard it said that there is not normally an effect on behaviours in adult dogs that have no previous behavioural issues, but I also know that removing testosterone can cause dogs become anxious/nervy and in the worst cases develop fear aggression, as they no longer have the hormone balance to help self-calm. In fact my younger boy hasn't been castrated yet, as we were advised by several behaviourists, trainer and our vet to delay as he is a prime canditate for his fear of other dogs developing into aggression and I want to be sure he's over it before I consider getting it done. Ironically he has been really well behaved on both of the recent walks where the older dog has barked and just watched calmly.

Any ideas, thoughts, advice would be greatly appreciated. I am worried sick about him as it's like walking a different dog it's so out of character and it's such a big change after 8 years of having an easy laid-back dog.

cashewfrenzy Sun 23-Feb-14 20:36:48

Vet first.

If all OK on that front, you may be onto something with the neutering. He could have always been anxious around other dogs but confident enough to ride it out. He may have been frightened by these young labs being so rude and has learned quickly that barking keeps other dogs at bay to avoid a repeat of the scenario.

You probably know how to sort this out though smile CC and BAT and teach "look dog" (drop high value treats to the ground when other dog appears then retreat). The important thing is what you're doing already - interrupt and redirect.

moosemama Sun 23-Feb-14 20:47:39

Thanks cashew.

I do know how to approach the behavioural work. I think I am just so shocked at the difference in him.

The only thing I've notice health wise is that he seems to be a bit coughy. For example, if he rolls on his back (Lurcher roaching) he starts to cough and splutter and has to get up and he seems to cough after running free as well. (This scares me as my old girl, that we lost last April has lung mets with osteosarcoma and started coughing not long before we lost her.)

Other than that he seems well in himself. He gained weight after the castration, but is back to a healthy weight now. No sign of any lameness, no tense or sore spots anywhere on his body.

I know I shouldn't speculate and should wait until the vet gives him the all clear, I'm just so worried about him. He's always been such a beautiful, soppy boy and this is a big change.

Lilcamper Mon 24-Feb-14 10:08:59

Sounds like a combination of things to be honest. The removal of his 'bravery' hormones and then being bowled over by rude labs.

Might be worth getting his sight checked out if he seems to be reacting to smaller type dogs. Could be he isn't seeing them as a dog but just a small furry?

moosemama Mon 24-Feb-14 10:26:07

Thanks Lilcamper, will get the vet to check his eyes out when we go.

He's never really been interested in small furries, by Lurcher standards he'd be classed as having very poor prey drive. Only once in his life have I ever seen him react and that was when we walked into a field that was absolutely covered in rabbits that all shot off in different directions at once. I've never seen anything quite like it.

I can't help the feeling that something's not right with him healthwise but the combination of the rude labs and neutering also makes sense. The only thing is, there was quite a gap between the Lab incidents and the next time he reacted, with him behaving perfectly on walks in the meantime - although I suppose that could possibly be explained by dropping hormone levels and him only starting to react when they hit rock bottom.

Sometimes I really wish they could just talk and tell us what's wrong. It's so frustrating not knowing exactly how to help them.

needastrongone Mon 24-Feb-14 10:58:16

moose - what about the fact that you have been pretty confined lately too? Just a thought to consider. Clearly, you are wary of taking Pip places that may be over threshold, but perhaps this is affecting Lurcherboy?

I noticed taking ours out this morning, Ddog1 wants to greet all dogs (politely thankfully!!), pre confinement, he pretty much ignored. It's just a change in behaviour that I have observed, that's all smile

moosemama Mon 24-Feb-14 13:43:59

It could have a bearing. Dh has been walking them rather than me and at first wasn't confident to let them off, but has been for a while now. I suppose dh walking them on his own hasn't been all that frequent an occurrence before. He's walked them lots, obviously, but usually with me.

Interestingly the stalking the terrier and barking at the cockerpoo both happened in our local park and that's where he had both bad experiences with the Labs.

Dh had them both with him and oddly, he said Pip was fine, just stood and watched, no dancing about or trying to hide and more importantly, he didn't join in with Lurcherboy's antics.

When we lost Oldgirl last year, Lurcherboy suddenly wanted to play with every dog in the park, having always ignored them previously - he had had first two other dogs and then just Oldgirl to entertain him before then and neither of my girls were interested in other dogs, so stayed close by and stuck together. I suppose he may never have thought that he could go and play with other dogs, as he would have taken their lead. Fortunately he had good manners and an excellent recall, so I could pick and choose who he was allowed to play with and he never bothered anyone who didn't want their dogs to play.

I do kind of wonder whether the new behaviour might be over-excitement/frustration more than fear, as perhaps now he has Pip to play with he finally realises that other dogs are more exciting than old-lady dogs to play with. Also Pip has being kept on a long-line (being held) for a while due to his bad leg (he's at the vets tomorrow about that hmm) so they haven't been able to do all their usual high-speed zoomies together. He's been on-lead every time and if he was desperate to play and couldn't get to them .... The stalking behaviour is very odd though. I've never seen him do that before, even with bunnies!

I'm considering getting a local dog walking/behaviour couple to come out for a walk with us and see what they think. A bit like kids, sometimes I think we can be a bit too close to a problem to untangle what's behind it.

moosemama Wed 26-Feb-14 11:28:11

Just to update. We have discovered that Lurcherboy has a respiratory tract infection which includes both eyes. I was thinking the other day when Lil mentioned eyesight that I have thought a few times that his eyes looked a bit odd, but couldn't put my finger on why. (He has huge brown eyes, that we almost never see the whites of, so hard to tell if they've been red.

He hasn't seen the vet yet himself, but our pup went to the vets yesterday due to intermittent red eyes and they discovered he has it. Very surprised as pup hasn't been acting ill at all and hasn't even been bothering at his eyes, but he has a raised temp and all the signs of a bacterial resp infection.

Vet said, given how close they are and the fact that Lurcherboy has been coughing and sneezing intermittently etc, it's almost guaranteed that he has the same thing, so they'll check him out at his appointment and probably give him the same treatment.

Pip has had two lots of tablets and eye drops and has been super lively this morning, so I think he must have been feeling rough and has perked up now the meds have started to kick in. If Lurcherboy is feeling the same, then it could well have a strong bearing on his odd behaviour recently.

Fingers crossed that's what it is and after some tlc and meds he'll be back to his usual laid-back friendly self.

Lilcamper Wed 26-Feb-14 14:28:39

Good to hear you seem to be getting to the bottom of it moose and I hope they are both feeling tip top again soon.

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