Monday, October 19, 2015

Meet Rex, the Cowering King

Rex, whose name means "king."
One of the many things Stephen and I discussed during our retreat was that I would really like to have another dog. But, as finances were also on our agenda, we both knew that we really couldn't afford one. Even healthy, young dogs have vet bills, toys, equipment, dog walkers and boarders when we travel, etc. It adds up.

Don't we sound just like a couple discussing having another baby?

Stephen's position, as when we discussed the size of our family was: "It's up to you. You know the costs and issues." This explains why we have four children, a dog, and a cat.

This time, however, I thought about fostering a dog. I'd actually been thinking about it for a while, but really hesitated. But with Stephen's support, I contact a new local rescue, Rocky Road Rescue, and -- bada-boom-bada-bing! -- we now have a new, temporary member of our family.

As with many rescue dogs, Rex came with some baggage. He had been completely pampered by his original owner, to the point that he could not bear to be separated from them, even by a room away.

I was warned that he would be a problem at night, so I was prepared.

But first, we spent the afternoon working on some basic skills: sit, down, and place. Many of you may not have heard of "place" as a command. The command directs the dog to go to a specific place (typically a mat or raised surface) and stay there until told otherwise. Rex nailed this. He would stay where I put him indefinitely.

We went for a walk and, unlike our dog, Kane in his early days, Rex was a complete angel. I could've walked him with a silk thread.

We walked to the pet store and got him a stuffed toy and an antler to chew on. He showed moderate interest in them, but still was very timid.

Dinnertime was our first taste of things to come. Rex was in his crate with the door closed while we were in the adjoining room. He could hear us and smell us but he was not with us. And the whining began. We used a can of compressed air to disrupt his obsessing, but it happened frequently.

After dinner, we worked on his crate aversion, using his kibble as motivation. Here's a little video of how we did that.

(Sorry about the crappy lighting.

He was astonishingly compliant, all things considered. But then, I was still in the room with him.

And then came BEDTIME.

Thirty years ago, Steve and I brought home a puppy we had bought at a pet store. Likely, he was a puppy-mill dog and had been taken away from his mother too soon. Definitely, he had separation anxiety. We put him in the basement where he howled all night. But that dog's howls were nothing compared to poor, sweet Rex.

Rex did not just whine. He did not just whimper. He howled and barked and screamed. His level of anxiety accelerated rapidly. There was no way anyone in the house would sleep while that was going on.

As the one who "asked for this" I readily accepted that I would be on dog-duty all night. I contacted our dog trainer, Cher, of Street Wise Canine, who happens to be one of the "behaviourists" for Rocky Roads Rescue and who had helped us handle Kane's leash problems. Cher is known for handling the dogs that are one step away from being abandoned or even euthanized for their bad behaviour.

Over the next hour, Cher coached me (by text) through the behaviour modification for Rex's over-the-top anxiety. Each time Rex lost control, I thought: No one will adopt this puppy.

The treatment was not fun. I left Rex in his crate with the door closed. I turned off the lights and left the room. I did not go far -- only to the adjoining hallway. Within about 60 seconds, Rex was howling as if he were being murdered. Each time he began to wind up -- huffing or whimpering -- I applied an electric stimulation using Kane's e-collar.

I started out at a level that, to me, seemed high but which effectively only added to his stress without acting as a motivator for him to control himself. So I pumped it quite high and held it for as long as he howled.

Within fifteen minutes the breaks between his outbursts were further and further apart. Cher told me I could reduce the stimulation level, but not too much. I had to find the sweet spot where the consequence of losing control was worse than his anxiety. Initially, his anxiety was so high that it took a lot of external sensation to counteract what was going on in his head.

It was an hour before I felt I could leave the hallway (where I could hear the panting and huffing that preceded an outburst) and sit in the sun room to control his outbursts from there. The increasing times between his fits and the decreasing intensity of his fits reassured me that I was on the right track.

By midnight, two hours after we started the bedtime routine, Rex was asleep, likely exhausted but also able to master his anxiety. I crept back into the living room so I could sleep on the couch. We didn't have any further outbursts until this morning when my son left for school. The closing of the front door seemed to trigger a major outburst.

We got past that quite quickly. For the rest of this morning, we've been working on other behaviours (sit, down, stay, place, heel). He voluntarily goes into his crate and stayed there with the crate door open for more than an hour.

As I write, he is in his crate with the door closed while I am in the dining room. He is not panting, whining or otherwise complaining. He is calm. This absolutely could not have happened yesterday.

I'm only leaving him in there with the door closed and out of sight of me for a few minutes at a time. I want this to be positive for him. But I am prepared to correct his behaviour if he loses his shit.

The main thing is that Rex now knows two things:
1. He can control his behaviour.
2. He must control his behaviour.

I fully expect he'll need some reminding tonight, but I am confident that we can work at a much lower stimulation level and that he will quickly come to master this.

Go, Rex! You rule!


  1. How interesting! When we brought our puppy home he howled and cried because he missed his litter mates. We got him from a breeder at 8 weeks, but he was till very very young. What worked for us was a small teddy bear with a ticking clock sewn into it. We also added a heat pack to fully simulate having another puppy friend in there with him. It worked wonderfully for us! From our furry family to yours, good luck!

    1. Great suggestions! I added a hot water bottle and some yoga music last night and it was much better. I also put his crate in the same room as our other dog, and I think that helped.

  2. I wished I had known these great tips when my good friend brought a puppy home for her daughter once. They lasted 2 nights and she ended up taking the puppy back, all because of this very thing - the whining and howling all night. they didn't know how to train it, and exhausted she just made the decision to return the dog. too bad - when it seems there is a very workable solution.
    And Rex is adorable!!

    1. That is so sad. I hope they found another dog that was better able to cope.

  3. Replies
    1. I don't think I'll ever be without a dog again. And Rex has only been with us for three days, but I already know it'll be hard to give him up.


What did you think? Any comments?

Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...