Spring can be a bit of a trying time of year for dogs, especially teens with brains that can fizz up at the slightest trigger.
ERRATIC SPRING BEHAVIOUR
I've just had a very interesting chat with Henry's mum about his recent obsession with going out in the garden. Henry is one of our lovely fizzy teens who can be a bit upskittled by any changes in his world and it doesn't take much for him to lose concentration and behave a bit erratically.
He isn't the only one. All our teens in classes this week were at the "shaken-rather-than-gently-stirred" end of the scale. A number of them have been acting erratically and over-excitedly for a couple of weeks and the dynamics in class felt almost as if they had gone right back to week one! They struggled to concentrate, were jumping up at trainers and we had several whines and woofs, which hasn't happened for weeks.
In fact, one of our girls was actually stressed at the beginning of class. She was panting, couldn't settle on her mat (which she loves) and kept eyeing the Spaniel working at the station next to her.
We realised that her uneasiness was because the Spaniel is just coming into season and this little girl couldn't cope with the hormone level in the hall.
It isn't just boys who are affected by the spring time cocktail of hormones and smells around them - girls can find it overwhelming as well. If a young bitch has had a hard time during her season, she may well associate the smell of another bitch in heat with her own unpleasant experiences, which can cause a degree of stress.
The next class presented the same thing- 2 craaaazy girls who were in the middle of their cycle. Their seasons finished weeks ago, but they have recently started behaving erratically and have found it very difficult to settle down, especially on walks.
Neville, one of our staffie teenagers, has found a local bitch in season very hard to deal with and has been pining at the back door. He can smell her seasonal chemicals and has been mooning over her.
IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SMELL
Dogs noses have millions more receptors than ours. They experience their worlds primarily through their noses and, because their olfactory (sniffing) system is closely linked to their limbic (primal emotion) system, you can imagine that the world feels a bit overwhelming in spring.
The natural world is full of testosterone, oestrogen and progesterone at the moment. Animals and birds are preparing to mate and many teenage bitches will be coming into season for the first time.
The way the springtime world smells may feel overwhelming to the teenage brain. Many teens react to feeling overwhelmed by getting over-excited and giddy. They might lose a lot of self-control on walks and you can find that their lose lead skills have vanished overnight as they yank you from one scent to another.
So, if your dog hs regressed a little, or has become more erratic in behaviour, it could well be because the world is chock-full of hormonal scents at the moment!
POWER OF THE SNIFF
You can use the power of sniffing to calm your dog down, because sniffing has a strong effect on the brain. Recent research has shown that sniffing can lower the pulse rate in dogs. Walking on a longer lead was found to increase sniffing capacity by over 60%. Pulse rate was reduced more significantly the longer a dog was able to sniff. This is pioneering evidence that shows what behaviourists have known for many years: dogs sniff to calm themselves down.
HOW TO HELP HORMONALLY AGITATED DOGS
Crack out those sniff kits! Fill a snuffle mat with treats! Lay your dog's meal out in a trail across the garden to flood that fizzy brain with some calm. If you can get the nose working, you can calm the whole body.
If your boy is struggling with local bitches in heat, take him somewhere new, to a more remote spot where you can let him explore off lead (as long as his recall hasn't been affected by hormones) or on a long line. Make walks slower and more meandering, letting your dog sniff as much as she needs - as long as you're still practising loose lead skills. Fizzy brains can still learn to deal with frustration and allowing your dog to pull at this stage in her development will teach her that she doesn't need to learn self-control when she feels a bit overwhelmed by her emotions.
Punctuate the day with a few more short training sessions to get her brain working. Although a few training sessions are useful, avoid doing too many because that level of input from you will teach your pup over-reliance on you whenever things get overwhelming. Your dog still needs replenishing sleep of 17 hours a day
Training sessions need to be short - no more than 5 minutes - so that your dog can concentrate. They also need to be fun and pressure-free, which will take a pining boy's mind off the Girl Next Door!
If you're working with us, you can go right back to basics in your first Support Plan and slow everything down. Focusing on your Thinking-Dog 3 Cs means that you will help your pup come through this season calmly and soon be back to the dog he or she had started to be.
If you can make sure that nothing happens without your 3 Cs, your dog will start to learn to love being:
Henry's mum has been doing extra mat work to help him settle down happily, which means that little fizzy brain is thinking about other things than hormones!