Dog Obsessions and my Dog Archie's Tram Obsession VIDEO
I define a dog obsession as anything that causes hyper excitement and a total lack of interest in anything else, in particular owner's commands. We first noticed this obsession when my dog was about two years old, and around that time took him on a trip to St Kilda in Melbourne. Unfortunately Acland street has many slow moving trams up and down it and my dog figured out that its much easier to get out of a correction chain if you back out of it rather than pull against it. A few seconds free and on the run chasing the tram, and we managed to distract and recall him.
How dog obsessions start
Similar to how human's make a memory, a dog obsession involves something that triggers a rush of endorphins in a dog. It can be exciting, scary or just an unbelievable thing that the dog sees or experiences, however it creates such a strong memory and rush, that every subsequent time the dog samples that memory and adds to it, the obsession is further reinforced. The obsession can take the form of something irresistibly exciting or a phobia.
Border Collies are a good breed if you want to see a lot of diverse obsessions. I have personally witnessed: herding of dogs obsessions, ball retrieving obsessions, shadow obsessions, water obsessions etc.
In my dog Archie's case, he was exposed to very few trams as a young pup as we live in an area not serviced by trams. So at around the age or two, seeing his first tram was a big experience for him. It is a unique obsession in that trucks mostly don't cause anywhere near the excitement, neither do trains or other transports.
We believe the big but well defined shape of the tram (perhaps like a large animal) and the very low frequency rumble of the tram through the ground makes it an irresistible point of fascination for my dog. He even associates other audio cues such as the traditional (even electronic) tram bell ring with a sign that a tram is about (even off TV or radio). He will go into high alert mode and seek out the source, in our lounge room.
Controlling dog obsessions.
Dog trainers and dog behaviourists like Cesar Milan are particularly good at resolving obsessions and breaking links to them. They usually try and use some form of desensitisation that often involves a distraction.
Usually they will suggest that you take your dog for a massive off lead walk and exercise period. Then when the dog is calm and submissive you can take them to an area with infrequent triggers (in my case trams) and try to keep the dog's attention while the tram is about. I have seen some behaviour shows where the obsession is life threatening like chasing a tractor and the trainers use shock collars (either on vibration or low voltage) as a distraction. You aim to keep the dog calm and only reward them when they have done the preferred alternate behaviour.
My other dogs obsessions
Apart from the inanimate object of trams, my dog is particularly interested in birds, cats and rabbits. However being a retriever he has not be programmed to kill these or treat them as prey. Instead for rabbits its all about tracking the scent and chasing. If the he catches up to a rabbit, and the rabbit has stopped, I have seen him wait until it starts running again.
Along with his excitement in the chase it is the high pitch noise that either the birds or rabbits make that hyper excites my dog. I have been able to use this in training and recall by using the squeaker out of dog toys for a high rate of recall.
Interestingly my client Sue has brought her very relaxed kitten Rusty over to meet Archie on several occasions, and they both sit in close proximity to each other. Because Rusty doesn't flee, he provides on particular excitement, just a little fascination.
If your dog has an obsession that you believe is likely to have them ignore your recall, perhaps it is time to consult a dog specialist, or like we do, live in an area where the source is very rare.
Article by Bruce Dwyer. If you wish to use any of this information please use a LINK reference to www.dogwalkersmelbourne.com.au
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