Monday, April 19, 2010

Barks and backhoes

I have three very sleepy dogs today.

Last night they ran themselves silly at a bonfire with us and their best friends, Sergeant (a husky) and Shasta (a weimaraner mix) . I've always said, "A tired dog is a good dog." There is quite a lot of truth to that. Ollie, Marshall, and Gus have been wonderfully well-behaved all afternoon. They've listened. But it's a different type of listening.

Normally around 5 or 6 in the evening, there is a lot of barking in our neighborhood. Eight of the eleven houses in my neighborhood have one or more dogs. One family dog sits for their adult children. Another family has fosters in regularly from a small breed rescue. People are coming home and their dogs are excitedly announcing the arrival of their owners. The rest of the dogs join in. The weekends are usually quieter.

One particular arrival that always gets my dogs overly excited is the daily return of the backhoe to salvage yard that abuts our north fence (thankfully behind our tree line). The dogs seem very offended by its return, and very content with its leaving. When it leaves in the morning, there is hardly a woof to be heard, but the whole group runs to defend our property against the evil backhoe seven days a week.

Today, when they began to jump up to run outside, it barely took a quiet 'nuh-uh' from me to get all three dogs to lay back down and leave the backhoe to it's own business. This is a good thing.

The not good thing is that the play with Sergeant and Shasta was largely unsupervised by the rest of us at the bonfire. We left the dogs to be dogs with limited rules. There has been a lot of unsupervised play lately and I've noticed mild behavioral changes with Ollie. He is getting more forceful in our play, using his body more, jumping up when he never has before. I thought it might have just been too much unstructured play, but then as I examined the behavior, I realized it was a result of play itself.

This article from explains some of the differences between physical exercise and mental stimulation and striking a balance between the two, especially for active breeds like Ollie.

an excerpt:

"With our dogs, we frequently engage in high stress activities with extended periods of rushing around, and the stress period is unnaturally prolonged. Conversely, we infrequently create rest periods or give the dogs a chance to calm themselves down. Accordingly, with unnaturally long stress periods and no cooling off periods, some dogs go on “stress overload.” They can’t process all the stress, and their bodies physiologically signal that a Fight or Flight response is warranted. Add that to a dog that may not handle relatively low grade stressors very well, and you are much more likely to have a dog that reacts to that physiologic build-up and does what his body demands; that is, the dog chooses to fight or flee.

Even if the dog doesn’t progress to the point of taking “fight or flight” action, the dog may shut down or give other external indicia of stress. For animals that don’t handle stress well, those stress chemicals and physiological changes can stay in the body and brain for up to two weeks. If you continually train activities such as fetch, the dog never (or rarely) returns to a baseline stress level and the stress keeps building on itself.

It’s not the running or fetching itself which is overly stressful. Running, fetching, flyball or agility can be great. But, as with so many things, we tend to overdo it. It is the prolonged rushing about with little or no cooling down or relaxation period where we are artificially creating the drive that can cause difficulty."

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