Whole Dog Journal's Blog May 31, 2013

Not Always Fun

Posted at 03:03PM - Comments: (16)

I’ve had relatively trouble-free dogs for a while. Long enough to forget how bad an owner can feel when one of our pets puts us between a rock and a hard place.

I have a friend who owns three dogs: a senior Chihuahua; a middle-aged probable Lab/Cattle Dog-mix; and 5-year-old Lena, a tall, lanky, who-knows-what-mix. Lena used to be (my dog) Otto’s BFF. They are still friends, but don’t get to see each other a lot, ever since Lena tore her ACL and had surgery . . . and her surgeon advised her owner that Lena’s hips are highly dysplastic and will likely require surgery at some point. Otto and Lena used to love to chase each other at HIGH speeds, and wrestle and play with total abandon; they’d play until they were both covered in spit and panting for breath, then they’d dig a hole in Otto’s sandbox and nap, and then get up, stretch, and start all over again. And then they would both be sleepy for a day or two afterward.

Of course, as she recovered from her surgery, Lena was put on a restricted activity protocol. And her veterinarian advised that she basically not be allowed to fetch balls or play at high speed with her hooligan buddy anymore, to preserve everything: her repaired knee, the other knee (often a dog who tears one will tear the other), and her crappy hips. Her owner has learned how to keep her entertained with food-stuffed toys, low-speed fetch, “puzzle” games (with hidden food), frozen bowls of water with chunks of hot dogs and other treats, etc. But she’s often bored and prone to destroying things when she’s left home (with the other dogs) during the work day. She’s taken books off bookshelves (and chewed them); gotten on top of the washer/dryer to reach things hanging on the wall above them (and chewed them); and chewed untold numbers of shoes, pillows, and other household items – despite having a limitless supply of raw bones, rawhide, pizzles, sticks, balls, etc. (And it’s not just pica eating; she rarely consumes any of it – just chews.)

So she can’t be left inside during the day. Instead, her owner built an elaborate kennel on concrete, with a roof and walls on two sides, and provided a princess-and-the-pea pile of dog beds. Which sufficed until my friend bought a new house, closer to town, and moved.

At the new place, my friend paid for a huge area to be fenced for the dogs, graveled the whole area with pea gravel except for some areas where she put down sand (for digging and more comfortable napping), built a sandbox in a shady corner, provided a wading pool, and filled a former tool shed with dog beds. Lucky dogs, right? Lena doesn’t think so. She’s taken to barking her fool head off all day while my friend is at work. And the new neighbors are complaining.

Never mind the fact that my friend has done everything she can to make both her dogs and her neighbors happy. She’s been working with all her dogs on their recall, so if they see a neighbor and start to bark, she can immediately call them to her and redirect them to another activity. She introduced herself and her dogs to the neighbors when she moved in, and explained that she had been living farther in the country, with no close neighbors in sight, and that the dogs might need some time to adjust. She supplied the closest neighbors – the couple that shares a fence line with the new dog run -- with dog treats, and suggested tossing some over the fence if they are out in the yard and the dogs are barking. She gave them her phone number and said, “Don’t hesitate to call.”

They responded with an unsigned nasty note left on her gate the first day she left the dogs in their pen when she went to work.

One neighbor has been friendly and approachable, and offered my friend more detailed information. He said it’s just Lena who is barking. I loaned my friend a noise-activated tape recorder which confirmed that it’s just Lena.

My friend’s options:

Rehome the dog? Not going to happen.

Exercise the dog more? But those hips, those knees!

Leave her inside during the day? God knows what she will destroy.

Tell the neighbors to . . . ?  Be not very nice to the neighbors? Not a great way to fit in, and not very safe for the dogs.

Daycare/dog walker? Out of my friend’s price range.

Drop her off at my house daily? I’m not always home . . . and even when I am, there is the matter of keeping a lid on her and Otto. They want to play! Although, she’s here today, and the heat is keeping them relatively quiet so far.

So, my friend is very unhappily looking at shock/bark collars.  Until she tries one, she doesn’t know if Lena will be the type of dog who figures it out and accepts it – or one of the dogs who develops an extreme fear or aggressive response to being shocked when she barks at someone or something. But she feels like she has few other acceptable options.

Any more ideas?

Comments (16)

We are fortunate in our valley to have a veterinary rehab specialist. ACL surgery is no picnic, and allowing a dog too much activity soon is a recipe for disaster. BUT, prolonged inactivity is bad, too, both for the knees and hips, and for general quality of life. At a Chris Zink seminar I attended, she stressed that severely dysplastic dogs can acquire the core muscular strength to compensate and retain their mobility throughout their life. If Lena were mine, I would find a rehab vet and get an evaluation and a rehab program and start her on what might be a longish road to recovery, but seems to be her best hope for a good life, as she would define it. My Rascal had a badly broken leg at 5 months, which is how I got him -- owners couldn't afford treatment. He tore his CCL during an attack by several large dogs, in the same leg. I fight my over-protective instincts every day, but we followed surgery with rehab, and now he is back to his fully active, agile, Rascally lifestyle. Best is, he's happy.

Posted by: LaurieR | June 4, 2013 8:52 PM    Report this comment

Your friend could look for another dog owner or two and start trading dog-sitting time. No cost and lets her meet some new friends.

Posted by: hg | June 4, 2013 8:47 PM    Report this comment

I am confident if Lena searches for a good classical homeopath vetrinarian , he will be able to give a remedy that would put a stop to those behaviors.

Posted by: Georgia R | June 4, 2013 7:58 PM    Report this comment

Sounds like your pup is suffering a bit of anxiety from the move and being abandoned in a strange environment. Maybe a bit of seperation anxiety therapy is needed.
I have had good results from use of Pheremone collars for anxious dogs. They do work well.
Also agree with the use of the ultrasonic units. Placed in the correct spot they do work well.
Nev Allen Brisbane

Posted by: Neville A | June 4, 2013 5:08 PM    Report this comment

Poor Lena!


1. Yes, the other CCL will probably tear. Let her run, then fix it, and she'll be good for life, knee-wise. This worked for our Border Collie mix. Her CCL surgeries were about 9 months apart, and her knees never bothered her again.

2. Does your friend have anywhere Lena can swim? Perhaps a nearby lake or park, or a friend's pool, where she can swim til she drops?

3. Would you friend be willing/able to teach K9 Nosework to Lena? It's perfectly suited to impaired dogs, equipment is cheap, you can do it almost anywhere, and it's amazing just how much it tires out my very high-energy crazy Lab.

4. She could try some calming medications, if she's not opposed to it. There are some fairly cheap herbal things on the market, such as TranQuilTabs or DAP, among others. There are other calming techniques, like ThunderShirts and calming music. There are also more expensive prescription medications, if all else fails.

Lastly, it sounds like Lena is deeply unhappy, with all her restrictions. Perhaps it's time to ask: Would Lena be better off being able to run, even though it could shorten her life; or is she better off severely restricted and miserable?

Good luck to your friend. I feel for her, and for Lena.

Posted by: LINDA F | June 4, 2013 4:49 PM    Report this comment

For exercise has she tried swimming? We had a Golden who had knee surgery. The Vet recommended swimming as non-load-bearing exercise. She loved it! Since then we have taken all our Goldens to swim on a regular basis.

Posted by: Judy S | June 4, 2013 4:17 PM    Report this comment

Is Lena on any anti-anxiety medications? Has a thundershirt been tried? In addition to all the other stressors, lack of exercise can also be stressful.

Posted by: Jackie M | June 4, 2013 3:10 PM    Report this comment

My dogs has had three surgeries for knee "issues," and, although she a lab/dane mix, she's not real active. Things just happened. I agree with taking it easy so things recover, but I agree with letting her play with her buddy - closely supervised. Even under ideal circumstances, things happen. Good luck.

Posted by: Unknown | June 4, 2013 3:08 PM    Report this comment

I agree that holding back a high energy dog is a losing battle. I had a shepherd, an adrenaline junkie, recently have orthopedic repair of the ACL. Keeping her constrained resulted in a depressed and then bad tempered girl. Eventually we found a compromise - the former extremes of exercise were toned back but she now does her fetches, dances and pirouettes with enough abandon to keep everyone happy.
We only live once.

Posted by: Carol W | June 4, 2013 3:06 PM    Report this comment

Sounds like your friend's vet is cautious, fine but it also sounds like Lena is miserable in spite of all your friend's great efforts.
Why prevent the dog from getting the exercise that she obviously need. If the other knee goes, may be it won't, well it can be repaired too. When my Cleo tore her first cranial cruciate ligament, she had consultations with a canine physical therapist, such a specialist should be able to come up with a program to reenforce the muscles that supports Lena' s hips and knees, so she can be ready to fully enjoy her life.
Caution might be wise, quality of life might be wiser. If her other knee is to go by design rather than by accident, it might be better if Lena is younger if and when, for a better recovery.
Hope it all works out.

Posted by: JM | June 4, 2013 2:26 PM    Report this comment

Is this dog on any meds for pain or joint problems, etc. that might be causing behavioral problems?

Posted by: 1 muppet hound | June 4, 2013 2:21 PM    Report this comment

I'm afraid your friend made an error by telling neighbors to give treats over fence when dogs are barking. This might teach dogs that barking gets rewards. You never want to give the dog what it wants (including attention or out of the yard) while it is barking inappropriately. I wonder if Lena would feel more secure crated outdoors? Owner could work on giving treats for quiet behavior when she is home with her. If that works, she could gradually increase the area Lena has access to. Also, I wonder if her veterinarian would give some mild sedatives to be used just until Lena makes the transition to her new home.

Posted by: loucynda | June 4, 2013 1:26 PM    Report this comment

We successfully stopped a bored rescue from barking during their settling in phase with one of the devices which makes a high pitched (or inaudible depending on your choice) noise when it hears a bark.

Another thing that really helped us to understand the problem were web cams. With them I was able to check in on the dogs during the day to see where the dog was barking in the yard (primarily the drive gate). This allowed me to effectively locate the anti-bark device. I was able to see what was setting him off - he was thrilled at being out of the crate he had lived in for almost three years. I was able to see whether or not the only neighbor complaining (a known complainer) was being honest about the issue when other neighbors said there was little to no barking. Best of all I was able to gauge our progress in solving the problem.

For a highly energetic house chewer we used a Kong dispenser. The randomness of the reward settled him.

PS I highly recommend an inexpensive webcam to be able to monitor pets left at home.

Posted by: Furrykids | June 4, 2013 1:19 PM    Report this comment

Very difficult situation. How is your friend controlling Lena's activity level if she is alone with the other dogs all day. I am against the shock collar, but some have used citronella spray collars with success?? My first thoughts were the "puzzles" etc. that your friend has tried. I hate drugging my dog but maybe something to talk over with her vet. Leash walks are great, depending on the weather. We are dog sitting 2 lab puppies and if the yard is extremely muddy, we put them on the treadmill as part of their daily exercise. Start off with 1-2 minutes and work up. Use a leash and straddle the dog. Funny thing is our 7 year old rescue golden Yoko(very laid back) got on it(at a slow walking speed)on her own (no leash) and stayed on for over an hour. We were walking in and out of the room the entire time. Hilarious, especially since we lovingly call her our lazy dog.

Posted by: rgsutton | June 4, 2013 1:12 PM    Report this comment

I have a dog that barked constantly at anyone passing by from his perch on my balcony. I bought a gadget that looks like a birdhouse that emits a noise only heard by dogs whenever they bark. Stopped his barking instantly. I only have to threaten to turn it on now whenever he starts growling as if to bark. It's called PetSafe Ultrasonic Outdoor Bark Control.

Posted by: Unknown | June 4, 2013 1:02 PM    Report this comment

Is crating her indoors with suitable beds/toys/treats an option in a roomy crate?
Sounds to me like your friend has gone above and beyond for her dogs. I wish her luck and understand she's in a tough spot. But I hope she can find something other than a shock collar to help the situation.

Posted by: ANN S | June 4, 2013 12:59 PM    Report this comment

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