April 11th, 2010


Help! Our Dog Is Using Bush Administration Torture Techniques on Us

We're having a problem with our younger dog, Ganymede. Several problems, actually, but one of them is more urgent than the others: He won't let us sleep!

The people we adopted him from said he was one and a half years old and had been treated very badly in his original home. We don't know how exactly he was treated, just that he had belonged to the sister of the guy we adopted him from, and that the sister has a long history of adopting dogs and treating them so badly that the brother takes all the dogs away from her to rescue them. Whatever happened, the result seems to be that Ganymede is the most emotionally needy dog in the whole world; he can't stand not to be in constant physical contact with us, and becomes severely distraught if he's shut into a separate room from either one of us. This applies even if the other one of us is out in the same room as him. If either one of us is in the living room while the other one of us is in the bedroom with the door closed, trying to sleep, Ganymede positions himself at the closed door of the bedroom for as many hours as it takes until the bedroom door is opened. He tends to breathe heavily into the cracks in the door, which sometimes wakes Susan up. (She is more often the one in the bedroom trying to sleep.) When I have been the one in the living room, I have tried calling him away from the door and urging him to sit on the couch with me. He will come when called and sit on the couch for a few minutes, but then he goes back to the bedroom door again.

Because he is still barely two years old, he has a ton of energy. He wakes up around 8:00 a.m. every morning and starts running around, whereas Susan and I would often prefer to sleep until noon on weekends. He runs in and out of the bedroom, over and over, often jumping on and off the bed, or otherwise just shaking himself and rattling his tags noisily. This wakes us up. That would be annoying all by itself if it stopped there, but unfortunately it doesn't. At some point in the morning he becomes impossible enough to sleep through that I get up and shut both dogs out of the bedroom, then go back to bed. Ganymede then stations himself outside the bedroom door, where for the next four hours until one or the other of us gives up trying to sleep and leaves the bedroom, he proceeds to scratch loudly at the door every five minutes, making it absolutely impossible for us to go back to sleep. (The scratching he does when we're both in a separate room from him is significantly worse than the noisy sighing he does when just one of us is in a separate room from him.) Forcible sleep deprivation for an extended period of hours and days is a recognized torture technique, and I am not okay with having our dog practice torture techniques on us.

We are aware that it would be a good idea to walk him more and try to tire him out. This is easier said than done though, and neither one of the dogs behaves very well on the leash either. In any case, the fact that he has too much energy is not the only problem or even the biggest problem; the biggest problem is that he can't deal with being alone for any length of time so that we can sleep.

The easiest solution would be to shut him behind a different door farther away, where we wouldn't hear him scratching. But there are several problems with that. One is that we have a pet door that came with a thin piece of gray plastic to insert for the purpose of shutting the dogs inside or outside when desired; Ganymede barreled right through this thin piece of gray plastic and shattered it, and there does not seem to be any way to order replacements for only that one piece. We have tried blocking the pet door with chairs, which is sufficient to keep Ganymede himself on one side of the door or the other until Boston feels like going through the door; however, Boston is a Houdini-dog who invariably maneuvers her way through the door no matter what we put in front of it. (Ganymede is significantly stronger than Boston, but Boston is cleverer about moving parts in the right directions.) In addition, if Ganymede were shut further away from us, he might choose to make his feelings known through barking instead. Or worse - when we first adopted him, he used to make a horrible high-pitched Malamute howling noise at the top of his lungs anytime we shut a door between us and him. I apparently managed somehow to make it clear enough to him how I loathed this noise that he has not done it at all in many months. That was back before he broke the plastic thing that blocked the pet door, so whenever he did his Malamute howl, I shut him in the backyard until we were ready to be awakened. That seemed to get the message across, but now it isn't so easy to shut him anywhere. I could shut him in the garage I suppose, if the dog food weren't stored out there, but there's no other good place to store the dog food that would keep the dogs from helping themselves to it. We don't really have any closeable doors except the bedroom, the bathroom, and the garage doors.

Here are some less significant but perhaps telling additional problems we are having with him:
  • When either one of us comes out of the bedroom after having had the door closed, he rushes to us and repeatedly jumps up on his hind legs to look us in the face. He does not generally touch us when doing this (he used to basically tackle us, but he has figured out at this point that we don't like being tackled); however, it's still rather disconcerting to have his head up at the same height as mine, less than a foot away. I can't figure out how to convey to him that I don't want him up in my face.

  • At any time of day, when he decides he wants attention, he climbs onto Susan's lap and just stands there on top of her - not sitting but standing on her. He does not do this to me because I won't tolerate it. Susan finds it irritating (especially because he blocks her view of her book) but also sort of cute, so she generally just reacts by hugging him and being affectionate with him.

  • He regularly tries to sort of sort of play-bite us in the way that both dogs do to each other when they play together. Boston play-bites Ganymede regularly but just licks us, so her teeth never, ever, ever make contact with our skin. When Ganymede licks us, he tends to put his entire mouth around our hands so that we can feel his teeth. He is not trying to hurt us at all - and it doesn't hurt at all - but it is not appropriate for his teeth to be making contact with our skin, no matter how painlessly. We have both been trying to correct this behavior, and he seems to be improving somewhat, but he still seems to make contact between his teeth and our hands multiple times per day. It's not that he's necessarily doing it intentionally or is even necessarily aware that he's doing it, but he's not careful enough to avoid it like Boston is.

  • He knows the letter of the "sit" and "down" commands, but he doesn't know the spirit of them. He consistently performs the "down" command as if it is a "pounce" command: when we say "down," he takes a flying leap into the air and pounces on the floor in the "down" position. He then tends to bob right back up again in excitement. When we say "sit," he sits and shifts excitedly from one foot to another in a sort of sitting-down dance for about ten seconds, after which he bobs right back up again in excitement, or else shifts rapid-fire between "sit" and "down" about forty times in the space of twenty seconds, hoping that if he hits the right combination of un-issued commands he'll earn a dog biscuit. The "stay" command is totally hopeless; he has no idea what it means, and I don't know how to teach it to him when I can't get him to show the slightest inclination whatsoever to even sitting perfectly still for a fraction of a second.
Several of these problems seem suspiciously like dominance behaviors, but I'm reluctant to interpret them that way in his case because he really doesn't seem like a dominant dog. He is slightly larger and considerably stronger than Boston, yet if we try to offer them treats in only one dish, even if it's a huge dish that you'd think they could easily both put their heads into at the same time, Ganymede invariably backs off and slinks quietly away to another room without any food, allowing Boston to eat it all herself. If I take the big dish away from Boston and try to offer Ganymede a turn at it while keeping Boston away from him, Ganymede is still very reluctant to eat any of it, because he considers it to have been claimed by Boston.

Boston is about three years older than him - she's probably around her fifth birthday, while he's around his second birthday. She sits perfectly, does the "down" command perfectly, and stays pretty decently although not absolutely perfectly. She is generally reasonably behaved and does not make us crazy, although she would certainly not win any prizes for her performance of the "heel" command. She also barks at people more than I would prefer (specifically: she barks her head off at all adult male strangers, though she has no such reaction to adult female strangers or children, and she sometimes but not always stops barking at the male strangers if we tell her to stop), but for the most part she's easy enough to live with. She comes from a troubled puppyhood just like Ganymede does; a vet tech took her away from her original home because she was being repeatedly brought to the vet with horrible injuries from the other dogs in her home viciously attacking her. This has not prevented her from becoming a fairly normally well-behaved dog. Now we just need to figure out how to bring Ganymede to that same place.
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