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Esme

Obsessively watching lights inside - help please!

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I rescued a stray border collie x a year ago who has been a delight to have and is almost 6 months into his training as an urban search and rescue dog. He is progressing very well and is 2.5-3 years old.

 

Three weeks ago, my husband was using his laser measuring tool inside when the dog kept chasing the spot. It was a bit of a laugh and it got put away. He kept looking for the spot and eventually stopped. This was, however, replaced by staring at lights, light fittings and reflections on the walls every time he's inside. He's massively distracted, staring and waiting for something to happen, and gets very excited if using utensils makes reflections dance on the ceiling. All the intense staring not only gets on my nerves, but he's also less obedient when he's staring.

 

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Outside, he's ok, which means it hasn't affected his search training. But the behaviour is obsessive, and I'm not sure how to remedy it without introducing behaviours that will affect his search training. I've tried saying no, I've tried showing him what causes the light, I've tried putting him on his mat, nothing's worked. I don't think he realises what he's doing, so he doesn't know that there's a behaviour to correct.

 

He's been checked out by a vet just prior to this, and he's in excellent health. I'd like to get through this without medication.

 

Any help or advice would be great.

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My sympathies!

 

I had my rescue dog about 5 weeks, when suddenly he fixated on one particular ceiling fixture in my house. He would sit and stare at it and growl and BARK for hours on end. It went from afternoon into the night, and started up again the next morning. I actually called my trainer and begged him for a solution - and he had nothing to offer me.

 

In the end, I yelled really loudly at the dog and put him in the other room. He tried to do the fixating and barking a couple more times... but I yelled and removed him. He never started up again. Go figure.

 

Not much help, probably... but I wanted to give you my support. It's a terrible feeling to not know what to do!

 

(My dog now acts like your dog if there's a fly anywhere in the house. He cannot be called off and will not stop obsessing about it. Luckily, it's an easy fix - let the fly out - and only happens 4 or 5 times a year.)

 

Mary

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A very good friend of mine dealt with this. Unfortunately, people who lived in the same home used a laser light with the dog when she was not around and she had no control over that. The dog would become obsessive afterward.

 

After any incident, she would give the dog a chance to reset in a crate or in a room or on his mat (but sometimes he needed more of a "disconnect" before he could go to his mat). After he had settled back into his "right mind", she would do some structured work with him, playing clicker games or working some training structures he had learned previously - something to engage his brain in a proactive way. She would work in a different area of the house first and then move back to the area where he had been obsessing when he was ready.

 

In her dog's case, it did the trick, and over time he did learn to switch back to his thinking brain after going into obsessive mode. YMMV, of course.

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I second Root Beer's recommendations and think GentleLake's article is both educational and helpful. Quinn had a brief period where he looked a little too interested in lights/shadows and I interrupted him whenever I saw the behavior starting. I'd call him to me and have him lie down, take him to another room, do something to stop the light/shadows from occuring, etc. Fortunately his interest never blossomed into OCD. You are correct that your dog does not know what he is doing, so you need to approach it from a slightly different angle than dealing with something like jumping up on people. You already have lots of great information and suggestions. Good luck and let us know how things go.

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So, I had to learn the hard way that laughing at a border collie's behavior is perhaps one of the most reinforcing things you can do. Do they understand laughing? I laughed at Star the first time she chased an airplane (and was roundly rebuked on this forum when I commented on it for encouraging her). I kind of thought there wouldn't be a problem--only happened once, right? But 2 years later, she's sill trying to chase airplanes from time to time. I started ensuring every time I saw her do it that I made her stop. At times I had to almost run her down to get her attention, she was so intent on it. Now we have hit a point where she won't always try to chase the airplanes, and when I tell her no right away, she stops immediately. It took making sure I had her attention to start with, and making sure I ALWAYS told her no.

 

As an interesting aside, has anyone noticed that showing general displeasure also seems to work really well? You don't even really have to say no or ah, ah. Do they understand shaming? If Star starts something that is really dumb, I'll say somethign like, jeez Star that's stupid and shake my head and turn away a little. Works every time to stop a behavior.

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@Donald McCraig, we train once a week for about 3 hours during which time he works about half an hour in total.

Outside of that, he gets a walk most days and some hide and seek games too.

 

Thanks for the feedback, it has given me a few things to try. Interrupting the behaviour is difficult, but I've got a few ideas. If there are any more suggestions or stories, I'd love to hear them.

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Dear Ms. Esme,

I asked because Border Collies are obsessives and while we can't control that, we may (?) be able to control what they obsess about and training takes their mind from their obsessions to yours.

 

I second Kristine (Root Beer's) suggestions. Training - whether SAR related, obedience, tricks or problem solving - over time - extinguishes inappropriate behavior. Don't make this a contest of wills which may confuse your dog and in her confusion help her cling to the obsessive behavior she's habituated.

 

Obsession isn't thinking but it is self rewarding. You need to offer something more interesting,more challenging, more suitable to the world you share.

 

Medication can work and might help you bridge to more suitable behavior. But, in my (limited) experience it makes the dog less responsive.

 

Donald McCaig

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I would give him more to do, mental work, physical exercise and then crate him when you can't dirrectly supervise. Tired dogs are good dogs, give him something more to do and wear him out and he will settle and redirect much better. Perhaps you can get a SAR team member to join up with you a couple time a week for extra training?

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Hi Esme,

We've had similar problems with Max. While I fear for the day he ever sees a laser pointer, he has been chasing shadows since he was a puppy. He only does it when he's nervous/anxious or not getting the attention he wants. We us "ah ah" for correction to let him know that we don't like this behavior, but the toughest thing is that people think it's cute/funny and encourage it by waving their arms around to get him to chase more. It is really hard to explain that while they think it's funny we cannot encourage it, I have found that saying, "our vet has told us to strongly discourage this neurotic behavior" gets people to stop. They won't do something that a vet has said is neurotic ;-)

Max is now 2 1/2 and shadow chasing has *almost* gone away. We have also trained him with a hide and go seek game, we tell him to "go hide" then hide is toy and then he can find it. When he wants attention, but we're busy this is the perfect solution to engage him.

Best of luck, it does get better with age too!

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We have had problems with Tucker chasing his shadow and obsessing over his reflection (weirdly, it never generalized to other shadows and reflections...)

 

We have pretty much extinguished the behavior in the house (last winter we had a huge problem when he discovered his reflection in the chrome on our wood stove.) With Tucker, it's related to anxiety and arousal, so we worked on decreasing his arousal around the shadow/reflection. Every time he went to "jump" on the reflection, we told him in the most bored voice we could manage "go lie down." If he kept popping up to jump on it, we would put him in his crate for a time out, or put a calming cap on him (so he couldn't see the reflection). We were also feeding him his dinner in front of the stove -- marking with a "yes" and feeding him a bit of his raw meat dinner every time he looked away from the reflection. If he started to obsess, we would say "too bad" and back him away and stop feeding for a few seconds. After a couple of weeks, we started to see a behavior chain "start to jump on the stove then go lie down." After another couple of weeks, he stopped looking at the stove at all.

 

A year later, he's still sometimes too interested in his shadow and reflection outside, but it's gotten much better.

 

Good luck and let us know how things are going!

Leslie

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Dear Ms. Esme,

I asked because Border Collies are obsessives and while we can't control that, we may (?) be able to control what they obsess about and training takes their mind from their obsessions to yours.

 

I second Kristine (Root Beer's) suggestions. Training - whether SAR related, obedience, tricks or problem solving - over time - extinguishes inappropriate behavior. Don't make this a contest of wills which may confuse your dog and in her confusion help her cling to the obsessive behavior she's habituated.

 

Obsession isn't thinking but it is self rewarding. You need to offer something more interesting,more challenging, more suitable to the world you share.

 

Medication can work and might help you bridge to more suitable behavior. But, in my (limited) experience it makes the dog less responsive.

 

Donald McCaig

 

I agree with every word of this. :) Very well put.

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