Whine and cry, whine and cry. Repeat.
February 10, 2016 6:11 PM   Subscribe

We have a whiny dog. We've tried everything and don't know what to do. He is 9, maybe older, a Border Collie mix who's probably got trauma in his past (the shelter found him by a dumpster with maggots in his fur), but no current medical problems that our vet was able to find. He has anxiety but takes meds for that.

Previous asks on this topic were helpful a little while ago, when this issue first emerged. But now I want bigger guns. Or more effective guns? Anyway, here's what we've tried:

- Thundershirt (no difference)
- Crating (escape, destruction)
- Playtime with our other dog (other dog humps and annoys, or they are indifferent to each other)
- Soft music
- Soft lighting
- Food and treats of all shapes and textures (chewy, gnawy, crunchy, etc.)
- Free time to roam the yard outside
- Affection from humans
- Puzzle toys and treats that require some work (this is effective but buys us only 15 minutes or so until he figures it out and the whining begins again)
- Fluoxetine (no difference)
- Melatonin (no noticeable difference)
- Trazodone works pretty well, better than nothing. He gets 50 mg twice a day.
- Squirt bottle of water for when the whining escalates to ear-piercing barks. Most of the time we just show the bottle and he ducks down submissively and is quiet for a few moments. If he persists, we squirt him while saying "NO" in a firm voice.

The whining happens day and night, but especially at night. It seems to make no difference whether humans respond or not--it's almost like he's whining to entertain himself? We suspect he's got some deafness, so maybe it's like an affirmation that he's still alive and making noise! All the advice in previous Asks about ignoring him, signaling "all done," etc., don't apply because he does. Not. Care. What. We. Do.

Hiking or walking on a leash until he's too exhausted to proceed = the most effective thing. But we don't have the time or energy to take him on long walks every day, and the weather is really dreadful some days. Predictably, these are the days when he's the worst. Every night this week we've gotten up at 2, 3, or 5:00 to refresh his chewy toy because he whines nonstop. We came home from dinner tonight to find he had ripped up a box of seeds my partner was saving for spring gardening. No food smells, even (and he's uninterested in the garbage)--he was just bored?

Basically: what are we not thinking of, and what is our best recourse other than taking him back to the shelter or enrolling in a dog daycare situation? Our funds are adequate but limited. Thanks in advance.
posted by witchen to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Can you hire a dog walker/player for not very much money? Like, local teens who just want a little pocket money?
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:15 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Border Collies are *super high energy dogs* SUPER HIGH. They're bred to work a full day on their feet, running around. If they don't get enough exercise, they get anxious or destructive or nippy or some combination of the three. Seconding the dog walker, and ask your vet about (or maybe someone here knows some) seriously exhausting indoor toys.

Border Collies are great dogs in some ways, but they aren't actually great house pets unless you have the time and energy to throw a ball for hours or run them off their feet. It's a shame, because they're smart and loyal and fucking adorable, but they need a job or they will invent one.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:34 PM on February 10, 2016 [17 favorites]

(I lived with one for a year or two, and Dixy was a great dog who spent 8 hours a day running back and forth down the yards on our block, jumping 4ft fences, chasing squirrels. Fortunately the neighbors were cool with that.)
posted by restless_nomad at 6:35 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you live in a place where you can take your dog to obedience or agility classes? Border collies really excel at agility and are super smart for obedience. It might use a different part of his brain to keep him mentally tired and allow you to get some indoor exercise even in bad weather.
posted by IdRatherNotSay at 7:01 PM on February 10, 2016

K9 Nose Work tires out dogs significantly -- and is so incredibly satisfying for them that they are "content" long after a session is done. It's easy to do searches in your house, and doesn't take much time.

With K9 Nose Work, you quickly train to the point where your dog is looking for a specific needle (a tiny amount of scent) in a haystack (all air molecules, with different air currents messing up the trails). Three or four rounds of searches at about 3-4 minutes or less per search leaves our workaholic Smokey Rose napping for a couple of hours.

Start by taking a class (find instructors via that web site) and practice at home - daily or even twice daily. It takes a while to build up the communication between dog & human, but frankly, it's so satisfying to see their pleasure in the game.

In addition, extend the time your dog spends sniffing and smelling his way through the day by having him find him find *all* his meals via his nose. This leaves the dog occupied while you get to tend to other activities.

Our dogs spend at least one hour searching for food for their kibble-hunt dinners. While they wait elsewhere, we quickly hide their dinner all across the home (we use the smallest high quality kibble we can buy). Then they sniff their way from room to room searching for their dinner. We hide it virtually anywhere accessible (bookshelves, between staircase railings, scattered across an oriental rug where they can't see it - only smell it, nooks & crannies). They search for a very long time, have a bathroom break, and then go nap for a very long time.

Best of luck with your fellow.
posted by apennington at 8:21 PM on February 10, 2016 [7 favorites]

Also, when you take your dog out on a walk ... are you taking him out for a sniff? Patricia McConnell is right on: the slow, sniff-filled meandering walks we go on with our dogs seem to leave them more content than the fast-paced walks, and tire them out plenty.
posted by apennington at 8:26 PM on February 10, 2016 [2 favorites]

My German Shepherd/beagle used to be this way - I'd guess it's a combo of a naturally anxious disposition, unused energy, and high intelligence/boredom. Things that worked until she mellowed out in older age:
- wrestling with the second dog, an Alaskan Malamute 35 pounds heavier, for two hours each night. Man, she got pummeled by him!
- 5+ mile runs at a 9 minute or less pace.
- playing hide & go seek with the humans in the house (especially useful when the weather was bad). I'd tell her to sit & stay in one corner of a room, then sneak out to another room and hide myself, then call her. Despite being a very smart dog otherwise, she's incredibly bad at hide and seek - but she loves it. Runs insanely around the house, looking everywhere for her missing person. When she finds me, she sometimes gets a small treat. Repeat 4 or 5 times, gradually upping the difficulty of the hiding spot (most dogs forget to look up!).
- teach new agility type tricks with household items. She's learned speak, roll over, crawl under the coffee table, jump through the hoop, step from chair to chair, climb the ladder, jump from inside one box to inside another box...
- going on walks with a dog backpack loaded up with bags of rice. It's important to work your way up in weight here, but some dogs really enjoy the "work" of carrying a backpack of stuff, and the extra weight tires them out.
posted by Jaclyn at 9:29 PM on February 10, 2016 [3 favorites]

Can you take your dog to an off-leash dog park? I have a very high-energy dog (who is a mutt but probably has some border collie), and walks are fine for stretching his legs and letting him pee, but he truly needs to go to the dog park at least every other day. If he doesn't go on a given day, he's restless, and if he doesn't go for two days, he starts getting annoying. The dog park is great because he gets both exercise (running around, chasing a ball, whatever) and interaction with other dogs (even if it's just to sniff them) so it's both mental and physical stimulation.

If there are no dog parks near you, I suggest fetch in the backyard on a daily basis, or sending him to doggie daycare, ideally with outdoor space. But basically, border collies are intelligent, high-energy dogs and they need an outlet for that.
posted by lunasol at 9:32 PM on February 10, 2016

Oh and this sucks, but: my dog goes to the dog park even if it's cold and raining out, which means I have to go too. Sometimes it suuuuuuucks and I am not at all stoic about it, but it's worth it - that half an hour buys me an evening and night of peace.
posted by lunasol at 9:35 PM on February 10, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's a bit surprising that you'd have a herding dog and and have gone through rounds of medication and not have actually...trained him. Border Collies are notoriously strong workers and brilliant at figuring out patterns and are bred to work for hours in mentally and physically tough environments.

Your best bet is to find a positive reward trainer (not!!!! Someone who believes in Alpha rolls, dominance theory, etc) and learn clicker (or marker) training. With the proper training you could probably teach speak/quiet in a few days or a week. You could teach fetch and putting toys in a single bin and all sorts of agility moves in the house and backyard. Super long stays on his doggy mat.

1) look up basic positive reward training classes. Go each week and do the homework!
2) move on to agility or nose work
3) playtime with other dogs
4) I bet he'd be amazing at flyball or frisbee
5) some of his daily food, plain non-sugar yogurt and peanut butter in a Kong. Freeze it. Give it to him when you leave the house. Licking takes energy. Work up to hiding the Kong somewhere!
6) bully sticks from Best Bully Sticks. Get the regular or thicker 12" bag of bully sticks. They take awhile for them to eat and the chewing action is a good anxiety release.
7) a few times a week, doggie day care would be awesome. It tires them out to figure out social dynamics all day. Look for one that has a big outside area if you can.

This sounds overwhelming but I guarantee that his boredom is the source of the whining. Teach him actions and get his mind stimulated and he'll be much easier to settle. Plus, with clicker training, it's easy to teach the reward comes for being quiet.

I've got more to say but have to sleep! If you tell us where you are, I might have some good trainer recommendations.
posted by barnone at 11:03 PM on February 10, 2016 [4 favorites]

PS thanks for adopting an older dog. We recently adopted a 9 year old collie mix and they are indeed smart and mischievous old souls. In many ways these are the kinds of dogs that suffer very quickly from deteriorating circumstances because they crave stimulation so much. I have faith that with some training and new directions you'll be able to fall in love and not need earplugs :-)
posted by barnone at 11:05 PM on February 10, 2016

Just wanted to chime in with the above answers regarding activity levels and stimulation. I had a BC for 13+ years and keeping active was really the key to his sanity. We put him to sleep last year, at 16, but he was still going for long walks, runs, and on backpacking trips until a year or so before that. When he was even younger, we went for 10+ mile runs, off-leash forest walks, and ball/frisbee at the beach...every day. He was really happy because doing those things (bringing the frisbee, "herding" me on the sidewalk, etc.) were his job and he was proud to do them.

Border collies are bred to work, and to work hard! In the field, they run about 70 miles each day, with nearly all of that time being engaged, busy, keeping an eye on the flock, etc. When BCs don't get that sort of constant stimulation, they can get bored and anxious easily. There are stories of understimulated BCs living in homes and rounding all of their toys into a pile, just so they can get out their herding energy!

So, some ideas:
- More exercise, and lots of it. BCs are generally athletic and capable dogs. Agility is great because it provides the physical and intellectual stimulation that they need. A dog walker is a great idea as well, if you are busy during the day and can't be with the dog.
- Dog parks were hit-or-miss with our BC. He often seemed more interested in fetching his ball than playing with the other dogs. However, he did seem happy to have the stimulation, and if he found a friend (especially another BC), they could play for hours. He also did really well with puppies and seemed to enjoy teaching them how to be grown-up dogs.
- Specialty courses for BCs: depending on where you live, there may be farms that offer cattle- or sheep-herding courses. This might be expensive or not feasible for where you are.
- Indoor fun: an indoor agility course (like those tubes that cats crawl through) or treat-finding puzzles. Our guy figured out the hidden-treat puzzles really quickly, so it wasn't a long-term solution for us, but was something to keep him busy for a little while. Our BC loved to eat beef femurs--a great reward, good for his teeth, and kept him busy for a couple of hours. (NB: people have mixed feelings about giving dogs bones: we only gave beef bones and he never had trouble, and this was approved by our vet).
- Intellectual stimulation: You can also work on really expanding his world and challenging him. BCs have been shown to be extremely intelligent, and can acquire language like a 2 or 3 year-old human (e.g., by process of elimination). Our BC knew tons of commands and could differentiate between "sit on the chair," "sit on the couch," "sit in the front," "lay in the back," etc.--and he could even do it in three or four different languages! Here's an example of a really well-trained BC, to show you what a lot of BCs may be capable of.

I think the secret is to think of your BC as a workaholic who will get really frustrated if he's unemployed. If a BC doesn't have enough to do, he can start feeling stressed and that very well might manifest as anxiety and whining. I would try to incorporate working into his and your daily routine and see if that helps. (Even when you're cooking dinner, you can say "bring me your X toy, now bring me your Y toy, now bring me your Z toy...now bring them all back to their box). Your BC will be more than happy to oblige! Working with BCs can be challenging because it seems they're often running the show (and I kind of think they are), but it is so rewarding too. I still miss our guy every day.
posted by stillmoving at 2:44 AM on February 11, 2016

You've got to make time to give the dog more excercise or pay someone to do it for you. Border collies were bred to herd sheep all day every day. Even a long walk on leash every fail without fail isn't enough. BCs need hours of off leash excercise every single day. Wandering the yard alone doesn't count. They need stimulation, such as from herding, agility, or flyball.

What you've got is a type A dog in a type B lifestyle. I know it's hard to hear, but this is the first thing you have to address, since it's the elephant in the room.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 3:49 AM on February 11, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for these answers. The thing about his breed is...we didn't really consider it because his demeanor prior to adoption (he came and spent a Saturday afternoon at our house) was very, very relaxed and Senior Dog. We wanted a senior dog because of our lifestyles. I now think he was sedated for the home visit and/or the shelter wasn't totally honest about his needs, because he's like a totally different dog now tha the lives with us.

ANYWAY. These suggestions, especially for agility training etc., are helpful. So far he hasn't shown any interest in fetching--is this a skill that can be taught? And is is possible he is faking deafness? He's willful like a child in many ways. Strong enough to punch a hole through our backyard fence, but when I go to retrieve him from the neighbor's yard he goes limp all of a sudden and pretends like he's too weak to move. That kind of thing. So the "deafness" is plausible as a way to wily out of obeying commands, or am I anthropomorphizing him too much?
posted by witchen at 6:02 AM on February 11, 2016

So I'm going to go back a tiny bit on what I said: Many dogs are labeled "border collie mix" by shelters and rescues just because they have longish hair and are black and white. It's possible you really don't have a border collie mix. It's also possible you do, and that you'll never know what else he's mixed with. There's no way to tell except by living with the dog for a while what breed traits are more dominant.

As for fetching, it's possible but don't count on it. That's often a breed trait. For example, retrievers have been bred over hundreds of years to retrieve and carry things in their mouths--which in today's world where we play with dogs more often than we use them for their intended purpose translates to fetching. Border collies, if that's what your dog is mostly, were not bred to fetch. They were bred to monitor and chase behind livestock, herding them into groups across large swaths of land. However, many border collies love to play in general, whether with frisbees or what have you.

Lastly, it's very possible and probably likely no one purposely deceived you. Even the best-run shelters make the best guesstimates they can about dogs' temperaments. As you might imagine, rescue dogs aren't at their best when they're homeless, just like homeless humans. Their behaviors while in shelters or foster homes are usually not the exact same behaviors you see 6 months to a year later. Some are terrified at first. Some are withdrawn. Some are quiet and shy. Some are hyper and manic. Some are super loving and attached like velcro. All of this can change after bringing them home. Rescued dogs tend to relax into their homes and their true personalities and breed traits become more obvious as the time since their shelter stay lengthens.

If your dog has been whiny and needing tons of exercise since 6-12 months after you got him, I'd put money on it this is his true personality and set of needs, and not a temporary situation.

We came home from dinner tonight to find he had ripped up a box of seeds my partner was saving for spring gardening. No food smells, even (and he's uninterested in the garbage)--he was just bored?

Yes, he sounds bored. Like someone said above, if you don't give a border collie a job, they'll invent their own jobs. At the very least, when you go out of the house, give him something to do. See if he'll use a puzzle toy loaded with treats, for example. Kongs frozen with peanut butter or cheese melted in the microwave will kill some time for him.

I really encourage you to go to obedience training class with a locally recommended trainer (i.e., not PetsMart or the like). This will not only help you bond with and better understand your dog, but it'll give a trainer a chance to put eyes on your dog and give you some pointers. But nothing will train out traits that are bred in.

By the way, I have similar experience: I thought I was adopting a golden mix (happy, people pleasing, fetching, likes other dogs and people) but with the help of a good trainer I discovered I'd adopted a pyrenees mix (bred to make his own decisions and guard property against intruders, not into pleasing people). My husband and I ended up adjusting our lifestyle completely for the four years we were lucky to have him before he died. But it was hard. Really hard. He started biting visitors 6 months after we got him. We couldn't have people over to our house. But once we stopped trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, we understood his needs and how to manage his behavior better. We stopped expecting our pyrenees to act like a golden.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:02 AM on February 11, 2016

So the "deafness" is plausible as a way to wily out of obeying commands, or am I anthropomorphizing him too much?

This is either a breed trait (bred into him on purpose) or just a personality feature. Either he was bred to be independent (code for not obeying commands except when interested) or that's just how he is, just like some people are shy or don't like black licorice. It is anthropomorphizing though, yes, to think he's belligerently faking deafness. He's not doing it to you or at you. He's just living his life the only way he knows how.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:07 AM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had to laugh when you asked about fetching! I had a border collie who would whine and whine when I worked at the computer, dropping her ball in my lap until I gave in and went to the backyard with her. There we would play her favorite game: I'd throw the ball, she'd run after it, give it that border collie crouch and stare, then wait for ME to get it to throw it again. We did manage to train her to fetch and actually bring the ball back, with a clicker and lots of treats, but she really didn't enjoy it.

About long walks... if your dog has lots of "heart," you will need to make sure that he doesn't injure himself. I've seen dogs get bloody paws because they take their owners desire to walk so seriously.

If you are interested in herding, you'll need to have someone check his reaction to sheep. Older dogs who have not spent time with sheep sometimes see them as prey.

If he's deaf, you can use hand signals rather than vocal signals for training. There's some standard small hand signals and some large ones for when your dog is far from you.

Good luck.
posted by SandiBeech at 8:17 AM on February 12, 2016

My dog is super, super responsive to commands - if I call him he will come running from any part of the house. EXCEPT if he has smelled a new scent and is super into it. He often won't hear me if I call him even two or three times. I have to jangle the leash for him to snap out of it and then he's like "oh hi mom when did you get here?"

So I don't think he's faking deafness, so much as probably being really highly motivated by whatever he's into, more motivated to do that than to listen for your call.
posted by corb at 9:42 AM on February 12, 2016

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