We’ve been having a difficult time lately with Tucker the Wonderdog, and wondered if it might be something to address in your column sometime.
Tucker recently turned 6 years old, and in the last month or so, has developed some interesting tastes…dirty underwear, dirty socks, toilet water (flushed or not), cat feces, compost etc. He nearly needed surgery to clear an obstruction, we’ve blocked off nearly every room in the house, but with 4 kids, 2 cats and Chloe the guinea pig underfoot, it’s proving to be very challenging to keep him safe (not to mention that I live in fear that the school teachers are going to discover the Taylor children going commando if the laundry is not done daily). He had this habit for a time when he was a puppy, but has not behaved this way for over 5 years. Is this his mid-life crisis? Is it a cry for attention? We have a home-based office, and he is rarely left alone for any period of time, so loneliness can’t be the problem. I should mention that he is very sneaky in this behavior, which tells me that he is smarter than he looks, he knows he’s not supposed to be doing it and whatever is driving him to do this is stronger than is fear of getting in trouble. Anyway, I’m puzzled. And humbled that I can be repeatedly be outsmarted by a golden retriever. – TT (London)
I’d go with the mid life crisis if he was considering abandoning the family for a 24 month old trophy poodle, as he’s not . . . I would suggest a complete veterinarian check up. This means blood work, x rays the whole shebang. Dogs don’t change this dramatically in behaviour unless there has been a shift significant to them in their day to day relationships and/or something of a physical nature upsetting them. As with Tucker the Wonder dog, often the behaviour symptoms mirror the same sort of quirks they had as youngsters.
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to tell your veterinarian that you want a complete in depth examination in a situation like this. Understandably most veterinarians don’t want to put dogs through unnecessary procedures and in some cases do not perceive a change in behaviour as a symptom of a physical problem. Your Golden is at an age where some of the physical infirmities the breed is prone to might be kicking in. Your veterinarian will know the drill. For your own information, the Golden Retriever Club of America did an enormous health survey reasonably recently published that you can Google and get a better sense of Golden Retriever strengths and weaknesses. You’ll have to be pretty hard core though to read it all the way through.
I’d also look at the overall human dynamic in your house. Dogs can really be sent for a loop when something significant happens in a household. Divorce, kids moving out. kids moving in. Changes in work shifts. If it can stress a person out. It can stress a dog. Particularly Golden’s; some of which are the Woody Allen’s of the dog world.
Once a dog gets past 3 years of age with the destructive, house soiling etc. days long gone as I say it is highly unusual to see this sort of regression but sometimes it can happen when the dog owner forgets that a dog is like a human child stalled at that stage where they know better but given the opportunity and the worthiness of the prize they decide that the consequences might just be worth the effort. I often find that things get to the point of dog owner frustration in such a gradual manner that it only appears that it is a sudden change in behaviour. The solution is back to basics. The same goes if the catalyst was of a physical nature. Once the ailment is resolved the behaviour problems may linger and the dog may need some nudging back into line.
John Wade the Dog Trainer