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Offline OffMyCocker

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Struggling first time owner - help!
« on: April 21, 2020, 02:23:36 PM »
Hello everyone! I'm new to this board, new to owning a Cocker, new to owning a dog at all... and I am really struggling.

Sorry in advance for a long post...

We (me and DH) are now in week 4 of owning a re-homed 2 year-old American Cocker and I am wracked with anxiety the whole time. Every morning I wake up with a sinking feeling in my stomach, thinking "ergh, I own a dog" and wishing I didn't. I know with the lockdown there is so much to think about and worry about, and personally there is a lot of uncertainty in almost every area of my (and DH's) life right now, but I didn't quite realise how stressed I would feel after getting a dog. My DH and I have wanted a dog for a while, did research, signed up with lots of different local rescue centres, bought all the necessary equipment, worked out a routine that would fit feeding/toileting/walks into our regular schedules. We've got advice and help from a trainer. I just never factored in that I would find owning a dog a burden.

She is generally very sweet with us. She spends nearly all day asleep, which is fine seeing as I work from home normally (7.5 hours a day) so I really just needed a dog who would happily sit there while I work. She does decide to wake up and then I have to think of something to do with her (when I really should still be focusing on work) like little training activities, her snuffle mat, her treat ball etc. I think a big part of my anxiety is worrying that she's bored, and the mental exertion of thinking of stuff to keep her entertained all the time.

She is housetrained, but had a little lapse last weekend (which I think we are now over, fingers crossed!) but that meant that for a couple of days I was watching her like a hawk in case she did her business inside again. That stressed me out, and made me really neurotic (which drove DH mad).

We're crate training her and for the past couple of nights she's slept in her closed crate (it's a soft crate, so it's zipped). This has helped with stopping her going potty inside overnight, and I'm hoping will help her with routine.

The biggest thing I'm finding hard at the moment is that she's really reactive on walks. She growls, barks and lunges at people, dogs, you name it. The previous owner (we're still in contact) was really surprised when I told her that, because she was always the perfect dog, never had any behaviour problems, never barked on walks etc. The previous owner said that she'll probably settle, it's probably just because she's had this big change. The thing is, I don't think she's ever lived as the only dog, now it's just her, me and DH. What if she's really scared because she doesn't have any other doggy pals on her walks now?? Will she ever be happy just being with me and/or DH on walks?? We have some training guidance of how to overcome leash reactivity, but it's slow and difficult. We've cut walks back to no longer than 10 minutes, once a day. That means that DH and I aren't getting all the lovely fresh air and exercise we wanted (which is part of why we got a dog) and it means more mental strain on me (and DH) to keep her entertained indoors/in the garden.

Overall, I find owning a dog right now really difficult. Life is limited because of lockdown, it's now even more limited because I feel cooped up with a dog who needs a huge amount of training, and I'm worried will never be happy on walks or happy to be left alone for longer than 5 minutes. My question is: does this get any easier? Will I ever stop feeling anxious about my dog? What if I never learn to love her?

Thanks all! Please don't judge me. I really want to love my dog, I just don't right now and have no idea how to get to the point where I'll enjoy living with this little fluff ball.


Offline Mari

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #1 on: April 21, 2020, 05:13:07 PM »
Welcome! Very honest and brave post  :clapping:

I am sorry you are having a difficult time. I've never felt dog ownership as a burden. But I do remember feeling the responsibility being overwhelming in the beginning. Especially when my dog was insecure and reactive. I had that feeling of "what have I gotten myself into?". My main advice would be to let your shoulders down, breathe and find something enjoyable about owning a dog.

Many of the responsibilities of owning a dog become habits and you won't have to think about every decision once the dog settles in and you are more used to living together. Also if you are stressed then the dog will pick up on that. So try to put energy into the positive aspects and trust that the difficult things will become easier with time and training. And do not try to be perfect. Mistakes will be made, but as long as the training is done right most of the time then small setbacks are just temporary  ;)

As for the dog being bored, try not to worry. Cockers are very excitable dogs and learning to relax is actually really good for them. If the dog has had a walk, some exercise for the brain, some playtime and cuddles, she is fine to do nothing for several hours. Spend time with the dog before and after the workday, maybe at lunch if she needs it in the beginning. But you can do your job and let her figure out how to relax with a clear conscience. It is good for her to be ignored so she can learn to relax( as long as she is given attention before and after those work hours)  ;)

Reactivity outside is slow and frustrating to work on. But as I'm sure you know it is all about building confidence and creating good experiences. Plenty of advice to be had on the forum if you want any specific tips.

If you want to go places outside that is too much for the dog, then maybe use that time as home alone training? If she can handle five minutes alone, then go for a five-minute run? Or if you really need exercise then go one at the time and let the other watch the dog. Training dogs with problematic behaviour requires us to be flexible, but it's best if you can find a way to take care of yourself as well as the dog.

I can completely understand the fear of taking responsibility for a dog that needs so much training. Especially now that training classes and meet ups are not an option. I would never judge anyone if they decide it is too hard. But if you are keeping the dog then my best advice is still to not rush towards perfection and not put too much pressure on yourself.

I have a dog that was extremely fearful and reactive when I got her. Training was difficult and time-consuming. But I found it to be very rewarding. The most difficult part was when I did not trust myself and worried if I could get her better. Everything was easier when I knew how to train and stopped worrying about everything.  So books, forums and the one training class I took were a huge help.

Good luck!


Offline bizzylizzy

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #2 on: April 21, 2020, 07:56:14 PM »
Hi and welcome! Glad you‘ve found us, we’re re a great bunch on here,  ;) no one will judge you, many of us, (probably most of us actually) joined because we had a question, a problem or, like you just needed a bit of support.
What you’re feeling, as a first time dog owner, is absolutely normal, doesn‘t matter how  much research and preparation you do, its a learning process that can only begin when your dog moves in. You both , i.e. the dog and you and your DH need a period of adjustment, you have to get to know each other and build up a relationship and that doesn‘t happen overnight.
I agree with Mari completely, first thing is deep breath and relax! - easier said than done, I know but your dog is most likely feeling more anxious than you and what he needs more than anything right now is security through routine and consistency.
Lots of dogs are on their own all day while their owners are working, so if you‘re working from home and he‘s with you, that‘s absolutely fine, he doesn‘t need to be entertained 24/7. If he wakes up and wants attention while you‘re working, its OK to just ignore him (unless he needs to wee ofcourse), you can stop for 5 minutes for a game or a cuddle if and when YOU want to, but the key is that you choose the time. Dogs need leadership, that‘s what makes them feel secure and a dog who feels secure and knows he can rely on his owner is less likely to be reactive.
That is simplifying it all, ofcourse, and you probably do have work to do, but take one step at a time, relax and be patient, both with your dog and with yourself. Celebrate the successes and ignore the failures, concentrate on what progress he‘s making rather than what you still need to train, you‘ll get there!
Best of luck, do keep us posted!!

Offline ejp

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #3 on: April 21, 2020, 09:35:09 PM »
Hello and welcome.  Firstly, you are not on your own, everyone has issues, so don't worry about that.  It's great that you are working from home, and just being there is such a big thing for your dog.  I am currently working from home full time due to COVID-19 and loving it.  Daisy has adapted to a new routine really well, and tends to sleep in my temporary office while I am in there.  Morning tea break means we go downstairs, I make a cuppa, she has a mooch in the garden, then back to work.  Lunch time is a walk, then she might snooze, have a chew to work on, or lie on the back of the chair and peer out the window!  You both need to find your own way of rubbing along together, it takes time, just like any friendship, you need to get to know one another.  Don't worry about getting it 'right' do what works for your family. As for toilet training, Daisy relapsed when she came to us, we think she was around two years old at the time.  It didn't last long, and we have no issues now.  Walks are tricky as she and is highly reactive, we knew that when we adopted her.  That was the main reason for her being handed to a rescue.  It took time to establish a bond between us, as she needed to trust me.  It's just a time thing.  Do you have a friend with a dog that could maybe do the occasional walk with you?  Sort of a safety in numbers idea.  When you think about it, if you were removed from your home, given to new people in a new area, who don't speak your language, you would be anxious too.  Take a breath, pour a glass of wine and worry not.  The sun is shining, you are not having to toilet train a new dog knee deep in snow (I hadn't thought that one through!) and you have a whole summer ahead to get to know your new chum.  Oh, and definitely celebrate the wins, no matter how small.  Every one is a step in the right direction.

Offline OffMyCocker

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2020, 10:03:03 AM »
Thanks for your replies so far everyone! I suppose with the reactivity thing, I'm just very resentful about it and about her on walks. When we were looking for a dog, our most important criteria was that the dog would be fine with other dogs on walks and not reactive, because we live in town and there are some beautiful semi-rural walks, but they're really busy with other dog walkers. We were looking at greyhounds to begin with, and we never found one because so many greyhounds see small dogs as lunch! When we found our little cocker, I thought I'd found "the one" because she'd lived in loving homes before, and the previous owner said she was always good as gold. I feel resentful because the dog I have is not the dog I was sold, as it were. I know that resentfulness isn't fair on the dog, or for DH to live with. I know I do just have to take a deep breath and accept the dog I now have, and hope that we will eventually be able to take her to the dog-friendly pubs and on the lovely walks we were hoping for!

Thanks for your advice about training her to have alone time, we haven't started properly training her to see us leave and be completely alone in the house yet (thus far, we've left her alone in the crate and gone to another room). We will start doing that and build up, that would also make me feel better so I can go out more without worrying.

Thanks also for the work-from-home advice! Makes so much sense. She's my dog so I should set the boundaries for attention/play. I'll try to stop worrying if she's happy all the time! I am assuming she is...

I should also say another worry I'm having is what will happen once the lockdown and travel restrictions are lifted. I do normally work from home, but actually I travel with my job too. In normal times, DH will be at work (30-40mins drive away, so no chance of "popping back") and I would be gone 3-4 days during the week, usually once a fortnight. I'm assuming that might start happening from around September time, so I'm thinking she's going to have to be adjusted enough to be left with friends all day, or go to doggy daycare by then. We also have a holiday booked to a dog-friendly place in the UK in October, so again I'm now thinking, right, there's a time limit to getting her happy on walks... I know I should just take each day as it comes. She might be completely fine in 5-6 months, on walks, with other people. She might not, and we'll have to work out what to do when it comes to it.

Thanks for the support! This forum is so lovely  :D I'm definitely going to look at the specific boards too for training etc.

Offline ejp

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2020, 01:05:43 PM »
Come back this thread in 3 months time, remind yourself how you felt and appreciate how much you have moved on. You won't notice a lot of the gradual changes but they will have happened.

Offline Mari

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2020, 02:50:21 PM »
Thanks for your replies so far everyone! I suppose with the reactivity thing, I'm just very resentful about it and about her on walks. When we were looking for a dog, our most important criteria was that the dog would be fine with other dogs on walks and not reactive, because we live in town and there are some beautiful semi-rural walks, but they're really busy with other dog walkers. We were looking at greyhounds to begin with, and we never found one because so many greyhounds see small dogs as lunch! When we found our little cocker, I thought I'd found "the one" because she'd lived in loving homes before, and the previous owner said she was always good as gold. I feel resentful because the dog I have is not the dog I was sold, as it were. I know that resentfulness isn't fair on the dog, or for DH to live with. I know I do just have to take a deep breath and accept the dog I now have, and hope that we will eventually be able to take her to the dog-friendly pubs and on the lovely walks we were hoping for!



Totally understand the frustration! I think it will be very important for you to find a way to enjoy training the dog. Do you have any areas you can walk the dog without getting too close to others? Walking or playing outside while keeping a distance big enough that she does not react will be helpful for her and for you. I think you both need to experience positive things on walks. Bring a pocketful of treats and do your best social distancing/dog training combo. Hopefully a few positive walks will give you both a better feeling about this all. She just needs to know that it is safe and you probably need to see that there is hope. So planning and setting yourself up for successful outings will make things better!

I know it's not much of a comfort now. But my dog was a nervous wreck when I got her. Terrified of people and dogs. It took patience, tons of treats and training. But she ended up coming with me to uni lectures, in crowded dog parks, on public transport, cafes and restaurants. I lived in the city center of Budapest with her and she was perfectly happy there. She will never be comfortable with strangers petting her, but is comfortable with them walking past us. She went from screaming in panic at other dogs to playing with new dogs every day. Every dog and owner is different, but with time and training most problem behaviours can be improved. Especially when insecurity is the main problem  ;)

Offline OffMyCocker

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #7 on: April 23, 2020, 10:35:36 AM »
Thanks Mari! Knowing that in time and with training it can get better helps! I know every dog is different, but how long did it take for your dog to be able to walk past other dogs, or go to a dog park without reacting?

I think a difficult thing fir our situation is being able to train in any controlled way. I always have high value treats on my walks, and she's clicker trained. I think she's now already getting less reactive to people, there have been a couple of short walks where people have walked quite close, I continuously click/reward every time she looks but stays calm. I've been trying to do the same with dogs, if I see one in the distance, I try to get her to look, stay calm, click & treat. Problem is where we are there are quite narrow streets and so often someone turns the corner with a dog, and hey presto! it's too close for comfort, so she barks and growls. I think I'm going to have to check the rules again about whether we're allowed to travel somewhere calm to go for a walk. My aim is to slowly build up walks, but make sure she can remain calm around dogs at a distance and slowly build it up. Just not so easy to do in any controlled way in my immediate area.

Offline bizzylizzy

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #8 on: April 23, 2020, 11:18:04 AM »
That would be good if you could manage it. These things are always easier to train by starting with a small distraction and working up, so if you can find somewhere a bit quieter and possibly even get someone to help by staging a distraction at distance,  then you can gradually progress towards closing up the gap, but take it slowly. Your own confidence will grow aswell and that‘s so important when trying to convey to your dog that you have things under control so she can relax and hand over the leadership /protection role to you. I have a tendency to freeze when we meet one particular dog that my dog doesn‘t get on with and he picks up on it straight away so I have to make a conscious effort to try and relax and act assertively.
Its useful to teach your dog to walk on both sides of you and also behind, that way you can always ensure that you are between her and the other dog or person - it comes in handy if you have to go past people with young children or push chairs etc or if you‘re rounding a corner. You can practice Left, Right and Behind at home using a treat (as she‘s already used to the clicker, that‘ll make it easier).
Once you start to see results, it‘ll become more fun.
Best of luck! What‘s the little lady‘s name, by the way?

Offline Mari

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #9 on: April 23, 2020, 11:49:32 AM »
Thanks Mari! Knowing that in time and with training it can get better helps! I know every dog is different, but how long did it take for your dog to be able to walk past other dogs, or go to a dog park without reacting?

I think a difficult thing fir our situation is being able to train in any controlled way. I always have high value treats on my walks, and she's clicker trained. I think she's now already getting less reactive to people, there have been a couple of short walks where people have walked quite close, I continuously click/reward every time she looks but stays calm. I've been trying to do the same with dogs, if I see one in the distance, I try to get her to look, stay calm, click & treat. Problem is where we are there are quite narrow streets and so often someone turns the corner with a dog, and hey presto! it's too close for comfort, so she barks and growls. I think I'm going to have to check the rules again about whether we're allowed to travel somewhere calm to go for a walk. My aim is to slowly build up walks, but make sure she can remain calm around dogs at a distance and slowly build it up. Just not so easy to do in any controlled way in my immediate area.

Getting my dog used to other dogs really didn't take long at all. A few weeks maybe, I don't remember exactly. But she was still young so I don't know if it's a fair comparison. I lived in Budapest where dogs are loose everywhere. So controlling the environment was a huge challenge. I was lucky to have a friend with a chill dog. We introduced the dogs to each other and after some panicked screaming from my dog, they became friends because the other dog was so relaxed. We went out together many times so that my dog had a confident dog to follow. We used to walk around the local parks where dogs played so my dog could see them but did not have to interact unless she wanted to run up to them. If you know someone with a dog that is calm that can be a huge help.

Now getting my dog used to humans on the other hand, took months or years depending on the level of OK she got with them  ph34r

Sounds like you are on the right track, I hope you will see results soon  :D It is the type of training that is slow, but then suddenly things get better (in my experience). Some setbacks are also common, at least we had plenty of them. But it is so much fun when it starts working. And if they do start barking because dogs get too close, then don't be discouraged, just remove the dog from the situation and keep going, it will happen.

One helpful tool I can recommend is teaching a touch command. Teach the dog to touch the back of your hand with her nose. If you are in a situation where you have to get too close to other dogs then you can distract your dog by asking her to touch your hand several times while still walking. I used that for walking through crowds or bus stops on narrow sidewalks. I kept the forward momentum while giving the dog something to focus on other than the scary people around her. Touch, click, treat, touch, click, treat. Looks a little funny with a small dog since we have to bend over, but it is super helpful.

Offline phoenix

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #10 on: April 28, 2020, 10:29:23 PM »
I’m on my third adult rescue dog, who appeared very confident. He copied my other dog who yaps and barks at other dogs.my mistake was thinking he was confident. He was scared.   He’d never been on a lead, No training  and although very happy, had pneumonia , needing nearly all his teeth out.   
Working  with a behaviourist trainer,  I learnt to firstly take him on the same walks outside home,  so that it became familiar. Never meet new dogs face on, either cross the road, or turn round . Sit on  a park bench and let her watch people and dogs walk by.  Be very calm with her, keep rewarding her with preferably bits of cooked chicken. She will associate walks with rewards, and ignore other scary distractions.
It is super important to get her to ‘look at me’.  Call her name,and treat her.again and again.  Then when walking on lead outside, call her name, she turns to look at you, say good dog, then come , more chicken.  Stop her thinking about what’s around her.   Giving meat is better than biscuit or fatty shop treats.
What were the circumstances for being rehomed, was it a shelter or private owner?

I know you can’t get help at dog classes at the moment, but maybe you could phone a trainer to discuss something soon. I wholeheartedly advise a few one to one sessions as you are new to dog ownership, and your pet is undergoing a huge change too. It sounds expensive, but a monthly session works out the same as  going to weekly classes where you don’t get help with individual issues.  In fact , most good classes won’t accept reactive dogs because it will upset the others. I had one to one , once a month for a year. I learnt so much about how my dog’s brain worked.

As said by someone else, this won’t last for ever!   Maybe your main challenge will be keeping that American cocker long fur under control!  They are gorgeous.
RIP Marti  the EPI springer age 12,  and beloved black cocker Bobby, 8 yrs old, too soon, from PLN.
Now owned by TInker, tiny hairy grey poodle/terrier rescue from Greece and Jack, local rescue,   scruffy ginger terrier mutt.

Offline OffMyCocker

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #11 on: April 29, 2020, 03:50:48 PM »
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What were the circumstances for being rehomed, was it a shelter or private owner?

She was rehomed from the previous owner (privately). She had been with a breeder for 18 months, since being a 7 month puppy. However she couldn't get pregnant, so she had to be rehomed. We are actually the second rehome, because the dog was rehomed but wasn't settling into the home with several children, so then was rehomed again to us. That means that, at 2 years 4 months, she's been in at least 4 homes since being a puppy, and 3 different homes just this year.

I am still in contact with both the previous owners, and they always said that she was an excellent dog with no behavioural issues, no problems on lead etc. She was always in a loving home too. However, obviously she's had a lot of change, plus the previous homes had other dogs (I don't), so she might have been fine when walked alongside dogs she knew, but now we're walking her on her own.

Offline Mari

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #12 on: April 29, 2020, 04:12:11 PM »
That is a lot of instability for a young dog, not too surprising that she has developed some issues with insecurity.
Did I misunderstand or did they try to breed her before you got her? Before she was even two years old?
Poor girl, I really hope she settles in with you and that the stability you provide can help her to behave better so you can enjoy her company more.

Offline OffMyCocker

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #13 on: April 30, 2020, 04:21:13 PM »
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Did I misunderstand or did they try to breed her before you got her? Before she was even two years old?

She was imported from Europe at 7 months and went to the breeder, who kept her for 18 months. They only tried to breed from her recently, hence having to rehome her 2 months ago, so no she wasn't being bred from at an inappropriate age! The breeder is licensed, and really lovely from the communication I've had with her.

I'm going to keep working on her training, trying to give her physical/mental stimulation but also work on the more difficult issues. Hopefully if I give it everything I can, over time she will get happier, and I will get happier too!

Offline Mari

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Re: Struggling first time owner - help!
« Reply #14 on: April 30, 2020, 05:11:21 PM »

I'm going to keep working on her training, trying to give her physical/mental stimulation but also work on the more difficult issues. Hopefully if I give it everything I can, over time she will get happier, and I will get happier too!

We'll be here cheering for you, or ready to listen if you need to vent  ;) I'm sure you will both feel happier soon! It's good that she has had caring owners when she has had to move so much.