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Background

I have a ~16 month old rescue dog. He's a mutt (great pyrenees/coonhound/husky/"supermutt") For the past 8 months we've had a pretty good routine going, with 2-4 mile walk in the morning, a dog park in the early afternoon, another walk or treat-training in the evening, and regular visits to the backyard. He goes to doggie daycare 1-2x per week as well.

Once he is crated for the evening (around 7:30pm) he is quiet until he wakes up in the morning (around 6:30am).

The problem

In the past month, he has begun relentless attention-seeking behavior in the evenings from about 5-7pm. This is particularly problematic because we eat dinner at some point during this time and I also try to spend time with my 1st grader during this time after a day of work.

I am not sure what else to do to troubleshoot this. What's going on suddenly, and what else can we do?

The behavior

His attention-seeking takes a lot of forms, including:

  • Counter-surfing; even when there's nothing on the counter
  • Grabbing couch/sofa pillows. He never does this any other time of day
  • Grabbing blankets. Usually not a problem
  • Whining/barking
  • Going into bedrooms to grab things that are off-limits. (We close the doors now)

What we've tried

  • Vet visit. He had a checkup a couple of weeks ago and has a good bill of health.
  • More exercise in the early evening. A visit to the dog park, a long walk, training sessions, play dates are all greatly appreciated by my doggo but once they are done, he goes back to attention-seeking. It is hard to believe he actually "needs" more exercise. Even on days where he is completely worn out from exercise, it happens.
  • Crating. He barks relentlessly if we do it during this time. Usually not a problem even during the day. We "can" ignore it but it's extremely loud and annoying for 2 hours and feet away from our dinner table (making the noise worse).
  • Later bedtimes. Does not seem to make any difference.
  • More attention throughout the day
  • Puzzles/kongs/sticks. I guess they work, because they distract him, but it's treating the symptom and not the problem, and it's expensive/short-lasting.
  • Less exercise. In case he was overtired. Didn't help, and kind of made it worse.
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  • Is your dog sexually intact? We've had similar issues with our male dog in mating season, especially while he was young. In the end we had to acknowledge that hormones are sometimes stronger than any training... it did get better the older he got, though.
    – Elmy
    Oct 16, 2023 at 10:07
  • He is not intact.
    – steve v
    Oct 16, 2023 at 11:43

1 Answer 1

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Definitely seems like you're doing a lot of the right things, including a vet visit to rule out any health issues. I've worked with a vet behavior specialist for similar issues with my dog, so I'll offer some suggestions based on my experience:

Exercise is really great for your dog, and it's good that you're doing this throughout the day and not just once and done. (I have an Aussie, so I'm familiar with the battle to burn off energy.) But exercise is also super exciting for dogs especially when it involves extra stimulation like a dog park or neighborhood walks where they get more interaction with the outside world. Some dogs need a winddown activity to help them transition from the fun, exciting thing to the relaxation period. Things I do after exercising my dog:

  • treat scatter: throw a handful (or two) of Cheerios or other low-calorie treats around on the floor for your dog to get. This can also be his dinner kibble, just exclude that portion from what he gets in his bowl. The act of sniffing can help ease dogs' excitement, plus they can start to establish this as a routine: exercise, treat scatter, settle down.

  • chewing activity: chewing is another way dogs regulate their emotions, so initiating chewing a safe item like a bone is another great transitional activity. My dog, despite being 40lbs, is a total lap dog, so he likes to chew his bone while in my lap. But even sitting with your dog, petting him (if he's ok with that) can help him settle down with your (calm) attention and affection.

  • licky mat: again, licking helps dogs regulate and offers a distraction. You can start with peanut butter or yogurt depending on your dog's preferences/dietary needs, but for an added 'challenge' you can also freeze the spread ahead of time so the dog has to work a little harder to get the treat. I'd do this after your dog has established a good routine with the licky mat because you don't want to frustrate him. I use silicone mats that can be thrown in the dishwasher. If your dog chews/eats the mat itself, you can also try a stainless steel tray or bowl (avoid non-stick pans and metal coatings that can be hazardous to dogs).

There is one other option that requires more time and training but can be worth it: a relaxation mat. Establish a blanket/mat (I use an old yoga mat) that is the dog's only and for relaxation purposes only. It shouldn't stay out and always be available to him. Over time, you train him to go to the mat and relax. This is achieved through a lot of iterations that basically go like this:

  • Lay out the mat. When the dog steps on the mat, place a treat on the mat and acknowledge he did the right thing with a verbal cue ("YES" is a pretty common one). Pick up the mat again.
  • Once this is established and the dog understands that stepping on the mat=treats, you can have the dog lie down on the mat. (This is where you'll need to teach the down command if they don't know it already). Repeat the same steps in number 1, but with the dog lying down on the mat.
  • Establish this pattern for the dog, then start rewarding longer durations for him staying on the mat. You can start with 1-2 seconds, slowly working up to 15-20 seconds over and over.
  • Eventually, you will be able to put out the mat, and the dog will go to it and lie down/relax.

You'll also want to remove any opportunity for him to do the attention-seeking behavior you've listed (which it sounds like you're already starting to do for certain things). Use baby gates if you have to to keep him away from the counters. I know this is easier said than done, but removing the opportunity can help break the habit along with helping him soothe and relax for the evening. Best of luck!

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  • We have a lucky mat. How big should it be? He’s about 70lbs. The mat we have is about 10x10 (inches). It keeps him interested for less than 5 minutes usually.
    – steve v
    Oct 13, 2023 at 23:59
  • That's probably a decent size. Is he food-motivated? (All my tricks are food-related because my dog is highly food-motivated.) If so, try freezing whatever spread you're putting on the licky mat so he has to work a little longer to get to it. And be sure to use something with lots of grooves/textures. If he's not that motivated by food, then freezing may just cause him to give up sooner. The important thing is to establish a routine of a transitional wind-down activity that signals it's time to settle down from the excitement of exercise/stimulation.
    – gaul'fbal
    Oct 14, 2023 at 0:19
  • I did try the frozen licky mat which did extend the duration. I like the idea of the go-to-rest-space and will be trying it.
    – steve v
    Oct 17, 2023 at 15:38

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