Does your dog have the Sex Factor?

Group stay, Muttamorphosis Dog Training.

Some of you may have read my previous blogs on the challenges of owning an un-castrated teen dog.  After much frustration at the beginning of February, & following advice from two training friends who both own un-castrated males, I’ve been working with Border Collie Guinness & his urges for over a month now.  Nicked-named the ‘sex factor’ by one colleague, this is a great phrase to describe behaviours which often intensify during a testosterone surge, usually experienced by entire male dogs between the age of 7-15 months.  ‘It’s a bit like your 14 year old locking himself in his bedroom with a dirty magazine’, she explained.  The canine equivalent where Guinness was concerned included frantic leg cocking & urine marking, intensive sniffing, licking & salivating over other dog’s wee & leg humping.

I don’t want to neuter Guinness yet, and my clients sometimes need options other than simply ‘have him snipped’ as a response to what, after all, are perfectly normal behaviours, often inappropriately directed.  So my difficult teen and I have embraced the challenge of living with hormones & controlling his urges, no matter how pretty the bitch, or lady in question may be.

The urge to scent mark comes from an internal message,  To avoid Guinness listening to this message, or at least to avoid him getting into the habit of responding, he has not been allowed off leash in areas where other dogs have peed.  This way I can move him on quickly & without fuss if he attempts to cock his leg.  At regular intervals during the day & at the start & end of every walk, Guinness is given the ‘go pee’ command in an appropriate place.  Since these are the only chances he gets to empty his bladder, I’ve noticed him doing just that, where before we might get a few drops squeezed out, holding urine in reserve incase it's needed later. 

‘Bitching’ the word used when dogs excessively sniff areas where other dogs have urinated, can cause havoc with training & interrupt behaviours which previously the dog managed perfectly well.  Guinness had on several occasions, run out to retrieve a toy on command, stopped half way, veered off course to have a quick sniff, then continued on his way to retrieve the toy.  I intend to do competition dog sports with my dog and cannot allow this habit to develop as focus on me & time are both crucial.  So in addition to on leash restrictions in densely populated doggy areas, Guinness and I have trained lots in more sterile areas where it’s less likely he’ll be distracted.  I am, as a result, continuing to get focus & our retrieve training remains fun & exciting for all involved. 

Leg humping often comes from excitement & frustration as the dog gets highly aroused by an event. Guinness had occasionally taken to latching onto my leg during play.  While the lesser of other sex factor components in our case, humping humans is still unacceptable & needs to be stopped.  This is the only one of the sex factor challenges for which I’ve used correction rather than management & diversion.  As soon as Guinness has attempted to hump me, I have said in an indignant voice ‘That’s just not acceptable’ combined with a grouchy face and a body manouever which makes it difficult for him to hang on in there.  I then walk off and give him a brief time out.  A form of canine coitus interruptus so to speak.

Finally Guinness has been restricted in his free access to other dogs to limit humping, bitch focus or frantic sniffing of lady bits, unless the bitch in question is capable to telling him off.  Un-castrated males often smell threatening to other adult males and we’ve had several incidence of Guinness being growled at, despite his excessively submissive & inoffensive puppy like greetings.  This means no greeting strange dogs on walks, instead he must sit calmly until the dog moves away.  In addition, he hasn’t been allowed to free run with certain dogs who I noticed were winding him up to a level of excitement & pushiness I was uncomfortable with.  This seemed to have been focused on other males, no surprises there. 

I once heard a very wise man make the general comment that if you want an easy life, have your dog neutered.  I would still go along with this statement.  It would have been far simpler to remove the testosterone from the equation and get on with other enjoyable things like hill walking, strolls in the local park, ball chasing or socializing freely with everyone and everything we meet.  This is especially the case when so far, Guinness hasn’t been a challenge at all, training recall & loose leash walking with ease & accepting other dogs as mildly interesting but not more than me or his toy.  For the average dog owners, keeping their dog on leash so much would prove frustrating for all involved.  Taking time out to restrict your dog so much is hard work.  It involves constant management & organizing of where/when and how to walk your dog.

Most teenage boys leave the dirty magazine & locked room behind when adulthood arrives.  I’m assured by my friends who own entire males that Guinness too will move beyond his testosterone kick into a delightful adult dog.  If the management & training has been successful, the habits I’m trying to avoid should indeed fail to take hold.  He may be the winner of Sex Factor 2012 to date, but come May when he’s a year old, a simply operation will hopefully stop his career in its tracks.  This will leave the path open to the next teenage dog who comes along to pee on his parade.