Saturday, 19 February 2011

Cassie and The Sheepskin Rugs

This episode took place a little while back now, but it’s been on my mind to write about, under the topic of interesting behaviour.

Some background information is necessary before I get to the actual incident. Cassie had been with us for about five months, and had settled in amazingly well. She was confident, independent, slept quietly in her bed from the first night, and had never peed indoors.

Our house has two levels, joined by a set of very narrow stairs, typical of British Victorian houses. The dogs don’t go upstairs. This is partly because we don’t want them to, and partly because they don’t really like the stairs. Well, they can go up without greater difficulty, but coming down is a bit fraught, because the stairs are quite steep. Having tried this a few times the dogs are a little weary of the stairs. Eddie more so than Cassie, who has gone upstairs a few times on her own, when we have been away, setting off the alarm in the house by triggering the motion sensor in the study. However, this has only happened once or twice. Having rushed back to the house, I would find her on top of the stairs, apparently somewhat frightened to come down on her own.


My friend A., who is an extraordinary cook, was coming over to make dinner for some friends and us. He arrived at our house in the afternoon to start preparing the feast. A. had met Eddie and Cassie before in our home, and had also accompanied us out on a walk on a previous occasion, so they knew him. He is very relaxed around dogs, he likes them, but doesn’t overdo affection or attention, and isn’t averse to telling them off if they invade his space or misbehave. On this occasion he greeted the dogs as he came, and had a cup of coffee with us all in the living room, I seem to remember, before starting work in the kitchen. M. and I then went out to buy some last minute supplies for the upcoming dinner party, leaving A. and the dogs at home on their own.

When we came home, Cassie was peering down at us from the top of the stairs. Surprised, I asked A. if he knew why she was up there. He told us that when we left she had been a little unsettled, and had come and whined at him in the kitchen. He had opened the back door for her, but she wasn’t interested in going out. Unable to figure out what she wanted, A. continued to go about his business in the kitchen, ignoring Cassie. She disappeared and he could hear her walking around upstairs. He had gone to see what she was up after a while, and found her lying on the landing, apparently settled down, and so he left her there.

I wasn’t convinced she would have been settled up there, and my misgivings proved right as I entered our bedroom. We have two sheepskin rugs, one on each side of the bed. Cassie had peed on one (M.’s side) and chewed, and ripped the fleece off a portion of the other one (my side). I must add that meanwhile Eddie was apparently unperturbed at events, and sleeping in his bed in the living room. Both dogs had been exercised and would normally be resting at this time of the afternoon.


I was, and still am, intrigued. Clearly, Cassie was unsettled by our departure and A.’s presence in the kitchen. I expect the fact that he, not a stranger, but an outsider, was clearly “owning” the kitchen, bustling about in it, must have had an effect on her. The kitchen is where the dogs eat, of course, and thus a central place in their lives. In addition, I guess, it is where food for all the pack is kept and “comes” from.

My first thought was that maybe she was looking for us, the rest of her pack, perhaps to warn us about the intruder. Saying that, when she knows we are at home, she doesn’t come upstairs. In fact, the times I can remember that she has gone upstairs have been when we have not been there – we have either been downstairs, or out of the house. I don’t think she was hiding, as she is not a nervous dog, and she had been in with A. in the kitchen trying to get his attention before going upstairs.

What is clear is that she marked the area that must smell the most intensely of us – our bedroom. Maybe she was trying to reinforce her bond with the pack in the face of the kitchen “enemy”. Maybe she was trying to assert her place in the pack in the face of a new member that was clearly occupying an important position, controlling the food. But then she also chewed one of the rugs – I can’t but wonder if the choice of rugs to pee on and chew had any significance or was random – which I would usually see as a sign of frustration or boredom.

A friend suggested she may have been angry at us for leaving her at home with a stranger, and was “punishing” us by soiling and attacking our rugs. I doubt that is the case, although Cassie must to some extent have been aware that what she was doing was “wrong”. She knows not to pee indoors or chew items that don’t belong to her. In fact, there are usually chews available to the dogs, which they use when in the mood, so simple boredom is unlikely to be the reason, either. However, she clearly did not do something “wrong” out of spite, but because the impetus to do these things was stronger than her conditioning not to.


I expect Cassie initially felt some frustration with A. not paying her any attention, and occupying the kitchen. She started by trying to get his attention by whining. When that didn’t work, her now increased frustration drove her upstairs for some reason. Maybe she went there because Eddie, who was in the living room, did not give her what she was craving – attention or reassurance. She must have been pretty anxious by this time to pee on the rug, as marking territory is often as sign of anxiety. Anxiety in dogs often also, of course, finds an outlet in “destructive” behaviour. Hence she went at the rug. This is the tentative explanation I have come to. Please leave a comments if you have any alternative theories, I would love to hear your ideas.

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Sherry said...

I agree that Cassie's behavior was clearly anxiety over a variety of factors. I wish people would get over the idea that dogs pee in the house or chew out of spite or anger. Dogs just don't think that way, though we do!
Followers Sherry, Alanis & Miro

Kate said...

whewww whooo found you though the blog hop. Love your blog!

Oskar said...

It does sound like anxiety to me.

Nubbin wiggles,

Mayli the Labradane said...

Hi, E.A.:

Thank you for visiting my blog and leaving such wonderful compliments for me to find this afternoon! I think your Greyhounds are gorgeous -- they remind me a lot of Danes with respect to their energy levels and quiet nature.

I just carefully read your post and this sentence jumped out at me: Having rushed back to the house, I would find her on top of the stairs, apparently somewhat frightened to come down on her own.

I wonder if you're right -- perhaps, Cassie the Culprit did venture upstairs to find her pack. Then, found herself to afraid to descend the stairs and not trusting enough in Friend A to alert him to her vulnerability.

Doggy emotions and reasoning is so fascinating -- I hope you'll let us know, if you get to the bottom of this.

Very interesting stuff. I can't wait to dig a bit further into your blog! :)

-Mayli the Labradane

browndogcbr said...

Hi Y'all,

You are "right on".

When stressed we perform canine stress relieving behaviors usually picking items or areas with the strongest scent of our Humans.

Y'all do the same thing when you're stressed. Only you pace or chew your nails instead of chewin' up the carpet.

Y'all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog

sagechronicles said...

I don't know how sensitive a dog Cassie is, but disruptions can cause distress in some dogs, no matter how small the disruption is. Don't beat yourself up about it, but watch her behavior to see if there's anything like that going on.

We had a dog that I consider "sensitive" and, after we moved when she was around 3 and her life changed, she was noticeably depressed. She became very clingy and just wasn't a "dog". We rescued Toby and the change was remarkable.

I guess what I'm saying, is don't judge Cassie by one incident, which I know you aren't. Just watch her and if this repeats itself, it's amazing how a simple adjustment can "fix" the problem.

24 Paws of Love said...

I agree with anxiety. Or just being scared being left alone. You say she was only 5 months old. There was a completely different feel in the energy of the house with your friend there. If you hadn't left her alone with this person before, then she was probably just scared of being a being in a position she hadn't.

Enjoyed your story. Found you on the blog hop.

E.A. said...

Wow - thanks everyone for all the comments!

Yes - anxiety seems to be at the root of this behaviour.

Just to clarify - she is a rescue dog, and she is 5 years old, but had been with us for 5 months, which isn't actually that long. I found it takes greyhounds about 6 moths to really start coming into their own at home.

However, she is not an anxious do at all, and she is usually very well behaved, even when left at home, hardly ever chews "illicit" stuff. Which is why this was such an interesting incident!

Mayli - this is an excellent point - I hadn't thought of that, although it is clear as day of course! - she probably wanted to come down to check on A. and didn't dare, which raised her stress levels.