BACKGROUND INFO (NOT NECESSARY TO READ)
Quick background: I have had older dogs before (12yo Weimaraner and briefly two 8-10yo SBTs). I'm very close with my OHs family and his sister's family got a rescue 5mo collie, totally unsocialised, underfed, kept in a small shed from birth until she was adopted -- I adored her and living next door I helped a lot with her training/walks. I learned a lot about R+ techniques and counter-conditioning in order to help her. She doesn't have many typical dog behaviours and it took months just to teach her that we were trying to interact, that we could be fun, that playing was a "thing"… but I loved her waggy butt and I knew for sure I was going to get one when I was ready.
I see a lot of you are USA based, so I hope it’s okay, but I'm from the Highlands of Scotland. I got my pup Jax nearly 12 weeks ago – he’s a Scottish BC X Australian Kelpie. He's 6 months old on 5th July. I have attached some pics that hurt my heart below.
I live on a sheep and cattle farm and help out there, but I don't intend to work him. I primarily work building trails, MTB tracks, and footpaths in remote Scotland so needed a dog capable of handling the weather and terrain I work in. I also spend almost all of my leisure time in the great wet outdoors.
While I'm essentially in a totally new world, on my version of bed rest as he can't go any distances with me or get into too much at work, I need someone to just ... tell me that I'm doing okay, or correct me before I make any major mistakes.
Some concerns I have:
Limiting exercise: I understand about limiting exercise for his growth plates. We go out to work in two hour stints, but he is off-leash and is able to self-settle when tired so he sets his own pace. He's never forced to go significant distances, and my work progresses at a pace of 50 or 70 meters in a day so we aren't "walking" anywhere, but the space he can typically explore is huge and sometimes he does seem to run about exploring for a lot of the time. Is off-leash okay with a nearly 6-month pup? Could this still be damaging?
Prey drive: We hang out a lot off-leash in (privately owned) woodland, and sometimes he sets off after deer or hares or rabbits. He has fantastic recall and we are very remote, so usually I let him follow a scent or animal for 100m or so before I ask him to come back to me, which he has done 100% of the time at full tilt so far. Am I setting him up for failure as he becomes more independent if I let him do this? He loves it and I love to watch it but I would hate to think as he gets older that he will be put in danger by this drive. Can dogs tell the difference between behaviour that is okay at their home and when away?
Barking: The working dogs on the farm are barky, and I have noticed a trend in Jax starting to bark more than I'm okay with. I can ask for "enough" and he stops immediately 80-90% of the time, but the trouble is I don't know how to pre-empt it and stop the first volley of barks. If he goes out to toilet in our enclosed yard I don't go out with him every single time, but he sometimes barks at the swallows or the tractor/UTV/other dogs running past the gate. If I go to the back door and say "enough" he stops and goes about other stuff, but he'll start up again 30 seconds later. If I'm out back he will still bark for his bestest friend in the whole wide world who passes by us loads of times a day. How do I nip this in the bud asap?
Crate Training He still won't settle in his crate in my room. When we are at work, we are remote sometimes and stay in my camper -- his bed (same one we use at home) is in the void below mine, and he will self-settle to his bed there totally fine at 9:30. In the house, he will also self-settle to his bed for day naps, or if I'm still downstairs at night he will self-settle, often getting off the sofa with me to take himself to bed. When I first brought him home he wasn't keen on the crate and had some separation anxiety that I am working on. I fed his meals in the crate and made a game of getting in and out of it, lots of treats and praise etc. until he was comfortable in it, before I asked him to sleep in it all night (took a couple of weeks because I preferred a night’s sleep to max. progress). However, every night at home now, when we go up to bed I ask him to get in his crate, he goes in and lies down, I shut the door, all is quiet for between 30 seconds and 5 minutes, then he barks/whines loudly and sometimes digs for anywhere up to 10 minutes before he settles to sleep. I am trying periodic random treating for quiet settling and we go upstairs and get in the crate and do treats for little quiet stints in the day, but it has made no difference to this routine so far, it just pushed back the length of time he waits before starting. I can’t leave the crate door open at night as he lays down for 2 minutes then gets up and goes around sniffing the room, scratching the corners and investigating and has to be asked back into his bed on a loop for 30+ minutes (the longest I have managed to try it in one night as I am bleeping tired!). He can also easily (and quickly) get onto our low bed and then constantly has to be given the "off" command, sometimes up to 20 times before he stops for a break. I know I need to disrupt him before he gets on, but our bed has no foot or headboard so he can get on from anywhere so difficult to body block him. What else can I do? He doesn't sound freaked out but it’s load and disruptive and he doesn’t do it when settling outside of the crate so I just feel a bit like a monster and want to know if I’m doing something wrong.
Excitement Threshold The other difficulty is that sometimes he works himself up trying to get me to play when I won’t give him attention (cooking, after we have already had our morning walk/training/play and I have to do office stuff, in the evening when I’m trying to get him to calm state) and gets jumpy/rough, he won’t listen to “get down” commands or “off”/“sit”/”down” commands, sometimes won’t even go “get a toy”. In isolation he will bark/whine for up to fifteen minutes (I feel awful to leave him longer to try and settle down, and I don’t use the crate yet because of the previous issue). I just wait for a 15 or 20 second quiet to let him out. He will sometimes start the cycle again shortly after being brought back downstairs, sometimes not. What can I try in that moment? This ‘problem’ is the most upsetting for me. Sometimes I get to the point of very deep breaths/teary frustration as he gets destructive looking for any/negative attention and will bite walls, rip carpets, pull my laptop off the table getting tangled in the cords zooming round the room, trip me getting underfoot, tear my clothes trying to jump at me, and sometimes by accident hurts me by scratching me, jumping into me full tilt, headbutting me as he is a wriggly worm et. (he has fantastic bite inhibition, just a bit of puppy mouthing). Will he grow out of this? Things I can do in the moment would be most helpful, but are there related activities or games I can do to work on managing emotions/excitation?
I am sorry this is a tome, hopefully the puppy pics help!